“Ey, boy, get over ‘ere and bus this table!”
Lisfa’s head snapped up from the book he had been reading. At hearing the angry voice of the Lupe who was, in all essence, his boss, and his lifeline, he leapt from the stool he had pulled into a corner, knocking it over in the process. The Xweetok flushed angrily, righted the stool and scurried toward the Lupe who stood behind the counter, chugging a glass of something frothy.
“The name’s Lisfa, sir,” he said quietly, paws folded in front of his stomach. When the Lupe offered no reply, he grabbed a rag from behind the counter and ran toward the first table he saw. Unfortunately, the table was occupied by a pair of richly clothed Cybunnies, and his rapid pace sent him careening into the first—a male with a rich brown fur and a lifted chin.
Lisfa, hastily trying to find his rag that had been thrown from his hand in the crash, stopped dead when the Cybunny rose from his seat and grabbed him roughly by the ear. Crying in pain, Lisfa was dragged toward the bar and thrown into one of the stools. Drooping in shame, he listened as the Cybunny ranted.
“I have no idea what kind of establishment you are running here, Mr. Saeva, but I assure you that this ignorant orphan should be no part of it! We would not tolerate such behavior in Meridell.” After a haughty sniff in Lisfa’s direction, he linked arms with his companion and left the Golden Dubloon in a huff.
Terevus Saeva considered himself the ruler of a kingdom, albeit a kingdom of grog and gorging. He had, as all relatively benevolent rulers should, taken in Lisfa, who had been orphaned in recent times, offering him a job in quiet hopes that he might get enough money to move to Mystery Island, or even Tyrannia for all he really cared. The boy, however, as he perceived it, was useless.
“Get out,” he growled, after dragging Lisfa to a back room. “Get out and don’t you dare come back. My business has enough problems with tourists without a bumbling idiot like you.”
Lisfa’s eyes pooled with tears. He met the Lupe’s fiery eyes for just a second, wishing for mercy, then slunk out of the restaurant.
What am I going to do now? he thought as he surveyed Krawk Island, bustling in its own way as the pirates had fights amongst themselves over who was cheating at a game of Bilge Dice and the tourists fumbled with the currency converter, and missed his mother. He plopped to the ground in front of the restaurant, without a doubt the most energetic building on the island, and his head fell into his hands.
His tears wet his grey fur into ribbons. A sympathetic Neopian dropped a dubloon on the ground. Lisfa hated the charity, but picked it up anyway. He turned the brown coin in his hands, wiped his eyes, and looked at his feet.
When he could see clearly again, he examined the coin more closely, wondering how long he could live off of a single dubloon. However, this coin wasn’t a dubloon, he noticed, scared as he did. Instead of the typical skull, this coin was blank on both sides. He rubbed its surface.
A sign, he thought, it must be a sign!
He leapt to his feet, lips curved into a broad smile. Other neopets stared at him, but he didn’t care. There was something out there for him!
He started to walk, blindly, uncaring. He skipped about, oblivious to the stares and angry fist shakes of the neopians that he almost collided with. He trekked happily across the entire island; the sun was sliding over the edge of the mountains when he realized he was lost.
Admittedly, he had never explored the whole of his home island. He had never really had a reason to—his parents had owned a modest home and, with the exception of a few trips as needed, he stayed there. Afterwards, he had stayed anywhere—a friendly home or just on the street as he needed to, but, still, no travel.
Where he was now was completely barren. There was sand at all corners and a few palm trees, but little else.
Lisfa’s stomach growled. He moaned. What a time to be hungry!
For the second time that day, he found himself on the ground.
The new angle offered an interesting visual—atop the cliff, off only a few feet in the distance, was a cave. More importantly, a light was flickering in the cave. In the rapidly dying day, it was the only light the island offered.
Lisfa walked to the cliff and stared up. Almost as if it knew his presence, the light flickered out, leaving Lisfa in absolute darkness. He cringed, then did the only thing he could—he began to climb.
His footfalls were deafening in the absolute silence. But all he could do was climb—one paw in front of the other, search blindly for a hold, and pull. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then, finally, when he reached for a place to grasp, his hand fell on a smooth, sandy surface.
Heart racing, Lisfa pulled himself onto the ground. In front of him loomed a dark cave.
He tentatively moved toward it, each of his footsteps a loud pitter-patter in the loose sand.
Then, all of a sudden, he was blinded with a monstrous yellow light—Lisfa threw his arms in front of his face and cringed away from it, his heart racing faster than a Pteri’s wings in his chest.
A voice boomed out: “Kill the lights, boys, he’s with us.”
The light died, plunging Lisfa into an inky black.
A hand grabbed him roughly around the paw and started jerking him—but which way? Toward the cave or over the edge? Lisfa struggled against the grasp, but the neopet that held him was much stronger.
“Quit squirming, Lisfa, I’m not going to hurt you,” the rough voice growled, and Lisfa quieted.
How does he know my name?
Then Lisfa was released, still in total darkness, afraid to take a step forward or backward. He shook.
He could hear the eye roll in the neopet’s statement: “Someone get the poor boy a light.”
A gentle lamp was lit and Lisfa’s eyes adjusted.
In front of him stood a menacing Bruce, arms crossed, with a ripped, patterned scarf on his head. Behind him, in the same posture, was a Lenny, and behind him, a Techo. As Lisfa took in the expanse of the cave, he saw more—at least twenty pirates, all crouching warily on huge chests and piles of gold.
The Bruce jerked his chin up. “The name’s Goldhook.” He glanced around at his companions, and a sly smile came to his face. “And welcome to the Smuggler’s Cove.”
Lisfa picked up yet another piece of gold—elusive one hundred dubloon coins, as he had learned them to be—and rubbed the dirty, polka dotted rag over it until it shone. He angled the coin just so that it caught the tiny sliver of light in the back of the cave, and, satisfied, threw it in the pile with the others.
He picked up another coin from the minutely smaller hoard behind him and began again. This time, instead of catching the light, the coin caught his reflection. He looked at himself for a minute, liking, at least somewhat, what he saw. His ears were a healthy pink, and the new clothing the pirates had given him—a red band for his forehead and clothes of the same—became him rather well. He winced at the memory of the earring, but liked how it made him look. All in all, he was becoming one of the smugglers.
Though, he admitted to himself, he was more of a freeloader. He spent his days in the furthest tunnels of the cave, shining the pirate’s golden coins and, sometimes, cleaning the merchandise. The pirates always brought it in with the utmost care and speed—they would carry a monstrous chest toward the entrance, whispering to themselves and scurrying heavily under the weight, then throw it into the furthest reaches of the cave, where Lisfa lived, with either a grunt or a snarl depending upon what Lisfa was to do with it.
And just as Lisfa threw his next coin, they came back.
The two carrying the chest were a burly Hissi and Elephante; Goldhook walked unladen behind them, barking orders. Groaning, they tossed the chest exactly where Lisfa had been just a second earlier—he had learned quite early to get out of the way because he never quite knew where the chest would fall.
The Hissi grunted in Lisfa’s direction, and the pirates exited.
Lisfa paused to be sure they had left, then pulled the chest open.
Rag in hand, he began to sift through the items—plushies, weapons, hourglasses, and vials of bubbling liquid—all things he had grown used to seeing in the past weeks. He tenderly cleaned every one, setting them in an alternate trunk.
At the bottom was an item he had never seen before. He lifted it carefully. It was a strange blue wand with a pair of red claws at the end, what almost looked like a face imprinted on it. Lisfa was studying it curiously when he heard Goldhook from the front of the cave:
“Lisfa! Bring the sceptre out!”
Presuming that the wand he held was, in fact, the sceptre that the Bruce referred to, Lisfa nervously adjusted his fur, then went out.
Barely in the entrance of the cave was a Krawk, unlike one Lisfa had ever seen. His fur wasn’t the typical grey of his island, but a curious red, and his clothing hinted at expense, but drew no experience from Lisfa that would allow him to identify it as such.
The Krawk lifted his head with an air of importance and threw a coin to the ground in front of Goldhook. The Bruce nodded. The Krawk stared ruthlessly at Lisfa, who was static.
“Obviously,” said the Krawk after a pause, his accent clipped, “you have yet to train this one. Give me the sceptre, boy.”
Lisfa looked at Goldhook, who nodded, and passed the staff into the Krawk’s eager claws.
He held it aloft for a moment, no hint of interest in his eyes, then nodded.
“I will trust you to tell no one about this meeting.”
Goldhook merely nodded, arms crossed.
The Krawk slunk out, hiding the scepter beneath his cloak.
A beat later, Goldhook bent to the ground and picked up the coin. He spit on it, and rubbed it to his shirt, then held it to the light.
A slow smile spread across his face.
“Yep. A thousand. Foreigners never know how much to pay.”
Lisfa held his hands out for the coin, but, to his surprise, Goldhook tossed it to the Hissi in a nearby corner.
“No more shining for you, Lisfa. I think you’re ready.”
Goldhook smiled and tickled the boy under his chin with his hooked hand.
“Yes, guppy, ready. You’re ready to sell.”
Terevus locked up his restaurant late one night. All of his customers long gone, he decided that tonight was the night. He fingered the few dubloons in his pocket, then stopped and cringed at the jangle. He didn’t need to attract attention.
The island was completely dark, which pleased him. There was no activity, no movement. Perfect.
Terevus knew exactly where he was going, and headed there immediately. Always wary, though, he turned to look behind his shoulder more than once, nervousness increasing as he approached the cave.
He had heard things about this place, rumors, many rumors. They said that neopets went in and never came out, but if you did... riches were to be had. And Terevus loved riches.
He could see no one in or near the cave, and his fear nearly convinced him to leave. Knees trembling, he stood, counted to fifteen, then began to turn.
“Looking for something?”
Terevus started violently and turned back to the cave—now there was someone. A grey Xweetok leaned against the mouth of the cave, a blade of grass in between his teeth. He raised his brows at the Lupe’s hesitance and spat.
“We don’t really like to attract attention here,” he said simply, taking a step threateningly toward Terevus.
The Xweetok waited a moment. When it was clear that Terevus was not getting his message, he growled. “Pay up or get out.”
Terevus forced words out through his teeth. “I’ve heard you can buy things here.”
The Xweetok rolled his eyes, leaned back against the mouth of the cave. “Yeah, we’re Neopia Central. What kind of things were you thinking?”
Terevus’ head swam as something flashed into his head. Why did this Xweetok seem familiar?
“Rare things,” he said stupidly, eyes combing the Xweetok’s face.
The Xweetok laughed quietly. He strode to Terevus and palmed through his pockets until he found the Lupe’s meager supply of dubloons. He laughed again, louder.
“I’ll see what I can do.” He winked, then receded into the darkness of the cave.
Terevus shifted in place, sweating. He suddenly regretted coming to the cove, and wanted to leave. Quickly. But how could he when that pirate had his life savings in his hands?
It felt like an hour before the Xweetok returned. But he did, and holding something that made Terevus salivate. Could it be his fortune?
The Xweetok threw the item to the Lupe callously and stepped back.
“Best we’ve got.”
Terevus examined the item in his paws. It certainly didn’t look like his fortune. It was just an umbrella. A black, holey umbrella.
“Um...” he started, unsure, “Are you certain...”
The pirate interrupted him with a wave of his paw.
“No refunds, no exchanges.”
And he retreated back into the cave.
The Lupe left, stunned, just too far away to hear the booming laughter inside the cave.
Goldhook came up beside Lisfa and nudged him.
“That the one?”
Lisfa nodded through his chortles.
Goldhook shook his head, grinning.
“Want the boys to rough him up a bit? It’s really a favor to you, not so much entertainment,” he lied, motioning a few of the others forward.
Lisfa shook his head. “No, I think I have him well enough.”
Goldhook hastily motioned the pirates back.
“I did just sell him an umbrella barely worth a sliver of a single dubloon for nearly three hundred.”
Goldhook smiled, genuinely for once.
“You are so much like your father.”
Lisfa gazed out of the cave.
“I know. I hope I’m making him proud.”
The Bruce put his arm around the Xweetok’s shoulder.
“You are, Lisfa. I know you are. He wanted nothing more than for you to follow in his footsteps.”
Lisfa snorted. “Seems an odd trade to pass on.”
Goldhook shrugged and took a step away from Lisfa, examining him. “May be not the most honorable trade, but it’s the best for loyalty. And to make a few extra dubloons.”
Lisfa just smiled.
There was a huge bump outside, then two pirates entered, dwarfed by the enormous chest they were carrying. One dropped his end, only to be slapped aside the head by the other. Then, having regained their footing, they were moving steadily toward the back of the cave.
Lisfa stepped aside minutely to let them pass, then called, “’Ey, Roi!”
A tiny blue Wocky scurried from the back of the cave.
“Yes, Mister Lisfa, sir?”
Lisfa smiled at the boy.
“The wares need shining.”