The Unorthodox Expedition: Part One
It was another ghastly morning on Krawk Island.
The heavy cloud cover hadn't let up for at least a week, though it seemed like a lifetime. The people were reluctantly rising from their warm beds to face a day only a grey pet could enjoy. Pirates and cutthroats, swindlers and thieves alike gloomily went about their daily business. The Siren's Wail, a rundown inn towards (but not entirely part of) the slums of the island opened up its doors for any who would risk maggots or worse fighting for a share of their breakfast.
Down the very precarious steps of the Siren's Wail came perhaps the only long-term resident. She was a tall Lupe, if on the thin side. She had snowy white fur that was complimented by long, jet-black hair and set off by startling emerald eyes. The emerald eyes were getting the sleep rubbed out of them as she made her way to the breakfast bar overlooking the kitchen. A black Seti named Perseus trotted at her heels, a constant, if rather stuffy, companion.
"Morning, Molly," the white Lupess said, addressing a barrel-shaped red Aisha in the kitchen.
"Good mornin', love," the Aisha replied with a motherly smile. "Well, now. Mighty rare to be seeing you all done up in your work clothes, Miss." Molly was referring to the green dress the Lupess had on, a shade that matched her eyes quite well. It was a change from her usual wardrobe. The Lupess's wavy black hair was even pulled back into a passable bun.
"I've got an appointment today. The wife of some Captain wants her twins done, bright and early. It's supposed to be a birthday present for him, and the man sleeps past noon most days," she explained.
Molly clucked concernedly. "Twins again? You'll be needin' a nice, big meal to deal with those," she advised, "and we'd better make it two cups o' coffee." The Lupess smiled gratefully. The Siren's Wail may be the cheapest inn in all of Neopia, but the food was excellent.
The Lupess and the Seti sat on the unevenly cushioned barstools, all of which had unbalanced legs. "Are you sure you want to come, Perseus?" the Lupess asked her pet. “The twins will probably pet you to oblivion." She chuckled slightly at the image. Perseus made a rather odd sound, which can only be described as a haughty sniff. "Suit yourself, mutt," the Lupess said, scratching his ears affectionately.
Ruth, a pretty pink Uni, set two plates, a mug, and a saucer full of water down in front of them. "Enjoy the sewage," she said darkly, and stomped away before the Lupess could return her scowl. She just shrugged and started eating her scrambled eggs, which weren't in the least reminiscent of sewage. Perseus took dainty bites of his Blumaroo steak, cooked rare.
One plate of scrambled eggs and three cups of coffee later, the Lupess checked the time. "Let's go, Perseus. We don't want to be late." She pushed a good amount of neopoints in Molly's hand.
"It isn't enough, though. I was hoping this last job would cut it," she said a bit remorsefully. Molly had a rather inconsistent income from her resident, thanks to an equally inconsistent job. The public is fickle, especially when it comes to art; the Lupess was a painter, specializing in portraits and landscapes.
"Don't worry about it, love," Molly said, "But you'd better be gettin' a move on."
The Lupess went up to her room to retrieve her supplies and waved to Ruth (who was scrubbing a pot with a vengeance) on her way out.
The Lupess and the Seti stopped in front of the inn and frowned at the grey sky. "Pity," she said, "I was rather hoping for a bit of sunshine." The two of them set off at a brisk walk to the upper-class neighborhoods on Krawk Island; places where the streets were cleaner, the people were richer, and the stakes were higher. Even wearing her best, the white Lupess felt terribly underdressed amid the coattails and parasols. It took time getting used to that feeling. Carriages sped past occasionally. The Lupess was quite familiar with this part of the island, as only the richer people could afford to have portraits done.
Soon they reached a large stone mansion. The lawns were immaculate, and it seemed like every single stone was polished to an unnatural gleam. Undaunted by the splendor, the Lupess's boots confidently hit the cobblestones of the walkway leading up to the front door, a bag full of paints and brushes and other tools in hand. Her black Seti held his head as high as any pampered Faellie. The trick was to look like you had every right to be there, so the rich folk wouldn't scoff too much.
The Lupess and Seti exchanged nods before the Lupess gave the unnecessarily ornate knocker a hard swing.
The Lupess and the Seti returned to the Siren's Wail late that evening, exhausted. The twins, two identical split Kacheeks, were the most rambunctious children the Lupess had ever seen. They knocked over vases, tripped on carpets, spilled their apple juice all over Perseus... all the while resisting every attempt she made at capturing them on her canvas. Finally, their mother had them sent out of the parlor and the Lupess did a portrait of her, instead. And the Captain woke up when she was halfway finished, too, so there was the tricky business of bustling the Lupess into a vacant room and tossing a sheet over her easel. The butler paid her to do a sketch of himself while she waited. She was hidden in the cellar until the Captain lurched off to a pub sometime in the afternoon, then called out again to finish up. The Lupess was quite used to the odd ways of the overly wealthy, though she could never understand them.
Perseus and his master collapsed onto an empty table. Molly, who was carrying a large serving tray in one hand, approached them."Dinner, love?" she asked.
"Yes, please. And some relaxing tea, if you can spare it."
"Aye, but there's someone askin' for you," Molly said distractedly. She had other tables to get to.
The Lupess sat up suddenly. "Another painting? Molly, I am exhausted!"
"No, it's not that! 'E was just askin' around for people who wanted to go a-sailin' wiff 'im," Molly said. "And seein' as you was hankerin' fer a different occupation, I gave the man your name. ’E seemed harmless enough."
The Lupess was greatly relieved. She slumped back in her chair to mull over this bit of news. "Bring our dinner to wherever he's sitting, please. With an extra cup of tea," she decided, rising unsteadily to her feet. Molly pointed them to the direction of the man. The two of them wove their way through the tables and diners to get to his table, which was located in a relatively quiet corner, quite far from the group of lowlifes who were drawling out an old sea shanty after drinking too much grog.
The Lupess took a minute to observe him. He was a tall, gangly speckled Lenny, whose face was obscured by thick spectacles. He was shuffling through a pile of papers and maps, while others were strewn around the table. He was wearing a stained white lab coat and a rather ridiculous straw hat hung down his back by a string. The Lenny was too absorbed in his documents to notice her.
"Good evening, sir," the Lupess called to get his attention.
His head turned up towards her so sharply his glasses were knocked off-balance. He hastily tried to clear some space on the table as he said, "Evening to you, too, miss! You startled me. Please, do have a seat." He gestured awkwardly, but must have felt embarrassed, so he withdrew suddenly. "Professor Cornelius Winthrop, at your service. Or, er, I was hoping you'd be in mine. Service, that is-"
"Delighted to meet you," she interrupted, to spare him any more embarrassment.
It was rather proper speech for a poverty-stricken artist, as Cornelius observed. She wasn't quite what he expected of an average island resident. And, to his surprise, after the Lupess sat down, a black Seti, presumably her pet, took the chair beside her and delicately, more delicately than the Professor would have thought possible, started to scratch at a flea inhabiting its back. A petpet from the Lost Desert was beyond uncommon on Krawk Island. Especially one that smelled faintly of apples. "Ahem... if you don't mind me asking, miss, were did you manage to find that Seti?" he inquired cautiously.
"Smuggler's Cove," she replied dismissively. "But about the job-"
"Ah, yes, the job! Well-" The Professor was, once again, cut off when Ruth angrily slammed their dinner on the table, hard enough to create a hairline crack across the bottom of a bowl. "Oh, my!" he exclaimed, unused as he was to Ruth's rudeness.
"Dinner's on me, Professor Winthrop," the Lupess said graciously, taking no account of Ruth. Perseus gave a haughty sniff at his master's imprudence; she could barely afford her own dinner. "Well, it's not as if you're any help to my income," she hissed under her breath as the Professor blew at the steam over his stew.
Professor Winthrop took a tentative sip of his stew, and then, astonished, pronounced it delicious. He proceeded to take more spoonfuls, each thoroughly tasted before it was swallowed. “Paprika, onions, mustard... and there is definitely some chicken..." The Lupess sighed inwardly. The Professor seemed to be a culinary enthusiast, much to her impatience.
"Professor," she said, once again finding it necessary to bring him back to reality. “Do you have work for me or not?"
"Oh! Right, right." He put his spoon down to get his thoughts in order. “I have come under commission of King Hagan, of Brightvale. The castle scholars uncovered a map, you see, leading to a rather vaguely described treasure."
"How vaguely?" she asked, more than a little suspicious.
"There were hints of gold and jewels, if that's what you're worried about. So I was sent here to gather a crew for the voyage. I have a boat already, though. It was sent with me."
"You came on boat?"
"So what happened to the crew you came with?"
The Professor looked as if he had never considered taking the same men he had come with on his expedition, and was silenced. Perseus growled in an extremely vexed tone. Surely his master had not just thrown away the first promising offer in months! Finally, the Professor reached a conclusion. "Obviously, the crew I came with were from Brightvale, so they are quite unsuitable for the kind of rough work I had in mind."
"Of course, of course. Where, exactly, are we headed?" she asked, relieved at his logic.
"North," the Professor said, getting a faraway look in his eyes. “I can't disclose all the details right now, you see. Security issues, and all that."
The Lupess leaned back in her chair, risking splinters in her back from the rough wood. She absently cracked her knuckles as she considered the eccentric Professor's proposition. "When would we cast off, then?"
"I was planning on a week from today," said Professor Winthrop.
She looked at her pet. "And the mutt can come?" Perseus, who was, in fact, a thoroughbred, eyed her disdainfully.
"I don't see why not."
She waited a good minute, and then stuck out her white hand. "You can count me in, Professor." The Professor hesitantly shook the offered hand.
"Much obliged, miss. Much obliged."
The three of them sat and finished their then-cold dinner, talking about cabbages and kings, among other things, to fill in the silence. The Professor was astounded at her literacy, as most pirates couldn't read their first names.
"Sorry to desert you, Professor, but it's getting late," the Lupess said, rising to her feet.
The Professor realized he had forgotten to ask her name. "C-call me Cornelius, please," he stammered as she started to walk away. “But I didn't catch your name..."
The Lupess half-turned to answer him. "It's Lilith," she said, “Lilith Ferrars. Good night, Cornelius."
To be continued...