Phidianne and the Five Hundredth Dubloon: Part One
Oh, I remember where I was when Faerieland fell. The Faeries’ Ruin was very nearly my own. You can call me Phidianne. It’s an old family name. My family is Mystery Island folk from way back. Here, help yourself to a Thornata Juice, on the house, and I’ll tell you my story.
I didn’t know Faerieland had fallen, of course. Out in the islands, the disappearance of the faeries hadn’t affected us much at first. There were the occasional reports of shadow monsters, but mostly they seemed confined to faraway Brightvale. Jhuidah’s Cooking Pot was left unattended, but unless you urgently needed some Lemberryade or a Triangular Sand Sculpture, life went on, and the Underwater Chef sent a sous-chef to make sure the Cooking Pot stayed in good condition for Jhuidah’s return. Now if the Underwater Chef had gone missing for even five minutes, and Mumbo Pango had had nothing to eat, then we’d have been in big, BIG trouble!
I had just started a dream job as a barista on the island ferry. She was a handsome, sleek schooner, called the Five Hundredth Dubloon. Story was, she had originally been a pirate ship, whose captain sold her in desperation for a mere 500 dubloons so that he could buy a rare Ancient Hourglass from the Smugglers’ Cove before they sold out. Worth every last dubloon, my uncle said, as he christened the boat. That’s how he claimed to have come into possession of such a fine vessel. Then again, he was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good yarn.
My prospects for good work on the Island were limited, because my family is not so high-born. But bartending on the ferry was perfect for me: lots of sun and friendly customers happy to enjoy an authentic island beverage. Growing up on Mystery Island, I knew fruit juice like Moltarans know magma. One sip of my Coconut Cocktail and I was hired. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was cute, confident, and painted Island. As a young, native Mystery Island Hissi I added just the perfect touch of tropical flair, which the tourists loved!
I wish I could say I was prepared for what happened. Mystery Island has such an adventurous reputation. But when you live there, you take the occasional volcanic rumble in stride. After you’ve found the secret side entrance to the Geraptiku Ruins and sneaked in two or three times, it loses its mystique. For most of us locals, life on the island is relaxing, just like the tourist brochures promise. The most exciting thing I’d ever done was see that handsome Blue Kougra, Jake, one day when he was passing through our village. Now there’s a fellow worth braving a dungeon for! His mama must’ve fed him a lot of Fundus Fruit.
I hadn’t gotten my sea legs yet, so to speak. Oh, I’d visited the offshore skerries, but I’d never really sailed. But the sea’s upheaval that day would have shivered the timbers of the saltiest Krawk Island pirate.
You see, Faerieland hit the ground with an enormous crash. They say you could hear it as far as Roo Island. It sent a shock wave into the great central sea that turned into a tsunami.
The wave hit without warning. The day had started so beautifully; the tropical sea breeze was perfect beneath the winter sun. I had spent the morning setting out Passionberry shells on the outdoor patio tables. Not authentically Island, I know, but they’re pretty, and the tourists like them. The bar was mostly empty; a Flotsam from the south was making fast friends with the sweetest Ruki from Meridell. I had just mixed their Greengage Breeze and Islandberry Tea. Then the world turned upside down.
I felt the blast before I heard it. The perfect layers I had so carefully mixed in the tea suddenly blurred as the drinks rippled in their coconut-shell cups, as though someone nearby had pounded on a deep bass drum. The wooden deck lurched beneath me. Then, with a terrific roar, a blast of wind hit the ship. She was a fine vessel, with good sturdy sails and a worthy crew, but she had no chance of withstanding a hurricane-force blast out of nowhere.
Had I been even the surest-footed Ogrin, the shock wave would have knocked me clean off my feet. Instead, the wind caught my wings and lifted me a good metre off the deck. Above me, the mainsails groaned as the sudden gale pulled them out of position. Desperately, the crew tried to compensate, but the mast tilted too far and went into a full broach.
I’d heard of ships going through a death roll before, but no story could do the experience justice. As the waves hit the ship, the deck flooded with water, far faster than the scuppers could drain. Nausea coursed through me as the ship tipped, tipped, tipped sickeningly toward its side. Timbers and sailcloth groaned in protest with the terrifying sound of wet rope snapping. Before the captain could call for all hands on deck, the ship crashed sideways into the water. One of the tables went airborne, hitting me full in the chest. Stunned, I was hurled starboard into the sea. The water hit like a wall. As I sank beneath the waves, everything went black.
The next thing I remember is opening my eyes to the bright winter sun, and feeling the caress of the waves as they lapped gently across my face.
Out of nowhere came a vaguely familiar voice. “Good, I was getting worried. You’ve been out for hours.” I looked around, but saw nothing.
“Who’s there?” I croaked. By reflex, I clutched at my tiki. This same one I’m wearing now, right here, around my neck. Tikis are very important to us Islanders. We learn to make our own tikis when we’re old enough. The village scrimshander who trained me was privileged to have been taught by the Tiki Tack Man himself. You may not think much of his goods, but the Tiki Tack Man is a highly respected elder on the island. My tiki is a legendary ancestral Elephante whose wisdom saved our tribe. I’m going to need some of that wisdom right now, I thought.
“It’s me, Tafiti,” said the voice. I blinked. Two eyes and a bottlenosed Cheshire cat smile appeared before me in the watery blue. “Sorry, I’m hard to see right now. Occupational hazard of being Camouflage,” he laughed. I finally recognized the ocean-colored Flotsam I had just been serving. “Besides, you’ve had a bad shock. Some kind of freak storm hit the ship.” He gestured towards the setting sun with a nearly invisible flipper.
Squinting, I could see the ferry’s silhouette in the distance. “It’s upright again! We’ve got to go back!”
“We can’t go back,” Tafiti said softly. “You’re still a bit dazed, aren’t you? Don’t you see the flag?”
The ship’s flying logo, a 500-dubloon piece, had been replaced by a black flag with a crooked yellow sword. My heart sank. “Pirates.” I had never encountered real pirates before, unless you counted the mysterious talking parrot living in the hills of Mystery Island. Still, living so close to Krawk Island, I knew the law of the sea. The ship was theirs by right of scavenge, until such time as someone reclaimed it in court... but they’d have to find it and bring it back to port by force of arms. “But what else can I do? I can’t keep swimming like you can.” If I had to choose between the mercy of the pirates and the mercy of the sea, the pirates gave me the best chance of staying alive. What was the worst they would do? Make me slither the plank? Then I’d be right back where I was.
Just then, the piercing shriek of a Korbat reverberated above us. “Cap’n! Two more over here!” From the ship, two Pirate Eyries flew, shoulder to shoulder, towards us.
“You stay,” decided Tafiti. “I’ll swim for help, and return as fast as I can.” If you’ve never seen a Flotsam sprint across the waves, you’ve missed out. So graceful, so powerful. In a fair race, he’d have escaped. But he was shellshocked like me, and the sharp-eyed Eyries quickly caught up, dropped a net over him, and scooped him up into the sky. The Pirate Korbat who had spotted us swooped down and hovered right above my head. He poked his stubby, rusted sword at me, knocking my headpiece askew, and chirped, “Swim!”
They dumped Tafiti and me unceremoniously on the deck. On the broadsides, the chief pirate gunner was already installing cannons onto our formerly peaceable schooner. Behind me, I could feel the rusty tip of the Korbat’s sword in my back. Before us stood a Pirate Quiggle with a tricorne hat and a cruel smile. “Avast, me hearties,” he sneered. “I be Gorkrin, yer new captain. Welcome to me crew.”
He reached out and roughly tugged on my tail jewellery. I recoiled, and hissed. He laughed and struck the underside of my chin with the back of his hand, knocking me to the deck. Tafiti, still trapped in the net, rose to defend me. Gorkrin unsheathed his sword and tilted its crooked blade down towards me, his threat clear. Tafiti stopped his struggling.
“Begging the Cap’n’s indulgence,” interjected a Pirate Krawk standing nearby, “but only a Hissi can wear that tail jewellery. It’s nearly impossible to fence. Let her keep it.”
“Izzat so, Conor?” growled the Quiggle. He eyed the golden sheen of my tail rings greedily, then shrugged. “Then ye be doubly lucky today, girl. Keep your island trash.” He fingered my tiki, and then, judging it worthless, brushed it aside. “Th’ sprog be yer problem now, Conor. Keep her busy and out of me way.”
The Krawk stepped over and lifted me up. “Keep your head down, girl, and keep quiet,” he whispered, as he started to lead me away. He turned and stared down the Korbat who had been guarding me, and spoke in a commanding tone. “You there. Thorvin. Your arms are a disgrace.” The Korbat’s eyes widened as he tried, too late, to conceal his marred blade. “No share for you from today’s plunder. Be grateful I’m allowing you to eat tonight.”
Thorvin narrowed his beady eyes dangerously, then lowered his blade. “Aye, Quartermaster,” he spat, then stormed off.
The pirate captain smiled again, a gold tooth glinting evilly. “As for you,” added the captain to Tafiti, “Twice have ye defied yer new commanding officer. First desertion, then insubordination. Can’t be havin’ that. I’ll have to make an example of you.” He returned his sword to his belt, and turned to the two Eyries with a grin.
“Keelhaul this lout,” he said. “If he lives, throw him in the brig.”
To be continued...