Treasure Lost: Part Three
It was almost the end of Spirit's shift when a conversation between two Cybunnies at a back table erupted into an argument.
"Yer nothin' but a landlubber!" shouted one. "And so's yer mother!"
Enraged, the other Cybunny leapt up and, grabbing his chair, threw it at the first one. The first Cybunny ducked, then returned fire with his half-eaten plate of Crusty Clam Surprise. The second Cybunny wiped clam off of his shirt. Then, without warning, he launched himself over the table, pulling back his fist for a right hook. Spirit caught it before he could swing, then neatly knocked his feet out from under him with her foot. He landed flat on his back, the breath knocked out of him. The other Cybunny, catching Spirit's glare, raised his hands in a truce.
"Sorry, lass, didn't mean to cause any stir. I'll just be payin' now an' leave." Spirit nodded, then looked around for a mop to start cleaning up the spilled clam. She found Donna, the Red Ixi restaurant owner, standing behind her, mop already in hand.
"What did I ever do without ye?" Donna said, smiling. She began swabbing the floor around the table, while Spirit went to pick up the chair.
"I've only been here a week," Spirit replied. "You managed just fine before I came."
"Aye, but there was a lot more broken furniture. It comes with the customers, I suppose. But it is nice to have someone here to break up the fights. I only wish I could pay you more for it."
"Room and board is more than enough. Me and Jojo really appreciate you letting us stay above the restaurant."
"I was looking for boarders, anyway. Are you going out again tonight?"asked Donna, putting away the mop and starting to clear plates at the neighboring table. She balanced three dishes on one arm and a tray of empty glasses on another, her skill clearly showing that she had been in this business for many years.
"Yep, same as always," Spirit replied as she wiped down the tabletop. "I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not! Jojo's always such an angel. It's a pleasure to watch him."
Finished for the day, Spirit slung her cleaning rag over her shoulder and slipped into the back of the restaurant, where a narrow staircase led to the upstairs living quarters. A familiar voice came from the nearest room, and when Spirit pushed open the door, she found Jojo sitting on the floor, talking to Radish. From the scattering of tools and bits of hardware that littered the area around them, Spirit guessed that Radish was in the middle of yet another round of upgrades.
Ever since Jojo had received his Petpet from the Money Tree, he had been making modifications, first to improve the antigravity generators, then to increase memory capacity. Spirit had worried at first that he would hurt Radish, but Jojo turned out to be as skilled with a circuit board as Spirit was with a weapon. It was an odd talent for a Grundo who was so clueless about the rest of the world.
"What are you doing now?" asked Spirit. Her Carmariller, Melody, who had been absentmindedly playing with a few bolts, fluttered onto her shoulder.
"Rerouting Radish's main power supply through his thrusters. Want to see?"
"It will have to be later," replied Spirit. "I've got another lead, so I'm in a hurry tonight. But I'll try and get back before you go to bed." Melody gave a soft, questioning trill. "I'm sorry, but you're staying here, too. You have to keep Jojo out of trouble." Melody flew off, grumbling and obviously less than thrilled with her new role as babysitter. Spirit sighed. She wished that she could take Melody along like she used to, but if someone came looking for her treasure map, Jojo would need Melody's help more than Spirit would.
Spirit grabbed a change of clothes from the chest at the foot of the bunk bed which she and Jojo shared, then made her way down a narrow hallway to the bathroom. She felt bad about leaving Jojo with Donna so often, but she couldn't bring him along to the pirate haunts where she spent her nights searching for a ship for hire. It had been two weeks since they had arrived in Krawk Island, and she still hadn't found a captain willing to take her as a passenger. She supposed it was partially her fault. Always careful, she refused to tell anyone her destination. There weren't many sailors, pirate or otherwise, willing to take a stranger to an undisclosed location through who knew how many perils.
Spirit had hoped that her latest job waiting tables at the Wobbly Plank would lead to some helpful information. Customers always talked loosely, and the Wobbly Plank seemed to attract a crazier variety of sailor than more respectable establishments like the Golden Dubloon. Days had passed without success, however, forcing Spirit to try other means of gathering information. Waitressing wasn't really her style, anyway.
After saying goodbye to Jojo and Donna, Spirit left the restaurant through the back door. The streets in this part of Krawk Island were narrow and maze-like, untouched by the improvements being made in the richer parts of the city. While wealthy citizens were attempting to transform the former pirate haven into a center for culture and honest trade, this little corner retained its bad reputation. Many a purse of dubloons went missing here, and those basements not used for storing cargo were rowdy halls dedicated to Bilge Dice and brawling.
Spirit had lost hundreds of Neopoints in those dimly lit rooms, trying to coax information or offers of help from her fellow players. All her leads had been empty, though, so now she was moving on to more dangerous hunting grounds.
There was a small fishing boat waiting for her just off the beach. A white-bearded Tonu, hunched from years of hauling nets, muscles solid despite his age, leaned against the rail. The tide was going out, sucking at the hull. Only the heavy anchor prevented the barnacle-crusted boat from being dragged into deeper water.
"Ho, Missy!" he called as Spirit approached. "Ready to sail?"
"Aye," Spirit replied, easily adapting to the local speech. "Pull her in to shore and I'll board."
"I would, lass, but as you can see, the water has other ideas. Should have been here an hour ago when the waves were pushin' me to the beach. I'm afraid now ye'll have to swim," said the sailor. His bark of a laugh revealed that he wasn't entirely sorry.
Slightly annoyed, Spirit waded out into the water. The boat wasn't so far away that swimming was necessary, but she did get wet up to her waist. Hauling herself onto the deck, she helped the Tonu raise the anchor, then stationed herself by the bow to watch the approach of Scurvy Island.
Much smaller than Krawk Island, Scurvy was the true port of pirates. She hadn't been desperate enough to travel there before, but necessity now forced her to make the crossing. It would be a risk, hiring the kind of sailor which Scurvy attracted. She would have to be careful of being double-crossed—there was no telling what a treasure-hungry pirate would do for a ship full of booty.
The fisherman wasn't very talkative during the twenty minute voyage, but Spirit preferred it that way. The less people knew about her, the happier she felt. She still hadn't forgotten her narrow escape in Neopia Central. How had that Kyrii discovered that she had the map?
Spirit's wonderings were interrupted by a sudden jolt as the boat made dock. The Tonu jumped onto the pier, securely fastening his vessel with a sturdy rope.
"Half your pay now," Spirit told him. She dropped a few dubloons into his calloused hand. "You get the rest when I'm safely back on the main island. I'll be returning around moonrise, so stay at the ready." The Tonu nodded, then settled down in the shadow of his boat to take a nap.
The sun was already slipping behind the rooftops when Spirit made her way into the ramshackle town. If she left at moonrise, she would have about three hours to do her business. It wasn't much time, but it would be enough for a first visit. The inhabitants of Scurvy Island weren't always friendly to strange faces; it might be days before the sailors here were open to hearing her proposal.
There was no shortage of likely-looking dives to try. Spirit picked a particularly lively hall with patrons spilling out of the doorway. The old building had seen plenty of storms and now appeared to be held together by little more than old fishing nets and a few rusted nails. As she approached, a scruffy looking Mynci went flying through a glassless window.
"Don't come back until you've paid your tab," shouted an angry Grarrl as the Mynci slunk away.
Looks like fun, thought Spirit brightly. The place was a little rough, but Spirit had lived for years among Neopia's outlaws. She was confident that she could mix with the locals. Striding boldly through the door, Spirit surveyed the room.
There was a long counter along one wall where the angry Grarrl served Grog and Pop by the bucket. A stage at the far end of the room was occupied by a gypsy Zafara decorated with a profusion of flashing golden disks. She was singing to an enthusiastically played fiddle, but could barely be heard above the roar of voices. The rest of the room was occupied by makeshift tables, most of which were old crates or barrels.
Spirit threaded her way through the crowd, careful to avoid the occasional flying bottle of Pop. A small group throwing dice in the corner caught her eye and she drifted closer.
"Ye be nothin' but a sore loser," a one-eyed Kougra was accusing the player opposite him.
"I be a sore loser and ye be a cheater," replied the Jetsam. Although he had both of his eyes, he was missing most of his teeth.
"Both of ye be worthless scurvy cur," accused a third player, a surly-looking Ogrin. "Cheaters, the pair of ye. I'll have naught of either, now clear out before ye taste the metal of me cutlass."
"All talk and no threat, says I," rejoined the Jetsam. "But I agree the Kougra leaves now."
The fourth member of the game nodded her consent. A tough Acara who could easily hold her own in a fight, Spirit decided that she was the one to watch. The Kougra, sensing the growing hostility of the group, scooped up his remaining dubloons and retreated to a table near the stage. He winked at the singer, who shot him a disapproving look. Apparently, he had a reputation in this joint.
"Looks like you're in need of an extra player," Spirit said as she took the Kougra's place. The Acara glared at her.
"Ye're awfully bold for someone I've not seen before," she cautioned Spirit.
"How can I be seen if I'm not bold?" Spirit replied, meeting the Acara's eyes steadily. The Acara smiled.
"I like yer guts, but be warned I'll not deal with mainlanders seeking thrills."
"This mainlander's bringing the adventure, not seeking it out. Now are we going to leave these dice on the table all night, or are we going to make them do their work?"
The Acara laughed. "Ye be alright, for a landlubber. What's yer name?"
"Spirit. And yours?"
"I'm Arral, Captain of the Nereid," replied the Acara, shaking Spirit's paw. "And these deckswabbers be Risham and Lyric. The opening wager is five dubloons."
The rules of Bilge Dice were simple; Spirit had learned them her first night on Krawk Island. Bilge Dice was different from the games that she had grown up playing, but knowing how to throw dice was a skill that could be applied to many games. Now she threw them just well enough to seem an adequate player, winning a few rounds but losing more, trying to prolong the game without arousing suspicion. Losing was a good way to be invited back to the table.
After a few dozen dubloons had changed hands, Arral broke the silence.
"Either ye hate money or ye've got somethin' on yer mind besides gambling."
"Was I that obvious?" asked Spirit.
"Nay, yer a fair hand with dice, and bluffing, too. But I've been playin' too long not to know when someone's riggin' their throw. It's in the way ye hold 'em."
"I've met my better," Spirit conceded. "I'll tell you what's on my mind. I've a venture I'm off on, but I need a good ship and an experienced captain to take me. I was hoping Scurvy Island would yield me a braver sort than I've been finding on Krawk."
"Ye'll find none braver than are at this table. What's the nature of this venture of yorn?"
"There's an island," replied Spirit, "with treasure enough to satisfy a fleet, and a location only I know."
"Treasures on islands always have someone who put the loot there in the first place. That makes at least one other who knows the whereabouts of the booty. Who's to say it won't come to a fight if ye be goin' after it?"
"It may turn into a battle, if not with the captain then certainly with the sea and the island itself."
"The sea I've no fear of, not in shoal nor storm. But if it comes to cannons and swords, I'll know who I'm dealin' with. What manner of pirate be this who hid the plunder?"
Spirit glanced around the room. The Zafara had just launched into a new tune, and a group of sailors were dancing in front of the stage, slopping Grog on the floor and on each other. The Grarrl at the counter was yelling something at them, and in the general din, there was no chance of being overheard. She bent over the table, and the other three followed suit.
"Scarblade," whispered Spirit.
The reaction was immediate. Lyric the Ogrin jerked backward, choking on a swallow of the Cherry Pop that he was drinking. The Jetsam, Risham, almost knocked over the table, sending dice tumbling across the floor. Arral simply narrowed her eyes.
"Do ye want to draw ill luck down upon us?" asked Risham. His fists were balled and he looked ready to punch something. Spirit hoped that it wouldn't be her. "That's not a name what's said by those who value their lives."
Next to Risham, Lyric had finished coughing up his drink. Now he pulled out a small silver charm that he waved in circles in front of his face. Everyone at the table stared at him.
"What's it you think yer doing?" Risham demanded, redirecting his anger.
"It's t' counter bad luck. Ghosts don' like silver much," replied Lyric.
"Idiot, that's Werelupes," muttered Risham as he settled back into his chair.
"Well, it makes me feel better."
"Ghost or Werelupe makes no difference," Arral said, addressing Spirit. "I'll have naught to do with that pirate, and nor will any other captain who's heard half the rumors that run in these parts. Ye best give up yer venture, or ye'll not see many more sunsets."
It was with a heavy heart that Spirit returned to the now dark streets. She had liked Arral, admired her. She had risked a lot by telling her whose treasure she was after. And it had been for nothing. It looked like not even Scurvy Island pirates were willing to take the risk. Filled with these thoughts, Spirit wasn't paying as much attention as usual to her surroundings. As she began walking back towards the pier, a Ruki in a blue-and-gold coat detached himself from the crowd around the hall Spirit had just left and silently followed her.
The fisherman Tonu was still napping when Spirit arrived at the docks. She was about to shake him when a hand grabbed her arm.
Spirit's reflexes took over. In one movement she caught the hand and twisted around, forcing the Ruki's arm behind his back. A small yet sharp Thief Dagger appeared in her other paw.
"Who are you?" she growled, pressing her dagger into the small of the Ruki's back to encourage an answer.
"Easy, miss," he replied. "I'm not here for a fight. I heard you were in need of a ship."
Spirit released her grip but kept the dagger in her paw. Offers of help from strangers in deserted places were rarely to be trusted. "I might be," she said evasively.
"'Might be' wouldn't bring a girl like you to a place like this," said the Ruki, rubbing his wrist where Spirit had grabbed it. Spirit didn't feel sorry for him.
"A girl like me? Just who do you think you're talking to?"
"No offense, but it's obvious you're no pirate. Not that that matters. You're a treasure hunter like me. And since I have a ship and you have a treasure, it seems that an alliance would profit us both."
Spirit considered him critically. He didn't look like a typical pirate. His clothes were neat and well made, and all of his eyes, legs, and teeth were in their proper places. In fact, had they met in less suspicious circumstances, Spirit would have liked the look of him.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Captain Mercer Rackham at your service," the Ruki replied, sweeping off his plumed hat into an elegant bow. Usually, Spirit would have taken this as an insult, but the show of manners somehow suited him. "I'm sorry if I startled you before, but I wasn't expecting such a drastic reaction."
"You said you have a ship," said Spirit, paying no attention to his attempt at an apology. Captain Rackham nodded.
"It's a small vessel, nothing too grand, but she's seaworthy and I've yet to meet the squall that could take her down."
"And you're prepared to take me where I want with no idea where that might be, or what I might be after?"
"Ah, well, I do have some idea," Rackham said gingerly, eyeing the blade still in Spirit's hand. "I may have been passing by your table this evening, and only one name gets a reaction like that."
"Then you'll also know that the same name deters every pirate from setting sale. Why are you willing to take me on?"
"Call me crazy," Rackham replied. "Or perhaps I just don't believe in ghost stories. Scarblade hasn't been seen much since his defeat at Maraqua, so I'll take my chances." He grinned. "Besides, what's an adventure without a bit of risk?"
Spirit smiled despite herself. She had thought the same thing when she first heard about the treasure.
"And in return for your services, I suppose you'll want a cut of the treasure."
"Naturally. But I'm in this line of work for the excitement more than the profit, so I'll ask for a mere fifty percent."
Spirit snorted. Whatever he said, he knew the game. "Twenty would be generous. For that I could buy my own ship and crew."
"And get what you paid for," countered Rackham. "A loyal crew is bought through years of trust, not a few shiny coins."
"That depends on how many coins I offer. Thirty percent would buy anyone."
"I'm not just anyone, and this isn't any voyage. There will be more than a little danger involved, and I have to compensate my crew for their risks. How about we split the difference and call it forty?"
"Done. When can we depart, Captain?" Spirit asked with a grin.
"Call me Mercer. I'm only 'Captain' to my crew. We sail tomorrow afternoon. The ship's already provisioned. We just have to wait for a favorable tide."
"Where do I find you?"
"North side of Krawk. The ship is the Wretch."
"Thank you for everything, Donna," said Spirit as she shouldered her backpack. It had taken only a few minutes before breakfast to pack her and Jojo's things into two bags. The lighter one, mostly spare clothes, she gave to Jojo. Their other supplies, including the treasure map, Spirit carried herself.
"It was a pleasure," Donna replied. "Stop by the restaurant anytime you're in port. You, too, Jojo," she added, giving him a hug.
"Can I write you a Neomail, and will you write me back?" Jojo asked Donna.
"Of course," she told him. "And send me some of your pretty drawings, too. I want to know all about your adventures."
"Yay! Now I have a pen pal!" Jojo let go of Donna and picked up Radish. Spirit had worried that a shiny robot Petpet would be too conspicuous in the markets of Krawk Island, so she and Donna had disguised him in an Ultra Fashionable Potato Sack. Now, as long as he didn't start floating, he could easily be mistaken for a sack of vegetables. Melody, jealous of the attention Radish was getting, had sulked until Donna made her an eye patch. Now Melody was perched on Spirit's shoulder, nibbling on a piece of toast left over from breakfast, and looking eager to be part of the action again.
"Stay close," Spirit told Jojo as they left the Wobbly Plank. "The market will be busy, and I don't want you getting lost."
"Can we buy candy?" asked Jojo.
"We'll see. We need to get some supplies first."
There was a small market near where they had been staying, but it wasn't anything impressive. Instead, Spirit led the way to a larger market closer to the center of the island. She wasn't too worried about food, although some fresh fruit to fight off scurvy would be nice, but she did need some basic adventurer's tools. In her mind, Spirit ran through her wish list. She already had a set of lock picks, but a Grappling Hook and some rope would come in handy. She still had the Engraved Broad Sword that she had taken from the Kyrii in the bookstore, plus her dagger. What she really needed was a Handy Compass, a Flaming Torch, and a pair of strong gloves.
Jojo lagged a little behind Spirit as they entered the busy market. Buoyed up by his antigravity boosters, Radish was almost weightless in Jojo's arms, until he forgot that he was holding his Petpet and began to relax his grip. A stall selling shiny pirate earrings caught his eye, and he let the potato sack slip from his grasp to float gently three inches above the ground. Melody scolded in a shrill chatter, diving to pluck at the slowly drifting sack, but Jojo was already distracted by a Toy Pirate Sword displayed in a shop window. Radish clanked his annoyance as Melody attempted to heard him back into Jojo's arms, then circled around her to snitch a few shipping nails from a nearby cart.
Up ahead, Spirit had found a promising looking store; a large compass display filled half of the window. Jojo tore himself away from a pile of Gummy Pirate Candies to join her.
"Wait right outside the door," Spirit instructed him. "There's too much for you to break in there. I'll only be a minute."
Jojo sat down against the shop window as Spirit disappeared inside. From his lower vantage point, he spotted Melody chasing a flying potato sack underneath a row of carts.
"Radish!" The disguised Cuttlebot bobbed over and settled on his lap. "Are you hungry?" Jojo asked, pulling a small oil can out of his backpack. He opened the sack to give Radish the oil, but Melody swooped down and yanked it shut again. She glanced nervously at the crowd, but no one had noticed the flash of metal. "Come on," Jojo pleaded with the Carmariller. "I'll get you food next." Melody shook her head, determined to stick to Spirit's instructions. Radish, however, was tired of hiding in a dark sack. Ignoring Melody's protest, he squirmed his tentacles out of the rough cloth, forcing it open. Melody gave a warning growl, then lunged forward, trying to stuff him back inside. Radish evaded her, and in a second was swooping down the alley, a chattering Melody right behind him.
"Wait!" yelled Jojo, jumping up. "Spirit said to stay here!" He pushed his way through the crowd, trying to keep the two Petpets in sight, but they could maneuver through Pets' legs and under carts much more easily than he could. Soon he could only catch a flash of metal or brightly colored wing through temporary gaps in the bustle, and then he lost them completely. "Radish! Melody!" he called, but there was no answer.
Jojo looked around at the stores bordering the market street. He didn't recognize any of them. A bubble of fear began to form in his throat. "Spirit! Where are you?"
The crowd jostled him, pushing Jojo into another street. This one was less busy, and Jojo began to wander down it. Neither Petpet was anywhere to be seen, and the shops in this part of the market were completely unfamiliar. Jojo searched for a friendly face, someone to help him, but none of the shoppers paid him any notice. Tears were just starting to creep into his eyes when he rounded a corner—and bumped straight into a Shadow Kyrii, who dropped a stack of packages onto the dusty street. There was an earring with two red feathers in one of his ears.
"I'm sorry!" Jojo said, bending to pick up the packages. The Kyrii also knelt down, piling the parcels into a neat stack.
"Don't be," replied the Kyrii. "We were both distracted. You look like you're having as bad a day as I am."
Jojo nodded. "I was supposed to wait outside a shop for my sister, but then my Petpet ran off and now I can't find my way back, and I can't find Radish, either" he explained. A single tear traced the outline of his cheek as his lip began to quiver.
"Don't cry. Watch this!" The Kyrii held up both his hands, showing that they were empty. Then he waved them once—and pulled a Dubloon Charm out of the air. He handed it to Jojo, who smiled.
"It's magic. Can you remember what the store your sister was in looked like?"
Jojo nodded, describing the large compass display.
"I think I know the place. I bought a telescope there earlier." The Kyrii took Jojo's hand and lead him back towards the main market street. Jojo began to hum a pirate tune that Donna had sung him, then broke off as he remembered something.
"Why aren't you happy?" he asked the Kyrii.
"You said that you were having a bad day, too."
"Oh, that's nothing for you to worry about. There's just someone I'm trying to find, but I've lost track of her. By the way, I don't think I got your name."
They had almost reached the shop when their path was suddenly cut off. Spirit, sword in hand, was hurdling towards them, ignoring the protests from shoppers who dodged her unsheathed blade. There was a mixture of fury and fear on her face. An excited Melody swooped through the crowd in front of her, leading the way, while Radish followed guiltily a few paces behind.
At the sight of her, Eryk released Jojo's hand, shifting his feet into a battle stance. Dropping his packages for the second time that morning, he whipped a Gold Handled Katana out of the sheath that hung from his belt. Spirit slid to a halt three sword lengths in front of him, swinging her weapon into an attack position. Jojo looked from one to the other, his face full of confusion.
"Let him go," Spirit snarled, at the same time that Eryk demanded, "Give me the map."
"Spirit! You found me!" Jojo exclaimed, trotting over to stand beside her. Now it was Eryk's turn to look confused.
"This is your sister?" he asked, not taking his eyes off of his opponent.
Jojo nodded happily. "Thanks for helping me find her."
Spirit glanced from Eryk to Jojo and back again, mirroring the general feeling of puzzlement. "You weren't kidnapping him?"
"No, but now that I've found you, I won't let you escape again. Give me that map!" He rushed forward, but Spirit gave a shrill whistle. On cue, Melody dropped from the sky into Eryk's face. He stumbled backwards, trying to brush aside the jumble of wings which had latched onto his ears. When the Carmariller finally dropped off, Spirit and Jojo were already at the other end of the alley, and a sea of people was surging across the road, blocking his way forward. He made one last grab for Melody before she, too, disappeared into the crowd.
Eryk wouldn't be able to catch them on the busy market streets, but there were plenty of alleys to take. He slipped into one of these, turned right, and dashed down a path that would intersect with his targets.
How do I always end up in situations like this? Spirit asked herself as she ducked behind a fish seller's cart. She pulled Jojo down beside her, raising a finger to her lips to warn him to stay silent. Her adoptive brother stifled a giggle. At least one of us thinks this is fun. She shook her head. It was his carelessness that had put them in this danger. She knew she should be mad at him, but all she could feel was relief at his safety.
Cautiously, Spirit peered out from behind the stand, ignoring the questioning look from the Yurble fisherman who was selling his day's catch there. There was no sign of the Kyrii. Spirit let out the breath she had been holding. They must have lost him in the crowd.
"Come on," she said, pulling Jojo back into the street. "If we can make it to the docks, we'll be safe."
With the immediate danger gone, Spirit set the pace at a light jog rather than a sprint. If they did run into the Kyrii again, she would need enough breath to fight. It was a good decision. They hadn't been running for five minutes when a sword flashed out from behind a building. Spirit barely raised her blade in time to catch its downward sweep.
"That's my old sword, isn't it?" asked the Kyrii with a wild grin as he force Spirit backward.
"Keep fighting and I'll take your new one, too," Spirit retorted. She dropped to her knees, freeing her blade. Not expecting the sudden cease of resistance, Eryk overbalanced, and Spirit, grabbing his shirt, threw him over her shoulder.
"Melody," Spirit called, "Get Jojo and Radish to the water. I'll catch up." She watched the small group retreating out of the corner of her eye. In front of her, Eryk had recovered his feet. The two circled, both on their guard. She watched the muscles of his chest, waiting for the tension that would tell her that he was about to strike. His shoulders twitched; Spirit threw herself out of the way as he lunged forward, and before Eryk realized where she had gone, Spirit was off running again. She regretted fleeing from a fight, but there was too much at risk. Besides, she still remembered her last narrow escape.
Leaving the busy market, Spirit hurtled down first one alley, then another. She had only a vague idea of where she was, but she couldn't stop to get her bearings. She could hear the Kyrii's boots and heavy breathing right behind her. I hope I don't run into a dead end.
Then a last row of wooden buildings fell away and Spirit was sprinting through barrels of fish and shipping crates. The suddenly bright sun made her eyes water, but she refused to blink. Wooden piers jutted far out into the sea, with everything from fishing dinghies to majestic galleons moored along their lengths. As she vaulted over a large coil of Seafarer Rope, a particularly ornate vessel anchored at the far end of one of these caught her eye. The bow was crowned by a gilt Peophin figurehead, and the name Wretch was painted in bold crimson script along the side. She could just make out a small White Grundo climbing up a rope ladder dangling from the deck.
Behind her, Eryk had remained in the shadows of the harbor-front shops. He watched Spirit make her way down one of the piers, stopping in front of a mid-sized ship. The carved Peophin figurehead struck him as garish. As the Xweetok climbed up the rope ladder, a Ruki appeared at the railing. He reached down to pull Spirit on board, then the two left the ship's edge and disappeared from Eryk's sight.
When he was sure that they would not reappear, he slipped down to the water's edge. He hummed an odd, wavering tune to the water, a few notes that repeated in a strange but hypnotizing pattern. A minute passed, then a blue Ghoti surfaced in the shallow water washing the shore. Eryk stroked its smooth skin.
"Whisper," he said, addressing his Petpet, "I want you to follow that ship." Whisper nudged his hand in assent, then sank back into the sea. The golden flecks on her blue skin mirrored the sun glinting off of the waves, making her invisible.
An hour later, the Wretch left port for the open ocean. No one on board noticed the silent shape that glided in its wake. Far away, beyond the horizon, clouds began to gather.
To be continued...