A Pirate's Tale: Dark Lullaby - Part Seven
Leglus watched as Caylis and Adimaris swam away into the ocean to track the dark magic the evil water faerie's oyster expelled, alone on the beach. It was nearly midnight, and everyone else was loading onto their ships to follow the two Maraquans discretely. The pirate Xweetok's ears perked up a bit at the sound of hooves on sand.
"Ready, kid?" Dezeronto asked in his usual gravelly voice.
Leglus nodded. "Aye, Captain." He turned away from the dark water and made his way for the Intrepid, with Dezeronto following close behind him. The crew really hadn't begun to treat Dezeronto any differently than they always had, and the Uni had seemed rather pleased by this. Leglus couldn't help but suspect that that could have been one of his reasons for concealing his title in the first place. He was a clever man, Dezeronto.
The deck of the ship, still just as shiny and reflective as the few days before when Leglus had slaved away swabbing it, was surprisingly comforting. It seemed like it had been years since he was the "Swabby." Now he was the Bait.
Their slow sailing all went by in a blur for Leglus. He was trying hard not to think about his possible demise - trying not to think about anything at all, really. Thinking could be dangerous.
"You'll be fine, kid," Sunny told him a few hours later, as dawn just began to break. He barely heard the Shoyru's words, and his mind wandered instead to when he'd last slept. He really couldn't remember, and yet he didn't feel tired at all.
"Yeah," he finally said, realizing how rude he must have seemed, "Yeah, I know." It was a lie, but there was a certain amount of truth in it. He didn't want to die, of course, but for the moment all he could think about was Adimaris, swimming through the waters that doubtlessly flowed with a new dark power. And then there were his shipmates, and all of the other pirate crews that would be working together to surround the faerie. He didn't want any of them anywhere near her. He toyed with the idea of somehow getting the oyster away from her before anyone could get hurt... but that was impossible.
In a moment of much needed comic relief, a huge black Crokabeck swooped down and landed on Dezeronto's head, who shook it off quickly onto the deck. The whole crew burst into gales of laughter, even Leglus, until Dezeronto looked up at them all with a note under his hoof and a sad gleam in his good eye.
"It's time," he said, clearly addressing Leglus. The pirate Xweetok gulped and tried to ignore the sudden cluster of worried eyes around him. He grasped the cork of his rum bottle with fingers that refused to stop trembling and yanked it out before meeting Dezeronto's gaze.
He'd never seen the captain of the Intrepid look so unraveled, but his voice was steady when he tilted his head to the starboard side of the ship and said, "There."
Leglus nodded, took a deep breath, and lifted the potion bottle, chugging it all in a few seconds. Then, before his nerve could be broken, he rose and sprinted off of the side of the ship.
The water was cool and inviting when he hit it, and tasted like light. It was the only word he could use to describe it. At first the water pouring through his nostrils unnerved him, but as he breathed it in, he couldn't deny its pleasant scent. Despite his dire situation, he couldn't help but smile as he propelled down into the ocean's depths, his wide eyes taking in every bit of the ocean's beauty. So this was how Adi lived. For the first time, he truly understood why she never wanted to leave.
His lightheartedness was not meant to last, however. Ahead of him was a steep drop off, and even he, who had no magical ability, could sense the crackling darkness. So that's where she was - Nerina. He paddled downward, into the pit, slowly.
It was far from an encouraging sight. Poor Maraquan Neopets had obviously passed by at the wrong time, because the ocean floor was littered with sleeping bodies, their chests heaving slowly up and down and streams of bubbles flowing from their nostrils, mouths, and gills. Even the brown Lenny and his party of scoundrels lay on the floor in the enchanted sleep. So Nerina hadn't even the mercy for the ones who had freed her. Great. An annoying pirate Xweetok who came to lure her out of her hiding place, then, would surely never escape her wrath.
He wasn't sure how easy it would be for sound to carry under the water, so he yelled as loudly as he could, "Oh nasty Nerina! Come out and play, sweetheart!"
He couldn't decide if it would be better to hide or to stay put, so he settled for lurking behind a swaying sea fungus of some kind and watched the waters with eyes open wide.
It didn't take long for the evil faerie to take to the bait, and as he watched her swim softly forward, her dark hair billowing behind her, he panicked a little. He hadn't even thought to bring a weapon - there would be no way to defend himself.
As she swam ever closer, Leglus looked above him. No sign of pirates swimming to his aide. No sign of Caylis. No sign of Adi. For that he was grateful. He hoped she'd keep her promise, if they failed.
Breathing in a huge gulp of ocean water to steady his racing heart, he leaped out from behind the fungus and grabbed onto the faerie without thinking. He was only supposed to be luring her out, but pure instinct had taken over. He would not let her hurt anyone else.
The evil faerie howled, scratching at him with her claw-like fingernails and baring her teeth like a Werelupe. He would be haunted by the sight of those evil, glowing blue eyes and the billowing hair, black as night, for the rest of his life, however short that may be. The golden oyster hung from a chain around her throat.
"Fool!" she shouted, and her voice was the sound of shrieking knives, so wicked it made his skin crawl. The pirate Xweetok grabbed for the necklace, but her hand knocked his aside and pulled a dagger from nowhere.
He felt a sharp pain go through his left leg and he howled in pain, but he still held on to the faerie with all of his might, dragging the both of them further and further down into the pit. He watched in slight relief as Nerina dropped her dagger, but then she took instead to clasping both her hands around Leglus' throat.
He tried for a moment to pry her hands loose, but it was no use. Instead, as his vision started to blur, and he reached out and snatched the oyster at her throat. The hard gold was cool under his fingers, and though he could barely breathe and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, he grasped the oyster until his hand ached and pulled with all he had left. His body fell backward slightly as the chain broke with a satisfying click.
"No!" Nerina screamed, releasing his throat and grabbing at his hand instead while he breathed huge streams of water and pried the oyster open with much stronger fingers.
The stream of black and purple blinded him for a second, and then he felt himself sinking, his mind blurring. So that was it then. A soft, menacing melody drifted through his ears, beginning like a cradle song, but then interrupted with sharp screeches that made every hair, every piece of fur he had, prickle in fear. He was falling asleep - the lull in his mind couldn't have meant anything else. He'd hit himself with the oyster - not the faerie. He had failed. It was all over. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes and succumbed to the slumber was a blur of purple and red, and something dark encircling him. It was almost peaceful.
While he slept, he dreamed.
A long, flat beach stretched before him. It was familiar, but at the same time entirely foreign. The beach of his childhood, but wild, overgrown. The ocean he'd watched everyday, but darker, greener, dirtier. The bright, hot sun, but cold and dead. And all the while a spine-chilling lullaby cooed from nowhere, a melody that once might have been soothing, but had since succumbed to the faerie's evil. He knew he was dreaming - which was good - it meant he wasn't dead - and he knew that what he saw was meant to scare him. It was no doubt an effect of the oyster's dark enchantment.
He ignored the differences as if they weren't there, and sat down on the sand, still worrying for his friends even in his dreams. He didn't know what else to do, so he started building a sand castle. When he finished one, he built another, and then another, until the whole beach was full. Though the dark magic had twisted and changed everything else in his dream, the sand castles never changed, safe, for some reason, from anything the darkness could do to them. And he knew they never would.
He had no idea how long he'd been asleep, or how much longer he would be, so he didn't look at the wrongness of the water, didn't look at the overgrowth, didn't glance into the sun, he only walked through his sand castles and waited to wake up.
Air came in sharp, strange gusts - because it was air, he realized, and not water. Leglus leapt forward and opened his eyes.
To be continued...