Shad and Saura: The Secret Belowdecks - Part One
Art by ssjelitegirl
It wasn't a bright and sunny day.
It had been only a few hours ago, seeing as this was Roo Island, which got bright and sunny days for the better part of the year, but right now the sun had disappeared behind thick dark clouds that had come with the ship.
The villagers on Roo Island's northern coast had come out of their little houses to stare up at the ship, the gigantic three-masted man-o-war that was partly wrapped in clouds and swayed quietly on the waves next to the dock. Compared to the cheery-looking, colorful little houses of the village, it was hard to imagine anything more out of place.
The black sails had been reefed but nobody was in sight, apart from two small figures high up on the gangplank who were standing and looking down on the happy village which was, granted, shaded by the clouds at this point.
"This," one of them said grimly, "is stupid." He was a brown Ixi, tall and muscular, with a scar across his right eye and a wooden leg attached to his left knee. His appearance had "pirate" written all over him, with "sulky and reluctant" scribbled on the margins.
"I don't like 't any more than yeh do, boy," said the other figure, a short and chubby yellow Moehog. "But ye heard the cap, so move yer pretty lil' wooden hoofs."
She marched down the gangplank, which squeaked and bent under her weight. The Ixi followed, still grumbling.
"Okay, I can understand docking here at Usukiland," he said. "What I don't understand is why we couldn't just swarm ashore and pillage and plunder and so forth like we usually do."
"Blimey, pillaging Roo Island and taking back a whole boatload o' Springy Blue Blumaroo toys, just what I always dreamed of!" his crewmate said with a raised eyebrow, then added, "I don't know any more than yeh do. Cap'n's orders. No pillaging, go ashore, get yeh foodstuff and some extra ropes and a few spare sheets for 'em sails, pay th' shopkeepers an' get back to the ship. And ye know well what happens when ye defy Cap'n's orders, so we might as well get it over 'n done with."
They were an odd duo as they went down the single street of the village. The Ixi, plodding on with his back hunched, shot occasional glares at the curious villagers who were peering out of the windows everywhere around them. The Moehog walked like she owned the place, her head held high, huffing quietly. The locals were quiet and impartial, curious rather than scared.
Some even waved at them.
The two pirates assumed that they simply didn't know just who they were dealing with – which was a strange thing to assume, this was after all the Revenge, the most terrifying ship on the Neopian seas, steered by the notorious Captain Scarblade... then again, this was a kingdom ruled by someone who spent his days bouncing around on his tail and playing dice, so everything was possible.
As they headed back to the ship which was still swaying quietly on the waves, wrapped in clouds, showing no signs of life, the brown Ixi's ears perked, picking up whispering from a nearby alleyway.
"Okay, you go ask them."
"Me? I don't see why you couldn't ask them."
"I don't see why you can't ask them either, and someone's gotta ask."
"Good, so you go ask them."
The Ixi stopped, wondering where this would lead, when all of a sudden something popped up under his nose. The pirate jumped back, reached to draw his sword, realized that both his hands were full of bags, and resorted to glaring down at the new phenomenon which turned out to be a rather cheery-looking shadow Lupe with a wide grin and gleaming yellow eyes.
"Hi," he said, his tail waving around in the dust of the street. "Can we have a word?"
"You're currently giving me no other choice," said the Ixi, too amused to be annoyed. "What gives?"
"Well, we're sort of tourists," said another voice, and the Ixi pirate turned around to look at a spotted Zafara who had emerged from the alley. "Or travellers, better put. I'm Saura. This is Shad." The shadow Lupe nodded and grinned. "We're kinda stuck on this island."
"My condolences," the brown Ixi said. His crewmate chortled and stepped closer.
"So ye wanna take up the honest trade o' piracy, is that it?" she asked. "Willing to endure fierce storms and the persecution of all kingdoms of Neopia in exchange fer a few handfuls o' dubloons?"
"Not really," said Shad the Lupe. "We'd just like to get off this island before we go nuts and attempt to bounce around on our tails."
The pirates exchanged glances. The Revenge was a huge ship. A few extra pairs of hands were always welcome. Of course, this was up to the boatswain to decide, but as far as they were concerned, there was no real reason to decline.
Neither Shad nor Saura was sure whether to feel relieved or anxious when they strolled towards the ship that was looming before them, all ominous and quiet, the word REVENGE written in dripping red letters on the prow. The two brothers, stepbrothers to be exact, had been on Roo Island for about a week now, ever since the only ferry to the mainland was "cancelled until further notice" because, as it so turned out, the Roo Island merry-go-round keeper had caught Neomonia and the ferry's skipper was substituting him until he recovered.
The two had come to the island on a bigger merchant boat that sailed between the northern shores of Shenkuu and the prosperous village of Sunshine Valley of Happy Happiness father west on the coast of Roo Island.
"We live on Mystery Island," Shad explained, his head spinning around on his neck as he looked around on the vast deck of the Revenge, the black sails overhead and the jungle of rigging reaching towards the sky from either board. "And then we saw your ship and figured, hey, pirates, Krawk Island, ferry traffic to Mystery Island five times a day, so if those pirates were nice enough not to keelhaul us on spot then we might all profit from this in the end."
"Eh, just come along," said the brown Ixi, dropping his bags with obvious relief. "The boatswain'll decide whether or not there's a place for you on board."
As they went down the deck, the Lupe's sensitive nose picked up scents of other pirates here and there. Most of them appeared to be downstairs, deep in the hull of the ship.
"What's a bossun?" he whispered to his brother as the Ixi's uneven pace echoed before them, one step a soft thump of the boot, the other a clear solid clash of wood against wood.
"Boatswain. It's like, the housekeeper," Saura whispered back. "In charge of the rigging and sails and crew and the whole technical side."
"Quite so," said the Ixi, stopping behind a dark door and raising a hoof to knock. "So be on your best behavior now."
The door had looked like all the other doors on the Revenge, made of dark wood with a dull illuminator in it. However, as the pirate pushed it open, it revealed a room that was best described as, well, Neopia.
Shenkese fighting fans on the walls. Wooden masks from Mystery Island on the shelves. Shimmering golden items from the Lost Desert kingdoms and Altador, each worth a small fortune on its own. Saura spotted a moon rock that glowed in a farther corner as he looked around. There was the average ship equipment, maps on the walls and a big globe by the desk, but there were colorful feathers tucked behind the maps and the globe was of that distinct yellow and green hue that's only used by the royal cartographers of Brightvale.
"They want to join the crew," said the Ixi. "Got anything for them?"
It was only then that the two brothers noticed the figure who was sitting behind a dark mahogany desk by the window and had up until this point been busy writing something. The boatswain looked up and then got up, maneuvering between piles of books on the floor next to the desk.
She was a rather tall yellow Kyrii, dressed in a brownish uniform, with two long swords attached to her back with thick belts. Her clothing, proud posture and rather confident smile as she came up to them and bowed slightly looked so out of place on that grim pirate ship that the brothers shot quick glances back at the open door to make sure that they were still on the Revenge. The boatswain looked more suited to be an officer on Altador's royal fleet.
"Join the crew, huh?" she asked. Her voice was just like her smile – nice, yet confident, and it had a distinct accent. "What are your reasons?"
The brothers told her the story.
"We can't very well rely on you in battle, then," said the Kyrii. "Or can we?"
"Not really," admitted Shad, as Saura grimaced in agreement. "We'd just like to get home. That whole piracy-thing we could do without."
"Pirates don't tolerate wimps," remarked the boatswain. Her tone was somewhat impartial, making her sound even more like a royal fleet officer. "If you become part of the crew, you become pirates, and you shall be expected to follow all the rules of this ship, including the one that says not to leave your mates without help in battle."
"Really, Cora, give 'em a break," said the brown Ixi from the doorway. "You know just as well as I do that the captain's been avoiding battles altogether for the last few weeks."
The yellow Kyrii gave him an ice-cold look. "It's hard enough for me to keep some semblance of discipline in this gang, thank you." She took a quill from the desk and twirled it around thoughtfully, shuffling the papers on the desk. "You two, can you do anything?"
"I can cook," Saura said hesitantly.
"And I can eat," Shad added cheerily, earning a glare from his brother. Cora looked up with a faint smile before unfolding a big piece of paper.
"I'm Shad," said the Lupe. "Well, Shadoron, actually."
The quill scraped the paper. "Shad will do. And you, Zafara?"
"Saurani," said the Zafara. "Or just Saura."
More scraping. Then the boatswain put the paper down. "Take them to the galley. The boys have been complaining about greasy plates often enough, perhaps now things will improve a little." She looked up and smiled quite amiably. "Welcome aboard."
"Um," the Ixi's voice suddenly came from the door. It was a quiet, frightened sound, and as the three Neopets by the table looked up, they could see him peer out of the doorway and hear heavy footsteps from outside. Cora stood up, her face stern.
Captain Scarblade stepped in.
His appearance was another sharp contrast in the two brothers' experience of that day. The Revenge had been such an unexpected sight in the happy and colorful Roo Island, and its down-to-earth, even amiable crew – or at least the parts they had seen by now – had been just as unexpected in comparison, so they'd half expected the notorious captain of the ship to be something like the pirate equivalent of a smart businessman whose reputation is more of a glorious image given to him by the stories and Neopian Times reporters than his actual deeds.
One single glance at his grim, self-aware posture that radiated sharp malice and some kind of general all-encompassing hatred for the whole world assured that this wasn't the case. Scarblade only had one eye, but this eye gleamed like a light in a window of a standard Ominous Castle in the middle of Haunted Woods in a stormy night. It was hypnotizing in a way but you knew for a fact that you really didn't want to go anywhere near it, much less be spotted by it. This Lupe had without a doubt earned every bit of his reputation.
Shad and Saura shrunk back as the pirate captain's glance slid over them, but it was a kind of general glance, the same kind the entire furniture got. Then his attention focused on Cora, who seemed to be long used to it and didn't even blink.
"Trouble downstairs," he said, not wasting a word on introductions.
To be continued...