Shad and Saura: The Secret Belowdecks - Part Two
Art by ssjelitegirl
"Disappointed?" the Ixi asked as they headed across the deck again. Cora had rushed off with the captain and the three had snuck away at the same time. The brothers, who had been looking confused and deep in thought ever since they left the boatswain's cabin, looked up with a start.
"Cora has this sort of effect on people," said the pirate, his voice hinting a smile. "Not what you'd expect from a big bad pirate ship, ne? More yohoho, less official stuff and paperwork?"
"Kinda," Shad admitted cautiously. So far their newfound and thrust-upon pirate career had been so oddly mundane and lacking in exotic pirate-y-ness that he was half expecting the striped shirts, peglegs and yohohos to jump out from behind a random mast any second now. Whatever a yohoho might look like. Well, the Ixi did have a pegleg, but it was really just a... wooden hoof. Something people use when they lose their own leg for one reason or other. There was nothing specifically piratey about it now that you started to think about it.
"See, ships are like small countries in their own right," said the Ixi, heading down the stairs. "They need to be run. The pillaging and plankwalking is part of the deal, of course, but only a small part. There's still paperwork and keeping tabs on the provisions and supplies and whatnot. And your average illiterate lad from Village Whatsisname doesn't get that done. When you grow up thinking "hey, who needs school, I'll go out to sea and become a pirate and get rich", well, that's all you'll ever get. Minus the 'rich' part, often enough-"
"Come again, lad?" a familiar voice interrupted him from the depths of the ship. They had come down a steep staircase into semi-darkness and were now in front of a doorway. The pirate beckoned the two brothers to come along and they entered the galley, a vast, low room filled with food scents and lit mostly by gas lamps, although the daylight emerging from two illuminators was trying hard to add its share. It was empty bar the same yellow Moehog lady who had been to the shore with the Ixi. She was busy doing the seafaring equivalent of unpacking the groceries, but looked up as the trio entered.
"Not you, Gran, I was talking to the newbies," said the Ixi. "Cora sent them to work with you. Lads, this is Gran, our cook."
"Gran?" Saura asked.
"S'what everyone calls me," Gran said cheerfully.
"Hey, we never got your name," Shad pointed out, turning to look at the Ixi.
"Ah yeah," he said with the air of someone who rarely gets to the introduction part when meeting new people. "Name's Terry. I'm something like the carpenter and other assorted odd jobs on this ship. You know, building things, fixing things, breaking other people's things in crucial places." He sat down on a nearby stool and poured himself a drink from a keg that stood by the crates. "As I was saying. Cora? Don't get on her bad side. She pretty much runs this place; well, we have the Cap'n and everything, but she runs the technicalities of this place if you follow me here."
The brothers were still getting accustomed to the fact that they were now, as it were, de facto pirates, but curiosity was now getting the best of them.
"Who is she anyway?" Saura asked. "I mean, she doesn't quite look like a..."
"Pirate?" Terry said with a grin. "In a way she's more of a pirate than any of us will ever be. She used to work as an auditor of sorts in the royal fleet of Meridell. One day the Revenge attacked the flagship she was serving on, most were killed, the rest were captured and given a choice between death and becoming a pirate, as it's so usually done. Well, they were royal officers. They all said that they'd rather die than become vile scoundrels. We honored their wishes." He chuckled dryly. "Except Cora, she took up the offer. Seems to me that she doesn't care what ship she's serving on, paperwork is paperwork. So she became the boatswain over time, because she just fit the position well."
"What about Scarblade?" Shad's ears twitched. "I mean, he didn't strike me as the kind of guy who'd be okay with a former royal officer running his-"
"Sssshhh!" Terry waved his hoof frantically. "Won't get far in this crew if you start asking questions like these. Things just... work best with Cora running the technicalities, let's stick to that, mmkay?"
"Besides," said Gran, "yeh don't want the Cap'n actively runnin' things. Ye'd get nothin' done."
Terry glared at her, wondering why he'd gotten stuck with the suicide squad.
"Well, s'true," the Moehog said absently, striding to and fro in the galley preparing some sort of a stew with the all-encompassing air of the sole ruler of those grounds. She really felt like a pleasant, if somewhat grubby grandma, but there was a certain steely quality to her that managed to suggest that she would not be afraid to say anything she wants to the captain's face, should the need arise. "He didn't get his rep by bein' a fluffy lap-Warf, ye know. S'what a Cap'n should be like, after all. Rah-rah-rah and keelhauling and shiver me timbers, a nice loud voice and lots o' dark deeds to keep up our image. S'what a Cap is for. But to actually run things, well, that takes different people altogether. Ye don't get stuff done by yelling at it." Chopped carrots fell into a pot on the stove from her quick hands as she spoke.
Terry made a grimace of reluctant agreement and got up. "But there's no sense in saying it out loud, is what I'm saying. Speaking of, might as well get-"
A low, dark howl cut through the air at that point, slicing through the Ixi's words as if with a razor. It wasn't a loud one, sounding like it'd come through multiple walls and according to Saura's exceptionally sensitive ears, emerging from the depths of the ship somewhere underneath and slightly farther away towards the prow. But it was a piercing howl, a sound that simply couldn't be ignored, cutting through the very soul of everyone who heard it and touching some primeval chords in them – the chords of deepest, instinctive fears. The two brothers could feel their hair stand on end – all over their bodies.
When the howl faded, the silence rang on even louder.
"O-kay, so," Shad eventually said, professional interest overruling the initial shock. "Lupe howl, emitted for no specific reason, used to express generic anger most of the time, with distinct overtones of sorrow and some kind of a strong will or wish. Mrmyes."
The others stared at him.
"Trust me, we know," he said dismissively.
"M'not sure if I'm glad to find out or not," Gran muttered.
Terry poured himself another drink. His hands were shaking.
"You see," he said, "we've been hearing those for a while now. We always thought that hey, sometimes the wind howls through the cannon hatches, spend enough time around this place and you'll hear anything, and-"
"Hah," said Gran, ambling over to the table. "All wishful thinking and fooling yehselves and trying not to think what we're all thinking. It's the Cap'n, sure enough. He's been... odd, fer a while now. Hasn't been hisself lately, all thoughtful and worried and kinda nervous."
"Gran," Terry said with a clear warning in his voice.
"They's new crewmembers, they've the right to know as much as anyone else," the Moehog said coolly. "And I wouldn't want me new cabin boys to get on Cap'n's bad side because of not knowing what to expect an' getting keeled on their first day here and leaving me to do all the work on me own again. No, boys, take me word for this. Stay out of the Cap'n's path, talk with yessahs or nosahs if ye have to, an' don't ask any inconvenient questions cos the walls have ears. Now, get over here an' help me chop these veggies."
Terry left with the grog, grumbling quietly to himself. The brothers got to work, slowly getting over the freaky incident as Gran plunged into a curious conversation with them. Her happy chatter eventually washed the feeling of insecurity away and both Shad and Saura nearly forgot that they were on the most notorious pirate ship in Neopia and technically, part of her crew. It was more like working in a tavern. Gran turned out to be from the Lost Desert, a fairly noble family, no less – "the black Babaa of the family, I was" – and a classic case of running-away-from-home-at-a-young-age.
"S'been so long," she said cheerfully, "that it don't much matter where I'm from, there's nothing left of it. I used to talk all posh, too." She giggled, a fairly disconcerting sight from an elderly overweight Moehog. "It's the sea, lads. It shapes ye and rubs off all sides of ye it doesn't like, and turns ye into anything it wants. I'd first act like a rough sailor to fit in, like kids do, talked like sailors did n everything, an' then it became part o' me, and now I don't even 'member how to talk posh. If ye stuck around, it'd happen to ye as well."
There was a moment of silence, during which Shad's brow furrowed. His happy-go-lucky personality hid deeper, more inquisitive traits that generally never allowed him to let go of an idea until he was completely done analyzing it.
"So Scarblade," he began, dropping the thread of conversation down the deep hole it'd just been pulled out of. "How long's he been like that?"
"Couple weeks," Gran admitted, thinking back. "Started howlin' like that at around... lemme think... t'was after we left the coast of Haunted Woods, this much I remember..."
She fell quiet when heavy footsteps echoed on the staircase leading down.
To be continued...