Shad and Saura: The Secret Belowdecks - Part Six
Art by ssjelitegirl
Shad and Saura were alone in the galley, washing up after dinner. Gran had gone off to run her own errands and the brothers were free to share their thoughts. As far as Saura was concerned, his thoughts mostly centered around continued amazement at how much sheer cold, scalpel-sharp thought Shad could put into problems he wanted to solve. But the name Gnarfas didn't ring much of a bell.
"You really don't read many books ever, do you?" Shad asked grimly.
"I do," Saura parried. "Cookbooks. And if I didn't, you'd starve in the middle of all your storybook adventures."
"Valid point," the Lupe agreed. "Anyway, Gnarfas is the Werelupe King's hm... champion slash assassin slash assorted odd dirty jobs slash... slash. Slashing, mostly. He's this big hulking brute of a Werelupe with four arms and the strength of a small army, and everyone agrees that he's a bit off in the head so the King is said to keep him deep underground in chains in the Werelupe lands." He splashed around thoughtfully in the dishwater bowl. "The thing is, nobody's quite sure if he's an unsystematic and unpredictable destructive monster or a sharp, calculative mind. And I'm not even sure which is worse."
"Well," Saura said grimly, "at this point I think we can assume that if he was a mindless monster, he would've followed the scent of the crewmembers and crashed out through the floorboards-"
"deckboards at some point, which probably would have caused a bit of comment. He's laying low. He's loose but he's hiding. What's he even doing on board, what do you think?"
Shad had given it a bit of thought. "Well, Scarblade is clearly in on it. Cora too, I'd assume. Didn't the pirates say that the captain went weird in his behavior after they stopped for a while in the Haunted Woods? Maybe that's where they took him on board. Chances are he's being transported somewhere for some reason."
"What reason?" Saura asked, raising an eyebrow.
"If it really is him, then some really desperate, stupid reason," the Lupe said with a scowl. "Gnarfas is a walking weapon. Especially on a ship where everyone's confined to one place and most people don't even know that he's here. Scarblade must really be one very, very good captain to have earned this much unwavering blind trust from the entire crew."
"Or one that's very, very good at instilling fear," Saura said grimly, remembering his food delivery duty. "Either way... now we know. What do we do? Do we tell everyone?"
"And walk the plank?"
"Or get mauled at night," the Zafara pointed out.
"Well, the crew already knows about the risk of getting mauled at night," Shad reckoned. "They don't have to know what it was to take precautions. And we'll all be together in the forecastle."
There was a low, echoing gong somewhere high up on the deck, followed by a thudding of dozens of feet. The brothers paused, wondering if this was something important to pay attention to when the galley door flew open.
"Thought ye boys didn't know the signals," Gran shouted cheerfully. "Come on, this is All Hands. Everyone's to attend."
The three got to the deck when everyone was already assembled into a big crowd in front of the captain's bridge. Captain Scarblade was standing on the edge of the bridge, his single eye glinting like the lantern of a lighthouse, and the footsteps of those coming late echoed back painfully from the silent deck. The two brothers, realizing that their adventures belowdeck could well single them out in the Captain's eyes in this matter, slunk behind Gran's wide skirts.
They were right: once everyone was present and silent, Scarblade first took some time eyeing Shad and Saura, then cast his glance over the rest of the crew. They were all staring back with unwavering attention.
"My crew," said the captain, his head raised high. "During the last big storm, our boatswain was attacked. She is a good fighter and a good pirate, so you have all been concerned, and for a reason. I called you here to tell you everything you need to know about it."
Saura, who figured that he'd hear everything without having to watch, sunk farther behind Gran's back and turned to look at the crew instead. It proved to be much more informative.
"Be assured," the captain carried on, "that it wasn't done by anyone in this crew. There are no traitors among us. I know who did it and why."
The crew listened silently, heads turned upwards. Saura couldn't read anything but expectant attention from their faces.
"When we left the village of Rotberg back in Haunted Woods, I was entrusted with a task to transport a secret to Krawk Island. It was something only select officers knew and had to know. The secret was transported in a safe cage and was harmless to everyone for most of the voyage. Unfortunately, it got loose and is currently hiding somewhere in the ship.
"I won't tell you what it is and why it has to be transported, you don't need to know this info yet. What you need to know is: don't move around the ship alone. It won't target groups. Don't move around in the dark, or near places that are completely dark and where it could hide." The voice halted for a moment and then said, with the slightest hint of surprise, "Yes?"
"Sir," said a familiar drawly voice. Saura craned his neck and recognized Ted, the buff island Kougra who'd tossed Benny the Blade around the other day. "I'd just like to know, how big is it, as in, how big does a space have to be for it to hide in it?"
His crewmates shot quick glances at him, then nodded in agreement and turned to look at the captain as well. Scarblade paused for thought.
"If you can hide a lifeboat in it, then you can hide that thing in it, I'd say," he replied. "But don't take any risks. Also, don't try to track it down, you won't be able to take it on, alone or in a group."
"Sir," interrupted another voice the two brothers recognized as the hook-tailed Korbat. "What if we all tracked it down and took it on?"
"You wouldn't manage that without losses." Scarblade's single eye glinted down at the crew. "I will track it down myself. Regarding that, I would like to see all officers in my cabin right now. Also, where's the helmswoman?" His eye moved across the crowd and a purple arm rose. "Ah, good. You will join us too."
Sandra skulked forward with a slight grin and suddenly stood eye to eye with Benny who'd been edging away from the crowd.
"I beleev zat you are also one of ze officers," she cooed, smiling. It wasn't a pleasant smile.
"I... I'm not a fighting officer," the Bruce stuttered, his eyes darting to and fro, not daring to say anything too sharp in Scarblade's presence. "I won't be of any use, I'd just get in the way-"
"Defy ze Captain's order, vill you?" Sandra snarled, her accent nearly unintelligible now. The crew fell deathly quiet. Faces turned to look at Scarblade.
"Benny, come," said the Captain.
The Bruce turned and ambled off towards the cabins with a look of resignation. The crew scattered, mumbling among themselves.
"Well, I won't deny that this is a bit creepy," said Saura as the brothers retreated to the galley again, Gran ambling along ahead. "Did you look at the faces of the crew while the captain was talking?"
Shad shot him a surprised glance, then scowled. "Let me guess. Range of expressions from awe to agreement with one or two faces in the crowd that tried really hard to conceal their hate and disapproval, and those faces will be key to this mystery and/or will try to take Scarblade down in a belief that he's endangering the entire crew, and-"
Saura looked exasperated. Shad was a very avid book-reader. "No."
"Nothing," said Saura. "They all had the same sort of expression. This one."
Shad eyed him curiously. "The 'I ate something funny for lunch, should I go see the doc or have a bit of water and go lie down and see where it goes'?"
The Zafara pondered whacking him, then thought better of it – never know if someone might spin it as attacking a fellow crewmember – and snorted. "No. It was the 'I'm curious about this information and find it useful, jolly good thing that the Cap decided to spare it, I'll do exactly as he says'."
There was heavy silence, broken only by the usual ship-on-voyage sounds.
"All of them," Shad said flatly.
"All of them," said Saura. "Although a few of them did look like they ate something funny."
The Lupe pondered that for a moment. "Well, if anything, it's probably a good thing there isn't anything complicated brewing in the crew. If Scarblade wants to go Gnarfas-hunting in the near future-"
Gran, who'd been staying a dozen paces ahead of them the entire time, stopped dead on her tracks and spun around so fast that the spin itself wasn't even visible.
"I um," Shad said quickly. Saura winced.
The galley door was only a few steps away now. Gran slammed it open, whirled in, waited until the brothers had sheepishly hurried in as well and slammed it shut again.
"Gnarfas," she said matter-of-factly as soon as they were within the safe solitude of the galley.
"Well," Shad backpedalled quickly, "what else could it be? It's a dangerous howling Lupe-thing that had to be kept in a cage. Totally Gnarfas."
Gran was staring at them both with a mixture of frantic panic and disbelief. Saura's long ears perked slowly. If you hear a piece of bad news, you look panicky and disbelieving, but when told it's a wild guess, you'll want to believe it. Unless you can't believe it.
"You knew," he said.
Shad shot a puzzled look at him. "Say what?"
"Of course she knew," the Zafara said grimly, pieces falling into place. "How could she not? Gnarfas eats like anyone else, and probably even moreso. That's a lot of raw meat to shuffle discreetly into the belly of the ship. Either you let the cook in on it, or you'll risk Questions, and Scarblade doesn't risk Questions unless the person asking them is expendable.
"Although you could've led us to believe that we guessed wrong," he added to Gran, who'd sunk onto a crate, "because until now, it was a guess."
Shad backed off a bit, his hindquarters sinking closer to the floor in an anticipating semi-pounce. "Are you going to silence us now? Cos here we are knowing a piece of info we shouldn't know and we're all alone with you and you're a pretty good fighter if I remember my Neopian Times war reports properly."
Gran looked up from the crate with sudden amusement. "Ain't that melodramatic. No, if I went and offed mah good cabin boys for no easily explained reason, I'd hafta be a good forty years stupider. Yer the ones in the real pickle, not I."
She eyed their confused expressions and broke into a slow grin. "See, Scarblade didn't let mosta the crew know unless they were involved-"
"Cora, the boatswain, the organizing force," Shad muttered quickly. "Terry, the carpenter, got the news when he nearly broke out, that's why he looked so shaken the other day; you, the cook, were in from the start, and probably all the officers, stands to reason..."
"And Mace," said Saura. "The doc. When you have a deadly force onboard, you don't want your doctor to stay in the dark. He didn't look the least surprised when he came to Cora."
"And Sandra," the Lupe said hurriedly, his tail wagging; he couldn't help but like the Mystery Solving Round. "Scarblade asked him to join the group-"
"Nah," said Gran.
Shad's ears drooped. "Oh come on, this was rolling so well!"
"I reckon Sandra knows now," said Gran, still looking amused-
"Because Scarblade needs her Werelupe-something to track Gnarfas down," Saura interjected quickly. Shad shot him a stern glare of the I-wanted-to-say-that sort.
"-exactly, but she didn't until now, she's just a helmswoman. Ye kids, however, are in it now, and that means?"
Her grin got wider as she left the end of the question open, looking at them expectantly. The brothers looked at each other. Suddenly the Mystery Solving Round looked much less fun, and not for a lack of answer.
"That Scarblade will want us in the inner circle," Saura said grimly. Shad contributed something that sounded more or less "bweep".
Gran beamed. "Got it. Let's go, kiddies, while the party's still going."
To be continued...