Shad and Saura: The Secret Belowdecks - Part Seven
Art by ssjelitegirl
A very slight murmur of voices could be heard when standing just outside the door to Scarblade's cabin. In fact, if you were to stand there with a glass against the door, you could probably have eavesdropped pretty easily, assuming you were the sort to spy on Captain Scarblade in broad daylight, or at least dim foggy daylight filtered by smoke machines. And if you were that sort, you were beyond help.
Gran knocked. The murmur ceased at once. There was no call to enter but the Moehog pushed the door open nonetheless.
The two brothers, skulking along in the relative insecure safety of her wide figure, couldn't help but think that they'd never seen a round table of serious officers look more like a great big question mark.
Gran shut the door. In that process, she had to get close enough to the door to shut it, which meant the brothers couldn't hide in her shade any more. They did so anyway. It was a sight to behold and added a fair bit of bemusement to the general question mark of expressions.
She then turned to look at Scarblade. The captain's face didn't look particularly questioning or particularly angry or particularly confused. It was mostly expectant.
"They know," Gran said simply.
The general question mark grew a few levels, while Scarblade's face went through a number of conflicting, subtle changes.
"What?" he finally asked.
This time, and to their own luck, Saura recognized the synonym to "how much". If it's really Gnarfas, then he's being transported like this for some really desperate, stupid reason. A reason that we don't know. If we did, admitting it would be fifteen kinds of insane, but our ignorance is our safety.
"That it's Gnarfas," he said quickly. "We sorta guessed that one. We heard the howls and went to investigate and Shad smelled a Werelupe and the rest of the crew was accounted for and seeing what it did to Cora, it just stood to reason."
The question mark relaxed around the edges, but Scarblade in its center was as attentive as ever. Shad, who figured he couldn't add anything useful right now, resorted to staying quiet and wagging his tail. Universal signs of goodwill, thank you forever.
"Well," said the captain after a pause. "What's your use?"
This was more puzzling and the brothers looked at Gran who this time answered for them. "They's pretty good cabin boys, sah, but I wouldna take 'em to a fight with anything worse than carrots."
"Zis vun, he is a Lupe," said Sandra from the far end of the table, her yellow eyes fixed on Shad who winced and sunk closer to the ground.
"Yes, well, I can bite," he parried glumly. "Saura here can kick pretty well. Comes with the species territory. So? You lot are pirates. You all know that swordfighting isn't just holding the blunt end and sticking the other end into people."
Scarblade nodded his agreement. Sandra, who looked like she'd been about to retort, closed her mouth again.
"But you've met him on this ship," said the captain. "You could track him."
There was a moment of evaluating silence, then Shad turned to look at Gran.
"Is this one of those situations where arguing with the Captain makes things worse?" he asked sullenly. "Cos we're in a pickle as it is and I'd rather not make things worse."
Gran snorted with amusement. To everyone's surprise, so did Scarblade.
"Simply put, we don't need you for the plan," he said. "If you can help, it will be appreciated, but if you can't, you're free to stay out of the way."
"And keep our mouths shut to anyone else," said Shad, not really formulating it as a question.
"Naturally," nodded the captain.
"I'd like to help," Saura said suddenly. There was a fresh round of question mark. Shad whimpered and turned to stare at him.
"Well, think about it," he said defiantly. "Stuff will be happening. If we stay out, we won't know what stuff. If we join in, we'll be around well-trained officers who know how to fight, plus the doc." Mace smiled from the two seats his huge mass was occupying. "Lessay the operation fails, Gnarfas runs loose and we'll be the first to see when he comes through the floorboards-"
"-deckboards," Shad said glumly.
"-deckboards, and we'll have no way of knowing until he's suddenly on us. Of course, he might run loose and attack someone else and we'll hear and have time to run, but with this being a confined ship and an unconfined Gnarfas, I don't like those odds."
"We can climb up to the crow's nest," Shad pointed out smartly.
"Coward," snorted Sandra the helmswoman.
"Survivor," Shad parried.
"Pirate," rumbled Arlington from the shadows.
There was a moment of confused silence.
"Pirate," Scarblade agreed, leading to even more confused stares. "This is very piratical thinking you're both showing here."
The brothers stared at him. "What, really?"
"Quite," Gran said with a grin, not even bothering to conceal her pride. "I don't wanna see ye boys get hurt, mind. I ain't taggin' along myself, so maybe I should do the smart thing and join the crow's nest too. But there's only so much space up there and I don't wanna see anyone else get hurt either."
"Smooth," Saura said grimly, noting and filing away the guilt trip. "Scarblade, sir, do you think there's something my brother here and I can contribute that might make a crucial difference? Because if not, we'd rather not be a burden, but if so," he glanced at Shad, got a grudging nod and a but-I-won't-like-it snarl and forged ahead, "we'd want to help."
Scarblade allowed a thin smile.
"I like you, kid," he said. "And I think there is something indeed."
Gnarfas was hungry. He was free, and glad to be out of the cage, but when he was in the cage, he'd been fed three times a day. He knew that the supply of raw meat was in the hold somewhere, but the ship was huge and he hadn't been able to find the supply yet. Figures that they'd keep the supply far away from him, lest he smelled it from the cage and broke out. Scarblade was a cunning fellow, you couldn't deny it.
But he'd broken out nevertheless. And soon he'd find the food, in some form or other.
Nobody was quite sure how smart Gnarfas was, or how calculative. Tell the truth, he wasn't too sure himself. Sometimes his mind got foggy. Sometimes he didn't quite remember what he did and how and why. But when his mind wasn't foggy, he usually made sure that people thought he was dumber than he really was.
There hadn't been anyone searching for him yet. In fact, the hold was much quieter than it should've been on a working ship. He was sure that they were running out of candles now, since the entire candle supply looked to be in Hold Three.
But he hadn't found much to eat besides bisquits and jerky. Those didn't tide him over too well. Gnarfas was huge for a Lupe, huge even for an Eyrie, and needed a lot of good solid food. So now he was hunting.
He'd ventured a fair few decks above his usual hiding grounds. One of those critters onboard must be curious enough to venture down alone. One of those critters was always stupid. You could rarely count on other people's smartness, but you could always count on their stupidity.
"-and anyway it suits you," a distant voice echoed through the darkness.
Gnarfas' ears perked. That was a voice. Voice, in this current state, was equal to food.
He stalked closer.
"I don't know," said another voice. "Never thought of myself as purple. Blue, just maybe, if it's the navy spectrum. Reds, more like. Mauve, even. Incidentally, do you think our captain is completely insane?"
There was a hissing sound of "ssssshsshyouidiot". Gnarfas couldn't help but be intrigued. He sped up a bit, sliding through pitch-black hallways guided by his nose and ears alone.
"Well, I'm just saying," said the first voice defiantly. "I mean, purple?"
"Mauve, I'll have you know, is pink," said the first voice.
"I'll have you know," said voice number two, "that the red spectrum, pink included, was considered masculine for a long time. It's more aggressive than blue tones, see? Blues are calm and feminine."
Gnarfas could see light ahead of him now, emitted by a single lantern that'd been placed on a crate in a sizable hold ahead. Two dark figures could just barely be seen milling about on the edge of its reach. It looked like they were shifting through crates.
The Werelupe snuck closer. He was coming from complete darkness. There was nobody in this room but those two figures. Two little figures were easy for his four huge arms. He'd get food this time. Fresh food.
"Well, purple is technically in the reddish spectrum of colors," said the first voice.
"This here ain't red."
"I know. It's violet. The bluish tone is violet, the reddish tone is purple."
"Sounds awfully semantic to me."
Parts of Gnarfas' brain were quickly getting very confused. Other parts, however, were too preoccupied with food.
He took the leap.
Lights flared up.
In those lights, the two figures turned towards him. One of them was a Zafara wearing a huge floppy hat with an entire flowerbed on it, and wrapped in what looked like a golden sari. The other was a Lupe in a purple – or violet? – frilly dress with a hoopskirt, holding a handful of roses.
"La, sir," he said, "would you like to buy some flowers?"
Gnarfas braked mid-leap. Since that doesn't really work for many reasons, most of which begin with physics, he tumbled sideways, skidded on the floor with two left hands frantically scrabbling for a grip, shaving long stretches of wood off the panels, and rolled into a pile of crates.
Suddenly the room was full of people, all rushing towards him, swords bared. Scarblade was up front, dashing towards him with two cutlasses, and seeing his captor made Gnarfas instantly forget the last five minutes. No more food. Battle.
Shad and Saura backed into the doorway where they'd come from, where Sandra was loitering with a faint sneer, wafting a brass incense burner with Werelupe concealment-scented herbs smoking in it.
"Watcha think, violet or purple?" Shad asked her with a bright grin. Sandra's sneer faltered.
"Vot's it matter?"
"Girl, you have no sense of fashion," Shad said sternly.
"You don't either," Saura pointed out. "Else you wouldn't have kept that studded collar with that dress."
"It's chic," said the Lupe firmly. "Or hip. Not sure which. One of 'em. I'm pretty sure it was originally intended for Benny to wear as distraction, anyway, so I'm sure I wear it much better. Wow, he really is a trained fighter, isn't he?"
Gnarfas, despite the unexpected ambush and the crash into crates, was strongly holding his own against several officers and their weapons. He was also extremely good at dodging. Half the slashes got parried, the other half simply didn't land where he'd been a fraction of a second ago.
"That's the idea, I believe," said Saura with a scowl. "I won't believe for a minute that he's dumb muscle. Those skills take brains to go with them. Did the captain have a proper battle plan before going in there?"
The attacking officers pulled back in unison at Scarblade's signal. Gnarfas faltered, unsure about this development, and noticed just barely too late as Mace's two gigantic fists closed in on his head from behind him.
He fell with a thud.
"Yep," said Sandra.
"Ah," said Saura.
"Double distraction," Shad said brightly, wiggling out of his ambiguously-colored hoopskirt. "We already distracted him from the ambush, so he didn't expect the ambush to be another distraction. It was in this book I once read. Good tactical stuff."
"Which book was that?" Scarblade asked, panting. He'd withdrawn from the scene of battle where Gnarfas was being swiftly tied up with heavy ropes.
Shad's brow furrowed. "Shenkese something-something. Lao Tzu or Sun Tzu or Shi Tzu or somesuch. Life and experiences of a tactician. The name was the book title. Idunno. Been a while."
Scarblade cast him a sharp look, then nodded and turned away. "You did good, kids. Go on upstairs, you'll have nothing else to do here."
He paused before adding, "And it's purple."
To be continued...