Hannah's Untimely Dawn: Part Two
Hannah almost didn’t realize she was being carried through the forests of Krawk Island, so dazed was she with her own thoughts and her grandfather’s condition. One of his arms was around her, and the other held the box containing the Mermaid’s Tear. He’s strong. He can protect me—and that bit of Grandma in the tear, too. she thought.
Once or twice Jed faltered, leaning against a tree. Hannah slid out of his arm. “I can walk,” she told him, despite her head feeling like it was filled with cotton. For once, Grandpa Jed didn’t object. He only nodded, and led her by the hand.
Hannah scanned the forest floor, searching for a backup hiding place. According to the stories her grandfather told her, a treasure had to be hidden in the most remote location, somewhere no one would ever bother to look. A cave was a popular choice. In a forest, petpets might dig it up, and in the sea, it could be lost beneath the waves and sand forever. A cave would have to do. Hannah’s face flickered into a smile. They’d be living one of the stories for real.
At long last, the forest ended, leading into a stretch of white sand, made grey by the hazy moonlight. Hannah squinted at the shore, trying to find a boat. She knew her eyesight was a little better than Grandpa Jed’s. No one could be good at everything, after all.
Hannah spied a dock with a booth on one side and a whole lineup of small boats on the other. Probably tour boats. “Over there,” she whispered, pointing toward the dock.
“So it is,” Grandpa Jed murmured, brightening a little. He let himself be led towards the booth and smiled down at the small, determined Usul. Hannah let go of his hand and dashed the rest of the way.
“Excuse me!” she called. No answer. Hannah stood on her tiptoes to peer inside. It was as dark and abandoned as a homeless shell.
“Bah, no one seems to be guarding it. We have to take one.” With that, Grandpa Jed began unrolling one of the ropes from a cleat on the dock and beckoned Hannah over. Reluctantly, she followed, watching the one tie between the boat and the dock loosen with each passing second.
“Does stealing a boat make us pirates?”
Hannah fell silent. The boat drifted aimlessly in the waves, rocking side to side like a cradle. Hannah felt her head droop in exhaustion, but she shook it to wake up. “Blast this thing,” Grandpa Jed grumbled, kicking at the stern. “It’s not going where I need it to go.”
The Usul looked at the waves. They didn’t know where to take their passengers. It wasn’t their fault. Sitting on the edge of the boat, Hannah sank her tail into the tar-colored water. Cold clogged her fur and sent a shiver up her tail and spine but she kept it in the water, switching it with all her might.
Grandpa Jed looked up at her and guffawed. “Hannah, dear, yer brilliant!” He crowed, enveloping her in a hug before sitting on the opposite edge of the boat and doing the same. Who knows, he thought. Yeh just might end up doing greater things that I ever could. The older Usul shook his head. “All righty, head east—there’s a cave there that only I know about.” Hannah looked up at him and could practically see his chest swell with pride. Her grandpa discovered a cave all by himself, and he was going to share it with her! Hannah paddled faster, excitement overriding her exhaustion.
Upon beaching themselves on a tiny island shore, Hannah looked into the cavern’s gaping maw. It looked cold and friendless and shriveled up her excitement. Any other day, Hannah would have likened it to an adventure, where she, for once, was the hero right alongside her grandpa. Today was much different.
Grandpa Jed held the lantern up into the mouth of the cave, which grudgingly obliged to reveal part of its insides. Hannah followed, the box in tow. Looking behind her, the cave seemed to swallow up the exit and the path. What made her more nervous was that the floor seemed to get steeper.
“Is this cave underground?” Hannah asked in awe.
Grandpa Jed nodded. “That’s right, me hearty. Only the best of treasures are hidden in underground caves, and I know this one like I know yer face.”
Hannah almost had to jog to catch up with him, so quickly was he moving in spite of his wounds. His turns were sure and the ladders were strong—quite unbecoming for a cave, really.
“We’re almost there, lass.” Jed panted, leaping over a deep pool. Hannah jumped ungracefully over it, looking ahead at the lantern. It cast a yellow glow on the chalky walls, not unlike a fireplace. A pang of homesickness filled her as she realized that neither of them could go back to their Krawk Island home.
“Ah. A dead end.” Hannah’s ears perked up at her grandfather’s statement, but his tone was calm. She stared ahead. It was indeed a dead end, but a giant stalagmite almost concealed this fact. “There,” Grandpa Jed pointed with a ringed finger at the stalagmite.
A small smile tipped Hannah’s lips. The jewel and the tiny bit of Grandma would be safe here. Inside a stalagmite? Grandpa Jed was a genius!
The cave went dark.
Suddenly, the cave was lit once more, thanks to Grandpa Jed’s flint and steel. His paws worked so fast to get a flame going in the lantern, he didn’t notice the box had moved.
He also didn’t notice the band of pirates swarming him, cutlasses and bows drawn.
“Grandpa!” Hannah cried out, clutching at his tail. Jed’s mouth pressed hard into a thin line. This time, he didn’t even have a cutlass to help him. Hannah wondered if he was the smartest pirate ever, to forget his cutlass...
“Thought you could sneak into your secret little hideaway? I know my former crew better than you think I do!” Bloodhook squawked. Hannah decided right then and there that most pirates weren’t stupid after all.
Grandpa Jed said nothing, but tightened his grip on the box and the lantern. He paused to look down at Hannah, and covered her with his tail.
“A lot of good that’ll do ya!” A Poogle cackled, jabbing a cutlass at them. Jed growled and jumped back, raising his lantern up to his face.
The pirate raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Now what are you going to do with that?"
Grandpa Jed took a deep breath, and the cave went dark once more.
Hannah was at once scooped up by an Usul tail. Her feet touched the stream as her grandfather leapt over it. Her world came alive with screams of rage and "After them!"
She heard splashes and gulped, but that wasn’t what scared her the most.
It was Grandpa Jed. He was making small, weak noises like she’d never heard before. They were ragged and labored, and his steps were heavier in the mud. “Grandpa?” Hannah asked, touching his wet arm. His breaths became louder and they turned to gasps, but he kept on running.
Hannah clung to Jed’s tail. She could hear the voices and footfalls getting closer despite his efforts. Suddenly, a faint light appeared in the distant tunnel, at the top of the entrance. “We’re almost there!” she cried, clinging harder.
The box clattered to the cave floor. “Grandma!” Hannah cried, wriggling out of Jed’s grasp.
“No!” Jed wheezed, lunging for her.
“You can’t escape from us!” Bloodhook cried, signalling the pirates to surround the Usul once they had caught up. Bloodhook thrust a cutlass at him, sneering at his pitiful state. Jed growled and, with all his strength, gripped the blade and pushed back. His eyes darted in the dim light and he saw the other pirates of the Black Dawn swiftly approaching.
“Run, Hannah, run! Take the boat; I’ll hold them off!” Jed gasped, his limbs burning and trembling with the effort to keep Bloodhook’s cutlass at bay.
Hannah dove for Grandpa Jed and the box.
“Just leave it!”
Hannah stared at the box a second longer, then into Grandpa Jed’s face. It pleaded with her to run, and concealed nothing about his dwindling strength that would soon give out. “Go,” he whispered.
“Get her!” Bloodhook cried, pointing his blade in her direction. "We can't risk word getting out!"
Grandpa Jed, still clinging to the hilt of the cutlass, watched a pirate chase Hannah out of the cave. He paid no attention to the Poogle greedily clutching the box and opening it.
Bloodhook raised his blade and let out a triumphant roar.
Jed closed his eyes.***
Hannah raced through wet dirt, her skirts sticking to her as she ran. The Gelert zoomed closer, his ears bouncing. A jagged cutlass was in his teeth. The Usul ran faster, looking back to see if she could see her grandfather, but there was only the cave and the Gelert behind her, as far as she could see.
The cave was coming to an end, and the Gelert pirate was right at her heels. Hannah screamed and jumped at the cutlass nearly slicing a bit of fur off of her tail. The small island unfurled itself into a beach, with dawn presenting itself, just barely lighting the way to the little boat.
Without thinking, Hannah dug the tip of her foot into the sand and hurled it into the Gelert's face, continuing to run towards the smaller boat and ignoring the larger, more imposing pirate ship. There would be time to admire it later if she got away from the Black Dawn pirates alive.
The Gelert howled and dropped his cutlass, fighting to scrape the sand out of his eyes.
Hannah pushed off on the boat and paddled at its bow, her arms burning with the cold seawater and the effort. She only dared to look up after a minute or so, and she noticed the Gelert swimming, getting ever closer. There was no cutlass in his mouth, but he did look absolutely terrifying with his bared teeth and red eyes.
Hannah thrust her tail into the water, seawater soaking through her thick fur, and paddled away from him, panting. The Gelert continued swimming, but she could see that his pace was slowing and that he couldn't swim much farther. Her tail, body and mind ached with exhaustion, and she felt dizzy, but the little Usul kept right on pushing her tail left and right. At last, the Gelert turned around, and Hannah got a good look at the pirate ship. She squinted at it, her mind floating in mud. That looks nothing like the Esmeralda, not one bit. she thought, just before she sank into a sleepy abyss.***
Hannah woke up to nothing but sea.
The sun was bright and cheerful, its smile showing no mercy on the little Usul. She was too numb to cry, too hot to think, too shattered to do anything but feebly drift towards Krawk Island. Hannah closed her eyes again, momentarily seeing her Uncle Bloodhook’s eyes and the box in the arms of another pirate. She didn’t know how to get by without Grandpa Jed—and the loneliness was the only part that stuck to her more than the aftermath of a cold shower. The Pirates of the Black Dawn had the Mermaid’s Tear, and they destroyed her home.
Some reward Grandpa Jed got for giving up being a pirate.
An idea tickled Hannah’s hurt-fried brain. He had to be in the Mermaid’s Tear by now. She had to steal it from the pirates—she’d find it if she had to raid every pirate cave in Neopia—it was the only place she could find him. A tiny piece of Grandpa Jed...a tiny piece of Grandma...
Feeling restored by this idea, Hannah paddled with fresh resolve. “No matter how long it takes,” she said to no one, her voice rough and cracked from thirst, “I’ll get you back.”