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The Cove


by sara_mossflower

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Beyla gulped down the rank-tasting grog of the Golden Dubloon. She set the grimy mug down on the rotting wooden table, licking her fangs, savouring the last of its unpleasant flavour. Despite the awful quality of the place's food and drink, the Krawk relished the odor wafting up from the mug. The meal she'd just finished was the best thing that had happened to her all day.

      First there was Bilge Dice - something she had made a habit of doing every day. She'd found that today she had a losing streak, failing to beat Grimtooth's score nine times in a row. After cursing at the three players, she was banned from gambling with them for a week. After that, the Dubloon-O-Matic had broken down on her, losing yet another 100 Dubloons.

      Bad luck concerning money was the worst thing that could happen to a Neopet, according to Beyla. She had her reasons, which she kept to herself. Groaning, she stood up, tossing what was left of her cash onto the table.

      Adjusting her grungy grey shirt, which strongly contrasted with the rainbow hues of her scales, Beyla exited the Golden Dubloon and strolled around the back to the docks, into the evening. The Krawk looked out across the foggy ocean, hoping that good fortune would return to her upon getting back to work. She undid the rope from one of the metal loops fixed to the dock and hopped into her rowboat.

      Grabbing the oars, Beyla leaned forward and then backwards, her shoulder muscles rippling as she steered the boat away from the wharf. There was barely a sound as she moved across the dark expanse of water, only the occasional Weewoo, chirping its haunting melody. The ripples that radiated from where the oars dipped below the surface were traced by glimmering moonlight. She made sure not to be seen on nights like this, never even using the usual lantern that other boaters did to see through the fog. Beyla knew all the inlets and currents by heart, having traveled them for years monotonously.

      Finally, about an hour later, she had come around half of the island's coastline, passing Bilge Dice and then the Dubloon-O-Matic which had brought misfortune upon her. She spat in the water out of contempt as she rowed by, but let a rare grin spread across her snout as she reached her destination.

      It appeared to be simply a high wall of rock jutting out of the water - one of the highest cliffs on the island - at least, to the untrained eye. Hidden cleverly around the edge of the stone barrier was the one place any dishonest Krawk Islander wanted to know about: Smuggler's Cove.

      Beyla kept her fraudulent career a secret - if she didn't, she knew that he associates would be more than willing to keep her silent with a bit of morbid creativity. It was a risky, illegal job - but it paid well and that was all that concerned Beyla. Pirates, mercenaries, and generally, any pet seeking adventure while visiting the Island was willing to pay thousands, even millions of Neopoints to get their paws on the trinket they desired.

      Guiding the boat into the cove with silent oars, the Krawk looked around at the place she'd learned to call home - high ceilings, formed from ancient sandstone, arced above her small craft, damp mould and fungus clinging to small ledges here and there. A small dock fashioned from sodden driftwood protruded from the narrow beach at the back of the cavern. She made her way towards this and tied the boat up while still sitting in it. She then looked into the green depths of the water that made up a good part of the cove's interior.

      Perching on the edge of the rowboat, Beyla pushed off with her toes and dove into the water, her streamlined body barely making a splash. She had seemingly entered an underwater glade, the sparse light in the chamber reflecting off the shimmering stones and sprouts of coral, which grew in hues of pale azures and fuchsias. The cold liquid caressed her scales, all colours of the spectrum. The stressful events of the day fell away from her. This pool was one thing that made her adore the grimy cove in some way. Just going for a brief swim in it for a few minutes took away her worries and cares.

      Finally, she glided up from the smooth stone floor until her head broke the water's surface. To her surprise, she saw that she was being glared at by a male, Skunk-coloured pet of the same species. She hung her head, caught in the act of slacking off. The other Krawk was one of her smuggler partners, Grerr. He was anything but fun to work with and was always nagging her about making sure she pulled her own weight.

      Knowing that she was about to get into a heated argument in mere moments, Beyla swam to the grungy beach and strode along the moist sand towards her colleague.

      Grerr grinned menacingly, his displayed fangs emanating false amusement. "So - thought you'd go for a little dip, huh?"

      "I know my job, Grerr," Beyla snarled in reply. "Two minutes in the water isn't going to destroy our business!"

      He clucked his tongue in a chastising manner. "You never know - things happen. One Krawk thinking that floating around like a fish is above her smuggler's duty isn't good, Beyla."

      The Rainbow Krawk spat at the ground indignantly. "Shut your trap and help unload some stuff."

      Grudgingly, the two made their way back to their cache of valuables. The rest of their company had gone raiding this night and they were the only two left to prepare their goods for rumoured customers.

      Eventually, dawn came, washing away the fog with fine rays of golden light. Beyla had been hefting crates and polishing fine metals all night, yet she wasn't tired. Any other pets would probably have collapsed from exhaustion at this point, but she'd been a smuggler most of her life - backbreaking work had become something she constantly endured.

      Looking out across the cove, she noticed that the water level had abated - it was low tide. She looked at Grerr, who nodded. At low tide, one of them would go out and see if any interesting objects had washed up on shore. You never knew what was capable of reaping a small profit. Beyla had taken it upon herself to go scouting this time. Making her way to the dock, she hopped into her boat - now considerably lower, due to the departure of most of the cove's water - and snatched up a sack with supplies that she usually needed for such a venture, such as small spades for extracting items from deep sand.

      Wading through the wide puddle that now filled the cave, Beyla made her way out to the newly revealed beach, the sand and rocks stretching nearly to the horizon. Her clawed feet made strange prints in the almost muddy terrain, and the rising sun's light played on her sparkling scales. Had another pet looked at her, Beyla would have appeared quite beautiful. But self-image and the glory of nature around her was the last thing on the smuggler's mind. Goods for her corrupt clients were all she cared about, as always.

      She shielded the morning sun with a hand, scanning the long stretch of sand. She didn't see much except for a few lumps, which seemed to be nothing more than shriveled jellyfish. Sighing, internally gearing up for at least an hour of hard work, Beyla strolled down the beach, keeping her eyes peeled for possible artifacts.

     *

      Time passed, and it had so far been an uneventful search. Beyla was ready to pack it in and go back to the cove, but she made herself press on. She still had a good half hour until the tide came in again.

      Finally, she noticed something silhouetted against the horizon. Peering at it, the Krawk moved towards it with a swift gait. As she neared it, she could see that it was a Peophin, caught beached by the retreating tide. At last! Something she could salvage!

      The gems that decorated the brows of Peophins were some things that the cove traded quite frequently. Beyla had never taken one off a dead Peophin before, but there was a first time for everything. She approached the deceased creature and dumped out her bag of tools next to her on the sand. Choosing a delicate knife, she started to carefully pry the jewel off.

      Suddenly the pet stirred, groaning. Beyla almost leaped backwards in surprise. It lifted its head weakly, and its eyes widened in fear at the sight of the rugged Krawk brandishing a blade over its head. "Who…are you?" it asked, its voice a mere whisper, like the echo of a wave. The tone of voice made it evident that the Peophin was female.

      Beyla didn't reply. Talking to something like this wasn't good for her trade. You started feeling sorry for it, knowing that it had a name, a voice, and a life. She knew now that she'd have to kill it to do the job properly. Bracing herself on the sand, she tightened her grip on the knife's handle.

      "Answer me…" breathed the frail creature on the beach. "Please?"

      Beyla gulped nervously. She couldn't answer. If she allowed herself to, she could very well kiss the life of a heartless smuggler goodbye - something she dared not do, for fear of losing everything.

      Then she did something almost as ultimate as speaking: allowing her eyes to meet her victim's. She noticed that the eyes were a strange colour: pale purple. They were eyes that wandered under the water each day, eyes that viewed others of their own kind, who were friends.

      Beyla cursed inwardly. How could she have done that? She was actually feeling sorry for the thing now!

      The eyes were now clouding over, not in death, as the smuggler would have hoped, but with sorrow. All she wanted was an answer, so she would know the last person who she encountered before fading away.

      And now I'm calling it a 'she'! Beyla realized. She tried to raise her knife again, but couldn't. Whether she liked it or not, for the first time in her life she had sympathy for another creature.

      "I'm Beyla," she finally spat. "What's wrong with you - can't swim well enough to escape low tide?"

      The Peophin replied, but it was obvious that it was taking much effort. "…My name…Rillia." She managed a smile. "Rill."

      The Krawk was becoming more frustrated and torn by the second. Why couldn't Rill have been dead when she found her? She had a duty to Grerr and the other smugglers - why couldn't she just kill the Peophin, swipe the jewel, and be off with her profit?

      In truth, Beyla knew that she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she did. She felt pathetic and weak at this realization.

      Rill tried to speak again, and Beyla was surprised to find that she wanted to hear the Peophin's words. Sorting through her satchel, she found a large tin cup. Leaving the rest of her belongings on the sand, she sprinted down to the edge of the expanded coast and scooped up some of the precious liquid, then returned to douse the beached creature with it.

      The blue, scaly flesh revealed gills, which hungrily drank up the moistness and oxygen the smuggler's gift had provided. "Thank you," whispered Rill. Then, after a pause, "Why did you do that?"

      "I…" Beyla choked on her words. She had no tough excuse on hand. "Because I feel sorry for you," she hissed. She suddenly made up her mind, knowing that at this point, there was no way she was going to slay Rill for the gem on her head. The Krawk sifted through he bag decidedly, snatching up a length of rope. She would drag Rill back to the water so she wouldn't die, and then she'd make her way back to the cove, telling Grerr that she didn't find anything of interest.

      By the time the rope was looped about the unfortunate Peophin, Beyla realized that she had underestimated the tide's return. The water began to rise swiftly, and soon she was standing waist-deep in it. She swore under her breath as she fought to loosen the knot she'd just tied - she didn't even need the rope anymore.

      As the sea swelled, Rill regained energy and Beyla panicked inwardly. The knot held fast, and the Peophin didn't seem to notice that she was serving as an anchor. As a Krawk, Beyla could survive underwater, but not forever.

      Waves rushed onto the shore, ramming into the Rainbow Krawk aggressively. Soon she couldn't even stand flat on the sand without having her gaunt head completely underwater. As she came up to breathe, the crest of hair along her head became plastered to her face, hanging in her eyes. She yanked on the rope, trying to alert the drowsy Peophin below her, but it felt as though she was pulling at a solid rock.

      The water kept coming. Beyla swam as high as the rope would allow, but eventually even with the length taught, precious oxygen was unreachable. Slowly, air bubbles escaped from her nose and mouth, making deep, spherical noises as they were expelled from her living form. Great, she thought sardonically. Grerr won't be too happy upon finding my corpse linked to this stupid blob. Should've just taken the jewel and left! She sensed that in a matter of seconds, all there would be left to breathe was the cold, murky water.

      Suddenly, she was being raised up through the blue, and her head soon broke free of the waves. Finally, she woke up! This was the one thing Beyla realized as fresh air filled her jaws once more. Relaxing, she lay her head back down on the Peophin's smooth blue skin.

      She observed the world through hooded lids. The ocean surrounding her and the Peophin was now bathed in the deep gold of the sun, risen and splendorous. She sighed as she inhaled the cool sea breeze, and wished that the whole of her life could have been as carefree as this. Next to the depths of the cove's clear pool, this morning ride of salvation was bliss.

     Finally, she heard Rill's melodious voice again. "We're quite close to shore, now."

      "Good," grunted Beyla. "Let me off, then."

     The sea creature stopped on the edge of the shallows, where it was still deep enough for her to swim safely. The Krawk eased herself off her companion's back and began treading water. She turned her head towards shore, when the Peophin spoke again. "Thank you very much for helping me."

     "No biggie," snorted the other. "You helped me too, so we're even." She paused, then, "I gotta go."

     Beyla began moving towards shore, and surprised herself with the almost non-existent question that began creeping up from the back of her mind: did she want to go back?

     Back to her stressful, Neopoint-craving life, never knowing friends, never appreciating anything? A sliver of her was struggling to be freed, to dart back out to the sea, away from Grerr and the others, away from smuggling completely. The benefits of the cove seemed so trivial compared to her recent experience: brief, but a tiny jewel in her dreary world. She could make a choice right now, and change everything.

     Her eyes hardened at cruel reality. What was she thinking, with all these fantasies? She noticed Rill gazing at her curiously, and sneered before she began swimming away to avoid feeling guilty - it was as though the Peophin could see straight through her. Finally she reached shore and knew that this was her last chance. The wind rustled her furry crest again, and she glanced from the cove to the open water.

     Sighing, she continued along the beach, returning to the life of a smuggler. In a matter of seconds, she'd convinced herself that her meeting Rill had never occurred.

*

     Off the coast of the island, Rill shook her head sadly. Like most land-dwellers, she just hadn't been strong enough…

     As the noontide sun crept to its zenith in the sky, the blue Peophin turned her back on the mass of land, and gave herself back to the aquatic depths of the sea.

The End

Author's Note: Ya, I know - bad story compared to my other stuff. *sigh* well I've gotta do something while I wait for an acceptance or rejection letter! ^^; Well, hope you enjoyed The Cove all the same - feel free to Neomail me!

 
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