Home < High Seas: Part Six
It was a very special day when they finally captured
the Tonne of Bullion. Despite numerous evasive attempts which only served to
lose them vital speed, the other could not escape. Close up, they could see
the gilded monstrosity in all its tasteless glory. The other whip was covered
in gaudy, tawdry finery to cast the 'Feather into the shade. Every inch of her
was engraved and carved into fanciful swirls and scenes. The sails nearly hurt
the eyes, spun of shimmering cloth-of-gold as they were, and the heavy main
lines securing the masts were laced with gold wire. For the 'Tonne wasn't just
a cargo ship…
She was an advertisement. She and three special
others like her carried not only gold, but gossip, on their trans-Neopia journeys.
The scenes etched into the broad sides of the ship were not the usual pastoral
variety, but ads, displaying "Neocola!" "Achyfi!" and "Hubert's Hot Dog Stand!"
as primary sponsors. Deep in her hold she had banners, folded now, that would
be flown proudly as they sailed into a port, screaming yet more endorsements.
Everyone watched the Bullion ships come in to know what items were selling for
anywhere else in the globe.
She had no escort. Though usually she would
make the long haul from Terror Mountain to the floating loading dock beneath
Faerieland with several heavily armed cruisers, right now she was between shifts.
Halfway on her journey, she would be accompanied by one set of battleships,
then rendezvous with the second set for the last leg. The pirates had caught
her at that crucial moment of vulnerability. Driven far off her charted course
by her pursuers, her second escort had no hope of finding her now. It couldn't
have been more perfect had Yoharran planned it.
And so the day finally dawned…Roused to wakefulness
by the All-Hands bell, Desterenel startled out of her bunk, splashing through
the salty puddles to join the mass of her fellow pirates all trying to cram
through the doors at once. After extricating herself from the squabbling, sleepy
crowd, she looked around wildly to see what was going on. Following the rest
of her group to where they assembled before the foredeck, she stood near the
back of the crowd, impatiently waiting for orders. She could see the prize close,
so close, so very close! Just off the starboard bow; perhaps a quarter mile
away! She could even see the other captain, a gaudily dressed male Uni, gazing
worriedly from the stern rail of the 'Tonne. Though the 'Tonne was three times
longer than the 'Feather, their heights were about the same, putting that hapless
leader at the same level as the 'Feather's triumphant one.
Her attention brought back to Yoharran by his
wild yell, she gazed at him attentively, heart pounding with excitement.
"A'rrrrright! Group A, yer all on th' grapplin'
planks. Group B, yer on th' grapplin' hooks, Group C, yer on th' riggin', Group
D, yer in charge o' tanglin' th' sails up wi' ou' breakin' ours. Group E…"
And so it went. Eventually, as the gap between
the ships slowly closed, all the pirates clambered into place. Leering unpleasantly
at their terrified prey, they coated the Grey Feather, gazing down from vantage
points in the sails and along the rails. Occasionally they would catcall the
other ship, hooting at the frightened merchant and his crew where they gathered
on the deck of the doomed 'Tonne.
Desterenel, as usual, was ignored. Her part in
all this was long over; she had found the ship, now she was free to do as she
wished so long as she didn't risk herself. So she circled above the brilliant
sails, watching the last of the morning mist burn away in the rising sun. She
also watched the merchant Captain.
He paced unhappily about the deck, silver-shod
hooves clonking on the teakwood planks. Had he hands, he would have been wringing
them. She smiled a predatory smile at the plump blue Uni. Her expression dimmed
somewhat as he was joined by his wife and children. They stood together, wings
twitching, well-brushed and be-ribboned tails swishing, nuzzling for comfort.
One of the three little Unis was a tiny girl. Looking up and seeing Desterenel
gliding there, steady above their ship, she screamed a high whinny. Fearfully
she ducked her head underneath her mother's heavily embroidered pink dress.
Desterenel felt…bad. She felt worse when the
rest of them looked at her in the same way, pointing with their horns and speaking
in agitated mutters. Finally they fled below-decks, leaving their crew to arm
themselves for the battle.
Irritated by her feelings, the young Eyrie swooped
back to her own ship, aborting the maneuver as she saw the crew readying to
spring their trap. Swooping back up again, she watched as the grappling hooks
began to sail out from the rigging of the 'Feather; flung in a fatal volley
to catch the 'Tonne. The grappling planks, too, began their topples, one, then
two, then all at once, falling squarely to brutally score the expensive teakwood
decking on their target. The pirates began shouting, some brave souls already
scrabbling across the lines into the brilliant golden sails.
Watching them intently, she forgot about her
unsettling experience. Unsurprisingly, the 'Tonne had hired professional help
to defend the ship, and they began to put up a spirited fight. Shots were fired,
green light flared, and toothy petpets attatched themselves to pirate arms and
legs. But within two minute's time they surrendered, all eight, wisely realizing
what a lost cause they were defending. During this period Desterenel watched
from the air with bated breath, tracking Rebarr with her eyes as he became a
prominent player in the fray.
By the battle's end, three pirates were down
with minor wounds, one other with a broken arm. None of them were Rebarr, however,
and she heaved a sigh of relief. The mercenaries had surrendered and were promptly
stripped of all valuables and tied to a mast. During their tying, some surreptitious
kicks and unnecessary rope-tightenings were delivered by the wounded pirates,
of course. Yoharran gave them a sharp rebuke, however, and they subsided after
some final muttered threats. The pirate crew also mobilized to begin hunting
down the 'Tonne's crew, winkling them out from their hurried hiding places and
tying them on the decks as well, likewise relieving them of their valuables.
As the pirates began to gear up for their foray
below-decks, Desterenel swooped down and landed neatly near Yoharran. He was
busy, preparing a crew to root out the merchant and his family in the cavernous
interior of the cargo vessel. Waiting patiently for him to finish, she finally
got the opportunity to tap him on the shoulder.
"Permission to go below-decks, Sir?"
Distractedly he patted her beak, granted it,
and hurried off to organize the Lupes bringing sacks and boxes across from the
Elatedly Desterenel slipped quickly and quietly
through the hatch down into the other ship. Her first thought as she slunk down
the stairs after the rest of the pirates was how different the smell was. Beeswax
and lamp-oil, soap and warm wood, cloth and the scent of metal wafted up at
her from the bowels of the ship. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, she stepped
quietly, carefully placing each paw. Gazing about wide-eyed, she let the warmth
wash over her for a moment like a hot bath.
This was the cargo hold, not crew quarters,
and the space stretched out before her. Packed solid with small boxes, they
filled the view but for slim aisles amid them running the length of the hold.
They lent the air a subtle tang of wood. Picking an aisle at random, she scuttled
down it away from the pirates beginning to file down the carpeted staircase
with bags. As she went farther and farther from the growing hustle and bustle
near the stairwell, she began to really look at the boxes surrounding her. They
were covered with ornately stained logos and polished until they gleamed.
Reaching out, she hesitantly pulled one onto
her lap. Sitting down, she ran her paws over it. She gazed intently at the logo,
a beautiful Air Faerie, wings spread and wand upraised. Finally, she clumsily
levered it open with her claws, and gasped. Lying on a silken bed of brilliant
red cloth was the most beautiful chain she had ever seen. It seemed beaten sun-fire;
intricate links so tiny they boggled the mind. Lifting it out, it coiled in
her paw like a live thing, seeming warm. Suddenly the perfect use for her amazing
treasure struck her; quickly she lifted out her pendant by its worn hemp cord.
Hefting it in her paw, she mused over it slightly.
It was the golden token from the center of the store-room window of her old
home, her path to freedom those three years before. It seemed like no time had
passed at all, yet the scratched and begrimed glass disk now rested easily in
her palm, where before it had nearly been beyond her to grasp it in one tiny
green paw. True, also, that that paw was now heavy and grey, instead of brilliant
emerald. Idly rubbing at the grime still coating the scarred surface, she untied
the cord from the tiny hole she had persuaded Rebarr to drill for her. Tossing
it aside, she reverently clipped the new chain in its place. Slipping it over
her ears, she settled it comfortably about her ruff. With dismay she realized
that she could no longer tuck it into her shirt. Ah, well. It shan't be outta
place wi' alla glim that'll be onna rest of 'em.
Hearing noises up ahead, she flicked her eartufts,
listening intently. She had no idea what she was hearing. Heaving herself to
her feet, she trotted off to investigate. As she neared the source of the noises,
the boxes around her changed, becoming cumbersome, metal things, designed to
carry gold in bulk. She began to make out words. It sounded like someone was
crying. Indeed, it took her a moment to recognize the unaccustomed sound coming
from a throat other than hers.
"So, ye wish ter cooperate? No? Well…we'll haf'
ter see wha' we'll do abou' tha'…"
Peering around the end of the aisle, Desterenel's
gaze fell upon a very unwelcome sight. There, at the very back of the cargo
hold, up against the wooden planked walls, was the merchant and his family,
wings and feet bound tightly. Their beautiful clothes were in tatters, and the
male, particularly, looked battered. Rebarr, Dawslap, and Yoharran were the
only others there, lounging languidly on broken boxes. They had carried over
a little brazier, the kind used to keep the Captain's quarters warm during the
night. A fire poker was lying with its blunt iron tip in the embers. Yoharran
had out his favorite little eating knife, reaching up to hold it beneath the
chin of the unfortunate equine patriarch. It was the very same knife he'd menaced
her father with, so long ago…and did that ever bring back memories.
As she watched, she gradually realized what was
going on. Yoharran was threatening the Uni, asking for…something. The location
of somewhere, that became clear as she listened. Beyond that she was clueless,
however, so she padded over to Rebarr, gently batting him on the shoulder.
"Sir, what's th' Cap'n askin' for, sir?"
Lowering his great grizzled head to a level with
hers from his perch on the shattered remnants of the box, he flicked ring-laden
ears at her conspiratorially. In his deep, slow voice, roughened from years
of shouting and breathing salt-laden air, he spoke quietly into her ear.
"We've caught aurselves a fine auld catch here,
dearie. This'n be's none other than th' cousin of th' Director of Bullion, inc.!
It appears that he knows the location of…
Eyes wide, Desterenel willed him to answer.
Darn him and his dramatics! She knew he was being slow on purpose. Fidgeting
frantically, she nearly wiggled with impatience. It was only until she caught
the gleam in his eye that she knew he was amused at her juvenile antics. Irritated
with herself, she held still with an enormous effort of will.
Grinning, Rebarr continued.
"Of Taduki Island…Bullion, inc.'s fabled tax-shelter
Desterenel gasped. Staring in awe at Yoharran,
beak gaping wide, she could hardly believe it. She felt faint and weak inside…and
then with no warning, like she would explode! She needed to scream, to shriek,
to fly, to tell the world of their fortune!
Everyone had heard of Taduki Island. As with
any remarkably successful company, Bullion Inc. was surrounded by a dark cloud
of suspicion, mainly manufactured by those left in the dust by their swift ascension.
They had long been accused of squirreling away their legendary wealth in various
undiscovered islands or caves, thus having a tax-free capital reserve to draw
on when needed. It was even said that all the long line of wealthy Uni businessmen
to run the company had added their own, illegal personal emergency stores to
the vast hoard over the centuries.
Some even went so far as to say that there was
one single island where all that treasure was hidden. But everyone knew that
was just a tale…for in Today's Neopia, where billions were traded in the NeoDAQ
each day, where lifetimes of wealth were exchanged electronically and nearly
no one used real, physical Neopoint gems anymore…well, what use would a "treasure
island" be? You could have more secret money in a computer-encrypted bank account
than you could ever dream of packing onto some godforsaken rock in the middle
of the sea. And the upkeep alone of the hoard would be unimaginable, the doubters
would always say, if fragile and rust-prone jewelry and coins were left to molder
on some damp hill in the ocean.
But the greatest fuel of rumour is repression,
and so the tale persisted.
…as did the dreams of those who chased it.
But as Desterenel sat with all these excited
and contradictory thoughts chasing through her head, she was brought back to
earth by the sounds she was hearing. A shriek…? One of the baby Unis seemed
to be crying, and…and why was Yoharran threatening the foal? Watching in astonishment,
she saw Yoharran give up in disgust on the male. Unable to do any real harm
to him, and risk infection or death of the one creature who knew the secret,
Yoharran had realized what he should have done from the beginning. And so he,
in true predator style, had gone for the children. The shriek had been the mother's.
With a deep neigh of loss and despair, she screamed as he took her youngest
Desterenel reassured herself. Surely the male
Uni would tell Yoharran where the treasure was. He wouldn't risk his only daughter,
would he? Yoharran would never kill her…
The ferocious expression on her Captain's face
wasn't helping her inner turmoil any. With a feral grin, he motioned for Rebarr
to hand him the hot iron, lying with its now dimly red tip in the coals. Rebarr,
without turning a hair, flipped it to him nonchalantly with a flick of his ragged
tail. Holding the wailing little Uni child firmly to his side with a taloned
hand, Yoharran drew the poker closer and closer to her face. And was about to
touch it to her horn when…
"Stop! Sir, oh please stop sir!!"
Unable to take it any longer, Desterenel catapulted
up from her seat by Rebarr. Dashing towards her Captain, she skidded to a halt
in front of him.
"Please, Captain, no! You can't do this! Not
to just a child! No, sir…no…"
Stiff, sweat running down his trembling flanks,
the Uni male gazed at her with disbelief…and relief. The mother ceased her mindless
keening for a moment as well.
The look in their eyes was enough to make up
for their previous one of terror, as they sighted her on the wing above their
precious ship. It made her feel…nice. She'd never felt this particular emotion
before. The younger ones were curled up into little winged balls, but she was
sure they had that same nice look in their eyes as well. But even that silent
tableau, caught in her eyes for a single moment, wasn't enough. She wasn't finished.
Nor was Yoharran. Granted, the Uni male had
been nowhere near breaking, but for the chit to jump up like that was nigh-unforgivable.
Unhappily he reflected on his younger days, days when silly merchants would
spill their life's story at the mere sight of a knife. A few promises their
family wouldn't come to harm, and you had everything you could wish for…whether
or not you kept those vows. This stubborn horse here had probably decided that
they'd kill the family anyways whether or not he talked.
…When had they gotten so damn smart all of a
But anyway, the girl was lucky that only the
two Sublieutenants, who also had soft spots for her, were the only ones present.
Had his crew been there he would have been forced to do something drastic, favored
pet or no. As it was he could afford himself a little leeway. Obviously she
wasn't fully adjusted, coming from a soft family like she had. One nearly forgot
she'd never killed anything before.
Irritably he gazed up his pebble-scaled snout
at the upstart chick. His steel-grey eyes nearly softened as he stared up into
her earnest face. Her eyes were wide in the lamplight, huge amber orbs nearly
dwarfed by her fully dilated pupils. She was wiggling uncomfortably; the iron
rules and regulations binding her struggling to contain her immediate desire
to snatch the hateful poker from her Captain's claw. Jiggling from foot to foot,
gradually revolving around him in her fidgeting, she looked about to do something
With a sigh, he lowered the poker carelessly,
catching a wayward strand of the Uni child's mane. The baby shivered and squeaked,
ignored by the Krawk, as the fire zipped up the strand of hair, burning itself
out inches from her head.
"Dest, lass, 'tis not yer place ter call ou'
ter yer Cap'n in such a fashion. Think, foolish girrl! We'll be set fer life,
the crew, all o' us! All w' need is ter find the coor'd'nates to Taduki, an'
we'll be sailin' free. An' they and they's crew'll go free as well. Yer jest
dam' lucky tha' on'y us four'r here ter hear ye.
"Naow, ah know yer still a greenie, still
young and new ter th' ways o' the sea, and this must rankle a young thing like
yersel' quite a bit. Bu' it needs ter be done…fer the 'Feather. Fer all o' us.
Naow, go back ter yer bunk, girl, and ah don't want ter see hide nor hair o'
ye until we finish up wi' th' Tonne'. Oh, and ye c'n report fer double punishment-duty
That meant that Desterenel wouldn't get an opportunity
to slip any treasure into her pockets, even after the 'Feather had all she could
carry. She'd be the only one of all the crew with but a single chain to her
name after this was over.
Turning his back on her, Yoharran took up the
poker again. Desperately, Desterenel cast her gaze about the room. Dawslap?
No help from him. She had never even spoken to the Rebarr's big brother. Rebarr?
But not even her guardian would move for her.
With a sad smile, he met her gaze and shook his heavy head, bejeweled eartufts
jingling gently, and light catching on his iron-grey beak. Suddenly he seemed
very dark, the flickering lantern-light casting dancing shadows across him.
Amid the tangle of the box, and the confusion of the shadows, it was difficult
to tell where he ended and the ruin of his perch began. Whirling, she sprang,
claws digging furrows into the deck as she sprinted for the aisle.
Tears clouding her eyes, powerful legs bunching
and springing, she galloped as fast as she could. In her haste, and unable to
fully see, she scrambled down a different aisle than she had taken to get to
that awful clearing. Her chest began to hurt, tight with unvoiced sobs, her
lungs unable to obey her desperate need for air to fuel her panicked flight.
Finally slowing, she stumbled to a halt as her aisle ended. Breath catching
in her throat, she tottered forward, resting her forehead flat against the wall
of boxes. She slid down helplessly, rubbing her crest along the cool and comforting
wooden wall, its texture soothing her as it passed over her head. Slumped with
defeat at the base of the dead end, she finally gave in.
Sobbing unhappily, she lay belly-down on the
warm, gently heaving wooden deck. In her grief, she became conscious of the
smallest things as her mind desperately looked for something to occupy itself
with. There was a splinter in her left forepaw; her left foot-paw also smarted.
Her feathers were in disarray from her wild run, irritating her skin. And right
above her breastbone something hard and round was digging into the soft skin
at the base of her mane.
Finally unable to stand it any longer, she rolled
onto her side, pinning her right wing uncomfortably beneath her bulk. Reaching
up, she clutched her little pendant with both paws. Heaving herself to her haunches,
she rested her back against the wall, leaning forward and cradling her glass
token to herself.
Running her sensitive pads across the familiar
surface, she absently stroked the comforting scratches and flaws. Sniffling,
she began tracing them with a flexed claw, digging out the grime from where
it lodged in the cracks. Thus it was, that as her fingers began tracing out
the familiar shapes of letters, drilled into her ages past by Aunt Sophia, she
began speaking them into her mind, not realizing what she was doing until the
recited letters formed an almost-word.
The word began to float about her head, repeating
itself along with her hand as she traced it unknowingly over and over.
Blinking, she refocused her eyes behind their
veil of tears, shocked out of her grief. Finally it had connected within her
mind. Breathlessly she mouthed the words with her heavy grey beak, tracing the
scratches again, purposefully this time.
T…D…U…K…I…spoken, "T'Duki", very, very close
to Taduki…but…her hopes fell again. What was this token but some long-grown
cub's dream, scratched into a window on some rainy winter's day? Crushed, she
felt fresh tears well in her amber eyes once more, coursing readily down their
tracks through her cheek-feathers. Some fast-dying spark of remaining hope encouraged
her searching paws, however, to feel the surface again.
There…below the script! More scratches, these
deeper and more purposeful than those natural ones that spider-webbed across
the glass. Furrowing her brow, she carefully ran an extended talon along these
lines. They were more difficult…it took her a moment to recognize them, as they
seemed to make no sense at all. Then suddenly, she knew…numbers! They were numbers!
Not letters, as she had thought.
And not just numbers…coordinates.
To be continued...