Friday, 22 January 2016

The Quest for Verdisc (part 13)

Zephyr looked at the sight above him and cursed under his breath, resulting in a plume of bubbles filtrating through the water around him. Above the water, almost beautiful in the way a thousand candles made it twinkle, was the Unexpected Morale and a hundred other pirate ships. He'd heard stories of the famous pirate courts of old, and he'd seen armadas of ships flying the Jolly Rodger, but never before had he seen so many in such a small space. Staring up through the murky water, he counted a hundred, two hundred ships, armed to the teeth with cannons and rogues. If he wasn't in risk of drowning, he probably would have gulped.
There was a grand variety in the types of ship before him. The majority were small, retired fishing boats that had to have most of their contents ripped out to support the colossal cannon attached to the prow. Zephyr had seen enough of those smaller ships in his time to know that they wee easy to destroy and even easier to scare off, the pirates who manned them usually preferring to raise their anchors than to put up a serious fight. There were other ships, however, that could only be described as more... concerning. He could see several armoured hulks, long ships that were made entirely of metal and stunk of an unholy miracle that they could float at all. Zephyr had never been on one and he hoped never to have to; although they were just stories to scare him, it was said the engines used Trident Holders as fuel. There were also a few War Barges floating around, with their crossed Tridents rubbed off and any sign of civilised life missing. War Barges weren't the biggest ships on the seas but they were certainly imposing, so when they appeared like babies next to other ships which could only be described as grizzly bears, well, something was definitely wrong. Looking up through the murk of the water above him, he found himself considering that. The War Barges looked intimidating, but only as intimidating as an ant looks to a boy with a magnifying glass. In this case, the boy was the gigantic vessels all around it. Zephyr's stinging eyes fought to widen further as he tried to take what he was seeing on board. There were huge vessels, the size of small floating ports, and crawling with rogue, spittle bursting, cutlass armed life. Even these ships, with their twenty sails and fifty canons, looked small compared to the Unexpected Morale, bobbing up and down them.
He swam backwards, trying to understand the Pirate Court above him, and decided that it was pointless even contemplating rescuing the girl. He'd never manage it. They'd kill him before he even got out of the water. Then the image of her haunched on the shed of the Trident Holder Barge, a crossbow in her hands, trying to cause as much damage as physically possible to the Morale, came into his mind. He smiled at it, smiled at her, and decided he had to save her. The part of him that had been consumed with fear had now lost it's battle with love. He didn't care if the girl didn't love him back, he just wanted to save her. He pulled his trident off his back and began to swim towards the Morale's hulk.
The section of it that was submerged underneath the water was covered in barnacles. They were big, bigger than any he'd ever seen before, and when he got too close their shells dissolved to become jagged fangs that could quite easily tear him apart should he get too close. He backed away, his trident pointed out before him in case they leapt out and attacked, and felt his back touch something huge and metal. He spun around and found a Trident Holder War Barge was docked next to the Morale. He grinned and swam towards the rear. There was a ladder there, as there were on all barges, designed for maintenance work on the fans. He grabbed hold of it and began to haul himself up. A part of him was worried that, any second now, the pirate captain would turn his broken Trident and shred him into a shower of blood and bone. He continued climbing until he got to a decent height where he could see through the fan cages, and what he saw was an empty deck. Thank Qamatha. 
Zephyr climbed through a little hole at the base of the fan cage, known informally as the Apprentice Shredder, and crawled onto the raised platform at the rear of the ship. He hid behind the huge wooden wheel and listened for a second. There was no sound, so he snook out and continued across the floor towards the side of the deck. He could jump off the edge and climb up the exterior of the Morale's hull. Hang on. No. He had a better idea.
He turned to the entrance to the shed in the centre, noticing that there was a strange wax circle with scorch marks all around it, and rushed down the steps. The ship wasn't the same as the River Legacy so it took him a few seconds to get his bearings. The galley was open plan, with a worktop that had a very complicated tap against the far wall and a round table with a sofa next to it in the centre. There was a door underneath the prow of the ship, but that led to the crew's quarters; four bunkbeds and a toilet at the end. He turned around and instead traced back towards the rear of the ship. There was a small empty room, with discarded chains on the floor. Next to that room, however, was exactly what he was looking for: the Equipment room. There were swords, spare tridents, a couple of pistol but most importantly a box in the far corner next to a large coil of wire. The box had a tag on it, reading PROPERTY OF GEORGE IZALATHIO. Zephyr heaved it off the bench it was on and placed it onto the floor, then swung out a vicious kick to break it's padlock. Once the lid was free, he swung it off and pulled out the grappling gun inside. He attached the coil of wire, made sure there was a grappling hook attached to that coil and then swung it over his shoulder. The strap did most of the work, but still it felt heavy as he stepped back into the galley.
That was when he noticed a button on the wall. The River Legacy had had one, but it had completely slipped his mind. If the Boatswain wasn't a fan of birds and didn't feel like installing a rookery, War Barges could be fitted with special machines that could send signals to the closest Trident Holder court in the case of an emergency. And if this wasn't an emergency, when was?
Zephyr put the grappling hook down on the table and went over to the machine. He looked at the keys, and then nodded. It was a simple keyboard with a small screen above it. He typed his message. 'Pirate forces amassing. Maruauder's Atoll. River Legacy and others down. Bring help. Prepare for war.' He read through it, corrected his misspelling of Marauder's and then pressed send. The ship began to whir, so loudly that Zephyr was slightly worried the pirates on the surrounding ships would be able to hear, and then a message was printed on the screen reading, 'Your message has been sent to the nearest Trident Holder Court. Help will be here soon.'
Good, Zephyr thought, that'll cause enough a distraction whilst I go and save the girl.
He ran up the steps towards deck, and then headed over towards the side. He aimed his grappling gun towards one of the cannon holes, steadied himself, flicked off the safety and then felt a strong hand grasp his shoulder.
"What are you up to, lad?" Said a very deep, very intimidating voice behind him.
Zephyr turned around very slowly and came face to face with a very big man, carrying a very long sword. He thought furiously and said, "I'm just practising. I wasn't actually going to shoot. I'm actually a pirate, like you."
The pirate stared at him.
Zephyr stared back.
The pirate raised his one eyebrow, the other one having been burnt off in some exciting adventure.
Zephyr sighed. "It was worth a try."

Marcus kept his trident out in front of him, the three pronged points ripping down lower hanging branches. He was mindful of his footsteps, straining his eyes on the dark under foot. Whenever a twig snapped or a leaf crumbled, he instantly paused, his eyes leaping from one direction to the next. He was searching for approaching pirates, for monsters and murderers and the terrible shadows skipping between the trees. He couldn't wait for morning, and the protective light of the sun to protect him.
When the lunar glow of Glenmoon waned and the first trails of spindly sunlight cut through the trees, he began to regret his wish. With the light came the shadows, and soon every tree posed as a two dimensional pirate.
He didn't need the sun to tell him he'd been walking all night, however. He felt tired enough. His feet, in his sturdy hiking boots, were beginning to crawl in blisters. His legs, underneath trousers which were in turn underneath his Trident Holders Jacket, were battered by the pinging back of thorny branches. His arms begged him to put down the Trident, but he knew to do such a thing would be to leave himself unguarded to pirates. Not that there were any on this island. The Mechanical Wizard had brought them to the wrong place. The Marauder's Atoll was the stuff of nightmares, nothing more. It certainly didn't hold a pirate court, and it certainly wasn't the home of Beaumont Cantrell, the Captain of the Unexpected Morale, the man without-
There was a crack, the breaking of a twig somewhere. Marcus froze, his trident out in front of him. His eyes graced across the floor. He looked to see if he'd broken the branch, but there was no snapped wood protruding from underneath his boots. He went back to trying to stay as still as possible. He attempted to calm his breathing, but then his heart began to sound too loud for his liking.
Another twig broke. Marcus heard breathing, somewhere to his right. He danced quickly to the biggest tree he could find, sneaking behind it as quick as he could. He pulled the trident tight against him but he was ready to strike out with it should he need to.
"Wait up, will you, Sean?" Said an old and angry voice. "I'm not as young as I used to be."
"Not my fault, is it?" Sean said.
"Well, I suppose not." Said the first voice. "But still, would you slow down. My lungs are heaving."
"Kay." Sean said. Marcus heard the breaking of a couple more branches at they sat down. The first voice's breathing was heavy, almost concerning. Marcus pulled his trident a little closer to him, but he expected old age would kill them before he ever could.
"You hear something?" The first voice asked.
"You're going mad, old man." Sean said.
"Maybe I am, but I'm still going to be captain."
"Yeah, of that barge they hauled in earlier. What's it called? The Black Addison, that was it."
Marcus' heart sank like a corpse in a river. They couldn't have the Addison! They couldn't!
"No way, old man. That job's got my name on it and you know it as well as I do. We capture the Holders who came here with it, Cantrell will give it to me straight."
Marcus stopped breathing. If Cantrell was here, maybe it was all true after all. Maybe the Unexpected Morale was here, maybe Emilia was too. Maybe he was about to wander into the court of pirates.
"He won't if you don't return."
"You trying to threaten me, old man?"
"Might be I am. Either way, I'll die and I bet you will too. Ask me, Cantrell don't want either of us as Captain, and so he's sent us off to die."
"You're a bundle of laughs." Sean said.
"Still, might as well take those Trident Holders with us, if we see 'em. Odd how they just left their ship unattended."
"Probably going after Cantrell. He has that power in people; to make them stop acting rationally."
"Now you say it, I suppose he does, doesn't he? He's a frightening man, and coming from an old hand like me, that's saying something."
"Shush." Said Sean. Marcus heard more twigs break as the pirate stood. "I hear something."
"You said I were mad."
"You are mad. But I hear something now. Listen."
Marcus tightened his grip on the Trident. Silently, he prayed to every God he could think of. The Thinker, Qamatha, even Tark of the Fourth Eden. Please don't let them kill me.
There was the sound of metal drawing on metal, a scraping that brought a shiver to Marcus' skin. He associated it with death and danger and, he supposed, he was right to. It was the sound of a sword being drawn. In the far distance, there was a murmur.
"See, told you!" Sean cried.
The Old Man stood up, breaking twigs under him as he did, and drew his sword too. "You take the youngest. I don't want this fight to be any harder than it has to be."
Marcus thought a few more prayers, keeping his trident grasped tight. Please don't let them kill me.
"Sean, hide." He heard the Old Man said. "I can hear Trident Holders, and nothing takes them quite as well as the element of surprise."
The forest returned to silence for a few more moments, and then he felt a smile dance across his face. What he was hearing was music to his ears. Voices he knew so well, voices he had come to love. The only problem was that those voices were walking into a trap. He wondered whether he should leap out, tell them to run, but he knew they'd never get away. The best he could do now was save himself.
"When I find whoever took the Addison," Davelron was saying.
"You'll make them wish they'd never been born." Pontsher replied. "For the fiftieth time, I believe you."
"The cheek of it, though." Davelron continued. "To steal a ship as beautiful, as mighty, as the Addison. It's like they're asking for a taste of my trident."
"Pirates are a cowardly bunch." Pontsher said. "They'd never ask for conflict."
"Cowardly, hey?" The Old Man said, snapping branches as he stepped out from wherever he was hiding. "Strange, that's exactly what I heard said of you three prongers."
"What is it with the three prongs, anyway?" Sean asked. "Compensating?"
"Says the man with the wooden body parts." Davelron said. "What say you put down your weapons and we let you walk free?"
"No chance, matey." Said the Old Man. "Cantrell has sent us to collect you and that's just what we're going to do."
"No!" Marcus cried, running out from behind the tree. He waved his Trident in both direction. "Everyone just calm down! We can talk this through!"
"Don't be stupid, lad!" The Old Man said, seemingly unfazed by Marcus' sudden entrance. "We're pirates!"
Marcus saw the hilt of the Old Man's sword swinging out and felt his forehead, like a thousand explosions going off two metres away from a gunpowder factory. Like gunpowder, it all turned black.

"Marcus?" Said a familiar voice. "Marcus, wake up!"
Marcus managed to open his eyes, but it hurt to do so. His entire body hurt, and stung, and moaned and a thousand other words with a negative feel to them. It didn't help that he was very cold, or completely drenched. He opened his eye's a bit wider and saw he was in some sort of cell, the floor of which was completely coated in water. He looked up towards the source of the voice and smiled. Emilia. At last.
She helped him up and gave him a hug, despite his dampness, and then let him go, saying, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He said, trying to take a seat and almost falling into the water again. "I'm just a bit dizzy."
"You look it." She said.
"Where are Davelron and Pontsher?"
"Over here!" They called, from the other side of the cage. Marcus stumbled over and looked through the bars, seeing that they were in another cage. The water was just in his and Emilia's cell. Lucky them. He looked at the water for a second and realised that it was moving from one side of the cell to the other, as if possessed by some kind of rhythm. He presumed they must be on a boat of some sort. Then it occurred to him which boat. "Oh Thinker." He whispered. That was when he noticed the torn off section of Emilia's top. "What happened to your top?" He asked.
She raised her hand. She torn the material off to use as a bandage.
"What happened?" He asked.
"They branded me, Marcus! Branded me!"
"I'm going to kill them when I get out of here." Marcus said.
"Don't worry," Pontsher said, "we've already vowed to do the same."
Marcus turned away and went back to trying to find a seat.
"Before Marcus awoke," Emilia said, "you were just about to tell me about the Mechanical Wizard. Where is he?"
"In the cave we were camping in." Davelron said. "We didn't think it was a good idea to take something so fragile through a pirate infested forest." He laughed. "We were also hoping he might be able to guard the Addison, but that didn't exactly work out."
A rectangle of light cut itself in the corner as a doorway opened. It was soon filled with two silhouettes. One was short, wearing a long green coat, and the other was evidently a pirate. The pirate threw the boy into one of the cages and then marched back out, sneering. They all rushed over towards the closest point in their cell, trying to see the new inmate.
The inmate stared at each one of them in turn. He was fascinated by Davelron and Pontsher, not so much in Marcus, and then his eyes widened fully for Emilia. "Oh, thank Qamatha, I found you at last!"
"Excuse me?" Emilia asked.
"I saw you being kidnapped!" The boy cried. "I decided I must come and rescue you."
"You've done an excellent job of it." Emilia replied. "Who are you?"
"I am Zephyr Abrams, apprentice on the River Legacy. Who are you?"
"I'm Emilia Stormby, this is my brother Marcus. We're of the Black Addison."
"As am I." Davelron said. "Acting Captain Octavius Davelron at your service, young master Abrams."
"And I'm Pontsher, Boatswain of the Marvellous Knight."
"I think I saw the Addison outside." Zephyr said. "I don't know about your Marvellous Knight."
"How far outside?" Davelron demanded before Pontsher could speak.
"Docked just next to the Morale."
"We can escape easily, then!" Davelron cried. "We just need to get out of these cages."
"Just, huh. Good luck with that." Pontsher said. "I'd say it was near on impossible to break through this metal."
"We'll find a way." Marcus said. "We just need to think about it."
"There are keys on that wall over there." Emilia said. "I saw First Mate Jones hang them up."
"Fantastic!" Davelron cried. "I'll see if I can reach them. Now, we just need a distraction."
"I may be able to help with that." Zephyr said. They all looked towards him. "I used the Electronic Rookery on the Addison to send for help. It said they'll be here soon."
"How fortunate." Said a voice that sounded like death.
They all turned to face it and saw a silhouette move in the far corner. It had blended into the shadows so well that they hadn't even noticed. The silhouette walked into the light of the hanging lamp and revealed himself. "We need more corpses for the engines, and new ships are always welcome in my armada."
"Who are you?" Marcus demanded, but he already knew. The being was gigantically tall, but he didn't need to stoop. His jacket was the black of squid ink and decay, his sword sharp enough to slice through metal. He wore a tricorne with the feather of a dragon in the rim. Below his neck was a blood coloured tie and above it was a metal plate. He reached up and removed it, revealing a bloody skeleton. He was Beaumont Cantrell, Captain of the Unexpected Morale, the pirate who didn't have a face...

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Quest for Verdisc (part 12)

The Unexpected Morale had continued around the side of the Marauder’s Atoll, on and on, until it found what looked like a landslide. The valley may have looked criss crossed with debris of stone and wood alike, but the Morale disappeared into it all the same. Which was very bemusing for a certain green coated Trident Holder.
Zephyr Abrams had seen the girl in the blue coat fire the crossbow and had fallen in love. He didn’t know whether it was the fact that she was the first girl he’d seen in ten months, or whether it was the fact that she was oddly beautiful, but he had decided he was in love quite quickly. Then, when he’d seen her clambering up the front of the Morale, he’d known the only thing he could possibly do was go and attempt to the rescue her. He had leapt onto the life boat attached to his ship, the River Legacy, untethering it as he did, and then activated the outboard motor. The ship roared, the engine on the back spewing forth rippling waves and foamy wash. As the Trident Holders were busy trying to save Nexelspire and assembling their battle formations, Zephyr had raced after the Morale. He’d been careful, knowing full well the power of his quarry. He’d followed it for the first fifty nautical miles, and then he’d begun to float in another direction. The Trident Holders were catching up, and they would no doubt declare war. He may only be an apprentice Trident Holder, hence the green coat, but he knew the essential fact of existence: the Holders’ war barges would be torn apart in mere moments, never mind his life boat. He wanted to be watching the battle from as far away from possible.
Now, having witnessed the battle, he wished he’d watched it with his eyes closed. He’d seen the River Legacy burning, seen the Captain leap from the prow. He was the only crew member who’d escaped, but he’d died nonetheless when another of the Trident Holder barges crashed into the Legacy and filled the space with a ball of fire. As the battle had raged on, Zephyr had navigated the boat through the choppy waters far port side of the Morale, keeping parallel to it. When the last ship had burnt, Zephyr began to trace closer to the Morale. And that was when he’d seen the Marauder’s Atoll. He hadn’t quite recognised it yet, as it didn’t exactly fit the picture he had in his mind. The Marauder’s Atoll was the stuff of nightmares, the type of thing that young Trident Holders were told to keep them up at night. He had imagined it as a skull shaped blot of Hell, nothing but brimstone glowing with embers, the same crimson as an innocent infant’s blood. He could imagine it as upsetting the landscape around it, revolting the beautiful nature of it’s surroundings. He certainly hadn’t imagined it as just like any other island, a bit of grass in the centre of the sea. As much as it ashamed him to admit it, he was slightly disappointed. 
He watched the Morale circle the island, and then disappear through the collapsed valley. He turned off the outboard and itched his head, allowing the lulling of the waves against the hull of his wooden life boat to assist his thought process. “How’d you do that?” He asked himself.
He looked towards the valley and then decided that the best option was to swim towards it. Nothing was more invisible than a lone man swimming.
Zephyr strapped the trident to his back and threw himself over the side of the life boat into the water. Years ago, at the age of five or six, he would have felt like he was freezing to death. Now, however, as he entered the water, he could feel more relaxed. He’d taken a deep breath, so his lungs were filled, and began to swim towards the valley. It was guarded by fallen vines and leaves, but he discovered they moved out of the way quite easily. As he swam, he discovered that the valley opened wider behind the vines. He also discovered it wasn’t a valley. It was as if a blast of mighty force had driven the bordering rock faces part, widening the gap between to allow something as large as a ship to pass through. He looked up through the murky water, lit only by where the sun penetrated the overhanging leaves far above, and saw holes in the wall where he could imagine arrows chasing from. There wasn’t much to be learnt from above, so he turned his attention to what was beneath the surface.
Protruding from piles of mossy skulls were spears and sharp spikes. He could tell, from the colour of the blue paint on their tips, that they were poisonous. He swam up a bit, but remained under the surface, pulling himself forwards through the water. He pulled a bamboo shaft from his pocket and stuck it through the surface of the water. He began to suck on the fresh oxygen, but his lungs weren’t the part of him that were affecting him. His eyes stung as bits of debris and dirt washed into them. He knew that if he closed his eyes, he’d end up never opening them. He just had to soldier on, and lament the fact he’d forgotten his swimming goggles from the Legacy later.
He decided he was glad he’d kept his eyes opening, however, as a glowing light began to cut out of the murk before him. He swam a little quicker, urging himself onwards, and then when the glow was around him, he broke the surface of the water.
“Qamatha above.” He whispered.

The Black Addison crept closer to the island, Pontsher carefully tending the wheel whilst Davelron went and prepared a grappling hook at the prow. Marcus stood by the Mechanical Wizard, staring out to the Marauder’s Atoll.
“Heard of it, kid?” Pontsher asked. Marcus turned around to answer but the old man interrupted it. “Course you have. I can see the terror in your eyes.”
“Mum and Dad used to tell stories of it when we were young. And there was the game we always used to play.”
“What game?”
“The pirate game. It was more of a girl’s thing but sometimes we played with them. Someone would stand in the middle of a big circle of people who would walk around them, chanting the song. Marauder’s Atoll, Marauder’s Atoll, never there been a place so cold. Keep your pace. Keep your pace, less the Captain take your face.” Marcus shivered. “We’d repeat it over and over and then the person in the middle, the Captain, would leap out and try to catch someone. Everyone would run away, but if you got caught, you became the Captain.”
“Landlubbers.” Pontsher said.
The thudding roar of the grappling hook became suddenly evident. There was a moment of silence, but for the crash of the waves against the hull and the screech of the fans at the rear of the boat, and then Davelron shouted, “Kill the engines, Pontsher. I’ll reel us in.”
“Aye, kapteni!” Pontsher shouted. He removed his trident from where it was protruding from the floor and the engines behind him gave out and died. The world seemed to become quieter for a moment. And then the screeching of the grappling hook grew louder as the Addison was drawn over towards the island. The thud of the hull as it hit the rock jutting out from the Atoll nearly caused Marcus to fall to the floor.
“If she’s scratched,” he heard Davelron mutter under his breath. 
“I’ll go get the torches.” Marcus said, hurrying towards the entrance to the hull. 
“Slow down!” Davelron cried. “We’re going no where at this time of night. Without torches, we may stumble into traps, maybe even die. With torches, we might burn down the forest, or alert the Morale to our presence.”
“Then what’s the plan?” Marcus asked. He put out the magical arrow on the door, and in the process quenched the green flicker which illuminated them. 
“I spotted a cave further up the Atoll. We’ll wade up to it and camp for the night. When the sun rises, we’ll hide the Addison in the cave, get our weapons and go and find Emilia.” Davelron said. “If you ever want to be a proper Trident Holder, you need to remember this: your enemies are idiots, so you beat them by being clever.”
Davelron grabbed his trident and buttoned up his long blue jacket. He slung it through the scabbard on his back and then swung himself over the side of the Addison. Marcus heard a loud splash as the Trident Holder entered the water. “This is deeper than I expected!” He shouted. “Much deeper!”
Marcus let a grin dance over his mouth. The Mechanical Wizard stepped towards the side of the ship and looked over. He raised his hand and a green glow began to illuminate the side of the Addison and the water. Rocks lifted from the side of the Atoll, float through the air, and dropped into the ground. There was a sudden sizzling and then the rocks, or at least the top of them, were dry. 
“Thank you.” Marcus said to the Wizard. Pontsher wandered over and passed Marcus a jacket and a short sword. As Marcus pulled the jacket over his shoulders and slid the sword into the scabbard on his belt, he noticed Pontsher placing a longsword on his back. 
“Ready, lad?” Pontsher asked.
Marcus nodded.
The big gentleman picked Marcus up and lifted him over the side of the Addison and placed him on the makeshift stepping stones. Then he jumped over the side of the Addison, almost falling in the water, and reached up again to help the Mechanical Wizard out. They danced across the stepping stones, over towards the cave. When they reached it, they went inside and Marcus said, “It’s very dark in here.”
“I’ll light a fire.” Pontsher said. Marcus heard the click of a lighter and then a small flame dancing in the dark of the cave. “Kapteni, do you have anything we can burn?”
Davelron reached towards his belt and took a small tube, maybe the length of his middle finger. He popped the lid off and drew a small column out of it. “Light this, it’ll burn for twenty hours unless doused. Then, it won’t burn until it’s been doused. When it dries, it’ll burn again. It’s called-“
“A Broser Stick.” Pontsher said. He weighed it in his hands and then lit it, putting it down on the floor. Sudden heat and bright light filled the cave, to such an extent that Marcus had to unbutton his jacket. Davelron’s trousers, damp up to just before his groin, began to dry.
“Curious,” Davelron said, “that you’d know what a Broser Stick is. Can’t say many do. The Addison only took stock of them four docks ago, and when we did that they were brand new.”
“We got them on our ship, the Marvellous Knight, a week before, well, before I was thrown over board.”
“I get the sense there’s a story you haven’t told us.” Davelron said.
“Allow me to rectify that.” Pontsher said. He rubbed his hands together and leant forwards to tell a story. 
“We should be going after her.” Marcus said. “Not telling stories.”
“For reasons I’ve already told you, it’s too dangerous to go after her.” Davelron sighed. “Now, I realise you’re worried for her, that’s completely understandable, but brash and reckless action will achieve nothing. So, despite your opinion, it may in fact be telling stories that saves her. Okay?”
“Yeah.” Marcus said.
“Good.” Davelron replied. “Pontsher, good fellow, if you’d like to continue?”
“Yes, of course.” Pontsher said. “I was a Boatswain on the Marvellous Knight. We’d just docked in the Court of Holders, then after we’d raised the anchor, we started making haste for New Tunisia. We were running cargo supplies, coal and mining equipment, that type of thing. We were making good haste, good enough haste to reach New Tunisia by the turn of Glenmoon. The Captain, Luben Negrini, and I were talking about some repairs I wanted to make to the heater in the hull, when we saw the mist on the horizon. We did as procedure states; lit the fog lamps, blew the horn. A couple of the apprentice boys, they even suggested we send a raven to Batters Point, the local light house. I went down, wrote a message, wrap it up and put it on the raven’s leg when they all went crazy! I tried to calm them but none of them would even entertain the notion. I locked the cage, went back up the deck and that was when I saw why. It’s like what they always say in the old songs.”
With them a storm havoc wreaking, and then the gulls a-shrieking. The crew be dead, the seas be red, the Morale’s decks be creaking.”
“The Unexpected Morale?”
“Yes. It was cutting towards us through the water, guns blazing. The apprentices were killed in an instant, the gunner not long after. The Master was shot down as he attended to the Captain, who’d had his leg blown off. I saw them both go up in flames. I leapt off the deck, into the water, and no sooner had I done that than a cannon ball found the Knight and blew her to smithereens. I swam as far as I could, but the Morale sent out boats to search for plunder and bodies. They found me, hauled me up, and took me on deck. They were facing with guns and swords and crossbows. One of them, the First Mate, he swaggers up to me. Asks me whether I’m a girl. The crew laughs. I tell him I’m not. He asks me how old I am. I tell him I’m old enough to be his father. He says, “I always hated my father.” We’re talking, the men growing tighter around me. I knew I was going to die. My only hope was to wait for a distraction, throw myself overboard. Then maybe, just maybe, I could be rescued. As it happens, you found me and saved me, but I’m sure you can see it could have been the other way.”
“What was the distraction?”
“They’re beating me, kicking my chest and my legs. The First Mate, he keeps saying he wants to keep my face pretty. The Captain of the Morale, well, he doesn’t want the faces beaten. I’m screaming. I figure there’s no point trying to be brave now. Bravery isn’t going to save me. The First Mate, he’s screaming at me. These vile, terrible insults, and then suddenly I hear, ‘Please, Scabby, enough with the vulgar excrement falling from your mouth. That’s no way to treat a guest. Allow me. I am Beaumont Cantrell, Captain of the Unexpected Morale. You have taken refuge on my ship, and so I simply ask you for a small gift, a thank you if you will. That gift is the kind donation of your physiognomy.” Pontsher shivered. “The crew, they part before me to reveal the Captain. He’s standing there, in a long black jacket, a blood red sword in one hand, and all I can think is: the stories are true. The stories are true! He stood before me, the Captain, and he didn’t have a-“
“Marcus!” Davelron exclaimed.
Pontsher looked around and saw that Marcus was missing. “What in the name of Qamatha?”
“He must have sneaked off. Stupid boy.” Davelron stood and drew his Trident. “We’ll have to find him before he get’s us killed!”

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Quest for Verdisc (part 11)

Marcus tried to distract himself with work. At first it had been helpful; Davelron had been pleased to have someone wiping the boot prints and blood from the deck behind the prow. Then, Pontsher had appreciated the help making food. Then the Mechanical Wizard had appreciated Marcus loading him with new paper and ink, tightening the bolts on his back and polishing him to within an inch of his life. And then, Marcus had gone to clean the deck once more, and that was when Davelron realised that he wasn’t just being surprisingly helpful for once. 
“Don’t worry, lad.” First Mate (Acting Kapteni) Octavius Davelron had said. “We’re going to find her.”
“But what if we don’t get there in time.” Marcus whined.
“We will.” 
“But what if we don’t?”
“We will, Marcus. There's no doubting it.”
Pontsher, a broadsword that was taller than him strapped across his back, came waddling across the deck. His curled grey mongrel of a beard blew in the breeze. The parts of his face that were visible were a jolly red. “Don’t worry, lad! You know what girls are like. She’s probably taken command of the Unexpected Morale, probably bossing them all around!”
“Alternatively, some of us live in a world without sexism.” Davelron muttered.
Marcus didn’t reply to either of them. As bossy as Emilia was sometimes, he doubted she could order around a group of rogues and monsters, and especially not someone as heartless as the Captain. It was said that he didn’t have a- no. Marcus looked in a completely different direction, and tried to banish the subject from his mind. The myth of the Morale's Captain made him feel sick enough even when his sister’s life didn’t hang in that demon’s hands. He rubbed his face and sighed. 
“Get under deck.” Davelron shouted. “And get yourself some sleep. I’ll wake you if we get there.”
“Aye, Kapteni.” Marcus said and strolled over to the shed that perched in the centre of the deck and guarded the lower deck. He felt as if all the energy had suddenly been drained from his body. It all seemed so helpless. Emilia was as good as dead and he was stranded in the middle of the sea with two men and an automaton. As predicaments go, he doubted it could get much worse.
He went down onto the lower deck and looked through the porthole at the back. Half of it showed the swashing of the salty water, but the top half showed the open water for miles and miles. He could just make out the burning ruins of Nexelspire, with it’s plumes of endless smoke. They’d hung around to make sure that Emilia wasn’t trapped in any of the sinking buildings or flailing in the water itself, but when they couldn’t find her they resorted to what they should have done in the first place. The Mechanical Wizard had tickered and clicked and then dinged, a string of paper rolling out of his chest. Davelron had read it quickly in his head and then again out loud. “The Wizard needs two candles and a knife, as well as an item of Emilia’s clothing.”
“I’ll get a knife from the kitchen.” Pontsher had said. “Have you got any candles on this tub?”
“This tub is the Black Addison!” Davelron had looked outraged. “It’s the best ship on the Quadrant Seas!”
“I know that, but does it have any candles?”
“Check under the sink.” Davelron had sighed. “I’ll still the ship. Marcus get some clothing for your sister.”
The Mechanical Wizard had carved a strange symbol into the door and then melted the candles into the grooves. Then, he had raised his hand and a green spark leapt from the metal palm. Green fire ignited across the door- it was still burning now; Marcus had had to be careful when opening it- and into that fire, the Wizard had placed Emilia’s jumper. The fire had roared and twisted, turning into the shape of an arrow. A piece of paper rolling out of the Wizard's chest announced that the arrow would lead them to Emilia. Seven hours on, Marcus wasn’t quite convinced the magic would work.
Marcus drowsed his way past the sofa and the table, pushing open the door to the bedroom. He climbed up the ladder to his bunk and let sleep take him over almost immediately. His last thought was to Emilia, and how he wondered where she was.

An hour after Marcus fell asleep, Emilia awoke. The cell was dingy and damp, the only source of light being the barred hole in the corner. The swaying of the Unexpected Morale beneath her was making her feel slightly ill. She’d been lain on the bench beneath it, but lain by who? She raised a hand to her forehead and felt the burning lump growing on it. She instantly remembered the jeering faces, the guns and the swords. She could smell the rancid breath and the foul curses, and then she felt the smash of the musket into her forehead and the deep drowsiness that had afterwards consumed her. She shook herself and cursed the pirates above.
She swung off the bench and planted her feet firmly on the floor, but the process only sunk her ankles in water. She cursed under her breath in a vulgar tongue, and then she immediately said, “Forgive me, Thinker.”
“We call that cage ‘The Pond.’” Said a rude voice, with a malevolent chuckle at the end of it. “Fish around too far, you’ll find some bodies.”
“Who’s there?” Emilia shouted into the gloom.
The hanging lantern moved slightly closer and revealed that it was suspended form the end of a stick, being carried by a man who was so obviously a pirate, it almost hurt. He was a walking collage of stereotypes, scabs and scars. His eye was missing and one of his hands was a hook. His face was blemished, not only with the scabs of spots once picked but also with scrapes from enemy cutlasses and foreign bullets. He hobbled towards her on a wooden leg. “I’m First Mate Jones. They call me Scabby.”
“I can’t see why.” Emilia said, trying to come across as confident as possible but cringing as her voice broke.
“How old are you, girl?”
“Why?” Emilia said.
“Because I asked and I’ll rip yer brain out if you don’t answer.”
“I’m thirteen.” Emilia said. 
“Damn.” Scabby Jones said. “That’s a bloody inconvenience.”
The First Mate loomed over her, and Emilia decided that, of the two first mates she’d met, Scabby Jones was her least favourite. “You ever heard there’s honour amongst thieves?”
“I’ve heard a lot of lies.”
“Yeah, well, there’s plenty of honour amongst pirates, too. A code of conduct, if you will. On the most part, it’s frowned upon for an honourable gentleman of the seas to harm a person of the fairer sex.”
“Then why do you all care? None of you are honourable.”
“Sharp tongue, girl, but not as sharp as my knife.”
“That would be threatening it wasn’t for the fact that you just told me none of you want to harm me.”
“I said honourable gentlemen of the seas. I ain’t no honourable gentleman.”
“I could have told you that.” 
Scabby roared. “Argh!”
“Get on with your story, would you?”
Scabby sighed. “Most pirates aren’t willing to harm the fairer sex at any ages, especially not below the age of eighteen. Political correctness gone mad, that’s what I call it. Still, I suppose it’s only right. It’s generally accepted though, that when a girl reaches eighteen, she’s fair game. So, only five years for me to wait before I can show you just how sharp my knife is.” He smiled.
Emilia said nothing.
Scabby set down the lantern on a table to the side of the Pond. There was an iron brand sat next to it, which he picked up and weighed in his hands. Then he stuck the end of the brand in the fire of the lantern and watched until it turned sufficiently orange, beginning to glow.
“Put your hands through the bar, girl.” Scabby said.
“No!” Emilia said, withdrawing as far as she could. “Why would I do that?”
“Do as I say!”
Emilia pushed herself a little further backwards. 
Scabby’s face, lit by the glowing brand, looked demonic in it’s irritation. “Don’t make me come in there, girl.”
Emilia said nothing and neither did she move.
“You come here now, I brand you on the hand. You stay where you are, I brand your face.” His eyes seemed to drill into her. “And we’d hate to ruin that pretty little face of your’s.”
Emilia stayed where she was, pushed up against the rear wall of the cell, for a few moments more, but she soon realised that it was a bad idea. The situation could only get any better if she did exactly as she was instructed. Praying to the Blessed Thinker, asking him dearly for help, for assistance, for anything, she stepped forwards and slid her hand through the bars. 
“Much obliged, young lady.” Said Scabby Jones. He held her wrist firmly with his left hand. With his right, he lifted the brand from the lantern and moved it closer to her. She could feel the heat of the metal before it was even on her. She screwed her eyes shut, took a very deep breath. She clenched every part of her that could be clenched, and tried to think happy thoughts. For a moment, she believed it had worked. She believed she had seriously distracted herself from the pain of the brand. 
And then the heat intensified and she screamed with more power, pain and horror than she had ever experienced. The wail of the scream was so strong, she believed it would tear her throat open and escape through a gorge it’d rip in her neck. Instead, it howled through her mouth where it met the tears rolling from her eyes. Her entire body began to shake in pain, but Scabby kept her hand where it was, pressing the brand into it. She continued to scream.
It felt like the brand was made of a thousand tiny pins which had been stabbed into her hand until they were lost deep in the flesh, only then to be pulled through the other side whilst acid followed the bloody tunnels produced. She was sure that the force with which he’d smashed the brand into her hand had broken at least one of her metacarpal bones. Her skin, meanwhile, felt as if it was boiling. She could feel it bubbling and swelling, the blisters already rising from the growing scars like birds from a canyon in the deserts of New Tunisia. Her blood simmered, her hand burnt both literally and metaphorically, and she screamed until she blacked out.

Marcus awoke from a nightmare. He rubbed the back of his hand, where it itched like mad. He couldn’t remember what the nightmare was about, but he’d spent a lot of it screaming. His throat felt dry, and so he went in search of a drink. In the main hull of the lower deck, all seemed calm. He took a glass from the shelf above the kitchenette. The tap had several gauges that had to be opened before it could work, but it was one of many procedures he’d learnt by heart since moving onto the Addison. He twisted knob after knob, then finally put the glass beneath the tap and turned the handle. The pump on the exterior of the hull sucked in some water from the sea, cleaned it using one of his uncle’s special filter pads, and then poured into the cup.
Marcus turned the tap off, closed the gauges and then lifted the glass. Immediately upon seeing the liquid within, he dropped it and back away. He nearly fell over a coffee table in the process, before turning around and running purposely towards the steps that led to the deck. The glass, laying on it’s side in the sink, was slowly saying goodbye to the red liquid held in it mere seconds ago.
He burst out of the shed and raced across the deck towards the large ship’s wheel, which Pontsher was carefully tending. Marcus opened his mouth, ready to tell Pontsher about the red liquid which had come out of the tap, but then he looked over the sides of the Addison and realised he didn’t need to. The source of the red liquid, which was almost certainly blood, was quite apparent. They were currently sailing through a floating graveyard.
The wrecks of dozens, hundreds even, of Trident Holder vessels bobbed in every direction. Smoke wafted from the ashy remains of their hulls. The smoke seemed to have melded together to create a fog which cocooned the Addison. As the prow cut through the water and the smoke, it sliced into congregations of debris, pushed them gently to either side. On a couple of these clusters, Marcus saw blue coated corpses. He found himself having to look away. It made him feel sick. 
“Where’s Davelron?” He asked Pontsher.
“Gone for a swim.” Replied the portly fellow.
Marcus’ eyes opened his horror. “What? No! He’s dead?”
Pontsher looked suddenly quite guilty. “Oh, I am sorry lad! I didn’t mean to scare you! I was just joking. He’s at the front.”
“The prow.” Marcus muttered as he trailed across the deck.
Davelron was stood there, an imposing figure against the grey of the smoky fog in front. He had his trident in his hand, and when he turned, Marcus saw there was an anger in his eyes. “Kapteni!” Marcus cried. “What happened?”
Davelron’s knuckles were white from the way he was gripping the trident. “Qamatha has ruled that these beings have reached the end, and he sent the Reaper to finish them off. It just so happens that the Reaper came in the form of the Unexpected Morale.”
“Are these the Trident Holders from Nexelspire?”
“Yes.” Davelron said. “They must have reached the Morale quicker than we did, and they paid the price for their speed.”
“How many ships were there?”
“Fifty.” Davelron said. “Fifty two if you count the amphibious vehicles.”
“That’s 260 Trident Holders.” Marcus calculated, taking into mind the average crew of 5. 
“Swatted from the face of the Earth like flies from a wall. Once we find Emilia, we’ll have to go and report this to the Trident Holder court. Your journey will have to lengthen further still.”
“I don’t mind.” Marcus said. “At least I know you. I don’t know my Uncle Demetrius, not since I was little at least.”
“We’re here!” Cried Pontsher. 
Davelron smiled at Marcus. “Told you we’d find her. We’ll tether the Addison to the Morale’s rear and then climb up to one of the cannon hatches. Go in through their, incapacitate anyone we find, and rescue Emilia. As we’re leaving, I’ll throw a grenade-“
He didn’t finish his sentence. He’d seen their destination. He suddenly realised there wouldn’t be any climbing the rear of the Morale, nor would there be any throwing a bomb in. Their destination wasn’t the Unexpected Morale. Their destination was an island called the Marauder’s Atoll, and it just so happened to be the most famous pirate's retreat in modern myth. Marcus gulped.