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...

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