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Greed and Gold


by orangeorge62

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In the gloomy corner of a dingy old tavern on the northern coast of Krawk Island - a part of the isle known for dark things and ancient legends - several Neopets sat in a small semicircle around a grizzled old Lupe. Others sat around the bar, searching for better things at the bottom of their glass of grog, or gambling for more of the coveted drink. Sailors, come into port from a long voyage on the seas, liked to rest in places such as the Shark's Head to swap stories of swashbuckling adventures and show off small trinkets; nothing too large or shiny, nothing that could be noticed by unwelcome, thieving eyes, commonplace at the pub. It was late night, or early morning - nobody knew for sure. In any case, the sun had hidden beyond the horizon and all that illuminated the tavern were a pair of hanging lamps and the odd stumpy candle.

     Back in the corner, no more than half a dozen young shipmates sat, leaning eagerly forward in their chairs, subconsciously draining their tankards and tapping their fingers in impatience at the Lupe in front of them. A sailor's life did not bring much joy when you were moored on land, without the spray of the sea in your face or the gentle rocking of the waves beneath you, but a good tale could make drab reality disappear in a flash.

     After taking another relishing sip of his drink, the Lupe straightened his aged back and looked round at his audience. Righting himself in his chair some more, he spoke. His voice came out in an impressive, chilling rasp, scraping upon the air like a rusted knife.

     "Arr, so ye're lookin' fer a tale, are ye? A tale to whisk ye away from this miserable old hole? Well sit back, buckoes, and keep yer measly ears open if ye think ye're man enough to stand tha horrors I'm about to be a-tellin' ye."

     After several more seconds of reverent silence, a spectator started to complain at the apparent second delay, but the Lupe cut across him briskly, smirking smugly at the effect his opener had on the other listeners. It always had that effect.

     "'Twas a fine night, a nice n' calm one on the seas, aye. A score o' years ago, I'd say, just about a league from this 'ere pub, on the beaches of Smithy's Bay, that very Smithy was tugging 'is rowboat down to the shore. Heard a rumour, 'e did, that a marvellous treasure was hidden in the depths of the bay, and not just silver and gold, no. Fascinating items from all over the globe; weapons and such from the kingdom of Meridell, silks, pottery and all sorts of beautiful art from the Lost Desert, spices and exotic foods from Mystery Island, and the best brewed grog in the whole of Neopia. And none ruined, too, all of the perishables protected in the best chests that a hand could make, brought from Tyrannia, o' course, and picked up by the Soaring Hammerhead over the many years she sailed the seas. A mighty ship she was, always travelling to far off places, but always coming back to make berth in her native Krawk Island. 'Twas a treasure that any ship would be lucky to have, and a treasure that every ship envied.

     "Well, one night, while the Hammerhead was making its way to port in this same little isle, by the cover of the shadows, a few mates from a rival ship - mercenaries, more like - swam up in a tiny dinghy and scaled the craft. Making their way to the stores and eliminating any guards on the way, they lugged all of the treasure overboard, and then sunk the ship with several of 'er own cannonballs. Greed and jealousy drove them to ruin their foe, even if it meant going down with them.

     "And surely, the enemy pirates died along with the sinking ship o' course, as much at the hands of the murderous crew of the Hammerhead as the inescapable vessel. However, the captain of the Hammerhead, ol' Ludo Sarris, he placed a curse upon 'is treasure, so that none of the others from the enemy ship could come back and steal it. They tried, yes," the Lupe said, pausing to chuckle. "Oho, yes, how they tried. But no one, not a single ship, could obtain the riches."

     "How many tried?" asked a cautious Blumaroo, biting his lip.

     "Oh, tens. At least thirty ships tried to get their grubby hands on Cap'n Sarris' treasure over the years. But always, there was something that brought their adventures to an end. Terrifyin' storms, or strange creatures of the deep. On several occasions, no less than three ships went for the loot all at once, and it resulted in massive carnage each time. Nevertheless, Smithy was young, and overconfident too. Not only was it a perfect day, but there was barely anyone out on the waters at all, he reasoned. In his small rowboat he surely wouldn't draw too much attention to 'imself. Just in case, though, he brought a fishing rod with 'im, so that if he noticed somebody a-lookin' at 'im, he could whip it out and pretend to be fishin'.

     "Anyway, no one caused 'im much trouble, but a problem remained. Smithy wasn't a Koi or a Jetsam or any other type o' pet that could survive long underwater. Wasn't no Maraquan creature either."

     Another voice piped up. "What was he?"

     "A Lupe, just as meself, but strong and fit, so 'e could still swim all the way to the bottom. Couldn't tug all the treasure back up, though, not without suffocating. So what 'e did was, beforehand, 'e found 'imself a few reeds growing near the water and some large balloons. Then he searched around 'is house and anywhere else he went - this very tavern included - for some bottlecaps, just big enough to fit snugly onto one end of a reed. Having collected all those, he inflated those balloons and stuck 'em onto one end of the reed, the other being covered by a cap. Well, he made nearly fifty o' the things, and, after tying ten to 'imself, and grabbing five in each hand, he swam down to the depths. Grabbed 'is fishin' rod too, just in case. Looked pretty comical, a score o' balloon-things clinging to him and a fishin' pole stickin' outta one of 'is pockets, but they saved 'is life.

     "Anyway, after swimmin' down to the depths, he sighted the treasure, or at least, a bit of it. Little pieces of it was more what he saw, really, a trail of interesting doodads. So he followed it, and eventually he came upon a fissure, a deep one, bottomless it appeared. Well, all this time, he had been detaching the balloon things from 'imself and breathing in the little quantities of air that each held. At this point, though, he was out of them, and so he had precious little time to wander about the sea floor. So, after he saw how big that gorge was, he all but lost heart altogether, for the time being, at least. He grabbed the nearest item that looked important and expensive, and swam back up to the surface. At least he could mark the spot and come back later, he thought."

     "Did he?" another question sprang up.

     Scowling, the Lupe retorted swiftly. "Naw, he just took that trinket back to the isle, sold it, and lived happily ever after. The end.

     "'Course not, ye dung-brained idjit! He swam back to 'is boat, swam back to the spot as best he remembered, and rested for a bit. Bloke like that, he wouldn't give up so easily in the face of such riches. 'Course, there was the matter of the huge chasm, and that he only had about twenty more o' the balloon-things left, clearly not enough to get 'im all the way down to the treasure and back up. That problem was solved in a short moment, though, for he started examining the stolen knickknack only a bit of a while later. A goblet it was, and enchanted apparently, since it had all sorts of old script on it, indecipherable, and 'twas filled with a curious li'l liquid, green-hued. Well, when he was swimming up to the surface, Smithy thought it was only the seawater, right, and he didn't dwell on it too much, being that he was barely conscious. Now that he was out of the water, though, he noticed it was a bit too green, eerily green, see. Well, he let it slide for a while, and started thinkin' about how he could get at that treasure. Minutes passed, then hours, and he was still sittin' in his tiny boat, thinkin' and thinkin'. Well, Smithy wasn't too bright, no, but 'twas a right hard ol' problem too, to his credit. Afore long, Smiths had just about fallen asleep and still nothin' had come to him.

     "He was real determined, though, for his greed drove 'im a long way. Finally, with no other course of action available, he just took up that goblet, and carelessly drank the green stuff inside it. No harm done, he reckoned, and it might just help him, somehow. Well, Smithy had always been a lucky one, always winning at games that were beyond 'is understanding and betting on the right, though decidedly odd, people. And his luck paid off here too. 'Course, 'twasn't too pleasant, but necessary, oh yes. For just as he gulped down the last of 'is drink, these grand old gills sprouted from his neck. Oh, the sudden change they brought! Thrashing around in that boat just as a fish, strugglin' to draw breath, Smithy eventually capsized the vessel and threw 'imself into the water. 'Twas then he realized what the gills could do. Realized, he did, that he could gather that treasure now.

     "So then, just brimmin' with confidence, ol' Smithy swam back down, herding the stray treasure over to a big, noticeable rock on 'is way. When he reached the gorge again, and found he could still breathe real easy, Smiths dove down recklessly, sure that it'd all be fine, if treasure were truly at the bottom and marvellous as the legends claimed. Gold cures all problems here on the isle, o' course, I'm sure even you all know that. Oh, many's the time I've been shut out of an inn because of my empty pockets, I'll tell ye, and right after I see some rich bugger getting lavished like a king," the old one added, shaking his head.

     "Anyhow, like any youngster, this fool swam happily on downwards, tossing all caution to the winds. Ye'd have thought the way the pale light from above shone on the rocks, or the impenetrable darkness ahead would've stayed him for just a moment, long enough to consider his predicament. But no, he just ploughed on, diving into a deep, black chasm to pursue a cursed pirate treasure," the Lupe continued, his last words dripping with disgust.

     "'Twasn't until he neared the first opening in the rock face that he became apprehensive. Not too put off, he carried on, but then more caves started appearing at 'is sides. He started seeing strange things now, evil things; crabulas leering at 'im from dark holes, disfigured squids floating by, 8-foot long mutant waleins lurking in the shadows...

     "Making 'is way much more slowly now, and decidedly frightened, Smithy eventually halted several hundred feet down; too far down. The realization of what he was about to do scared 'im, coupled with the eeriness of the whole situation. Looking back to the world that he could no longer see, the one beyond the surface, and the awfully faint sunlight that emanated from it, Smithy understood just how far away it all was, how all forms of normality had been left way back at the entrance to the crevice. Panicking, he turned back, determined now that no treasure was worth such a horrible end that might await him in this dark world if he stayed here any longer. But when he spun 'round-he found 'is way blocked!"

     All spectators sat riveted on the storyteller now, entranced in his ghastly tale. Nothing imaginable could have torn their eyes from his at this moment, at this crucial part of the story. The Shark's Head had gone strangely quiet all of a sudden, for all the occupants must have fallen asleep, and all the outside noises consumed by the night. Nothing stirred; nothing broke the silence of the once rowdy tavern. Nothing except the elderly man's voice. Now, it was no longer a tale. At this point, the old one's mouth worked almost subconsciously, as if he was reliving the terrifying events. Dread came into his voice more than once, and sent a chill down into the bones of the listeners.

     "Aye, his path was blocked, blocked by the old crew of the Hammerhead, back from their meagre graves. Standing on all ledges in sight, they occupied a fair bit of the passage back and gathered all around him, obscuring his view of the surface and of everything in general, blocking out any light that remained. Not much of them was left though, and definitely no feast for the eyes. They weren't no skeletons, or fish-men, as the legends made them out to be. Just corpses, walking corpses. Their clothing rotted away years ago, and half their bodies along with it. Flesh and muscles and bones all shared the spotlight, places decaying randomly, some more than others. Empty eyesockets, or else ones filled with spheres that no longer resembled eyes in the least, glared at the intruder. The impudence! Disturbing their moment of peace, attained finally after decades of roaming the sea, guarding their treasure from rival swag-seekers. And now another one! Furious, they closed in, clutching rusted knives in bony hands, more in memory of life before death than in the way of actual weapons.

     "Terrified to his wits' end, Smithy just hung there, in the water, staring at the approaching carcasses wordlessly. There was no longer any notion of up and down, for every inch of water around him was now covered by crewmen, half-wasted away, hungering for his blood. Then, a single menacing figure rose up right in front of him. Too stunned to even attempt to turn away, Smithy made no move to wriggle free of the dead captain's grasp. Sucking in a deep breath of saltwater, the wraith of Ludo Sarris raised his hands and attacked. Pain, sudden searing pain! Too late Smithy realized that Sarris had attacked his only just acquired gills, rendering him barely able to breathe. Rasping as he desperately struggled to continue living, the greedy one could only watch on as Sarris persisted with his assault. In moments, Smithy Brigs faded into nothingness, the black of the sea swallowing him up mercilessly, and without question."

      As the story came to an end, the hushed silence that had fallen over the assembly became even more piercingly quiet, allowing the dramatic happenings of the account to sink in. Nobody spoke for a very long time, stricken by the sudden serious direction the tale had taken, and by Smithy's gruesome demise. It was as though the whole of the island fell silent at the painful conclusion. All sorts of thoughts floated through the minds of the listening sailors, thoughts murky and unpleasant. Surely, despite Smithy's resourcefulness, no one could escape such a predicament; escape the clutches of a crew so bloodthirsty and determined. However, these new thoughts brought even more unsettling questions to the table.

      Finally, one of the party managed to overcome the long, stifling stillness and pose the all-important question, one just waiting to be asked, consequently breaking the silence and snapping everyone else out of their own trance. The Lupe himself blinked his eyes a few times, as though returning to reality. Hesitating, the sailor whispered, "But, Smithy, he's... isn't he? I mean, how do you... know all this?"

      Smiling faintly, the raconteur pulled down the collar of his shirt and scratched absently at several long scars on either side of his neck.

      "I don't know. After all - dead men tell no tales."

The End

Author's Note: Arr, well, if this gets published, it's my first one, so - huzzah! I'd much appreciate any comments; feel free to mail in.

 
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