Keep Your Friends Close, Your Anemones Closer: Part Three
Finding Krawk Island is easy, regardless of where you are in Neopia. Because it stinks. A lot. If the rest of the world was a lush, beautiful meadow, Krawk Island would be the huge, steaming Kau pat right underneath your favourite rope swing. Not because of the large fishing industry that operates from its shores, but purely and simply because the island is inhabited by a number of filthy pirates with no interest in personal hygiene.
If there’s one thing I hate more than Peophins or Petpets, it’s pirates; maybe I have some sort of aversion to things beginning with the letter ‘p’, I don’t know. What I do know, is that if I ever met a Pirate Peophin with a pet Pirate Pawkeet perched on his shoulder, I’d punch him.
I surfaced a few hundred feet to the north of the island, facing the large docking area. The docks are the only part of the island that are kept remotely clean; had I emerged anywhere else on the coast I would have had to wade through several feet of rotting fish carcasses just to get to dry land. Apart from that, though, I thought this approach would give me a better chance of figuring out where Chloe was likely to be, since this was undoubtedly the route she’d have been taken if she came in aboard a shipping vessel.
Despite the limited intelligence of the peg-legged inhabitants, I decided it best to be cautious and try to avoid drawing unwanted attention to myself. As such, I waited until a ship pulled up on the dock, then hooked my hood up over my head and timed my clamber up onto the pier so that I emerged in the middle of the throng of bodies alighting down the gang plank. As I jostled my way away from the harbour, my skilled and nimble fingers managed to procure a shipping timetable from the pocket of a particularly flustered looking chap, who was struggling to keep track of who owned the various crates dotted about the place.
Tucking the log into the folds of my coat for later review, I began to feel the effects of being out of the water. While I was immeasurably happy to have my sense of gravity returned to normal, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the usual, nagging itch set back into my flesh for the duration of my stay on land. My tail was already somewhat unhappy at being relegated to its usual hiding place up the central contour of my spine. But at least here the salty air was moist enough with sea spray to provide a staggered transition back to dryness.
Since I had no intention of prolonging my stay in this wretched place a second longer than necessary, I began to make my way across the island towards the more tranquil bay that housed the Little Nippers Petpet store. I was operating under the assumption that whoever found a Snarhook ensnared in their nets would have immediately recognised it as a source of profit if they were to sell it on to the local Petpet merchant; it would certainly explain why they had been so eager to prevent Ms. Nemoné from freeing her.
The shop was elevated from the shifting sands on which it was first built by enormous stilts; presumably the coast line had slowly been eaten away by vicious tides before somebody on the island with more than two brain cells had stumbled on the idea of building a jetty to better protect it. Upon entering the shop, I was overwhelmed by the tang of wet fur and stale brine. Suddenly the difficulty I had breathing in open air felt like more and more of a blessing with every step I took towards the counter.
It was quickly apparent that Admiral Kyrwinne, the usual shopkeeper, had been deposed for some reason; in his place stood a grotty, little Kyrii. His beige fur was unkempt and matted with the residue from several days of not washing, his clothes were crumpled and he seemed to be the source of the foul smell that filled the air. He was busy chugging down a bottle of Krakuberry Grog, so I waited patiently for him to come up for air before speaking.
“Where’s Kyrwinne?” I asked.
“Sick,” he hiccupped. “I be his nephew, they call me Glug Glug Jones.”
I screwed my nose up slightly. I can’t imagine why. “I’m looking for a Snarhook,” I said curtly.
He turned partially to one side and made an open gesture with his free arm towards the cages that lined the walls behind him. “Take yer pick, bo’sun,” he replied, before carelessly flinging the empty bottle the length of the counter onto a pile of other discarded glassware.
Looking beyond him at his wares, I wondered what the Admiral would have to say about how well his kinsman had handled the store in his absence. Kateils and Weewoos flapped at the bars of their cramped cages, Swabbies sulked into their absorbent regions, and Screals struggled to peek out through the stagnant water in their tanks.
I felt a sudden unfamiliar pang in my chest. Whilst wondering what it was, I realised it was probably hunger; I hadn’t had anything to eat since the Tiki Burger I’d polished off at breakfast. Best to make this brief then so I can go and find somewhere to eat before everything closes.
“I’m not after just any old Snarhook, I mean a particular one. It would have come in a few days ago, on a fishing boat, not via your usual means.” I’d met Admiral Kyrwinne before and he was alright, for a pirate. If nothing else he cared a lot about his business, he was known for being a sentimental old sap and he had a soft spot for the Petpets he sold. I imagined he had strict, ethical guidelines on how he acquired the animals he sold; Glug Glug here, though, struck me as the sort who would buy an old lady’s teeth on the black market if he thought he could make a quick dubloon out of it.
He rested one elbow heavily on the counter and leant forward, his pungent aroma wafting towards me. “I be wantin’ to help ye’, I really does. But me ol’ mem’ry ain’t wha’ it used to be, see?” I glanced down and noticed he was rubbing his forefingers and thumb together. It was an all too common gesture in my line of work.
Sighing, I reached into my money sack and flicked the few dubloon coins I had out onto the counter. I always made sure to keep a few handy for any dealings I had with pirates. As such, I didn’t need too many since it wasn’t something I engaged in often.
Greedily, he scooped the coins into his hands and then rubbed his finger against the side of his temple. “Arr yes, it be comin’ back to me now. Fat li’l beggar she war, kinda odd lookin’ an’ all. I ain’t ne’er seen a Snarhook wi’ a nose that big before.” As he spoke he reached under the counter and brought out a weighty, leather-bound ledger. The pages were worn greasy through the thumbing through of frequent transactions, and the covers looked like they had been nibbled on more than once by small pairs of jaws.
He flicked open to the last entry and ran a dirty finger down the page. “Aye, I sold ‘er yesterdeh. Fetched a pretty penny an’ all she did. Coat had a nice sheen to it see, so I blagged ‘er fer all she war worth.”
“Who did you sell her to?” I asked, craning forward to try and read the customer’s name.
The book slammed shut with a thick bang. The smugness of his grin expanded to cover his entire face. He jangled the dubloons I had given him loudly inside his grubby pocket. “I couldn’ possibly be tellin’ ye that, bo’sun,” he drawled. “Unless, of course, ye be seein’ ol’ Jonesy right to the tune o’ a few more dubloons, see?”
I wasn’t sure which annoyed me more, his greed or the obnoxious way he kept calling me ‘bo’sun’. My skin had begun to itch as the material packed around it slowly lost its battle to keep me damp, and ‘ol’ Jonesy’s’ stink was beginning to make me feel sick. I tensed up my muscles, trying to alleviate the itch while I thought of a way to bribe him when I’d already used up all the dubloons I had. Then I felt an awkward jabbing in my ribs. Remembering the throwing knife I’d tucked away earlier, a plan suddenly blossomed in my mind.
“Now, I’m sure there’s no need for that,” I said silkily, drawing the knife out and holding it in full view.
For a moment, a flash of fear dawned on him, but it was quickly replaced by his usual cocky swagger.
“Heh, ye wouldn’ dare.” There was more than a little uncertainty in his voice, though.
“You’re right, I wouldn’t,” I said. Then in one swift motion, I pulled back my arm and launched the knife ahead of me. He saw what I was doing and, almost in slow motion, managed to duck to the left in time to see the blade go hurtling by him.
There was a moment of tense silence, which was shattered by a sudden guffaw of relief and ridicule from him. “HAR! Ye missed!” he mocked.
A slow smile emerged across my lips. “No I didn’t.”
Mystified, he turned back to look over his shoulder. He saw where the blade had landed in the middle of the shelf of feeding supplies on the back wall. Then he noticed that it had punctured a bottle of water during its flight, a bottle of water which was now leaking onto the electrical equipment housed underneath it. A split second and a fizzle of shorted wires later, and he stood frozen with shock as every cage door in the store simultaneously flew open and he was engulfed in a stampede of disgruntled Petpets. He scrambled over the counter to try and escape, but by the time he landed on the other side they were waiting for him.
I stepped out of the way to let them get on with mobbing him, then casually leant on the counter and reopened the ledger to cast my eye down the page. It seemed Jonesy hadn’t been too good with the salesman patter, as in the last week there were only a handful of entries scrawled in his barely legible writing. The last one was the only one of interest to me, though; apparently Chloe had been sold to a Senator Ahari of Sakhmet, for an extortionate fee.
Behind me the ruckus continued, but I knew they would wear themselves out before too long and so hastened to make my exit. I picked up one of the many discarded Krakuberry Grog bottles from the pile, then stepped over the writhing mass of squeals and revenge in the middle of the shop floor and used the bottle to prop open the door. I was about to leave when I spotted a scattering of dubloons on the floor where an overenthusiastic Deaver had savaged Jonesy’s pocket.
Sweeping them up into my hand, I glanced back over my shoulder as I made to leave. “Play nice,” I said to the assortment of creatures. I doubted that any of them were intelligent enough to understand me, but it was more for Jonesy’s benefit anyway. And with that I made my exit.
The sun had already slumped down over the horizon as I headed back towards the docks; I hadn’t intended on making quite so much of a scene at the shop, so stopping off to try and find somewhere that was still open to buy food on the way was now off the agenda. A quick consultation of the shipping schedule that I acquired earlier informed me that there was a large cargo of medicine being shipped to Sakhmet at first light.
Slipping by the security guard patrolling the pier proved to be much easier than scouring the numbers hastily splattered onto the wooden planks to find the right ship. Eventually, more by luck than anything else, I happened upon the right one. Before climbing aboard, I allowed myself to soundlessly flop off the pier and into the dark waters rippling around the moorings. The water instantly soaked into my coat and eased the fiery crawling of my skin. For a moment I considered entangling myself in the underwater netting and sleeping there, but I didn’t trust myself to wake up in time to get back aboard the boat; the thought of being woken up by being dragged through the surf like a snagged buoy didn’t appeal to me quite so much.
So I reluctantly dragged myself up the side of the weathered bow and onto the deck, my waterlogged attire making the task more arduous than was really necessary. Once aboard, I picked my way amongst the piled up freight until I spotted a sealed wooden crate off to one side. After struggling with the lid for what seemed like an age, all the while terrified of alerting somebody to my presence, I managed to crack it open and peer inside.
I made short work of scooping out several armfuls of boxes, then pitched them overboard and climbed into the crate in their place. Securing the lid as best I could from inside, I just hoped that my luck would hold and we wouldn’t hit any rough patches that would send it flapping wildly in the wind.
While stacked boxes of lozenges don’t exactly make the most comfortable pillow in the world, they did at least offer some sort of sustenance for my growling stomach. After a few cherry ones, though, I decided that hunger was preferable to the furry, sticky feeling they generated inside my mouth. Besides, moping over my grumbling insides took my mind off the fact that I was headed to the hottest and driest place in Neopia. Why do I keep putting myself in these situations...
To be continued...