College Days: A Pirate Adventure - Part Five
Meadowbuck felt annoyed. That was not the first emotion he’d expected after being thrown to a watery grave. But honestly, he was annoyed. Why were these guys always trying to drown him?
He was completely underwater now. He had to get back to the surface. He bent his head down and began gnawing on the ropes around his paws. Salt water rushed into his mouth, and he almost choked. He felt something grab his leg. Great. Just what he needed. He kicked out with his bound feet, but his attacker was much stronger. It dragged him further under the water. His chest burned; his muscles grew tired as his air ran out. He looked up at the surface, far above his head, and closed his eyes. It was hopeless.
* * *
Meadowbuck choked and spewed saltwater out of his mouth. He coughed and spluttered and gasped, then realized that he could gasp. He had air.
Meadowbuck felt arms around him and a fist at the base of his ribcage, squeezing water from his lungs. He twisted his neck around just as he was squeezed again, and expectorated seawater into the face of his rescuer.
“Phpoo,” he said, spitting. “Watch out there, my friend.”
“Professor Aothane?” Meadowbuck croaked, squinting up at him.
The Ogrin smiled wryly. “I thought you kids might get yourselves into trouble. Just be grateful I was up late and saw you heading for the docks.” His face sobered. “You could be dead.”
Everything came flooding back. His friends were still prisoners! Meadowbuck jumped to his paws. “Sy and Horax are still on that ship!” he exclaimed. “We have to help them!”
His professor thrust a steaming mug under his nose. “We’re on it. Drink this; it’ll help you relax.”
The Gelert took the mug and sniffed it. Tea. For the first time, he took a look at his surroundings. He was in a tiny room with wood floor, ceiling, and three wooden walls. The fourth wall was made of glass. Meadowbuck gasped. The window was underwater. He could see moonlight filtering down through the water, but little else.
“Where are we?”
Aothane chuckled. “You might say it’s the belowdecks of a ship, but that’s not strictly true. There’s no deck above us.” Meadowbuck stared at him blankly. This was apparently what the Professor wanted; he looked delighted as he explained their transport. “This is something I call a submersible. It’s like a ship under the water. These peddles here are attached to a propeller at the back, and these levers operate the rudder. This pipe,” he indicated a small hole in the ceiling, “leads to the surface. It’s why we still have fresh air. I can also attach this device to it,” he held up a telescope-like object, “which will allow us to see above the water.”
Meadowbuck shut his slack jaw. “What makes the peddles move?”
“Oh, that’s me,” said a disembodied voice. Meadowbuck jumped back, sloshing tea on himself.
“That’s just my assistant, Cabri,” Aothane said, chuckling. “He was zapped invisible.”
“I see,” said Meadowbuck. “So... where are we going?”
Professor Aothane grinned. “After the pirates, of course!”
* * *
Syainia and Horax were huddled in their cell, miserable. The Shoyru had wedged herself in a corner and buried her face in her arms. Horax was surprised the position didn’t hurt her broken wing, or maybe she ignored the pain. Their guard, the pirate Mynci, was snoring in a chair just beyond the bars; apparently he liked his beauty sleep. Horax squinted at the belt around the guard’s waist. The key ring was hooked to it. He grinned.
“Oh Sy-y!” he whispered gleefully. “Lookie!”
Syainia lifted her head to see what the Kougra was waving in her face. She jumped up when she saw what it was. “Where’d you get those?” she gasped.
Horax danced around in a circle, waving the keys at the end of his tail. “It was so easy! He didn’t even wake up!”
“Gimme those,” she hissed, snatching them. She tiptoed to the door and reached around the bars. As quietly as possible, she slipped the key into the slot and turned it. The latch clicked open.
The two friends crept up the stairs to the door. Horax peeked out through a knothole. He nodded to the Shoyru, and pushed it open. It halted after a foot, as if something was blocking the door.
“Oomph,” someone said.
Syainia and Horax clutched each other in fright. Caught already? The door opened the rest of way, and they half expected to see Sacrige’s shadow framed in the moonlight.
“Oh, you must be Meadowbuck’s friends,” an unfamiliar voice whispered. “I’m Cabri, and I’m here to help you. Though I was told you were locked in the brig somewhere.” Apparently the speaker noted their frightened expression, because he added, “Sorry, I’m invisible.”
“Meadowbuck’s okay?” Syainia asked in a hoarse whisper.
“He’s fine. He went after his petpet, and I’m supposed to fly you to safety.” They each felt a large paw on their shoulder, guiding them forward; feathered wings brushed their faces.
“Hop on,” Cabri said.
* * *
Meadowbuck listened. All he heard from the door before him was a jumble of petpet snores. He pulled it open carefully, surprised that the pirates didn’t have a lock on it. These guys weren’t the brightest buccaneers.
Christopher chirped excitedly from his cage as Meadowbuck unlatched it. He jumped into the Gelert’s waiting paws and snuggled against his shoulder. Meadowbuck hugged him.
“Let’s go home, buddy,” he murmured.
Meadowbuck, with the Ombat scampering behind him, stole across the deck, keeping to the shadows.
“Cabri will be here to pick us up,” he whispered. “We just have to stay out of sight until he gets here.”
“How many times do we have t’kill you?!”
Meadowbuck whirled around in time to see Sacrige leaping for him. So much for staying out of sight. He dodged, and the pirate Lupe caught empty space. Meadowbuck felt strong claws seize him by the scruff of the neck and haul him off the ground.
“Gotcha!” Rasival chuckled. “Ain’t you just the Aisha with nine lives? Ow! You little...!”
Christopher had sunk his teeth into the Grarrl’s leg. Rasival hopped around on one foot, trying to shake him.
“Gerrim off me!” he howled.
With a snarl, Sacrige batted the Ombat away. The petpet whimpered in pain and licked at one paw.
“Christopher!” Meadowbuck yelled. He twisted around and kicked his back legs firmly into Rasival’s ample stomach. The winded Grarrl loosened his grip and Meadowbuck yanked himself free, though he left a tuft of yellow fur behind. The Gelert stood over his injured petpet and growled fiercely.
“So that’s how ya wanna play,” Sacrige said coolly. He shrugged. “It’s your funeral... for real, this time.” The two pirates drew their cutlasses and advanced on the unarmed Gelert.
Meadowbuck took a deep breath. He was backed against the cabin wall with nowhere to go. He smiled despite it all. If only he could tell his brother Tep he’d been on a real pirate ship!
A piercing shriek rent the tense atmosphere. Something rushed through the air between Meadowbuck and the pirates; Rasival and Sacrige dropped their swords and clutched their paws as if they had been stung. Rasival collapsed under some unseen weight, and even his Battledome-trained muscles couldn’t move it. Sacrige ignored his friend and leapt at Meadowbuck with bared fangs.
“Gotcha now, Bucky!” he cackled.
A shadow hurtled through air and knocked the Lupe to the ground. “Don’t you dare hurt my friend!” Horax roared. The Kougra sat on Sacrige’s stomach and put razor-sharp claws to his neck. “Just try it,” he growled. The Lupe stopped struggling. Both pirates were thoroughly pinned.
“Meadowbuck!” Syainia cried, running up and throwing her arms around his neck. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Meadowbuck hugged her back, careful of her broken wing, but he frowned. “Cabri!” he said sternly to the air above Rasival. “I told you to take them off the ship!”
“Well, technically,” Cabri replied, “you told me to take them to safety. You didn’t specify a method, and now that the pirates are neutralized, they’re most definitely safe.” His voice had a smile in it. “And besides, nothing I could say would have made them leave you in danger.”
“We’d already locked up the Mynci guard when we escaped from the cell,” Horax informed him. “So we just rounded up the Uni and came after these two. Easy as pie! Which reminds me: I’m hungry!”
* * *
The Altadorian fisherpets could hardly believe their eyes when a pirate ship, towed by a half-submerged, barrel-looking craft, sailed by them in the dawn light. Three pets, students at the university, they realized, waved at them from the railing.
“Any luck?” the Kougra called to them. “We’ve had quite a catch ourselves!”
A muscular Moehog in red-and-yellow spandex met them at the docks.
“Hello, Judge Hog!” Professor Aothane called as he crawled out of the hatch of his submersible. “Glad you could make it!”
“My pleasure,” the Moehog rumbled in a rich, deep voice. “It’s not every day a botany professor sends us a Neomail about pirates and kidnappers. Actually, all you did was add to the charges. They’re already wanted in several lands for raiding petpet shops.”
“Glad to help,” Aothane said with a chuckle. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, these returning heroes need some breakfast.”
* * *
“Hey, Sy,” Meadowbuck said in greeting as he looked up from his book. He and Horax were studying in the library, with Christopher sunning himself on the windowsill at Meadowbuck’s side. It was getting too chilly to study outside. “How’s the wing?” he asked.
The Shoyru waggled the wing in question; it was swathed in a cast. “The doctor said it’ll be good as new in a few weeks,” she replied. “And it doesn’t hurt anymore, so I’m content. How’d it go with Christopher?”
“Great!” Meadowbuck replied, ruffling the little Ombat between the ears. “Judge Hog had the names of all the merchants Rasival and Sacrige had stolen from, and I found out where Christopher came from. It turns out Sacrige was exaggerating a teensy bit, and Ombats aren’t quite as rare as he said. I set up a payment plan with the merchant, and he said Christopher can stay with me while I’m paying it off. So he’s here to stay!”
“Hooray!” Syainia cheered, scooping Christopher up and squeezing him. “Did Professor Aothane really give you zoology-class credit for taking care of him?”
“Yup.” Meadowbuck grinned. “And he hinted to the sociology professor to give us credit in his class, too. Something about experiencing other cultures, I think.”
A blue Pteri flew up just then and landed on one of the bookcases. “Hey all! Professor Aothane sent me down to let you know that those pirates are all in custody with the Defenders of Neopia. All the goods they stole have been returned, and they’ve been sentenced to five years of community service.”
The three friends stared blankly at him.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “It’s me, Cabri.”
Horax’s mouth dropped open, and his book flopped onto his lap. The inside of it look suspiciously like a comic book. “You’re a Pteri?!”
Cabri laughed. “Nah, I was an Eyrie until this morning. I just came back from the lab.”
“Well, it seems we all have a happy ending,” Syainia said. “My wing is healing, Christopher is home, and people can see you now!”
“And just in time for the holidays!” Horax added. “Gosh, I love the holidays. All that ham and turkey, and presents, and snow....”
“You sound like my brother Tep,” Meadowbuck said, laughing. Which reminded him... he was going home in a few days! “Wow,” he mused. “Time flies when you’re on an adventure, eh, Christopher?”
Christopher yawned, sneezed, and rolled over so his tummy was facing the sun. Horax grinned. “I think we can take that as a yes!”