The Mysterious Case of the Missing Skeith: Part Eight
Also by fuliguline
Previously, on TMCOTMS:
Shylock and company finally encounter the crew of The Revenge. How they will board the ship and rescue Mercutio, however, is anyone's guess...
"Well, looky here!" said one of the crew members. "Customers already. Word 'bout our loot be spreadin' fast."
"May we see what you have to offer, sir?" asked Sadie timidly.
The pirates quickly assembled their wares. As the group perused through the products, Andrew roughly drew Shylock aside. "No Skeith," he whispered.
"Indeed," Shylock murmured back. "I suppose they must be taking some precautions." She sighed, and then rummaged in her coat. "Well, I always knew this would come in handy."
As she withdrew her hand from her pocket and turned back to the crew, the expressions on the pirates' faces lit up.
"—A million-dubloon coin?" An awed hush came over the crew. ("I've never laid me eyes on one of these before!" whispered a particularly mangy-looking Krawk near the back.)
"Tell me, lads," said Shylock, tossing the coin with one hand, "what can I buy with this?"
There was a hushed whispering amongst the crew members, until finally one of them beckoned for the group to follow. "We recently be comin' in ter some good fortune," he said. "So we be feelin' extra generous. We has a heirloom on-deck—priceless, ye might say—that our cap'n may hanker to sell for that pretty coin ye've got."
As the group made their way onto the ship, Sadie quickly pulled Grotson over. "Where on earth did she get that?" she exclaimed in a whisper.
Grotson was looking worried—or perhaps just seasick. Either way, he looked at least a few shades greener than usual. "It's a forgery," he said. "Although a rather masterful one. Minted by Kandy Kiko himself."
"What? You don't mean the owner of the Chocolate Factory?"
"Yes, that's the one," Grotson murmured vaguely. "Shylock helped him with a case of disappearing Kyrii pops a while back."
"And he gave her the coin as thanks?"
"He initially offered her a lifetime supply of minty chocowhips, but Shylock turned him down. At the time she was working on the Fontaine sisters' case, and she thought that having a high-value dubloon around would be handy. So she requested the replica instead."
"Clever," said Sadie, rather in awe.
"But she's playing on a pretty large gamble," Grotson whispered back, looking anxious. "That coin may look like the real thing, but it's actually made out of—well, chocolate, you see."
"Let's just hope the pirates don't try to bite it then," Sadie replied nervously. The group was nearing the captain's quarters now, and Grotson and Sadie quickly lapsed into silence. One of the crew members—a tatty-eared Blumaroo—gave three raps on the door.
"Who be thar?" came a raspy voice.
"'Tis Nathan. I be bringin' some... er, prospective clientele for the... ye know."
A shuffle, and the door slowly opened. "Bring 'em on in."
They cautiously walked inside. It was a small room, ornately decorated. At the corner sat a large Bruce, who was picking his teeth with a knife.
"That's the one who bumped into me!" said Sylvette to Shylock, under her breath.
"That's Benny the Blade," said Shylock quietly. "Scarblade's first mate. A rather dangerous fellow, or so they say."
Near the window, with his back toward the visitors, lurked an enormous figure. "Cap'n?" asked Nathan, fiddling uneasily with his cravat.
The outline slowly turned around. "So—ye've come here for treasure, have ye?"
"Captain Scarblade," breathed Sadie.
The massive Lupe was huge, at least two heads taller than Theodore. He fixed an unblinking eye on the visitors. "But have ye dubloons to pay?"
"A million-dubloon coin, Cap'n," said Nathan, and after giving Shylock a harsh prod, the Usul slowly retrieved it from her pocket.
"A million-dubloon coin, aye?" Scarblade said, raising an eyebrow. The captain's features were momentarily unreadable. The group held their breath.
"Do you think he knows?" Sadie mouthed silently to Grotson.
Grotson was too busy biting his nails to reply.
"—Then ye be in luck, mateys!" shouted Scarblade, his expression suddenly changing. "I has here a priceless item for ye to purchase. Nathan, let yerself out. Benny, show 'em."
At his captain's cue, the Bruce quickly stood up and walked over to a cabinet near the back. Unlocking the padlock, he motioned for Shylock to approach.
"Ain't she a beaut?" crowed Scarblade from behind them.
And there, sitting amongst a pile of dubloons, was the Skeith.
"Oh..." Sylvette started, before quickly clapping a hand over her mouth.
Shylock stared at it for a long moment. "It is attractive, I suppose," she said slowly. "But I wonder if it is really worth a million dubloons."
The Lupe's face darkened. "It be a priceless heirloom, matey. Only one of 'em in existence."
"How am I to be certain of that?" asked Shylock. "For all I know, this could just be a sham."
The captain's scar throbbed, but he appeared to compose himself after a moment of silence. "Have ye heard of the Cyvishams?"
"Vaguely," said Shylock. "Though it doesn't ring any particularly loud bells."
Scarblade seemed annoyed at Shylock's ignorance. "Been livin' under a rock, have ye? They used ter be one of the richest families in Neopia. Until," and here Scarblade stopped, and gave an ominous chuckle, "somethin' happened. But this Skeith be one of their priceless family treasures. Ye be lucky I'm willin' to part with it."
Benny came up and pulled out a wrinkled newspaper. "Look there," he said, pointing to one particular column. "That's what ye be biddin' on."
"'Insider report: Cyvisham family abruptly cancels auction of heirloom worth millions,'" read Shylock. "'Is bankruptcy the next step?'"
Scarblade snatched the paper and waved it triumphantly in front of Shylock's face. "Ye see? Neopian Times, just came out this mornin'. The booty's legit."
"You stole it from them?" asked Sadie, suddenly joining the conversation.
"Let's just say we... persuaded them to part with it," said Benny, winking at Scarblade.
Shylock watched as Sylvette quietly clenched her fists. "Hmm," the Usul said, after a short pause. "How about 900,000 dubloons?"
"900,000 dubloons?" Scarblade looked livid. "I won't accept anything less than a million dubloons!"
"Now ye just be pushing yer luck, wench," growled Scarblade. He took a deep swig of grog, and then looked back up. "I usually don't be so generous, but we be in a good mood these days. I'll haggle ye 990,000 dubloons for it."
"What's Shylock doing?" whispered Sadie to Grotson.
"I suppose she's buying time, like she told us earlier," muttered Grotson, looking tense. "Though heaven knows what she's waiting for."
What is she waiting for? Sadie stared at Shylock as she continued to barter, noticing that the detective would occasionally throw a harried glance out the window. During one of these instances, Sadie watched Shylock's face suddenly light up.
"932,000 dubloons, and I refuse to go any higher," said Shylock. "My good sir, you should just take the offer while you're ahead."
"I already told ye, I won't go that low."
Shylock crossed her arms. "And I won't go any higher."
"All right, wench, I tried to be patient with ye," Scarblade said slowly, getting to his feet. "But ye be leavin' me with no choice. Benny, take her coin and give 'er a good caulk. And as for her friends..." Scarblade stared at the group. "Throw 'em all down to Davy Jones' locker."
Benny cracked his knuckles and approached the adventurers with a speed that belied his considerable girth. "Aye aye, Cap'n."
"Shylock!" cried Sadie.
Without any warning, Shylock suddenly ran forward and gave her opponent an unexpectedly sharp blow to the gut. As the portly pirate doubled over, Shylock calmly but swiftly dealt the back of his skull a dull, reverberating crack.
Benny toppled forward, unconscious.
"What in the high seas...?" snarled Scarblade. "What did ye do to me first mate?"
"Learned that from my friend Katsuo in Shenkuu," said Shylock, rubbing her arm. "Runs an academy called Top Chop. Although I must say, my good man, your mate has a rather solid noggin."
"Now ye've done it," said Scarblade, drawing his sword. "Let's see how ye likes the taste of me cutlass!"
At that moment, however, a loud scuffle was heard outside the room. A few seconds later, the door slammed open.
"Yo, Shylock!" came a voice.
"Garin!" said Shylock appreciatively. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Too long!" said the Usul in the doorway. "Sorry it took us a bit to get here, by the way. After we got Rosetta's message, we ran into some trouble steal—er, commandeering a ship. But better late than never, eh?"
"I'd say you were just in time," replied Shylock.
"What is the meaning of this?" bellowed Scarblade from the back. "Garin! Ye scurvy dog! How dare ye show your face aboard me ship!"
"Hey, Scarblade!" said Garin. "How've you been since we whalloped you in Maraqua?"
Scarblade snarled and leapt for the cheeky Usul. Garin dodged his attack easily. "I've improved a bit since we last met," said Garin, grinning.
"Where's my crew? Mateys, get down here!" shouted Scarblade out the door.
A red-haired Kyrii suddenly popped into view. "Hello, Scarblade!" he said. "Long time no see. Oh, and as for your crew..."
He tugged a rope, and one by one Scarblade's crew came into the entrance, neatly bound and gagged.
"Jacques!" growled Scarblade.
"Give it up, Scarblade," said Garin. "And give my friend Shylock what she wants."
Scarblade's eyes darted back and forth, trapped.
Garin grinned at Scarblade's obvious discomfort, and tossed his dagger flippantly in the air. "We could either do this the easy way, mate, or the hard way. Your choice."
"Fine!" Scarblade exploded, flinging his hands up in blind fury. "Just... take the blasted Skeith! Ye scurvy dogs watch, I'll have me another treasure in a bloomin' fortnight!"
"Not just the Skeith," said Shylock grimly. "We also want Mercutio."
The captain's eyes widened. "What?"
Sadie stepped up. "You heard him! Give Mercutio back!"
"And why, may I ask, do you want him?" snarled Scarblade suspiciously.
"Because..." Sadie stole a glance at Shylock, unsure, before taking a deep breath.
"Because he's my brother. And I want him to come back home."
To be continued...
***The name Kandy Kiko was taken from an earlier Neopian Times story, "Chocolate Dreams," by beau_lis. Since I couldn't find the actual name of the Kiko who owns the Chocolate Factory, I thought that there should at least be some sense of continuity in the NT universe. Thanks for the name, beau_lis!