Shad and Saura: The Secret Belowdecks - Part Eight
Art by ssjelitegirl
Darkness fell on the Revenge like a heavy cloud. When Scarblade had announced to the crew that the threat had been contained and pacified, there'd been a good deal of celebrating and when pirates celebrate, they do it thoroughly. Nobody was awake, not even the lookout in the crow's nest. He was supposed to, but he'd figured that if nobody had attacked the biggest and most notorious pirate ship on the seven seas in all of its existence, they weren't going to do so tonight.
A dark figure was creeping across the moonlit deck. The fog machines were off so it could see its way clearly enough, but it was still being careful. It reached Scarblade's cabin door and knocked lightly.
The door opened. Scarblade didn't usually open doors to any of his subordinates, but this time he appeared to make an exception.
"They've disappeared," whispered Benny the Blade.
Scarblade considered that. He could've exclaimed "What?" or "This can't be!" or "Find them immediately!" but he felt that at this hour and with this much discretion, silence was of the essence. Not to mention any of those exclamations felt trite.
"Take care of it," he said instead, and shut the door again.
Benny's short plump figure crept off again. Once he'd disappeared into the shadows towards the forecastle, a neck craned to look around the corner. Shortly thereafter, it was joined by another lurking shadow.
"Came after us, alright," said Shad, keeping his eyes narrowed. His shadow coat was a natural at merging into the background. If you didn't spot the gleam of his eyes, he was impossible to see in the dark.
"And came and reported to Scarblade that we were not to be found," Saura whispered back. His yellow coat was much more easily spotted, hence why he'd taken the static post beside the captain's quarters; that, and his good hearing. Shad was better suited for sneaking around.
"I'd really hoped that we could take this ship all the way all peaceful like," Shad said bitterly. "I mean, honor and everything."
"He's going against all pirate honor for this showdown," Saura said thoughtfully. "Which isn't something you do when you're a captain so good that you've instilled unwavering trust in your entire crew."
Shad shrugged, looked up at his brother and frowned. The point that he'd been prepared to just shrug off didn't look to be something Saura was willing to shrug off. "And?"
"Means he's got to have some really desperate, stupid reason for getting rid of us."
"We-ell," Shad said cautiously, "we could have the same plans, couldn't we? We know how to lower a boat, I got a small compass and the sea is calm. Let's skedaddle."
Saura shook his head. "The two of us rowing a tiny boat versus fiftysomething angry pirates chasing our tails with spyglasses and a couple square miles of sails and weird black magic nobody quite sorted out back during the War working in their favor? We'd last what, two or three hours tops, and once we get hauled back in, we'll be out of all options. Whereas if we hide on the ship, we'll have a chance as long as we're not found, and the place is huge."
The Lupe furrowed his brow. "Which reminds me, that black magic stuff? What if they decide to submerge the ship and drown us this way?"
"Not with Gnarfas on board, they won't. I doubt he has whatever black magic they used for submerging." Saura scowled too and nodded. "We should find something out about that black magic bit, by the way. Shame we didn't think to do that back when we still had favorable connections."
"Well, we can brainstorm once we're on the run in the bowels of the ship," said Shad, getting up. "Shall we?"
They hadn't planned ahead for their disappearance very thoroughly, since they hadn't had the time, but they did have a fair bit of experience travelling and adjusting that to the idea of going into hiding on a bloodthirsty pirate ship hadn't been too difficult. Food, lighting, blankets, a quick shift through Cora's conveniently empty cabin for a map of the ship, and they hurried downstairs.
"What worries me is the smell," Shad said as they plunged into the dark, tar-smelling depths of the massive ship that looked more like a labyrinthine castle than a proper ship, if with much narrower hallways. "If I had to sniff us out from the depths of this ship, it'd be so easy that it's downright embarrassing. The roll-around-in-a-herring-barrel doesn't work, that's exactly as much of a giveaway. Smell concealment is only effective if you're hiding someplace crowded."
"Unless you're a thief or assassin or some such guy whose livelihood depends on the victim not smelling them," Saura said. "The Thieves' Guild for instance carries small leather pouches filled with certain herbs with certain spells placed on them to make all of their characteristic scents go poof." He grinned in the dark. "Anyone's guess why our boatswain has a stash of them in her cabin, but here, hang this on your neck."
The Lupe snorted and stumbled into a wall once the pouch was on him. "Huwah, that feels weird. Dude, you just cut off my- no, wait, I can still smell."
"Yeah, it's just mine and yours that went away. Smell anything ahead?"
"No, but let's be careful, Benny will be around here somewhere, snooping for us."
"Doubt it," Saura said cheerfully. "We're going towards Gnarfas' hold, I don't think he wants to come anywhere near that place."
Shad skidded to a halt.
"Don't be stupid, he'll be in the cage."
"He broke out once," the Lupe said defiantly. "And we helped put him back in."
"Yes, well, calculated risks," said Saura with a glum scowl. "I'd also like to ask him a few questions."
There was light up ahead. The brothers knew now that a light was always kept burning next to Gnarfas' cage, because darkness is a good concealer. When they stepped carefully into the hold, craning necks to see if the cage was perchance ajar and a furry bundle of death was about to pounce of them, they could only barely make out a matted, lumpy hill of fur curled up in the far side of the cage.
"He can't smell us," Saura whispered, sneaking closer.
"He'll hear us," said Shad.
"He should be asleep."
"Was until we stepped in, I'd guess." The matted furpile hadn't moved an ear.
"Think he's a morning person?"
"I don't think he's an anything person," the Lupe said gruffly. "Wake him up after a fulfilling twelve hour beauty sleep with a silver tray lovingly decked out with a glass of orange juice and toast and a fresh slab of meat and one of those little vases with a tiny rose in it that somehow don't fall over when people carry those trays, and he'll just take that as an excuse to maim you."
"Well, that means any timing is equally bad," Saura said cheerfully. "Hey, Gnarfas?"
The furpile didn't move, it flowed. One single fluid motion brought the shapeless lump up and around into a massive four-armed Werelupe. The brothers hadn't really gotten a good look at him on their first encounter, but now they could tell that this was a beast at least eight feet tall, scrawny but muscular even under the matted fur, and with small, disturbingly intelligent eyes that were glinting at them in candlelight with no apparent sleep in them.
"Any hard feelings about that whole recapturing you thing?" Saura asked, with perkiness Shad strongly suspected could mostly be attributed to the heavy steel bars between them and a muscled mass of death. "I mean, it wasn't personal."
Gnarfas eyed them for a moment, then cracked a wry grin.
"My list of hard feelings is long," he said. "You're on it, but you don't fit near the top." His voice was raspy, the sort of voice that doesn't get used a lot, but it also carried an unnerving quality, the same sort his eyes carried: something intelligent, something that looked like it was having a joke on everyone else's expense.
"Best we can ask for," said Saura. "I wanted to know if you perchance know why you're here. Where are they taking you and for what reason?"
Gnarfas grinned lazily. "You think they'd tell me?"
"No," Saura grinned back, "but I think you'd hear all the same."
A satisfied glint in the Lupe-beast's eyes made the brothers feel eerily like they'd passed some sort of test.
"Not much," he said, lazily rolling into another position. "They told me that I'd get to fight. That I'd fight a lot, and eat a lot. It's what I do. They just needed me to do it someplace else."
"Where?" Shad asked.
"Where this ship is headed, I'd expect," Gnarfas said, his tone a bit mocking. "Can't see much down here, you see."
"Scarblade said Krawk Island," Saura said with a scowl. "We always assumed that the ship is going to Krawk Island, because pirates, but who's saying that that's their ultimate goal? Makes very little sense to bring a weapon there. They could be heading for any surrounding land after regrouping."
"We're past Meridell and the like," Shad mused. "New Maraquan war?"
Gnarfas rasped a chuckle. "Yes. They'll likely use me to club opponents upside the head after I've drowned."
"There're potions and the like to let you breathe underwater-"
"Makes me only marginally more useful," Gnarfas said with the level matter-of-factness of a tool who knows he's a tool.
"Still leaves Krawk Island, Scurvy Island and Mystery Island," Saura said thoughtfully. "Wait, hold on a moment – what was that you said about a new war?"
Shad stared at him in confusion. "With Maraqua?"
"No! With any of the three I just said!" Saura jabbed his finger at Gnarfas. "They picked him up from the Haunted Woods and are bringing him halfway across the globe. A walking, talking liability who already broke out once. For some really desperate, stupid reason. And he's a living weapon. Where do you use the worst weapon you can find? In a war!"
Shad's eyes widened as this sunk in.
"Yeah, but, but," he stammered, "how do you even control that? I mean, you can only control this guy here," he also jabbed a paw at Gnarfas, "by opening the cage and hoping that he'll maul in a direction mostly away from you."
Gnarfas looked at the two fingers pointing at him with apparent amusement.
"That carpenter guy," he volunteered. The brothers turned to stare at him as if just remembering that he was still there.
"Didn't take it well when he saw me," Gnarfas said smugly. "Kept blabbing to himself to calm himself all through fixing this cage. Said 'well, that's one good vacation spot down the drain, no way will they ever catch you again from the jungles'."
Shad and Saura stared at each other. Mystery Island was their home.
To be continued...