College Days: A Pirate Adventure - Part Four
“Wait! There’s someone else in here!” Meadowbuck whispered. Horax and Syainia froze. Meadowbuck tip-pawed up to one of the crates in the cargo hold and peeked around it. A pirate Mynci was curled up in a hammock, fast asleep. Meadowbuck pulled back.
“I can’t believe we didn’t wake him up,” the yellow Gelert breathed. “Okay, plan. There’s a door on the other side of the room, but we’ll have to crawl underneath his hammock to get there. Sy, do you think you can do that?”
Syainia took a deep breath. “Only one way to find out.”
Horax slipped effortlessly under the Mynci. Syainia got down on her hands and knees and tried to tuck her wings in. Meadowbuck could tell she was in pain. She crawled stiffly under the hammock. Halfway through, her broken wing brushed the hammock, and she covered her mouth to keep from crying out. The Mynci stirred at the touch. Meadowbuck bit his lip. The pirate snorted, rolled over, and began to snore lustily. Syainia crept out from under the hammock, and Meadowbuck quietly followed. The three friends made their way to the cargo bay door. Meadowbuck pressed his ear against it. He nodded; all clear.
They padded quietly down the hallway. Meadowbuck paused. “Wait.” He closed his eyes and listened. The gentle slap of waves against the hull; the Mynci snoring just down the hall; the Uni guard shifting around on deck; and assorted squeaks and rustles behind a wall just in front of him.
“Right there,” he said, pointing. “That’s where the petpets are.”
“Any guards?” Syainia asked.
“Not unless they learned to stop breathing.”
The door was bolted on the outside. Meadowbuck unlatched it and took a deep breath. “This is it, guys,” he said. “We get in, we get Christopher, and we get out.” He pushed the door open.
A swell of squawks, screeches, peeps, yelps, and squeaks erupted from the room. Dozens of cages lined the walls and floor of the storage room, and each contained a petpet.
“Shh!” Horax hissed. “They’ll hear you!”
Meadowbuck heard one chirp above the rest. “Christopher!” he cried. He jumped into the room and put his paws up on a shelf so he was at eye level with the cage. Christopher, lively as ever, bounced and scurried around the cage in his excitement. “Are you okay?”
Christopher poked his face through the bars and licked Meadowbuck’s nose. The Gelert grinned.
“Meadowbuck,” Syainia said thoughtfully. “These people are petpet merchants. Christopher technically belongs to them. Do we really have a right to take him? Did we even have a right to keep him the first time?”
“Fine time to bring it up!” Horax snorted. “Besides, they’re pirates. They probably stole him from someone else.”
“But we don’t know that...”
“This just doesn’t seem like a good time, Sy.”
Horax and Syainia looked at Meadowbuck. His ears were quivering. “Guys, I think—”
A huge shadow engulfed the doorway. “Well, well, well,” a menacing voice chuckled. “What have we here? Why, if it isn’t our old friend, Bucky! And he’s brought company!”
Meadowbuck laid back his ears and growled. “Leave them alone, Rasival. They have nothing to do with this. They just followed me.”
“Aiding and abetting is a ve-ry serious offense,” the voice mused. A huge pirate Grarrl stepped into the little room. Syainia and Horax shrank back. Rasival leered at them.
“Ain’t they the cutest?” he simpered. He turned to Meadowbuck. “We’ve been waiting for you, Bucky. We’ve been waiting for a loooong time.”
Meadowbuck slammed his paw against the wall. “I can’t believe I was so stupid!” He and his friends were locked in one of the cells at the bottom of the ship. “I should have listened to you, Sy. It was a trap.”
“This isn’t your fault,” Syainia said wearily.
“That’s what you said about your wing!” Meadowbuck ranted. “But it is my fault! I knew how dangerous these two were, and I still allowed you to come. And don’t tell me you decided to come; I could have snuck out alone, or something.” He flopped down on the narrow cot in the cell and rested his head in his paws. “And the worst part is that you’re right, Syainia.” He sighed. “Christopher’s not mine, and he never was. Sure, Rasival and Sacrige are pirates, but that doesn’t make it right to steal from them. This whole fiasco was because I didn’t want them to have Christopher.”
His friends were silent. There didn’t seem any point in arguing.
The door to the brig opened, and Sacrige the pirate Lupe came down the stairs into the guard room. He grinned at them through the bars.
“Comfy?” he asked.
Meadowbuck jumped up. “Sacrige, please, let my friends go,” he pleaded. “They’ve never done anything to you.”
The Lupe leaned in close to the bars. “Y’know something, Meadowbuck?” he said. “I know you better than you think. I know it’ll hurt you more to see your friends suffer than to actually suffer yourself.” Meadowbuck’s ears twitched. “Aha, it looks like I’ve hit a sweet spot,” Sacrige said. He chuckled. “Bucky, my boy, you’re finally going to find out what it’s like to lose everything.”
Sacrige settled himself down comfortable on the floor outside the cell. “Let me tell you a little story. It’s about two friends, a Grarrl and a Lupe, who didn’t agree with the rules. One day, they were hanging out, minding their own business, when a goody-two-shoes Gelert runs in and slams the authorities on them. Well, the two friends get kicked out of the school. And when their owners find that out, they’re none-too-pleased. They can’t bear the thought of any Neopet of theirs being a troublemaker, so y’know what they do? They pound ‘em.
“We were there for a long time, Bucky. Who wants a mangy green Lupe and an ugly red Grarrl? Nobody. So we escaped. Dr. Death and all his Doglefox trackers searched for us for three days. We managed to stay one step ahead until we reached the ocean. We stowed away on a cruiser headed for Krawk Island, and we’ve been there ever since. There’s one thing that’s kept us going all these years. One memory. A snooty yellow Gelert with his nose in the wrong Symol hole. We’ve been looking for him, saving up enough neopoints to buy our own ship and start our own business. We’ve been searching Neopia for you, Bucky, and now we’ve finally got you.”
“Sacrige,” Meadowbuck said desperately. “I never meant for any of that to happen to you. I had no say in what the authorities did. I was unconscious in a hospital! I just didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. I didn’t even know they’d expel you.”
“Anyone ever told you that what ya don’t know can’t hurt you?” Sacrige growled. “It’s a lie, so you might as well just know.”
“At least let my friends go,” Meadowbuck said. “Do whatever you want to me, just let them go.”
“Ironically,” Sacrige said. “It’s you we’re going to let go. But first, there’s the matter of this petpet you stole.”
“We didn’t steal him!” Syainia interjected.
“You be quiet!” Sacrige barked. “It’s a turn of phrase, little girl. Ever heard of figures of speech?” Syainia backed off. “That’s better,” the Lupe said. “Okay, Bucky. This petpet. You don’t know anything about it. That’s ‘cause no one does, except the residents of the Deserted Tomb in Geraptiku. Which isn’t so deserted, by the way. They call it an Ombat. Cute little fella. Friendly, too. You have no idea how much they’re going for right now. Newly discovered anythings fetch a high price. And every petpet collector in Neopia wants to get their paws on that Ombat. It’s the only one on the market. He’s valuable. So we couldn’t just let you have him.”
“One thing I want to know,” Meadowbuck said. “Did you lure me in on purpose with Christopher?”
Sacrige spat. “Don’t give it a name unless you can pay the price. No, we didn’t. We’d have used a cheaper petpet, in that case. We didn’t even know you were in Altador. Just one of those crazy random happenstances. But once we saw you, we knew you’d come after the petpet if we took it back. It was too perfect.”
Meadowbuck took a deep breath. “Okay, so Christopher—” Sacrige bared his fangs. “—So the petpet is an Ombat from Mystery Island, right?” Sacrige nodded imperceptibly.
“So that journal Professor Aothane gave us was right!” Horax exclaimed. He winced as Sacrige snarled at him.
Meadowbuck continued. “And what are you going to do with us?”
“Those two,” the Lupe replied, “are coming to Krawk Island with us. The Golden Dubloon is always looking for help. We’ll trade ‘em for supplies.”
“And Meadowbuck?” Syainia asked.
Sacrige grinned wickedly. “The Jetsam in this part of the ocean are always looking for a snack, especially when it’s served alive and kicking.”
“You can’t do that!” Syainia exclaimed in horror.
“Watch me,” Sacrige replied. “Or rather, don’t, ‘cause you’re not gonna be able to see it. Rasival!” he barked. “Get down here!”
The door at the top of the stairs grated open, and the huge Grarrl came stumping down with a ring of keys in his claw.
“Okay,” Horax whispered. “As soon as he unlocks the door, we jump ‘em. It’s three to two!”
“No,” Meadowbuck said. “They’ve had extensive Battledome training. We’re still at a huge disadvantage.”
“We can’t just sit here!” Syainia cried. “They’re going to kill you, Meadowbuck. Don’t you get it?”
“Yeah,” Meadowbuck said grimly. “I get it a little too well.”
“We’re not giving up yet,” Horax insisted.
“Guys...” Meadowbuck began. The cell door creaked open, and Rasival stepped in. He had a rope in his hand, and he reached for Meadowbuck.
Growls erupted from both Horax and Syainia, and they leapt at the Grarrl. He batted them off easily. The Kougra hit the ground head-first, and was knocked unconscious. Syainia fell heavily to the ground, and yelped in pain as her broken wing smashed into the wall. Meadowbuck stepped towards her, and felt the rope descend around his neck. He struggled, but Rasival was too strong. The Grarrl hauled him out the door. Syainia gritted her teeth and sat up.
“Meadowbuck!” she gasped. “Don’t worry about us! Just take care of yourself, for once!”
Meadowbuck smiled sadly at her. “Bye, Sy,” he said. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see.” The door of the brig slammed between them.
The two pirates dragged Meadowbuck to the railing. He almost snorted derisively; they actually had a plank protruding from the side of the ship. These two had been reading way too many pirate books. If they even could read.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Sacrige said. “So, Bucky, how does it feel to be about to die? And by the hands of the old school pals that you expelled. And how does it feel to know that your friends are still our prisoners, and there’s nothing you can do to help them?”
Meadowbuck was shaking with either fear or rage (he could hardly tell himself), but Rasival had tied him so tight he could hardly move. He let out an involuntary growl. Sacrige chuckled.
“That’s what I thought.” He leaned in close the Gelert’s ear. “Don’t worry, Bucky—we’ll take good care of them.” Meadowbuck whirled around and snapped at the Lupe. Sacrige dodged him easily.
“Nice try,” he said. “But your days of fighting crime are over.” Sacrige lowered his head and charged at Meadowbuck. He hit the Gelert full in the side. Meadowbuck yipped in surprise and fell. He couldn’t even flail. He hit the water. It was just as dark and cold as it had looked from the dock in Altador.
To be continued...