Willow was miserably hanging her torso over the side of the ship, trying not to hurl any more of her last meal into the water. Peter stood next to her, patting her on the back.
“I promise, we’ll sit out next time something seabound comes up.” He smiled, trying to get her to feel better.
“Yeah, next time we can stay home and make our own waves!” Sophie chimed, the seemingly eternal look of lust growing a hint lewder. Some of the sailors had been giving the two worried looks practically since they set off.
“I still don’t know if bringing a wurm on this ship was a good idea.” The captain said to Sam, the two watching the couple.
“Look, we paid more than a fair price, she won’t damage the ship.” The captain nodded, looking back to Sam.
“Aye, ya did. More than my standard too. But it won’t mean nothin’ if ye friends end up sinkin’ ma ship.” Sam closed his eyes and smiled.
“True, but I don’t think you’ve got a lot to worry about, ‘cause that would also mean we’d all be shipwrecked, and none of us want that.” The captain nodded, looking across his crew.
“Well, ya should be careful wit’ em, some in this here crew are as like to hurl her overboard as not.” Sam nodded, thanking the captain for the advice.
Vince was below deck with Kiri. He’d started keeping a portable alchemy kit with her, and was going over some notes on his latest trials, as well as communicating with Lynda through a charmed mirror, also kept with Kiri.
“So, what effects has the latest batch had?” He asked, stirring up some more stable concoctions in case there was trouble.
“Three of the subjects exhibited masochistic tendencies after two days, one’s fingers seemed to grow by an inch. Another’s hair began to grow abnormally fast, and the last grew… breasts.” Vince nodded, barely able to keep the smile from his face at that last effect.
“And the intended effects?” He asked, pushing Kiri down from his shoulder.
“All subjects showed signs of testicular and penal growth, one even doubled in size, though that proved to be… problematic.” Vince nodded, making notes about concentrations and possible alternate ingredients. He was distracted when Kiri pulled on his shirt. He sighed, smiling.
“We’ll continue this later Lyn.” He waved his hand and the mirror’s image faded to his simple reflection. “Alright Kiri, let’s pack up and then we can have some fun.” The little mimic cheered, becoming a whirlwind of movement. Within seconds the area was packed up and they were both inside the chest.
Tyson was up in the crow’s nest, looking out over the waves and at the distant lands they’d never been to. “What’s that one over there?” He asked the lookout, pointing to a small island on the horizon.
“Oh, that’s Red Rock. Old volcanic island, not many live there other than the salamanders and lava golems. There’s a little town on the coast, but not many ships want to get too close to the rocks around it.” It was a calm day, and they were sailing in open water, the lookout was happy to have company, and Marie was keeping an eye out for anything dangerous anyway.
“So, why did you’re friend want passage to Gilled Cove anyway?” The lookout asked lazing back in the nest.
“Nah, he didn’t really mention anything.” The lookout raised an eyebrow.
“So, you went on a voyage, to a place very few ships are willing to go to, just because he told you to go?” Tyson laughed, hearing just how ridiculous it sounded.
“Well, the guy hasn’t led us wrong yet, and he hasn’t left any of us behind either. We gotta trust each other sometimes.” The crewman nodded, looking around lazily. He smiled, spotting something in the distance and waved. A harpy flew up to the nest and landed on the rim, smiling.
“Since when do you get visitors up here?” She asked, cocking her head.
“Since we got some adventurous passengers.” Tyson introduced himself and Marie.
“A pleasure to meet you. Oh, and husband.” She looked at him with a sweet smile. “What do you think you’re doing, laying around like this?” She jumped off of the edge and pinned him to the floor.
“If you want to relax why didn’t you call me down?” The man laughed, trying to sit up from under the harpy.
“That’s because I just wanted to rest feather head.” He said with a happy smile. His harpy snuggled up next to him.
“And you think I don’t like to just snuggle?” Marie leaned in and wrapped an arm over Tyson.
“I know.” He whispered, wrapping an arm back around her. “We’ll give them some alone time, yeah?” The two started to descend the rigging. As they were climbing down they spotted black clouds on the horizon, lit with the occasional bolt of lightning.
The others had spotted it too, and Sam was going back to the captain.
“Captain!” Sam called, trying to get his attention. The old sailor looked at him and smiled.
“Worried about the storm?” Sam nodded, looking at the storm they seemed to be sailing straight for. “Don’t be, we made a deal with a fine lady before we left. We have free passage through the Thundernests.” Tyson got a knot in his stomach.
“Can you remember their name?” He asked hesitantly.
“Uh, Ginny, or Jill or something.” Sam’s head dropped.
“It wasn’t Gina, was it?” The captain looked suspiciously at him.
“Yeah, that sounds right. Let me guess, we’re in trouble?” Sam nodded his head.
“She runs a matchmaking service. It’s how I got married to Hui, not that I regret it, but chances are she promised everyone on this ship that isn’t married to a thunderbird in exchange for passage.” The captain’s eyes went wide.
“Why that dirty, stinking, saltless bitch!” He shouted, rubbing his nose.
“I’ve got an idea, but we’re still going to lose some men.” The captain nodded, thinking quickly.
“Alright, I’m going to trust you. But if we end up stuck here, I’ll be sticking you too, got it boy?” Sam nodded, hoping his charm was as good as everyone told him. As he walked away the captain grabbed one of the nearby sailors.
“Get our men under, if we’re losing anyone I want it to be the hired hands.” The crewmen nodded, going around and spreading the word.
They spent a few minutes trying to get things ready for reaching the Thundernests. Peter and Sophie were trying to get Willow below decks when two men stopped them.
“She can’t go down there.” Peter stood straighter, still smaller than the sailors by a good margin.
“Why not?” He asked angrily.
“If she freaks out down there, we’re all going down. At least up here we’ll just have a busted deck.” Peter was looking between the two angrily.
“Is there anywhere we can lay her down up here then?” The men looked at each other, then pointed to a net.
“It’s about the same as our hammocks down below anyway.” Peter grumbled as he took Willow over to the hanging net.
Vince stumbled out from below decks as the water started to get more and more unsettling. “Sam!” He shouted, trying to get his attention through the pouring rain and thunder. Sam spared him a glance, then beckoned him over to help with securing a cannon. As he helped Sam shouted over all the other noise.
“Find Hui, get her below. I need to stay out here and do some negotiations.” Vince nodded, going about looking for the fiery mouse. Tyson and Marie were helping secure the sails up in the rigging, while the lookout was watching for anything coming near them. Out of the stormy skies a bolt of lightning struck a man, who fell shuddering to the ground.
“They’re here!” Someone shouted. The captain stepped out from behind the wheel and looked towards the skies. Four thunderbirds were slowly flying down to the deck, one of them was much curvier than the others, and they took that one to be the leader.
“Greetings ladies.” He captain shouted. “I’m Captain Eric Woods. I take it you’re the ones that lovely gal from the docks told us to expect?” The leader huffed a sigh of relief.
“So good to see we were expected this time. The last deal that woman made for us she forgot to mention it to the men.” She had a warm smile. Sam ran up the stairs to the helm.
“Hello, you must be Ms Sparks, correct?” The matron nodded her head. “I’m Sam Carros, Gina’s nephew.” The harpy nodded.
“Mrs, actually. Though Tina Sparks is fine. What are you doing out here, Mr Carros?” Sam smiled.
“But of course. A creature as fine as yourself would of course be married already. I’m simply here to ensure you’re selection is safe for both the ship and yourselves. Purely a formality, I assure you. My aunt doesn’t question your judgment, but we can’t risk any foul whispers. I’m sure you understand.” Tina smiled.
“Of course Mr Carros. My lovely daughters here are looking for husbands.” She opened her wings to indicate the three girls around her.
“Of course, if you’ll follow me, we have informed some of the crew of your arrival, you may have your pick of them, ladies.” The three harpies tittered at the formality.
Sam led them to the agreed point near the prow of the ship to a group of somewhat handsome sailors. When they saw the birds behind Sam some of them shifted uncomfortably.
“Well, girls, these are the men who have agreed to be available.” The three sisters stepped forward, looking across the men.
“We didn’t a-“ The man complaining was swiftly elbowed in the ribs by another.
“Sorry girls, he’s just nervous.” The other said with a broad grin. One of the girls walked up to him, pressing her modest body against him.
“Eager, are we?” The man’s grin widened.
“Never expected to get this close to a bolt bird, but I gotta say, it’s a good view.” Sam was happy at least one of the men he’d picked was happy about the situation.
“Ohhhh, yes! I want you!” She wrapped her wings around the man, and it was only a stern word from her mother that stopped her legs from following suit. As she left the other two found men who weren’t quite as enthusiastic, but also showed their lack of disapproval with the tents in their pants.
With the business concluded Sam gave the remaining men a nod, and they all left the space to return to work. “Thank you Mr Carros, my girls will make them all happier than they knew they could be.” She turned her back on Sam, presenting a package on her back.
“Take this, it has your aunt’s money and a flag to fly below your own. Fly it and the families will know you have permission to pass unmolested.” Sam nodded, untying the pack and taking the coin pouch from it.
“A pleasure, madam Sparks. I do hope you’re girls are pleased with their choices.” The matronly harpy giggled to herself.
“Oh, if I wasn’t already married I could just take you all day.” Sam smiled, bidding her farewell as she took off. He pushed the flag into a passing crewmen’s chest.
“Make sure this gets put up next to the flag, unless you want more harpies coming for your dick.” Sam hissed. The crewman looked at the folded cloth, then at Sam, then returned to his duties, making an effort to climb the rigging up to the crow’s nest. A hand clapped Sam on the shoulder, and he turned to see the captain laughing at him.
“Yer just a silver tongued devil, ain’t ya?” He said with a smile. Sam shrugged nonchalantly, a sly smile spreading across his lips.
“I wasn’t lying about her being my aunt, you learn some things when you’re related to that kind of woman.” Sam remembered several times he’d had to negotiate for with his aunt for gifts, and the last time he’d tried to get a family favour from her.
“Well, we ain’t out of the woods yet, lad.” The captain smiled. “Still gotta get through this storm.” With that there was a shout and the crew came scrambling back out from below decks, getting about hauling and working to get the ship out of the islands. Vince was exploring the cargo hold, where he’d spent most of his time aboard, between keeping Kiki happy and contacting Lynda. He’d noted several large cages before, and assumed they were poachers or live animal smugglers, but there was a commotion at one of the cages.
Several men were trying to hold on to what looked like a giant set of talons, and when one was sent flying by a bolt of lightning his eyes widened. Shit. He thought as he carefully tried to back out of the space. He hit something warm and solid, and before he could even turn around he was knocked over the head with something heavy.
“Eep!” The quartermaster turned to see Kiki jumping for Vince. Before he could stop her she’d grabbed Vince and pulled both him and herself back into her chest. The man grunted, grabbing a chain and wrapping it around the box.
“Hey!” He shouted to one of the men struggling with the thunderbird. “Get this box stowed, would you? And make sure it’s hidden, I don’t want any of the other passengers finding this.” The man nodded, leaving once the quartermaster had taken his place with the bird.
They emerged from the storm with a shipwide sigh of relief. The flag had worked as described, and any thunderbirds who came near quickly turned around.
“You ever thought of being a ship hand, boy?” The captain asked Sam. He chuckled at the question.
“Can’t say I really have, more of a land lubber myself.” The captain let out a hearty laugh.
“Well, you’d be welcome aboard here if you ever change your mind. That boy with the mantis would be welcome too.” He added, looking at Tyson crawling across the rigging like a seasoned sailor. Sam nodded.
“Well, we generally work together, although I think Peter’s not going across the water again.” He laughed, looking over at his friend lying with Willow in the impromptu hammock. The captain sighed.
“If it were any other dragon she could jus’ take wing and probably beat the old girl there.” Sam nodded, smiling at the thought of Peter hanging on for dear life while Willow flew through the skies.
Tyson was watching from the crows nest once more, the lookout sleeping next to his harpy wife after the commotion with the nests. He spotted something odd in the distance, and woke the lookout to ask what it was.
When the lookout saw it his eyes widened. He ran straight to the edge of the nest. “Chary! Off port side!” He shouted, looking down at the captain, who swore at the word.
“Um, what?” Sam asked as the captain started to adjust their heading.
“Charybdis, damn whirlpool machines, they suck whole ships under, and spit out what they don’t want, usually lots o’ Scylla and kraken about her to boot. So we’re gonna go wide and hope we stay outta range.” Sam nodded, looking around for signs of anything capable of bringing a ship down.
As the captain adjusted their heading the boat lurched to one side, then the sound of fast running water was everywhere. Soon the boat starts to drop, and the great whirlpool is rising higher above them.
“Damn it all!” The captain shouts. “Get the harpoons ready!” Sam looked at the captain like he was crazy.
“What the hell are you going to do with those?” He asked, looking at the barbed hooks being loaded into the swivelling guns mounted along the rail.
“Either we spear that thing or we sink, which do you want?” Sam swore under his breath, quickly trying to figure a way out of this. That was when he heard something else that made his heart sink. A scream that was all too familiar.
He turned to see Peter and Willow, trying to scramble free from the net they had been resting in, before the rope holding it to the boat snapped, dropping both of them, and Sophie hiding in Peter’s head as well, into the whirlpool. Sam was looking around, trying to find Serah to grab them, before the sucking, whirling sound was silenced. Looking down Sam saw the end of Willows tail vanishing into the charybdis’ shell-like home. He stood there for several seconds, trying to process what he’d seen, even after the waters settled and they were sailing straight again.
The first thing he registered was Hui’s hand on his shoulder. “You okay?” She asked, and Sam shook his head.
“No… they… they’re gone.” He slowly managed to say.
“It’s not like we won’t see him again.” Hui offered.
“Yeah but… charybdis aren’t really known for going far. He won’t be coming along with us again.” She nodded, having to admit she’d miss the crazy look Peter had when they found something strange.
It was nearly sundown and the adventurers were all eating together. Sam was still being quiet as a sailor walked passed, and Damien leant in, looking around nervously.
“Have any of you guys seen Vince? I went into the cargo hold to find him, but I couldn’t spot him anywhere, and Kiki’s chest was gone too.” Sam perked up at that, then looked around at the crew. He too leaned in, speaking in a whisper.
“The captain told me before that some of the guys here would try and throw Willow over, because she might have been a risk to the ship. I don’t think he trusts his own crew.
Maybe Willow wasn’t the only one they targeted, we might want to watch each other from now on. Serah will probably be their next target.” They all nodded, Damien giving Serah a nervous look. “I’m going to have a talk with the captain, see if he can point me to anyone who might have an idea of where to look for Kiki and Vince.” Again they nodded, and Sam stood to look for the captain.
He found him in his cabin, eating a slightly more substantial meal than what had been passed around the deck. The main difference was the seemingly fresh meat on his tin plate.
“May I come in captain?” He asked, getting a hearty wave from the man.
“Of course, of course, come on in boy. Sorry to hear ‘bout yer friend.” Sam nodded a thanks.
“I actually came in here to ask about that…” The captain looked up, putting his utensils down.
“What’s the problem boy?” He asked, suddenly serious.
“Well, I remember you telling me to watch the sailors around Willow, and now they’ve gone overboard. We’ve also lost another one of ours, who’s just vanished into thin air. I’m wondering if some of your crew are making my friends vanish.” The captain nodded, quietly thinking it over.
“I think you may be on to something. It’s not just your friends who’re goin missin, we’ve ad cargo disappearing too, but whoever’s doing it’s smart, they ain’t gonna try unless they’re absolutely sure about it.” The captain got to his feet and walked over to the large desk at the back of his cabin.
“Here.” He said, handing over a small sheet of paper. “These are the ones I’m suspecting of being traitors. If you can find out who the rat bastard is that’s takin’ me cargo, I’m sure you’ll find the man who’s been knocking yer friends off.” Sam nodded, thanking the captain for his help.
That night, in their shared cabin Sam showed the list to the others. Immediately Tyson shot down one of the names.
“Jay’s not trying to pick us off. I can’t say about the cargo, but the guy wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially someone married.” Sam raised an eyebrow.
“Why’s that Ty?”
“The guy’s married himself, got a harpy wife that keeps visiting him up in the nest.” Tyson looked over the names, next to each one was a role, some of which were listed as ‘spare’ which got him suspicious. “What the hell does spare mean?” They all thought about it when Damien came up with an answer.
“Spare crew, people they can throw at mamono to save the ship.” Tyson looked at him like he was mad, but Sam nodded.
“I do remember when I was coming over from Zip, there were certain crewmen who seemed to perpetually be doing something by the railings. It’s not that farfetched.” Tyson grumbled acceptance, but still wasn’t happy with it.
“Well.” Hui spoke up. “I think we should start tomorrow, try and get some sleep and wake up ready to find out what happened to Vince and Peter.” They all nodded, heading off to sleep.