Each day brings me closer to a full year on the road, most of which has actually been on the sea. And still, I'm no closer to achieving my goal. I received word from home not too long ago, and the old bastard's still alive. I can't help but wonder if he isn't laughing at me now. Maybe he doesn't realize all the rumors he's heard about the newest pirates center around his son.
And maybe he's actually dying this time. I can only hope.
I hear the crew moving about on deck. Another beginning to another day. If I listen carefully, I can hear… yeah, there she goes. We're having fresh fish. Again.
I can hear Cookie as clear as day, and even if I couldn't, I would have known what she was shouting across the deck. I swear, the woman was worse than a rooster sometimes.
"It's Saturday, you know what that means?" her unmistakable bellow echoed through the sea air, clear even over the crashing waves. Just as it was every morning. And just like they did every morning, those of the crew who were awake answered enthusiastically.
Cookie, the ship cook, only knew how to prepare fresh fish. You have to ignore all the other things that she bakes to compliment the fish, especially if you're talking to her. I learned a long time ago to humor my crew their quirks. It was the only way I could cling to my sanity, and sometimes that didn't quite work. Cookie was an amazing chef, though, so that helped me tolerate her oddness.
Every morning, she announced the day and asked if the crew knew what that meant. And every morning, they replied with "fresh fish," because that was the appropriate answer. And every morning, at the stern of the ship, she whipped out her fishing pole and settled in to catch our dinner. Every single day.
There wasn't exactly a lack of aquatic life following our ship, since Cookie dumped all the leftovers of the day overboard.
I sighed and cleaned my quill before putting it away. The journal I had been writing in was tucked into a drawer of my desk, which was then immediately locked and bolted. I had to live with the insane crew, that didn't mean that I trusted them or had any interest in letting them get to know me. Hell, I didn't even want them there in the first place.
Satisfied that everything was locked away and secure, I left my cabin to face another hectic, which was typical for my crew, day. I could already feel a headache building.
"Captain," a misty voice greeted me as my eyes adjusted to the sunlight. I didn't have to see the owner to know who was talking.
The woman was tall and shapely. I'm sure most men would have found her very attractive, with her long, straight black hair, and mysterious dark eyes. She was definitely beautiful, and exuded an intriguing air that made one think she was the most fascinating woman around. I knew her well enough to know she was…well, she fit in the crew perfectly.
Everyone on my ship had a nickname, except for myself and my first mate. We had no interest in getting to know the crewmates, because they came and went. Well, theoretically, they went. In actuality, it was more like they came and stayed, but my point stays the same. We didn't have an interest in getting too close to them.
This woman's nickname was Psy, for psychic, which she claimed to be. And, I'll admit, she did have some pretty unique, if useless, powers. Psy could see the future, if the conditions were right. In other words, if it was night time, the sky was clear, and she could see the stars, then she could see a whopping five minutes into the future.
She came to our ship after being shoved off of her previous one. And, like the rest of the crew, she never left. Her current role was to act as an aide to Cookie. Something she did when the mood suited her. Otherwise she floated around the deck, spouting out useless predictions. You know the type, so impossibly vague that it'd be impossible for it to be wrong.
"Psy," I returned the greeting, reminding myself that the day was too young for me to feel this old. "What's the forecast for today?"
"Change is in the air," she answered, vaguely. "It will be a day of opportunities, or of endings. It is entirely up to you."
"Uh huh," I muttered, because that didn't describe every day. I gave her a small nod before making my way to the bow of the ship. I side stepped most of the crew going about their daily business and even stepped over Drunk, our resident alcoholic and negotiator. Don't knock it, Drunk could haggle better than anyone I've ever met.
Leaning against the railing, facing the wind, was a young woman, in her early twenties. Her long black hair was pulled back into a high ponytail with just one lock to frame her face. A purple headdress that was beautiful in its simplicity rested on top of her head. A thin, indigo cloak was tied at her throat and covering her back, making it seem like she was wearing more than she was. Underneath the light fabric, I knew she was wearing strapless top that was little more than a decorative bra, and matching skirt. Around her upper arms would be silver armbands, and from her wrists to just below her elbows would be silver and amethyst armguards. On her feet, when she chose to wear shoes, she wore pale purple boots with thin and lethal heels. I don't know why she always wore the cloak, especially since she wore so little else.
When I had first met her, I'd been certain that she was some kind of prostitute or exotic dancer. The outfit defiantly seemed to imply that. She never confirmed or denied my suspicions and, in all the time I'd known her, definitely lacked any sense of modesty. I don't even think she realized that her choice in wardrobe was eye catching. Then again, I also don't think she realized just how inhumanely beautiful she was. The only thing that marred her perfection was the scar over her heart. For some reason, it looked a lot like a coiled cobra, and circling the scar was a tattoo of strange symbols.
Of everyone on my crew, she was the one with the most mysteries and the fewest explanations. We had a pretty strict "Don't ask, don't tell" agreement, which I regretted sometimes. Especially when she did something that threw me.
"Psy thinks we're going to have an eventful day," she informed me, not bothering to turn. I wondered how she knew I was standing behind her but didn't question it. Instead, I moved to lean against the railing beside her.
"Every day is eventful," I retorted, dryly. "It's a pretty safe bet that she's right. How long have you been awake, Chiana?"
"Awhile," she answered evasively. Chiana was my first mate and the only other member of the crew who didn't have a nickname. She was also the only other person who seemed to realize that half the things we experienced were just plain weird.
"Do you ever sleep?" I asked, rolling my eyes. It seemed like she didn't. More often than not, she was up and running around keeping our hodgepodge crew under control. Well, as under control as anyone could.
"Sure I do," Chiana laughed. "Everyone does occasionally. Looks like Cookie's caught something."
I followed her gaze to the back of the ship where the cook was standing with her legs braced. Her dark dreadlocks were flying in the wind as muscles in her arms bulged. It was moments like this when I remembered just how strong the woman was. She muttered a few curses that carried before giving one last heave. A great white shark flew out of the water. It hovered in the air for a few seconds before crashing on the deck.
Crewmates scampered out of the way of the thrashing tail and Cookie leapt onto the shark, a knife appearing in her hand. Several minutes passed as beast and woman wrestled and struggled, but eventually the inevitable occurred. Panting, Cookie jumped down to the ground and heaved the dead shark over her shoulder.
"We're gonna eat good tonight!" she declared jovially.
"Meeeeeelviiiiin!" the heart broken cry didn't even phase anyone.
"Shit," Chiana sighed. "Fishless is awake."
"Does that kid know every fish in the sea?" I groaned.
Fishless…. Well, let me start by explaining why we call him fishless. He doesn't eat fish, which is something we don't really let Cookie know. The boy had short, silvery hair, and wide blue eyes, oh yeah, and gills. He was some kind of aquatic race himself and seemed to know every living creature in the sea. At least, he knew the name of every critter that Cookie caught and cooked up. Every day was a funeral for him.
Chiana held out a fist and I held out my own. In unison, we shook them three times before she flattened her fingers and I left mine fisted.
"Damn," I muttered as she wrapped her hand around mine.
"Hey, I got it the last three times," Chiana smirked.
"Where's Iron when you need him?" I sighed, thinking of Fishless' best friend.
"Swimming?" Chiana guessed with a shrug. "Go do something about him before he floods the ship."
I spared a moment to glare at my unhelpful first mate. When she just returned my scowl with a smug grin, I gave up and went to find the wailing kid. We assumed Fishless was a child, since he was only about four feet tall and looked to be about eleven years old. However, given the fact that he clearly wasn't fully human, it was hard to tell.
It's a well known and accepted fact that humans aren't the only race in this world. With all the other countries and magic, it'd be kind of hard to believe that there wasn't some kind of accident somewhere. And of course, with those others, it was hard to gauge their ages or, in some cases, genders. You just kind of had to take them one at a time and not assume anything.
Of course, these others were still rare. Until I started traveling, I hadn't even realized that anyone like Fishless could exist. Oh, sure, my sisters and folks had been full of stories, but I had always thought that they were just stories.
I spent a good twenty minutes patting Fishless on the head and trying to get him to calm down. All the while, I wondered why he bothered to keep traveling with us. Unlike some of the members of the crew, he could jump ship at any moment. It wasn't like he wouldn't be able to swim. I suspected he would have been more comfortable in the sea, anyway. But instead, for some unknown reason, he chose to stay on board the ship, alongside the very woman who seemed intent on massacring everyone he knew.
My crew is made up of weirdos and idiots.
I had just managed to get Fishless to stop bawling when there was suddenly a loud boom.
"Yanno!" I yelled just as someone came charging out from below deck.
The kid was younger than Fishless by a couple of years. His eyes were a furious red tinted brown, and his hair messy. He was dressed in clothes several sizes too big and had a crazed look on his face, one that matched the words spewing out of his mouth.
"Kill!" he yelled, charging forward. Psy leapt out of his way, wisely. "Maine! Destroy!"
"Jimmy snapped again," someone called out, rather uselessly. I was about to jump forward to try and stop the psychotic little brat, but Chiana stepped into Jimmy's path and brought a wine bottle crashing down on his head. The bottle broke and Jimmy crumbled.
"Turning out to be a beautiful day, isn't it?" Chiana asked, cheerfully tossing the broken bottle neck aside. Somewhere, I could hear Drunk weeping at the wasted liquor.
"I thought you chained Yanno to the bloody crows nest," I snapped, trying not to twitch. I was just grateful there wasn't a town or ship nearby. If there had been, the idiot would have had something to target rather than just firing a cannon at random.
"Don't snap at me," my first mate warned, calmly. "I did, but you know as well as I do that Yanno doesn't stay tied up unless he wants to be."
She knelt to scoop Jimmy up under one arm. In the past two minutes, he had grown from being a child to a teenager. His clothes fit him now, and he was bleeding lightly from a head wound, which would heal. I knew that if he opened his eyes, one would be brown while the other would be blue.
Jimmy suffered from an extreme case of split personality. So extreme that, when he flipped, his entire body transformed. When he was older, with the dual eyes, he was actually a fairly mellow person. He wasn't violent, at least. He was still Yanno's best friend, so I couldn't exactly say he was peace loving. However, when he was a child, he became a blood thirsty psychopath who destroyed anything and everything in his path. Until he was knocked out, anyway.
Why call him Jimmy? Easy. That's what the mob called him as they tried to stone him to death. To be fair, he had massacred half the town before that. Chiana saved him from the angry mob's wrath and he'd been with us ever since. Now, as dangerous as the kid was, I didn't mind having Jimmy on my side. When it came to a fight, he was unbeatable. As long as he was under four feet tall.
"Aw man, that was aweso-oops," Yanno cut off mid word, skidding to a halt when he saw Chiana holding Jimmy.
Yanno wasn't that old either, in his late teens. His red hair was short and spiked up, and his green eyes constantly sparkling with mischief, he was my worst nightmare. It was Yanno who had decided we were pirates. And it was Yanno that started almost every single fight we ended up with. Dumb luck had us as the victors, but still.
Yanno had even started calling us the Brimstone pirates, which taught me not to give anyone my full name after that. Damn idiot. Now, by word of mouth, Yanno's I'm betting, we were the most feared pirates on the seas. People we could have bartered with ran from us and morons looking to make a name for themselves sought us out. It was a whole lot of trouble that so wasn't worth it.
"Yanno," Chiana smiled winningly, which had me taking a step back. I had never actually seen her be vicious before. In fact, aside from cracking Jimmy on the skull, or dragging half our crewmates asses out of trouble, I'd never seen her resort to violence at all. Still, there was something about that smile that had me thinking of a snake waiting to strike. The woman could be damn scary when she wanted to be.
And of course Yanno was stupidly immune to her…er…charms.
"Yeah?" he asked, brightly.
"No," Chiana snapped, once more reminding me of why we called Yanno by that name. Some time, not long after he joined the crew, "yeah…no!" had slurred into Yanno. By now, it was habit to reply to "yeah" with "no" for both Chiana and me. "How many times have I told you to stay away from the cannons?"
"Uh… it wasn't me?" Yanno tried, grinning impishly. I'm sure his boyish charm had gotten him out of a lot of messes in the past. He certainly used it a lot. Too bad for him, it didn't seem to work on Chiana.
"You've got gun powder on your hands," my first mate snapped, advancing on the young redhead.
"Er… it's… pepper?" he tried again. Chiana growled and shoved Jimmy at Yanno.
"Take him below deck to sleep off his latest rampage," she ordered. "And stay away from the cannons, or Abrim will throw you overboard and watch you drown."
Yanno looked as though he was about to argue, but seemed to think better of it. Occasionally the brat showed some intelligence. I don't know what he did with it most of the time, since more often than not he was a buffoon. He gathered Jimmy into his arms and sauntered off, grinning like an idiot.
"So, I'll watch him drown?" I murmured, once Yanno was out of earshot. "And what, exactly, will you be doing?"
"Isn't that obvious?" Chiana asked, arching a brow. "I'll be sleeping, none the wiser to what you're doing."
"Uh…huh." I considered questioning her but decided not to. Chiana was not without her quirks. Despite her brisk attitude with most of the people she encountered, Chiana actually had a soft heart. Whenever someone was in trouble, she seemed unable to stop herself from helping. She told me, once, that it was a curse, but I didn't really understand.
"Listen," she murmured suddenly, her eyes lighting up a bit.
I did, but I didn't hear anything but the ocean and wind. Here and there, I caught a few snippets of conversation from our crew, but it was blissfully silent. Almost immediately, I knew what she wanted me to hear, and sighed softly.
"Peace," I muttered, leaning against the railing and enjoying the few, non-hectic moments. Doubtlessly, something would happen. Jimmy would snap again, or Yanno would do something else equally stupid. Maybe Cookie would decide she needed a killer whale instead of whatever she had for dinner, and set Fishless off into another bout of wailing. But for the moment, it was blissfully peaceful.
Chiana twitched. Her shoulders tensed and she groaned. I winced, recognizing that expression. So much for peace.
"What now?" I asked.
"We're going to have company soon," she growled.
Now, thanks to Yanno's self spreading rumors, we've been attacked by other pirates before. You know, real pirates. They had been trying to make names for themselves, and not much more competent than my own crew. For the most part, they had been idiots, which made me wonder if that wasn't a requirement for pirates. However, it still sent a chill through me to think that one day our undeserved reputation might draw the attention of someone who couldn't be brushed off easily. As always, when Chiana warned that we'd have company soon, my mind immediately leapt to the worst possible scenario.
And then I took another look at Chiana's face and my fears were eased as my frustrations grew. On the occasions when we had been attacked, she had been unaffected. She only ever seemed this annoyed when our crew was about to grow.
"Now?" I asked with a groan, running a hand through my hair. "We're in the middle of the ocean. Who the hell is out here?"
"Besides us?" Chiana pointed out. I shot her a glare and she rolled her eyes. "How the hell should I know? I just know that there's someone nearby who needs help. And it's not anyone on our ship."
"How can you tell?" I demanded. "Maybe you're imaging it."
"Trust me," she gritted, seeming furious for some reason. "I know what I'm talking… shit."
Before I could stop her, she had braced herself on the railing and vaulted overboard.
"Chiana!" I yelped, rushing to try and catch her. Of course, I was too late. I had just enough time to see her splash into the ocean below. "Fishless!"
"Captain?" Fishless sniffed, rushing at the sound of his name. I had to stop myself from throwing him overboard as well.
"Chiana jumped, go get her," I ordered. Of everyone on my crew, Fishless was, naturally, the best swimmer.
"Why did she," Fishless started but flinched away from the glare I gave him. He quickly kicked off his shoes, peeled off his jacket, and dived into the ocean below. Meanwhile, I rushed to the helm to try and drop anchor. The last thing I needed was for us to sail off without the only other sane person on board.
A few shouted orders later and the deck was a flurry of activity. As incompetent as my crew might have been, they were good to have in a pinch, and for understandable reasons, they all felt indebted to Chiana. She had pretty much single handedly saved the lives of everyone on board the ship. Like I said, she had a soft heart.
"Fishless has her," Psy called, from her perch at the railing. She was watching the waters below, keeping an eye on our fallen comrades. I breathed a sigh of relief, fully planning on reaming her out once she was back, safe and sound, on board.
"Good," I muttered. Louder, I added, "Throw them some rope."
Ten minutes later, Fishless crawled onto the deck, his gills flapping as though he was gasping for breath. He immediately turned around and stretched out his thin arms for something, then proceeded to haul a form on deck. Chiana followed soon after.
"Tell me that's a dead body," I ordered, approaching them. I could make out filthy, soaking, torn clothing and a mop of red hair, but little more than that. "Tell me it's not alive."
"Would," Chiana answered, flopping back onto the deck. The brief swim must have worn her out. "But then I'd be lying."
"Damn it, Chiana!" I groaned.
Great. Just what I needed. One more stray.