I didn't know where I was when I woke up. Something smelled like bacon and eggs and there was a buzzing feeling of excitement in my chest. I sat up and it all came back to me in a wave. I looked out the window, from the position of the morning sun I had slept for more than 12 hours. Geez.
Lilly materialized beside me, laying a plate of eggs down on the table in front of me. "Morning squirt." She looked at me, her eyes resting just over my head.
"The storm in the night," she mumbled, "The key, the arm, the darkness." Her grey eyes were distant, seeing but not seeing. She walked away mumbling. Lilly went periodically into the 'otherworld', sometimes disappearing for days and waking up, not remembering where she was.
I shoveled the food down my throat, eating too fast to taste anything. Today was the day I set out and I was supposed to meet Avery in his office. Today I was leaving.
I practically skipped the whole way to Avery's office. He greeted me with a smile and welcomed me inside. Trinkets and photographs of other worlds littered his office. "Feel free to look around," he said, sitting behind a beautifully carved wooden desk, his parrot flying to land on his shoulder, "You're early by a half hour."
"Why are we waiting? The earlier you brief me, the quicker I can leave." I gazed up at a photograph of a pirate's massive ship sailing in a world I'd never seen before. The sky was pink in the sunset, it was beautiful.
"Don't be so hasty, pirate. We're waiting for the other three people to arrive."
This was a shock. I spun around, "What? There are other people coming?"
"Of course there are. Sending one untrained pirate into the spiral alone is suicide." His eyes flickered up to mine, "Surely you knew that?"
"I've been training for three years. I can handle it myself."
He dipped his pen into ink and shook his head, "You know how many years of training an average pirate has when they go on their first Inter-Spiral quest? Eleven. Even then, they almost never go alone." He paused long enough to sign a couple pages of paper, "Zoe was the first one I ever sent by herself."
I guess that made sense, even though I would never admit it. I looked around his office for about ten more minutes, trying to see all the different worlds he had relics of. I gave up trying to look when I heard a voice outside.
"Ugh, whatever Sam! That's what you get for ignoring me!" Avery's office door slammed open and a girl about my age stomped in. Her long blonde hair swished behind her.
"I'm here, I'm here. Hold the applause." She hadn't seen me yet but she looked at Avery, "Ew. Let's just get this over with." She started examining her fingernails.
I didn't know what to think of her yet, but I usually don't like popular girls. The few that were in my Swashbuckler class gave me dirty looks and dropped condescending comments about me when I was around.
"Amanda, meet Ryan Webb. She'll be accompanying you on your quest."
She turned around to look at me, her mouth forming an O. "So what class are you anyway?"
"Er. Swashbuckler. You?"
"Privateer," she went back to filing her nails, "Look. I don't steer ships, I don't clean, and I don't sleep on the bottom bunk. Kapish?"
"Good." She threw herself down on one of Avery's chairs. "Oh," she looked up, "Also, I don't tolerate smelly pirates, so bathe in the water or something."
Ouch, "I don't smell."
"Yeah, but you will."
"Amanda," Avery cut in, "Play nice or I'll get someone else to take the quest. Are we clear?"
She scowled, "Crystal."
I didn't know what to say so I sat in the chair furthest from Amanda and tried not to push her buttons. Occasionally she gave me tiny looks like she was sizing me up, and I smiled which caused her to roll her eyes.
I didn't have to suffer long though, the door opened again and two guys walked in. One was tall, really tall, and lanky with a flop of black hair across his head and two pistols tucked into his belt. He made way for the other guy, who shoved him and sauntered into the room. The last time I saw him he had been terrorizing Timmy (a little boy about eight years old) on the edge of a cliff.
"Woah. If it isn't Ryan. And Amanda," he gave her a wink, "Lookin' good."
She rolled her eyes.
Brian sat in the chair closest to Amanda, trying to scoot her chair close to her. He dropped a backpack and a menacing sword that looked like it weighed a thousand pounds.
"Daniel. Daniel Hawkins," the lanky boy stuck his hand out for me to shake, "Pleasure to be sailing with you."
"Yeah, likewise. Ryan Webb." He curtly nodded and introduced himself to the other shipmates, then dropped his bag on the ground and settled in the chair next to mine. Now that I looked around, I noticed I was the only one that hadn't brought a bag with me. The only thing I really had was my daggers.
"Good, good. Now that we're all here, let's get to briefing, shall we?" Avery folded his hands on the desk, "Some of you know more information than others, but you'll be filled in shortly. As you all know, something precious has been taken from me a number of weeks ago. Something that I need back, and it must be sought at the utmost urgency. The item, is a golden grail." He passed around a picture of a cup made of pure gold with inscriptions in the side. I couldn't make out the language.
"You're sending us to find a cup?" Amanda broke in, "Is this photo even life size?"
"A pure gold cup, princess. I'd like it back too if I had one." Brian said.
"The cup isn't a mere trophy for me. As some of you know, I've been trying to establish trade in Monquista. Their herbs and spices could bring in more money than you could imagine to Skull Island. We've been working on a treaty for years, and recently the final draft has been edited and confirmed. I've already signed it, but the queen has put in a final demand. My golden grail." he paused to let us process the information. I knew Elly had been working on the trading agreement for years, I wondered if she had any part in Avery coming to me?
"Conveniently, the grail was stolen the day before I was scheduled to give it away. It has been gone for three weeks now," his voice had a tinge of annoyance, "The royal family of Monquista is getting anxious, and the more time the grail is gone, the shakier they get. Soon, all our hard work will be gone, and the treaty will be terminated."
"Do you know who took the grail?" Daniel was the first to talk.
Amanda scoffed, "Obviously not or he wouldn't be asking us."
"Actually, I do." Amanda narrowed her eyes, Avery kept speaking, "Ratbeard."
Daniel sucked in a breath. Brian actually laughed out loud, "Nice try Avery, that's really funny."
Ratbeard was sort of a legend. One of the biggest villains in the Spiral, we heard about him when we were children.
"He actually exists?" I couldn't help asking.
"Very much so," Avery nodded solemnly.
"Why us? Couldn't you go after him yourself since you know who he is?" Daniel added.
"Don't you think I've tried that?" For a second, Avery's calm composure broke and he looked exasperated but it was over in a flash, "Everyone that I've sent out has either come back with nothing or hasn't come back at all."
"This is a death sentence! How could you ask four kids to do this?" Amanda said.
"Actually, I'm over eighteen." Brian waved his hand.
"Seventeen," Daniel offered.
"Still, that's just a kid." Amanda turned toward Avery, "Answer me."
Avery remained silent for a minute trying to give Amanda a minute to calm down. "I haven't forced any you. All of you in here have already agreed to this, but the reason I've chosen you is simple. Each of you has a quality that none of my officers have. A quality that will help you locate the grail faster and with more efficiency."
He pointed to Amber, "Charm." Amanda scowled and said something under her breath that sounded like Obviously.
"Merciless." Brian lifted his chin up like he was proud.
"Wit and demeanor." Daniel blinked.
Avery's green eyes rested on me, "Filching, determination." I was surprised, no one had ever called me determined.
Brian looked puzzled, "What does fil-"
"It's a synonym for thievery. Petty theft." Daniel answered.
"Oh great, so you chose criminals for this? Great, Avery, just great." Amanda scoffed.
"Hey, I'm no thief." I was suddenly angry at Avery for making me seem like a crook in front of these people.
Avery raised his eyebrows, "Your reputation says otherwise. But relax, it's definitely not a bad thing in this situation. Forgive me, for I should have used the word 'cunning.'"
"I'm not a criminal either," I was talking to Amanda more than Avery.
"Ryan is no criminal," Avery cut in, "But enough of that. Do you have any questions regarding the grail or anything related to that?"
"How are we actually going to find Ratbeard? I mean, we can't just walk around the Spiral." Brian said.
"I'll be providing you with a ship that could easily house four people," Avery started blabbering at top speed about nautical stats that I couldn't understand but Daniel's eyes grew wider with each word he said.
"A Marleybone Galleon," Daniel's eyes were as wide as globes.
"Woah," even Brian looked impressed.
I glanced at Amanda. At least I wasn't the only one who had no idea what they were talking about.
"You'll also be provided with four horses for land travel and a weeks worth of food, after that you'll be able to buy provisions at ports. You can also use this," he passed around a bronze square that resembled a Sherriff's badge, "For unlimited money. Beware though," he looked at Amanda when he said this, "Any excessive and needless spending will be taken out of your reward. I expect you to use it mostly for food and water. Maybe clothes."
"What's the reward?" I'd been wanting to know for a while.
"Money for you to be more than well off for the rest of your life. Plus the priceless experience you get from quests like these. Also, I'm letting you keep the horses. I won't lie though, the faster you get the grail, the more money you'll be getting." Avery settled down in his chair again. Brian's face was greedy and Amanda had dollar signs in her eyes. Daniel looked more interested in the experience and I was, shamelessly, kind of drawn to the horses.
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