Captain Rob Sinks: Part One

By

Blaine Arcade (in a sense)

The Second of Four Bathroom Breaks

As a child not quite out of diapers yet, did you ever have the fear that the toilet would suck you down into it and you would drown or be crushed, or both, in its pipes?  I didn’t, but I’ve heard people say things like that.  It’s always a joke; they’re always reflecting on how dumb they were, how frightening new things are, and how a toilet might carry with it all the fears associated with water in general.  If you showed one to a small animal it would just think of it as another place it could potentially drink or drown.

I didn’t have those fears, but I struggle with them now as an adult.  I have a legitimate reason, though not one you are likely to believe.  As the heading of this section says, I’ll be talking about the second of four things.  The proper place to start is the first, so if you haven’t read my first, I suppose you could call it an account, I encourage you to do so.  It will be much easier to follow along that way.  The first one is called Captain Rob Fights, and it can probably be found near wherever you found this one.

Whether you’ve read it or not, I’ll go over the basics again.  Extra context might help justify my fears to you and make you think me less of a lunatic.  On an ordinary day, years back at this point, I found a story scrawled across the walls of a bathroom stall.  It wasn’t graffiti.  As a man devoid of a social life, I had the time and passion to copy that story down.  I did my best to edit it and fill in the sections that had been smudged by others before me.

That story was Captain Rob Fights.  It told of a pirate, the titular captain, and the adventures of his crew in a world called Porce.  It told of a young boy from a town of reality-deniers who broke free of that culture and sought adventure alongside the pirate.  Together they battled a mad conqueror and rescued a treasure vital to the health of Porce.

When I put it that way it sounds like the standard fare of the high fantasy genre, but this high fantasy had the lowest of settings.  Porce… was a bathroom.  One of ours.  Captain Rob was a sink pirate.  The boy was a farmhand of sorts who harvested brown paper towels that were as mighty redwoods to them.  The people of Porce are beyond miniscule and the bathroom they live in seems devoid of the people who built it.  How did one of our lavatories become their entire world?  I know, but that was a different break.  We have other things to see first.

It was just a thrilling and humorous adventure story to me.  Given its presentation on a bathroom wall I thought it was a passionate gag from some guerilla artist who wanted admiration but would never want fame.  Then it happened to me again.  I found another one in another bathroom.  Then it happened twice more.  Nobody could have planned that.  Each and every time I recorded them… and now I take them as truth.

The first break was in an airport, but this second break was a train station.  I had to pay a few coins just to use it, something I’ve always hated.  The bathroom always felt like an inalienable right to me, one good enough that it should’ve been mentioned in the United States Constitution.  It certainly was everything to the people of Porce after all.

I entered the stall and found the same swirling writing as before, covering every surface.  Even the toilet itself had writing across the tank, base, and lid.  There was an entire chapter on the underside of the seat that I nearly missed.  You mustn’t forget about lifting the seat.

I did as I had done before, breaking out my camera and my laptop to get it all recorded as quickly as possible.  The first time I had the benefit of endless airport hours, but this time around I had to bribe a janitor to let me stay past the station’s closing to finish my work.

I quickly found that it followed the same people of Porce from the last entry, though with less focus on the boy.  Whoever left these for me was probably a much better writer than I am; they used the boy’s ignorance of his own world and coming-of-age to slowly introduce me to Porce in a way I could understand.  Now that I did they were free to give me Porce through the eyes of some of its other people. (Still they started with some reminders, as if I could have forgotten.  I’ll throw in a few extras that I think you third-hand readers might need.)

Speaking of Porce’s people, it is best you know what to expect from them.  Their world is one with five intelligent races, each as vital to these retellings as the last.  There are the lightfolk: people who seem to be exactly human but for their miniscule size.  There are the gravefolk: former lightfolk granted a second chance at life, perhaps to redeem themselves for excessive immoral behavior, as skeletons.

Then there are the tilefolk: headless agrarian people with faces situated on their chests and hairy bodies.  They are looked down upon by many others as fools simply because their brains are deemed to be in the wrong place.  Still, they are many and their influence is far-reaching.  Their language, distinct from the English analogue Wide Porcian, is called Pawtymouth.

Fourth are the bergfolk.  Where the tilefolk call the tiles on Porce’s floor their ancestral home, the bergfolk reside largely in and around the toilets and urinals, called ‘toils’ and ‘rin cliffs’ respectively.  Porce is a boxed world, its gravity reversed so that you are drawn to whatever wall, floor, or ceiling you are closest to.  Many bergfolk live on the walls as we would on regular ground.  They are tall, clad in whitish or gray fur, and bear exaggerated facial features.  Their culture is insular and they cling strongly to their own tongue: Merdidu.

The fifth race, and perhaps most crucial to this second of four bathroom breaks, is the prosites.  They are the strangest of all as their bodies are little more than wads of slime with large single eyes floating inside.  They have the ability to build armored bodies from material around them, often rising out of the ground as stone golems called proliths.  The prosites have been kept out of civilized Porce for much of its history, banished to its dark crevices as monsters.

I’m almost ready to take you back there, but I’ll add one last reminder.  Porce is a world all its own, despite its origin in ours, and it shares little with us in terms of culture.  They have their own ways of measuring time, weight, distance, and anything else that needs an amount attached to it.  Here’s a little chart to help keep you in the know:

Measurements of Porce

Drip – one second

Drop – one hour

Rinse – ten days

Wash – one hundred days

Rest – one thousand days

Bubble – one inch

Foam – ten inches

Lather – one mile or kilometer

Flake – one ounce

Chip – one pound

Bar – one hundred pounds

Case – one thousand pounds

You know what, while I’m thinking of it, I should probably include the ‘Porce Supplement’ I’ve written up so you can familiarize yourself with any details that you care to.  If you click on those words, assuming this is a clickable format, it should take you to a handy guide describing Porce’s history, plants, animals, and a few other things.

While we’re in immersion mode, I might as well throw in the map that came with the first tale.  Here is Porce, in all its overgrown-porcelain glory.

porce map

This is where it gets serious.  You probably think I’m mad for thinking any of this could get serious.  I’d prefer you didn’t, but my duty to get this story and all its accompanying details out into the open takes priority over my reputation.  I’m already the guy who’s ‘writing’ what many people would call the most drawn-out and unfunny bathroom joke of all time.

I had just finished copying the second account down.  My back was killing me, sweat ran down my sides, and I hadn’t eaten anything except a sponge cake from a vending machine in the last seven hours.  I kind of had to use the bathroom as well, but it didn’t seem right to go where I was working; I’d been taking small trips one stall over to do my business the entire time.  I stood to leave.

I wanted to connect with whoever was leaving these stories, so I held up my hand and prepared to lay it flat against the stall door.  Perhaps touching the words would give me a glimpse of the author.  I stopped an inch away, remembering what kind of thing I would be touching.  There came a sound like someone sighing: an aaauuuggghh.  I thought it was the janitor trying to give me a hint about leaving, but the sound came from behind me.

The toilet was bubbling.  Not running as they sometimes do, but bubbling.  The sigh was a sound of pipes adjusting to new pressure.  I don’t know why, but I was instantly afraid.  The stall door shuddered as I backed into it.  I fumbled with the latch, watching in bewilderment as the toilet became a bubbling blue cauldron.

Water erupted from its center as a geyser, but instead of splashing back down it slowly flattened into a disc shape and became a whirlpool projected above and beyond the edge of the bowl.  The churning water made all the sounds you would expect, but there was something else mixed in: words.  Perhaps words.  It sounded like no language I’d ever heard, and I’m including the tongues of Porce.  The voice was like nothing on Earth.  Strip the tick tocking sound of time out of your mind and reimagine it as an ice floe breaking up and splashing.  That was the voice.

The only meaning that could be drawn from it was that it vaguely sounded like an incantation.  Our vocal cords aren’t capable of reproducing the sounds I heard, but there was concentration to it as well as a melody.  Something was casting a spell… or something like one anyway.

The whirlpool expanded and touched the sides of the stall.  Captain Rob Sinks began to disappear.  The water wasn’t just washing the story away; it was taking it.  The ink was ripped from the walls and sucked down into the foaming center of the funnel.  Obviously I had no idea how to respond, but one of my feet found my laptop.  I used my toes to push the machine out from under the door, hopefully saving it and the story it contained from this tempest in a pot.

The water hit my shirt and grabbed it.  I was pulled around the stall several times, tossed about like a victim of demonic possession.  The whirlpool mopped the walls with my face, nearly knocking me out against the back wall.  Little black pieces of the story tried to cling to my skin like a life raft, but they were sucked away and destroyed in the bubbles.

The janitor walked in.  As soon as the door squeaked the animated water collapsed and splashed all over the tile.  The edges of the puddle were black from its digestion of the story.  I was dropped painfully against the seat, sputtering as I spat up gray toilet water.  I heard the janitor ask if I was alright.

I stumbled out of the stall, running one hand through my sopping hair.  My computer was there on the ground, safe and dry.  I grabbed it and hugged its case close to my chest.  The stall offered no proof of what I’d just experienced other than a puddle of discolored water.  To most it would just look like a strange issue with the plumbing.  The incantation was gone.  He stared at me.

“I wouldn’t go in there for a while,” was all I could think to say.  Something had become aware of these stories, and it didn’t want them sticking around.  It didn’t seem too keen on me either.  That day had a woeful effect on my sanity.  As I said, I now live in fear that any toilet I use might be working for the enemy.  Having experienced that magic I am very afraid of being dragged down into those depths.  Though I’ve reverted to an infantile phobia I will not stop.  Whoever put up these stories had likely gone through a lot more than I have to get them there.

It is with utter seriousness and complete determination that I present to you Captain Rob Sinks.

Scuttlr’s Fair Share

blogpictures

Two ships had pulled alongside each other in the Snyre Sea of Third Sink.  A few planks spanned the distance between them, keeping the space steady.  Each ship’s crew was bent over the side, watching the watery lane between the two.  Someone had gone overboard.  A few nervously chewed nails dropped into the water after them.

The orange ship with the topa sails dyed delicate blue was the P.O.S. Conspirator: a pirate vessel run by the vicious tilefolk captain Und’r Blundr.  They say vicious because of the rumors that he ate members of his crew who mutinied, roasted them on a spit after marinating them with groutberries.  He was an imposing figure; his wooden wormy teeth, bronze-clawed hands, and tight rough pants of seasaw fish leather made it difficult to look away as he stood there on the deck.  Yet the crew of the other ship stared straight down.

They were not intimidated because their captain was every bit as infamous, every bit as vicious.  He was a man who experimented, alone and in the dimness of his laboratory, with magical bath beads from all across Porce.  Nobody knew what the stones had done to him or how much of their power he could wield.  Other pirates were no trouble for him as he battled all those who brought challenge across lid, land, and sea.  He was the only living man to know bonepicking: the great gravitation-bending combat art of the gravefolk.  He’d seen the cardinal tiles and even ridden one.

He was Captain Kilrobin Ordr: a bald bearded man with a penchant for furry green capes.  (Blaine’s Note: Everyone just calls him Rob.)  His mighty green ship, the Greedy Old Mop they called it, was bearded as well, with layers and layers of frayed and knotted ropes wrapped around its beakhead.  From its mast a round thing bulged, wrapped in cloth.  Some said it was a bath bead of great destructive power, and if Captain Rob unveiled it to you it would be the last thing you’d ever see.  He was stood at the side of his ship as well, eyes glued to the water like everyone else’s.

Two had gone overboard… and they had not yet surfaced.  Two of Captain Rob’s crew stood shoulder to shoulder as they watched the water.  They were young, but old enough in spirit to hold a saber without it trembling.  One was a girl with long dark hair ending in decorative feathers of black and green.  The other was a boy, her twin brother, with eyebrows like sandbars and a dozen spyglasses on his belt.  They were Queenvy and Kingvy Rookr, and they were placing wagers.

“I bet two tiles neither of them comes up for a mouthful of sky,” Kingvy whispered.  He nudged his sister’s shoulder.

“She be coming up,” Queenvy insisted.  “You’re on.”  Kingvy dug around in his pocket, the rims of his spyglasses clinking against each other, and brought out two square coins.  He rubbed them together.  “What if he comes up?  Or both?”

“Then I give both these to the sea,” her brother said wistfully, “in the hopes Swimmr takes it as tribute.”

“This be why I handle the savings,” Queenvy said as she swiped the coins away from him.  “Giving our money to the sea, to a dead god.  Hrmph.”

“I’ve got majority share,” he reminded her.  “I can do what I want with the savings.”  Even as he said it he didn’t try to take the coins back.  Queenvy and Kingvy were in life together, through still and running, through polish and grime, just as they’d started.  Piracy with Rob had done well for them, and they now had significant wealth stashed away in various hidey holes.  They often wagered their collective funds back and forth and half-joked that whoever had the greater share would determine what they did with it when the day came to drop the sabers and pick up home-building hammers and saws.

Bubbles appeared on the water, spurring excited murmurs from both crews.  Up came a man, gasping wildly.  He whirled around in the water, and when he didn’t see another head he triumphantly raised a fist into the air.  The crew of the Conspirator cheered and hooted.  Und’r Blundr sneered at Rob.  A rope was lowered so the man could be hauled back aboard his ship.  Once he was out of the water everyone could see the gray sack over his shoulder that looked fit to burst.

Queenvy glanced over at Alast to see how he handled the sight.  Alast was a newer addition to the crew, even younger than she, raised in a town of misty ignorance.  Queenvy was the one who had to explain all the grimy details of life to him once he was aboard, like how to bed a woman and, more importantly, how not to.

He must’ve learned something, because he’d recruited a girl shortly after that just to spend time with her.  I could always give that a try, Queenvy thought, but then chastised herself for not paying attention.  She looked back to the water.  Something could’ve gone wrong.  Alast began to look worried, and that boy hardly worried about anything.  Queenvy looked to Rob next; his expression was grave.

Another dark spot appeared in the water, but there were no bubbles this time.  The crew of the Mop collectively leaned further with enough force to make the railing groan.  The spot broke the surface.  It was a girl, alive despite the lack of bubbles.  Her hair was sheared close to the scalp and her body toned nearly to stone by rests of diving.  Alast breathed a sigh of relief.  Pearlen, you shouldn’t make that boy worry so.  He be not accustomed to it.  I think that be one of the things what could break him.  Worse, it be one of the things he wouldn’t see coming.

A rope was dropped for Pearlen Lustr and she was pulled back up to the deck as well, carrying the same sort of gray sack.  Their rivals aboard the Conspirator had already torn their man’s open, and were loudly counting the treasures inside.

“Thirty-six!  Thirty-seven!  Thirty-eight!” they cried, growing more boisterous with each number.  Captain Rob stomped over to Pearlen and helped her open the sack so they could begin the count as well.  It contained a pile of slippery soap biscuits: eyeless squishy animals that lived on the sandy bottom of the Snyre.  They weren’t good for eating or much else, but they were notoriously difficult to catch given the coating of slime that popped them out of the tightest grips.  Rob tried to pick one of the blue things up and wave it in front of Captain Blundr, but it shot out of his hand.  Pearlen had to snag it out of the air to keep it from going overboard.

“Forty-five!” the Conspirator’s crew hollered in unison.  They repeated the number again in Pawtymouth to drive the point home.  “Taega-hnd fror-fyf!” 

“Queenvy!” Rob called, spurred by the taunting across the water.  “Over here.”  The young deckhand did as she was told.  “You’re the fastest count when it comes to squirming things.  Tally them up and down.”  It sure would upset you Captain, if you knew how I got the best at counting, she thought.  She split her focus and counted the slimy little lumps in just ten drips.  She sighed and counted again.

“Forty-five Captain,” she reported.

“That’ll have to do,” he growled.  “It’s a tie!” he barked across the water.  The Conspirator crew jeered in response.  Captain Rob wasn’t supposed to tie, even on friendly wagers.  If he could tie then perhaps the stories of his immeasurable power and wisdom weren’t true.  Perhaps that bath bead on his ship’s mast wasn’t the great force it was made out to be.  It wasn’t of course, but nobody off the Greedy Old Mop was supposed to know that.

“Hold a drip,” Alast said.  He put his hand on Pearlen’s shoulder.  Queenvy noticed she still had not opened her mouth since surfacing.  She might not have taken a breath at all.  The short-haired girl smiled at her captain mischievously and then gagged a little.

Bleh!” she spat, one last slippery soap biscuit popping out of her gullet and hitting the pile.  She wiped her mouth.

“Forty-six!” Rob roared “Forty-six!  Taega-hnd fror-swy!”  The rest of the Mop’s crew exploded in celebration.  Pearlen was hoisted off the deck and passed around on the crew’s hands.  When Blundr demanded a recount Rob obliged him by throwing the soap biscuits back into the sea one by one.  When the sack was empty the tilefolk captain had no choice but to give up what he’d wagered: a finely crafted miniature ship displayed inside a rectangular glass bottle.

The P.O.S. Conspirator (Blaine’s Note: P.O.S. stands for piece of ship and refers to vessels built out of much larger ones from the past that had been broken down.)  was originally part of the Courtesy, a ship fit for Custodians.  (Blaine’s Note: Custodians were legendary figures said to be descended from gods.  Rob’s family is claimed as part of the line of Custodian Kilroy Ordr.)  Rob was now the proud owner of one of only five remaining models of the Courtesy.  It was a fine treasure valuable enough to earn all the crew a small bonus.

“What did I tell you Captain?” Alas asked, ecstatic.  “There’s no diver better than Pearlen.”

“I keep trying to prove otherwise, but it seems you’re correct Mr. Questr,” the Captain admitted.  “Excellent work Ms. Lustr.”

“Thank you Captain,” Pearlen said with a small bow once the crew released her.  “The trick is to never grab the biscuits tightly.  You have to cradle them.”  The girl turned to Alast.  She grinned and put one finger on her lips.  He looked hesitant, and it was easy to guess why.  Pearlen had held a soap biscuit in her mouth just moments ago, and few things tasted fouler than soap.  She knew this, but she was testing his commitment.  The whole crew had heard him promise, it seemed like ages ago now, that, no matter what, he would always have a kiss for Pearlen.

The boy squinted and gave in.  The two young deckhands kissed passionately.  They did so frequently, but everyone was so jolly from the won wager that they cheered it on this time instead of rolling their eyes.

“Good work girl, don’t scrub his throat too hard,” Queenvy told her friend as she patted her on the shoulder.  In truth they were not the closest of friends, Pearlen preferred to spend time with the ship’s gravefolk Second Mate Dawn Shockr, but Queenvy needed to at least pretend she had more connections her own age than just her brother.

I could punch her.  I don’t want to, but there be a twinge in me arm.  I could punch her if something distracted me greater faculties.  Be it jealousy?  No.  It be just the unfairness.  Pearlen and Alast be whisked away from their lousy lives elsewhere and straight through to adventure.  They find each other splittedy-lick.  Their lives sure bloomed swiftly.  Kingvy and I have been saving for washes and we’re no closer to…

Kingvy swiped the two coins out of her idling hand and ran back to the edge of the Mop.  The Conspirator was already pulling away; soon the Mop would be the only civilization for lathers.  He held the coins out over the water.

“Brother please,” Queenvy groaned.

“Neither of us won the wager on the wager,” he said plainly.  “These should be Swimmr’s coins.  Don’t you want the favor of the sea herself?”

“I’d prefer the favor of the banker.  We won’t be at sea forever.”  Kingvy mulled it over.

“Don’t say I never listen to you,” he warned, before dropping one of the coins into the water and pocketing the other.  “Rain may fall on one tile, but it flows to others.”  Queenvy rolled her eyes at the proverb.  Her brother’s foolishness stung, but she reminded herself it meant little in the face of the bonus pay they would all get from Pearlen’s success.  In her heart she knew that, if Pearlen had lost, she would’ve bitten through a few of his fingers to get those coins back.

“Take the nest,” she told him, adjudicating their duties.  “I’ll go tell Scuttlr about the bonus.”

“What for?” Kingvy whispered, in case the Captain was listening.  “She probably figured the pants-down from all the stomping.”

“Stomping can be angry.  Get your squatter up there.”  Kingvy acquiesced and started climbing the Mop’s rigging so he could keep watch in the bird’s nest.  Queenvy hurried to the stairs, but was slowed by Alast and Pearlen, whose descending gait had their arms around each other’s waist.

“I’m about to gag from that soap,” Alast said, having not noticed the girl stuck behind him yet.  He made a small involuntary sound in his throat that indicated it was no jest.

“You’re not the one who held it in your mouth for two hundred drips,” Pearlen reminded.  She nearly tripped on a small uneven space on the stairs, but she used Alast to regain her balance.  (Blaine’s Note: As a reminder to anyone who, crazy as they must be, hasn’t read the first part of the Captain Rob story, Pearlen suffers from blurry vision.  It is the result of small shrimp-like creatures that accidentally burrowed into her eyes when she was younger.  If she does not expose them to water frequently they resume their burrowing.  Porce definitely isn’t the neatest bathroom you can imagine.)

Begging your pardon love-worms,” Queenvy joked, “but I’m trying to get to the galley and I’d like to arrive before you bed each other on the stairs.”  They both smirked to hide their blushing and let Queenvy pass.  Boy didn’t even know what bedding was until I told him.  I could’ve said it was putting on a funny pink hat and dancing like a bartlebird on a campfire and he would’ve done it soon as he saw her.

Eventually Queenvy came to the galley, which was the only reliable place to find Scuttlr.  The wooden tables were covered in dirty plates and bowls, with plenty of forks jammed upright into table cracks to keep the rocking of the ship from sending them to the floor.  Lunch had finished just before the Conspirator had shown up with its friendly challenge, so the cook hadn’t gotten around to cleaning up yet.

Two folk sat in the corner, picking at scraps and laughing at each other’s general bawdiness.  Queenvy took a seat across from them and waited for their conversation to end.  She was there to speak to the lightfolk woman called Scuttlr, who was short, stout, unkempt, and only had one care in the world.

“You could replace it with… a stick like this,” Scuttlr suggested to her dining partner, a bergfolk man by the name of Whetsaw Plawkippr.  (Blaine’s Note: We met Whetsaw in Alast’s story; he was a man condemned for minor crimes to serve in a cannon-fodder militia.  He lost one of his arms in a battle Alast barely survived.)  Scuttlr held up the galley’s spice stick and used it to jab at the branches of dried spices and herbs wrapped around the rafters.  It dusted her food with flavor but forced Whetsaw to suppress a sneeze, which is no small task for a bergfolk nose.

“Stick too long,” Whetsaw insisted as he shook his head, and his copious whiskers, back and forth.  (Blaine’s Note: Whetsaw’s Wide Porcian is not the best, so get used to broken English.  Sorry about all these notes by the way.  Getting caught up is hard work.  I don’t know how real authors do it.  Hopefully you’ll hear less from me soon.  I never even know how to stop these things… like right now.)

“Some sort of scoop then?” Scuttlr suggested.  She took a hearty bite from a crusty roll and washed it down with a small cup of melted butter.

“I no replace arm with scoop,” Whetsaw scoffed and waved his remaining hand.  “I no replace with any of things.  One arm and one weapon do just fine.”  He tapped the hilt of the sword on his belt.  It was too small for a bergfolk, practically a dagger, but it was a gift from Alast and he cherished it more than anything.  It was the first step on his road to freedom.  It was the sight of that gift that convinced Alast’s crew to lobby the Royal Flush of the city for Whetsaw’s release.  Since Rob had just saved the city a terrible fate, they could not refuse.  “I never need any more than this,” he reiterated.  “Thank you Alast.  Thank you Alast!” He roared it the second time to make sure the boy could hear it, wherever he was on the Greedy Old Mop.

“You’re welcome!” they heard from several chambers away.  Whetsaw nodded and returned to eating.

“You made him take his tongue out of Pearlen’s mouth for that?” Queenvy jabbed.  They both smiled and chuckled.  “Would you be kind enough to give us a few drips Mr. Plawkippr?”

“Sure sure,” the bergfolk said.  He grabbed another cup of butter and poured it up his nose as he stood to leave.  (Blaine’s Note:  Yeah, they can drink through their noses.  They can save it for later too in some kind of bone chamber.)  “I talk to you at other times ladies.”  He muttered something about a scoop hand not being the worst idea in Porce as he ducked under the doorway and out of sight.

“I heard the ruckus on deck,” Scuttlr said, guessing at the reason for the girl’s visit.  “I take it Pearlen was the best biscuit-catcher?”  Queenvy nodded.  “I would’ve thought that was me,” Scuttlr joked as she shoved two rolls in her mouth simultaneously.  She guffawed through the bread and spread crumbs everywhere.

“It means bonus pay,” Queenvy said, practically licking her lips.  “Kingvy and I will talk to Veer and make sure you get yours.”  (Blaine’s Note: Veer Keystonr is a disembodied skull aboard the ship, a fate that befalls many gravefolk.  He’s a human ledger of sorts and I assume that means he controls parts of the Mop’s finances.)

“You two shouldn’t worry about an old woman like me,” Scuttlr said, her tone undercut by her mouthful of bread.  To her credit, she quickly forced it down her throat and swallowed through the pain to demonstrate she was serious.

“Firstly, you’re hardly old.  Secondly, you do just as much on this ship as anybody else,” the girl argued.

“True, but if the Captain finds out you’ve been helping me it’ll be banishment for you.  Or worse.”

“Captain Rob couldn’t justify such a thing.  He be the reason you’re aboard in the first place.”

“There are other reasons, child.  He’s just the biggest baldest one.”  (Blaine’s Note: Scuttlr’s true name is Bezzy Hornhollr.  She was once a wealthy shipbuilder, until Rob stole the Greedy Old Mop without paying for it.  Her company was destroyed and she decided her best chance at life was to board her own ship as a stowaway.  Through weight gain and poor hygiene she was sufficiently transformed for Rob to never even notice her.  It’s an open secret amongst the crew though, as most seem to think the Captain overstepped his bounds.)

“If it weren’t for you Kingvy and I never would’ve started saving.  Once we’re off this ship we could start our own company thanks to you,” Queenvy said.

“I just taught you all that coin management because I was bored,” Scuttlr fibbed.  “Needed more conversation than the creaking of this pissing boat.”

“You’re flushed with lies,” the girl insisted.  “You won’t be changing our minds.  We’ll talk to Veer and next time we’re alone I’ll be giving you the pay you deserve.  You could get some of it back one day.  We could be partners.”

“I’m done with business,” Scuttlr said.  She pursed her lips and scrutinized the rest of the table scraps.  She picked up the pink tail of a bibcraw and sucked the meat out of the shell.  “Even when I had a house an aker long I never had food this good.”  She glanced at Queenvy to see if she was convinced, but it was clear the girl had not been dissuaded.  “I’m fine, child.  I live in the belly of my own accomplishments and I want for nothing.”

“Everyone should want for something,” Queenvy said.  “We wouldn’t be pirates if we didn’t want.”  Queenvy surveyed the table herself.  Seeing the bubble-covered soap biscuits in their slime had put her off her appetite, but smelling the bread and dried sea greens had brought it right back.  She fixed herself a plate and ate alongside Scuttlr.  Above them the folks on deck started dancing, probably in the afterglow of Pearlen’s victory.  Their rhythmic stomping made more seasoning rain down from the galley ceiling.  Scuttlr put a hand in her filthy hair and waved it back and forth so all the dried leaves and seeds caught there would fall onto her food.

“I would never do anything to mess with this,” Scuttlr said quietly, gripping one of her arms with the other.  She looked to Queenvy.  “Have you noticed a chill in the air?” she asked.

“Noff refenthly,” Queenvy mumbled through a mouthful of dried yellow seaweed floats.  She swallowed.  “Are you sleeping too low in the ship without a blanket?  It can get cold down there.”

“That must be it,” Scuttlr said with an uncertain smile.  She shook off the thought by licking the end of the spice stick.  It had accrued quite a taste over the washes.

The Enigmatic Ice

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On the deck of the Greedy Old Mop, behind the main mast and behind a simple door, was a small room where Captain Rob stored books, charts, and important documents for his dealings.  Two days after Pearlen’s victory in the wager it was occupied by a skeletal man seated at the desk with only a whorl-fat candle for light.  It produced a weak yellow flame that smelled of wet and white scabs, but such things don’t bother the nose-less gravefolk.

The man’s clothes were ill-fitting but well cared for; they were things he had worn in his first chance at life when he had flesh to fill them out.  He always tried to look his best for her.  He was Manathan Shuckr: ice master aboard the Mop and fourth in command after the Captain, First Mate Teal Powdr, and Second Mate Dawn Shockr.  Most of the gravefolk aboard the ship did something to differentiate their appearance from one another, be it metal plating, leatherflesh, or strange jewelry, and Man was no exception; he had the blue-dyed image of a compass scrimshawed into his forehead.  It was marked with the eight directions of the cardinal tiles.  (Blaine’s Note:  The cardinal tiles are the gravitational lynchpins of Porce.  They keep the bathroom stable in a seemingly endless void they call ‘the Dark Empty’.)

Manathan was sat there in the near darkness with quill to paper, recording a story.  He was not a man of literature but the woman whose skull sat on the corner of the desk was an expert.  Every bubble of her head was covered in scrawl: short renditions of great but rare legends.  She was Nurkly Neenr and she did her best to keep the foggy parts of Porce’s history alive, to remember the shapes folks swore they saw swirling in the shadow.  Every once in a while she learned of a new tale and, out of fear she didn’t have space for them all, asked for assistance in recording one of the old.

Lately it had been Man who had taken up the task, just as he had taken up with Nurkly.  Manathan had not admitted to her, or to anyone else, that she was his first romance in either of his lives.  It’s nobody’s business, is it? he thought while he recorded her legend with his neatest possible handwriting.  The night was for sleeping and I took my bones to bed to sleep as was proper.  Sleep’s good for you.  Far better than bedding someone.  Try going a wash without either of them and see which hurts worse.

“When Custodian Vaintroxr heard news of the betrayal he swiftly mounted his corner-aker and…” Nurkly went on.  Manathan didn’t miss a single word.  Without a body Nurkly’s words were her only actions, so he cherished them all.  He’d offered to swap places with her and let her have his legs and arms for a while many times, as gravefolk often do, but she’d always turn the offer down.  Some women couldn’t stand the feeling of walking with a man’s hipbones.  Nurkly described it as feeling like a plank of wood wiggling its corners back and forth.

The ice master was about to lose his place, fully distracted by her gorgeously deep eye sockets, when he was saved by the door opening.  In came a fierce chilling wind that rustled all the papers on the desk.  Man threw his ribcage on top of them to keep them from flying away.  The wind snuffed out the candle swiftly, but the light of day from the door was much stronger anyway.  In came First Mate Powdr and the Captain’s young nephew Kilroary.

Teal Powdr normally wore blue, but she’d borrowed one of the Captain’s furry green coats and had one hand holding it together around her neck.  Her pale nose was bitten red by the wind.  Roary too had cheeks flushed with color.

“You could knock,” Nurkly said in irritation.  Man picked her up and moved her to a corner so she could act as a paperweight.

“It’s not a bedroom,” the first mate responded truthfully.  “It’s the map room.  We’re in need of one.”  They closed the door and rubbed their hands on their arms to create a little warmth.  Then they proceeded to search the shelves for a particular document.  Man heard Roary’s teeth chattering.

“Excuse me Miss Powdr,” he started in his obnoxiously repetitive attention to rank and politeness, “but why are the two of you acting flushed frigid Miss Powdr?  We’re in warm waters Miss Powdr.”

“I would think the answer obvious,” she answered without looking away from her search.

“It can’t be that cold Miss Powdr.”

“I trust my flesh in determining the temperature over your ivory veneer Master Shuckr.  It is in fact very cold outside.”

“Seconded,” Roary said through his chattering.  “Where are those pissing maps?”

“Which pissing maps do you need?” Nurkly asked, eager to get back to their quiet dim storytelling.  “We’ll gladly help you piss off.”

“We’re looking for The Favorable Winds of Trade,” Teal said, blowing past her ire.  “Rob wishes to check the common winds for clues to this strange weather.”

“Top shelf on the left, fifth volume,” Nurkly informed, “blue spine.”  Teal followed her instructions and removed the book.  Rather than immediately leave, the two of them opened it over the gravefolks’ story and began tracing the recorded winds with their fingers.  Man pulled a fire twig from his pocket and relit the candle so they could see.  He stroked the top of Nurkly’s skull to calm her down, his fingertips curving to avoid smudging the legends.  They had all the time in Porce; The Greedy Old Mop was the coziest coffin they could ask to spend eternity in.

“None of this looks buckled up right,” Roary said as he scratched his scalp.

“No… we’ll take it to Rob and see what he has to say.  Thank you for the help you two.”  Manathan bowed and Nurkly muttered something polite in words and aggravated in spirit.  The two crewmembers took their book and left, the brief blast of wind from the door extinguishing the candle once again.  Nurkly sighed in the darkness.

Tich went another fire twig as Man reignited their intimate setting.  They settled back into position.  He dipped his quill in fresh ink.  Nurkly was already reciting, but before he could touch the paper again he noticed something drifting back and forth in the air.  What is that?  Dust?  A bit of Roary’s hair?  All those fleshies flaking everywhere…  No.  It’s a snowyflake!

“Do you see this Nurkly?” he exclaimed, dropping the quill and smudging the side of the paper.  “Look, look, look…”  He tried to give the drifting flake plenty of space, but the heat of the candle caused it to dissolve before it could reach the desk.  “Snowyflakes?  What’s that doing here?  These are warm waters Nurkly!  Even with Kil and Swimmr having a scrub-throat party aboard we’d never see such a crazy thing.”

“It wandered far from home and died a quick death,” Nurkly said, “hardly as riveting a tale as the corner conquests of Vaintroxr.”

“Things that are out of place are always important,” Manathan said.  Nurkly quieted.  He didn’t usually challenge anything she said.  Normally he was a good little scribe.  “I think I saw eight points on that snowyflake, meaning it was formed in high clouds.  Flushed extra peculiar.”  He looked around for more, but there were none.

Buonk!  Something struck the ship beneath them.  There was no harm done, but they heard the object bounce along the hull until it was behind them.  Manathan followed the sounds with his eye sockets the whole way.  Bunk Bunk Buonk Bwenk benk… 

“A boxback shell caught in our wake,” Nurkly guessed.

“No,” Manathan said, sure of its identity.  “That was an ice chunk.”

“Very well.  An ice chunk then.  Can we get back to it?”

“There’s no ice in this part of the Snyre.  Why do you think I have such time to spend with you?  There was no work to be done.  Now there is.”

“Man, don’t be fooli…  Where are you going?”  He was rushing out the door.

“I must know what sort of ice,” was the only explanation he offered.  The wind from the door blew the candle out a third time, leaving Nurkly alone in the darkness.  Man knew she probably felt like a regular skull, buried deep in a dark grave, but it would only be for a few drips while he investigated.

What he found on deck was extremely concerning.  The wind was out of control, whipping the sails back and forth in conflict with the calm water.  Crewfolk scurried back and forth attempting to bring the sails down and secure the rigging.  There was light snow, but it looked much thicker thanks to the raging wind.  Manathan ran across the deck, ducking under ropes and dodging bodies that flailed as they tried to don the heavy coats that had been hastily dug out of storage.  The Captain must have been desperate, because several of the coats were from his own private store and were worth more than the folk wearing them.

When the ice master reached the stern he grabbed the edge and stared down at the water.  There it is!  Ice!  What in Porce are you doing out here?  You should’ve melted faster than cake topping in the Tunnel of Sweat.  The chunk was about twice the size of the ice master, opaquely white, and vaguely shaped like a haund’s tooth.  It bobbed up and down slightly, something the ice master took note of along with a hundred other things.

After rapidly considering its size, shape, color, texture, buoyancy, and bobbing speed, Manathan concluded there was no possible way the ice was a fluke of nature.  Something, perhaps a bath bead, was responsible for its presence there.  Manathan needed to know what it was; ice was his only responsibility and he would be damned to the Pipes before he let it get away without a closer inspection.

How to reach it?  The ice was gaining distance every moment, even with the sails coming down.  Manathan whirled around in search of anyone who would help him.  In the few drips he’d had his back to the bow matters had gotten considerably worse.  The snow had intensified to a flurry.  Things tied down were breaking loose; ropes whipped around in the air like possessed serponts.  The crew was beginning to take cover under any surface that would hide them.

I need ropes.  Man took off running back towards the mainmast but immediately slipped; a thin layer of ice was forming on the deck.  He couldn’t believe he was literally watching its growth.  The temperature must have been plummeting at an unheard of rate.  I’m some lucky bones, Man told himself as he watched the pained expressions of the flesh-covered crew.  The ice master put his weight into his toes and glided across the ice.  There was plenty of rope around the Greedy Old Mop’s beakhead that wasn’t busy restraining things.

Going up the stairs with the ice was no simple task, especially when he was distracted by the growing icicles between them.  Once he reached the top he noticed Captain Rob and Teal huddled around a barrel.  It took both of them to keep the book open and examine it.  Man moved past them, but then the wind pushed him back and he collided with Teal.

“What are you doing Shuckr?” Rob barked through the wind.  His nose was red and there was a droplet of ice hanging from it.  His fur hood was nearly hidden by snow.  Man was similarly afflicted, with small snowbanks already forming inside his skull as it blew through his sockets.

“There’s ice back there Captain!” he shouted as he steadied himself with the rim of the barrel.  “I need rope to go after it Captain.  I’ll figure out what the pants-down is here Captain.  Trust me.”

“Piss on the ice!” Rob yelled.  “Get below decks.  We’re all going down in a drip.”

“But Captain…”

“The ice is nothing!  It’s the wind that’s killing us.  Don’t touch the rope.  Get below decks now!  That’s an order!”  Manathan didn’t dare refuse a direct order, at least not immediately.  He put a hand to his imaginary ear and pretended the wind had blown the Captain’s order away.  Rob was about to repeat himself when he was distracted by a loud crack.  Something had splintered and some sailcloth had come loose.  Rob abandoned the book and leapt into action.  He performed a bonepicking jump from the slippery deck all the way up to the loose cloth.  He instantly pulled his sword and drove it into the mast, pinning the cloth in place.

Teal watched him as he worked, which meant Manathan had no eyes on him.  Captain’s busy.  Nobody will notice a little disobedience this once.  This tiny once-ing time.  The skeleton stealthily turned and approached the beakhead.  Amongst its aged knots there was one coil of rope near the base that was completely intact.  Man untied it as fast as his clacking finger bones could and then knotted one end of it around his spine.

He turned and saw the snow’s new intensity; the end of the ship was gone!  It had vanished in a cloud of whirling white specks.  There was no time to let his jawbone drop; the ice was getting away!  Man pushed off from the railing and skated across the deck.  The stairs appeared in front of him.  I know I don’t practice my bonepicking like I should, but let it work for me now.  He hopped up on the railing and slid down it.  His bonepicking was indeed atrocious, but his wheeling arms and wiggling hips managed to keep him upright and land him safely at the bottom.

Everything was so thoroughly covered now that he couldn’t identify a single member of the crew.  Only the snow moved.  All he could do was skate straight and assume the back of the ship was still there.  The wind did its best to send him off course, but he found the stern and affixed the other end of the rope to it.  There was too much snow to even see the ice chunk anymore, but assuming had worked out well enough so far.

The ice master dove from the back of the Mop and into the sea.  The water smashed all the soft snow out of his skull.  With no flesh and heavy clothes he was destined to sink, but even his weak bonepicking could keep him near the surface long enough to reach the ice.  He swam as fast as he could, desperately wishing he still had the thin webbing of living digits.  Beneath the surface the water was clear, giving him a full view of his surroundings.  The sharp tip of the ice jabbed downward ahead of him.  He could still reach it.

The snow fell so heavily now that clumps of it drifted on the water’s surface.  It was like the snow was trying to reach him, trying to absorb him.  Manathan was not deterred, for while he feared many things ice and snow would never be among them.  He had allowed himself mastery of one aspect of life and nothing could turn him away; he would pull the Greedy Old Mop backward if he had to.

His hands wrapped around the sides of the chunk.  He pressed his empty sockets against it, pretending they were magnifying glasses so he could examine it the best he could.  As much as he wanted to use his tools, his corer, his scraper, his baller, his chipper, his graduated melting pan, there was no way he could haul the chunk aboard.  All he had was his sight.

Opaque.  Blunt crystallization.  Are those bubbles?  They are.  They’re fat and strange too.  They almost look like there’s a sheen of grease.  That means impurities.  What impurities could contribute to a freak storm like this…  I haven’t the foggiest.  Unless my sockets deceive me, they’re yellowish.  Yellow means sublimated gas.  Sublimated gas in Third Sink can mean only one thing.  The Winchar Straits.  It came from the Winchar Straits.  What’s the blighter doing all the way out here in the shipping lanes?

He had the best answer he was going to get, so it was time return to the ship, hopefully before anyone noticed his absence.  Manathan turned around in the water and pushed off from the chunk.  After that he pulled himself along the rope until he was nearly out of the water, but the strangeness was not done.

The rope felt solid in his hands.  Frozen solid.  Not only that, the wind had died.  The snow still fell in sheets, but there was no piercing whistle as the air tied itself in knots.  None of the crew shouted or stomped about.  The only sound was the creaking of the Mop as it struggled under the increasing weight of the snow.

Manathan tugged on the rope, but something tugged on his ankle and kept it in the sea.  He looked down expecting to see a snag of weed or perhaps a hungry cartivark after his marrow, but it was just another manifestation of the cold.  The surface of the sea itself was freezing, hastened by the globs of drifting snow.  His right foot had, within drips, become trapped in a heavy block of it.

“Graaah!” he cried out.  I’m going to take the blame for this.  They’ll expect me to have smelled this coming.  How?  How would I?  You tell me Captain, because I don’t know.  Man tugged on his leg a dozen times until his foot separated from the ankle.  There was no time to dig it out.  The rope cracked and crumbled in his hands as he shimmied his way up the rest, finally snapping just as he hoisted himself on deck.  It fell into the sea like a twisted fruit stem.

The ice master tried to stand, but his now-shorter leg slipped and slid all over the ice.  He dropped to his knees and pushed away from the side, sliding like a macabre children’s sled.  The ankles of someone standing stopped him.

“Give me a hand!” he called out, but they didn’t move.  He grabbed their thigh and found it made the sound of ice.  “What is this sorcery?!” he babbled, pulling himself up the trunk of their waist to get a look at their face.  The frozen crew member was Kankady Noxr: a gravefolk woman fully leatherfleshed.  Her face was slightly twisted and poorly done, giving her a dopey expression that tended to suck the vigor out of a conversation.  She looked even worse here thanks to the skin of ice over her gray glass eyes.

Tlink tlink tlink went Manathan’s finger bone as he tapped the tip of her leather nose.  No signs of life, but of course she wouldn’t be able to show any.  He had to find someone else.  Through the snow he was barely able to discern another standing shape.  He tossed himself in their direction and hooked his arms around their neck.  It was Haystone Clearcuttr.  He was a large fleshy man with a heart like a fireplace and even he had succumbed.  His eyes did not move under the ice.  His lips and nose were covered and there was no fog from them.

Has this storm killed my crew?  Are they all gone?  Nurkly!  Manathan dropped back on the deck and flailed in the direction of the documents room.  When he reached it he found the door iced shut.  He banged on it with a closed fist and yelled for her to answer.  No response.  The wind was gone, so she should have heard him.

Below decks.  It’s warmer down there.  There must be folk left down there who can help me. Manathan changed course again and pulled himself through the snow towards the open hatch.  A mound of snow built up in front of him, embracing him.  It had been ages since he’d felt like he was being choked.

The mound blocked sight of the first stair.  His hand missed and the rest of his body tumbled forward down the steps. He could tell all the lamps had gone out.  Icicles distended from the rafters even as he fell.  There were more frozen bodies, caught by the cold as they fled deeper into the ship.  Manathan had a plan hatched halfway through the fall; he would go to the galley and hope a fire was burning there, perhaps under a half-cooked meal.

The plan was as far as he got.  A fully-frozen ice master hit the bottom step.  His body was curled nearly into a ball, so he rolled a short way and stopped.  The snow in his vision turned black, and then everything else did as well.  Even his thoughts froze.

Qliomatrok

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What is this? Captain Rob thought.  We can’t see.  We can’t move.  So cold…  We remember that pissing driving snow… and the wind… but the wind died.  What happened after that?  Nothing.  Our arms and legs are being layabouts.  No matter.  Picking moves everything.

Rob forced all his energy into his right arm.  He felt the gravitation building in his wrist like the water rising in a stone well.  Once he forced it to overflow his arm moved.  In doing so he heard something shatter.  Pieces fell away from his arm.  He still couldn’t open his eyes, but once he placed a flat hand on his chest and found the ice he finally had some information.

Frozen!?  How do we yet live?  No man can survive being frozen.  If the frostbite doesn’t get you the chill in your blood does.  Rob closed his fist and smashed it on his sternum, cracking the plate of armor forced upon him.  Much of the ice fell away.  He freed his other arm and then bonepicked his knees as high as they could go, wrenching them free of the ice.  He slipped on a slight slope that had formed around his left ankle and his nose came to within an inch of the snow, but bonepicking kept him from making contact.  Gravitation pulled him back up.

Was it… it couldn’t be the bones again.  Enough of life is about the damn bones.  It doesn’t make the flesh any stronger; it couldn’t be them.  (Blaine’s Note: Captain Rob suffers from a strange illness he has had since childhood.  His bones are made of green crystal.  They are in the process of growing outward, something that threatens to eventually pierce his organs and kill him.  This unique and slow doom seems to be the reason he can bonepick while still being home to the flesh, blood, and hair of pre-gravefolk life.)

We need to see!  Rob tapped his pointer fingers against his temples, a tap given immense power by invisible picking.  His ice mask broke apart and hit the deck.  Rob opened his eyes.  The lashes were still heavy, frozen together and drooping as they were, but a picture started to form.  His ship was intact.

“Ice master!” he called out.  If anyone aboard knew what had happened it would be him.  There was no answer.  That was more worrying than anything, because the ice master always came when he was called; he was like a haund pup that way.  Even if killed, Rob expected Manathan Shuckr’s spirit to come and bow when summoned.

“I don’t see him Captain,” Kankady Noxr called out.  She too was breaking free of the ice that had locked her in place.  Rob looked around and saw that all the gravefolk who hadn’t been lax in their bonepicking practice were escaping their cold cocoons.

“Do you remember anything after the wind died?” he asked the woman.

“No.  Just blackness Captain.  Can one remember silence?  If so, then I think I remember that.”

“It’s no time to be poetic Noxr.  Break the other fleshies out before their blood can’t run anymore.”

“Aye.”  Rob wasn’t sure why, but his first instinct was to run below decks and check his new prize from the bet with Blundr.  Whatever they’d just experienced was well beyond anything he could do, and yet the suspicion lingered.  The pirate pushed it to the back of his mind.  His own incredible ability to avoid death didn’t imply the rest of his crew was safe.  Visions of treasure always danced in his eyes, but he kept thoughts of Teal in his ankles so they could drive him in the righteous direction.

His first mate was just as frozen as everything else, her black hair hanging down in front of her like night rain.  Rob wasted no time rapping his knuckles powerfully across the skin of ice to crack it.  Down her back his hand danced, but he failed to notice the crack in her hair.  Teal’s locks were long and heavy; one side could not take the jostling.  It broke off near the base of her chin and hit the deck.

“Oh… that’s… going to be seen as my fault,” Rob muttered when he spied the hunk of solid hair.  Teal was recovering.  She moved her fists to her eyes to rub the numbness away.  Rob kicked the hair with the side of his ankle, sending it spinning over the side of the ship and into the water.  “Water?”  The Captain took a few steps and leaned over the side.  There was still plenty of ice, but they weren’t frozen in place as he had expected.  They were… somewhere.

“W-w-what h-happened?” Teal chattered.  Rob smashed the ice around her feet with two stomps so she could stumble forward.  He caught her in his arms.  His bones were too strong to feel the chill, but Teal’s limbs couldn’t keep her up yet.

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly.  “That storm froze us all solid.  Yet we live.  It shouldn’t be possible.”

“W-where are w-we?”

“I don’t know that either.  Stop making me say that.”  Rob tried to rub some warmth into her arms with his hands while he examined their surroundings.  There was thick fog all around, with chunks of ice taller than the deck drifting by.  Past that, at the height of his vision, he could just barely make out the whitish cliffs of Third Sink’s lip.  But which lip?  How far did we drift before our minds returned?

“We’re off c-course,” Teal noticed.  “Is this Sea Fauce?”

“The current is too slow.”

“Have we hit Fropud’s waters?”

“I don’t think so,” Rob said, his voice trailing off.  His teeth ground a little in concentration, removing some of the paint from the top of his molars.  If anyone looked inside his mouth they would see spots of emerald.  Every morning he painted his teeth so his crew couldn’t see his tongue, dyed green and squirming behind them.  “We must revive the crew first.  Then I need a compass.”

When everyone above deck was freed they moved below and cleared sections of the Mop one by one.  Much of the ice inside was melting, making everything wet and slippery.  Bits of hay and down from thawing pillows floated on a thin skin of water in some places.  The Mop had always been a clean ship but now its floor looked and smelled like a wet barn.

There were more than two hundred souls aboard the Mop, some nothing more than a skull, but all had been frozen.  Luckily all had survived as well.  The experience was universal: the wind had died, the cold had come, and everything had gone black.  No one had a helpful memory.

Rob demanded a compass.  Alast ran to his hammock to fetch his, but returned without it.  Both the Captain and the boy assumed he had misplaced it.  Second Mate Shockr went to get hers only to return with the same story.

“Has nobody been minding their equipment?” Rob growled as he stalked down the halls toward his private chambers.  There would be six fine compasses to choose from in there to help them get their bearings.  The Porcian compass always points to the nearest cardinal tile; for them it was Cardinal Third atop the Broken Fix.  The shakiness of the needle would determine their distance from it and allow them to roughly estimate their location.

Rob entered his room, moved past his model ships, took note that his prize remained, and then looked to his compass rack.  It was a lovely piece of Green Ring wood with metal hooks in the Tippytops style, but he shouldn’t have been able to see much of it.  It should have been blocked by compasses.  There should’ve been a gold one with a miniature model of the florent as its needle.  There should have been a pewter one with initials that most certainly weren’t K.O. engraved on the back.  There should have been a set of four, only made complete because the owners of the other three were all dead and buried with less bland finery.

“Piracy!” Rob’s voice rumbled.  “Piracy!” he roared.

“It be what we do here Captain,” his nephew Roary said from the doorway.

“It’s not what’s done to us!” he shouted back.  “We’re exempt!  We’re immune!  Burgling from me is like giving a judge a prison sentence!  Total reversal of the natural order.  Scour the ship Roary.  Find me a damn compass.”

The boy did his best, passing the orders to everyone warm enough to search, but it did no good.  Every bookcase, chest, and bag was checked.  There wasn’t a single compass aboard the Greedy Old Mop.  Their next best option was to use the maps from the documents room.  Some of them had sketches of landmarks across Third Sink.  Perhaps they could’ve matched something to their surroundings, but the documents room had been pilfered as well.

Every last map was gone.  Rob was always happy to bring out their cartographer’s stall, a small mounted prism map of the entire rectangular world that could be opened and examined, but it too was taken.  Whoever had struck during the freeze had taken only their moorings, only information.

The crew discussed everything, folk rotating in and out of conversational rings to see if there was anything to glean from the next ring over.  Even the wildest theories couldn’t account for the choice of plunder.  They also had no clue as to how the perpetrator stayed aboard without succumbing to the ice themselves.

Incensed as he was by the theft, Rob had to focus on regaining control.  He would call them all to attention in a moment, but he wanted to present a united image of officers.  After all, nothing encouraged mutiny like a Captain not knowing which way the drain was.  He quietly gathered his officers and lined them up on deck:  Teal, Dawn, and Kilrorke.  By all rights the ice master should’ve stood there, but he hadn’t shown himself yet.

Kilrorke was Rob’s grandfather: an incredible sailor in his day.  The man’s passion wasn’t in treasure, but the water itself.  He’d circled both bowls that still held water before coming to Third Sink to raise his family.  He’d become particularly placid after he’d thinned to gravefolk, content to watch his grandson cut the waters and occasionally the folk traveling them.  Standing at the front of the crew he was at least as imposing as the equally bony ice master, but less so than the sharp Ms. Shockr.

“Shut your mouths!” Dawn screamed at everyone once Rob gave her the signal.  “Captain be ready to open his!”

“Thank you Dawn,” he said as he held his hands behind his back and eyed his silent crew.  A few hands held skulls out over the crowd so the souls inside could see and hear.  Before he continued he tried to spare the tiniest glance for each face, to examine them for any hint of guilt or secrecy.  “As you know, something very strange has happened.  A storm like none that should have ever hit our waters came.  It brought with it wind, snow, and ice that more than rivaled the edge of Sea Fauce itself.  We were frozen.”

“Are we dead?” Somebody cried out from the middle of the crew.  It’s good they would ask that of us, Rob thought.  They think we have the knowledge of life and death itself.  More of a god than a captain.  Perhaps picking up that superstitious lot over in Slippry Edge wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

“We most certainly are not dead,” he said.  There were several audible sighs of relief.  “We’ve encountered strangeness before.  Always it is the work of a bath bead.  One must be at play here.  The greater mystery is the motivation.  Who has come for us… and why?”

“Why’d they take all the way-needles and marching papers Cap’n?” someone else asked.

“That eludes me… for the moment,” Rob admitted.  He was going to expand on that, expand on how he was still in complete control of the situation, but there was an interruption.  A new skull emerged from a hatch, held aloft by young Kingvy.

“Captain!” the skull cried out.  It was the ice master.

“Nice of you to join us Master Shuckr,” Rob tut-tutted.  “What’s happened to the rest of you?”

“Still thawing Captain,” Man said as Kingvy waded through the crowd and brought him closer.  “Seems in the rush to make sure everyone was safe, my frozen body was kicked aside Captain.  Last to be seen.  As usual.”  The skull tried to turn around and glare at the crew, but Kingvy’s firm grip kept him focused.

“We were just discussing the predicament,” Rob informed.  “You’re the closest thing here to a folk map of Third Sink.  Where are we?”

“It chills me a second time to say it Captain,” Man started.  “I would hold it in if I could Captain.  I would keep this nasty knowledge from biting your brains Captain.”

“Out with it Man!”  The skull checked the ice and fog surrounding the ship to make certain of his certainty.

“We’re in the Winchar Straits!”  This stirred the crew into whispers.

“How do you know this?”

“When we were all freezing I took the liberty of jumping overboard and assessing a mid-sized chunk of ice that struck the Mop Captain.  Its signatures were unmistakable.  It matched what surrounds us now Captain.  Definitely the Winchar Straits.  The smelly ice.  The fires of winter.”

“Where exactly in the straits are we?” Rob boomed, blasting the whispers away.

“For that Captain, we need a compass.”

“There are none left ice master.  A thief has been aboard during our nap.  Taken every compass and map, they have.  Reasons unknown and likely idiotic.”

“Begging your pardon Captain, but they haven’t taken every compass.”  Rob was about to ask what the man meant, but then he noticed the pattern etched into the ice master’s bone, right between his eye sockets: the template of a compass.  “I’m nothing if not useful Captain.”

“Praise the ice master!” Rob ordered.  He clapped his gloved hands together, bonepicking making the sound louder than drums.  The crew joined in.  They were not lost after all.  The pilferers had not thought to check the inside of every living skull aboard the Greedy Old Mop.  Shuckr kept a few compact tools inside his, tied to small hooks of metal fused to the bone.  When Rob and the officers were there next to Kingvy the boy reached his fingers into Shuckr’s left socket and removed one of the tools: a machined needle.

The rest of the crew was forced to hover around as a barrel and a bucket were brought out to assemble the compass.  The bucket was lowered by rope into the sea to be filled.  Once it was it was placed on top of the barrel.  Into the bucket went the skull of the ice master.  Inside his bone, alongside the tiny tools, was a thin-skinned bubble of glass that granted his head buoyancy.  The position of the bubble naturally adjusted the skull in the water so only the template of the compass was dry.

Kingvy brought out the tiniest of hammers, barely more than a bulb-headed pin, and drove the base of the compass needle into the bone at the center of the template.  The result: a fully-functioning compass.  Everyone who could fit around the barrel leaned in to observe.  Silence was not required for it to function, but everyone allotted some anyway.

The needle immediately picked a direction and held it.  Man’s skull was pulled by the force so much that it collided with the side of the bucket.  Rob knew his navigation, so he began mentally calculating their distance from Cardinal Third, factoring in the weak consistent quiver of the needle.  He was nearly finished when the needle changed its mind, choosing a completely different direction and pulling Manathan back across the bucket. His skull hit the other side with a tonk.

“Wait a drip…”  Bonswario Bucklr, one of the crewfolk who’d squeezed himself around the barrel, said.  All eyes turned to him.  His hands were running across the crown of his head, grabbing at his hair and testing its patchiness.  He’d suffered a fate similar to Teal, as the breaking of the ice had taken frozen chunks of his hair along with it.  “My hair!  My beautiful hair!  What’s happened to it?”

Imbecile, Rob thought.  Saw his reflection in the bucket I assume.  The Captain tried to return to his calculations, but the hair panic was spreading.  Many had been afflicted with horrendous new hair styles by the breaking of the ice.  Teal noticed she was missing most of hers on one side.  If she knew it was us we’d be a dead man.  But as long as it was nature…  Teal pulled a knife from her belt and sawed off the remaining long half of her hair, mostly evening it out.  She put the knife back and returned to contemplating the compass just as he was.

Many of the others were not so calm.  Bonswario loudly lamented his ill fortune, cursing each snowflake that dared to fall from the gray sky.  Gravefolk moaned about how much they had spent on now-ruined wigs.

“Real Tannifeen fur that was!”

“It will grow back won’t it?  Be there a bead that can curse your hair?  Someone get the book!”

“How’m I ‘posed to catch a man at port with a crop as awf’l as ‘iss?”

Rob and Teal let them moan.  The needle was more important.  Even though it couldn’t make up its mind it still had something to say.  Its direction changed again, then again before it could even reach the other side.  It started moving in a circle, spinning poor Man around and around under the water.  Its movement became so fast that the hairs that had fallen from Teal’s cutting created a black spiral in the bucket.

“Alast, you’ve lost some in the back as well,” Pearlen said as she examined her boy’s ear-length hair.

“You’ve never grown yours longer than your eyelashes,” he replied.  “Was it for this day?”

Rob gripped the edge of the bucket.  His face was so close he was practically wetting his nose.  He looked through the spinning of the water and through the black hairs.  Manathan was flapping his jawbone.  Is he trying to say something?  The water has his words.  We don’t know what to make of this jinxy needle, so you’d better have something.  He plunged his gloved hand into the bucket and grabbed Manathan’s skull by the base.  He raised him high into the air, water and hair falling away.  The needle popped out from between the ice master’s sockets as he shouted.

“Qliomatrok!” he wailed.  “Qliomatrok!  Qliomatrok!”

The talk of hair ground to a halt, instantly replaced by panic.  Qliomatrok!  If it is true… then we were taken here by purpose.  Even indifferent waves are not cruel enough to send us to her domain.  What’s that horrendous noise?  Oh, of course, they’re all screaming.

“Control yourselves!” the Captain ordered.  “You’re acting like tile scum fleeing the scrubber.  You’re pirates.  Pretend you’re fearsome like it’s any other day.  We must prepare.  Bucklr, fetch the harpoons.  Roary, head to my quarters and secure the treasures.  Dawn, prepare the lifeboats, just in case.”

Everyone rushed to their tasks.  Rob let Teal take over on the deck as he headed below with his nephew.  Just in case.  It doesn’t matter how well we command; they know ‘just in case’ is a lie.  If Qliomatrok comes there is only one case.  Once they were in Rob’s quarters they split, with Roary gathering model ships, bath beads, and valuable jewelry into a watertight bag made from a whorl’s air bladder.  Rob stood in front of a full-length mirror.  He knew it could be the last time his feet were firm aboard the Greedy Old Mop.  His gorgeous loyal ship of green wood and aged ropes.  The current incarnation of his legacy should his body die and then his bones follow.

He checked his face for fear.  His knowledge, just the whisperings and fear of Qliomatrok, rushed forward.  His eyes froze.  What are we recalling?  A sliver of an epic from the bergfolk.  The first recorded mention of the weighty Qlio.

The toils are ours because we are not welcome in the other corners and tanks of Porce

We tried to live in the Tippytops, but we were tossed over the side

We tried to live at the edges of Threewall, but we were pulled deep inside

We tried to live in the sinks, but there we were hated most of all

One who would remember the hate, if he could remember, was Ricochelle

Ricochelle wanted to be of Third Sink.  He took his drink there.  He kept it in his head

The sink would not have him in its head, so it sent its beast after Ricochelle

A small fishing fold, no threat to anyone, but an offense to Qliomatrok

The beast, the weighty she, came from the depths of Winchar

Blue light she shone upon him.  A blessing he thought.  Crystal broke surface and sang

Ricochelle did weep of beauty, before the other weeps came

Out of his head flew the water of Third Sink, what he’d tried to keep

He was not welcome.  None are welcomed by Qliomatrok.  She makes ends and farewells

Ricochelle was crushed under her.  His memory crushed too.  It is up to us to remember

Safe from our toils

Where such things do not live

“Captain, I’ve got all the vitals,” Roary alerted him.

“Guard them with your life nephew.”

“Aye Captain.”

Rob pulled a necklace out from under his shirt.  At the end of its simple cord sat a prism of humble glass: his piece of the Reflecting Path.  (Blaine’s Note: It is a shard of the bathroom mirror, shattered long in Porce’s past.  They are extremely rare and valuable as they allow travel between reflective surfaces.)  He considered his options.  If Qlio came the mirror was his only way out.  The crew would not be able to join him.  Any party larger than two created danger in the Reflecting Path.  With only one piece between them they would all have to hold hands to even make it through the mirror.  One slip and someone could be split down the middle by the world closing its curtains.

After that there was the matter of the reflections.  In drips they’d be surrounded by mute copies, all vying to take the place of his real crew.  With more than two hundred souls in his charge there would be no way to verify them all.  At least one of those things would sneak through.  No, the mirror was for him and, perhaps, his officers.  Roary’s got the bag.  Plus, he is blood.  Hmm.  Should’ve thought those in reverse we suppose.

The Mop rocked and groaned.  The thunder of footsteps overhead stopped.  Rob held his breath.  Roary held the ring-shaped bead he was moving just off the surface of a table; he didn’t even want to finish putting it in the bag.  The Mop settled.  Folk started to move again.  Was it her?  The swish of her tail?  If she’s as heavy as the legends say she might not bother with our folducted dinghies.  We would be as lice to her.  Bugs drifting on leaves with no hope but shore.  What’s this we’re remembering now?  Ah, an entry from Strings of Beads.

Divine Droplet – A bead out of reach of any folk, firmly clasped as it is by a monster.  The gem, by reports a large droplet-shaped sapphire fluid in both texture and facet, is firmly held between the spiraled horns of Qliomatrok, or as she is called by the tilefolk: bystly-deor. 

The powers of the bead are unknown, but given its occasional appearance of seeming cut by folk hands, even though no hands could have touched it, the old magic of the Ages before Building must be present.

There are theories abound of this bead that is surely worth its weight ten thousand times over.  Some have thought Qliomatrok achieved her terrible bulk through its working, but that does not explain how it became lodged in her horn.  Surely it would not have held in place on a juvenile animal.  This, of course, assumes the monster Qliomatrok grew like the others of her kind.  It is not a safe assumption as no other has reached her breath-robbing girth.

Some say it created the smelly ice and burning snow of the Winchar Straits, but there was a time when Qliomatrok was spoken of and the ice did not exist.  She has lived and fattened that long.

Some say it can sink a ship easily, like a god finger pushing it down as we would a floating leaf in the season of dead wind.  Again, the sinking often seems more the work of Qliomatrok’s blubber than the magic of any bead.  It is this author’s opinion that the monster commands the bead, holds its magic in its bosom or oily heart, and the world of folk will not see its explanation until she is slain or succumbs to age.  It may be another age, requiring another bead encyclopedia, before that ever happens.

In the old religions there is talk of Swimmr crying the droplet out of her left eye, or perhaps a hidden eye, or perhaps a blue eye like the black one of Custodian Drowmeen Buildr.  If this were true it would surely be worth ten thousand cases instead.  The tear of Swimmr struck a dry Third Sink bed and rippled once.  This ripple was the Snyre Sea.  As the divine water of a tear cannot mingle with the water of normal folk, it crystallized to become the bead.  Sadly, as with all beads, its true origin is still unknown.

Further study is needed, but warned against.

“Roary,” Rob said to pull himself out of his own head.  His nephew waited for the order.  “See to the haunds.  Get them on the boats.”

“Aye Captain.”  The boy rushed off to the gather the animals from their hutch.  There were two fine haunds aboard, for hunting and tracking, with a third having been added by the boy Alast when he joined the crew.  It was an axehaund named Finick, a scrawny sharp thing, but it was a loyal beast nonetheless.  Rob still felt flaking claws against the inside of his skull; the sound they made told him he would need loyalty very soon.

Now that he was alone in front of the mirror his reflection waved him forward.  He knew the image was a separate thing, an aspiring parasite of light eager for a life of its own, granted independent motion only by his piece of the path, but at the moment its enthusiastic stare and mischievous smile felt like something else.

It felt like he was seeing an idea, a shady one at that.  If the ship were to sink at that moment, would he be able to stop himself from leaving?  He would lose all his wealth, his stored knowledge, his friends and loved ones, but he would keep his life.  We similarly can’t have them if we’re dead.  Corpses feel the warmth of affection even less than scoundrels.

He thought he was discarding the idea, images of Teal drowning and turning blue in freezing water should have been sufficient, but his hand moved toward the mirror.  The footsteps overhead stopped again.  The Mop groaned and leaned to one side.  A few trinkets fell over. Roary would have the hounds now.  He would be on his way to the florent’s light.

If Qliomatrok came there would be no escape.  Even those who could die twice would.  Everything else was a fantasy.  Why shouldn’t there be one survivor?  One man to tell the tales and keep the memories.  Rob’s fingertip passed into the mirror.  We are a captain.  We swore an oath, to ourselves to not betray those duties.  Our crew is our family.  Without our honor our life will have no substance.  We will be as a ghost, talking of the richness of butter and sweetness of juice as the foods go right through us.  We cannot.  His finger did not curl back.

“Brace for monster!” someone above howled.  “Stryng-stae shyyrp-deor!” another repeated in Pawtymouth.  Before Rob could decide to lean forward or back, something struck the ship.  The walls around him buckled and splintered.  Bonepicking kept him steady on his feet, kept his hand by the mirror, as his indecision was stronger than the impact.  Yet the impact was not done yet.  The Mop lurched forward and then back as the force struck again.

Kurrack! Kish!  The wall behind the mirror gave way as some sort of spiraling spear broke through.  It penetrated so swiftly that it went straight through the mirror as well.  In the moment before the shards fell away Rob’s reflection recoiled as if struck.  Its eyes seemed to say: it’s too late now fool.

The spear stopped a bubble from Rob’s chest.  He’d seen much, but he hadn’t seen this.  The tip of the spear was sapphire: a bead larger than his head full of lights like drowned lumasol.  The stone sang like each Fauce crossing its stream with the other.  Two tendrils of bone, brown and gold, held it in place, fusing just beneath it and spiraling away.  At the end of it, through the many walls she had pierced, was Qliomatrok, for it was no spear that had taken his door to the Reflecting Path; it was a horn.

Rob reached out to touch it, but his blood reached it first.  A dark spray of it hit the divine droplet, the bead stuck in weighty Qliomatrok, and dissipated under its surface as if it contained its own ocean.  Rob dumbly examined his finger, the middle one of his right hand, and found the tip of it missing.  The glove, the flesh, the bone, and the nail had been sliced cleanly off and blood was pouring out.  The digit had still been in the Reflecting Path when the mirror shattered.

The man’s senses snapped back into place.  He bonepicked the blunt digit into his palm, at a terrible angle that threatened breakage, but it stemmed the bleeding with pressure.  He flexed the rest of his fingers into slightly new positions.  His bones protested, but they would hold long enough for him to attempt escape.

The horn of Qliomatrok retracted, leaving a gaping hole in his quarters.  Water poured in, cold and foul-smelling.  As if to say Rob and the Mop were one, the monster had injured them simultaneously.  A cold part of his mind, far in the back and already going numb as he stared through the hole at the now-yellowish ice floes in the distance, pondered Qlio.  Is it with surgeon’s precision that she cuts body and mind, or does her unbeatable bulk simply spread into the realm of figurative destruction as well?

The water was above his knees before he decided to move.  Out in the corridor he found the same chaos from his quarters: tilted rooms and rising water.  The noxious smell of the Winchar Straits, like swamp serpont eggs aged in ash and lye, took over the air.  It was his very breath, coating his throat and lungs.

Bonepicking kept his feet moving where regular folk would’ve slogged through the water.  He came across one such folk in the flooding passage.  Qlio struck the Mop again and knocked her face first into the water.  Queenvy struggled back to her feet.

“Rookr!” Rob roared; he finally had someone to yell at other than himself.  “Abandon ship!”

“Can’t just yet Captain,” she told him, spitting out the water.  She took a moment to air out her tongue, but nothing could remove the taste but time.  “I’ve treasure in her belly still.”

“As do many others…” Rob said, but she didn’t give him a chance to deliver another order.  She dove into the nasty water and out of sight.  If the girl wants to die that’s her business.  She won’t be the only one today. 

He continued toward the hatch.  Everyone had gathered on deck after the thawing, so they all should have been safe… with a few exceptions.  Some of the living skulls were affixed to parts of the Mop itself, but they were too scattered to be helped.  When the Mop sank they would go with it, only suffering death if the ship crushed them.  Otherwise they would be trapped under her for all time, with no one to speak to, until the waves or worms wore the bone away.

Roary had the most crucial treasures, but Rob knew there was one pocket of life too dense to ignore.  He had the opportunity to help them, and the mirror was gone, so he had to.  The water was high enough now that he could swim, but that was hardly how it looked when he immersed himself.  Bonepickers can do everything a little differently, and the weightlessness of water provided the ultimate example.  Simply by pushing all of his gravitation into the crown of his skull, Rob shot forward like a fishing spear.  Greasy bubbles formed on his beard and then were ripped away in a glittering trail by the force.

In no time at all he was behind the haund hutches, where he punched through the entrance to the Calcitheater.  (Blaine’s Note:  The Calcitheater is little more than a crawl space filled with gravefolk heads.  It’s where they go to argue and vote in the things that affect the bodiless pirate community.  Despite the smallness of the community, they take their own decisions very seriously.)  As expected, ten of the Calcitheater’s members floated up with the bubbles of trapped air he’d released.

He snatched them out of the water one by one; most of their jaws flapped, but he could hear none of their complaints or questions under the water.  His breath was going.  As much as he would’ve liked the talent, he just didn’t have the lung capacity of young Pearlen.  His crystal ailment included a small inward rib spike that poked his left lung during exertion.  His capacity for staying under was likely among the worst on the ship.  Rob was forced to abandon his luxurious coat as it weighed him down, but now he had no pockets to store the skulls.  He still had the sheaths of his two weapons, one on each hip, to use.  He quickly placed each skull against one of them.  It only took a moment for them to get the idea; they opened their mouths and clamped down on the sheaths to fix themselves in place.

With ten skulls firmly in place and fiery fatigue burning in his chest, Rob had to follow his own order and abandon the Mop.  Qliomatrok was all too eager to assist him, to pry the crunchy morsel of a pirate from his shell.  Thuumfuw!  Even below he heard the smack, and felt the shock in the water, from Qliomatrok’s body slamming against the surface of the sea.  Her horn cut through the deck, rending wood from metal, wringing their sense of home right out of the materials.

The horn passed by Rob, the divine droplet glowing fiercely.  The Greedy Old Mop split into two halves like a hollowed bread crust.  The light of the florent shone down into its chambers for the first and last time.  The greedy darkness below would have it soon and get a much longer turn.  It would not have Rob.  The bonepicker shot upward now that he had a clear path.

A shadow passed in front of him.  Rob smashed his head into it, forcing his ear against his shoulder and sending the last of his air rolling up the blubbery side of the massive thing.  There was nothing to see but her blue and gray hide, nothing to hold but the wispy fur on her bubbled fat.  Rob pulled on it, climbing up her round side.  Just getting to her edge has added too many drips to my journey.  The damn spike is screaming.  All the spikes are screaming!

The rapid change in pressure had worsened the pokes in his flesh, he was fully out of breath, and there was still so much monster to scale.  She was a horizon and she had decided it was time for a final overwhelming night.

Rob had committed a great sin; he had forgotten his crew.  In his frantic grasping to find metal, wood, or fur he’d failed to reach for a hand.  One found his anyway.  Young Queenvy Rookr, her fingers half the size of his, took hold of his wrist, pushed off the side of the beast, for its side was solid as a family of brick walls sharing an embrace, and made for the surface.  As the Captain’s vision blurred he could only ponder the peculiarity of her speed.  In her other hand she carried a gray sack that looked overloaded with coins and trinkets.  By all rights she should’ve been on the bottom.

His body informed him the mystery would have to wait, as they broke surface and he became a gasping fish.  More hands reached out and pulled them all into a folducted lifeboat.  The skulls released their bites and rolled around on the floor, adding another cacophony to the mix as they shouted questions.

Someone was on top of the Captain.  They tore off his shirt and examined his heart beat.  They jabbed a hairy finger in his eye and checked the veins.  We said we’re fine!  Wait, no we didn’t.  We’re not speaking yet.  We’re fine!  We’re.  Stop spitting up water and spit up words!

“I’m fine!” he finally managed as he rose to a sitting position.  He knocked Bobat Fwindr, the ship’s physician, away.  The man was a rust-colored tilefolk and despite his lack of a skull he knew when one had taken a beating.

“Remyyn-mal dwn Madyd!  Dahnarda doora cryk-cryk dyn tyyt whyr-dwork!” he barked in Pawtymouth, trying to examine Rob further.  Rob pushed him back again and jumped to his feet.  In doing so he rocked the entire boat.  He was about to ask for a harpoon, to throw the first spear of vengeance, when he finally saw the true image of Qliomatrok and her legendary weight.

The divine droplet pierced the waters again, singing as it rose into the sky.  The spiraling horn climbed under it, a tree growing to eat the stars out of the sky.  Under that rose the nodule of flesh rooting the horn to the monster’s upper lip.  The lip, a fatty, warty, wrinkly seam, continued for more than double the length of their lifeboat.

After her bulbous head came her fleshy body, twisting back and forth from the force of her jump.  Two fins extended out and flapped louder than sails in a maelstrom.  Still her body kept going, kept rising…  Eventually, when all the hope of victory had leaked out of Rob’s expression, her tail signaled her end.  The last of her was in the air.

Qliomatrok was truly a monster, but she had been exaggerated from a very normal animal.  In a more clinical setting plenty of the folk aboard could have classified her as a whorl thanks to her obvious similarities: flesh and fur instead of scales, blowhole instead of gills, and a pumping tail rather than a swisher.  More specifically, her horn marked her as a narwhorl, though none before had achieved such a size or had a bath bead firmly lodged in their point.

She had no roar, but only because whorls did not roar.  Instead they sang songs that emanated from their very flesh.  Qliomatrok did not need the water to carry her powerful sounds as she twisted in the air.  They struck the crew of the Mop in waves, sounding and feeling like the growl of the ocean itself.  The tide of the sound struck its highest between heartbeats; the sound filled up their quiet chests like freezing vinegar and threatened to stay there.

The weighty narwhorl crashed back into the water, destroying a lifeboat and creating massive waves that pushed the others away.  Only bonepicking from various crewmembers kept the vessels upright.

“To the ice!”  Captain Rob bellowed as loudly as he could, the spike in his rib punishing him for it.  “To the ice! Geh-byn chyyl!”  He stood at the prow of the tiny boat and pointed a gloved finger out at the Winchar Straits.  It wasn’t exactly land, but the mountains of floating discolored ice were all they had.  Qliomatrok would perhaps destroy one or two bergs to get to them, but not more than that.  Once they were out of her waters they would not be her concern.

It was only luck that had the animal convinced the sinking wreckage of the Mop was still a greater threat than the fleas it had shed.  She dove and rose again, piercing the hide of the split boat over and over.  The point of the divine droplet was sharp enough to slice a waterlogged sail in half with one whip of her head.  The rigging could not tangle her, because there was too much to entangle.

Rows of gravefolk in each lifeboat rowed as powerfully as their bonepicking would allow.  They approached the ice floes rapidly and spotted out a place flat enough to make land.  Those who could not row sobbed for their lost home.  They could not swear, not even under their breath, out of fear that Qliomatrok would hear and come, jeweled lance at the ready.

First Mate Teal Powdr did not shed a tear, she rarely shed anything, like a bottle sealed by rust that woman was, but she held the Rookr twins as they did their crying.  With no more orders to shout for the moment Rob could do nothing but take stock of who wept… and who was not there to weep.  Surely there had been casualties more than the skulls consigned to the bottom.

Alast and Pearlen were on the nearest boat, sharing their tears.  Bonswario Bucklr shook his head back and forth as he patted Haystone Clearcuttr on the back.  Ladyfish Paintr recited a silent prayer with closed eyes. Nayth Kohlr hummed a sorrowful tune alongside the more talented Herc Monickr.  Rob took stock of a dozen or so more that he considered close friends aboard the ship.  His grandfather Rorke had his nephew Roary… and Roary had the bag.  Though it was cold of his mind to go to such a place so quickly, he was acutely aware of needing to protect that bag.  In it were items of enough value to purchase another ship, to continue their adventure and plunder.

Though none would fetch as much as this…  Rob grabbed at his necklace, only to find it wasn’t there.  He pawed at his clothes.  He clawed at his neck for any sign of the strap.  He scoured the water for any shining hint of it, but it had been lost in the sinking of the Greedy Old Mop, probably taken by a random bubble or current from Qliomatrok’s frothing rage.  His piece of the Reflecting Path was gone.

Continued in Part Two

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