“Toss it,” Syrah says, grabbing handfuls of left out food.
“But look at it! It’s gotta be worth something,” Rone says, holding the bracelet in such a way it catches the early morning light.
“Won’t be worth much if you’re dead.”
Rone stares at his sister with wide eyes. “Why would I be dead?”
Stuffing her dirty bag with as much as she can, Syrah shushes him. “Not so loud. Don’t you even know why every body’s hiding in the big ship?”
“I know about the pirates. Everyone’s been talking about their big fight,” Rone grumbles, throwing the bracelet over the side of the walkway into the water below. “But they’re fighting each other over some stupid thing.”
“Have you ever met a pirate?”
“They’re murderers. Wouldn’t think twice about killing kids. And if they don’t kill ya, they take you away as a slave.” Syrah ties her bag tightly and heads off down the walkway.
Rone hurries after her, grabbing a bruised apple from the left overs. He turns it over in his hands, his stomach growling softly. “That doesn’t sound too bad. Then you get to be a pirate.”
“I didn’t say what kind of slave, did I?” Syrah says, glancing at her brother over her shoulder. Her dirty hair falls over her face and she blows it away with a quick puff of breath. “I’ve heard stories of pirate captains chaining small boys to their beds for nightly duties.”
The blood rushes from Rone’s face. he didn’t need to ask what she meant by duties. When times were really bad, he’d heard of many dock rats doing whatever it took to find a meal. Syrah always promised no matter how hard times were she’d never do that to him. Though she never said anything about herself.
They walk in silence through the abandoned city. The only sounds are the water hitting the docks below and birds searching for food above. The homes were dark, empty. Everyone escaped to the center of the city seeking shelter from the coming pirate war.
All were welcome to the large ship at the center of the city during the dangerous time. Including dock rats, the many abandoned children throughout Marpidium. Some were abandoned when their families died from illness, murdered, or were lost at sea.
Syrah and Rone weren’t truly brother and sister, but Syrah found Rone floating in the water when he was a baby. Another dock rat thrown to the sea. His mother could’ve tossed him in the water out of shame or he could’ve washed into the city from a shipwreck. Syrah took him in. Perhaps because she was lonely or she saw an opportunity to add a second set of hands to scavenge for food.
Syrah was abandoned after her parents ventured out to sea for wealth. All they found was death and never returned. Or maybe they found the wealth they sought and simply chose not to come back for their child.
The truth of dock rats would always be the lack of knowing why they were doomed to be abandoned. But Rhone never felt abandoned. Syrah raised him on the docks and they were lucky to have one another.
Though he didn’t understand why, though she spoke of all the dangers of pirates, they weren’t with the rest at the center of the city. There was supposed to be lots of food and shelter from the sea air. Syrah claimed this wasn’t actually available to the dock rats, but he didn’t believe her.
There were no other dock rats scavenging for food on the city docks. As far as he knew, they’d all gone to the safety of the larger ship.
Rone walks into Syrah’s arm. He stops and looks up at her. Her eyes dart back and forth, her tongue pushing out her bottom lip. Rone recognizes the look. Syrah heard something. Something that meant danger.
Without a word, Syrah grabs Rone’s hand and drags him down a small alley. Stacked boxes make an easy ladder to the roof of a nearby house. Syrah climbs quickly, dragging Rone behind her. He tries to keep up, having trouble with only one arm available. Syrah nearly pulls his arm off as she lifts him to the roof. She lays down flat on the roof, placing the bag of food next to her. She motions Rone to do the same and he does.
Laying on the roof, Rone strains his ears to listen for any sound. He wants to ask Syrah what she heard, but knows he’ll only get a finger to the lips. When Syrah hears something that convinces her to move to higher ground, Rone knows it means trouble.
“You followed?” a voice asks below.
Rone’s blood runs cold. They’d almost walked right into pirates. How Syrah heard them…thank the gods she’d heard them.
“Nah. No one left in this, eh, city. They’ve all, eh, holed up in the big ship.” The second voice is deeper, an accent thick on the tongue.
“I ain’t worried about the locals. Last thing we need is our plan reaching the wrong ears.” The first voice is gruff, reminding Rone of someone with a sick throat.
“Are you insinuating I can’t scope out perfectly good places to meet?” a third voice, a woman asls angrily.
“I’m insinuating we ain’t all perfect at making good decisions.”
“Enough bickering,” a fourth voice booms over the others. “We’re here because tomorrow is a big day.”
Syrah turns her head enough to meet Rone’s eyes. She motions with her head forward. She wants to move closer.
Rone furiously shakes his head. There are too many, one of them will spot them for sure. He reaches out and takes a handful of her shirt. He tugs on it gently, trying to urge her further from the voices.
She hits his hand away and slowly crawls forward. She abandons the bag of food and Rone grabs it for comfort. He watches her move carefully up the hump of the roof. She stops at the top, only allowing her head to peek over.
Rone squeezes the bag in his arms tightly before following. He struggles to be quiet and bring the bag with him, but his fear of it rolling off the roof overwhelms him to keep it close. He maneuvers his way next to Syrah and carefully peers over the top of the roof to see the owners of the voices.
“Our dear friend Kostia is still under the impression he is the rightful heir to the Pirate Lord of the East title.”
The fourth voice belongs to a man dressed oddly for a pirate. Oddly to Rone at least. His clothes are cleaner compared to the other three standing around him. He wears a large hat with a scarf hanging from the back and a large feather that dances at each movement of his head. A sword is on his hip, poking out the back of his coat.
“From what I’ve heard, many of late Lady Sellins’s men believe it, too,” the woman says. Her hair is cut short on one side. On the other she keeps the long strands braided and tied on the side. Her clothes are big on her, and Rone realizes she’s wearing men’s clothes.
“The same men who ain’t staying on to serve under him.” The owner of the first voice sits with his long legs hanging off the dock. He leans against a large double-bladed axe buried in the wood. He traces his finger along carvings on the blade. A chain rattles at his movements, one end wrapped around his right arm and the other end attached to the axe. The man’s face is wrapped in leather straps covering everything except for one eye and his mouth.
“They are, eh, too loyal to Lady Sellins to, eh, continue serving under another.” The man with the accent is the largest of the four. His arms bulge with muscles and this vest barely covers his chest. He wears three swords on his hip, two on his right and one on his left. Two of the swords match in design, but the second on his right hip is shorter.
“Too loyal to not pick sides, you mean,” the woman adds. “We all agree under no circumstance should Kostia be allowed to inherit the title.”
“That ain’t why I’m here,” leatehr straps says, tapping his fingers on the blade of his axe. “I’m here cause if I fight this war fair, I’ll lose. I understand the need for alliances.”
“And if we cut the head off the sea serpent, the rest will stand down,” the woman says, a smile growing on her face. “Then we can properly divvy up the territory as it should’ve been all along.”
The clean man rests a hand on the hilt of his sword and nods his head, the feather on his hat twitching at the movement. “And I make that promise to you here and now, as the one who will inherit the Pirate Lord of the East name. But if any of you betray that promise, I’ll be sure nothing remains of you, your crew, or any part you played on this day.”
“The threats are misplaced,” the woman says.
“We would never have, eh, come here if we weren’t, eh, prepared to follow you.”
“Big guy ain’t lying. What purpose would it serve to betray you now?”
“Then does everyone remember their role?” clean man says.
“Aye,” the group responds.
“Good. Before the fighting even begins, Kostia will meet his end.”
Syrah grabs Rone’s arm and pulls him back down the roof, away from the pirates. She stares at him with wide, terror-filled eyes. “We heard something we shouldn’t have.”
Rone nods his head. He wishes they were inside the large ship at the city’s center. What good does the extra food do them now? If they’re caught having overheard scheming pirates, they were both surely dead.
A loud sound echoes through the air. Syrah and Rone nervously glance back towards the group. They can’t see the pirates over the top of the roof, but something else catches their attention.
Moving straight into the air is a chain. It takes a second for Rone to understand why a chain was hanging in the air. Syrah grabs him and drags him off the roof, sending both falling onto the boxes they used to climb up.
The large double-bladed axe lands where they’d just been laying, burying into the roof of the house. The chain falls to the roof before going taut as someone climbs up to the roof.
The man with leather straps reaches the roof and stares down at Syrah and Rone. He easily picks up the large axe and rests it on his shoulder. “Just some kids, huh? Eavesdropping ain’t very respectable, little rats.”
Syrah leaps to her feet and again drags Rone behind her. He trips, but manages to stay on his feet as they run. Syrah darts down branching paths. Even Rone can’t keep track of where they are, hoping that means the pirates can’t either.
Turning a corner, Syrah slams into the massive body of the accented pirate. He tries to grab both Syrah and Rone with his large arms, but both duck under his legs, Rone kicking the one place he knows to be sensitive to men. The large man doesn’t flinch, but instead tries to grab for Rone’s leg. Syrah pulls him quickly out of reach and they continue running.
They round a corner and see the large ship at the center of the city. They have a clear path to it and push their legs hard. The doors may be closed, but Rone is sure Syrah knows of another way in. She taught him many times, nowhere is completely closed if you look hard enough.
A loud sound from behind catches Rone’s ear and he turns his head to glance back. “Don’t look!” Syrah yells.
Rone’s foot catches on a warped plank of wood and he falls to the ground. He feels a great rush of air above him and Syrah’s hand releases his. He tries to grab for it, but when he looks at her his heart stops.
Buried into the walkway ahead of them is the large axe, a dark liquid rolling down its large blade. Syrah stands frozen in front of Rone, a similar dark liquid pooling at her feet. Rone’s eyes stare in horror at Syrah’s face, staring at him with empty eyes from the ground in front of her body. The axe cut her diagonally from where her neck and right shoulder meet down to below her left ribs. The portion still standing falls to the wooden dock with a terrifying thud.
The chain of the axe rattles as the man with leather straps walks up next to Rone. He winds the chain up his arm and sighs. “I was hoping to just hit her neck, but these walkways make it hard. Ain’t got a lot of time to straighten the shot. And you two moved like rats fleeing a sinking ship.”
Rone feels warmth between his legs and tears fall from his eyes. If he hadn’t tripped, he would’ve been dead. Syrah was dead. They were so close to safety.
The man with straps walks to the axe and picks it up. he wipes the blood from the blade with the bottom of his torn coat.”Now, what’re we gonna do with a piss smelling dock rat?”
“Kill him. He heard our plans. He might warn Kostia,” the woman pirate’s voice says from behind Rone.
Slowly sitting up onto his knees, Rone glances behind him at the woman. Standing close to him, he notices small scars and burn marks on the right side of her face.
She glares at him and kicks him across the face. “What are you staring at?”
Rone is thrown to the ground by the kick and his eyes spy someone watching from one of the close-by houses. He pleads with his eyes for help, but the eyes only watch in fear.
A sharp pain in his back brings a gasp to his lips. The pain intensifies and cuts through him. He tries to lift himself up, but somethign stops him. He turns his head and ses a sword buried into his back. The woman holds the hilt of the sword and pushes it further in.
Rone’s breath grows shallow and everything around him slows. He stares back where he saw the eyes only to be greeted by darkness.