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Nocturna league (episode.., p.2
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       Nocturna League (Episode 1: The Witching Book), p.2

           Kell Inkston
 
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  Chapter 2: The Captain and His Crew of Misfits Locate the Correct Island

  An hour later the M.S. Nocturna glides across the reddened waters of a distant, exotic ocean. At the helm, the tall and slender Captain overlooks a large island through his circular, misted glasses.

  “We almost there, sir?” A half man-half fish sailor asks with a gurgle.

  The Captain nods, glancing behind to address the seasort with his gaze. “That is correct, Swab-mate Gregory. Our destination is indeed the island ahead,” he confirms.

  Gregory nods his scaly head. “Well, but I mean are you sure, this time? This is the third island you said that about, sir.”

  The Captain is quiet a moment. The seaspray frolics across the deck. “Tell me, just who is the captain of this vessel, Gregory Gallsway?”

  The seasort sighs and returns to wiping down the deck. “You, sir.”

  “That is correct, and how many times did our assistant navigator turn to his dark side when charting the course?”

  Gregory sighs again, glancing at the statuesque captain. “Every time, sir.”

  “And how many times did I… Suddenly forget about double checking the course?”

  “…Also three times, sir.”

  The Captain nods. “As such, now that we have thrown Mr. Masthaven in the brig for his traitorous decisions, and I have not had a regrettable lapse in the past week on the subject of navigation, we can as such assume that this island is the correct one, and that it also contains our mark.”

  Gregory nods with his brows raised in tolerance to The Captain. “Sure thing, sir.”

  A half-hour passes and the Nocturna is at the rim of the island, just five minutes away. Most of the sailors have lined up across the railing to look over their destination: Ketman’s Keep. It is a vast, verdant swamp island, its trees an impenetrable fortress from every direction save for its single town. Alien, feral sounds come from the swamp within, but when overlooking the sizable town there is nothing but laughter and joviality emanating from it.

  “What’s ya’ think they celebratin’?” One seasort asks to his human friend.

  “Could be anything,” he answers while scratching his dark chin, “maybe a holiday.”

  A few Crew members exchange fanciful theories while The Captain, as mysterious and impenetrable as the swamp, approaches with his officer’s cap straight and in perfect condition.

  “Gentlemen,” he nods to the large crowd of men, fish men, and probably also fish. “Mademoiselles,” he nods again to two young ladies, one dressed as a cook, Grancis Vereyrty— and the other, an enthused Colette Ketiere, having just finished dawning expedition gear. He starts trotting to the side of the group. “As you all know, our charge for this mark is to find the ancient, supposedly magical book of the great witch Vuuya. It is said to grant wishes, and while we all have heard that one before-”

  There’s a knowing guffaw shared between some of the sailors.

  “-It is still our job to chase such wild dreams, and the O.E.L. will pay good money for it. Very good money; your paychecks for the next three months good money. And so though it is late in the day, I find no need not to initiate the expedition immediately and send our away team.”

  Nods and agreements are given from a multitude.

  “I have decided that this team will consist of myself- as I am The Captain, Dunklestein the Daring- should beasts or the locals prove to be a problem, Colette Ketiere- for she desires experience in adventure and arms, and finally… Jim-”

  An uproar overflows on the deck as concern and disapproval abounds.

  “Gentlemen, please,” The Captain says quietly. The yelling continues and people bombard him with questions. The Captain cracks his knuckles, a sound that every sailor on the ship has been trained to be alert to, and the yelling quiets to a disgruntled muttering. “Very good. I have chosen Jim because he is among the best adventurers we have, and honestly I would rather him off the ship in the advent of his turning, especially on an empty moon, which is tonight- understand?”

  While most of the crew is silent, some do nod their heads and generally agree.

  “Very good, feel free to remain in port and go on shore leave as you see fit- Just remember if you hear the rifle, get the ship ready,” The Captain says, patting the strange, dark rifle strung around his back.

  At that, an apologetic, confused Jim is let out of the brig, brought up to speed with the situation and joins the other three as they enter port and start down the boardwalk.

  “Thanks for having me along, Captain. I thought this would be the last time you’d forgive me,” Jim, a slender, handsome man with shaggy, raven black hair says.

  The Captain nods as Dunklestein scoffs. “Whatever dude. Just don’t pull that shit again,” the sizable great white shark seasort says with a smirk across his wide, tooth-lined jaws.

  “Now now, Dunklestein the Daring. There is no need for foul language in this outing party. A clean mouth is as a clean conscience, after all,” The Captain says, quickly receiving a sigh from Dunks.

  “It’s like you’ve never heard the term ‘swearing like a sailor’, Captain.”

  “I am not a sailor, Dunklestien. I am a captain.”

  Colette and Jim exchange some sly smirks, certain The Captain will never change, and that Dunklestein will never realize it.

  “Come on, Captain. You sail, that makes you a sailor. Stop acting so superior,” Dunklestein says with a smile, the usual expression he owns when arguing.

  “I am too busy being The Captain to care about coming off as a prig. Now please, let us commence with our mark,” he says, straightening his cap as the four walk to a great square of dancing people.

  The center plaza is alive with masked merchants, men, women, celebrating and having a fantastic time. The rows of dancers are alight with candles, colorful flags, paper confetti, and joyous music.

  “Damn, something smells nice!” Dunklestein says, watching the Captain twitch again at the sound of profanity from one of his sailors. Sure enough, the scent of barbecue and the snapping of frying vegetables overcomes the four as other sailors of the Nocturna approach to admire the banquet of senses.

  “Indeed,” The Captain remarks while he taps the shoulder of a masked party-goer. “Pardon me, person enjoying the party,” he says.

  The partier turns around to them, pulling a sizable, meated bone from his mouth. “Ey? Oh, hello, friend!” he says.

  “Hello, sir: we’re looking for one that knows about the local antiques and legends of this island. Would you know of anyone?”

  The party goer hums to himself a moment, scratches his mask as if it were his chin, and then jolts up in realization. “Of course! You should just ask Vuuya! She’s the witch that looks over the town. What do ya’ need to ask her?”

  The Captain and his three sailors exchange solemn looks. “Well,” The Captain starts, “We need a book of hers- her witching book to be precise.”

  The party goer stumbles over his words as he looks around a bit; a few other masked folks start taking notice to the conversation. “Well, I mean. Vuuya’s here, but not some silly book. You guys probably have the… the uh, wrong island.”

  “I’m certain the book is here, my fellow- and I’m certain we will have it,” The Captain says, leaning into the masked man’s space.

  “But… Yes, I suppose Vuuya can give you that book of hers; she can do anything, after all. Please, but I can’t take you to her tonight. The swamp is dark and quite dangerous! You should wait till tomorrow. Please let us show you some of our hospitality!”

  Collette nudges The Captain. “I don’t like this,” she says in a tone quiet enough for only him to hear.

  “Ahh, but I do, my little biscuit,” The Captain murmurs. “We’d love to spend the night here, is there an inn?”

  The partier looks around and points out a petite, also-masked woman sitting by the side of the square. “She owns an inn, I think. We really just do what we want here. So you guys have fun and let m
e know tomorrow once you’re ready to leave. I gotta go find my kids; make sure they’re not causing trouble.” With that, he’s off to an empty bench, leaving The Captain to talk to the others.

  “This is incredibly peculiar. But I think it’s best we stay on the island to see if there’s anything else we can learn from the innkeeper. That being said, I would understand if you would feel safer on the ship— especially with so many suspicious masked figures running about. So if any of you want me to take away your ‘sailor card’ you only need to ask.” There is a pause amidst the celebration around them. “Well? Dunklestien? Do you want me to take away your sailor card?”

  Dunklestien huffs again. “N-no sir.” He looks away in some sort of embarrassment.

  “I thought not. Colette?” Captain asks.

  She scoffs. “No, sir.”

  “Very good. Jim?”

  Jim twitches. “No s-s-sir.”

  The three turn to Jim with alert gazes as The Captain speaks.

  “Jim, is he coming?”

  “No… I’m okay… I’ll be fine,” he says, pressing his hand against his right arm in pain.

  The three others stare at him with suspicion, but again The Captain breaks the silence. “Well, nothing we can do about that, then. Let’s get to the inn.” The moment The Captain turns away, Jim looses a deep, bone-chilling laugh.

  “You… You fools!” He begins screaming and hollering to get the attention of everyone.

  “Captain! He’s turning!” Colette yells as the music and dancing stops.

  Jim’s eyes are overcome with what seems to be a violent black fire, but Jim seems elated, rather than distressed.

  “Jim! Snap out of it, man! This is incredibly unsailorly behavior!” The Captain barks to the writhing Jim who fills his chest with salty breath and screams.

  “Jim is no longer with us, Captain. However I did hear that you’re trying to steal this island’s greatest treasure! What do you say of that? Imperialist dog- Thief!” Jim, or something inside Jim yells at the top of his lungs.

  A chorus of hushed whispers erupts from the frightened party-goers for an awkward moment as everyone on the island learns what the mysterious sailors are here for.

  “Son, quiet down! You’re being just horrible!” The Captain shouts as Dunklestein and Colette exchange looks.

  “Son? Captain, Jim’s your boy?” Dunklestein asks, crossing his broad, greyish arms covered in awesome seafaring tattoos.

  “I’ll tell you when you’re older," The Captain dismisses. "Now, calm down, Jim, or you’re in for a distinct beating,” he says, cracking his knuckles the way he does to remind the thing possessing Jim of the distance between their strengths.

  Jim laughs. “I’ve done my damage, see you later, salt-ass,” at that, Jim wavers and falls to the cobblestone ground, unconscious. The Captain takes up Jim and turns to the cloaked innkeeper across the square. “Come along,” he says over the confused, distressed voices of the townspeople. They get up to the shrouded innkeeper, and The Captain, piggybacking Jim, addresses her. “Greetings, madam, how much for a night at the-”

  “I’m a dude,” the innkeeper says with a mountainously-strong voice.

  “A-ahh, yes. Pardon me then, sir. How much for a night?”

  “For you visitors, free- I’m not an innkeeper either, but I’ll take you in for the night. This way,” he says as he leads them along through some less populated streets. “So, I hear you’re lookin’ for a book?” he asks as he works through a key and lock to enter his home.

  The Captain nods. “That’s right. The witching book of Vuuya, the long dead sorceress that was said to cast spells from it.” They enter a dark, warm room.

  “Gah, that smell!” Colette says, waving her hand to fan the scent away.

  The man lights a lantern, revealing a full butcher’s shop, filled with the mutilated corpses of animals and cutting devices of all sorts. “Yeah, well you’re gonna’ have trouble with that. If you were to take my advice you’d just turn around and sail off to wherever you came from.”

  The Captain hums. “And why is that, sir?”

  “The people hold Vuuya accountable for all the fortune we’ve had in this desolate place. To take the book would be to take our prosperity… Is that really what you want?” The apparent butcher asks as he shows them into a fair-sized, open room with a single bed and no other furnishings.

  “We are not after your misery, but we will need the book we’re coming for. I trust you will keep our location a secret?” The Captain says, shifting a few sins, the common currency of the Omniverse, over to the man.

  The butcher’s silent a moment, and then nods as he pockets the coins. “’Course,” he says, “goodnight.” He closes the door and the group hears him go down the steps.

  The Captain rests Jim on the floor and presents the bed to Colette. “We have a long day tomorrow, so we may as well turn in now. Colette, dear cookie, you may enjoy the bed as the fairest of us,” he says like a doting father.

  Colette laughs. “Thanks, Cap, but I’m not going to become a real captain by being pampered. You outrank me, so you should take the bed,” she says, choosing a nice, hard spot on the wooden floor along with Dunklestein, who just plops belly down to sleep.

  The Captain sighs, “Very well. I have such matters turning you into a lady of the sea, but I suppose your goal to become a leader among men is stronger than your desire to reject your barbarian upbringing.”

  The girl laxes onto the floor, unarmed around her trusted crewmates. “Whatever you say, Cap.” She yawns and turns to the wall. The Captain gets on the single bed, something he is incapable of enjoying, but decides he might as well not cause a fuss about. He lays down in the dark room, only the slight window light illuminating their surroundings.

  ...

  An uncertain time later, a figure climbs in through the window. Aided by shadows it crawls up to the foot of the bed, but feels what seems to be ropes around its inhabitant, as if the person lying there has already been tied up. The mysterious figure feels for a pulse, but feels nothing. It pauses in thought, and then crawls back through the window, presuming someone beat it to the job. It leaves, not seeing, feeling, nor hearing any of the three people lying about at the corners of the room.

 
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