Unsurprisingly, it came out that Harley had tried to kill me during the storm. He had untied the rope and nearly tossed it overboard while Fynn was distracted. Luckily, Frost had said something just in time, urging my red friend to come rushing to my aid. He and Harley had fought, which had been the jerking I had felt while fighting with the shark and caused the rope to be unresponsive to my tugging. Thankfully, Frost had taken hold of the rope before it could be lost in the scuffle.
For his betrayal, Harley received twelve lashes and spent the rest of the voyage in the brig. I, however, enjoyed the admiration and respect of everyone on board. It felt hollow. I didn’t bother to tell them that I would have happily traded the duty with any single one of them had I been offered the chance to do so. I wasn’t a hero; I was a coward.
For all that I had learned, and loved, from my voyage, I was left with terrifying nightmares of the open ocean. I was never more grateful to set foot on dry land than I was the day we tied off in the city of New Port. That did not, however, mean that I would never see my friends again.
Fynn, Frost, and the others I had grown close to over the course of our voyage were granted shore leave for the night, and I learned just how raucous drunken sailors can be. If I had thought that Frost was loud when he talked normally, I corrected the mistake when I realized he had been speaking at a reasonable volume before. Drunk and carefree, the man boomed like a cannon. His laughter seemed to shake the glass windows in their frames.
Fynn seemed almost to be speaking another language, his accent grew so thick, and he slurred so much. It was as though his words were crashing over one another in a clumsy attempt to rush out of his mouth. Worst of all, my friends would not stop boasting of my abilities to the barmaid. She acted impressed, but I was sure she didn’t believe a word of it, assuming it all to be big fish stories. Honestly, I wish it was. I still have issues just going to the beach. Watching waves crash is too much.
I never even noticed that I was being watched by someone from across the pub. What she was doing there, she never told me. She only ever said that she had been waiting for something interesting to come along and, I suppose, it turned out to be me.
“If half of what you’re saying is true, then she might have a position with the Imperial Sea Monster Hunters” she said, sitting down beside me suddenly. I hardly even noticed that Frost had scooted over to make room for her. Oh, she was so gorgeous.
Her skin was a rich sepia-toned reddish brown and seemed so soft and supple it took every ounce of strength I had to resist stroking her arm in wonder. Her hair was curly and black, springy, and bouncing with every motion. Her teeth were alabaster white, quite like Fynn’s seemed to be, and she took every opportunity to show them off. I think that every time she looked at me, she was smiling or laughing. And when she did, her cheeks seemed to glow with such a warm golden tinge that it made my heart melt.
I had been nursing a mug of ale for some time, having never developed much tolerance for alcohol, but found that I could hide my shyness behind the wooden tankard. The only problem was that I ran out quickly, and Amelia was more than happy to buy me another. No matter who it was she was talking to, I somehow seemed to remain the focus of her attention. Her hand always seemed to find a way to brush my arm, or settle on my leg, or wrap tenderly around my shoulder as we all laughed. She had her own stories to share, though none were quite as impressive as fighting off a monstrous shark.
I guess, looking back on it now, I realize just how awkward I was that night. Feeling embarrassed and nervous, I kept trying to talk about how great a teacher Fynn was or how funny Frost could be. In turn, my friends always assured Amelia that I was far more interesting than they could be. I’m certain that, any other time, Fynn would have been the one to catch her attention. It was like I was sabotaging their efforts unknowingly.
Somehow, the subject of conversation turned to the stories I write. Most notably, Frost and Fynn focused on the one story I had been most concerned to share with them in the first place. It was not based on reality as the others had been but was my fantasies taking flight. In that story, my character had fallen in love with a space siren who had become ensnared in a cosmic fisherman’s net. It had merely been a fanciful idea, one I had reluctantly shared with them after nearly an hour of prodding and pleading, and I was appalled that they were speaking so loudly about it now. Amelia, however, seemed extremely interested in the tale and her hand did not leave my thigh the entire time she listened to it. More than that, she gave little excited squeezes at all the appropriate moments.
I guess that, since I was still new to being a woman by that point, it had yet to register that I was, in fact, a gay woman. I only knew that I adored Amelia. Everything about her seemed so fantastic, I had no idea how to handle it all. Her laugh was enchanting, her smile enthralling, and her figure lovelier than I could find the words for. The fact that I had quickly ended up nose-deep in my fourth mug of ale also did no favors for my vocabulary or critical-thinking.
I half remember blearily stumbling my way to a room that someone had paid for, I think it was me, being held up between Fynn and Amelia. The door opened, and Fynn wished us a good night with sweet dreams, and then his voice was gone. That was the last I ever heard from my friend, and I regret it now. He deserved proper thanks and a farewell that reflected all he had given me.
What happened after the door closed, I need not share here. Suffice to say, it was more than I had ever dreamed it could be. I was left floating in a beautiful world of peace and serenity, the waves of ecstasy lapping across my body as I glowed in the fantastic experience we had shared. I drifted off to a dreamless sleep, cuddled in beautiful brown arms that held me tenderly as I had never known before.
“You know, if you’re not careful, someone will take advantage of you, someday” Amelia said, sitting on the bed with a tray. I woke with a start and failed to sit up. My body understood it was time to be awake, but my brain was still putting its pants on for the day.
“What do you mean?” I asked. Even my words felt blurry.
“You’re carrying way too much gold to just be going to bed with anyone who looks at you with big eyes”
“Oh, shit” I said, starting to understand her slightly better, “Did we get robbed?”
“Nah, we’re good” she smiled, stroking my cheek, “Come on, eat whatever this is supposed to be and let’s get going. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover” she said, patting my cheek. I looked at her curiously, finally fully up to speed.
“Where are we going?” I asked, looking at the food on the tray, “And… this is called, ‘eggs in a basket’. Come on, you’re kidding about not knowing what it is, right?”
“Of course, I know it’s eggs in a basket, Rika” she sighed, rolling her eyes with an exaggerated motion, “I’ve just never seen it swimming in grease before. I figured it would be called something like ‘weigh anchor’” she said dryly.
“I have been eating nothing but potatoes, carrots, and lean steaks for the last nine weeks. I don’t care what it’s called, I’m eating it” I assured her, digging in greedily. I had never felt so hungry and close to sick at the same time, but I wanted it bad.
I watched Amelia get dressed as I ate. Though she sighed and rolled her eyes at me again, she did show off a bit as she finished getting set for the day. Once I finished breakfast, I realized that I had a severe urge to use the restroom. I excused myself to use the toilet.
I washed my hands when I was done, marveling at the Tadegan plumbing. There were three taps, two of which were magical. One produced ice-cold water, and the other steaming hot. The third tap was room temperature. It took me a while to figure out a safe mixture, but I eventually settled on something comfortable.
When I came out, Amelia was reading through my stories, sitting on the bed. I froze, unsure how to react. I had not given her permission to go through my stuff. I also desperately wanted to know what she thought of my writing. My parents never cared for my stories.
“You know, the series really picks up when you signed on with that crew” she said absently, placing a bookmark where she had left off before handing back my journal, “You write better when you know what you’re talking about” she told me, a twinkle in her eye.
“Oh… thank you?” I muttered, unsure how to receive the statement.
“Well, that means, if you’re going to write adventure stories, you need to have some adventures” she told me, matter-of-factly.
“Oh. That makes sense, I guess” I answered absently. What was she trying to say? Amelia winked at me again.
“I figured you’d be a fun one. Let’s grab some supplies and head out, sailor” she said, gesturing for me to get dressed. I climbed into my clothes, though I wasn’t so sure about setting off on an adventure right away.
“I don’t even know you properly, Amelia. Shouldn’t we get to know each other before we set off and trust our lives in the hands of total strangers? What if I’m secretly a killer?” I said, giving her the crazy eye. She rolled hers back at me.
“Erica don’t be an idiot” she told me sternly, “I listened to you talk about your life for around three hours last night. I know you. I even know the name of your childhood dog, Sadie” she said crossly.
“We thought we lost her in a blizzard…” I started, remembering the tale.
“Yes, I know. I heard the story. Put your pants on, and let’s get ready to hit the road” she told me, though I was already tying them off about my hips, “Maybe we should get you some new clothes before we do anything else” she said. She was right. I was wearing my sailor’s pants, and one of Fynn’s old shirts.
The general store she took me to was none other than, “Takkun’s General Goods”. General stores are just pawn shops, places where used equipment is traded in. You never know if the previous owner of something you wanted to buy had decided to settle down and sold their gear or died on the road. Still, it was the one place you could get everything you might need on the road or roughing it in the wilds. And blacksmiths charged more for their goods. It was better to just buy them used. The only problem with going to Takkun’s was that his son was manning the counter.
We opened the door, I got a clear look at Harley’s face, and I turned around and left to sit on one of the nearby benches. Amelia let the door close and walked over to me, wondering what my problem was. I told her. She grinned wickedly and practically danced off into the store, taking my remaining gold with her. It didn’t occur to me to withhold some of it from her.
I tried to watch people as they passed by, guessing what sort of lives they lived, but that didn’t distract me for long. So, instead, I took out my journal, and picked up my story. I had something I could add to it.
Reckless Rika had just gotten herself stranded on a cosmic island, shipwrecked on a beach made of stars instead of sand. Her ship, the C.C. Dreadnought had been engaged in dire combat with the infamous Vengeance, a destroyer captained by the dreaded space pirate Beam Claw. Legend had it that her hand had been cut off in battle, and she had replaced it with a magical sword made of pure light and heat. Captain Reckless Rika knew otherwise, however. The beam claw for which the pirate was named was not a replacement for her hand, but an elaborate weapon and ruse. She perpetuated the rumors to increase her reputation.
In the middle of the battle, the two ships had been struck by a star serpent, a massive creature with teeth that could bite through steel. In a moment of desperation, they had joined forces against this new foe. The ships suffered major damage, though the serpent was defeated and cast off into the blazing heat of a nearby sun. Much of both crews had perished, and the ships themselves were hardly in a stately condition. Cosmic waves had pushed them into a stellar reef, shipwrecking the two captains on the island.
I set my quill against the parchment.
The pirate captain, having lost the beam claw for which she was named, was not far away. Rika got to her feet and steadied herself. Upon seeing her nemesis lying there defenseless, she stormed over, planning to kill her while the opportunity lasted. She rolled the vile woman onto her back and reeled in astonishment.
The pirate was gorgeous. Her face was nearly perfect, with soft lines and gracious features that seemed almost delicate as she lay there on the twinkling sand. How could Rika ever have thought she might kill this person?
Beam Claw snapped awake, seeming to sense a foe’s presence, and brought an empty hand to bear. She scrambled away frantically, searching for her weapon. She cursed and rose to her feet, fists at the ready. Rika held up her hands to show she meant no harm. The pirate did not relax.
“Calm down, I don’t want to fight you” she said. The darker-skinned woman eyed her suspiciously.
“Who says I don’t want to fight you?” the pirate asked.
“We’re shipwrecked. Is now really the time?” Rika asked, exasperated. That seemed to settle the matter.
“Hmm, you’re right” the outlaw shrugged, “I guess you’re more useful to me alive, for now” she relaxed her pose, though Rika knew it was unwise to turn her back to this woman. They may be forced to work together, but it did not make them friends. Not yet.
That was as far as I got right then, as Amelia came out of the store with her arms full, and a heavy pack on her back. She tossed the other pack down on the bench beside me. It was covered in bloodstains. She then dropped a sword, the scabbard attached to a belt, in my lap. More impressively, she dropped a fine chain shirt on top of the sword and set the round wooden shield she’d been struggling with against my feet.
“Come on, let’s go see if they’ll let us use the room to get you changed in. It’s not quite lunch. If we’re lucky, they haven’t cleaned it yet” she told me excitedly. I saw Harley peering out the window, looking at us, a dumbfound expression on his face.
The room was, in fact, as we had left it and we could rent it for another hour if we tipped the cleaner an extra silver piece for the inconvenience. Annoyed, we agreed to the terms and headed into the room. We set our stuff down excitedly and fit our way into the new-to-us adventuring gear.
My pack was a magical one, a Knifty Knapsack, as they were known. It stored all the goods inside it in a non-dimensional space adjacent to reality, and never changed weight no matter how full or empty it was. Anything I wanted from inside would be the first thing I would find. Of course, I had to dump it out just to know what was already inside it. I made a list of all my items and stashed that in the bag as well. It occurred to me then that Amelia had not given me the change from her purchase. When I brought this up, she laughed at me.
“You have a mithril shirt and a magic backpack. You really shouldn’t expect there to be anything left over” she informed me after she finished putting on her leather armor. I looked at the chain shirt, realizing just how incredible an item it was.
Wait, that meant all the money was gone already.
“How will you pay for the extra hour then?” I asked, confused.
“Did you see that man with his arm around the young woman who looked extremely uncomfortable?” she asked. It was oddly specific, but I did remember the man. The girl looked like she had been crying just before they stepped out onto the street.
“Yeah, I wanted to offer to rescue her. Why?” I said, not following her line of thought.
“Let’s just say that he funded us” she said, placing a silver coin on the table. Oh.
“Gods, Amelia! You can’t just pick people’s pockets for a living!”
“Not so loud, you idiot!” she retorted, “And we need to get out of town before sunset”
“Yeah, I know. You’re super excited to hit the road because you’re a thief” I sighed. I had been looking forward to another night in a real bed.
“No, it’s not that” she said, pulling the bag back on her shoulders, “I promised Harley a date tonight. He thinks he's going to get lucky. That’s how I got the discount, and the mithril shirt. That stuff is not cheap, you know”
“I did. It was too easy. Though, I must say that the broken nose makes him look a little more ruggedly handsome and dangerous than he really is” she said wistfully.
“Oh? Is that what you look for in a potential date? An appropriate level of danger?” I asked her, tightening the sword belt around my waist. The weight felt good.
“Excitement, hon. I look for exciting people. Let’s go” she said, waving me furiously toward the door. I was still struggling to strap the shield to my arm, fighting with the buckle when she ushered me out. The cleaner was waiting, rather impatiently, outside the door and wasted no time heading in. Amelia leaned back in quickly, apologized again for the inconvenience, and set another silver coin on the table. I shook my head and she shrugged as if to say, “what? It’s not my money anyway”
We set off on the road, heading towards the Tarethian Forest, a place of massive trees thousands of years old. It was the capitol city of the elven kingdom within the country of Tadega. I was excited to see it. The only elves I had met so far had been sailors with no interest in speaking to me. Even then, they had been so mesmerizingly beautiful. Fynn had to tell me they were both men, though I still wasn’t entirely convinced he hadn’t been pulling my leg. They were so beautiful. I wondered what it would be like to meet elves with free time.
And so, we set off on the road, headed inland.