“Check. Mate.” William’s smirk is hearty enough to make the ship groan in irritation. Randy, whose King was just assaulted by a rather dingy looking pawn, snaps one of the chess pieces across the old, wooden board—this one a horse head with one eye gouged deeper than the other so that it looks like it’s squinting.
“You’re a cheat!” Randy said fiercely. “There’s no mathematical rational behind your moves. There is no way you could win five times in a row with that pathetic strategy.”
William’s eyes narrow, a sudden furious heat building up behind them, and I sigh, knowing what’s coming next.
“Don’t forget what game you’re playing,” he spits. “This is pirate’s chess.”
“Meaning what? Cheat and always win?”
The corner of my mouth lifts up. “Precisely.”
Randy turns around suddenly, climbing to his feet until he’s towering over me like puppy that’s suddenly full grown and rabid. “Of course you’d pick his side, Rose. It’s not like I’ve been helping you for the past year or anything.”
“True,” William says, “but she’s been my friend for the past two hundred and fifty. I think that trumps one measly year.”
“Tell me you are mine,” Pixie Elvis sings. “I’ll be yours all through the years, till the end of time!”
“What are you on about again?” I ask, but he only smiles.
“Does this thing ever shut its trap?” William glides over to the railing of the ship as the pixie begins another lyric, ignorant of the growing aggravation around him.
“We can’t go on together with suspicious minds. So, if an old friend I know drops by to say hello, would I still see suspicion in your eyes—”
“Shut up!” Randy, William, and I all snarl, and in a sudden puff of smoke and wide-eyed shock Pixie Elvis is gone.
Will crosses his arms over his broad chest. “Besides, Rose is a pirate after all. Why wouldn’t she play chess the pirate’s way?”
“Oh, right, of course. It’s because you’re pirates. How stupid of me! And here I was thinking pirates were supposed to be so much cooler with a ship that smelled like something other than lobster pee!”
“Lobsters?” Offset by light eyes, William’s dark brows scrunch together. “That certainly isn’t lobster—”
“In the span of time, sarcasm is relatively new,” I tell Randy, interrupting whatever uncomfortable statement was about to come out of Will’s mouth. “Even two hundred and fifty years isn’t enough time to adjust to everything when you haven’t been integrated into the strange communication patterns of the living.”
“Not as strange as a ship run by dead pirates.” He pauses, taking a look around the abandoned vessel, and a pit of dread gathers at the base of my chest. “Speaking of which, how am I able to be on your father’s ship? Or see it? Or see him?” He points at William who shrugs as if he has been unsure as to why this question had not been asked sooner. Or maybe he is just apathetic to its answer.
“Her fault!” comes a squeaky voice off to my right, and I try not to roll my eyes too obviously; then I remember that I don’t care. The pixie’s little finger is jabbing at the air around my face, and I’m tempted to reach over and snap it off. As if he can sense my thoughts, Pixie Elvis flutters quickly out of my reach.
“How’s this my fault?”
Pixie Elvis shrugs. “Just is.”
“You wouldn’t by chance happen to know where a nearby port would be, do you? Or are you only filled with unimportant facts?”
“I am a professional luger where I’m from,” he says, as if that’s some kind of answer.
“Luge?” Randy asks. “Like the sport in the Olympics. The Olympics that I’m currently missing because I’m on this godforsaken ship?”
“Wise men say,” the pixie trills, his voice jumping up a few octaves, “only fools are Russian.”
“Um.” I pause. “Are you certain those words are correct?”
Randy smothers a laugh behind his hand. “Yeah, I’m going to have to go with Rose on this one, Mister King, sir. I don’t think Elvis ever addressed the Russian population in any of his songs.”
“I knew a Russian once,” William says, peering over the side of the ship. I don’t know what has drawn his attention so acutely, but knowing William, it could be nothing more than a loose pound at the bottom of the ocean. But then, this is America, so what would it be called then? A penny?
“Do you happen to be friends with a whale?” William asks suddenly, distracting me from my thoughts, and I sigh loudly.
“And how, pray tell, would I have come upon a friendship with a whale?”
“I’m just saying, there’s been something following us for a couple of days now, and it’s much too large to be a dolphin.” His eyes squint, focusing on the space beneath the shadow the ship casts over the water. “Maybe if a dolphin ate five hundred other dolphins.”
“Like a cannibal dolphin?” Randy asks.
“I walk along a thin line, Darling, dark shadows follow me.”
“I swear, if this thing doesn’t shut up—”
Something in my gut freezes as a thought strikes me hard, and I sprint to the edge of the ship, tossing my upper body over the rail so that I can see the waters below. A shadow as big as a whale that’s been following us for days…
“No!” I say aloud. “No, no, no, no—!”
The surface of the water breaks and a wall of scales and damp, red fur emerges, “I AM THE ALMIGHTY KRA!”
No, no, no, no, no, no, no!
“Fear me, minions!”
Randy’s face is pale as he noncommittally gestures to the water. “This is a joke, right?”
“I will decimate your ships and pillage your lands. I am the destroyer of dreams and the reaper of revenge!”
“No, but really, this is a joke, right?” Randy peers over the edge. “Mary, that’s you down there, isn’t it?”
William’s expression is passive, though his knuckles are white(er) than usual as he grips the hilt of his sword.
“I am the conqueror of conquests and the prodigy of Prague! I am the acid rain to your forest, and—”
“Your metaphors are growing weak,” I shout down and she (or, at least, I think it’s a she) snorts in defiance.
“What would a flimsy human like you know about striking fear into the hearts of men?”
“More than you, I’m sure, since you’ve been locked in a cage for a while. How long did Sebastian have you in there, anyway?”
“I was not locked in there,” she cries shrilly, her dolphin tail splashing water into my face, and weighing my curls down until they press up against my lower spine. Two hundred and fifty years without a haircut and this is all I can manage to grow? It’s probably the split ends. “I was merely experiencing some minor frostbite on my extremities.”
“So, in other words, you were tapped,” William says, smiling down at her. The excitement in the way he takes in the Kra is rather alarming. Like he’s been the first to discover Atlantis. Funny, since she was the first to drown it.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” I ask, and then something strikes me. “Have you seen Mary and my father? Where are they going?”
“Ah, the uglier one and your father, you say?” Beside me, Pixie Elvis giggles and I turn a shortly lived glare in his direction. “They are adrift somewhere far from here. Of course I didn’t see them. Though, I was following you.”
“Can you ask someone, like the dolphins maybe?”
“I can’t speak dolphin. How rude of you to assume that ever creature that swims in the ocean speaks the same language.”
I seriously can’t. “Fine then, do you have anything useful to say?”
She splutters for a second, bubbles forming in the water around her gills. “There is someone on the mainland who wants to talk to you.”
This isn’t what I was expecting, but I wait for her to finish. She doesn’t. “And?” I press.
“And,” she continues, her tone spiteful, “his name is quite interesting. He calls himself The Frogg.”