The island was deserted, they had been told. The pirates had left their hideaway in search of further riches, leaving their stashed horde ripe for the picking. The crown would surely reward them for such a bountiful heist. All they had to do was find it.
The waves crashed along the rocky shore of Maerlybor Island, the Pacific Gemstone to those who called it home, spraying sea foam across the faces of cliffs and jutting rocks alike with a loud fizzling noise. If there was one thing Hiro hated, it was getting sea water in his fur; it was always a bugger to get all the salt out later. If there had to be only one reason he preferred sky sailing rather than sailing the seas, it would be that.
“Are you sure it was the southern face they said?” the former tradesman asked, taking another look down the stark cliff and, obscured from view, the entrance they had worked so hard to find.
“South-southwest,” Lunaria replied, confidently hammering a set of metal spikes deep into the ground with a double-sided mallet. “Don’t worry yourself. I checked the landmarks already. This is the place.” Once a proud naval officer, the white wolfess had taken to freelance privateering almost too easily when the opportunity had arisen two years before. Perhaps there was something she had come to dislike about serving Admiral O’Keefe; Hiro would never know.
Hiro ran his hand over the straps and rings of his harness, already dreading what they would have to do to reach the entrance. “Do we really have to scale a cliff to get there?” he asked, almost pleading for another option. “I’m sure the pirates don’t have to every time they come here.”
Lunaria stood up and rested the sharp crowbar end of her mallet on the ground to lean on it, raising an eyebrow at her partner-in-lawful-crime. “Well, if someone wasn’t such a baby about sea boats, then we could just row ourselves in there.” Hiro groaned internally and relented, leaning down to pick up the rope and clips to attach to his harness. When they were secure, he watched Lunaria do the same.
“I’m not a baby,” he insisted, looking away from the wolfess. “I just don’t like it is all.”
“Uh-huh, and the fact that you get seasick every time you kick off on water has nothing to do with it.” Lunaria snorted back a laugh, giving her rope a few experimental tugs to check it was secure.
“I don’t get seasick!” Hiro insisted, his face reddening as his eyelid twitches.
Lunaria laughed from deep in her throat and patted her partner on the back. “Just relax, love,” she said, giving him a peck on the cheek. “We’ve done this sort of thing before and it’s never gone wrong before, so stop worrying. Okay?”
Hiro mumbled and bit his lip. “Okay,” he finally replied, tugging on his line to make sure it was secure and safe before the pair of them approached the edge of the cliff. “You ready?”
Lunaria gave Hiro a wolfish grin, and her eyes gleamed. “You better believe it,” she said. Hiro smiled, somehow being inspired by her confidence.
That is, until he felt the unforgettable feeling of Lunaria’s hand on his back. Before he could even blink, he was thrown off the edge of the cliff. The air was stolen from his lungs and his face was stretched by the wind running through his open mouth. Hiro couldn’t help himself; as he plummeted toward the fang-like rocks and harsh waters of the crashing sea below, the grey wolf screamed.
His scream was cut off by a sudden jerk as the rope snapped fast. Hiro’s entire body felt as though it was about to break or be sliced by the harness, but despite the tightness imposed on him by gravity he was somehow still alive. Above the echo of his own scream and the crashing of the waves, Hiro could hear what could only be described as a wolf impersonating a laughing hyena. Lunaria’s roars of laughter reached him even near the surface of the ocean some one hundred feet below the edge of the cliff face. Stunned and struggling to breathe, Hiro shifted his body around and stared up at the cliff’s horizon above him, just spotting her laughing face.
“Are you enjoying yourself down there?” she yelled, amidst her bouts of laughter.
“Oh, fuck you!” Hiro shouted back, blushing bright red and gripping his rope for dear life as he struggled to regain his breath. “Fuck you, fuck you, a thousand times fuck you!”
Lunaria’s laughter only seemed to get louder. “Time and a place, dear! Maybe if you’re good!” Hiro somehow blushed even more. “Can you see anything?”
Hiro looked around and shifted his weight to rotate himself on the rope. When he faced the cliff again, he quickly spotted a massive cave entrance just ahead of him. “I see it!” he called back. “This is the perfect spot!”
“Good!” Lunaria yelled back. “Swing on through and I’ll be down in a minute!”
“Aye aye…” Hiro mumbled, groaning to himself as he began to swing himself back and forth, as though riding a log swing on a tree. Only above water. And potentially crushing himself inside a cave. Just like a log swing. As the arc became larger and larger, Hiro’s long hair began to sway in front of his eyes and back against his cheeks. When the arc of his swing was large enough, Hiro braced himself and grabbed onto the clip connecting the rope to his harness. Timing it and praying to the Gods, he yelled as he unclipped himself from the rope mid-arc and was sent flying towards the mouth of the cave.
As the cool, damp air inside the cave ran over his fur, chilling him a little, he leaned forwards and hit the ground of the cave in a deft combat roll. The force managed to push him through two full rotations before he let go, flopping onto his back and staring up at the stalactite-laden ceiling. A little out of puff, Hiro remained on the cold, wet ground for a couple of minutes to catch his breath. Soon he forced himself back onto his feet and unstrapped his harness, freeing his clean-yet-worn clothing from its constraints. His shortsword, clasped and locked to his upper thigh, had not fallen out of the sheath, though his long-barrelled pistol had come loose from its holster, fortunately getting caught on one of the buckles of his harness and keeping it from falling into the sea.
Hiro mumbled to himself while patting himself down, checking that he had everything he had come in with and dusting himself off. He was almost shocked when he heard Lunaria grunt and land behind him, but he had misplaced the foresight that would have warned him to move out of her way. The wolfess threw his legs out from under him in the middle of her own roll, causing Hiro to cry out and fall back onto the floor as she flopped on her back a few feet away.
Hiro’s back ached as he got back to his feet. With a light groan, he stepped over to Lunaria and offered her a hand to stand back up. It drew a laugh from his partner.
“What? You don’t like seeing me on my back anymore?” she asked, reaching up to take his hand. He grunted and smiled as he hoisted her back onto her feet and helped her loosen her harness.
“Too many clothes on for me to truly appreciate it,” Hiro replied, blushing lightly while his partner and effectively his owner patted his shoulder.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said with a sly wink, tugging him by one of his lapels lightly. “Now get moving. We’ve got work to do and I’d like to be gone within the hour.” Hiro nodded and started walking behind the white-furred wolf, noting a pair of tightly-packed sacks strapped to her shoulder blades for carrying treasure. If the loot was small, then they would take it back themselves. If it was too big for the two of them, they would fill the sacks and take them back to the crown as proof, warranting a much larger search from the royal navy.
The tunnels weren’t hard to traverse; it looked as though they had been strategically blasted and then built for the purpose of storage or community. It was cold in there. Hiro could see his breath like the coarse, heavy smoke of a cigar in front of his muzzle. The constant dripping sound of calcium-heavy liquid matched his footsteps in time, accompanied by the wading slosh of the canal running parallel to the ground they were walking on, a watery path for dinghies and rowboats to follow. As far as they knew, the best way to find the loot would be to follow the water.
“This is a pretty expansive hideaway,” Lunaria commented. “I reckon these guys aren’t much for ‘X marks the spots’ and treasure maps.”
“Looks like they had a bit of a credo going,” Hiro replied.
“A credo?” Lunaria asked. “Like, a motto?”
Hiro slumped one shoulder. “‘Home is where your stolen hat is.” Lunaria laughed and clapped him on the back, almost knocking the grey wolf straight over again. He smiled back and the pair kept walking. It didn’t take them long to find the main cavern after that. The tunnel they were tracking along the canal soon came to an end, and the mouth opened into a massive cavern with a ceiling over a hundred feet high. The room was immense, as was the prize plainly contained within. Hiro’s eyes widened as he stared at the sky high pile of gold and treasure in the centre of the cavern like an island in the middle of the open canal. There were a pair of boats on the canal, empty spares for going down to the mouth of the cave again. Hiro wasn’t enjoying the possibility.
“Look at all this!” Lunaria exclaimed. She ran towards the mound of stolen loot with her tail swishing excitedly before jumping into the water of the canal and starting to climb up the golden mountain. Gold coins and artefacts started to fall with a beautiful jingling noise down the pile to the bottom, splashing as they sunk to the bottom of the canal. “This is more than I’ve ever seen in my life! How did they amass this much?”
Hiro stepped up to the edge of the tunnel and let his eyes wander around the pile, taking note of some very choice looking artefacts. “No honour among thieves,” he called up to her. “They probably started monopolising off of other crews’ successes and robbed their own kind. This pile could be up to fifty percent of pirate riches collected in the past century.”
Lunaria squealed excitedly, her eyes gleaming. “We hit the jackpot!” she yelled, so loud that her excitement bounced off the walls and echoed down the tunnels. “We take some of this back to England and then send the navy back to collect the rest. We’ll be heroes for this! And we can ransom the location, too. Get a share. Ten percent- no, even five percent of this would be enough to live well for the rest of our lives! Do you want the mansion to be painted white or black? Oh, who cares? We can get one of each!” She started laughing, picking up handfuls of gold and throwing it up into the air to splash into the canal and scatter across the already treasure-laden cavern floor. Hiro smiled, relishing her happiness.
Lunaria turned around and slid down the mountain, spreading more gold all over the room. “We’ll take one sack of doubloons,” she said, taking the compressed sacks off of her back and handing one to Hiro. “You pack away a few ornaments. A statue or a candlestick or two, something to show that this isn’t just all coins.” Hiro nodded and leapt over the canal, landing deftly on the pile. As Lunaria started shovelling gold into her sack, Hiro popped his open and started looking for the more choice ornaments. He grabbed a candelabra, a horse statue, a sacrificial knife, and a large bottle of assorted precious gems, placing them into the bag with care.
It was then that he saw something truly special. A treasure of the far east, a solid gold statue of the god-man, the Buddha sat meditating under a silver Bodhi tree, wrapped in the fabled snake, also made of gold. Hiro smiled and climbed up the mountain to get closer, taking hold of the Buddha’s head and tugging. It didn’t move, however; Hiro guessed that half of the statue was buried under the gold. So, he pulled harder, resting the sack down on the mound to pull with both hands. He strained and grunted trying to move the statue, even shovelling coins out from under it to reduce the weight. When he dug down an extra few inches, he pulled again.
Then, something clicked, and the Buddha statue came loose. Hiro fell backwards, crying out before he stopped, the statue in his hands catching something and becoming fixed in the air. Hiro looked at the statue, then beyond. He gasped at the sight of the iron bar fixed to the statue, the end of which was hidden within the mountain. Something else clicked, loudly, and the sound of something whirring was heard above the water.
“Hiro?” Lunaria asked. “What’s that noise?” Hiro looked down at the wolfess, then back at the statue, a sense of dread filling his heart as the whirring sound got louder.
“Uh-oh,” he said, letting go of the bait statue and carefully picking up the treasure-laden sack and tying a knot in it while trying to track the source of the whirr. When the realisation hit him, he turned around and threw himself down the mountain towards Lunaria. “Booby trap!”
“Wait, what?” Lunaria exclaimed, but before she could go on Hiro had grabbed her by the arm, yanking her away from the mountain of gold and towards the exit. The whirring got even louder and louder and louder as Hiro practically threw Lunaria and his sack of treasure into one of the rowboats on the canal. He leapt inside himself and the pair picked up the oars, quickly paddling away from the whirring pile of gold.
The whirring sound stopped, and then the treasure dinged, and exploded.
Gold coins and ornaments were thrown across the entire cavern by the massive explosion, fiery plumes being thrown every which way from the heart of the room. “Hiro!” Lunaria asked, continuing to paddle down the canal as the sound of the horrific explosion echoed along the tunnel walls. The force of the explosion sent a large wave down the water in the stream that picked up the boat behind them and sent it hurtling into the wall, crushing it against the stone. The pair of them paddled feverishly along the canal. The rumbling of the explosion caused stalacmites to become dislodged, shattering on the banks either side of their boats. Rocks and boulders were dislodged off the walls and ceiling all around them, sealing off the cavern as the roof inside collapsed, burying the treasure forever.
The wave behind them soon caught up to them and picked up their vessel. Hiro yelled as the force of the water snapped his oar in two, but they didn’t need the oar anymore. As the explosions in the central cavern continued, fire rushing down the tunnels only to be killed by the damp air and walls, the wave that their boat was riding was thrown further along the tunnel.
“We’re gonna make it,” Lunaria yelled. “We’re gonna make it!” Hiro, however, was not so convinced. He cried out as he saw the canal careen sharply right up ahead, leaving them nothing but a wall to be crushed against.
“The oar!” he yelled, grabbing Lunaria’s paddle from her hands and quickly holding onto it and plunging the wide face into the water to act as a rudder. The boat changed direction and veered to the right, just as the force of the wave picked up even more and pushed them down even faster. The side of the boat scraped against the wall of the tunnel, causing sparks to fly off of the metal oar rest before the boat pulled away. The light from the end of the tunnel shone off the wet walls, and as the explosions subsided Hiro turned his head to face the daylight.
The water spat the pair of them and their boat out of the tunnel, and the pair of them barely managed to hold onto their seats. Both of them were screaming as the boat flew several yards out into the open water, before the boat started to descend again. The salty sea water sprayed all over Hiro’s face and chest as the boat crashed onto the surface. Its body creaked and cracked near the rim, but otherwise held firm, the force of the explosion and the wave carrying it further away from the island. Hiro could still hear the network of tunnels and caverns collapsing and crashing into themselves as a result of that violent explosion. ‘A mountain of gold built around a mountain of gunpowder,’ he realised. ‘It’s brilliant yet insane at the same time.’
“Whoa,” Lunaria said, finally breaking the tense silence and drawing Hiro’s eye. “That… was… intense.” She was flustered, struggling to catch her breath, as was he.
“Tell me about it,” Hiro replied, the stress and relief of having almost been blown to bits and crushed by falling rocks catching up to him and causing him to start laughing quietly.
“See?” Lunaria asked him. She leaned forwards and patted him on the shoulder. “Told you we’d be alright. And we got these!” She held up both sacks of treasure, hers considerably heavier and fuller than his. “We can take these back, get the navy sent down here and have them dig out the rest. Won’t be our problem!” Then, after a moment of thought, she untied his sack and reached inside to take out the bottle full of precious gems. “And I suppose the crown doesn’t need to know about this one…”
Hiro laughed louder, smiling in relief and leaning in to kiss Lunaria on the cheek. He looked at her fondly, and she looked back at him. Then, with a flash of colour rising in his cheeks, Hiro leaned over the edge of the boat and vomited into the water as the sea sickness overcame him. His pained retching drew even more sardonic laughter from his white-furred partner.
“I knew you got seasick!” she said, jabbing him accusingly.
Hiro limply raised a middle finger to her and retched again. “F-fuck… you…” was all he was able to say in his queasiness.
Lunaria leaned back and admired the bottle of gems with a wide grin on her face. “Wash the vomit out of your mouth and then we’ll talk,” she remarked, smirking as the pair continued to drift on the surface of the wide, boundless ocean. “I just have to wonder what kind of pirate would be insane enough to blow up their entire bounty rather than let someone else get their hands on it…”
Meanwhile, as the final rumbles of the explosion died under the ground, a solitary figure stood on the edge of the cliff. Her heavy clothing and weapons jangled together metallically as she stooped down to inspect the spikes that had been hammered into the soil. She pulled on one of the ropes gently, feeling no weight on the end of it. The pirate stood and stared into the distance, spotting one small boat drifting away from the island and towards the open, blank horizon. The blue husky stared at the boat, watching it slink away. With a pop, the rum bottle in her hand was uncorked, and the lip was brought to her lips to take a deep swig of its sweet, spicy ambrosia. Heavy propellors beat and chopped behind her as her valiant airship hovered, unmoving, waiting for its captain.
While the crew of the Great Beater idly waited, Rain simply uttered:
I'm back, bitches! New story comin' at yo' faces! Back in the world of Æther Shanties, we rejoin Hiro and Lunaria two years later with new weapons, new careers, and new stories!
Hiro © me!
Featuring special guest, Rain © Blysse