The High Seasby Katharine Frost
Entire Fiction (2003)
I always sort of wondered what happened in the years between Faris' disappearance and her encounter with Butz and the others. I mean, of course she went through all that crap of disguising herself, but what happened after that? She had to have some neat pirating adventures, didn't she? Didn't she?
This story deals little with the events of Final Fantasy 5 itself. It is a backstory for my favorite character. The spoilers in it don't go beyond the first hour or so of the game, and it is not entirely necessary to have played all the way through the game to read this story. It's just an adventure with a bit of farce and romance that happens to star Faris.
Oh, and a note: I first played FF5 through its ROM version and not through the Anthology. Faris' accent, in the Anthology, is nothing short of horrid. So I'm sticking with her normal voice, not that "D'arr! Ahoy, landlubber!" garbage.
Remember, I love feedback! Tell me what you think -- it's nice to hear from other FF5 fans.
The ocean rippled in tiny waves, the seagulls flew overhead, cawing wildly. The sun was just peeking over the water, sending shafts of light across the entire ocean, and illuminating the face of a captain.
Faris stood out on the prow of her ship, a wide smile spreading across her tanned face as she looked out over the horizon. She bent down to look at the serpent-like monster that guided the vessel. "Do you see what I think I'm seein', Syldra?" she asked.
"Yeah," Faris said with an affectionate grin, "you see it, too. You know what to do. Go faster, Syldra."
Sailing just into view was a cargo ship from Karnak, the Fire Ship itself. No doubt it was loaded up with the finest weapons and materials to be found, ready to be sold in Karnak's shops. Faris turned around and called to the men on the deck. "Raise the flags!"
The men scrambled frantically, seeing the ship off in the distance. "Gash!" Faris shouted. "Roberts! Creck! Get movin' and tell the rowers to speed it up! The Fire Ship's just a few minutes away!"
Gash, a young man nicknamed for the bloodied scar along his jawline, beamed at his captain. "Aye, sir! Rich with plunder for the taking!"
Faris dashed off the prow and grabbed her scope -- a long, golden apparatus stolen five months earlier from an explorer's ship. Through the glass, she could see the deck of the Fire Ship, which was operating normally. "They don't even see us," she whispered to herself. "Queen Karnak'll want my head on one of her torches after I'm through with her ship!"
She turned around. Roberts, her first mate, was standing in front of her. "Captain," he said breathlessly. "Is that ... the Fire Ship?"
"It is, Roberts," she replied. "And you know, I've heard rumors that the famed inventor, Cid, has been on that ship before. And he's got maps of everything, so we can steal 'em if they're there and find our way to places that we didn't even know existed."
"Like Caedus?" Roberts asked eagerly. His eyes were bright with greed. "My papa used to say that it had caves filled with ancient kings' gold and dead queens' jewels, more than anyone could possibly imagine."
Faris frowned. "Aw, Roberts, that's a myth. Caedus is just a kids' story. But I want to know where Crescent is; there's tales of black chocobos that live there. Such rare creatures'd fetch a fine price." She looked over her shoulder. "For now, though, we storm the Fire Ship. I'll put you in charge of findin' Cid's maps."
"Aye, sir!" Roberts ran to port, where the rest of the men were poised to leap onto the Fire Ship when they came alongside it. Faris picked up her scope again. Now the Fire Ship was frenzied with activity, but it was too late. Her ship was gaining on them too quickly for them to escape.
The side of the two ships scraped together. "Move out!" Faris shouted, and the men pulled out their knives and began attacking. Faris drew her long sword and leapt onto the Fire Ship, knocking a Karnak officer aside as she did it.
"Make it quick, men, 'ere help comes for them!" she cried as she ran.
She quickly forced her way into the lower decks, where her men were quickly looting the ship of the fine swords and shields it carried. She didn't concern herself with that, knowing they'd get all there was to steal. Instead, she made her way to the ship's study. Roberts was already there, sifting through papers.
"Did you find anything of value?" she demanded.
"Not yet," he said. "Should I just take it all and look through it later?"
"Course!" Faris stepped forward and started to gather the various documents up in her arms, stuffing them into the pockets of her long coat as she did so. "You never know what you'll find in these things!"
"Precisely," came a voice from behind them.
Faris whirled around. Leaning on the study's doorway was a tall man with long, dark brown hair and liquid black eyes. He was dressed in a black coat similar to hers, his hands were gloved, and he carried a long, curved blade.
"You're shorter than I expected," he said finally.
Faris flared up with anger. "Who the hell are you?"
The man chuckled. "Captain Faris, I presume?" He extended his hand, then brought it back when Faris didn't shake it. "It's an honor to meet a man so widely-known as yourself, even if you are somewhat lacking in courtesy."
"Why, you arrogant..."
He sighed heavily, cutting her off. "Perhaps I should introduce myself. I am Sargil. Maybe you have heard of me?"
Faris inhaled deeply. Of course she'd heard of him. Sargil, captain of the Scourge, the most dreaded pirate ship in the world. Her eyes narrowed. "Why are you here?" she asked sharply.
"I'll admit Karnak's weapons are as lovely as they are strong, but I can't say they're what brought me here." He looked over Faris' shoulder, at Roberts. "No," he said slowly, "I've got other reasons." Quick as lightning, Sargil jumped past her and grabbed at a paper on the desk.
Instinctively, Faris reached for it, tugging on it. It tore in half, and she jammed the paper into her coat. She looked up at him defiantly and brought her sword up to his chin. "Get out of here now," she said through gritted teeth.
"Captain Faris, really..."
"Now," she repeated. "You'd do best to follow my orders, Captain Sargil, or you'll be pushed into the sea. No one steps on my territory without paying for it, and you'll be lucky to get out with your life."
"All right," Sargil conceded, cautiously stepping away from the blade which threatened to graze his skin. "What I have should be enough."
"No. Give me what you took," she ordered, motioning with her sword.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," he said softly. "You see..." He made an inarticulate gesture with his hands, then his leg flared up and kicked her sword out of her hands. He tripped her leg and sent her careening to the ground. "It's quite valuable," he finished. Roberts gazed in open-mouthed shock.
Sargil walked towards the door and stopped, his back to the two pirates. "Oh, and Captain Faris, I'll be back for the rest of that map, if it turns out be something I need." With that, he was gone.
"Map?" she wondered aloud, fingering the crumpled paper in her pocket. Faris sat up, her ego more bruised than her body. "Goddamn bastard," she cursed. Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to strangle Sargil until he begged her for mercy.
"Captain, are you all right?" Roberts asked.
"Fine," she replied.
Faris sat in her quarters after nightfall. The day's plunder had been good, providing the ship with nearly a second arsenal of fire-forged weapons and armor. The papers Roberts had taken had been relatively useless -- a bunch of scientific nonsense she didn't care about. She unfolded the crumpled map and placed it on her desk, smoothing it out with her hands.
It was old, crumbling apart at the edges. She could see why it had torn so easily. The picture was easy to make out, though -- it was mostly sea, with a bit of land jutting out from where the paper had torn. An arrow pointed to one section of the land, labelled IVORY SHORE. There was also a crude drawing of a cave north of the arrow. Faris frowned to herself. Ivory Shore? She had never heard of it.
A knock came at the door. "Captain?"
"Come in," she said, without looking up. It was Gash, she recognized his voice. "What is it, Gash?" she asked after hearing the door creak open.
"We've a prisoner."
Faris looked up. Behind Gash was a woman about nineteen or twenty, a couple years younger than Faris herself, dressed in the robes of Karnak's court. Her light-blue eyes were watery, her lower lip was pale and trembling.
"What should I do with 'er? Kill her?" Gash asked.
"Leave her with me," Faris commanded, giving the girl what she hoped was a passably lecherous glance. "I'll take care of this business."
"Aye, sir." Gash winked and left.
"If you hurt me I swear you'll die," the woman said quickly. "My father is a knight to Queen Karnak and he won't rest until he sees whatever you do to me avenged. He'll rip out your guts and laugh while he does it, I promise you he will."
"Calm down, miss," Faris said dryly. She had dealt with situations like this a hundred times; they were all part of her fašade. "What's your name?"
"Are you deaf, miss, or just simple-minded?"
The girl looked at Faris grudgingly. "It's Asra."
"Can you row, Asra?" Faris asked.
"What? Can I..." Asra looked stunned. "Yes, I can row."
"All the way back to Karnak?"
Asra nodded, a bit uncertain. "Yes."
Faris lifted an eyebrow and pointed meaningfully towards the corner. "Then sit there and wait until the night is full. Then you may have one of my boats to row yourself back to your home. If you make a sound, or disturb me in any way, then I may change my mind about your fate. Do you understand?"
Asra went to sit in the corner, drawing her knees up to her chest. She wore an expression of tired and wondrous relief. "Yes, sir! Thank you. You are kinder than Sargil, Captain Faris."
Faris paused. "Sargil? How do you know Sargil?"
"I came from his ship," Asra replied. "The Scourge."
"You're not from the Fire Ship?"
"No," Asra said bitterly. "You see, I am an assistant to Professor Cid, Karnak's inventor. You likely recognize his name. Cid is a collector of ancient artifacts, including maps. Sargil is looking for one map in particular. He raided the Sacred Library four nights ago, and was furious when the map was nowhere to be found. He took me with him and kept me locked up until I told him that most of Cid's things were on the Fire Ship. When they attacked it, I jumped ship ... and was captured by your men." A bemused smile crossed her face. "What luck I have."
"What map was Sargil looking for?" Faris questioned.
Asra wrinkled her nose. "That's the strangest part. I thought at first he was joking, but was completely serious."
Faris felt an odd, sinking feeling in her stomach. She stared back at the fragment of a map on her desk. "Why? What was it?"
"He kept asking for the map of Caedus."
Faris, standing on her usual place on the prow, watched Asra row away with a sick, stirring feeling in her stomach. We could have been friends, she thought good-naturedly, if she didn't think I wanted to kill her.
She sat down and looked up at the stars, which were burning in the heavens, turning in slow rhythm. She knew them all well, had all their places memorized as if the starscape had been permanently seared into her memory. Suddenly, she felt as if she was all alone in the world, as if nothing existed but her, the stars, and black oblivion.
It's true in a way, she mused. I have my men, but to them I am someone else. Nobody knows the real Faris...
A wave kicked up below, and she peered down. Syldra was there, his eyes shining blackly in the darkness. They seemed comically angry, as if he was reminding her of his presence. He opened his mouth and cried out.
"Except you, Syldra," she amended aloud. Not for the first time, she wondered how deep the monster's power ran. Sometimes she swore he could hear her thoughts and know exactly what was troubling her.
He disappeared into the sea again, his scales glistening in the blue-black water of the deep ocean.
She untied her hair, letting her long violet locks fly in the wind and whip about her face. Her thoughts turned from her own situation to the map that lay on her desk. Caedus, home to the caves of gold. She doubted the map was actually of that legendary island, but ... if Sargil wanted it, then it was of value.
"All right, men," Faris shouted in the morning. "Listen up! We're heading north, to the uncharted waters. We need to be movin' quickly, so you rowers, double your efforts! Keep your eyes out for the Scourge, and don't get scared if Captain Sargil's men attack us! If you see anythin' out of the ordinary, report to me immediately!"
The men did a sloppy salute, "Yes, sir!" they shouted in unison.
Gash walked up to her. "Captain, sir, what's going on? I thought we were searchin' for Crescent, an' everyone knows that's somewhere in the south seas. What's this stuff about the uncharted waters?"
"Change of plans, Gash," she said smoothly. "We'll be fine."
The boy frowned, disconcerted. "We ain't liable to wind up in the Graveyard?"
"Of course not!" Faris admonished him. "Syldra'll steer us clear of there."
Gash smiled lightly, but his face was still troubled. "And what about Captain Sargil? He ain't respectful of his own kind, or so I've heard. He'd have no qualms 'bout slitting all of our throats."
"I guess we'll have to slit his first, then," Faris replied sharply.
Gash's face twisted into a dour, pained scowl. "Why're you takin' such risks, Captain?" he asked boldly. "What's Sargil after; what's makin' you chase him?"
Faris shook her head, then leaned closer to him to whisper. "Sargil thinks he knows how to find Caedus," she said softly. "And I got half his map of the island."
Gash's eyes lit up with pleasant, childlike surprise. A little shocked, Faris realized that he truly was a child; Gash, for all his tough words and swordsman's skills, was no more than fifteen or sixteen years of age. "Caedus?" Gash asked with awe. "And you think it's true, sir?"
"I don't know what to think," Faris admitted. "And though the map might not lead to Caedus, it sure leads to something."
"Yeah," Gash agreed. "Hopefully somethin' big!" His eyes lit up, dreaming of gold and rubies. He saluted her, then ran off to help the others sort through the takings from the Fire Ship.
By late afternoon that day, everyone on the ship had heard about the map and Caedus. Faris had heard them talking excitedly to each other, repeating the tales about an ancient castle's worth of gold, silver and rubies. The rowers had made excellent time during the day, and the ship had made it to Tule, where Faris and her men had decided to stay for the night. It was better than running the risk of being attacked by the Scourge while it was dark.
Faris, Roberts, and a squat little man named Creck were in the town's pub, along with most of the other pirates. Women were dancing up on stage while the old piano-player banged out his off-key, upbeat tunes. Faris was bored and feeling quite a bit dizzy from ale; Roberts and Creck were staring open-mouthed at the dancers.
"I'm going to sleep," she announced, standing up. Roberts and Creck didn't reply; they were occupied with salivating and hollering.
Faris walked into her room -- though her mates shared, she always insisted on a private chamber -- and flopped down on the bed. She stared up at the ceiling, feeling her eyelids grow heavy.
Faris rolled over to see who had spoken, and she nearly fell on the floor when she saw the man's face. She'd expected Roberts, maybe Gash. But the person in the doorway wasn't a member of her crew.
"Captain Sargil?" she gasped. "What the hell, you keep appearing out of nowhere ... get out!" She jumped up and grabbed her sword, tiredly aiming it at him while she tottered a few steps forward.
"Put that down, Faris!" Sargil hissed. "Give me some integrity. I won't fight a fellow man of the sea, especially one as famed as yourself." He smiled genuinely, showing all of his teeth. "In fact, I have a proposal for you."
Wakefulness washed over her in gigantic waves as she grew more aware of what was happening. She fought to stay alert. "What's that?" she asked.
"Join me. I know Asra told you everything, why I'm sailing into uncharted waters, what my intentions are. It won't do us any good to compete against each other. Uncharted waters are dangerous, and we could both use the extra reinforcements, should something happen. We'll use both of our maps, and we find Caedus together."
Faris looked at him slyly. "No tricks?"
"Never," he promised.
"How about what we find? How do we split it?"
"Fifty-fifty. Straight down the middle."
"Shake on it," she said, extending her hand. He shook it firmly. "I may be half-asleep right now," she warned, "but I know you said fifty-fifty, and I've a good memory. If you try to cheat me, Sargil, I swear I'll kill you."
"All right," he conceded. He took a step back and glared at her. "And the same goes for you, Faris."
"I won't cheat you."
He threw his head back and laughed loudly and quickly. "Oh ... though it might be foolish of me, I believe you. You won't cheat me." He lifted an eyebrow. "But you'll kill me, right?"
"Only if I think it necessary," Faris retorted.
"Then I'll try not to let that happen," Sargil said dryly. He tipped his hat at her and left the room. She could hear his jaunty footfalls as he raced down the stairs.
Faris' brow furrowed in confusion as she stared at the empty doorway -- he had sounded almost ... amused. She decided to keep her guard up; even though he was her ally, she didn't trust him. There was something about his manner, his attitude, that made her think he was fooling her.
"Ye did what?" Roberts exclaimed. "Have you gone crazy, Captain?"
Faris was annoyed. "Keep your voice down," she whispered, glancing around the bar. It was empty and hollow-feeling in the morning. "I agreed to join up with Captain Sargil, that's all. You're actin' like I just said I wanted to run the ship into the Graveyard."
"But, Captain! He's a murderer; some say he's killed hundreds," Roberts contended nervously. "How are you to know he doesn't plan to kill us all after we get to wherever damned place that Caedus is at?"
"I don't," Faris said simply. "And those tales about Captain Sargil are probably just as overblown as the ones about me."
"Ye must've drunk more than I thought," Roberts muttered grudgingly.
A little smile came to Faris' face. "What was that?"
She grinned and clapped him heartily on the back. "Oh, come now, where's your sense of adventure? You were the one who always used to say that a man who's scared to die isn't cut out to be a pirate, Roberts, so why are you turnin' yellow?"
"I ain't doin' nothin' of the sort!" he protested. "I ain't yellow."
"That's what I thought," Faris said with approval.
Gash rushed in, nearly tripping in his haste. His expression was one of horror and bewilderment. "Captain!" he shouted breathlessly. "Sargil's men are boarding our ship, and they're tryin' to confuse us, sayin' they're supposed to be there."
"They are supposed to be there," Faris said patiently, inwardly sighing. It was going to be a long day. She looked at Gash's poor, confused face, and suddenly burst into laughter. Gash looked at her, mystified.
"I'm glad to see you're in high spirits, Captain Faris," came a voice from behind her.
Faris whirled around. Sargil was standing poised in the door in the pub, a cocky, smug little smile crossing his face. "I should've made an addition to the agreement -- that we should stay out of each other's way," Faris snapped.
"Now that's unkind," Sargil chided. "Especially since I did not insult you. I came to ask you, Captain, if you would like to see the Scourge. Come and set sail with us today, I should like to show my vessel off."
"I have to command my own ship, thank you."
Sargil pointed at Roberts. "He is your first mate. He can do it."
Faris glanced at Roberts, then back at Sargil, then at Roberts again. "Will you command today, then?"
She faced Sargil again. "Then I will come."
"Good. See you at the shore." He left, swishing his cape as he did so.
Faris leaned close to Roberts. "Watch his men," she whispered in a low, secret tone. "Don't be afraid to fight them if they try anything, and make sure that they are bein' observed at all times."
She paused, then smiled to herself. "And don't forget to feed Syldra on time. He gets crabby if his breakfast's late."
Faris was admittedly impressed with the Scourge. The ship boasted a crew three times the size of her own. She looked up at the sails, which were infamous, and synonymous with treachery -- black crosses on a red background. Staring up at them, she felt as if she were dealing with the devil.
"What do you think, Captain?" Sargil asked her.
"There's no need to call me Captain," she said irritably. "I will call you Sargil if you call me Faris. And it's a wonderful ship."
He grinned affably. "Okay, Faris. Now that we're friends, I must attend to business. Come below decks with me and we'll put the maps together."
"A little fast, don't you think?"
"Not when there's treasure at stake," he said seriously. He led her down the stairs. It was as dark and miserable as it was on her own ship, but torches lit the corridors, making things a bit brighter. Sargil's room was at the end, separated into two areas by a large wooden partition.
He pushed open the door and led her to a large table, scattered with charcoal and paper and other instruments of cartography. The room was nicely lit, and Faris could easily see the other half of the map she had torn, effectively pinned flat to the surface of the table. This piece was mostly land, a crude diagram of an island. A large black X marked the top corner of the land mass.
"What are you waiting for?" Sargil asked.
Slowly, she lifted the other half from her pocket and unfurled it, pinning it alongside its counterpart. Together, the entire picture showed the island of Caedus -- if that was truly what it was -- and a few surrounding islands.
Sargil pointed to a small formation of land in the southwest corner. "See that isthmus?"
"Aye," Faris said hesitantly. "Mountainous, it is. Probably to the northeast of here, close to Lix or the Wind Shrine."
"And the Graveyard."
Faris frowned, then smiled amusedly. "Don't tell me you believe in the powers of the Graveyard, Sargil. It has no more ability to draw ships into itself than I've to turn water in wine."
"I know what I have seen," he said, resolute.
"You can't possibly-" she protested.
"I have been inside it."
"Inside the Graveyard?" Faris blinked. Surely he was lying, perhaps trying to frighten her? She shot him a doubtful glance. "Well, if it's true, I'll never be dragged into the Graveyard. I won't let it take me."
Sargil laughed coldly. "Once it resolves to take you, Faris, there is no other course of action. We'll steer clear of it. I won't see the Scourge in ruins, and I am sure you love your ship equally."
She stared at him in quiet disbelief, then shook her head, focusing once more on the section of the map they were studying. "From that isthmus, if we find it, we should easily be able to navigate our way to Caedus. It should only take a few days to arrive."
A sardonic smile crossed Sargil's lips. "And who knows what perils await us there."
The next few days passed in a blur of routine and excitement. Faris returned to her won ship, allowing Sargil to tour it briefly. She followed behind the Scourge, allowing it to blaze the trail. Syldra became easily accustomed to tracking the larger ship, and Faris was content to wait.
She needed time to think. Her crew was jubilant at the prospect of finding Caedus and the treasure that was rumored to be the largest in the world, but she couldn't shake the odd sense of foreboding that seemed to be gripping her. It dealt with Caedus, but also with Sargil and the Scourge. Faris still didn't trust him; his manner was too quick and his smile too easy for her liking.
They first saw it four days into the journey, near dusk. Gash was staring through the scope, scanning aimlessly over the waters, when a large slab of pure white rock came in focus. He shouted for Faris and she came scrambling up the prow.
She looked herself. "The Ivory Shore," she said in a reverent half-whisper. "That's it. It has to be." She paused a moment to breathe, to make sure that the moment was actually real, then she raised her voice and rallied her men.
They assembled in a messy, excited cluster before her. Faris smiled briefly at the raw enthusiasm on their collective faces. Gash was surveying them proudly, pleased to have been the first to discover the island.
"Increase the speed as much as ye can," she ordered, moving her eyes severely. "I want anyone who's able and free to go down and help the rowers; don't let any tired men work at it. We'll dock there before dark and start explorin' in the morning." Despite her commanding tone, Faris couldn't help but be eager. The response was a resounding cheer as the men scurried off, anxious to make it to Caedus before dark.
Faris resigned herself to her quarters, tired and nervous. Caedus was not only legendary for its gold and jewels, but also for its vicious beasts. She would leave the greater portion of her men on ship until she discovered just how dangerous the island was. The stories of insects as large as people and of serpents as long as a league seemed exaggerated, but so had the existence of Caedus itself.
She sighed and sat down before her mirror, on the wooden crate that served as her chair. Her reflection caught in the glass, and she scowled in disdain. You barely look like yourself anymore, she thought bitterly.
As was her ritual nearly every night, she took down her hair and let it hang over her shoulders. She brushed the charcoal out of her eyebrows and removed the pale powder that made her lips bloodless and masculine. She examined her reflection again and smiled bitterly.
As she changed into her sleeping-clothes, the ship jerked and then stilled, signifying that they had docked. "Good," she breathed softly, half-conscious. She doused the light and went to sleep.
Then the door swung open.
"Captain Faris, we should set out a course for travelling tomorrow. I thought that perhaps we should consult the maps and ..." Sargil's voice trailed off as he came into view. "What the...?"
Faris sat up straight in her bed, clutching her blankets and furs against her throat. She was greeted by Sargil's sword at her neck.
Sargil held up his candle with his free hand and blinked in confusion. His eyes were narrow and suspicious. "Where's Captain Faris? Who the hell are you?" he asked.
Her mind scrambled, searching for something -- anything -- to say. "Oh ... well ... h-he ... he went out to examine the island before they set off tomorrow."
"Faris never said anything about keeping a woman."
"Oh ... uh ..." She couldn't think of anything to say.
"Um ... I don't know why he would not have mentioned me. Perhaps he thought it inconsequential," she said, keeping her voice light and steady. She looked down at her hands, avoiding his gaze.
Sargil brought back his sword, returning it to its place. "Perhaps." His face relaxed into a grin. "What's your name, then?"
"It's ... it's ... it's A-Amiria." It was the first thing she could think of -- the name of a woman Roberts had brought aboard once, two or three years before.
He stepped forward. "Well, Amiria, I suppose my business will have to wait. Will you tell Captain Faris to meet with me tomorrow at dawn? On the shore, of course."
Please leave, please leave, Faris prayed. "I shall tell him," she said aloud.
Sargil regarded her for a moment, then smirked. "Be sure that you do." He lifted an eyebrow; there was a strange white glimmer in his eyes. "Sorry to have disturbed your sleep, Amiria."
He turned around and was gone. Faris waited to hear her door close, then flopped back down on her bed in frustration, berating herself for having complicated things.
Sargil was already waiting on the shore when she got to him, dressed once more in the regalia of a male pirate captain. Behind her back, she wrung her hands, trying to quell her anxiety.
"I thought that perhaps you hadn't gotten my message," Sargil greeted dryly.
Faris looked at him, suddenly intimidated. He was, after all, nearly a head taller. "Have you been waiting long?" she asked sardonically.
"Not really," he said squarely. "I hear you went exploring last night."
"From whom?" she asked, feigning innocence.
"Your woman. Amiria."
"She's quite striking."
"Oh ... yes. Yes, of course."
Sargil's mouth quirked into a little smile. "But we really should concern ourselves with the matter at hand." He knelt down in the white sand and produced the map, tracing his fingers over it. "We'll go along through this section, then through the mountain pass, and then to this forest. Beyond there is the cave where the treasure is supposed to be."
"I am only bringing a few men with me," Faris said. "Roberts and Gash and a couple others. There is no need to jeopardize more."
"I was thinking the same thing," Sargil said. "I only asked three to come along with me."
Faris nodded. "Go and get them, then. We'll regroup here in a moment." She glared at him. "And bring your sword. You may need it."
"I never go anywhere without it," he said.
Faris and Sargil led the pack of nine, both of them hacking through vines and pieces of rotting wood, blazing a trail for the men behind them. Nobody spoke; everyone was intent on their purpose and saw little reason for pointless palaver.
Faris was thinking as she cut through the brush. They had entered a forested section of the path, and there was something very strange about it. The woods seemed to be alive, breathing, as if they were sentient. She shivered, feeling an aura of malevolence around her.
"Captain?" came Gash's voice from behind her.
"Do you ... do you hear something?"
She stopped and listened. The others halted around her. At first she heard nothing, but soon she heard what Gash was talking about -- a faint, almost inaudible rustling, snakelike and ominous.
"What is that?" one of Sargil's men whispered.
"Quiet," Faris growled. She spun on her heels and looked around, unable to find the source of the sound. Slowly, carefully, she took a step forward, drawing her sword as she did it.
She turned to face them. "I don't-" Then she saw it, a strange green coil hovering over Gash's head. She ran and pushed her sword into it. The weapon was instantly entangled, ripped out of her hands. She gaped in amazement -- a green arm, extending from a large tree, curling around her sword.
Faris yanked Sargil's sword out of its sheath and raised it it high. Her arms came down powerfully, severing the arm from the tree. It tumbled to the ground and they all backed away from it.
"Bloody hell," she cursed in disbelief. The plant's arm was still twitching wildly on the ground, not quite dead. She lunged forward and stabbed it with Sargil's sword, and it ceased to move. "Did that really just happen?" she asked breathily, retrieving her sword cautiously.
"Yeah," Gash said nervously. His face was devoid of color. "That thin' was alive."
Faris tossed Sargil's sword back to him with practiced ease, trying to mask how shaken she really was. She twined her trembling hands behind her back, fixing them together tightly. "Come on," she said. "Let's get goin'. I want to be out of here as quickly as possible."
She turned her head just in time to see a wide look come into Sargil's eyes. Without warning, he pushed her aside and struck blindly behind her, just as she felt an otherworldly sting touch her face. She tumbled to the ground and stared up in astonishment, reeling. Another one of the serpentine branches was coiling out, poised to strike them. Sargil attacked it viciously, striking again and again until the plant fell motionless.
The small pack of pirates grouped around Faris. She herself felt dizzy, as if the world were coming in and out of focus. She blinked a few times, but was no better off, and she could feel a familiar trickle down her face. She was bleeding. Through a haze, she saw Roberts turn to Sargil.
"Spirits, ye knocked 'im down pretty hard."
"The plant was about to get to him," Sargil defended.
"Still, ye should watch what you're ..."
One of Sargil's men intervened. "There is no point in arguing about this," he said, motioning to Faris. "We'd better get him out of here before any more of those ... things ... come back."
Faris felt her eyes closing. She fought to stay awake.
Gash turned to look at the twin branches, together on the ground. "What if those things have got, you know, poison in 'em?"
"I don't know," Sargil snapped. He bent down to look at her. "Captain Faris, Can you hear me?"
Faris nodded. "I ... I can ... talk okay," she added breathily.
"Can you stand?"
She drew her legs out and attempted to, but felt her legs go weak. Gash and Roberts were instantly at her sides, each one offering a hand to help her walk. She took them both and took a few tottering steps forward.
Sargil looked up at the sky, which was beginning to give way into night. "It's almost dark again. We'll make camp as soon as we get out of this cursed place."
Faris felt sick as they came out of the forest. Her head was spinning, and her stomach turned violently. She was thankful that she hadn't eaten much during the day; she doubted she could handle food.
"This oughta be a good place," Gash commented as he surveyed the small knoll of land at the break of the forest. "As good as any that can be found here, anyway."
Faris' response to this was to fall unconscious to the ground.
"It's bloody poison, I tell ya. I've seen 'im running around perfectly fine with worse wounds than that, many times. It's got to be poison."
"Yeah. Look at his face. It's all pale and green-looking."
"So what do we do?"
"Never dealt with poison before ... at least, not like this. None of us have seen plants like those that were back there."
"Try a normal antidote."
"Who's got one?"
Sounds of rummaging filled the air. Faris swam out of unconsciousness and tried to open her eyes, but was filled with a pain so exquisite it nearly knocked her out again. She could see nothing but blurry oblivion. She pursed her lips and listened to them talking -- Sargil and the others.
For the first time ever, she was afraid. Afraid of dying. She prided herself on her fearlessness, but, now that she was sick and weak, all her resolve disappeared.
"Here we go." She felt a hand on her cheek, on the place where the plant had stung her, rubbing in the healing balm. Its coolness sent a relaxing feeling through her body, and she felt suddenly like sleeping. She had heard that antidotes could do that.
When she came around again, she quickly assessed where she was -- in one of the crude tents they carried along with them. There was a fiery glint on the sides of it, signifying a fire outside, and she felt warm. She opened her eyes and saw Sargil's face staring down at her.
"It's about time," he remarked mildly. "I'm the fifth watch this evening."
Faris held a hand to her cheek and cringed.
There was no mistaking the pity that swept through his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
He nodded thoughtfully. "I expected as much. But your face has regained some of its color; I think the antidote will work."
"Good." She wished she could think of better things to say.
"You'd better put another antidote on the wound, just in case," he said, producing another one of the tiny bottles. She had turned to button her jacket when she felt it slip off her shoulders. "And it's too hot to wear that when you're poisoned."
She turned to see the cloak-like coat in Sargil's hands. "Give that back!" she shouted in panic, yanking it away from him. Underneath she wore plain leather clothes, ones that weren't loose enough to hide her figure. She pulled back the coat and threw it back on.
But it was too late. He looked closely at her face, his face wearing a guarded expression. His eyes ran over her skin, her hands, her mouth. "A-A-Amiria?"
"Faris is my name," she said grimly. She clenched her fists tightly beneath the blankets, ready to fight him if he tried to kill her.
He reached forward and brushed her eyebrow lightly, then looked at the telltale black smear that had come off on his hand. His face was shocked. "You ... you're a woman."
"How observant of you," she said bitterly.
He frowned slightly. "I would think that now is not the time to be sharp with me, Faris."
She bit her lip, drawing blood, and waited for him to speak. She didn't breathe, afraid that any sound might provoke him further. Beneath the blanket, her hands slid to her side. Her sword had been lifted from her when she'd fainted, but the small dagger she kept in her belt was still there. Her hand closed around it.
Sargil, meanwhile, was still at a loss. "I won't kill you," he said finally, noting her expression. "But I want you to explain yourself to me."
He grimaced and glared at her pointedly. "Because, Captain, I want to know why you're disguising yourself as a man, and how the hell you got away with it this far." A thought came to him. "Your men don't know, do they?"
"Of course not. They simply never think to question my gender. I mean, who would begin to suspect that I was anythin' but a man? I don't get them to remove my cloak on a regular basis, you know." Her voice was different -- higher, softer.
To her surprise, he smirked at her, but there was no cruelty in it. "But how did you become a pirate?"
Faris sighed heavily. "A ship found me washed ashore after a storm when I was five years old. I ... I don't remember anythin' before that. 'Twas Syldra that dragged me out of the water. When the ship brought me aboard, I was so muddy and waterlogged that one could barely tell if I was human or not. I lived there for a while, eight years, as a girl, then one day the Captain decided to send me to another ship. The night before I was to go, he called me and had all my hair cut off, and gave me a cloak kind of like the one I have now. He told me I had to pretend I was a boy, or else the other pirates wouldn't let me be on their ship. He told me to be careful, too." She frowned at the memory. "I accepted willingly enough, an' Syldra came with me. That's about it."
"How old are you?"
"I don't know. Twenty, maybe twenty-one."
"You've been disguised as a man for seven years?" he asked increduluosly.
"About that, yes."
There was a long, awkward stretch of silence. She looked at Sargil, whose face was curiously creased with something like indecision. "What about you?" she ventured in a soft, shaky voice.
"Why do you do it?"
"I was born a pirate."
"And you continue to do it, just because of that?"
He drew closer to her, absently twisting his hands in way that looked rather painful. His eyes grew unfocused with memory. "I grew up on my father's ship. I was young, but I learned quickly, and I made friends easily. All of my father's men loved me. It was from them that I learned how to pirate, and I was an eager pupil. I was happy," Sargil admitted.
Faris stirred and angled herself so she could look more clearly at his face, drawing her knees beneath her chin, but she didn't speak.
Sargil was staring blankly at nothingness, deep in the throes of memory. "When I was twelve we were caught in a storm. A squall, one so horrible that no one could see a hand's length in front of him if he strained for an hour. My father was steering, trying his best, but the ship was engulfed. Captured in the waves. The next morning, we were in the Graveyard. Half the men were already dead by then -- drowned, or lost at sea, or frozen. I ... I found my father's body slumped against the helm, his hands still gripping the wheel. I had to pry his fingers off." Sargil paused, then sighed heavily. "And I was the only one that lived through it."
She stared at him, wordless.
"So that's why I do it. I don't know if my successes make my father's death any easier to bear, but that's why I do it. It would be disgraceful of me to ignore what he had worked for, what he had died for. I cannot seem to forget him -- not his voice, nor his face."
"I'm sorry," she offered. It was all she could think of to say.
His manner suddenly turned cold. "I'll be leaving now," Sargil said curtly. He rose and was almost disappeared into the forest when her quiet, commanding voice drew him back.
He stopped, not facing her. "What?"
"You can't tell any of the others. You have to promise me."
Though her back was to her, she could sense the sardonic little smile on his face. "And if I don't?"
She withdrew the dagger from her belt in one sweeping motion and pressed it lightly into his back, just so he could feel the tip of the blade. "Then I'll kill you."
"You drive a hard bargain, Faris, woman or not. Very well, you have my word. I promise I won't tell your men."
"Or anyone else, at any time."
"Or anyone else, at any time. I promise," he added.
She pulled back the dagger and replaced it. "Fine," she said. "Go now."
He didn't go; instead, he knelt down over her. "There's one thing I forgot." He brought out the antidote and uncapped it, pouring the salve into his cupped hand. Then he lifted his palm to her cheek and began to rub it in, staring straight at her as he did it. Faris averted her eyes.
Sargil finished and threw away the bottle. He sat still for a moment, then tipped up her chin, gave into impulse, and kissed her lightly, briefly.
It was a strange, soft kiss, and Sargil realized that, considering her circumstances, it was likely her first. Faris was watching him with bewilderment. He smiled at her warmly, lowered his head slightly as if to nod to her, and stood up.
"Good night, Captain Faris."
Faris woke up in the morning feeling physically better. Her face had stopped its numb tingling, and the glaring red vision that came with poison seemed to have faded. Her head no longer ached, and her legs seemed to be able to stand once more.
Emotionally, however, she was confused. She was, of course, wary of Sargil, and a bit afraid that he wouldn't honor his promise. And she was also intrigued as to why he had allowed her a glimpse of his painful past, and even more mystified as to why he had kissed her. She almost wanted to turn around and go back to her ship.
Most of the men were already awake. Gash brightened when he saw her approaching them. "How're ye farin', Captain?" he asked with guarded concern.
She flashed a weak smile at him. "Better."
He was about to say something else when Sargil came striding into the group. He looked at her with a hint of a smile. "Good morning, Captain Faris."
"Good morning, Captain Sargil," she said evenly. Inwardly, she groaned. It was going to be a tiresome day.
The forest gave to way to a brief patch of red desert, and then to rocky terrain. If Faris hadn't known better, she would have thought she were walking on the strange grounds of dreams, so bizarre were the landscapes.
She was leading the group and could not see any of the others. Her face pulsed a little, and sometimes she idly scratched it bloody again, but that hardly concerned her. She was worried that the other men might sense something wrong -- the easy banter that normally flowed around them was conspicuously absent. At least in her own mind.
The air smelled like the sea, like an island. She trudged onward with a heavy heart, occasionally consulting the map. She wondered how the ship was doing, what the other pirates were thinking, and then she saw it -- a great, sharp peak cresting over the rocks. She glanced down at the map, and the formation was the same. A jagged edge sticking out over the water. She stopped.
One of Sargil's men, a pale, thin man with a missing ear, called out to her. "What's goin' on, Captain Faris?"
Instantly, Faris forgot about everything that was troubling her. "That's it!" she shouted, throwing her arms up into the air. "That's bloody it -- right there!" She spun around and squinted up at the rocky edge, and, sure enough, there were caves and catacombs dotting it. "The goddamned treasures of Caedus," she whispered to herself.
Sargil grabbed the map away from her. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure! Look at the thin'!"
Roberts was leaning to examine the map. "He's right." The little man scanned the cliff with his eyes, evaluating. "We oughta send a couple of us up there. 'Twill be tough climbin', that's for sure."
"I'm going," Faris said automatically. "I'm the best climber among my men. And I want to see the inside for myself."
"I will go, too," Sargil added.
Faris felt irrationally like braining him. She glared at Sargil in annoyance. "Do you think it's wise to send both Captains up?"
Sargil lifted a disinterested eyebrow. "I, too, am the best climber among my men."
"Oh ... oh, bloody hell," Faris said quietly. It was all she could really say; for all her men knew, she had no reason to be angry with him. "Let's get climbing, then." She raised her voice, so that all of them could hear. "We'll be back before sunset. Be patient; hopefully you all will be rewarded for it."
The men grinned, toothless and joyful.
Faris set the sack she'd been shouldering on the ground and pulled out an anchored climbing rope, leaving the rest of the bag in the care of the pirates. When they were out of earshot, Sargil came along beside her.
"Are you sure you're up to climbing that rock wall?"
"It's fairly steep."
"I can climb it."
"I can see that."
"And it's dangerous."
Faris was infuriated that he would treat her like a child simply because she was a woman. As if she couldn't climb a rock face! She paused in her step. "Then it'll be all the more difficult for you, Sargil."
He laughed. "Oh. All right, then. Do remember that you are ill, Faris."
Faris gritted her teeth and pressed onward. She vowed not to slip, or hesitate, or show any other sort of weakness in front of him -- the arrogant, insufferable bastard. She shook her head and took a firm grip on the rocks, balancing her weight against them. Slowly and evenly, she pulled herself up along the wall. Sargil was close behind her.
Her fingers ached as she held tightly, but she didn't falter, and hoisted herself up on the top well before Sargil did. As soon as she had firm footing, she leaned over and smiled widely at him. "Havin' a bit of trouble, Sargil?" she asked, kicking a bit of dust over the slope.
He craned his neck to look up at her, coughing a little. "Just following behind you -- in case you made a mistake."
"It's too bad I didn't," she said sarcastically. "Shocked?"
"Look," he retorted, pulling himself up over the edge. He stood to face her directly; she was acutely conscious of how much taller he was. "We'll never find anything if all we do is pick at each other." He extended a hand. "Truce?"
Faris looked at him disdainfully. "I've lived to regret the last time I shook your hand, Sargil," she said. "But we're treasure-hunting here, so ... truce." She shook.
"Good." He turned to the network of caves behind them. "Let's get started."
"I think we're lost," Faris said hours later. They had wandered the caverns for what seemed an eternity, and it was the first time either of them had spoken in quite a while. She was seriously beginning to doubt that the treasures of Caedus existed; perhaps they had been tricked by someone's silly joke. "I know I am, we've been in this place twice already ... do you know how to get back to the cliffs?"
"Of course," Sargil snapped.
"Are you sure?" she asked doubtfully.
"Why I would I say 'of course' if I wasn't-" Sargil was cut off as the ground he stepped on gave way. He disappeared beneath the dirt that they were walking on, leaving only a gaping hole in the ground.
Faris knelt down and peered into the hole. Sargil's face was turned towards her, gleaming palely in the odd light. "Are you okay?" Faris asked, her concern overriding her wariness towards him.
"Fine," he said shortly. He sighed, looked around, then lifted up his hands. "Will you lift me out?" he said in a half-whisper.
Faris almost laughed; he was so reluctant to ask for her help. "Here," she said, reaching out, "grab my hands."
He did, balancing his feet on the muddy walls of the caverns as he was lifted out. When he was almost back to where Faris was leaning over, his foot slipped a few feet, leaving him dangling precariously.
"Oh, hell," Faris said, and that was when both of them went tumbling into the hole. She felt herself become soaked with dirty water, and had to spit out some mud that had gotten into her mouth. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and glared at Sargil, who was also soaked, sitting in a puddle.
"Sorry," he apologized with genuine consternation.
"Where are we now?" Faris asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Don't ask me."
She slapped a mud-caked hand to her forehead. "Now we're really lost! How are we going to-" Her mouth dropped open as her line of vision fell on a glistening piece of gold, resting in the dirt just in front of her. She looked past it, and saw an eerie sort of light, shining and unnatural.
Wordlessly, she rose and touched a light hand to Sargil's shoulder, then pointed. His eyes widened, and together the two of them approached in slow, quiet reverence. Faris bent down to pick up the coin.
They ducked under a low overhang, practically having to crawl beneath to get through. Then they were blinded. Faris almost had to shield her eyes; she couldn't believe what she was seeing.
It was beyond description -- piles of coins scattered about like worthless stones, priceless gemstones left half-buried in the dirt, exquisite jewelry, intricate swords and daggers, rings and necklaces and brooches and carved figurines. All left abandoned like someone's garbage.
"It doesn't seem real," Sargil whispered. His voice echoed.
Faris stepped forward and delved a hand into pile of coins, feeling their substance. Her hand trembled slightly, and she suddenly felt like she was dreaming. "We found it," she said in awe.
"We bloody well stumbled in on it," he said with equal astonishment.
"Oh ... oh, bless your clumsy feet!" she shouted, throwing her arms around him in an excited hug. "We did it! We're rich!"
He looked at her curiously, his expression surprised. With some chagrin, she stepped back and flushed scarlet. "Sorry about that," she mumbled.
"Not a problem."
She turned to look at the treasure again, choosing to ignore his comment. "We should start hauling this stuff out," she said professionally. "But first..." She leapt forward and fell into a pile of coins and bracelets, then looked up at Sargil with a wide grin on her face.
"I always wanted to do something like that."
It took three days to retrieve all the treasure, divide it fairly, and load it onto the two ships. There was an aura of incredulous jubilation in the atmosphere, and several of the men sang as they worked at hauling the riches across Caedus.
The last few bits of treasure were secured in the early evening, and the two crew decided to leave in a couple hours. The two captains looked at the great ships with pride and a bit of arrogance.
"Faris?" Sargil ventured.
"I want to talk to you. Will you walk with me?"
She briefly considered declining, then nodded her head. "All right."
Faris and Sargil walked far enough along the long beach to be out of viewing distance from both ships. The night was lit with a thousand flickering stars and planets stretching across a cloudless sky; the sand was glowing bluely in the darkness.
Sargil stopped suddenly. "This still seems unreal," he said quietly.
"I know." Faris sighed. "Where will you go?"
"Crescent, I suppose. There's rumors of a vessel there that can float up in the sky." He regarded the starscape with interest. "I should like to get closer to the stars, I think. What about you?"
"I am not sure. If I wanted to, I could stop pirating right now." She ran a hand through her hair, indecisive. "I've already gotten more treasure than I ever dreamed existed."
"I could stop, too. But you won't."
"Neither will you. You'll sail the seas forever; it's in your blood." She raised an eyebrow at him. "You'll be ninety and rickety and still plunging ahead with your sword, ready to take what ain't yours for the taking."
"You're right, you know."
"I'll be ninety, too," she added in a whisper, "and chasing the Scourge."
Sargil nodded with mock disgust. "And taking all my plunder, then sailing off without guile, cackling madly and screaming insults at me."
For a while, neither spoke. There was a companionable silence between them, friendly and warm -- and yet something else lingered in the air. Sargil suddenly stepped forward and brushed his fingers over her cheek. "Faris," he said softly.
Then he bent his head as she tipped her upwards. Neither knew who started the kiss they shared, but both of them could feel their pulses quickening, could feel their minds betraying them. Faris lifted her arms around his neck and he pulled her closer, and, after a long time, both drew apart from each other.
"I'll be seeing you, Faris," Sargil said gravely.
She smiled warmly, leaving her hand against his, so that the tips of their fingers were joined in a feathery touch. "And I'll be seeing you, Sargil." She paused, then adopted a mock-angry expression. "Just don't try to compete with me again."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
In the dead of night, the ships separated -- Faris' to the east, Sargil's to the south.
On the deck of the former, a peculiarly feminine-looking captain, dressed in a long cloak and boots, looked out at the other vessel on the water, a barely-visible shadow of a shape against the horizon -- and smiled.
Gash ran up to her. "Where're we headed?"
"Back to the hideout," Faris said. "I think we should relax for a while." Then her gaze returned to the sea.
THE END ... hope ya liked it!