Dagga wasn’t one to wait for rescue.
Still, as it was, they might have needed it. The attackers seemed to spring from the shadows themselves at the Fortune Teller’s place and before they knew what was happening, Dagga found themselves bound and trussed like a hog on its way to slaughter and roasting.
When they departed the old woman’s shop, Dagga had been piled into the back of a narrow street cart. If anyone noticed, they said nothing. It was an unwritten and unspoken rule that everyone in Talvale minded their own business. It didn’t matter if it was criminal or personal, most people just looked the other way.
That was how Dagga found themselves bouncing down the paved roads of Talvale, carting off to who knew where, and officially kidnapped.
Dagga wasn’t certain how long they were carted, only that when they came to a stop, they were down in the lower docks, also known as the sea docks, and that two men began hauling Dagga up a gangplank and onto a ship.
Most airships could double as sea-faring ship, but the reverse was not also true. Unfortunately, bound and blindfolded, Dagga had no idea what sort of ship they were being loaded onto.
When the blindfold and gag were removed, Dagga found themselves in the ship’s hold, utterly ignorant of what was going on. A rugged looking sailor with a cropped beard and salt-and-pepper hair considered Dagga thoughtfully.
“Awfully scrawny lookin’ fella ya be for someone with tha ransom ya have on yer head.” The man said, then shrugged. He left without waiting for Dagga to respond.
Dagga took a moment to look around. They were tied up to a post amid crates and barrels that were loaded neatly into the hold. That gave Dagga some information. A ragged pirate band wouldn’t be quite so organized. Whatever outfit this was that had kidnapped them was at the very least professional and organized. If it wasn’t for the circumstances, Dagga might have taken notes had given respect to the operation.
No one else appealed until meal time when a short, stocky sailor appeared with a wooden plate on which was a mash of fish and stewed vegetables. It wasn’t the most appealing dish, but it was filling and edible. Dagga tried to strike up some conversation.
“I’m Dagga, who might ya be?” Dagga asked.
The man looked for a moment as though he wouldn’t respond, then he said, “Scar is just fine. But don’t get cozy, mate. This ain’t a social call.”‘
Then just like that he was gone and Dagga was alone once more. They blamed themselves for getting caught. It wasn’t as though they were expecting to be nabbed. Yet, at the same time, they should have been prepared. In the lifestyle they lived, one should always be prepared. Rival ships, victims who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, or someone else’s hands dirty at least.
Rather, Dagga had let themselves be grabbed like a complete rube. Even now the shame of it burned in their cheeks and left their stomach roiling.
There was a wildcard, however. Dagga’s unnamed sister was still on her way. She was close if he believed the fortune teller, but was she close enough to find him before his captors were well out to sea and past her ability to find them.
Perhaps what burned more was how close they were to getting the chance to meet their sister, and now it seemed like they might never get the chance. By the giving of food, it was clear their captors were trying to keep them alive. But perhaps they were only being kept alive to a point, to die at some other appointed time.
Dagga’s father was also still out there, they hoped. In fact, if anyone was going to succeed in rescuing them, Dagga’s money would have been on their father.
Dagga had been kidnapped once before. Back when they had been but a cabin boy, a man had tried to kidnap them for reasons unknown. Their father had raised hell on earth to find them. Their father’s crew had burned the man’s place to the ground. The man had also disappeared after Dagga had been found, never to be seen again.
In this instance, however, Dagga was a bit less confident of their father finding them. It wasn’t just one lone loser who had been seen by everyone and their mother.
Much later another a sailor came to check on Dagga. This sailor, tall and blonde, with a lean, wiry build, brought down a sleeping mat, pillow, and blanket. His captors were considerate, at least.
In spite of everything, Dagga didn’t find it difficult to fall asleep. If they wanted Dagga dead, they would be already. Sleep came easily enough, but it wasn’t exactly restful.
They woke up in a forest, surrounded by trees, brush, and fallen leaves. It didn’t make sense, given where they’d fallen asleep. It wasn’t often that Dagga ventured off the ship or outside the city.
Dagga looked down and spotted a bow and quiver, when they reached out, they noticed their arm was slender and delicate looking.
I’m not me. Dagga realized, is this a dream?
Dagga stretched in the strange body and looked themselves over. Whoever they were, they were wearing something of a dress over leggings, with a warm coat over their shoulders. All at once it occurred to Dagga that they could be looking at their sister.
If that were true, then they might be looking at the forest which abutted the Fangs. If that was the case, then perhaps this dream was more than a dream, perhaps it was an actual vision. Was there some way for them to communicate with their sister? They tried reaching out for a stick in the dirt to, perhaps, write a message, but the arm didn’t move.
Inwardly, Dagga sighed. It was too much to hope for, they supposed. They were left to passively watch as the person who was possibly their sister began to break their solitary camp and then headed south, southwest in the forest. How close was their sister? The mountains were somewhat visible on the horizon, but they still had to be days away, likely more than a week.
Dagga’s heart fell a little at that realization. It was increasingly unlikely that their sister would get to Talvale in time. Even if they could somehow communicate their plight with her.
The forests outside the Fang were mostly untouched lands. Wild and untamed, there were parts of them that hadn’t known the footsteps of man or woman ever, and other parts that were old enough to have forgotten the rare steps that they had experienced.
But Dagga had only witnessed the forest from above, often so high that it was just one big, mottled emerald morass like a green sea beneath them. Being inside the forest was like being underwater, it was an entirely novel experience. They looked around and, even looking in the same place twice yielded new discoveries.
While Dagga didn’t seem to have any physical control over the body they found themselves in, they were able to feel and sense everything. The light brush of leaves against their arm as they pushed through thick brush, and the slightly altered walk which was used to creep lightly through the forest so as to not leave much of any trail.
Perhaps the strangest sensation was having long hair again. Dagga hadn’t had worn long hair in years. There were many reasons for this, but it was practical, easier, and, most importantly, Dagga found they simply preferred their hair that way. So it was different to feel hair tickling their neck again, or have it momentarily fall across their field of vision.
Still, there was some strange sort of comfort in at least getting to spend some time with their sister, even if that time was some strange sort of half-possession. They spent hours in that weird sort of state before the blackness of deeper sleep finally swallowed them.
When Dagga woke up, however, they found themselves still within the depths of a ship’s hold. Their next meal was hard biscuit with hard cheese. It was yet another sailor that delivered it, and, like the first, they opted not to talk to Dagga or answer any questions.
The follow-up meals were executed in the same manner. In fact, the only change came what must have been two days later when Dagga felt the all-too-familiar lurch of a ship which was being pushed off from the dock. There were no rescues, no last minute rushes of freedom. There was only the certain dread of hopelessness that came as Dagga was realizing that their capture was complete–their fate uncertain.
However, heading out to sea wasn’t the only change. Once they were safely departed from the harbor, one of the sailors came down, bound Dagga’s wrists, and led them up top to the deck. Standing by the starboard railing was a tall, broad man who Dagga guessed could only have been the Captain.
“Know why yer here, boy?” The Captain asked, without turning to look at him.
“No.” Dagga said, they tried to shove their hands in their pockets but found themselves stymied by the fact that their hands were bound.
“Well, there be a price on yer head.” He continued.
“And you thought you’d collect.” Dagga supplied for him.
The Captain turned bodily so that he could actually look Dagga up and down. He appeared every bit the part, from the ragged beard to the long, greasy hair, and the tricorn hat perched atop his head.
“Actually, someone else paid us to nab you afore that price could be collected.” He said simply.
Dagga started to ask who, but was cut-off as the Captain continued. “Your father, actually. Though he has a tendency to look down at his brothers–us fellow pirates–he at least trusted us with you in the event he went missing.”
He lifted a hand, cutting off Dagga again. “One of your crew reported to us that he was missing and we grabbed you immediately. After a couple of days combing Talvale, they became certain he was taken and so this morning we set out to make sure the same didn’t happen to you.”
Given the news, Dagga was hardly reassured. Perhaps the fortune teller had been wrong and the fortune she’d given them was meant for their father. Though Dagga couldn’t be certain they were entirely out of danger either. Glancing around, this was certainly a crew of derelicts. Given that the crew was responsible for saving them, supposedly, Dagga felt a tinge of betrayal ‘looking down’ on them as the Captain so eloquently put it. However, the bottom-line was that they could have just as easily been kidnapping for the other side.
“So where are we going?” Dagga asked.
“Well, we’re headed for Li’wan,” the Captain replied. “But we’re dropping you off at the Isle of Skulls.”
“The Isle of Skulls??” Dagga turned to look out at the sea.
They were still in Grand Cove, so land could be seen off port and starboard, but they were otherwise surrounded by the vastness of the sea, something which was of great comfort to Dagga, even if it evoked the opposite in others. The Isle of Skulls, however, was a name which rightly struck fear in anyone.
“How is sending me to that place saving me?” They asked.
“‘onestly? Would say much the same, but it was where we was paid to leave you. Your father seemed ta think ya could handle yerself there.”
Dagga shook their head and looked away from the Captain again. Their father seemed to have more faith in Dagga than they had in themselves. The Isle of Skulls was a place of savages and death. Only the worst of the worst braved its wilds, which were teeming with all manner of unnatural creatures.
“If we’re all so trusting, why am I still bound?” Dagga lifted up their hands to demonstrate.
This time the Captain looked off the starboard side before answering, “we can still see land. If you’re any sort of seaman, you could make the swim easily enough. Best wait ’til we’re actually out at sea.”
Isle of skulls!?