Christina Waters

PROPERTY OF THE WESTWIND UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

PROLOGUE

My name is Aristide Lyons Earnest, and this is my account of the most remarkable expedition I have ever been on in my life.

In truth it is the first expedition I’ve ever been on, though hopefully not the only. Despite the rather unfortunate circumstances that have transpired in the last several weeks, I have acquired quite a taste for adventure. I’m sure no one thought it possible, and weeks ago I would have agreed with you that adventure is simply not my way! I still recall stumbling into the filthy establishment known as The Ripped Sail with my legs shaking and ready to give way under the weight of eighty gold coins hanging from my belt. I had to hire a skycaptain to take me into the northern skies, a most dangerous territory. I tried to explain the importance of this venture to each reputable captain at the docks, but none saw the benefits of braving the northern winds to discover a new species of borealis whale.

That is how I found myself, a desperate scholar in need of evidence to his claim, standing in front of the bar most frequented by those dreaded terrors of the winds: skypirates.

PART ONE

When I entered the rather pungent establishment I was greeted with a knife striking the floor between my boots, and a growl from the bartender I interpreted as: “watch yerself”. I managed to make it to the center of the room without further endangerment. Then, thanks to my own ignorance of the world, put myself in further danger once I was there.

“Excuse me,” I said, my voice cracking a little, I must admit. “I said, excuse me! May I have your attention please?” 

The occupants of the bar turned to face me one by one, each with varying degrees of interest. I cleared my throat and proceeded with the pitch.

“I am looking for a ship to take me to the northern sky territories,” I said. “I am willing to pay fairly for services rendered!”

At this point quite a few of the barflies had already shouted crude things at me and turned away, unwilling to face the danger or the looney shouting about it.

“I don’t mean to insult but surely you are all men of action and danger! Surely the fierce winds and creatures mean nothing when the price I have to pay is so great!” I tried to convince them.

“Yeah, you lot are nothing but cowardly cloud-leapers.”

I turned to find the source of the voice, thinking surely my savior had risen from the thieves and liars of The Ripped Sail. To this day I’m not sure if she was my savior or not.

Ebony Salvatore was sitting in the back with her boots up on the table, drinking what was most likely her fourth intoxicating beverage since she’d entered the bar ten minutes prior. At her sides were two of her crewmen looking as threatening as they always did.

“Madam, would you take up my cause?” I asked.

Salvatore sighed and removed her boots from the table. Then she approached me slowly, swaggering in a way that spoke not just of drunkenness but also somehow of grace. She removed my purse from my belt in seconds before I could even protest, and weighed it in her hand.

“Alright,” she said after much deliberation. “I’ll take your job.”

“Oh, but you haven’t even heard the details yet!” I said.

“Don’t need to as long as you’ve got enough gold to spare,” Salvatore said. “But you can buy me a drink now if you really want to go into full detail.”

“I don’t mean to judge, but I do think it would be best to be sober while discussing a legal contract of payment,” I said, trying not to sound preachy. I know her sort doesn’t like preaching.

“Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head about my sharpness of mind!” Salvatore laughed loudly, quite like a western metalthroat parrot. “I once negotiated the ransom of two princesses from two separate kingdoms while hanging from the figurehead by one hand, which was broken by the way, after four Ramelen brandies.” 

“That doesn’t sound like the most…convenient way to carry out a negotiation.” 

I remember wincing. She seemed to find some amusement in that.

“The convenient way isn’t my way,” she winked at me, and I realized then that one of her eyes was made of glass. I realized this mostly because after winking the eye seemed to get stuck so that the pupil and iris were mostly hidden. Salvatore must have seen me staring, because she readjusted the eye in the most cringe worthy fashion and commented: “I already have the drinking problem and the rapier wit, I can’t afford another cliché so I spared myself the eyepatch.”

I tried not to shudder, and offered to buy her a drink as she had suggested.

As I went to pay I realized that Salvatore was still in possession of my purse. When I asked for it, she shook her head as if disappointed in me.

“People who walk into bars in this part of town with their fat purse hanging from their belt in clear view don’t deserve to have their purses back,” she teased. “Besides, this is my commission, remember?”

“I’m sorry, but I am a little concerned that you decided to take this dangerous mission without knowing what will be involved,” I said.

“I know good pay will be involved,” she replied.

“Well I hope this can be quite profitable for the both of us,” I chuckled. “You see, I’m attempting to prove the existence of the greater borealis whale.”

“The big thing with the horn on its head?” Salvatore asked.

“Yes, the big thing…” I replied, a little disheartened by her apathy on my life’s work. “I’ve been attempting to prove its existence for some time now based off altered migrational patterns of the borealis whale, hopefully soon to be called the lesser borealis whale if we are successful, but my colleagues require further proof.”

“So we have to bring one home with us then,” Salvatore said.

“Precisely!” I beamed with excitement. “You catch on quick!”

Salvatore didn’t take more than a second’s consideration, it appeared all of her decisions were made spur of the moment.

“Give me a day to get the nets and prep my ship for northern storms, and we can fly out the morning after,” she said.

“Wonderful! You are doing science a great service madam,” I shook her hand quite fiercely I’m afraid, I was rather excited.

“Ah! Careful! That broken hand story was very recent!” Salvatore winced, pulling her hand back.

“Oh dear, I’m terribly sorry!” I gasped, reaching towards her in concern.

“You show off your purse like a new bride flashes her ring, and you can’t spot an obvious lie. You really shouldn’t have hired me,” Salvatore smiled, her hand apparently unharmed.

Despite that ominous statement I was feeling rather good about the arrangement. 

PART TWO

For a skypirate, Salvatore appeared to be quite professional once hired. She stayed true to her word and readied the ship in a single day, keeping me up to date with regular check ins. She made sure my quarters for the duration of the trip were kept clean, and when one of her men accosted me as I boarded the ship she swiftly shaved one of his sideburns clean off his face with a well thrown knife as punishment. That last one might not seem professional, but for a pirate I consider it the height of good manners.

I try not to ride in skyships often if I can help it. It’s not that I get skysick, I quite pride myself on keeping my stomach on a rocking ship. It’s simply that I can’t for the life of me figure out how the wretched things function! Sailors and pirates insist that its magic, and never reveal their secrets. However, I am a man of science. I believe magic is simply the word we give to science we don’t understand yet, and I find myself quite perturbed by a lack of understanding.

In fact, my first course of action upon boarding the ship was to inspect it from top to bottom for some logical reason an enormous sailing vessel could ride the skies as easily as the seas.

“Going up!” was the order Salvatore yelled when she wanted her crew to raise the ship from the bay and into the air. It was fascinating to watch: the enormous vessel leaving cascades of water dripping off its body as it creaked its way further into the air. Still, it was maddeningly impossible to find out how it accomplished this.

“Give it up, Mr. Zealous, there’s no learner on or above this kind world that’s figured out how a skyship works. The Mendacity is a lady, and a lady never tells,” Salvatore told me one day. She had found me scribbling calculations in my journal while inspecting a sample of wood I’d pried from the floor of my quarters under my new microscope.

“My name is Earnest, madam,” I reminded her.

“My apologies, Mr. Keen,” she replied.

“You really wouldn’t tell me how it works?” I asked. “Not even if I paid you?”

“Mr. Vehement, I’ll do nearly anything for the right price, except sell out my ship,” Salvatore said in response. “She’d never sell me out, so I treat her the same.”

I kept pressing for answers as we drew nearer to our destination, by day four I was a bit franker in my approach. I fear the aggressive attitudes of the pirates was wearing off on me.

“I resent you valuing the false personification of your ship over the furthering of science as a whole,” I huffed, rather hurt by her continued silence. 

“You’ll hurt her feelings!” Salvatore gasped, leaping to the nearest ‘mast’ as I believe it is called, and stroking the wood tenderly. To this day I am uncertain if this was an act to mock me, or if she really did worry I’d offended the ship. Either option is equally likely.

Sailing from Rareport to the deep north usually takes about two weeks or so I heard, having never taken the trip until now. While I had intended to spend the entirety of that time studying the workings of the ship, I found myself studying the pirate culture instead. Although I am a master of general studies, I do not consider myself some sort of sociologist. Nonetheless, it was a very promising topic and I highly encourage those reading this account to conduct their own research.

PART THREE

On the third day I was invited to a diversion the crew had worked up, a sort of mock trial in which crewmembers took turns trying each other for the crime of piracy. At first it was simply a nerve-wracking reminder of my current lawbreaking company, and the sentence I myself could face if they decided to conduct any piracy during my purely legal and scientific venture. However, I found myself quite enjoying it after a while.

Salvatore was invited to be the judge. As the captain it seemed she always held the position of power, even in game-playing. She wrapped an old bit of cloth around herself to resemble a judge’s robe, and placed several rolled napkins on her head for the wig. I had long been wondering where all the napkins were, and was a bit displeased to see I had ruined my shirtsleeves just so a grown woman could play dress up. 

“Bring the next criminal, I’m looking forward to giving another death sentence!” Salvatore banged her makeshift gavel, I believe it was a spoon wrested out from under the cook’s careful watch.

At this point I was grabbed by both arms and hefted forward against my will. 

“Gentlemen, I really rather not participate,” I insisted, but they paid me no mind.

“What have we here? A heathen with dangerous beliefs?” Salvatore said.

“I believe in only what has been proven, madam captain,” I replied, crossing my arms in what I hoped appeared to be fierce indifference to the game.

“Well we have proof of your guilt, you filthy criminal,” Salvatore replied, pointing her spoon gavel at me accusingly.

“Oh?” I said. “What proof? I see no proof…your honor!”

“Prosecutor, the proof!” Salvatore said.

“We have eyewitness accounts of this stranger conducting bizarre experiments,” one of the crewman said. “And here we have his book of notes, see for yourself, your honor!”

“I’ve seen all I need to see,” Salvatore said with a serious nod. “I hereby find you, Mr. Sincere, guilty of witchcraft!”

“It’s Earnest, and I don’t think your sentence makes any sense,” I replied.

“Clap him in irons and send him to the brig!” Salvatore cried, banging her gavel with terrifying force.

“Please tell me this is where the playacting ends,” I said with a tremor in my voice I am ashamed to admit.

“Well of course, Mr. Eager, I wouldn’t actually jail you,” Salvatore gave a slow smile. The sort of smile that one does not strain themselves making. “But, I will be keeping an eye on you.”

She then tossed something to me, and I reacted upon my first instinct and caught it. I damned my suddenly capable reflexes once I opened my hands and revealed my prize to be Salvatore’s glass eye. The pun should have been enough clue. I shuddered and dropped the eye into the open hand of a nearby crewman, who had exploded into laughter much like the rest of the pirates.

PART FOUR

Once we reached the far northern skies the winds picked up dramatically. We hit enough storms to throw all the books from my shelves several times. The ship rocked like a cradle in the hands of the world’s most uncaring mother, and despite my pride in never suffering from it before I now found myself fighting skysickness.

The crew’s mood grew as cold as the skies we sailed. There were no more mock trials or casual conversation. The pirates walked about the ship dressed in their cold weather gear, silent and stoic. Not even Salvatore was safe from this sullen mood.

“Mr. Earnest, I assure you we are doing our very best to keep a lookout for these creatures,” she said. “They are, after all, giant whales and pretty impossible to miss.”

I had approached her in her quarters, a place on the ship I had avoided for the entire voyage. She had a rather ornate desk sitting close to the doors to the room, and I was dismayed to see she had stuck several daggers into the beautifully crafted wood. She also had her feet up on them, a terrible habit she seemed to employ at every event involving a table.

“And I believe you, Miss Ebony, I simply want to be sure,” I said. I remember noticing her rubbing at her temples as we spoke. “After all these skies are difficult to navigate, and these creatures are certainly not unused to staying hidden.”

“I promise we are doing all we can,” Salvatore replied.

“Very well,” I sighed. As I made my way to the door the captain called out to me again.

“Mr. Earnest, care for a drink before you go? Keeps you warm in these cold skies.”

Her face seemed unreadable, so I didn’t try to read it. Even a scientist must admit that pirates will never be understood.

“I suppose I could have one,” I said, sitting back down before the desk. Salvatore pulled an ancient looking bottle and two dirty looking cups from one of her desk drawers. Even after drinking the strange liquor I had no idea of what it was. All I knew is that it was strong enough to be weaponized.

“You know the discovery of this whale could help us to discover how these wingless sky creatures fly in the first place,” I said, feeling very excited by the idea.

“Not everything has to be explained you know,” Salvatore chuckled. “Ships fly, whales fly, there doesn’t have to be any reason for it.”

“Of course there has to be a reason,” I insisted. “It’s my life’s mission to answer all the whys in the world!”

“Well, can you tell me why so many rich nobles pay out the nose for ground borealis horn?” Salvatore asked.

“Superstitious belief,” I replied. “It is commonly believed that ingesting the horn of a borealis whale can cure many illnesses.”

“See, you focus on the why. I just focus on the how much,” Salvatore winked.

PART FIVE

We never found the greater borealis whale. If you will forgive my dramatic phrasing: it found us.

The whale’s horn scored against The Mendacity’s right side, and most of us were thrown off our feet. Salvatore was furious at the damage to her ship, and so was the first to regain her footing and her wits.

“Ready the nets!” she commanded the crew.

“Captain, can I be of any help?” I asked.

“Stay out of our way, and don’t die,” Salvatore responded, pushing me rather roughly aside. 

I was privileged enough to witness the process by which skysailors leave their ship as the pirates attempted capture of the whale. Commonly called “outsailing”, the process involves an outfit in which fabric has been sewn between the arms and legs of the wearer. The wearer then leaps from the ship, a sight which caused me a great deal of panic upon first glance, and then spreads their limbs wide. The wind catches the fabric and the wearer glides across the sky.

Although I am sure this activity would attract a thrill-seeking pirate such as Salvatore, she remained on board to give orders to her “outsailers” as they hunted the whale. Two outsailers leapt off the ship, and the net was fired into the air above the whale.

“Oh my god, I was right,” I gasped, staring at the whale. It was an enormous creature, with watery intelligent eyes and a spiraling horn as thick as the mast. I could barely see it through the clouds of the northern sky, but I thought I could make out a dappling of gray spots on its side. It appeared to be examining the ship, no doubt the reason its horn came so close to us.

The outsailers grabbed the outer edges of the net and flew underneath the whale’s massive belly. For a moment they disappeared under the ship, and then suddenly reappeared on the other side. They soared upwards like birds and then, closing their limbs in close to their bodies, dove back onto the deck of the ship.

The whale, a gentle creature despite its size, was in a panic. The net that had been thrown over it was attached to the bottom of the ship by the outsailers, leaving the whale strapped to the side.

“It is real!” I yelled, ebullient at my discovery. “Oh, I will make history with this!”

“I don’t think it will be you making history, Mr. Heartfelt,” Salvatore said.

“I thought you were finally calling me by my name, Miss Ebony,” I said, turning to face her. Unfortunately, instead of seeing her face I saw her gun pointed right at my nose. “Ebony?”

“Someone’s going to pay very well for an animal like this,” Salvatore said. “Imagine how much horn powder you could sell from a whale this size. Or maybe I’ll sell it to another researcher, you could consider it a last favor.”

“Don’t do this!” I cried. “This is my life’s work!”

“Piracy is my life’s work, Mr. Dedicated,” Salvatore replied. “Take him to the brig.”

PART SIX

Salvatore dropped me off at the docks with a bag around my head and my hands bound. I didn’t understand why she didn’t just throw me overboard and wash her hands of me, I’d heard stories from her crew and I knew she’d killed many times before. However, I was too glad to have my life to question it for too long.

At first I was content to retreat to my apartment and wallow in misery, but after some time I decided I simply had to go back to work. 

I tried to avoid any colleagues at the university that I had told about my voyage, embarrassed by the results and not wishing to discuss them. I managed to make it to my office unseen, where I found the letter sitting on my desk.

It read:

Mr. Diligent,

You got lucky. Check Warehouse 34.

-ES

I was suspicious of the letter at first, but my curiosity got the better of me. It often does. I visited the warehouse down by the docks, making sure to keep my purse very well hidden this time. The watchmen directed me to the proper warehouse and helped me with the doors. Blinking in the darkness, I was surprised to find three greater borealis whale offspring doing corkscrew spirals in the air above me. At least, I assumed that is what they were because they were slightly larger than the lesser borealis whale. The meaning behind Salvatore’s note was clear: I was lucky that the whale had been pregnant upon capture, and she had given me these three. Considering the pirate had robbed me of one whale for the price she knew she could get for it, I wondered why she would give up three other gold mines. As I have not seen her since, I suspect I will never know.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Earnest leaves his record here. The three whales mentioned eventually perished due to unknown causes, and researchers were unable to prove that they belonged to a separate genus of borealis whale. Earnest disappeared sometime after he failed to show with certainty the origin of the whales. Most believe his record to be largely falsified, as the existence of greater borealis whales and the legendary skypirate Ebony Salvatore have yet to be proven.

BIO: Christina Waters currently studies English as a senior at Mary Baldwin University. They’re interested in the many forms of storytelling from literature to podcasts to video games, and have been writing since they were old enough to read and fall in love with A Series of Unfortunate Events. They hope to have a career in writing one day, though have cultivated a much more stable food service job on the side to pay the rent until then.

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