"Excuse you!" Pip yelled as someone stepped out from a shop, right into her path.
The man dropped his groceries as she bumped into his shoulder and kept running. A couple fruit fell from his bag and rolled across the cobblestone street. "Seriously?!" he shouted after her.
Pip was already too far away, plowing through the streets with her eyes on the port. She was not going to be late for her first real assignment. Finally, this was her chance to become what she’s always dreamt of: Captain Pip Rogers of The Council’s Navy.
Pip’s backpack hopped up and down as she bounded towards the water. She kept adjusting the bag to keep it from falling off her shoulders. The air was salty today, a thick summer mist crashing against her already sweaty face. The sun beat down on the island, glistening off the still ocean. The water got closer and closer as Pip pushed forward, panting.
Ahead she saw a crowd of people, gushing around the entrance to one of the taverns. Much more crowded than usual, that’s for sure. As she approached, voices erupted from all around. Maybe it was some big news from the Center Island. She bit her lip, she was already running late… but it could be important! She slowed down a bit to catch what was being said.
"They got through the fog!" "They’re never coming back!" It’s all a hoax, Diread’s tourism scheme." "They’ve doomed us all!"
"Hey!" she shouted as she tried to push into a few conversations. She couldn’t help herself. She had to know if The Council was delivering the news. "What’s going on? What’s the news? Is it from a Council Official?"
A few of the larger females looked down at her, clearly angered that she pushed her way into their conversation. "Not official, honey. Word from a few Azure Swords."
Azure Swords. Should’ve known. Scumbags. Can’t trust anything that isn’t directly from The Council. They're the only ones that stifle the constant rumors. Pip scoffed and continued towards the port, pushing through the crowd.
She could see the docks now, and there it stood upon the water, The Spirit of the Arrow. It was as beautiful as she imagined, majestic even. The main mast thrust towards the sky with bountiful canvas sails hanging off it. It looked like there were two decks of guns, much more than Pip expected for what had seemed like a small crew. She remembered the flyer mentioning a "smaller, focused" crew.
As Pip got closer to the ship, she noticed the flag towards the aft. Blue, with two white swords crossed. Definitely not her ship. She wouldn’t join the Azure Swords if they offered her a thousand bronze stones. Suddenly, she felt a terrifying weight, what if they left without her? She was only 10 minutes late!
Frantically scanning the port, she found another ship docked towards the back. It was smaller, much smaller. Two masts, a single cannon on either side, a rugged and worn hull, and a dozen and half people standing on deck. She was too far away to make out details, but it looked like some sort of meeting. In the wind, a dingy flag flapped back and forth. The flag bore a single white arrow surrounded by darkness.
What a dumpy ship.
"I know, right?" a voice came from behind Pip, startling her. Had she said her thoughts out loud? "Pales in comparison. If you ask me, ain’t no ‘pendant ship that could compare to a guild ship."
Pip turned around to find a large, female Bastet garbed in blue. An Azure Sword, no doubt. "No one asked you," Pip snapped back. She considered spitting on the ground at her feet but frankly didn’t have time for a scene. Ignoring the woman, Pip ran towards the tiny ship, her new home.
The figures on the ship become clearer as she got closer, only a few males, not that she was expecting different. She couldn’t hear much over her own heaving as she bounded onto the dock. Her presence roused the group and heads turned. A single voice kept talking in the background. Pip felt like she was interrupting something important.
Heaving, she waited on the dock, looking into the circle of Bastets. She wondered if she had to wait for permission to board. Most of the crew had already turned their attention back to the voice. Pip couldn’t see where it was coming from, but it was a female’s voice. A full and almost pompous tone to it. One of the male Bastets looked at Pip through the crowd and nudged the person to their right. The voice halted.
"Ah! It must be no other than Pip Rogers!" the voice spoke again and the circle parted a bit to reveal a middle-aged Bastet. Her posture was strong and upright and there was definitely an aura of power around her. She stood with her hands on her waist, smiling. "Pip, I presume?"
"Yes, ma’am. Reporting for duty. Sorry I’m late," Pip said, standing up a bit taller and trying not make her heavy breathing obvious.
"Captain Crawford at your service! Come on! Welcome aboard The Spirit of the Arrow!"
Pip looked around at all the people on the ship. Some were unkempt, some polished, some older, some younger, some weird-looking, some fat. Definitely an "interesting" group of people. She walked across the small wooden plank and onto the ship, joining the circle awkwardly.
"Now, you’ve caught us toward the end of our transition and dock report. I was expecting you to be here from the beginning, but we’ll discuss that later." Perhaps she wasn’t going to get away with being late as easy as she thought.
Addressing the group as a whole again, the Captain spoke. "Pip will be joining us as our new scribe, taking the duties of my much-too-overloaded 1st Officer." She looked over and smiled at a thinner, male Bastet. His hair was tinged gray. "This will be Pip’s first time on a seafaring vessel. I trust that everyone will welcome her with open arms and a patient heart! Gideon, I’ll talk with Pip after this and then send her to you to get your notes. Everyone else, be ready to introduce yourself and give Pip a quick summary of what you do on this ship. She’ll be making rounds over the next few days. Pip, is that clear?"
Pip had gotten a little distracted by the larger female Bastet next to the Captain. She kept tapping her feet and looking back and forth.
"Huh?" Pip said faster than she could stop herself. A couple people in the circle chuckled. Great. Already ruining her first impression. There’s no way she’d get into The Council’s Navy without a stellar recommendation from these people.
"Pip, during our ship-wide meetings it’s important to pay attention. I know this is a lot of new information so it’d be best to listen closely." Captain Crawford advised.
"Yes, Ma’am- er- Captain," Pip stuttered. The Captain smiled at her.
"Er. Captain…" a small voice next to Captain Crawford said. It was the Bastet who kept tapping her feet. She was rubbing her hands together and looking back and forth. "I usually do my rounds right about now, the meeting is lasting longer than it usually does. Can I go?" She stuttered over her words a bit as she spoke.
The Captain looked over and realized how distraught the woman was. "Oh! Eliza, of course. Go!"
Eliza nodded her head and skittered off to the stairs leading below deck.
"Everyone else, we’ve covered everything for now. It’s a day’s journey to the delivery point so let’s undock and set sail within the hour! On your way!" Everyone began dispersing and Pip wondered if she too should walk off somewhere.
"Pip," The Captain said after most people had left. It wasn’t her nice voice anymore. She stood against the evening sun with one hand on her hip. She wasn’t the smallest Bastet, but it seemed that most of her stature was muscle. Pip looked down at her feet. The Captain’s shadow overtook her own across the dark, wooden deck. "Follow me into my quarters."
As they moved across the deck, Pip found herself avoiding eye contact with the deck members. They were finagling with ropes and sails to prep the ship to leave. She followed the Captain up some stairs and across an elevated deck. She went through some ornate (though worn) wooden doors and found herself in what could only be described as a shrine.
More than one oil painting of the Captain herself hung on the wall. There was another painting of The Spirit of the Arrow in all its "glory". Pip wondered how much the Captain paid for these.
Captain Crawford made her way behind a wooden desk strewn with trinkets and candles. On the wall hung an exact replica of the ship’s flag. The Captain sat down. Pip followed her lead and took a seat in the chair in front of the desk.
"Stand please," the Captain demanded. Pip got back to her feet, avoiding the temptation to roll her eyes. The Captain’s voice had a much different tone now. It was less boisterous, had more of a grounding effect.
"Pip, you’re not making a very good first impression," Captain Crawford said simply. She sat back, waiting for a response.
"Apologies Captain, I got a little mixed up and thought that The Azure Sword’s ship was yours. I mean, I was expecting a bigger ship based on your advertisement to be honest," Pip said. It was very misleading. How could such a worn out, little, merchant ship with a self-obsessed Captain claim to be the "light in the darkness"?
"Well, Ms. Rogers, it may not be a guild ship but it sure as hell has its benefits," the Captain responded patiently. She was beginning to think that this girl might not be as interested as she made it appear in her letter.
"I guess, but it doesn’t seem like you can accomplish much with such a small ship," Pip countered, letting her unfiltered thoughts into the open.
The Captain took a deep breath before letting her initial retort out, which was undoubtedly a good decision. "It’s amazing what a dedicated crew with a grand purpose can accomplish. I’m a little confused why you didn’t apply for a position on one of the larger ships if you think it’d be a better experience."
"Oh, well... I did actually," Pip said, trailing off. Looking back at the Captain she said, "This was my second option."
The Captain, surprising, maintained her composure. "I see. Well, Pip, it appears we’ve reached a critical moment."
Pip wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. She sat back down in her chair.
"Do the words in your letter still have meaning? Do you wish to serve on The Spirit of the Arrow? There’s no shame in turning back now, we haven’t left the dock."
"No!" Pip shrieked, realizing that she might have once again ruined her chances. "Of course I want to stay! This is my chance to get some seafaring experience!"
"Well, Pip, it’s important not to give your ‘second-choice’ effort here," the Captain advised. "The reason we got a message back to you is that your letter impressed me. You seem to be privy to more knowledge than most people on a smaller island. Now don’t take me wrong, I spent a large portion of my life on a small island. It has nothing to do with intelligence, but everything to do with a lack of access."
At this point, Captain Crawford stood up. Her boisterous voice returned, along with loud and forceful hand movements.
"One of the main purposes we have on The Spirit of the Arrow is to provide that access to smaller islands. It is our goal, no, our duty to serve those without the resources or means," the Captain explained.
Her words were no longer directed at Pip, they became a passionate campaign speech.
"Does that mean we get paid less? Yes. Harder jobs? Yes. But! What we lose in material, we gain in character. We dedicate ourselves to providing light for those in the shadow of the more influential! If Captain Crawford of The Spirit of the Arrow isn’t a household name 10 years then I’ve failed."
She stopped walking around the room and looked into one of the oil paintings of herself. Pip waited awkwardly, she had no idea what to say.
"So. The question is, would you dedicate yourself to such a purpose?" Captain Crawford turned around and looked at Pip, smiling. There was a gleam in her eye. She meant everything she said. Her passion was both a little unnerving and a little refreshing.
Pip thought for a moment. Without the education from a more well-known island, it would be hard for her to get into The Council's Navy. This was her chance to join a real ship and get relevant experience. The Spirit of Arrow wasn’t the prettiest ship, but she’d have to make do. A few years under her belt and she'd feel safer applying to The Council’s Naval Academy. Pip took a deep breath. "Of course," she affirmed.
"Fantastic!" exclaimed the Captain. "Welcome to my crew, Pip!"
Pip stood up. "Thanks," she replied with unconvincing enthusiasm. "When is food served?" She asked, realizing how hungry she was.
"The chefs are preparing dinner as we speak, it should be ready shortly. First, why don’t you make your way to First Officer Arkwright?"
"Okay, thanks," Pip said and started to leave. The Captain cleared her throat to get Pip's attention. Pip turned back, confused.
"'Thank you, Captain,'" The Captain corrected. "You’re free to go, now," Captain Crawford said as she made her way back to her desk. Pip wasn’t aware she wasn’t free to go before.
"Uh- wait, how do I get to the kitchen and where’s the first officer?"
"Ah, right! Explore the ship, ask around, introduce yourself. You won’t have much to do for a little while so it’d be best to get acquainted with your new home."
"Okay… I guess." Pip walked towards the door and looked back at the Captain, who nodded her head forward as if to say politely "get out".
* * *
The sun was setting now and the orangish lights reflected off the sea and onto the ship. The crew had prepped the ship and loosed the sails. The Spirit of the Arrow creaked forward toward the setting sun.
Pip looked back at her island, her home. She did it, she left. Hopefully Abi would do a good job of taking care of her mother... and maybe he’ll understand what she had to go through all those years. She wasn’t going to miss it, but it was strange seeing her whole life growing smaller and smaller on the horizon. It truly was a new beginning for her.
As she was looking back at the island, something large and glowing hit her square in the face. She screamed, took a step back to get a better footing, and wildly smacked at the air all around her. Her screaming got the attention of a few deck members. They rushed over.
"Hey, what’s up? Are you okay?" a larger woman said as she came over to Pip. Another male Bastet followed.
Pip glanced down at the creature that had collided with her. It looked like a smallish bird-like insect with glowing, orange wings.
"Whoa! Leona, come over and check this out!" the male Bastet said as he waved over the other deck member.
"What is it?" Pip said with her face scrunched. It was disgusting, like a weird sea bug.
"Burn the sails! It’s a fairy! Never seen one in mah life," Leona said as she tilted her head and stared at it.
"Like, a real fairy?" Pip asked as she rubbed her head. She had heard stories. Messengers of The Divine or something.
"I saw one once, but it didn’t have wings, was kinda lizard-like. It was crawlin’ around Ordugh when I left The Order," the male Bastet said.
"What is going on over there?" a shrill voice came from behind everyone. The taller Bastet that was next to the Captain at the meeting marched over. Now that Pip saw him closer, she noticed his immaculate clothing. Incredibly expensive looking, which made him stand out from everyone (and everything) else. Fine detail work and even polished boots. His hair was carefully parted and molded to the side. He took out a pair of silver, rectangular glasses from his front pocket and placed them on his nose.
"A fairy!" he said looking down, then made his way to Pip. "What did you do to it?" he demanded.
"I didn’t do anything!" she barked. He raised his eyebrows at her response as if he wasn’t expecting her to fight back. "It flew right into my face!"
"Well, there’s no time for tomfoolery or staring. Get back to your positions, I’ll get the chaplain. The last thing we need is The Divine sending us into a storm because the new girl killed their fairy. You’re off to an exciting start, I see," he said as he took off his glasses and extended his hand. Pip didn’t really appreciate his tone but shook his hand anyway.
"Gideon Arkwright, First Officer. Stay here and don’t touch it, I’ll be right back."
Pip looked back down at the fairy. It had an almost Bastet-like face, which was creepy, to say the least. Its eyes were closed and its breath was deep and heavy. What the heck was it doing flying into her face? Were The Divine trying to tell her something? Maybe it was just traveling and couldn’t see well in the dark? Oh! Maybe it was a sign that she-
"Over here, Alanna, next to the new girl," Gideon said, pointing.
Alanna was a tidy and upright woman with noticeably gray hair, though she looked not a day over 40.
"My stars! You weren’t lying, a fairy!" Alanna said, dropping to her knees next to the creature. She held her hand over it and began praying. Pip instinctively bowed her head and listened.
"In the names of The Three, we ask for your healing hands to touch this majestic creature of yours. Bring it back to full health, restore its life, hold not our actions as anything but helpful. Give us a sign, tell us what to do…" Alanna said softly, her hand outstretched over the creature. Gideon had bowed his head as well. There seemed to be some palpable energy coming from the woman. A warmth of sorts. Pip had felt it before, one time when she was at a temple with her father. That was a long time ago…
All of a sudden the creature gasped and opened its eyes. It flew silently into the air and everyone took a step back. Looking at everyone around it, it finally made eye contact with Pip and flew straight towards her. She screamed again, covered her face, and closed her eyes. "It’s going to kill me!" A moment passed, it hadn’t attacked her face. She felt something on her shoulder and opened her left eye to see what it was. Staring right at her was the glowing creature, perched on her shoulder. She cried out and violently shook her shoulder. "Get it off me!" Surprised at her reaction, the creature held on with its might, falling onto her back but clinging on.
"Young woman! Please stop fidgeting, it won’t harm you!" Alanna said as she walked towards Pip.
Pip took a deep breath, shoulders hunched, and held her arms tight at her side. "It’s on my back. What do you want me to do?" she said through clenched teeth.
"It will not harm you," Alanna said calmly. "You seem to have enticed it in some way. Have you any sugar or bread on you?"
"What? No! What is it exactly?"
"Strange…" Alanna said. She looked to Gideon and spoke to him, almost entirely ignoring Pip struggling not to swat the thing off her. "It’s uncommon, but fairies do sometimes bind themselves to Bastets for a short time. Seeing fairies signifies a presence of The Divine. They’re innocent creatures, potent in blessing, and usually signify good omens. When one stays around, it can act as a guiding spirit of sorts. It could simply be scared or still injured as well. We cannot allow harm to come to the creature while it is in our care."
"Well, bless The Divine. Pip, is it?" Gideon said. "Let’s not swat at it anymore."
While they were talking, the fairy had made its way back onto Pip’s shoulder. Subsequently, Pip scrunched her face up and tilted her head the other way as it nonchalantly cleaned its wings.
"Pip?" Alanna said as she approached. "I’m going to try and get it off you." She reached out her hand and the creature tilted its head at her. In an instant she fell to her knees and bowed her head, mumbling.
"Alanna?!" Gideon got down to help her up. She held her hand up, stopping him. Mumbling to herself, with her eyes closed, she finally made her way back up.
"The Divine have sent me a clear message," she looked straight into Pip’s eyes. "The fairy must stay with you. I know not why or what they have in store, but we must heed the words of The Divine."
"Of course, of course. Thank you so much for coming out so quickly, Alanna," Gideon said to her. She kept looking at Pip though, who looked terrified.
"See to it that this creature isn’t harmed under your care. It appears that it simply wants to be near you. I would advise not to touch or move it without its permission. I want you to check in with me if its behavior changes in any way," Alanna explained. "It is a sign, though I know not where it points. You are truly blessed to have this creature beside you. I don’t know if you’re a devout worshiper, but I’d suggest some prayers tonight. We can pray together if you’d like, simply seek me out."
"Uh- okay, yeah, I can pray about it," Pip said, her face still contorted as the creature licked its wings near her ear.
"Alanna, would you go inform the Captain of this?" Gideon asked. He looked back at Pip. She stood uncomfortably still as the strange, orangish creature cleaned itself on her shoulder. "Well Pip, you’ve made quite an entrance."