“A man?” I questioned. It was not hardly possible. The Sky Kraken was a large monster, part octopus, part dragon, all evil. It preyed on vessels, dragging them down into the clouds, devouring the falling crew. Many a ship had been lost to the Sky Kraken’s appetite.

“Aye,” Everly continued. “Said he was cursed by a sea witch for being unfaithful.” Monogamy was not a word that pirates or anyone who sailed the clouds for a living comprehended. Sailors were notorious for a girl in every port, it was almost expected of them.

“She should’ve had lower expectations,” I stated and saw Everly looking at me. Well I had learned mostly to keep my mouth shut. I was not your everyday, run of the mill, pirate. For one thing, I was not of the male persuasion. I was also not a petite, demure woman either. I was not raped and plundered by the crew because the first time I’d been discovered aboard the Deceit I’d had defended myself against them, with a fork. Shame for Haig, because of me, he had a limp and an eye patch. “Damn those women, never understand a man’s needs.” I quickly said. I was no longer hiding my femaleness, but the fact I had an education. Prior to being a pirate I was a school teacher. Things had happened that made me take the skies.

“He sinks vessels hoping to find the sea witch. She’s clever enough not to go to the skies,” Everly continued as I finished up the potatoes. He sliced them and dropped them into the pot. He chunked the eel fish and added that to the pot as I cleaned up the potato peels, and began sweeping the floor.

We glided easily into Hopewell. It was as I remembered it. I swear you could smell it before you saw it. Hopewell was a large island, big enough to support a forest and its own fresh water supply that poured down from smaller islands that floated above it. One side of it was entirely the harbor. Vessels of all sizes were in dock, along with others that were anchored off shore. Most of the islands moved around, depending on the phase of the moon depended on their position. Surrounding Hopewell were treacherous mountain tops that jutted up through the clouds, Hopewell had been anchored with massive chains to these mountain tops.

Hopewell’s fragrance was of stale beer, unwashed male flesh (which that was a constant odor on the vessels), and fecal matter. Birds and other winged creatures fluttered around the harbor looking for scraps or looking to feed on the birds. The buildings were dirty, the people were dirty, and the streets were nothing but mud paths. Hopewell’s main form of commerce were its taverns and brothels. Hopewell was governed by a governor, who was crooked as the pirates his island gave harbor to. He of course took a cut of all transfer of goods.

I really hadn’t bothered to leave the Deceit while we were at Hopewell. I often gotten mistaken for one of the whores, and I really didn’t feel like carrying my fork with me. Men were better when they had two eyes and two testicles. Besides I had already searched Hopewell for him.

“Cabin boy,” Captain McCormac addressed me, I turned my head in his direction, but didn’t look at him. I had seen plenty of the captain, more than I ever wanted to since my being cabin boy.

“Aye,” I responded.

“Ye be coming ashore wit us,” he ordered and I sighed. Guess I will be bringing my fork.

“Aye Captain,” I replied. Captain McCormac was the first to walk down the gang plank from the Deceit of Trinity to the island of Hopewell. Behind him walked Webb, the first mate, and then myself. The second mate, Haig, was left in charge of making sure no one bothered with the Deceit. Captain McCormac walked with a swagger, his cutlass on his hip, poking through the tails of his heavy blue coat, his musket, loaded, tucked in the belt and sash about his thin hips. The Captain could’ve easily turned sideways, stuck out his tongue and be a zipper. He’d been in a few sword fights, and should’ve been run through, except he made such a thin target. He was tall, taller than most men, and for such a thin man, incredibly strong. Unlike most sailors, he didn’t wear his hair long and unkempt, it was rather short, dark brunette, and oddly friendly brown eyes. His skin was pale, which was odd for a sailor, unblemished, neither by scar or freckle or beard. Many a woman fawned over him, but he calmly and politely, again unusual for a sailor, rebuked their advances. Captain McCormac had no sexual appetite for women.

We passed Hopewell’s other form of commerce, the slave market. Men, women, children, looking used and abused, dirty, and broken were brought out before a crowd of dirty men. The auctioneer rattled off details about the slave, age, abilities, and then a starting price. We normally didn’t bother with the slaves, they were almost too much trouble, they attempted escape constantly, and though Captain Sean “Deadly” McCormac did like to kill before flogging, didn’t find them sporting.

As we passed, a young man, probably around the Captain’s age, was brought forward. He was as thin as the captain, wearing only the tatters of what might have been a pair of pants once. Ribs were showing, his face was unshaven, but he had a boy’s growth. He was filthy like all the other slaves, but a bit of tanned skin shown under the dirt and mud. His hair was dark blonde, shaggy and tangled. The way he stood on the block was not of someone who was broken, he held himself as if he was better than all the rest of the miscreants on Hopewell, as if he was aristocracy. I saw the Captain glance over at him, and then stop, he turned fully and actually approached.

“Captain?” Webb asked and I followed silently, “You don’t intend to buy him?”

“Rubbish, Webb, I don’t buy anything, I intend to steal him,” the Captain stated confidently. We stood there, watching the bidding. The young man actually fetched a rather high price, they’d turned him around, showing that he’d not yet felt the sting of a whip. The only wounds on him were his wrists where the manacles rubbed at his skin. However, the winning bid, went, surprisingly, to the governor of Hopewell.

The governor’s manor was higher up on the island, on a large hill that overlooked the harbor. It was more castle than manor, we’d brought a larger group with us from the Deceit, and were under the cover of darkness. We were now all armed, I carried more than my fork, a cutlass of my own, but the fork so far hadn’t done me wrong. The governor had guards to protect his manor from invaders or thieves or pirates like us. The plan was simple, the others would cause a diversion while the captain and I snuck into the governor’s dungeon. It was normally where he kept his slaves.

The manor was compact, built upwards rather than out, we used stealth as much as possible. The captain and I snuck up behind a pair of guards, he slit one’s throat, while I jabbed my fork into the jugular, and then ripping. Blood gushed, the guards grabbed at their throats before falling into the pools of their own blood. I pulled the meat off the fork and tossed it away.

“A dagger works too,” the captain whispered.

“This is my lucky fork,” I whispered back as I followed him through the doors and into a corridor.

“It wasn’t so lucky for Haig,” the Captain replied.

“It isn’t his lucky fork,” I stated and the Captain gave me a funny look. He led the way down the corridors, we murdered guards as we found them, some with my fork, and others with my cutlass. Before attacking the manor, the Captain had gathered some information about the layout and with a mental map, found the door that led to the dungeons. A row of moss covered stone steps led down into darkness. I pulled a torch from the wall, my fork in the other hand. We descended into the damp filth of disease, feces and torture.

The dungeons were just a room that was two rows of cells divided by iron bars. Huddled in corners or chained to walls were men, women, and children. The governor was not kind to his slaves. In the rear of the room, a cell contained a guillotine, a rack, and an iron maiden.

“Captain, we should free them,” I suggested as he had taken my torch and was searching the faces of the slaves for the young man that had been bought today.

“They are not the reason I’m here,” he insisted.

“They will be a distraction,” I said and after a moment’s thought he nodded. I put my fork in my pocket and took a ring of keys down from a peg in the stone blocks. The slaves were so broken, none had begged for freedom, none had asked to be released. Most moved away from me as I tried to unlock their shackles and cell doors. Slowly they understood I wasn’t there to hurt them.

“He’s not down here,” the Captain whispered to me as the last of the slaves shambled from the dungeon. I glanced to the iron maiden in the last cell. It was closed. I took a deep breath and unlatched the door, pulling them open. I didn’t know what I was expecting to see, the young man pierced by the spikes inside, blood mingling with the dirt of his body. It was blessedly, empty. I sighed. The Captain who was now wiping relief off his face lifted a brow at me. We were thinking the same thing. “You don’t think he’s…” The Captain trailed off.

“We’ll find him,” I stated and took the torch back from him. I tossed it onto the straw that covered the floor of a cell.