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Tales from the Island

Contents

Introduction

The Not-Good Day

The Fish with Teeth

War in Peace

Introduction

Once, there was a girl named Pirate.

If you saw her walking down the street, you’d see only a child at first. Her hair is crimson red; long and wild. A comb would help a lot, but she doesn’t have one. Children living on deserted islands don’t usually have combs. Pirate’s skin was once fair and pale, but now remains slightly tanned from long days spent in the sun. Her clothes are faded and tattered in places, her dark red shirt clumsily patched by rough stitches; her dirty long pants almost black.

Her eyes are the color of the sky on a calm and sunny day when the breeze ruffles the leaves on trees, the blue of the ocean waters that stretch out to eternity. They’re special eyes that see the world as new and interesting with each passing moment.

Pirate doesn’t know when she was born. Pirate looks like a little girl – she might be old for her age or young for her time. She doesn’t really care. Pirate is Pirate, and that’s all that matters.

Anything else? She’s short, but strong for her age. Very strong. Strong enough to lift her sword, and fight with Knight, who is a friend and not a friend. That’s all that matters. She can catch any fish, bring down even the most cautious of birds, and she can outswim anyone in the world. That’s Pirate.

Every day before the wave came Pirate caught fish or rooted for edible plants, watched the waves crash against the shore, fought with Knight or chased the rabbit named Rabbit, and slept. She was happy, then.

Pirate’s story is a long one, filled with magic, interesting things or things Pirate thinks are interesting, monsters, delicious food, and even a city by the sea. To tell it will take a while, but here’s the only thing you need to know:

Once, there was a girl named Pirate.

She learned to swim before she learned to walk.

This is how it all started.

The Not-Good Day

When Pirate woke up she knew it was going to be a good day. She was mistaken of course, but her optimism lasted quite a while.

Pirate’s eyes opened the instant the first rays of dawn smacked her in the face. Pirate was no deep sleeper able to ignore earthquakes, thunderstorms and even alarm clocks. By necessity she slept with one ear open and sometimes one eye open as well if there was trouble. Living by herself in the wilderness, Pirate had learned quickly that those who weren’t able to react to danger quickly died.

In this case the danger was only temporary blindness from the sun. Pirate stumbled upright and lurched over to the small hole she had dug to keep a supply of water for mornings. Blearily, she splashed her face and then froze as she realized she was not alone.

Something vast and hideous was in front of her. Pirate punched the water and was about to grab her sword to fight the strange monster when she realized it was her own reflection. Oh. Of course.

Cautiously, the girl with red hair peered back at herself and wondered why any creature would have red on its body. All the birds she saw flying in the sky had sensibly grey, white, or black feathers. Fish were more colorful of course, but even the weird ones were only purple. Most were sensibly blue or silver or gray, and the green ones and yellow ones were just stupid. Even crabs covered up their orangeness by being dirty.

But Pirate was red. Red, and pinkish. Well, her skin was tanned to the point where it was closer to the color of sand, but it was still unreasonably pale compared to what Pirate would have preferred. Green skin would be far nicer in her opinion; she could hide in the grass more easily. But she had pale skin and red hair, the colors of blood and sand. Sometimes, it was hard to tell if Pirate’s head was bleeding; another drawback of having red hair.

Scare done with, Pirate washed her face in the water and stood up. Time for breakfast. Past time; she was hungry and she wanted food, which meant that breakfast should have been half an hour ago. What to eat this morning? Pirate wasn’t in the mood for crabs and they had been hard to find recently. She didn’t want to gather greens – she wanted meat, and she hadn’t spotted any birds she could kill. That left only fish, so Pirate headed down to the beach.

Her island was very small, so Pirate reached the beach after only a minute’s walk from the grassy plains where she had slept. At this time of day the crabs were still hiding and the tide was high up on the beach. Unusually though, the beach was not completely empty. Far down next to the waves, Pirate spotted the island’s only other human inhabitant.

A girl was sitting by the sea holding a fishing rod. In the dawn’s light her golden hair seemed to shimmer with an aura of its own. The gentle light was reflected off her pale skin, her flowing hair, but most of all, her gleaming armor. It shone in the morning light as the girl sat, perfectly at ease, staring out into the sea.

The fishing rod she held in her hands was a crude thing; rigged together out of a long carved stick and thin grass woven together to form the thinnest of fishing lines. It was heavy too no doubt, but the girl held it with ease, relaxing in the warm glow of the sun. The girl known as Knight also had two swords sitting by her side.

As Pirate approached Knight warily reached for one of her swords while the other kept her fishing rod up. Knight’s reason for caution was somewhat paranoid, but understandable. Pirate and Knight did not get along.

That was, they somewhat got along. Once they had fought, it was true. Pirate had won, at least the first fight. But from the day Knight had arrived on the island she and Pirate had contested everything from where they slept to who got the best food and of course, the fire.

Knight made fire. She was an expert at creating fire, and had a permanent fire pit installed in her forest campsite. It was a wonder to Pirate, who had trouble creating fires that Knight could start fires so easily. True, Knight had a flint and steel to use while Pirate only had sticks and stones, but Knight’s ability to use fire was only part of the varied skill set that separated her from Pirate.

Another factor was Knight’s swords, and indeed, Knight’s armor. The girl never went anywhere without them and could wield a sword in each hand with deadly grace. Pirate’s own sword skills were exceptional for a self-taught amateur, but Knight had a fluidity and certainty of motion with her swords that Pirate envied. Her armor was also nice; it could turn away Pirate’s best sword strike without even bending, and Pirate was sure it was very warm on cold days.

Her armor did have its disadvantages, though. Knight couldn’t swim with it on, and as such, she relied on the inferior method of fishing to obtain her food.

Pirate greeted Knight by picking up a clod of wet sand and throwing it at the other girl. Knight casually smacked the dirt out of the air with her own sword and used it to fling sand at Pirate’s face.

Pleasantries exchanged, Pirate went into the water to wash the sand out of her eyes. She didn’t feel like fighting with Knight today; not yet at least. Knight didn’t have any food on her and Pirate wanted to eat before harassing her in any case. Stealing from Knight was a time-honored tradition of Pirate’s, but it was a lot of work and Pirate was hungry.

The water was brisk and cool, lapping around Pirate’s feet. She smiled, and dug her toes into the sand, feeling it crunch pleasantly beneath her. Yes, it was going to be a good day. Pirate took two steps into the ocean and then hurled herself into the water with a tremendous splash that soaked Knight. The other girl cursed and threw sand at where Pirate had been, but she was already gone, swimming out into the wide ocean.

The water was Pirate’s home. She let it flow around her and sensed the myriad currents of the ocean; a thousand different paths to take. It was the easiest thing for Pirate to choose one swirl of water and let it carry her further out to sea.

For some, the ocean was a dark place with little life; an abyssal world where light, sound, and motion were all limited by the all-consuming waters. Pirate saw the ocean as a buffet where the food came to her.

The waters were full of life! As Pirate swam through the ocean she saw shapes flitting around her. Small fish, big fish. A dead crab; the shells of many dead creatures. Sand, the occasional piece of kelp and of course, fish. Her breakfast.

Lazily, Pirate swum at a shoal of slowly-moving fish. The nervous group immediately scattered away from Pirate but she wasn’t interested in them. When catching her prey Pirate always preyed on the old and infirm. It meant she wouldn’t exhaust her food supply and more importantly, they were much easier to catch.

And it seemed that today Pirate had lucked out. The trio of fish swimming below her was not only slow but big. They were each as long as her arm and nicely wide; a meal and a half each. Pirate could have two for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and use the last one as bait for other fish.

Pirate figured that catching all three fish at once was probably doable given how slowly they swam through the water. She floated, motionless in the ocean as the three fish meandered across the ocean bed, and when they were directly beneath her Pirate dove.

Like a spear of red. Like an arrow of motion. Like a girl diving through the water. Pirate’s hands were a blur as she seized the first fish. For one moment Pirate was triumphant, ecstatic. Then she took a closer look at the fish and let go in horror.

The fish had spots.

Instantly, Pirate swam towards the surface, kicking as hard as she could to put distance between her and the fish. She needed to get back on her island and quickly too; before the sickness of the fish could get to her as well.

Pirate knew the ocean and as such, she knew the dangers of it as well. Storms, whirlpools, poisonous fish, riptides, all of these things were natural and easy to avoid. But plagues in the water? That was terrifying to Pirate.

The fish had white spore-like bumps around their gills, mouths, and eyes. Pirate shuddered to remember, and wiped her hand uneasily on her shirt. She had touched the fish. What if their illness spread to Pirate?

The girl remembered the first time she had encountered sick fish. Then, she hadn’t paid much heed to the telltale bumps on their scales and had eaten well from the easily-caught fish. She had spent the next week throwing up and lying around sick until Pirate had figured out what was making her sick.

Just the memory of that time drove Pirate to swim faster through the water, until her feet touched the ground as she could walk out of the water. Fishing was out of the question for today, and for the next week at least, until the fish were finally spots-free. Pirate wouldn’t risk getting sick again.

Knight watched Pirate curiously as the girl emerged from the surf. It was unusual for Pirate to return empty-handed, but Pirate was in too much of a bad mood to explain why to Knight. Since Pirate couldn’t speak, communication between the two involved a lot of charades and guessing. Anyways, Knight would figure it out as soon as she caught a fish. Meanwhile, Pirate now had to find food somewhere besides the sea, and that was no fun.

Glumly Pirate headed up the beach, leaving Knight to her fruitless fishing. In fact, it was fruits Pirate was now after and for that she headed into the forest. It wasn’t a big forest in truth; probably less than a thousand trees in total, but to Pirate of smaller statue, it was a veritable jungle of things to be scavenged. Sadly, the scavenging was a lot of work.

The day was still early in nature, and so Pirate had plenty of light to see by as she set to work. There were several different species of bushes bearing berries on the island, and Pirate had memorized which ones were good to eat and which ones were not by heart.

In a stroke of good fortune Pirate found a bush bearing quite a lot of small orange berries and followed up that windfall when she found several root plants clustered around a tree. They were brown, tough, and gnarled when Pirate pulled them up and they tasted like boiled boots but they were filling and nutritious. Pirate hated them, but she didn’t want to keep scavenging.

At last Pirate had an armful of food. Carefully she began walking out of the forest. Pirate’s definition of ‘out’ in this case involved walking in one direction until the forest ended. It wasn’t rocket science; it was just common sense.

Unfortunately, the lack of breakfast this morning had made Pirate careless and overeager to get back to the beach so she could eat. The forest had many upraised roots and one of them caught Pirate’s foot. She tumbled to the ground and her hard-won breakfast flew into the air.

Pirate growled in pain and annoyance and leapt to her feet. She raced to pick up her fallen food before it got too dirty and more importantly before it came. But she was too late. Pirate had only picked up half of her burden when something brown and quick darted past her.

Pirate turned and kicked, but the small creature was too fast for her. It zoomed between Pirate’s legs. It disappeared into the undergrowth but Pirate wasn’t fooled. She waited, braced and ready to move for what would surely come.

A flash of movement.

Pirate turned around and leapt in a single fluid motion. She fell short of her target though, and Rabbit darted away, several berries in its mouth. Pirate jumped again, but Rabbit was already gone, and it was too late to chase it. Pirate punched a tree and immediately regretted it so she kicked a shrub to vent her frustration.

Rabbit was a rabbit. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to say. Pirate had never caught it, and it was far too clever and quick to fall for any trap. In truth, Pirate had gotten used to it and even liked Rabbit a bit, so she didn’t try to kill it anymore. She just wished it would stop stealing her food.

The sole rabbit on the island sat and nibbled at the berries while Pirate, scowling, gathered the rest of her food into her arms. It wasn’t much of a loss in truth; Rabbit had stolen less than a mouthful of food for Pirate, but it was the principle of the thing that made Pirate mad. Nothing stole from her and got away with it. Except Rabbit, that was.

Pirate was still mad as she trudged back through the forest. She didn’t want to eat berries and roots for breakfast. Unlike raspberries or blueberries, strawberries or pretty much any other the other lovely domesticated berries most humans ate, the berries on Pirate’s islands were not in fact sweet. They were somewhat savory and tart, but not very tasty, which was why Pirate avoided eating them when fish could be had. But there was no helping it.

Or was there? As Pirate walked through the forest she stumbled across Knight’s camp. It was never in a fixed position in the forest. Knight moved her sleeping spot every few days, partly to avoid overusing any one section of the forest, but mainly to avoid Pirate making too many sneak attacks on her as she slept.

Pirate crept through the forest as soon as she spotted Knight’s telltale golden hair through the trees. The other girl hadn’t seen her, and so Pirate was able to sneak behind a tall oak and watch Knight as the other girl industriously bustled around her campsite.

Pirate preferred sleeping on the beach. She tended to leave her meals and her possessions scattered about the island and generally adopted the ‘leave things where you drop them’ approach to organization. Knight was the polar opposite.

Each section of the campsite was meticulously arranged to maximize efficiency. A well-constructed fireplace dominated the center of the small forest clearing, while Knight’s bedding lay a few paces off, close enough for warmth but not for catching fire.

At the sight of it Pirate longed to steal Knight’s bed. The other girl had constructed a mattress out of soft grasses and leaves, and had further enhanced the comfort of her rest by constructing through much hard labor a pillow of woven grasses. She had used only the long grasses of the plains and although the pillow lasted only a month or so before the grasses completely dried up it was a heavenly, decadent luxury.

Pirate had often attempted to steal Knight’s pillow or bed, but they were hard to carry and run with, and Knight fought to defend them with vicious savagery. And Pirate hadn’t had breakfast yet. Stealing the bedding would surely mean abandoning her breakfast. Reluctantly, Pirate put the idea out of her head. Instead, Pirate looked to see what Knight was having for breakfast and got a surprise.

Knight was eating fish.

Rather, she wasn’t eating fish yet, but fish was in the future of Knight’s dining pleasures. Organized neatly to one side of Knight’s bedding were the meals Knight planned to eat throughout the day. For some reason Knight had peculiar ideas about eating big meals for breakfast, so she had an assortment of leafy greens and some of the bland roots for breakfast, several ripe vegetables and a few of the tastier varieties of berries for lunch and carefully wrapped in leaves to preserve their freshness, several plump fish.

How odd. How strange! Pirate wondered if Knight had gone insane. But no, the girl was always completely sensible in her actions. She wouldn’t eat bad fish. Had Knight found fish that weren’t sick? Pirate wouldn’t risk eating any fish is she knew there was plague in the ocean, but maybe Knight could tell the difference between bad fish and good fish.

Perhaps. But Pirate didn’t trust fish right now, and she was certain eating them would probably be a Bad Idea.

Still, if Knight had caught the fish, maybe she knew something Pirate didn’t. Knight was weird like that, but even she could tell when fish were bad, right? And Pirate wasn’t too happy about eating only plants, so Knight wouldn’t mind if Pirate took one or maybe all of the fish she was cooking.

Pirate’s lovely thoughts of food were interrupted by a sudden flash of movement. The girl ducked just in time. A rock soared through the air right where Pirate’s head had been. Startled, Pirate looked up.

Knight was standing the center of her campsite, face dark as thunder. She had somehow spotted Pirate, and what was worse, she was twirling a strange object around in her hands. Even as Pirate watched Knight twisted her hand and there was another blur of motion.

Pirate yelped and jumped away and another rock struck the ground at her feet. She dove back into the forest with her food, dodging and weaving as large pebbles bounced off of tree trunks and thudded into the underbrush around her. She had no idea how Knight was throwing rocks so accurately and so hard, but she wasn’t about to stay to find out.

The girl only relaxed when she was out of the forest and back on the grassy plains. There she sat down and began munching on her food, but even as she downed tasteless mouthful after mouthful, she was still thinking.

A sneak attack as Knight roasted her fish for dinner would save Pirate the time and effort of getting her own food, and it would mean attacking Knight which was always a plus. Then Pirate could eat the fish and she wouldn’t get sick.

Right?

——

Knight sat and pondered the meaning of words.

Words were important. Yes, words were gateways to meaning, and through meaning; understanding of the world. For being like Pirate, words were abstract notions that were cumbersome and hard to use. Pirate tended to think and learn visually, which was fine in its way. But Knight liked to use words because of the subtle nuances that could be divined through their usage.

Transgressions. Yes, that was the word you used to avoid the harsher truth. Such a long word, which implied too many things, such as the willing and knowing egress of boundaries; the violation of what must first be the property of another. In short, the violation of some form of law. But here, on an island without law or order, transgression was not the word for what Knight had done.

Sin. Perhaps that was it. But Pirate had no faith, and in any case, it was a crime only in the eyes of society. For the act of killing and hunting of others – even of your own kind – such things are part of nature.

Yet. Knight was sure there was an appropriate word for it. Oh, it was far easier to call her previous crimes sin. That was clear in her mind; sin, betrayal, and vengeance all brought together. They were easy faults to label.

But what she had done to Pirate, no. Sin was too light a word in some respects. It implied a burden against God, or perhaps gods, or at least a weight that must be measured against some moral standard. And Pirate had none.

A savage child, living by herself on the sea. A girl with no name, playing in the surf and sand, living in her own small way. She was insignificant; ignored by the rest of the world. But for all that, innocent. And she was far happier than Knight.

Trespass. Yes, it was partly that. Knight had come to Pirate’s island. Though the girl had not formally claimed it, it was hers. And she had brought…

Violence. Murder. At least, Knight had attempted it. But what to call the combination of the two? Assault was a word for lawmen and places with actual governance and structure. In this deserted island, there was only survival, and in that way, Knight had been simply doing what came naturally.

But Knight had not attacked Pirate to survive. That knowledge grated at her, as if attacking the other girl so that Knight could live would somehow excuse the crime; make it better. Perhaps it would.

But it was still wrong.

Wrong. Knight closed her eyes and breathed out. Yes. A word at the heart of things. Abstract; vague without context, but true. And to Pirate, it would be the only word that made sense. Trespass? Transgress? Pirate had nothing for Knight to trespass against. Sin? She knew of no gods and made no rules. Violence and murder were part of Pirate’s life, and she weighed the lives of animals equal to her own. Pirate killed to live, and ate the bodies of her prey. She understood that, and didn’t begrudge the fangs and claws of those she hunted. They sought to kill her, and she them. Such was life as Pirate saw it.

But what Knight had done was wrong. Without the hunger of death, with no intent other than to inflict harm for harm’s sake, she had attacked. That was wrong. It went against nature; it was not part of survival. Pirate had not provoked Knight, but Knight had tried to kill her.

That was wrong. And it was a wrong of humans. It had no place on this island.

Knight breathed out slowly, heavily. Wrong. Such were her actions, and she could do nothing now to change them. In truth, there was little to amend. Knight had failed to kill Pirate that day, and in the time since, Pirate had surely paid Knight back a hundred-fold for that day. And in her way, hadn’t Knight tried to do her part? She had taught Pirate things. Slowly, painfully it was true; yet thanks to her, Pirate had learned to understand speech, and if she could not speak herself, she knew far more than she had before.

Hygiene for one thing; the elements of proper woodcraft, fire making, and swordplay were also gifts from Knight. Admittedly, Pirate herself outclassed Knight in every respect when it came to basic survival activities such as fishing, swimming, climbing, hiding, and perhaps, even fighting. But Knight had done her best to redeem herself. Right?

So it was acceptable, nay, forgivable, nay, praiseworthy to turn around and smack Pirate’s silly little head before she tried to make off with Knight’s dinner, correct? Knight thought about it hard for another second as the furtive rustling grew closer. Then she drew her swords and leapt to her feet.

Pirate was in the clearing, frozen in mid step with her hands around Knight’s hard-earned fish. Knight didn’t hesitate, but charged forwards, shouting.

Startled, Pirate dropped the fish and ran. She hadn’t expected Knight to hear her, much less be that loud and aggressive. Shouting was usually Pirate’s thing.

Knight waited as Pirate beat a hasty retreat and then sighed, sheathing her swords. Carefully, she picked up the fish Pirate had dropped and dusted it off. Before coming to the island, Knight would have never eaten something that had fallen onto the ground, but her tastes had…broadened since arriving. Hunger was not a picky eater.

Knight blew on the fish and then bit onto the least-dirty side. Hm. Still warm and quite edible. Very tasty, and satisfyingly good. Especially after chasing off Pirate. Fortunate as well that Knight hadn’t lost a single fish; she was used to somewhat pyrrhic victories when it came to Pirate’s thefts.

Well, that just meant Knight would sleep tonight with a full stomach. Contentedly, Knight bit down on the hot flesh and chewed thoroughly. It was such a windfall to get fish as good as these too; they had been swimming around, blatant as you like right by the shore. It had been the work of a moment to spear them. Quite odd, now that Knight thought of it that Pirate hadn’t grabbed them first. The other girl could catch fish as easily as Knight breathed. Oh well. Maybe she was just lazy.

Knight took another bite of her fish, and then another. Before long, she had eaten all the fish, and settled back next to her fire to sleep. It was the start of a very bad, very long night for Knight.

——

The next day, Pirate woke up and wondered where all the moaning was coming from. It was getting on her nerves.

Pirate normally bivouacked on an open stretch of grass right next to the beach. The sand mixed with the grass to create a soft bed and if sand got into Pirate’s hair, well, it would wash out the next time she took a swim. More importantly, the sand was a nice blanket if Pirate dug herself into it, and the sound of the ocean’s waves crashing against the sand lulled Pirate to sleep. She had always slept to the sound of the waves. They were rhythmic, hypnotic, and soothing to the ear.

By contrast, the loud moaning was about as pleasant to listen to as a bird with explosive diarrhea. Pirate tried to ignore it for a long time, but eventually annoyance won over the desire to sleep.

The sand was tricky to navigate in the early morning. Pirate fell twice as she stumbled about and resolved to hurt whatever had made her get up.

The moon’s light was fading and the sun hadn’t come up yet, but there was still the faintest amount of light for Pirate to see by. She still tripped again, but a shadow moved in the darkness ahead of Pirate.

Something was lying on the ground. Cautiously Pirate moved forward, ready to flee if it was something scary.

Knight lay sprawled on the ground, her hair a halo of dirty yellow around her head. She was presumably alive because Pirate saw her chest moving up and down, but besides that Knight didn’t move. As Pirate watched, Knight coughed weakly, groaned, and twitched.

For a while Pirate was so surprised that she didn’t know what to think. But as Knight moaned and shifted again some thoughts occurred to Pirate.

Knight normally didn’t lie on the ground and groan. She especially hated sleeping on the beach since sand got in her hair. Ergo, something was wrong. Knight was sick.

The concept of mercy and fairness was not something Pirate had ever been taught. But there are some things that are hardwired into the human condition. Some traits, some actions are ingrained from birth, and they spoke to Pirate now. When you see someone lying at your feet, some things are only natural.

Like kicking.

Pirate’s foot thumped Knight in the back of the head, and not lightly either. It was a good hard tap, but Pirate was wary of putting too much force into it in case this was a trap.

It was not.

Knight’s response to Pirate’s kick was to groan softly. Pirate squatted down and examined Knight more carefully. She was definitely awake, and from the glare Pirate got, seriously contemplating violence. But unusually, Knight seemed to be slightly unwell.

Maybe it was the sweat copiously pouring down Knight’s face. Perhaps it was the greenish tinge to her lips, her hyperventilation; the definite feeling that she was trying not to throw up. Pirate could decipher the clues.

Knight growled something at Pirate, but it was muffled by the sand. It was probably something important, so Pirate poked Knight until she said it again.

“Go away.”

This was uncharacteristic of Knight who normally backed up words with her swords. Moreover, her unusual state bothered Pirate. She turned to go, resolving to come back and bother Knight later.

But something stopped Pirate. The sight of Knight lying there, helpless, triggered a reaction in her. Her nemesis and sometimes companion was suffering. Surely Pirate couldn’t just leave her there. Pirate stopped and went back to Knight. There was something she had to do.

——

Knight, lying in a state of fevered delirium dreamed of water. She thirsted for it, but she refused to ask Pirate for help. She could not lower herself to beg, not from that savage, that neanderthal fool. In any case, her illness was surely contagious considering how she had contracted it. No, far better to deal with this herself and not risk infecting the only other person on the island. Knight had survived worse.

Her body was an aching mass of burning pain that seemed to radiate from her intestines outward. It was uncomfortable, to understate the situation. Knight’s armor was also playing a horrible part in her suffering; her elevated temperature was turning her armor into a bake oven, with Knight playing the role of the unfortunate dough subjected to baking, cloying heat.

Cloying heat. What a turn of phrase. Remarkably elegant for the situation, Knight thought. The noxious combination of her sweat and the sun was no picnic of an odor to begin with, but her brain was being scrambled as well. Even her internal thoughts were corrupting; slowly being subsumed by the madness of her sickness.

Well, she would survive. Even if it meant crawling all the way to the small reservoir of freshwater she had created, Knight would live. In times like this, internal fortitude was the only thing that could see a body through. It was a matter of mind of body, mental strength and—

Poke.

Knight felt a distinct pressure on the back of her head. It was a sharp, annoying intrusion on her flesh that could only be summed up in one word: poke.

Something therefore, was poking Knight. It was a mark of how sick Knight was that it took her a while to figure out who was doing it.

Poke. Poke.

Knight groaned. It was a divine judgement, or it would be if Knight still believed in such things. Well, maybe this was proof of heaven after all. For how can the ignorant know of heaven without hell?

Poke.

Pirate had a unique kind of persistence Knight reflected. It was amazing and incredibly useful in some ways; commendable even for someone so young to be so dedicated. But in certain circumstances her refusal to quit was inconvenient.

Such as now.

Knight groaned louder, hoping Pirate would get the message and leave.

There was a brief hesitation, and for a blessed moment the poking stopped. Knight relaxed in relief, and tried to focus on resting. She was just finding that sweet oblivion of unconsciousness, when, on the edge of perception something gingerly touched the back of Knight’s head.

Poke.

——

Knight still didn’t respond after Pirate poked her several more times in the back of the head, which was worrying. Knight had little patience with things that annoyed her, and Pirate was sure she was annoying Knight right now.

This called for more drastic measure.

Carefully and deliberately, Pirate got closer and closer to the back of Knight’s head. She raised her finger, drew it back and then poked Knight with all her might.

It was a poke to end all pokes, but Knight still didn’t move. Pirate thought she heard Knight muttering something, but since the girl was speaking into the ground Pirate couldn’t make it out. Still, she had gotten a response so Pirate poked Knight again as hard as she could. When that didn’t work, she poked Knight again.

And again.

Eventually the prone Knight had had enough. She rose with a scream and charged Pirate, swinging wildly.

Pirate grinned and raised her fists. This was better. This was how Knight should be; angry and active, not sick and unmoving.

Knight took one step forwards Pirate and raised a fist. Expectantly, Pirate lowered her stance, ready to counter with a few good punches before she let Knight go, but the first punch never came.

Instead, Knight wobbled, her eyes fluttered, and without as much as a sigh she toppled over. It was a graceless, heavy fall, and her face hit the ground with a crack.

For a moment, Pirate was frozen with shock. Then, as the rush of panic filled her veins she dashed over to Knight and felt at the girl’s head. It was burning hot, and Knight’s breathing was harsh and short. This was no ordinary sickness.

Something was very wrong.

——

Knight was heavy for a child, and she wore armor, but that was again armor for a child. In truth, her armor merely doubled Knight’s weight, and so Pirate was still able to drag her back to the campsite where Knight lived. It was hard, backbreaking work nonetheless and Pirate dropped Knight three times before she made it.

Once there, Pirate laid Knight on her bed of leaves and grass and looked around for a clue as to what to do next. She wasn’t sure how helping other people went. When Pirate got sick, she lay on the beach throwing up and trying not to throw up until she felt better. However, Pirate thought there was probably better way to deal with being ill.

Well, first things first. Pirate thought hard. Before finding out how to fix Knight, maybe she had better find out what had made Knight like this in the first place. If it was a poisonous animal or a nasty bug, Pirate had better find it and kill it quick before it spread to her.

Hm. What had Knight done yesterday or this morning that had made her like this? Pirate looked around the meticulously kept campsite, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Then her eye fell on a few fish bones piled neatly next to the burnt-out camp fire.

The fish. Of course. Knight had eaten bad fish after all. That idiot. Well, it explained why Knight had gotten sick, but not how to make Knight get better.

Pirate’s tried and tested solution to dealing with rotten food was to throw it up. But, by the looks of things Knight had done just that multiple times already. And she still was sick, which meant there was something else that probably needed to be done.

After much careful thought, Pirate went over to Knight and removed her armor. It was a struggle to unfit the meticulously assembled armor, but Pirate had small fingers, a strong grip, and not least, the willingness to force Knight’s limbs through any contortions in order to wrench a piece of armor off.

That seemed to help. At the very least, Knight was no longer cooped up in the hot and sweaty armor now littering the campsite. But still, Pirate was worried. She had never seen Knight this weak and it made her unexpectedly anxious. But she had no idea what to do.

Pirate’s troubled thoughts were interrupted by a rustling on the edge of hearing. She turned, and saw Rabbit wandering into the campsite. The small creature usually followed Pirate or Knight around when it wasn’t hungry, and followed them religiously when it was.

Pirate breathed a sigh of relief. Good. Rabbit was here, and it could help think. Two minds were better than one.

The girl walked over to the rabbit, which turned to flee. Pirate put up a hand quickly and said,

“Aba.”

Rabbit stopped and looked at Pirate with suspicion.

“Bawa.” Pirate pointed at Knight and tried to explain. “Pa. Pah. Baba wa.”

She wasn’t sure if Rabbit understood her, but Pirate hoped it did. Securing Rabbit’s help could be vital; of all the creatures on the island, only it could avoid Pirate’s traps and was better at surviving than she. Rabbit was certainly one of the, if not the smartest beings on the island. It was certainly smarter than Knight; it never ate bad fish for one thing.

Rabbit regarded Knight for a moment and then hopped forward. Pirate held her breath as the small creature circled the comatose girl. After much careful thought, it licked Knight’s cheek and then jumped away in shock.

This was a Clue. Pirate walked forwards and squatted next to Knight. Her cough had taken on a raspy quality. Pirate felt at Knight’s head and snatched her hand away. The girl’s forehead was hot.

Something must be done. Pirate knew that being that warm was a bad thing, and so it seemed to her that the logical step was to correct it.

It wouldn’t do to leave Knight alone, so Pirate picked up Rabbit. It squirmed and fought until Pirate deposited Rabbit next to Knight. She pointed to the other girl.

“Ba,” Pirate told Rabbit.

Pirate backed up and watched to make sure Rabbit didn’t leave Knight’s side until she reached the edge of the camp site. Then she turned and went for water.

Usually Pirate walked around her island, or ran if she felt like feeling the wind in her face. This time Pirate dashed through the forest, leaping over tree roots and ducking low-hanging branches. She didn’t know why. Pirate never worked hard unless her own personal life was at stake, but for some reason, she felt she needed to move fast. The memory of feeling the burning heat under Knight’s skin was still in Pirate’s hand. It made her run faster.

The trouble with islands is that they’re surrounded by water that is by and large undrinkable. Pirate had in times of need drunken sea water in very small quantities, but even then she had to be desperate. The salty water made her sick and tasted horrible, which is why when she had first come to the island she had been delighted to find clean water. Unfortunately, the clean water was only available if you dug deep.

There was one well on the island that both Pirate and Knight used, a culmination of both girl’s long hours of digging and shoring up the loose dirt with rocks. It was a clumsy well, but deep, almost ten feet down and filled with several feet of water at the bottom. Without rainwater, the well was the girl’s only source of fresh water, and as such neither Knight nor Pirate camped anywhere near it. Several bad incidents with going to the bathroom nearby the well had convinced both girls that contaminating it was not in their interests at all.

Pirate found the small bucket lying next to the well and tossed it in. It was a small bucket, enough for a few large cups of water or enough for a small stew. What was really special about it though was that it was made entirely of bark and woven pieces of grass. Pirate had laboriously chosen the thickest, toughest pieces of bark and tied the pieces together with many overlapping thin strands of tough, long grass until her container didn’t leak water—much.

The bucket hit the bottom of the well with a thunk. Pirate peered over the edge of the well suspiciously. Of all the sounds the well should have made, ‘thunk’ was not one of them.

The well was dry. Pirate confirmed this by hauling on the small rope attached to the bucket until it came up. Empty. Well, not entirely. The bottom of the bucket was damp with wet soil, but clearly the level of water in the well had decreased considerably.

Pirate dropped the bucket and thought hard for a moment. The well was empty. Empty, but not depleted, that was it. From experience, Pirate knew that the level of water in the well would rise after a few hours, but that meant that something had emptied it.

Knight. Of course. The girl must have already used all the water in the well. In disgust, Pirate kicked the bucket back into the well and winced as the rope went in with it. She’d have to climb down there and back up to get it, which was a pain.

But the water was more important. Pirate began pacing back and forth in front of the well. Her heart was beating much too quick, and her thoughts felt…frantic. Why? Knight needed water. Pirate had to get water. It was a simple thing, but Pirate felt rushed by the urgency of her mission. It made thinking hard, and Pirate needed to think. How could she get water?

In frustration, Pirate kicked at the grass, and then went over to a tree and started kicking it. That made her foot hurt, so she punched the tree instead. The bark cut Pirate’s hand. That made her really mad, so Pirate bent her head back and hit the tree with her forehead.

Thwack. The world spun. Pirate stumbled around dizzily clutching at her head until everything stopped hurting so much. But when the pain was gone, Pirate was calmer. And better yet, she knew what she had to do.

Without a backward glance at the well, Pirate took off running again. This time her path was straight out of the forest, across the grassland and into the beach. Pirate didn’t even slow down as she churned through the sand and into the surf. The water was cool today, but Pirate hardly took any notice as she leapt into the ocean and dove deep.

There was a nice riptide around the island, and Pirate took it at once, letting it pull her body out to sea while she searched the waters. It was murky so deep, with only a fragment of the light above filtering down to Pirate. But her eyes were keen, and Pirate could see shapes moving in the dim light.

Fish. Pirate watched the shapes flit to and fro, gauging the speed of their movement. It didn’t seem as though these fish had the same sickness, but she had to double check.

Carefully, moving as slowly through the water as possible, Pirate swam closer to the fish. At first they shied away from her warily, but as Pirate did nothing but float in the water they swam closer. She patiently held her breath and eyed the fish as they circled her, occasionally nipping her clothes or hands for edibility.

No, they had no spots or strange bumps on their scales. These fish were clean. Even so, Pirate wouldn’t normally risk eating them for another week or so. Well, that was okay because these fish weren’t for her.

A big fish darted around Pirate’s foot and tried to engulf one toe in its mouth. That earned it the privilege of being first. The unlucky fish nibbled at Pirate’s pinkie toe, and then made to swim away. That was when Pirate struck. She dove, and struck out with one hand in a flurry of bubbles.

The fish tried to flee, but Pirate caught it by one tail and no matter how it thrashed, she wouldn’t let go. The next few seconds in the water were flurried motion as Pirate pulled the struggling fish towards her, and then a violent jerk as she broke its neck.

Pirate let the dead fish float in the water and looked around. The other fish had fled, but not so far that she couldn’t see them. They scattered as she approached, but Pirate had grown up catching fish. Moreover, she swam nearly as fast as they did, so in a few minutes two more fish floated belly-up in the water.

That was enough. Pirate grabbed the fishes and towed their bodies out of the water. They were all fat and nicely plump, unaccustomed to any predators in the water except for Pirate. Thus while they were easy to handle in the relative weightlessness of water, on land Pirate had to stack them like logs in her arms as she carried them back.

——

Knight was tossing, turning, moaning, and groaning when Pirate arrived at the campsite. Surprisingly, Rabbit was still there, watching Knight as she thrashed in her fevered delirium. Quickly, Pirate got to work.

She didn’t have any knives on her, but Knight had her sword. Pirate hesitated only for a moment before grabbing one. Normally such an action would invite cutting disapproval from Knight in literal terms, but this was a special circumstance. With utmost care Pirate maneuvered the blade and sliced open each fish. She removed the head of each fish and opened them lengthwise. Then she squatted down and removed the bones and skin of each fish, carelessly tossing them aside. Rabbit squeaked and fled at the sight of the gory mess, but Pirate paid no heed.

Normally, the waste of such edible foodstuffs would be a crime, but Pirate wasn’t after food just right now. She did pile the fish heads to one side for later, but her real goal was accomplished. A pile of wet, reeking fish entrails lay on the ground, which Pirate carefully picked up and brought over to Knight.

Knight was gasping, her face red, but sweat had ceased pouring from her brow. That was a bad sign. Carefully, Pirate prized open Knight’s mouth and inserted a piece of wet fish.

Knight spluttered and choked at the sudden intrusion, but Pirate helped her sit up. The fish couldn’t have tasted too good, but it was food, and more importantly, it was wet.

Fish were wet. They swam in wetness. Pirate couldn’t articulate the exact biological nature of fish, but she did know that fish could be eaten when water ran out. More than once, Pirate had survived times of drought when rain did not fall by eating fish for their moisture. It wasn’t like water, not nearly as good, but it was all Knight had at the moment.

Knight chewed feverishly and managed to swallow her mouthful. Carefully, Pirate fed her another helping of fish. Knight managed to down that and another before it all came back up.

Pirate grimaced and wiped a combination of bile and chewed-up fish from her clothing. This wasn’t working. She tried feeding Knight another piece of fish and let the girl spit out the flesh after she had chewed it for a while. This seemed to work, but there just wasn’t enough water in the fish.

Pirate had to do something else.

The girl knew this, but standing up and walking away from Knight was far harder than it should have been. The other girl didn’t seem to realize she had gone; she just sat there, staring blankly ahead into nothing.

What else? What could Pirate do? She paced around the clearing thoughts flying frantically. Water was gone. Fish were no good. That left—

Pirate looked around. She had seen something unusual just this morning, although she had forgotten it this morning. Knight had been holding an interesting device, something Pirate had never seen before. Where was it?

There. Pirate scooped up the curious object, and saw for the first time what Knight had wrought. It was essentially a long band of woven grass, knotted together to form a tough string. No surprises there. But Knight had looped both ends of the rope through another creation; a broad cup of thick leaves with two holes on either end for the rope to pass through. Pirate poked at the shell of leaves. It was surprisingly thick; it seemed Knight had glued together many fresh leaves to create a solid yet malleable substance, which had formed the base of the slingshot she had created.

Naturally, Pirate had no idea it was a slingshot. Indeed, her careful exploration of the sling and puzzling over its usage meant that it took her nearly ten minutes to guess at its use. Only the memory of Knight twirling the sling and the stone that had flown at Pirate’s head made her realize what she held. But when she did, Pirate realized that this was it.

Pirate left the forested part of the island quickly; stopping only to make sure Knight was still alive. The other girl was breathing hard, but she was still breathing.

The part of the island Pirate went to next was where water met land, but also where water crashed against several large rocks that jutted out of the sand like dull teeth. This was a special part of the island, and Pirate normally didn’t come here. It made her too sad, most of the time.

The dark grey stones may have once been vast slabs of stone, perhaps even parts of a mountain, but they had been eroded away to form salt-flecked monoliths that were easily scalable. However, the tops of these boulders did indeed resemble mountains – the peaks of each rock were covered with a fine white layer of bird dung.

This was mainly due to the birds, which used the rocks as their nesting grounds. The natural indentations formed in the stone by erosion made perfect nests, and as such, the various seagulls, cormorants, pelicans, and other water fowl flocked to this location.

Pirate hated their guts.

Birds weren’t overly plentiful on the island, but they did occupy the top-tier of predators along with Pirate and Knight. There had been more dangerous animals – wild boars with evil tusks – but Pirate’s arrival had removed that particular part of the ecosystem. For her, anything that moved was prey, but birds managed to survive and even compete with Pirate for one simple reason:

She couldn’t catch them.

Oh, it was all too possible for Pirate to scale the boulders and make off with the bird’s eggs despite their pecking beaks and claws. She did it quite frequently, taking care to let some eggs remain so the bird’s population remained stable. And it was also true that a careless bird pecking at a wandering beetle was an easy target if it stood still long enough for Pirate to sneak up on it.

Any bird in Pirate’s hands was a bird with a head pointing the wrong direction. But aside from her wits and a net she sometimes used to catch landed birds, Pirate had no way to catch birds in their natural habitat. They were simply too high up to sneak up on or surprise, and that made Pirate angry, especially when the birds pooped on her head.

Seagulls were the worst. They brazenly stole from Pirate. The greedy birds would snatch any fish she left unattended, and even went after her berries and other foodstuffs behind her back. They deserved punishment, but until now Pirate had been helpless to administer it.

Well, today it was all about to change. Pirate twirled the sling in her hands. It was a new weapon, but a few minutes practice had made Pirate pretty proficient with it. Learning not to hit herself in the face was the biggest challenge, but it really was an intuitive tool. Now, which bird would be first?

Pirate sighted upwards. There. An incautious young pelican was choking down a fish on a rock close by. Pirate twirled the sling, tossed the stone straight at the pelican.

She missed.

The stone clattered off the rock next to the pelican’s head and it shot into their air in a panic. Birds weren’t used to being hunted on the island though, and it soon settled back into its perch. That was when Pirate’s second stone winged the pelican and sent it tumbling to the ground.

The pelican fell with a shrill cry that roused its fellow birds and sent them into the air. It tried to flap back upright, but Pirate pounced on the pelican. With one hand, Pirate picked up the struggling bird and dashed it against the rocks, breaking its neck.

One down. Pirate had decided she needed at least three birds to make her plan work. Fortunately, there were plenty of targets now, as the birds swooped around in confusion.

Pirate took aim at the birds closest to the ground. Her aim wasn’t the best, but she had unlimited supplies of ammunition, and the birds didn’t move far enough to escape the range of her slingshot. They really weren’t that bright, because they kept on returning to the spot where their comrades died.

In only a few minutes, Pirate had killed half a dozen of the birds and piled their bodies together like firewood. They were fat birds, living off of plentiful fish and so they were somewhat difficult to carry, but Pirate managed to stagger off with her burden.

Back now, away from the beach and into the forest. Pirate sensed Rabbit appear out of the undergrowth, but the small creature stopped when it realized Pirate wasn’t carrying food edible to it, but rather, dead things. It followed Pirate at a respectful distance until Pirate accidentally dropped one of the birds. Then, Rabbit crept closer, sniffing at the dead creature and then retreating in alarm.

Pirate scowled at Rabbit. She tried to pick up the dead bird, but her hands were full with the sling as well as the fowls. Meanwhile, Rabbit kept on darting forwards to sniff at the dead animals, and that only annoyed Pirate more.

She twirled the sling once in her hands, but Rabbit was gone before Pirate even loosed the stone. It hit a bush lightly and fell to the ground. Pirate hadn’t thrown the rock very hard. It was just that Rabbit could be distracting, and Pirate needed no distractions.

That and the sight of blood and guts tended to scare the creature. Cruelty now saved trauma later. Pirate was a big believer in necessary violence.

Enough wasting time. Pirate shook her head and tossed Knight’s sling aside. She’d pick it up later if she remembered. But the birds were heavy, and Pirate wanted both hands free to deal with them.

The girl’s step quickened, and she tugged her burden across the uneven ground quickly. The bodies of the dead birds would take a while to deal with, and she needed that bucket. It would take time, but Pirate had to hurry.

Time was running out.

——

Knight had always wondered how she was going to die. In younger times, she had dreamed of a glorious battle; a final crusade against evil. In time, she had learned that evil was just a word.

Once, Knight had known she would die for her sins. But children cannot be hung, so instead she was condemned to die at sea, in darkness beneath the waves. But that too hadn’t been her death.

Now, Knight was dying. Close to dead. It seemed funny that it would all end here. That, after all the important deaths, Knight was dying of a common sickness in a place without people.

Well, there was one. Knight groaned aloud as the agony coursed through her. Her skin was melting off. So it felt like. Knight raised one arm and saw the pale skin of her hand. Not the armor she always wore. Someone had taken it off. Pirate? The name sounded right.

Once, Knight had other friends. Or maybe not. Friends? It was such a hard word. Confusing. Maybe just…associates, then. Not friends. Not in the end.

They were all gone, now anyways. Good riddance. It was peaceful here. At last the heat burning Knight had gone; the chilling freeze in her bones had likewise subsided. She was at peace.

It felt warm. That was what Knight thought as she slowly died. She felt warm, like the cool summer days when she used to sit with the sun warming her skin. It was a lovely warm, and it made her eyes slowly close.

Something was pulling Knight away. Slowly. Surely. Into another place. It took away the pain of living, and promised a wonderful sleep. The rest Knight dreamed of, and didn’t deserve. It called to her.

It was a small death, and a quiet one. But it would do.

Knight smiled once, and closed her eyes.

Her breath slowed.

Her pulse faded.

Knight sighed.

And nearly choked as Pirate slammed her wooden bucket down on Knight’s chest. It was a sturdy wooden bucket and at the moment filled with a sloshing, heavy liquid.

It hurt.

Jolted back into the world of the painfully living, Knight gasped and flailed about. She tried to sit up, but she was far too weak, and whatever was in the bucket weighed a ton. This would normally not be a problem, buckets being made to contain heavy things, but right now it was on Knight and she wanted it off.

Knight tried to speak, to tell Pirate this in no uncertain terms, but her mouth was so dry the girl gagged and choked instead. Meanwhile, Pirate was fussing around above her, paying no attention to Knight’s crushing situation.

The world was going dark. Knight couldn’t breathe, and she was being crushed. She was dying, but not in a good way. Not that she really wanted to die, but Knight felt there were better ways than this. Death by bucket. No. But she was so thirsty—

And then there was liquid.

Hot, warm liquid being poured into Knight’s mouth. She swallowed reflexively and nearly gagged. The taste was like iron; the consistency was like blood.

Which it was.

Knight saw Pirate using a wooden ladle to scoop up some more blood from the bucket. Knight gurgled and choked, trying to stop her, but the ladle dipped, came back out, and then Knight had to swallow or drown. It was a close-run thing, but Knight eventually gulped down that mouthful, and then another.

It was nauseating; horribly disgusting and Knight’s mind told her to vomit. But her body, her treacherous, desperate body wanted to live. And it told her that she needed water no matter how she got it. Knight felt the blood hit her stomach and felt it heave, but at the same time, felt the energy come back into her limbs slightly.

Hazily, she looked up at her unlikely savior. The girl named Pirate. The other child was intent on the bucket and ladle, slowly filling it up before giving it to Knight.

What a fool. What an idiot. Blood was dangerous to drink, Knight knew. Plagues originated from such things, like the terrible spores that sprouted from corpses or the illnesses born from rotting flesh. Such was the knowledge Knight had been taught, but of course Pirate knew nothing of this. She was an ignorant savage.

What talent. What a genius she was too, though. For Knight had forgotten all about the water that could be harvested from fish, just as she had forgotten the blood that ran from birds. In her desperation and sickness she had drunk the little water in the well and given up hope when it had run dry. Yet Pirate had found a way to live when Knight had failed. She was a true survivor.

But she was very stupid. Knight felt the blood sloshing around in her stomach and knew she had had enough. Too much liquid would just make her throw up. Unfortunately for her, Pirate didn’t seem to realize this and scooped up another mouthful of blood.

Pirate pressed the scoopful of blood against Knight’s lips, but the other girl kept her mouth firmly shut. The blood splashed wetly and stickily against her skin, nauseating her even further with its smell in the heat of the day. It still had floating bits of bird flesh in it.

Knight kept her mouth shut even as Pirate pressed more insistently, splashing the blood in her face. She was feeling better now, at least compared to before, and had no wish to ruin that by exploding her stomach. Unfortunately, Pirate was stubborn, a fact Knight knew full well.

Knight felt fingers fumble at her mouth, trying to prize open her lips. Knight was none too pleased to see that Pirate’s fingers were dirty with dried blood and dirt, no doubt attesting to the hygiene with which she had harvested the blood. But she let Pirate prize her lips open and try to lever her teeth apart.

That was when Knight bit.

——

When Pirate had stopped screaming and running about, she threw several rocks at Knight. Whether through careful aim or luck, they all missed Knight’s head by inches, and Pirate eventually cooled down enough to help Knight redress herself in her armor. Night was coming on, and Knight preferred her armor to keep warm. Besides, it was a part of her.

Knight’s body ached, and her mouth tasted of bile and blood. Pirate brought her a bucket from the refilled well, and Knight washed out the bad tastes with the brackish water.

She was still too weak to move, so Pirate went off and looked for food. Knight leaned back in the sand and sensed Rabbit disappear after Pirate, probably to steal scraps.

She hurt. Her throat, stomach, and head ached with pain, and Knight still felt queasy. The sickness was in her yet, and she knew it would take another day or two before she was completely better. But Knight was…happy.

What is happiness after all, but the absence of sadness? A philosopher’s answer, but Knight felt it to be true. Despite her aches and mortal cares, she was not alone. Someone was looking after her. True, it was a girl without any standards of hygiene and a dubious sense of what constituted help, but it was more than Knight had ever asked for and far more than she had ever desired.

A friend. The very word was something Knight didn’t understand. Did friends fight each other like she and Pirate did? Surely, friends didn’t steal from each other or pick fights over trivial matters. Friends shouldn’t annoy each other so much just by their very presence. But it seemed to Knight that only a friend would save another person’s life.

Knight hurt. Her pain was great, and it gnawed at her flesh despite her armor. Yet what was inside Knight was a bit of happiness, and it made her feel better than she had felt in a long time.

Friend.

Oh lord of the skies. Oh lady moon. To the god of light Knight despised and any spirits who were listening, Knight prayed. Was it too much to ask for these days to go on forever?

The wind was Knight’s only reply. That and the ceaseless crash of waves.

Of course not. Nothing was forever. For some reason, that made this moment all the more wonderful.

Knight closed her eyes and lay back on a bed of sand. It was not the silk sheets she had once slept in, and the food Pirate served her later was overcooked; a rough mixture of roots and berries that couldn’t compare to the cuisine of roasted fowl and choice greens Knight used to dine on. But the food Knight ate here warmed her stomach and filled her soul, and she slept more soundly in her bed of sand than she ever had before.

And she slept with a smile, and dreamed of an island by the sea, and a girl with red hair.

The Fish with Teeth

The day was fine and clear when Pirate woke up; the air crisp and almost painfully fresh. It was the kind of day that demanded action; with vibrant blue skies and a cheerful breeze inaction was not to be thought of. So Pirate didn’t think of it.

Since it was summer and thus nicely warm, Pirate had no fear of diving straight into the surf. The water was wonderfully cool without being cold, and Pirate swam out to look for breakfast. Since today was a moving day, she felt that catching a fish and then building a fire (or stealing some from Knight) would be an enjoyable warmup.

But when Pirate found herself fifteen feet out and she still hadn’t sensed any fish in the waters, she realized something was wrong. Her small island was usually swimming with some kind of marine life; even if the big fish were hiding from her or sleeping, smaller minnows were always flitting about.

Yet the clear waters were empty, which made Pirate very uneasy. Her sensible mind immediately told her to get out of the water, but her incautious brain vetoed that and told her to look around. If there was sickness in the water Pirate had better find out now so she could stay away. She had no desire to sit around throwing up for hours if all the fish here were infected. After all that business with Knight, Pirate had waited for many days before she began fishing again, but could the same thing be happening again?

Diving down to the sea bed, Pirate searched the dips and crests of sand for telltale signs – dead fish bodies with funny-looking spots was usually her first clue. But there were no fish bodies, at least, not any recently dead.

There were some scales on the sand though. Pirate picked a few up. Fresh scales, and a fin here or there as well. Pieces of fish in short, but no actual fish. Was this some kind of new dissolving sickness that made fish fall apart?

Alarmed, Pirate kicked back up to the surface and decided that seafood was now off the menu for a few days. She turned for shore, but stopped. Something was moving on top of the ocean about fifty feet away.

Pirate turned and squinted. It was small, angular, and moving lazily towards her. It looked like a triangle in the water, a dark shape followed by ripples of movement. Curious, Pirate swam closer and then ducked down into the water to see if the triangle was attached to anything.

It was.

The triangle turned out to be attached to a body, and that body happened to have a lot of teeth. The teeth came at Pirate in a sudden, jerking dash of speed and Pirate immediately recoiled. It was a fish, but a humongous one – fully ten times the size of the next largest fish Pirate had ever seen. And it was a fish with teeth.

Lots and lot of teeth.

Pirate wasn’t any stranger to movement in the water. Even as the big fish with teeth lunged at her she dove to avoid it. She nearly wasn’t quick enough. Three rows of jagged ivory snapped an inch away from her body and she felt the impact in the water. So strong! So dangerous!

Pirate dove and swam under the large fish as it tried to snag her legs. Her immediate thought was to get out of the water but the island was a ways away. And besides, Pirate was used to killing fish. This one was dangerous, but Pirate could handle it.

See, the trick was the eyes. Pirate was a fish-killing expert. She’d fought fish with teeth before – much smaller ones it was true, but dangerous nonetheless. One of the first things to do against fish that could fight was to blind them. This fish had big eyes, big teeth, and a big body. But if Pirate poked out its eyes the fish wouldn’t be able to hurt her with teeth or body.

It was a good plan. Pirate waited as the fish with teeth reoriented itself in the water to come after her. As it lunged again, she swam to one side in a flurry of movement and aimed at its eyes. How easy it was. This fish may be big, but it wasn’t anything special. First Pirate would poke out its eyes and then she’d see how hard it was to ki—

The big fish twisted sideways as Pirate dodged left and bit down. One moment Pirate was free in the cool green waters, the next, her body was in dark, hot redness. And there was pain all over.

Piercing pain. Ripping pain. Teeth in her side and chest. They gouged Pirate but she pushed against the fish’s mouth as it tried to bit down harder. One of her legs came up and kicked something in the fish’s mouth. It let go of Pirate for a second and she weakly swam out of the mouth, trailing blood.

Away. She had to get away. The pain burned a hole in Pirate’s side, but the giant fish with teeth was right behind her. It snapped at her legs and nearly caught Pirate. Only a quick kick kept her out of reach.

She had to get away.

Pirate swam deep, towards the ocean floor. The big fish wasn’t expecting that. Pirate swam right against the floor bed, pressing herself against the sand. The fish with teeth was too big and awkward to get as low to the ground as she. It tried to pick Pirate up, but she found a current in the water and sped away from it.

Her island. She had to get ashore. Pirate felt herself weakening, felt the monstrous fish behind her, ravening for her blood. Her body felt weak. Pain in her side. Blood trailed in Pirate’s wake. She had to keep moving.

It was after her.

——

She was bleeding. Swimming. Struggling. There was water. Darkness.

She was bleeding. Swimming. Staggering. Sand? Pirate couldn’t tell up from down.

She was bleeding. Staggering. Falling. She hurt.

Pirate fell.

But something caught her halfway down.

——

Something was shaking her. Pirate felt a terrible, burning pain in her side magnified several times where each of the shark’s teeth had stabbed her. The world was black and full of redness. Something was shaking her. Pirate hurt, but she had to wake up. The fish with teeth was nearby. Something was shaking her.

Pirate woke up and reacted to the shaking by punching at it. Something caught her fist though, and when Pirate opened her eyes, she found that something was Knight, and Knight was sitting right next to Pirate.

It was evening. Not morning. Pirate felt the waning sun’s light warming her skin, but she felt terribly cold. And tired. And painful. And hungry. But mostly hurt.

It turned out that Pirate was lying down. It also turned out that Pirate was lying down in what was normally Knight’s bed, the first surprise. But the second even larger surprise was that Pirate’s wounds had been bandaged, albeit crudely, by Knight. The bite wounds the shark had left had been covered by a paste of leaves and sticky sap and secured by a twine of tough reeds and grass to make a bandage. It wasn’t a half-bad job, and it was surprising to Pirate because she hadn’t known Knight could make bandages.

Well, Knight didn’t get hurt badly enough to need bandages with her armor most of the time. It was Knight’s fortress, her shield, and her protection against the world. Pirate had nothing like it.

And Knight was sitting there, next to Pirate. Her armor shone in the orange glow of the setting sun. The other girl was regarding Pirate with…concern? Pirate hadn’t seen that expression in Knight’s eyes before.

After a while, Knight spoke.

“What?” She said. She pointed to Pirate’s injuries, and then in the direction of the ocean. “What?”

Pirate tried to explain. It was hard, without words such as the ones Knight had to tell her anything. She gestured with her hands, making the shape of the giant fish that had attacked her. Knight watched Pirate intently and asked occasional words to clarify.

“Ocean?”

Yes, in the ocean. And it was big!

“Fish?”

Pirate had to pause. Yes and no. Fish and not a fish. It had lots of…she opened her mouth.

“Teeth?”

Yes, teeth! And it bit – Pirate gestured to her side.

Knight was silent for a time after Pirate relayed that last fact. Pirate lay back down and tried to sense how badly she was hurt. Not too badly as it turned out; the shark had gotten her skin pretty badly, but it hadn’t bit down deeply enough to hurt anything inside. Pirate could still fight without tearing up her insides, which was good. This was no time to be lying down.

“Shark.” Knight said at last. She thought for a moment, and then said, “Dangerous.” Further thought revealed a final message: “don’t fight.”

Pirate shook her head angrily. She knew the length of the warning Knight had given her meant this fish, this ‘shark’ was truly a threat, but she had to fight. Her hand brushed her side and Pirate immediately curled up into a ball and then uncurled as that only made the pain in her side worse. But it was only pain.

Five minutes Pirate lay and felt the pain from the shark’s teeth in her flesh. Then she sat up and banished it from her mind. Knight tried to make her lie back down, but Pirate pushed her away.

“Danger,” Knight repeated insistently.

She did not have to tell Pirate that twice. She didn’t have to tell her that once. Pirate had felt the shark’s ferocity, known its terrible power the instant she had seen it. But there were some things that had to be done.

Pirate tried to rise but Knight gripped her shoulder, forcing her down. The other girl was immensely strong for her size. But then, so was Pirate. She levered the other girl’s gauntleted hand off her shoulder and looked Knight in the eye.

“Aba,” Pirate said.

Knight looked Pirate in the eye for a moment and then away. Then she nodded. It was true. If the shark were to stay here, around their island both girls would soon starve. Fish were their main source of food on the island – if they were forced to eat only plants and the occasional bird they would soon strip the island of all its limited resources.

So. There was no choice.

Pirate stood up, ignoring the pain in her side. She regarded the bindings Knight had made of leaves and plant twine and flexed experimentally. She regretted it, and the wounds in her side opened up instantly, but the bandages held. That would do.

Knight scowled as Pirate began walking and eyed the drops of blood that trickled down her sides and onto the sand. But she said nothing and accompanied Pirate as the other girl went to collect what she would need. Both girls knew what it was.

Pirate’s sword.

It lay where Pirate had last dropped it, next to a palm frond half-buried by the sand. Pirate picked it up and Knight scowled as she always did to see a weapon so maligned. For where Knight’s armor and swords were immaculate, tempered bits of steel always maintained to cutting efficiency by her care and attention, Pirate’s sword was not.

Precisely, and specifically the condition of Pirate’s sword could best be described by the fact that it had moss growing on one side. Pirate scraped some of that off on the tree. Shame that didn’t work on the rust or dents and nicks in the blade as well.

Was it heavier than she remembered? Pirate swung the sword one-handed and felt its tremendous weight. Heavy. Heavier than both of Knight’s swords put together; a warhammer of a sword that crushed rather than cut. Yes, this was the weapon Pirate used.

Twice a shame then, that it wouldn’t be much help in the water.

Pirate knew it. Swords weren’t useful in the water. When she killed fish, she used her hands or a net or even a fishing hook if it came to it. But water made actions like cutting or slashing too slowly to hurt even the smallest of fish. Her sword would be a liability in the water.

And yet, Pirate couldn’t hurt the shark without her sword. A quandary. Pirate had no idea what a quandary was or how to fix her predicament, but she carried her sword nonetheless as she walked back to the ocean. She didn’t have an answer to this problem, but she couldn’t wait. Waiting would mean having to think over the consequences of her actions, and if she took that long, Pirate knew she wouldn’t be able to face the shark again.

The water was cold. Pirate stared into the tumbling surf and felt her sword in her hands. Heavy. And the memory of the shark made her shiver.

Pirate stiffened as Knight rested a hand on her shoulder. The other girl’s hand was surprisingly light; she neither tried to pull Pirate back nor weigh her down. It was a light touch, but very heavy on Pirate.

“Don’t,” the other girl said.

Pirate ignored her. She couldn’t back down. It wasn’t just about pride, or being the biggest fish in the sea. Pirate wasn’t a fish anyways, and pride wasn’t edible. It was about being or not being. It was about whether Pirate was eater or eaten. If she backed down now, she would be giving up.

To give up her sea? Ridiculous. Pirate grasped her sword tightly and stepped into the water. The cold current sucked at her, dragging her out. Pirate let it.

She had grown up on the sea.

The world of bright shapes and colors turned into a muted land of blurred darkness as the waters engulfed Pirate’s head. But out there, swimming in the shadows was Pirate’s enemy.

She would rather die than give up her home.

Something moved. A shape moved and came at Pirate, a fish larger than any other. A monster of the sea; a creature from ancient past. A flash of white; jaws opening.

Pirate was no fish’s prey. She was a hunter.

The shark bit. Pirate thrust her sword into the rows of teeth and felt the shark recoil as its teeth met something they couldn’t break. Pirate hoped that biting down so hard on her sword really hurt the shark. But her sword was a tool for the land. It wasn’t much good in the water. So Pirate let it go.

The shark twisted and turned, flinging Pirate’s sword out of its mouth. It turned with another gaping lunge to seize Pirate, but she had already come to it.

Pirate swam into the shark and grabbed hold of it by its dorsal fin. The shark’s skin was surprisingly rough. It didn’t have scales, it seemed.

The shark turned its head and tried to snap at Pirate, but it wasn’t flexible enough. Pirate clung to the shark’s fin as it began to thrash about, but the advantage was hers now. The shark couldn’t get to her, but Pirate was plenty free to get to the shark.

She started by mounting the shark like a horse, gripping it between both legs. Pirate had never seen a horse, but it was a logical move and it left her hands free. Carefully, deliberately, Pirate raised one fist.

And punched.

Tree bark. Sandpaper. Iron. Steel. Pirate’s skin was nearly torn off by the roughness of the shark’s skin. No. Not even skin – it was closer to scales, closer to bone or armor. Pirate felt like she had just punched a rock and she was sure the shark hadn’t felt a thing.

It was just too tough to hurt with her bare hands. Furiously, Pirate pummeled the shark with her hands, but the water made her far too slow and weak. Worse, the shark’s eyes weren’t reachable from where Pirate was. If her arms were a bit longer, Pirate would have happily poke the shark’s eyes out, but she dared not abandon her position and risk those jaws catching her.

But her breath was running out. Pirate felt the pressing need to breathe weighing down on her, and felt the air in her lungs begging to be set free. But this was her one chance.

Punch. The shark’s skin was rough and cut Pirate’s knuckles. The blood seemed to drive the shark into an even greater frenzy, and it turned and twisted, trying to make Pirate let go. She had no intention of letting it.

Punch. She needed to hit it harder. Pirate balled her fist and struck the shark in the back of the head.

Punch. Punch. Punch. She wouldn’t stop. This was her sea. Her home. The shark tried to bite her. Pirate punched, and punched again.

Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. The shark twisted and slammed Pirate into the seabed. It hurt, but Pirate didn’t stop. Punch. Punch. Punch.

Punchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunch—

Pirate felt her head go light and realized she had let go of the shark. The world was far too dark. Pirate had used up too much oxygen. She needed to breathe.

She struck up for the surface. It seemed so far away. Something was in the water with Pirate. It swept by her and something shark caught her on one arm. It hurt.

Air. Pirate felt her strength leaving her body. But she could still make it—! Yet, that thing was coming again.

With her last bit of energy Pirate pulled herself up and her head broke the surface.

Sweet air. Pirate gulped it in desperately. But now it was too late. Below her, she saw the shark coming at her, a thing of teeth and death. She looked desperately to the shore but it was too far away. The shark was coming. Pirate dove to face it.

Its teeth were arranged in rows. Its mouth could swallow half of Pirate in a single bite. Pirate had no sword. So she clenched her fist.

One last punch.

The shark lunged at Pirate through the water, and she swung her fist in slow motion. It was her turn to become food it seemed.

The gaping mouth full of teeth was humongous in the girl’s vision, and then it became the world. A maw of red darkness closed on the girl. Hundreds of pounds of shark hurtled towards the child with red hair.

And stopped halfway.

The sea rang with sound. No sound made on land or in sky could make such a noise; what rang through the ocean was a muted thunder which echoed so loud that Pirate felt her ears would surely shatter. But they did not, and now the water was full of ringing silence.

And under the water stood a girl in armor.

Knight stood braced in the water, both arms crossed against her chest. The shark’s massive jaws encircled her body and the impact had thrown Knight back several meters. But that was all. Knight’s skin was intact, her armor unbroken.

And she had her swords.

As the shark recoiled in pain and surprise Knight ripped her swords from their scabbards and struck. Unlike Pirate’s heavy blade, her twin swords cut the water just like everything else. They stabbed into the shark’s side and Pirate saw a dark mist rise from the cuts. The shark howled in soundless agony and charged Knight, but the other girl didn’t back down.

The shark came at her, a monster of flesh and bones, a predator of the seas. Millennia had changed its form but not its nature, and time had only sharpened the killing skills of this animal. Rows of ripping teeth bore down on the small girl clad only in metal. Yet she did not flinch.

Knight raised her swords to either side as the shark charged. But, instead of striking at the shark like last time, Knight instead dropped both blades. Pirate wanted to shout, but the water was all around, and it was too late.

The shark smashed into Knight with ripping fury and stopped. Because Knight had caught it with both hands.

Pirate couldn’t believe her eyes, but there, in the water was the shark. Fully twice as large as she was and full of razor teeth, it bit at Knight and sought to rend her flesh. But Knight’s flesh was armor, and it could not be broken.

With one hand, Knight was grasping the inside of the shark’s mouth, ignoring its gnashing teeth. With the other, she held the side of its body, and slowly she began dragging the shark through the water.

It fought. The shark threw its entire weight, pulling Knight to and fro in the water, but it was always on the offensive, always pushing at Knight, trying to bite her head. Her hands were in the way, blocking the teeth from reaching the one unarmored part of her body. And as the shark tried desperately to move forwards, Knight moved back, guiding the shark through the water, upwards and back towards the shore.

It was a long battle. For Pirate, she measured the seconds by the countless beats of her heart, but for Knight, it was surely a harder battle. Pirate saw bubbles of air escape the other girl’s mouth as Knight fought grimly to hold her breath, and yet at the same time she pulled with all her strength, fighting off the shark’s teeth.

And slowly, painfully, one step at a time Knight dragged the shark forwards. She faltered as breath left her lungs, but then her head broke the surface of the water. Her footsteps grew stronger as her shoulders and chest cleared the water. And she did not let go.

The shark was now visible above the surf, an explosion of water as it twisted and turned; now trying to get back into the sea. Knight held it grimly, but she had reached an impasse. Though the massive weight of the shark was moveable in the water where it held less weight and while the shark was trying to move towards her, now Knight was fighting the entire weight of a very angry shark trying to get away. For all her strength and her own weight, Knight was slowly being dragged back into the sea.

——

Despite the armor that protected her body, Knight’s arms were being wrenched out of their sockets as she fought. The shark wasn’t able to use its entire strength above the water having no legs to brace itself with, but Knight was still unable to do more than keep it grounded where water met land. It may seem like a trivial matter, but each time the shark flopped around it threw several hundred pounds of weight into the air.

Still, Knight had to hold it here. The shark couldn’t be allowed to return to the water. It was simply too dangerous to let live, and having snared it in such a way once, Knight knew she wouldn’t ever get a second chance.

But it was so strong! Knight felt her already tired arms begin to shake with the effort of holding the shark. Her plan had been to pull it out of the water and then skewer it with a sword but there was no way she’d be able to restrain the shark with one hand.

That was the trouble with badly thought out plans. They were always badly thought out, but Knight hadn’t had enough time to prepare. The shark twisted its head and Knight felt the last of her muscles give out. She’d have to let the shark escape after all. The important thing was that Pirate had survived.

Knight released her grip on the shark and tried to pull away. But as her hands left the shark’s mouth it snapped and she felt a crushing force on her right hand. Knight pulled desperately, but the shark had caught her arm. It couldn’t bite through the metal, but now the shark started twisting Knight’s arm, threatening to rip from Knight’s body.

Worse, the shark was turning, trying to pull Knight back into the surf. Knight hammered at the shark’s jaws with her left hand, but the teeth were closed on her hand more firmly than a vise. The shark would never let go, and Knight had dropped her swords in the ocean to capture it.

What a blunder. Knight punched the shark ineffectually and it shook her like a ragdoll. She felt like her arm was about to come off, and it might at that. The shark was dragging her back into the sea. Knight had no swords. But strangely, even in this moment of crisis Knight felt no fear. Because while the shark only had teeth for her, Knight had not forgotten about Pirate. And Pirate had not forgotten about the shark.

A flash of red leapt into the surf, and for a brief moment the sun was blotted out as a sword was raised. Pirate brought down her dull blade on the shark’s head with a thunk that Knight felt through her bones.

In the sea, Pirate wasn’t well equipped to damage something with a skin thick enough to turn a sword thrust, at least not with a sword that was only so much dead weight in the water. But on land? Pirate had once dented Knight’s armor with her sword, and she was no less monstrously strong now than she was then.

The shark managed to twist its head around before Pirate landed another terrific blow to its head. It snapped at her, but Knight interposed herself between it and Pirate. The shark’s jaws snapped down on Knight’s hand, but it still couldn’t break her gauntleted hand. It hurt like hell when the shark tried to twist it off, though, and it hurt even more when Pirate took the opportunity to hit the shark on the head, smashing the teeth down on Knight’s hand with bone-crushing force.

With her free hand, Knight punched the shark in the eye to make it let go, and then punched Pirate. She received a light smack from Pirate’s sword in response, and then the girl hit the shark for a third and final time.

Three blows. All on the same part of the shark’s head. Knight didn’t hear the cartilage around the shark’s head break, but she did see Pirate’s sword strike the shark in the head and squish downwards.

The shark’s thrashing stopped. Knight felt life leave the great fish’s body even as Pirate wrenched her sword free with a horrible squelching sound. Carefully Knight freed her trapped arm from between the shark’s teeth and staggered back onto dry land where she collapsed with a sigh.

It was over.

They had won.

Knight closed her eyes in relief and let her body relax. For a moment she simply savored the feeling of being alive, regardless of her bruised bones and torn muscles. She could even ignore Pirate’s splashing about. That was, until Pirate stuck one of Knight’s swords into the sand right next to Knight’s head.

Knight had the misfortune to have opened her eyes at that exact moment. Seeing a razor-sharp blade sink into the ground less than an inch away from your face is not a happy moment.

Without breathing Knight carefully inched her nose away from the edge of a sword that could split hairs, and then stood up. Pirate was looking at Knight innocently, the other of Knight’s swords still in her hand.

Knight considered a number of things she could say. Everything from a polite reprimand to shouting and screaming seemed viable, including simply punching Pirate. But the other girl wouldn’t understand.

Pirate tugged on Knight’s arm. Her bad arm. Knight slapped Pirate’s hand away, but the other girl was insistent. She pointed at the shark, then to Knight’s sword, then to the shark. Then she mimicked eating, which was for her gobbling up food with her bare hands as fast as she could.

Knight sighed. Of course. What good was killing something if you couldn’t eat it later? Her arm twinged at the thought of slicing up that shark though. Even with her swords it would take hours to properly disassemble the shark so it could be properly smoked for later. And she’d have to sharpen her swords later. It would be a tremendous pain but…

Knight’s arm twinged again. She looked down at the scratches on her armor, felt the pain in her bones, and regarded Pirate, who still bore the gashes of the shark’s teeth. The girl grinned, or at least, she showed her teeth.

Knight grinned back. Maybe there was some value to it after all. She hadn’t ever tried shark before at any rate.

——

It turned out that shark didn’t taste half bad if you made a soup out of it. A few of the tangier berries, some of the spicy leaves and roots for chewing-ness made a tasty broth. Add a lot of shark meat and you had a fine stew.

Pirate confirmed this fact with a sixth helping at felt her stomach try to explode for the hundredth time. It was a painful, half-bad half-good feeling.

Beside her, Knight burped loudly and then covered her mouth as if she was embarrassed. Pirate laughed and after a moment, so did Knight. Their laughter made the small beach they were sitting on bright as day under the moonlit sky, and the small campfire was transformed into a magnificent bonfire, their soup the finest meal ever cooked.

For while there are many things Pirate felt were tasty, and many things which were good and well to do, nothing in her mind quite beat eating food she had caught herself, or the sheer feeling of triumph – of being alive after having faced death and won.

And somehow, being there with Knight made all of that feel ten times better. No, a hundred times.

Odd, that.

War in Peace

The war started with a game of rock paper scissors.

In the way of such things, Knight was teaching Pirate how to play the game. Today was Learning Day, which came once a week when Knight could track Pirate down and when Pirate was a good mood. On this day Knight taught Pirate things that the girl wanted to learn and Knight found important. The distinction was important.

If Pirate didn’t want to learn it, she’d wander away or stop paying attention. But Knight had important things which were boring and less important things which were very interesting to Pirate. So they compromised.

If Pirate agreed to learn about hygiene Knight would teach her how to make airplanes made out of leaves and twigs. To teach Pirate how to count, Knight taught her how to read the stars. When Pirate didn’t want to practice her footwork Knight sang songs. They danced upon the sand with blades that flashed and sang songs that the breeze carried away.

That was Learning Day, a special time sometimes. Other times, it was boring and slow. But Pirate had dutifully learned how to sew together her ripped clothing and now it was time for fun things.

Rock, paper, scissors. Knight demonstrated each one for the confused Pirate. She had to repeat how the game worked several times.

It made no sense. For one thing, Pirate had no idea what scissors were. Knight told her it was like a knife used for cutting flat things like leaves, which sounded stupid. But what was even stupider was the idea that paper beat rocks. Paper was flat and weak like leaves. Rocks were heavy. You could hit things with a rock. All paper was good for was if you sneezed.

Still, apparently this wasn’t a game about making sense. This was a game about beating the other person by guessing right. It still sounded silly to Pirate, but it might be fun.

To practice, Knight counted to three. She threw paper and Pirate threw scissors. Pirate won, which made her happy. So they played again.

Pirate threw rock. Knight threw paper. Pirate lost.

Pirate threw paper. Knight threw scissors. Pirate lost.

Annoyed, Pirate threw paper again and once again Knight threw scissors. Pirate lost.

Pirate got mad and threw rock again. Knight threw rock, and tied.

Pirate threw a punch. Knight threw scissors, and got punched in the face.

Pirate threw another punch and Knight grabbed her hand and twisted. Pirate yelped as her arm bent at a bad angle and kicked Knight in the stomach. Knight wore armor so this didn’t help.

Pirate’s sword was lying on the beach where the girls were practicing. Pirate had brought it in case sewing meant she needed to hit something.

Now Pirate grabbed her sword and slashed at Knight. The other girl had to let go of Pirate to block, and Pirate’s sword crashed against Knight’s armored arm.

Knight kept her swords nearby at all times. Pirate tried to smack her on the head but Knight ducked and then her swords were in her hand.

The two girls charged each other without a second thought.

——

Blades clashed in a place by the sea. On a small island without a name, two girls fought with steel. Both were experts at fighting in their own way.

Knight was an unconventional fighter in that she used two swords. However, she had been trained how to wield each with deadly efficiency and she pressed the other girl, using the two blades to exploit openings. If Pirate blocked the left sword the right one would come in at another angle. If Knight blocked she could use the other sword to attack at the same time. This was an excellent and efficient strategy that would have worked on anyone but Pirate.

Pirate was an unconventional fighter. She had never been taught how to fight and she used her heavy cleaver of a weapon to hit things. Fine swordsmanship wasn’t her interest, but she was accurate, strong, and quick. She also fought dirty. When Knight pushed her back or threatened to strike her, Pirate would dance away, kick sand at Knight, punch with one hand or grab Knight’s arm to deflect a thrust. She was fearless of Knight’s swords and didn’t give way.

Knight thrust with one sword and raised her other sword to guard. This was a good move because her first sword missed Pirate as the other girl leaned back, and the other girl’s counterstrike would have cracked Knight’s head if she hadn’t blocked with her other sword.

Heavy. Knight felt the shock of metal meeting metal in her arms, her very bones themselves. So heavy.

She had dueled grown men with less force in their blades. It wasn’t just that Pirate was strong; how could a young child match the strength of a man? It was that Pirate struck every time with her entire body behind her sword. As if her life rode on each swing of her blade. And each blow threatened to throw Knight to the ground.

Of course, Knight had a weaker guard than Pirate did. Two swords were not as easy to block with, despite Knight’s considerable finesse. The girl raised both blades and caught Pirate’s sword between them. The clash made Knight’s arms ache, but it gave her an opening.

One leg came up and Knight kicked out, catching Pirate in the chest with an armored foot. The other girl stumbled backwards, and Knight struck out, thrusting a blade straight at Pirate like a striking snake. A viper’s kiss, only Pirate was too quick. She leaned backwards, and the tip of Knight’s sword missed Pirate’s skin by a fraction of an inch.

Of course. Knight knew that would happen. She wouldn’t have risked a strike like that if she weren’t sure Pirate could avoid it. But she wasn’t done. Tactics was thinking two steps ahead.

Knight brought her other sword around in an arc of blinding speed. Pirate was still leaning back, still dodging the first strike. The second would surely land, so Knight took care not to aim at anything vital.

Pirate saw the other blade coming, but she was already bent backwards, too far back to change her position. Knight saw the other girl’s eyes widen, knew she had Pirate cold, and then—

The world was full of sand. Knight had a moment to register that fact before a spray of sand smacked her in the face like a whip. Naturally it got in her eyes. That was agonizing; what came next was worse.

Bereft of vison, Knight staggered and brought her swords back up in a guard. She heard the crunch of sand and struck out with her swords blindly but cut only air. Too late, she sense movement from her left side and swung around to face it.

Pirate’s fist caught Knight full in the face and sent her sprawling.

——

Fighting was hard work. This was a fact Pirate knew. Fighting was hard, especially when Pirate fought Knight.

But now Knight was lying on the ground. Better yet, she had dropped her swords to wipe the dirt from her face. That made things easy.

Pirate dropped her sword and leapt on Knight.

——

Knight’s face hurt. Pirate had already punched her once after the rock-paper-scissors game, and then again, a solid left hook to the jaw. The third punch Pirate landed after she jumped on Knight hurt the most though, because Pirate planted it right in Knight’s eye.

The rest of Knight was fine. Oh, her arms were sore from blocking Pirate’s blade and her hands were still tingling from the shock of wielding her sword, but that was nothing. Knight’s face on the other hand was three points of pain.

It was to be expected. Knight wore armor on every part of her body except her head. A helmet would make the sun’s light bake her in her armor. A helmet caught at her hair and made life difficult when Knight sneezed. Also, she didn’t have one. Knight had lost hers long before she’d washed up on the island.

That was a bad thing in a fight like this, though. Knight tried to strike Pirate as the two girls rolled around on the ground but Pirate was much nimbler without any armor and hammered Knight in the face again. She was far stronger than her size indicated.

But. It was nothing like the battle they had once fought. Fighting with fists? It was just another sign both Pirate and Knight were scuffling as opposed to truly trying to kill one another. Even their duel with naked blades had been tame.

Knight was annoyed, hurt, and just wanted to get rid of Pirate. This Learning Day had been a complete and unmitigated disaster. Even a simple game of rock-paper-scissors somehow turned into a fight. Pirate had lost four times and decided to punch Knight. That was idiotic. No, it was simply childish. True, Pirate was a child but that didn’t justify—

Pirate’s fist knocked Knight’s head back into the sand and suddenly, Knight had had enough. It was a stupid fight, and it wasn’t over anything important. Knight had been trying to play a game with Pirate. If she wanted to fight over something so petty, that was fine. But Knight wasn’t going to play at war.

Knight was prone on her back with Pirate attempting to pummel her, but that wasn’t really all that dire. As Pirate drew back for another heavy punch Knight moved her leg so that her foot caught Pirate in the chest. Then, Knight used some of her real strength and shoved

——

Pirate didn’t know when she started flying, but she definitely felt it when she stopped. One moment she was poised over Knight, ready to deliver a punch that would really, really hurt, and then she was in the air.

Somehow the ground had disappeared. It took Pirate a second to figure this out, another moment to realize that this was because she was soaring through the air as gracefully as a rock, and a fraction of a second too late, Pirate realized how bad this was and tried to curl up before she—

Splat.

Or rather, not splat. Splat was the effect, but the sound was a cross between a dull thump of flesh hitting a tree and the sound Pirate made – ghrnnhgh – as all the air left her lungs and she splatted onto the ground. Again, she didn’t literally splat, but that’s what it felt like to Pirate. Everything in her body was splat.

In times of being hit very hard, Pirate often saw pretty lights and let the world spin around her. This time it seemed like the world was spinning backwards, and Pirate’s stomach wanted to leave her body. This wasn’t acceptable, so Pirate simply stayed put until she was able to sit up and look around.

Knight stood on the beach, glaring at Pirate. She hadn’t picked up her swords yet, but they were near her feet. Already her left eye and cheek were starting to look a bit puffy.

Pirate was about to charge Knight again, but a look in the other girl’s eyes stopped her. Before, when Pirate and Knight were first learning how to share the island, Knight had gotten that look in her eyes a few times when Pirate had annoyed her too much. Continuing now would mean a real fight, one that ended with a lot of blood.

Pirate hesitated, and then stopped. Very deliberately, Knight bent to pick up her swords. Then, slowly, rubbing at her bruises she walked away from Pirate. She did stop once, but that was only to make a rude gesture.

The fight was over.

——

That night, Pirate had trouble sleeping. For one thing, it was a surprisingly cold night with an unseasonably chilly wind blowing strongly against the island. For Pirate who slept out in the open, it made for a very unpleasant experience.

Still, bad weather wasn’t what was keeping Pirate awake. She had slept through thunderstorms, storms at sea, and storms in her stomach when she ate rotten food. A little cold and wind wouldn’t bother her normally, but something else was the matter.

The fight.

Pirate thought about the fight earlier. She’d lost that one, sure enough. Knight had kicked her hard, and then she’d walked away. Still, Pirate hadn’t taken that much damage and so it wasn’t a complete defeat in her opinion.

But the start of the fight bothered Pirate just a bit. She’d started it. True, Knight had beaten her four times with some kind of secret trick, but Pirate felt a bit…bad about punching Knight. Everything was still her fault of course, but Pirate still felt guilty.

She’d lost the fight. Pirate frowned up at the stars. Losing wasn’t good, but fighting more had been a bad idea at the time. A serious, deathly fight wasn’t what either girl wanted, but still, Pirate couldn’t leave it at that.

They’d fought. Pirate had lost. The start of the fight hadn’t been a good thing.

Pirate sat up reluctantly in her bed of lukewarm sand. It wasn’t right. She had to do something. Pirate put her head in her hands and thought for a while before she stood up decisively.

She knew what she had to do to make things right. Quickly, Pirate ran into the surf and felt the warm waters engulf her. She’d pay for it later when she went back out into the chill air, but she had a job to do.

Pirate was going to give Knight a present.

——

Knight awoke to a very unpleasant feeling on her face. It was a horrible feeling, but it took Knight a moment or two to fully comprehend the true viscosity that lay on her face.

It was a jellyfish.

To be precise, a dead jellyfish. To be descriptively precise, a dead, reeking jellyfish half-decomposed as its slimy innards rotted in the sunlight. Unfortunately, while this jellyfish was indeed rotting, parts of it remained intact.

Such as its stingers.

Knight felt a terrible, burning stinging pain engulfing her face. It hurt the more she woke up, and as Knight finally came fully into consciousness she could truly feel how swelled her face was. Her eyelids were so puffy she had a hard time seeing, and her nose was humongously enflamed, but not in any way that was comical to Knight at least.

She hurt.

Knight sat up from her bed of leaves with a groan and knew in an instant what had happened. Jellyfish, for all their many amazing qualities did not usually travel over land. Only Pirate could have done this. Knight felt she should be furious and she was, but pain was making every thought extremely hard.

Normally the correct course of action would be the heavy application of an herbal paste Knight used to treat wounds. She made it from several plants on the island and while its effects were eclectic at best, the placebo effect helped. But for how Knight was feeling right now?

No. A half-useless remedy wasn’t an option now. Knight had no real medicine, and the jellyfish’s poison might last days. She needed a cure, now. She didn’t want time or natural healing. She needed something…else.

Through lips too swollen to speak properly Knight mumbled words. They weren’t comprehensible, but that wasn’t because she had said them wrong. These words left Knight’s mouth and hovered in the air. They weren’t loud, but something made them linger in the mind. And the heart beat faster, and the ears revolted and failed to comprehend, and the brain felt that sense of wrongness and rightness that came from the strange, the unknown.

And Knight felt at her face, and it was better. Not completely better – sore, but no longer swelled. Not nearly as painful. She sighed in relief. And then Knight remembered who had been responsible for her pain in the first place.

Grimly, Knight stood up and collected her swords. Breakfast could wait. Right now she needed one thing and it was called vengeance. If Pirate wanted to continue their fight, well, that was fine. Knight wasn’t going to hold back this time.

This meant war.

——

The first clash came minutes later when Knight charged out of her forest and onto the beach where Pirate as eating her own breakfast of fish. Raw fish as it transpired, but that became a moot point as the two girls kicked sand over the entire meal in their struggle.

Knight had the advantage of surprise at first. Pirate hadn’t expected her to be able to move, let alone see through the jellyfish stings and so was completely off-guard. Knight didn’t cut Pirate, but she managed to smack her hard with her sword’s pommel. Pirate landed one wild punch and got away, abandoning both breakfast and the battle to Knight.

——

The second engagement happened twenty minutes later and also came out in Knight’s favor. Knight was picking berries and eating them with one sword at the ready when Pirate dropped out of a tree and onto her head. At first all went well for Pirate as she energetically beat Knight over the head while the other girl flailed and tried to knock Pirate off, but then Knight ran forwards and smashed both girls into a tree.

This is a painful move to do when unarmored, which is exactly why Knight did it. Pirate slid off and Knight managed to nick her once with one sword. Better yet, when Pirate tried to punch Knight the other girl blocked with one armored forearm.

Pirate retreated into the forest howling in agony and clutching her bruised hand while Knight returned to gathering her berries. However, Rabbit had taken the opportunity to eat all of the fallen berries and so Knight seized the opportunity to attack once more through more creative means.

——

Her hand hurt, and she felt like she was losing. This was unacceptable. Pirate sat at the base of a tree and sulked. She’d nearly gotten Knight that time, but Knight had managed to beat even Pirate’s cunning ambush.

This wasn’t right. Pirate was by no means a quitter, but she didn’t like doing anything that wasn’t easy. And fighting Knight wasn’t easy. The other girl was just too good at fighting to take down easily – Pirate needed to ambush her to make sure she’d win, but even her sneak attacks were failing.

This called for a different plan. Pirate tried to think hard, but her stomach rumbled. She was hungry. Knight had attacked her during breakfast and Pirate had only eaten a few of the stringy roots for lunch. Maybe she’d eat first and then figure out how to attack Knight later. Yes, that sounded better than attacking now. Food was more important than Knight anyways.

Pirate found a bush full of the small red berries that tasted halfway decent and carefully began gathering the small orbs in one hand. They were wonderfully red and tasty, but the bush itself contained many thorns it used to safeguard the precious fruit. Pirate knew from experience that the thorns could pierce flesh quite easily and thus took great care not to prick her fingers. She had gathered nearly a handful of berries when she heard the noise.

Ding.

Pirate’s ears pricked at the sound. Warily the girl stopped picking berries and cocked her head to listen. The sound had been faint, in the distance of the forest, but Pirate never doubted for a second that she heard it. Doubting one’s own mind was something other humans did, but never Pirate. She heard was she heard, and didn’t have time for imaginary sounds.

Patiently, Pirate waited until she heard the sound again.

Ding. Ding.

This time it was unmistakable, and slightly closer. Pirate frowned. She’d never heard such a strange, high-pitched noise in all of her life. How strange. What was making that noise?

Pirate knew every animal on the island and every animal in the sea. True, there were creatures like the shark that occasionally appeared, but surely this wasn’t another creature like that. Some things like crabs could come from water to shore, but would one have suddenly appeared on her island? Surely not, and yet, what could make that sound?

Ding.

Whatever the strange sound-maker was, it somehow knew where Pirate was located. Carefully, the girl began walked perpendicular to the noise as soundlessly as possible, trying to get around it. She could sneak up on this creature and see what kind of animal it was, but Pirate didn’t want it to see her.

Ding. Ding.

The sound got louder, and Pirate realized the strange dinging creature had changed direction. It knew exactly where Pirate was.

That was bad.

Pirate found a tree and put her back to it. She raised her sword and raised it shakily at the ready. Something was coming. Something that knew where Pirate was even when she was trying to be stealthy. A creature that made strange sounds she had never heard before. Could she kill it? Why was it coming after her and not Knight?

Ding.

What strange and craven creature could make such a noise? Pirate’s hands were sweaty as she tracked the invisible creature’s slow approach.

The bushes rustled, and Rabbit walked out. The small creature had a piece of string attached to one leg and it was dragging something small behind it. As the bell dragged along the ground it hit a small stone.

Ding.

When Pirate’s heart stopped beating out of her chest she bent down to look at Rabbit. The animal was clearly not happy with the string on its leg and kept trying to chew at the fibers, but it just wasn’t flexible enough.

Carefully Pirate reached over and untied the piece of string. Rabbit let her do it, but the animal trembled, clearly ready to bolt if Pirate made any sudden moves. When Pirate had freed it Rabbit darted away into the underbrush.

For her part Pirate held up the bell, fascinated by the strange artefact. What was it? She shook the bell experimentally and heard the chime as something inside rattled against the bell’s metal shell. How strange. How simple, and yet how complex! Pirate knew she could never make something like this. It was just metal folded in a strange way, but Pirate lacked the ability to make anything out of metal. In fact, the only person on the island who knew anything about metal or owned such objects was Knight—

Pirate dropped the bell and recoiled in horror. Knight. Bell. The sound! Her thoughts came together in sudden realization and Pirate turned to run.

Too late. Knight stepped out from behind a tree and slashed at Pirate’s head with both her swords.

——

Pirate ducked so fast her head nearly smacked into the ground. Knights’ swords passed cleanly over her head, but unfortunately Knight’s foot met Pirate’s face in a particularly painful way.

Explosions. Pirate hadn’t ever seen a real explosion, but it was like a flash of light in her head. A burst of pain as when a campfire exploded into sparks, but the sparks here were shots of agony that settled into deep burning embers of pain in Pirate’s head.

Knight’s foot had armor on it. That made her kick even worse than if she didn’t wear armor. And while Pirate was reeling and stumbling around, Knight carefully stepped to one side and shoved Pirate.

Into the bushes with thorns.

If the pain of Knight’s foot as an explosion of agony that became a dull torment, the pricker-bush was a thousand stings of wasps that was at first incredibly painful – and which only got worse as Pirate thrashed in the thorns.

Knight smirked, saluted Pirate with a sword, and walked away. Pirate thrashed and shouted angry incomprehensible noises, but Knight took no heed.

It took Pirate nearly ten minutes to get all the thorns out of her skin when she finally ripped her way free from the bush. Some of the thorns had been nearly half as long as Pirate’s finger, and when she pulled them out they broke in her skin. Thorn-splinters were the worst, and in the end Pirate had to scrape at her skin with her fingernails to pull the shards of wood out.

Ordinary at this point Pirate would charge off, full of wrath and ready to smack Knight several times for her unfair and unprovoked attack. However, Pirate didn’t do so and that was mainly because she had the sneaking suspicion that that was what Knight wanted her to do.

Knight was smart. Maybe not as smart as Pirate and not as smart as Rabbit, but pretty smart. And clever. She could be cunning too, but she wasn’t as good at that. But what Knight was better than Pirate at fighting. The other girl thought about where her swords should go, and how best to hit things. Pirate just hit things.

But even Pirate’s normally non-exercised mind realized that attacking Knight now would probably be a bad move. Knight was too strong to take on head-to-head, which is why Pirate normally ambushed her. That Knight had ambushed Pirate first meant she wanted to get Pirate to fight her. So Pirate wouldn’t.

This was some deep thinking. Pirate’s head hurt with the effort of this level of strategy, but she had an idea. A trap. She hadn’t used a trap in a while. Knight was normally pretty good at finding Pirate’s traps and it was an even chance she’d fall for it or get away unscathed. But what if Pirate used her secret trap, the one she’d spent an entire day designing? What if she used…the hole?

Pirate grinned and set off running through the forest. It would take an hour to build, but she knew Knight would probably stay in the forest near her campsite, and besides which, Pirate’s sword made an excellent shovel.

——

Sometimes Knight wondered whether Pirate really was an idiot. Here in the small natural dirt path through the forest Knight saw a hole in the ground. It was fairly large; enough to hold a small girl quite easily. Presumably this was a trap. But wait. Cleverly, or rather, attempted cleverly but failing miserably was another pit, carefully covered over by levy branches. The effect the branches had of covering the pit was about as subtle as dropping a huge mass of cleanly-cut branches in the middle of a dirt road.

Knight looked down at the branches covering the hole in the ground and sighed. Pit traps? She wondered how long Pirate had taken to dig that hole. What a waste of time.

Knight casually stepped around the hole. There was little chance she’d fall into it even at night, but perhaps Pirate had intended to chase Knight into it. Hm. Was there then a way Knight could turn the tables on Pirate? Lure her around to her own trap? Possibly. Maybe if Knight—

The sound of the branches being swept aside was the only warning Knight got. She turned – too late – to see Pirate leaping out of the shallow pit trap she had built. Knight’s swords were in her hands but they were too low. Pirate swept them aside even as Knight tried to block and shoulder-charged Knight.

Into the second pit.

Knight felt herself toppling over and reached for the edge of the pit to catch herself.

She missed.

Knight whumped into the ground with enough force to leave her breathless. She wasn’t sure about using ‘whump’ as a verb, but it described how she felt very well. For a while Knight could just stare up at the sky, her head blank as the clear blue sky peeking through the forest canopy.

The first thought Knight coherently had was that she was an idiot to fall for such a stupid trap. The second thought she had was that it wasn’t that stupid a trap after all. Her third thought berated using the word ‘stupid’ twice and supplied ‘inelegant’ as a possible alternative or perhaps ‘rudimentary’ to better fit the situation. Knight’s fourth thought was that it was lucky she hadn’t skewered herself with her swords when she fell. They were in the pit with Knight, sticking out of the ground near her feet.

All these thoughts ran through Knight’s head as she tried to collect herself and stand up. Clearly she’d need to climb out of the pit – it wasn’t too high, half again her height – but who knew what was lurking for her when she got out? It would be tremendously stupid to climb out of the pit only to have Pirate knock her back in.

Knight thought of some plans rapidly. Tactical maneuvers like tossing a sword at Pirate if she was nearby flashed through her head, with longer-term strategies revolving around ambushing Pirate as she tried to eat floating through Knight’s consciousness. All these plans and stratagems vanished instantly however when Knight felt the first clod of dirt hit her on the top of the head.

Knight looked up. Another bit of dirt hit her in the eye. Swearing, Knight shielded her face as more dirt started raining into the pit around her. She had only one thought in her mind as she grabbed her swords, and it was this:

That idiot was trying to bury her in the hole!

Dirt showered into the pit all around Knight as Pirate dumped the soil she’d dug up earlier into it. Knight fought to maintain her footing and stand on the piling dirt, but it came in so quickly that she was in real danger of falling over and being consumed by the small avalanche of soil.

Enough of this. Knight looked up at the small figure shoveling dirt over the side of the pit. There were many things Knight could do, both nasty and horribly cruel. Normally Knight didn’t try to hurt Pirate too badly, but the other girl had earned this. Knight closed her eyes, oblivious to the falling dirt and muttered a word under her breath.

——

Pirate was busy kicking dirt into the pit when she saw the flash of movement. She jumped back, but too late. Knight leapt straight out of the pit and kicked Pirate so hard she flew.

Just like last time Pirate felt she flew far too long in the air. This time she crashed through the branches of a tree and fell to earth stunned, bleeding, and full of pine needles.

Whumph. Pirate felt the breath go out of her and stay that way as she hit the ground. How high up had Knight kicked her? Moreover, how had she done that? Pirate was strong, but she could barely kick Knight off her feet, let alone into the air.

Impossible. Pirate wasn’t too sure about that word, but she was sure it applied to Knight. Normally Knight was just like Pirate, strong, tough, fast, but pretty close to Pirate in most areas. Naturally Pirate was much smarter than Knight, and she was quicker and stronger too, but Knight could stay awake longer and she was better with her swords.

But sometimes when Knight was mad, or when something important needed to be done, she was different. For brief moments Pirate had seen Knight do things that Pirate could never do. She had stopped a shark once with her bare hands, and her face wasn’t nearly as swelled up from the jellyfish stings.

She’d jumped straight out of the pit, a jump fully twice her height while wearing armor. Even Pirate couldn’t jump like that. But that was Knight. Pirate hadn’t ever met other people like her besides Knight, so she just assumed that was how Knight was. It wasn’t good or bad, but it made fighting Knight a lot harder.

And now Knight was advancing on Pirate with swords in hands and a look in her eye that made Pirate get up and snatch her sword. Sometimes it was a good idea to fight, but when Knight was going to do impossible things it was a time to not fight.

Pirate turned and ran. She was especially good at running away. Upraised roots, low hanging branches and inconveniently placed trees were easy obstacles to avoid when she wasn’t carrying food around. Pirate dashed through the forest, the world a green-brown blur around her. Normally, Pirate would have been secure in the knowledge that Knight would never catch her in a million years at this speed, but today was different.

Knight was serious.

The edge of the forest was in sight and Pirate could see the trees open up into the flat grassland when she heard the thunder. It was hollow booming; the sound of heavy armor hitting the ground repeatedly, but at a speed that made it sound like someone was playing on a metal drum. Pirate increased her speed but the metal thunder was right behind her.

Pirate leapt for a tree trunk and tried to haul herself up, but it was too late. A hand grabbed Pirate and lifted her one-handed into the air. Pirate struggled and kicked, but Knight was just too strong. Pirate felt herself being pulled back, and then suddenly she was airborne.

Again.

This time Pirate landed on her left side and rolled for several feet before she stopped. But even before she had stopped moving Pirate was up and ready with her sword. Just in time, too.

Knight leapt out of the forest and landed in front of Pirate. Another impossible thing. But there was no time to wonder at the strangeness of it. Pirate charged Knight, trying to knock the other girl off her feet. Her sword blurred as she aimed at Knight’s face with all her strength.

Casually Knight kicked Pirate’s sword out of her hand and then delivered a quick punch to Pirate’s face. It knocked the girl flat on her back. It was such a quick punch and one that shouldn’t have that much weight but to Pirate it had felt like being struck by a boulder.

Still, that was no reason to stop fighting. Pirate jumped to her feet and lashed out with a kick that made Knight stumble back a step. A punch to the face was the logical next step when fighting someone who didn’t wear a helmet, but Knight guarded her face with her hands. Still, that was just how fighting went. And no matter what Knight did, there was no way she could guard herself from everything Pirate could do.

If the face was no good, it was time to get rid of the legs. Pirate shoulder-charged Knight and knocked the girl to the ground. This was always a good tactic because Knight had trouble getting up. And now it was time for a special attack.

Knight was trying to struggle back onto her feet. Pirate kicked her so she fell flat on her back and then jumped on her. Both of Pirate’s feet smashed into Knight’s breastplate and the girl was now completely immobilized. Time for the special anti-Knight attack, then.

Pirate began jumping up and down on Knight’s chest. The armor Knight wore wouldn’t bend or break from something like this, but Pirate knew Knight could still feel it when she hit her hard enough. So every time Pirate landed she hit Knight’s chest plate with all of her weight, smashing the other girl into the ground with bone-rattling force. This worked for all of a minute as Knight tried to regain her breath and Pirate enjoyed the jumping.

Then Knight lost her temper. Again.

Pirate heard Knight whisper something and realized Knight was going to do an impossible thing again. She leapt off Knight and turned to flee but the other girl seized hold of her leg and lifted Pirate up into the air.

Casually, Knight held the struggling Pirate and smacked her into the ground like one would smash a fish to kill it. She didn’t use enough force to kill Pirate, but it hurt. Pirate felt the wind go right out of her and she would have lain there stunned for a good while longer, but Knight hadn’t let go of her foot.

Pirate was swung up into the air and then she hit the ground on Knight’s other side with the same jarring force.

Whumph. Pirate’s entire body was that sound and feeling. Thought, action, even sound disappeared while Pirate tried to catch her breath. But then she felt herself being lifted into the air and realized it wasn’t over.

Whumph.

——

Knight hit the ground with Pirate two more times and then let the other girl go and wandered off. The girl named Pirate lay there in pain and silence for a long time before she moved. But when she did, Pirate just sat there and thought for a while.

When Pirate finally stood up the sun was setting. Her stomach growled, but Pirate ignored it. Slowly, deliberately, skin and bones agonizing over every step, Pirate set out. Not for revenge. Well, partly for revenge.

But mainly to win.

Fighting was hard. Sometimes you lost, sometimes you won. But Pirate hated losing, and she had one trick left. The game of war wasn’t over yet.

——

As the sun slipped below the horizon and the island took on a luminous glow as the moon came up, Knight sat by her fire and patiently waited for Pirate to attack. It wasn’t a prediction she was making; it was a complete certainty that the other girl would strike at some point during the Knight.

It had been a mistake, Knight reflected, to hit Pirate quite so hard. It was always a guessing game, finding out how much deterrent Pirate needed to leave Knight alone. Too little and she’s just get mad and vicious. However, if Knight completely crushed Pirate as she had this morning, even worse things happened.

She got creative.

Hence Knight’s current state of watchfulness. It was a silly battle, a stupid little game of war in the end, but unfortunately one side was taking things seriously. Well, seriously in Pirate’s own way.

Knight didn’t how it worked in Pirate’s mind, but she knew that the other girl wouldn’t ever kill her. Bury her with dirt, beat her black and blue, steal all her food and even throw beehives at Knight as she slept – okay. But Pirate never ventured into lethal territories with her attacks. But her tactics were extraordinarily painful.

Knight still remembered the bees. There were precious few hives of them on the island as it was – most likely the bees had immigrated to the island when it was closer to the main continent. That meant of course that this island had once been part of a larger landmass, or else that the other body of land had in fact been connected to this island and sunk long ago. It was an interesting mystery, and just part of the secrets of this land, Knight was sure.

After all, this island was the sole body of land in the Endless Green, a sea known as one of the three deadliest seas in the world. Knight had grown up knowing that to enter the cursed waters of the Green Sea was to never be seen again. Yet here she was, alive and well albeit stranded with another girl whose past was as mysterious as the island’s.

Knight stared into the dwindling flames of her fire and kept her ears open while her mind busily worked at the same old thought puzzle. Well, it wasn’t as if she had anything better to do.

When Knight had first landed on the island she had met Pirate. A girl without a name, without words, without past and who had never seen another human before. A wild savage in short; one that Knight had forged a strange truce with over the last year. And while Knight had taught Pirate the rudiments of civilization, she was still an enigma to Knight.

Where had she come from? Pirate had explained in her odd way that she hadn’t originally lived on this island. Apparently, her home before this had been a raft. It seemed impossible, but Knight had seen the broken thing. Pirate kept her raft on one side of the island, but that too was strange.

No mere raft could survive the open sea, yet Knight was sure it could survive the Green Sea. Storms and large waves were unknown on the becalmed green waters, so Pirate could in theory have floated around for a long time.

But who were her parents? Why was she abandoned on a raft? How did she survive the famous emptiness of the Green Sea, whose still waters kept shifts drifting without direction for years? Even the greatest of adventurers had gone mad trying to make their way out of the maze of currents that made up the Green Sea, where the endless monotony of the same sights eroded sanity and reality.

Knight sighed. The same questions, and once again, the same lack of any answer. It was getting quite annoying how her mind kept drifting back to the same thoughts over and over, but there wasn’t much else to think of here. Knight wasn’t used to the enforced simplicity of this island. Pirate could handle having nothing to do just fine, but Knight was used to occupying every moment of her day.

Why, back in the castle, Knight had read books every day, practiced fighting, learned tactics and studied arts like blacksmithing. She had been so busy back then, but that was all gone. She could never go back. That was what her betrayal had resulted in.

Knight’s eyes stung as she stared into the fire and she brushed angrily at them. Stupid smoke. But was it all just smoke that made her eyes water? Regret. Yes, Knight had many regrets. Her betrayal had been ill-conceived, born out of madness and grief; loss and isolation. And yet, it was not entirely unfounded. Even now Knight felt the injustice of it and knew she would probably do the same again. But her heart still hurt to think of it, and her eyes…

Her eyes stung.

Knight jolted out of her daydreaming reverie. Something was wrong. Her eyes were stinging, watering. Too late Knight realized the smoke in the air was too thick. And it wasn’t coming from her small campfire. The smoke was blowing in on the night’s breeze. Knight’s hands grasped her swords as she realized what Pirate was doing.

Smokescreen.

Before Knight had come to the island Pirate hadn’t known how to make fire with flint and steel. She’d used sticks and friction to painstakingly create fires in need. Knight’s use of flint and steel had completely blown Pirate away when she had observed it, and Knight still found it amusing how reverently Pirate treated her for her knowledge of it.

Well, it was certainly a huge leap forwards in technology but there was something else Knight had forgotten. She’d taken over as chief fire-starter it was true, but all she did was start fires. She had completely forgotten that Pirate was just as adept at using fire as Knight.

Heavy white smoke billowed through the clearing, a mist made of ash and dust. Knight coughed and shielded her face. How clever. Pirate wasn’t just burning green wood – for smoke this thick, she had probably found plants with lots of sugar in them, the kind that gave off the most acrid fumes.

Knight coughed and crouched to get below the smoke. She would have crawled normally but lying down would make her too vulnerable to attack. And Pirate was coming.

But where was she?

Knight’s swords were in her hands and she waited, searching the billowing landscape for any sign of movement. She heard nothing. She saw nothing except smoke.

Annoying. Knight felt her teeth grind as she remained tensed, ready for the first attack. It wasn’t just that she was being attacked in her camp, and it wasn’t just that the smoke was burning her lungs, irritating her eyes. It was nighttime. The moon was well into the sky, and Knight just wanted to sleep.

Fine then. If Pirate wanted to use cheap tricks, Knight would do the same. Knight whispered into the darkness and felt tired. Too much overexertion, but this would settle things once and for all.

The smoke shifted. The forest remained still. No breeze blew through the forest, and the leaves of the trees did not shift. But a wind blew nonetheless, a wind that swept away the smoke in an instant, leaving only the blackness of the night, and of course, Knight.

The girl took a deep breath of cool night air in relief. That ought to mess with Pirate’s plans. No doubt the other girl was somewhere in the forest, frozen in panic without the smoke to hide her.

Knight scanned the area around her. Hm. Nothing. But then, she was facing the direction the smoke had come from. It wasn’t impossible that Pirate had tried to come the other way.

Turn, stop. Knight blinked. Pirate grinned and exhaled the breath she had been holding. She was so close Knight could feel the warm air leave the girl’s lungs.

She was so silent!

Pirate’s sword was in her hand. She moved before Knight could react. Her sword came up and smacked Knight’s gauntleted hand. She had loosened her grip due to shock, and her swords flew into the air. Then Pirate stepped forwards and head-butted Knight.

Hard.

Knight fell to the ground, stunned. Pirate stood over her and whacked Knight on her breastplate with her sword. The sound her blade made when it hit Knight’s armor was surprisingly dull, a thwock of impact rather than the ringing of a bell. It really hurt though.

Knight raised her gauntleted arms to protect her face. Pirate smashed her sword into Knight’s arms, making them numb and bruised. Once, twice, three times. Knight’s arms fell away, battered down and sore.

Pirate raised her sword for a clear strike at Knight’s face, and then hesitated. Stopped. She looked down and prized one hand off her sword. Knight saw her raise fingers to count. One, two, three four.

Four strikes. The same number of times Knight had hit the ground with Pirate. The other girl looked disappointed, but lowered her sword. Then she turned, and ambled off.

Incredulously, Knight watched Pirate walk away. The other girl didn’t even look back once at her fallen enemy, didn’t stop to so much as gloat. She kept walking and even yawned as she reached the edge of the forest clearing. Then she was gone, into the night and probably back to sleep.

Knight lay on the cold hard soil, stunned for five minutes. Then rage flooded every part of her body, such a flood of burning anger that Knight felt physically unwell. Her entire body was shaking; Knight realized she had her swords in her hands. When had she stood up?

The night air of the island was cold and crisp against the skin, a wonderful contrast to the warmer day. Knight felt none of it. Her skin was molten; her hands were iron vices around her swords. There was no coherent thought in her head; all Knight could think was fury, and that fury told her one thing:

Hurt.

——

Pirate was asleep. She had drifted off easily after her grand plan had worked. It felt wonderful; not only to give into the need to sleep, but to know she had completely beaten Knight. That made today a good day, despite the numerous bruises on Pirate’s body. So, Pirate was asleep.

But something woke her up.

She couldn’t have said what it was. It was just a feeling; a prickling on Pirate’s back and neck, a sense of unease – danger. It was the same feeling Pirate got when something bad was about to happen; when the ocean current threatened to drag her down to the depths of the sea, or when a tree was about to fall on her.

Pirate woke up in her bed of sand and leapt into the air. Her sword was on the ground; Pirate kicked it into the air and snatched it as she ran. In truth she was still half asleep as she dove away from her campsite, but the explosion woke her up completely.

A geyser of sand opened up in the earth and Pirate felt her bones shake. Sound was eaten by a tremendous roar, and when Pirate dared to turn and look back she saw only a smoking crater in the earth where she had been asleep just moments prior.

To be fair, it was a small hole, and the explosion hadn’t been that all-consuming. But for Pirate who had never witnessed anything like it, the sight was enough to terrify her completely.

But what was scarier was the figure standing on the beach.

A girl with golden hair stood under the falling moonlight, where shore met sea. Saltwater rushed around her feet, yet her stance was firm. She did not smile, that girl. Her eyes were dark, her expression grim. She looked at Pirate, and there was a fury in her that the girl had only ever seen once before.

“I am Knight,” the girl said. In one hand she held a sword; in the other, its twin. With them she could cut the sky itself. “And I challenge you, Pirate.”

Pirate was frozen by Knight’s eyes, but the other girl didn’t move to attack. Instead, she stood there, waiting. Her voice rang out through the night air, cold and commanding.

“If you are courageous and have the blood of a true warrior, strike at me. If you are cowardly, let ye attack my back. Strike where you will and I shall answer you with the pride of a knight.”

Knight extended one blade and pointed it at Pirate. “But run and I will hunt you down.”

Pirate never ran except when she felt like it. Slowly, Pirate straightened to her full height and brought her sword up. Knight had made a terrible mistake. A terrible, no-good, bad mistake. She’d destroyed Pirate’s sleeping place. That wasn’t just a crime; that was…a mistake.

Pirate was ready to smash Knight into the ground. She was completely willing to hit Knight until the other girl couldn’t move. But then Pirate looked at Knight and saw.

There was something dark in Knight’s face. Pirate held the other girl’s gaze and stared into her eyes. Something was wrong. They were too wide, the pupils to small.

This was wrong. Pirate felt it. It was only a fight. She hadn’t been trying to hurt Knight – well, she had, but not hurt her. But something had gone bad. She had hit Knight one too many times, or maybe Knight had hit her head when she felt.

But Knight wasn’t happy. Pirate had done too much. Gone too far. Knight was going to be bad, unless Pirate stopped her.

So the girl with red hair gripped her sword tightly as she could and closed her eyes for a moment. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and then opened her eyes slowly. The girl with the golden hair waited two silvery swords and armor shining in the moon’s dark light. Slowly, the girl named Pirate raised her sword and advanced.

Her skin was weak, and her arms were tired. Her body was bruised and aching, but Pirate couldn’t sleep yet.

She knew what she had to do.

——

Blades clashed in a place by the sea. On a small island without a name, two girls fought with steel. One was winning.

Knight swept one sword down and the other one up, a move designed to take out legs and slice the chest. Pirate blocked the sword aimed at her chest and jumped over the second sword.

The move turned Knight to one side so she completed the turn and caught Pirate with an elbow to the face. Knight barely felt the impact, but Pirate was sent tumbling to the ground.

No mercy. Knight stabbed down at Pirate’s hands but the girl wriggled and rolled out of the way. Knight felt like she was fighting an exceptionally agile worm. But it didn’t matter. Pirate wasn’t going to beat her this time.

Pirate came up and smashed her sword against Knight’s blades. The impact was strong, but Knight was using more than just mere physical strength. Pirate could match or even outmatch Knight in a contest of strength normally, but not if Knight cheated.

Well, it wasn’t cheating per se, but Knight felt it was unfair to use magic in a swordfight. Normally she avoided using it at all for such things had a cost, but today was different. Knight twisted her sword down and Pirate had to retreat or lose the fingers on her sword hand.

Too slow. Too naïve. Knight’s other blade snaked around and stabbed at Pirate’s midsection. Of course, it was only a feint. Knight was already plotting the next two moves. Pirate would dodge this strike and the next, but then she’d be to slow to stop Knight. One punch should knock her flat, and then Knight would see about teaching her a lesson—

Pirate recoiled from the second sword. She stepped back, but Knight automatically stepped forwards as well, striking straight as a spear. Pirate turned sideways, moving away from the blade but her legs faltered for a brief, terrible second.

And Knight’s sword stabbed Pirate.

It happened quickly, but then in slow motion. Knight felt her sword stab into Pirate’s side and then her blood froze, her heart stopped.

Stabbed. She’d actually stabbed Pirate. The girl fell back, grimacing, clutching her side. Her sword was raised to defend, but Knight didn’t attack.

She’d hurt Pirate. She’d stabbed her – actually stabbed her. That wasn’t right. Knight hadn’t meant to stab her – well she had, but she hadn’t meant to. Pirate was too good at fighting to be hurt. She shouldn’t have been hurt.

And then Pirate straightened and held out her hand. Knight flinched back. Pirate’s right hand was covered with blood.

Pirate showed Knight the blood on her hand and then wiped it one her shirt. She poked her side, winced, and then covered her side again. It wasn’t a deep cut, but the blood still ran profusely and dripped onto the sand.

Pirate planted her sword on the ground held Knight’s face for a moment. She was waiting for Knight to attack. Knight lowered her swords.

Pirate waited to make sure Knight wouldn’t attack, and then she walked back. The girl made her camp on the beach, where waves of sand met waves from the sea. She returned quickly with two things in her hands.

The first was a leaf. It was one of the broad-leaved plants with thick stems that sprouted out of the grown where the forest grew most thickly. Pirate lifted up her shirt and wrapped the leaf around her side. The cut Knight had given her wasn’t so deep, but the blood was still running. Pirate pressed the leaf against her side hard, grimacing at the pain. After a minute, the blood’s flow stopped, and the congealed stickiness kept the leaf glued to Pirate’s side as a makeshift bandage.

Knight stared at her swords numbly. One was dripping with red blood. In the moon’s faint light the blood looked dark and black. The color of sin and death. And guilt.

She hadn’t meant to. She hadn’t – it was a mistake. Pirate should have dodged it, she should have. It wasn’t Knight’s fault at all because Pirate had stared it, but it was because Knight had ended it. She had broken the Rules, used magic, fought to hurt or even kill. And she nearly had.

So wrapped up in her thoughts was Knight that Pirate had to poke her twice before Knight responded. The girl with the bloodstained blades looked up and into a flower.

It was one of the small blue ones. The thin plant had delicate leaves and a purple center, reminding Knight somewhat of a dandelion dressed up in different colors. It wasn’t edible, but it was beautiful.

Pirate held it out to Knight, an inquiring look on her face. She had no idea, no knowledge of the conventions of war or peace. She didn’t know about white flags, the symbol of peace, the accords of war or the honor of knights. Of course, a knight was different from Knight. One had honor, the other didn’t.

Pirate knew nothing about the world, but she knew about beauty, and so she held out a flower to Knight and the act wasn’t just a simple gift. It was the oldest of actions, and universal in language.

Peace.

And Knight finally understood a little bit about how the girl named Pirate thought. She was too good at fighting to ever be hit by a stray sword thrust from Knight. She was a genius in her own way at battle, and so she wouldn’t have ever been struck by such an obvious attack. Unless she wanted to.

Sometimes Knight forgot Pirate had grown up by herself. She didn’t think like normal people, mainly because she wasn’t one. She was selfish, violent, rude, and ignored social laws. But Pirate was also straightforward, and thought of making peace as a simple equation.

If the two of you were at odds, let the other person win. Accept pain; lose on purpose and take your hits and that would make it all better.

The reasoning of a savage.

The logic of a saint.

Knight threw down her swords and laughed. She didn’t know where it came from; it bubbled out of her chest, a cup overfull. Pirate looked at Knight as if she was crazy, but then the other girl began to laugh. There was no way she could know how Knight was feeling, understand the mixture of incredulousness, admiration, and even wonder mixing to create a wild happiness within the other girl. Pirate just laughed because Knight laughed, and their laughter, one complex and spontaneous, the other simple and free, rang throughout the island.

And when morning came, Pirate caught fish for both Knight and herself and they ate it on the beach. All was well.

Until the storm came.

Pirate’s Story continues in the novel City of Mists, available on Amazon for Kindle.


Tales from the Island

On a lonely island out in the middle of an ocean sits a girl, quietly singing with the waves. Pirate has lived on her small island almost her entire life. She is not alone of course; she shares her home with Knight, the girl wearing armor and Rabbit, who is a rabbit. But Pirate has never known any other place than this patch of land in the middle of the endless green sea. When she's not fighting with Knight, chasing Rabbit, eating, sleeping, or staring at the sky, Pirate is solving big problems. From plagued fish to wandering sharks, Pirate overcomes each obstacle with wits, determination, and sometimes by thinking. Pirate’s Story –Tales from the Island is a prequel of short stories to the novel The City of Mists.

  • Author: Noah James
  • Published: 2015-11-23 22:40:08
  • Words: 25857
Tales from the Island Tales from the Island