Never before had I ever seen anything so...tragic. Greedy flames gobbled structures and people alike, the ravenous emissions from those cannons devouring everything in sight. Even from up here, I could smell roasting flesh, and found myself almost throwing up at the feeling of my mouth watering. The screams of the men and women that worked on the wharf wafted to our ears, and it was all I could do to hold Rebecca as she wept into my shoulder.
Finally, when the sobs subsided, her bloodshot eyes stared up into my face in question.
"Arthur...," she began, though trailed off with a slow shake of my head. I already knew what she was going to ask, but I had no idea of what we were supposed to do. Running was the first thought that came to mind, obviously. I was no hero, never touched a weapon in my life. So what was I supposed to do about these...demons? But the thought of my parents in town stilled my feet...even if it didn't keep my knees from knocking.
I don't think my expression was too great, because the longer Rebecca stared up at me, the more twisted and broken her own became, until the poor girl had burst into tears once more. That was it, I had to do something. Anything. I might not be able to fight those things off, but I could at least get everyone out of there before they made it to town.
"Rebecca," I said softly, detaching myself from her tearful embrace and holding her at arms length. "I know it's tragic, and a lot of people we know probably just died, but..."
My supposedly heroic speech only made her cry that much more forcefully, until it sounded like her lungs were about to come flying out of her throat. Great, so much for taking control of the situation. By now the smoke was beginning to sting my eyes, so I quickly batted them away before trying one more time.
"Stop it, alright? I'm going to get us out of here. Look, you head for Nivea, let them know what's going on. They can probably get us some help or something." It was the town closest to ours, not even an hours walk. She could definitely hold up there until this was over.
But apparently, she didn't like that idea. "What?" she shouted, stepping away from me with a look of dismay. "I'm not going to leave my parents here! And I'm not gonna let you stay, either! What, you think you're gonna go down there and take them all out? You're a pirate slayer, now? Don't be stu-"
"Shut up, Rebecca!" The words suddenly exploded from me, so forceful that she did in fact do as I commanded. Giving a heavy sigh, I massaged at my temples for a moment, before staring the girl straight in the eyes.
"...Listen. I'm not gonna be fighting anyone. I'm just gonna head to the belltower, sound off a warning, and make sure our parents make it out of here in one piece. Then I'll be hightailing it to Nivea, same as you. But there's no sense in both of us running down there, right?"
Her brows furrowed as she pondered over my words, as she no doubt bit back another wave of furious indignation.
It was all the confirmation I needed, a cocky grin sliding over my lips as I gave a quick squeeze to the girl's hand. "Don't worry so much, Becca'. Ring the bell, grab our parents, and haul tail. I'll barely even be in harm's way. Come on, you know there's nobody more cowardly than I am."
I gave her a playful wink, which managed to snag a somewhat nervous giggle as she nodded her head. "I guess you're right. Just...please make sure my parents get out of here alive, okay? And yours too!"
I nodded and began to walk backwards, towards the side of the cape leading back towards the town. "Don't worry. Everything will be fine, I promise. I'll be back before you know it."
She offered me a sad smile before heading in the opposite direction, though came to a stop soon after.
"Arthur?" she called out.
"...You better not die on me. A stupid boy may be a dime a dozen...but you're my stupid boy."
The words sent warmth flooding my belly, doing wonders for the bile that had been churning at the smell of charred human. Wordlessly I nodded and lifted my fist in the air as a quick goodbye before turning away, racing down the side of the cape and back towards Elegy.
The wharf was in shambles, from what I could see. Bodies littered the ground, some piled on top of one anther in the smoking craters made by the cannon fire. The black figures were still howling into the wind, sending chill after chill down my spine.
I am so going to die. I found myself thinking this repeatedly, the rhythm of the words falling in sync with my feet pounded against the rocky incline. As sickening as it was, I couldn't help but pray the pirate...things remained preoccupied with the people at the harbor, leaving me with time to get our families out of there. Funny how I had known everyone here for my whole life, and already I was hoping they got killed before I did.
That last thought was the one that pushed me over the edge, my hand bracing against the side of a house as I hit the edge of town. Retching, I threw up that single slice of bacon from earlier and what felt like all the water in my body, quickly sweeping a hand over my lips before continuing on. I could beat myself up later, but for now I had a job to do.
The bell tower had been made for this exact purpose, believe it or not. Apparently, pirate attacks were pretty frequent back when the town was first inhabited, before Unica and Silvarnth began offering protection. The urgency of the situation dictated how many times someone run the bell. Once was for a fire, twice was for a big storm, and three was for a pirate raid. It had been constructed in the center of town for easy access, but it had been so long since it'd been needed, it was more of an attraction that anything else.
"Maybe the pirates are just sightseeing, then..." I mumbled to myself, trying to keep my spirits up despite the direness of the situation. The smoke was seeping into the main area of town now, people emerging from their home and wondering just where all of the noise was coming from. You'd think it would be obvious...but people grew naive and ignorant over time. Who wanted to believe that pirate's were invading your town, after all!
"Pirates!" I screamed out even as I ran, sprinting past the scattering of people and bellowing at the top of my lungs. "Pirates at the harbor! Get out of town, head for Nivea!"
There was a tremor of distress among the townspeople, now. No doubt they heard the alarm in my voice, though there seemed to be a fissure in opinions. Some were gathering their things and rousing their families at the sound of the warning, but just as many were skeptical of my words. Idiot.
Wiping my hands repeatedly at the tears dwelling in my eyes, I burst through the rickety door at the base of the tower, hauling up the steps two and three at a time in a bid to reach the top. My lungs and throat were burning from a mixture of smoke and exhaustion, but I knew better than to stop and rest. Every second that went by was another life I could have saved, and I refused to have that on my conscious.
Staring straight up, I could see the bronze bell hanging overhead, and a part of me wondered if it would even work anymore? The last thing I wanted was to pull the rope...and have the damned thing come crashing down on my head. But that was just a risk I would have to take.
Finally rounding the last few stairs I made it to the top, the tall obelisk dominating over the other buildings in town and giving me a clear view of the harbor. Or what had formerly been the harbor, anyways. The howls had grown closer, the black shapes already making their way into the main part of the town. Some were darting through the streets, other bursting into homes no doubt ready to catch those inside by surprise. I didn't want to think about what was happening within those walls, instead focusing on the worn braid of rope that hung from the dusty bell.
"Great." It was perfectly in the center, dangling over the dark abyss that the staircase had wrapped around. Standing on the tips of my toes, I stretched out a hand to try and snag the rope without teetering over the edge. The first few tries sent it swinging away from me, and when I finally managed to grab hold, I lost my balance and went stumbling into empty air.
Panic took my breath away as I scrambled to grab hold of the rope with both hands, damn near intertwining my body with the literal lifeline as the bell began tolling under the weight of my body. The noise was deafening, ancient groans pounding at my brain as the warning resounded across the town.
I didn't know if it was working or not, considering my eyes were currently clenched tight in fear. The townsfolk might have ignored my verbal warnings, but even the most ignorant ones knew better than to ignore the bell that had been their sole guardian oh so many years ago. I had no earthly idea how I was going to make it back to safety...but at least I had managed to do some good, for once.
"I knew I was going to die...I just knew it." I could feel my palms growing sweaty, the rope cutting into my hands as I swung helplessly back and forth. But I wasn't the important thing, right then. I needed to see what was going on, I couldn't let my fear keep me from making sure everyone was alright. Slowly, I pushed back my terror and opened my eyes...
...Just in time to see a cannonball come flying towards the bell tower.
There was a fiery kaboom as the leaden projectile struck the monolith, the antic building not even given the luxury of a final groan before stone and wood exploded all around me. One second, I'm swinging like a pendulum, and the next I'm flying through the air amidst a star shower of broken planks.
As my body was gripped by an invisible force I began my trip back down, smashing into the pieces of the tower that had actually managed to remain standing and feeling as they gave way beneath my. Despite the nauseating blows of agony that battered me bloody, I knew it was probably what managed to save my life in the end.
At some point I realized that somebody had been screaming ever since the tower was struck, and somewhere in the back of my mind knew that it had been me. My body crumpled on impact at the base of the wreckage, pain searing my bones as I somehow managed to crawl out of the rubble before collapsing to the ground.
How the hell had I managed to survive something like that? And with everything intact, for that matter. Sure, I felt like I had just gone head to head with a battleship and lost...but other than that, everything seemed alright.
After lying there for a moment to catch my breath, I began pushing myself to my feet. Both ears were still ringing after both the bell and the explosion, and strange dots of color blotted my vision. Blinking repeatedly, I twisted my fingers in my ears and hoped for the best as I finally managed to come to a wavering stand.
"A-Alright...now I just need to make sure me and Becca's parents got out, and everything will...will...will..." A stammer gripped my tongue, stemming from the fact that the purplish blots had just been replaced with a group of black-clad figures wielding swords and looking very much like they wanted nothing more than to make me their next victim.
They were all wearing dark cloaks to conceal their bodies, though that wasn't really the alarming part. No, it was the white, skeletal faces of each that pretty much did it. It was like staring into the face of Death...multiplied by about seven. Their presence was made that much more horrific in the face of the coming evening, each appearing more of a shadow than a man. Fingers still in my ears, I remained frozen in place at the sight of these deathly phantoms.
One, the tallest of the group, stepped forward to distinguish himself as he aimed the curved blade of his sword in my direction. What, did he want to have some kind of duel? I might be heroically challenged, but there was no way I was just going to take this lying down. Frantically, I scanned the ground, quickly scampering for the closest scrap of wood I could find and brandishing it before my body in hands that refused to remain still.
"A-Alright then, you monster!" I roared out, sounded much more brave than I actually felt. Truth me told it probably didn't even sound all too forceful, but it was the best I could do at that particular moment. "Think you can just...just come to my town and kill whoever you want? I'll stop you..."
This earned an obnoxious jeer from the rest of our audience, the ghouls hooting and hollering and completely ruining any amount of bravery I'd managed to conjure up. The lead pirate just shook his head and took another step forward, gravelly voice reaching my ears.
"...We're looking for a boy. One about your age. Do you know Victor?"
Despite my fear, I couldn't help but show obvious signs of irritation and skepticism. They were looking for a boy? Seriously? And it didn't occur to any of them to ask before blowing up my town and killing my neighbor? But it probably wasn't a good idea to antagonize this lot, so I decided against it.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I called out to him. "Never met anybody named Victor."
Another of the ghouls stepped forwards and whispered something to the man, both looking over at me before conferring further. Was this how it was supposed to go? I pictured some epic clash ending in my unfortunate death, not a bunch of...talking and awkward silence. Finally the second guy stepped away, leaving me and the first one to face off again.
He stared at me for a good minute before deciding to try his luck again. "...Right. We're looking for a boy named Potts. I know he stays here. And he'd be...about your age."
They were looking for who? I already knew the answer, even while questioning myself in a pointless internal monologue. But why the hell would a bunch of...ghost pirates be looking for me? I had never even left Elegy, let alone been somewhere to have an association with this bunch. Maybe my Mother's family owe some money or something, and they planned on kidnapping me for ransom. Damn it, I didn't want anything to do with this!
Realizing that I hadn't actually given him an answer yet, I did my best to regain my composure. No doubt he'd registered the shock that had been the cause of my slack jaw, so there was really no point in lying to the thing.
"Yes, I know a Potts," I said slowly, trying to form my words carefully as my brain raced to figure out a way out of here. No way I could fight even one of them, so running was my best bet. "But what do you want him for? If I tell you, you'll probably just kill me anyways."
I knew damn well that my number was about up, but at least the rest of my friends and family had more than likely gotten away. The longer I kept the pirates here, the more of a chance they had to put distance between them. Icy fear chilled my heart at the thought of dying...but I knew it was for a worthy enough cause.
"...He comes with us. If you give him up? You and yours get to live to see the sun rise. You don't? And we go hunt down every pal and priss from here and make'em spill their guts." And judging from his tone, I knew he probably meant that literally.
My hands were trembling so hard at this point that I dropped my makeshift weapon, eyes darting from one of the skeletal figures to the next in complete terror. What the hell was I supposed to do? Give myself up and go with these guys? No telling what they would do to me, and I doubt it consisted of drinking rum and partying with wenches. But...I couldn't let them touch Becca or my parents. They were worth a thousand of my miserable little lives.
"...Fine," I managed to finally force out through the knot in my throat, quickly swallowing it down before continuing on. "I'm....I'm Arthur Potts. What the hell do you want with me?"
The man's hand went to his face, removing what I now knew to be a mask and revealing a scarred and weathered face. "I figured as much. Look just like 'em. Bring your ass, boy, before I go back on my word." The rest of the pirates turned away and began heading back in the direction of the harbor, as this strange old man waited for me to follow.
Damn it, what the hell had I gotten myself in to? Too late to run, not unless I wanted to condemn everyone in Elegy. Regretfully I began hobbling towards the man, struggling to voice the question bubbling in my chest.
"...Look like who? What do you want with me? It's not like I'm one of you, so what business could you possibly have with the son of a pottery maker?"
The wizened man looked back at me with a smirk, expression distorted by the knife mark that carved deeply into one of his cheeks. "Pottery? Boy, you really don't know a damned, do you? We got plenty of business with you, Arthur Potts."
"...After all, you are our Captain."