“Let’s stick together until we’re sure there’s no one else onboard,” Shades recommended as he followed him. “No point taking unnecessary risks.”
“And I’ll back you up from here,” Justin nodded. And provide them with a quick getaway if anything did happen. He was torn between his own curiosity about this derelict, and peculiar wariness of a ship simply appearing out of the fog like that. Still, seeing both of them standing on the deck made it seem more substantial, more real, and not just some ghost ship.
After tuning and testing their radio headsets, and traversed the deck to find it as empty as it appeared to be, they proceeded to the cabin door. Shades was already reaching for his lock-picking gear while Max covered him, but he found the cabin door unlocked. So he opened the door, again calling out, stating that he meant no harm, and Max again repeated his offer to render aid if needed.
And again they were met with silence.
A cursory look around revealed the ship to be even more old-fashioned than Shades would have expected. Oil lamps instead of electric lights, they saw as they shone their headlamps around the cabin. Furniture designs that Shades would describe as practically antique, all wood paneling and scrollwork, accented by accessories and accoutrements that looked like something out of a turn-of-the-century period piece, even a shelf of old leather-bound volumes.
“This stuff is really old, isn’t it?” Max breathed, taking it all in. It reminded him of some of the older ships in the Islands, though Outlanders who visited in ships of this apparent age were few and far between.
“Yeah,” Shades replied absently. In addition to being old, the place also had a stuffy, long-abandoned air to it, and he was already fast losing any expectation of finding anyone else onboard. For a moment, he wondered if they were perhaps too late to help anyone here, remembering how ruthless both the pirate captain Striker and her crew, as well as those marauders that attacked the Kona Islands, were. Then again, he also saw no signs of violence, either; everything looked pretty orderly, if long-unattended. The thought also crossed his mind that perhaps the crew simply surrendered without a struggle, but he was also sure any pirates he could imagine would have torn the ship apart from stem to stern searching for valuables, and dropped it.
He and Max turned to each other for a moment as if sharing the same thought: neither of them could think of any rational reason to abandon a ship that was in such pristine and perfectly seaworthy condition.
Justin startled both of them out of their reverie as he demanded over the radio, “So, what’s it like in there, guys?”
“Well, it’s pretty deserted in here,” Shades responded after a moment. “Doesn’t look like anybody’s been onboard for days, more likely even weeks.”
“I think you’re right,” Max added, wiping his finger across the corner of a small table, leaving a visible streak through a thick layer of dust.
“Not really,” Shades told him, already sure he knew what Justin meant by that. “Just the usual odds and ends, nothing we don’t already have, if not better than this.”
“So what now?” Max asked him.
“I seriously doubt anyone’s been here lately,” Shades thought aloud, and Max’s observation of the dustiness in here was proof enough to him. “I think it’s safe enough to split up as long we stay in radio contact.”
“I guess so,” Max agreed. Despite the eerie atmosphere of fog drifting by outside, it was hard to be spooked for long by nothing. “It’s not like this ship’s very big.”
“Okay, I’ll head for the front of the ship,” Shades suggested, “and you search toward the rear.” This was just the sort of exercise he was looking to conduct. “And we maintain radio contact with each other at all times, remember?”
Continuing to converse with each other, the two of them split up, maintaining a running commentary on every section of the ship as they secured it.
Much like Shades, who kept one of his stun-sticks handy, using his left hand to open doors and such, Max kept his laser sword armed despite it being off-hand, thankful that their headlamps relieved them of having to occupy either hand carrying a flashlight. Both of them having decided that in such close quarters, melee weapons would serve them better than guns for self defense. Though in Max’s case, his right arm was still in a sling, meaning that opening doors and such was still a juggling act for him, making him all the more thankful that they had encountered no trouble so far.
Of course, after seeing how adept Erix was at left-handed swordsmanship, Max was already using this situation as an opportunity to train with his left, see how far he could take it.
“It’s strange,” Max reflected as he stepped off the stairs and entered the ship’s small hold, finding undisturbed stacks or crates that only furthered his belief that no one else had boarded once this vessel was abandoned, “that just a bunch of fog could make everything so…”
“Spooky?” Shades filled in the blank. “Abandoned places tend to be like that. There’s lots of weird stuff out in the woods back where I come from, but none of it felt as…” reaching for the right word, “unsettling as the places I’ve seen here.”
“Just an empty ship.” As if to remind himself more than his friends. Just fog. Nothing new to seafarers, even if he had never personally seen anything this thick, it was by no means the first time other travelers had. Not everything in this world is haunted…
Even as he thought this, Max heard a scraping sound from the far end of the hold, followed by a hissing gasp. Max raised his laser sword, shifting to compensate for his injured arm. A moment later, he heard a scrabbling sound, then spotted a flicker of movement around a nearby corner.
“Hey!” Max shouted, rushing forward to intercept the tied-down stack of boxes whoever that was just dashed behind would presumably emerge from.
“Max!” Shades called into the headset, “What’s going on back there?”
But when Max reached the other side of the pile, there was nothing.
“Where’d he go?”
“Aw shit…” Justin broke in on his end of the line, sounding alarmed, and entirely too spooked for either of their taste under the circumstances. “No way… It can’t be…”
“Now what?” Shades demanded, both the frustration and growing undertone of fear in his voice quite apparent. “Max, I’m coming to check it out…”
Before Max could warn them that there might actually be someone else onboard, he spotted a child-size figure out of the corner of his eye, seeing it scramble behind another stack of boxes near the back of the hold, and gave chase.
“Guys!” Justin snapped, “You gotta get off that ship! Now! It’s the—”
Whatever it was, they didn’t get to hear the rest of it, as their headsets filled with static, and what started out sounding like a foghorn, drawing out into the groan of a thousand rusty hinges, and Max’s light winked out, plunging him into darkness.