I held on tightly to the foremast of our ship, the Chimera, as we glided closer and closer to a King's ship, which was transporting the Book of Peace. We planned to steal the Book and strike it rich by ransoming the Book for however many crowns the people of the Twelve Cities would be willing to cough up. As I trained my eye on the King's ship, I tuned into what my dad, Sinbad, was saying to the crew.
"Gentlemen," he began, "this is what we've been waiting for. The world's most valuable object is on its way to Syracuse." He walked in front of the crew and looked out ahead of us. Spike, our dog, walked next to him, drooling all the way. Dad put his hands on his hips. He turned back to the crew. "It's a shame it'll never get there," he said, his trademark grin on his face. The crew laughed at his joke and Spike barked, slobbering all over the deck. "After today," Dad wrapped up, rubbing his hands together, "we retire to Fiji." The crew cheered and grabbed their weapons. Rat and I swung on our ropes, cackling as we went around and around the others' heads.
"Kale!" Dad called.
"Aye, Captain," Kale called back, and turned us broadside to the other ship.
"Spike!" Dad hollered, and the dog barked as he turned the pulley that brought out the spikes installed on the sides of the ship. Dad swung up onto the front mast with me. He sighed happily as he stared at the other ship.
"Let's get rich!" Dad cried, and grabbed the rope I offered him as Kale swerved the Chimera into the other ship, making the spikes lock into it, so we could get across easily. Dad and I swung across together and landed in the midst of the King's crew. I whooped and whipped out my knives while Dad took out three men with his swords. I quickly dispatched the two men in front of me and ran to the nearest mast. I climbed out of reach of the King's men and began cutting the ropes. I left one intact and used it to swing around, clipping our enemies' heads with the butt of my knife, knocking out some and momentarily dazing others. I passed Rat, who was doing the same as me, and was laughing gleefully, too.
While I swung around, I saw Spike jump on the ship and begin licking and drooling all over anyone he could find. Jin and Li, the twins, were flinging each other around on their staff, taking out up to three men at a time. Kale broke off a piece of their ship and swung it around like a bat. Jet lit and threw a handful of his homemade mini smoke bombs at the feet of four men and began to fight them as they cough and rubbed their eyes. I whooped some more as a big brute grabbed my ankle and yanked me down from my rope.
I rolled to my feet and assumed my fighting stance. "Don't you know attacking the King's and Prince's men is a capital offense, boy?" he asked as he swung his broadsword at me, which I easily ducked under.
"I do," I said, blocking his next swing with one of my knives and stabbing at him with the other. He jumped out of the way, releasing his sword from my knife, and opening himself to another quick attack. I feinted to the right and hit him on a pressure point on his neck, paralyzing him. "But I'm a girl," I said, and grabbed another rope and swung off, whooping again.
I found Dad and Kale at the other side of the ship, all their men down. "Did you see that last move?" Dad asked. "Pretty cool, huh?"
"I think you overworked it," Kale said. "Just a little."
"I didn't catch it," I said. "I thought we were here to steal, not show off."
Dad scowled at the both of us as Kale knocked out the guy he had been holding in a headlock. "Overworked it?" he muttered to himself, rolling his eyes. One of the few men standing charged at us, yelling his head off and swinging his sword. Kale caught the sword in his teeth, scaring the man, and flipped him overboard with one quick turn of his head. Kale was a powerful, broad-shouldered African man who never wore a shirt, and Dad's closest advisor. Only Kale and I could get away with anything from Dad.
"Oh?" Dad said to Kale. "And I was overworking it?" Kale spit out the sword and chuckled, but didn't say anything. I grinned and turned my attention to a fight up near the quarterdeck. One man was taking on three of ours, and making quick work of them.
"Proteus!" Dad said.
"Oh," Kale said. "This just got interesting. How long has it been?"
"Why is it interesting, Kale?" I asked, looking at the man fighting our crew. He wasn't too bad with that sword he had, unlike most of his crew. He was about Dad's height, with long brown hair he had tied back in a loose ponytail. I tried to get a good look at his eyes, but he kept turning a twisting, so I couldn't.
Dad and Kale ignored my question. "About a lifetime ago," Dad said, and approached the man. "You still fight like an old lady," he told the man.
"Sinbad?" the man asked, looking around. He was caught off guard as I tackled him past Dad and into the awaiting arms of four of the crew, including Kale.
"Sinbad," the man said again, looking at Dad, who uncrossed his arms to look at him. "What…what are you doing here?" He shook off the arms of the crew. They let him go. Why, I wasn't sure. I stood next to Dad as he twirled his knife.
"I'm working," he answered, turned around, and plunged his knife into the door handle. He broke it off. "You?" He flicked his wrist and the handle came off his knife.
"What happened to you?" the man asked. "Where have you been?"
"Hey, I'd love to stop and catch up, but, I've got things to do, places to go, stuff to steal." He opened the door, chuckling, and walked in, me and the man following him closely.
Dad whistled. The room was bare, except for a pedestal with a glowing book on it. "Oh, yeah," Dad said, getting that gleam he always got when he knew he hit the jackpot in his eye.
"Sinbad," the man said, coming around and laying a hand on Dad's shoulder. "We need to talk."
"Heard about it, read about it," Dad said, pushing the man's hand off his shoulder. "Never actually seen it. Come here, Lani," he said, and walked up to the pedestal. "The Book of Peace," Dad breathed, and we stared at the Book. It seemed to have no pages as you looked at it head on, and it glowed blue with strange symbols floating around on it. Some of the symbols seemed to be taking shape in the air, even. Dad rubbed his chin as he stared at it, grinning. I smiled too, waiting for the order to grab it.
"It's my job to bring it safely to Syracuse," the man said, putting a hand in front of Dad. He seemed to either not realize I was there, or he was ignoring me.
"Really?" Dad said. "You see, know I just feel bad, 'cause you're gonna get fired." I giggled and reached for the Book. The man smacked my hands away. "You can't be serious," he said. Dad walked around the pedestal, examining the Book. "You disappear for ten years, then show up and rob me?"
"I wish it wasn't you," Dad said, looking up at the man. "I do, really, but—"
"But it is me!" the man exclaimed. "Sinbad—"
"Proteus," Dad said, looking the man, who I now realized was the prince, in the eye, "we had a special handshake, some code words, even a secret hideout." Dad sighed. "It was fun, big fun, but we were kids."
"We were friends!" Proteus cried. He calmed down. "You're not gonna steal this," he said with a certain firmness. "Not from me."
"Oh yes we are," I said, and reached to snatch the Book from the pedestal. "Hey!" Proteus cried, and grabbed my wrist. I struggled to get my hand out of his iron grip, and reached for the Book of Peace with my other hand.
"Kailani," Dad said, "don't."
Astonished, I stood there, my hand hovering over the book. "But, Dad—" I protested.
"No buts," he said. "Now Proteus, let her go." Dad grabbed the Prince's hand and made him drop mine.
"'Dad?'" Proteus asked. "He's yours?"
"Yes and no," Dad said, letting go of Proteus's arm. "And she is a girl."
Proteus looked at me with his jaw hanging down. "It's a long story," Dad said.
"Tell me later," Proteus said, shaking himself out of his reverie. "You're not taking this. And what would you do with it anyway? The Book of Peace protects all of us in the Twelve Cities," he said.
"Exactly," Dad said. "So just imagine how much all of us will pay to get it back." I grinned, imagining myself swimming through a mountain of gold pieces.
Proteus shook his head and moved between Dad and the Book. "Let me say it again: a long time ago, you and I were friends. If that ever meant anything to you, prove it now."
Dad sighed. "You're right," he said. He grinned. "That was a long time ago." He reached for the Book. Proteus grabbed his hand and threw Dad down, pulling one of Dad's swords out from its sheath in the process. Dad got up fast, but I was faster. I jumped on the Prince's back and grabbed a hold of his hand that held the sword, trying to wrench it from his grasp. The Prince shook me off like an annoying fly, throwing me against the wall. Dad had rolled to his feet and drawn his other sword. As soon as I was out of the way, he pointed at Proteus, who twirled Dad's stolen sword. "Come on, don't get all heroic, Proteus," Dad said, relaxing. He tried to push Proteus and his sword out of the way and step to the Book, but Proteus reacted, swinging a short, dangerous swing at Dad, who dodged nimbly out of the way and pointed his sword at the Prince. He swung, and Proteus dodged, leaving the Book of Peace open. Dad lunged, but Proteus blocked him again, and swung. They began to dance and leap at each other, Proteus keeping Dad's attention on him, Dad still trying to get the Book.
"If you want the Book," Proteus said when their sword hilts met, "you'll have to go through me."
"Not quite," I said, grabbing the Book. I leapt back from a sword that Proteus swung at me, and tucked the still-open Book under my arm and pulled out my knives.
A large tentacle that burst through the side made us all fall down and made me drop the Book. Proteus snatched it up and set it back on the pedestal. The tentacle slithered around and pulled itself out of the hole it had created. Dad and Proteus looked at each other. Dad looked at me, and I looked back. "What the—?" Dad said, and the three of us ran outside, where both crews were fighting what looked like a giant green octopus.
"Dear gods," Proteus said. The ocean churned at the head of the boat, where the octopus seemed to be coming from. Suddenly the animal reared its head. I knew what it was.
"Cetus," I breathed. I looked at Dad. He nodded.
We watched as Spike ran over to one of the tentacles and latched onto the end. Cetus flipped the tentacle up in the air, but Spike held on tightly.
Dad huffed in amusement. "Go, Spike," he said.
Spike held onto his piece of the monster, which broke off as Cetus flipped him over towards our ship. "I gotcha! I gotcha!" Luca, one of our crew, cried, and was bowled over by the flying Spike.
"Well, I see your busy," Dad said, sheathing his swords and patting Proteus on the back. "Come on, Lani," he said, guiding me back to the ship, which had broken away from Proteus's. We leaped onto the railing next to the rope lines that held up the masts. Dad grabbed my hand with one of his and used the other to grab a rope. Proteus watched us, astonished.
"Wait, wait! You're just going to run away?" he asked, following us over.
"Uh, yeah," Dad said. We turned around and prepared to jump over to our ship. The monster had other ideas. It pushed a giant tentacle in between the ships, shoving ours too far away for us to jump. Our arms wheeled as we fought to maintain our balance and not fall into the churning ocean. Cetus pulled its tentacle back and knocked it into the main boom, which swung wildly, breaking and hitting other things on our ship. "Sinbad! Lani!" I heard Kale call.
"You…you…I…MY SHIP!" Dad yelled at the monster. He glared at it.
I looked back to see Proteus hopping in between Cetus's thrashing tentacles. He chopped and swung his sword at them, trying to get close enough to the head. He jumped onto one of the tentacles and sliced at it, then stabbed it. He didn't see another tentacle coming at him until it was almost too late. It smacked Proteus in the side and knocked him across the ship. Another tentacle was coming in to smash him to a grease spot.
Luckily, I had sprang into action, and swung in on a rope. I quickly cut off the end of the tentacle with my short sword, sheathed it, and pulled Proteus to his feet.
The monster reared back its head, revealing its mouth. A freaky tongue shot out, and grabbed one of Proteus's men. It wrapped around the man's legs and pulled him into the monster's mouth, making a crunching sound as the man was eaten.
"Heads up!" I heard Dad call, and Proteus and I turned around to see him standing on a barrel with a fuse in it and holding a lighted torch. He grinned at us, then bent down and lighted the fuse of the barrel. He jumped off and launched it off the plank it was on and into the air. Cetus took the bait and its tongue lashed out and grabbed the barrel. It swallowed.
Dad came over and laid a hand on my shoulder. "Stand by for sushi," he said, and the three of us watched and waited.
The monster seemed to know something was wrong, and stopped attacking the crew. A split second later, we heard a muffled boom, and watched smoke come out of holes on either side of where the monster's mouth was. It reared back its head and sprayed us with a thick, sticky greenish liquid that had the consistency of snot. It also spit out the crewman it had swallowed. We looked at the guy, who was miraculously whole, surprised that he seemed fine. Realizing his good fortune, the man picked up his sword and charged back into the fight, screaming his head off.
I raised my eyebrows, figuring the man was really brave, really stupid, or off his rocker. Possibly all three. "Give that guy a raise," Dad said as we watched him hack away at a tentacle. Proteus nodded.
Cetus attacked with new vigor. It slammed a tentacle down at the three of us, and Dad and Proteus both rolled to the sides while I jumped back. I rebounded myself off the deck and onto the tentacle, stabbing one of my knives into the green-brown flesh to hold on. I gripped the handle and cut away at the tentacle, making Cetus thrash it back and forth. I swung around wildly, trying to keep my knife in the tentacle. It didn't work, though. My knife slipped out, and I fell down toward the deck. I rolled, trying to keep any of my bones from breaking. I turned back to see Dad taunting the monster.
"Hey! Hey hey! Lobster boy! Over here!" he yelled. Cetus glared, and shot its tongue out at Dad and Proteus. They dove to opposite sides, and Dad grabbed Cetus's tongue and shoved one of his swords through it and into the deck of Proteus's ship. Realizing what he was doing, Proteus shoved his sword in, too. I ran over, pushing my knives and short sword through.
Cetus roared and flailed, trying to free its tongue. "Run!" Dad cried, and he grabbed my hand and we ran towards the back of the ship, Proteus by our side.
"Fall back!" Proteus called to his men. Dad looked up and spied the loose yard of the main topsail, hanging by a few ropes. He scooped up another rope I had cut and dropped earlier and cried to Proteus, "Grab hold!" and swung the rope around the base of the mast. He dropped my hand and held it out to Proteus, knowing full well I could climb up on my own. Proteus took Dad's wrist and nodded. "Let's go!" Dad yelled, and we climbed as fast as we could, the guys keeping pace with me. As we neared the top, I spied a knife stuck in the wood. "Lani!" Dad called, seeing it.
"I see it!" I cried, and grabbed it as we passed. I threw it up, and Dad caught it with his teeth. He grunted, and we kept climbing, dodging various tentacles that swung at us. When we reached our destination, the guys dropped the rope and swung themselves up onto the yard.
"And the plan?" Proteus asked, looking at Dad.
Dad spat the knife from his mouth into his hand, grabbing one of the ropes. "How about, 'try not get killed?'" he suggested, his hopeful look on his face.
I looked down to see a tentacle wrapping its way up the foremast to us. "Hold on!" Dad said, and cut the only rope that was on his side. I scrambled over to Proteus, who grabbed my arm and held me close to him, trying not to let me fall. Dad swung over on the rope he had cut and braced himself against the pole that held the part of the mast that Proteus and I were on. "Here," he said, tossing me the knife. "You'll need this!"
"Where are you going?" Proteus asked, one hand gripping my arm, the other holding onto the only rope left.
"Fishing!" Dad said, swinging himself up onto a taught rope attached to a ring at the top. We watched as he walked, arms out, one foot in front of the other, across the rope. I read his lips, and figured he was muttering to himself, "Left, right, left, right," over and over. I gasped as he leaned way to the left, the sighed in relief as he regained his balance. I felt Proteus's hand, which had tightened at the same time I had gasped, relax a little so he wasn't killing my arm. I gasped again when Cetus threw up a tentacle at Dad, but he quickly jumped over the tentacle and grabbed the rope on the other side, but the rope snapped. Proteus gasped with me as we watched Dad fall onto yard of the foretopsail.
Dad seemed fine, and pulled another knife out from behind his back. He cut the rope he was holding, and then ran to the other side of the mast so both ends were pointing down at the monster's head. Dad and Proteus locked eyes. "Give me the knife!" Proteus said. Wordlessly, I gave him the knife and clutched him around his waist. Dad and Proteus both raised their knives.
"Now!" Dad yelled at us, and they cut the ropes. Proteus wrapped his arm back around me as we fell toward the monster's head. I whooped in glee and sheer terror as we got closer and closer to Cetus. Suddenly the rope the Proteus was holding yanked us up and off of the mast, and we dangled in the air.
Cetus looked up, spotting the wood that was coming down to late. The yards skewered it right between its ugly orange eyes. Dad and Proteus were laughing, and I whooped some more, holding onto Proteus with all my might. I made the slight mistake of pumping a fist for a second, and when I felt myself slipping, I grabbed Proteus again. We swung wildly back and forth. Dad let go of his rope first, and landed on our kill.
"Ready?" Proteus asked me.
"Always!" I answered, and he let go of the rope. We landed next to Dad.
The crews were cheering. "You two ok?" Dad asked, looking us over.
"Yeah!" I said, excited and still not over my adrenaline rush. "That was fun!"
Proteus grinned at Dad. "Yeah," he said. He gave Dad a good-natured punch on the shoulder. "Thanks for sticking around," he said, and gave me a smile. I smiled back. I liked Proteus. He was nice.
Dad gave him a lazy smirk and said, "Ah, just like old times." Proteus nodded as Dad laid a hand on his shoulder. Suddenly Dad spotted something behind Proteus and me. "Look out!" he cried, and pushed us down as a tentacle swiped overhead and picked Dad up.
"Sinbad!" Proteus cried, as I called "Dad!" We ran to the side of the ship, trying to reach for him. The tentacle splashed in the water, and Dad along with it. Proteus and I both tried jumping overboard to save him, but two of his men grabbed him and another grabbed me. I fought and kicked, but the man didn't let me go. Proteus fought too, but gave up and watched as Dad sunk down below the surface of the ocean. "Dad!" I screamed.
"It's useless to fight," Proteus said, taking me from the man who held me. I collapsed in his arms, tears running down my face.
"I-I don't know if he can swim," I blubbered. Proteus just held me and didn't say anything. I sniffed and watched my Dad's retreating shadow.
"Tell me something, Lani," the prince said as Dad disappeared, "was he really your father?"
I sniffed again and said, "No. But he was like a father to me." Proteus nodded. "Bring us about to the pirate's ship!" he commanded.
"But, Prince—" one of the men unwisely said.
"I said do it!" Proteus snapped. The men obeyed. Proteus picked me up and brought me over to the helm. "If he wasn't your father," he continued to me, "why do you call him Dad? Where did he find you?"
I gulped down my shaking sobs. "I was an orphan on the streets of a city in Arabia, one of the cities on the coast," I explained. "I found him when he was running from the King's Guards. I hid him in a hidey-hole that I knew. He thanked me and asked my name. I said I didn't have one. 'Nonsense,' he said, 'everybody has a name. Didn't anyone ever tell you your name?' I told him that I was alone, and an orphan. He didn't say anything for a minute, and then he said, 'How would you like to be a part of my crew? I sail the seas, and I could use a good ship's boy.' I told him I was a girl, and he said that was ok, I could be a girl and still be a ship's boy. He told me that I would be able to eat three full meals a day, and I said yes, I would like to be your ship's boy, even if I was a girl. I was about three or four then. I think I'm eight or nine now. Sinbad took me to his ship at night, because, he said, he didn't want to get caught. He snuck me onto his ship and introduced me to the crew. When they asked what my name was, and I said I hadn't got one, he said, 'yes you do, your name is Kailani, or Lani for short.' I asked him where he had heard that, and he told me it was a word meaning 'sea' and 'sky.' The name of the city meant 'City of the Sky,' and he said that I was of the sky, and now I was also of the sea. He told me that he was going to adopt me, even though I didn't know what it meant. When I asked him, he said that he was going to be my father, since I hadn't got one. When I asked him about a mother, he said I didn't need one, all I needed was him. He said we were going to sail the world together, just me, him, and the crew, and go on adventures and have fun. He taught me all I needed to know about being on a ship. Rat and Kale told me some stuff about ships, too."
"Hmm," Proteus said. "Yes, it does make sense."
"What makes sense, Proteus?" I asked.
"Did you know that Sinbad himself was an orphan?" he asked me. When I shook my head, he said, "He was. That was how I met him, actually. It only makes sense that he would take in another orphan for a surrogate child."
I nodded in understanding. A thought came to me. "Proteus?" I asked tentatively. "If…if Dad doesn't surface, what are you going to do with me?"
Proteus kneeled down and placed a hand on my shoulder. "I'm going to give you a choice," he said. "I'm going to let you decide between going with your crew and living with Kale and the rest on your ship, or you can come with me and live with me as my surrogate niece. Sinbad was like a brother to me, and since you're his surrogate daughter, I'll take you in as my surrogate niece, but only if you want to."
"Do I have to decide now?" I asked, nervous. I wasn't sure what I wanted.
He shook his head. "No," he said.
"If I choose to stay with my crew, will you let us go or arrest us?" I asked.
"I'll let you all go this time," he said. He stood back up and looked over at the crew of my ship. "Call you dad's right-hand man over," he said. "I want to explain to him what we're going to do."
"K-Kale!" I called. "Come over! Proteus says he won't arrest you or anything!" I felt like I sorely needed Kale's strong arms around me in a tender hug. Kale obeyed my command.
"What's going on, Captain?" he asked me.
"Why'd you call me that?" I asked, breaking away from Proteus and hugging Kale, who hugged back.
"You're the Captain now," he said simply. "Sinbad said that should anything happen to him, you're to become captain of the ship, and if you're still young, I'm to help you in decisions and managing the crew."
I nodded that I understood. "Proteus says that he's going to let me decide between staying with him and going with you," I said. "He says that if I stay with you, we'll all go free this time. And he says I don't have to decide right now."
Kale nodded. "I understand if you don't want to come with us," he said.
"If I may talk to you privately?" Proteus asked Kale. Kale nodded and unwrapped my arms from around him and placed me on the deck of our…my ship.
"Stay here," he said, and went with Proteus to his chambers on the ship.
I turned from the Prince's ship and looked down into the water, searching for a sign, anything that would tell me that Dad was coming back. A bit of red caught my eye. It was Dad's soaked cap. I resisted the urge to cry as I scooped it up out of the ocean and wrung it out. I held it close as I looked back.
Rat slid down on a rope. Besides Kale, Rat was my best friend on the ship. He was the one who had taught me how to swing around like a monkey in between the different masts without falling. "I hate to be da one to break it to you, girly," he said, "but I don't think our Captain's coming back."
I sighed and turned from him to the waves. Wait…was that…?
Dad's head burst through the surface of the ocean. He coughed and gasped for air. "Dad!" I screamed, and before Rat could stop me, I jumped in and swam to him. "Dad! Dad!" I cried as I swerved to avoid the ships.
"Lani!" he said, laughing as I tried to tackle him with a hug. "Hey, what's wrong?" he asked as he saw me crying again.
"I-I thought you were dead," I said.
He laughed. "I'm alive and kicking," he said, gently kicking me under the water to prove it.
Suddenly I felt Kale grab me by the collar of my shirt and swing me up into the ship, along with Dad. He plopped us down onto a coil of rope, soaking wet. The crew was cheering. "Sinbad, you're alive!" someone said.
Jin came over, put his hand on Dad's shoulder, said, "Glad you made it," and stepped back to the others, and said, "Yep, he's alive." I heard the clink of coins as Li grudgingly handed him three gold pieces, which they had no doubt gotten off of a few of Proteus's men.
"Want a hand?" Kale asked, offering his out to us. Dad wrapped his arm around me and took Kale's hand, who pulled us up. "What happened down there?" he asked as Dad as he coughed up sea water from his lungs that I hadn't allowed him to get rid of when I tackled him in the water.
"You wouldn't believe me—" Dad coughed "—if I told you."
"Try me," Kale said.
Dad gasped for another minute, then set me down and said, "All right. Here goes. So I meet Eris…" He pulled off one of his boots and dumped out the water in it. "…The goddess of chaos. She's got a major crush on me, and she invited me back to her place." He put his hands on his waist and looked expectantly at Kale.
Kale looked into Dad's eyes, then laughed and bumped Dad with his shoulder. "Ha! Good one," he said, leaning against the railing. "The goddess of chaos? Oh, I'm writing that down." He went back to the wheel of the ship.
Rat swung down. "So dat's it den? No Book? Now what do we do?" he asked.
"Patience, Rat," Dad said. "It's not like we don't know where it's going." He turned to the rail of the ship and looked out at Proteus's ship. I climbed up on the railing and crouched, balancing on the balls of my feet. I looked at Dad, then out at Proteus, who was standing near the railing of his ship. I waved. I saw him smile and say something. Dad looked at me. "You tell them," he said.
"Follow them!" I called to Kale. "Half speed ahead!" Dad added for good measure. "If you're following an enemy, or a score, always keep a safe distance away until you're ready to attack," he advised. I nodded that I understood, and then swung up to the gaff on the main mast with Rat to help him lower the sails down to half height. We were going to Syracuse.