"I simply do not understand. Why are there always so many people here?" Mel asked as she stood under an awning to keep in the shade. Eaups was bent over a short dividing wall of stone and shell that was only waist-high, watching someone in the distance. Beside him Aryx periodically pecked preened himself and glanced about at the crowd. "And what is the forsaken mephitis?"
"Forsaken... huh?" Eaups said distractedly, not looking away from the pair. They were engaged in a conversation with a rather tall, lanky man whose straw-colored hair was thin and shone in the sun.
"The stench. It smells like carcass and man sweat."
Eaups didn't answer right away, but when Mel leaned against the wall beside him, he jumped in surprise. "Oh! I'm not staring! What? Oh, the smell? It's just the market..."
"What are you looking at?" Mel asked him as a curious smile appeared on her lips. She followed Eaups' gaze to see Jesz holding Manfred's arm as they talked with a rather sea-worn man. Mel looked back and forth between the couple and Eaups several times. The wistful expression that creeped onto his face was undeniable. "Do you have a thing for-"
"Mel! Eaups!" Jesz waved at them and ran up to them as Manfred and the man followed. "I think we found a ride!"
The man walked awkwardly, as if he hadn't developed his land legs quite yet, but there was a strange jerking that rocked his entire body with each step in a way that neither Mel nor Eaups had ever seen before. He had a thick stubble that was so wild, it had to have been groomed that way. His sun-bleached hair had apparently once been red, but was now starting to turn grey in places. Dull green eyes darted about once in a while, animated with caution. Combined with the salty aura thick enough to be tasted, he gave the general impression of a man who truly did have sea water in his veins. Beside him, a large black dog trotted along. It had a hint of white around its muzzle and a small knick in its left ear.
Jesz bounced to a stop in front of Mel and Eaups with an irrepressible smile, rocking from heel to toe as she spoke. "This is Scurvy Legs McGee!"
"Call me Legs," the man said in a rough voice that made Eaups want to buy an absurdly large bucket of snack food and sit in a room full of people watching a brightly lit screen.
"Legs here has a boat that's heading to Oakley Island!"
Legs shook his head with a spray of salt. "We're only headin' near the isle, little miss. But the cap'n might be convinced to drop ya off, fer a price, that is."
Mel narrowed her eyes and walked up to the man, who was a little shorter than she. Aryx obediently hopped along the low wall to remain close to Mel, but a sudden bark from the dog sent up a flurry of feathers.
"You are not the captain, then? I demand that we speak with the captain!"
"He never goes ashore in Kell. Tis the smell."
"What? Well... I suppose that makes sense. But how do we know he will honor your offer?"
"I'm first mate, miss. I speak for him. He trusts me. Tis why he sent me here; to look fer bodies to work the schooner."
Manfred stepped past the noisy encounter between the dog and Aryx and spoke up. "He said they're shipping art to some neutral island village nearby. It sounds too strange to be made up."
Mel shot a glare at the dog and made it cower before replying. "I am not convinced," she said. "Perhaps there is another ship that can take us."
"We've looked," Jesz said under her breath. "No one else wants to go near that place."
Eaups rolled his eyes. "Gee, could it the curse I told you about?"
"Curses don't stop the crew of the Crimson Zephyr," Legs chimed in, getting strong looks from the others. He looked back and forth between the sets of eyes, then took a step back so they could talk amongst themselves.
"Something just does not feel right," Mel said as she leaned to the side and crossed her arms. "He seems... shifty."
"Everyone is shifty around here," Manfred said, then smirked and nudged Jesz. "Including this one."
"Hey!" Manfred chuckled at her blush and even the punch she landed on his arm.
Eaups stepped away from the wall and into the huddle. "Look, we don't have any other option, right? We have to go with them or wait until Murphy-knows for another ship to show up, if it even happens." He looked up at Legs and nodded. "We'll go with you."
Jesz stared at Eaups' back and leaned in close to Mel. "What got up his ass?"