Aria was sitting at the edge of a balcony located on the side Cadenza's moving home with a sketchbook in lap while she scribbled down any sights worth committing to memory. The sun was beating at her back but she barely noticed it. At the moment, her focus was on recreating the fading landscape of a crystal lake peeking over dark green trees. The trip thus far had been worth every little bump along the road. There were only a few more pages in her sketchbook left. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the wilderness and creatures that filled the pages but rather, the people she had come to know on this trip. Once the last line of her current drawing was finished she turned the page and smiled. Pyter and Cadenza standing together with the painted alligator grinning and the hanged man giving an awkward smile. She could have gotten a picture with her compact but there was something much more personal about being able to sketch them out. The next few pages held portraits of the various crew members that had either asked for a drawing or simply crossed her path when she had her notebook out. Once she reached the final page that had anything relating to the people she had met on it, she shut it gingerly just as the door behind her opened with a crack.
“Aria! Yer gonna fall off that if you keep on roosting there like a blind bird!” Called Cadenza
The bat nearly fell forward from surprise but she managed to keep herself sitting at the edge with her sketchbook hugged to her chest. When she got up and hopped off of the rail, Aria breathed out, “I’m fine Cadenza. I was just sketching the sights while we were still in the wilderness.”
With a hum, the pirate asked, “Suppose that’s what I’m here about. We’re nearing Dewclaw in a bit and I figured you’d want to know, seeing as it means the end of our little adventure.”
Aria blinked, “Oh, I guess that’s true. You have your own business in town to take care of after all and uh, I suppose I can afford my way out by air. Don’t think I’d need any help with that.”
She managed to keep the disappointment out of her voice but she couldn’t feign a smile. So much of her time had been spent occupied with one thing or another that she felt as if she hadn’t gotten enough time to talk to Cadenza. Nearing Dewclaw was exciting but it was such a bitter thing because she would need to say goodbye to her new friends.
Cadenza quirked a brow and leaned down to put a hand on the bat’s head, “Whether you need help or not goin’ back, I’d like to think you’d be more than willing to let me ferry you along back to Citrico Capital.”
Both of Aria’s ears perked up and she looked directly into the captain’s gaze, “Really? I mean, you have so much to do and I know that you have a crew to tend to. You’ve probably got a lot of places to stop at and I don’t want to impose.”
The painted gator ruffled Aria’s hair while snorting, “With my drop at Dewclaw complete I’ll be returning to port. I’ve already told Adagia that I’ll be headed to Citrico Capital.”
“Really?” Asked Aria with her violet eyes growing wider, “You don’t have to do me any favors. I’m already in your debt for doing this.”
Cadenza chuckled, “Of course I don’t have to do you any favors but I want to bring you along because it has been a treat talking to you. Besides, I couldn’t leave a friend stranded in Dewclaw without a way back to their home.”
Aria set her sketchbook down carefully before she leaped up to hug around the painted gator’s body as best as she could, “Thank you so much! Not only for the trip but for being so nice. I wish I could just keep talking to you and hearing stories of your adventures and more.”
The painted gator place a hand gently on the bat’s back while muttering, “Aw aren’t you just a tiny ball of honey and sap? Listen, even if we aren’t on the same piece of rock then we’ve always got compacts. Got myself a good one for long-distance communication and if y’need one yourself then you’ll find yourself with a special package one day whether you want it or not.”
There was a brief moment where Aria squeezed just a bit closer before she separated from the hug and retrieved her sketchbook. She tried her best to absorb what had just been said but all she could reply with was, “You’re wonderful Cadenza.”
Cadenza waved her off and turned, tail flicking in the air, “Yes I am but we’ve got other things to be concerned about. Like preparing for Dewclaw. I’ll have Pyter tail you around since you two seem to have a good relationship and he seems reliable enough if not shifty.”
Aria blinked and remembered what happened back at haunch, “Huh, I guess that’ll be interesting so long as we don’t meet into anyone else he’s cheated.”
The pirate laughed, “Good to know that he’s made a lasting impression on you too.”
Cadenza stepped through the door leaving Aria with those last few words and a bright smile. Her concerns had been brushed away so easily and part of her felt like she would have been fine even if the captain had not offered her passage back and more time together. There was a certain radiance about her new friend that she couldn’t quite put her wing on. It was a fire that carried in every other word and made her feel excited to simply exist. When she finally followed Cadenza through the door, she wondered if there was anything she could do to repay the pirate.
The rest of the trip to Dewclaw had been spent making plans. Cadenza was to meet with someone who would be serving as the middleman between her crew and the buyers and while that happened, Pyter and Aria were free to explore the town. Aria had originally gone on this trip to go to Dewclaw but she was fine with just a few hours in the city if it meant being able to travel with Cadenza again. They arrived at Dewclaw when the sun was still a bright dot in the cloudless sky. Aria came out of the house perched on Pyter’s head while the pirates soon followed.
Cadenza whistled for the crew to keep the house safe and the cargo inside until she got back with goods news. With a wave, off she went leaving Pyter and Aria to their own devices. When she was out of sight, Pyter hummed, “So, another day to ourselves and another chance to find some trouble. I led the way last time and got us in a bit of a mess. How about you lead the way this time?”
Aria chuckled, “Yeah as a guide you were pretty terrible but hm. I think I’ve heard that Dewclaw is pretty famous for its open markets and a sort of game the turf tiger’s here play called WAR?”
The hanged man began to move with a chirp, “To the black market’s we go!”
“W-wait, those are illegal right?” Said the bat while bringing a wing up to her chin.
Pyter sighed, “Such an innocent creature. Aria dear, Dewclaw keeps up good appearances with a picturesque trading city look with very little activity. There are mongers of meat and what not on every corner with big smiles but the real fun happens elsewhere.” His voice then crawled down to a whisper as he chuckled, “The underground bazaar is Dewclaw’s most well known secret.”
Aria tilted her head and hummed, “If it is so well known then why does nobody do anything about it?”
The hanged man laughed, “Would you cut your life support dear? Likely not! If it makes enough money then it probably makes enough to bribe any would-be officials with a chip on their shoulder. Plus, the city itself prospers with that sort of money, at least, the mercantile class prosper.”
So there was a secret market that everyone knew about? It hadn’t exactly been in any brochures but she supposed it did sound interesting. Of course, she still had to ask, “Isn’t it dangerous to go?”
Waving her comments off Pyter snorted, “Please. Nobody wants to cause trouble above or below ground. This place has a good thing going for it and—”
Interrupting the hanged man was the sound of a body flying over their heads before crashing into a fruit stand with the crackle and pop of wood echoing throughout the streets. The merchant behind the stand cursed and seethed but got out of the way instead of trying to figure out what was happening.
Aria squeaked and pointed with both of her wings, “Nobody wants to cause trouble huh?!”
Pyter laughed but took a step back, “That right there is a common occurrence and nothing to be worried about! Look for yourself.”
Instead of flying away like any sane person would have done in a situation with broken fruit stands, Aria remained perched on her friend’s head while watching. A feline emerged from the wreckage with barely any visible damage on their body except for tattered and frayed clothing. No cuts could be seen from splintered wood and any bruises were surely hidden beneath the fur if they were there at all. Another feline showed up, taller than the one in the wreckage with a flower on top of their head. Both came at one another like wild beasts with claws outstretched. They swung wild at one another, claws lashing and bodies moving to avoid each other before one finally got in the first blow and sent the other flying toward a wall. Their body hit the wall of a building and the feline that had maintained the advantage rushed in to strike.
While this was happening, Aria remembered one of the reasons that she had come here in the first place, “So...This is WAR?”
The hanged man nodded, “Yes indeed! Property damage happens often but those things can be replaced. People come far and wide to see WAR’s and sometimes even participate in them. You see, whenever a disagreement happens between turf tigers, they make a game of it. No one knows how but once the terms of engagement have been said, WAR takes effects and the damage to the body is dulled. Why, if one of those tigers there crashed into your body, then you’d be absolutely fine if not a bit bruised.”
Aria blinked, “How does that work?”
“Nobody knows,” Pyter said with a shrug.
Another crack and crash of a stand being broken by the altercation caused Aria to wince. Maybe it was a mystery better saved for another time. While she had come on this journey knowing that there was going to be some sort of danger, she figured that something less stressful might be a good way to round off the trip. Clearing her throat, the bat asked, “Perhaps we can just take a trip underground to that bazaar you talked about instead of getting in the way of whatever this is.”
Pyter chuckled, “Ah good choice. I can sell you off as a pet and make a mint.”
He winced as Aria stamped on his head a few times while huffing, “Not funny at all Pyter.”
“Apologies!” Said the hanged man with a snicker before he started to move.
An illegal market was a mystery of its own. Aria could only wonder what types of things were sold there. Together they traveled through the city until they snuck between two buildings where a few blank signs led the way to an empty alley. Pyter hummed as he pressed the brick that was jutting out and a doorway appeared with a set of stairs heading downward. The wall closed behind them as soon as they were within the dimly lit stairway. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, Aria’s eyes grew wide as a world of light poured over her. Before the sights properly came into view, she was hit by a cascade of sounds. People’s voice mixed together to create a buzz that made it difficult to think with the occasional person in the crowd making themselves known as a crier of a market or stall calling for people to look at their goods. There were people of all sizes dressed in all manners walking through and around tents and stalls, buildings and more. There were spices lined up high in open markets with oddly shaped meat hung on hooks along with large eggs stacked in great large trays. Magic objects laid out in the open with a few being waved around to demonstrate what they could do while other's remained mysteriously inert.
It was even bigger than the market back at the previous city and even bigger than the comparably tiny things above ground. An entire world had unfolded before her and all she could do was gape. Snapping digits caught her attention while a voice among the buzz called her gaze downward, “Hey Aria. Aria? Isn’t this amazing?”
The small bat took the time to look back up at the sight before she nodded, “I mean, yes. It is amazing. Absolutely! Where do we even start?”
Pyter rubbed his chin, “Well...We could always just walk around until something catches your eye.”
Aria opened her wings and her eyes practically sparkled as she spoke, “All of this catches my eye! Look at it all! There must be people from all over the continent here in this space. It even looks bigger under here than Dewclaw itself does above ground.”
With a hum, the hanged man sat against the wall near the entrance they had just stepped through and crossed his legs, “Okay. If you’re so amazed then how about you commit it to memory with a drawing. You’ve got a few pages in that sketchbook left, right?”
The bat blinked and looked down at the satchel hanging off of her wing before she sat on Pyter’s head and muttered, “If I did that then we wouldn’t really be spending time together, would we?”
Pyter chuckled, “We’ll be enjoying the sights together. I’m in no rush! In fact, I could probably take a nap. Besides, won’t we have the entire trip back to talk?”
Aria considered that for a moment but it was made difficult by the fresh excitement of seeing something so different from her normal routine. There had been people in types of clothing she had never even seen before and various species that she had never seen either. With a shaky breath, the bat fished through her pack before she pulled out her sketchbook and a pencil. Down to the last few pages, she went without even saying a word to Pyter as all of her focus began to turn toward her heart’s task. Up her gaze went to take in the sights again one last time before she got down to sketching.
She couldn’t memorize every face and every shape in the crowd but she didn’t have to. There were enough people that the crowd created a sort of ocean with various ears, hoods and other adornments melded together but those would come later. Scribbling lines were used to sketch out the various tents, stalls and buildings dotting the underground bazaar until she had it all set perfectly. This was only one facet of the bazaar but it was one that she would commit to memory right here and now. Every little detail was taken down as best as she could manage until she found herself with a completed sketch but it wouldn’t do to just leave it like this! First, the lines were cleaned diligently as possible with plenty of erasing and a lot of trial and error until a clean landscape of the area remained before her. By the time she was ready to paint, Pyter had his eyes glued to his compact with a small smile on his face.
When the last drops of color were on the page, Aria lifted a digit with a sparkling glow around it just in case she had gotten something wrong but she soon sighed, “Done.”
Pyter looked up and chuckled, “Ah! Finally done. May I see?”
“Nope!” Said Aria with a chirp. She waited until she heard him about to start huffing before she giggled and offered the sketchbook down, “Here. I couldn't help but tease just a bit.”
The hanged man snorted but took the sketchbook gingerly. A few moments passed before he muttered, “Aria dear, you drew us here against the wall and you made me look fantastic. This skill of yours is something to marvel at. When did you even have time to look down at me.”
Aria hummed while she took back her sketchbook carefully to close it and put it in her satchel, “Well, I kind of relied on a few portraits I had already done of you but I figured the memory wasn’t complete without the fact that I came here with a friend who gave me this opportunity.” A sniffle came from below and she peered down while muttering, “Pyter, are you okay?”
Pyter waved a paw before her eyes and breathed in deep, “I’m perfectly fine dear. The flower cats here must be giving me some sort of terrible allergy. Could also be this stupid body of mine! Either way, I think it is about time we check in on Cadenza. Time to go home and all that nonsense. Don’t want to keep anyone waiting.”
The bat smiled as she leaned back to look out toward the bazaar, “Yeah, I’d say that I’m satisfied. Satisfied that I got to meet Cadenza, got to go on this great trip and of course, got to meet you.”
“Oh you’re so evil aren’t you!” Said Pyter with a sniffly huff. Aria controlled the urge to laugh and instead waited patiently while Pyter steadied himself and checked his compact. It wasn’t long before the hanged man hummed, “Cadenza should have sent me a message by now. She wasn’t going to work out any details or deliver anything. It was just a small visit to confirm things.”
Aria frowned and looked over Pyter’s head to stare at his compact. It had been a few hours since they left the house but Aria wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen. Nothing but the common points of the pirate’s plans had been discussed with her. If she was supposed to have contacted Pyter by now, then she could be in danger. They had to find her.
Before she could say anything, Pyter started to move toward the crowd in a fast enough walk that the bat had to hold on briefly to balance herself while squeaking, “We’re going to go get her right?”
Pyter kept moving at a brisk pace even as he met the ocean of the crowd. He dipped through and between the people without problem as he replied, “That’s what we’re going to try.”
Aria nodded and could only trust that the hanged man knew where he was going. Every other step taken through the crowd was another moment where someone was trying to urge them toward some sort of business deal. A lot of the items being shown off were interesting but there was a purpose to their movement and they needed to ignore everything but their destination. Pyter brought them to where the deal was happening. It was a large tent located within the bazaar that looked like any other with a soft violet look and a gem adorning the top of the entrance. No plan was drawn up between them, Aria just had to hope that Pyter knew what he was doing as he stepped through the flaps of the tent. The inside looked plain enough without anything she expected out of a business in this strange bazaar. There weren’t any goods on display and no fancy adornments on the walls of the tent. Only a staircase sat at the center leading down but at the top of those stairs was a familiar compact. With big eyes, Aria fluttered toward the compact and picked it up with her claws before coming back to deliver it into Pyter’s paws.
The hanged man hummed, “She dropped her compact. Either in a scuffle or for us to follow. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not but let’s find out for ourselves.”
Aria’s heart pressed against her chest as she folded her wings and remained perched on Pyter’s head as he headed down the stairs. The bottom soon came with torches on either side lighting their way through a hallway made of stone. They kept on going until they reached a door and heard a muffled voice along with the distant slam of something crunching on wood. Pyter approached the door carefully and inched it ever so slightly open and the voice poured forth.
“Where are the goods. You said you’d bring the goods but all we got for it is a painted bitch and one of our crew with a broken arm.” Hissed a shrill voice.
Cadenza’s voice came with a chuckle, “I’ll be breaking more than that once I’m out and I tol’ you already, I left our goods elsewhere and you don’t need to know where that is until the money has been counted or you tell me who the buyer is so I can do this myself.”
That shrill voice lowered to a growl as he spat, “I could be breaking much more right now I’ll have you know. You were lucky I needed you alive but next time it won’t be a mild sedative.” The sound of wood being struck cracked into the air as the growling voice yelled, “Restrain her you idiots and tie her legs this time!”
Pyter took that as his opportunity to open the door all the way. There were three wolves in the room approaching Cadenza whose arms were tired and her back was against the corner of the room but her mouth flashed in a mad grin. At the back of the wolves was a cockatrice with brightly colored scales and ruby eyes matching the pirate’s pulling himself from the wreckage of a broken table.
The hanged man rushed inside the room and drove his foot into the recovering cockatrice. The serpentine hybrid cursed as the back of his head met the wall. Two of the wolves turned their head to see what was happening while Cadenza lowered herself and sprung forward to headbutt the remaining wolf in an unpleasant place causing him to deflate like a balloon. Aria fluttered up in the air and breathed in deep before calling her magic forth. There was so little energy down here but she gathered what she could and smacked one of the wolves in the eye with paint causing him to snarl and whine as he tried to get the paint off of his face. The remaining wolf readied himself to pounce up to grab Aria but Pyter was there leaping into the beast to tackle him against the wall.
Claws flashed and came down toward Pyter but were thrown off as Cadenza drove her heel into the wolf’s side. Once the wolf was down, the trio rushed out of the door and up the stairs. While running, Cadenza panted, “You brought Aria?!”
Pyter huffed, “She was perched on my head and not likely to leave since I already told her we were fetching you.”
Aria squeaked, “Let’s just get out of here please!”
They paused for a moment at the top of the steps for Pyter to cut Cadenza loose of the binds around her arms. Together, they dipped out of the tent and into the crowd. The captain led them through the crowd, their pace slowing down as they blended in as best as they could manage. They arrived at one of the stairwells leading out of the bazaar and headed up all the way until they came out at an alleyway in the proper city of Dewclaw.
Once they were out in the sun again, Aria sighed, “I don’t think I’ll ever come back here after that.”
Cadenza chuckled, “Nonsense. You got paint in the eyes of the only one who could recognize you. Besides, the deal’s off and what they want will be gone. Nothing to worry about.”
Pyter hummed, “Perhaps and that’s all nice and what not but...Don’t you think you should be saying something?”
The captain rubbed her chin with one claw before smirking, “Of course!” She then leaned up to give Aria’s cheek a soft peck, “Thanks for coming after me.”
“Hey!” Complained the hanged man.
That smirk grew to a grin as she put an arm around the hanged man’s shoulders, “All right Pyter. Thank you too for risking your neck. Is that better?”
Pyter sniffed, “Much better thank you.”
When they got back to the house, Cadenza moved through the halls immediately to call her crew and get everything on the move. Aria herself was glad that the captain seemed undisturbed by being captured but her own heart was just about ready to give out. She wasn’t a pirate, wasn’t a sneak or smuggler. Her magic wasn’t meant for combat and all she wanted to do was take a nap. Pyter helped her to her room and sat with her while she laid on her back, legs off the edge of the bed.
“I’m not cut out for this life.” Said Aria with a sigh.
Pyter beamed, “You did just fine today. I’d say a few more situations like this and you could even start your own crew. Just think, you could even sail your ship on the open sea.”
Aria chuckled with her eyes shut, “That sounds horrifying.”
“Maybe! But hey.” Prodded the hanged man prompting Aria to open one eye to look up at him, “You could always just give us a call whenever you need something horrifyingly exciting in your life?”
The bat closed her eyes again before waving him off with a wing, “I’ll think about it. For now, let’s just hopefully enjoy a peaceful trip back to Citrico Capital, okay?”
“Fine fine.” Pyter said with a chirp as he laid back on her bed, “But I’ll be commandeering your ears to talk about myself for a bit. Hope you don’t mind.”
Aria rolled her eyes but raised a wing, “Go ahead. Spin me an inspiring tale.”
And so he tried.