For the first time since her arrival on the Jolly Roger, Riley had actually gotten a decent night's sleep, and even after a full eight hours, Hook's apology was still heavy on her mind. While she still thought she had a right to have been angry with him, she realized that he had had a point when he said she was lucky. She could only guess what fate could have awaited her if she had found herself on most any other pirate ship.
At the same time, she still wasn't sure how she felt about the man yet. Almost every moment she had spent in his presence it was nothing but bickering, and she truly wondered if there was anything they could agree on, anything at all they might have in common. After the awkwardness of making amends, the tiny bit of interaction they had seemed pleasant, even friendly. Even if they didn't have anything in common, there could be no doubt Hook was the most interesting person she had ever met. A pirate captain from a children's fantasy novel…who else had a chance to meet someone like that? It would really have been a shame for her to pass up the opportunity to do something other than argue with Captain Hook.
Riley splashed some cool water from the wash basin onto her face and stared at the ripples the droplets made as they fell from her chin. Exactly how much of the story about Hook and Neverland as she knew it was accurate? She had read the original story, Peter Pan and Wendy, and while a lot seemed to be true, some things were very different. And come to think of it, how had J. M. Barrie come to write the story to begin with? Had he seen these things too? Had he dreamed them? Riley had pinched herself too many times within the past few days to still think she was dreaming. She had occasionally closed her eyes and opened them, checking her hand to make sure she didn't have any extra digits or an object to make sure it functioned logically. No, it was real; she knew her own dreams too well to think otherwise.
She found herself motionless as she stared into the now soapy water. She wished these were the most important questions she had to worry about. While she still wasn't sure that she wanted to leave right away, she still had to wonder how much Hook was actually doing to find her a way home. Perhaps if one was found, she would be able to let her friends know she was ok, at the very least. That was…if she would be able to come back once she left. She had gone back and forth on the issue innumerable times without settling on an answer. It would be selfish to stay, really. Liz would be worried, and her family would find out about her disappearance. Surely they already had. A lump formed in her throat at the thought of how worried they must be. They might think she had died. These thoughts brought her previously high spirits down a few pegs. She knew there was nothing she could do about it, and it wouldn't do to worry, but she had never been good at not worrying.
She jerked in surprise at the knock at her door then exhaled in annoyance. She really wished they would quit that.
"Come in." She was barely finished speaking before the door swung open to reveal Smee.
And he wasn't alone. Starkey, who was cleaning the rail in front of her door, was, not at all subtly, straining to peek curiously into her room from behind the man.
She peered around Smee to give him a smug look, "Nice try, Starkey, but I'm already dressed!"
Starkey didn't have time to act ashamed, as Smee turned and waved his cutlass at him, yelling something about spilling his guts with Johnny Corkscrew, some of which she couldn't understand because it wasn't English. She held back an amused scoff; these men really must have been deprived.
After Starkey had been shooed away, Smee turned back to her as if the ordeal hadn't happened at all, "Beggin' yer pardon, lassy, but the Cap'n says he'd like ya to accompany a shore party as soon as yer ready."
She gave a quick nod, "Thanks, Mr. Smee, I'll be out in a minute."
It wasn't much longer than that before she was out on deck, eagerly awaiting their venture to shore. She was relieved that the worn material of her new dress was much softer against her skin and, while still not quite as comfortable as her own clothes, it was better suited for maneuverability.
Hook stood in the center of the deck, overseeing the men as they prepared to disembark. He continued to bark orders until he noticed Riley approaching. "Good morning to you, Miss Sparks. I trust you are prepared for our little outing?"
Riley nodded with a small smile, coming to stand just out of the way of where Starkey and Mason were readying the longboat. She noticed that Starkey was trying very hard not to make eye contact with her, and she guessed it had less to do with actual embarrassment and more to do with him not wanting her to be provoked into bringing up his previous curiosity to the Captain.
"Sooo, what's the itinerary?"
Hook offered her his hand to help her into the boat. She wouldn't admit it, but this time she really did appreciate it. Looking down the crack between the longboat and the ship, they had to be at least thirty feet above the water's surface. "I would think it best to begin circling the island in the longboat. Not far west are the mermaid grottos in Mermaid Lagoon. The sirens aren't usually keen on attempting to capsize boats with me in them, so it should be quite safe."
She opened her mouth as if to say "ah" and seated herself as Hook directed her to the bow, in front of which he stood himself. The other men, Mullins, Jukes, Starkey, and Smee, were quick to man their oars, and Mason, who stayed behind along with Cookson, turned the crank to lower them to the ocean below. Riley had to admire how Hook's stance never budged once as the longboat hit the water.
The four pirates manning the oars began rowing parallel to the shore away from the Jolly Roger, and as soon as it was entirely visible, Hook directed her attention toward the strange, hook shaped island that curled far above the ship. "As you might have guessed, that paranormal spit of land is aptly named Hook Island. One might think it a humorouscoincidence. I, however, suspect it to be a cruel prank by Pan to remind me of my…unfortunate ailment." His hook twitched as he held the grizzly instrument up in demonstration.
More questions than she could possibly ask flooded her brain as her attention was directed at the appendage. How did Peter take your hand? Is "Hook" your real last name? How did you get your hook? Is it itchy?
As any of these questions would have probably been rather insensitive to ask, she decided on something a little less personal. "So…Peter Pan controls everything in Neverland?"
Hook paused before answering, "As far as I can gather. I don't pretend to understand this peculiar place, but from what I have experienced with the wretched boy, it seems as if one is entirely dependent upon the other, a fact which I have certainly…exploited in past encounters."
She had so many more questions she couldn't properly put into words. All she could do was make a small sound of mild understanding.
"We be a'nearin' Mermaid Lagoon, Cap'n," Smee piped in as Riley began to notice that she was beginning to see large rocks a few feet below the clear surface of the water.
She could almost feel the low rumble from Hook's chest through the planks of the boat as he glared toward his bosun. "I've got eye's, ya Irish dunderhead!" His tone calmed as he continued. "Keep a wary eye, all of you. The sea maidens are bound to be about this time of day, though they tend to steer clear of piratical sailing vessels…usually."
The water here was eerily calm. Even with the tiny ripples the boat made as it cut through the surface, she could see at least ten to fifteen feet down easily, and the rocks were almost like oversized precious stones gleaming in vivid, earthy greens and blues. At one point, she barely caught a small glimmer from the corner of her eye that disappeared in between a large crevice about seven feet below.
Mullins glanced about in between strokes, "Seems the sea wenches are playin' coy today. Just as well, I'd say."
While Riley was certainly curious, she had to agree with the irritable pirate. Judging by what she had already heard about the mermaids, they were creatures she would have preferred to steer clear of.
"Beach the longboat on Small Monday Island, cullies. I have some business here to minister to."
He turned his gaze to Riley with that smirk she knew all too well. Here it comes…
"Are you quite sure you are up to a hike, Miss Sparks? Neverland terrain can make for a rather difficult trek from time to time."
She refrained from rolling her eyes. After all, she couldn't expect the teasing to disappear overnight. "Yeah. I think I can manage."
The glint in his eye had almost the same effect as a wink, and she realized that his pestering this time was intended to be playful. As the captain turned from her to the oncoming shore, she also realized that she really had been beginning to miss the banter.
Mullins and Starkey took to pushing the longboat to shore, and as soon as they were on dry land, the others exited as well. Hook turned back toward Riley, intent on helping her from her seat, but he was faced with an empty boat. Turning back toward shore, the girl already stood midway between the incoming tide and the beach trees that outlined the wooded area several feet away, admiring the new scenery.
Riley gazed over the low canopy to the strange twisting land masses and trees that loomed in the distance. The island lived up to its name. It was compact, but there seemed to be a lot of activity confined to the tiny place. She could spot people walking across some of these unusual land bridges, and even from her faraway perspective, she could tell that many of these creatures weren't human. She refrained from bouncing on her heals in excitement. It was really all true. This was an enchanted place.
She gave a start when she felt a large hand on her shoulder, turning her head first toward the purple glove near her neck, then back around to where Hook stood behind her.
"Don't wonder too far ahead, m'dear." He looked back toward the men, as they finished securing the longboat and came to follow their captain into the jungle-like growth. From the outside, the forest looked as if it took up the majority of the island, but once they had started walking, it was barely a minute before they came to a large arch that marked the entrance to a village. Tree roots and branches twisted in huge arcs that functioned as bridges for the creatures that resided there.
Hook led them in, paying no mind to the other creatures there, most of whom seemed less than happy to see them. A few of the smaller creatures, the gnomes and fairies, changed direction in order to avoid the intimidating Captain.
"Stay with my men, Miss Sparks," his gaze hardened on his crew, "and if I hear of any mishaps resembling the last time I loosed you dogs on Small Monday Island, I'll have your hearts on a spit! Smee! Come with me."
"Oh, aye, Cap'n!" Smee nodded, "That I will!"
As soon as the captain and bosun were gone, Mullins groaned, "Ugh…Small Monday Island…as if bein' on land weren't bad enough…"
Riley nudged Jukes, who stood next to her, "What exactly happened last time on Small Monday Island?"
"It's a long story," he said with a sigh, "Let's just say we all ended up…small."
"Aye!" Starkey said, clearly remembering a very irritating event, "And our voices didn't go back to normal for an entire week."
Riley held back a snort of laughter as she imagined a chipmunk-like voice coming out of Mullins.
"Come on!" Jukes motioned her to follow him, "I'll show ya around the fair."
"Eh, pardon me, Cap'n, but exactly what kind of business did yeh have that ya need doin' at Small Monday Island?"
Hook glanced toward Smee from over his shoulder and ignored his instincts to make a reference to the bosun's stupidity, "The kind of business that ain't your business, Smee!" Hook stopped as he neared one of the many large trees. In the trunk was as small, blue door, the paint on which was peeling and the edges chipped.
Hook pounded on the door with a heavy fist. If anyone was in the little tree hovel, they had probably been rattled out of their own skull. He didn't give the resident five seconds before striking the door again with an irritated snarl. "Django! I know you're in there, you sniveling, little boot-lick!"
When the door still wasn't answered fast enough, Hook wrapped a massive fist around the tiny handle, and with a small but powerful jerk, the wood splintered, and the door was forced open.
He squeezed himself into the tiny door frame and leered toward the tiny man that had thrown himself behind a table.
"Listen, y-you…great, bully! I don't owe you anything anymore! You have no right to break into my house and—"
"Quiet, traitor!" Hook reached over the table and hoisted him to eye level. "I don't have to be owed anything to get what I want out of ya!" He dropped Django into one of the tiny chairs, and the man arched his back with a yelp as his tailbone collided with the hard, wood seat.
"Now…" Hook purred, brandishing his claw, "I want you to relay to me every iota of knowledge you may have in that thick head of yours about transport in and out of Neverland."
"If it means you would leave Neverland, then I would be happy to."
"I do not intend to leave Neverland a second before eradicating Peter Pan, fool! But this issue does not regard the insipid brat." He rounded the table to pace behind Django's chair, "Let's just say that the antics of a certain fairy have landed me an unexpected ward, and she needs to find a way back."
Django's bushy eyebrows rose, "Ah…so that's where she came from."
"Tell me Django," Hook buried his namesake into the squat, wooden chair right next to the dwarf's ear, "How can the girl get home?"
The man flinched at the collision of metal and wood right next to his head but kept his composure, "Out of Neverland is easy. But if you want her to get to a certain place out of Neverland, that's not quite as simple."
"Simple or complex, pipsqueak, I require an answer!"
Django crossed his arms over his chest, "Well I can't give it to you, Captain."
Hook snarled, ripping his hook from the chair causing more splinters to scatter across the room and brought the appendage Django's throat.
"I'm telling the truth! I swear!" The tip of his hook eased off the man's neck only slightly. "Getting in and out of Neverland is a matter handled by fairies, not dwarves. If you want to know how to get the girl home, you should ask one of them."
Hook fixed him with a calculating leer, letting the tiny man squirm under his gaze until he decided he was being truthful. "You had best be right, little man, for if you aren't, my next visit may not be quite so cordial."
The Captain turned on his heal, his cape billowing so far out it nearly blanketed the tiny room, "And I really should come and visit more often, dear Django," he purred, voice dripping with malice, "I enjoy our talks."
"Wow! I really need to find a way to make some money around here so I can try some of this stuff out!"
Riley popped another one of the strange, assorted candies she had exchanged her Skittles for into her mouth. She glanced around the carnival, particularly at an impossibly tall rollercoaster that didn't seem like it should be able to fit in the crowded space of the fair at all.
"Good luck there, Miss Riley," Jukes said with a hint of exasperation, "We barely get paid as it is, much less any shore leave."
The two had already zigzagged through the columns of pavilions and rides and were approaching the entrance to the carnival area of the island.
"Say!" Jukes pointed toward the ticket marquee at the gate, "There's the Cap'n!"
Riley chuckled, "It doesn't look like he's a big fan of carnivals," she referred to the more than irritated scowl as he seemed to be having an exchange with the fairy that ran the stand, "That doesn't really surprise me."
Hook ground his teeth together in frustration, "I'm warning you, fairy, it would be in your best interest to give me an honest answer to my question."
"You want an honest answer, mortal? Well, honestly, there's no way anyone can get back home from Neverland without flying. Not without King Oberon's help. And you can bet a silly mortal isn't important enough for him to even bother with—AH!"
The pixie shrieked as Hook wrapped a hand around her, threatening to crush her in his grasp. And he might have had he not spotted Jukes and Riley approaching out of the corner of his eye. He released his grip on her, and she hit the wooden ticket desk with a loud "oof" and a few choice words of displeasure, which Hook didn't even pay attention to.
"Jukes, Miss Sparks. I believe our business is done here. Let us find Mullins and Starkey, and—"
Before Hook could finish his sentence, there was a loud, gurgling wail followed by horror stricken screams and from around the corner of one of the large tents came Mullins and Starkey followed by a crowed of elves, gnomes, and fairies, all of which seemed to be fleeing from something.
"I say!" Starkey cried, "Everyone run for your lives!"
Hook's brow furrowed, "What the devil have you dogs done this time?"
He was answered in less than a second as a large, drooling creature emerged from behind the tent, waving a gargantuan club over his hideous, rock-like head.
Hook gave a ragged sigh at his men's incompetence, "O'look? You chicken-hearted, mully morts! Are you reallyrunning from that tiny brained—"
"Somethin' ain't right with 'im, Cap'n!" Mullins leapt behind the ticket marquee as the fairy manning it slammed the window shut, "'E's gone crazy! Outta nowhere!"
Riley and Jukes backed away as O'look stalked toward them, but Hook stood his ground. The troll locked eyes with the Captain, and his mouth gapped wide in a screeching roar.
Hook huffed, "Just try it, ya moronic, lumbering ox!"
The creature moved much more swiftly than he looked as if he could, snapping jagged teeth, which latched around Hook's drawn sword. Hook wrestled with the troll for a few seconds before his sword was wrenched from his hand, and he was tossed aside.
O'look paused for only a second before directing bulgy, bloodshot eyes in Riley and Jukes' direction, who both scrambled for a large tree right outside the fair.
"Hurry, Miss Riley! Hurry!" Jukes urged as he climbed up behind her.
O'look charged through the fair entrance, reaching up and swiping at the two from below.
Jukes slashed at the troll's fists with his sword, "Stand down, ye lily-livered…ergh!...scug!"
Riley grabbed ahold of a nearby branch and twisted it until it snapped. Finding that the creature's bulbous eyes were a large target, she aimed carefully and hurled the makeshift sphere toward him. O'look screeched as it hit its mark, and he tried rubbing the large splinter out of his eye. This had given Hook ample time to recover and find his own sword. He sliced at the troll's calf and quickly backed off as the giant stumbled. Too concerned with getting the offending branch from his eye, O'look took to the woods as quickly as he had appeared.
There was almost a joint sigh of relief as elves, gnomes, fairies, and humans all emerged from their hiding places.
"Why is it that I have the sneaking suspicion that you two are responsible for this?" Hook glared toward Mullins and Starkey.
"Under normal circumstances, Captain, I'd say we probably were," Starkey shook his head, "but it was as if he went manic out of nowhere!"
"Aye, cap'n!" Mullins nodded in agreement, "The brute was just standin' there one minute, then goin' completely berserk the next!"
Jukes and Riley scaled down the tree and went to join the rest of the crew.
Hook rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, "Mmnn…let's just get back to the Roger. There's not much of this place I can take at a single time." The men didn't have to be told twice. They quickly left the fair and headed back for the woods toward shore.
Hook nodded toward Jukes and Riley as he passed them, "Excellent work back there. Both of you."
Riley stared after the Captain, and Jukes poked her in the ribs with an elbow, "Hey, we mustn't have done too bad!" he whispered, "Cap'n hardly ever gives anyone positive feedback."
She looked from Jukes back to Hook again, who gave a stern order as he passed Mullins and Starkey to keep up, and smiled.