Rum stumbled across the hot sand of the beach, taking in the barren coast and jagged rocky cliffs. The island was small- to his untrained eye a hike across it would take an hour at most, with some additional time added to navigate the steeper northern side, which seemed to be covered in denser brush. There was no way of telling what manner of foul creatures could be lurking within the shade of the trees, far away at the top of the sloping cliffs. Rum decided not to think about it, and instead plop down on the beach.
As it turned out, running away from a shark took a considerable amount of cardio- cardio that Rum had not bothered to take with him on his voyage to sea. Wiping sweat from his brow, Rum took a moment to admire the serene quiet of the beach- there weren't any tracks to be seen, not a living soul in sight.
Suddenly, Annay reappeared on the deck of the schooner, still wearing her fish-bowl helmet.
"Where'd the shark go?" Annay asked. She peered cautiously over the bow of the beached ship.
Rum gave a vague gesture toward the open ocean. "He ah... was dealt with. Were you hiding this whole time?"
Annay nodded. "I jumped in one of the barrels and closed it, as soon as it looked like he was going to stab you."
Oh gee, thanks. But I suppose I shouldn't really expect anything more. Damsel in distress, all that jazz- it's just like the stories I used to write.
"Ah, yes, well," Rum said. "A rational course of action. I dealt with the shark though. I ah, slayed the ruffian. And then threw him over the rail. The whole thing was very manly, very exhausting. I flexed my... deltoids doing it."
Rum gestured to his arms, where he hoped the deltoid muscle was located. Annay didn't look as if she was even close to believing him.
"You see," he continued helpfully. "A 'Ruffian' is a violent criminal, or troublema-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know what a ruffian is." Annay scanned the beach, her eyes drifting to the sharp cliffs that isolated the beach from the rest of the island. Even with her tail, Rum suspected Annay would have a better chance at climbing the cliffs compared to himself.
"Did the wizard make it?" she suddenly asked.
"Oh, right. Him. No, sadly, I think he's dead," Rum said cheerfully. "It's really quite a shame. He was my oldest, most loyal companion. A true friend. I'm pretty heartbroken about it."
He paused, waiting for a response, but Annay continued to scan the cliffs, as if she were searching for something. Rum patted the sand next to him, in as seductive a motion that a sixteen year old aspiring poet could muster.
"Maybe you could..." he said, dropping his voice to a low, seductive growl. "Come talk about it with me, comfort me?" He raised an eyebrow for good measure.
Annay's gaze snapped back to him, her narrowed eyes reminiscent of a switchblade. Rum went pale and hugged his knees, all thoughts of machismo squashed like a bug.
"Right uhm, nevermind," he squeaked.
Annay didn't respond- instead she dived off the side of the ship, entering the thin bubbling waters without making a splash. Reappearing above the waves, she yanked off the fish-bowl helmet, throwing it to Rum. It landed in the sand next to him with a resounding thud.
"Are- are you going so soon?" Rum stuttered. "But I just saved you! What if there's more of those shark robbers out there? Didn't you say they were trying to eat you? Don't I have to um, valiantly return you to your people or something?"
Annay shook out her hair, pushing it out of her face. She looked momentarily confused, as if she had no clue what he was talking about. Then a mischievous smile made its way across her face. As she shook her blonde curls out, a grin on her face, he was struck with a strange sensation. The sensation that this was the very first time he'd ever seen her- the REAL her.
And that real person had absolutely no time for entertaining him any longer.
"Oh, right. Yes, well I'm sure that was the last one after me, and I only really needed protection until the next island... which is here," Annay said. "You've just been SO helpful, Molotov. I'm completely in your debt, you brave hero, you." She smiled at Rum and gave him a big thumbs up.
She's not even going to blow me a kiss or anything?
"M-Molotov was the wizard actually!" Rum began. "I'm Rum. Actually my full name is Rumma vo-"
He got no farther. Annay vanished beneath the water- with a flick of her tail she was out of sight, lost beneath the foggy waves. He could just barely make out her form in the distance, cutting quickly east in the shallow waters, on a path leading away to the northern half of the island.
Rum sat on the beach, listening to the croaking of strange birds and the wheezing of the surf against the sand. Somehow, he had the distinct feeling that he'd been used.
What had the hammerhead shark actually been after? Rum tried to think back to what the creature had actually said, but the entire incident was a messy blur in his mind, consisting of nothing but flailing limbs, sobbing, and running. It was hard to make out what threats it had distinctly made. Had the shark been after something in particular, or had it just wanted the valuables on his ship?
Rum furrowed his brow, thinking.
No... it had said it was after something. It said-
"Rum ol' chum!! Did you really mean all those nice things you were saying about me??"
Rum jumped out his skin. With a scream he looked up to see Molotov standing mere feet from him, wearing nothing but a pink speedo, soaking wet and covered in mud and sand. With his red-hair soaked, the wizard had a passing resemblance to a wet mop.
He had no idea what to say. Rum looked the wizard up and down, completely at a loss. His eyes went from the open ocean to the improbable wizard standing on the beach before him. Molotov picked his nose, adding a bit of style and panache to the scene.
"But you- how did- when did you- were you on the ship the entire time?"
"Oh heck to the no!" Molotov said happily. "That foul flotsam flustered me, and tipped me tail-side into the turbulent waters! I got caught in one of the ropes and ended up getting dragged behind the ship for oh... about the last hour or two? Haha, and then you beached us here, and I got stuck under the hull! Boy, I sure did nearly die!"
His face went strangely empty for a moment. "Perhaps I did die? Oh boy, I always meant NOT to die again."
"Talking to you always leaves me thinking I'M the dead one," Rum scowled. "I'm dead, this is one of the Hells, and I'm stuck suffering you forever."
A dog-like grin lit up Molotov's face. "Oh but Rum! Would Hell really have such luxurious beaches?" Molotov spread his arms wide, spinning around like in a yogurt commercial.
Advertising and marketing had, blissfully, not developed on most islands within the sprawling Foggy Ocean. There was simply much more important things one could be doing. But on the few islands where advertisements did exist, most were related in some way to yogurt.
"Look at the sand! Look at the cliffs! Look at- well that's basically all there is to look at!" Moltov paused. "Why'd you bring us here again?"
"I thought it'd be a good place to escape the shark. It looked nice and safe... maybe Annay would be grateful and we'd have a whirlwind romance- but she's gone already." Rum got to his feet, then paused, thinking.
"Hey Molotov? When I was below deck, did Annay mention anything? About the sharks after her? Did she have anything with her?"
"Not a thing, Rum! And I looked- I looked with my eyes!" Moltov shook his wet hair for emphasis, splashing Rum in the face. Sputtering and bottling his rage deep down in a dark place inside himself, Rum slicked back his hair, sighing and looking off at the foggy, bubbling waters.
"Oh well. I'm sure it's not something that'll ever come up again."
The great warrior, Rum the Avenger, his muscles chiseling in the breeze, brought the blood-spattered sword low to the neck of the foul shark. Exhaustion rippled down his limbs like shockwaves and the wind and waves battered the side of his vessel... but still he stood firm upon the deck, keeping the blade mere inches from the jugular of the beast!
"You made two mistakes, bub," he intoned, his voice a gravel-filled roar, like thunder advancing across wicked hills. "First, you attacked my ship. And second..."
Rum paused, squinting at the words down on the parchment. He suddenly had absolutely no clue where this particular power-fantasy was going.
"And second... you messed with my lady." Rum the Avenger looked toward the beautiful mermaid, clinging to the mast behind him. She had beautiful, flowing locks of golden hair, nutmeg skin, boob two boobs, at least, and-"
"Two boobs at least?!" Rum balled up the parchment with disgust, chucking it over his shoulder. The breeze took it, carrying it along the deserted beach and away.
Rum slumped back down in his beach chair, running his ink-stained hand through his hair. Beside him, shaded with a parasol brought from his ship, an iced tea was slowly growing warm upon a tray. Rum was in, to be poetic, a completely dreadful mood.
Despite the scenic views, fresh air, and more adventure in a morning than many warrior-poets had in years, Rum simply couldn't put the story together in the right way. The outline he'd written for, "Rum the Avenger and the Great Shark Menace", looked laughably fake now that he had a moment to think about it. He sighed, examining his notes.
When Rum thought of himself, he often pictured a coin spinning in the air. One side of him craved adventure, grand tales to retell and write. He was sick of the sidelines, living vicariously through the stories of noble warriors from distant islands. His life would be a life of action, romance, daring feats and flights of fancy... and he would pursue these dreams, to the ends of the world.
The other side was, to put it gently, a horrible, cowardly coward, fond of cowering, who'd taken a minor in the "Cowering Arts" at Pissy Little Baby University.
It was this duality among... other things... that had forced him to the sea in the first place. With a little life experience he was confident he'd be knocked out of his old ways and set on the right track. Surely it at least would greatly improve his prose.
But somehow, to his growing dismay, it seemed like the opposite was happening. At home Rum had authored seventeen serial poems, the daring exploits of Rum the Avenger, a completely original character who did not resemble him in any way. He'd written Rum the Avenger vs the Vampire Pirates, Rum the Avenger vs the Three-Headed Bone-Demon, Rum the Avenger Goes to Prom... but now the whole concept seemed a little trite and unrealistic. It was nothing like the real world- the real world was much bigger, much stranger, and much scarier than he'd ever imagined. And the more he thought about it, the more he hated the entire thing- and himself.
Rum sighed and looked up the beach. Molotov had spent the past hour or two digging in the sand, desperately pleading for Rum to come bury him up to his neck. Rum had declined- he needed to get some writing done. Besides, if he was going to bury Molotov, he wouldn't stop at the neck.
But now, scanning the beach, Molotov was nowhere to be seen. Struck with a sudden sense of isolation, Rum rose from his seat, looking around with a nervous energy. He advanced further up the beach.
There was no answer. The cliffs, rising up impossibly high into the dense forest beyond, now seemed to loom over the beach, casting the entire area in menacing shadow.
"Here Rum!" At Molotov's words, Rum swung to the right, taking a gob of sand to the face. After choking, sputtering and wiping it from his eyes, Rum staggered over to where his hired wizard was.
Molotov had dug himself a hole. But not just any hole- a verifiable pit, a catacomb in infancy, a- for lack of a better phrase, very, VERY, large hole. It was deep enough that the shaggy red-hair of the wizard was fully hidden beneath the sand if one was to stand a few feet away.
Jees, how long have I been staring at the parchment, trying to write ANYTHING?
Looking to the sky, Rum was surprised to find the sun already beginning its descent.
"Oh Gods, I wrote nothing today," Rum moaned. He sat down at the lip of the hole, shoulders sagging. Molotov continued happily digging, whistling a fanciful, irritating tune. Rum stared at him, lost in thought.
"Wait... if you were digging this hole the whole time," Rum began. "Where's all the dirt go-"
Molotov shoved a handful of dirt in his mouth, swallowing without so much as a chew. Rum gaped. His tongue dried up in sympathy.
"Oh!" Molotov said, his brain finally catching up with Rum's aghast look. "This is an ol' wizardry trick I invented. It's the most efficient way to dig for buried treasure!"
Molotov opened his mouth, sticking out his tongue. Rum grimaced and flinched back at first- but then saw it. A tiny light, barely visible, at the back of Molotov's throat. Rum leaned in, drawn to the light, which shimmered and shook within the wizard's maw.
"What IS that?"
"A clever use of quantum esphogeal magics!" Molotov said, beaming. "Open up a simple 3rd level teleportation circle in the back of your mouth -with careful placement to avoid your uvula- and voila~! You can eat all sorts of things. Everything just plops out on the other side!"
"You've opened a... a magical DOOR at the back of your throat? But where does it lead though?"
Molotov furrowed his brow. "Y'know, Rum ol' chum, I never really thought about that! I suppose it comes out somewhere... where I'm not. Logically-speaking."
"I don't think logic wants anything to do with you."
"Hey, way easier than a shovel!" Molotov smiled. "Oh, and the best part is, I can pretend to be a goat while I do it." The speedo-clad wizard dropped to all fours and began to eat sand.
The thing he hated the most was, the longer Rum thought about it, the more the idea made some sort of sense to him. He shuddered- it wasn't good for his brain cells, talking to Molotov for this long.
"You're doing this to what? Search for buried treasure?" Rum asked. Molotov gave a muffled chomp of assent as he continued to eat away at the bottom of the pit.
Rum gave a wistful sigh, looking back at his beach-side set-up. A sudden gust of wind took more of his parchment paper- unfinished pages danced down the beach and away. He almost made to get up and retrieve them- but he didn't have the energy. A voice was telling him to get back to work- but another, louder voice, was telling him there was little point.
It's not like I have much talent anyway... Why did I think I could do this, travel the world and be a warrior-poet? But I suppose it's not like I have much of a choice. Not like I can go back now, after what... happened... Father would never-
Rum suddenly became aware that the sides of Molotov's pit were trembling. Small earthquakes, sending avalanches of sand down the side of the pit, unnoticed by the erratic wizard. Rum looked around, growning concerned.
"Hey, uhm, Molotov, is the pit supposed to be-"
That was all he managed before the ground was yanked out from under him, the sand burying him alive.