Chapter 23 - Alex

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On any other day, the Cove of Elo could easily be mistaken for one of Heavenly Halls. The tall, lean rocks on the half-moon shaped beach would provide shelter from the shimmering white sand. Here, at the edge of the world, the only companions to break through the rustling waves would be the seagulls and their big brown brother, their shrill squawking a signal that a fresh meal was swimming close to the shore. Sadly, today the pirates chose a new Pirate Boyar, and the beach was closer to resembling all Seven Hells combined.

It was one thing to stand still for hours, soaking in sweat, but quite another to be squeezed into a crowd, unable to move, while the odours of the surrounding people ranged from musky and sour to bathed in urine for a fortnight.

In the ten feet she had moved, she had watched the sun climb high in the sky. Little fluffy clouds had come and gone, providing little to no relief from the leaden heat. So far, all she had learned was the variety with which the Jade Islanders lisped.

Except for Nagi the Scorian, the people aboard the Kraken's Kiss had an accent that reminded her most of her father's. The Damned Serpents made their sentences sound like a rapid string of s's. The all-female crew of the Jade Daughters spoke as though they were stepping on creaky stairs in the middle of the night, not wanting to wake anyone up. Their soft voice lured men into studying their mouth and tongue to pass the time. 

A sudden gap in the crowd appeared. Alex didn't get the chance to move; a broad man with a lousy black curl on his otherwise barren head bumped into her side and stepped on her toes. As the pain in her ribs intensified, the God of Wrath attempted to enter her mind, but she resisted. The pirate had knives hanging from every one of his four belts. Picking a fight with him would have grave consequences.

A hand landed on her shoulder.

The soft voice of a Jade Daughter with lips as red as the rose on her belt spoke, "Miss, in for some flipping?"

"Why not." Alex shrugged. She had seen others play the shell-throwing game. It was simple, and all she had to lose was moving a place backwards.

"Fish or tail?" the Jade Daughter asked.

"The maiden," Alex said, masking her own Greenlander tongue to avoid being called a Greenie or worse.

If the woman was in any way annoyed or surprised by Alex's answer, she did not show it. She tossed her shell up and smacked it onto the back of her hand.

"Fish," she groaned as she revealed the outcome: a maiden picking a coconut from a palm tree.

Alex smiled. "A win for me."

She hadn't counted on the crowd shifting ahead. The Jade Daughter's belt brushed against Alex's fingers as she slipped past, moving not just one but a whole two feet.

"Hey!" Alex cried out.

The woman blinked her long eyelashes, feigning innocence. "What—want a rematch?"

"Yeah, two out of three. We s..." She considered her words. "We begin anew."

"Very well. Fish or tail?"

"Tail."

Alex lost the first game, but not the second. As she was contemplating whether the shell would land on its inner, painted, side or the rough outer side, the crowd moved again. She had the opportunity to pass her competitor but resisted Greed's temptation. Though her ribs thanked her, the Jade Daughter disappeared behind pirate One-Curl.

Immediately a new player popped up. A man with an old paisley red head kerchief winked at her. He had long passed the age that walking around bare-chested would attract female attention, but it didn't stop him from showing off the long chain of triangular pointy teeth around his neck. "Wanna play?"

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