First, an apology for this being so late. I ended up having a cold this weekend and was down for the count. This particular story is the first of a two-parts. It has no connections to any of the other stories, just sounded like an interesting idea.
"Watch out for the trip," the craggy old man ordered. "There be pirates out there."
"Dragons too," Thomas muttered tossing the mooring line onto the little boat destined to carry four people from off the South Korean mainland to one of the many islands scattered around its southwestern corner.
"Dragons would be cool," Catherine sighed, stretching her arms over her head. "Always wanted a dragon."
"No dragons, Cate," Jiwoon assured her. "Some reptiles, but no dragons."
"He's looked," Min Ho, the remaining male in their group of five explained.
The other woman, Eun-An was at the helm looking over the variety of instruments. She sat in the captain's seat scanning the list of items the owner had left. Three different notebooks described everything in detail, but nothing made sense. Tossing the notebook onto the table at the back of the room, she blew out her breath and peered out the window. Three islands hugged the horizon - close enough to see them, but too far for a bridge. Boat was the only way out there.
"It would have been simpler had I had a sailboat," Eun-An muttered.
"Still going on about that?" The owner of the boat, a man near the same age as the other five, stood in the doorway. "I thought you said you'd never take a sailboat out there again."
"I won't, but everything's easier with a place I know. This is confusing, and they," she motioned out the window to the other four collected below on the stern. "Well, if it wasn't for the fact that Cate's my best friend and Thomas is her brother and Min Ho her betrothed, I wouldn't be here with the likes of any of them."
"You," Eun-An said, leveling her gaze back at him, "are the top of the list." She leaned back against the captain's seat. "Anyway. This word about the pirates. Is it true?"
Soowin shrugged. "There have been some rumors of pirate activity, but I haven't seen anything. Personally, I think it's some of them trying to drum up some business."
"Well, whatever the case, make the trip nice and smooth. I don't want to meet pirates, and I don't want to wind up on a deserted isle for thirty years." Outside, the boat rocked gently as the winds picked up. The trip was to scout out a location for the film that Min Ho was going to make with his brother. It would be the first action adventure the two had made together since they were kids, and Min Ho was adamant they find the perfect locations.
Jiwoon was one of the lead actors. He was already a rising star among Korean dramas, but had yet to land a big leading role anywhere. He was, however, friends with Min Ho's brother, and wanted to work with the brothers as well.
Thomas had come along to help scout since he was an accomplished outdoorsman. Catherine was along for the fun of it because, as an artist, she found more fun in finding new places. Eun-An had come because Catherine hadn't want to be alone with the others, complaining it would be dull and boring once their inner director kicked-in.
Besides, it was a fun small island with nothing to do other than wander around. What could go wrong?
"Famous words, kiddo," Thomas muttered an hour later as the typhoon swept across the land. They had rushed to their place, a block back from the sea, and cowered in the living room as the winds howled and rain rattled the windowpanes.
"Hey, the boat's fine, and we still have cell service," Catherine argued, her voice trailing as she wandered into the area where the bedrooms were.
In the kitchen, Thomas looked through the cupboards. "Not much in here."
"Nope, but I brought tea and coffee," Eun-An said as she started a kettle of water on the stove. "Any idea how long the storm is supposed to last?"
Thomas shook his head. "Nope; it wasn't supposed to hit until tomorrow, at any rate."
"Hopefully it means it'll blow over soon," Min Ho muttered entering the room. "We only have forty-eight hours here."
"We'll have plenty of time," Thomas assured him. "If anything, the town itself is a good location for the community in the film. Maybe you could manage to use the entire island. You think your friend could let us take the boat around the island?" Thomas directed the question to Eun-An. "What is your relationship with him anyway?"
"We went to elementary school together before my family moved back to the US. He's a good guy, but I think he's a little lost here."
"He's never been here before?"
"Off and on, but not to the extent that say Jiwoon's family would be."
Jiwoon had been the one to suggest the island in the first place. He had assured everyone that it was perfect for the shoot.
Eun-An closed the door. "Not a lot here. We might have to go find a store."
"There was one on the way in," Thomas said. "I'll come help."
Min Ho looked through the window. "In that mess?"
"We can't survive off tea and coffee. You of all people should know how Catherine gets when she's hungry."
Min Ho grimaced. "They told me skinny girls eat like birds. Did not realize when hungry hit they became raptors."
Outside, the rain had subsided a little. "Looks like it's going to be a little less rainy in a bit," Thomas observed. "Maybe another hour or two."
"We can only hope."
At the solitary grocer, they picked up the necessary items and carried it back to the house with the help of a few local boys. "Where are you from?" The boys asked in English. "Seoul?"
"Gwangju in my case," Eun An answered in the same language, slightly amused that they chose that language to speak. Most everyone assumed she spoke Korean, but here these two boys had picked up on the mother tongue.
"Buffalo, in mine," Thomas said. He thumbed at Eun-An "She's originally from Western New York, though."
"Half. I'm half Hanguk half Meguk."
"Do you know any famous people? Movie stars, singers?"
"He's from Buffalo, do you even know where that is?" Eun-An asked.
The boys shook their heads.
Thomas laughed. "It's near Canada, so I'm far away from famous people."
The boys shoulders fell. "Nobody interesting ever comes here," the one on the right finally said. "They said some filmmakers had come."
"Oh, we have, but were scouting right now." Thomas put his finger to his mouth. "We're hunting dragons and wizards. Do you happen to know where we can find them?"
The boys looked at each other. "What are wizards," Left asked.
Right rolled his eyes. "Like in that book the teacher reads to us in English. The one over there in England."
"There aren't any wizards, but there's the dragon's lair over by ..." Right's last words popped hollowly as Left's elbow landed in Right's side.
"We're not supposed to talk about the lair. You know that."
"We won't tell anyone," Eun-An promised. "Besides, if it's someplace we're not supposed to know about, shouldn't we know about it so we don't find out about it accidentally?"
Left and Right stopped and stared at her near the entrance of the rental. "You know our language."
"Of course she does," Left muttered. "She just used it." He looked at her. "She might be right."
"Of course she is," Right agreed. "It's up the mountain just there." He pointed behind them. "There's two paths. At the first rest stop, the right one is wide and beautiful - that's the hiker's path. The left one isn't seen very well, but has a large blue bead around a tree. Don't take it."
"Good to know. Thanks," Thomas said. As the boys scampered back home, he paused under the door awning. "It went faster than I expected."
"Do you really think one of them is involved?"
Thomas sighed. "I hope it isn't, but I haven't been in Korea for five years. People change."
Inside, Catherine greeted them. "Finally! I'm so hungry." She carried two bags to the kitchen and started lunch while the others started to put everything away.
"So, tomorrow, if you are up to it, we'll go up in the mountain. I'm going to go up after lunch to see what I can find."
"I'll come with you," Min Ho offered.
"Nope, I don't want either of you injuring yourselves on the first day here."
"I'm not going," Catherine said. "I can't keep up with you. Eun-An, that leaves you. You'll have to take one for the team."
"If I must," Eun-An sighed.
On the trail, Eun-An fell into step behind Thomas. "Here's the rest stop."
"Don't see any beads," Thomas muttered looking at the trees.
"They said left," Eun-An said. She looked at the bench then left, her gaze looking along the ground. "There it is. Hidden behind the bush here."
The path started behind the bush, hidden from all sight to the average hiker.
It was narrow, rocky and steep, heading straight up into the mountain's heart. "Most likely it's the faster way up," Thomas observed as he started to walk. He spoke in French, the language only the two of them understood. Twenty-five years of friendship had cemented their own code.
"Pirates, dragons, what else is here?" Eun-An pulled her hair back into a low ponytail.
"Hopefully those fine piece of artwork you're so intent on recovering," Thomas said.
"We'll find them, but it might not be as simple as I hope." She paused. "You realize the average waiting time is something like twenty years."
They hiked in silence until they reached a small clearing. Inside the clearing were a scattering of buildings. Maybe seven in total. None looked better than ramshackle mountain shacks, but the satellite tower belied the relative poverty of the place.
Eun-An rolled her shoulders and shifted her pack. "How many dragons do you think are here?"
Thomas finished surveying the area. "None." He pointed to the far side. "What do you think about that place?"
"Looks like a watchtower."
"Facing the sea."
"We're on an island," Eun-An reminded him.
"That would be the side closest to the sea, and it's also has the dip there. It would be the best place to have someone watching the sea. Which way did we come in anyway?"
"Leeward. Soowin swears when he comes to an island he uses leeward. Why?"
"Which way are we facing?"
"Leeward, but we wouldn't have seen anything due to the typhoon." Eun-An cocked her head. "Though, with the way that thing is positioned on our side, I doubt few know it exists."
"All the better to watch people."
They skidded down into the camp, and started through the buildings. The first three were simple storage locations. The last one before the tower held the radio equipment and maps. "Does it make sense to you?" Thomas inquired, handing over a map.
"Old school, but yes, I understand it. We're here, and this marks the main sea trails." She traced her finger along the map. "If that old man was right, this would be the best place to find those pirates."
"I imagine they're the dragons," Thomas observed. "We're probably in the pirate's cove of the dragon's lair. The question is .... do they have your paintings?"