Mei Ling Pirates Life Banner

Hanging out in the bay, waiting for the cat to wake up and depart, she saw more and more creatures in the water around her. Was this what the ocean had been like before humans had come along, so alive and full of wonderful things? She spotted fish of all colours, a rainbow under the sea. There were even a pair of sea turtles! Too bad neither was big enough to haul her away to safety. But it was exciting seeing these famous beings for the first time. Feeling brave and safe enough from the jaguar this far out, she dared to duck her head and take a look under the surface. 

The water was so clear! The fish shimmered like jewels. A tiny ray swam by, flat body impossibly graceful. She stood back up, gasping for air and laughed at how beautiful it all was. She might be in prison but she was seeing sights like this for the first time in her life. Who would have thought? 

She looked to shore and saw the jaguar laying on its side, watching her. Well, it could watch all it wanted. She was thankful that cats hated water. 

As if it could read her mind, the jaguar lazily rolled over and got to its feet. Then it padded down to the water’s edge. Hesitating only a second to sniff the surf bubbles, it casually sauntered into the ocean. 

Mei’s jaw dropped as the jaguar doggy-paddled (kitty paddled?) around in the blue water, like it was perfectly at home there. She freaked out. That was crazy! Cats didn’t— Oh, wait, wasn’t there a species of big cat that liked water? Was that jaguars? Then again, hadn’t she seen pictures of tigers swimming, too? Actually, she’d seen footage of lions splashing around in pools and rivers while hunting. Maybe being scared of the water was only a house cat thing. 

Luckily for her, the jaguar did not seem inclined to swim towards her. It paddled about, just enjoying the swim. Fish seemed to catch its eye and it watched them go by. But when a sea turtle swam close, the jaguar got excited and dove after it. 

She laughed as she watched the great cat trying to catch the turtle with no luck. Then she realized that she had an opportunity. With the cat in the water, should she return to the beach and make her escape?

Or should she try the same thing she’d done with the sailors and try to kill it while it struggled in the surf? 

She watched the jaguar dive again, only to come up empty as the sea turtle smoothly swam off. No, she was too soft-hearted for that. It was a wild animal. It was only doing what came naturally to it. And it hadn’t even been hostile to start with. The first time she’d sighted it, the great cat had just watched her from up in its tree. Even the second time, when it had come out of the grass and surprised her, it hadn’t necessarily been about to attack. She’d been the one to lose herself and shout at it and shoot at it. No wonder it had treated her like a threat after that. 

Killing it felt wrong. There must be another way for her to survive. Except…the jaguar was swimming closer. It saw her. It watched her. And it was paddling towards her. 

Breathing hard and too nervous to make for shore, she foolishly froze. And saw a dark shape go by underwater.

The cat chased after it. After the sea turtle. 

She stood there, bouncing slightly in the saltwater. The rapier was hidden below the surface in a nervous, iron grip. 

The jaguar was so close. All she had to do was lunge forward and stab. It wasn’t even looking at her. Its flank was wide open. She could drive the steel into its ribs or its belly. It would fight back; it might even kill her. Or maybe she could swim off and let it die in the water. 

All these thoughts flashed by in an instant. Yet despite the temptation, she stayed her hand.  

Maybe it was because she’d grown up in an era of growing environmental awareness. Ever since she was a kid in school, she’d heard the message that animals were dying out and needed to be preserved. 

Maybe it was because she was a journalist and all-too-aware that, since only 1970, humans had killed off 60% of all animals, birds, fish and reptiles on the entire planet by 2020, a staggering number that few people could grasp. We’d precipitated a human-assisted mass extinction event, where more and more species disappeared every year. We were more harmful than any virus. 

Or maybe it was simply the fact that she was hyper aware of how gorgeous this wondrous animal was. The way this giant cat, nearly as big as she was, swam through crystal clear waters over pristine white sand, the radiant sun making the iconic white-and-yellow, black-spotted coat shine. It was an animal that commanded respect for its power, hunting prowess, and intelligence.  

So she did not stab it with her sword. She watched, a bit of a smile on her face, as it passed by, intent on the turtle. And she felt humbled. 

Of course, after it had gone by, she did not waste any more time. She pushed off the bottom and headed for shore. It was only when she stepped onto dry sand that she noticed that the cat had followed. She raised her head and saw that it stood less than ten meters away. 

It seemed in no hurry, and it shook, causing a spray of water to fly from its fur, casting a temporary rainbow in the air. Then it just stood there, watching her. 

The guns were ahead of her. If she ran, she could pick at least one up before it caught her. And she still had her sword in hand. She brought the blade up horizontally, closer to her chest, as if it might shield her. 

A little white dot appeared on the sand near the jaguar’s head. It was the sun’s light reflecting off the long, thin blade. 

The great cat’s head snapped in that direction, suddenly alert, muscles tensed. 

Mei swallowed. Her hand shook. 

And the white dot moved. 

The jaguar pounced, big paws plowing up the sand. But the dot had danced away. And the jaguar watched. Just like a pet cat would.

She couldn’t help it. A single laugh escaped her. Then she clamped shut. But she fiddled with the sword and the white dot moved. 

The jaguar pounced again. 

This time she bit her lips to keep herself from laughing. It was too surreal. But she played some more and twice more the cat charged and tried to catch the light with its paws. And she giggled. 

Then the jaguar stopped and stood straight up. It looked away, like cats do when they’ve either suddenly lost interest or are pretending. Then its head swivelled back. Its eyes flickered to her sword and then regarded her in silence. 

Her nervousness returned. She glanced down at the pistols once more, then gave the jaguar her full attention again. It really did seem wary of weapons. It recognized them and did not like them. Not entirely sure she was doing the right thing, she lowered her sword. Sweaty fingers held it in a death grip but she pointed it down and held it at her side. 

Big, yellow eyes studied her. Then they blinked and looked away, the cat calm. 

She felt her heart racing. 

The jaguar moved. It stepped towards her, moving deceptively languidly, giving every impression that it was entirely confident and relaxed. 

Mei trembled. But she didn’t move. She didn’t react defensively. 

It approached her, just to the side of her. It came close enough that she could have reached out and touched it. The head turned her way and it stopped. Then it sniffed at her leg and hip. 

Looking around, away from her, it stared out to sea. As if she were no danger. It stood there for what seemed like forever but was probably only a minute or three. It was hard to tell because her mind had gone fuzzy. 

Then the head straightened and it moved forward again, softly walking by, close enough that its shoulder nudged her hip. 

Mei closed her eyes and didn’t move. When she opened them again, the jaguar had gone past. It was all she could do to turn her head and look over her shoulder.

The great cat walked for a dozen meters, then looked back at her. They locked eyes again. Then it moved on, casually climbing the beach and melting into the long grass and bushes beyond. 

Her legs wobbled, then bent and she collapsed to the sand. Panting fast and light, she was dizzy with fear and adrenalin. It took a few minutes to fully calm down.

She spent the rest of the day in a daze, alternating between periods of shock and moments of mad excitement for what she’d just been through. Then she’d follow that with periods of worry and planning. The next thing she knew, it was growing dark. She resolved to risk one last night in her fort and then head out the next morning to try and find a way off the island. 


Sometime deep in the night, surrounded by sand and the wooden walls she’d built, she came awake. Her awareness quickly focused. Though it was night, it seemed extra dark. And something hung down in front of her. She squinted and frowned. 

A tail.

Her heart stopped, then took off at a mad gallop. She bent her head back and looked up…up…higher. 

The jaguar lay across the roof of her fort, directly above her, head on its paws. 

She twitched. 

Its eyes opened and saw her. They seemed to glow in the dark. It yawned and huge teeth gleamed in the moonlight.

She forced herself not to scream.

Then the eyes closed again and the tail swung once.

She lay in the dark, terrified. 


Gunshots at the crack of dawn. 

Mei twitched at the sound, though her body was in too rough a shape to do much more. She was very drowsy from being awake most of the night and had a headache both from being sleep deprived and dehydrated. Her stomach gurgled from hunger. Muscles ached from being cramped up in the same position for hours on end, after being too terrified to move. 

Movement above caught her eye and she dared tilt her gaze upwards, past the fluffy curled tail hanging in front of her. 

The jaguar’s head was raised and alert. It stared out onto the beach. 


A board near Mei’s head exploded.

“Eek!” She ducked even further and tried to bury herself in the sand. Someone was shooting at her. 

The jaguar rose and leaped from its perch in one, smooth motion. It didn’t seem frightened but it was focused on something. Or, rather, on someone. Dislodged by the cat’s jump, the boards it had been laying on fell into the center of the fort, landing on top of Mei.

Another shot split the gray morning air.

The great cat bounded away and out of sight. 

She heard voices approaching: laughing, male. Adrenalin kicked in and she rose just enough to peek through the hole in her fort. 

The sun was just breaching the horizon in the east, a slender band of pink and orange splitting the dark blue sea below and the gray sky above. The white of the beach was muted, the greenery above the shore still shadowed. 

Two marines in red and white uniforms jogged down the beach towards her, muskets in hand. Swords were strapped to their waists. Both grinned and one raised his long-barrelled firearm and took another shot. 

She ducked down, frantic, face pressed against the sand wall of her hideout, feeling the grit on her cheek. They were almost upon her. What the hell was she going to do? She was curled up in her hole in the beach, the wood and sand no real protection. She had to get up. To run. But they’d see her instantly and gun her down. 

Her hesitation and groggy mental state wasted time. The two soldiers arrived and their footsteps in the sand slowed.

“Ha! Told ya you couldn’t hit it at that distance,” mocked one voice. 

“Bah,” scoffed the other, sounding blasé about the miss. “Aren’t we supposed to be catching the thing anyway?”

“Not exactly what the captain said,” the first said knowingly.

“It is the guv’s cat though,” countered the second.

“And the guv’s a grade-A wanker. Whatever. We only scared it off. Let someone else capture it. I’m not tackling a bloody jaguar with my bare hands now, am I?”

The footsteps approached. “Looks like someone’s been playing in the sand. Wonder who’s built this then, eh?”

Two curious heads peered over the edges of the fort and looked down inside. 

Mei pulled the triggers on both pistols. The men screamed and fell back. Awkwardly, she clambered up to her feet and dropped the pistol in her right hand, snatching up her sword instead. 

Unfortunately for Mei, she did not yet have any skills in the use of guns to assist her aim. Nor was it easy to aim at two targets simultaneously, especially from a prone position, with her arms not even extended. So while she’d hit both men at that short distance, neither was dead. Despite taking lead bullets to the head, both still breathed because the shots had only grazed them, one on the side of the skull and the other on the jaw. Still, being grazed by a bullet hurts. The two soldiers staggered backwards, the one hit in the skull falling to a knee. 

She stumbled out of her fort and charged them as best she could on stiff legs—and tripped. She hit the sand and fear shot through her. Frantically, she got her feet, overwhelmingly aware that she was losing her advantage with every second wasted from her ineptness. 

The one with the jaw injury brought his gun to bare on her, snarling. “You dumb cow.”

With no skill at all, she went for him, slashing him in the face and sending him reeling back with a second cry of pain, his eye now bloody and blind. 

He screamed and clutched his face.

The other soldier was already recovering as well and drew his bayonet. Crimson rivulets trickled down from the gouge in the side of his head. His eyes were unfocused but angry as they bore into her. “You’re so dead!”

She lunged and drove her sword into his chest. The tip hit bone but the blade still slid past. Again, her lack of skills hampered her and she was getting lucky more than anything else, though her athleticism helped. The strength in her arm from years spent working out was the only reason the tip of the blade had entered the man’s body at all. 

“Gah!” he raged and wildly swung with his bayonet, missing her.

Fear energizing her, she drove forward, stabbing again and again, pushing him back. Little red flowers appeared on his white uniform. She saw him trip backwards and rushed forwards, leaping at him. She gripped the hilt of her rapier with two hands and plunged the blade into his body with everything she had. 

He gasped and died. 

A bayonet rasped from its sheath behind her. 

She spun, eyes wide, and saw the other soldier, one hand over his now-ruined eye, his bloodied face a rictus of agony. 

He stepped forward, cautious, but the bayonet held up dangerously before him. 

She stood, breathing hard. Even wounded, he was likely more than a match for her with a sword. She backed up a step. Should she take her chances and run for it?

He grinned evilly. The blood pouring down his face coloured his teeth. He slashed at her. 

She dodged. Thinking quickly, she squatted and grabbed a handful of sand. 

He spun away and the sand harmlessly fell on his head and shoulders. He turned back with a cocky laugh only to get a second clump of sand right in his remaining eye. The eye shut, full of grit, and he shouted in anger. Desperate, he wildly cut the air in front of him. 

Mei checked her gun. It was still counting down, useless. She threw it at his left shoulder and then ran to his right side. 

When the pistol hit him, he reacted instinctively and turned, slashing to that side. Only for Mei to ram her blade into his belly from the opposite angle. She twisted it, making him scream. 

He stumbled and fell to the ground, dying slowly. Dropping his weapon, he instinctively grabbed at the steel invading his body.

Doing her best to ignore his cries of pain, she pulled the sword free with some effort against the suction from his blood and guts. But before she could even take a breath, a gunshot split the air. Another board in the sand fort next to her exploded. She whirled. But no one else was on the beach. She cautiously backed up, scanning the area. She saw something in the distance and squinted in the poor light. Was that a puff of smoke in the air?

Another shot rang out. Sand kicked up at her feet. 

She threw herself behind the fort. Sniper!

Another board got hit and showered her with pieces of weather-worn wood. The shots were fairly close together. Two snipers? Or were they so good that they could fire that fast?

Heart racing, she looked around. She had to run. Now. She couldn’t stay here. They’d just walk up and shoot her. The jungle; she needed cover. 

When the next shot came, spraying her with sand, she knew she had a short window of opportunity while the sniper’s gun recharged. Mei scrambled forth and retrieved the two pistols, throwing herself to the beach just before the next bullet whizzed loudly over her head. Then she jumped back behind the fort and a bullet cut a line across the side of her calf. She cried out in surprise and pain and curled up in the sand. Checking the wound, she saw it wasn’t serious. She’d still be able to run. And run she did. 

After the next shot, she bolted inland, crashing almost blindly through tall grass and bushes. The vegetation must have covered her because the gunshots ceased. But she didn’t slow. She ran on, all the way to the freshwater pond. 

There was no time to worry about the jaguar or any of his kind while she was being pursued. Mei forced her way through the thick ring of greenery to the water’s edge. There, she scanned the area only briefly before dropping to her knees and drinking deep. In her rush, she’d muddied the water and tasted silt. Dehydration was already wearing her down though so she took as much as she could, feeling her belly slosh. Then she rose back to her bare feet and moved inland again. 

It must have been ten or fifteen minutes before she slowed and sank to the ground behind a thick tree trunk to catch her breath. 

Mei cursed herself for her stupidity. She should have left the beach the night before. Or earlier. It would be the first place the marines would look for her. It was startling that it had taken them until now. She’d been a cowardly, weak fool to stay there for so long. She hadn’t been using her best asset: her brain.

They’d forced her hand. Fair enough. She might be in a weakened condition, but she could still function, for now. How to get off the damned island and somewhere safe? 

The marines would expect her to run away from civilization, wouldn’t they? Could she fool them by running towards it? If she was going to find a sailboat or rowboat or something, she’d have to find a town with a port. The ship she’d started out on had been headed to the opposite side of the island. And the smaller one chased by the Spanish had gone that way too. So Mei stood up and faced west. Time to brave the island and make her daring escape. Or die trying.

Warily peeking out from behind the tree, she surveyed the tropical forest. The trees and undergrowth weren’t overly dense here. Barbados must be drier than Central or South America. She waited, breathing quietly, looking for any movement, be it soldier or jaguar. But there was only greenery and the sounds of birds. 

Mei crouched and stepped forth. Moving slowly but steadily, she snaked through the underbrush, putting her feet down with care so as not to make noise. She pushed fronds and branches out of her way but held them as she passed and gently returned them to their position so as not to give herself away with extra movement. 

For a long while, she stealthily crept along. Sounds came from all around her. But whether it was a branch knocking another in the wind or something else, she couldn’t say. Twice, she thought she saw movement in the forest, but when she stopped to look, there was nothing there. But it left her nerves on edge. 

In this manner, she pushed through the forest towards the center of the island. Eventually, she came to a shallow stream bubbling along over rounded stones. The branches above blocked the light, leaving the water in dappled shade. Keeping an eye out in all directions, she knelt next to the water and took another drink, but not as much as the last time. 

Which way to go? The water was flowing in the direction she’d come from, which would mean it was going east, right? She needed to keep heading west. That meant upstream. 

Something snapped over to her left and she dropped low, all her attention on listening for more sounds in that direction. She didn’t dare move. And then she realized that she was somewhat exposed, crouching over the water. 

A rustle. This time on the right. She glanced that way but saw nothing.

Were there multiple soldiers hunting her? Did jaguars make noise? Or were these just natural forest sounds? Maybe she was just being paranoid. 

Staying very low, she crawled across the stream, heedless of how wet and dirty she got.

Two quick shots shattered the stillness of the forest. One ripped a branch in half over Mei’s head. The other hit only a handspan from her knee and sprayed her with mud. 

She hurled herself forward, away from the stream. 

Something, or more likely someone, crashed through the bush, close behind. 

She tripped and fell forward. She hit the ground hard, ribs landing on an exposed root, the wind knocked out of her and stunning her. Her mind screamed at her body to get up, to flee or to fight yet she knew it was too late for that. Desperately trying to suck air back into her lungs, she fumbled in a pocket for a pistol.

A marine charged out of the greenery, musket in his hands. As soon as he spotted her, he skidded to a halt and raised the weapon, pointing it at her. 

Mei rolled to the side and the first shot cut the dirt behind her. 

The soldier yelped in fright. Something growled. 

She looked up, pistol ready to fire.

The soldier screamed as the jaguar bit into his neck, crushing flesh and spine. The great cat’s front paws were hooked deep into the man’s shoulders. As she watched, the powerful hind legs pushed down, disembowelling him and spilling his entrails out onto the ground, great ropes of them.

She watched in horror, unable to believe what she was seeing or to look away. 

A shot fired. It thudded into the soldier’s back. Another came and flew past the jaguar’s head, scaring it enough for it to release its prey. Then two more marines were running at Mei and the cat, muskets in one hand. 

Mei urged herself to her feet and ran in the other direction. Only the fact that she wove around bushes and trees saved her as more bullets thrummed by in the air or tore at the leaves around her. 

The jaguar, perhaps just as spooked, ran alongside her, only a couple of meters away, driven by the hunters. But she could do nothing about that. Any second, she expected a bullet to tear through her back and shred her pounding heart. 

She ran pell-mell, not caring or thinking of where she was going. And then the trees parted and she was running through a field of young tobacco. A handful of houses stood before her and the ocean beyond. A village!

“Halt!” one of the marines shouted. Yet he didn’t wait; he fired. 

The bullet caught her in the shoulder and spun her around, sending her to the ground. Pain blossomed and she cried out, tears appearing in her eyes. That hurt!

“Caribs!” one of the men shouted in warning, though she could not see it with her eyes closed as she rolled about in pain. There were more shots, shouts of panic, and hooting and hollering from multiple people as they must have come out of the trees or village. 

Mei rolled to her good side and tried to stand. She raised her head and felt an arrow hit her in the stomach. She looked down in shock. No. No, this couldn’t be happening. If she died here, she’d respawn in chains, a prisoner again. No! It was too soon.

Refusing to die here, she forced herself to her feet. The arrow had barely penetrated her skin and fell away, leaving some kind of substance behind. She saw the beach. There must be boats. One foot in front of the other, she staggered forward. 

A very thin man with jet black hair and light brown skin appeared beside her, walking casually, with a big, mocking grin on his face. He wore a necklace of feathers and a hide loincloth but nothing else. A short, crude bow was in one hand and a quiver hung on his back. 

She looked at him, in something of a daze from the massive amounts of pain and…something else. Was he the one who’d shot her? Why was he just walking along like that? It didn’t matter. She turned her head forward. The beach. She had to find a boat. And she did. 

Passing one of the houses, she saw two huge canoes pulled up onto the sand. Inside each were three or four adult English people, looking beaten and terrified. A couple of them sat like statues, unmoving, eyes just staring. 

Mei felt her movements grow sluggish. Her body was growing very numb, very quickly. She fell forwards and landed with a thunk on the ground, unable to do so much as raise her hands to stop it. What was going on? And why wasn’t she panicking like she should be? What was wrong with her? 

The Carib stood over her and laughed. He looked over his shoulder and said something to others, pointing at her and laughing. 

Someone else replied in their tongue. Then two more men walked by, carrying a dead soldier between them. Then two more followed with the last soldier. 

Mei saw herself lifted off the ground and dragged to the canoe. She felt nothing. Her thoughts were fuzzy. It took a lot of time and effort to think about what was happening to her. Poison, surely. What was that famous toxin used in the Americas? Curare. It paralyzed. But didn’t it also kill? 

She was carelessly dumped into the canoe alongside the dead bodies, her body flopping loosely. Then the Caribs pushed the canoes into the water and jumped in before grabbing long paddles. She was aware that her breathing was growing very shallow. Her lungs burned, starved for oxygen. 

This was not at all a pleasant nor quick way to die.