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||You are on Week 326
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Three Hundred Twenty Six Ends June 22
"Is there nothing that can change your mind?"
Shinkay looked up into wide, damp eyes of his mother and struggled to hold back his own tears. "I'm sorry," the Uni whispered, shaking his head, "but I've made up my mind."
"I understand that growing up in a tiny village on the outskirts of Shenkuu would make a young Neopet like yourself restless, but is such a long journey necessary?" the Uni’s father asked reproachfully.
“I want to see Neopia," Shinkay replied, finding it hard to contain his excitement despite his sadness. "There's just so much out there; I don't wish to be trapped here any longer!"
The hurt look on his parents' faces immediately made Shinkay regret his words. "That's not what I meant," he added hastily. "I love being at home, I do. But I must know what else lies beyond our village."
The damage had been done, however, and Shinkay could see the disappointment in his father's eyes. The stately old Neopet merely nodded in response.
"May fortune grant you favourable winds," his mother whispered, throwing her arms around his neck.
"Shinkay!" squeaked a tiny voice. The Uni looked down to see his baby sister running up to him. "Shinkay!" the little Cybunny cried, holding out something in her paw. Gingerly, the Uni lifted up a small blue stone, threaded through with a braided turquoise string. "I made this for you," the small Cybunny said happily as he tied it around his neck. She tugged on his sleeve. "Come back soon, okay?"
"I will," he answered, once again blinking back tears. "Goodbye, Chiyi! Take care of Mother and Father!" He embraced her once more before hoisting the sails of his small boat and lifting off into the air...
Author: *sails away*|
Date: Jun 15th
...The winds were soft and strong, carrying him aloft like a steady current. He let the boat ride them, leaving only a gentle breeze on deck.
The motion and good weather were soothing, as was the sense of freedom. Shinkay started to feel better after a moment, the clinging guilt falling away. Even if he did recall his mother's parting words long enough to think, Favourable winds, indeed.
It truly wasn't that he disliked his home. He loved it; he loved his family. It wasn't even that he thought they couldn't understand the idea of loving one place while still wanting to see the world. That might have been true of much of Shenkuu, after their long isolation in the mists, but if it were true of his parents... why then, it might have been true of him!
Instead, his mother and father had met and worked together aboard one of Shenkuu's merchant ships, sailing the winds and waters of Neopia. They had seen the world. It had been their stories that inspired him to want to leave. To see what they had seen.
But they had seen it already, and he thought perhaps they felt the stories should be enough, or felt that the seeing had all been done, or had decided they just didn't like it out there. They loved their little village and each other dearly; his mother had been captain and his father first mate, and... well, it tended to cause morale problems to have that sort of thing on a ship any larger than a family business, and they had chosen this over continued adventures. Settled down with a nice little nest egg and a farm. With windmills that he could still barely see turning, far below and behind.
The air grew cooler as Shinkay left the borders. Shenkuu warmed by geothermal energy (carefully bled off to keep the volcanoes in that mountain range under control) and an ocean current curling up from the tropics, but it was a northerly land and Terror Mountain was a close neighbor. Shinkay adjusted his sails to angle more southward. Perhaps he would....
Hm. That was interesting. He leaned over the railing, careful not to destabilize his boat. He was below the clouds, which scudded high up today in a less predictable layer of winds than he wanted to deal with. But there was a small dark thing below him, lurching... and not on the water.
He let the boat drift lower to investigate...
Date: Jun 18th
...and, as he neared, the slender form of a young green Gnorbu came into focus.
That was certainly unexpected. Shinkay lowered the boat further for a closer glimpse.
She looked around his age, not particularly tall or strong, but there was a certain toughness to her wiry frame that suggested she was accustomed to the wilderness. A shiny grappling hook was clutched in one hand. This appeared to be the only object she carried on her person, thus being only object ensuring her success in climbing the mountain she was currently clinging onto.
Shinkay blinked. He had the strangest feeling that he had seen someone quite like her before.
But where, exactly? Come to think of it, he hadn’t even seen much of Shenkuu itself. All his life he’d spent in one quiet little village that was rather independent from the rest of the mountaintop society. Perhaps she was from the main city? The Gnorbu was certainly dressed in attire that one would expect to see there.
As he was contemplating this, a strong gust of wind buffeted his boat, and only after a moment of panicked steering did he manage to keep it from crashing. Distraction aside, his attention was once again upon the mysterious girl with the grappling hook.
Perhaps he ought to call out? Get her attention? Make conversation? True, conversation between the two Neopets -- one preoccupied with climbing a mountain and the other perched atop a flying boat -- did not seem a wise course of action. But curiosity got the better of him, and Shinkay decided to say something.
He settled on a cheery “Ahoy!” It was very un-Shenkuuan and he wasn’t even entirely sure of what it meant, but he’d read in books that the pirate adventurers of far-off lands liked to say it, and he felt in an adventuring mood at the moment.
The girl was so startled that she nearly dropped her grappling hook, something that would likely have sent her spiraling to her misty doom. She recovered quickly, however, snatching up the hook and latching it onto the ledge, and then spinning around to face Shinkay.
For a moment the Gnorbu simply gaped at him. Then she straightened with an air of imperial poise, set her jaw, and addressed him carefully. “Hello.”
Perhaps it was just his imagination, but she rather looked as though she were bracing herself. For what? he wondered.
“Are you from Shenkuu?” he ventured tentatively.
The girl eyed him suspiciously. “If this is a test, don’t bother wasting my time with it.”
“Father put you up to this, didn’t he? Tell me, how did he find out where I was? I made sure not to tell anyone.”
Shinkay was baffled. “Will you just answer the question?”
“All right all right. Yes, I’m from Shenkuu. I’m not really supposed to be this far from home.” Suspicion had crept its way back into her voice. “But you would know that already, wouldn’t you?”
“What in the WORLD are you talking about?” Shinkay stared at her and she stared back, both -- apparently -- utterly confused. Then, deciding he was being serious, the girl breathed a sigh of relief.
“Never mind. I thought for a second that you were sent here to... but that’s not important. What’s your name?”
For a fleeting instant, the girl shot him a “Don’t you know who I am?” glare, but it erased itself as quickly as it had come.
“I-- Just call me Ranya. And I have a question.”
“Why are you on a flying boat?”
Before Shinkay could answer, the exchange of pleasantries was suddenly interrupted by a shadow that fell over the landscape.
Shinkay glanced up at the sky. The clouds had grown ominously black. Just a little rain, he thought. Or maybe a lot of rain. That wouldn’t hurt, would it?
Ranya, however, looked extremely worried, as though the clouds signified something much more dangerous than a storm...
Date: Jun 18th
...Her brow furrowed in an expression of deep concern, and her adept green hands began to gather up the line of her grappling hook.
"You there, Uni!" she barked with the authoritative sort of tone that Shinkay's mother occasionally employed. "Will you swear on pain of death that my father did not send you?"
"...What?" he asked, mentally noting that he should probably move away from this mountain soon. If the wind picked up it would be extremely dangerous to be so close by. Ranya looked at him in clear annoyance.
"I said, will you swear on pain of death that my father did not send you?"
"I don't even know your father," Shinkay replied, wondering if this young woman was a little touched in the head. Maybe she was the daughter of a nobleman. He'd heard that they were often peculiarly self-involved.
"I guess that will have to do," Ranya replied. The wind began to change, and Shinkay had to devote the majority of his attention towards steering.
"Listen, I think I'd better be on my way..." he began, but Ranya cut him off.
"Hold that thought a moment," she instructed, and she gathered up her grappling hook and took aim. Shinkay jumped back, startled, as the four-pronged metal head came swooping through the air and landed with a dull 'thunk' upon the hull some feet away from him. It slid against the wood and hit the inner side of the ship, digging into the wood before it held fast.
There was a whistling, whirring sound as the line ravelled itself up, pulling Ranya with impressive speed until she almost collided with the side of the vessel. An adept hand and leg stopped her from smashing in an undignified manner against the vertical surface. Then she pushed off and with a good deal of grace flipped herself over the side to land feet-first on the deck. Shinkay blinked at her in surprise.
"Um... welcome aboard?" he managed after a moment. But Ranya wasn't paying attention to him. Her focus was, instead, on the dark clouds that were moving ever-closer.
"I suppose there's nothing for it," she muttered to herself. Then she turned her gaze to Shinkay, and he wondered why he suddenly felt like he should stand at attention. "You there, Shinkay was it? Where are you headed?"
"Er..." Shinkay felt the heat rush to his cheeks in embarrassment. It seemed silly to her that he had no clue where he was going. Ranya raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well?" she prompted. That got him. For an unexpected -- and uninvited -- guest, she was being awfully rude. He bristled, drawing himself up to his full height.
"I don't see how it's any of your business," he replied. Ranya looked at him in shock, an expression which she then hastily tried to minimize. For a moment it looked as if she were about to explode and shout something like 'how dare you speak to me that way?!' at him. Shinkay felt like he could almost hear her counting to ten inside her head.
"It's my 'business' because I'm coming with you," Ranya said once she'd gotten a better grip on herself.
"No you're not," Shinkay replied, and then it occurred to him that he really ought to get back to the business of manning the ship. The wind had taken them dangerously close to the mountain.
"Yes I am!" Ranya replied sharply, gathering up her grappling hook.
"It's my ship," Shinkay argued. "I'm allowed to decide who I take with me where, and I don't remember even giving you permission to come aboard!"
"How dare you take that tone with me? I comman..." Ranya trailed off, gritting her teeth. "I mean, I... I will pay you handsomely to give me safe passage to your next destination."
Shinkay was tempted to tell her that there weren't enough Neopoints in Shenkuu to compensate for her attitude. But, in truth, he was rather intrigued. It wasn't every day that you found mysterious young Gnorbus who scaled mountains with grappling hooks. Also, there was something niggling at the back of his mind. Something about her activities. Wasn't that some sort of rite of passage among warriors? Climbing mountains or something like that? If she were a high-born warrior of Shenkuu, that might go some ways to explaining her attitude.
"How much?" he asked instead.
"Where are you going?" she shot back. Oops. Well, she had him now. Gritting his teeth, Shinkay way about to reply when a sudden and resounding boom of thunder crashed through the sky. He stared in shock as a fork of lightning struck the mountain, not even a foot from where Ranya had been just a few moments ago...
Date: Jun 19th
...Shinkay gaped at the mountain for a few seconds until Ranya spoke.
"Are you planning to steer this thing, or just wait until the lightning hits us as well?" Her tone was sharp, with an underlying note of alarm, probably a result of nearly having been killed a moment before.
Shinkay pulled his gaze from the mountain and realized they were drifting towards the mountain again. He leapt to the wheel, deftly moving them away from it and the gathering storm.
"Now, tell me where you are going."
Shinkay gave her an annoyed look. "You may be some sort of warrior or noble or something, but this is my ship, not yours. I'd appreciate it if you'd be less bossy."
The words he'd spoken, which he thought were rather innocent, alarmed her. She paled, looking at him with wide eyes. "How do you know who I am?"
"I don't. I'm guessing." Shinkay continued to move the ship away from the mountain as he spoke. The storm was growing, though, and he couldn't get out from under its dark shadow.
Ranya 'hmmph'ed. "Doubtful."
He looked back at her, raising one eyebrow. "You could explain, you know. If you yourself told me, we'd both know and we'd both know I knew." He thought it over a second, hoping he'd arranged his words in a way that made sense.
Apparently, they did, but Ranya didn't seem too excited to comply. "Why do you care, anyway? Stop asking me questions."
There was that edge of command again, creeping back into her words.
"Because I'm the captain of this vessel and you came on without my permission or invitation and now expect me to take you with me. For all I know, you're a criminal wanted by the Defenders." Shinkay's voice was a bit sharper than he meant it to be, but he was getting a bit annoyed with her. Did she really need to be so evasive and bossy? He didn't think so.
She rolled her eyes. "Well, I am not a criminal. Feel better?"
"No. You still haven't told me who you are."
"If I tell you, will you stop pestering me?" Ranya was beginning to look a bit annoyed as well. What a pleasant voyage this was going to be. Not.
Shinkay gave her another annoyed look and then nodded. "For the moment."
Ranya looked at him warily, weighing his words and deciding if she trusted him. Then, she nodded once, sharply and decisively. "Very well. I will tell you. I want to be a warrior, but my father does not think I'm ready yet." She chuckled to herself, enjoying some private humor with herself as she muttered, "There's the understatement of the century."
Shinkay felt that she was holding something back, and peered at her expectantly.
She knew what he wanted and shook her head. "I will not give you any details beyond that. You will simply have to content yourself with that until we reach our destination. Where did you say we were going again?" She looked at him innocently, as though he'd told her and she'd truly forgotten.
He shook his head, both annoyed by her persistence and amused by her tactic. At least she'd stopped ordering him around. He sighed and spoke. "Fine. Since you told me part of who you are, I guess I can tell you the truth." He sighed again, sure she'd mock him for his foolishness the moment she discovered he had no plan or destination.
Before he could speak, though, lightening suddenly struck one of the masts, causing them both to leap backwards with startled yelps. The mast, and the sail attached, quickly burst into flames.
Shinkay met Ranya's worried eyes as he spoke. "This is no ordinary storm, is it?..."
Date: Jun 19th
...Ranya rolled her eyes dramatically. “You’ve just noticed?” Despite her usual impolite attitude, she seemed unnaturally frightened.
But Shinkay could hardly hear her. His eyes reflected the dancing flames. The fire crept up the spin and there was a loud crack. The mast loomed towards Shinkay, drawing nearer as it fell.
And yet, he did not move. His eyes stared into the majestic embers as they drew nearer. He seemed transfixed. It was as if the fire hypnotized him. He was under a spell...
Ranya, thankfully, had not fallen to the same enchantment as Shinkay. The Gnorbu moved quickly. With a quick flick of her wrist, she threw the grappling hook towards the flaming mast.
The metal hook latched onto the weak wood. Ranya knew she did not have much time before the bamboo post crumbled. With a fierce cry, she yanked on the rope, thus pulling the mast away from Shinkay.
The sail swung past her, and she barely had enough time to avoid its blaze. The mast followed and the two tumbled over the edge, disappearing into the waves below.
Shinkay stumbled back, as if dazed. “What just happened?” he mumbled in a somewhat sleepy tone.
Ranya spoke, but she did not answer his question. Her glare was focused on the dark clouds above her. “This storm,” she whispered, “was not sent by my father. He does not disapprove of me being a warrior, but he does not think me ready. He certainly would never hurt me.”
Shinkay looked at her. “Excuse me, but what?”
Ranya’s eyes echoed with terror. “We are in much more danger than I thought.”
Ranya raced to the wheel and attempted to turn it. It did not budge at all. The ship stayed in place, floating in the air.
“How do you move this thing?” Ranya shrieked, giving the deck a frustrated kick.
Shinkay sighed and took a step towards her. She obviously did not know how to steer the ship. For once, it seemed she actually needed his help.
Lightning shot from the sky and struck inches away from Shinkay. This time, the force of the bolt did not knock him down. But it still shook him, sending sparks of fear through his entire body.
Shinkay stared at the spot where the lightning struck in wonder. There was no fire, no scorch marks. Nothing to show the lightning had been there at all.
But there was something there. A small slip of grey parchment lay on the deck, fluttering softly in the wind.
Hesitantly, Shinkay took a step towards the paper. His eyes widened in shock as he read.
We have taken the princess, read the note. If you ever wish to see her again, you must climb to the top of the mountain. Bring the stone.
Princess, Shinkay thought. What are they talking about? And the stone... He clutched the chain around his neck. They didn’t mean the rock Chiyi had given him, did they?
Maybe Ranya would know. Shinkay turned towards her and gasped. For Ranya was not there, she had vanished...
Date: Jun 20th
...For one bizarre moment, Shinkay thought that she had taken cover and was hiding. But there hadn't been enough time for her to make her way below deck, and as he circled the wheel it became quite obvious that she wasn't inexplicably crouched behind it.
Shinkay considered the note again, his eyes wide. The princess... did they mean Ranya? He drew a deep, shaking breath and licked his lips in nervousness. It made sense, didn't it? The way she acted, her refusal to identify herself. If she were a runaway princess she'd certainly never want him to know. He'd be honour-bound as a citizen of Shenkuu to see her safely back to her father. Going off of what little she'd managed to convey, that wouldn't suit her aims very well at all.
And now a lightning storm had kidnapped her. Shinkay had heard stories about heroes rescuing princesses, of course, but he'd never really thought he'd star in one. That wasn't the sort of adventure he'd had in mind when he left home.
On the other hand, he couldn't just leave her. Shinkay weighed his options. He gave the mountain a speculative look. With his ship as damaged as it was, there was no way he'd get it high enough to get to the top of the mountain. He could head back into Shenkuu and try to alert the royal guard (pets who were completely trained for this sort of thing) but by then whatever force had taken Ranya might run out of patience. And, he had to admit, she'd saved him from being crushed by a large piece of flaming wreckage. He owed her at least an attempt.
Shifting his stance, Shinkay blinked as he nudged something hard lying upon the deck. He looked down. It was Ranya's grappling hook.
A million little thoughts all flitted through his mind. Foremost was I don't even have thumbs, how can I use that?! Nevertheless, he bent down to inspect the object. It was a simple trigger mechanism, large enough for him to manage with his hooves. He gave it an experimental pull. The hook shot out from the handle, whirring and whipping through the air at a clumsy angle until it hit the side of the ship with a dull thunk. Shinkay hit the trigger again, and the line ravelled itself back up, sending a jolt through him as the hook clanked back into place.
It certainly would be a heavy challenge for a pet to scale a mountain with only this to aid them. But Shinkay had a few advantages over Ranya. For one thing, he wasn't going to be starting at the base of the mountain. His ship put him at least two-thirds of the way up, maybe even a bit better if he could cajole it into going higher despite the damage. He also, unlike Ranya, had wings. They weren't strong enough to carry him against the winds all the way to the top, but they'd certainly save him from plummeting to his doom if he miscalculated with the hook.
Right. He had to try, at the very least. Against the advice of his common sense, Shinkay steered the ship closer towards the mountain. He took a few more practice shots with the hook, and then, taking a deep breath, anchored the ship and stretched his wings.
He took flight, the cold air biting against his delicate feathers. It seemed an eternity before his hooves clicked against the hard mountain rock. Drawing a deep breath he folded his wings back against his body, teeth chattering. He waited as long as he dared for them to regain some warmth, and then he considered his next move.
The closest outcropping looked like a good option. Drawing a deep breath, Shinkay aimed, and fired.
The hook flew wide, clanking against a vertical corner before falling free. Shinkay gave a small cry of dismay before he hit the trigger, bracing himself as the sharp metal claw whirred back to him. One of the pointed edges slipped against his grip and he dropped the grappling hook, letting out a hiss of pain and bringing the scratch to his eyes for inspection.
It was just a small cut, but boy, did it ever sting. He sighed. How could he...?
But, no, Shinkay shook his head at himself. He'd only tried it once. He couldn't get discouraged now.
Picking the hook back up, he tried again. Again it went wide, but this time when he pulled it back, he was careful not to hurt himself. Gritting his teeth he fired again. And again. On the fifth try, he gave a cheer of triumph as the claw hit the ledge, and the prongs sank home.
Shinkay tugged, making certain that the line was secure. Then, resisting the urge to squeeze his eyes shut, he hit the trigger.
The wind whipped around him as his hooves left the rock. In a way, it was better than flying under his own power. At least the icy wind wasn't whipping through the soft feathers of his wings. In a million other ways, however, it was much worse. He was going far faster than he was used to, he wasn't certain how to control it, and it was still quite cold anyway.
Shinkay drew closer to the ledge, and realized a brief flaw in his plan. What now? He ran out of time for consideration as he drew level with the rock, and collided against it with an undignified 'oof'. His hindquarters dangled in the air as he scrabbled against the surface with his front. It took some doing, but he managed to pull himself onto the ledge, his breathing labored from the exertion.
And that was just one! Shinkay gathered his tattered resolve as he dislodge the grappling hook and looked up.
Another ledge. He grit his teeth, and took aim. This time it was a good shot on the first try, and he let out a sigh of relief as the hook snagged the rock and held fast. Bracing himself, Shinkay hit the trigger, and zipped through the air.
It was another undignified landing, and as the Uni hauled himself onto his second ledge he concluded that he needed to work something out for this part. He remembered that Ranya, when she's boarded his ship, and used her arm and leg to steady herself and keep from crashing. But it was taking all of Shinkay's limited dexterity to keep his grip on the grappling hook. Maybe he could use his legs...?
Another thought came to him. With renewed determination, he found his third ledge and took aim. The hook missed the first time, but sank home on the third. Shinkay made certain it was secure, and then hit the trigger. Up, up, up he went, the highest he'd gone so far. Then the ledge drew close, and he spread his wings. With a tremendous flap he drew just over the ledge and managed to land on his hooves.
It was a good compromise of wing power and leg power. The air wasn't constantly biting into him, but he wasn't crashing, either.
After that it started getting easier. Though Shinkay would never dare to call it fun, after a time some of the fear ebbed away into exhilaration. Once or twice he slipped, but his wings managed to save him.
He'd lost count of the ledges when it happened. Taking aim, he knew as soon as he pulled the trigger that something was wrong. His grip on the grappling hook's handle wasn't right. He'd gotten over-confident, and as he watched in horror the device flew free of his grasp. Shinkay could only watch as the hook soared through the air, gave a tremendous wobble as the handle swung out pendulum-style beneath it, and...
Date: Jun 20th
...vanished over the edge of the ledge. A moment later he heard a howl of pain and rage. His eyes widened. A rough voice shouted, "Someone brained me with this thing! Go find the idiot!"
Two heads appeared over the ledge above -- a heavily-scarred Kougra and a vicious-looking Eyrie with one ear missing. "There's some kind of idiot Uni kid down here!" the Kougra shouted.
I'm not a kid! Shinkay thought, then realized there were much worse things to worry about when the first rough voice said, "By Jhudora's claws, what's a kid doing up here? Never mind! Bring him up!"
Shinkay sprang to his hooves, but there was nowhere to go. Without the grapple, he couldn't descend safely, and his wings certainly couldn't carry him all the way back down. Anyway, there was no way he could outfly the Eyrie, who spread his powerful wings and dropped to land next to him.
"Don't struggle," the Eyrie snarled. "Otherwise you just might fall, and wouldn't that be a shame?" He sniggered, like it wouldn't be much of a shame at all.
After another moment, the Kougra descended on a rope. Shinkay braced his hooves and lowered his horn, but she laughed and said, "Don't even try it. Me an' Yarshi have a lot more experience at this kind of thing than you do, I'll wager. Keep your wits sharp and you might get off this mountain alive. Hear me?"
Shinkay nodded stiffly. The Kougra and the Eyrie shepherded him up to the next ledge using the rope, with a few undignified yanks from the Eyrie to keep him balanced, who flew close above.
The next ledge was much larger, with a fire and a cave, and Shinkay realized with a sudden leap of his heart that he could see the mountain summit. But before he could make a dash for it, the Kougra put a heavy paw on his back and said, "Sir? We've got 'im."
"Good work, Yarshi, Usuna," said a low, rough voice. A shadowy figure stepped out of the cave -- it was an Ixi with one eye and a savage grin. "Well, well, well," he said. "What kind of trespasser do we have here? Thought it'd be fun to throw a grapple at me?"
Shinkay summoned all of his courage, though he felt like his knees were going to start knocking at any moment. "Who are you?" he demanded. "Where's Ranya?"
"Never you mind," the Ixi said. "Now, what are you..." He broke off, and his eyes widened. "You?" he demanded.
"What?" Shinkay asked. He tried to back away, but Yarshi, the Eyrie, was behind him, blocking his way.
"You? You are the one with the stone?" the Ixi continued, and Shinkay realized that his eyes were fixed on the bit of turquoise around his neck. "How did it come to one such as yourself, young Uni?"
"My sister -- " Shinkay began defiantly, but the Ixi cut him off.
"Never mind. No matter. Give it to me, quickly, before I lose my temper."
"Show me the princess first," Shinkay said. "I want to see that she's safe.
The Ixi eyed him, and then said, "Very well. Usuna?"
The Kougra nodded sharply and vanished into the cave. After a moment, she emerged again, leading the struggling Gnorbu, whose hands were tied behind her back and whose feet were hobbled. Ranya seemed to be trying at once to squirm out of her bonds and to scream insults at her captors.
Well, Shinkay thought, at least she's all right. He danced back a few steps. "What do you want the stone for?" he said, stalling.
"That's none of your business. Give it to me now, or face the consequences."
Ranya squealed, and Usuna said sharply, "Stop your crying, girl, or I'll give you something to cry about!" She curled her paw, exposing her claws. Ranya's eyes widened with what looked like fear.
Shinkay was about to remove the stone and hand it over when he thought, Wait a minute! The defiant Gnorbu I knew would never cower! She must be acting. In that case...
"Never!" he said, crouching and springing into the air. At the same time, Ranya twisted, using the Kougra's own claws to slice through her bonds. With her hands free, she tumbled forward into a warrior's handspring.
Shinkay's wings flapped desperately against the gusting wind. The Eyrie was gaining on him. As he turned to defend himself with his horn, he felt the stone around his neck...
Date: Jun 21st
...grow hot. And then suddenly his wings were flapping effortlessly, as though the whirling winds around them were nothing but bubbles.
All eyes turned skyward to face him, Ranya’s full of concern, the Kougra, Eyrie and Ixi’s full of anger and fear.
“Give us the stone,” the Kougra snarled. “Now.”
“My little sister gave it to me!” cried Shinkay, bewildered. “Why do you want it?”
“Never mind that,” hissed the Eyrie. “If you do not give it to us, we will kill the princess!”
Shinkay looked at Ranya, so proud and precious, and his hoof went towards the stone around his neck...
“Oh, you dare to kill me, you filthy Eyrie?” cried Ranya, before Shinkay could toss the stone. “I have ascended the mountain, against all expectations. I am a warrior now!” and she threw herself towards him, wielding a piece of sharp rock as if it were the most powerful sword in the world.
But her courage was but a candle flame, untested by time...
Shinkay watched in horror as the villains released their wildest fury, attacking the princess with the most barbaric wrath. She was a princess, she couldn’t do this even if she were the most skilled warrior in Neopia. It was wrong, it was all going wrong... he as the hero should be saving her, not letting her fend for herself...
Shinkay felt himself swooping downward, the stone boiling hot at his throat...
Date: Jun 21st
...and fires of courage and anger lining his veins. He plunged in among the villains, striking out wildly about him with care only not to hit Ranya. Fortunately she had the sense to duck. The stone's heat seemed to lend him strength; bruises blossomed under fur where his hooves struck, blue energy flared from the stone and made the Eyrie stagger back, and Shinkay's horn stabbed deep.
But Shinkay was no warrior. He had acquitted himself decently among the village youth, when they had drawn themselves a makeshift Battledome, but that had been children's games. These were hardened fighters, and armed with weapons they knew. Shinkay had only his natural abilities and a stone he didn't understand.
The Ixi seized the horn that had sunk into his shoulder and pulled it out, twisting and using the leverage to throw Shinkay down. The Uni's hooves and wings beat uselessly against the rock, his neck twisted uncomfortably.
Ranya cried out in anger. Both the Kougra and the Eyrie moved to intercept her. It was enough to slow her down.
The Ixi grinned and reached down for the stone.
Shinkay, struggling to breathe against the odd angle of his neck, reached up to his own throat and tore the stone from it. The knot his little sister had tied came loose all too easily, and he threw the stone as hard as he could.
It wasn't much of a throw. He thought the next second that he should have tossed it down the mountain, where it might be out of reach.
But it flew straight and true, between the Kougra's and the Eyrie's shoulders as Ranya laid about her with her makeshift blade. They looked up, but too late.
Ranya lifted a hand and snagged the stone by its straps, then closed her grip around the stone itself. Her eyes narrowed in concentration.
The Kougra and Eyrie fell back a bit, looking nervous. The Ixi cried out in alarm and anger, twisting Shinkay's neck until he thought it would snap.
Blue fire blazed out from the stone. Shinkay couldn't see the other villains anymore in the dazzle, but the Ixi screamed in pain and let go of his horn.
Shinkay gulped air, confused when it was neither mountain-cold and thin nor superheated by the fire. The fire didn't hurt, he thought. Either that or he was really, really out of it.
The blue faded. "Nice rock," Ranya said, sounding bemused. She came over to kneel by him. "Thank you for coming after me. Are you all right?"
Shinkay carefully straightened out his neck. It made an alarming popping noise, but felt better. Just a bit sore. "I think so. Are you?"
"Oh, fine. I've had worse." She looked a mess. Her clothes were torn, her hair disheveled, and her exposed skin mottled with cuts and bruises. But she also looked fiercely triumphant and remarkably beautiful.
Easy there, Shinkay told himself. Princess, remember? "Guess this explains why you were trying to order me around," he said, grinning a little. Ow, split lip.
She blushed a bit. "Well, that and I thought at first you were here to drag me back. Although technically I can't countermand my father's orders anyway." She looked around them. "Um, where did your boat go?"
Shinkay handed her the grappling hook. "About a third of the way down the mountain. It was too damaged to climb air this thin. I think I could still get us back, though, if we can get to it. Or at least out of the mountains."
"I don't mind hiking, but with three prisoners to carry...." Ranya inclined her head slightly. "So, Captain, may I request the use of your ship?" She paused. "And I really do intend to pay you."
"You don't have to," Shinkay said. "It's honor enough to have been able to help." He coughed a little as he got up. "Even if you ended up rescuing me."
Ranya grinned. "Well, that is part of the point of being a warrior."
She ducked into the villains' cave and emerged with a startling array of supplies. Shinkay hadn't quite expected her to be so sanguine about robbing the robbers, but then, some was probably evidence and they could probably use the food and drink -- and rope. They tied up the prisoners and lowered them in stages down the mountain to the ship, where Shinkay managed some emergency repairs (rope was a fine thing indeed) and a very shaky takeoff.
* * * * *
"This stone," the Emperor of Shenkuu said, regarding the bit of turquoise thoughtfully, "is a legend. It was once in a dragon's gizzard."
Shinkay tried desperately not to laugh. Ranya let out a smothered chuckle, but her father raised an eyebrow and she quieted decorously.
"You, Daughter," he said dryly, "are still in trouble. As I said. It was from a dragon's gizzard, but it was not the right texture for grinding food, so the dragon coughed it back up. Meanwhile it had gained some of the dragon's magic." He smiled faintly. "It was a very great dragon. Whimsical. The stone is called the Dragon's Tear."
"I didn't think tears usually came from the gizzard, Your Majesty," Shinkay said diffidently.
"Well, I didn't say it made sense." The Emperor tossed the stone back to him, much to his surprise; the Uni nearly fumbled it. "Take it home again, lad. Give it back to your sister. The stone has been hidden for years for a reason; its power is unpredictable and confusing, yet all too easy to covet -- and it tends to slip away from people who use it too often." His mouth quirked. "Come back sometime. My daughter needs an occasional reminder that not everyone lives in the city, or is a warrior."
Ranya blushed, but grinned at him. Shinkay, dismissed, returned to his ship and returned home. He might go see more of Neopia one day, but he thought he'd wait for better weather.
* * * * *
"Chiyi," Shinkay asked his Cybunny sister one day, "where did you get that stone, and why did you give it to me when I went traveling?"
"The wood wizard gave it to me," Chiyi said cheerfully. "Said it was for safe-keeping." She beamed at him. "So I gave it to you, to keep you safe. Worked, too. You came back."
Shinkay laughed aloud, thinking of the danger and adventure he had gotten into. And out of alive, too. "I guess it did work, Chiyi," he said, grinning. "It worked really well."
Date: Jun 22nd
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