... as she dove at the Usul. Lia shrieked and narrowly dodged the dagger. The blade cut a lock of her (or to be more accurate, Hannah's) hair; it fell to the ground with her. Masila snarled, but before she could react, she was kicked fiercely in the knees by Lia, most likely by accident. With a slight groan, the Acara stumbled, giving Lia just enough time to scramble to her feet and grab the first thing that her fingers touched -- a spatula.
She looked down at the kitchen utensil and frowned. "This won't do me any good." She dropped the spatula and reached to grab a much more effective weapon, a long, silver kitchen knife. She spun around just in time to see Masila leap to her feet, eyes fierce, blazing, the dagger in her hands. "And so it continues..." The Acara hissed, leaping at the Usul to continue a never-ending dance of narrow escapes and missed sword-swipes.
The crewmembers, stunned for a moment, sprang into action. With roars, they ran to aid their captain, but stopped short as a dark, curly haired Usul leapt in front of them, wielding a rather menacing-looking frying pan. A large white Lupe took a step beside her, his fingers sparkling with miniature blue lightning -- magic.
The cook, from his spot on the floor, gulped and scurried under the table.
Hannah and Raydon leapt at the crew, and the battle continued. Vegetables flew everywhere, tables were turned, and the air was filled with the clamour of pots and pans hitting the floor. Shouts and cries echoed through the ship, tings and tangs of sword against sword added to the rhythmic music of the fighting.
The pantry door swung open and a Lupe stepped out.
With a ferocious growl, Masila threw her dagger at Lia. Lia ducked and threw a strainer at the Acara. The dagger sailed through the air, over the heads of the fighting pirates, coming straight at the Lupe's head.
He didn't make an effort to dodge it. He didn't move at all. He didn't even flinch. He stayed perfectly still as the dagger flew through his head.
It disappeared the second it grazed his fur, vanished into thin air, as if it were nothing more than an illusion...
That's exactly what it was.
The fighting continued.
From first glance, it looked like an actual battle was going on. But if you looked closely, you'd see that no strike hit its mark, every attack missed. Every dodge was too agile, as if they knew exactly what was coming. It was too rehearsed to be real.
Because it wasn't.
Raydon smiled as he surveyed his work. He took a step away from the pantry, stumbling a bit. The incantation had taken more out of him than he had intended... but it was a beautiful spell, he had to admit. Pure genius.
He walked calmly through the skirmish.
He passed his doppelganger, who was weaving through the crewmembers with unearthly agility. That was probably the one thing that was real - the crew. They did not notice him, they were much too absorbed by the battle. It was by pure chance that they had stumbled upon the kitchen battlefield. They had no idea they were fighting air. Better for him, there would be no one to intercept him as he explored Masila's ship...
He looked over at the emerald furred Acara, who was wrestling with "Lia" in the corner. So that's who was behind all of this. He was slightly surprised to see it was her. (He had woven the spell so that a duplicate of the captain appeared; he had no idea who that was.) Although he wasn't exactly surprised. He tsk-tsked. It was so like her... so like her.
He just wished he knew what she was doing. What plans lurked in that vicious little mind of hers.
He glanced at Hannah. Or rather, Hannah's clone. Curly hair flew everywhere as the Usul ran on top of the shelves, chased by a swarm of pirates, knocking pots down on them and filling the chaotic atmosphere with even more curses. The real Hannah was still lying on the ground, unconscious from her early blow to the head. She was disguised as a sack of flour. She lay miraculously untouched, considering what was going on around her.
Raydon aimed himself in her direction. He couldn't allow her to stay here and become trampled. As much as he hated to admit it, he needed her. That was the reason he had chosen her -- out of all the potential candidates in Neopia. Only her. She was the only one that could do this.
Raydon picked her up, swung her small body over his shoulder like a sack of flour, and walked through the door, up the stairs and away into the ship.
There was so much more that needed to be done...
* * * * *
Lia was walking along a dark, damp path when the shouts started.
The taunts of her pirate escort fell silent. He blinked his eye (the other hidden behind an ebony eye-patch) and frowned.
"Come on," he said gruffly, and proceeded to pull Lia quickly through the bilges, much faster than before. His grip was iron around her arm, hard and cold.
Lia did nothing to resist. Head down, eyes glued to the floor, she followed him.
"Get in." The Shoyru snapped, pushing her to the ground. Lia fell and hit the ground hard. An iron door slammed harshly, and the Shoyru ran off, his footsteps pounding against the wooden planks, leaving Lia all alone in the damp shadows.
She curled into herself into a tight little ball and let the tears cascade down her cheeks.
* * * * *
Masila stood on the deck, her cloaks billowing behind her dramatically. Her eyes were narrowed and malicious, glaring out at the sea, as icy as the wind that tore at her hair. She was beautiful. She was dangerous.
"Why," she hissed through clenched teeth. "Is this taking so long?"
The Yurble at the wheel avoided her gaze. "I-I told ye, Cap'n, the wind is against us. Ye cannot fly 'gainst the gales."
Masila glared at him, and the Yurble shivered as if a blizzard were storming the sky at that very moment.
"Well, find a way," she snapped bitterly. "Or else..."
She didn't need to finish the thought. With a sweep of her cape, she disappeared beneath the deck.
* * * * *
He had seen the dagger fly through the Lupe's head. He had seen the Lupe walk on, unharmed. He had seen the Lupe walk through the battle, untouched. He had seen the Lupe pass his twin, his copy, his mirror's reflection. He had seen the Lupe calmly pick up the bag of flour and walk out of the kitchen.
The cook blinked. He didn't have flour in his kitchen.
The Kyrii peered from beneath the rotting table. He saw some crewmates run past him, chasing after the raven-haired Usul -- who he was now certain was not a part of his crew.
He frowned. Something was not right.
The Usul ran by the table again. Not quite knowing what he was doing, as if he were possessed... he reached out and brushed his fingers against her skirt, but he felt nothing at all.
His frown deepened. Something definitely was not right.
The Kyrii crawled out from under the table. Standing up, he was nearly pushed down again as a Gelert shoved past him. Sputtering, he looked around. His eyes were drawn to the form of the white Lupe, the twin of the Lupe who had run out of the kitchen, only seconds earlier.
The Kyrii grabbed a spatula from the floor and threw it at the Lupe.
It sailed right through him, hitting the far wall with a smack -- a sound nearly lost in the commotion of the battle.
Now he was convinced that something was not right.
A smile curled his lips. Oh, how the captain would love to learn about this...
* * * * *
Raydon set Hannah down on the floor; she was still unconscious. He stood up and looked around the Captain's cabin. "What are you up to, Masila?"
"Why don't you just ask me that yourself?"
Raydon whirled around. The Acara stood in the doorway, face shadowed by the hood of her cloak. She took a step forward, and the lantern by the door illuminated her cruel, sharp features. She was both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Raydon couldn't prevent a low, dry chuckle from escaping his lips. "So here we are."
"Again," Masila whispered, a faint smile hovering on her lips. She took a step forward.
"What mischief are you up to this time, sister dear?"
The smile -- however distant it was -- vanished in an instant. "Don't call me that."
"I see you haven't changed."
"Quite on the contrary. I think I have." She dashed forward so quickly, it was as if she had teleported. She had withdrawn a dagger from her cloak and pressed it against his throat.
"You've been a naughty, naughty boy, Raydon," Masila cooed in a mocking voice.
He chuckled. "You have no idea."
"Now tell me..."
"What I'm up to?"
Masila smirked. "While I'm sure what you've been doing since we last saw each other is very interesting, I'm not interested in your magic tricks..."
Her eyes blazed. "Tell me where Hannah is."
Raydon smiled. "I think you know that answer..."
The cool dagger pressed closer against his neck. "I think you should know by now, it does not pay to play games with me. I know that that girl you sent me is not Hannah."
Raydon paled. Despite all his instincts, he could not help but sneak a glance at Hannah. Good. She was still disguised.
He looked back at Masila, but she was no longer looking at him. She had turned around and was staring at the sack of flour on the ground...
Raydon was calm. The illusion was still up. He had nothing to worry about. Nothing at all...
"You can't fool me, Raydon."
"Wha-?" The Lupe looked down at the sack of flour... except it wasn't flour anymore. No, like gossamer strands of a Spyder's web drifting away in the wind, the illusion was unravelling. And from the sack of flour, the form of an Usul appeared...
Masila's face erupted with malicious glee. "At last..."
* * * * *
Whenever she had dreamed of adventure, she had never quite pictured it like this.
She was supposed to be brave and courageous. Everything was supposed to work out fine. She wasn't supposed to be here, in the a dark, cold dungeon...
Whenever she had daydreamed of adventure, it always ended happily.
Now, Lia was convinced that there was no happily ever after to her story. Just an ending.
Traces of tears lined her cheeks. She looked up, staring into the darkness. Why... why did it have to be this way?
She looked down at her paws. Paws... she was a Krawk. She wasn't supposed to have paws. She looked down at her fluffy tail, her brown locks. This wasn't right. This wasn't her.
She laughed painfully, the sound was choked. Funny... earlier this night, she would've given anything to be here, to be her... Hannah.
But she wasn't Hannah. She never was. She never would be.
She wasn't a brave. She wasn't a hero. She was just Lia. Just... Lia.
And right now, she just wanted to be home.
Lia sighed and stared down at her feet again. Her yellow, clawed feet...
She blinked. Claws?
Lia shrieked and stood up. She brought her hands to her face, examined them. Gone was the golden sheen, the dainty paws, and the silky fur. All she saw now were the tough scales of a Krawk.
Despite everything. Despite everything, she found herself laughing.
Lia was back. Lia was Lia again.
She looked up, at the iron door. At first glance, it appeared locked. But if she looked closely... she could see that the pirate had never properly shut it in his haste to join the fight. It was open, just barely, but it was open...
Lia stood up.
She hadn't been very much help as Hannah. She hadn't done anything good as Hannah.
But maybe that's because she wasn't Hannah...
She wasn't the famed Usul, the charismatic hero. She hadn't experienced all those incredible adventures.
As Hannah, she was nothing. Just a wannabe in a heroine's body.
But as Lia... as herself... maybe, just maybe, she could do something.
The door was open, just a sliver. Lia pushed it open all the way...