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||You are on Week 413
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 Four Hundred Thirteen Ends Friday, May 8
The ship lurched under Idana's feet. The slap of waves against the wooden hull stopped, and the air was filled with a great whooshing sound as the wing-like sails began to slowly flap, lifting the Cyodrake's Gaze into the sky.
Idana's paws dug into the arms of her chair, as if she could hold herself down even as the ship took flight. The Yurble had never liked the idea of flying much. Being painted faerie would've been nice, maybe, but then her Shoyru and Pteri friends would've always been pestering her to go flying with them. The air was no place for a Yurble, Idana told herself.
But now here she was, in a flying ship of all things. Normally, Idana would've insisted on a regular, non-flying ship to get her to Shenkuu to visit her brother, but Tomi had come down with a serious case of NeoMonia, and she'd wanted to reach him as soon as possible. The Cyodrake's Gaze was faster than any other ship on Neopia's five seas, and everyone had assured her that the ship usually didn't take to the air, so Idana had reluctantly booked passage.
Everything had been going smoothly too, just like any other pleasant boat ride, until a few minutes ago. Idana took a few deep calming breaths. It's just like sailing, she told herself desperately, just really far above the ground, that's all.
Suddenly, the ship dipped and then rose, like a cork bobbing in water. Idana could still hear the sails beating hard to keep the ship in the air, but other than that, it seemed to be going in any direction the wind took it. What's going on? Idana thought. A few more tense minutes of gripping the arms of her chair passed, the ship swinging back and forth the whole time. Why isn't the crew doing anything about this? the Yurble asked herself. She couldn't hear any voices or footsteps overhead.
Idana took a deep breath and, mustering all her courage, let go of her chair and stood. What if the crew was in trouble? What if pirates had come on board and tied everyone up? Idana wasn't sure if air pirates existed, but it could happen, right? She climbed the ladder up to the deck of the ship.
Abovedecks, the air churned up by the sails whipped Idana's hair in front of her face and blew stinging gusts of salt into her face. She wiped a paw across her face, pushing the hair away, and opened her eyes to find...
Author: Land-lubbing Has Its Benefits|
Date: May 4th
...an empty deck.
Idana whirled around. Behind her, the ship was just as empty as in front of her. The wings flapped up and down, the sails streamed in the wind, but nobody was around to control them.
Suddenly, the Cyodrake's Gaze lurched. Idana yelled as she stumbled in the direction of the reeling and was pushed against the wooden barrier. Her heart raced like mad as she gripped the rigging as tightly as she could. She did not see the blue sea glistening below her, neither did she notice the ship with white sails that crossed it. All she saw was that they were high above the surface and that she did not want to fall.
"Hello?" she cried. "Where is everybody?" Why weren't they around? Something was wrong with the ship, so why didn't the crew come out and fix it? There wasn't even anybody behind the wheel.
It was only now that Idana noticed the eerie quiet that had fallen over the airship. The whooshing air was the only sound she could hear.
"Hello?" she called again. This was impossible. By the time the Gaze had taken off, the two other passengers who had boarded the ship with her had been out on deck. She would have noticed if they had come back below deck, and yet, they were not here either.
Tears sprang to Idana's eyes. "Where is everyone?"
I'm here. Don't worry, I'm here with you.
The voice was deep and soft. Idana turned her head to see who had spoken.
Nobody was standing behind her.
Impossible. The Yurble was still the only one on deck. She turned her head in all directions to find the owner of the voice, but all she saw were the sails and the wings and a deserted wheel.
I'm below you and next to you. You're holding my rigging in your hands.
Idana gasped as realisation slowly dawned on her. It was not a pet speaking to her, it was...
"The Cyodrake's Gaze."
"But... but... this is not possible. Ships don't speak. And where is your crew? What happened to them?"
If Idana had thought it strange for a ship to talk to her, she was even more disturbed by the baritone laughter that echoed through her head.
If I don't speak, then why can you hear me? The ship paused. As for my crew, they're gone. But please, don't worry. I'm here for you. I will look after you -- if you look after me. Come to my wheel and steer me. I need a new captain...
Date: May 4th
Idana blindly reached out, holding the ship's heavy wooden railings to steady herself, confusion clouding her mind, complicating the thousands of questions that now raced through it. The ship was silent, for the time being. Perhaps it understood that the Yurble needed a moment to take this suggestion in. Perhaps she had imagined the entire thing.
You didn't imagine anything. You can hear me and I have chosen you.
"I... don't even know how to sail."
The Yurble knew her voice trembled as she spoke, the words only lingering a brief moment before being snatched away by the chilling breeze that rushed past the ship in a cool, icy breath.
I am aware of that. I can sense you are not an ocean dweller, not a sky sailor. Did you honestly think Tuan was the sea traveller he is today when he met me?
Dizziness rushed over Idana, causing her to grip the railing even tighter. It could have been the chill of the high altitude wind, or the mesmerising, sickening motion of the boat upon cloud formations. It might have been the realisation that the trip had been the mistake she had feared it would be, or the fact that a ship was speaking to her in a sinister manner.
It could have been all those things.
There isn't time to consider these things, Yurble. I can sail in a smooth line with the whim of the wind, but I am unable to steer myself. The wheel requires a captain to guide me through the sky and steer me through the sea.
"I don't know how..."
Better learn quickly, Captain. The breeze makes my journey a rapid one... and Faerieland is ahead.
Leaning slightly over the railing, the Yurble squinted into the distance. Within seconds her gaze caught sight of a shimmering turret of violet and pink, peeking out from among the alabaster clouds.
"The Hidden Tower! We're going to hit it!"
It's possible, Captain. Unless you take the wheel.
With a gasping sob, Idana ran toward the wheel, which spun idly backward and forward, steered only by the shivering breeze. Stumbling up the creaking wooden steps, the Yurble's gaze locked onto the wheel. Suddenly it ceased to be a terrifying sphere of spindly wooden spokes, confusing and threatening. It became alluring, a source of power. It would give her the ability to sail wherever she wanted, in control of a vessel that could traverse the ocean and the sky.
I know that look in your eyes, Captain. It is the same look I saw in Tuan's eyes when he first took the wheel.
Confusion clouded Idana's mind for a moment. Tuan? Where WAS Captain Tuan and the rest of the crew?
"Ship? What happened to the crew?"
You have other things to concern yourself with.
The Yurble frowned. Why was the ship being so evasive?
I will tell you, Captain. But first I suggest you steer to the right.
Idana glanced up and gasped, the turrets of the Hidden Tower were suddenly mere seconds away, the glistening tiles reflecting the golden sun like a warning beacon. In panic, the Yurble stepped forward and grasped the wheel...
Date: May 5th
...and flung it to the side with all her might.
Idana was not a pet for ships, much less ones that flew and chatted with their passengers. The Yurble definitely did not know how much force was needed to effectively change direction.
And yet, she spun the wheel with more might than she had known she'd possessed, almost like some hidden instinct inside of her was jolted to life. The wheel rolled, the wood-on-wood clicking rhythm matching the speed. At first, there was no response, and dread lurched in Idana's heart as the tower loomed ever closer, her breaths as shallow as Maraqua was deep.
Then the Cyodrake's Gaze rolled smoothly to the left, not even grazing the amethyst walls. It had seemed very close, though. Idana heaved a sigh of relief and sank against the aged, weathered wood, suddenly exhausted.
But exhilirated, too. She'd done it. The ship responded effortlessly to her touch, even with no experience on her behalf. The sky and sea could belong to her, in time.
Very good, young Captain. Yes, Tuan also had that same look when he avoided his first collision. Why, I could almost think you're related.
Related... that word struck a chord of familiarity.
Of course! Idana realised. Tomi! Good Fyora, how could I have forgotten my brother?
She felt the sudden desire for the sea, the sky, and the ship slip away, darting into the distance like a shoal of Maraquan Petpets. She had a duty to fulfill -- why was she dreaming of adventure?
"Can you please take me to Shenkuu? My brother is sick, and I need to see him."
Idana felt a bit dim after saying those words. The reply was obvious -- she could already hear it. She would be the one to take the ship there, for the ship could only sail with the wind -- the Captain needed to steer the course.
But after a few seconds of silence, she realised with a sinking heart that the response wasn't going to be that easy.
She could feel an almost hesitating presence on her mind where the voice would have spoken, as if it was unsure what to say.
Captain... I fear that there are more dire situations that call for immediate tending than that.
The Yurble bit her lip. "Like what?"
The Cyodrake's Gaze lingered in silence for a handful of seconds more, the quiet highlighted by the racing wind. Is your brother desperately ill? Do you have the cure?
Yes, said Idana's mind. Just say he is so you can go home and end this crazy adventure before it gets out of control.
"No," her heart spoke aloud, the word lingering on the air, almost like a lament.
Then I'm afraid he shall have to wait. I'm sorry, but... now that I have seen you take the wheel, I have no doubt that you are the one who will help me undertake this task.
"What task, exactly?"
Are you aware of the events that happened on my deck some years ago, with Bonju pushing Hoban over the rails in a fit of pique?
"Um." Idana racked her brains. "Oh, yeah. It was all over the Neopian Times."
Good. Well, events played out that Bonju's rather traitorous actions did not stop there...
Date: May 5th
Idana began to shake her head with confusion. "Wait a minute," she said with a more impatient tone than she would have ever imagined using while speaking with a ship. "What does all of this have to do with me?"
You are the one, you are the Captain now, and it has everything to do with you.
"And what if I refuse to help you 'undertake this task'?" Idana challenged.
You have already accepted. When you took the wheel, you sealed your fate. Now, you must find the one who was lost.
"But who...?" The Yurble approached the ship's railing and stared at the point on the horizon where sea meets sky, her mind reeling with possibilities.
You know who it is that you must find. The one who was once lost must be found anew. The one who was lost will plot the course.
Idana gasped, "Hoban? You want me to find a navigator without the aid of a navigator? How do I do that?" Searching her memory for what she had read about Hoban and Bonju in the Neopian Times, the Yurble knew that Hoban was eventually found after Bonju had pushed him overboard, but she could not remember ever reading where the Aisha had ended up. Could he have been on the Cyodrake's Gaze when they had left port earlier? Could he have disappeared with the rest of the ship's crew? Finally, she repeated a plaintive, "How?"
Finding he who was lost is easy enough, for I can ride the winds as well as the waves. Simply steer us into the eye of the storm, and then surrender control to me.
"Steer us where??" No sooner had Idana blurted out the question than the sky around her began to darken, like having a cold, black blanket drawn over the ship. The wing-like sails above her head snapped and recoiled in the increasingly ferocious winds and without her steadying hand on the wheel, the deck beneath her lurched and dipped nauseatingly. She lunged for the wheel and planted her feet firmly, but her actions only succeeded in steadying the ship's course toward a swirling maelstrom, looming large and indomitable off the bow.
"No!" Idana screamed. "I can't do it, I can't steer into the eye of that thing!" She pulled hard on the wheel, using every bit of her strength to turn the ship's trajectory out of the storm's path. The deck boards creaked and complained, straining with the competing forces, but slowly the bow began to ease toward port.
Captain, you musn't change course. You don't yet understand.
"No, I don't understand why you think I would willingly enter that... that pandemonium," Idana yelled over the howling of the wind. "I don't understand why I would have a role in this insanity. I am not the Captain of this ship, but if I have control, I am going to Shenkuu."
Captain, if you please, I mean you don't understand the danger of this new bearing. You must go back.
Idana hesitated briefly at the ship's words, but steeled herself and continued to turn the wheel hard toward port. Within seconds, the sky brightened slightly and the wind ebbed to a gentle billowing in the sails. Within minutes, the sky resumed its former placidity and the Yurble was able to release the wheel and slump against it, panting hard from the effort. She noted the fluffy white clouds that the ship skimmed over and mused that they would make a fine and comfortable resting place, but chuckled to herself as she imagined what would happen if she tested her weight against them. She was about to remark upon this to the ship, when movement in the clouds caught her eye, snapping her focus back to full alert.
The clouds began to swirl and separate into long, thin coils that rose up the sides of the ship's hull. As these coils passed over her head, Idana was horrified to watch as their leading edges transformed into reptilian heads, their eyes slit menacingly, and their snapping mouths displaying lethal-looking fangs. Wings sprouted on each coil's back and the bodies grew more solid with every passing over the top of the ship.
With disbelief, Idana asked in a voice small and weak, "Are those Hissi?"
Not exactly, Captain. You have awoken the Sky Serpents...
Date: May 6th
A hiss burst forth from the gaping jaws of the nearest serpentine coil. It reared up, twisting its neck to glare angrily down at where Idana stood on the deck of the Cyodrake's Gaze.
"Whooooo are you to dissssssturb the sssssssslumber of the Ssssssky Serpentssss?"
Idana stumbled back with an involuntary squeak as the Sky Serpents entwined their vapourous forms around the ship and continued to glower menacingly at her with narrowed eyes. If the Yurble hadn't been stunned to speechlessness, she would have found the situation somewhat remarkable. First a talking ship... she had dealt with that. But clouds too?
The first Sky Serpent's tongue flickered in impatience. "Anssssssssswer me!"
The urgent voice of the Cyodrake's Gaze shattered Idana's befuddled thoughts. Whatever you say, Captain, do not reveal my name.
Idana's confusion was swept aside as pure rage took its place. The ship had obviously encountered these beings of the air before... but all the help it could offer was that she was not to blurt out the name of the vessel?
Her blazing eyes matched those of the Serpent as she looked up. "My name is Idana," she said, "and this is the... and this is my ship. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
But it was another Sky Serpent who answered. "Thissss isssss not jussssst any ship," it whispered, turning to the first. "You can sssssssee that, yesssssss?"
"The ship that fliessssss," the coiling Serpents hissed in unison. "The Cyodrake'ssssss Gaze."
The first Serpent snapped around to face Idana again. "Where issssss Bonju?" it demanded. "Hasssss he sssssent you to ussssss in hissssss place?"
Idana frowned and opened her mouth, debating whether or not a "What?" would be considered impertinent, but the Serpent already saw it in her eyes.
"He hasssss broken hisssss promise to usssss," it said, thrashing furiously. "He wasssss to journey to the eye of the sssssstorm and return what was ourssssss in exchange for hissssss freedom after he betrayed usssssss...."
"Thisssssss Yurble will pay the price," interrupted the hiss of another Serpent.
Idana yelped as the Sky Serpents suddenly pulled back as if preparing to lunge toward her. The ship offered no assistance, to her dismay and anger.
"No!" she shouted, clinging to one last hope. The circling coils paused. "Whatever Bonju was supposed to get for you, I'll bring it back instead. If you let me go."
Captain, Bonju went against what little was left of his honour when he plotted with the Sky Serpents. I will not assist in releasing that traitor from their wrath.
The first Sky Serpent continued to draw near until it was almost face to face with Idana, who, even now, could muster the pride to ignore the utterly unhelpful Cyodrake's Gaze. The Yurble was determined not to flinch.
"No," the Serpent declared, wisps of mist escaping from its jaws. "We cannot trusssssst you after what Bonju hassssss done. As for the ship..."
Idana gripped the steering wheel as the flickering tongue seemed to claw the air aside.
"...I sssay we dessssstroy it..."
Date: May 6th
Mathematics had never been Idana's forte, but she was able to put the following two facts together while under no small degree of emotional distress:
One, the Gaze had earlier expressed a desire to navigate into the eye of the storm, for reasons unknown.
Two, the Sky Serpents had expected Bonju to navigate into the eye of the storm, for reasons rather more specific: to retrieve some object that was "theirsss" and return it to them to obtain his freedom.
Something wrinkled this simple equation, however: the Gaze had just refused to help Bonju escape the Serpents' wrath, something which apparently entailed entering the eye of the storm.
So there was a curious contradiction at work here that Idana, about to get attacked by dozens of ticked off cloud-formed serpents, did not quite have time to work out fully. However, one thing became clear: if she made use of the ship's previously expressed desire to voyage to the eye of the storm, she could by the same token obtain whatever object it was that Bonju had been supposed to obtain for the serpents.
This plan of action was the best that Idana could come up with under such short notice, so she decided to go with it, because a plan was better than no plan at all and definitely better than death by Sky Serpents. Idana accordingly whispered to the Gaze, reminding the ship of its previous desire:
"You told me, 'Simply steer us into the eye of the storm, and then surrender control to me' -- well, I've decided to listen to you. Let's turn back."
And the ship, as though reminded of a sudden urgency, began to turn.
The Sky Serpents noted the movement and hissed cloudily, unwilling to let their prey escape. They attacked. Their central impulse was one of destruction; their purpose to wipe out the ship, its taut sails, its hull, its temporary Captain, all of which were an aberration amidst the white perfection of the cumulus clouds curling roundly under the white-blue sky.
The Sky Serpents multiplied, beings of mist and cloud-coiling bodies in a tight helix around the rigging, disturbing the careful balance of sail and mast, tilting the ship slowly starboard until it was listing, nearly horizontal, and Idana was grasping onto the helm for dear life.
The eye of the storm is fierce, but it is cleansing, spoke the ship rather cryptically, though its 'voice,' such as it was, seemed strained under the Serpents' onslaught.
Idana's hands guided the wheel back into the black billow of cloud and rain and thunder shocks that split her eardrums. As the Gaze advanced into the churning maelstrom, the Sky Serpents that had been clinging, leech-like, onto the ship's noble form, were swept off by winds beyond their strength. The rigging was freed, the sails swelled once more with healthful gusts of wind, and cleansing rain swept the decks of the remains of the Serpents' dripping fangs and feathered wings.
"We will be waiting... we will be circling the ssstorm, you will bring usssss what Bonju did not, or you will perishhh..."
With this sibilant warning, the last Sky Serpent was flung off of the ship and into the cloudmurk, where it undulated confusedly to more peaceful skies outside of the storm's circumference.
All around Idana, the storm intensified: they were nearing its eye, a locus of calm that was surrounded by a concentric circle that seemed to be made only of surging winds. Together, Idana and the ship made their way steadily, strongly, into the eye of the storm.
Suddenly, there was silence so complete that Idana thought her ears had been irrevocably damaged by the previous cacophony. But no -- she could hear her own breathing and the scrape of her claws as she got up to look around the breathlessly silent space.
The eye of the storm. She was in the centre of a narrow tower of wind; she was floating motionlessly on the ship in the centre of a twister. Far, far above her she could see a round circle of blue sky, and far below here, there was sea, and around her rotated a perpetually shifting combination of rain and cloud.
She was in the eye of the storm, and now, as it had said it would, the ship took control and began to tilt downward, making for the peculiarly still waves at the very bottom of the storm's eye.
As they approached, Idana began to make out something in the motionless circle of green water below. Something white-gold bejewelled with tufts of green. A tiny island.
Lower and lower the Gaze sank, and closer and closer drew Idana to the island, the island of peace in the very centre of the storm. Finally, she could make out something on the short shoreline, the only thing that didn't look like a patch of grass or a cluster of coconut palms -- was this the thing the Sky Serpents sought? Was it the thing that the Gaze was so bent on obtaining?
Yes, it was. And more peculiar still, it was Hoban.
"My life stinks," thought Hoban to himself for the tenth time in so many weeks.
You'd think getting pushed off a boat would be bad enough for one guy's life. But no. Now he was stuck on an island in the middle of the sea. Not only in the middle of the sea, but in the middle of an endlessly raging storm. There was, he supposed, one thing he couldn't complain about: the little island he was stuck on was directly under the eye of the storm and was therefore given some respite from the raging elements.
However, this did not attenuate the fact that he was living off of coconut milk like it was going out of style. Which was getting old and fast.
How exactly Hoban had arrived here was a bit of a blur. He remembered water, surging waves, and he remembered Bonju's cunning face. He remembered -- or thought he remembered -- something about snakelike beings that seemed comprised entirely of mist and cloud. But that seemed a vision altogether too hallucinatory to be real.
The navigator looked up to the skies that had so often guided him with their constellations and their sunrises and sunsets on his journeys. But all he could see was a circling murk of cloud, a strange storm that seemed never to lessen in its power.
Wait... there was something approaching.
Hoban narrowed his keen eyes, recognising the outline of a ship. And not just any ship: the Gaze. Flying through the air toward him.
"This can't be good," muttered Hoban.
However, on the ship's deck was not a murderous orange Blumaroo, but rather a confused-looking Yurble who was unravelling a rope ladder down toward him. Since there was no known attacker in sight, Hoban determined to try his luck and get off of his Fyora-forsaken island.
Hoban grasped the ladder when the Gaze sank low enough, and started to climb as the ship began to pull back up. He didn't know what was going to happen next, but it had to be better than coconut milk...
Date: May 7th
That was when the wind came, howling and swirling like an angry beast. Hoban struggled with every step, the ladder a swinging metronome.
Up on the deck, Idana looked down helplessly. The eye's serenity was breaking, as if the surrounding storm clouds were nothing more than bricks in a collapsing tower. "What's happening?" she cried to the ever-rising wind.
The spell is breaking.
"Spell? What spell?"
But the ship had slipped back into silence. Idana, who had somehow become used to its somewhat taciturn ways, rushed over to help Hoban climb the final rung. She could ask later. It wasn't as if she was going anywhere.
The second Hoban tumbled to the deck, he scrambled to his feet, backing away from Idana with a reproachful gleam in his eyes. "Where's Bonju? What does he want?"
Idana blinked. "I... don't know."
The Aisha's eyes lightened, but only slightly. "So, then, who are you? How'd you get this ship?" His eyes raked the lonely deck. "And where's the rest of the crew? Captain Tuan? Linae?"
"My name's Idana and, uh, I... um... it's kind of a long story," the Yurble confessed weakly. Her voice was barely audible over the gale, but she was positive it didn't matter whether he heard her or not.
Captain, we must hurry. The storm is closing in. If we don't escape now, we never will.
Idana gulped. She didn't like the sound of that.
Before she knew it, she was at the wheel, lightning dancing overheard, weaving static webs, rain pouring down. She spun the wheel and the ship lurched upward, unsteadily rising toward the thunder.
"What's happening?" Hoban shouted, clutching the railing. The rope ladder was ripped away and tossed into the wind. He watched it float and then tumble toward the crashing waves.... Wait. Waves. Water. He looked down. The island! Where was the island? There was nothing there but brine and foam, the desolate speck and coconut trees had vanished...
"I -- I don't know, honestly." Idana's voice broke. Why was this happening? Why her? Why now?
Captain, we must hurry.
She snapped back. Fingers numb against the wood, she turned the wheel, attempting to break through the thick ebony wisps.
"Hold it!" Idana jumped at the proximity of Hoban's voice. When did he get here? she wondered.
"What do you think you're doing?" he shrieked.
"I'm steering the ship. We have to get out of the storm. "
"Blimey, I know that! But why should you steer the Gaze? You don't look like a captain. In fact, you don't look like you've ever sailed in your life." He grabbed the wheel. "Let me take the wheel."
It shouldn't have hurt. Really. She knew more than anyone that she was no captain -- seas, skies, or anything for that matter -- but still, it stung.
"Sorry, but I have to do this. The ship told me..."
"Wait. The ship told you? It's speaking to you?"
Idana squirmed at the wonder laced in his voice. He sounded so surprised... but he was a member of the crew. Surely the ship had spoken to him too?
"I'm sorry, but I," she took a deep breath, "I just... I have to do this."
The way she said it, it was almost like a question.
Hoban narrowed his eyes. "Why should I trust you?"
Through the rolling thunder and waltzing lights, she whispered back, "Because you don't have a choice."
He lifted his hand without another word.
The storm was worse than before. Much worse. Rain didn't fall, it cascaded, and Idana almost felt as if she were submerged in cold, dark water. Silver, scarlet, violet, blue. Iridescent sprites jumped from cloud to cloud. The ship shuddered, the sails panting from the whipping wind.
"What are you doing?" screamed Hoban.
"I'm trying to get us out of here."
"Get us out of here? You're going to get us killed! Give me the wheel-- "
Water, water, rain, rain. Thunder and lightning. Chaos. Chaos. Chaos. Idana trembled. This was too much... too much. All she had ever wanted to do was see her brother. Tomi. Oh, Tomi. Would she ever survive? Would she ever see him again?
"Give it to me."
No, you must not give him the wheel. He is not the captain.
"I can get us out of here! I know the seas and skies better than anyone. Let me take the wheel." Hoban's eyes pleaded with her, all former scepticism gone.
Oh, how she wanted to do exactly that. Just give it to him. After all, she wasn't a captain. It was too much... it was all too much...
"I'm sorry, I can't do this."
Her fingers slipped from the wheel and she took a step back...
Date: May 7th
As if it were a hot meal, or a warm bed with real pillows and blankets, or an old friend elusive for so many years, Hoban grabbed the wheel the moment Idana stepped away. The moment he took it, a sonorous thunder boom ripped through the wind. The Yurble clapped her claws to her ears before realising that she had to hang on to something -- in this case, the rails.
Despite the roar of the swirling storm, she listened for anything the Cyodrake's Gaze might tell her, but it remained silent. Had it acquiesced to Hoban taking control, or was it merely giving its reluctant captain the cold shoulder? It was hard to tell with a ship. No facial expressions, no body language or gestures...
"Hang on!" the Aisha cried over the howling gales. "We just have to keep away from the storm clouds!"
"Easy for you to say," she couldn't help answering, but her retort was lost in the tempestuous chaos. She could see the clouds whirling closer and closer, hoping to fold the ship and its two hapless passengers in its dismal embrace, and overhead, the eye was shrinking.
Eventually, it would be too small for the ship to exit -- at least without touching the walls of pure storm.
Idana had to admit, a part of her was relieved at giving the wheel to someone who had more experience with the Gaze. Another part, however, insisted that Hoban was a navigator, not a captain, and knowledge of celestial and natural phenomena was not enough to drive a flying vessel out of a cyclone.
Needless to say, the ship agreed with the latter part.
A ship needs both a navigator and a captain. He is clearly a navigator, and you are clearly the captain.
"So what do you want me to do?" she asked, almost demanded. Hoban succeeded in keeping away from the raging walls of cloud, wind, and water, but they were not getting any closer to their only way out. Luckily, he was so distracted by his task that he didn't seem to notice Idana talking to the ship.
You must ride the winds.
"What?" Hoban bellowed over the cacophony as he struggled to keep his grip on the wheel.
Do not fight the storm. Go with the flow, and it will take us upward. Take the wheel, Captain. Trust me, and go with the flow.
First, they plunged into the eye of the storm. Now, the ship was suggesting that they travel with it.
Idana gulped, but upon seeing that the clouds were now an arm's length away from them, she realised that it was time to fly or die. That is, soar with the storm, or perish within it. There was no choice.
"What?" he shouted as he fought against a lashing gust of wind.
"We have to ride the storm, not avoid it!"
"Ride the storm!" shrieked Idana. "Go with the flow!"
"Are you crazy?"
"Yes!" she admitted, and lightning flashed behind her. Hoban spun the wheel, and the entire ship turned a few degrees, but didn't gain any height. Another bolt of lightning narrowly missed the Gaze's mast.
A second whoosh of wind laced with rain knocked Hoban to the side, and he clung to the railings to keep from plummeting to the choppy seas below. Meanwhile, Idana once again took her place behind the wheel -- nervous, but armed with the knowledge imparted to her by the ship. She would wonder later on if fear, instinct, or a true sense of captaincy had spurned her to do so, or a combination of the three.
She took a deep breath and steered it into the nearest gust of wind singing its inclement song with the rest of the dismal choir. It would either lift them up... or throw them all the way down.
"What are you doing?" the Aisha shouted, his voice rising an octave on the last word.
Before Idana could answer, they began to spin.
The Cyodrake's Gaze rode the air currents the way a surfer would ride the river rapids of Shenkuu -- except that the rapids were a thousand times safer and less unpredictable. More spray and wind battered the two hapless passengers as they hung on to the ship -- Hoban on the railings and Idana on the wheel -- getting dizzy as they skimmed through the walls of the storm, going in circles.
When Idana dared glance skyward again, she saw that the exit seemed just a bit closer. They rode the spin of the storm, surging upward with the current. Catching a glimpse of Hoban, she watched as he heaved over the side of the ship and made sure her imagination didn't run away too far.
"We're almost there!" she cried, trying to be more optimistic, even if it was clear that there was still a long way to go. Though her fingers stayed on the wheel, she shut her eyes and willed her queasiness away.
You have learned well, Captain.
"Have what?" By now, Hoban was too sick to argue about who should be steering the ship.
The cyclone spun tighter and tighter, which meant quicker revolutions around the eye of the storm. Idana screamed at the sheer speed they had reached as they rode the rogue currents. Already she could feel a calmer breeze blowing down from above...
And just like that, they popped out.
The ship continued whipping around in little circles even as they emerged, dripping and exhausted, from within the chaos.
"Is it... over?" she asked, her heart beating in her throat as she took in the serene azure surrounding them. Below, the storm continued whirling into a still tighter circle before dissipating completely into scattered clouds and departing winds.
"Sssssso, you have found what is oursssssss! Now... sssssssssurrender him to ussssssss!"
It was not over.
Idana found herself staring into the glinting eyes of a Sky Serpent...
Date: May 8th
"My life stinks," reflected Hoban pensively for the second time in so many hours.
You would think that surviving gale-force winds, riding a cyclone, and surviving the captaincy of a crazy Yurble who talked to herself would be enough for one guy's life. But no.
"This serpent thing has pretty foul breath for a figment," said Hoban, whose face was inches from the Sky Serpent's. "I mean really."
"Sssurrender your self to usss. Your life hass been forsssaken by Bonju..."
Hoban turned to exchange a quizzical glance with Idana, who was looking windblown, fatigued, and quite sick of the entire affair. Idana stepped up beside Hoban and swatted a dismissive paw at the boldest Sky Serpent.
"I ran into these things by accident when I was trying to avoid the storm. They said something about Bonju having betrayed them, and that he was supposed to retrieve something -- presumably you -- in the eye of the storm and give it to them in exchange. Does that make sense?"
"Well, it makes sense in that Bonju has always wanted to get rid of me, and I guess feeding me to these Cloudbeast wannabes is a pretty good method..."
"Foooolsss!" hissed the nearest Sky Serpent, and behind it other nebulous, blunt-nosed reptilian heads emerged from the massy clouds. "Bonju betrayed ussss because he promissssed to steer the Gaze into our sky domainssss on that fateful day... but he did not!"
"We live on the sssouls of the living, and he who promised usss soulssss broke his word," interjected another Sky Serpent.
"In exchange for hissss miserable life for having failed in hissss troth, he promisssed that of another. And that other wasss you!"
The Sky Serpents curled upward, flaring wings and with eyes ablaze. "Now you are oursss -- and the little Yurble too!"
The Captain's cabin, whispered the ship's voice suddenly, urgently, in Idana's head. You must both get to the Captain's cabin. Open the door.
Idana, who had lost all of the hesitance that was otherwise characteristic of her, lunged for the cabin. The Sky Serpents hissed their merriment -- the thought that the thin planks of the cabin would be able to keep them out was risible at best, and, like the aerial predators they were, they floated in place momentarily to see what new amusements their prey would entertain them with.
They certainly did not expect Idana to open the cabin door -- and then stand back.
And then unleash the full fury of the entrapped crew of the Cyodrake's Gaze upon them.
The crew came out swinging -- Kentari, the weapons master, a blur of knives and cutlasses, while the others hefted whatever item seemed most appropriate. Needless to say, in the face of a berserking Linae whipping Kou-Jong tiles out like they were shuriken and a very ticked off Anshu flinging poisonous herbal powders, the Sky Serpents made a hasty, undignified retreat.
"Thought the ship had gone crazy, locking up her own Captain and crew in that cabin," said Tuan to Idana later. "But it turned out all that she wanted was someone who would listen to her -- who would help her find her navigator. Heavens know I was not about to do it -- thought the old girl's hull had finally cracked, you know? An island in the middle of the eye of the storm, you say?"
"Exactly -- and the ship knew exactly where she was going the whole time," answered Idana with a fond nudge at a nearby balustrade. "She just needed a little convincing because she thought she might be doing Bonju a favour otherwise."
Hoban looked seriously at Idana. "If you hadn't been around, I would've ended up living on coconut milk for who knows how long. I owe you one."
Idana grinned at the quirky navigator, but her attention was diverted by another voice:
A stranger, walking up a neat little path on a certain hill after a certain waterfall on one of Shenkuu's rocky peaks, would have eventually come across a little house in the shadowy twilight. He would be struck, not only by the meditative stillness of Shenkuu's lush forests, which cloaked the place with a sense of peace, but also by the shadowed shape hovering above the house: a ship, floating in the air like a nautical guardian spirit, tethered to the house's chimney.
If he advanced to a window, that stranger would see around a cheerful fire a group of happy Neopians: two Yurbles, evidently related, holding a lively conversation with a kind-looking, if rough-around-the-edges, ship's crew. He would see a lithe Aisha, looking worn but evidently in good spirits, making some amusing remark or other.
And, if he backed away a few steps, he would see his own face reflected in the window's glass: that of an orange Blumaroo, with a look of spite on his tired face.
And that stranger would mutter, "This isn't over," before vanishing into darkness, unseen.
Date: May 8th
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