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Sea Legs


by avibero

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Feet pounded on the scorched ground. On the feet was a young Aisha, only about nine years old. His short, silvery-blue hair blew back with his ears and his shoulder bag beat at his leg.

      Flames danced on the houses, reaching out with thin, curving fingers. The sky was stained a blood red, smoke curling upwards. Screams and shouts came from within the fires, but to him, they seemed so distant, so far away.

      He kept running.

      Running away from the memories.

      His mother shouted his name.

      "Run, Hoban!" she cried. He wanted to turn back to help, but her voice came again, "Run! Don't look back!"

      So he ran. And the house collapsed behind him, engulfed in flames.

      The edge of the fire flickered ahead of him, straining to jump into the trees and continue their destructive path.

     He put on an extra burst of speed and ran as fast as he could to the trees, racing the blaze to the forest. Suddenly, the heat disappeared. The Aisha dared to peek over his shoulder.

     Nothing was here but the trees. The fire was growing smaller in the distance. Hurriedly, Hoban reverted his gaze and ran more.

     After what seemed like hours, the forest thinned and soon completely disappeared to reveal the ocean. He stopped abruptly, his breath coming fast and short. Never before had he seen such an expanse of water or even heard of one. The bright red sun was sinking into the rolling waves. A bright flash ripped across the waters towards him as the ball of light hit the saltwater.

     When he dared to open his eyes again, the sun was gone, the moon was shining brightly overhead, stars glittering in the sky. Even in the darkness, he could still see the faint silhouettes of ships sailing into port and the buildings of the nearby city.

     Unconsciously, his feet took him forward, closer to the water. Sand changed to wood as he walked onto the pier. Forgetting everything he had run from, the Aisha quietly padded onto a magnificent ship.

      Too late, he heard the voices and footsteps from around him.

     The young Aisha looked around frantically for a hiding spot. The footsteps stopped. Slowly, Hoban turned around. Facing him, was a tall, sinister looking Wocky with a long, disfiguring scar running through his face, across his eye.

     The Wocky's mouth turned up into a strange, crooked sneer. He spoke.

     "Well, youngster, what brings you here?"

     Hoban could just stare. The Wocky looked the Aisha up and down.

     "Hmph. Now, you've been sneaking on our ship, but you look strangely fit. Either I report you to the authorities, or you join our ship as an apprentice. Which is it?" he asked. Hoban nodded.

     "I'll join!" he said quickly. The Wocky grinned.

     "You'll do fine. Just follow orders. But if you disobey orders..." The Wocky's eyes flashed with what the Aisha thought of as anger, but quickly returned to their normal dull glint. "Well, go meet the crew! Kentari!" the Wocky shouted. A Shoyru hurried from across the deck. "Go introduce the new crewmember to the rest of the crew."

     Hoban followed the Shoyru.

     "Thanks for coming aboard," the Shoyru began as they strode across deck. "I need another person my age around. Especially when the captain sees something he doesn't like. That happens quite often. By the way, I'm Kentari." The new apprentice nodded.

     "I'm Hoban," he stated simply.

     Outside, a few crewmembers were working - swabbing the decks and such. Kentari briefly introduced. Each of them seemed happy, but gave him a sad smile as he was herded away by Kentari.

     Soon, Hoban was led to the kitchen. A red Blumaroo was standing at a tub of water, scrubbing plates and whistling happily. Kentari gave a small cough. The Blumaroo spun around, his hands still clutching the tub behind him.

     "Who are you? What do you want?" he cried, looking around wildly. In a second, he spotted the two apprenticed and relaxed slightly. He sighed in relief.

     "I thought it was the Captain!" he confided, "You know what happened the last time he caught me whistling!" Kentari nodded sympathetically.

     "Cap'n nearly pushed Bonju off of the ship for whistling the Altadorian Anthem!" he explained. Hoban was shocked.

     "Push someone off just for whistling a tuneless march?" Bonju and Kentari nodded.

      "Why?" he asked. Bonju leaned closer.

      "He's paranoid! Anything he sees that he don't like, he thinks it's a plot to kill him or summat!" the chef whispered.

      "But he seemed so strangely forgiving..."

      "Yes, that's how he is, but ever since the cap'n first threatened Ubern because he defied him, he's been crazy all over!" Kentari commented. Bonju clicked his tongue

      "Yep, that's the cap'n for ya."

     At that moment, the ship gave a huge jerk. Hoban was thrown to the ground by the sheer force and gravity pulled him under a table. No one else had seemed to fall down, so he crawled out. Bonju and Kentari were staring curiously at him.

     "Hey, what just happened?" Hoban asked.

     "The ship just left port. It always does that," Kentari answered. "You'll get used to it."

? ? ? ?

      Bang. Bang. Bang.

      "Anshu!" called Kentari, "I brought a new crewmember to meet you!" In a flash, the Ruki was away from his mortar and pestle and at his side.

      "Hello! Do you need something? Is there something wrong? Can I je-" he began. Kentari cut him off.

      "No, no, no! I just brought him to meet you!" Anshu seemed to deflate a little.

      "Oh. Well, I'm Anshu. I'm the doctor," he stated. Kentari leaned over to the new apprentice. "He doesn't like the cap'n much neither," he said. Hoban's heart was pounding in his ears as Kentari led him up to the helm

      "Why did I ever come here?" he whispered. The other apprentice patted him comfortingly on the back.

      "We all suffer together," he said.

      Once there, the moon was already shining above their heads, washing the ocean in a pale blue light. Shumi was at the wheel, staring straight ahead.

     The new apprentice examined the few maps and charts on the small table near the wheel. He commented, "Aren't we supposed to be going northwest? We're going northeast."

      Shocked, the Scorchio glanced down at the compass by the map. After a second, he turned his eyes back to the ocean, quickly spinning the wheel. The sails swung slightly and filled with wind as the ship changed direction. Hoban studied the stars in the sky. "Now we're going too far north." Shumi looked down at the apprentice.

     "If you're so good, do you want to correct the ship?" He moved aside, mockingly gesturing at the wheel. To his surprise, the apprentice stepped forward and took hold of the wheel. The ship turned with a few faint creaks. Hoban nodded, satisfied.

     It was just at that moment that the captain walked on deck. Seeing the young apprentice at the wheel and the navigator stumbling back in shock as if pushed, he immediately assumed the worst.

     Shouting with rage, he charged up the stairs to them. He roughly shoved Hoban away and pushed the navigator back in place, yelling something about staying at the post.

     Hoban slammed against the railing and rolled down the stairs, loose nails tearing into his skin. The world spun before his eyes, melting together to form a painting of whirled colors. He finally reached the bottom, gasping for breath. Blood rolled in streams down his face, joining with each other into a river.

     He put his hands under him in an attempt to push himself to his feet. His eyes swam. Thoughts seemed fuzzy. His name was called, but it was so quiet, so distant, so far away...

     Everything went black.

? ? ? ?

      "Will he be alright?"

      "Should be. It was just a loss of blood. He should wake up any minute now."

      The voices were familiar somehow. 'Can I open my eyes now?' he asked himself. He opened them. Did he? He closed his eyes and opened them again. He couldn't see anything. A cry of fear escaped his lips.

      "Shush!" whispered the voices. A damp cloth dabbed at his face. His skin seemed to soften, as if it had been held by paint. Even with this comforting him slightly, he whimpered, terrified by the darkness.

      "What's wrong with my eyes?" he whispered to the source of the voices. "Why can't I see?"

      "You'll be fine," said an old sounding, soft voice. That didn't make him feel any better. Clumsily, he rolled onto his stomach, away from the cloth and shakily stood up. His paws found a wall and he steadied himself against it.

     He tried to run, but another wall was in his way. He turned, trying to find a way out, into the light.

     Four corners. He was trapped. He fell to his knees in defeat.

     "Hoban... "

     A paw touched his shoulder. Hoban felt a hot tear roll down his cheek and drop onto his cloak. "Where's my bag? My hat? Anything I brought with me?" he asked, a spark of hope shining in his thoughts. Silence. Finally, a voice broke it. "Th-the cap'n threw them overboard," it said quietly. The spark died. "You're lucky you didn't go with them!"

     More silence.

     "Where am I?" Hoban murmured, not expecting anything good.

     "The brig," answered a voice. "Shumi told the truth! He said that he offered you the wheel, but the captain didn't believe it!" Silent sobs shook his body.

     There's nothing left. No family. No freedom. No comfort. No hope.

     He heard the sources of the voices stepping away and the door creaking shut. He was alone. All alone.

? ? ? ?

      Kentari looked anxiously up at Anshu as they walked away from the cell.

      "What's wrong with his eyes?" he whispered.

      "Nothing. They'll be back to normal in a few hours. It's just a side effect of the blood loss," Anshu said unconcernedly.

      "What are we going to do? We have to get him out of there!"

      "I know." Anshu had a fierce glint in his eyes. "It's gonna be hard, but we'll do it."

      Footsteps drew nearer and nearer. Kentari stiffened. "Run!" Anshu cried. "You need to get out of here! I have an excuse, but he'll be mad if he sees you here!" The Shoyru ran into his cabin and shut the door behind him.

     He could hear the captain's footsteps and his voice saying, "What were you doing there?" He heard Anshu replying calmly, "Checking on the patient. He lost a lot of blood, you know."

     A grunt. More footsteps. Kentari sank down in relief until he was sitting, his back pressed hard against the wood.

     What are we going to do?

? ? ? ?

      Hoban sat cross-legged in the cell, eyes staring blankly at the wall past the barred door. His vision had cleared, but what was the use of that when there was nothing to look at? At least some of the crew came down to talk every now and then, though always in secret. They always talked of how the captain was growing more insane each day. Tuan even came down with the news that he had kicked Bonju away after a bad meal. Things were getting really bad.

      Anshu appeared in the doorway. The young Aisha looked up. To his surprise, the Ruki was smiling. He hurried over and bent low to Hoban's level.

      "I have to make this quick," he whispered. "The captain's been crazier than usual ever since... your little incident and he has a right to be so. Everyone's really mad at him because he's started hurting other people since the incident. So, tomorrow at sunrise, Gared and Lorretica are going to push him off."

      "You mean, just leave him there in the middle of the ocean?" Hoban asked incredulously. The doctor nodded. The Aisha leaned back. "Wow," he breathed.

      Taking a quick look around, Anshu reached into his pocket. "Here," he whispered. He handed over a loaf of bread. "A gift from Bonju." With a smile, the doctor scuttled off.

      As Hoban settled in to eat the bread, he ran a finger across the long scar on his forehead. A thin smile touched his lips.

      The man who had ruined his life was getting his own ruined.

      He took a bite of his bread. It was good.

     ? ? ? ?

      Splash!

      A muffled cheer followed the loud noise. Kentari came pounding down the stairs. Hoban stood up.

      "They just pushed him!" Kentari exclaimed, happiness written all over his face. "He's just there, bobbing like a cork! Here, let me let you out."

      Excitement coursed through the Aisha as his friend fumbled with the key ring. A key was finally chosen and pushed into the lock. It clicked loudly and the door swung open.

      Hoban rushed out, throwing his arms around his friend's neck. "Thank you!" he whispered, tears of joy welling out of his eyes. Together, they sprinted up the stairs, into the fresh air.

      Outside, the entire crew was crowded at the bow, cheering and waving pieces of sail. In the distance, Hoban could see a head bobbing and sinking in rhythm with the waves, an arm struggling to keep above water and shaking a fist in the direction of the ship.

      Slowly, the crew quieted and turned around, noticing the two apprentices. Tuan stepped out of the crowd, smiling. "Since I am now captain," he began, "I have a few duties to attend to. One very important thing that I must do has to do with our newest member." The whole crew turned to face the apprentice. Even Kentari was staring at him in wonder.

      "Hoban," Tuan declared, "As captain of the Cyodrake's Gaze, I present you with the title of Navigator." Hoban was shocked. Shumi stepped forward, his mouth open to protest, but the captain silenced him with a hand. "I recall a time," he said thoughtfully, "when this young apprentice found you at fault by about ninety degrees. Am I correct?" The Scorchio narrowed his eyes in fury, but nodded acceptingly at the new navigator.

      Tuan swept his paw upward in the direction of the helm.

      "Lead us, Navigator," he said. The new navigator hesitantly climbed the stairs and reached a paw out. He grasped the handle and a roar of triumph sounded from the crew.

     Shumi slowly detached himself from the crowd and padded towards him. He extended an arm, where, clasped in his claw was a brass compass. "It's for the real navigator," he muttered, "and, well, since I'm not navigator anymore..." His voice trailed off and he dropped the navigational instrument on the table before hurrying down the stairs again.

     Hoban relaxed slightly as he set the course. This suffering was worth it.

     This was his place in life.

The End

If you're reading this, this is my first time in the NT! Questions, comments and suggestions are most welcome.

 
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