When You Break a Neopet
Hoban yanked at a rope, and he saw out of the corner of his eye Linae veering away from him. He scowled. For some reason, this week everybody aboard the Cyodrake's Gaze was ignoring him. The sky was a clear blue, and the winds were calm: perfect weather as any sailor would want. It had been so for three days since Sunday. Now, on Wednesday, they still talked with Hoban as little as possible.
Even kind Anshu swerved out of his way. Why? He frowned, and then yanked the difficult rope into place. His eyes darkened.
'They must be mad at me for something,' he realized. But what? The Yellow Aisha plodded to the cabin door, and took a startled step back as it flew open. Kentari went out, looking in the other direction, and slammed the door, taking extra care instead of holding it open for Hoban. That last little display of coldness shocked Hoban. Kentari had kept a neutral policy towards him, until now. He shrugged, opened the wooden door and walked inside. Dinner was just finishing, he saw.
Bonju pushed past Hoban with a stack of plates in his hands, sending the Navigator reeling against the opposite wall.
"Watch it!" he called, but the chef paid no attention and vanished inside the kitchen. Sighing, Hoban glanced towards the table. A single plate was left, with a meager assortment of a quarter potato and a tiny, neopoint sized slice of turkey. It tasted like rubber, all chewy and bland. Hoban grimaced and swallowed the last bit. A sound of deep, booming laughter came to his ears. Tuan was joking about something, probably, with Orrin and Shumi.
Now he got up. Hoban walked slowly up the stairs once again, and emerged, blinking, into bright sunlight. Of course- Tuan had obviously just said something funny to the first mate, Shumi, a Green Scorchio. As he walked closer, unsure, they both glanced up. He opened his mouth, intending to say something, but the two just moved pointedly away. He turned his head around and saw Linae by the port side, whispering something to Orrin, who chuckled softly at looked at Hoban. He whispered back.
Fuming, Hoban strode to another door and slammed it behind him. The long hallway had marching lines of lanterns strung up, and he entered his own room. As rooms go, it wasn't much- a cabin with a case of scrolls, a desk and chair with a light and papers on it, and a bed. He slid into his chair. His ears drooped, and anger was replaced by sadness.
"Why does everybody hate me?" he murmured to himself. "What did I possibly do wrong to deserve this?" His famous hat was now dull, the colors faded slightly, matching the faint pallor on his face. "I'm working my head off, and they're ignoring me."
He strode over to a clock mounted on the wall, and looked up at it. About three hours to sunset. Sighing, he turned in for an early night. "Might as well... " he muttered, then dropped off to sleep.
The next day, if possible, was worse. Heavy grey clouds covered the sky, a sudden sharp change from the day before. Dinner times were tense. When Hoban accidentally knocked over Linae's glass and spilled what few drops of juice that were in it, she flamed up with a ready pre-thought insult.
"You clumsy slorg! How can you steer a ship without knocking it over like you did just now?" The others laughed.
"Hey, Hoban, I still remember that time you broke my Kou-Jong game- by stepping on it in clear sunshine, perfect sight! Maybe you're going blind now, clumsy as you are!" Shumi said, chuckling nastily. The rest of the crew laughed- except for Tuan, who was up at the wheel. Hoban looked at them all, simmering inside, and got up. But before he could say something, Anshu, kind old Anshu, jumped in.
"Running away? Scared that we might find out how one day you mistook a sea-bird for a rock?" Now gales of terrible laughter resounded around the room.
That was too much. Hoban ran to the doorway, but flung out a parting shot: "Yeah, let's see you laugh when I sail you into a storm!" And stormed out. He passed a confused Tuan on the way, but ignored him and went to his room to try and cool off.
He sat down at his desk, and moved away a few scrolls. One caught his eye, and he began to work on a passage about the mainsail and how to pull the rope, then how to secure it without the rope snapping.
"You... must... be... careful... to... secure..." he muttered, pen scratching busily on the paper. He sat there for several long timeless hours, working. Then a booming cry reaching his ears, Tuan yelling something. He didn't hear it, so he went out into the hallway and collided with Anshu.
The Ruki said, "We should stop at Krawk Island... I need to get more herbs for my store, I'm running low!"
Hoban immediately shot back, remembering how nasty the Ruki had been before. "We can't, since the wind speed is only 12KPH and we need to lower the gyb sail by 14 centimeters in order to catch the full blast heading towards North-"
Anshu cut him off. "Bosh!" he retorted. "My herbs could save-" But their argument was interrupted by Tuan calling again.
"All hands on deck! We've not a moment to lose!" the captain roared. Anshu dashed off to the starboard side to help Linae, who was struggling with the boom. Hoban started, and dashed off to the wheel. He helped Tuan steer for a while, directing the frantic captain. A storm was raging; terrible winds were blowing now, much more than 12KPH. Waves screamed, towering over the ship and its helpless crew. Tuan directed the Navigator off to help where he could.
"The main thing is to stop us from sinking, Hoban! Snap to it!" he said angrily, and spun the wheel to reduce the impact of an incoming wave. Hoban skidded across the wet floor, nervous. He got into an argument with Linae, as Anshu had left, over their previous argument. Then he backed off and went to Kentari, unsure. The Yellow Shoyru seemed too busy to pay much attention to him, so he trod along and stopped a short distance from Anshu.
"Anshu?" he began uncertainly. The Ruki grunted and turned away, hauling a crate back up to secure it. Hoban turned and went to go complain to Linae, and they threw a couple more insults back and forth. It was really raining now.
"I did NOT call it a SEAGULL!"
"HOBAN!" roared the captain. "Go see to the supply crates! We might lose them!" Still simmering, Hoban stalked off, leaving the pink Kougra to yell a last thing after his retreating figure.
He met Bonju already at the crates, hunched over and muttering something.
"Didn't finish that glorious meal that took me hours to prepare!" he said under his breath, but Hoban's keen ears caught it. He leapt out from his hiding place behind a large crate and said,
"Are you kidding? That food was awful! You're lucky I'm the only one who walked out!" he yelled, and then saw something snap in the Orange Blumaroo's eyes. Suddenly frightened, the Navigator backed off.
"Bonju?" he said. Bonju's hand swept around and snatched a knife off a nearby crate. It was a large kitchen knife, wickedly sharp.
"What the... You've lost it! Bonju, what are you doing?!" yelled Hoban, his voice drowned out by the booming peals of thunder. Bonju slashed the knife, but Hoban deflected it with a piece of hard wood and knocked it out of his hands, backing away all the while. But then his back hit the railing- he was trapped. The chef lunged forward, a mad light still in his eye, and pushed Hoban off the ship. He watched at the Aisha tumbled down, his scream lost, the splash gone unheard. Then he turned and walked off, uncaring.
Tuan stood at the prow of the boat, watching. The blue seas were came here by Krawk Island. But wait... He turned, and saw a crate floating towards the boat. A figure then stood up and called in a hoarse voice.
"Hey!!! You!! Help!!!" With utter disbelief, Tuan recognized that voice. Hoban leapt out of the crate and began swimming towards the boat, overjoyed. "Rescued after weeks at sea!" he exclaimed at the captain pulled him on board.
Later, once the trail was done, Tuan and Hoban were the last two on deck. Hoban turned to face the Gnorbu, a frown spreading over his face.
"Why were you so cruel to me before?" he asked, eyes probing.
Tuan remembered, and shrugged sheepishly. "I don't know. Everyone has those days- I guess we were just so frustrated that we were getting seemingly nowhere, that it was taking so long to get to the port, so we just sort of took our anger out on you, Hoban." He put a reassuring hand on his crewmate's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Hoban shrugged off, then said quietly. "During those weeks afloat, you do not know how close I came to just giving up. I convinced myself that nobody wanted me back, that I was better off lost at sea and forgotten. But something always stopped me from just jumping into the ocean, away from that crate of apples. I don't know what it is." The Navigator stopped, a hopelessly bewildered look on his face. "I don't know why I even came back." He walked away, ears drooping.
Tuan gazed after him, worried and sad. "When you break a toy... it's easy to fix," he murmured, still gazing at the depressed Aisha. "But when you break a neopet... the wounds are much harder to heal."