An Iliad: Part Two
The darkness was lifting, but Azure dared not wake, not yet. She could hear someone moving slightly, so the Draik kept her breathing light and was careful not to stir, as she tried to think of what to do now. She knew that she had been taken somewhere else, as Azure felt she was lying on rough fabric, not the grassy ground she last remembered. There were no ropes or anything restraining her, but she was probably in a locked room, so that was not necessary. She lay still and perked her sensitive ears, straining to pick up any sound. She picked up some tiny noises and tried to access them. There was a rustle to her right, a soft one, and then a more audible clink of metal. A boot scuffed slightly against the floor. The creak of a chair, as someone shifted their weight on it. Azure mentally pictured the pet next to her, most likely a guard, from the sound of armor. Probably someone big, and perhaps with a few weapons.
Azure continued to feign unconsciousness, as she debated how to attack the guard. They would have taken her sword away, so that left her with her teeth and claws. A surprise attack, the Draik decided, and fought to keep still, as she formulated a plan. She could spring to her feet, so fast that her guard would not have time to react. Or she could wait and try to talk to him... After much pondering, Azure almost shook her head, as she drew up a mental conclusion. It was too risky. He might be completely hostile, and she would lose the element of surprise. Better to take him out, right now.
The Draik’s eyes snapped open and faster than lightning, she was in the air, and on top of her surprised guard. She slashed him once, before realizing that she was fighting Lord Bracken. The Shadow Grarrl was in different armor, this one leather and easy to bite through, but he was easily recognized. Azure’s eyes widened, but now in fury. So he was her kidnapper? Well! She knew that there was something wacky about him!
Giving a mad roar, the Draik threw all of her weight onto the Grarrl, knocking even him off balance. Then she proceeded to rip his armor in the most violent way possible, her talons in a blur as they scrabbled for a hold in his neck.
“Hold!” Lord Bracken cried, trying to protect his face, “Azure, stop! No, I yield! YIELD!”
The Draik did not get off of him and was still tensed, her paws already dripping with his blood, but she stopped trying to turn him into a Grarrl Kebab. Breathing heavily, Lord Bracken chuckled, “Aye, you fight like one possessed, Azure. Like a demon, the knights of Brightvale told me. So they spoke truth. I can imagine what the Shadow Blades will feel with you against them.” He smiled painfully and held a paw to a foot-long laceration that Azure had put on his arm.
“What do you mean?” Azure demanded, as she allowed the Grarrl to rise. “Why did you kidnap me?” Now that she was more focused on her surroundings, she noticed that she was in a small, plain wooden room. There was a writing desk and a stool, and a hammock where she had been lying. There was a round window and a metal door. Every so often, the wood-plank floor would seem to lurch under her feet, swaying her off balance. In fact, the room seemed to be moving. Azure straightened and glanced out of the miniscule window. All she saw was open ocean and blue sky... she was in the sea, on a ship! That meant that she was probably hundreds of leagues away from home, by now. Azure glared accusingly at Lord Bracken.
The Grarrl sighed. “In Altador, we are outnumbered by the Shadow Blades. They are like a plague of locusts, never ending. With each one we take care of, twenty take his place. We need good soldiers, no matter from where, no matter who. You, Azure, have spirit and skill... we need you. We need to you to help us, or we will surely fall. The war has been... bad.” He placed a claw on his tail. It had been previously concealed under his long cloak, but now Azure could see that a large scar was winding around it.
“If you help us,” Lord Bracken continued, “you will save many innocent lives. Please, Azure. I am asking you to risk your life for strangers, to risk dying on a distant battle field, but we are in great need. Will you join us?”
His brilliant orange eyes met Azure’s icy blue ones. They were proud, but desperate eyes, sincere and sad. They were pleading, and the draik felt her heart soften. Yet she asked harshly, “You make sound as if it is my decision. If it was my choice, than why did you kidnap me?”
“Your parents would never have allowed you to say yes,” was the quiet and true reply. Now her heart was pierced by a thorn of bitterness, as she knew he was right. Her parents had always tried to make her into someone that she could never be: a cool, emotionless diplomat. Azure had never, and would never have the qualities or will to become one, but for some reasons they simply did not understand that. They had always disapproved of Azure’s skill with the sword and her enjoyment of fighting. In fact Lady Alyssa would not even allow Azure to be painted the color she wanted, even though they could afford a thousand Cloud Paintbrushes without feeling a cramp.
And now, here was a chance for her to be free, at least for some time. She could fight with honor and for something worth it. And she could make her own choices. Then she would go home.
“Azure? Will you help us?”
Azure lifted her gaze to meet Lord Bracken’s eyes again and she spoke clearly and deliberately.
They were on a warship called Valor’s Wing, a massive vessel barricaded with everything from cannons, to snowball wands. Swelling with wind, was the huge sail with the Altador sun shining on it. Tied tightly to the mast was a proud flag with a winged sword painted, and the words “Valor’s Wing” written boldly across the top.
Azure was on deck, helping with the hoisting of the sails. She had also gotten her sword back, and Lord Bracken had led her to a locked room, holding an enraged Loyalty. The furious Alabriss had taken one look at the Shadow Grarrl and attacked, only held back by Azure’s firm words of command.
They were on course to Altador, across the great ocean. It would have been, in theory, faster to get from Brightvale to Altador across the mountains, but they were stuffed with these Shadow Blades, waiting to ambush anyone who came within a hundred miles. And so they chose to sail on a swift current that would lead past Maraqua and other places. There was no time for sight-seeing, however, as the recruits were drilled every hour. Even Azure, no stranger to hard workouts, was sore and exhausted, after one of Lord Bracken’s drilling routines. The training master, a Fire Korbat called Sergeant Rythio, was not hesitant to whip any laggards. When one of the soldiers had smirked at his small stature, the Sergeant had grabbed the wrongdoer by the ears and with astonishing strength, threw him overboard. When Azure helped fish the unfortunate warrior out of the water, even she winced as Rythio viscously mauled the offender with verbal abuse. He was almost intimidating. Well, he would have been more so if he were taller, but Azure was smart enough not to express her opinion on this matter.
He was not laying off on the Faerie Draik either. Rythio had looked over Azure and sneered, “I thought we were recruiting fighters, not pretty lasses to amuse us!”
Azure had felt murderous rage well up in her, and she replied coldly, “I beg your pardon, Sergeant?!” She heard snickers from the other trainees.
“Well!” Rythio hooted. “A fiery girl. That’s nice. Go back to your dressing room, my dainty little lady.”
Azure had lost control of her temper and grabbed the Sergeant by the wings. Then she slammed him to the ship’s deck and was trying very hard to turn him into a Korbat Kebab (Contrary to a Grarrl Kebab, which would likely be harder to chew). It took five of her fellow trainees to pull her off of the Korbat, and three more to restrain her, while the rest helped the Sergeant back to his feet. Instead of being angry, Rythio could not be happier. “Oh! I’ve found one! A true warrior, not the lot of you sniveling losers!” He gestured at the rest of the soldiers. From then on, Azure finally felt accepted, and even welcomed by everyone else.
Feeling a little bubble of excitement fill her mind, the Faerie Draik navigated the busy docks of Altador harbor. They had landed, yesterday, and she was exploring the other ships and the marketplaces. However, Azure kept one eye open at all times, despite the pleasures. Rythio did not look like he was kidding when he mentioned the wily pickpockets that smiled pleasantly one second and robbed you blind the next.
As it turned out, it was Loyalty’s vigilance, not Azure’s, that saved the Draik. While the two of them were looking at some Altador food, a blurred shape swooped from nowhere and snatched Azure’s dagger, from her belt. Then the thief—a happily squawking Airax—flew off with the expensive knife. Hissing with annoyance, Azure did a cruel and horrible thing: she sent Loyalty after the other petpet.
“Loyalty!” Azure snapped. “Go get it.” As she watched her Alabriss give a cry of wrath and race after the Airax, Azure had to wonder if the thief was owned by another pet. Loyalty was not known for being gentle or forgiving, and Azure did not wish to pay for another petpet’s... severe injuries.
Concerned, the Draik spread her own wings and hurried after the two petpets. She followed the pair back to the dock, where the ships were moored, and pursued them to near her own ship, Valor’s Wing. To her surprise, the Airax dived down, towards Azure’s vessel and landed on the shoulder of a surprised yellow Shoyru. Loyalty growled and wheeled above her target, while Azure hovered closer and heard the Shoyru mutter to the Airax.
“Pharos! Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you. I should cage you, you have so much energy!” the pet grumbled, then peered at the dagger which was clamped in the airax’s beak. He reached out a paw and took hold of the hilt. “Huh, what’s this? Where’d you get it, you rascal? Did you find it lying somewhere?”
“No,” Azure answered, landing next to him suddenly. “He stole it from me.”
Loyalty also descended and took her place on the Draik’s shoulder, glaring at the cowering Airax.
“He did?” the Shoyru exclaimed. “I’m so sorry! This is the fifth time! He just can’t keep his talons to himself, when it comes to shiny things.” He yanked the dagger from the reluctant petpet’s mouth and handed it quickly back to Azure. “So sorry. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Kalec, of Altador. I’m here to help Lord Bracken with his ship, Valor’s Wing.”
“I’m Azure. Brightvale. Did you say Valor’s Wing?” Azure asked, forgetting about the theft and slipping her knife back into its sheath. “That’s my ship!”
“A fine vessel, she is.” Kalec sighed. “A beautiful lady basking in the pearly mists of the harbor. ”
Azure blinked, as she recognized a line in a poem, called “Ladies of the Moor”, describing ships in a harbor. (Yes, poetry was part of the stuff she had to learn, to be a diplomat. It was one of those things that she was good at, but hated.)
“You like poetry?”
“Oh, yes.” The Shoyru nodded dreamily. “I love epics, especially. Tales about heroes, adventure, tragedy.”
“You like tragedy?” Azure asked a little loud, wondering if he was a bit pessimistic.
“Tragedy has its own artistry,” he replied defensively. “You know, like sorrow. They say sorrow is like bitter wine; you sip its horrid taste and you weep, yet you cannot have enough—”
Azure had had enough of his quoting of famous poets. And his cynical or maybe just plain weird personality. She turned to leave, but the Shoyru called to her, “Oh, by the way, Lord Bracken told me, after his soldiers have explored some of the city, they are to report to his castle.”
“He has a castle?” Azure had to ask dumbly. Sure, lots of people with “Lord” in their title had castles, but the Grarrl did not strike Azure as being a haughty noble, like her half-cousin. Azure’s third cousin, Amelia, was a royal Uni and the vainest one in Neopia. Amelia’s castle was ten times as large as Azure’s, not to mention the gold-leafed walls or the silver fountain. It made Azure want to throw up on the Uni’s fine dining table. Ugh!
“Of course we, eh, he has a castle,” Kalec snorted proudly. Azure, with her sharp diplomatic instincts knew instantly that he was lying somehow. She noted the strange slip he had between the “he” and the half-formed “we” that came before. Did Kalec have more to do with Lord Bracken than it seemed at first notice?
“So,” the Shoyru interrupted her thoughts, ruffling his wings, slightly awkward. Pharos, his airax, was still eyeing Loyalty warily. “Do you know where Lord Bracken’s castle is?”
“Um, no,” Azure admitted. The Grarrl had not said anything about a castle.
“Well.” Kalec sighed. “I’d better take you there. Come on.” He leapt into the air with a powerful thrust and Pharos flipped off his back to fly at his side. Azure stared after them, and then followed, her petpet own flanking her.
To be continued...