Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: The Onyx Isle - Part Five
The ship slowed down fairly quickly, as the wind slackened and left the sails only half-puffed. Silverdrop glared up at them, her ears turned toward the round wheel, where Storm was sitting atop an old crate to steer the ship more comfortably.
Ash was pacing the deck, her eyes darting around as if she were looking for something. Silverdrop could see that the Lupe was still angry, and looking for a fight. The silver Kougra stayed away from her, peering over the railing at the water and the occasional Delfin or Dartail pod swimming by. Flit was only a few steps away, and Silverdrop couldn’t blame him; Ash seemed angry enough to get into a physical fight if she decided Flit was responsible for what had happened to Avalon.
Finally, the fire Lupe found something. She looked around the boat, and, turning to Storm, growled, “So you stole this, right?”
Storm raised an eyebrow. “Aye. ‘Tis what pirates do. I know th’ Guardians don’ ‘xactly approve... but a pirate’s gotta-“
“So whose boat was it before?” Ash demanded.
“Uh... hmm.” Storm shrugged. “Dunno. Prob’ly fishers, though; there’s a couple nets below deck.”
“And what’re those fishers gonna do without their boat now, Storm?”
The pirate Lupe blinked twice, then sighed. “Ash, those fishers’ll be worse off if Scarback gets th’ Gem. An’ I didn’t ‘xactly have time ter get a job, earn money, an’ then pay fer this thing. You wanna rescue Avalon? Quit arguin’ with yer ride ‘bout ethics!”
Storm turned the wheel gently, to catch an oncoming breeze. “’Sides, don’ tell me you were a Neopia Central stray fer years without stealin’ anything.”
Ash glared at the pirate Lupe, but there was really nothing she could say. It was true, stray pets relied on stealing to make their living. Silverdrop definitely knew that.
Ash walked to the side of the ship, setting her paws and chin on the railing and looking down at the water. Her expression was so fierce that Silverdrop was surprised the sea water didn’t pull away in fright.
Silverdrop sighed. To Flit, she muttered, “This isn’t gonna be a fun ride.”
Flit shrugged. “Better than being on a boat with my... with the pack.”
“Three things; the crowding, the smell, and the fights. Brazen just manages to keep us all from throwing each other out of the portholes... but it’s close.”
Silverdrop made a face. “Well... least Ash isn’t chucking pets over the railing.”
Glancing at the fire Lupe, Flit muttered, “Not yet.”
On a different boat, Avalon would have been happy to be tossed over the railing. It would have meant he could swim, and that would have meant getting away from the Gelerts.
He’d been chained up, hooked to a huge metal hook Scarback had below deck for “just this sort of thing”, according to Brazen. The Gelerts had spent the first hour or so of the trip trying to annoy him, taunting and teasing and once or twice even jabbing him hard. One Gelert actually waved his paw in front of Avalon’s eyes; the yelping that started when Avalon bit down on the offending hand took Brazen’s fiercest threats, one of them an invitation to Scarback’s quarters, to quell.
After that, the Gelerts decided to keep their distance.
So Avalon quickly noticed a small group of Gelerts a little closer than their wary packmates. They were standing close together, with their heads in a small circle, talking quietly and occasionally glancing at the starry Kougra. Though he pretended not to notice them, Avalon kept one ear tilted toward the group, hoping to overhear their conversation. Nothing.
Later in the evening, the Gelerts clambered to the ship’s deck; from their chatter, Avalon gathered that this was for their evening meal. A few minutes later, one Gelert came down the stairs, and left a plate of odd-smelling gruel in front of Avalon. Avalon recognized the Gelert as one of the small group he’d tried to eavesdrop on earlier; she had a pale scar running diagonally through one eye.
Avalon eyed the food warily; the smell reminded him of the time he’d opened his family’s refrigerator and found a Bargasaurus steak half-covered in fluffy green mold, giving off an odor so rancid that he’d almost passed out. Poking through the gruel with one claw, Avalon found some meat chunks that definitely looked like Bargasaurus, though at least without mold.
Avalon set the bowl aside, adjusting himself so that the Gelerts wouldn’t be able to see that he hadn’t eaten. Maybe he would eventually be forced to delve into the rancid mixture... or maybe he would last long enough...
“Long enough for what?” he wondered. Ash would talk Silverdrop out of any rescue attempt, she knew they couldn’t take the Gem right to Scarback. Escape didn’t seem likely; even if he could get out of the chains, there were the Gelerts to worry about.
Well, if he didn’t have to build up his strength for an escape, there was no point eating a bowl of nasty, rotten Bargasaurus steak gruel.
Days past, and the decks of the Scarlet Kateil were no friendlier, and Silverdrop was quickly getting fed up. In addition to dealing with Ash’s snappy, bitter demeanor, Flit was constantly nearby. He seemed to think he might be in danger if alone with Ash for too long; though Silverdrop couldn’t quite blame him for this assumption, she wouldn’t have minded some time to herself.
Silverdrop was woken on the fifth day of their journey when she fell out of her bed and onto the floor, smacking her spine hard against the wooden floor. Her eyes darted toward the porthole, and she saw a massive wave careen against a gray sky.
A storm! Silverdrop remembered hearing stories from merchants in Sakhmet, about the dangerous storms that made the seas a land of watery nightmares.
She hurtled onto the deck, and was immediately soaked by the pounding rain, and an extra deluge tumbled from the sails. Flit was yanking on the sails’ ropes with his jaws, trying to fold them in; Storm fought with the wheel for control against the deadly sea, his hat brim filled with water, but for once, he wasn’t shouting challenges. Ash, on the far side of the deck, tied down their barrels of supply near the ship’s prow, constantly being knocked over by waves.
The sky was almost black, and the sea and the rain crescendoed to a roar around the ship and its tiny crew.
“Where’d this come from?” Silverdrop shouted to Storm.
Grunting, the pirate Lupe replied, “Scarback's magic... tryin’ to slow us down!”
Silverdrop’s stomach turned as cold as her fur. But there was no time to be stunned... she needed to help. Turning away from the pirate captain, she skittered across the wet deck, joining Flit in closing the sails. The wind was pushing fiercely against the wide fabric, making it hard for even the two of them to yank them shut.
After several long minutes of tugging, one set of sails crumpled, and folded shut. Silverdrop shook the latest water from her fur, and shouted, “The others! Hur-“
Her final command was cut off by two cracks. The first was a lightning bolt- which perfectly illuminated the source of the second crack.
The front mast had snapped, its sails pushed too hard by the wind. And now, the enormous strip of wood was cascading not only toward the mainmast, but toward Silverdrop and Flit, and if it knocked out the others, Storm would be crushed, too...
“Silverdrop! Move!” Flit shouted, already having scampered two paces away.
Silverdrop glared at the slowly falling mast- it couldn’t do this- without masts, they were completely stranded, and there would be no hope of rescuing Avalon...
The Emerald Noil Gem, completely dry in utter contrast to Silverdrop’s fur, so wet that it hung and still streamed water, sent a burning throb through her chest. The Kougra jumped slightly, surprised by the sensation, but her eyes remained on the mast- still falling, still falling...
“Come on come on, ” she thought, and in a flash as brief as the colored world of a lightning strike, she saw green light twining around the mast, holding it still.
The Noil Gem burned again, but this time, the feeling was accompanied by two twining streams of emerald light- energy bursting from the Noil Gem’s tiny eyes. In the time it took another lightning bolt to imprint itself on the sky, the strands had twisted themselves around the mast like a spyder’s web around an unfortunate Vernax. Bound in green, the mast froze.
From the corner of her eye, Silverdrop could see that Flit’s mouth had dropped open, and green was vaguely reflected on the shinier portions of his black fur. Ash was half-bathed in green, but she didn’t pause to look; one of the water barrels was rolling toward the edge of the prow.
Silverdrop stared at the mast for a moment; the wood was starting to dry, untouched by the still-cascading rain. “What do I do with it?” she shouted, when it became clear that the Noil Gem wasn’t going to figure it out for her.
Storm shouted over the wind, “In... the... water!”
Into the ocean? Give this raging roaring monster something else to attack them with? Silverdrop’s eyes darted around the ship, but nowhere on-deck was any safer; it would just roll from side to side as the ship lurched over waves; it would be a giant rolling pin descending on floppy dough.
Narrowing her eyes, Silverdrop focused on moving the tiny beams of light bursting from the Noil Gem’s eyes. Slowly, the lights drifted toward the side of the ship... slowly, they dragged the captive mast after them.
The ship lurched, and Silverdrop hissed as a jet of water blasted her face, stinging as droplets that felt hard as pebbles slammed into one eye. She sunk her claws into the deck, struggling to remain focused on getting the mast out of the way... why was it taking so long?
A shout and a yelp distracted the silver Kougra; her eyes darted toward the side of the ship, the portion that had leaned downward the last time the Scarlet Kateil tilted.
Even with only one fully functional eye, she could see Ash’s flame-colored paws and muzzle, as the Lupe sank her front claws into the ship’s railing. Her back legs were dangling over the open sea; she had almost been tossed from the boat.
Silverdrop almost started running toward her- but the mast... if she let it drop, it would immediately roll to that side, and Ash would be no safer with this enormous chunk of wood barreling toward her.
But Storm had to manage the wheel- the ship would spin out of control without his efforts to keep it on course.
Flit was already racing toward the Lupe, his whip-ears and tail flailing and snapping in the heavy wind. Despite the water and debris and ship pieces scattered around the deck, the Gelert was fast, almost graceful, his glowing red eyes drifting through the darkness.
Rearing up, Flit extended a paw to the Lupe; Ash hesitated for all of three seconds, before clasping the offered hand with one of her own. Flit pulled, stepping back, and with his help, Ash was able to get high enough to find footing with her back paws.
With a snarl at the storm, she bounded back onto the ship, and immediately returned to the crates she’d been protecting. This time, she gave one rope to Flit, and started shouting what Silverdrop presumed to be instructions.
That crisis averted, Silverdrop turned to the mast. Her right eye had recovered from the pain of the water droplets, and she watched with both eyes as she slowly, slowly, guided the mast to the railing...
Over the railing...
Past the railing...
Letting out a short roar, Silverdrop mentally shut off the beams of light; as if the Noil Gem had blinked, the twin green beams vanished, and the mast, unsupported, crashed into the sea.
The wave from the mast’s landing tossed the ship to the side- but no gigantic rolling pin raced on deck to crush them flat; Ash and Flit had seized ropes attached to the opposite railing, and dug their claws into the wood. Silverdrop rushed forward, finding the splintered base of the mast and clinging to it, as the ship started to tilt completely onto its side. At the wheel of the Scarlet Kateil, Storm let out a snarl.
Accompanied by a blast of thunder, another wave surged beneath the ship, pushing the ship’s bottom back in the water. The deck became horizontal again, and Silverdrop slowly let go of the mast.
“Don’ just stand around!” Storm shouted. “This beast ain’ over yet!”
To be continued...