Possibility: Part Three
I come to. It's dark. And freezing. The scent of salt fills the air. It takes me a second to realize I'm on a boat.
I assess my surroundings. I'm lying on wood, as likely, and I presume to be on a deck. I'm covered by a tattered and light blanket. My backpack is gone, my coat has disappeared, and my headdress has been removed as well. To my right is a man who operates the boat. To my left are two other men who are talking and... knitting? I can't tell from here. I have no idea where I'm at, and no one looks amicable enough to answer my questions. So I just lie there, trying to stay warm and to look asleep. If anyone nasty comes by, maybe they'd leave a sleepy girl alone. But I don't dare close my eyes all the way, not now when I can help it.
My eyes dart open as I notice the wings on the ship like a Cyodrake's. There's no way. No possible way I could be on the Cyodrake's Gaze. And even if I am, what is the ship doing here? We seem to be surrounded by miniature glaciers. There's nothing to sell here. Furthermore, there seems to be no cargo onboard.
Either I'm on an exact replica of the Cyodrake's Gaze, or I am traveling on it for no particular reason.
A cold breeze chills my bones. Where could I possibly be? I'm sure I'm not in Terror Mountain; what would be the point in that? However, I'm not sure if there's any reason to why I'm not outside Volts's house calling up to him and Jules.
Jules. There's no sign of him on this ship. Jules could be my only comfort now, and he's gone. He's not here to teach me how to go about living on this ship. This time I'm not so lucky. I need to list my options.
There's a possibility I could tough it out until we get to our destination, then I could make a run for it.
Or I could make a run for it now.
No, I'm sure that would be the dumb thing to do. I don't even know where I am, so I won't know where to go—
"The princess is awake!"
The two knitting men run toward me. I can now tell that they're Draiks. They hoist me up and start walking. One of them whispers, "Being rich sounds like a dream." I can tell by their actions they're pirates, but not of the Krawk Island kind.
"And turning you in is going to make us just that," the other says to me.
"Where am I?" I ask; I try my best to sound vulnerable. Being stubborn didn't help me with Jules, and it certainly won't help me now. "Where are you taking me?"
"Home," the first one coughs. His breath—his hideous breath seems to be tinged with years of unkemptness. "We're taking you home, princess."
I groan, but quietly enough so they can't hear me.
I hate the fact that these rapid realizations always are coming to me. Here's another: they're calling me "princess". They say it mockingly, but I know that it's more than just an affectionate term. They're calling me a daughter of royalty.
No, no, no. I never meant for this to happen. Never.
I fight to keep the tears from coming. But my effort must not be strong enough because my tears are cascading down my face like a torrent. I realize the men are carrying me toward the stern, into a room of some sort. I'm thrown onto a cot, or something that looks a lot like it. The men wave goodbye and leave.
Inside there's barely any light. The iota of light I do have comes from a pair of Petpets in a jar. Through the glow I can see a sleeping Bori on another cot. I allow myself to smile. I try to wipe away my tears that are surprisingly not frozen to my face and shake him awake. "Jules. Jules, wake up."
Jules turns over. "Astrea," he whispers and sits upright. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I answer and sit beside him. This may be the first time I've lied to Jules. I try my best to wipe my face clear of my breakdown, but it doesn't really work. "I just want to know what happened at Volts's house."
Jules takes a deep breath—or perhaps a yawn. "It was insane. This Aisha and these three or four Draiks come from nowhere and knock you out with some weapon. One of them looked like the one we saw in Sakhmet. I don't even know. But Volts and I jumped down from the balcony to get to you. Volts was knocked out the same way you were, and I surrendered to them."
I throw my arms around Jules. I don't think anyone else would jump from a balcony and then surrender themselves to strangers quite like Jules. I suppose the tension between us is gone. I cry a little more due to thankfulness. "Okay, here's my confession. The Draiks out there are calling me 'princess'."
"They know?" Jules breathes as he pulls away from me.
"Also, I think we're on the Cyodrake's Gaze," I say after a silence grows.
Jules shakes his head. "This is unbelievable. How is any of this possible?"
I'm shaking my head and crying and wondering why I even left that other afternoon. I try to stop thinking about all the stupid things I've done. "Do you know where we're going? I imagine you'd know more than I do."
"No, but I overheard the Draiks talking about the emperor and being rich and something about purl stitches. I don't know." He sighs. "I just need some answers."
As if on cue, a Draik bolts in. He's shadow with an overabundance of jewelry. He grins slyly upon seeing us. He speaks with a dishonestly charming voice. "We're nearing Shenkuu," he purrs. "Tell me, how would you like to be presented to the guard?"
"What guard?" I spit.
"The one who released your missing posters. Your guardian." The Draik says it as though I'm daft for not knowing.
My pulse increases. "I don't know," I mumble. "Just take me there and he'll pay you and I get to go home. To the palace."
The Draik laughs. "I thought you'd be a bit more knowledgeable about this, but Siri was very specific when she told me you were the dense one." The Draik sits down on my cot. "You don't even live in the palace, dear. Know why? You're not the princess."
A fusion of emotions pounds my bones. Before I can form a statement through my babbles, the Draik continues.
"After we get our reward, we're imprisoning you. Orders strictly from the emperor himself. You'd probably call him Daddy, but he's not your father. It was funny, really, seeing him blow up over your idiotic departure. He called for your imprisonment immediately. Then some sickeningly saccharine guard heard about it and conjured up some missing posters." He chuckles sinisterly. "The emperor wanted them to be wanted posters instead."
Jules speaks for me. "You're lying. How could you even think we'd believe you?"
"You don't have to believe me," the Draik says. "Because the emperor's word is final, and I know what he's told me. I'm one of his advisors, after all."
Jules and the Draik quarrel loudly. I can't bring myself to filter their conversation into my intense thoughts. I'm just crying. I look weak. I am weak. I try my absolute best to process what the Draik has told me. That I'm not the princess. That I don't live in the palace. That I'm going to a dungeon. That my father is, for the first time in my life, upset with me. Severely upset, in fact.
I've failed him.
I'm so ungrateful. I left when I had all the attention in the world. There was no way for me to reveal my identity, no way at all. I was protected with extreme caution.
Now I'm not even sure if I have any true identity.
A guard released my posters. But who? It can't be Galtof, the broke and stupid one, my fake father. But maybe he actually did care about me. Maybe he was the only person who looked out for me. But I can't imagine that big lug of a Lupe having that much tenacity to let my missing status be known. However, if this shadow Draik is to be believed, I have to assume it's Galtof who cares about me most now.
Who even are these Draiks? According to the shadow one, they must have ties to the emperor—my father. Ties that near to the crown probably yield a free pass to the Cyodrake's Gaze, if there's enough purpose. They probably also allow you to reign in a criminal, if you have the skills. These guys definitely had the skills. I have no evidence to say they don't have ties to the crown.
The odds in my favor are steadily decreasing. I'm just clearing my tears up when the steady movement of the Cyodrake's Gaze comes to a halt.
The Draik grins deceitfully. "We're here."
To be continued...