Before the Thunder: Part Three
Shady figures were everywhere. Lightning glanced around the room as if they weren't there, then went to the Aisha at the counter.
"How may I-" the Aisha broke off what she was saying when she looked at Lightning.
"You're... not from around here, are you?" she asked. Lightning rolled her eyes.
"I'm looking for some friends of mine. Think you can help me?" she said, instead of answering the question.
"You shouldn't be here," the Aisha whispered.
"I know, I know, 'island pets aren't welcome' and all that. Listen, I want to find a pirate Shoyru friend of mine. If not her, an Usul by the name of Garin."
The Aisha's eye widened in shock.
"Garin, you say? THE Garin?"
"Yes, the Garin."
The Aisha stared at Lightning for a long time.
"A pirate Shoyru came in here looking for Garin a couple weeks ago. I told her I hadn't seen him 'round here. That's all I know," she whispered, more quietly than ever before.
Lightning sighed in disappointment.
"Any idea where I can find Garin?" Lightning asked. The Aisha shook her head.
"Garin can be found where and when he wants to be."
The Aisha glanced around the room, looking nervous.
"You should get out of here. My regular customers are getting suspicious."
Lightning glanced around, too. Everyone was staring her way. Suddenly nervous, she nodded to the Aisha and hurried out. It was dark outside by now.
Hurrying down the street, she thought she might be able to reach the other side of the island and find a nice inn. She had only made it to the next street when they cornered her.
Three, big, well muscled pets. One was a blue Tonu with a scar over one eye. One was a fire Scorchio with a cutlass in hand. The third was a Darigan Jetsam who bared his teeth in an ugly smile.
"Alright, little lady, hand over all ya got and we won't 'urt ya," said the Jetsam. Lightning stepped back a pace, intending to run, but the Tonu moved around her with such speed that her path was blocked in an instant. Her body trembling, Lightning tried to look unafraid as she glared at him.
"I'm not handing anything over," she said firmly. Remembering her wings, she tensed them. The Scorchio had wings as well, but she was pretty sure she could out-fly him.
"Come now, miss. We don't want no trouble," said the Jetsam, stepping closer. Lightning edged back.
"Then leave me be and there won't be any," she replied fiercely. The Jetsam's eyes narrowed angrily.
"Well, we tried to be nice," he said, then lunged for her.
Lightning had been waiting for this moment and quickly flapped her wings, getting out of the Jetsam's reach in seconds. The three pets cried out in surprise as she quickly made her way higher, then started gliding away. The Scorchio chased her, but Lightning's assumptions had been correct. The other pet must not fly very much, because before long Lightning could tell his wings were tiring.
Finally he gave up and whirled away. Lightning felt her heart cease its rapid beating. She landed a few minutes later in front of an inn. The innkeeper gave her a suspicious look when she walked in, but didn't refuse her a room. With a groan, she sank into her bed and closed her eyes.
The innkeeper woke her early the next morning. When Lightning asked him why, he said three men had come looking for her, and that they were waiting downstairs. Trying not to sound nervous, Lightning asked what the three men looked like. He replied that he couldn't tell, since all of them wore cloaks that concealed their forms.
Not sure what to do, Lightning followed the innkeeper back downstairs, glancing around for a glimpse of the strangers. They were by the front door. Their hoods all turned in unison when she came in.
Lightning approached them nervously, trying to see the faces beneath the cloaks. The effort was wasted, however, because all that could be seen was darkness.
"You wished to see me?" she said hesitantly. One of the hooded men nodded.
"Please, could you speak with us outside?" he asked politely, gesturing to the door. He didn't sound like the Jetsam from the night before, but it could be the Scorchio or the Tonu. Lightning took a step back.
"I'd much rather speak in here, thank you," she replied defensively. The hooded figure made calming gestures with his hands.
"Calm down, calm down. And keep your voice low," he said, glancing around. The innkeeper was watching them closely.
"Please, I promise we won't harm you. We only want to talk," said the figure, turning back to Lightning.
"Then you can talk in here," she replied firmly. The figure sighed.
"My, you're stubborn," he muttered.
"Like you aren't?" another of the figures answered, almost sounding cheerful.
"Well?" Lightning prompted, getting impatient.
"Is your name Lightning?" the first figure asked. Lightning was startled that he knew her name.
"Y-yes... how did you-"
She had been about to ask "how did you know my name" but the figure cut her off with a laugh of disbelief.
"You hear that? She's Lightning!" he exclaimed to the others.
"What's so funny?!" she demanded. The figure stopped laughing, a smile flashing beneath his hood.
"We know where Nira is."
Lightning's beak hung open.
"Can we continue this outside now?" the figure asked, cutting her off again.
"Oh, fine, fine!" Lightning replied testily, letting the three hooded figures lead her out of the inn. She had forgotten all her fears at the mention of Nira.
The threesome led her around the inn the a quiet, deserted street. After glancing around to be sure no one was watching, they faced Lightning and each pulled back their hoods.
Lightning gasped, making one of them, a yellow Usul, grin mischievously. Lightning stared at him, then at the red Kyrii on the left, and finally the spotted Kougra on the right.
"You're... You're...!" Lightning couldn't form words, she was so shocked.
"Captain Garin, at your service," said the Usul elegantly, bowing low. Lightning couldn't believe her eyes. Then she remembered Nira, and her shock left her.
"Nira! You said you know where Nira is!" she exclaimed.
The red Kyrii smiled at her as Garin straightened.
"Of course we do!" Garin exclaimed, stopping the Kyrii from speaking. "And we can take you to her!"
Lightning was overwhelmed.
"So... you're Garin..?" she said hesitantly, looking the Usul in the eye. He nodded proudly. She turned to the Kyrii.
"So that must mean you're Jacques!" she exclaimed. The Kyrii bowed, much more formally than Garin had. Lightning turned to the Kougra.
"And you're the friend Nira talked about! Rai, isn't it?"
Rai blushed slightly and nodded.
"That's me," he said.
Lightning began to cry. Not sad tears, but happy ones.
"Please... please take me to her!" she said softly. The trio smiled at her.
"Will do," said Garin.
Nira sighed as she glanced out the window. Caylis' secret underwater home was beautiful. Windows that showed the world outside were only visible from within. The entrance only appeared for those she added to the enchantment protecting it. Here, Nira was safe. She was protected.
She was lonely.
Even with Alia, Isca, and Caylis for company, Nira couldn't forget Mystery Island. Endless days in the sun, warm surf, cool breezes....
And Lightning there at her side, smiling and laughing, surfing to her heart's content.
Nira rubbed her eyes, knowing she was crying by how they hurt. She was glad the underwater world kept the tears themselves from showing. She didn't want the others to see she was unhappy.
How long would she have to live here, in this far corner of ocean, hiding from both Neopia's darkest pirate and Maraqua's king? Weeks? Months? ...Years?
Nira sighed again and leaned her head on the windowsill. She missed Lightning so much. She missed life back on the island, before all the mess her memories caused. Before Scarblade's men... burned her house.... Before Lightning-
Nira jumped when a knock echoed through the room. She had been sitting on the couch in the family room, which connected to the entryway. The knock had come from the front door. Nira tensed, easing her maractite sword from it's scabbard, which she always kept with her, even here. Silently, she crept to the door and peered through the peep hole.
Outside, Garin floated, waiting. Making a sound of surprise, Nira put away her sword and pulled the door open.
"Garin, what are you doing here?! You're supposed to only come if there's an emergency!" she cried angrily. Garin gave her that infuriating grin.
"Awwww, did you miss me that much?" he asked. He ducked when Nira threw a punch his way.
"This is serious, you crazy Usul!" she snapped.
"Calm down, Nira. Or do you not want to meet the friend I brought?"
Nira raised an eyebrow, looking suspicious.
"Friend? What kind of friend?" she asked.
"Just someone I met on Krawk Island. Thought you might like meeting them," he replied casually. Nira glared at him.
"Garin!! You brought a stranger to our secret hiding place just so I could meet them?! What were you thinking?!" she exclaimed.
"I was thinking you might enjoy meeting this person," Garin replied happily. Nira let out a loud groan.
"Garin, you arrogant, stupid, unfathomable idiot!!" she shouted.
Garin frowned clownishly.
"You know, that hurts Nira. It really hurts," he said with a pout in his voice. Nira groaned again, turning as if to go back inside and slam the door in Garin's face. The Usul was fast, however, and gripped Nira's arm to stop her. She looked at him, eyes widening when she saw all humor had left his face.
"Nira... please come with me. I know you'll want to meet this person," he said seriously.
Thrown off balance by his sudden change in mood, Nira followed willingly as Garin swam for the surface where the Black Pawkeet waited. There was a rope hanging over the side and Garin climbed up first. When he was on the deck once more, he turned and pulled Nira up after she'd gotten a good hold.
"Alright, where is this friend of yo-" Nira was speaking in annoyed tone until she looked up. There, standing in the middle of the deck, stood an island Eyrie. Nira stared. It couldn't be true. It just couldn't!
Tears came to her eyes.
"Lightning...?" Nira whispered. Lightning forced a quiet laugh, tears coming to her own eyes.
"Hello, Nira," she replied. Nira didn't hesitate any longer. She ran forward and threw her arms around the Eyrie, hugging her fiercely.
"Lightning! You're... you're...!" she sobbed.
"Garin told me what happened on the way here. I'm so sorry for making you worry," Lightning whispered.
"Worry? I thought sure you were dead!" Nira cried.
Each wiping their eyes, the pair separated, smiling.
"I can't believe you're really here," Nira said.
"Neither can I." Lightning chuckled. She had never seen Nira smile so brightly before. Suddenly the Shoyru whirled around to jab a finger in Garin's direction.
"Garin, you stupid-"
"Ah, ah, ah! Don't you start that again!" Garin said, wagging a finger.
Nira glared in mock anger and ran to the Usul's side, hugging him just as she had Lightning. Lightning smiled as she watched, noting how the Usul blushed at the sudden attention. Nira spoke quietly and the Usul replied in turn. Then they laughed, and Nira cried, and Garin held her.
A few minutes later, Nira was asking all kinds of questions about what had happened. Lightning happily told her everything. It was good to be with Nira again.