Big World Adventures: The Extraordinary Escape
I'm happy to announce that my family is quite proud of me, thank you very much. Perhaps I'm more interested in exploring and making maps of what I find than gathering food and standing guard in trees, but they are okay with that!
My name is Kashu, and my family of Forest Scorchios live in the depths of the jungles that make up part of Mystery Island. I don't blame anyone for being diligent with guard duty, because there are some pretty shady characters in these parts... but it's Mystery Island! It has "mystery" literally IN THE NAME! So if my relatives thought I was going to sit around in the confines of our "designated territory" like they do, they were out of their scaly skulls.
I used to get a thrill just from the idea of exploring every nook and cranny of the Island. It was my whole world, see. I knew of nothing else. But there came a day when my world became enlarged before my unknowing eyes.
It was a dark and stormy night. Forks of lightning sliced through the black sky, thunder pounded in my ears... Just kidding. It was actually a pretty mild afternoon. I'd just eaten a really juicy pineapple.
I was splayed out by the stream on the very edge of my family's territory, wondering which direction I should head in to explore. All of a sudden, rustling noises above my head made me jump to the side. Falling through the branches of a towering tree was a Shadow Korbat. She hit the ground with a loud thump, but quickly recovered to her feet, although she looked slightly cross-eyed.
"Sorry about that!" she piped. "Wicked wind up there today. Just on my way to play some Mynci Beach Volleyball before I head back to Neopia Central. Think you could tell me the way?"
I stood, shocked for a moment. People rarely stumbled upon our territory like this, and when they did, my family members were usually on hand to chase them away. I could have told her where Mynci Beach Volleyball was... I had explored there last Tuesday. But amid my shock, I only retained two words: Neopia Central.
"Neopia Central?" I asked, no doubt a quizzical expression on my face.
"Oh, sweetie, don't tell me you don't know where that is?"
I stared uncomfortably at a beetle crawling across my toes.
"It's only the most popular place in all of Neopia! Where have you been your whole life, living under a rock?"
Basically, I thought to myself. "How do you get there?" I asked curiously.
"Fly, if you have a decent set of wings. Or you could always take a boat."
"What's so great about it?"
"Oh, where to start! Huge shops of all sorts, a bustling city crowd, the Rainbow Pool..."
The Korbat continued to blab, but I was caught up in glorious visions of streets filling with people of all species and colours, and shops that were made out of more than a few bamboo sticks tied together. This was the ultimate adventure for a trapped, territory-grounded Scorchio.
"I'm going to get there!" I suddenly bust out. My tiny wings flapped restlessly at my sides.
The strange Korbat grinned toothily. "Well, good luck with that, dear. Now, which way to Mynci Beach Volleyball?"
About an hour later, I sat at the tree line of the Harbour, debating in my head to go back to my family and tell them where I was headed. But I knew my uncle would scoff, my sister would tell me I wouldn't last a day, and my father would say, in the sternest voice he could muster, "Kashu, Forest Scorchios don't explore. They guard, sustain and gather."
So in a wild rush of courage (and/or stupidity), I quickly prepared a few wild fruit to carry with me on the journey and added them to a pouch that I had made out of the jungle leaves and vines. Amongst the fruit in the pouch were my compass, some pencils, and my mapping papers.
Then I set off down the beach and towards the wooden platform of the harbour, my heart beating fast in my chest. I had been told never to approach the people who come or go from the harbour, but then again, I had also been told to never leave the jungle. So that ship had already sailed (pun intended).
I spotted a pleasant, white and blue striped boat with an young yellow Kacheek adjusting its sails.
"Hello! Are you headed to Neopia Central?"
The fellow looked up with a half grin. "Sure am. 50 Neopoints, if you please."
The Kacheek looked at me as if I was a mutant Hissi. My spirits sank. I had no money, and therefore no way out. That was when I heard a rough voice clear their throat behind me. I spun around to face a ragged, scarred Pirate Xweetok.
"I'll take you to Neopia Central." His smile revealed a gold tooth, but it did not look much different from the yellowish hue of his natural teeth. "Free o' charge for the young miss."
I smiled, relieved. "Thank you so much!"
"Best be off, while the wind is good," he said, waving me towards his ship. I approached it with a dropped jaw, staring up at the most rickety, sun-bleached, algae-covered ship I had ever seen.
After walking the ship's decks for a few hours, I soon learned the scarred Xweetok's name was Captain Tenderhook, and his crew were the most brutal, foul people I had ever met. Tenderhook constantly barked orders at his crew, and when he was angry at them, he punished them mercilessly. I stayed out of harm's way, somehow, because Tenderhook told the crew I was a "special guest". It made me uneasy, the way he looked at me, as though I were a brilliant stroke of luck. But I had no time to contemplate why he wanted me here, especially after I explored beneath the main deck that night.
While Tenderhook had the whole crew doing a nightly scrub of the upper decks, I opened a hatch on the floor that I had been eyeing since I arrived. It was almost entirely dark inside, so lowered myself as far into the opening as I could... and let go.
For maybe a second I could process nothing but the rush of air going past my face, and then I hit the floor with a painful crash. I got clumsily to my feet, feeling my way around the dark room until I found a cord that seemed to be attached to a light. I pulled it, and a dull yellow glow filled the room. It was lined with barrels of all sizes, the biggest of which seemed to be crowded against a metal door with a wooden latch.
I pushed the barrels away and tried the door, but the latch prevented me from opening it farther than my claw width. I pondered the dangers of breathing fire on the latch while I was residing on a wooden ship... but a little fire just to rot the latch couldn't hurt. So I tensed my shoulders and let a small flame shoot from between my open jaws. The latch blackened under the heat of my fire, and as I tried the metal door again, it broke away. I felt a wild rush of excitement as I swung it wide and stood just inside the door. The light from the barrel room trickled in to this extension, and I marveled at what I saw.
The walls were lined with rows and rows of pink dolls with faerie wings. I examined one's price tag:
Faerie Queen Doll
I didn't know much about the rest of the world, but based upon the amount of money the yellow Kacheek asked for to transport me to Neopia Central, that was a lot. And as I kicked the half-sewn doll by my foot, I knew that there was no way a band of pirates were experts on making dolls that could be legitimately sold for such a large sum of money.
They were counterfeit. I was suddenly overcome by the feeling that I shouldn't be here and I shouldn't have seen this. If Tenderhook knew, I would never be allowed to walk away from this ship free. So I turned and headed to the door with an anxious burst of speed.
As I passed through the door way to the barrel room, I felt two sets of claws grasp my shoulders, and my feet leave the ground. Tenderhook stepped out from the barrels in front of me with an apologetic grimace.
"Well, it seems you've found our little project site."
The two pirate Lupes holding me chuckled darkly.
"Guess what, missy? You're in now." He leaned close to my face, his hands twined casually behind his back. I smelled a musty odour coming from his mouth, and saw his gold tooth glitter maliciously. "And there's no getting out."
My containment cell was at the very bottom level of the ship, so I occasionally felt an ocean spray coming in from between the cracks of the boarded-up porthole. Tenderhook had the two Lupes who originally seized me in the doll room standing guard outside the metal bars day and night. I had tried to converse with them in hopes of finding a weak point, but they made poor company, only speaking when Tenderhook came down for a report.
What I had gathered was that Tenderhook was planning to use me to get into the ports of Neopia Central without raising suspicion, then letting me go on my way. Now he was burdened with me, or rather me having knowledge of his project. We had only one more day's journey before hitting the shores of Neopia Central, but I was doomed to either become part of the crew or be "silenced". So I knew I somehow had to escape.
My opportunity came that night. The waves were high and the wind was strong, rocking the boat viciously in the water. Tenderhook called my guards up to the main deck to regain control over the ship, so the only thing between me and freedom was wood... and violent waves. I gradually burned through the wood boarding up the porthole, but knew that even if I escaped, they would come and try to find me, or else they wouldn't be able to sell their dolls...
Unless they couldn't sell their dolls. I tested the wood beneath my feet with my claws. It was thick, once upon a time, but had weakened greatly with the wear of time. I gathered my strength and let flame billow from my mouth, burning away the rotting wood. A smile spread slowly onto my face as I saw the water seeping through.
If the ship would sink before the crew could repair the damage, I wasn't sure. But getting out of the ship was still the best shot I had. I crawled through the porthole and out into the open air, taking flight on my small wings. I couldn't fly for long, but I hoped I could manage to make it to the land that hosted a looming castle not far in the distance.
I finally landed, exhausted, just on the shore of Meridell. My eyes were heavy and my shoulders were weary, but I was not afraid that Tenderhook and his crew would come for me. I could see the ship out on the water, looking oddly shorter than it once had. My tired brain tried to remember if you could always only see one level of the ship above the water before I laid my head on the sand, letting the world go black.