The Last Voyage of The Bonnie Fortune: Part Three
Also by draconis
Ximor leant back on the stool, holding his balance with one foot hooked under the metal bar lining the counter as he closed his eyes and drew a deep breath.
He was remotely aware of the silence around him and when he opened his eyes again almost thirty pets looked back at him eagerly.
Ximor tapped his glass. The Lupe filled it and muttered "on the house" in a distant, distracted tone. He drank as he watched the pets around him.
He had started telling his story to a handful of pets but now almost half the pets in the Golden Dubloon were gathered around him. Even one of the maids had joined to listen; the young, white Xweetok sat on the counter next to him, giving him a misty, dreamy look as she played distractedly with the ruffles of her dress.
"What happened next?" the Lupe asked, his dialect momentarily forgotten.
"The ship needed repairs," Ximor continued in the same rough monotone voice. "The crew stayed behind, and Tony and I went into the jungle for supplies. Our Bonnie Fortune was out. In more ways than one."
10. Welcome to the jungle.
Neither of them had said anything but they both hoped to meet some form of civilization. Ximor could see it in Tony's eyes, and he could see that Tony knew the thought had struck him as well. An unexplored island was the best they could hope for, but the storm had done something to them. The dreams of pirate gold and ancient treasures seemed pale compared to the simple luxury of dry clothes and a warm bed.
As they walked across the fifty yards of pearly white beach this faint hope of civilization died quickly. The jungle had looked grandeur at a distance, but as they drew closer they realized grandeur wasn't large enough.
"This is bad," Tony muttered and Ximor patted his shoulder gently.
They stopped next to the tall grass lining the edge of the beach and Tony repeated his mutter as he saw Ximor standing next to the grass.
Ximor was large; easily the tallest Kougra he had ever seen, but even standing on his toes and reaching up, the top of the grass was out of his reach. Six feet out of his reach.
"So we'll go through it instead," Ximor said in an attempt at levity. Tony didn't smile.
Ximor parted the grass with his paws -finding that he had to apply force to move the thick reeds aside- and revealed more grass behind the first, standing too thick for them to see through.
"What now?" Tony asked tentatively. He paused, seeming to consider the grass and then added in a hopeful tone, "Do we go back to the ship?"
"Nah," Ximor said and pulled his cutlass. It scraped against the scabbard and he felt momentarily guilty for not taking better care of it.
It had been years since he had used it, but he still should've taken it out of the scabbard a couple of times a year to wipe it off and make sure it was sharp.
Ximor swiped the cutlass at the grass and it struck with a soft, almost singing cling. It was like striking a rock. He looked at his cutlass and felt another twinge of guilt. He didn't use it, he didn't even take care of it, but it was still a part of his exploration equipment; good for chasing off angry natives and cutting fruit.
The blade now looked dull and bent. The sharp edge was littered with small dents. Shaped like straws of grass.
"So much for cutting a path," he muttered and Tony nodded gloomily.
"What do we do then?" Tony asked, and once again suggested in a hopeful tone that they go back to the ship.
"We'll just walk around it," Ximor replied in a cheerful tone. Forcing himself to be cheerful.
He didn't know what was happening; if Tony's fear had infected him or if the jungle itself was affecting him, but he felt less interested in exploring the island.
They bent the grass aside, climbing onto the bent straws, and Tony bounced on his feet several times, springing up and down on the grass.
"Having fun?" Ximor asked in a sardonic tone, hoping for a laugh.
"No," Tony replied flatly and walked onwards, shoving the grass aside as he walked.
As they walked deeper into the jungle, drawing away from the racket of the others fixing the ship, they became more aware of the sounds around them.
Birds chirped above them, flying above them unseen through the thick canopy. Something rustled ahead of them, moving through the grass. The rustling paused momentarily and Ximor held his breath, unaware he was doing it. The silence broke with a single, quick stroke through the grass; it was louder rustling than before. Something screeched in pain, and then silence.
"Animals?" Tony asked, looking in the direction of the screech.
"I think so. Best to be careful, so don't wander off. Stay close, Tony," Ximor said. Tony drew closer to him.
"What do you think? Friendly or..." Tony started to ask, but before he could finish, Ximor interrupted him.
"How can you tell?"
"If they were friendly, we'd seen them by now. And, since this is an unknown island, I don't think anyone has ever been here. Even if someone has, no one has lived long enough to tell others about it."
Tony swallowed. His throat clicked dryly, and when Ximor began moving forwards again he felt Tony's hand gripping his belt. He looked down at him and Tony said, "So we don't get separated" in a feeble tone.
Ximor gave him a dry look, and Tony blushed slightly. But despite this playful condescension, Ximor was glad. It was an unknown island, filled with unfriendly animals they had only heard, but not seen. And the noises. He shivered every time he heard a noise. He was curios to figure out what kind of animals inhabited the island, but he was glad to have Tony with him. To feel his hand at his side.
Something thumped ahead of them; a heavy, meaty sound, like a large pet falling to the ground. They froze in their tracks, their breath held. Tony's grip on Ximor's belt increased.
"Listen," Ximor whispered.
"What is that?" Tony whispered back.
"I have no idea, Tony," Ximor whispered, nearly breathing the words. This sound had been much closer. They both looked around, but couldn't see anything but trees, grass and a couple of wildflowers.
Ximor looked up at a green tree which stretched over them like the magical bean stalk from the fairy tales. The tree was topped by a large yellow canopy which stretched out like a faux sun.
Sunflower. Taller than Bonnie's masts, Ximor thought and nearly laughed. He bit down on his lips to keep the sound in; he didn't want to be heard by anything out here.
He looked up at the flower again and imagined taking it down to replace the front mast. Sailing into port with a sunflower mast. This time he did laugh.
Ximor clapped a paw over his mouth, but it was too late. The thumping sound was closer. Tony gave him a look of utter disapproval and Ximor felt another wild urge to laugh. The look had reminded him of his mother.
Ximor looked around for whatever had made the sound, but all he saw was the thick grass, swaying gently and dizzyingly around them.
"Quick! Behind this rock!" Ximor said as he yanked Tony towards the big rock standing out through the grass.
They covered behind the rock, listening to the low, rattling draft of the wind blowing through the grass. After what felt like minutes had passed by, Tony snuck a peek over the rock and ducked back down at once.
"Do you think it saw us?" Tony asked in a trembling voice.
Ximor held his breath, listening intently to the surroundings, but all he could hear was the feeble, rapid beating of Tony's heart.
"I think it left," Ximor said. He too, could feel his heart beat faster than it has ever done before. "If only I could see what it..." he began and then gasped a flat "Oh" as he saw it move through the grass.
11. What goes THUMP in the night
"'Oh'? What 'oh'?" Tony asked, his voice rising towards panic.
"I just thought I saw something. Over here, in the grass," Ximor said, pointing towards the grass.
"Where? I don't see anything, Ximor!" Tony said and Ximor nodded. It was already gone. If it had been there in the first place.
"It was probably my imagination." Ximor tried to comfort Tony. Not that it helped much. Tony was now officially terrified. Ximor couldn't imagine what would happen to the poor kid if he told him what he had seen.
"It was probably just one of the trees," Ximor told himself, ignoring the fact that it had moved.
"Can't we go back to the ship, Ximor? Please?"
"Not yet, Tony. We're here for a reason, remember?"
"I-I know, Ximor, b-but..."
"Soon, I promise," Ximor said. He looked down at Tony who had hunkered into a sitting position, holding his arms locked around his shins while shivering like a lost Puppyblew.
He didn't want to go back. Bonnie needed materials for repairs. He didn't want to go into the jungle either, but he doubted he would ever go back to look for materials if he went back to the beach. If what he saw had been true, he would rather sail a broken ship through the hurricane than to risk the jungle again.
They went further into the jungle, avoiding the wildflowers since they didn't know if they were poisonous or not. Tony looked longingly at a patch of thorny bushes which looked like raspberries, but he didn't need Ximor's reminder to know he shouldn't eat them.
The chirping continued overhead. Something thumped in the far distance. For every step they took into the jungle the sounds became louder and clearer.
Ximor moved quickly, reaching into the grass as he saw something move. His paws slipped against something hard and rugged and then it was gone.
"What in the world?" Ximor asked as he drew his paws back and looked at them. They were covered in a dark green slime.
"Were you talking to me, Ximor?" Tony looked at him.
"No, yes, no... I mean... I..."
Lacking words, he showed his paws to Tony, who drew away from them with a disgusted look on his face.
Something swished past them.
"What was that?!" Tony almost yelled, turning towards the sound. Ximor drew his cutlass again, holding it out in front of him like a stick.
"I have no idea. Can't be the wind, I haven't felt it since we came ashore," Ximor said.
"You are so reassuring, Ximor..."
"I'm sorry, but this place is new for me, too, you know."
"This place is getting creepier by the minute."
"I agree, but we can't give up just yet."
"I know, I know..." Tony crossed his arms and looked down.
Tony's eyes widened. He turned around, studying the ground with wide eyes.
"What is it now, Tony?" Ximor asked and Tony grabbed his shirt and yanked it down.
"Look!" Tony pointed to the grown around them. "Look!"
Ximor looked at what Tony pointed to. Then he saw it. They were standing in a giant footprint of some kind of animal.
"Whoa!" Ximor exclaimed. "This thing is huge!"
"U-huh..." was the only thing that came out of Tony's mouth.
"This is weird," Ximor said. "Anything that makes such huge footprints must be huge as well. So why can't we see it?"
Something crashed down behind them, slamming into the ground with a sound like an explosion. They jumped, and Tony once again grabbed Ximor's belt. The ground shook.
The ground shook again.
Tony turned around, looking into the grass.
"Please. Let's get out of here, Ximor," Tony said in a low, whining tone.
Ximor was about to answer when something slammed into the ground right next to them. Tony screamed and fell forwards.
"Ximor!" Tony yelled, his eyes wide and frantic. Then he was yanked backwards by his legs. Ximor grabbed his arms and Tony clung to his belt. He was yanked back again and Ximor felt the belt dig into his side as Tony pulled on it.
"Help!" Tony shrieked. His legs had been entirely engulfed by the grass and he hung suspended in the air, his knuckles white against Ximor's belt.
Ximor did the only thing he could think to do and threw the cutlass into the grass, aiming just above Tony's legs. Something screamed; a sound of pain and surprise no matter how animalistic it sounded. Tony fell to the ground, his trousers ragged and torn from the knees down.
Tony looked up at him, his eyes wide and teary with fear, and this time Ximor didn't need to hear the question Tony mouthed at him.
"I agree! Run!" Ximor shouted as he grabbed Tony's shoulder and yanked him to his feet.
12. A hasty retreat
They ran through the jungle, zigzagging between the grass as the ground shook below them. Ximor cast a look back, but didn't see anything chasing them. Tony ran next to him, his face red and his forehead covered with pearls of sweat.
Something swooshed over them, close enough to rustle their hair as it passed, and Ximor looked up. Nothing there.
The thumping grew louder and they felt the earth quiver under their feet.
"Run!" Ximor shouted in desperation.
"I knew..." Tony panted. "That I was supposed to do... Something..." he looked up at Ximor and then added in a final pant, "Thanks for reminding me."
Ximor looked at him wide-eyed, the retort surprising him enough to make him momentarily forget he was being chased.
Tony drew ahead, and Ximor followed him, running as fast as he could.
He could hear something snorting behind him through the mad rush of the grass being torn aside.
Something creaked ahead of them and Ximor looked up just in time to see the gargantuan tree, easily two hundred feet tall, fall over.
"Watch out!" he cawed and Tony looked up and then stopped. Ximor ran into him and bit down on the back of his jacket, lifting him like a mother Kougra might lift her young. Tony screamed in pain but Ximor didn't care. They had to keep moving.
The tree fell ahead of them. It moved laboriously sideways, its trunk, easily fifteen feet wide, creaking loudly as the tree bent and tilted. The roots were yanked out of the ground with a squalling noise. Then the tree fell, landing with a resounding crash which seemed to shake the entire jungle.
Something screeched above them and Ximor once again looked up just in time to see a disturbance in the canopy as something disappeared through it. A loud roar sounded behind them, and Tony dropped from his grip and continued sprinting.
"Go through!" Tony shouted and Ximor nodded. He didn't see how; the tree was thicker than anything he had ever seen. Tony leapt forwards, diving into the tangled branches and Ximor felt a split second of hesitation.
This hadn't been behind him. That had been beside him. He looked to the side and saw a large clearing where the grass had been pressed down, and he saw something disappear into the grass. A tail? A hand?
Without thinking he dove into the branches, following Tony's lead. Branches scraped at his face and arms and he landed flat on the ground, his nose momentarily sinking into the mud. He inhaled water, coughed and then sprinted forwards, kicking off with both front and hind paws.
He was running blind, moving through the branches as they scraped at him. Something tore through his jacket, drawing blood from his arm. A branch drew across his face and he only barely managed to close his eyes before it drew over his eyelids with long wooden fingers of pain. Ximor shrieked from the pain but he didn't stop running.
He broke out from the branches and continued running, pushing the grass aside as he went and then...
He skidded to a halt and looked around. No sign of him. No bent grass. No sound. No...
The shout came from behind him. He turned and ran blindly. His mind reminded him of the mystical and mythical animals of the Lost Desert who could imitate speech to lure unwary travelers into traps, but he didn't listen. He had to help Tony.
He ran back to the tree, following the cries for help and then found Tony under the branches. A large branch had punched through his jacket and pinned him to the ground.
"Ximor!" Tony yelled, looking up at him with wide, white eyes; eyes shining with youth and terror.
"Come on!" Ximor yelled back and grabbed Tony's arms and yanked him forwards. The jacket ripped and Tony shrieked with renewed pain but Ximor didn't care and Tony didn't ask him to stop. They had to get away from whatever was making the sound. Whatever it was, it was big and it was chasing them.
"Yeah, that," Ximor agreed and yanked Tony forwards again.
The tree creaked loudly, bending down on the middle and then the trunk began rolling slowly towards them. Branches moved down on them, sinking into the earth around them. The tree sank down further. A loud bang as one of the thicker branches cracked in two, raining sap over them in thick, sticky drops.
"Help me!" Tony screamed and Ximor looked up and saw the thick branch moving slowly down towards Tony's head. Something rocked the tree, making it move forwards and backwards, and the branch drew closer and closer to Tony until it would sink down on him and...
"Come on!" Ximor roared again and yanked Tony forwards. Tony's jacket ripped, the two halves hanging on the branch, and Tony's shoulder popped, but he was free.
Tony stood for a second nurturing his shoulder, his lips moving soundlessly, but there was no time to talk. Ximor turned and ran, and Tony followed.
13. The Bonnie departure.
They sprinted blindly, moving towards the minute glimmer of blue ahead; a shred of sky visible through the jungle. Something bit Ximor's tail, sinking thin, sharp fangs into the flesh, but he didn't have time to scream from the pain. Claws touched his clothes. The grass bent towards Tony, slapping across his face. They ran.
Something whooshed over them, bringing a smell of scaly decay. Something grabbed at Ximor's feet.
He continued running, hoping beyond hope that they would make it. The thumping sound followed them, sounding no more than feet behind them as they moved through the grass, pushing it aside as they ran.
And then, silence.
They fell forwards from the sudden lack of grass to push on, and then landed face-first on the beach. Ximor pushed himself up, spitting out a mouthful of sand, and next to him he could hear Tony's high, triumphant laughter.
"Finally!" Tony almost yelled.
"I'm not so sure it's over yet," Ximor whispered.
He still lay on the beach, painfully aware of the fact that his hind legs were only feet away from the grass. He tried to move forwards and fell back down as pain jittered through his body.
Ximor looked down and saw with mixed dismay and laughter that his jacket was all but torn away; reduced to a few shreds. The fur below was dark with blood.
It's okay, he thought to himself as he looked back at the jungle behind him. It's over.
But the jungle was too silent. There was no sound of disappointed creatures returning to their den. There was no screams of defeat.
"Come on," Tony said, his voice bleak and tired. Ximor continued looking back at the jungle.
"I don't like this," he said and Tony hunkered down next to him.
"It wasn't a joyride for me either," Tony said in a weak attempt at humor.
"No. It's too silent," Ximor replied.
They both looked back at the jungle for a moment and then Ximor tried to get up again. His body ached and refused to move. Tony grabbed his shoulders, attempting to help him. Then, the ground shook one more time.
The sound pierced the air; a shrill, angry sound, louder than anything either of them had ever heard. Ximor put his hands to his ears, his eyes filling with tears from the sound, and Tony did the same.
Ximor got to his feet, the pain and exhaustion forgotten in an instant, and as the sound rang out again he sprinted towards the ship.
Black shadows covered the jungle, coming towards them. Ximor waved his arms frantically at the rest of his crew standing in front of the ship, and they began pushing the ship at once.
Ximor grabbed a shovel and dug frantically at the sand holding the ship. His bloody and bruised arms were forgotten and his short breath was forced to do its duty as he dug. Sand flew into the air and several pets joined him; all digging at the sand as the shrill screech filled the air.
A dark shadow covered the beach, moving towards the ship and Ximor threw the shovel away and began pushing the ship.
"GO! GO! GO!" he yelled, and pets flocked around him, all leaning into the ship. The large hull trembled slightly.
The shadow drew closer. Fifteen feet away.
The ship trembled. A minute wave rose into the ditch they had dug.
The shadow was ten feet away.
"MOVE!" Ximor cried. He thought he might be crying.
The ship trembled slightly. The hull fell. Water sloshed around the bow.
The shadow was five feet away and the ship was in the water.
"Get on or stay behind!" Ximor called, but there was no need. The crew had seen what was coming and they didn't need to be asked twice to get on board. Ximor gave the ship a last push and then grabbed the rope hanging from the deck and climbed up.
The oars were out and the ship pushed away from the shore. The shadow seemed to hover for a moment and then it drew back.
"What happened?" one crew member asked.
"Did you find anything?" another crew member asked. Ximor looked at the crew members who stood in front of them, and then he looked at Tony, who had gone from yellow to white. Then he said in a frightening voice:
The Bonnie Fortune slid through the water, moving away from the beach. The shore was once again silent, the jungle immobile and green. But Ximor knew what they had found. He knew that they would never again set foot on this shore.
Something struck the hull and the boat rocked.
Ximor looked at Tony, and for a moment they both knew what had happened.
The boat rocked again and the air was filled with the sound of splintering planks. Ximor ran to the side of the boat and looked over the railing. A large shadow moved on the water. And directly below him he saw the splintered remains of the oars.
He looked up just in time to see something crash into the mast. As the sail fluttered down upon them like a dead leaf, he heard Tony whisper, "Have mercy on us all."
14. The final task
Ximor stopped talking, and for several seconds there were silence. The bloodthirsty pirates, the showgirls, the unimpressionable bartender; they were all looking at him with wide eyes. The Xweetok maid was weeping softly, her hands still buried in the ruffles of her dress.
Ximor pulled out his map and gave it to the bartender.
"Make sure no one goes near that island," he said and drank the rest of his grog. The bartender rolled out the map; he saw the circle around an empty spot.
"There's nothin' there?" the bartender said and pointed.
"Not right now, no," Ximor agreed and got to his feet. "Keep the map. Ward other adventurers never to go there."
He walked towards the batwing doors and the Lupe called after him. "What about your dubloons?"
The Kougra ignored him.
"Stop!" the Lupe yelled as Ximor pushed the door open. Ximor paused, his paw resting on the door. "Please tell us, before ye go. How did ye survive 't all?" the bartender looked at him with curious eyes.
Ximor looked back, and then laughed a dry, rusty laugh.
He continued walking and the batwing doors flipped silently shut. The pirates got up quickly and ran to the door, but they saw nothing. The docks were empty.
They stood for a long time, watching the empty docks. Mist filled the dock, rolling in from the ocean as it did early in the morning. When it cleared, the Bonnie Fortune was gone as well.