The Book: Part Six
Maria, Freddy and John crept through the bowels of the Swift Quintilc. It wasn’t a particularly stealthy escape; they were discovered at almost every turning, but with the help for a few sleeping spells, the guards never got to raise the alarm.
“If we make it to the deck, I can do some magic to get us down,” Maria explained as they rounded a corner. “I just need to be out in the air in order to think properly.”
Freddy peered out of a nearby porthole.
“We’ve entered a storm,” he said calmly. “They shouldn’t notice us on deck if we’re quick.”
“Great, another storm,” John said, rubbing the bump on his head the wreckage of the Irritating Pawkeet had left on him.
“We can leave you behind if it’s that much trouble,” Maria told him flatly.
The group rounded another corner and almost walked straight into the brown Mynci, the Captain of the ship. Maria barely had time to flinch before the Mynci had drawn a long blade from its sheath.
“I feel slightly amiss,” he told Maria, holding the blade a few inches from her throat. “I did not fully introduce myself. I am General Shan, leader of the Shenkuu forces and Captain of the Emperor’s personal guard. I feel you owe me the same courtesy, as no simple student of magic would go rampaging about my ship, assaulting my men and breaking prisoners out of the brig. Just who are you?”
“I... told you...” Maria stuttered.
She knew she couldn’t run, and she didn’t have time for a spell.
“An enemy of the Empire, a thief? A sky pirate perhaps?” Shan the Mynci pressed her.
“A barmaid, if you must know,” John scoffed from behind Freddy.
If Maria could have turned to glare at him, she would have.
Outside the ship, there was a clap of lightning, and suddenly the ship rocked from side to side. The Mynci was thrown off balance, crashing into the wall and dropping his sword. Maria was about to take advantage of the situation when she found an elbow in her stomach. John had appeared from nowhere, and as Maria fell backwards, he snatched the book away from her. Maria had barely hit the floor when he was half way down the corridor.
“I’ve had it with him!” she screamed at the top of her voice, and ran after him.
Freddy, meanwhile, helped the Mynci to his feet.
“You would help me, even though I imprisoned you?” Shan asked the pirate.
“Your men have sailed this sky ship right into a storm,” Freddy explained. “You’ll need someone good at the helm to get out of this alive.”
“You would offer your services?” Shan asked.
“It seems to me, a ship sinking in the sea is one thing, but a ship being blown out of the sky is something quite deadlier for those onboard,” the Chomby said wisely. “Show me the way.”
Maria ran as fast as she could through the maze of corridors beneath the deck of the Swift Quintilc. She didn’t know the way, but she could feel the book in front of her, guiding her like a beacon. It wasn’t long before she emerged into the pouring rain above deck. The Shenkuu sailors were rushing about, trying to keep the sails up and stopping each other from falling overboard. John was already at the side of the ship, staring down to the face of Neopia.
“You can’t give it to the Faeries!” Maria yelled into the wind.
John turned back, the book was grasped tightly in one hand, he held on to the rigging with the other.
“Faeries?” he asked.
“You said they were your clients!” Maria shouted at him.
“I lied!” he shouted back, laughing at her. “Just plain ordinary Neopets, I’m afraid! A story about Faeries was the only way I was getting out of that cell!”
He didn’t wait for more conversation; he let go of the rigging and plunged over the side of the ship.
“No!” Maria screamed, running forward to lean over the edge.
Through the haze of the rain, she could see John fall. Halfway to the ground, he seemed to glow bright green. It was magic; with it, he’d survive the fall. Maria screamed into the rain. She’d lost the book; she’d lost her book.
Shan and Freddy arrived on the deck moments later.
“There,” Shan said, pointing towards the helm.
Freddy nodded and made his way over. He pushed the Shenkuu soldier at the wheel aside, and began barking orders at the remaining crew. Maria stood at the side of the ship, panting for breath. They were over the Haunted Woods; it would take time for John to find his way out of them.
The Haunted Woods...
Maria didn’t think. Blind rage at John and despair at losing the book clouded her judgement. She swung her legs over the side, and jumped off, beginning her long fall to the ground. The crew didn’t notice her leave; they were too busy trying to stop the ship from falling apart.
Maria fell at such a rate of knots that the rain hitting her face actually seemed to be flying upwards. The wind battered her face, she could hardly breathe. Her brain caught up with her body, and the gravity of the situation sank in. Her first response was to scream, emptying every last atom of air out towards the ground.
This is it, she thought. This is how I die.
“We can’t go to war with the Faeries; they’d flatten us!” Jerdana shouted at Edna on a nearby broomstick.
“So what do you suggest?” Edna shot back. “We just sit in my tower waiting to have our powers stripped from us? Do you really think that King Altador would still want you around if you had no magical powers?”
“King Altador chose the members of the council for more than their magic,” Jerdana shouted back, but she didn’t seem so convinced.
“How do we even attack the Faeries?” Kauvara asked. “We can’t storm Faerieland.”
“We’ll think of something,” Edna said moodily.
“How?” Kauvara pressed on. “Answers don’t just fall from the sky!”
Strangely, at that precise moment, they did.
Maria crashed directly into Edna’s broomstick. The young Ixi barely managed to grab it with her fingers, and the force of suddenly stopping her descent caused searing pain throughout her body. Terrified, she looked up into Edna’s eyes.
“Help me,” she gasped with the last of her breath.
Her eyes closed, and her hand slipped, beginning her fall to Neopia once more. Edna caught her, hauling her over the broomstick.
“What in the world?” Sophie asked, coming closer.
“Barmaids falling from the sky?” Morguss asked.
The witches circled downwards through the rain, entering Edna’s tower through the window. Edna rushed Maria to the fire, which Sophie and Morguss jointly lit.
“Where did she fall from?” Kauvara asked.
Maria was drenched to the bone, her apron was muddy and ripped, and her hair was tangled and dirty. The girl looked as if she’d been living in a ditch for twenty years. The witches gathered round her, concerned looks in their eyes. Slowly, Maria opened her eyes. A faint smile spread across her lips, but it was trembling.
“I know where your book is,” she said as loudly as she could, which was barely a whisper.
The witches breathed in as one.
“What did you say, dear?” Edna asked politely.
“The book,” Maria repeated with a laboured gasp, before passing out.
The sky was clear, the mountains were below them, and the ship was safe. Freddy was still at the wheel, whistling merrily to himself.
“You saved us all,” Shan said as he approached the helm.
“I lost myself one ship. I’m not losing any more,” Freddy told him.
“When we reach Shenkuu, I shall tell the Emperor of your valour,” Shan told him. “He will look kindly upon you, I am sure.”
“I won’t be arrested for piracy?” Freddy asked him.
“The Emperor need not know of your... profession,” the Mynci replied.
“As long as I can make it back to Krawk Island, I don’t care,” Freddy told him.
There was a strange glint in Freddy’s eye as he turned the wheel. His heart was beating faster; his mind was racing to new conclusions. For once, these conclusions didn’t involve thimbles.
A flying ship, he thought to himself, and flying pirates! The skies won’t know what hit them! Now, I need a crew...
John ran through the undergrowth of the Haunted Woods, the book held firmly in one of his hands. He’d landed near Ilere’s lair; he needed to get away quickly. If the Faeries learned of the book’s existence, he’d be done for. Most importantly, he wouldn’t get the large bag of Neopoints from his employers, the Circle of the Crimson Circle. It would be a long trek to Neopia Central, and he had to go on foot. He couldn’t risk travel by air; between the Faeries and witches he’d surely be spotted. But at last he was free of that stupid barmaid and the equally stupid pirate. He’d won; now all he had to do was collect his reward.
To be continued...