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Thread: The Passion of the Liger

  1. #61
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    Default Chapter 51 - Set sail (or rather set fins)

    “You need passage to Kuma, ey?” said Lucy, eyeing the newcomer. “That’ll be eighteen gold pieces for you.”
    “Eighteen,” said the bushy bearded fellow, “That’s absurd.”
    “Yeah, it’s normally fourteen, but I don’t like your face.”
    The man grumbled. “You’re lucky I don’t have time to mess around. Here, take the gold and show me where the ship is.”
    Lucy took the gold and carefully bit off one of the coins to test if it was genuine. Then she said, “There is no ship today. The only passage to Kuma is on Sandy the Pleiosaur.”
    “A pleiosaur!” said the man, “That’s absurd!”
    “You either get on or you wait for the next ship to Kuma, which could be never.”
    “Fine!” said the man, and he looked at Sandy, who’s head was still resting on the pier. “But if I get eaten, I’m going to write a letter to your management. Okay, how do I get up?”
    Lucy pointed to the leather ladder at the back of Sandy’s head.
    The man spat on his hands and rubbed them together, and then gradually climbed up Sandy. When he reached the top, Narteb offered his hand to help him up.
    “Hi there, I’m Narteb. We’ll be travelling to Kuma together.”
    The man took Narteb’s hand to help himself up, but then merely grunted and brushed past him. Then he pushed through Skaife and Pip, and made his way to one of the seats in the back row.
    “Good luck, team!” called out Lucy from below, “It was nice knowing you. I mean nice meeting you.”
    She began her wild arm gestures. Sandy made a groaning noise and slowly lifted her head.
    “This is so exciting!” said Skaife.
    Narteb could feel the bubbling in his stomach. It was a nice feeling.
    And then, nothing happened.
    Narteb looked down at the controls in front of him. Was he supposed to do something now?
    “Look!” came the gruff voice of the man behind him, “Can we get a move on? I’m in a rush!”
    Narteb looked down and Lucy was winding one of her hands in a circular motion.
    “I hope this works,” he said and he grabbed the left lever and began to wind it away from him. The mechanism began pulling the left rein and Sandy’s head began to turn to the left. She kept turning slowly until she was facing the vast ocean ahead and then Narteb wound the left handle backwards, releasing the rein.
    “Wooooo!” said Pip.
    Now that she was facing the ocean, Sandy automatically began to go forwards. It was exhilarating. Narteb turned around and he could see them leaving the dock behind them. He caught Pip’s eye and Pip raised a fist in the air and said, “To Kuma!”
    Narteb smiled and looked forwards. They were going to a new continent! A place they had only heard about in stories and from the occasional stranger who had come through town. He never really dreamed he would actually be going there. And then he remembered why he was going there. He hoped when they reached Kuma, he would be able to find someone who knew about how they could cure his mum.
    Narteb turned around and said, “Hey, Skaife. What was that thing we need to find in Kuma again?”
    “We need to find an expert in ancient Hyborian or a loremaster who might have some ideas about where we can get information on ancient Hyboria.”
    “And why do we need to go specifically to Kuma again?” said Pip.
    “Because the ancient civilisation of Hyboria was where the nation of Kuma is now. I feel like we have a higher chance of finding an expert on ancient Hyboria there. Especially if we go near where there are ancient ruins.”
    “Could one of you sit in the driver’s seat for a moment?” said Narteb, “I just want to ask this guy if he knows anything about Hyperboring.”
    “Hyboria,” corrected Skaife, “I can take over.”
    They switched places and Narteb and Pip headed to the back and sat with the bushy bearded man.
    “Hi, I’m Narteb and this is Pip.”
    “I don’t care what your names are,” said the man, “Just leave me alone.”
    “I noticed you seemed interested when I mentioned Hyperbole before,” said Narteb.
    “Hyboria,” corrected Pip.
    “Neverheard of it,” said the man, and he folded his arms across his chest, the universal sign of ‘I don’t want to talk’.
    “Please,” said Narteb, “Any help would be good. You see, my mum got turned to stone, and the only lead we have at the moment is finding an expert in…”
    “Ancient Hyboria,” said Pip.
    “Yes,” said Narteb. “Someone like that might be able to help.”
    “Your mum,” said the man, looking into Narteb’s eyes, “Was turned to stone?”
    Narteb nodded. Anyone could tell that he was telling the truth.
    After a long time, the man finally shook his head and said, “Impossible.”
    And he started laughing like a man realising he had half believed a lunatic.
    Narteb could still see his mother’s petrified form clearly in his mind.
    “Thanks, anyway,” said Narteb and he turned and went back to the front seats.
    Skaife, who was sitting in the drivers seat, turned and took one look at his face and said, “It’s fine. I think I got the hang of this driving thing. It’s basically just the same as sitting. Just take a rest for a while, Narteb.”
    Narteb nodded.
    Pip sat next to him. “Don’t worry. He’s just the first person we’ve asked. There will be more people when we reach Kuma.”
    Narteb forced a smile and sat there, looking around at the ocean. Slowly, his mind relaxed and he soaked in the amazing situation he was in . He was with his best friend and a beautiful stranger, on a giant sea creature in the middle of the vast ocean, heading towards Kuma!
    You never know where life will take you, Narteb thought to himself.
    “Hey, what is that?” said Pip, pointing in the distance.
    Narteb looked where he was pointing. He could just make out an island in the distance.
    “There’s someone on the beach,” said Narteb.
    “Yes,” said Skaife, “It looks like they are calling to us.”
    The small dot of a person on the beach was indeed jumping up and down wildly. It was quite obvious they were trying to attract attention. Now Narteb’s eyes had adjusted to the distance, he could actually make out a plume of smoke from a little fire next to the person.
    “Let’s turn Sandy and head to the island,” said Narteb.
    “Aye-aye,” said Skaife. Then after a moment, she added, “How do I do that exactly?”
    “I think you can turn that handle, and release it back again when Sandy is pointing the right way.”
    Skaife began to turn the left handle forward and sure enough, Sandy obediantly began veering to the left.
    “Oy!” called out the bushy man from the back, “What’s the meaning of this? Why are we turning?”
    “We think someone on the island needs our help,” said Narteb.
    “Forget them!” said the man, “We don’t have time to stop for everyone who needs our help.”
    The three kids ignored him. As they got closer, they could see the person on the shore more clearly.
    It was a girl with long black hair. After a while, Sandy began to slow down and finally came to a halt.
    “I think the water is getting too shallow for her to go any further,” said Skaife.
    “You guys stay here,” said Narteb, “I’ll swim to shore and see what’s up.”
    “I’ll come too,” said Skaife, standing up.
    “Me three,” said Pip.
    “I ain’t going nowhere,” said the man with the bushy beard, “And you guys better hurry up, or I might not be here when you come back.”
    Narteb looked at Pip and they were both thinking the same thing.
    “Actually, I’m going to stay back here,” said Pip.
    “Good idea,” said Narteb, “You can look after my backpack too. I didn’t really fancy swimming all that way carrying it.”
    Narteb took off his backpack and passed it to Pip. The only thing Narteb made sure he had on him was his wooden training sword, which he had brought with him from home. It wasn’t much, but it was all he had.
    “Can you look after my things too?” said Skaife.
    Pip nodded and also took her backpack.
    Narteb noticed that Skaife had a single short sword at her waist.
    “Thanks a lot guys,” said Pip, “Now I’m encumbered.”
    Narteb laughed. “I’ll be right back after this quest.” Then he turned to the bushy bearded man and said, “We’ll try to be as fast as possible.
    “Fine,” said the bushy man, “Just my luck to end up on a trip across the sea on the back of a sea monster together with a pack of do-gooder kids.”
    Narteb nodded and climbed down Sandy’s back and then dived into the clear, blue water, which thankfully was not too cold.

  2. #62
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    Default Chapter 52 - Palm on the beach

    Narteb and Skaife swam towards the island and the girl who was calling for help. As they got closer, and Narteb could see her face, he could see that although she was obviously calling for help, she was also shaking her head at them.
    Narteb stopped swimming towards the island and said, ”Skaife, does it look like she is trying to tell us not to come closer?”
    Skaife said, “I believe you’re right. I think she is telling us not to come.”
    “She has chains on her legs,” said Narteb, “Can you see?”
    “Aye,” said Skaife.
    “Let’s go there anyway, “said Narteb, “Maybe she needs our help.”
    “You go ahead,” said Skaife, “I’m going to go around the side and observe from the flank.”
    Narteb nodded and then watched as Skaife took in a big breath and vanished under the water. He did not see her reappear, so he assumed she was diving underneath the water. He began swimming towards the island again and the closer he got, the more certain he was that this lone girl on the sand was trying to tell him with her face not to approach, while at the same time, she was yelling, “Help! Please help!”
    Narteb made it to the shore and walked up to the girl, who had stopped jumping and was just shaking her head and trying to shoo Narteb away with her arms.
    “Hi there. I am Narteb. I’ve come to help.”
    The girl’s eyes darted to a part of the sand nearby, which kind of looked a bit like some sort of mound.
    Narteb was trying to work out what she was trying to say, but it was too late.
    In an instant, the mound of sand burst apart and a figure leaped up and out, somersaulted at Narteb. Before he knew what was happening, he glimpsed an old man with wild, long grey and black hair. The old man struck his palm on Narteb’s chest and our hero was sent flying backwards, an immense pain spreading throughout his body. Narteb felt everything fading, like falling asleep. He heard the old man speaking to the girl.
    “You are much more useful as bait, girl. It is a bit like fishing. I will catch many more.”

  3. #63
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    Default Chapter 53 - The Devil's Claw

    Narteb opened his eyes.
    He was lying in a grassy clearing.
    “So you’ve finally woken up,” said an unfamiliar girl’s voice.
    Narteb looked and saw a girl sitting next to him. It was the girl from the beach. She had long black hair and a cute face. He also noticed that her ankles were chained together, making it almost impossible for her to run.
    “You should have left when you had the chance,” whispered the girl. “Didn’t you notice me shaking my head at you?”
    “I did,” said Narteb, “But I wanted to see if you needed any help.”
    The girl looked at him and didn’t say anything.
    “I’m Narteb,” he said, “What’s your name?”
    “Bethany,” she said, “Listen, you are in great danger. The old man from before is Zvoras the Wild. He is practicing a deadly technique called the Devil’s Claw. He needs people to test it on, and that is why he has captured you. If he does the move on you, you will die on the spot.”
    Narteb did not like the sound of that. He looked down and had a peek at his chest underneath his tunic and could clearly see a red hand print on his skin. His chest still ached.
    “That’s nothing compared to what the Devil’s Claw will-” began Bethany, but she stopped short.
    Someone was coming.
    “Ah!”
    An old man, the very same who had struck Narteb, came out from the trees behind them.
    “So our guest has finally awoken! I have been dying to meet you again. Although it will not be me that will be doing the dying.”
    Zvoras stepped right up to Narteb and commenced a series of rapid movements with his arms and body. Then he recoiled and drew his arms back, fingers clawed, ready to strike.
    “Stop!” said Bethany, “What are you doing? You’re just going to go straight to the Devil’s Claw? What if you do it wrong? It’ll be a waste to just half kill the boy. We waited eight weeks for someone to come. You should practice on some trees first.”
    “You have a point, girl,” said Zvoras, stroking his chin, “It would be a waste to incorrectly on him. I will practice on these trees first.”
    And he turned and walked over to some nearby trees and began striking them.
    “You need to escape now,” whispered Bethany, “It’s your only chance.”
    “Come with me,” said Narteb, “You are a prisoner here too.”
    “Yes,” said Bethany, “Alas I cannot run with these,” She pointed at the iron shackles around her ankles. “Don’t worry about me. Zvoras needs me alive to lure other people, he won’t let me die.”
    “Where is the key to unlock the chains?” said Narteb.
    “He threw it away after he put them on me,” said Bethany.
    Narteb decided then and there that he would either rescue Bethany or he would die trying.
    “Narteb,” said Bethany, “Do you know that girl?”
    Narteb looked up to where Bethany was pointing. Perched on a tree branch nearby was Skaife! Narteb was so glad to see her! She was holding what looked like a net in her hands. When she saw Narteb looking up she raised the net and pointed at Zvoras, who was still busy punching trees. Narteb felt like he understood she had in mind.
    “That’s Skaife,” said Narteb, “She is with me. When she throws the net on the old guy, you jump on my shoulders and I piggyback you to the shore we came from. Which direction is that?”
    “It’s that way,” said Bethany, pointing to the east, “But forget about me. You can run much faster without me.”
    “I’ve already decided,” said Narteb, “I will rescue you now or I will die trying. Be ready to jump on my back.”
    Bethany could sense his determination and nodded. The two of them waited in silence. After some time they heard a cry from Zvoras.
    “Ouch! Dammit! A splinter!” the old man cried, inspecting his palm, “Well that’s enough warm up now. It’s Devil Claw time, methinks!” He began to walk towards them and was quite distracted as he was busy taking out the splinter.
    Skaife was ready with the net and as soon as Zvoras walked underneath the branch she was on, she dropped the net and it draped over the old man, entangling him.
    Skaife jumped down and landed gently as a cat and then ran over pinned Zvoras down.
    Narteb crouched down and Bethany jumped on his back. He got up and started to dash towards the beach. Very soon afterwards, he heard someone running behind them.
    “This way, Narteb,” said a familiar female voice.
    Thankfully, the person running after them had been Skaife! She veered to the right and Narteb followed. They ran through the trees and Narteb learned it was much harder running whilst piggybacking someone!
    Eventually they reached the shore. It was a different part of the beach than where they had first arrived.
    Narteb saw why Skaife had led them this way. A little boat was upturned and tied to a wooden post on the sand.
    “I see!” he said, “A getaway vehicle!”
    “It’s Zvoras’s fishing boat!” said Bethany.
    “His fishing net sure came in handy!” laughed Skaife.
    Narteb put Bethany down and she got into the boat as Narteb and Skaife pushed it into the water, before getting in themselves.
    Narteb grabbed the oars and began rowing the boat as hard as he could. He kept looking back at the island, half expecting the old man to appear any second and start chasing them, but thankfully he was nowhere to be seen.
    “What is that?!” said Bethany.
    Narteb and Skaife looked over and saw a giant sea creature coming towards them.
    “That,” said Narteb, “Is our ride.”
    “You guys are cool,” said Bethany, her eyes sparkling, a mixture of fear and delight.

  4. #64
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    Default Chapter 54 - Side by side

    Sandy the Pleiosaur approached the little fishing boat. It was an incredible sight. She swam around them, circling them a few times before slowing down. This caused the boat to spin, but nobody on board minded. Narteb looked up and saw the bushy bearded fellow in the driver’s seat.
    “Good job, Bushy Beard!”. called out Narteb.
    The man nodded his head. He seemed a lot friendlier than before. It must have been the ‘Pip Effect’, thought Narteb. Everybody loved Pip.
    Speaking of Pip, here he was, at the bottom of the leather ladder on Sandy’s side. He had a rope tied to one of the leather straps and he tossed the other end to Narteb, who used it to pull the little boat in.
    “Hiya,” said Pip.
    “Salutations,” said Narteb.
    “Picking up some extra passengers, are we?” smiled Pip.
    “Bethany,” said Narteb, “This is Pip. Pip, this is Bethany. I’ll tell you all about it later.”
    Pip helped them get up the ladder. When all three had finally made it to the top of Sandy’s back, they plunked himself down on the first available seats. Narteb stretched out and then sighed, saying, “Phew! And now I will take a nap.”
    “Fine,” the Bushy Bearded Fellow called out, “You do whatever you like. But now we go to Kuma! I’ve had enough waiting around for you lot.”
    He pulled on the reins and Sandy began to turn and soon began swimming in a direction Narteb assumed was towards Kuma.
    “By the way guys,” said Pip, “The Bearded Guy’s name is Bento. And he’s not quite as big a jerk as we thought.”
    “Hi, Bento!” said Narteb.
    “Hello, Bento,” said Skaife.
    “Greetings, Bento,” said Bethany.
    Bento growled. It was a fairly good natured growl, and they all chose to interpret it as a positive noise.
    “Well,” said Narteb, “I am so sleepy!”
    He went up to the closest empty seat, got cosy, closed his eyes and fell into a slumber. When he finally woke up, it was nighttime. It felt like he had been asleep for hours; he felt so refreshed. Narteb could hear the quiet muttering of two voices, Pip and Bethany, chatting together in some deep conversation peppered with chuckles. Narteb looked around. Bento was fast asleep in the back, and Skaife was sitting alone at the front, in the driver’s seat.
    Narteb stood up, stretched out his arms to wring out the sleepiness from his body, and then went to the front and climbed into the seat next to Skaife.
    “Had a good rest?” she asked.
    “I feel so refreshed,” said Narteb.
    She smiled at him.
    Narteb looked at her. Seeing her sitting there in the darkness, her face illuminated by the starlight, with the sea wind blowing wisps of hair over her face, he admired how beautiful she was.
    Perhaps she knew what he was thinking, because she gazed back into his eyes, smiling. For the rest of the night, they didn’t say much to each other. But the observant would have noticed that they both leaned in and sat closer to each other. Close enough that their warm bodies pushed against each other. The wind blew fairly stron gthat night, but Narteb none of the cold. All he felt was the heat coming the person next to him who was hotter than the Sun.

  5. #65
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    Default Chapter 55 - Haze

    Someone tapped Narteb on the shoulder.
    It was Pip and Bethany.
    “We’ll take over driving for you,” said Pip, “Go take a rest.”
    Narteb and Skaife hopped out and were replaced by Pip and Bethany. Narteb noticed the iron chains were still around Bethany’s ankles.
    “We’ll go find someone who can remove those as soon as we reach Kuma,” said Narteb.
    Bethany looked down and said, “To be honest, I’d almost forgotten they were there.”
    Narteb nodded and then began making his way to the back. A nap would be so nice. He stood in the aisle and stretched his arms and twisted his back a little. It felt so great.
    “Ahem,” came a pleasant voice from behind him.
    He turned around and saw Skaife.
    “Do you mind?” she said, “You’re blocking the entire path. Some of us have places to go.”
    “I’m sorry,” said Narteb, “I’m stretching and it feels really good. You’re going to have to wait.”
    Skaife stuck her tongue out at him.
    Narteb continued to do a few more stretches. Some side bends. A few half squats. He circled his ankles a little bit. When was feeling pretty good, he proceeded to do a few more, just for good measure. He even made up a few new stretches. When he was positive he was done, he smiled and then sat down.
    Skaife sat down on the seat across from him. Narteb closed his eyes and settled his body into nap mode. He managed to relax everywhere except his mouth. He couldn’t contain the smile that had formed on his lips!
    Time passed.
    “Narteb!”
    He opened his eyes.
    “Narteb! Come here!”
    It was Pip calling to him.
    Narteb got up, still a bit woozy from his interrupted slumber, and made his way to the front. By the time he reached Pip, he knew exactly why his friend had called him. And he knew precisely what his friend was going to say next.
    The two friends looked at each other and both shouted at the top of their lungs, “Land, ho!”
    “You guys are such dorks!” laughed Bethany.
    Narteb looked at the strip of land on the horizon and felt excitement welling up in his stomach, like a kettle beginning to boil, or a bubbling cauldon. He could see rocky cliffs and green hills and also what looked like a city! They were approaching a port city of Kuma! For the very first time in his life, Narteb would be stepping out onto another country!
    Sandy began to veer to the left. As they had done for most of the journey, the party allowed the her to do her thing. She seemed to know where to go!
    Narteb reached down and placed his palm tenderly on the pleiosaur’s back.
    “Good, girl,” he said.
    Sandy approached one of the piers, and eventually came to a halt. Perfect stop! There was a man standing there waiting. He had a round face, with a curly moustache, and he was rather plump.
    “Sandy!” the man cried out. He had his arms wide open, “You made it!”
    Sandy made a noise. It was a happy sound. Then she lowered her head and rested it on the pier. The man came over and gave the pleiosaur a big hug (well you could call it a hug, but her head and neck was so big, it was more like the man just flattened his body onto her cheek). When he was satisfied, he called out to the party.
    “Come down, you lot,” he said.
    One by one, they all climbed down from Sandy’s back, down her neck and then finally onto the pier.
    “As much as I loved the journey,” said Pip, “It’s good to be on solid ground again.”
    The round faced man laughed, “Greetings! I am Baron! Thank you for travelling with Bon Bon Voyage. You are the first travellers on our pleiosaur service. I am pleiosed that you made it to Kuma safely!”. Then he chuckled at his own attempt at a pun.
    “What are you the Baron of?” said Pip.
    “Oh, it’s not a title,” said the man, “My name is Baron.”
    “So,” said Narteb, “If you did become the Baron of something, you would be Baron Baron?”
    Baron scratched his chin and said, “I suppose I would!”
    “Well, it’s been a pleasure,” said Bento interrupting, “But I really must be going now. See you all later! Or not. I don’t care.”
    And with that, Bento the bushy bearded fellow wandered off down the pier towards the shore.
    “Well, I guess we should get going,” said Narteb. he turned to Sandy and placed his hand on her big cheek.
    “Goodbye, Sandy,” he said, “Thanks!”
    “Goodbye, Sandy!” said the others.
    And with that, they all began walking down the pier towards the town.
    “Bethany,” said Skaife, “Do you know what this city is called?”
    “Of course!” said Bethany, “My brother used to take me here as a kid. It is the city of Haze.”
    “And what an a-Haze-ing place it is indeed!” said Pip.
    Narteb looked at Pip and then both friends burst out laughing.
    “What are your plans now, Bethany?” said Skaife.
    “Well, I think I really want to go back to my village of Aido. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my family. I miss them a lot!”
    “For sure,” said Narteb. And for a few moments, he thought of his own family. His mum. And his dad. Even his dog Paddles.
    “What will you guys do now?” said Bethany.
    “We need to find an expert on Ancient Hyborea,” said Skaife.
    Bethany stopped in her tracks. “What did you say?”
    “We need an expert on Ancient Hyborea.”
    “Is that so,” said Bethany stroking her chin, “Then I think I know just the person you need to meet. Come with me!”
    Last edited by Thuaners; 11-05-18 at 09:35 AM.

  6. #66
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    Default Chapter 56 - Family

    The gang was walking through the bustling market.
    "Get your fresh fish here!"
    "Fancy some new jewellery?"
    "I have bongos! If you need a bongo come here!"
    "Wow, this place is cool," said Pip, "I wonder if they sell interesting ocarinas here?"
    Narteb was looking around and enjoying the moment; the morning sun felt warm on his face. He observed the Kuman people, going about their business and realised that they weren’t that different from the people back home.
    “Hold up, guys.”
    Narteb felt a hand upon his chest. It was Skaife.
    "I don't want to alarm anyone," she whispered and leaned in close to Narteb’s ear,"But I think someone is watching us."
    Narteb's immediate thought was how much he liked Skaife's hand on his chest and that she smelled really nice.
    "Watching us?" said Pip, a bit too loudly.
    "Shh!" said Skaife.
    "Why would anyone be watching us?" said Narteb, “Hey, Bethany, do you owe people some money or something?”
    "Oh, did I forget to mention I have a bounty on my head?" said Bethany with a grin.
    "Duck!" said Skaife.
    Narteb, Pip and Bethany all scattered and leapt to the side. Narteb noticed something go whizzing past them.
    Skaife scanned the area to discern where the attack had some from. In a split second her instincts told her it had come from a dark alleyway nearby and she immediately sprinted towards it, drawing her shortsword. She rounded the corner and saw a teenage boy curled up on the ground, laughing. He had blonde hair very much like her own. It took a moment for her to register who it was. It was not someone she was expecting to see in Kuma.
    "Denny?" said Skaife.
    "Oh, you are good," laughed the boy. And he bounced onto his feet. He had grown a lot taller since she had last seen him.
    "Someone you know?" said Narteb.
    Narteb, Pip and Bethany had followed her into they alleyway.
    Skaife nodded and launched herself at the tall skinny boy, with the warmest hug.
    "Yes, I know him," said Skaife, "Everyone meet my little brother, Denny."
    Denny waved and gave everyone a big grin.
    "Sorry about shooting at you before," said Denny, and he pulled out a wooden peashooter, “It was just a little pepple, it wouldn't have been fatal. I was aiming for Skaifey." Denny couldn’t help but notice the cute Bethany and winked at her, and while he was checking out her legs he noticed she was in chains. "Are ankle chains a new fashion I'm not aware of?" Denny said.
    "Yes," said Bethany, "I want to get wrist ones too but I can't afford them yet.” She chuckled and moved some of her hair behind her ear, “No, actually it's a long story, but I don't have the key for these, so I have to wear them for a little longer."
    "Ah!” said Denny, his eyes widening, “I can help you with that. I need to practice my lockpicking anyway." He knelt down at Bethany's feet and pulled out a leather scroll from his tunic. He unravelled it and inside were all manner of thin metal lockpicking tools. He took a few picks out and started fiddling around with the lock around Bethany’s legs. At some stage he had a lockpick in his mouth. Whether or not this was necessary, nobody was quite sure, but it sure made him look the part.
    "When did you learn how to do this?" said Skaife, "Or more importantly, what are you doing in Kuma?"
    Denny muttered something incoherently, but you couldn't really blame him as he was rather focussed on the task at hand (plus he had some lockpicks sticking out of his mouth).
    And then…
    Click!
    It was the most satisfying sound! Especially to Denny and Bethany.
    The chains were unlocked!
    "My hero!" said Bethany, and she kissed him on the cheek.
    Denny blushed.
    “Don’t mention it,” he said, “Actually no, tell all your friends.”
    "What are you doing in Kuma?" said Skaife.
    Denny carefully put his lockpicks away and then with a big grin said, "I'm following in your footsteps sis!" He proudly rolled up the sleeve of his tunic and revealed a tattoo on his wrist.
    It was a Blue Rose.
    "No!" said Skaife, "Don't tell me you've joined the Blue Rose!"
    “I have,” said Denny, looking confused, "But what’s wrong? You are in the Blue Rose as well.”
    "I left them," said Skaife, "And you should leave too. They are not good, Denny!"
    "They've been good to me," said Denny, "I'm not leaving. I didn't know you left them."
    "Come with us, Denny," said Skaife, "I'm helping my friend-"
    "I'm not going anywhere," said Denny, "I'm a mission here in Kuma. Plus I made an oath. You should come back to the Blue Rose. Captain Atlantia always talks about you. We can do missions together!"
    "No," said Skaife, "Leave them. Come with me."
    Denny looked at his sister and turmoil swirling inside him. Finally, his face darkened and he said, “Goodbye, Sis. It was good seeing you again.” And without another word, he turned and vanished into the crowded market.
    Skaife stood there silently. She wanted run after him, but she knew her little brother well enough to know it would do no good. Finally, she turned to the others and said, "Let's continue on with our journey."
    They all nodded and resumed their walk through the market, Bethany leading the way.

  7. #67
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    Default Chapter 57 - Ephemeral Beauty

    Bularg sat alone in his restaurant, ‘Hello Jello’, with a big smile on his face. It was quiet. He was the first to arrive, as he always was. No one else would be here for another hour.
    “Hi, Bularg,” said a familiar, sweetly musical voice.
    Yes, someone had interrupted his quiet solitude, but he knew the owner of that voice and she was one of his favourite people in the world.
    “Lyris!” he said, standing up and turning around.
    In the doorway, stood a beautiful girl, who was tall and slender, with long blonde, slightly wavy hair. She was currently wearing a light, flowy dress. She held a small cloth bag in one hand.
    And standing next to her was a goat.
    “I would ask you why you have a goat,” said Bularg, “But since you are Lyris, I’m not even surprised anymore.” He began to walk towards her but she held up one finger, so he froze.
    Lyris looked at the billie goat and nodded (which seemed to mean ‘stay here’), and then she proceeded to walk deliberately towards Bularg, cloth bag in hand. She was barefoot today, so her feet silently pacing on the wooden floorboards created such a dramatic effect. When she reached the big space in the centre of the room, she stopped, looked Bularg in the eyes, flashed a smile (that sent an arrow of love into his heart!) and then began spinning rapidly in place!
    It was a beautiful, magical sight. She spun just like a spinning top, if that the top happened to be a lovely girl. Her flowy dress flew outwards as she spun.
    And then the flower petals!
    All around her, from high up in the air, pink rose petals were floating down all around her as gently as snowflakes.
    Bularg soaked in this sight, for he knew he was witnessing beauty.
    Finally, the spinning slowed down and Lyris bowed gracefully.
    Bularg clapped his two meaty hands together. “Wonderful!”
    Lyris smiled and then came over to Bularg, who gave her a great big hug, lifting her off the ground.
    “Now, I don’t know what that was, or what I did to deserve that, but thank you, girl,” he said, “That is one hell of a way to start the day.”
    “I just wanted to do something memorable,” said Lyris, “Something you could remember me by.”
    Suddenly, the joyful feeling in Bularg began draining out of him. “What do you mean ‘remember me by’?” he said.
    Lyris looked sad now. It was very rare to see her like this. She said, “I’ve been working here for a few years and loved every minute of it. But I’ve decided to resign.”
    She said some more things, about how she wanted to pursue her passion for adventure and learning about ancient civilisations. But Bularg was in too much shock to take it all in. He felt like he had been hit in the chest with a hammer.
    “No, you can’t go!” he said. But even as he said it, he knew he had to let her go.
    “I have to go, Boss,” said Lyris quietly.
    “Fine,” he said, “Follow your dream. Do it while you can. We’ll be okay here.” That last part may have been a lie. He wasn’t sure how he would go without this lovely girl brightening up his day and his restaurant.
    She hugged him.
    “I’ll always remember my time here,” she said.
    “Come and visit us whenever you’re passing through,” he said, “And I’ll even let you eat Jello at half-price.”
    Lyris laughed.
    It was the most beautiful sound in the world.
    “I’ll be sure to stop by then,” she said, “I love Jello.”
    “What about me?“ said Bularg.
    “You’re alright.”
    She started to walk away.
    “Hey, wait a minute! Who’s going to clean up this mess you’ve made?” grinned Bularg.
    Lyris smiled and then looked at the goat, who had been wandering around the restaurant the whole time, and said, “Hey, Terry Haines! Eat!”
    And the goat came bouncing over, and began eating the rose petals on the floor.
    Bularg laughed.
    “There’s no one else like you.”

  8. #68
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    Default Chapter 58 - The one left behind

    “We’re getting closer!” said Bethany, and she started to skip along the cobblestone road.
    Narteb jogged to keep up with her.
    “It’s so cool,” said Bethany, as she led them down this street and that, “I’ve been to Hello Jello so many times, I can get there in my sleep!”
    She stopped for a moment and said, “Hmm, this shop here has changed. But I think we turn here.” And she continued skipping down a side street. “I can’t wait until you meet Lyris! I love her!”
    “Who is Lyris?” said Narteb.
    “She’s a waitress at Hello Jello,” said Bethany, “She’s really into ancient civilisations, ruins, that type of thing. If you need…. what was it you needed an expert in again?”
    Narteb looked at her blankly.
    “Ancient Hyborea,” cried out Skaife from behind.
    “Yes,” said Bethany, “I think she can help you.”
    They rounded one more corner and entered an alleyway. There was a big, inviting looking shop at the end.
    “And here we are!” said Bethany, “Hello Jello, home of my favourite jelly in the world...” Her voice trailed off.
    The entrance to the shop had a ‘closed’ sign on it. Next to the door, was a boy keeping himself amused by bouncing a ball on the wall. As Narteb and friends approached, the boy turned to them.
    “Shop’s closed today, sorry,” he said, “Everyone had gone to see Lyris off.”
    “See Lyris off?” said Bethany.
    “She quit today,” said the boy.
    “No!” said Bethany, “She can’t!”
    Bethany and the boy looked at each other and frowned.
    “I’ve actually brought my friends here to introduce them to Lyris,” said Bethany.
    “You’d better hurry then,” said the boy, “They’re saying farewell to her outside the East Gate.” Then he added, “Near the copse.”
    “The what?” said Bethany.
    “Exactly!” said the boy, “That’s what I said to the Boss. It means small group of trees. I said to him why not just say small group of trees, but he said saying copse is faster. And I said not if nobody knows what a copse is.”
    “I know what a copse is,” said Skaife.
    Everyone looked at her.
    The boy continued, “Well you better hurry and get to that copse.”
    “Thanks!” said Bethany, “Let’s go gang!”
    She turned and ran off, and the others followed.
    The boy watched them leave, and was about to go back to bouncing his ball, when he remembered something he had been meaning to say.
    “Guys!” he called out, “Do you know why they left me here?”
    But it was too late. Bethany and her friends had vanished around the corner.
    The boy sighed.
    “It’s because I’m a waiter.”

  9. #69
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    Default Chapter 59 - Sweet Sorrow

    What would have been a very pleasant afternoon, now felt a bit too warm and sticky for Narteb and the gang, who were dashing through the streets of Haze, trailing Bethany as she led them to the East Gate.
    Eventually, they reached a massive stone archway; the shade they felt as they passed underneath was a brief but welcomed reprieve from the sun.
    “We made it!” said Bethany, “I present, the East Gate!”
    “Yay!” said Pip.
    Bethany led them out of the brown, bustling city and they were rewarded with a glorious view of green, undulating hills, peppered with trees.
    “The copse!” said Pip, pointing to a small group of trees beside the main road.
    “But no group of people…” said Skaife.
    There was only one other person here. Parked underneath a tree with many soft, leafy branches that drooped down like shaggy hair, was a teenage boy, who looked the very definition of pensive.
    “He looks sad,” commented Skaife.
    The gang approached the boy, who was so deep in thought he didn’t notice them until Skaife was almost standing on top of him.
    “How’s it going?” said she said.
    The boy looked up at her and said, “To be honest, my heart feels heavy. And aches.”
    “Love?” said Skaife.
    The boy’s grimace answered the question.
    Skaife was silent and waited for the boy to continue.
    “There is this girl I’ve liked for years. She left today, perhaps forever. Just then, I finally told her that I liked her.” A slight smile formed on his face when he said the last part, like a glimpse of the sun behind a cloud.
    “That’s really brave of you,” said Skaife.
    “It was really hard,” said the boy, “But I did it. I wish I’d done it sooner.”
    “I don’t know if this will help,” said Skaife, “But I think sometimes we learn lessons in life, and it can help us if it happens again in the future. I don’t know. Or maybe if we did everything perfectly the first time, would life be too boring then?”
    The boy took in her words but said nothing.
    “By the way, I’m Skaife. And these are my friends, Narteb and Bethany. And that’s Pip. He’s not really my friend but I tolerate him.”
    “Oy!” said Pip.
    The boy laughed. “I’m Lairy. Pleased to meet you all. You guys are from Tuscan?”
    “The accent gives us away?” said Skaife.
    “A little,” smiled Lairy.
    “I’m actually from around here.,” Bethany piped in, “Have you heard of Aido?”
    “Aido?” said Lairy, “Aidon’t know where that is.”
    Narteb and Pip started laughing.
    “You guys are a long way from home,” said Lairy.
    “We have this page from an old book,” said Narteb, “But it’s in an ancient language we can’t read. Bethany said she has a friend who might be able to.”
    “Lyris,” said Bethany.
    The boy looked stunned when he heard the name. And then he started laughing.
    “What’s so funny?” said Bethany.
    “Lyris is the girl I liked!” said Lairy, “What a small world this is.”
    “You think it’s the same Lyris?” said Skaife.
    “There is only one Lyris,” said Bethany and Lairy at the exact same time, in the exact same tone. They both looked at each other and gave each other a high-five.
    “Unfortunately, you just missed her,” said Lairy.
    “After all that running!” said Pip and he collapsed onto the ground.
    “But I can tell you where she was headed,” said Lairy, “She’s headed to the city of Raima.”
    “Fantastic!” said Narteb, “We have another lead.”
    “Thank you so much,” said Skaife and she leant in and kissed Lairy on the cheek, “I hope you feel better soon.”
    Lairy touched his cheek and blushed, “Shucks, I feel a bit better already.”
    The rest of the crew bid the boy farewell and gathered on the main road.
    Narteb turned to Bethany and said, “Thanks so much for helping us! We can take it from here. I know you’ll want to return to your family and life after all this time.”
    “Yes, I miss them a lot,” said Bethany, “I really wish I could have helped you find Lyris.”
    “You’ve helped us so much already,” said Narteb, “ We would have had no idea where to start looking if it wasn’t for you.”
    “And if it wasn’t for you, I’d still be trapped on that island,” said Bethany.
    Narteb and Bethany hugged, and it was warm and satisfying.
    “I know you will save your mum,” said Bethany firmly.
    Narteb’s eyes smiled.
    “If you ever pass through Aido, please visit me!” said Bethany. Then she borrowed some pencil and paper from Pip and drew out a map for them, showing the way to Raima. She added in as much detail as she could and gave them as many tips for the journey as she could think of.
    When she was done, she bid them farewell and watched her three friends walk off down the East Road, further and further, until they became mere dots on the horizon and waited still longer until even the dots themselves could no longer be seen.

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