“Hyren, we have to land!” Blynn shouted over a crash of thunder.
“No! The storm will break soon!” Hyren yelled back, spitting out the water that spattered into his mouth every time he opened it.
“That’s what you said an hour ago!” Blynn said.
A fork of lightning rent the sky, alarmingly close to the Ganuthor and her two riders. It illuminated an infinite sea of tortured black clouds, twisted into anguished shapes by the relentless wind. Diffuse spots of lightning bloomed and faded around them.
Hyren wasn’t even sure which way was up anymore as he pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. Not that that would do anything, since it was just as soaking wet as the rest of him. The storm seemed to drain the colour from even Blynn’s bright disco fur, and rain matted it against her body.
But they had to press on. His family needed him.
“This wind’s way too strong!” Blynn said, ears flailing wildly behind her. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re going backwards!”
“It’s impossible to tell!” Hyren replied. “We’ll just push through! This storm can’t last forever!”
“Neither can Gwyneth!” Blynn said.
Their mount tossed her head and gave an exhausted grunt, her wings beating at the thick air. A gust of wind slammed into them and she listed sharply. Clinging to the Ganuthor’s back with his knees, Hyren hooked one arm around Blynn’s middle.
He knew that. In one part of his mind, he knew that. But the other part just wanted so badly to see Terra and Pharazon again that it overpowered everything else. “Please… just a little longer,” he breathed.
“Forget it, Hyren!” Blynn said. She tapped Gwyneth’s head, and the Ganuthor banked to the side and began to drop. “I’m tired of doing this your way! I’m taking her down—“
A sound like ripping paper sliced through the air as claws of lightning reached for them. A wall of cold wind ploughed into them, then they tumbled, Blynn screamed—and then Hyren felt a painful thump and blacked out.
The next thing Hyren knew was pain. Lots and lots of pain.
“Ugh…” he moaned. He tried to open his eyes, but a splitting headache forced them shut again. He seemed to be in a reclining position, with a heavy blanket over him. Something smelled like a mixture of the Soup Kitchen and the Meridell Rubbish Dump.
“Hm. I’m surprised you’re awake so soon,” a gruff voice said from somewhere beside him.
“I’m full of surprises,” Hyren grunted. He managed to crack his eyelids enough to see the walls of a ship’s cabin. Roots, herbs, mushrooms, and other ingredients he couldn’t place sat on racks or hung from the ceiling, which explained the pungent aroma. Somewhere far outside, the tempest still howled, but in here was dry and warm.
An elderly brown Ruki, with long white hair and a moustache to match, moved into the blue Grundo’s view, grinding something in a mortar and pestle. “Took quite a fall, you did,” he said. He lifted up one of Hyren’s bandage-covered arms and began undoing the wrappings. “It’s nothing some rest and white squid root won’t cure, though.”
Hyren groaned. “Do you have any healing potions?” he asked.
“Feh! My medicine is far more potent than that instant-gratification magic!” the Ruki replied, his moustache bristling. “A wound requires not only physical healing, but a balance of flow in the body’s energies! I’ve not trained under Shenkuu’s finest doctors for nothing!”
Okay, whatever, Hyren thought, not in the mood or the condition to argue. “Where am I?” he asked. His antennae jerked in realisation, renewing his headache. “I had a disco Zafara and a Ganuthor with me—“
“Calm down, we’re here too,” Blynn said. She sat on the cot next to his, sporting a nice array of bandages herself. A thin board rested on her lap, on top of which she was playing a game of Kou-Jong. “Oh yesss, a match,” she said under her breath. She picked up two tiles and dropped them into their box. Something about the clacking of the ceramic pieces was strangely calming to Hyren’s nerves.
“Your Petpet is in the hold,” the Ruki said, slathering his concoction on Hyren’s arm. It felt cool and soothing on his bruised skin. “She sprained her wing pretty badly, I’m sorry to say. I patched her up as best I could, but… it’ll be a while before she flies again.”
Hyren felt sick to his stomach. He should have listened to Blynn. Instead he’d put them all in danger and had gotten Pharazon’s Petpet seriously hurt. It was a miracle they’d even survived. He wanted to kick himself for being so reckless. Now finding Terra and Pharazon would be even slower going.
“Anshu says we flew right into the deck of his ship,” Blynn said as she made another match. “Good thing the Cyodrake’s Gaze can handle a storm like this. Unlike some of us.” She scanned the tiles and frowned. “Awww, Pawkeet feathers. I’m out of matches.” She dumped the tiles back into the box and began rearranging them on the board.
Hyren tried to sit up, but his entire body protested and he acquiesced, settling back down on his pillows as Anshu began to re-wrap his arm. “Blynn… I’m so sorry,” he said. “I should have listened to you. This is all my fault.”
“Yep,” the Zafara said. She glanced over at him. In spite of her nonchalant tone, her eyes held a deep disappointment. “You need to stop doing stupid things.”
Her brother couldn’t bring himself to meet her gaze. “I know,” he said.
The door creaked open. “How are they doing?” asked a tall, broad, bearded blue Gnorbu as he stepped in. Resting his knuckles on the doorframe, he surveyed the two worriedly.
Anshu chuckled. “Well, I think they’ll survive,” he said. He looked back to the two bedridden pets. “This is the Cyodrake’s captain, Tuan.”
“Hi!” Blynn said with a wave. “I’m Blynn, and this is my grumpy brother Hyren.”
Hyren merely glared. “Thanks for saving our lives, but could you tell your crazy doctor to just use healing potions like the rest of us?” he asked.
“I told you he was grumpy,” Blynn muttered out of the side of her mouth.
Tuan placed his hands on his stomach and laughed, a hearty sound that seemed to reverberate throughout the entire ship. “My, you weren’t joking!” he said. He folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “So, why were the two of you out in that storm past midnight, anyway? Poor time for a joyride on a Petpet, I’d say.”
Blynn sat up. “We’re looking for our owner and our brother, Captain,” she said. “They were… they were kidnapped at the Lunar Festival last night. We think by sky pirates.”
“Oh my… bad fortunes indeed,” Tuan replied. “Do you know where they might have gone?”
“An oracle told us to go to Brightvale,” Hyren said. “That’s the only lead we’ve found so far.”
Tuan’s shaggy eyebrows rose as he asked, “Brightvale, eh? Good fortunes for you, we’re on our way to Meridell with a silk shipment.”
Hyren’s antennae perked. “Really?” he asked. “How much can we pay you to take us with you?”
The captain laughed again. “What, do you expect us to throw you overboard now that you are already here?” he asked. “What kind of sky-ships have you travelled on in the past, I wonder? I don’t know how they are still in business!” The Gnorbu let out another raucous bellow.
Hyren grimaced and wished it didn’t hurt to move his arms, otherwise he’d squeeze his antennae to try to block out the jovial Gnorbu’s noise. “I at least want to compensate for the resources we’re using up,” he said.
Tuan scratched at his beard and nodded. “Fair enough. How about you and your sister help out with chores around the ship when you’re feeling better, and we’ll call it even. We’ll be making port at Meridell tomorrow morning.” His expression brightened. “Rest up, little ones! Perhaps I will have you assist in taking inventory!” he said as he ambled back out into the hall.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Anshu said to his two patients as he turned to a nearby table and began grating a root.
Hyren turned to Blynn. “You know, you’d think I would have gotten used to the whole being little thing by now,” he muttered.
“Must be hard being a big, tough guy in a tiny body,” she said.
“Yeah,” Hyren said.
Neither of them spoke for a while. Hyren lay back, closed his eyes, and listened to the occasional click-clack of the Kou-Jong tiles and the distant rain pattering at the ship’s hull. Anshu hummed a melancholy Shenkuuvian folk tune as he worked.
“You know what’s funny, Hyren?” Blynn asked.
“The Chia Clown?” Hyren asked.
“No. The Chia Clown is terrifying,” Blynn said, sticking out her tongue at her brother. “Anyway. I was scared before, but… now I kinda feel like everything’s gonna be okay. I mean, we crash-landed on a ship going to Meridell, of all places. Maybe… it’s a sign that everything will work out.”
“I sure hope so, Blynn,” Hyren said. “We… I can’t lose them. I gave up everything I had, everything I was, for you and Terra.”
“Were we worth it?” Blynn asked.
“Always,” Hyren said.
The tip of Blynn’s tail lolled out from under her blanket and swished from side to side. “You didn’t give up everything, drama king,” she said. “You can still swordfight like nobody’s business."
Hyren grinned and said, “True.” Now that there was nothing he could do but wait, fatigue began to leach back into his body and his eyes started to close.
“We’re gonna find ‘em,” Blynn said, “and you’re gonna whack those pirates into next week! And then Terra will give us hugs and we can all go home and make cookies.”
Hyren yawned. “I would like that,” he said. In his mind, things still looked pretty bleak. They only had one vague clue to go on, and he still couldn’t figure out how just being in Brightvale could possibly help. If that was even what the oracle meant. And who knew what Terra and Pharazon were going through right now. It pained him to think of never seeing them again.
As he dropped off to sleep, he tried to hope that they were faring better than Blynn, Gwyneth, and himself. But his brain made that difficult.