Friday, July 31, 2020

Worth Searching For, Chapter 8


For the rest of the day, Hyren drifted in and out of sleep, vaguely cognisant of Anshu treating his wounds and the Ruki doctor having conversations with Blynn, who seemed to be less injured. At some point, when golden light shone through the room’s porthole, Hyren was awoken and given a bowl of rice porridge with peanuts and scallions. He gulped it down, surprised that he could move his arms without too much pain now. Once he was full, he lay back on his pillows and sleep came quickly again.

Hyren just let himself rest. Doing anything else hurt too much. Unfortunately, this also meant he was stuck with his own thoughts. More specifically, his own worries. There were countless dangers Terra and Pharazon could be in right now. He had saved her before, but that was when he was bigger and stronger. What if he couldn’t do it again this time?

He felt so powerless compared to whatever had taken them away. Especially since his search had gotten off to such a terrible start. Blynn seemed to think it was a good omen that they were still headed for the Meridell region, but all Hyren could get out of it was that he’d made a stupid mistake and it could very well set the tone for the rest of this rescue attempt. He had to call it an “attempt” now, because he was tired of deluding himself that it was failproof. The storm had shown him otherwise.

“Rise and shine, chief!” Blynn’s annoyingly perky voice cut through Hyren’s sleep.

He opened his eyes and got an eyeful of disco Zafara face. “Gah!” he shouted, and Blynn leaned back and giggled. “Don’t do that,” he grumbled, shooing her away. It took him a moment to register that he was in considerably less pain than he remembered.

Glancing around, he saw blue sky out the porthole, and Anshu puttered about at the table, rolling some bandages. “Anshu, thanks,” Hyren said, sitting up and rubbing at his face, avoiding a patch of gauze. “I guess you do know what you’re doing.”

“Hmph, of course I do,” the doctor said. He stacked the bandages and turned to the blue Grundo. “How are you feeling?”

“Loads better,” Hyren said. He eased himself out of the cot and stretched carefully. He was still sore and had a lingering faint headache. But he could move and function again.

“Here,” Anshu said, handing him a bulging pouch.

Hyren opened it and made a face at the ripe smell within. “What is this?” he asked.

The Ruki laughed. “It’s medicine, boy,” he said. “It’ll help with the pain. You and your sister will take a few days more to fully heal, but that will alleviate the symptoms. Break off a small chunk and take it with your tea.”

“Thanks… I guess,” Hyren muttered. He cinched the bag tight so the odour would not escape, still looking at it sceptically.

“Give it to your Ganuthor, too,” Anshu said. “She’ll need it.”

Hyren’s antennae drooped. Yeah, thanks for rubbing it in, he thought.

The door flew open and a lanky yellow Aisha leaned in. “Breakfast time!” he announced before scampering away.

“Someone’s enthusiastic,” Hyren said.

Anshu chuckled and said, “That’s because ever since Bonju pushed him off the ship, Hoban’s gotten to pick the breakfast menu once a week.”

***

The galley was a pleasant place, open and bright and immaculately kept by Bonju. The crew laughed and chatted as the orange Blumaroo cook served up chokato dumplings and fried rice with eggs.

“We’ll be landing in Meridell soon,” Tuan said to Hyren and Blynn. “Within two hours, if this wind keeps up. We could use some help taking inventory so we’ll know what to stock up on at port. Do you two feel up to the task?”

“Yeah!” Blynn said.

“Okay,” Hyren grunted through a mouthful of dumpling.

Tuan raised his eyebrows. “Something else you’d rather be doing?” he asked the Grundo. “You can help swab the decks, or assist Kentari in the armoury, or plot courses with Hoban—“

Hyren’s antennae perked. “Did you say ‘armoury’?” he asked.

After they ate, Blynn stayed behind with the other crewmates to discuss her duties, while Tuan directed Hyren to the armoury. Kentari hadn’t been at breakfast, but Tuan assured Hyren that that was usual. “Must have gotten caught up in his poetry again,” the Gnorbu said with a chuckle.

Hyren knocked at the door to the armoury and pushed it open. “Hello—whoaaaa,” he said. His jaw dropped at the impressive array of weapons, both Shenkuuvian and from other Neopian lands. The walls were lovingly stacked with all manner of swords, spears, axes, crossbows, and even things that Hyren wasn’t familiar with and wanted to fix that.

Forgetting about Kentari, Hyren wandered over and stared at a straight sword in a sheath decorated with Kazeriu and swirling clouds, an elaborate knot hanging from its pommel. “Beautiful,” he said.

“Isn’t it!” a voice said from behind him.

Hyren stiffened and whipped around, and blinked in surprise. He found himself eye-to-eye with a diminutive yellow Shoyru.

“Got that one years ago, during my training at the Green River Temple,” the Shoyru said. “Oh, and do you see that one up there?” He pointed to a distinctive blue-green trident with glowing runes. “Maractite. Paid a pretty Neopoint for it, but all that talk about it moving through water like metal through air was true!”

Hyren’s eyes widened. “You’re… Kentari?” he asked.

The Shoyru lifted an eyebrow and scratched at his goatee. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked.

Hyren tilted his head and said, “You’re so…”

“Ruggedly handsome?” Kentari asked.

“Short,” Hyren said.

Kentari’s wings lowered along with his eyelids. “You are not one to talk,” he said.

Frowning, Hyren folded his arms. “Never mind that,” he said. “Tuan said you have my sister’s and my weapons.”

The Shoyru’s easy smile returned. “Of course,” he said. “Right this way.” He motioned for Hyren to follow him to the back of the room.

Hyren was so caught up in the smorgasbord of weapons surrounding him that he barely registered the shortsword and slingshot lying on the table in front of him. All of this put his own armoury at home to shame.

“Here you are,” Kentari said, offering him both weapons.

The Grundo took the sword, fastening the belt around his waist and letting out a satisfied sigh like it was an old friend come back to him. He drew the blade, inspecting its flawless surface for any damages or signs of tampering.

“It’s a beautiful sword,” Kentari said.

“Yeah,” Hyren said.

“Faerie make, isn’t it?” Kentari asked. “And in such an ancient style—from before the Age of the Circle of the Twelve, perhaps? They don’t forge them like that anymore.”

“They sure don’t,” Hyren said. He traced the runes lovingly with one finger. “They don’t even craft enchanted weapons like this for mass distribution nowadays. And they’re near-impossible to find off of Neopia. Just one of these is worth an entire small planet in the galaxy at large.” He figured there wasn’t any point in trying to hide the truth when Kentari had already guessed it.

Kentari placed the slingshot on the table and turned to one of the walls. “Where did you find it?” the Shoyru asked.

“Some lost ruins,” Hyren said. He turned the blade over in his hand, feeling the comfort of its weight again. “It was years ago. The rest of them are gone now.”

“You also have that claymore on your Ganuthor,” Kentari said, lifting a long naginata from its perch. “Is there a Grarrl in your family?”

Hyren’s antennae twitched. “No, it’s mine,” he said.

Kentari chuckled as he inspected the naginata’s leather-wrapped haft. “I am sorry if I offended you earlier,” he said. “You are not the first to assume such things about me. Although you are certainly the... littlest.”

“I used to be bigger,” Hyren grumbled. He held his blade in front of him. In his mind’s eye it morphed into the claymore, and he envisioned his mutant hands gripping it, green and bulky. The last time he had wielded that longsword was in the battle on the bridge of Sloth’s flagship, twelve years ago. He smirked at the memory of besting Garoo in pet-to-pet combat, that miserable—

Metal clinked against metal. Hyren looked up to see Kentari tapping the sword with the blade of his naginata, grinning playfully.

Hyren grinned back and the two swerved into motion. Kentari spun his naginata and used the momentum to aim a strike at Hyren, who expertly parried it and with the follow-through made a swing of his own. Kentari shoved the haft up to block the blow and pushed the Grundo away.

Wincing in pain from his prior injuries, Hyren tried to close in again, but Kentari kept him at bay with the naginata, spinning and sweeping with it, creating a shell of whirling metal.

It was a challenge Hyren relished. Taking a breath, he leaped on the table and sprung into the air, sword tucked close to his torso and pointed downward in preparation for a thrust while keeping on the defensive. Kentari could cover his front adequately, but that meant he was unprotected from above.

The Shoyru changed direction mid-spin and suddenly slashed upward with the glaive. Hyren had accounted for this and pushed outward with his sword, allowing the two blades to connect and deflect the blow while he used the force to flip himself away from Kentari’s range. The Grundo hissed in pain as his body objected to the duel. He had to end this fast, unfortunately.

Kentari advanced on him, naginata outward. “Do you give?” the Shoyru asked.

Hyren couldn’t hold up for much longer. With another step, he felt his back touch wood. He glanced up at the weapons lining the wall and then back to Kentari, and smiled. “Nope,” the Grundo said.

“Fair enough,” Kentari said. With a shout, he charged.

Hyren ducked and rolled under the blade. Just as he had predicted, Kentari ended up stabbing the naginata into the wall, embedding it several centimetres into the wood. The time it took him to pull it out was all the time Hyren needed to turn and aim another swing.

Before he could get there, the end of the haft suddenly popped out at his face.

The next thing Hyren knew, he was lying on the floor of the armoury, trying to blink away stars from his vision. It took a moment for the pain to soak in.

Kentari ambled over and offered him a hand and a healing potion. “Excellent duel,” the Shoyru said, pulling the Grundo to his feet. “You really know your stuff. I do not doubt that you would have beaten me if you had been in peak condition.”

Through the haze of pain and disorientation, the even more acute agony of loss sunk in. “I would have beaten you if I were a mutant,” Hyren said before swigging down the potion. He looked at his sword in distaste and sheathed it. “I’m never going to find them like this.”

“Well, that was fun,” Kentari said. “Now, it is time for your chores. Those sky pirates do not drive themselves away, after all!” He dumped a pile of blades at Hyren’s feet and handed him a whetstone and a bowl of water.

Hyren sat down, and got to work. This was probably better than trying to take inventory with Blynn, at least.

“Do you really miss it that much?” Kentari asked.

The steady shink, shink, shiiiink of stone on metal pounded a rhythm in Hyren’s thoughts. “I tried not to,” he replied, not looking up from his work. “For a while it was okay. I mean, yeah, it bugs me when people call me short, or assume I’m young. But mostly I was just happy to be alive after what happened. Alive and with my family. But now…” He shook his head. “I’ve never felt weaker.”

“I do not think this is entirely about your size,” Kentari said.

Hyren set down the scimitar he had been working on and gingerly picked up a chakram. “How do you hold this?” he asked.

“Grip it from the inner rim,” the Shoyru replied, drying the scimitar with a cloth. “There you go.”

Hyren sighed. “I’m losing my touch,” he said. “I used to think I was invincible, you know? Even as a blue Grundo, I’ve always been capable of protecting my family. When I set my mind to anything, it’s happened. But this search has gone awry from the start. And… and if I was really competent, they never would have gotten kidnapped in the first place.” He scowled.

“It was out of your control,” Kentari said. “And I wouldn’t say it’s gone awry. It would have taken you longer to get to Meridell by Petpet, anyway.” The Shoyru picked up the scimitar and went to put it back in its place on the wall.

“I tried, and I failed,” Hyren said. His shoulders slumped. “And now I’m—I’m scared that no matter how hard I keep trying, I’ll keep failing. I can’t tolerate that, especially not when the stakes are so high. What if I never find them?” Hyren rotated the chakram in his grip to sharpen another section of the rim. “Or what if…” He realised he had been thinking aloud and shut his mouth.

“Hm?” Kentari asked.

The Grundo frowned. “Never mind, it’s stupid,” he said.

Kentari sat back down in front of him. “Let me be the judge of that,” he said.

Hyren closed his eyes and swallowed hard before looking back up at the Shoyru. “What if Terra gets another Neopet?” he asked. “One who’s bigger and stronger than me? She always says she doesn’t mind my height, but I think she misses me the way I was, too. What if she needs someone like that?”

“Do you really think she will forget about you so soon?” Kentari asked. “Are you that distrustful of her?”

“No, that’s not what I meant!” Hyren said.

“Then what did you mean?” Kentari asked.

“Augh… I don’t know,” Hyren said. He handed the sharpened chakram to Kentari and plucked a wakizashi from the pile, admiring the wave pattern on the curved shortsword’s blade. “I’m just worried.”

“At least you got it off your chest,” Kentari said, spinning the chakram lazily on one finger.

“That doesn’t make it go away,” Hyren said. “It’s just so frustrating, not knowing. I don’t know how they’re doing, or if I’ll ever find them, or what’ll happen if I do find them.” Hyren gripped the hilt of the wakizashi so hard his hand trembled. “It bites losing confidence in yourself. It bites and I hate it.”

“The Koi who does not persist in leaping up the waterfall shall never become a Draik,” Kentari said.

“Because there’s a Morphing Potion at the top of the waterfall?” Hyren asked.

The Shoyru grinned and said, “I like your style.”

The hum of magic suddenly downshifted and stopped, and a slight bump shook the ship. Hyren looked up and his antennae perked. He could feel the entire vessel gently bobbing. “Did we touch down?” he asked.

“Don’t worry, you still have a bit of time to finish your chores,” Kentari said.

“You don’t have to look so smug about it,” Hyren said.

Kentari chuckled and rose to his feet. “I feel you are far from failing in your quest,” he said. “After all, you are in Meridell now, are you not? Learn from your failures, my fellow warrior, but do not dwell on them.” He turned to put more sharpened weapons away. “She still needs you.”

“Yeah.” Hyren nodded halfheartedly. “Thanks.”

“All ashore who’s goin’ ashore!” Blynn shouted from the doorway.

The noise made Hyren jump mid-stroke and break off a chip from the blade’s edge. “Ohhh shoot,” he muttered under his breath, surreptitiously sliding the sword back into its sheath before Kentari turned back around.

“Are you still doing your chore?” the Zafara asked as she bounded into the armoury. “I already finished mine. Did you know that counting bluchard roots works the same way as counting potatoes? Ooh! Can I help—“

“Absolutely not,” Hyren replied, thrusting out a hand to stop her. “You are not allowed to touch anything in here. Go get your slingshot and go check on Gwyneth. I’ll be there in a minute.” He reached into the medicine pouch and broke off a small chunk of the compacted cake of herbs. “And give her this to eat. Hopefully it won’t taste too… what are you doing?”

Blynn stood next to the table, paws hovering over her slingshot, tongue sticking out in concentration. “You said not to touch anything in here,” she said, “but you also told me to get my slingshot… conflicting commands… erk! Does not compute!”

Hyren slumped. “You can touch your slingshot,” he said.

“Thank you!” the Zafara said as she snagged her weapon and strapped it around her waist. “I’ll meet you on deck, swabbie!” she chirped as she left.

“Wha—I am not a swabbie!” Hyren yelled after her.

Kentari laughed and said, “Well, she’s a charmer.”

Hyren could only smile in exasperation. “Yeah, that’s one way to put it,” he said.

While Hyren finished the rest of the weapons, Kentari read aloud his latest poetry, pieces about peach blossoms, the Green River in winter, and the way the sea looks after a storm. Hyren, in turn, regaled the weapons master with tales of meteor showers, giant gas planets and their endless clouds, and rusty desert worlds whose iron-rich sand had oxidised and turned the entire planet a ruddy hue.

When he finally emerged above deck, Blynn was there waiting for him astride Gwyneth. One of the Ganuthor’s wings had been carefully wrapped and secured to her side.

Hyren’s face fell. He didn’t know how Pharazon would ever forgive him. If they ever saw Pharazon again. “Gwyneth, I am so sorry,” he sighed, striding toward her. “I was an idiot, and—“

She stretched out her pink tongue and gave him a big, slobbery lick on the face.

Blynn laughed. “Apology accepted!” she said.

“Eeeeurgh,” Hyren groaned as he scraped the saliva off of his cheek and wiped his hands on Gwyneth’s fur. As much as he hated when she did that, though, it was much better than if he had upset her.

Captain Tuan approached them. “Is there anything else we can do to help?” he asked. “We know how it feels to lose a crew member and travel Neopia looking for them.”

“It’s not fun,” Hoban said.

Hyren regarded the captain for a moment. “Fly us to Brightvale?” he asked.

Tuan stroked his beard. “Ehh… my apologies, but we are headed to Sakhmet after this and our delivery has a tight schedule,” he said. “You should be able to reach Brightvale in a day or so on your Petpet, landbound though she is.”

“Yeah,” Hyren said as he mounted Gwyneth behind his sister. “Well, thanks anyway for what you’ve already done for us. You saved us a lot of trouble.”

Tuan bowed. “May good fortunes accompany you on your journey, and may you find the ones you love,” he said.

The Grundo swallowed the lump in his throat. “I sure hope so,” he said.

“Are we gonna head straight to Brightvale?” Blynn asked as they descended the gangplank and trudged down the dock.

Hyren looked at the bustling port town ahead of them. He wanted so badly to keep going, to push himself further and further. Every moment spent with Terra’s and Pharazon’s fate unknown ate at him. He needed to be there for them, and it felt like the longer he waited, the farther away they drifted from him.

But he couldn’t keep setting himself up for failure, and now he knew his limits. And he couldn’t afford to test Blynn’s or Gwyneth’s limits again. Drawing in a breath, he sat up a little straighter and smiled to mask the turmoil within. “No,” he said. “Let’s stock up on supplies first. We could use some good food for the trip.”

“All right!” Blynn said. She nudged Gwyneth’s ribs and the Ganuthor plodded into the throng. “Wha—no! Gwyneth, stop! Not the fishmonger! Sorry, ma’am!”

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