Three different POVs for this chapter and, as ever, more of my thoughts at the end!
WARNING: this chapter contains a lot of fighting and violence.
The monkeybird who carried Ren away from the harbor told him his name was Yellow-Wing, and Ren did not have a hard time guessing where he'd got the name from. Yellow-Wing swore over and over again that Ren had his deepest gratitude and that they were taking him and his crew to a safe place.
The monkeybird told the truth.
The rebels' quarters were located deep into the forest on one of the small islets surrounding Pandawa. The trees in there were the highest Ren had ever seen, and massive like towers. The monkeybirds had built their huts on top of the thick branches and covered them in leaves to conceal them among the lush foliage. As the monkeybirds carried him and the crew to the headquarters Ren noticed fragile looking bridges linking the huts from branch to branch and tree to tree. He had no wish of crossing them.
The monkeybirds placed him and his crew down on top of the porch, Ren refused to look down and refused to wonder what would happen if the branches gave up under their weight.
Yellow-Wing pushed the squeaky door to let them in.
The monkeybirds were everywhere, filling the room with thousand shades of red, yellow, green and blue. Ren could not blame the dread he saw on their faces.
"Yellow-Wing," he said. "You and your people have our deepest gratitude."
"Of course you realize we have urgent business waiting for us down on the ground" Ioz added brusquely.
"We have urgent business as well!" declared a voice. They all turned in time to see a monkeybird flying down from a beam in the ceiling, his plumage as blue as the night sky. "I am Chieftain," he said once he landed on the floor in front of them. "Leader of all Pandawa rebels!"
Ren opened his mouth to say something, but Ioz cut in. "Where is our ship?"
"Your ship is in a hidden cove."
"Why did you take it?" there was nothing remotely friendly about the way Tula spoke.
"My turn to ask questions," said Chieftain as dryly. "Now, who is this outsider who has earned the respect of my people and the wrath of Jargis?"
Ren drew in a deep breath, this part was never easy. "Ren. Son of Primus, prince of Octopon." He waited for Chieftain to laugh in his face. He didn't.
"Octopon!" the monkeybird closed his eyes. "Then you rule a land as ravaged as my own. What brings you to our sad little island?" Chieftain asked.
"A father's request to his son, to seek the Thirteen Treasures of Rule."
"Then one of true nobility such as yourself will not reject my request." Chieftain's place a hairy hand on Ren's arm. "Help us reclaim our home!"
The rebels' leader paid him no mind and pulled Ren closer to a map pinned to the wall with knives. It was a yellowed canvas where the shape of an island had been sketched together with its mountains and streets. There were words written in such a sloppy handwriting Ren a had time reading them; but there was one word written in firm, defined lines that caught his attention: Jargis.
"Tonight we attack the house of Jargis, to free our queen," Chieftain tapped a finger on the drawing of Jargis' house. "Then our legions will push the jitatin slave traders into the sea."
"And you need us as a distraction!" Ren could see the plan now.
"Exactly! Drawing the guards away."
"Leaving the house undefended here," Ren pointed at a red cross on the map. "For your attack!"
The plan could work, they could free the island from the slave traders once for all. Ren could already taste the victory.
"You will..." Chieftain hesitated, "Join us, then?"
Ren had opened his mouth to swear to Chieftain and his people he would fight at their side, but he was yanked away. When he turned Ioz face was looming over him. "Can we have a moment alone with... His... Royalness?" he grunted.
Tula seized his other arm and pulled him. Ren had no choice but to follow his crewmates to a corner of the headquarters.
"Ren," Ioz' did his best not to raise his voice, but Ren could hear the rage boiling in it. "We have no time for this particular charity!"
"Listen to Ioz!" urged Tula, her grip on his arm grew harder. "If Konk leaves port, we'll lose track of the Compass and the Treasure!"
"Ren," said Ioz. "What would your father think?"
Ren hadn't had the chance to get to know his father, but everyone seemed to agree on one thing: Primus was a just and honorable man. "That I should stay and help those in need."
Ioz rolled his eyes, the gesture ignited a flame of rage inside Ren's chest. "You are with me, aren't you?" he asked.
His crewmates didn't answer and the rage soon turned into cold dread. Ren looked at Tula. He couldn't read what he saw on her face. He gulped the fear down and went on. "We stay together as a group now, or we end it." He had said it out loud, there was not taking it back. Ren raised one hand in front of his crew, he fought to keep it from shaking. "Choose!"
His eyes flickered from Ioz to Tula. Nothing happened.
Ren started when something landed on top of his hand.
"Well, I'm staying!" said Niddler.
His action seemed to break the ice that had grown around them.
"My choice is to stay alive!" was everything Ioz said, unaware that every word sent a dagger stabbing at Ren's chest. "Come, Tula!" Ioz then ordered.
Tula's hand was still clawed around Ren's arm. For a heartbeat, Ren hoped she would stay, but then Ioz pulled her away and she let go of him without much of a fight.
"I will show you where your ship is hidden," Yellow-Wing intervened.
Ren stared helplessly as his crewmates walked away from him, and at every step they took away from him the dagger stabbed him, over and over again.
Stop, he wanted to shout. Where are you going, stop! Ren bit down on his bottom lip. He wouldn't beg them to stay.
Ioz didn't turn back once; Tula stopped. She gave him what he thought could be a wistful look, and for the second time, Ren deceived himself with the hope she would choose to stay. But Tula lifted a hand in the air, saluting him, and then she was gone.
And Ren stood there, unable to speak, unable to move. A silent word on his lips, an unspoken plea; stop.
"We must hurry!" he felt Chieftain's presence at his side, but his voice was like an echo coming from afar. "Our attack begins before darkfall!"
"Darkfall..." Ren repeated.
Ioz was gone. Tula was gone.
The dagger twisted one last time in his chest.
"Yes, Chieftain, I am yours."
Jargis' food was good. Better than the food on the Maelstrom. The food on the Maelstrom was cold and hard to chew. Konk needed ale to wash it down. Jargis' food was tender, spicy and fat. Jargis didn't drink ale, Jargis filled his big belly with real wine. Konk ate like a king.
The Lug Brothers sat at the table, drinking Jargis' real wine and stuffing their plates with Jargis' greasy food.
Jargis' healer had stitched the bald brother's wound, from Ren's arrow. That Ren. Konk will gut him one day. Gut him like a fish.
Jargis had a beautiful house, like a king's palace but smaller. Still big though. He had many chambers and paintings on the walls. Paintings of ships and food. In every room, there was a tray full of fruit and a jar of wine.
Jargis had real beds, with real feather mattresses. Konk thought the bed sheets were of true silk, but he wasn't really sure.
Two monkeybirds served them food and filled their cups while they sat at the table. Jargis' personal monkeybirds were very strange, they didn't have wings.
One of the brothers noticed that too and asked Jargis where the wings had gone.
"Fugitives," Jargis answered.
Konk smirked. "The slave trade's been good to you, Jargis!" Konk patted the man on his fat belly. "You and your belly"
"To what... Do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Konk?" Jargis forehead was as large as the Maelstrom, his lips almost as fat as Bloth's. Konk chuckled and spat some wine out. "I haven't angered Bloth, have I?" the slave trader asked.
"No." Konk wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, the wine left a red stain in there. "Nothing of the kind."
"Then you truly are welcome!"
"I need you to get rid of jitatin boy and his friends."
"Konk," Jargis placed his hands on his fat belly. "My hands are full. What with these rebel slaves and their uprisings."
Konk forked a big juicy prawn and stuffed it whole in his mouth. "I tell Bloth you said no."
Jargis' eyes popped wide open with fear. "But then, on the other hand, any service I can be to you and your..." Jargis looked at the brothers. "Men."
"Why you not wipe rebels out for good?" Konk asked. Jargis was stupid not to think about that. How had Jargis got so rich and fat and Konk was still poor?
"Oh! I will!" Jargis smiled. "Now that I know where their stronghold is located. Fear not, my friend, by sunrise there won't be a rebel left on Pandawa."
They followed the yellow monkeybird leading the way through a maze of cramped tunnels and swinging bridges that could have used some new ropes.
Monkeybirds weren't able to build proper bridges, and they thought they could overturn the slave traders with their pathetic army of rebels. Jitatin mutant birds wielding canes and slingshots. How did they manage to talk Ren into that suicidal attempt?
That was the last drop for Ioz. He would jump back on the Wraith and steer away from Pandawa, the monkeybirds, the jitatin slave traders, and Ren.
"In all my travels, I have never met such a young fool!" Ioz spat. Gentle, honorable, noble; the boy was everything Ioz never was and would never be. "The worst of it is, I was beginning to like him!" that left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Ioz had vowed to see the boy on his throne. A pirate's vow. A lie. Ren never knew about his secret drunken vow, so it did not really matter anymore.
"And I envy how clearly he sees his destiny." Tula's eyes were focused on the ground, her arms crossed.
Ioz had been ready to leave Ren and Pandawa behind when a shocking realization had dawned on him. He could not man the Wraith alone and Pandawa didn't look like the right place to look for shipmates. Ioz needed Tula. And as much as he hated to admit it, she was a good seafarer, better than Ren for sure. "He will learn the hard way that-"
"Forgive my interruption," the yellow monkeybird cut in and pointed at an opening in the tunnel. "Your boat is at the end of this slide."
Ioz opened his mouth to reply when screams burst in the distance. He stopped and listened more carefully. Mingling with the screams and shouts something else was clashing and clinging. Ioz knew that sound: swords. "Fighting," he said. "An attack!" His blood froze when he realized where the commotion came from.
"Ren and Niddler!" Tula launched herself back into the tunnel from where they came, sword already in hand.
Ioz didn't need any further encouragement, he unsheathed his sword and ran like a madman. He dashed back through the tunnels, back across the swinging bridges; he stumbled, fell down and was fast back on his feet.
In his head a single thought: Ren. That foolish boy; that noble, good-hearted foolish boy.
The clashing and the screams got louder and louder the closer Ioz got to the headquarters. He couldn't see Tula anymore, she had long outrun him. He hoped she might get there in time to save Ren.
They should have never left Ren behind. That foolish boy couldn't fight whatever had attacked them alone. By the two moons, Ioz should have stayed by his side. He should have thrown Ren over his shoulder and carried him away from the jitatin monkeybirds and their rebellion.
Ioz gathered all his strength and tried to run faster. After turning one last curve he was back again in the headquarters.
The room was now a commotion of swords and feathers; and over the sound of screams and screeches, Ioz recognized the sharp, metallic reek of blood.
The men armed with swords wore the dark uniforms of the Securitat; in other words, they were Jargis' soldiers.
He gaped around. One moment he saw Tula dig a blade into a soldier's neck and the next Ioz had plunged into the fight. He parried a strike from a soldier and was quick enough to get his dagger and bury it in the man's guts. One time, two times, three.
One was gone, but there were so many. Too many.
Ioz advanced slowly into the room, swinging his sword, parrying, punching, digging his dagger. Killing and wounding. Something sliced at his arm but he felt no pain.
Then he stumbled on something. A dead monkeybird, he realized as he fell on the ground.
Ioz rose to his knees fast enough to parry a sword coming down for his head. The soldier pressed the blade down with the wildness of a man who knows it's either kill or be killed. Ioz had been there more than once and lived to tell the tale. It didn't take him long to realize the man was not as strong as him, but the floor was soaked in blood and Ioz' foot started to slip.
Then the soldier was on the ground, blood spattering from his neck. Tula stood there, panting, her face sprayed with blood. He saw her eyes flickering around the room until they stopped and went round. "No!" she bellowed.
Ioz managed to stand up and catch her in time. When he turned to check where she was heading for and saw it too, his heart shattered in his chest.
Ren 's body lay on the floor. Unmoving.
"It's too late," he tried to yank Tula away, but she struggled wildly into his grip. Ioz shook her. "It's too late, we need to get out of here!"
He saw her looking at something behind his back. Tula pushed him out of the way and charged at the soldier who had raised his sword above his head. She parried the strike and a second later her second knife was sticking out of the man's eye socket. She yanked the blade out and threw it across the room where it buried into another soldier's neck.
Ioz lunged forward and seized her. "We need to get out of here, now!"
"It's too late!" He pulled her and this time she didn't struggle. And they ran through the cramped tunnels again as the steps of their pursuers echoed in the back.
More than once Ioz had to urge Tula to not stop to fight and to keep on running. He longed to kill them, all of them, but they were too many.
Ioz stumbled and fell down again, Tula pulled him up. "I'm faster than you. Run, get past the bridge and wait for me."
"What in the twenty-"
"Just do as I say."
Tula didn't give him time to protest. She just turned her back to him and paced back towards the soldiers.
The woman was crazy, but Ioz was tired of risking his own life to try and knock some sense into her thick head. So he ran to the bridge while screams echoed at his back. Men's.
Stumbling and hauling himself back on his feet several more times Ioz made it out of the tunnel and reached the bridge. He grabbed the ropes used as rails and set the first foot onto the beams. He forced himself not to look down. The bridge swung menacingly but step after step, curse after curse, he was soon on the other side. Safe.
Ioz turned and waited for Tula, wondering how long he should stay there before starting to run for his life again.
Then Tula appeared from the tunnel and fast as a lightning bolt jumped on the bridge. It swayed so hard it almost knocked her down. She clung to the railing.
"There she is!" somebody yelled and Ioz saw the soldiers emerge from the tunnel.
Tula plodded slowly across the bridge. The soldiers would get to her in no time.
Ioz gaped around in search of a way to help her but for the life of him he couldn't come up with anything. So he just watched as the men jumped on the bridge pursuing her.
"Faster Tula!" he heard himself scream.
"Cut the bridge!" she yelled.
He shook his head.
Ioz didn't have time to think. He seized his sword and slashed at the ropes. He saw the bridge collapse, Tula jump, and the soldiers go down.
The screams echoed through the air and then they were followed by a loud splash. Ioz took a breath and looked down. Somehow Tula had managed to grab a long branch that had sustained her weight. The soldiers had been lucky enough to fall into a river deep enough to soften the impact. They were all still alive and swimming on the surface when something approached them. Ioz' blood froze.
"Dark Water!" one of them screamed as they attempted to swim away, not fast enough. Tongues of blackness jutted up from the dark patch, seizing the screaming soldiers one by one. The unfortunate men were dragged into the core of the Dark Water and it closed around them, devouring them. After that, the black water sunk back down with a last terrifying screech.
Ioz took a deep breath and looked down again. Tula was climbing back up. He held out his hand to her and helped her up.
"Dark Water," she spat. "Again."
"And curse my eyes if there isn't more of it afloat than ever before!"
She looked back at the tunnel from where they had come.
"Let's get away from this jitatin island."
They reached the opening in the tunnel that the monkeybird had shown them. They slid through it and found themselves on top of the Wraith's deck.
"Man the sails, I'll weigh anchor and take the wheel," he said.
Her hand was on his forearm. "Ioz," she lowered her eyes. "If we hadn't left him... If we only hadn't."
"No, Tula, you said it yourself. Ren's destiny was clear to him. Too clear."
Foolish boy. To help a bunch of helpless monkeybirds he had jeopardized his whole quest. "We'll catch Konk. We'll get everything he's stolen back," he said.
Tula turned her back to him. "Don't sound so confident, Ioz."
"It's not confidence," he clenched his fists. "But an oath to Ren. Until we have the Compass and the Treasure, we'll make Konk's life an endless nightmare."
Pirate or not, this time Ioz had pronounced the vow out loud, and he wouldn't go back on his promise. He would get the Compass back and carry on Ren's quest.
Tula turned back to face him, her green eyes met his. Ioz could not read what he saw was on her face, he could just wait for her to speak her mind. If she wasn't up to finding the Treasures anymore he would drop her at a port of her choice and carry on alone.
She inched forward and took his hand in hers. "To Ren," she said.
Rereading this chapter always makes me sad :(
On a funnier note, some characters speak louder than others, and surprisingly Konk was the loudest so far! When I sat down to write his POV I could hear his voice in my head telling me exactly what to write. Should I be worried? Anyway, it was extremely funny :)
The last chapter of Break Up will be up on December 13.