There will be a lot of extra scenes in The Beast and the Bell, this much I can say! Some will be fun, some will be sad, some will be cute, and I can't wait for you to read them all!
I had so much fun writing this chapter, I hope it will make you smile too :)
Ps. the title is slightly different from all the others because it contained too many characters and I had to shorten it, The Beast and the Bell will be divided into four parts.
They had survived the crazy alchemist, that alone was a reason to celebrate.
Women were dangerous. Women playing with Dark Water were lethal.
In the end, the alchemist got what she deserved, and Ioz did not pity her in the least. The only regret he had was not taking the money she had offered.
Maybe one day Ren would understand that nobility and virtue won't keep a man fed and warm; or maybe not. At times Ren got Ioz yelling, cursing and wondering how could anybody be so silly. But as much as he had tried, Ioz could not stay mad at Ren.
And while part of him wanted to slap some common sense into the boy, there was another small part of Ioz that would have hated to see Ren behaving like any other scoundrel. Ren was better than that; he was young, gullible and reckless; but by the two moons, there was a nagging part of Ioz that liked that.
According to the maps, the town they were headed to was called Tagua. Ioz had never been there before, but that did not surprise him. The place did not look like anything worth visiting, but it still had a dock and a market, those were enough. They would need to resupply on the morrow, but for the moment, there were cups waiting to be filled.
It was dusk when they made it to the harbor, and Ren helped him anchor the Wraith. The merchants were closing their stands while the seagulls inspected the dirty streets in search of forgotten clams or fish.
Once the Big Bird was docked, Ioz and Ren went down to the dining quarters. Tula and Niddler were already there. The monkeybird was perched on top of his favorite barrel in the corner, his face buried in a minga melon. The woman was prying at an oyster with her knife. She tossed half of the shelf into an empty bucket and tilted her head back to let the mollusk fall into her open mouth.
"Did you leave anything for me, woman?" Ioz asked.
Tula dived a hand into a sack and tossed him an oyster. She then did the same with Ren.
"So, back in Andorus, before my encounter with the Blight," Ren said as he opened the oyster with his golden sword. "I promised myself a good drink if I've ever made it out alive. I think it's time to keep true to that promise."
"As the captain wishes," Tula said springing to her feet. Ioz saw her grabbing a pitcher and walking to the big barrel of ale.
"Stop that, woman!" he barked. "This is a special occasion that requires something special."
A silent question appeared over Tula's face.
"Zoolie left something behind." Ioz had noticed the case weeks before and had stored it away for a moment like this. Without a word, he left the room to get into the galley.
Once there, he moved some empty barrels and boxes around until he found it, still there where he had left it. Ioz grabbed one of the small bottles and one pulpy leaf of Izara and walked back to the dining quarters.
Tula whistled when he placed everything on top of the table. "Well, you surprise me, Ioz!"
"I told you, woman, this is a special occasion!"
She grinned. "I'm curious to see how our king will-" her words died in her mouth when she looked at Ren. Ioz turned, and his eyes went round.
Ren had already sliced the center of the leaf and was now skilfully pealing the green skin away. He managed to remove it in a single, gentle stroke. As often as Ioz had done it, he still struggled to do it smoothly. How many times had Ren already done it before? The white pulp gleamed in the fire of the torches.
Ren raised his head, "Can I have some salt?"
Ioz barked out a laugh. "Spoken like a true king!"
"How..." stammered Tula.
Ioz was as much surprised as her. Undal was the drink of the villagers, the drink of the sailors and pirates; so far from fine wine as water was from fire. It was nothing a rich merchant would lower himself to drink, let alone a prince.
Ren raised an eyebrow. "You seem to forget I grew up with as a lighthouse keeper!"
"Ay," Tula nodded and opened a cabinet. She produced a small pouch and joined Ren at the table. Ioz did the same.
"I think somebody should stay alert, though," said Ren.
They all looked at Niddler. The monkeybird stood there, frozen, a new minga melon still intact in his hand.
"You trust him?" Ioz asked.
The monkeybird squawked.
Ren smiled as he distributed the white meat of the leaf into the three cups. He used the handle of his golden sword to crush it into a pulp. Ioz wondered what would King Primus think of that. "Hopefully Bloth will not catch us."
He opened the small pouch distributing a pinch of salt in every cup.
Ioz reached out and popped the bottle open. He poured the red liquid into the cups, the pungent smell of Undal filling the space around them. They were in for a good time.
With a spoon, Tula mixed the content of the cups, which turned into a familiar shade of pink. Each one of them seized a cup and raised it high above their heads.
"To adventure!" Ren said.
"To victory!" answered Tula.
"To good times!" said Ioz.
They clang their cups together and drank the Undal as fast as they could.
The drink felt like fire in his mouth and went down burning his throat, but then the sweet aftertaste of the Izara leaves relieved him.
They cheered and slammed the cups down onto the table. And then they did it again. And again. And as they emptied the bottle they talked, and laughed, and talked and laughed some more.
They shared stories and they learned things about each other. The discussions started with their favorite spices and inevitably ended on the juiciest details about their lives.
Tula had once spied a group of young warriors bathing in the river, as she hid in the bushes; until she had sneezed and run away. In fact, Tula seemed to have a thing for rivers, and for all the things one could do in a river other than swimming and fishing.
From Ren, they learned about a fisher's daughter back in Octopon. Her name was Kaila, she had curly brown locks and big doe eyes. She looked sweet and shy, but Ren knew better than that.
And after that, the stories got nastier and nastier.
Unfortunately for them all, none of their stories could compete against Ioz'. He had them both gasp and guffaw.
At some point, the monkeybird left the room, and they laughed even harder at that.
Ioz then sang some of the most obscene shanties he had learned during his countless journeys that had Ren and Tula rolling on the floor.
And when they filled their cups with the ale, Ioz got lost in the ocean.
At times he was there, at times he was not.
Like watching his life from afar, he felt himself laughing, he saw his hands slamming on the table as the others said something that had him burst with laughter. And then the memories faded away.
The next morning, when Ioz opened his eyes, he was saluted by a sharp cramp in his neck. He tried to curse but the grunt that came from his mouth was no human, and his breath smelled like rotten bilge.
Ioz smiled. Those were the signs of a night worth living.
Although the smile died as soon as he tried to raise his head from the table. The whole room swayed dangerously, and for a horrifying moment, Ioz feared he was going to vomit.
Somehow, he managed to keep whatever was left into his stomach down, and wobbling, he rose to his feet.
There was nobody else in the dining quarters, and Ioz had no recollection of what might have happened after his second cup of ale. Fragments of conversation flowed inside his head like a thousand rivers, but he could not connect them together. He smiled again. That had been a good night indeed.
Ioz managed to drink two cups of water, then he stretched his sore limbs and adventured above deck.
"Noy jitat!" he cursed. "Look at him! He drinks all night and on the next morning he swabs the deck like nothing happened."
Ren raised his head and smiled. "Top of the morning to you, Ioz!"
"It's one hell of a morning!" Ioz laughed. His stomach protested. No, he wouldn't vomit; especially not in front of Ren.
He closed his eyes and gulped. "I swear, lad, next time-" the deck swayed from under his feet. "Noy jitat, I'll go to bed. Wipe that smirk off your face, Ren!"
When Ioz stepped into the sleeping quarters, he had to shake his head to make sure he was seeing straight.
Tula lay on Niddler's bunk, her arms and legs wrapped around him. The monkeybird was awake and he looked utterly pissed.
"What in the abyss-"
"She came here during the night and won't let go," Niddler whispered, as if afraid he might wake her up. "You and your drinks, Ioz!"
Ioz chuckled as he collapsed over his bed. "Wake her up, and then get above deck with Ren. You two are going to gather the supplies. Remind Ren they need to last for one month, monkeybird. One month!"
Ioz laid his head down and no more than a couple of minutes later was fast asleep.
For the second time that day, Ioz woke up to an empty room, but at least this time he was on a bed. His head hurt badly, but the urge of hurling his gut out had passed.
It took less effort to stand up and walk on his own legs.
Tula was perched on the yardarm, checking on the sails.
"Confident you won't fall down after yesterday?" Ioz shouted.
"Wouldn't you like to see that?" she answered without turning around.
"What I'd like to see is the Thirteen Treasures gathered, this quest complete and myself sailing the twenty seas on a ship made of gold."
"It wouldn't float, Ioz."
Ioz cupped his chin. "Chongo you're right, I'll just spend the gold then."
Tula didn't answer anything to that, and Ioz went to check whether the hull needed patches.
The sun was high in the sky when Ioz finished his round of the ship, they were ready to sail. The only thing they were missing was the Prince of Octopon.
"Noy jitat, where are Ren and the monkeybird? I want to set sail!"
"I wouldn't be in a hurry, Ioz," said Tula. "There's something in the air... But I'm not sure if it's a storm."
Ioz had opened his mouth to answer when he heard Tula scream. He turned around, she was gaping at the mast. "What's wrong Tula?" he approached her. Her eyes were wide and her face had visibly paled.
"Unless my mind is playing tricks, I thought I saw something."
At that moment, steps resounded on the deck, and Ioz turned. "I must be seeing things too! You were supposed to buy enough supplies for a month!"
Ren and the monkeybird had finally returned, they both carried a half-empty looking bag. Ren's face was as dark as the abyss. "It was the best I could do."
"The merchant did throw in an extra minga melon!" chirped the monkeybird. "Oh, it was delicious!"
"A true pirate doesn't bargain for supplies, he steals them!" Ioz grunted. When would Ren understand that? But then Ioz remembered, Ren was no pirate. Ren was a noble, silly, brave boy.
"I wouldn't have to bargain if people believed in me!" Ren snarled and tossed the bag hard across the deck.
Ioz was sure he'd never seen Ren in a such a foul mood and wondered what had happened at the market to get him so upset.
Then Ren cursed, and the beam of the Compass pierced through the air.
"The Compass!" he cried out, and Ioz realized that something was wrong, terribly wrong.
As if it were a squirming snake, the Compass jerked and pulled at Ren's neck. Ren walked forward giving up to the pressure. Ioz made to follow him but in the process, he managed to stumble over a bucket standing in his way and fell down on his ass.
He cursed as Tula helped him back to his feet. Jitatin bucket, jitatin Compass, and jitatin quest.
"Are you alright, Ioz?" she asked.
"Noy jit, what new trickery is this?"
Ioz surveyed the deck, searching for Ren. The boy was leaning over the railing, he was not moving.
"Ren!" Tula called out. "What happened?"
When Ren turned, his face was the depiction of confusion and awe. His eyes had grown as big as the moons.
"My father," he said. "He spoke to me through the sea!"
Sometimes saving the world was not all as it was cracked up to be. He was the prince of Octopon on a perilous quest to save the world, three faithful shipmates at his side, a magic Compass and no money.
The merchants had mocked him. Ren was everything that stood between them and the Dark water taking over the world, and they had laughed in his face.
He couldn't blame them, Ren looked everything but royal in his worn clothes and a half-empty pouch of coins in his hands.
Still, it hurt. It hurt to be laughed at, and it hurt to go back to his shipmates with not enough food to see the four of them through a fortnight.
However, as he was going to finally lose it and curse the twenty seas and the two moons, his Compass had gone completely haywire. At first, the thought he might be going crazy crossed his mind, but there was not denying the Compass was pulling him towards the rails. So Ren had followed it and looked down into the sea.
The shape of a man had appeared on the surface of the sea, swaying together with the water. Ren knew those eyes, for he saw them every time he took a look in a mirror. Those were his eyes, his father's eyes. And he had already seen that man; he had been battered, soaked and burning with fever, but Ren recognized the lines of his face nonetheless. That man was king Primus, his father.
"Ren, my son!" the man spoke.
Ren could not blame that vision on the Undal; it was just too real to be a trick of his mind.
"Please, I have little time," his father pleaded. "There is a higher power than the Thirteen Treasures. It is called the Bell of the First Sound." Something appeared in his fathers' hands. It was a bell, its smooth and polished metal painted with the frightful image of a winged monster.
"Find the Bell, ring it, and all the Dark Water will be destroyed. You will find the Bell on the island of Banjamaar. But beware, my son, many dangers await you." His father started to fade. "Many dangers!"
"Father! No!" Ren called out, but his father was gone.
And then Tula called his name. "What happened?"
He turned, wondering if his shipmates would ever believe him or laugh in his face as the merchants had done. After all they had been through together, they had to believe him. "My father spoke to me through the sea! He told me to sail for..." what was the name of the island? "Banjamaar!"
Ioz cocked his head. "Your father?"
Ren nodded. "He said we don't have to find any of the Treasures. If we ring the Bell of the First Sound, Mer will be rid of the Dark Water forever!"
"Yes," Tula placed a hand on her hip. "And Bloth serves lemonade."
Tula mocking him was some new degree of humiliation Ren was not entirely sure he could take. "You must believe me! We have a chance to stop the Dark Water with one blow and we're taking it." He was the captain, they would do as he said. "On to Banjamaar!"
It took two days and two nights before the coast of Banjamaar appeared on the horizon, and Ren felt his whole body tingle in anticipation.
He had spent those two days at the wheel, refusing to stop, barely getting any sleep. He sensed his crewmates didn't believe him, but he was still thankful they had not objected to the chance of route. In the end, Ioz had insisted on taking the wheel before Ren would steer the Wraith down a waterfall. Ren did not try to point out there were no waterfalls in the sea, he knew what Ioz meant, he was not in a state fit to sail anymore.
"Starboard to Banjamaar, Ioz! We'll be there soon!" he cried out.
Then a hand was on his forearm. Ren turned and met Tula's eyes, there was something he did not like in them. "I cannot explain it, Ren, but I sense... An evil presence."
"We'll be on guard, Tula," he squeezed her hand.
They both stood there at the rail as Ioz sailed them to the island.
Ren felt grateful for the calm water and the high sun shining down on them, he took it as an auspicious sign. That was until he saw the wall of stones floating around the island, like a thousand leaves moved in circles by the wind.
"By the ring of Regus!" Tula gasped. "It's a like a stone shield!"
"We'll never get through!" shouted Ioz.
"This trip gets stranger and stranger," said Tula.
Ren cursed under his breath. That made no sense. They had not come that far just to come that far. His father had spoken to him, telling him to get to Banjamaar and ring the bell, and that was what Ren was going to do. A wall of stone would not stop him.
At that moment, he spotted a small breach in the wall, he would take the chance. Ren dashed to the wheel and pushed Ioz away. "Up ahead, there's an opening! Let me try!"
He steered the Wraith closer and closer to the wall as the opening approached.
"Steady, Ren!" said Ioz.
A little more, the ship was close, close.
The Wraith crashed against the wall of rocks, and the power of the hit sent her spinning out of control.
Ren gripped the wheel with all the strength he could muster, while Ioz fell onto the deck. He saw Tula grabbing at a rope, but Niddler was not as fast. He splashed down into the sea.
"Well," barked Ioz, pulling himself up. "There's always the Thirteen Treasures!"
"Forget the Treasures! Our quest ends on Banjamaar!"
"So may our lives if you're not more careful!" Tula shouted.
Ren opened his mouth to retort something before he realized she was right. He returned to look at the wall, there must be a way to get in.
Niddler's squawk echoed from the port bow. "Get off me, you slimy airheads!"
Niddler was completely soaked and covered in amphecytes, which had wrapped their slimy tentacles around him. Suddenly Ren knew how they would get past the rocks.
"Niddler, I think you just found our entrance," he said walking towards him. "These amphecytes are full of air. We can use them to breathe underwater!" Ren removed one of the creatures from Niddler. It was an unpleasant feeling, but they could not afford to be picky at this point. Ren turned to look at his crew, they did not look happy.
"Drop anchor," he said. "We're going in!"
Once the Wraith was anchored, Ren pressed the amphecyte over his face, trying not to gag. The slimy creature wrapped his tentacles around his head, adhering to his face like a second skin. Ren turned to make sure his crewmates were ready and then he jumped into the sea.
The wall of rocks went deep into the water, whoever had created it had wanted to make sure nobody would get in. Ren smiled behind his amphecyte.
They all sneaked under the floating rocks and then slowly began to swim back up.
Ren was glad to remove the amphecyte from his face, and he silently wished he would never have to do that again. He saw Ioz glowering at the amphecyte after removing it from his face and toss it away.
"Hurry!" Ren said, walking to the shore. "The Bell awaits us!"
"Slow down, lad!" Ioz scolded him like a child. "I don't think it's going anywhere. If it's even here."
There was a forest behind the shore, and Ren could see building rising up on top of a cliff. The Bell was surely somewhere in the city, and that was where he was headed before somebody cried out, "An intruder!"
Two men appeared from behind the trees. Humanoids, they're skin was the color of the sand and their earlobes reached their shoulders. In their hands, they wielded a strange king of lances Ren had never seen before.
"We mean no harm, I am Ren, son of-"
One of the men slammed the bottom of the lance against the ground. It generated a soft note, and suddenly the lance came alive. A blue light engulfed its top, and when the man pointed it in Ren's direction the blue light shot out, trapping him. It did not hurt, but Ren soon found himself floating in the air in a cage of blue light. He could not get away from there.
"Release him!" said Ioz, unsheathing his sword. "Or that's the last tune you'll ever play!"
"I doubt that!" said the other man. He hit the ground with the bottom of his lance, making the same sound followed by the blue light, and next, Ren's crewmates were floating in the air, trapped in the same cage of light.
The men carried them effortlessly through the forest as they stood trapped in the blue light, helplessly floating in the air. It felt humiliating.
The houses in Banjamaar were made of clay and styled in the shapes of bells. They formed a circle around a large, empty square where only an imposing fountain rose high. Ren knew such things existed, but he had never seen one before. However, his interest in the fountain was short-lived, for behind it stood a massive tower. It was made of clay like all the other smaller buildings, but a dome of yellow glass shone from its top like a second sun.
The inhabitants had gathered in the square. On all of their faces, Ren saw a look of concern.
A group of men armed with the same lances joined their party, but soon they moved away to make space for a man clad in a blue tunic.
Their captors set them down on the ground and the cage of light dissolved.
"Who are you, trespassers?" the man in the blue tunic asked. His voice was clean, almost gentle.
"Ren, son of Primus, king of Octopon," said Ren.
The man gasped and for a heartbeat, Ren hoped he would believe him. But then he just shook his head. "Impossible! King Primus had no son!"
"But I am his son, I swear!" it was hard for him to believe his own story, Ren did not want to imagine how big of a fool he must look to the Banjamaarians. "And his spirit sent me here to ring the Bell of the First Sound!"
A chorus of whispers rose from the crowd, and Ren did not miss the way the inhabitants looked at the high building towering over the square.
"Silence!" the man ordered. "I'm afraid you've made a grave mistake, boy. There is no Bell of the First Sound. But there is a penalty for trespassing," he looked at their captors. "Take them to the Still Room!" With that, he turned around and walked away.
Before Ren could say anything else he heard the soft sound of the note, and a heartbeat later the cage of light was around him again.
"He's telling the truth!" he heard Niddler squawk. "He is the prince!"
It was futile, Ren knew. Suddenly he felt exhausted. Someday someone would believe him, but that day seemed to be so far.
He did not try to struggle as they carried him and his shipmates away.
One of the things I love about The Beast and the Bell, is that we clearly see how stubborn, impulsive and slightly arrogant Ren can be (other than extremely naive, but that has never been a mystery). Yes, even the noble, brave, kindhearted Prince of Octopon has his flaws :)
The next chapter of The Beast and the Bell will be up on August 12.