I doubt many people follow this story religiously, but I feel as though each chapter is a bit long, too long. Do you think I should shorten them? Anyway PM me if you have a preference! I hope you like this one!
"Extra bamboo for the panda?"
"All right, that's everything." Nabiki folds a five foot list of paper in half and shreds it into millions of tiny pieces. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
"I don't know if you've been told, but I have no choice." I say sarcastically and she thrusts her hands on her hips. I secure the front flap of my blue and gray backpack with multiple knots and roughly smoothen out the wrinkles. It holds some very…. explicit things inside. I'm not going to risk anyone seeing these photos. I'll just burn them later. I trot out to the sidewalk where Ryoga and the panda are waiting. He's in his panda form because he can hold more stuff, seeing as he's carrying three stuffed backpacks and two large baskets of bamboo. They stop mid-conversation and look towards me, their mouths turning to two, creepy smiles.
"I see you two are in spirits, now aren't you." I slap them on the back and talk with a ping of sarcasm to my shrill voice.
"Let's get a move on, then!" Ryoga fumbles for my hand and speeds up his walk into the speed of an airplane that is taking off from the port.
"Woah, Ryoga! Slow down a bit!" I pull back and notice the large mammal about five feet behind is glaring at us with a sinister feel to his gaze. A bead of nervous sweat trickles down my temple and I laugh anxiously. We walk through bustling streets and parks until we reach the edge of our town, overlooking the sky scraping buildings and forty acre parks, filled with people running and playing together in the snow. A little fizzle of snow rains down every now and then. The sun is high in the sky, emitting a heavy orange glow that adds ten pounds to the weight I'm heaving around on my shoulders. We continue on through a forest, getting deeper and deeper, until the sky is shrouded with the brown canopy of the tall trees overhead. No sunlight comes in, making it next to impossible to see anything.
"Ryoga?" I squeeze his hand, reassuring myself that he's still here. He freezes for a moment, but keeps on walking.
"Y-yes, Akane?" His unsteady voice quivers.
"Say, after we make it out of here, we set up camp for the night? I'm exhausted already. Whaddya say?" I nudge his ribs in an effort to persuade him, but he just shakes. Literally. His body starts shaking. He must be scared of the dark. The thought makes laughing erupt in my mind, and it's seemingly difficult to keep it contained, but I manage somehow.
"Sure, I have no problem with that." His words levitate over his head, having no emotion or no force driven behind them. He must be more tired than me.. We walk on for a while, which leads me to the conclusion that we've been traveling in circles. At least I thought that we were, until I see a light up ahead. It's quite peculiar, miniature, if I'd say so myself. I quicken my step and it gets bigger, and bigger. Suddenly, we're enveloped in a strange, white light.
'Would you look at that…' writes the panda on one of his signature wooden billboards. A light fog drifts lazily on top of a deep blue ocean, blanketing the expanse of aqua in front of us. A small dock is built near the shore line with a small ferry puffing out a gray smoke from it's chimney. There are circular windows covering the ship's exterior. Being half white and half red, it clashes with the blue beneath it. A beer-bellied fellow tends to a box filled to the brim with clams. He has a muddy white beard and a blue captain's cap on top of his furry head. His eyebrows are thick and he smells of cigars. He glances over at us and his caterpillars go up to his hairline.
"Well, gee now! I wasn't expectin' no company 'round these parts! Who're you folk?" He slaps down a piece of rope and toddles over to greet us. "Ey! Whatcha doin 'ere?"
"Ehem," Ryoga clears his throat and rubs his upper lip, swiping away a few beads of sweat. "We're looking to go to Jusenkyo, a training ground in China."
"Jusenkyo, eh? Not too long ago, I had a bucket o' travelers come n' ask me that very same question, lad. As a matta o' fact, that panda you's got over der reminds me o' one of them." He wheezes a congested cough and a bit of mucus rattles around inside his throat. Mr. Saotome glows a shade of pink and scratches his bum. "I'll take ya to the next island, sure. Just 5,000 yen per lad."
"5,000 yen?!" I let my mouth drop open. The sailor chuckles and crosses his arms.
"Take it or leave it, princess." He winks and goes over to resume his work with the clams.
"We'll take it!" Ryoga hastily follows him, as does the Panda. Nabiki had to learn her tricks from somewhere. I sigh and kick the grass patches beneath my feat, deracinating a few lumps. The elfish man yanks on a rope attached to a pulley and a little drawbridge tumbles down, wide enough for one person at a time.
"I'm gonna prepare a feast for yalls tonight! I got me some duck and pork, it'll be a fiasco of the greats!" He howls in laughter and teeters on the lapsable creaky boards, suspended into the air with a simple worn out rope. It appears as though it could bust at any moment. I notice Ryoga's standing in shock as the captain finishes his jumble of words.
"You okay, Ryoga? I can help you up if you need it." I leisurely slap his shoulder. He focuses in, after possibly zoning out and gives a crooked smile.
"N-no, that's fine, Akane." He takes a few steps onto the first board, as the sailor ushers him on, and he scurries up at the speed of light.
"You're up, panda!" He slaps the side of the boat. Mr. Saotome shifts his weight between his two padded feet. Finally, he approaches the ladder, but instead of climbing it, he bends at the knees, and jumps up and onto the boat with one graceful swoop. I stare in amazement at the martial artist above me, wishing that I could be that great. I swallow hard and place one foot on the rickety contraption and a variety of groans echo throughout the stillness of the place. I climb higher and higher, my knees growing weaker with my anxiety with each step, until I reach the top. I'm shaking with the fright of falling that I can't even compose myself to come up and over the edge. Ryoga turns around from his conversation with Mr. Saotome and quickly comes to my aid.
"All aboard!" The captain yells and pulls a lever, disconnecting the ship from the dock. The sound of the horn bounces off the stillness and rings inside my head. I feel a slight jerk, and we're moving! The only sound I hear is the sound of Ryoga's breathing next to my ear and the steady pump of the chimney emitting a smoldering gas into the atmosphere. I retain my composure, and soften my cringing expression.
"Thanks, Ryoga." I smile, look up into his face.
"A-anytime, Akane…" He whispers hoarsely. We watch as the land shrinks smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until the naked eye can only see water.
"So, Captain…." Ryoga says, until he stops himself, not knowing our sea dog's name.
"Captain Nataku, at your service. Just call me Nat." He salutes stiffly and smiles a toothy smile. His teeth are brown, and gaps fill the places where a few missing teeth normally would be. It looks like he's suffered from scurvy for a long time. He pushes a button, and the 24 spoked wheel grinds to a halt. The boat, however, continues in the same path. "So how about that supper, hmm?" He limps over to a door and spins the doorknob multiple times. The pasty door creaks open and he flicks on a switch that apparently does nothing. He motions for us to join him inside before disappearing behind a crate, box, something of the sort. Mr. Saotome squeezes his large behind through the oval shaped frame and pokes his nose into the darkness. I take careful steps over the paneled floor to reach the rail. Grasping it, I look out at the sea. The dark blue sky, now influencing the color of the water, grows to a dark blue hue, with the occasional star lighting up it's surroundings. It's a full moon tonight. Stormy gray clouds usher in a mood of sadness and distraught, covering the moon and eliminating the last source of light in the sky. I sigh and rest my head on my hand.
"Are you all right, Akane?" Ryoga comes up and places a gentle hand on my shoulder.
"Oh, Ryoga. It's you." I glance over my shoulder and see his worried expression. "You should go in and eat. I'm not hungry."
"You have to eat SOMETHING," He scratches his head and pats me on the back. "You need to keep your strength up."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Like always." I laugh and skip over to the door. "I'm in the mood for some pork. How bout you?"
"I-I-I don't really like pork," He interrupts my sentence anxiously. He pulls on his collar, hoping to avoid an anxiety attack. Speeding passed me and through the door, I can only help but wonder what that was about. I step into the dark hallway and the door shuts behind me.
"I-I can't see.." I squint and feel around for anything to help me regain my sense of direction. It's so dark in here. Not even a little light? I navigate my way around boxes and dusty shelves when I see a lantern somewhere down the hall. I quicken my walk and reach it in no time.
"Ey, lassy! You finally made it in, didja?" Nat uses a wooden spoon and stirs something inside a metal pot. The light of the room blinds me momentarily. I blink a few times, and I come into focus. I'm in a kitchen, of sorts, except the dining table is right in the middle. A large pig sits in the middle with an apple stuffing it's mouth. Ryoga hides behind the panda, refusing to look at the small boar. I hear a duck's cry, and I scour the room, using my eyes like a hawk would use theirs. I notice a small duckling being dangled by it's neck over a steaming bowl of water. It's batting it's wings ferociously and trying to escape it's cruel fate. It's a kind of hairy duckling, why having bangs that droop down just above it's eyes. A pair of prescription lenses sits just above it's beak. What a- NO! WHAT?
"NO! YOU CAN'T EAT THAT!" I scream and dash over to the feathered rat, untie it, and quickly set it down on the table. I pet it down to make sure it's okay. Taking the boiling water, I dunk the goose in a skin melting liquid.
"YOUCH! Akane! Thank you!" A young, naked, Chinese boy grabs my hands with his broiling flesh.
"Moose! What are you doing here?" Ryoga runs over, flipping his shoulder to face him.
"Ey! It's you! That… thata… boy." Nat scratches his head, shrugs his shoulders.
"There-there were," He pants, grips the table for leverage. "There were these black shadow-things… and they flung me over here, and into the water! Before I knew what hit me, I was being wrapped up by this lunatic and about to be served as fresh meat!" He points an accusing finger in Nat's face. He chuckles, sniffs, and goes back to stirring a reeky substance in the cauldron.
"Who 'flung' you here?" I ask, shielding my eyes from his nudity. Mr. Saotome holds a sign above his head. 'The same people who threw me! The world is so harsh, Akane.' And at the bottom right hand corner, there's a little frowny face with trickling black tears.
"Well… It was only for an instant, but I BELIEVE the person who tossed me had purple hair… That's all I could see." He scratches his head in the hopes it would install a fresh set of forgotten memories from the moment. He suddenly looks all around the room for something, maybe he misplaced something, I don't know. "Where's Shampoo?"
"She didn't wind up here?" Ryoga questions.
"Shampoo!" He wails about, knocking the pig on the floor. "Where are you?!"
"Calm down, ya buckin' sea horse!" Nat barks and throws Moose's usual attire at his face. "I'll assume these rags belong to yous. It's the day of the blue moon when I find such strange wearings drifting out to sea round these parts."
"Th-thanks." He bows timidly and slips into the robe. "Hey! Mr. Saotome! I didn't know you washed up too!"
'I was thrown through the roof of the Amazon restaurant, but whatever floats your boat…' Mr. Saotome holds up a trembling board while trying to contain his laughter.
"You're hysterical." I say flatly and he pipes down.
"Yee said you were attacked by some shadow?" Nat grabs a few bowls and slides them down the table, setting five places perfectly. We all jump into our seats and wait patiently for some food. "I may know a piece or two bout them shadows, allright."
"Really? Tell us what you know!" I exclaim, my hopes returning to their former states.
"I'll tell yee this much; they's ain't somethin' regular folk should be messin' with." He turns and coldly locks his eyes on mine. What….. what does that mean?