Chapter 51: Missing
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Previously: In Wonderland, Madnes and his group have split up in their search for the 7 crystals of the Terraforming Spell (a dangerous spell currently threatening to destroy their home on Earth, Okinala Island). Cheshire is with Cosmic, Harrey is with the orphans, and Madnes with Alice. They now journey through their individual missions, but the Red King has his own plan to put a stop to them, sending out his knights and Wanted posters. Meanwhile, the story follows Harrey, Ash and Drisel up in the Floating Isles of the Baa people as they hunt for one of the crystals. So far they’ve made a new Baa friend, Thimble, and had a run-in with the strange introvert Wolf (who people have been accusing for the disappearances of several Baa), and met the mysterious trader Man in Moon. Harrey placed robot Frobbit on the trader’s ship to secretly snoop around, while in the meantime they look for a place to spend the night…
Granny’s Inn was a three-story structure stacked haphazardly atop the town’s first level of shops, and it swayed and creaked with the high-sky winds. Scaling a high staircase leading up to the second level, they reached and entered the inn’s cool atmosphere. Despite the baking sun outside, indoors was nice.
A hefty Baa woman with graying pink wooly hair and gnarled horns approached. You’d expect someone who served customers to be all smiles and friendliness, but she looked as if she could care less if they stayed. Not a very profitable way of doing business, thought Ash.
“What do you lot want?” barked the innkeeper.
“A room for three, please!” Harrey beamed.
“So?” The woman held a washrag over a shoulder.
Harrey stared, mouth ajar at a loss for words. Drisel piped up: “Thimble suggested we stay here.”
“Thimble, eh? Fine.” The innkeeper snatched Harrey’s money and pointed a thumb up a set of stairs at the back. “Room 19 on the 3rd floor.”
Rickety steps creaked and groaned as Ash followed Harrey and Drisel up to the inn’s highest floor. He could feel the wind rocking them back and forth like waves rocking a ship. He hoped there wouldn’t be any seasickness along with it.
Three beds that looked like sardine cans stuffed with wool dotted their cramped room. Exhausted, Ash flopped face-first down on one—not caring which. He heard Drisel and Harrey doing the same.
“Quite a day of exploration!” Harrey stretched. “I don’t think these legs have ever done so much walking since entering this Wonderland world, y’know? Heeheeheh.”
Drisel yawned and nodded. Ash didn’t respond.
“Whoops! I almost forgot, we need some tucker before going to dreamland,” said Harrey. “Can’t sleep on an empty stomach! I’ll see what I can find us.”
Cheese and bread ended up being their dinner—the cheapest on the menu. Ash’s stomach growled for something more, but he tried to ignore it and sleep. All that night the walls groaned around them and the floor tilted side-to-side, threatening to break apart, and yet the flexible inn structure somehow held together. Ash tossed and turned on the small bed, unable to sleep deep.
Wonderland was a strange place, and exciting at first. A part of him had hoped he and Drisel could find a permanent place to belong. A stable place of their own, where they didn’t have to worry about being kicked out or relying on others. They had been staying with Harrey and his uncle, back on Earth, but for how long? How long would that last, before they kicked them out? Nothing in life was ever stable, unless you made it yourself—that’s how Ash felt.
‘Why am I thinking about this now? I should be trying to sleep…’
He tried to imagine the creaks and howling wind beyond the window to be an off-kilter lullaby. But then he thought he heard something whimper.
Ash sat bolt upright, heart pounding. He stared about. Early dawn shed light through the dust-caked window, and an odd snoring noise was coming from Harrey: sleeping on his stomach and drooling over a pillow. Ash made a disgusted face and got up.
Pulse beating his ears, Ash changed and hurried downstairs. “Did you see my human companion? The brunette girl?” he asked the large innkeeper when he spotted her.
The Baa woman turned a putrid frown down at him. “Like I care? She ran off. Deal with it.”
Ash held his tongue from saying some choice words, and made his way out into the sky town. She ran off, where? He pondered, then got an idea: “Thimble. She was worried about her…it’d be just like Drisel to go and comfort her.” He just hoped that he could remember the way to Thimble’s workshop.
It was a lot of rickety-bridge walking, but Ash soon found himself back on the orchard-like island where they’d first ran into Wolf. Not much farther and he would reach the workshop.
Ash followed the path through the fruit-growing island, when a spot of red on the dirt ahead caught his attention. He eyed it as he drew near. A red smear: blood.
A chill ran through him. He looked around for more, and spotted a second red blotch. A third: It was a trail of bloody prints, leading off the path and through the undergrowth.
Ash swallowed. What if Drisel had run into someone on her way here, someone like Wolf…?
He hurried, following the red prints until they dulled and become less than foot indentations in the soil. Then even those faded after a while, and he was left to guess where to go next.
He looked at the dangling fruit and the chirping birds around him—all useless to aid in his desperate search. Some hero he was. He had already lost his orphan friend Nagato, and now he was about to lose Drisel too. What was the point of him being here, if he was this useless to those he cared about?
‘Drisel. Please be okay.’
He pushed through a copse of bushes, and there a pool, with a cave beside it, met him. The cave looked lived in: baskets, gathered produce, drying herbs, fabrics. It had to be where Wolf lived! Problem was: the place was swarming with Baa—very angry Baa.
They toppled and trashed everything in sight, shouting out Wolf’s name and combing the area for him. Ash backed away. What was happening? They couldn’t be here because of Drisel. She was human and the Baa couldn’t care less about her. There must be some other reason they were after Wolf.
‘Doesn’t matter. Whatever is going on, Drisel clearly isn’t here,’ he thought. Where would Wolf take her—if she was still alive and Ash wasn’t a hero-failure for a second time? ‘She has to be alive…’ He recalled the red footprints, his hands shaking. ‘She has to be…!’
Thimble, he needed her and her sister’s help. They knew the Floating Isles better than him. And they were the only Baa who might be willing to help.
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This is my entry for this week’s #BlogBattle challenge by the wonderful author Rachael Ritchey, where the challenge is to write a short story based on that week’s chosen word. This week’s word was: “hero.” Check out the link, read other great stories there, and VOTE for your favorite 3 to win!
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