The Monster in White
What began as a loved synergist celebration quickly shifted into a tragedy in waiting. It was an open secret that the bride and groom were missing, one that was only admitted in worried whispers and momentary frowns. The village chief, Oke, gave them details, a reward and where to start. Or rather, how to start.
The small river boat bobbed against the shallow waters. A worn map covered much of the view until Tig lowered it, revealing a huddled Franco, rocking back and forth by the prow of the boat.
“What does it say, Tib?” asked the pitiful creature.
“I see several isles lined in a crescent, the largest being the one we left.”
“The border isles.” Named Inyande as she rowed the ship from the back. “They’ve guarded the fourth seas for centuries. It’s partly why the trade princes allow the Synergists to stay here, untaxed.”
“And why this marriage ritual has the two travel along the crescent and back?” asked Tig.
Franco shuddered, “Awful awful practice that. They might as well be dead traveling along these waters.”
“Shi shi shi. Relax ‘man who’ll topple the navy’ the synergists of Impeh village have lived their whole lives here. This ritual has been conducted with little fault for as long as they’ve been here.”
Her rowing stole Tig’s backwards glance as did Inyande herself. She was Franco’s opposite in every way as the waters brushed below them. She sniffed the sea air, practically lapped it up. Her two tightly packed fur boots were somehow balanced on the thin sidewalls of the boat. But she stood anyways, daring the sea to sweep her away. The Professor sat ahead of her, Gemjo ahead of him.
Inyande continued, “It’s taboo for any among the synergist people to interfere with the happy couple’s voyage.”
“Hence us,” said Gemjo, her eyes on the boy. “Oi Tig change spots with me.”
Tig crumpled the map, “is he still sobbing?”
She frowned immensely and Tig saw the slumped Professor coddling an empty bottle with his lips. His sagging cheeks and half closed goggles eyes were a testament to his melancholy.
He spat the bottle back and breathed, “I’m not sobbing.”
“You might as well be,” quipped Gemjo.
The Professor held up the bottle and examined it with one eye shut, “I’m bronze on the outside, cloaked in blues and blacks, but inside I am nothing but liquor. The good stuff. The insatiable liquid, my muse, my passion, my lover. It dulls the senses but awakens another.” His head fell back, and his hat almost slid off. “I feel myself sobering. I shudder at the clarity returning to me. I am doomed, mates. Bury me in the sea, let me drink one last drink.”
Tig formed a line with his mouth. Somehow, he missed the drunk Professor more.
“Oke promised a drink should we succeed.” Said Tig. “He doesn’t have much of it, but it should be enough for you.”
“Ah the sweet nectar. I can taste it now.”
The Professor raised the bottle and the glint of it against the raw midday light made Tig squint away.
“Right,” said Tig scanning the horizon. “We should be approaching the first island now.”
Though he had known that from the start. Each island was readily visible from the first, leaving only mists and heat to blur the otherwise clear sight. Silver trees colored those distant bulks the same strange grey that greeted them at Impeh. Rocky crags scattered the coast like broken chocolate bars.
He could see hints of yellow grass as they quickly approached the unblemished sands.
Inyande spoke up behind him, “It’s strange. There should have been nothing to stop the couple. None of the wildlife here are terribly aggressive and even then, synergists are fierce warriors.”
Gemjo yawned, “You find it strange, Captain of the Wing Pirates? Have we sailed into something dangerous here?”
Inyande smiled as the boat slid to shore, “The sea is Dangerous, seawolf.”
Tig felt those words directed at him. Marici had told him exactly that a few weeks ago. He was right, of course. But it wasn’t the monsters or storms that made it that way.
He focussed on Inyande’s long serrated steel blade as she leapt off. It was the people that made the sea dangerous.
Inyande was tethering the boat to a nearby rock when Tig got off. A little further in he saw Franco kissing the sands frantically and the Professor aimlessly filling his bottle and emptying it.
“So why?” began Gemjo as she leaned by the ship. “Why did they send five adventurers instead of one if there were no aggressive wildlife? Surely if it was that the couple decided to run, just you would do.”
Inyande finished her knot and stood up with a fix of her jacket, “Isn’t it obvious, seawolf? Because we are not alone.”
Just as she said that, clockwork birds rushed from the treetops further in, a horrible screech followed it. Tig took a step back. He knew that sound.
Inyande drew her blade, and Tig threw Gemjo a knowing glance.
“The Gents,” Said Tig.
Gemjo nodded, “I think so to.”
Inyande was already pacing ahead, Franco quick to her side.
Inyande called back at Tig as she quickened her steps, “Here’s an Ita tip, cursed one. If there’s anything you fear, face it.”
Another screech rung in the distance and hesitantly, Tig followed the moving troupe.
He noticed his steps were alone and he turned back to find Gemjo still leaning on the boat.
“You’re not coming?”
The seawolf yawned, “What for? You’ve got the strongest woman in the world with you.”
“Yes, but we ought to help considering it’s her ship we’ll use to leave this place.”
“I can swim.”
“How about fly?”
“I’ll bite the boat.”
Tig sighed, “Why did you come?”
Franco echoed from the end of the passage, “Tid, come one!”
He flipped to the man and back to Gemjo again, “alright well, y-you guard the boat then.”
The stone walls rushed by him as he easily passed the panting Professor and caught up to Franco.
Inyande was well a ways ahead, now crunching through yellow grass. Every so often he could see the glint of her blade between the shade of trees.
Another cry sounded as they neared. It was louder now. Close. He remembered the Gents and their horrid forms. Back then he could do nothing but run away, now he was running to them.
“Stay back.” Said Inyande steps away.
They saw her blade outstretched as they got there. A Red figure lumbered in front of her. Tig narrowed his eyes. He was right. Before Inyande stood the same long armed figure he had seen back on the Gatekeeper’s island. It’s red suite, hat, pants, all were identical.
The Mad Gent rotated its owl face in twitching movements.
Inyande’s blade lowered. She took a step.
As did Tig, “Inyande what are you doing?”
Unthinkably, she reached towards the creature, “Look at you. Look at you! What a beautifully fascinating creature.” She stopped a breath away from the long creature and softly scratched the underside of its chin. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?”
Inyande nodded with her eyes still fixed on it, “The Mad Gents come from the same land as the Librarians.”
“The keepers that run Kura? But I thought they were examiners?” asked Tig,
“You ever see one?”
He shook his head. Anu had not given him the chance.
Inyande smiled at it warmly, “Well, some rumors suggest they may have been crafted by those librarians.”
The creature was not at all the monster that gave chase a few weeks ago. Perhaps it was Inyande’s presence, or perhaps as Tig circled it and saw darken something under its arm, it was something else. It relaxed its shoulders and coo’ed when Tig was to its side.
Franco was standing on the other side, “Good Hours, how did you nullify it?”
“I’ve met them before.” Explained Inyande. “Question is, why you lot thought he’d be aggressive.”
Tig blinked, zipping his head between Inyande and the beast. He remembered the tales Wilma told him then the reality of it. Screaming, chasing and running the mad Gents lived up to that name.
Tig clutched his chest, “Why last time they ch--”
“Look at them mates.” Interjected the Professor. “Nasty creature that. Any sane turn would think it aggressive.”
Tig nodded, pushing the man aside, “Yes as I was saying--”
The Professor shot him a narrowed glance. It was quick, practiced. Something he would have missed if he had blinked, but managed to catch at that crucial moment. Perhaps the man had truly sobered, for that glance was a commanding one.
“As I was saying.” Continued Tig eyes drifting to Inyande. “We saw them before on another island and… and we ran when we saw them.”
“Did they chase you?” queried Inyande.
“Maybe.” Shrugged the Professor. “Bit of a blur that, but I suspect not. Judging by those limbs of theirs they would’ve caught me, scratched me up good to.”
“Right, and, hypothetically, the only way we would’ve escaped in that scenario is if we fell in a hole.” Laughed Tig. “Hours blessed, we’re not that stupid.”
“What he said.” Pointed the Professor. Curiously, the back part of the Professor’s hand gone an enamel white.
Then Tig saw the Gent staring at him with black piercing eyes.
Inyande continued, “Rumors say the Gents only attack those with keys.”
Tig pulled his jacket tight, “What keys?”
“Shi shi. You really don’t know anything do you, cursed one? Woah—”
The mad gent had nearly fallen if not for Inyande’s quick support.
“This one’s injured.” She said confirming the boy’s fears.
Tig spied at the darkening wound. Judging by the stain that spread past the majority of its suite it had been bleeding for a while. Even then the creature was breathing.
“Lift his arm.” Instructed Tig. “Remove the fabric to.”
Inyande shook her head, “What are you…”
“I’m a doctor’s apprentice, please, just reveal the wound for me.”
She did so with very little delay and laid down the beast to boot. The creature, as Tig suspected, was not fully feathered as its face suggested. Rather, it had exposed pink skin throughout its body, darkened only where dried blood had clung to under its right arm. The others watched him work wordlessly.
Tig wiped the blood away with his carry on towel then doused it thoroughly with a disinfectant the Timebender had prepared for him. Then when the wound was properly exposed and bleeding barely, he examined the extent of the cut.
It was sharp, seamless and as a long as long as Tig’s middle finger. Luckily, none of the visible nerves of the mad Gent had been severed, so he began dressing the wound with whatever rags he could muster from his satchel.
The moment he tied it shut, footsteps crunched behind them.
“Why do you help him?” asked a distinctly female voice.
She wore a sullied white robe with detailed blue designs. Locks of perpetually moving sand arched from her forehead and swept effortlessly over her shoulders. Three black and identical spirals on either side met at an angle at the tip of her forehead. Her black eyes batted.
“Why did you save that monster?” she asked again.
Inyande balanced her hands on her hips and puffed her chest forwards. The captain of the Wing pirates had a confident smile about her and the way her eyelids were half lowered made the boy think she knew the synergist now before them.
“Greetings fair one,” started Inyande loudly, “where is your betrothed?”
“The bride.” Hushed Tig.
The woman approached them with her sandy hand locked and raised to her lips, “They took him.” She said sadly.
“Who?” pressed Inyande.
The woman lowered her hands, shaking all the while, “Witch doctors.”