Neela: The Blue Pearl

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Chapter 11

As determined as Cheveyo was to save Neela, she was equally determined to save Delila and herself. While Cheveyo had been seeking out the king, Neela and Delila had been seeking the source of the echoing commotion within their cell. Neela made it clear to whatever or whomever was in their space that they would not seek to harm them.

A female voice eventually responded, “How do we know you won’t hurt us?”

“We aren’t violent people, and we are bound at the wrists.”

“So are we,” another female voice interjected.

The voices grew closer and more distinct from one another as the communication continued. They identified themselves as Lizzie and Alissa, two young women around the same age as Neela and Delila. They explained that they had been abducted recently from the more populated side of the island. They provided a rundown of what life had been like in captivity and encouraged the newcomers not to agitate their captors. Alissa recommended that the girls keep their blindfolds around their necks so that they could quickly pull them back up when someone entered the room. She had learned the hard way that there were severe consequences for being caught without it in place. Despite the negative circumstances, most of the girls tried to get acquainted with one another.

Neela, however, was more focused on their escape. She slowly and repetitiously ran her fingers over the rope that bound her wrists together. She studied the shape created by the abrasive interwoven fibers. When she was able to recognize the type of knot that was used, she steadily worked toward deconstruction.

Over the years, she had suffered through many lessons on knot-tying taught by her persistent grandfather. She’d never dreamed she would need such a skill, much less in such a setting, but was thankful for the experience and remorseful for the many complaints she’d lodged with Henry. The knowledge she’d gained allowed her to free herself from the restraints and then systematically free all the others.

Out of the ropes, the girls had their mobility, but they were still a long way from total freedom. They were without a plan, and hope was dwindling among some of them. In complete darkness, they sat huddled together in what they believed to be the center of the cell. Each sat in a cold metal folding chair that Lizzie and Alissa had found stacked up in the corner of their gloomy dwelling. One by one, they shared their fears of the darkness and the unknown that lurked within it.

Neela sat in silent reflection while she listened to the girls’ descriptions of a dark world she knew far too well. She shared in their fear of the abductors and uncertain fate, but she wasn’t at all frightened by the darkness itself. She felt confident in her ability to navigate through it and lead the girls to freedom.

She did everything she could to motivate the others to join her. “I understand the darkness is scary, you guys, but I promise, you’ll adjust to it.”

“You know that I know that you know what you’re doing in the dark, but whatever kind of ship this is feels huge! How are we gonna find our way out?” Delila asked.

“If we can just get that door open, I know I can at least get us to the deck. I remember exactly how many steps down every hallway, up every stair, and I think we have a real chance.”

Delila took a deep, audible breath in, slowly exhaled out, and responded boldly, “Okay, let’s get that sucker open, then.”

“I know how to get the door open,” Lizzie announced.

“How?” Delila asked.

“The man that’s been guarding the door seems to like me. Maybe I can get him to just let us out,” Lizzie explained.

“What if someone else is there today?” asked Alissa. She was the most unwell of all the girls, having been held captive in the harsh conditions the longest.

“I’m pretty sure he’s there. I can smell the sickening sweetness of his cigars seeping in around the door,” Lizzie responded.

“It’s worth a try. Hopefully he listens to reason, but if he doesn’t, there’s four of us, four metal chairs, and one of him,” Neela said.

“Neela!” Delila said, in disbelief of her friend’s newly aggressive disposition.

“We’ll overpower him—we have to,” Neela asserted.

“I can’t,” Alissa said.

Neela could understand her fear, but she also knew the chances of their survival would dwindle with time. She tried to encourage her. “Yes, you can, Alissa. We’ll do it together. It’s the only way.”

“I’ll just stay here.”

“No, we have to do it together.”

“You don’t know what it’s like when you get them angry.”

“We’re not leaving you behind to suffer here alone. We are going to get out of here or die trying. I refuse to spend whatever time I have left in this horrible place. I know I can get us to the deck and that together we have a good chance of making it home from there.”

“And what if they catch us?” Alissa asked.

“I don’t know, but if we stay here, they’ll for sure hurt us when we get to wherever we’re going,” Neela responded.

Alissa thought about it for a moment before responding. “I think there’s a small life preserver on the starboard side of the ship. They had me on the deck for a few days before they moved me down here.”

“That’s the spirit! To the starboard side of the deck we go, ladies,” Neela said with the fabricated enthusiasm typically reserved for story hour.

They folded up their chairs, held onto them tightly, and stacked up at the door as Neela instructed. Lizzie knocked gently in a pattern she had obviously used before to identify herself. No response for several minutes heightened the anxiety in the room to a palpable state. She tried her signature knock again. The smell of smoke grew heavier. They all tried to remember to breathe as they heard the wheel lock slowly turn.

The door opened; a small bit of light trickled down from somewhere above. It wasn’t enough to see their way out, but it did reveal portions of the man’s face and body to everyone but Neela and Lizzie. Lizzie had put her blindfold back on more tightly than the others to prevent an immediate reaction to their rebellion. The others saw a small man with poor posture, weathered clothing, and features that most would find unattractive even when cloaked by shadows.

Within the open doorway, Lizzie tried her best to persuade the unfortunate fellow to allow a brief reprieve from their dark and damp space. He was intrigued by the rare female attention but far too fearful of his superiors to give in. When it was clear that he wasn’t willing to go against his orders, Delila came out from behind Lizzie and struck him in the head with her chair. The other women followed suit until the weakest link in the abductors’ chain was broken and unconscious.

They dragged him inside, and Delila tied her bandanna around his mouth. Neela worked quickly, using the ropes that had once bound her own wrists to secure the man to the internal portion of the wheel lock. He was restrained and subdued for now, but they knew they didn’t have much time before he would regain consciousness and alert the others with his screams. Neela gave the girls instructions with great haste.

“Everyone hold someone’s hand, single file, fifty paces forward. The metal ladder will be on our right.”

Neela brought one of the metal folding chairs with her, as it was their only weapon. They made their way down the hallway and to the bottom of the ladder undetected. She stressed to step lightly, no heavy feet, no noise. As she listened to her own instructions, which were barely above a whisper, she realized she would have to leave their only weapon behind to ensure she could make it up the ladder without a sound. When all the girls had successfully and silently reached the top, Neela gave further directives.

“We’re almost there. Down another hallway, two hundred paces forward, and up a stairwell that will be on our left.”

As the girls embarked on their journey to the last stairwell, the tribe reached the barge.

* * *

Each Ojigong exploded out of the water like a missile directed straight into the sky. They soared over a hundred and fifty feet high, supported by water, well above the deck of the barge. The force of their departure from the sea violently shook the massive watercraft encircled by their army of allies.

The Ojigong manipulated the sea to lower them onto the deck while they transitioned into human form. The impact of their feet simultaneously hitting the deck could be felt throughout the barge. They formed a horizontal line of opposition and awaited a response to their uninvited presence, proudly displaying the Ojigong markings on their chests. Some were bare, and others had pieces of netting strategically placed across them. Below, they all wore thin, loosely fitted pants with gathered fabric in the middle that covered what was obscene to expose on the surface. They pounded their fists into the markings in unison and belted out centuries-old warrior cries. Their shrieks might have sounded to the human ear like a blend of the sounds emitted by a pod of orcas and those produced by a flock of birds. The sound was very unique and intentionally painful to the human auditory system.

The abductors quickly gathered onto the deck from different locations all over the barge. Each protected their ears with hands masked in filth. The appearance of the Ojigong line brought colossal dread to the humans. Their shared fear quickly developed into panic among them. Their disorganization only revealed their weakness as a unit to the Ojigong warriors.

The humans weren’t outnumbered, but they could all feel in the pit of their stomachs that they were greatly outmatched. Without any efforts to engage verbally, they took immediate drastic measures in firing their weapons.

A barrage of bullets flew past the Ojigong, with very few grazing the warriors. They rebounded quickly, their impressive healing abilities on full display. The humans were dumbfounded. The only effect their weapons had on the tribe was to strengthen their confidence that the day would bring about a relatively easy victory. The tribe reformed the line, with King Azul and Cheveyo at its center. They pounded their chests and chanted proudly. They showed no signs of any intention to retreat.

The king raised his fist in the air. The chants abruptly ceased. He spoke in boisterous human form to make clear his demands. He requested that the captain of the ship show themselves and take responsibility for their crew and craft.

No movement could be seen among the scattered clusters of humans that hid behind various items on the deck. King Azul again demanded that the humans identify their captain. No response or movement. Azul decided to provide motivation to respond by demonstrating his ability to control the weather. He gave telepathic warning to his army below to sink to lower depths before he repeatedly struck the surface waters with bolts of lightning. The lightning spread out over the water, traveled through the metal on the barge, and shocked everyone touching any piece of the barge.

Unfortunately, that included Neela and the other girls, standing inside a metal staircase. Neela was barely affected, though, having become almost immune to the pain of a small amount of electricity in recent months. She was excited and relieved by the shock simultaneously. To her, it meant Cheveyo had to be nearby. She was fearful for the others to see her love in his true form but desperate to escape the stairwell and find him. She asked Delila to open the door at the top of the staircase and describe the happenings on the deck.

Delila found it difficult to move, as she was still in pain from the electric shock and somewhat incapacitated by thoughts of the unknown that lurked just beyond the door. Neela strongly encouraged Delila, and eventually she was able to slowly crack the door open a hair despite her fear.

She observed the Ojigong warriors in what she initially believed to be their natural state. Her eyes told her that they were human, but her heart felt something different. She could sense their wild, ferocious, unpredictable spirits. She couldn’t find any domestication, civility, or refinement in their way of being. So many questions rattled around in her head as she watched them pound on their chests. Who were they? Where did they come from? How had they boarded a ship already out to sea? Or had they? There was so much she didn’t understand, but she knew one thing for certain. She was thankful for their presence and their apparent opposition to her captors.

It took some time for her to recognize Cheveyo among all of the confusion. There was a violent and unrestrained look about him that altered his appearance from what she had known, but it wasn’t too terribly far from what she had imagined him capable of being. She continued to watch and describe the scene to Neela, who stood directly behind her. For the first time in her life, she sought to neither inflate nor minimize the dramatics of a scene.

As she looked on, the humans on deck were still trying to recover from the shocking pain. King Azul gave them one last warning. He promised to kill everyone on board if the cowardice of the captain continued. Having believed the promise laid before him, a man small only by comparison to the king made his way to the forefront of the humans. He had a cockiness to his walk and a somewhat uselessness about his face. He was clearly accustomed to others taking on the brunt of the hard labor for him, as his clothes were much less tattered and his boots far less scuffed than the crew members’. King Azul and Cheveyo advanced from the line and approached the captain.

“You are the captain of this ship?” King Azul demanded.

“I am,” the man confirmed with a bit of unexpected haughtiness.

“What is the purpose of your voyage?”

“Why, isn’t it obvious? We’re pirates!” the captain said with a smile that exposed the decay in his mouth, a clear sign that he spent much of his life out at sea.

“You will cease your piracy of these waters!” King Azul ordered.

“Nah, I don’t think we will,” the captain retorted.

“Then you and all of your men will die today,” King Azul declared.

“Do what ya will, but I promise, they’ll be comin’ for ya thereafter. That’s one I know I can keep even from the grave.”

The king stood silent, but his silence was well understood to be the final opportunity for the captain. Though the captain’s fear was apparent, he still managed to defy and deride the king with laughter.

Before the king could react, Cheveyo snatched the captain up by his neck so quickly and forcefully that it left his minimally tarnished boots behind on the deck. The captain’s body convulsed in reaction to the high-voltage grasp. Cheveyo locked eyes with him as he drained the breath, laughter, and life from the snickering pirate. He relinquished his hold, carelessly dropping the man’s limp body down onto his boots, without any regard for the life lived in them. His body lay in front of his crew as an example of what their own defiance would inevitably bring them.

The humans stood still, again dumbfounded by their quick defeat. Any reasonable person would have surrendered at the sight of their leader so easily executed by a single member of the opposing side, but they chose another course. The pirates charged the line with daggers drawn. Hand-to-hand combat ensued. One by one, they felt the sting of the Ojigong touch. They were able to inflict a few wounds themselves, but they were no match for the abilities of the Ojigong warriors. They were strangled, electrocuted—mercilessly extinguished in whatever means were deemed fitting by their Ojigong counterparts. Their bodies, both alive and dead, were flung overboard to the army of allies that had returned to the surface. Some were devoured in midair and others dragged to the ocean floor for consumption.

Delila struggled to find the words to describe the creatures leaping out of the surrounding water, the brutal nature of the Ojigong, and Cheveyo’s incredibly violent acts.

“They’re dead, they’re all dead,” she mumbled.

“Who’s dead?” Neela asked frantically.

“All of them.”

Neela couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing the identity of the deceased while she believed her love to be on board. Without any hesitation, she pushed past Delila and thrust the door of the stairwell the rest of the way open. She screamed out to Cheveyo. He ran to her immediately, wrapped his arms around her, and held her tightly against his chest. There were no words between them, only mutual desperation to cling to the happiness and acceptance they had found in one another.

The king stood at a distance and quietly observed their interaction. His expression gave little insight to his opinion of the union. However, his lack of interference was somewhat telling to his warriors, who eagerly awaited their next order. The king directed his attention back to the mission. He instructed the Ojigong to throw any dead that remained overboard and to turn the barge around as quickly as possible. Finally, they were headed home.

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