The Floating Islands – II

The creature screeched, sounding like two sticks scratched one against the other. Without ceasing to observe the pirates, it started to speak an incomprehensible language, made of puffs and gurgles that rang in the wood. A strange kind of music, sometimes similar to a rough recorder, sometimes to the sound of water poured in a glass, that returned at the end to the initial screeching.

The Captain frowned and jumped back, drawing his saber. The creature didn’t seem to threaten them, but the group’s nerves were tense all the same: they expected mortal dangers to fall on them in a moment and the excess of caution had made them distrustful. The others put themselves in guard, too.

The creature’s eyes gleamed. «Calm, calm!» she shouted, hastily. «You’re humans, aren’t you? Of course you’re humans! I can speak your tongue, can you hear?»

They understood her now, but her vocal timbre still was as before, and shrill whistles pierced the pirates’ ears. She giggled nervously. «Put down those goads»

The Captain didn’t obey. «What… are you?»

The creature’s bust put itself up. The bark of the tree seemed to melt and become malleable, the veining in the crack waved and twisted, until two slender and flexible limbs detached from the trunk, green as sprouts. With a puff, she got up on her feet, now totally parted from the tree. She was smaller than him for almost one foot, a mix between a young plant and a girl, hardly describable. Mayweather’s eyes focused on her hands: from each protruded three short branches, which closed and opened up again while the creature was apparently stretching herself after a long sleep. A tangled mane of leaves and lianas, dotted with little yellow flowers, crowned her head.

She raised her arms as to answer the Captain’s question. «Humans rarely come here. What are you seeking?»

She didn’t seem aggressive. Mayweather sheathed his weapon, but kept watching suspiciously the strange creature. «Our enemies ran after us and damaged our airship. We stopped here to hide and make repairs»

«Airship» repeated the creature, bringing one of her thin branches to her mouth, as to think. «Do you mean those shells with a strange shape inside of which you travel? There’s one in this very island»

Despite the unexpected stroke of good luck, the pirates didn’t want to cheer up, yet.

«What end did the crew meet, then?» asked Vince.

«I’ve never seen them, but I know the humans disappeared after a few days»

Damian swore.

Mayweather turned to his fellows. «Let’s give it a look and hope to find the spare pieces»

Damian grimaced, unconvinced. «If they’re compatible. And still working»

The Captain shrugged and talked again to the creature. «Can you bring us to this ship?»

*

Damian was right.

The airship was in a state of neglect: where the vessel wasn’t covered with plants, it had developed a dark layer of rust. It was impossible to see the original color or to read the names and the symbols it displayed once. From the size and what they managed to recognize of the shape, it was an old imperial cruiser, got there for some reason. The ship towered over them, as a massive mountain.

The area was inhabited by a large group of monkeys, with shorter limbs than usual, but their muzzles and ears were typical of a cat. One of the effect of the wild magic which permeated the Islands: the more one is exposed to it, the more his shape changes and mixes with those of other living beings.

Maghbel – this was the name of the creature that led them there – pointed at the monkey-cats and then the ship. «They live there. You should offer a gift to make them your friends»

«Food?» asked Kieran.

Maghbel shook her head. «No, they’ve got plenty. Give them something shiny, that draws interest»

The Captain slipped a silver bracelet off his wrist. «Let’s try with this»

Pushed forward by the roots she had on her feet, Maghbel led the pirates to the entrance of the airship. The hatch, left down, made a ramp that brought to the open entrance, but it was swallowed up by the forest. The monkey-cats that strolled about the ship started to follow them and utter shrill cries in their direction. The pirates followed Maghbel’s advice and ignored them cautiously, walking at a slow pace, taking care not to send unintentional signs of challenge.

Arrived at the entrance, the one that had to be the alpha male of the pack loomed up in front of them. A little taller and bigger than the other ones, it stopped at a short distance from the intruders and uttered a low and guttural sound.

The Captain showed the bracelets and came closer to the pack leader. It looked at the thing with prudent interest for some time, until, grasping the jewel, shouted friendly. The monkey-cats relaxed: some began to crowd merrily around them, the others moved away.

Mayweather got closer to Maghbel. «Was it that easy?»

«Just because you’re with me. Let’s enter, but keep caution»

The pack allowed the pirates to explore the ship from top to bottom and examine what was inside it. The wear and tear of time and humidity, unfortunately, had taken the better of it and no piece could be useful anymore. The only thing they managed to recover was the logbook: the airship was send on the island purposely; it was part of a research project about the technology used by the Ancient Peoples, who had understood magic better than anyone else and had infused it in their artifacts. The Empire believed to have located one of their fortresses and had arranged an expedition to take and analyze every instrument or project could be found there.

The Captain’s curiosity stirred up again.

Part I

Part III

Part IV

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