A Roo-yal Expedition: Part Five
“Oh, no,” Julia said. She put a hand to her mouth.
“What?” Jaraiya asked. Without answering, Julia took her hands off the railing and ran towards the cabin.
“Don’t say anything while I’m gone!” she called back, just as Jaraiya began to open his mouth. He turned to the creature, which had put down its oars on the boat.
“How can we not say anything?” Jaraiya hissed to Diabbalo. Diabbalo shrugged, but he leaned over the deck.
“Hello!” he said back. “Wait one minute, please.”
The creature smiled, and sat down so it was cross-legged on the boat.
Julia appeared a moment later, and thrust a handful of cloth at Jaraiya.
“What’s this?” Jaraiya said, unraveling it. He produced a pair of purple shorts and a top. A gold tassel fell into his hand.
“Remember,” Julia said, as she struggled into her dress. “Royal and classy!”
Jaraiya began pulling on the shorts as Julia straightened his new cap. It kept flopping to the side, and finally she gave up. She leaned over the edge.
The boat had pushed forward enough so that they could make out the creature’s figure. He had large ears and a long tail tucked between his legs. He smiled at the group on deck.
Suddenly the boat stopped, and Julia heard a large scraping sound. She grabbed the rail to hold on. Everything shook, and a few tools fell from the bench onto the ground. Diabbalo leaned to scoop them up.
“We’ve hit sand,” Caleb said from the stern. “This is as far as we can go.”
As if anticipating this, a group of the creatures had already assembled a dozen boats on shore, and now climbed into them. As the boats rowed across the water, Julia leaned down to talk to the creature.
“First of all,” she began, and took a deep breath just as a gust of wind flew in her face. Waves crashed on the shore, making it difficult to hear. “Who are you?”
“I am Ilna,” the creature said. “You have landed on Roo Island, and I am a Blumaroo. Only Blumaroos live here. If you’ve noticed my tail” – he held it up – “you’ll see that that is our species’ most distinctive feature.”
“Then you are a Neopet as well?” Caleb asked inquiringly. He was leaning over the rail next to Julia, and a furrow of confusion crossed the Kacheek’s face.
“Yes, I am. We are a species just like you.”
The smaller dinghies had pulled up next to the larger expedition ship. Caleb arranged for a ramp to drop from the ship and onto one of the boats.
“Ladies first,” he said, reaching for Julia’s paw. She and Allie both climbed into the first boat, and the rest of the crew followed.
Once they were settled in the boats, they set off. A Speckled Blumaroo rowed the two females; he was silent during the ride except for an occasional “Nice weather we’re having, eh?” and “Watch out, the surf’s rough!” Julia looked over at Jaraiya, who was chatting with Ilna the next boat over. Seeing Ilna close up, Julia could tell that he must be one of the older Blumaroos. His fur was graying slightly, and his skin looked leathery.
They climbed out of the boat soon, and Julia sank her toes on the sand. She didn’t admit that she wanted to rip off the fancy clothing and swim in the ocean, which was clear and blue. Instead, she played with the tassel on her dress.
Allie put a hoof over her eyes to see what was ahead.
“It looks like the forest we first landed on,” Julia said. “In Meridell.” She looked over at her brother, who caught her eye and nodded. As they began walking through the trees, Julia realized that this forest was incredibly thin compared to the one they’d trod through before.
Ilna, as if reading her thoughts, gestured with his paws through the trees.
“This is to prevent anyone from exploiting our island,” he said. “We accept all peaceable visitors, but we take a great offense to those who wish to change our culture.”
Ilana laughed and put his hand on Julia’s shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I know that you’re harmless.”
They rounded the last bend through the trees, and everything else in Julia’s mind was erased as she first saw the village.
“It’s not much, but it’s home,” Ilana said in response to Julia’s expression.
Blumaroos covered the island. Most were playing in trees, talking to each other on the path, or buying from local vendors near the forest. As the small group passed, each creature nodded to the visitors and hopped away. Ilna was obviously popular; almost every Blumaroo smiled and nodded at him. He turned back to the group.
“We’ll give you a tour and then bring you to your resting area. I take it you’re staying the night?”
“Yes, we are,” Caleb said. He’d walked over to Ilna, and opened his tattered red notebook. He pulled a pen from behind his ear. “And what is the population in the colony?”
Ilana shot a wary glance at the notebook. “I’m sorry,” he said, reaching for it, “but we don’t allow outside journals on the island.”
Caleb pulled it away just in time. He stuffed the pencil and spiraled notebook into his pocket. Ilana’s hand slowly fell back to his side.
“Just keep it out of sight,” he said. “The island is free for looking, but not for documenting. We can talk to a few homeowners here if you need any information.”
“What’s that?” Julia said suddenly. She pointed at a revolving shape in the distance. A soft tinkling noise came from its direction.
“That’s the Merry-go-Round!” Ilana said excitedly. “We’ll pass by it.”
The rest of the group had separated, and began walking around the other side of the island. Julia saw her brother in the distance, carrying his purple clothing. She immediately felt envious, and slipped out of the sweater she was wearing. It was a hot and sunny day; heat rose from the path as they walked. Julia took off the sandals that the castle had provided; she clutched them in her paw along with her sweater. The surface of the pathway felt rough, but it made her feel like a native.
Most of the Blumaroos that Julia could see were crowded around the small Merry-go-Round. The pets walked off looking happier and lighter than they had before they stepped on.
“Just 50 Neopoints!” a yellow Blumaroo called. He was wearing a bright red and white suit, and a top hat. He tipped it in Julia’s direction.
“Fancy a ride?” he asked.
“Maybe later,” Julia mumbled, and followed Ilna along the path.
They stopped by Count von Roo’s Deadly Dice, and Julia shivered as they walked inside the tomb. The temperature became significantly colder. As they descended the stairway, the stone door shut behind them. The only remaining light came from a few torches hung on the wall. A tour guide – a Halloween Blumaroo, appropriately – was waiting inside the room to provide the history of the place. The pets didn’t stay to hear her explanation, and Julia brushed cobwebs off her fur as she walked out. She relished the bright sunshine outside.
“Ugh, that was awful,” she said. “It’s like nighttime in there. I don’t know how that guide does it.”
“Kayla’s been working here for years,” Ilna said. “She grew up in the town, and was always fascinated by the tomb. It’s the only dark place in all of Roo Island. It’s been here since before we even came.”
He looked at Julia’s shocked expression and grinned widely. “If that’s what you’re like right now,” he said, “I never want to bring you here at midnight!”
Julia laughed nervously. She was relieved when they stepped inside the Souvenir Shop. The shop was small but cozy, and whole shelves were stacked with miniature dice. It was well-lighted, too; decorative lamps hung from the ceiling. Julia picked up a Merry-go-Round Uni Statue on the counter and turned it over in her paws.
“Having fun?” someone asked. Julia jumped, almost dropped the statue, and caught it before it fell to the floor. She turned around, breathless.
“Oh, it’s only you,” she said when she caught sight of her brother. Diabbalo appeared behind him. The Pirate Aisha nodded once at Julia and began to inspect a Roo Island Lamp.
Zeal was in the back of the store, talking with a Tyrannian Blumaroo. Jaraiya followed Julia’s gaze.
“He’s been having a lot of fun here,” Jaraiya said. “He’s found more Tyrannian pets than he thought he would. I think that he likes this adventure more than the one he thought he’d be setting out for.”
Allie approached Julia and Jaraiya. The Ixi smiled.
Julia looked around the store, craning her neck. She turned back to her brother.
“Where’s Caleb?” she asked.
Jaraiya and Allie shot each other a glance.
“He went for a walk on the coast,” Allie said finally.
“And when’s he coming back? I think Ilna wanted to play Dice a Roo later. It’s almost dark.”
As Julia waited for a response, the three heard a whirring noise from outside. Immediately, all of the Blumaroos rushed out of the store, leaving the crew inside the shop.
“What’s going on?” Julia said. “What was that sound?”
Ilna, who had rushed out of the door, came back in.
“That’s the emergency signal!” he said. “It means we have to get moving.”
All of the Blumaroos had gathered by the coast. Julia and the rest of her group crashed through the trees until they reached the beach. In the distance, the Acara could see small, colorful shapes moving toward shore.
“Ships,” Diabbalo said.
“But what are they doing here?” Jaraiya and Julia asked in unison.
The ships grew closer, and Julia could make out the Meridell flag on the middle one. Soon they docked, and a Blumaroo sent a messenger out. The Yellow Blumaroo came back carrying a pet dressed in purple clothing. He helped her onshore, and she approached the crowd.
“Callie?” Jaraiya said. He was right. It was Callie, the Royal Aisha they’d met at the castle.
Julia stepped forward, pushing through the crowd until she reached the front.
“What’s going on?” she said to Callie. The Aisha looked out-of-place on the beach. Her hair was frazzled, and her hat had lost its pink strand. The bottom of her dress was soiled.
Another shape began walking towards Callie, out of the shadows. The sun was already setting, and Julia couldn’t see who the pet was until he was right in front of her.
“Caleb?” she said in surprise.
To be continued...