Visions: Journey to Shenkuu - Part Six
When daylight finally spread through the barn, Nil got up from her spot on the floor and went over to Karan, finding that he was awake and staring at a spot on the floor. Still, something seemed different about him now. His eyes were calmer, glazed over with a faraway look, and he didn't seem as frantic.
“Are you alright?” Nil asked, trying to keep her voice calm and quiet, as if not to frighten him.
Karan turned and looked at her, seeming perfectly fine. “Yeah, sorry if I scared you. I... had a nightmare, that’s all.” He touched something beneath his shirt for a moment, and Nil knew exactly what he was doing since she did it all the time with her earring.
“Well, if you’re feeling better, let’s get going. The sooner we get to Shenkuu, the sooner you can get out of my hair and we can get on with our lives.”
The two packed up camp, making sure to scatter the remains of the fire so that no one could tell they had stayed there. Then, they set off, the only sounds coming from their feet.
Throughout the entire day, neither of the two travelers spoke unless necessary. Even when they broke for lunch, no one spoke after they decided who would be eating what. The rest of the day continued similarly, but then the peaks of mountains began to show over the horizon.
At first, they were nothing but little bumps, hardly more than significant. But as they got closer, it became clear that they were more than bumps. Now, only a few yards from the base of the mountains, they towered far above them, like cones shooting straight up towards the sky. It was breathtaking to see the height. The tallest disappeared into the clouds, their peaks covered by the white masses.
Nil saw no trace of a merchant town on the mountains, aside from the houses on the cliffs with bridges that spanned between them. Off to the left, just beyond a dockland, a small area of stores and houses was clustered around the base of one of the mountains, most closed for the day.
It is getting late, she thought, looking at the setting sun to her left. The sky was still illuminated by its glow, but in shades of orange and pink.
“Well, I guess that’s it,” Karan said at last. “There’s probably someone with a boat that’s going up to the city. I hope you’ll be fine all on your own.”
She turned and looked at him. Why does he look so sad?
The voice urged her again, Ask him.
Nil turned away and quietly said. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for the help, at any rate. I hope your father returns soon.”
“Yeah, me too,” he replied, and she glanced at him to see the haunted look on his face once more. There was something about it that bothered her, as if she knew what he was feeling, but she couldn’t quite tell what it was.
“Is everything alright? It isn’t still about that dream, is it?”
Karan turned and looked at her, trying to assume the same jaunty air he typically carried about him. “Everything’s fine. The dream... it was nothing. It doesn’t matter at all.” He shifted the pack on his shoulder and sighed. “Well, I guess this is goodbye. Sorry for the trouble I’ve caused you.”
Nil nodded, and she was surprised to find herself saddened by his departure. She wanted him to stay, just for a bit longer. “Would you mind...” she started, uncertain of how to ask the Xweetok.
“Yes? What is it?” he asked, looking at her with a mixture of doubt and hope in his eyes.
“Well, it’ll be getting dark soon, and you don’t have enough supplies, plus with how idiotic you’re acting, you’ll likely get yourself killed...” She paused and sighed. “Just, stay here for the night with me. You can get some supplies in the morning and be on your merry little way.”
Karan nodded. “Alright. Thanks.”
“Yeah, well, I’d hate for your father to come home and find you’re not there because you got killed on your way back.”
Something shone in his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. The two walked to the area of shops and settled behind one between the empty supply crates, falling asleep almost instantly.
The two were awoken by the shouts from the docks in the middle of the night. One voice in particular stood out, crying, “A ship! It’s a ship’s wreckage!”
“What?” Karan exclaimed, sitting up fast. “Did he say ship?”
Nil sleepily nodded. “Yeah, a shipwreck, I think.” She tried to curl up and go to sleep again, but Karan pulled her up.
“We have to check it out,” he insisted, quickly gathering the bags and handing them to her.
“It still dark. We can see it in the morning, when there’s less of a commotion.”
Karan shook his head and touched the same area on his shirt, as if there was something beneath it. “No, I have to make sure it’s... oh, just come on!” He grabbed her arm and pulled her along, sprinting across to the docks with Nil trailing behind.
They reached the crowd and Nil stuck close to Karan, not wanting to lose him in the mass of people. Eventually, they were at the front of a dock, gazing out at the black waters where a mass of wood, half-lit by a dying candle, was just visible. A white sheet billowed in the small breeze, eerily reminding her of a ghost.
“What happened?” Karan asked a Meerca who stood nearby.
“The wreck washed up out of nowhere,” he explained. “A few are going to investigate.”
“Who? Where are they?”
The Meerca pointed to a nearby dock where a Bori and Lutari were prepping a rowboat to go out to sea. Karan pushed his way back through the crowd, almost shoving Nil off the dock in the process. She balanced precariously on the edge for a moment before someone grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the edge.
“Karan! Wait!” she called, running after the Xweetok. He had already made it to the other dock and was talking with the Lutari while the Bori sat in the boat at the oars, ready to be off.
She came to a standstill in the middle of the dock. The Lutari nodded to Karan, and they both got into the boat. Nil shrank back into the crowd and watched as the tiny rowboat began moving its way across the water towards the heap of wood in the water. As it did so, the white sheet flapped in the wind, an eerie reminder of the deaths on that ship.
Or maybe a foreboding of another, she thought, gazing at the rowboat.
The boat gently rocked back and forth in the waters, a deep, lulling motion Karan had known ever since he could swim. He had grown up with the waves and the water as a companion, and even now they were gentle around him. His father taught him to trust the ocean, and he had all his life, even when his father disappeared.
Now, the ocean seemed to be telling him that his father was on that wreckage. He didn’t know how, but it was.
“You say you recognize the boat?” the Lutari asked.
Karan didn’t take his gaze off the wooden heap that barely managed floating. “Yeah, I think it’s my father’s. It was lost at sea years ago, though.”
“Son, that’s probably not your father’s boat,” the Bori said sadly, continuing to row. “There’ve been close to half a dozen missin’ since the storm blew in.”
“No, it’s his,” Karan said, turning and glaring at the Bori. “That tattered sail is the one on my father’s boat. It’s hard to tell, but there’s a torn pattern on the side. It’s the tentacles of a squid. I painted it on right before he disappeared.”
The Lutari put his hand on Karan’s shoulder. “He’s probably not alive after all these years, and I doubt he could survive on that in the storm.”
Karan had heard it all before, and he shook it off. “No, you’re wrong. He’s on that boat and he’s alive. I can tell.”
“Well, if you say so.” The Bori shrugged, and then went back to rowing.
They were almost upon the debris when a voice called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” It was hoarse and tired, but it still was vaguely familiar.
“We’re here to help you, sir,” the Lutari replied. “Can you please come out?”
From behind a heap of wood, a Xweetok’s head popped out. His eyes were dull and scared, looking at them with terror. His yellow and brown fur was wet and matted from being shipwrecked for so long and the clothes he had on were torn and tattered from years of use. Despite how dirty and rugged he was, Karan immediately recognized him.
“Father,” he whispered.
The ocean was right.
To be continued...