Cycle of Heart: Ache Chapter Eight

Alice and Moxie pushed their way through the menagerie of thorny bushes and gnarled trees. As they did Moxie’s eye cast glances back at the looming tower as though it were creeping up on them. He hated being this close to the tower. They pressed on and he continued to wrack his mind on the situation, trying to make sense of it. The one-eyed rabbit feared the repercussions of what was sure to come from the change in plans.
He had to see the Sisters.
All this time he assumed that when Alice arrived or perhaps when she saw him something would awaken in her. That everything would run smoothly. However nothing was going as expected. He feared he may have made things worse. Dread wormed its way through his veins, sending chills throughout his furry frame.
“Where are we?” Alice asked snapping Moxie away from his thoughts.
“I’m not sure. I am sure this is one of the islands of Looz, one of the Island of Eternal Shadow. With any luck someone actually inhabits this one. Otherwise we’re in a lot of trouble.”
“Is Ryla going to kill us? Here? Now?”
“I assure you if she saw us she would have done so by now. I’d rather not press my luck however and get away from here as soon as possible.”
Alice didn’t disagree. She’d felt an unnatural sensation from the moment they arrived on the island. It felt like there was a shadowy blanket draped over her, suffocating and harsh.
Her cold, wet and tired body struggled to make it through the undergrowth. Each movement of her limbs made her even more exhausted. Underneath her feet the snapping twigs and crunching of leaves brought the wooded area to life. When the duo thought they’d been walking forever they came upon a small clearing. In the patch of clear earth there was a small hut made of straw and grass. Contained in the center of colorful stones was a roaring fire. Waves cold be heard crashing against the shoreline. Sitting on a spit above the flame were two large fish with three eyes, getting charred just right. The smell of the roasting fish was intoxicating.
Moxie made his way to the fire, drinking in the aroma with his pinkish nostrils. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
A pair of luminous yellow eyes peeked out from the shack. Soon the eyes were followed by the rest of the blue skinned creature. It was no bigger than Alice as it stepped out of the ramshackle contraption. The creature had no ears to speak of and strange bulbous fingers like rain forest frogs. Its body was emaciated and it wore an odd set of shorts fashioned from the plumage of a rather large bird.
The creature spied the two of them with some skepticism, especially Moxie. It moved towards them with the gait of a lame horse. As it drew closer the stench of rotten meat and garbage grew stronger making their eyes water.
“Not good, not good,” the creature whined. “Late night visitors on a full moon night, bad, bad luck that is.”
“We hate to bother you,” Alice apologized while holding her breath. “We really need a boat ride.”
“Ride? On the eve of the Tropadew? No, no, no. Bad, bad luck that is.”
“Oh no.” moaned Moxie burying his oversized head into his paws.
“What’s wrong?” Alice asked while the creature circled the fire, tossing a strange powder into the flames as he did so.
“Of all the islands to end up on we end up on one with a Lew.”
“Lew?”
An overly superstitious bunch. They pop up here and there. Getting them to do anything is almost more hassle then its worth.”
As he spoke the Lew muttered to itself as it hopped on one leg. Behind it in the churning water was a small, filthy boat, undoubtedly used for fishing.
Alice gestured to the small craft. “Can we use that?”
“When the moon is hanging high? Asking for Beebo’s property while the night is pregnant is bad, bad luck that is.”
Alice was confused by the Lew’s words, any comeback she may have had was locked in her throat. Anger burned in the rabbit’s eye as he bounded toward the Lew.
“Look…Beebo, there’s no time for this. That witch Ryla could be sending monsters over here right now to collect us.”
Beebo knelt down to Moxie’s level. “Hush now bunny. Speaking her name can bring the witch here. Bad, bad luck that is.”
“There’s no bad luck for you if we use the boat. And it will be bad luck if Ryla’s henchmen get here and believe you were harboring fugitives.”
There was a moment of hesitation before the Lew spoke again. “Perhaps the gods of Ba Dluckdom shall grant me leniency for attempting to abide to their laws.”
Alice thought while Moxie thrashed about saying more odd profanities. Her mind finally took hold of something.
“So Beebo, you don’t like bad luck right?”
“Of course no like bad luck. Who does? For asking such a foolish question it may bring bad luck. Bad, bad luck that is.”
“What if I can give you good luck?”
Beebo stifled a giddy shriek. “Impossible. Such a thing cannot be done.”
She pointed to each of her mismatched eye. “See these? They were bestowed to me by the Gods of Gooda, now I’m forever given good luck. And anyone who helps me can get luck as well.”
“Really?”
“Why else would this rabbit be following me? His feet are as lucky as my eyes.”
The Lew’s eyes grew wider and his fingers trembled as h tried not to betray his true feelings. His knobby blue knees clacked together. He made strange noises as he stifled his joy.
“Beebo do. Beebo boat with you.”
“Promise?”
“Yes promise. Beebo promise. Beebo swear or may he be cursed a thousand curses.”
“Fantastic! Now get the boat ready.”
Beebo merrily skipped off to the boat. Moxie stared up at his charge with a bit of awe.
“You sly fox you,” he grinned. “Where did that come from?”
“Actually my Mom used to tell me that as a bedtime story. I just remembered it. Now hush before Beebo hears us.”
“That would be bad luck,” Moxie laughed. “Bad, bad luck that is.”
*********
Before long the odd trio of the girl, the rabbit and the blue skinned Lew were setting off in the rickety dinghy. Riding inside the boat was worse than looking at it. The rotted wooden craft stank of old fish and…droppings. The slightest wave sent the boat tossing to and fro. Alice found herself getting splashed by the inky water.
Moxie wished he could plug his ears as Beebo proved to be a very talkative Lew. Everything the Lew said was riddled with bad luck and superstitious hogwash, it was maddening. Each splash from the choppy waves reminded the Lew of something or sometime when bad luck befell him. It was going to be a very long journey indeed.
“…and that is how I came down with a case of Rudder Bottom for the second time. Bad, bad luck that is,” said the nostalgic Lew getting a little misty in his yellow eyes. “That reminds me of my youth when I was stricken with the Poxy. Oh how bad, bad luck that was.”
The rabbit looked longingly at the murky water while Beebo continued to yammer on. “Perhaps I can swim the rest of the way.”
“Stop it,” Alice smiled. It felt good to do so
“I’m just warning you, if he goes off on another story I’m going to jump and take my chances.”
A laughing snort escaped Alice’s throat, derailing the Lew’s story. Beebo corrected himself then started again from the beginning. Despite the pungent aroma of the water Alice found the choppiness of the water relaxing and the voice of the waves soothing. What was however unsettling was the wooly fog rolling in.
“Moxie,” Alice asked, the cool night air tickling her neck. “Why me? I’m nothing special, so why me?”
The rabbit scratched behind his large ears. “You are much more important than you give yourself credit for. Much more unique. The very balance of this world relies on you.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“It is an answer, just not one that clarifies anything.”
“So you refuse to tell me more?”
Moxie stopped scratching and stared at the girl with the mismatched eyes. “Well if you insist. You see, about a thousand years ago in this world there was a -”
The rabbit’s words were cut short by a sound which mingled effortlessly with the fog. A high ear splitting shriek destroyed the calm, sending ripples across the ocean. Everyone aboard the vessel became still. Beebo scanned the water with his large yellow eyes. It was nearly impossible to see through the fog.
There was no more screeching, however the churning waves grew more agitated as the moments passed. What had been moderate bobs in the water became increasingly more violent. Poor Moxie was tossed about like a rag doll.
“How much good luck do you have in those eyes?” asked Beebo staring at her suspiciously.
The water exploded and a huge serpentine beast rose in its wake. In the silvery gleam of the moon the creature’s scaly hide shone like polished armor. Pale eyes glared at them as it bared row after row of jagged teeth. A long forked tongue jutted between those teeth as it hurled another savage cry toward the stars.
Horrified silence gripped the craft until Moxie shouted. “Darloug!”
Beebo started rowing away from the beast as quick as he could. The darloug eyed them in their attempt to escape much like a lion stalks a hobbled gazelle. It easily could have swallowed them whole at any moment, but it had been quite some time since it had a good meal and an equally good chase.
Alice and Beebo found it difficult not to be ensnared in the darling’s hypnotic gaze, but the will to live was slightly more pressing. The duo flailed about with the oars creating enough space until the darloug’s teeth weren’t as daunting. The darloug dove under the water, disappearing beneath the dark pool. There was no telling how swift the monster was slithering under the watery veil.
“I said it was bad luck to go boating at this time,” Beebo groaned. “No one listens to me.”
“Just paddle!” Moxie shouted as he scanned the water.
The waves clapped together creating a cacophony of noise that was thunderous and unsettling. Then suddenly the waves stopped and all was still. In the silence their fear heightened, hearts rattling against their chests. Back and forth the tiny boat ebbed peacefully as if the whole ordeal had been imagined.
Underneath the night’s watchful eye Moxie continued to study the water. He wondered if perhaps their troubles had come to an end. He doubted but he wondered.
Then as if he were stabbed with ice he squealed, “Hold on!!”
There was hardly any time to react as the boat was tossed high into the air as the darloug sprung beneath them. The passengers were thrown from the boat like bits of trash. They soared through the air before plunging into the icy depths. The chill took their breath away. Dark waves crashed above their heads the darloug screeched again as the rotted boat was not enough to abate its hunger.
Alice was the first to emerge. Never before had a breath tasted so sweet. Moxie rose next as he clung to Beebo’s head. The Lew flailed about like a two-legged dog, gasping and sputtering about for any available air.
Sitting upon the head of the bubbling and cursing Beebo there was a look of heroism in Moxie’s stature and his uninjured eye. He stared defiantly at the snarling beast as they floated in the water like croutons in soup.
His gaze was fixed on the monster as he spoke, “Alice I need you to think back and let go.”
It was hard enough to stay afloat, breathe and not get eaten. Her mind was muddled with a heavy fog. Trying to sort through the tangle of cobwebs in her skull was going to be a chore. “Think back to what?! I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s all inside you; you just have to let it out.”
“But I-” the rest of her words were hushed by a mix of shock and horror. Her mismatched eyes witnessed Moxie leaping off of Beebo’s head into the deep churning waters. The darloug licked its repulsive chops then struck its head in the direction of the rabbit. Alice wanted to scream but no sound came to her throat. She cursed the rabbit for his stupidity. Anger boiled up inside of her until her vision turned red. Beebo was shouting in his panicked speech at her but his words were tinny background noise as her rage grew. The noise was a constant between her ears.
The darloug closed in on Moxie. It opened its mighty maw preparing to devour everything in its path. Suddenly the hum inside Alice’s skull ceased and all was silent, as if she’d gone deaf. Her body went numb…except for a fiery tingle starting in her fingertips.
Alice spoke in a voice that was not her own. “Viale rangod!”
She had no idea what she’d said or why the words sounded so familiar. The fire in her turned into a calm weightless feeling that filled with pleasantness. From underneath the waters there was a flash, then nothing. The world returned to its eerie silence.
Time stood still. Alice lost the ability to distinguish seconds and hours as time grew irrelevant. Hope seemed as murky as the water. Suddenly the water erupted and a serpentine white dragon emerged from the wake. The dragon glowed more brilliant than the moon. Wings of ivory and gold seemed to stretch for miles as it steadily flapped them to stay above the waters.
Alice couldn’t believe her eyes, certain she was imaging things. “Moxie?” she asked the wind.
Furious at not having its meal the darloug snapped at the pearl dragon, narrowly missing it. The darloug crashed back into the water the ensuing splash caused a tidal wave. Thirty feet of raging water rumbled towards Beebo and Alice. The wave was so massive it blocked out the moon casting the world into blackness. Alice shut her eyes, only to hear the roar of the wave closing in. she barely heard the string of profanities escaping the Lew’s mouth.
She waited for the impending doom…but then she was weightless again. Alice dared to open her eyes only to find herself gliding over the water. It was an amazing sensation to fly over the ocean, feeling the salty mist of the waves against her caramel skin. The only thing ruining the experience was Beebo’s cries.
Surely Beebo couldn’t fly as well. She chanced a glance upward and saw the ivory dragon gripping her.
“Moxie, is that you?” she asked.
“Yes Alice,” spoke in dragon. “However there will be more time to speak of this once we are on dry land.”
A guttural roar rang behind them, causing Moxie to shift sharply upward. The move couldn’t have come at a better time as yet again they avoided becoming a morsel for the beast. Moxie the one-eyed dragon struggled to beat his wings against the whipping cold, trying in vain to climb higher. Relentlessly the darloug pursued them, snapping and biting at the dragon’s heels. Tortured cries of rage escaped its mouth with every failed attempt.
Moxie brought his precious cargo ever closer to his cool undercarriage. This close Alice heard the thunderous beating of the dragon’s heart. The stretch of its muscles as it exerted itself to fly echoed throughout the colossal frame. Massive lungs took in great gulps of air as he transferred between flight and gliding.
“Hang on you two,” Moxie hollered. “I have to lose it.”
Alice was brought back to stories she had read and movie she’d seen. This was after all the closest experience she had to this chain of events. “Can’t you breathe fire or something? I thought dragons could do that.”
“Have you seen the size of that thing?! Fire would only make it angrier!” explained Moxie with irritation creeping into his speech.
Moxie made a sharp turn to avoid the darling’s snapping jaws. He dove toward the ink-like water, just skimming the water. His lone eye searched around for something as his pace increased. Alice chanced a glance behind her. She saw the monster’s outline racing along the water, peeking out of the water was the darling’s head. Moxie barreled out of the way of a rogue wave that would have drug them to their demise.
Off in the distance there was a cluster of jagged rock. It could barely be seen under the shadow of the Sable Tower. Moxie darted for the cluster of stone as fast as he could. The familiar sound of the water being sliced through crept up on them. They were closing in on the rocks but the darloug was right on them.
The rocks resembled a gaping maw as they drew closer. They were mere yards from rock, from behind the darloug shrieked like a bird of prey. Just as they were about to hit the rock Moxie veered upward at a steep climb. The monster leapt for them finding air in return. Its speed carried it into the sharp collection of stones. The darloug hollered as the rocks dug into its scaly hide, leaving deep cuts. Dark blood mixed with the salty water. It glared at its missed meal as it flew away. It swore it would catch them one day.

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