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Excerpt for Passion of the Liger: Volume 5 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Passion of the Liger

Volume 5


Thuan Nguyen

Copyright Thuan Nguyen 2019

Published on Smashwords


Author’s note:


Hi guys! Thank you for choosing to read the fifth volume of my story! I hope you enjoy reading this installment!

If you would like to read the chapters as I write them, I publish them online at:



http://narteb.wordpress.com


I also post the same thing up at:

http://writerscafe.org/thuaners


http://www.spcnet.tv/forums/showthread.php?31548-Story-One-)-a-fantasy-story-im-writing-that-hopefully-goes-into-wuxia-style


http://thuaners.deviant.com


https://www.wattpad.com/user/Thuaners


I have a facebook page for my writing and drawing and creative stuff, although I don’t do much with it:

https://www.facebook.com/Thuaners-508953699208298/?fref=ts


Bye!


Thuan


Chapter 41 – Decision at the Dock


Maruska stood on the dock. The great ship was there, as it had been all night. The sun was just rising over the sea and the first light of day was warming Firgenduke. She had not been able to sleep at all and had been waiting for hours.

"Calling all passengers to Newport!" came a voice from the ship.

She walked over to the ship, a churning feeling in her stomach. This was really happening, she was casting aside her putrid life and beginning anew. A fresh start where she could be anyone she wanted. A life free of bitterness; was that hoping for too much?

She walked the plank onto the ship and gave the man her ticket.

He bowed when he recognised her.

"Milady," he said.

She boarded the ship and walked onto the deck.

It was done! She was leaving. She breathed in the fresh sea air. It smelled so sweet. She would never forget that smell.

"Did you hear about what happened in the city last night?"

One the men was speaking to another, his voice was just background noise to Maruska. But then he uttered something that felt like a bucket of ice being poured over her.

"They say that the Iron Snake returned to Firgenduke overnight!"

"Anton DiManlen?" said the other.

"Aye! And he fought with Cronax in the city and was defeated, and the King is having a public execution of the traitor this very morning."

The men continued to speak but their voices faded to a uniform humming. Maruska grabbed onto the side of the ship, her legs were feeling weak.

Could this be true? Had he returned to Firgenduke? Was he due to be killed this very morning?

She looked around her. Here she was on this ship, this ship of freedom. Ready to venture to a new life. And then she received this news. How could she leave knowing this?

In times like these, she realised that she truly loved Anton.

There was only one thing she could do.

She turned and ran off the ship.

"Lady Maruska, where are you going? We are leaving soon! Should we wait for you?" called out the man.

But Maruska didn't even hear him. All she knew was that she had to get to the Castle as fast as she could. 


Chapter 42 – Shai’Susu


It was early morning and much of the town had gathered in front of Dead Man's Cove.

Ten trumpeters blew out a bombastic tune to begin the ceremony. When they were done, they stepped back, and King Bastion stepped forward.

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the execution of a traitor to the Crown," said the King, "Anton DiManlen is his name and many a heinous crime he has committed against us, far too many to list here today. Let it be known that many years ago I, the benevolent and kindhearted King that I am, spared his life and banished him from the Realm. As you can all see, he has returned and thus I am forced to the grisly business of an public execution. Bring forth the traitor!"

There was a murmur among the crowd and then a big man was escorted up onto the wooden platform next to the King.

"Here is the traitor," said the King, "The villain! Let us be rid of him once and for all!" He turned to the crowd, "You may now throw things at him!"

There was silence.

"I said you may now throw any eggs and tomatoes and the like at him!"

Still nothing from the crowd.

This was unheard of! Folk generally loved coming to executions to throw things at the evil-doers.

Suddenly one person spoke up, it was an old lady. She shouted, "Thank you, Anton! I have not forgotten the time you saved us! I am alive because of you!"

"Hush!" said the King. He did not like this at all. Everywhere he went, people loved Anton. It made him furious! Did they love this traitor more than their own King? Bastion glared at one of his soldiers and by a tilt of his head, indicated that they should take this old woman away for a bit of questioning.

"That's enough of this," said the King, "We shall delay no longer! Summon the Beast!"

Also on the wooden platform was a gigantic golden gong. A big, brawny man went up to it and gave it a big hit.

DUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGG.

The sound reverberated towards the sea.

"Escort the traitor to the position!" cried the King.

Soldiers took Anton, who's hands were bound behind his back, up some stairs and then along a long, narrow plank that extended over Dead Man's Cove below. There was probably a twenty metre drop down into the water. It must be noted here that the soldiers had clipped themselves via a chain around their waist to a metal pole that went the length of the wooden plank. Their prisoner had no such safety. When Anton had reached the very end of the plank, he stood there, as the two guards blocked his path back, spears pointed at him.

There was a murmur among the crowd now.

"Shai'Susu is here!" someone called out.

In the water was a big dark shadow that glided into the bay. It was huge! It circled beneath the plank Anton stood upon.

"Now," said King Bastion, "Witness the Glory of the Sea, the Great Judge and Executioner of Tuscan, Shai'Susu as she devours Anton DiManlen, and I am rid of him forever! Push him boys!"

"STOP!"

Everyone stopped and turned to look at who had called out.

It was Lady Maruska!

She was sweating and looked absolutely exhausted.

"Do not kill him, Bastion, I beg you."


Chapter 43 – Swan Dive For Love


"Please!" said Maruska, "Spare his life."

"No!" said Bastion, "Today I will be rid of this pest forever." He turned to the guards on the wooden plank, "Push him over!"

One of the guards, nervous at being so high up, poked his spear at Anton, but missed.

"Bastion!" said Maruska, "I am begging you, please, spare his life!"

"I am the King," said Bastion, "Do not tell me what to do."

Once again, he turned to the guards and said, "Push him down!"

This time, the both guards moved into position and poked their spears at him.

"Stop!" said Maruska.

They stopped when they heard her cry out, so desperate it was.

"Please, Bastion," said Maruska, "You say that you love me, please do this for me. Spare his life."

The King screamed in frustration. "Why do you care so much about this wretch? This man who betrayed you and left you for dead? It was I that cared for you all these years and did everything you wished, and you don't even look at me."

"I love him," said Maruska.

Bastion was burning with up with rage. "I said, push him in!"

Now the guards thrust their spears at Anton with gusto. Anton dodged the first, but the second pierced his chest and he toppled over and fell backwards!

Maruska saw only one thing, Anton falling backwards towards the water below. At this point, nothing else in the world mattered to her. She zipped past Bastion on the wooden platform and sprinted down the plank, skipping around the two guards and then jumped off the edge, swan diving after Anton! She was met with a terrifying sight. Anton was plummeting down, against the backdrop of a giant gaping mouth! The legendary sea creature was flying up from the water, ready to eat its offering.

"ZOOMBALA NE CORTEGA!" Maruska screamed.

Pure fire came out of her hands, two torrential blasts of orange flame! She aimed it so that it would not hit Anton, but would burn Shai'Susu. The sea creature immediately closed its maw and withdrew back into the cool, watery depths.

Maruska breathed a sigh of relief. She closed her eyes. It was one of the most powerful spells she knew and she had put all her energy into it; she would be tired for days. But she was happy. It had been worth it.

And then the water hit her.

Hard.

She had never, ever been hit so hard. She felt her body go down into the water for a long time. Eventually she began to float up again. She gasped as she reached the surface. The pain from the impact screaming at her, but she paid no heed. Her eyes scanned the water for Anton. His hands had been tied! Would he drown?

Then she saw it. A splash to her right and before she could even think, she was swimming over to him. She grabbed him and said, "Calm down, I've got you."

Anton stopped flailing his body and went to float on his back. Maruska dived underneath him, and undid the rope binding his wrists.

When she surfaced, Anton put his arms around her. She suddenly felt an overhwleming feeling of warmth, peace and joy. She was back where she belonged.

"I really missed you," said Anton.

"Then why did you leave?" said Maruska.

Anton looked her in the eyes and said, "I had to."

When she saw his face, and heard these words, she knew they were the truth.

"I believe you Anton," said Maruska, "But can you tell me why?"

Anton, who had been seconds away from being digested by a giant sea creature, looked at this woman who had just saved his life in the most incredible fashion. He decided she deserved to know the truth. He would break his promise.

"Remember that time I dived from the cliff and you saved me from that mysterious sea creature?" said Anton.

"Yes," said Maruska, "That's all I remember actually. When I woke up you were gone."

"Well, it seemed that you had been poisoned," said Anton, "I had taken you to Bruskala Dee, but even she said she could not cure you, and that you were about to die. She told me to take you to Lady Joyce. I took you there. Bastion said he would allow Lady Joyce to cure you, only if I promised to leave the Kingdom and never see you again. He made me promise."

Maruska felt an overwhelming sadness wash over her. Everything made sense now. But it still didn't give her back all the time she had wasted being bitter.

"Bastion," said Maruska, "That bastard."

Anton kissed her on the forehead.

"I'm so sorry," he said.

"You did nothing wrong," said Maruska, "It is I that should apologise to you."

Maruska began to shiver, the cold water finally affecting her.

"Let's get back to shore," said Anton, "Come, grab onto my shoulders."

Maruska wrapped herself around Anton's mightly back, a position that felt immediately familiar to her and he gently swam towards the shore.

A swarm of guards was there to greet them, weapons drawn. They made way as the King emerged. He held a long, deadly looking dagger in his hand, and a murderous gleam in his eyes.

"Please!" said Maruska, "Spare his life!" She ran up to the King and knelt down at his feet, her head pressed against the ground, she could go no lower.

"No," said the King.

Suddenly Maruska knew what she had to do. She did not want to do it, but she knew she must. She could feel the life ahead of her start to rot. She knew she would forever be in a figurative cage. But she would do anything to save the one she loved.

"I will marry you, Bastion."

There were gasps amongst the crowd.

"No, Maruska!" said Anton, "Don't do it!"

Maruska ignored him.

The King's dagger dropped to the ground.

"What did you say?"

"I will marry you, Bastion. Anything you want," she said, "Just please don't kill Anton."

King Bastion heard the words. He almost thought he would never hear them. Music to his ears. Finally he had won! The woman of his dreams, the most beautiful woman in the world, was agreeing to marry him.

"Under one condition," said Bastion, "I will keep Anton in the dungeon. And you are never to visit him."

Maruska did not like this, but she would not get greedy. Anton would live. There would be hope for him.

"I agree."

"No!" said Anton, "I refuse!"

Maruska turned to him. "It is my decision. It is final." She smiled at him. She wanted her last words to him to be happy ones. "I will think of you fondly."

Bastion felt like vomiting. "Take this swine away. I want him locked up in the deepest, darkest dungeon we have, never to see the light of day again."

Guards surrounded Anton.

"I love you, Maruska," he said.

"Shut up!" said the King.

Maruska closed her eyes. Those words from Anton. She had not heard them in an age. She let them wash over her like a cool breeze after vigorous exercise.

As the guards took him away from her, she realised both of them were being locked up, although in different types of cells.

Maruska looked up at the man she had agreed to marry.

Bastion looked down at her, grinning from ear to ear.

Her cell would be far worse than Anton's.


Chapter 44 - Soups and a Message


Skaife stood in front of the Encumbered Adventurer, the tavern had not been open since the night before last, that eventful night in Firgenduke. She had thought it strange that Clarence had not come into the library yesterday, especially after he had seemed to crack his case of sculptor's block. When he had not come in today, Skaife decided to come over and see what was up. The door was not locked, so she pushed it open and entered.

The tavern was empty, save for one person. It was Four-tooth. He was seated at a bench looking despondent, tearing off hunks of bread and dipping it into some broth.

"Skaife," said Four-Tooth.

"I came to see Clarence. I was wondering why he didn't come into work the past two days."

"He's looking after Lena, they are in their bedroom," said Four-tooth.

Skaife nodded and made her way into the back where Clarence and Lena's room was.

She knocked.

"Come in."

She entered and saw Clarence sitting beside Lena, he had a bowl of soup in his hand and seemed to be trying to feed her. She was in bad shape! She had a multitude of bruises and a great bandage wrapped around her torso.

"Lena!" said Skaife.

"I'm alright," said Lena, in a voice that was hardly more than a whisper.

"She's not alright," said Clarence, "If she has any bones that aren't broken, I am yet to see them."

"Stop exaggerating, babe."

"Is there anything I can do?" said Skaife.

"Make me some soup, that's better than this stuff," said Lena.

"Hey, this is good stuff!" said Clarence.

"Did you taste it?" said Lena.

Clarence looked at the soup for a little bit, then said to Skaife, "Can you cook soup?"

"Sure!" she said, "I can make a mean leek and potato soup. But first, what happened to Lena?"

"Cronax beat me up," said Lena.

Skaife gasped.

"Save your breath, honey bun," said Clarence, "Let me explain. The short version is that my best friend, who the King hates, came back to town. He needed our help. The Three Sisters captured him, and we rescued him-"

"This one was particularly cool," said Lena, pointing a finger at Clarence, "The Three Sisters fangirled over him and ended up helping us."

Clarence smiled then continued, "Cronax arrived and the Three Sisters, Lena and Four-tooth stayed to buy us some time, did I mention my friend Anton was unconscious this whole time? The Three Sisters had knocked him out with some sleeping potion or something. Well I carried him away, and then he woke up. He told me he had come here looking for Lady Maruska. But he refused to run and he ran back to fight Cronax with the others. But by the time we arrived, everyone had been beaten up, including Lena, who we actually came in time to see her flying through the air!"

Skaife looked confused.

"Cronax kicked me," said Lena.

"I see!" said Skaife, "Then what happened?"

"Anton and Cronax had this epic duel and Anton won!"

"Whoa!" said Skaife, "That's mad!"

"I know right?" said Clarence, "My friend was actually very tough back in the day. Anton the Iron Snake they used to call him."

"Iron Snake," said Skaife, "I've heard of that name before actually!"

"Well, after he defeated Cronax, Cronax decided to leave us alone, but then Javier showed up with just about every soldier in the Tuscan army. I got knocked out and Anton got captured."

"Hang on," said Skaife, "I heard something about an execution yesterday?" She covered her mouth with her hands.

"Thankfully the story didn't end there," said Clarence, "Lady Maruska turned up at the execution apparently!"

"Wow!" said Skaife.

"She begged the King to spare Anton's life. The King agreed not to kill Anton, but has locked him up permanently in the deepest, darkest cell under the Castle. And another condition, Maruska is to marry the King. And now you are up to date."

"Wow," said Skaife, "No wonder you have not been at work. Okay, I will go make some soup."

"Can you make some for me too?" said Clarence, "I don't really feel like eating mine either."

Skaife smiled.

Just then there was a knock at the door.

They all wondered who it could be.

"Come in," said Clarence.

It was a teenage girl with jet black hair. They all recognised her to be Lady Maruska's apprentice.

"Hi, I am Fog," said the girl, "My Mistress Lady Maruska sent me. She has an urgent message to pass onto your both. She would come here herself but she felt it was best to be discreet, such is the current situation."

She took out a piece of rolled up parchment from her pocket and handed it to Clarence.

Clarence unravelled it and read it silently. His brow furrowed at first and then his eyes widened.

"What does it say?" said Lena, Don't keep us in suspense!"


Chapter 45 – Repentance


Clarence cleared his throat and read from Maruska's parchment.


"Dearest Lena and Clarence, Although I have much I wish to say, I will try to be brief. For many years I believed that Anton had abandoned me. But now I know the truth. He did nothing wrong.  It was Bastion who is to blame, for he orchestrated all the events and made Anton promise to leave, in order for me to be saved from a deadly poison. In my blind jealousy, I travelled to the village he has been living in, and turned his wife to stone."


Clarence paused after that part, his eyes widening in disbelief.

"Have no doubt about that part," said Fog.

Clarence nodded and then continued. "Anton came to Firgenduke to beg me to turn his wife back to flesh. There is no cure that I know of. But that does not mean there is no cure. There are far greater and more ancient magicks in this world than the ones I am capable of. Anton has a son, named Narteb. He lives in Manangatang. Please seek him out and give him this page from my spellbook, the page containing the details of the petrification spell I used. Perhaps knowing this will help him find a cure for his mother. I thought I was casting a spell that was irreversible, but someone once told me that nothing is impossible in this world to those who believe. I hope this to be true. I would go myself, but Bastion has made it clear that I am to stay by his side at all times. Please do me this favour and seek out Narteb. Tell him that he is the only hope for his mother. His father will never again see the light of day. With love, Maruska."

"Turned to stone," said Lena, "And I thought I had problems! You should leave today, Clarence."

Clarence was torn. "I am not leaving until you are better."

"I can look after myself," said Lena, "Every day we wait is another day, Anton's wife is a stone statue. His poor son. We need to give him this information as soon as we can."

"I will go," said Skaife.

"No!" said Clarence, "This is not your problem."

"My friend's problem is my problem," said Skaife, "I will take this message to this boy in Manangatang."

Clarence and Lena began to protest but Skaife silenced them, "I have already decided. I will leave immediately." She went up to Anton and took the parchment.

"Where is the spell?" said Skaife.

Fog reached into her dress again and took out an oilskin pouch. "The page from the spellbook is in there." She handed the pouch to Skaife, nodded at everyone and then left.

Skaife placed the letter from Maruska into the oilskin pouch and then tucked it into her pocket.

"Thank you, Skaife," said Lena.

"Anytime."

And with that, Skaife's life shifted in a totally different direction. She was now headed to Manangatang to deliver a message to a boy named Narteb DiManlen.

After she had left, Clarence suddenly realised something, and said sadly,

"I suppose she won't be making that soup for us after all."

Lena looked at the soup that Clarence had made for her.

"Quick!" she said, "Run after Skaife and ask if she can make some soup before she leaves! Narteb can wait a few minutes!"


Chapter 46 – The Crossroads


Three weeks later, Skaife found herself approaching the bustling town known simply as the Crossroads. It was the interestion of three busy highways and was a busy, bustling place, with people coming and going all the time. Skaife had asked around Manangatang village, and had found out that Narteb and his best friend, Pip, had headed north along the North Road. She was feeling really good. In her younger days, she had done a fair bit of travelling, wandering around the realm. It was nice to get back to that. The feeling of freedom was an exciting one. However, in the back of her mind, she knew she had a task to accomplish. She had to find Narteb to give him Maruska's spell.

Upon reaching the town, she felt a feeling of butterflies in her stomach. If she had to describe the Crossroads, it would be yellow, dusty and constant chattering. The buildings were mostly made of white stone, and roundish domes seemed to be the predominant shape. The ground was an orange coloured sand. And yes, there was this constant hum of people chattering, like what you hear in a busy tavern, or a large tree full of birds. There was quite a lot of people milling about. It was a little overwhelming, Skaife wasn't quite sure where to begin. She decided she might head to the tavern first and ask the bartender. They usually seemed to be quite knowledgable on the comings and goings of people.

She went up to the first person she saw, who was a young girl walking with a small round clay pot balanced on her head.

"Excuse me," said Skaife, "Can you tell me where the closest tavern is?"

The young girl pointed to a large red dome in the distance.

"Also," said Skaife, "Have you met a teenage boy recently? His name is Narteb." Skaife knew it was a long shot. But right now she was happy with any shot.

"Narteb!" said the girl, her eyes widening, "Oh yes, everyone knows Narteb. He has helped a lot of people here. And a few times a day, he will stand in the middle of town square and shout out at the crowd. He's like a cuckoo clock, only cute. A cute clock." The girl stood there, obviously trying to make a pun or a joke, feeling she was really close, but not quite there. "Cutey clock. Oh nevermind."

"Can you tell me how to get to the town square?" said Skaife.

"Cute clock..." muttered the girl, "Oh, just follow that road there and when you see the oasis, turn left and you can't miss it." And then the girl's face lit up and she blurted out, "Cute-koo clock! Ah, I'm happy with that."

"Thanks!" said Skaife and the two girls parted ways, both very pleased with the exchange.


Chapter 47 – They Meet


Narteb sat on the bench. It was a beautiful sunny morning. As in his perfect weather. Sunny, without being too hot. But as lovely as it was, he felt terrible.

Pip, who was sitting on the ground beside him said, "What's wrong?" That's the thing about best friends, they can tell if something is wrong, as if it was written in red ink on your forehead.

"I don't know what to do," said Narteb, "We've been here for weeks. This place is so busy, with so many people, but no one knows anything about reversing this spell. Am I just wasting my time here?"

"You know, it's always darkest before the dawn," said Pip, "At least you are doing something. All you need to do is hold on for one more day! Who knows what can happen tomorrow?"

It was exactly what Narteb needed to hear, just when he needed it most.

"You're so wise, Pip," said Narteb.

"Not really," said his friend, "I just read it in a book somewhere. It seemed like the right time to pull it out."

"I feel better," said Narteb, "I can do one more day!" He felt reinvigorated! Like the feeling you get after you finish a really good workout!

"Now that's the Narteb I'm used to seeing!" said Pip.

"Let's do this!" said Narteb, standing up.

Both boys bumped their fists together and then went running off towards the Crossroads town square. They zipped and zigzagged their way through the crowd who were mostly meandering through their quiet morning. The two boys on the other hand looked like two bottles of champagne shaken up and ready to pop!

They found their way to their usual spot. It was this large fountain in the middle of the square. In the centre of the fountain was a few big white statues of men and women in togas, lazing about on a giant white rock. They were probably depictions of Gods or something. But that didn't concern Narteb right now. He clambered up onto the wide rim of the Fountain, drew in a big breath and then bellowed out, for all to hear:

"I AM NARTEB! MY MOTHER WAS TURNED TO STONE! DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW I CAN REVERSE THIS SPELL?"

As usual everyone in the town square stopped what they were doing and turned to look at Narteb. There was silence. This had been the response they'd had every day so far.

After waiting for a few moments, Narteb drew in another breath and was about to shout out again, when he noticed something different happening for the first time. There was a beautiful girl gracefully making her way through the crowd towards them. When she reached the fountain, she and Narteb looked each other in the eyes.

"My name is Skaife Ortega," she said, "I have some information that may help you rescue your mother."


Chapter 48 – Party Time


Narteb couldn't believe it. This beautiful girl was standing before them, saying she might be able to help them rescue his mother somehow!

"No way!" said Narteb, "What info have you got?"

The girl reached inside her backpack and took out a brown, weathered looking oilskin. She handed it to Narteb and said, "The brief version is that Maruska, the woman who was in love with your father, turned your mother to stone. Then she regretted it and gave your dad the page of her spellbook that had the petrification spell on it. She doesn't know if there is a way to reverse it, but she feels that having that page might be helpful."

Narteb opened the oilskin and took out the page from Maruska's spellbook.

"Cool," said Narteb, "I love brown, yellowing paper!"

"Same," said Pip, "Nice and crinkly! Seems old, and mystical!"

"This is exactly how spellbook paper should look," said Narteb, holding the paper up to the light, and looking at it from different angles.

"Maybe we should try reading it?" said Pip.

Both boys crowded over the page and studied it for some time.

There was silence.

One minute passed.

"So what do you think, Teb?" said Pip.

"Uh, I didn't actually read it," said Narteb, "I got bored after the first sentence. I was hoping you would just tell me what it said."

"I did the same as you!" said Pip.

Both boys laughed.

The blonde girl took the piece of paper and started reading it.

"So what does it say?" said Narteb.

She ignored him and continued to read it, right through to the end.

Narteb was impressed.

"She has good concentration, Pip," noted Narteb, stroking his chin.

"I wonder what it's like to have that," said Pip, "I imagine it would be good for reading books."

"Okay," said the girl, "It says-"

"Hey," said Narteb, "What's your name by the way?"

"Skaife," said the girl, "I told you when I first met you."

"Sorry, I forgot!" said Narteb, and then he glanced sideways and sneakily added, "A thousand apologies."

Skaife nodded.

"I don't normally talk like that," said Narteb, "It's this phrase they say here at the Crossroads. I was waiting for an opportunity to use it!"

"Okay," said Skaife, "From the terminology used, it seems the witchcraft Maruska used was somehow related to the Ancient civilisation of Hyborea. Perhaps if you can find an expert in Ancient Hyborea, they might be able to give you some leads. That's my best guess."

Narteb and Pip looked at her rather blankly. They looked like she had been speaking another language.

"Otherwise," said Skaife, "You might want to find someone who is a Loremaster. They are these people who wander around, collecting information and knowledge. Those guys know a lot of things, perhaps they can direct you on what to do next."

Skaife nodded and turned to leave.

Narteb and Pip nodded at her and then looked at each other blankly.

As Skaife was walking away, she had this strange feeling inside that she shouldn't leave them. Her intuition was telling her to turn around and help these boys, at least for the short term. Skaife always followed her inner voice and so she did exactly that.

She turned around and once again was standing in front of Narteb and Pip.

"Would you like me to-" she began.

"Yes!" said Narteb.

"Great," smiled Skaife.

"Our party has three members now!" said Pip.

"So where did you say we should go first?" said Narteb.

"I was thinking we go find a ship that can take us to Kuma! From there we can try and find an expert on Ancient Hyborea," said Skaife.

"Find ship, go to Kuma. Got it!" said Narteb, "Let's do this!"

"Wow," said Pip, "We are going to Kuma!"

"I'm excited too," said Skaife, "I've always hoped to see Kuma one day!"

And that is where we will leave our brand new party of three, full of hope and buzzing with the eternal spirit of adventure.


Chapter 49 - Lucy and Sandy


Narteb, Skaife and Pip walked down the path towards the docks.

"I can't believe that we are actually going to Kuma!" said Pip.

"That's so exciting," said Skaife, "You guys should write to me when you get there, to tell me what its like."

"Skaife," said Narteb, "I have an idea way better than that. You should come with us."

"What?" said Skaife. She had never really considered going with them as an option.

"It'll be lots of fun!" said Narteb, "A whole new country and culture to explore."

Skaife began to feel very excited. She was a person who loved to learn things about the world, and here was an opportunity to go to Kuma, a place she'd always been interested in. Only this time she wasn't reading about it from a book. Presented before her now was an opportunity to actually go there herself.

Her whole body was telling her yes!

"Why not?" she said with a smile.

"Why not, indeed!" said Pip.

"Fantastic!" said Narteb.

The three of them were suddenly feeling quite light on their feet, and continued down the crunching gravel path until they reached the dock. They saw a lot of ships and people milling about. They asked someone about how to book passage to Kuma, and a man told them they needed to speak to the girl in red down the far end.

"You young 'uns are either very brave or very foolish for wanting to go to Kuma."

The three of them just nodded, not sure what to say to that and followed the path right down to the end of the dock. It was there they saw the girl, who seemed to be in her late teens, wearing a red jacket and a red hat that was close fitting and slanted at the top. A bone whistle hung from a leather necklace she wore.

"I'm Lucy," said the girl, "What are you lot staring at?"

"I like your hat," said Pip.

"Eyes off!" said Lucy, "I'm the only person in Tuscan with a red beret that I know of, and I'd like to keep it that way."

"We would like to book passage to Kuma," said Narteb.

Lucy's face brightened. "Well today is your lucky day, because I happen to be the only person that has transport to Kuma from this port. And we have just started a new mode of travel."

"A new mode of travel?" said Pip.

Lucy winked at them and put the bone whistle to her lips and blew. The sound was loud, but pleasant.

Then she stopped and turned to face the sea.

The water began bubbling; slowly at first, and then more violently. Suddenly a huge beast emerged from the water!

"No way!" said Pip, "That is too cool!"

It was some kind of sea creature. It had a plump, round body, and a long neck. Smooth skin like that of a dolphin, except blue. At the moment its head was high up above them, so looking up at it, with the sun glaring behind it was quite a sight.

"Presenting, Sandy the Pleiosaur!" said Lucy, "The fastest way to get to Kuma."

Narteb, Skaife and Pip all looked at each other, barely able to contain their excitement.

"So you guys aren't scared?" said Lucy.

"I wanna ride the Pleiosaur!" said Narteb.

"That's great," said Lucy, "All the other people today were too scared. Just because she's never been tested properly doesn't mean she can't make the distance. We also have a deal. If she doesn't get you to Kuma, then you can ask for half your money back if you survive."

"Don't you mean get 'us' to Kuma?" said Skaife.

"Heck, no!" said Lucy, "Do I look crazy to you? Who knows if she'll make it. Its all theory at this point. I'm staying here where its safe. Okay, so time to pay for tickets. Are all three of you going?"

Narteb and company nodded.

"That will be fourteen gold each," said Lucy, "Except for you," she pointed at Narteb, "I like your face. You pay ten."

Narteb looked at Pip and said, "High charisma."

Pip chuckled, but then got serious, "We don't have fourteen gold, let alone enough for three of us."

Narteb frowned. "How much do we have?"

"Well, together we have eight gold. That's not even enough for one ticket."

Narteb furrowed his brow, which meant he was in thinking mode.

Skaife opened the leather pouch that was hanging at her waist and looked inside.

"I have enough," said Skaife. She looked at Lucy and said, "I'd like to buy three tickets to Kuma, please," and then she added, "On the Pleiosaur!"

"What? No!" said Narteb, "We can't let you do that!"

Skaife put her finger on Narteb's mouth, "Shh. We are a party, right? Where I'm from, this is what companions do for each other."

Lucy held out two cupped hands and Skaife poured in practically all the gold in her pouch. She was left with one gold and two bronze.

Lucy put the coins in her bag and then took one coin and bit it with her tteth. "Good stuff," she said. She wrote them out three tickets and handed it to each of them and said, "You can leave whenever you are ready."

Narteb looked at Skaife and said, "I don't know what to say. Thank you!"

"You're welcome," said Skaife.

Narteb really liked this girl. They stared at each other.

Lucy butted inbetween them and said, "So are you guys ready to leave to another country on a giant sea monster?"

Suddenly, there was the loudest, spine tingling roar from above!

"Sorry! Sorry, Sandy!" said Lucy, "I mean sea creature."

Sandy the Pleiosaur looked pleased.

The three companions, who had their jaws open in shock and wonder, started laughing.

Finally, Narteb said, "So, are we ready?"

"Ready!" said Pip and Skaife in unison.

"Let's ride!" said Narteb.


Chapter 50 - All Aboard!


Narteb, Pip and Skaife stood on the pier.

Lucy waved her hands about wildly, it looked a bit like a lizard haad crawled down her back. But she must have been making signals to Sandy, for eventually the Pleiosaur lowered her head and rested it on the pier right before them!

Narteb could hardly believe he was now gazing almost eye to eye with a giant sea creature! She smelled strongly of the sea, which was fine with narteb, he loved that smell.

"Well, we don't have all say," said Lucy, "Climb aboard, team."

Narteb, Pip and Skaife looked at each other and eventually Narteb realised Pip and Skaife were waiting for him, so he turned to face Sandy. He looked ofr a place where he could stick his foot to start his ascent.

e wedged his foot into her nostril.

"Not there! What are you doing?" said Lucy, "If she sneezes she'll send you flying a hundred feet! See over there, at the back of her head? There are leather straps you can hold onto all the way up her back."

Narteb walked around the back of Sandy's head (her large reptilian eyes followed him. Sure enough, he saw the leather straps. It was almost like a leather ladder that went all the way along Sandy's neck. Narteb decided not to think too much about it and just started climbing, sticking his feet into the horizontal leather bits, one rung at a time, and gripping hard on whatever else he could hold onto. He could feel himself getting higher and higher up, as he made his way along Sandy's neck, until he eventually reached a series of white leather seats strapped to the highest part of her arched back.

There was one seat at the front, probably for the driver, because that's where the reins attached to this neat looking mechanism that held them in place. Behind the driver's seat were twelve more white leather seats, arranged side by side in pairs along the ride og Sandy's back. There was a narrow gap between the pairs of chair, an aisle that one could walk along to get to the back seats.

Now that he had reached his destination, Narteb finally allowed himself to look around.

"Wooo. This is high up," said Narteb and he took in a deep breath.

Pip and Skaife followed son after and Narteb grabbed them each by the hand and helped them walk around to the white chairs.

"I am certain this is not a good model for a safe transport business," declared Pip.

"It is beautiful up here, though," said Skaife.

"It certainly is," said Narteb, gazing at her.

She wrinkled her nose at him and smiled.

"Okay, team," called out Lucy from below, "Take your seats. One person sit at the front and be the driver."

"What?" said Narteb, "Aren't you coming with us?"

"I'm sorry but I value my life. No, its just the three of you going to Kuma. Don't worry, Sandy knows where she is going. In theory, everything will be fine. It's more of an emergency thing. Just pick someone to sit in the drivers seat and look pretty."

"Good luck, Narteb," said Pip and he sat down in the first passenger seat.

"You can do it, Narteb. I believe in you," said Skaife, and she took a seat next to Pip.

"Well, I guess I'm driving then," said Narteb, "How hard can it be?"

He sat down in the driver's seat. In front of him was a mechanism that attached to the think white leather reins which in turn attached to Sandy's mouth. The main part of it was two vertical discs each with a handle protruding horizontally out, one on the left and one on the right.

"I'm assuming," shouted Narteb, "If I wind the left handle, Sandy will turn left. If I wind the right handle, she will turn right. And then if I wind them both forwards at the same time, she will slow down, and if I wind them both backwards at the same time, she will go faster. Is it something like that?"

Lucy just looked up at Narteb, uninterested and shrugged her shoulders. "Okay, good luck, team!" she said, "Off you go now! And if you happen to make it alive to Kuma, remember to give my company, Bon Bon Voyage a good review, and be sure to mention how helpful and cute I am."

And with that, Lucy raised her arms. The wind blew coolly across her.

"Sandy!" she said, "Time to-"

"WAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTT!!"

It was the sound of a deep, loud voice.

They all turned to look and saw the voice belonged to a large man with a black bushy beard, who wore a red jacket with yellow trimming. He was running as fast as he could down the pier towards them. He looked exhausted and his face was almost the same red as his jacket.

"Wait!" he said once again, when he reached them, "I need passage to Kuma. Urgently."





End of Volume 5

To be continued in Passion of the Liger: Volume 6




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