The Obsidian Sword: An Unusual Quest - Part Seven
Chapter 7: The Village
"What're you think yer up ta, lookin' in on our 'omes?" he growls. He's a pale man with auburn-flecked stubble. The voice that comes out of him doesn't match his wiry appearance at all. His Zafara tail twitches behind him irritably.
"We were just traveling, and in need of shelter." I give him a minimal description of our journey. I don't want to give too much away, having never met him before.
"You got Neopoints on ya?" he asks gruffly.
"We have some," I tell him. "Little good it does, as we haven't come across any shops."
"Shops, ya say?" The man's tail stops twitching and begins swaying. Whatever I've said, it seems to have appeased him. "You shoulda said so earlier. C'mon." He waves his hand over his head and turns around. Stephen and I look at each other, shrug, and follow behind him. In the fifteen minutes it takes us to reach our destination, we chat about food. You would think the burnt smell in the air would curb our appetites, but it doesn't.
"Here we are," the man says, crossing his arms proudly over his narrow chest. "If ya want shops, ya got 'em." The gruffness is leaving his voice by the second. "We're nomads," he explains, "sellin' our wares where we can. When we set up our shops here, we thought we'd get the business o' passin' seamen comin' from Altador or Mystery Island. Maybe some wanderin' Maraquans that wanted a bit more'n they could get where they come from. Or even some o' those Islanders, the ones from what we used to call the Island of Mist. Lutaris, I think's their names. An' you'd think the Moltarans would come 'round, but you 'ardly ever see 'em above-ground. It's been slow goin' all summer, and we haven't made back enough to move just yet. We've almost recouped our losses, though. So if ya need somethin', you've found yer spot. Name's O'Brian, by the way. Just lemme know whatcha lookin' for."
I raise my eyebrows at the transformation that's come over man - no, O'Brian, I correct myself. From standoffish protector to traveling salesman in minutes.
"Well, we could use food, first off." Stephen nods emphatically in agreement. "Shelter." I roll my sore shoulders. "And self-propelled wings, if you've got any of those lying around." It's a joke, but the man is nodding seriously at all of it.
"Couldn't hurt ya to have a bath, either," O'Brian says pointedly.
At this point, I'm starting to wonder if I have a body odor issue. Stephen is beside himself with laughter until the Zafara turns to him and tells him the same, at which point he is somber as the grave.
O'Brian leads the way to a small inlet that is apparently used as their bathing area. After we're done there, we decide to take a look at the wares for sale. We fill up on something that tastes slightly Shenkuuan at a makeshift noodle house, and at a pastry stall, I finally get to satisfy my sweet tooth. Night is upon Neopia by this time, and the clouds are closer than ever. Wandering around the marketplace, we run into O'Brian again.
"Is there anywhere we can sleep? The storm doesn't look like it's gonna hold out much longer, and we'd rather not catch cold." We - and Papineaux - can't afford to, is what I don't say.
"Yeh! Of course we do." He waves his hand again, and we follow back along the route we were on before, to the strange stilted tents. "How many nights you needa rent one?" he asks. His eyes are significantly brighter than they were when he first found us here.
"Just a night. We've gotta be on our way as soon as possible."
"All righty, lad." He takes out a pad of paper and a pencil, scrawls something on it, rips it off, and hands it to us.
"A receipt of yer bill. We gotta help our families some way or 'nother, don't we? Gotta keep 'em fed."
I sigh. "Well, I guess not everybody can be a Berry Farmer," I murmur under my breath.
"What's 'at?" O'Brian asks.
"Nothing. Thanks." I salute him with the paper, and he shrugs, turning to another tent that I assume must be his and his family's. Reaching up, he pulls himself into the tent by sheer upper arm strength. I shake my head. What a strange place.
Once we're inside the tent, I notice that the sheet of fabric isn't just any sheet. It's stretchy - almost bouncy, even. Lying in the middle of it is like lying in a hammock. While it doesn't provide just a whole lot of personal space, since everything sinks into the center, it is at least comfortable.
In the morning, we find our own way back to the market hub and gorge ourselves on pancakes, muffins, berry juice, sausage links, and biscuits with jam or gravy. The excuse is that we'll need our strength, but in reality, the cooking is just incredible. I tell the Acara cook just that, and she beams at me with dingy teeth and the brightest blue eyes I've ever seen.
Just then, a hulking man with a long red beard approaches us, holding a beast of cogs and metal in his giant arms.
"O'Brian tells me a red lad with wings wanted some 'at could fly 'emselves, and I thought, well, I ne'er made somethin' like that, but it's ne'er too early to start tryin'," the Skeith says, smelling strongly of a furnace. I'm not sure why he's not below ground with the Moltarans, as he's obviously skilled, but I don't want to pry.
I eye the thing suspiciously. "What is it?"
He huffs, impatient. "It's whatcha asked fer. What'd you think it was? Now turn 'round."
With a shrug and a confused look at Stephen, I obey. A massive weight is immediately thrust onto my shoulders, snaps are snapped, straps are strapped, and buttons are pushed. Instantly, there's a whirring noise behind me, and the contraption suddenly weighs nothing. I turn around, baffled. "How'd you do that?"
"It flies i'self," the man says, a little smug with satisfaction. "So's ya don't have to carry it 'round while yer on tha ground." His r's roll strangely, and I can barely make out what he says, but whatever he did to this machine, I like it.
"So how do I..." I toy with the buttons on the leather slung over my shoulders, then gesture vaguely at the sky.
"Push that button righ' there. Once fer weightlessness, which I already got started fer ya. Twice fer flyin'," he says, pointing to the middle one with an elementary engraving of a wing on it. I do as he says. "Now, ya gotta activate it. Can't have ya flyin' off at any moment's notice when ya don't wanna. Give yer wings a flap, will ya?"
I do as he says, and then I'm up in the air. But not like usual. There's so much less strain than I usually feel in my wings when I fly that I feel as if I'm not doing any of the work at all. I can't help but laugh with disbelief, relief, and amazement. "This is amazing!" I shout down. "You're a genius!" A thought occurs to me. "Now how do I get back down?"
"Push the button righ' below the one with tha wings," he yells up to me. I do so, and the wings maintain just enough of their own flying power so that I don't feel the full weight of it. Once I'm back on the ground, I ask him what the top button does.
"Don't push that one while yer in the air," he says seriously. "Full weight of it on yer shoulders, right o'er the sea. It's goodbye to ya both. Only push that button right after ya take it off. Keeps it from flyin' away. When it's on and yer wearin' it, yer own body weight keeps it under control. But when yer out o' it, and it's just lying about, there's nothin' to hold it back. Now, 's that gonna be in gold or promises? 'Cause we don't accept promises here. Least, I don't." He shrugs a this-is-how-it-is shrug.
My excitement ebbs. "How much is it that you want?" I could never afford the whole worth of this magnificent machine.
"What can ya give?" he asks.
I calculate what I'll need to get through the rest of my journey, subtracting that from what I have, and offer him the difference. He pockets it without even counting, seemingly undisturbed.
"Thank ya fer ya business," he says, tipping his brown cap. "Good luck on wha'ever fool's errand yer runnin'. Wish I could go, but I gotta stay here with the gal and the little ones. Ya have enough fun an' stupid for the both of us, eh?"
I smile and shake my head, unsure of what to think of this whole group. They obviously care for their families and are clearly geniuses in their individual fields, even if they are a bit pushy.
"No," I say, "thank you. This'll help us immensely." I take one last look around us at the stalls. "Good luck to all of you, wherever it is you're going next. Tell O'Brian I left the rent inside the tent." The man nods curtly. "Well, while I've still got this attached, we may as well be going."
"Wait!" The cry came from the Acara cook. "Just a moment, you lads. You think you're going to get away without any sort of sustenance? You'll starve before you get where you're goin'. Take some'a this."
"You don't even know where we're going," I laugh as she shoves a bag of food at us.
"Doesn't matter. Whatever you can buy there, it won't be my food. You may as well just not eat at all, in that case." Her eyes twinkle.
"Thank you, I tell her," offering my hand. She swats it away and gives me a hug that is reminiscent of my mother and sisters. Except Dolly. She'd be more likely to punch me in the shoulder. "What do we owe you?"
She pishes and poshes, waving us away. "I don't want none'a yer stinky gold. You two get outta here."
"Thank you," I tell her again, sincerely. "Thank both of you." The Skeith nods at me, and I nod back. I push the winged button again, swing my backpack over my shoulders, and wait for Stephen to get situated. And then, with a running start and a leap, we're off.
Next stop, the Dark Hall.
To be continued...