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Foreword from the author
This is Book II in the "Party of Five" series of novellas. That means, there's definitelt at least one more book out there that needs some love as well. Plus, it's really good to learn a bit more about the main characters and read their story, their first adventure together. Not that you really have to, me thinks, but I hope you'll like it. It's also good for the soul.
In book II, there might not be so many funny moments (the definition of funny is always up for debate), but I hope it delivers. For those of you who have already read Book I, by the time you've read Book II, I hope you'll be enticed to wait for Book III. For those of you who haven't read Book I, I hope you'll get a copy after reading this. Get one for your friends as well; like a gift or maybe part of a sinister plot to make their day.
I dearly hope you'll come to like the characters enough to wait for the next novella in the series. God willing, when this first story arc is completed, a paperback of all three books will be published in a single volume.
P.S. : Please do write a review if you could bother, even a nasty one. It's what enables me to know what works and what doesn't. Good reviews are really good for the soul, too.
Sincerely (I do mean it),
"I've never really understood all those planet-bound folk that look at the night sky all starry-eyed and gaze at it with a superbly idiotic grin and lose their grip on reality, making up all sorts of ideas about what space is like. I'll say this just once, hopefully some of you cadets are dead drunk not to notice the mistake you just made; space is boring, unforgiving, empty and a lot bigger than it looks like. A real lot."
-- Rear Admiral Stephen Zondmeier VII, Human League fleet academy welcoming speech
Ned was leaning against the upper deck railing, gazing at the milky blue sheen of a swarm of stars that showered the ship with a fuzzy, moon-like glow. For the last few days, ever since they'd sailed into the stars, a strange smile seemed to occupy his face for most of his waking time. In his sleep, all he could see was the glitter of stars and the image of his father, waving at him encouragingly to move on into a beautiful unknown. Or perhaps take an order; Ned wasn't clear on that. But it did make him feel better.
The ship traversed the deadness of space in a suitably dead silence; one could only surmise it was really moving at all because of the twinkle of the stars as their light bounced off the metal ramrod at its prow.
Winceham, the self-proclaimed, semi-retired halfuin rogue of the party was snoring heavily nearby, on a simple hay bed he'd brought from below deck. For the most part, Wince had enjoyed their journey so far, even though he spent most of his time kicking in his sleep.
Parcifal, the feisty redhead princess regent in exile, kept a mindful, worried eye at how her twin sister, Lernea, queen of Nomos for a day, handled the ship. It was in fact the look of utter and total boredom that worried Parcifal; it seemed like it was catching.
Theo, naturally inclined in the ways of sorcery, had just finished re-knitting his blond, silvery dreadlocks ... The traditional hairdo of the woodkin elf, the dreadlock, didn't suit him, tall and fair-skinned as he was. But it was his people's heritage, even though he wasn't really one of them. Him and Bo, his fiery-eyed bunny companion were shooting fireworks far off astern. They looked unequivocally happy.
"It's wonderful, isn't it?" said Ned to no-one in particular, and for a rather awkward amount of time, no-one bothered to reply. At length, Parcifal turned her head around and looked at him morosely, her hands folded behind her head as if surrendering to the uneventful, humdrum quagmire that she felt their journey really was.
"What, exactly, is it that you find wonderful?" she said in a monotone voice. Ned spread his arms as to hug the vastness of space surrounding them and replied in earnest:
"This," she said and nodded to a random patch of blackness, "is a void. A nothingness. I'm nearly spent by boredom."
"Oh, you're just lacking the flint to spark the imagination within you. I've written down a song about it. Dozens actually."
"Please, not another one," said Parcifal wearing a worried, sickly frown; she even thrust-out her open palm in a begging gesture. Ned was puzzled; it showed in his voice and the sudden jerk of his head.
"I'm not in the mood. Gracious Skrala, not now, not ever again," said Parcifal and failing to find the north in a place where it meant absolutely nothing, she sighed and made the warding gesture of Skrala; hands extended to the north in the shape of half a box.
"Mood is a thing for cattle, and love-making," pitched in Winceham with a grumby, muffled voice without warning.
Though half-asleep he was yet instantly aware of what was being discussed, his rogueish instincts always at the ready. Lernea's hard, solemn face, adorned in her long brown locks of hair, changed abruptly to that of a radiant, noble lady such as her lineage would demand of her.
She let go of the ship's helm and said, or rather announced, in a beaming voice:
"Mr. Winceham, I think that now, as they saying goes, she's all yours."
"I wouldn't want to intrude on your persons miladies. I think your sister's rather tall, too young and inexperienced for me tastes, not to mention somewhat lank on the waist," replied Winceham, with his face still buried in the soft cloth mattress filled with hay. Parcifal looked at the short halfuin with a perplexed frown, before she came to realise he was referring to her; her boot shortly thereafter connected with the halfuin's behinds, shoving him off the cot and onto the hard deck.
"My waist is fine by all accounts, thank you," said Parcifal looking mildly annoyed. Winceham picked himself up sporting a grin of mischief and no ill feelings, while Ned added, riding an entirely different train of thought:
"Are you saying, my singing is bad? Because, if I recall correctly, it worked like magic with those pirates and their ape-men."
"Which is to say," interjected Lernea, strolling around the deck stretching her back, "it's fit for animals and scum."
No-one was at the ship's helm, a matter which was soon made entirely apparent to everyone as the ship began to slowly list to port. Just as Parcifal walked over to grab the helm firmly with a look of annoyance on her face, she saw Bo flying accross the air as if falling slowly sideways, his fluffy ears shooting up in strange directions, firm and upright as if frozen by an amazing sense of danger. Theo followed close behind, smiling as broadly as a child left to its devices, all alone with a cookie jar. Parcifal stood baffled, while Theo grabbed the helm as he flew past it and turned the ship back on its proper course. He twisted his body to settle his feet on the ground with the grace of a dancer.
"And ... It seems that now, I can fly!" he said proudly, while Bo could be seen a few feet away, happily munching on an oversized leek with awe-inspiring veracity, slowly tumbling in the air.
Ned exclaimed on cue:
"It's space! It's so grandiose, so alluring. Anything is possible, see?" he said and pointed at the levitating bunny with a gleaming smile. Winceham and the Teletha sisters did not seem to share in the enthusiasm.
"That's what you've been saying for the past two weeks," said Lernea and let herself slump to the cot with a weary sigh. Parcifal on the other hand, sounded worried.
"Not to mention that all we're navigating blind, based on that scum's word alone."
Culliper lay in shackles in the hold; he'd told them as much as he knew himself. He had been told to raid the village and that he would collect his pay at Tallyflop. Even though Parcifal nearly convinced the rest to throw him overboard and use him as target practice, cooler minds had prevailed. Ned though very troubled about what to do with his father's killer, did not want to have his blood on his hands. He knew that wouldn't bring back his father.
"He'd be a fool to try and swing us. We'll reach some kind of port, at some point. That's for sure. Food and water is aplenty though, no worries there," said Winceham scratching his head and grooming his beard with a make-shift brush made out of some poor thing's teeth.
"Well, what if we're walking into a trap?" asked Parcifal, shaking her head, looking agitated.
"That would be sailing into a trap," corrected Lernea from was she now considered her cot, without bothering to take her arm off her shut eyes. Theo sounded confident, seeing as he kept the ship on course with little effort.
"I think everything's as it should be. Bo isn't the least bit nervous," he said and toyed with the bunny's ears. Bo seemed to wriggle with pleasure on Theo's shoulder.
"Bo is a bunny, Theo," said Parcifal with a voice that teetered on the brink of a shrill. Theo wasn't taken aback and insisted:
"Well, I trust his instincts. You'll see."
.... There is more of this story ...