The Journey to Tendlepog: Chapter 6
The rumours died down practically overnight, choked underneath the stampede of sound and joy that was music, hammer strikes and grunts and groans. Nearly every waking hour entertained a spar between two servants of the Strong, often accompanied by high-tempoed string twangs and drum beats from the Noble audience. Below deck, the carpenters regularly took inventory and improved what could be improved aboard the ship - soon the railings had been reinforced and heightened to better catch crew mates in the tragic event that they should be tossed towards the ship’s edge. Occasionally, whispers would travel along the deck, though few of these were inherently malicious anymore - most were baseless hearsay about certain crew mates’ supposed weight gain or that one lad who had forgot to tie his pants properly and revealed his loincloth for all to see.
Such rumours were acceptable, Qiang Yi thought - uncouth, but acceptable. If anything, it added a certain character to the environment aboard the ship - a strange informality that was nowhere to be found aboard Jiangzhou. A clump of worry accumulated in his throat as he imagined what His Lordship Shengshi would say.
“... This servant apologises profusely, Your Lordship - but this behaviour may be necessary to avoid a leadership too militant or a crew too slack,” he said firmly.
“Who are you talking to?” Zhen-zhen asked with a raised eyebrow. Qiang Yi nearly jumped out of his sand.
“N-no one! Just praying!” the captain said and gave the smirking Zhen-zhen a scowl. “Eavesdropping is unbecoming of you, Zhen-zhen!” he said and pointed a judgmental finger at her.
“Yes, captain,” Zhen-zhen replied and winked playfully at him. “Oh, by the way, we will be approaching the Serpentine Isles in an hour or so.”
Qiang Yi’s eyes widened and he, too, cracked a smile. “You don’t say. Stellar work, first mate - keep the course steady. I’ll tell the crew to prepare for landfall.”
“Sounds good, captain,” Zhen-zhen said. Qiang Yi nodded and descended down to the deck.
Kree looked down at the ocean, noticing the ship underneath them. He let out a low rumble, curious as to what it was and what it was doing. “What is it, Kree?” Serenis asked. Kree’s response was to descend, dropping from the sky and allowing Serenis to get a closer look. There, far beneath the two, a brown spot striped with two perpendicular white lines floated lazily towards the Serpentine Isles. Even from the height they flew, the spot made a noticeable array of sounds, spanning everything from distant music to the occasional pained howl. A ship? Serenis thought to herself. I suppose that in itself isn’t something unusual, but… it’s going towards the islands we just came from.”
Serenis figured that if they were heading there, she should probably make sure whoever was on the ship wouldn’t do any harm. Patting Kree, she said to him, “Come on, Kree, let’s introduce ourselves to that ship.” Kree grunted in agreement and descended even further, looking for a suitable spot on the ship to land. It soon settled for the largest and flattest area on the ship, the deck, and planted his feet onto the wooden surface, sending the rowdy and distracted crew into an immediate panic. As soon as he did, Serenis slid off him and looked around, taking note of the humanoid figures manning the ship. Serenis felt a little guilty scaring them so, but she knew it was unavoidable. For now, it was time for business. She cleared her throat, then announced to the crew, “I would like to speak to the person in charge!”
The crew, having scrambled to cover, slowly began to peek over or out of the barrels, boxes and other clutter they had hid by, behind or in. For a moment, nothing happened; then, a somewhat tall figure with long black hair, purple silk robes and a strong jaw stepped out from behind a pile of barrels. The figure, who was likely a male individual, approached Serenis until they were roughly two metres apart - then, he got to his knees and hands.
“O, You most sacred, holy spirit of the Sky Realm - forgive this humble servant and its shameful, unforgivable ignorance, for it neither knows Your holy name nor Your divine purpose aboard our mortal vessel. Please, entertain this speck of a servant’s singular request and share with us these details.” Slowly, but surely, more and more servants assumed similar poses, all facing Serenis and Kree (or, more accurately, the floorboards).
Serenis somehow managed to maintain a stern face, but internally she was in a dumbfounded panic. Oh no, what have we just done? she thought. Ok, ok, let’s-let’s just calm down. I can still salvage this. Clearing her throat again, Serenis said, “For now, um… pl-please stand up.”
As if they were conditioned like hounds, they rocketed to their feet in unison and straightened their arms down along their tightened sides - like soldiers awaiting orders.
She mentally chastised herself for the stutter, but it didn’t seem like they noticed. She then continued, “My name is Serenis, and this is my companion, Kree. Our intentions are simply to determine the purpose of this ship’s visit to our islands.” Kree made a short growl, nodding his head in agreement.
The male in front of her, the commander of the vessel, bowed deeply - as did the surrounding crew. “A most humbling honour to meet Your sacred selves, Serenis and Kree. This servant goes by the name of Qiang Yi and it commands this vessel, Zhengwu, on its mission to Tendlepog under the order of His Lordship Shengshi of the Thousand Rivers.” Qiang Yi bowed again and kept the pose. “As Your Holiness is likely referring to the Serpentine Isles upon saying ‘our islands’, this servant must stress that this crew intends to inflict no harm upon the islands’ sacred ground - these servants merely wish to stop there and rest before the long trek to the shores of Tendlepog. May we be so rude as to ask for such permission?”
If that was all they were asking, then Serenis reasoned that it wouldn’t be a difficult request to grant. Nodding, Serenis said, “Very well. As long as no harm comes to our… Serpentine Isles, then there is no reason to stop you. You may rest as much as you wish.”
“Oh, how gracious of Your sacred self,” Qiang Yi said with a deep bow. The crew followed suit. “Your Holiness is a fantastic host. If Your Holiness wishes for anything in return, these servants will be most willing to provide what they can.”
“Hmm…” Serenis thought out loud. “Actually, there may be something you can offer. You see, I was just embarking on a journey of sorts myself, and this is an ideal opportunity for me. I’d like to join you on your journey, at least to your next destination. I’d be interested in hearing some of the stories you have to share as well.”
“O-oh,” Qiang Yi said and blinked. “Y-your Holiness is more than free to travel with this vessel, y-yet… The ship is almost at its destination. These servants are afraid that the trek may not be as exciting or interesting as Your Holiness may think.” He cleared his throat and bowed again. “Of course, the choice belongs to Your divine self. Either way, these servants will be humble to have a sacred spirit aboard.” He cleared his throat again, though somewhat more sheepishly this time. “This servant is incredibly shameful and unwarranted in saying this, but… May it make another request on behalf of the ship and the crew if Your Holiness wishes to travel with us?”
“...You may,” Serenis replied.
Qiang Yi gestured to the wooden scraps, cut ropes and splintered instruments that lay spread across the deck underneath Kree’s feet. “If it is not inconvenient, may this servant make the outrageous request of having the honourable dragon… Flying beside the ship? This servant fears Zhengwu was not made with such… Sizeable passengers in mind.” He kowtowed again.
Serenis looked to where Qiang Yi was gesturing, and noticed the damage to the ship for the first time. Her face flushed bright red, and she deeply bowed to him back. “I’m so sorry!” Serenis hurriedly apologized to Qiang Yi before turning back to Kree. Clapping twice, Serenis brought Kree to attention, and he immediately began to shrink in size until he was a couple feet in length. Kree then began to climb up Serenis and looped himself around her neck, resting comfortably on her neck and shoulders to the crew’s astonishment.
Qiang Yi looked up and dipped his head down once more before standing up straight. “A sacred beast, fashioned by the Exalted Creators.” Several of the crew members folded their hands in prayer. “O sacred spirit Selenis - welcome aboard Zhengwu.”
Making a small nod, Serenis said, “A pleasure to be here.”
Currently peaceful days on the Zhengwu. As they approach the Serpentine Isles, they catch the attention of Kree and Serenis, who drop in to make sure the Zhengwu isn’t up to no good. The crew immediately see Serenis as a god (not really, but close enough). Serenis decides to roll with it and talks to them, and everything is straightened out. Qiang Yi and the crew secure the Serpentine Isles as a temporary resting area, and Serenis gets to ride along for the time being.