“It sure was, Tait,” said Asmund, scoping ahead to catch a glimpse of where they were headed. “It sure was…”
“It’s not like he’s gone, though, guys,” said Eydis. “He told me that if I couldn’t see him, then it means he’s inside of me.”
“You’re right, Eydis,” said Tait. “But there’s just something about meeting him in person…”
“I know what you mean, Tait,” said Asmund. “And so does Eydis. She just doesn’t want to say it.”
“That’s because I know he’s coming back to visit us,” she said. “He has to.”
“I sure hope so,” said Tait. “That’d be great.”
“Absolutely,” said Asmund.
The three eager warriors walked several miles from the land they’d once known as home. They’d never ventured outside the gates of Afra before, but because God had willed them to leave, they’d obeyed without any fear or anxiety. They knew that if it was the lord’s will he’d protect them from any dangers that’d lie ahead. Besides, it’s not as if they’d find an excuse to turn down an adventure. They loved adventures. It was an opportunity to explore—to see new things, visit uncharted territories, and uncover mysteries that were never solved before. They knew for certain that this quest would be a quest unlike any other—and that it would be so much fun.
What great things were they bound to uncover outside the gates of Afra? What creatures would they witness existence of for the first time? They didn’t know, but not knowing was half the fun. The curiosity starved them, and they couldn’t wait to have it satisfied. They’d already gotten to meet Jesus Christ. What would come next? What could possibly top that?
As the three young heroes traveled long and far, they eventually stumbled upon a giant doorway along the coast—a doorway that had attached to it a long wall on each side that extended beyond as far as their eyes could see. The gate was well designed and looked fairly new. It looked as if it was made with materials found deep in the ocean, such as sea-grass, underwater rocks, and pieces of a coral reef. It had glass-like walls that stood as a canvas for a peculiar graffiti type design, stretching on for as long as the walls did—someone had a lot of time in his hands. There were green torches on top of the gates that held an intense blue flame inside of them—but a person would have to gaze almost fifty feet high in order to notice it. Very strange this was… why would a gate need to be built so high? Actually, why would there need to be a gate at all? What were they trying to keep out—or perhaps, what were they trying to keep in?
“Why is there a gate here?” Tait asked as he glanced all around it from different angles.
“Look at these weird paintings,” said Eydis as she squinted her eyes and twisted her head to the side, trying to decipher what exactly this graffiti was portraying.
“Don’t you mean, graffiti, Eydis?” Asmund corrected, joining her in the examination.
“What is that?” she pointed to a graffiti drawing of a sea creature—the only drawing on the wall possible of interpreting.
“Looks like an angler fish. I’m not sure though.”
“Kinda scary looking for a fish…”
“Yeah, well that shouldn’t surprise you, considering that this person was crazy enough to draw however far this wall stretches on for…”
“I think this is where the archfiend’s territory begins,” said Tait, reuniting with the others. “Are you guys ready to see what’s inside?”
“Are you able to get the doors open?”
“Yeah. It shouldn’t be a problem for me.”
“Ooh! That’s right,” said Eydis eagerly, snapping her fingers as if making an exciting realization. “You have the powers to manipulate astronomy and control gravity, right?”
“Something like that.” He scratched his head and glanced at the ground. “I was born a giver of astronomical miracles. A giver is someone who’s born with specific miraculous powers. There are all different kinds of miraculous givers in our kingdom, each one with his or her own unique abilities. My powers consist of manipulating astronomy and controlling gravity, just like you said, Eydis.”
“Wow. That’s so awesome. So you’re like a mage then?”
“Not exactly. A giver’s prowess is a blessing given at birth by God. A mage, sorcerer, or witch is someone who gets his or her magic from something or someone outside of God’s blessing, such as a devil for instance…”
“Oh, I see. Yeah, I’m pretty much the same way. I was born with the ability to summon three creatures from Heaven. One of them is really big, another one is really scary, and you guys already know Cheesecake. He’s my favorite.”
“Alright, Tait, you said you could get this gate open?” Asmund asked again, getting things back on track.
“Oh, right. Sorry. I’ll get right on it now.”
Focusing on the task at hand, Tait placed his hands out in front of the gate and intensified his stare. Using his magical ability of controlling gravity, he summoned the will within his heart to manipulate the position of the stubborn force ahead that would otherwise refuse to budge.
“Levum Acheiseo!” he chanted as the magical dust of other worlds released from his hands, stretching to connect to the center of the front doors. Once his magical aura had made contact onto the substance it was preparing to manipulate, Tait pulled his hands toward his face very slowly with vigorous intensity and concentration—forcing the ancient doors to quake the ground as they moved over the sand with five-hundred tons of weight. A mere twelve-year-old boy was defying the reality of accepted normality.
Although Tait was already an exceedingly gifted child, not even he—especially at his age—should have been able to force open a gate that was never meant to be opened. As Asmund and Eydis watched Tait perform his most incredible miracle to date, they saw a form of intensity that they’d never before seen from him—the shy and timid Tait was looking more confident and powerful than ever, and he was looking great.
“Yeah! Do it, Tait!” cheered Eydis. “It’s working. It’s almost open.”
Tait pulled with all of his might, but when he ran out of energy, he knew that God would be right behind him to finish whatever he could not—and having this fact known to him summoned a level of excitement that was so great he could not explain it. He could only feel it as it happened.
“There,” he said as he made the final push to lock open the gates, releasing the magic from his central command in order to hold the doors in place.
“That was so epic, Tait,” Eydis enthused as she and Asmund applauded. “That looked like it was really hard to do.”
“It was, truthfully,” he told them as he took a moment to catch his breath. “But we shouldn’t talk about that now. The spell will be ending any second now.”
“Then let’s hurry before the doors close back again,” Asmund urged them as they hastened toward the entrance.
“Quickly now. I can feel the magic releasing.”
The three heroes raced into the land, increasing their paces two-fold—especially once they’d noticed the spell elapsing for themselves.
“Don’t let the doors close on you!” shouted Asmund. “Move it! Quickly!”
The doors may have opened at a very slow pace, but once Tait’s magical ties were severed, the doors were closing at a rate so fast that it was possible for them to break off their hinges.
From a distance too close for comfort, Tait, Eydis, and Asmund had barely managed to make it through safe before the doors had slammed back shut with a sound that traveled as far as the walls did. In fact, the distance was so close that they’d felt the wind of the closing doors shove their bodies forward.
“Boy was that a rush,” said Tait as everyone glared at each other and laughed. “Our journey has only just begun and we’ve already experienced our first spurt of adrenaline.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” said Asmund as he examined their new surroundings. “It’s probably going to get a lot worse, though, so everyone make sure to stay alert.”
“Why are the skies red?” Eydis asked as the three warriors suddenly became conscious of this.
Now that Eydis had mentioned it, it was rather strange for the skies to go from blue to red just after passing the gate… something hadn’t felt right about this place, and Eydis, Tait and Asmund knew it. The sky was red, the clouds were pink, and the sand was—purple? What’s up with this beach?
“You think that’s weird?” Asmund asked her. “Take a look at what you’re standing on.”
“Holy apple-cranberries! The sand is purple.”
“I know. That’s what I’m saying.”
“Whoa,” said Tait the instant he glared at the sea. “That’s nothing. Just take a look at the ocean.”
Not only was the ocean green instead of blue—that alone was a very bizarre feature—but it wasn’t resting on the land’s ground as it should have been. Instead, the sea had elevated itself into the shape of an exotic mountain or something similar, ascending as high as the three heroes could see.
“Isn’t that just the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?” asked Tait.
“Yeah,” said Eydis. “It looks like an ocean fortress. That’s so awesome. I want to sail on it.”
“I don’t think that’d even be possible to sail,” said Asmund.
“Yeah-huh. See the trail that starts at the bottom and goes all the way to the top?”
“Okay, so even it was actually possible and safe enough to sail on, what boat would we use?”
“Well, how about a ship?” asked Tait, pointing at a giant pirate-looking ship southeast of where they stood.
“A ship?” Eydis asked with utmost enthusiasm, shouting with a volume that she wasn’t even aware of sounding. “You mean there are pirates here? Holy marshmallows! I wanna meet one.” Having said that, she stormed off toward it as fast as she could.
“Wait, Eydis!” shouted Asmund, chasing after her. “We don’t even know if it’s safe yet.” Once he realized that she wasn’t paying any attention to him, he grumbled with frustration. “Come on, Tait… it looks like Eydis has decided that she is now leading the way.”
Tait chuckled lightly as he obeyed him, following Eydis to catch a ride aboard the large ship—assuming of course that it was even sailable. Like the rest of the land, the ship had a very unorthodox presentation. It was darkish green with sea-grass hanging down from the main mast like vines. Similar to the gates the three heroes had entered, the body of the ship had graffiti sprayed around it—all the designs exotic like the ones from the land’s entrance. They could tell it was a pirate ship, though, because it had a pirate’s flag hanging on the top of it, emblem being of a hammerhead shark.
“Hello?” asked Eydis, cuffing her mouth to amplify her voice just before getting on the ship. “Is anybody here?” When nobody answered, she climbed aboard and began observing its surroundings. It was completely deserted, and it looked like it’d been for a long time. “Hello?” she asked again until she suddenly stumbled upon the cabin of the ship. Through its windows she could see a glimpse of lighting beyond the door. Curious with this sighting, she decided to investigate.
Nearing its entrance, she creaked open the door. Once she found that it was inhabited, she let it close behind her and pursued deeper inside. After making a few steps around the room, she began hearing faint whispers in the air, though she couldn’t quite make out what they were.
“Hello?”’ she asked again as the voices continued whispering inaudible dialogue. “Is someone there? Show yourself already. I’m just a harmless little girl.”
The whispers continued murmuring, suddenly raising their voices just enough for Eydis to realize that they were speaking a completely different language—scary. The voices were dark and raspy, and their tones were deeper than any vocal chords should have been possible of sounding.
“She’s one of God’s three pets is she not?” The whispers finally became comprehensible. “She’s all alone now. Should we take her?” Eydis tried to listen in, but the voices were barely audible.
“No,” the other voice replied. “Don’t bother. Skittles will take care of them.” After the second voice whispered this, the two voices suddenly let out the most ghastly and obnoxious snickers Eydis had ever heard. She screamed once she felt their sinister presences disperse from the room, flickering the lights as they blustered out the windows.
“Arrr! What in jellyfish nation?” Suddenly, another voice had sounded, coming from outside the cabin—a voice much friendlier and more normal. “Who’s in there lurkin’ in me cabin?” From the windows she could see a large shadow approaching the door, but before she could think about hiding anywhere, the mysterious figure slammed it open and scanned over the room twice—because somehow he missed her the first time… “Arrr!” he said once he spotted her, flinching as if startled. “It’s a little lass. There’s a little lass in me cabin.”
Eydis didn’t respond to anything he said to her. Not only was she still in shock from the disturbing scene that she’d just encountered, but she was baffled with the pirate’s unexpected appearance. He wasn’t the least bit human, but he had human characteristics. Eydis was no expert on marine biology, but she was almost certain that this person was supposed to be some sort of hammerhead shark. With his eyes on the side of his face like that, it’s no wonder he had trouble spotting her.
“What’s yer name, lass?” he asked her. She still could not answer. Instead, she stared at him with widened eyes until her brain could finally take in what was happening in front of her. “What’s t’ matter? Ain’t never seen a talkin’ shark before? Aye?” Since Eydis remained speechless, the two of them stared at each other until the situation became awkward…
“Ye find somethin’, Cap’n?” asked another pirate as he and two additional pirates busted through the door, knocking their captain down onto the floor and getting stuck in the doorway—those loony birds.
“What do ye think yer doin' runnin' around and knockin' ye captain t' t' ground, ye bilge rats. Away with ye. Captain’s havin’ a talk with t’ lass.”
“She’s a little young for ye, ain’t she, Cap’n?”
The captain slapped the silly pirate across the head when he said that. “She’s not for me, ye creaton. I’m wonderin’ what she’s doin’ in me cabin.”
“Right. Carry on, Cap’n.”
Embarrassed with the misunderstanding, the three underlings fled from the room faster than a flopping fish fleeing back to sea. All this silliness from the pirates had made Eydis suddenly forget everything that she was so frightened of a few minutes ago. Now, she couldn’t stop smiling.
The captain seemed pleased to notice that she was quickly becoming more comfortable with their presence. So he loosened the tough guy act, and took his voice down a notch. He cleared his throat before resuming speech. “Sorry about all that,” he said. “My mateys can really act like lubbers sometimes…”
“Ha ha, you guys are so silly,” she said, laughing gleefully. “And what’s a lubber?”
“Lubbers are off-sea mates—arrr, sorry, you’ll have to excuse my pirate language. I haven’t spoken like a gentleman for quite some time. You going to tell me your name, lass, or you gonna stare me down like a dodo bird again?”
“My name is Eydis Virtue. I’m a summoner of three heavenly beasts. And who might you be, Captain? And why are you a shark?”
“Summoner you say, aye? Quite a feat that is, and a rare one these days. I’m Captain Hammerhead, but I’m not really supposed to be a hammerhead, see. We all used to be human beings, but ever since some lubber named Xuohs took rule of our land, the skies started turnin’ red, the sand started turnin’ purple, the sea started turnin’ into a giant green fortress, and then we started turnin’ into fish-mates. I don’t know how or why this happened, but I know for certain that it happened, aye?”
“Well, don’t worry, Captain Shark. That’s why me, Tait and Asmund are here. We’ll change you back into your old self.”
“Cap’n! Cap’n!” shouted one of the pirates as he busted through the door again, knocking the captain back to the ground a second time.
“What did I tell ye bout interruptin’ me talk with t’ lass?! Ye caught a deaf ear or somethin’?!”
“Sorry, Captain. But emergency’s brewing.”
“What says ye then?”
“We tied up two lubbers, Cap’n. Should we walk them off t’ plank?”
“Wait,” said Eydis. “They’re probably my friends. You have to set them free.”
“Let’s be havin’ a look at them then,” said the captain as he and Eydis left the cabin together to inspect the intruders. The instant they’d stepped outside the cabin they were greeted by at least sixty other pirates on board—all appearing as some sort of sea critter. Where did they all come from all of a sudden? “Avast! These be your buckos then, lassy?”
“Yes. That’s them. Please. You must release them.” Once she said this, the captain gestured toward the release of her friends—who were tied up with excessive amounts of rope against the main mast…
“Eydis?” asked Tait. “Who are these people?”
“They’re pirates. Aren’t they awesome?”
Tait and Asmund remained silent to the question, dusting off their bodies as they walked away from the pirates who kept staring at them like they were something to eat.
“Sorry for me mateys, lads,” Captain Hammerhead said to them. “Never can be too careful with what appears from t’ sand these days, aye?”
“That’s right,” said Eydis, looking at Tait and Asmund. “Captain Shark said that the land is all weird now because Xuohs has made it that way.”
“Aye. Sly little devil it was. It promised me crew we’d uncover t’ greatest treasure of all the seven seas: my great great great great great great great great great great grandmother’s pearl. I thought it lost forever, but then t’ lubber, Xuohs told me it knew where it was—and it did, but it never gave me me treasure…”
“So where is it?” Tait asked.
“A vast anglerfish carries me great great great great great great great great great great grandmother’s pearl in t’ depths of his belly. Goes by t’ name of Skittles I hear.”
“Skittles?” Eydis asked, suddenly recalling the time when she first heard it.
“Funny name, ain’t it?”
“Have you ever seen him before?” Tait asked them.
“Nae, we haven’t. T’ blasted fish won’t ever show himself.”
After he said this, Tait began thinking to himself. Then he asked Asmund and Eydis to close in for a brief huddle, having an idea come up suddenly. “Hey guys. Do you think that this Skittles may be the first false identity of Xuohs?”
“I don’t think the archfiend would want to disguise itself as a big ugly fish, Tait,” said Asmund. I imagine it’d want a more graceful look. “Something a lot less obvious than a giant monster.”
“Well, maybe it thought that a giant monster would be enough to scare away a few kids.”
“I doubt the fiend’s that simple-minded.”
“Which direction is God nudging us then? Is he telling us to go out at sea or somewhere else?”
“He’s telling us to go out to sea, but I don’t think it’s for that.”
“What’s at the top of the ocean’s fortress?” Eydis asked out loud suddenly so everyone could hear.
Everyone grew silent that very moment, almost like they’d never really thought of it before. That assumption was confirmed once each of the pirates stopped what they were doing and gazed up at its peak—problem was, however… it was covered by a big black fog, so no one could see it.
“Avast, Cap’n,” said the starfish looking pirate. “Should I have a look at it with t’ spyglass?”
“Give me that,” said the captain, snatching it from his hands. “I may have t' eye of a hammerhead, but I’ll be hammerin' yer head if ye try t' take on the captain’s duty again, aye?”
“Aye aye, Cap’n.”
“Avast then, mateys, and prepare for sail.”
“We’re really going to sail?” Eydis asked, feeling ecstatic.
“Aye. We are, lass.” He took a glance through the scope. However, just as he’d predicted, he couldn’t see anything up there but a dense fog. “I'm bettin' me aft fin that's where good ol’ skittles be hidin'.”
“Huddle back, Eydis,” Asmund said to her as they all grouped in. “Well guys, it looks like we’re sailing out to sea. If anybody’s got any better ideas than speak now or forever hold your peace.”
“I know for certain that Skittles works for the archfiend,” confessed Eydis suddenly, sparking up Tait and Asmund’s attention.
“What? How can you be so sure?”
“Before I met the pirates, I heard two demons whisper to each other in the cabin. They sounded really scary. I heard them say something about how Skittles would ‘take care of us’—or something like that.”
“You’ve already encountered demons? Are you alright?”
“It was really scary but I’m fine now…”
“Yeah, we heard you screaming,” said Tait. “We thought it was the pirates who were trying to hurt you.”
“No, the pirates are the good guys. But Skittles is definitely the bad guy. I know he is.”
“Alright then, I guess that settles it,” said Asmund as he dismissed the group huddle. “Skittles must be the first false identity of the archfiend, Xuohs.”