Weather: Clear skies and pleasant wind.
Encounters: None outside the ship.
Expenditures: I lost a little money when Jasper swindled me in a betting card game he calls Coins and Arrows.
The stars above us were so bright that we moved our meeting to the top deck. There were five of us now that we added Bullet and Jasper to the team (six if you count Senelala). All of us gathered around the map and pages of notes on the hysterical outbreak. We hoped to reach the site in the middle of the night and camp outside the village before the sun rose.
I looked to Bullet and Jasper, the newest members of our team. Well, new to me. They had been Rogue Healers for a few years. When we met up with the two after our encounter with The Hearing. I was shocked to see Bullet was a woman. I was fascinated by her; she was the oldest of the group. You could see her incredibly quick wit flicker through her eyes. Her hair was so black it seemed to shine purple, and her head was completely shaved on one side to show the tattoos on her scalp. Bullet’s skin and eyes were as dark as the night sky, shimmering with cool undertones. She might have been the most statue-esque person I had ever seen. I felt muted in her presence, but she seemed to like me alright. She loved Senelala…they all did.
The group looked aged and serious in the candlelit evening light. “Alright,” The Healer said and tapped a finger on the table. “There's something you haven’t been saying.”
“Sure, there’s always more to these cases. It’s never cut and dry.” Bullet said, her voice raspy from the long day of sailing. She stole a glance at Jasper as if to say “you’ve got this”.
Jasper leaned back and cracked his spine as if releasing the tension of the news. He exhaled to blow his bangs out of his eyes. Jasper was a wiry man with long hair he twisted into a knot on the top of his head. He kept a collapsible telescope in his vest pocket, and pulled it out at any chance he got. He wore stacks of chained bracelets; each one carried a tiny dangling vial. I assumed they held medicines in case of a pinch, but I hadn't asked.
“This ain't a usual case, Alph.” Jasper started. His language was so unusual that I wanted to memorize most of what he said. He sighed and leaned forward, “We might’nt get this one done.”
“What's he trying to say is that we might be in over our heads.” Bullet offered.
“That's what I was sayin” Jasper looked peeved. “Look here, some people are gone. One by one.”
“What people?” The Healer asked.
Bullet took over, “The people of the village where the hysterical outbreak has started. Slowly people of the village are disappearing. It’s women, men, children, elderly...just randomly. What is strange is that no one seems to be taking any action to investigate.” Her eyebrows sunk. She was visibly hurt by this news.
“Do you think it's related?” I asked and realized Bullet was recording our conversation on her tablet.
Jasper nodded slowly, “It's a circle, it is.” He spun one finger around and around.
Bullet murmured, “You mean cycle.”
The Healer took his turn to sigh, “It’s happening again.”
Bullet stood and crossed her arms, “I think it is, but this time we've got a leg up.” She pointed to the boxes behind us.
“Alright, first someone has to tell me what's in the boxes. Second, someone has to explain the missing people .” I said and Jasper nodded approval. I had been wondering about the locked boxes for what felt like forever.
“She ain’t seen ‘em?” Jasper’s eyes widened. He stood and walked over to the boxes, placed a hand delicately on the lid. Suddenly, he whipped out his telescope, extended it and looked into the distance. He shrugged and put it back away, “Nuthin.”
“I didn't tell her in the off chance we get caught. She could say she just didn't know.” The Healer shrugged.
“Well, at this point she doesn't have a case. She's too deep in.” Bullet said and smiled at me. I smiled back, but I was growing concerned about the contents of those boxes.
The Healer jumped out of his seat and yanked mine out from under me. I leaped to my feet. “Alright, Sarah Jane.” He talked to me so closely that his forehead almost touched mine. “It's not illegal...per se...to be a Rogue Healer. It is highly frowned upon to use and transport what's in those boxes, but we fully believe they can help the people of the village.”
“They?” I asked and turned my head to look for a hint of life. “There's something living in those boxes?”
“Focus!” He flicked me on the forehead. “If you don't want to be wrapped up in this you can go.”
I stood my ground, “You can't get rid of me that easy.”
“Brilliant!” The Healer shouted and clapped his hands with one resounding clap. “Jasp, my boy, will you kindly open the largest box?”
“Pleasure!” He yelled and undid the lock. I wondered when he got the key. The box he opened was the giant one we picked up from the place of curiosities and wonderments, the one I saw faintly glowing.
“Janey!” Jasper swung his hand out in my direction. He took my hand and pulled me up close to the box, arm around my shoulder. Jasper smelled like woodsmoke, moss, and sweat.
I leaned over the lip of the box and peered into its contents. “What are…” I started to ask but was cut off by the sight. The box contained an aquarium. I had seen similar structures wandering through the portside markets, but this was better.
The water pulsed with light. Swimming inside the box were about ten to twelve...fish? They were flat and shaped like a shield, with a thin tail that had a pulsing orb at the end.
The flat fish lit the water with the orbs on their tails, like tiny lanterns glowing with blues and purples. The veins in their thin bodies glowed, too. It gave them the appearance of living paintings, swirls of colors come to life. Jasper plunged a hand into the water and stroked the back of one.
He murmured, “Oh, they beauties all right.”
“Some call them Nightrays. They only glow when the sun is down.” Bullet said, I didn't realize she had walked up behind me. I let out a startled gasp and she flashed me a crooked smile. She also reached in and stroked the backs of the fish.
“Go on, Janey.” Jasper said, excitement crackling in his eyes.
I took a deep breath and stuck my hand into the cold water. I didn't have to seek out a Nightray … one swam right up to my hand letting my palm stroke its back. It was soft like leather. I could feel the thin ridge of its spine under my fingers. It was incredible.
“The bulbs on their tails contain a neurotransmitic stimulating substance that can restore the people of the village to their normal state.” Bullet mentioned and walked back to the table. “Or, so we believe.”
“Why would it be illegal to have these?” I asked, still letting the Nightrays swim under my palm.
“Mix the substance a different way and it becomes of the most dangerous poisons known to man.” The Healer laughed as if it was a funny joke.
“Despite the laughter he's quite accurate.” Bullet stated.
The Nightrays seemed too beautiful to be dangerous. “Tell me about the missing people, now?” I asked.
“We seen it all before.” Jasper shivered. It was clearly a hard memory. “They lose it, they lose the village people. Don't know why it happens, but it's a circle.”
“Cycle, Jasp.” Bullet leaned in to write something on the map.
Senelala yawned audibly off to the side and ambled over to look into the box. I might have imagined it, but I felt the boat rock when he moved (and it's a big boat). I was afraid Senelala would snap at the Nightrays, but his eyes just followed their movements.
“I love this guy, I do!” Jasper patted his shell.
“When did this last happen? The people going missing, I mean.” I asked. I pulled my jacket tighter around me. The wind was getting cold.
We were interrupted when Beta slowly walked to the pointed bow of the boat. It sparked all of our attention. We watched as he silently crossed the deck like a specter, lifted one finger, and pointed into the distance. There smoke bellowed up in a menacing column spreading up into the night sky.