215 The Path to Moonshadow*
"Sit here," the Inktress had ordered firmly as she situated Sharli right near the helmsman of the ship, "And make sure our heading remains on the right path".
Sharli had nodded, looking at the helmsman quickly to confirm that he was in fact ready to follow any directions she might give. She'd then hurriedly retrieved the Tracking Charm from her pocket and proceeded to make sure the ship remained pointed steadily in the direction of Rassa's fading line. That had been a week ago ago.
On occasion, usually for a couple of hours at a time, Sharli was allowed to retreat below deck to have a break from the sun which seemed to grow harsher the further they traveled south. At first the trip had been fun. Sharli had never been on a ship before despite living on an Island. That had worn off rather quickly however as she was forced to sit in the same spot for hours on end, occasionally instructing the helmsman to correct his course. Even that didn't happen often, he was pretty good at keeping the ship steadily sailing in the same direction.
The crew had barely spoken to her except to instruct her to move, or eat. Either one. The silence got to her. A constant reminder that she'd left her own family behind. Here she was just a tool, useful until they found what they were looking for. Sharli didn't relish the thought of what would happen to her when they found Rassa.
One morning, as she was watching the bow of the ship rock back and forth as it crossed the choppy waters, she suddenly felt the damp coldness of the Inktress's grip on the back of her neck. She gasped as she was yanked backwards, looking up as the Inktress stared down at her.
"Where are you leading us?" asked the Inktress.
Her question roused nearby members of the crew, who looked on in curiosity.
"T-to Rassa," Sharli said as she swallowed. She could see the threat in the Inktress's eyes.
The Inktress gritted her teeth in frustration, "This is not the right way".
Sharli frowned, "It is".
Sharli released her, pushing her forward again, "Don't play games with me, I really don't have the patience, where are you leading us?"
"I told you, to-"
Ishta commanding tone drew the crew's attention as he emerged from the cabin behind the helm, one of his subordinates holding an umbrella above him to shield him from the sun.
"Master," the Inktress replied, bowing her head, "She's leading us the wrong way".
Ishta's gaze turned to Sharli, "I certainly hope not, because that would mean a wasted journey, and everyone should know how I feel by now about wasted journeys".
Some members of the crew shivered, as if recalling something they'd rather not. Sharli held up the stone.
"I'm just following where its telling me to go. Where Rassa is," Sharli said.
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"But this isn't where drowned him," Illai said, gritting her teeth, "We have to go further West for that. We would have reached there by now if we were going there".
Ishta, after listening to his servant, turned back to Sharli in question, as if she could give an explanation. Sharli opened and closed her mouth, searching for one. Illai moved forward and Sharli recoiled.
"W-wait!" Sharli protested, "Couldn't the currents drag him elsewhere? Or...or could someone else have taken him? Like perhaps a fishing vessel?"
Illai hesitated, frowning as if she hadn't wanted to consider that possibility.
"Fishing vessel don't come out this far," she said.
"But the currents are certainly a possibility," said the Captain from beside the helmsman, "How long as this man been missing?"
"Nearly three months," Sharli said when no one responded.
The Captain nodded, "The current don't usually go this way, but it's possible he could have been pulled into several. He could be anywhere. Besides, you ain't even considered the possibility of the Merfolk getting involved".
"The Merfolk don't like humans," Illai hissed, "They'd sooner kill them for entering their territory than save them".
The Captain shrugged, "We can't pretend to know their ways. There's a reason they've remained so secretive for so long".
Ishta sighed, looking at Sharli, "If you lead us the wrong way, I'll let her drown you too".
Ishta indicated to the Inktress, Illai. Sharli nodded gravely.
They left her be again.
Sharli clutched the tracking charm in her hand again, watching Rassa's flickering line. It was less faded now so Sharli knew she was closer, but it was flickering faster than ever, as if preparing to fade for good.
Hold on Rassa, Sharli thought, I'm coming.
Ishta looked at the Captain whose eyes were fixed on the maps and sea charts in front of him.
"Well?" asked Ishta.
The Captain glanced up and sighed, "She's still saying to head South, but from what I can see from the Charts, we're too far west from the nearest port".
"We've nearly reached the Southern Continent, then?" asked Ishta. Thank the Gods, he'd been on this ship for two and a half weeks. He may have run a Trade Company, but Ishta spent as much time on land as necessary, he didn't relish sea travel because it meant he had practically nothing to do.
"Yes, Sir," the Captain replied, "Though if we keep going on this same course, and this Rassa is not in the water...we'll have nowhere to access the main land".
Ishta was well aware of where they were headed. He'd never traveled this far west himself, but the Fairy Forest was a place for the faint of heart. And it's northern border, hundreds of leagues long, was dominated by cliffs that left it near inaccessible. For those few paths that were rumoured to exist, no one had survived or made it back to make them well-known.
"If we manage to get all the way to the border, will we have enough supplies to make it to the nearest beach or port so that we can get on land?"
"We'll have to travel west for at least three days," the Captain replied, "But yes we should be able to make it".
Ishta gritted his teeth, perhaps he should send Illai ahead to search the waters so that they didn't waste too much time.