The Outrageous Big End-Of-Year Story
written by Barnacle and Tabby
with the Epona scenes by Clever Clover
and with miscellaneous assistance from Sugarberry, Spike, and Friendly
It was a late December morning in the dark forest and a bitter wind blew through the trees kicking up a little of the dry snow laying about. Most people would prefer to avoid this type of weather as much as possible, but two individuals standing there in the expansive wilderness didn't seem to notice.
One of them was Dreamcatcher, the Native Pony who made her home in those parts. It was not at all uncommon to see her about in the forest attending to her many duties and chores in all kinds of weather, so her presence there on that day was not too far out of line with her normal routine.
Her companion, however, was not the sort who would be seen anywhere around there. She was a human but her dashing garb would have set her apart from the few others that lived in Ponyland. The wind caught her long black cloak and her blue hair and tossed them about, but she did not seem to mind. She was focused on nothing in particular, but it consumed all of her thought none the less.
Finally the woman spoke, but she did not even turn to face her friend when she said, "This is gong to be bad."
Dreamcatcher merely nodded in silent reply.
* * *
The flame-maned unicorn with a coat of gold stood atop a mountain overlooking Dream Valley, a look of worry upon her face. She was Epona, a mysterious pony who watched over the Little Ponies and offered guidance in times of darkness. She was worried now, though, because she saw a great crisis on the horizon. But this time she feared she would not be able to guide them. She longed to gallop down the mountain to warn Brightblade, the warrior she had been grooming as her champion, but something had changed. She was no longer sure what danger lurked beyond the present. New signs had arisen; old ones had faded away. Most recently she had received a message calling her away from Ponyland. The sender was a mystery, but he insisted that the outcome of the coming events could be dependant on her immediate presence at Stonehenge. As guardian of Ponyland, she could not simply ignore the message.
Epona winked from the mountaintop, hoping she would be able to return in time. She appeared at Stonehenge in human guise. It was cold and dark; no one else was around. The flame-haired woman pulled her coat tightly about her to ward off the frigid winter mist. Whoever had summoned her obviously did not feel the meeting was as urgent as his message had suggested. "Hello!" she called into the night. "If you can hear me, I haven't got time to waste!"
"Oh, you've got all the time in the world," replied a devilish voice from behind her.
Epona turned to see an impish figure sitting atop one of the massive stone trilithons. "Bic!" she spat in disgust. "What is this treachery?"
The imp grinned. "Oh, I'm just doing a favor for an old acquaintance."
"But you are forbidden to interfere with the ponies! Or in any affairs within Ponyland!"
"That is why you were lured here. Fortunately for me, you're not really a pony. And outside your protectorate, your power is nothing compared to mine."
"What do you want from me?" the guardian demanded.
"I have no interest in you or in the action you sought to prevent. I was simply asked to hold you here until events have played out; then you'll be free to return to Ponyland-- or at least what's left of it."
Epona was aghast. She tried to wink away but could not. "What witchcraft is this?"
"These ancient places have great power," the Imp explained. "If you know how to tap into that power, you can do great things. Too bad for you the powers recognize only one master; and for now, that master is me."
"You cad! Only one so vile as you would willingly play pawn to such a dark power!"
"Ah, good guardian, your judgement assumes such things as 'good' and 'evil' exist. The powers I choose to serve are neither. To demonstrate my 'neutrality' in this affair, I will be generous and let you watch as the events transpire."
"You are too kind," the flame-haired guardian bit out spitefully.
The imp hopped down from his perch and spat in a pool of water and stirred it with his toe. As the water settled, a scene unfolded before the captive guardian.
* * *
"Say, what did Barnacle have to say on the Skeleton King when you told him about it?"
"Remember when we saw him in the Dark Forest, and he mentioned a pirate?"
"Barnacle in the Dark Forest?"
"No, the Skeleton King."
"Oh, that. I thought you were going to tell him. What did he say?"
"Are you sure you didn't say anything? I thought that's what you were talking about after the meal on Christmas."
"Oh, no. That's when we were discussing with Spike what to do with that 12" Speeder Bike, the Target exclusive. Spike couldn't sell it, y'see, so Barnacle offered to buy it off him because it had stopped shipping and all and he thought that Spike shouldn't just return it and– oh! No, I didn't bring up the Skeleton King."
"I suppose he's back in Port Scurvy by now."
"Uh-huh. Well, Barnacle is, not the Skeleton King. If it's that important I guess you'll have to call him."
"Does he have a phone?"
"Hmm, good point. Then we'll just have to visit him personally."
* * *
And so that was why Tabby and Thomas, on a fine late December day, took a ferry out to Calimidad Island to consult with Barnacle whether the world was in danger again or not.
Even though Calimidad Island was a haven for pirates and the like, it remained popular with the public– especially in these winter months– because of its warm, tropical climate. Many ponies took advantage of the ferry rides to get a little bit of sun during this frigid season. But the sun wasn't all they went for, in some cases... like in that of the Xtreme Ponies.
The group of six had also booked a ride on this same ferry, unknown to Tabby and Thomas; but they would not be in the dark for long. Catching sight of the couple on the opposite side of the deck, Jet quickly went to work. "Dude! Like, dude!" he exclaimed, running over to meet them. "Dude!"
"Hey, Jet!" Thomas greeted, looking up. "I wasn't expecting to see you."
"Hi!" Tabby said brightly, waving.
"Dude!" Jet agreed. "Like, what're you guys doing?"
"We're going to see Barnacle," Tabby answered in a low tone. "We think he may be somehow involved in yet another attempt to destroy the world."
"Duuude," Jet breathed. "I didn't know Barnacle had turned bad!"
By this point the other five Xtreme Ponies had gravitated over to the area and joined in the conversation. "Yeah, the waves are really good over there this time of year," Cliff explained their reason for being there.
"We're going surf-ing!" Bungee cried joyously.
"And you said you were going to see Barnacle?" Luge asked curiously.
"Yeah, what's all this about destroying the world?" Cliff added.
And so, Tabby went on to explain in detail how they had been out in the Dark Forest catching Pokemon when they had heard the sound of an approaching voice; and shortly they found out that the voice did in fact belong to the renowned Skeleton King that Tabby and her friends had had the pleasure or displeasure of encountering several times in the past; this time he had been accompanied by a scraggly little Bushwoolie.
By this point, however, the ferry had reached Calimidad Island, and everyone disembarked. The Xtreme Ponies all grabbed their surfboards, and said their goodbyes to Tabby and Thomas; but Cliff and Luge changed their minds at the last moment.
"Hey, mind if we come along with you to see Barnacle?" Cliff asked, catching up to them.
"We would like to know more about all this and if we can help in any way," Luge added.
"I don't see a problem with it," Thomas stated, and looked to Tabby for her thoughts on the matter.
Tabby's mind, though, had wandered off elsewhere. "I wonder if there are any thrift stores here..." she murmured, staring at the bustling town.
* * *
After a short walk through the rain forest-like jungle, the foursome came to Barnacle's unique home, which consisted of many platforms strung together in several large trees. No one appeared to be at home at first glance; but then, looking down towards the shore, they saw that Barnacle and all of his crew were indeed still in the area.
Everyone was there– Barnacle, of course, the pirate pony captain; the two Bushwoolie brothers, Davey and Jones; Kracken, the human first mate; Pierre, the French lizard; Malteeze, the warrior-cat seeking enlightenment; and Protius, the wise old parrot who was Malteeze's instructor. All of them were gathered around a brand new shining ship sitting on the waves, with Barnacle presiding over the ceremony.
There were also two additional ponies there whom Thomas knew– Equinox and Solstice, twins who worked for International Geography. Equinox was a photographer, and Solstice was the actual reporter. As of now, Solstice was standing back interviewing the crew members while Equinox was snapping pictures from all different angles, almost getting in the way but never actually disturbing anyone.
Barnacle was waving a bottle of champagne high in the air, facing his crew members. "ARR, it's been a long and tiresome year, but we've finally got our ship finished.. Now's the time for the fun to begin. We'll finally be able to go plunderin' and treasure huntin' once again like a real pirate should be doin'!" Kracken, Pierre, Davey, and Jones all let out a cheer, while Malteeze seemed more or less unmoved by the speech. "I hereby christen this ship... um, did we ever decide on a name for this thing?"
"Weren't we going to go with the Sea Wraith?" Kracken asked.
But Pierre quickly intoned, "Non! I am afraid you are mistaken, my dear first mate. Ve had decided to go with Valeur Bateau!"
Malteeze cleared his throat and said bluntly, "Both of those ideas were thrown out long ago."
Kracken turned around to face him. "Okay, so what did we decide on then?"
"I don't recall," Malteeze replied. "But why can't you just call it the Lucas II?" This, however, got nothing but scoffs from all concerned.
Protius finally spoke-up. "I believe we hadn't decided on anything, since none of you could agree on one thing."
"Are you certain? I'm positive it was Valeur Bateau," Pierre vouched.
"Yeah, yeah!" Davey nodded.
"Valeur Bateau, yeah, mon!" Jones agreed.
"No, it was the Sea Wraith!" Kracken insisted.
"Yeah, the Sea Wraith! Yeah!" Davey suddenly changed his mind.
"Yeah, mon! That's the ticket!" Jones added.
"Barnacle, Barnacle!" Tabby cried out. "Hellooooooo! Why don't you call it Springtime Splendor?"
Everyone present suddenly stopped in their argument and turned slowly towards the pink unicorn. "ARR! An idea that stupid could only have come from Tabby!" Barnacle declared.
"Well, if it isn't the Fairfaxes!" Kracken exclaimed. "What brings you to our picturesque island retreat?"
"We're here on business," Tabby said solemnly.
"And apparently Barnacle is somehow involved with it," Thomas agreed gravely.
"Ooh, sounds serious," Solstice expressed, peering at the pair intently with notepad readily at hoof.
Equinox ran over and began snapping pictures. "Hey, Thomas, what's happening?"
"The world is, like, totally in danger again!" Tabby elaborated.
"ARR, what you be doin' this time, Tabby? Run over another cat, did yah?" Barnacle asked.
"That was Tamara's fault," Tabby bristled.
"No, Callie didn't get run over."
"Then perhaps you could tell us what the problem is?" Protius suggested.
Tabby took a deep breath. "The Skeleton King! In the Dark Forest with a strange Bushwoolie and ranting about this weird island and it sounds like they're planning something!"
"What's a Skeleton King?" Kracken asked.
"He's a king, or was a king, but now he's a Skeleton King and he's in the Dark Forest or maybe he's not anymore because he went off with that strange Bushwoolie!" Tabby rambled on.
"Strange Bushwoolie," Jones said. "That really can't be good."
"Yeah, yeah, mon. Strange Bushwoolies never good," Davey agreed.
"Hmm." The towering cat man looked down at the two Bushwoolies. "If strange Bushwoolies are not good, then we have a problem here all the time."
"Yep-yep!" they both agreed, with big, broad smiles.
"Wait a second! What kind of strange Bushwoolie are you talking about?" Kracken asked more seriously.
"ARR, yes," Barnacle agreed. "What kind are yah talkin' about?"
"Skinny, with flies, and a stick–!"
Barnacle and Kracken suddenly became grim and turned to one another. Slowly, and with an odd sense of dread, Kracken looked back at Tabby and asked, "This strange Bushwoolie– his name wasn't Tiny by any chance, was it?"
"He didn't say."
"ARR, it probably doesn't matter. How many skinny flea-infested Bushwoolies have you seen in your life?"
"Umm... just one," Kracken responded. "And I was kinda hoping I wouldn't ever see him again."
"So you know this Bushwoolie?" Tabby queried.
"Unfortunately," Kracken grieved.
"You guys sure seem to be taking this seriously, just for one little Bushwoolie," Solstice commented.
"ARR, if you knew him like we do, you'd be takin' it seriously, too," Barnacle expressed. "ARR, you said something about an island?"
"An island?" Tabby blinked. "Did I say something about an island?"
"Yes, there was an island mentioned." Thomas recalled. "They said they were headed for some place called Phalanx Island."
"That's right!" Tabby exclaimed brightly. "They did."
"Phalanx Island? I've never heard of the place," Barnacle noted.
"Me either," Kracken commented.
"Nor I," Pierre agreed.
"Hmm... I've never heard of a Phalanx Island," Protius said, "but if my memory serves me correctly, I do believe I read some ancient Atlantean texts once which mentioned a place called Phalanx Base. However, I don't really remember much more about them than that."
"Atlantean? You mean, just like the outpost we're documenting here on Calimidad Island?" Equinox asked.
"Exactly like," Protius replied.
"Maybe the map we found there could show us where Phalanx Island is," Solstice suggested.
"It's worth a try," Protius discerned. "Unfortunately, my Atlantean isn't what it once was."
"I've seen this map as well," Malteeze vouched. "And even if you were still proficient in Atlantean, master, the text is so badly worn I doubt we would be able to read it."
"So what does it all mean?" Tabby deplored, wide-eyed.
"Quite possibly, the end of the world," Kracken said in all seriousness.
Tabby promptly let out a small shriek and cowered. "Oh dear. Maybe I should have remembered to talk to you guys at Christmas."
"ARR, we don't got time to worry about that now!" Barnacle snapped. "We have to do somethin' about this right away!"
"Do something about what? I don't get it. What's the big deal about a skinny Bushwoolie and Phalanx Island?" Cliff, who had been hanging back with Luge, finally asked.
"ARR, that skinny Bushwoolie is a demonic entity hell-bent on destroying the entire world, and he's only one of four!" Barnacle explained.
"And don't forget about the fact that we left them buried under a mountain on Doomsday Island along with their masters, the four Ponies of the Apocalypse!" Kracken voiced dramatically.
"The four Ponies of the Apocalypse?" Luge asked.
"Is this another one of your jokes?" Malteeze asked of Kracken.
"I would hope not," Protius spoke. "Because I have read other texts about these four Ponies of the Apocalypse, and if what they are saying is true, this would definitely not be a laughing matter."
"ARR, it's the truth all right, and we've got to do somethin' about it," Barnacle prompted seriously.
"Tabby, doesn't your father know a lot about Atlantis?" Thomas pointed out. "Maybe he could help us."
"Why, you're right!" Tabby agreed. "And Cleve Clove, too!"
"They both live in Dream Valley, don't they?" Kracken inquired.
"Well, Dad's in Dream Valley, and Clever Clover lives in Friendship Gardens, but ironically I think Cleve Clove was going to stop in and talk to Dad about his recent digs today," Tabby enlightened.
"ARR, that's a long way to go; but I don't think we be havin' a choice. There aren't any historians or archeologists on Calimidad Island," Barnacle said.
"None? How can you be so sure?" Luge queried.
"This is Calimidad Island! All we have here is pirates and ruffians."
"And tourists," Pierre added.
"Well, in that case, we'd better get moving!" Kracken urged. "Shall I ready the... um... what're we gonna call it?"
"ARR, never mind that now, just get the ship ready!"
"Tabby and Thomas, you are going to be ze first two guests zat get to sail with us on our new ship!" Pierre informed.
"And don't forget about us!" Solstice interjected.
"Yeah, we're comin', too," Equinox agreed. "We're not going to miss out on this story."
"You can count me in, too," Cliff said. "This sounds like one wicked wild adventure."
"Yes, it sounds like it might even be better than surfing the legendary Calimidad waves!" Luge agreed. "I'm coming, too."
"ARR, in that case, all of ye get yer land-lubbin' behinds on the ship!" Barnacle instructed. "We set sail immediately!"
"It's so exciting!!!!" Tabby shrieked. "Hooray!"
* * *
On the long trip to Dream Valley, they had a lot of time to discuss Barnacle's misadventures with the Bushwoolies of the Apocalypse, as well as Tabby's Atlantean exploits; and in no time at all they had reached their destination.
After docking the ship, Tabby, Thomas, Equinox, Solstice, Protius, and Barnacle headed off to find Hubert and Clever Clover. The rest were left with the ship. "ARR, don't anybody go nowhere, because if you're not here when we get back, we'll leave without yah," Barnacle left firm instructions.
Upon reaching her old home, where her parents now resided, Tabby rang the doorbell and impatiently waited an answer. "Hi-ho!" a cheerful voice greeted them as the door opened.
"Hello, Cleve Clove," Tabby greeted him. "We should like to consult with you and my father on a matter of utmost importance."
Clever Clover shrugged. "Sure, whatever. We were just comparing notes on the ancient dragon roosts of the Upper Sentrallie Valley where I was just working." Turning back into the house, he called down the hallway, "Hey, Hubert, Tabby and some others are here and she says she has something important to tell you."
Spike, the baby dragon, padded down the hallway next. "Hey, guys. What are you all doing here?"
"ARR! No time for chit-chat! Let's get down to business!"
"Umm, I believe what Barnacle is trying to say is that we have something of great importance that needs to be discussed as soon as possible," Protius elaborated.
"What? No!" Hubert, who had just come up to the group, looked in surprise at the feathered scholar peering through the doorway. "I never expected to run into you in Dream Valley."
"Hubert?" Protius furrowed his brow. "Hubert Fershund? It is you!"
"It's been a long time!" Hubert commented.
"It has indeed," Protius nodded.
"You guys know each other?" Tabby asked incredulously.
"We were both at that Incan monastery in the Himalayas," Hubert explained.
"Yes, I had just finished some meditations about the same time Hubert was just arrived," Protius added. "This is odd. In fact, I'm surprised we didn't meet sooner."
"I see," Tabby murmured appreciatively. "You mean you guys didn't run into each other at the wedding?"
"You were at the wedding?" Hubert and Protius asked simultaneously.
"Well, yes, of course I was there," Tabby said modestly. "Thomas too, actually."
"ARR, now that we've got all the introductions out of the way..." Barnacle paused. "We do, don't we?" No one said anything, so he continued. "Equinox, why don't you bring out those photos?"
In short order, everyone there was gathered around the kitchen table explaining the present dilemma while Equinox assembled a mural of the photos he had taken. "What seems to be the problem?" Hubert questioned.
"ARR, you see-"
"It seems that we may have a problem of global significance," Protius cut him off. "An ancient force of great malevolence known as the four Ponies of the Apocalypse have inadvertently been released on the world and they are planning to carry out a plan of destruction most nefarious."
Hubert nodded seriously. "I see."
"Your daughter happened upon some information dealing with their meeting place; however, we don't know exactly where it is," Protius continued. "We were hoping you might be able to make some sense out of this map and help us locate Phalanx Island."
"This is interesting indeed," Hubert muttered contemplatively, looking closely at the photographed map. "Tabby, would you fetch my charts from the closet? And Clever Clover, you have some maps of your own, don't you? We may need them."
"ARR, I've also brought my sailing charts along," Barnacle offered.
"Good. They will be useful as well."
* * *
After a great deal of contemplation, conferencing, and cross-referencing, they had, as nearly as they could tell, located the position of Phalanx Island. Spike scurried around while they worked, peering over shoulders and offering bits of advice when able.
"ARR," Barnacle said as he rolled up his charts. "Now we know where we're headin' and we can take care of this mess once and for all."
"Yes, we thank you greatly for all your help," Protius agreed. "And I'm sure it will come in handy."
"If you do not mind the intrusion, I do feel the need to be along on your adventure," Hubert offered gravely. "It could have serious consequences."
"Don't tell me you're going to leave me behind!" Clever Clover spoke-up, grabbing his hat from the chair beside him and throwing it on his head.
"And me!" Spike added, jumping up and down rambunctiously.
"ARR, this is turnin' into a regular field trip!" Barnacle griped.
"It's going to be so much fun!" Tabby said brightly, turning the doorknob to let herself outside. However, upon opening the door, she and the others were greeted with a surprising sight: Dreamcatcher, the Native Pony of the Dark Forest; along with a female human whom none of them had seen before.
"ARR, you're in our way! Step aside, lest you want to taste cold steel!" Barnacle snapped.
"We're coming along," the girl stated simply, throwing back her thick cape. A cold, freezing winter wind blew through, tossing her hair in all directions.
Tabby blinked. "Why?"
"Wait a second! Who said we were going anywhere? And even if we were, why would you have to come along? And while we're on the subject, who are you?" Equinox demanded, stepping forward.
"Oh, Dreamcatcher!" Tabby exclaimed, recognizing the Native Pony who accompanied the girl. "Nice to see you."
"I only wish we could have met under better circumstances," Dreamcatcher replied gravely.
"We're coming with you to stop the Ponies of the Apocalypse, of course," the girl expressed.
"How do you know?" Tabby gaped.
"My name is Persephone Ravenwood, and I am a Krulotin," the girl introduced herself. "We know these things."
"The Krulotin?" Hubert pushed his way through the assemblage. "You're one of the Krulotin? I was beginning to think we had seen the last of you, despite all the good words spoken in the cave when you were going to send me to the next dimension."
"We were merely biding our time and waiting for the right moment to once again make our presence known in the world," Persephone declared passionately. "And that time is now."
"ARR, Tabby, Hubert, who are these Krulotin people, and what do they got to do with all this?" Barnacle demanded.
"They are the ancient Atlantean royal guards, sworn to protect the royal family and all their interests," Tabby explained mysteriously.
"Well, then why would they want to help you?" Equinox queried.
"Oh, uh, well, you know, I– we– we're–" Tabby floundered, looking beseechingly at Thomas and Hubert. "You see, we really..."
Persephone acted quickly. "This matter involves everyone on the earth," she advised briskly. "And so it is our responsibility also."
Tabby breathed a sigh of relief. "That's exactly what I was trying to say."
"That's all well and good, but what's one girl going to do to help?" Equinox questioned.
"I'm not just a mere girl," Persephone bristled. "I am a Krulotin, and that means I have been trained for years in the art of combat– plus not only will you have my aid but the full force of the Krulotin as well."
"ARR, in that case, this might not be so bad after all. We'll need all the help we can get," Barnacle predicted.
* * *
Kyrene, reporter for the local newspaper, had been taking a walk through town that day trying to come up with some interesting story ideas– and it looked like she had found something more than she had thought she would. There was a strange group assembled in front of a house on Fifth Street, and it didn't look like an average family reunion or anything of the type.
The young unicorn sensed a story, and quickly hid herself behind some shrubs on the opposite side of the street, keeping a keen eye trained on them and making out whatever bits of conversation she could.
There was a pirate– a baby dragon– a Native Pony– a large feathered parrot– yes, this had all the makings of a grand front-page tale. But how did they all fit together, and what kind of a scandal were they all involved in? Kyrene went over possibilities in her head, but nothing seemed to fit together. The snatches of conversation didn't help, either– something about Krulotin, and royalty, and caves. Who or what were the Krulotin? Kyrene needed to know.
But what's this? she thought to herself, seeing another figure approaching the house. So one more joins the pack!
The pink unicorn, whose appearance was extremely similar to one of the ponies already gathered, looked to be extremely angry over something. Could this be the enemy they had all been awaiting? Kyrene kept her eyes glued to the scene.
* * *
"Look, Tabby, when you say you're going to help me with something, I expect you to actually be there to help me," Tamara said menacingly, facing her cousin. "But what do I get for waiting the whole morning for you to show up? Nothing! Not even a call to say you're going to be late? Tabby, I simply cannot believe you sometimes! You're impossible! You treat me like an imbecile, and this is what I get in return? If you don't shape up your act soon, Tabby, I'm warning you that you'd better–"
While Tamara was ranting, Tabby stared at her with glazed eyes. Finally, she interrupted the tirade. "Tamara, the world is going to be destroyed shortly. Cleaning your house just didn't seem to be a top priority after what we've found out."
"Oh, so now you're trying to make me feel guilty, huh? Well, I'm telling you, girl, that just isn't going to work! Now if you don't give me a good excuse–"
"We were just over to Calimidad Island to see Barnacle and–"
"Calimidad Island? Barnacle?" All the vengeance promptly left Tamara, and her expression turned blissful and soft, with a bit of eagerness mixed in. "Did you see Malteeze? Oh, Tabby, tell me! Did he miss me?"
"Actually, we did see Malteeze," Tabby informed her cousin impatiently. "But no, he didn't say a word about you. But actually he's waiting for us at the dock right now along with the others and if we don't get moving you're not going to have a house to clean–"
"Malteeze? He's really here? In Dream Valley?" Tamara grew starry-eyed. "Oh, Tabby! You can't imagine how happy you've made me today. Tell me you'll let me go along! Oh, Tabby, please take me with you, to Malteeze!"
"Tamara, I don't think you understand," Thomas interjected, stepping forward. Up to this point, everyone had simply stood back and let the two fight it out. "The fate of the world rests on this mission, and I don't think you'd enjoy it."
"I will let nothing stand between me and my love," Tamara declared.
"Tamara..." Tabby ventured tentatively. "Are you sure you aren't taking Ah-Loh's advice just a little too seriously?"
"He predicted that I would meet my true love on your wedding day, and I believe I have," Tamara snapped. "Please, take me to Malteeze."
"Are you feeling okay, Tamara? Maybe we ought to take you home..."
"You most definitely will not," Tamara stated firmly. "I'm going with you."
"ARR, I don't be thinkin' this is such a good idea," Barnacle said skeptically.
"Aw, give her a chance," Solstice pleaded on behalf of Tamara. "I don't think she'd get in the way, much."
"ARR, we've already got two extra scientists coming along and a baby dragon, and now we've picked up this Krulotin woman and her friend, but I'm drawin' the line at Tabby's relatives who just want to come along so they can hang out with members a' my crew!"
"How dare you try to separate me from my soulmate, you– you– pirate! Tabby, do something! I must see my dear and beloved Malteeze! Don't be so heartless as to deny me that right!" Tamara blustered.
"Fine, come along! But if you end up in the next dimension, don't blame me."
* * *
They're moving out, Kyrene noted silently. I bet they're going somewhere interesting. Turning invisible with her unicorn magic, she stealthily followed them.
* * *
When they arrived back at the ship, they found that a great number of Krulotin soldiers in shining armor were already waiting for them there. "ARR, now what's this?" Barnacle exclaimed.
Kracken stepped forward and shrugged. "I don't know, boss, they just showed up and said they'd wait for you guys. They didn't look like they were going to start any trouble, so I figured I'd wait for you to come back and sort it out." He looked at Persephone with intense interest.
"ARR," Barnacle said, turning to Persephone, "these wouldn't happen to be friends of yours, would they?"
"These are but a few of the Krulotin who have volunteered to help in this time of need," Persephone imparted. "The rest are waiting elsewhere for when they'll be needed."
"ARR, at least help like this we can be usin'." Then, casting a sideways glance at Tamara, added, "Not like some of them we've picked up."
"Oh, Malteeze!" Tamara cried, running up the gangplank, ignoring Barnacle's snide remark.
Malteeze groaned. "Oh, no. Not you again."
And so, with the last members of their crew assembled, they set sail for Phalanx Island.
* * *
"This is driving me crazy!!!!" Tabby shrieked hysterically. "How much longer is it going to be???"
Just then, Pierre happened to swing by on a rope and grabbed hold of a shroud line. "Why are you upset? The sea is so lovely! 'ow could you not enjoy being out 'ere?"
"Water isn't my element," Tabby explained.
"What is your element? Fire, maybe?" Davey queried.
"Wind! Lots and lots of hot air!" Jones chorused.
Tabby glared at them. "Be quiet. Actually, I wish I knew what my element was. I don't have one."
"Well," Pierre continued, "zere are only four of zem. It's either one of zose three zat we just mentioned, or you'd be left with–"
"Land-ho!" Kracken interrupted, screaming from the crow's nest.
"ARR, we're finally there!" Barnacle cheered; and then, barking at his crew, continued, "Prepare for landing!"
"Ooh, time for me to move on," Pierre realized, and continued to swing around the outside of the ship on his rope.
The ship moved in towards the mass of land, slowing as it approached Phalanx Island. "That's an island?" Tabby breathed in awe. "It looks like a big wall."
"Apparently, the whole thing is fortified, and the island is completely covered with the garrison," Protius noted.
"We'll need to find a place to dock," Persephone declared.
"ARR, my thoughts exactly," Barnacle agreed. "Bring 'er around; we'll circle until we find a wharf."
"Aye-aye!" Kracken answered cheerfully, jumping down from the crow's nest to carry out Barnacle's orders.
The ship began to circle around the island. An eerie sense of dread seemed to radiate from the place; but why, none of them could tell. It looked to be abandoned; no one was in the parapets or on the walls. If the adventurers didn't know better, they would have assumed that the base was not in use.
Finally, they came to an area of the wall that was lower than the rest, and marked only by several posts. As the ship got closer, it became obvious that this was a dock of some kind; and they quickly made preparations to utilize it. As soon as the crew was close enough, lines were thrown across and Pierre swung out to secure the ship with them. In short order, the pirate vessel was lashed to the island, and they were ready to disembark.
Barnacle was quietly pleased with the performance of his crew. They had not all yet sailed together, and the clockwork precision with which they carried out his orders would have been impressive even for a seasoned crew.
Persephone wasted no time, and began yelling out orders to the Krulotin warriors. "Quick! We need to get our gear ready to go."
"Roger that!" one of them called as the soldiers all set about unpacking their equipment and hauling it across the gangplank.
"Flash, Baratta, guard that gateway. We don't want anyone sneaking up on us all," Persephone called as she pointed towards the only entrance onto the dock.
"Roger!" one of them called.
"On it!" asserted the other. Both drew their swords and took a position on either side of the passageway.
"ARR, this is it," Barnacle yelled to all who were present. "Everyone cross the gangplank!"
Davey and Jones began hollering. "Yay, we get to go too!"
"ARR, no, everyone except for you two," Barnacle clarified. "You get to stay with the ship."
"Aw..." they both mourned, their spirits dampened.
"It's okay, guys," Spike offered. "I'll stay here and keep you company."