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The cold of night settled over the ocean as the boat floated quietly, softly treading through the black water.
All was still; all was calm.
For a while it seemed the night would never end, an everlasting void of darkness, but no matter what, the night cannot survive; the darkness will always yield. There will always be a new day, a new opportunity; the sun will always rise, shedding its purifying light.
The slightest crack of dawn emerged from the cold horizon, slowly spreading its light from east to west, soothing the darkness in the sky, illuminating streaking clouds. Mild waves sparkled pale orange in the morning. As the sun rose higher, it banished away the cold and blackness, filling the world with warmth. Subtle signs of underwater life began to stir, crabs rousing from their crevices, tiny fish hiding in the kelp. With a new day and new life, the little sailboat continued onward towards the sun, leaving the darkness behind.
The girl lay on her side in the back of the boat. Despite the unpleasant wooden surface she was able to fall asleep through most of the night. She wrinkled her nose as comforting light warmed her face and spread to her arms. The tickling sensation caused her to smile slightly, as she woke up without opening eyes. Instead, she enjoyed the glow as it gradually spread to the rest of her body. Yawning, she decided to savor the lazy moments of sleepiness before she actually got up.
She loved that odd phenomenon of half consciousness, the rare moment when she could be both awake and asleep, alternating between the two. The best part was that she could choose her dreams, which was awesome. As she lay half asleep in the back of the boat, she tried to dream about flying, soaring above the clouds with the sun on her back, but as hard as she tried she couldn't ignore the steady motion of the boat bobbing back and forth. Reluctantly, she admitted to herself that she was, in fact, fully awake, but felt no compulsion to get up. Nestled in the back of the boat, she imagined the sun was a blanket.
Yet to open her eyes, she tried to form a mental image of what the morning looked like. She pictured the waves passing by, the sail catching the wind, and the pale blue sky. The motion of the boat reminded her of the whole world that existed underwater. The more she thought about it, the more she realized how odd it was that the boat, and herself for that matter, existed on such a small sliver of a space. The ocean stretched miles deep, and the sky extended five times higher. From a side view, the little boat was sandwiched in the middle: it really put things in perspective. Her attention attached itself to the sounds around her, the creaking of the wooden floor, the wave slapping the sides, but then a different noise broke the relative silence: whispering.
"Do a land check."
Following the whisper, she heard a burst of feathers and flapping of wings, and then all was quiet. She cracked her eyes open a tiny bit.
Wake stood in the middle of the boat, his back to her. He put his left hand to his forehead to block the sunlight as he looked to the east. She tilted her head so she could see clearly. The ocean looked so different compared to the night before, no more grey clouds or freezing wind. Waking up in a random boat coupled with a nightmare the day before was too emotionally shocking for her to really grasp everything around her, but now, for the first time, she got a good look at the person who rescued her. His wild black hair reached past his shoulders, and he wore a white wrapping around his head. Upon further examination, she cringed at the discolored scars running across his shoulder blades.
Those look painful. I wonder what could have caused them.
The giant white bird landed on the wooden ledge and tucked its wings. It cooed dejectedly.
"So nothing to the east. Hmmm...we'll just have to keep moving forward. Check again later in the day."
"Also, let's be quiet for Grace. She's had a rough last few days," Wake said as he pointed to the girl in the back of the boat.
But, upon doing this, he saw she wasn't asleep.
"Hey! Good morning! I didn't think you'd be up this early," he said.
"Sorry if we woke you up."
Surprised, she replied, "Oh, no. It's fine. I actually woke up on my own a couple minutes ago, but I've been too lazy to get up."
She stood up and stretched her arms behind her head.
"That was a good sleep, if I do say so myself."
A moment of silence ensued, and Grace was the one to break it.
"I want to apologize. These past few days have been hard for me. I was at the festival- I saw..." Her voice trailed off.
"Well, you saw the aftermath."
"The fire," Wake grimaced.
"Yeah...the fire, " she spoke softly.
"It all happened so fast. I-I could've- I was right there-"
He cut her off.
"You don't have to say it. You need time to recover, time to sort things out."
"Listen," said Grace, "You risked your own life to save me. I was unconscious, and you still took me in; you had no idea whether or not I'd wake up and be extra weight to lug around."
She regained her composure.
Speaking in an even voice she said, "Last night, you went out of your way to care for me, and I appreciate that, but from this point forward, I refuse to be your burden. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm on your side."
"You saved me, and now I promise to do everything I can to make sure we get out of this alive. Trust me, you made the right decision when you rescued me."
Wake grinned and held out his hand "So we're in this together?"
"Aye, aye captain."
They shook in agreement. Hunter cackled and put his wing over their hands.
"I know we only just met, and not under the best circumstances, but we have to help each other out. We have to work together to survive," said Wake.
"Hunter already did a land check, and he didn't see anything on the horizon. If anyone can spot land, it's Hunter. You see, he's an osprey-dove; he has the best vision of any animal in the world."
"Isn't that right bud?"
The bird nodded.
"Basically, that means we're still far from our destination. It's going to be a couple more days at least, maybe a week or more," he rubbed his chin.
"The Eastern Mountains."
"Precisely. It's our only shot. We'll be able to survive off of the sea for a decent amount of time, but once the weather get's bad it's going to be tough. As the air gets colder, the fish dive to the underwater heat vents on the ocean floor; they won't return until spring."
"I don't want to scare you, but if starvation doesn't get us, hypothermia will."
"It's a race against winter," said Grace.
"Ideally, we get to the Eastern Mountains and there will be people there to help us. Unfortunately, chances are we won't find anyone, but at least we can use whatever we find in the forest to build some type of shelter. There will be enough wood to keep a fire going, too."
"And if we stayed on the Island?"
Wake's face was stone-cold.
"We would've starved to death or died from poison inhalation. Black ash covered the ocean for over a mile. I saw it with my own eyes. There's no way the fish or plants could've survived with that muck blocking out the sun. Not to mention carbon dioxide mixed into the water and will surely find its way into the fishes' bloodstreams. Without oxygen, even the smallest form of underwater life will suffocate. In a few weeks it will be a graveyard. We have to find land; it's the only way."
Grace ran a hand along the side of the boat and looked out over the sea.
"The way I see it, there's only one thing we can do."
She looked him in the eye.
"Is there any way to make this boat go faster?"
Sikhi was eight years old when he rescued Sidd from the cliff.
"He who lives only for pleasures, and whose soul is not in harmony, who considers not the food he eats, is idle, and has not the power of virtue - such a man is moved by the evil one, is moved by selfish temptations, even as a weak tree is shaken by the wind."
The noodles sizzled over the stove.
"That, my young pupil, is the key to understanding the way of the noodle."
"Noodle philosophy is not so different from life philosophy!" Sidd exclaimed.
"Our first Precept is not to harm, and therefore we chose vegetarianism. If you think about it, all things are connected, animals, people, plants: everything. Because of this, it is important for us to consider the "Five Contemplations While Eating" to truly understand the spiritual nourishment food provides."
Sikhi laid his head on the table.
"Monks are expected to show moderation and self-control in eating as well as in other aspects of life. At least, that's what my teacher taught me when I was about your age."
The man in orange robes set out multiple bowls of rice, vegetables, and fruit on the low table and kneeled on a woven mat opposite Sikhi. Without a word, the fixed look on his face told Sikhi to sit up and respect the meal. Even though the boy found some of the monk's customs to be a bit over the top, he loved and relied on the consistency of monastic life. His existence expanded and contracted with each breath. He could feel the same pattern all around him, in nature and in other people.
"There is a time to play and a time to pray," Sidd always said.
Before a meal it was time to pray.
Sikhi closed his eyes and calmed his senses. He focused on the food before him, what it truly was: an offering, spiritual nourishment to help him on his path.
Taking a deep breath, he chanted:
"First, let us reflect on our own work and the effort of those who brought us this food. Second, let us be aware of the quality of our deeds as we receive this meal. Third, what is most essential is the practice of mindfulness, which helps us to transcend greed, anger and delusion. Fourth, we appreciate this food, which sustains the good health of our body and mind. Fifth, in order to continue our practice for all beings we accept this offering."
As always, Sidd waited for Sikhi to start before he himself began to eat. The noodles had a slight kick from the spices, and the vegetables were fresh and crispy. Slices of fruit from the forest made for an excellent balance of tastes. As he gorged himself, Sikhi realized how hungry he had been while playing hide and seek.
He mumbled with his mouth full.
"Did you see the sky bison?"
"Ah, why yes. I happened to be passing through the gardens while they flew in."
Seeing that Sikhi was preoccupied with his food, Sidd continued.
"They are fascinating creatures, the most amazing I've ever seen. They weigh tens of tons yet they fly with more agility than a hummingbird."
Sikhi nodded, his cheeks filled with food like a squirrelmonk.
"They truly are the masters of the air, able to control and manipulate the currents, finding peace and freedom above the clouds. They look so comfortable when they fly; it's where they belong."
"We could all learn a thing or two from them," he added.
Sikhi swallowed and leaned back, satisfied with his meal. He decided not to talk because he could tell Sidd was well engaged in a dramatic monologue.
"We've traveled the land and sea, but the sky is still out of reach, the last and greatest frontier."
He had a distant look in his eye.
"What it would be like to fly like the sky bison, way above the world."
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