A couple days had passed since the Determined made landfall in Okinawa. The animals chose this time to remain on the ship, and only spend the minimum amount of time on land as necessary. This was to avoid the violent land sickness, but also because the surrounding area did not lend itself to making a camp site. The ground was saturated with water, and one could not remain standing for too long, before they began to sink down. As the critters explored the area, what they discovered was where the ship was currently moored, used to be a lake with a dam. There was a spillway, which fed water to a series of farms below. All this of course was now moot, as the ocean level had risen to cover it all the surrounding farmland. But that explained why they were following what looked like a road on the way in, which provided some clarity as to the current area’s original purpose.
The bunnies were tasked with finding edible plants that could be harvested. Strange tubular plants soon began to be dug up and carried back, stacked next to the gang plank. The plants were then carried up by the squirrels, and processing began. Some tasted pretty good, and were packed away in the food barrels. Others, well, resulted in epic gas emissions from the animals. Despite protests against such a contest by Angeliki, the critters all began to eat and toot away. Much the chagrin of the bunnies, Argente won and decided that such a plant would not be a suitable foodstuff for the trip. While the critters resumed to a non-gaseous state, Angeliki and Pastor Blue Jay flew off to explore the area. Akimitsu the sea gull had already departed earlier that morning, but returned with his entire flock by sunset that evening accompanied by the raven and blue jay.
The Japanese birds were mostly wild borne, but there were a couple former humans amongst the flock as well. One had been a janitor at a hotel, and Akimitsu was just out of university and used to be a manager at a grocery store. The birds chirped excitedly from nearby trees that were overhanging the ship’s tall mast arms. The flock watched as the ship’s animal crew were busy gathering supplies from the surrounding area and processing them. Some of their choices made the local animals scratch their heads, but the best way to learn what to eat, is to figure out what you can’t. The food distraction was quickly dispersed when the hedgehog began to tell wonderful stories, of adventures far away from their ever-shrinking island. After the first evening had passed, and the next morning came, word soon began to spread. Throughout the day, many more animals began to arrive to listen to the stories. Rodents of varying kinds, both land and air based. The local critters all had markings totally unique to the island, and were greeted warmly by the crew. There were many pleasantries exchanged, as well as happy bouncing both on the ship and off of it.
Pudgy’s second night stories began with his grand tales of his trip to the moon, and meeting dinosaurs. Of the dark eldritch god being sealed away under a lake east of New Orleans, the evil Kaiser and all of his terrible actions, until the epic conclusion in the land of eternal sadness. Some thought they were just stories, and questioned the hedgehog with inquisitive looks. When his crew of animals confirmed the stories were in fact real, and started to explain their own interactions with the aliens, monsters, ghosts, etc.; their eyes went wide. The revelation of the reality of the stories led the ever growing gathering to wonder what else was happening in the world beyond the barriers of their island home? The former humans told tales of lands past the ocean, and of much larger islands full of wonders. The arrival of the Determined confirmed this, which made minds begin to wander to lands beyond the horizon.
Akimitsu waved his wing, just as the moon started to peak over the eastern horizons, “Pudgy … do you know what happened to our world? Why did the humans come back as animals?” The group gathered nodded, and a hush fell over the crowd. Pudgy began to speak of the owls, and when his human friend disappeared. The owls, working with the various flocks of birds, had activated special stones to make all the humans disappear. Not only did they void this world of its former rulers, it had the unintended consequence of destroying all of their works as well. By the end of the tale of the owls, it was time for everyone to rest. Audible gasps could be heard from the former humans, while some animals cheered when the former noisy occupants of the islands were made to depart. The animals has been patient for a long time, and all could agree that it was much better than things had turned out the way they did.
As the hedgehog started to yawn, he waved at everyone, “Pudgy really sorry, but Pudgy tired. Pudgy need to sleep now, but story not over. Can everyone come back tomorrow, so Pudgy can tell more stories?” The gathering of animals cheered and agreed to the delay. All were thankful that assurances that the ship would not leave until Pudgy was all done with his grand tale. Most animals would depart to head back to their homes, but many chose to stay nearby to the ship’s location and slept. In the morning of the next day, the cycle of events continued once again. Ship work during the day, with food and water gathering. In addition to the edible supplies, wood was being gathered and brought on board. The ship was starting to show signs that repairs would be needed eventually. The exterior hull of the ship which had once been a golden oak color, was now almost a whitish gray color. The salty water had bleached the wooden exterior of the hull. There were also strange rock like things growing on the hull, which the squirrels worked very carefully to remove.
By the time the second evening had arrived, an even greater assortment of animals arrived. The hedgehog greeted every animal in attendance, and began to tell his wonderous tales again. The story began with his trip to the island of bears, of the terrible battle with the wolves, the falling space debris, the moon dinosaurs’ return, their terrible secret, the appearance of the Great Spirit, of the trip to the eagle stronghold Iron Wood, and the return of the wolves rounded out the stories. Even during the tale, the trees continued to be covered in birds, until there was nary a spot left to sit around the ship. Air breathing aquatic animals arrived and floated as they surrounded the ship, listening to the tale of the ghost wolf. This story was just as terrifying as the Kaiser, and the gathering cheered when the Great Spirit returned to destroy the terrible wolf. The return trip to Pudgy’s forest, and the building of Friendship Town made the various animals look at each other in disbelief. The hedgehog stopped his tale, to get a drink of water from the water barrel on the primary deck of the ship, before returning to the deck rail from which he was addressing the crowd.
A large water buffalo with curved horns called out, “wonderful story Pudgy. How did you get here though, all that stuff happened east of here?” The little hedgehog nodded, and told the tale of building the ship, and sailing to the Philippines. This story was shorter, mainly because there were vast boring sections of ship sailing that could be cut out, which the older local animals appreciated. The arrival on the island, and the travel to the summit of Mt. Apo was bookmarked as Pudgy began to describe the terrible sight of the King of the Ocean. A dead silence fell over the gathering, as they all looked at the water, and then turned to look out towards the ocean. Once more the night sky was starting to appear, and Pudgy was wrapping up many days’ worth of stories. “Shima Moyo, a white fox that almost looks like a ghost, asked us to head to Kyoto. The next ley line is there, which we can link up to the other two we found. This will let us travel between the points, and connect our world once again.”
Akimitsu rubbed his long yellow beak with his wing, “Pudgy, I remember seeing birds flying towards a rock out in the ocean off the coast. They would disappear for hours, then reappear to fly back to their roosts. I would always fly up and ask them where they went. But they never would say anything about it, and would change the subject. Some of those stones are under water now, but I think there might be more. I vaguely remember them heading north, to the higher mountains of the island. If you can do this, will you be able to open up a path from Okinawa to Kyoto?” The little hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy think so. When Pudgy was on Mt. Apo, could just barely see a desert of yellow orange sand. Pudgy then turned and could see a jungle … Pudgy should be able to find this island too.” There was a flamingo standing nearby in the brackish water, “orange sand? That almost sounds like Australia? I went there once with my husband.” The water buffalo nodded, “if this King of the Ocean is as bad as you describe, our island may not be safe. Having a way to evacuate in case of emergency is of great urgency …”
The words of the large animals resonated with the various animals in attendance. The words spoken lingered in their minds as they all settled in to rest for the night. The little hedgehog waved at all of them, “our ship is supplied for our next journey. So, we will be leaving in the morning. If Pudgy does not see you tomorrow, Pudgy want to say good bye. Pudgy glad to have met all of you!” The various animals waved in their various ways, and began to head back to their homes. Life would return to ordinary once more, but many wondered if they would see the little hedgehog and his friends again? Time would tell, and as the night fell once more, everyone slept very well that night. By the time morning came, the surrounding area was empty once again. The only local animal that had remained was Akimitsu, who wanted to remain on board the ship for a time. Trying to stay out of the way towards the bow of the ship, he watched as the gangplank was pulled up and stowed away on the deck.
Argente giggled as she started to settle back into her cargo hold, watching the gray bird’s reaction as the critters began to scamper at a quick pace around the deck. The raven and blue jay returned from their morning activities, and landed nearby to the gull on the deck. The squirrels and chipmunks climbed up the masts, and started to unfurl the white sails. This was where the otters would have been extremely helpful, being able to push the ship out to deeper water. However, there was another way, and the anchor was pulled up by the bunnies as they turned the winch. The animals began to run from each side of the ship to the other, causing it to rock. At first Akimitsu couldn’t understand what they were doing, until he watched the ship start to drift out towards the deeper water. The birds joined in, until the hedgehog signaled to stop. He spun the wheel hard to port, causing the ship to turn left. The slight wind started to fill the forward sail, which they used to tack with.
It took a couple of hours, before finally the ship was turned around and the winds started to fill the main sails. Once more they followed the course in reverse, they used to arrive at the camp site, with Akimitsu helping the animals call out the hazards in their path. Once more, the ship began to pick up speed, and returned to the deeper ocean water that covered the surrounding area. In time the muddy bottom was replaced with cars, trucks, houses, garages, commercial buildings, and roads. By the time the sun had reached the highest point in the sky, the Determined reached the deep water, which once used to be the white sand beaches that surrounded the island. All sails were unfurled, and Akimitsu watched as they caught wind, and the ship continued to pick up speed. As the land continued to slowly move farther away, the gull walked slowly to avoid the justling crew. In a short time, he reached Pudgy, who was standing at the ship’s wheel turning it ease the ship into a parallel course with the island.
“Pudgy, I was going to ask you if I could come along, but this is my home. I … I can’t leave yet … my flock would worry since I didn’t tell them I was considering this.” The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy understand, Pudgy want to thank you for all help you gave us.” The hedgehog locked the ship’s wheel, then scampered over to the gull and hugged him. The bird started to chirp happily, and returned the hug. After a time, Pudgy released the embrace, and then scampered back to the ship’s wheel and unlocked it to place his paws upon it. The gull waved, “good bye everyone! I hope you make it to the mainland safely. I will have my flock start searching for that other stone the birds would use. That must have been one of those ley lines you spoke of.” The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy hope so, then we can link islands together. You could even visit Pudgy Forest, when this is all over.” The gull chirped happily, and then took flight quickly. As he ascended, Akimitsu wiggled his tail feathers waving good bye, and then banked off to heads south westerly towards where his flock was roosted.
The crew waved as their new friend departed, then set about their tasks once again. The water continued to deepen under the ship, and the fish could be seen swimming about once again. As they drifted further out to sea, the ocean floor once more returned to natural white sand. There were thick green plants growing up from the bottom, which Angeliki pointed out that was called kelp. She had spent a wonder summer trip in Greece long ago, and was covered in it when the ocean waves crashed against the shore. She also mentioned her mother totally embarrassed her, in a bathing suit that left little to the imagination, flirting with Poseidon. The animals laughed, and pondered, while keeping an eye on the ocean water for any hazards. The ship was maintaining full speed of 4 knots, or roughly 4 miles per hour. As a chipmunk was furiously scribbling a map of the coastline of the island in the log book, none were aware that the island of Okinawa was about 66 miles long. Their port was at the 1/3 mark, so it would be roughly 11 hours until they encountered the wide-open ocean once more.
The night crew went below decks to rest, while the day crew continued to work. It would be a couple days till each shift got fully back into the rhythm of things, but they were used to it by now. In the center of the middle and upper sections of Okinawa, there was a chain of high mountains. They were covered in dense green foliage, almost resembling a jungle in many places. With the crew watching the shoreline, no one was paying attention to the open ocean to the starboard side of the ship. Gray animals were quickly popping out of the water, and then diving back underneath. A chittering sound could be heard, when suddenly four dolphins appeared around the ship swimming. The animals on deck, quickly looked around, with an equal number on both sides of the deck.
One popped her head up, “Hey Aiko … look at this!” Another dolphin poked her head up, “You weren’t kidding Chiaki … there really was a ship out here.” A third popped her head out of the water and waved her fin, “hello everyone … my name is Etsuko … where are you going?” The fourth dolphin did not say anything, just keeping a watch while swimming a wide circle around the ship. Pudgy wiggled his nose, “hi, my name is Pudgy Hedgehog. Pudgy glad to meet you Etsuko, we are heading to Kyoto.” Chiaki chittered happily, “hey, my grand mother used to live there. She would take me to a shrine, which was totally boring. I liked the pachinko machine in the gift shop though.” Aiko nodded, “It will take us about two or three days to swim to where Yoron island once was.” Aiko nodded, “then 2 days to get to Jikkyonyho, then 2 more days to get to Tokunshima.” The chipmunk making the map realized that those must be islands on the way towards the mainland. He motioned discreetly to Pudgy to keep the dolphins talking.”
Pudgy nodded, “wow, you are totally awesome swimmers. After To…kun …shima, is it open water?” The fourth dolphin poked her head up out of the water, “you talk too much Aiko.” Aiko stuck her long pink tongue out at the grumpy dolphin, “don’t mind Hanako, she is always grumpy. She is not adjusting to being a dolphin as quickly as the rest of us.” The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “were you all humans once?” The pod of dolphins nodded in unison, then Etsuko spoke again, “we were here on summer vacation when everyone disappeared. We were in a warm place that was gray, then suddenly in freezing cold water.” Aiko nodded, “it took awhile to find the rest of my university friends here, but we eventually found each other and have not separated since. The ocean is a huge place, with all sorts of wonders and dangers.”
Hanako nodded, “I see hammerhead sharks swimming under the ship, we have to be careful.” Chiaki nodded, “ok, we will leave soon. Pudgy, to answer your question, after Tokunshima there is a bigger island Oshima on the left, and then Jikai on the right. You would head between them, then Yakushima Island would be next. On its opposite to the right should still be Tanegshima, and its sister Mageshima.” The grumpy dolphin started chittering angrily, “we have to go now!” Etsuko nodded, “Pudgy we have to leave, the sharks are getting too close for comfort. The mainland would be next, and you should see the tip of Kagoshima.” The trio of more pleasant female dolphins waved their fins, chittered a good bye call, and then dove under the water. The pod re-emerged to the port side of the ship, and started to sim very quickly towards the shallower water near Okinawa Island.
The crew waved as the dolphins departed, and watched as even longer gray animals with strange rectangular heads swam underneath the ship to head out into the open water to the starboard side. They seemed not interested in the ship, which provided a small sense of relief to the crew. Pudgy wiggled his nose, watching the chipmunk furiously scribbling the island locations as described. A nagging thought was starting to reoccur in his mind, but he did not speak it out loud. The ship was built by friends for exploration, but it did not have means to defend itself. What would happen if the King of the Ocean decided to attack? For that matter, what would happen if one of the various aquatic animals chose to harass the ship? As the hedgehog stood at the ship’s wheel and pondered weaponry, the light of the day faded. Soon sleepy animals started to appear from below deck, and joined their daytime counterparts.
The island of Okinawa continued to grow smaller, as they continued their north eastern journey. The hedgehog kept the wheel for a long time, with the moon almost directly overhead when he asked Mr. Field Mouse to take over. The tired hedgehog headed towards the hatch that led below deck to the sleeping compartment. He climbed down, and stopped to pull the hatch shut with a soft thump. Continuing until he reached the lower deck, he walked as the ship was gently tossed back and forth. Taking a detour past the sleeping compartment, he headed towards the storage holds. The light was dim, as they were conserving the beeswax candles that were packed away. In the scant light of the single candle burning in a protective glass enclosure, he could see where the extra wood was kept. Reaching into the hold, the hedgehog pulled out a stick. It was long, maybe a foot long by human standards. The wood seemed dense enough, “this looks good. Maybe Pudgy can find…” The critter trailed off, as he explored the various storage compartments.
Carefully placed and tied down, there were shards of metal in a wooden box. They were axes, which broke when they gathered materials on Mt. Apo. It turns out the smelting process they had used, was not up to human standards, and the tools broke. The critters kept the shards, in case they needed it. Pudgy wiggled his nose, and an idea formed. He worked quietly throughout the night in the darkness of the holds. Tiredness disappeared, until the very early morning, when the hedgehog was discovered by Mrs. Field Mouse. She twitched her nose, watching Pudgy sleepily keep making weapons. Frowning, “I didn’t want to say anything. I was worried about this too Pudgy. Do you think they will work?” The hedgehog nodded, half asleep, but paws still tying the rope tightly around the metal shards. The mouse noticed that Pudgy had made close to 20 of the weapons. “What do you call these … Pudgy?” The hedgehog sleepily mumbled, “harpoons.” He was sleeping while sitting up, which made her sigh, before scampering off to head back above deck.
In the days that followed, the instructions provided by the dolphins proved invaluable. Most of the islands described were easily found, though some just barely were above the surface of the ocean water. Strong storms came and went, and the ship continued to head north by north east. The hedgehog’s harpoons were stationed on the deck of the ship in key places. There were no words spoken against the plan, as the fact that they now had them, made everyone a tad bit calmer. It turns out that nagging fear, was spreading throughout the crew. Everyone was waiting for the next animal to bring up the subject, but no one wanted to go first.
As the light of dawn once again returned to the world, a tall island appeared off the port side of the ship. As the crew turned to the left, they could see that it was a mountainous island, covered in a thick canopy of tall green trees. However, to the starboard, was another island farther off of the distance, but that was not all. A squirrel called out, “PUDGY! I SEE A SHIP!” As the hedgehog wiped the sleep away from his eyes, there indeed was a ship far away from theirs. It was a very unique shape, with a high prow at the bow of the ship, and a high stern as well, with a lower middle. It almost seemed to be smiling in a way, as the top part was dark brown, with a wide section painted dark red. There was a box like structure built in the middle of the ship on the deck, and it was using a three-sail configuration. The sails were shaped almost like a hexagon, but a bit round. The fabric was bright red, and had strange black markings painted on the fabric.
The hedgehog called up to the squirrel, “good catch Zippy! Keep calling out if that ship makes any changes to its course! We are going to leave it alone.” The crew members nodded, with a sense of wariness having spread throughout their numbers. It was not a hostility, but a concern, given they were all alone with no support this far out. The sails were adjusted to better catch the wind, and the course adjusted to more northernly to give a wide berth to the mystery ship. As the day continued, Yakushima Island passed behind them, and drifted slowly out of view. With the faint outline of Tangeshima island in the distance, the crew watched as the strange red ship was on a parallel course with theirs. Each ship was a three-mast configuration, but the Determined had 11 sails, which meant it was a tad bit quicker. The hedgehog worked late into the night, keeping a parallel course with the ship. That evening, he did not sleep well, and was up early the next morning, to take back over.
As the sun crested the horizon, the red ship had narrowed the distance between them. Mr. Field Mouse wiggled his nose, “Pudgy, they are heading towards us. What do we do?” The hedgehog wiggled his nose and called out, “Pastor Blue Jay or Angeliki … are you awake?” The blue jay poked his head up from Argente’s storage compartment, chirped, and then strode slowly over while wiping the sleep from his eyes with a wing tip. “Good morning Pudgy …what is it?” The hedgehog pointed to the quickly approaching ship, “can you fly overhead and see who they are?” The blue jay nodded when he spotted the ship, “on it Pudgy, I’ll be back soon.” The bird quickly took flight, and started to ascend as he headed towards the approaching ship.
Pastor Blue Jay watched as the ocean waves crashed underneath him, and quickly approached the red ship. Upon coming closer into view of the vessel, he realized what it was. It was a Chinese junk ship. There was a restaurant he used to eat at when he was a human, and they had silk paintings of ships like these. As the light continued to spread, the bird could see movement on the deck. Strange fur covered animals were moving about, and as they turned to look up at the bird, their faces had yellow eyes, and almost tiger like markings on their faces. Black stripes, with white patches between long gray fur. The cats made a terrible sound, as they pointed with clawed paws. One cat larger than the rest was standing at the rudder, and shouted, “enemy approaching … load the ballista!” The bird chirped, and banked hard to fly as fast as his wings could carry him.
“The cats did as they were ordered, and started to load bolts into what resembled a cross bow. Sharp metal blades were being honed by an equally mean looking cat. “Genghis! Ballista loaded, and ready to fire!” Genghis was the ship’s captain, and hissed with a grin. “Good work Altan! The wind is strong, and our vessel is built for speed. We should catch up to our foes soon. Bataar … Dawa … any idea what sort of ship that is?” Bataar nodded as he swished a short gray tail behind him, “I am bit fuzzy on my human history, but I remember the American sailing ships used to look like that.” Dawa looked at him and twitched his whiskers on his nose, “what are the Americans doing this far out here?” The captain nodded, “that is indeed a good question. We have come across all manner of strange events since we departed our homeland Mongolia. Add this to the ledger of events that lead us to a glorious future for all Pallas cats. Our empire will grow, and our influence will be strengthened. Once more Genghis shall rule the world!”
The cats hissed as they cheered, and lowered oars on each side of the vessel. “Row your back out Erdene,” one cat shouted, which drew a response with equal ferocity. “Try to keep up Gan,” the cat hissed as he laughed. The captain laughed, “remember to row in unison, or we just spin around in circles.” The leader of the Pallas cats watched as the distance continued to lessen. As the hours passed, soon the cats began to see a frenzy of activity on board the ship. In terms of length, the strange ship opposite of theirs was a bit longer, by perhaps one cat length, or roughly five feet. The sails were gigantic, and numbered 11 in total. Genghis eyes were wide as he counted the sails, and saw the complex configuration. He also noticed small fuzzy animals climbing the masts. There was all manner of animals on board the ship, including a brown one at the captain’s wheel at the stern of the ship. The animal was covered in spikes, and wore a metal helmet.
Altan waved at his captain, “we are within firing range.” The cat stood defiantly, “the order is given. OPEN FIRE!” The ballista fired, and soon the bolt was speeding towards the ship. As the weapon flew, it somehow missed the hull, and splashed into the ocean water on the port side of the ship. A large black bird quickly took flight, and the cats watched as the bird snatched the bolt out of the water to bring it back to the ship. As the bird landed, the critters on board the ship started to brandish spears, and made angry faces at the cats. The cats hissed and growled menacingly, with Altan shouting as he reloaded the ballista, “get us closer, and we can strike the hull!” The Pallas captain nodded, and steered with the main rudder to move the ship to port thus closing the distance between the ships. “Altan, ballista status,” Genghis called out. The cat wiggled his tail, “loaded and ready to fire.”
The strange brown creature called out with his paws cupped over his mouth, “why you attack Pudgy and friends? We did nothing to you!” The cat cocked an eye, and started to laugh, before calling back over. “We need no reason to strike. This is our way, attack all who oppose us!” The quill covered animals called over again, “we do not oppose you! We want to be friends. We heading to Japan.” The cats on board the ship looked a tad bit confused, but still were menacing by default. To the critters on the Determined, they looked angry and mean as all get out. The captain of the junk ship called out, “we do not want to be friends with lesser creatures, who surrender at the first hint of glorious battle! We will strike your vessel, and add it to our glorious fleet. The Mongol Pallas empire shall reign supreme!”
Gan looked to the starboard side, and noticed the waves had ceased on the ocean surface. The water had turned smooth as glass. “Umm …. Erdene …why is the ocean flat?” The older cat turned and walked over to the right side of the ship, and noticed how dark the water was. “No … and why is the water so black?” We are not that deep, at least not like that one area we passed over on the way here. The Determined in the meantime started to adjust the sails furiously, and started to speed forward. This was also due to the fact the two Pallas cats were not rowing any more, which irked the captain. “What are you two doing, get back on the oars!” He saw that now all of his crew was watching the starboard side of the ship, and the ever-spreading black water. As Genghis turned, the most awful sound started to roar from the ocean depths.
The cats watched as a huge tentacle started to emerge from the water depths. Its skin was gray, with black suction cups, that were dripping with a gelatinous substance that caused the water to hiss. The captain shouted, “back on the oars now! Altan … Bataar get below deck and work the hand crank motor, we need all the speed we can muster!” The cats nodded, and immediately went to their stations. The battle with the unknown vessel could wait, and Ghengis steered the ship to continue to close the gap between their foes. Perhaps if the chance offered itself, they could escape the monster, and occupy the new ship. Perhaps he too could find a spiffy hat, to signify his status as captain of the ship, and leader of the Pallas empire? The captain of the Pallas cats shouted between the roars of the approaching monster, “heed my words my spike covered enemy! This is the Ganzaya, and our resolve is steel! Your ship will be ours, whether you agree to it or not!”