There and Back Again
What did I get myself into? Olivier thought, a question that haunted him from the moment he stepped out of Strix’s quarters and started for the path. It only amplified with each leaden hop, with each begruding stride. He had to be brisk, and it wasn’t the rune that was his motivation.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Avin had said.
“You’re going to run away!” Fili rebutted, shrieking into Olivier’s ear.
“We’re coming back, you know? Don’t be an idiot.”
“But what if it is a trap? What if my dashing rogue Bollie is colluding with this other woman- wait. Other woman? You’re seeing someone on the side!”
“Technically, you would be the woman on the side, Fili. He met you after.”
“Oh. In that case, I’ll gladly help you double-cross her and take care of any witnesses, my love.”
“But then you would be trying to kill me, what you said you were trying to prevent... I know Strix... I feel sorry she had an idiot like you as a child.”
“I wouldn’t kill you! You’d join us.”
“Then I have even more incentive to just make a break for it, don’t I? Sorry, Olivier, but I can’t be your buffer all the time.”
“You’re not getting away! Not on my watch- h-hey! Careful on these bridges, Corey. You almost knocked me off there.”
“I just said his name and you still get it wrong.”
“I told you! It’s a cute thing between us.”
“So he can say your name wrong?”
“Of course not! My name is already cute. His name is just... strange.”
“You know, if this is you flirting, then you really suck at it... Tell you what, Olivier. The moment we’re done wherever you stashed your friend, we’ll go see Strix, put Billie there in the box, and make a run for it.”
“Over my dead body!”
“That can be arranged. I think Olivier would be more than happy at this point.”
“Quit trying to speak for Lorie! You don’t know him well enough.”
“I know him better than y- Hey- oh. That’s why you had to slouch.”
“Are you okay, Tally? You didn’t hit your head, did you?”
“Nah. We would have heard his shell clonk, but would you mind so dearly in shutting the hell up? Your voice is bad enough without acoustics.”
“It’s better than your squeaky shrill! Besides, Goalie loves my voice. Don’t you?”
“Can both of you please-” Olivier mumbled, regretting adding his voice to the mix, but, thankfully it was ignored and silenced just as quick, returning him to that question.
“You know, you speak a lot about love, and yet you two only met,” Avin said. “You haven’t even had a meal with him, like we have.”
“Wait... are you saying you two are-”
“Don’t even go there.”
“I mean, I’m all for it. That would make sense why you never showed anyone any kind of affect-”
“I said. Don’t. Go there.”
“So you and Holly aren’t-”
“But of course! That’s because we’re together and he only has eyes for me.”
“Again. You two. Only met. Not even dinner.”
“But we have that time in the cave, where I threatened him with the licthspeer, then that moment in mother’s office where he was threatened with a rune-”
“Lots of threats in there. A lot of romances begin with death threats, after all.”
“He feels the connection. There was a spark between us immediately.”
“Creating the spark with your lichtspeer doesn’t count, you know.”
“You know, I hope you do run away now. Give me a reason to fry you.”
“You wouldn’t do it.”
“You want to bet? I am tired of you trying to poison my relationship with Polly!“”
She was about to answer when Olivier broke into a sprint. Light. At last. Light shone at the end of the tunnel. Salvation. Olivier panted, grinning from ear-to-ear as he dashed then crawled towards freedom. He emerged on the cliff, face beaded with sweat, welcoming the breeze, giving his feet vigor and the energy they needed to plod the rest of the way up the path and before the forest once more.
He held his chest, simply breathing. No thoughts could be heard from the blood pumping into his ears, nor could he hear anything the two could say. For the briefest moment, at least. Fili was the first of the two Natorei to rise from his shoulders, fluttering towards the forest. Her light had dimmed, almost to the point of revealing her, but Olivier wouldn’t have been able to see anything as she hugged herself, looking out on that wooden expanse.
“We have to go through here?” She said, her voice shaking, and squeaked as Avin smacked her shoulder when he passed. He zipped over to the first tree, chortling.
“Trying to give everyone a show? I know you’re hankering for some calamari, but I don’t want to see any of that. Besides, we have business to tend to. Go find a murder scene, defuse the rune in his arm; that old grind.”
“Can you be a touch serious? For once in your life!”
“Why? This is way more fun... It’s not too late for you to go back. You don’t need to come with us through the scawy fowest. Woo...”
He waggled his fingers at her as he made the sound, cut off as a bolt of light was flung his way. He dove down to avoid it, and it boomed like thunder as it hit the bark, leaving it a touch blackened. Indeed, the wood, itself, seemed more burned by the light bursting from her, the forest, itself, tinged blue by her corona. She launched a slew of curses at him, followed by another bolt of light, and this one hit a branch. It exploded, bark and leaves flying after Avin as he continued to dodge into the forest. He would stop so often, taunt her even more, acting as her guide hound, the rays his leash, tugging her through.
Olivier simply stood there, watching as the blot of pink and blue sun delved deeper into the forest, and wondered if it was too late to follow through with an older thought. His heels were right on the edge of the cliff, after all. He could keep it simple, lean back and be done with it. He could spread his arms, allow the wind to catch and slow him, to allow him to relish the moment... or... he could follow the edge of the cliff to the right, around the forest, and try his best to make it to the beach. At least the beach. Why not enjoy his last few moments by the sea? He didn’t have to follow after. He didn’t have to do this... but he needed to if he wanted to stay alive.
Once again, he found himself repeating that question, and following after. They were far enough away that he didn’t have to hear their arguing, but that meant irritation was allowed to ebb, and another emotion could take its place. And another one was more than happy to.
He was returning to the cave. THE cave. He had no choice now, either. I either go and show them the chest... or I blow up. Even now, he wasn’t sure which was a worse fate... With any luck, all he had to do was show them the cave. Yes! Only the cave- a cave hidden in a crag which he was almost a Leocarn’s lunch because he had no idea where he was going- and still didn’t, for the matter! How was he supposed to get back to the cave? Then there’s going inside the cave, which he knew wasn’t a choice or even an assumption, and that really does mean leading them all the way down to the chest. Then there is leaving the cave, returning from the cave in a timely manner, tell Strix about the cave with his two Natorei companions telling her, also, about the cave and the chest in the cave... and, maybe, being able to live. But, the most important detail from all that was he wouldn’t have to return to the cave or the chest. Not for a very, very... very long time. The only problem now was getting to the cave at all... Oh, and running into any other Leocarn or wildlife along the way. Why not add to the dread?
Thankfully, it seems that Avin’s method of guidance had... deterred any would-be predator from attacking them in the forest, and they were through it before Fili even noticed. Avin patted her head as she panted and wavered in the air, but at least they were on the other side of the forest. She didn’t even exclaim as Olivier walked out and bumped into her, instead plopping right back onto his shoulder where she began. She laid back on it, and Olivier could hear her little heart racing, but her pants were cut off as Avin chortled.
“Already worn out?” Avin said, clucking his tongue at her. “That’s a shame. Tired out and we haven’t even really begun.”
“Ollie. Honey,” She croaked out. “Do my light work for me, will you?”
“I’ll go get a leaf,” Olivier said, and that silenced Avin.
His pink energy turned red as he sat on Olivier’s other shoulder but only a moment, returned to his bright pink as he smacked Olivier.
“Well? What were you waiting for!” He said, and Olivier was afraid his tunic would burst into flames from the light and heat pouring from that Natorei. “At long last. Adventure!”
“And you are spending it riding on my love’s shoulder,” Fili said, and turned on her side as Avin scoffed.
“Will you can that already, Fili? Better yet, will you plain chill? Astra’s great squall, you are more wound than normal.”
“What is normal?” Olivier said.
“Not like this. I can tell you that. Sure, she gets antsy around newcomers, but she doesn’t show anywhere this much interest. I blame that you are part squid. She doesn’t give any Terrahn merchant or pilgrim anywhere near as much attention or intrigue.”
“Can you blame me?” Fili exclaimed. “Look at him. Look at where we are. This is... unbelievable. Unheard of. I never thought I would ever leave the city, then he comes along and whisks me off my feet-”
“And possibly blow you away, if he’s not entirely genuine.”
“Are you doubting him?”
“Absolutely not, but the fact remains is we won’t really know until we know.”
She huffed and wormed her way over to Olivier’s neck. She hugged a low-hanging tendril, and grunted as she tugged her way up, stopping right before his eye. She gave him a wanting look, her lip trembling, already expecting the worst.
“You aren’t lying to me, are you, Olivier?”
“Wow! You got his name right. Things are getting serious.”
Olivier ignored him, and took a deep breath.
“I... don’t know. I really don’t... There’s a chance I might have gone insane, if only a moment. Powerful magic could have been at play. The cave, all the way down, was entirely empty, but the torches were still lit. How is that possible?” He looked passed Fili, at his right arm, and winced as the red lines pulsed, remembering the torch he had picked up. “One had shattered in my hand. They were ancient, little more than dust, and yet they still burned.”
“That is strange,” Avin said. “Though convenient. I would love to find some ancient torches. They just don’t make them like they used to... and what about your lady friend? Did she notice?”
“Yes. What about this supposed friend of yours?” Fili grumbled. “Who was she? Anyone close?”
“They looked incredibly intimate on that Zephyrian glider-”
“She saved my life,” Olivier interjected, nipping it in the bud... but shook his head. “I still don’t know what to think of her... Strange doesn’t even come close. She somehow knew the way to the cave, as if she had been there before. She paid no mind to anything in the area. Not a single care. And the way she talked- well, actually talked. Her... she was all over the place. At first, she was blunt and to the point and so cold, but then she’d flip completely around and be warm and kind- and none of it ever spread to the rest of her face. She was... an enigma.”
“‘Actually talked’?” Avin said; Fili had gone quiet. The way she had slid down his tendril, and the smug smirk on her face, showed that she was most likely satisfied for the moment. “You mean she had a different way to talk? Oh! Did she do hand puppets?”
“No. She was able to talk telepathically, though even how she did that was strange. She would have to pause any time she wanted to do that, and not like an Aceon. She wasn’t making a wave or anything like that. She would just... stand there.”
“The way you talk about her, she doesn’t seem that important or close to you, so why were you together?”
“She saved my life. I owed her... and...”
“And?” Fili said, feeling her eyes bore into his as pink touched his.
“Well... I... I wanted to go exploring, anyways. I was tired on being... I was tired of where I was, and how could I resist the call of adventure.”
“Ignes’s flame warm your hearth for you speak some truth at last,” Avin said, chuckling as Fili gave a disgusted sound.
“Boys and their wanderlust,” she grumbled, and crossed her arms. “I thought better of you, Olivier.”
“Uh-oh! Looks like you messed up, Olivier boy ole pal.”
She huffed, and rose from his shoulder, leading the way. She bobbed gently, just grazing the top of the grass of the plains, most of it already trekked. They were approaching the lake. The sun sparkled on its surface, giving it an array of stars, small lights blinking and gleaming off its still top, marred by ripples as they stopped for a drink. But it was only a moment, and Olivier had no doubt they would have to stop by it when they returned, but his focus was on the mountains ahead, looming once more.
Olivier wanted to slow, to turn away, but he could see the burnt path through the grass. He could see where the crag was, where the trouble began. He gulped, hard, and forced his feet to keep pace, lest Avin would notice and call it out and destroy the silence that had settled. That was one boon he was happy to have back, though it was as much a burden.
His heart raced, beating, aching in his chest as they closed in. Fili reached it first, and turned around. She still had a dirty look, forgotten as she made herself at home on his shoulder once more, digging in with her heels. He grasped the side of the crag, took a deep breath, and climbed in... before pulling himself back out. He looked up, up at the top of the crag and the lips along the way, and wondered if it would be better to simply climb and go that way.
“What’s the matter, Ollie?” Avin said, his tone... accusatory. “Were you expecting something?”
“N-no. It’s... it’s just...” he wanted to lie, but the way both lights burned into his shoulders told him that there wasn’t a lie good enough for them to believe him. Instead, why not the truth? “I don’t remember the way. Like I said, it’s like she was here before so I simply followed. I didn’t pay a single bit of attention.”
“So how did you get back out?”
He pointed to the rocky heights. “I climbed up from a dead-end inside and found my way across... I was being chased by a Leocarn at the time, so I don’t know if I can do it now.”
“You climbed up, you say... Would you happen to know what the entrance would look like? To the cave, I mean.”
“Y-yeah. You can’t miss it. It’s a shoddily-dug hole in the wall with a pair- well, one torch at its front. There should be a set of doors that were knocked inside, but they are most likely broken by now... we walked over them.”
Avin hummed, and rose from Olivier’s shoulder. He ascended to the top of the crag and disappeared. A gust of wind blew across the plains, heard before felt, and it sent a cold chill up Olivier’s back. He could still feel Fili’s judging gaze boring into the side of his head, but refused to look or acknowledge her, still watching the top of the crag, hoping to see a glimmer, a trace of pink light.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait too long. Avin returned and sighed as he slumped onto Olivier’s shoulder once more.
“You weren’t kidding. That whole area’s one huge maze,” he said. “But I know the way.”
“Then why did you land?” Fili said. “Lead the way.”
“Am I not entitled to a breather? So selfish.” He chortled but raised again all the same, buzzing to the crag. Olivier followed after, almost ecstatic, a great weight lifted off his shoulders- only to be reminded of it. He huffed, tried to clamber to his feet quick, but Avin had noticed. He seemed to gloat as Olivier straightened his sword ag- “Hey. Buddy. Have you considered that may be a belt with a sheathe on it? Did you try putting it around your middle?”
“I thought it would get in the way there more,” Olivier said, feeling foolish as the words simply spilled out of his mouth. Warmth grew on his cheeks as he decided to put it on his middle, instead, tightening it above his sash, sagging into place. He adjusted it for his left hand, the pommel just grazing the palm, tapping against the suckers as he took a step forward. He looked back, watching the sword’s tip, and, though it seemed it would trip him up, though it seemed to dip down towards his knee, if not in between, it would always bump away as he took a step with that leg, staying clear. He took another step, passed a lip in the crag, and it would bound away before it ever got close, making him feel even more foolish.
Fili cleared her throat, fluttering a bit, buzzing her wings by his ear. “Will you stop gawking? It’s a sword, a glorified metal stick. Nothing special.”
“Trust me, Fili,” Avin said, “you do not know how much a boon that was to him.”
“I really should have grabbed a leaf,” Olivier said, and that stole Avin’s smile again.
“Eh? A leaf?” Fili said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Avin snapped, and that tone was the trumpet, heralding Olivier’s, Fili’s, and his delve into the crevice. Though now his sword may have been on his side and he had another guide, they were still slow, careful. Olivier once more wondered how Gwen made it through no problem. It was as if the rock, itself, rose and grew in his way as he approached, nipping, scraping against him, urging him ever to press on yet to keep cautious.
They reached the canyon. The sun had sunk below the mountains, letting it sink into the purple dusk. Orange could just be seen sprawling above, trickles of it coming from the left lip, but everything else was washed in that purple before the entrance to the cave. The torches- torch was still crackling away by the broken pair of doors, with remnants of its brother scattered before it, untouched.
Avin buzzed over to one inside the cave.
“Huh. These really are ancient, yet the rag is burning as if it was just soaked well and good,” he said, and reached for the wooden handle.
“Don’t!” Olivier boomed, but it was too late. Avin flew back from the wood, and it seemed to follow after, tinkling on the stone around him against the left wall. Olivier rushed over and picked him up, thankful not feeling anything wet drip from that light.
“What was that?” Avin exclaimed.
“Maybe if you had listen to Olivier’s story, you would have known,” Fili sung, tittering. “He did yell at you to stop.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t change my question.”
“I don’t know,” Olivier said, rubbing his right palm. “It happened to me, too-”
“As he told you,” Fili sung next.
Avin growled. “Hey! My mind was already on the journey, so, by Terra’s motherly bosom, you can shove it.” He kicked off Olivier’s hand, giving him a hard look. “It would have still been nice for it to be repeated before we got here.”
“But it was,” Fili continued, singing in a higher octave. Avin huffed, and whizzed into the cave, his wings sounding like a swarm of a thousand locust, if not more, as they bounded and buzzed off the walls, fading ever more into the depths. Fili patted Olivier’s cheek, her soft, sad smile seen through the soft blue shimmer. “You had nothing to apologize for.”
She then rose from him and took chase. Her wings added the bass to that squawking chorus, always off-beat, which left Olivier’s boots to fill. It forced him to keep pace, tempo, lest he ruin the song of adventure. Down, down they raced to the cavern’s end. Corridors forgotten, started paths left untouched, for the torches were their guiding arrow, only lighting the way to the throne room at the very bottom.
Olivier looked up at the Arthrogon skull as he approached, and made sure to take a long, wide stride across the gray matter below it, entering the hall before the throne room. Avin and Fili rested on the tables closest to the red iron door. It was shut. Not like I left it. His heart raced as he approached that door, hand trembling as he grabbed for its handle, clacking as he turned it left, right, then left again.
“It’s locked,” he breathed, feeling a sudden chill, making his teeth chatter as he took a step back. “It wasn’t... I mean, I didn’t-”
“Eh? So you mean someone else came in here after you?” Avin said.
“I don’t know... but the chest is through that room.”
“Then we must enter it.” He chortled, and seemed to shove Olivier back as he darted in front of him. He grew incredibly bright, and, with the tiniest of snarls, the metal door was engulfed in pink light. It crackled, cracked, warped, shrieked as it bent under Avin’s excitement embodied. His chortle turned into a rather unsettling cackle but he finished with a sigh as the red iron was left white, bubbling, gurgling into itself. Avin landed on Olivier’s shoulder, patting it. “There you go. Did I ever tell you I’m a master locksmith?”
Olivier didn’t really hear him, looking inside that chamber. His hand gripped his sword, making it rattle, more, focusing, forcing it to settle him twice over. His eyes gushed with yellow, and a touch of red. They jerked this way, that, watching the shadows cast by the chandelier in there, yet nothing stirred save for those dark etchings. He stepped over the melted door, the edge of his left heel just clipping it, caking the gray leather with the red metal, cooling fast as he made for the table he had pressed before, jumping a little as it actually did click.
Fili fluttered in and to the throne, watching as it slid to the side, as the wall behind rose, revealing the dark passage down. She was about to enter but Avin beat her to it, his pink light pulsing ten stairs down as Olivier trudged after, heart racing again. Fili grumbled, settling on his shoulder again, while his mind buzzed, playing such scenarios in his head. A bandit troupe, cultists, maybe a chimera, though it would have been a tight fit, the Leocarn from before; these were but a handful of things he thought waited for him in the dark, dank room below, but his heart lurched, going into a full sprint for what truly waited.
Absolutely nothing. No signs of the chests on each layer of stairs, nor the items he had left before the stone chests were anywhere to be seen. In fact, the only item that had remained the same was the heavy, stone chest in the middle, which Avin floated before. Fili joined him, his hums bounding through that room, adding more to the song of adventure, as did his knocking on that gray box.
“Yup. It’s a stone chest,” he said after four rounds of knocking, each round forcing Olivier down another step. He kept looking back at the entrance, up those stairs, just in case. His legs were more than ready to bolt up them, but Avin gripped his shoulder, pulling him to that accursed chest. “All right! You said you opened it before, yeah?”
“I... I did. Somewhat,” Olivier said, pointing up to the ceiling. “I climbed up there with it and dropped it.”
“Ah! So you’re a master locksmith like me, but, uh, if you don’t mind, I’m going to do this a little more tactfully.” Avin cracked his knuckles, and whizzed down to the lock, climbing inside. His hums muffled a moment, lost to the rattling of tumblers, before the chest clicked open, huffing with an exasperated sigh, as if it had waited forever for someone to open it again. He clamored back out, and grunted as he lifted the lid. A bit angry when Olivier slammed both hands down on it. “What? Let’s open it and see.”
“I... I don’t... No!” He said, panting, shaking so much. “I don’t want that thing out again! I don’t want you guys to-”
He cried out as Avin shoved against his chest, forcing him to fall back, and whined as Avin threw the lid wide... groaning.
“This is what you were afraid of?” Avin grumbled, and sat on the lip, watching, waiting for Olivier to see for himself. Fili lazed over at last, having escaped to the save haven of the door sometime during their little scuffle, and looked over Olivier’s shoulder as he did into the dark, gray chest. Sitting pretty on a mound of red material, was a large, leather tome, a journal, and the name on its front, illuminated by both pink and blue light, sent another chill racing down Olivier’s spine.
“It’s the journal of the Dread Pirate’s skipper,” Olivier said, and picked it up, surprised with how heavy it actually was. He undid the leather cord that kept it sealed, and the book creaked a touch as he opened it. The writing, though, hadn’t aged or faded a day on those musty pages, further sinking in it was Nejrat’s. “Cephamorian ink.”
“But it’s just a book.” Avin grumbled. He growled, and smacked the chest, stirring the red material at the bottom, revealing a hem. Olivier lifted it out, unfolded it, and found it to be a coat, much like a sailor would wear during a heavy squall. Though it seemed red at first, its shoulders, sleeves, and even hem at the bottom had been patched with black, yellow, and even some green, but it was the patch that was placed directly on its back that made the world flicker between black and white, that made everything seem so unreal to Olivier. Four tentacles, as white as bone, coiled together, end over end, splaying out towards the center where smaller, dozens, if not hundreds, of tentacles wrapped and snared at the Itchyoman skull there. On the top of its sleek top was one, last tendril, gleaming with blue gems.
The Dread Pirate’s colors, Olivier thought, and it was a good thing he was already on his knees, his legs shaking too horribly to even consider standing.
Avin, however, was more than happy to rise, buzzing angrily.
“So where’s this supposed darkness, huh? Where’s this major threat you were talking about!” He boomed.
“It... it was in there. It was,” Olivier managed to blurt out, still looking at the journal, at the coat, crinkling under his hand as he gulped. Red burned in his eyes as he looked to Fili, still lingering on his shoulder. “I swear! I’m telling the truth! It was in there. This was not here when I first arrived.”
“I believe you,” she whispered, and fluttered up to Avin. The air crashed with a resounding smack.
“Hey! What was that for?” Avin squawked.
“Can’t you see how much distress Olivier is in? Come. Help me get him out of the cave and back to the mayor. There, we can look in the journal and understand what is going on.”
The pair of Natorei returned to Olivier. They pulled on his shoulders, keeping him steady as he lumbered back up the stairs, through the throne room, its hall, and back out of the cave. Night had fallen sometime during, and Olivier was feeling awful cold. He looked down at the coat in his hands... and nodded, tossing it on himself, finding it way too big. Or, rather, him far smaller, in an ever-growing world.