The Journal of Skipper Nejrat (II)
I do not know how long I was out nor if it was day or night when I came to. The cold mist distorted time, if not reality, itself, as we continued to glide through it. No oar or sail directed us, only the current, guiding us with such a gentle hand either to salvation or ruin.
One thing was for certain, however: we at least had a chance.
I should have known this was going to happen. I should have always been wary of the Itchyoman, kept them at a arm’s reach if not further. Instead, because of my weakness, because I had decided to not weigh her against the entirety of her race and what they are known for, pride, ambition, deceit, Baro and Tys also suffered. Even though he assured me, time and again as we made our way through this fog, that it wasn’t my fault, the cold wave he did use was nothing to the rime that had taken hold of my heart... My only solace was that I still had this journal.
Nothing has changed since I last opened this book and made an entry. It took the ink forever to dry, and the pages were still stiff from it, smeared from where it had run. Probably just as ashamed as I to have shown such weakness.
Aside the first few moments aboard this vessel, sleep was a myth, just as much as food and water. Hunger hadn’t set in for more than a few growls, thankfully, but thirst had crept its way into the back of the mind, playing along the tongue, making it tingle a little as one would open their mouth to breathe and take in that mist, just as salty as the sea we lazed across.
What was making all this mist? Yes, it was Glacia, at least I hoped it still was. Even if it wasn’t Cryos still held the cold kiss, and it would be continued to be carried well into Eros, but there was something unnatural about this fog. Something... foreboding.
Baro was the first to voice this, and I am thankful that he did. It meant that I wasn’t going mad, or, at the very least, we were going mad in the same way. It was as if it kept us inside, never wanting us to leave that prison, our cell the three walls of the tiny boat. Maybe that was why we were going mad, if we were not already there.
I ate one of Baro’s legs. It was delicious, but, more importantly, he had another five or so to go. He didn’t even really seem to notice that I pulled it off until he heard me crunching into the shell, and I had the upper hand, having some food in my belly. It, also, let me produce a bit more ink so that I can continue to chronicle our fate, lest we end up dead, marooned out here, so that others may know and put an end to Squall’s reign of terror, if Tys had failed.
An epiphany! I do not know why we didn’t think of it when I pulled off his first leg, but, now that we have both engorged on two more, he came up with the idea to make a small “boat” out of the carapace left behind.
Of course, he had reassured me that his legs would grow back when he molted, but I still felt guilty, if my stomach was a touch better. It, also, allowed us to brainstorm this idea, and so, with a few strings from my coat, we patched together the Odyssey and gently set it in the water, watching it, waiting for the current to whisk it away.
It was as we thought. The water did not stir.
Thirst no longer kept in the back of the mind nor the throat. It felt like I was breathing through a sack, tightening as it widened in there. Every single breath was agony, if not for my throat begging for a drink from the salty sea but for the empty, hollow chasm in my gullet. I did not take any more of Baro’s legs... leg; if we ever made it to land, he would need at least that one to pull himself out of his shell.
The Odyssey sat between us, our only hope made into our darkest realization. It had sat in the same place, easily, for three days, simply bobbing beside us. No fish even came to the surface to check on it. Wherever we were, this was ill waters... It made me wonder why I kept a record at all, but it’s keeping me content, even if I did have to prick my “finger” to get “ink” to keep going on.
We had to try paddling.
As much as it pained both of us, as much as we wished we could simply sleep the rest of our time away in this cell, we had to try and bust out of this prison. It didn’t matter which direction; anywhere was better than here.
I took the left oar, and he treated the right as if it was made of fine glass, both of us treading water, at first incredibly hard before settling into a gentle beating, lest we use what energy we had left in these first few moments.
The air, once so tantalizing, now tormented me, racking at my clenching throat. Rasping and gasping became the norm, but I would not give in to this accursed fog. I shall press on. We shall live to fight another day.
I do not know if I am truly writing this, or if this is some sort of sick fantasy that I am recording this now or if this is the final moments of a collapsing mind accepting death. If it is, let it take me, save me from the torment of optimism that was wrought from the boon granted to us.
For so long we had paddled. My arms still stung from the beating of the sea, but it was my legs that were beyond ecstatic, bordering on wanton, as we stepped off the boat onto land. The only safe bit of knowledge, the only thing we could truly rely our eyes upon, was that it was night, three moons full while the last started to wane. I have no idea where this landmass is; I have never heard tale of blue sand beaches from any sailor I had met in the last decade, but this island, if not continent, had them. It was softer than normal sand, too, soothing my legs, my “feet” when I tore off my sodden boots at last before it caressed my face, as well.
Baro had been just as thrilled, burying himself deep into the sand before pulling himself out come the morn, where he had stirred me and had me see the rest of our little paradise. Far as the eye could see, tall, lush palms grew free. The land under them was covered in thick greenery, berry bushes dotting here and there, which we hoped were safe to eat. Natalie knows they were a sin for us to indulge in, so sweet that it puckered our faces, but the juice did wonders, soothing our throats and bellies as we engorged on the blues, purples, reds, and greens.
We dared not venture too far in. Not on the first day, but we did manage to find a few rocks to be able to cut a tree down and used it to make a fire. Even now I fed leaves into it. How those pink beauties crackled and sparkled and seemed to scream at us for ruining a paradise, but, I assure you, as I do the rest of your kin, we shall keep our presence to a minimum as much as we can.
For now, though, I shall savor a few more berries then pass out, sleep still not fully done with me.
This place truly is a curiosity. The blue sand beaches were one thing, but, as we cut a few more trees and used the wood to fashion handles for the stones we procured, this was not normal palm. Not anywhere near it. It was far more flexible, yet its bark incredibly durable and rigid. And sharp. I wrapped the cut on my “hand” as much as I could, but it had me truly look at the pale bark, and saw that each rising ridge was serrated. Why would a palm adapt like this? Why would it grow and make serrations along its sections? What else truly awaited on this island?
We gathered more berries. Considering we were not hallucinating, lest this was one, blissful illusion, our stomachs did not turn from the skin, flesh, or juice of the berries. In fact, it seemed to do the opposite, soothing pain, especially in my “hand”, I wondered on the benefits of juicing some of them, distilling, and making a tonic, especially of the red ones, but it had occurred to me that I was alone on the shore. Baro had ventured in sometime during, and came racing back with news.
There was a cave.
Considering the trees, the berries, I had my worries, but then he told me he had went inside. It was completely empty, not even any signs of the smallest of bugs having resided there. It piqued my interest enough to follow, and, indeed, the cave was completely clear of any markings on its front. It was little more than a hole in the center of the green, but, as long as you ducked and watched your footing, it proved to be rather easy to get in and out of. It was, also, incredibly spacious once you were through the first few steps.
He was more brazen, cocksure than I as he scuttled into the large antechamber, but the more I saw the more I simply wanted to leave. There was no moss, no signs of any wear or tear at all in that pale stone cave, seeming to gleam with its own light. It was perfectly smooth, a well, a perfect dome, no stalactite or stalagmite, which made me even more wary, questioning. How could such a place exist? Surely water from the sea, still so close that you could hear it rumble and feel it shake the walls, could get in here during a storm, but it was absolutely pristine.
Regardless, Baro believed this would be a far safer place than the beach. He was right, for better or worse, so we spent the day getting the wood, stone, and tools down here. As night fell once more, Baro was against the back wall of the cave, trilling away in his sleep, while I scratch away in this journal.
Tomorrow, I do think I shall attempt to start creating a map. For now, though, I shall pop another berry, finish this sentence, and rest on this smooth floor.
I had created the map as I said, and it simply did not make any sense. Where we had begun was almost a perfect point, like the tip of a rapier, but it quickly became a bloated mess as I ventured south and west from it. The forest, the palms held to the coast the entire time, but other landmarks started to break through. A few leagues south from the point, and more than a couple west of the cave, there was a mountain. It, too, was blue, almost black in the midday sun, rippling with the cracks and crags along its surface, and once more I am reminded that this place was never mentioned. Surely someone, anyone would have seen this place, would have remembered such a mountain, but that was only one of the many I had stumbled across along my attempt to scout and record the area.
Sadly, that would be all I saw that day, forced back to the cave as night started to take hold, lest the true wildlife did find us at long last. Come next morning, I went east, instead. The blue sand gave way to white three hundred eighty-four paces from the cave, and another hour or so of walking lead to a large wellspring. The water was incredibly cold to the touch, almost piercing, as if ice should have floated across the almost-green oasis, with a single, red monolith jutting from its center. Such a stone had to have been carved by hand, and I had the sudden feeling of being watched. No one jumped me as I took a drink from it, and it was even sweeter than the berries, filling me with such vim and vigor. It gave me such confidence that I dared the dusk to come take me as I continued my stroll beyond it.
Stopped as I reached a cliff. A chasm.
Water rumbled below, far, far, far below, while only the mist that had tormented us for so long could be seen in it. It seemed to run perpendicular to the trees, as well as was right in line with the mountain. On the other side, though, laid open fields, filled with yellow stalks, wafting in the cool air of sunset, washed in shades of orange and purple.
I returned to the cave then and showed Baro the map, told him about the wellspring, the chasm, and the mountain, as well as the plains across. I told him my plans of building a bridge across using the polished bark, but then, at last, the wellspring water finally wore off, and I was filled with dread.
What awaited on the other side of the plains?
For another fortnight we simply gathered berries, wood, bark, and stone. We gathered vining greens, as well, found nearer the mountain, seeming to choke the way to it... In fact, that’s exactly how it was. The land seemed to grow far wilder, more daunting as one would grow close to that mountain, as if daring anyone to trespass on its lofty heights.
That day would come, but, if I am to reach the other side of this island, we had to cross the chasm. I managed to find a bit of vine long enough to throw across, measured about forty feet across.
Baro stated that, if that was true, then what we were doing was suicide, that the bark would not hold for such a length. Maybe. Perhaps, but what alternative did we have? To the west the mountain blocked the way around, and to sit idly by was to admit defeat, no matter how much this place truly was a paradise.
I yearn to be on a ship again. To be on my ship again. To have my vengeance upon the Itchyoman that had taken it all away from me, and no paradise nor hell shall keep me from it.
I told him that, if he would not help me, to simply stay out of my way... He stepped aside.
I was a fool. Truly, the greatest of fools.
I had gone through with creating the bridge, wove together piece after piece of bark into four, long columns, until I had to move it outside, becoming too long for the cave. More and more trees fell for my ire, my passion, my lust, but only ever enough.
It took five days to make that bridge, polished its top while keeping the bottom nice and ragged to bite into the lip and land across, and was rather surprised to feel how light it was, even as it remained rigid, scattering leaves in our journey to the chasm again. I gently tipped it over, holding it tight, shaking until, with a loud hush, it sunk into the grass across. I pulled it back before pushing it forward, allowing both ends to sink and bite deep into the ground, and took my first step on it.
The bridge creaked, groaned, but seemed to hold as I took another, truly over the gap now. The mist rolled around my ankles, making it seem as if I was walking on a cloud, foot after plodding foot feeling, making it over the bridge. I wondered if I should have told Baro, that I should have invited him along regardless, but my mind was still filled with such disdain, such betrayal from his inaction. So, heel over heel, I made my way across. The plains were in reach, those golden stalks as good as felt.
When the bridge shuddered horribly.
It creaked, groaned, and bend inward as something had seemed to grab it near its middle. Whatever it was, the mist hid it well, but I was almost to it. I could easily plod on, see what it was or not and keep running before it pulled it in, but I had to do it then and there. I couldn’t dawdle, couldn’t falter.
But that’s what I did, and, when I came to, I was back in the cave.
Baro was looking over me, squeezing juice from the red berries onto my forehead, aching, searing, yet welcoming it against the fire that raged up there, that ravaged everywhere. I mumbled my thanks, my apology, but he simply waved it off with his claw, the thought he was preparing more dire. The news he gave sent a shiver down my spine.
Something really did pull the bridge down into the chasm.
Baro’s interest was now piqued, and mine only grew ever more. What could have pulled that bridge down? What could have reached so high, and treated it like it was nothing? How did it know I was there, that the bridge was there at all, and, above all, what laid beyond that it did not want us seeing?
Though we both finally agreed that a bridge was not viable, that meant only one path: the mountain. But, unlike my foolish attempt, we were not simply constructing a bridge and going. It was already known that the path to the mountain was going to be treacherous, and that was only made more apparent after the bridge. We chopped down more trees, the beach we landed on almost completely desolated, and made spears, extra axes, and even some bark plating, tied on our persons with the vines. It may not have been the most comfortable, but it seemed to sheer away any vine or obstacle that dared to stand before us before we had to pull it aside. We, also, made packs out of the leaves and vines, carrying a good surplus of berries with us.
We looked at the cave one last time before we truly left it behind, and made our way to the mountain... I write this now as we approach the base of it, and only now do I wonder if this was the best course of action. There was plenty of wood left. Given time, we could make a sea-faring vessel, but what about that creature? It would most assuredly snap our ship as it would the bridge, then where would we be?
This was the best way... Baro is beckoning.
I write this now at the moment of my life where, without a shadow of doubt, Fate has guided me, wanted me to be all along. What else could explain how we went down as we climbed up the mountain, how the path that we had found that circled the side had seemed to ascend, had lead to another cave, heading down, down into the depths. Though the mountain was as black as night, the inside was once more that pale stone, gleaming, shimmering with the sun’s kiss though we had entered long after it had set and the moons were on the other side.
Time seemed to have no meaning in that cave, the air heavy, emanating almost a... whimsical... mystical air from the glowing stone, pulsing, thrumming at the back of the mind as we continued to descend. It seemed to grow louder, until it was booming against us, but that could have easily been explained away by nerves and sensory deprivation.
What couldn’t be, though, was what awaited at the bottom.
There, in the darkness, in almost a perfect, white stone vault, was a ship. A ship that seemed to have been made by the Aqua Alliance, made with ferrisom bark, as dark as the stone mountain this all resided in, but there were other elements to it, things that I wasn’t entirely sure how to describe aside that it made it very clear it had no relation to any of our kin’s craftsmanship. It was shorter than the Leviathan, arguably shorter than the Kraken, but size did not truly matter, not when escape was so close at hand.
I started towards it, but Baro had stopped me, pointing to the opening before it, the chasm that had lead its way all to that ship, and my heart froze. That’s right. There was that creature, but was there harm in stepping aboard that ship?
I voiced this to him, and he simply stared at me for a moment. Or two. His beady black eyes bore into me while he nibbled and cleaned his claw until he gave a small wave, and we made our way, slowly, to that ship. It seemed far larger as we descended the rest of the path to it, and, on its stern, there was a name scrawled in unknown, blue glyphs.
Baro bore his barbs as a board slammed from the deck, giving us a way aboard, but Baro stopped me from traversing to it. He’s right; this was all incredibly suspicious, so we waited.
But nothing else came from the ship. No other sounds emanated from those dark timbers, with the only sounds of the water bubbling through the opening in the cave and that low, pulsing thrumming.
Baro was the first to move, to climb on deck, and I followed after, staying close as he made his way to the captain’s quarters. The door simply glided open, and there was only a desk inside. On it was a saber, once again both very much like our kin’s work but given extra elements that made it seem otherwise. Especially that sword. It was a basic cutlass, but the cup was silver, etched with blue runes, while the rest of the blade was copper. Baro picked it up, gave it a small swing, and the wind seemed to shriek from it.
Making the entire ship boom.
We raced out to the deck, and found the sails had been unfurled. Anchors rumbled away, pulling up from the deep, and a pair of undulating shadows fell behind, gone as quick as they came as the ship lurched out into the chasm. Water seemed to separate for it, the wind whipping against its sails, more than happy to push it ever faster until it seemed to fly, and we were in open water.
I turned to Baro, and he was as shocked as I. Though one thing was for certain; with that sword in his hand, he was not simply Baro, my friend. No. Just looking upon him made me feel... small. He had such a presence now, an aura of knowing and command, and he looked so natural behind the wheel. With him at the helm, I knew justice would be delivered, and I took my place as his skipper.
Destiny has guided us to this ship, to this ship of ships. Fate had given us the power to do as we wish, and had given us a ship to call our own. We were uncertain what the glyphs said on the side, but we both came to an agreement on what to call her.