On the Road Once More
Not even three days had passed since Olivier made land. In three days, he had witnessed a primal force take away an ally, had played cat-and-mouse with a Leocarn, met a sassy Natorei that lead him to another, arguably crazier one and her mother, had a runic incentive attached to him, sent back to that cave, and returned home just before it had blown. Even then, Strix was reluctant to remove the mark. She was just as dissatisfied as Avin to find it was only a book and coat in the box, especially after the tale Olivier had woven. However, she was as curious as the messenger, and what point was there to kill him now? He did his part; so, with a rather irked hand, she removed the rune. She took the book, told them to leave her be as she consulted the tome, but allowed Olivier to keep the coat.
“I have no reason for it,” she had said, already humming, mulling away, looking through those creaking pages. “Don’t leave town; I’m not through with you.”
Olivier had no intention of leaving. Not yet. Not until he had answers, and so he waited. They all waited. What began so quick for Olivier, what was a spark that engulfed him in a raging fire has settled to a slow burn, but he found no warmth in that flame, holding himself tight in that red jacket. He was huddled at one of the tables in the tavern for most of it, listening to travelers, traders, and the rabble and trying his best to digest and understand his situation.
If only it was alone.
Time and again until time had forgotten Fili urged and nudged him towards the town, but he remained adamant. He fought to remain curled on his bed or, if he did leave his room, stationed at his table, pecking at food that would spoil long before he ever truly finished. The bit he did eat roiled in his stomach, always stopping him before three or four bites lest it forced him to reveal his true feelings.
Of course he was afraid. Of course he was absolutely terrified, and why wouldn’t he be? To them, he might as well have lied, even though everything he said was the truth. He did not lie about the mountain, the crag, the cave, nor the chest. They were all there. For the most part, they were all proper as well, but the chest was the focus, always the main point, and, with that being slightly off, his entire story had gone up in smoke.
He simply hoped there was something, anything in the journal. A shred of information, a mite of revelations; something that may spare him yet, if not point him in the right direction. As each day arrived, his hope became dread. His attempts at isolation were like penance for salvation, that, if he punished himself enough, the mayor wouldn’t enact her own brand of justice. Fili each and every day was enough of a punishment; maybe that was why a single, morbid strand of hope held on, that Strix would kill him and spare him from her at long last.
And so, when the morning came, as another day of the Second Era in its first year and sixth month, rose through Olivier’s window, and Avin rushed through it, it was not excitement but anxiety that overtook him. Strix finally summoned them. Avin nudged Fili, resting on a pillow beside Olivier. Olivier had no idea where she got it, but the pink fabric with silver embroidery clashed against the earthen colors of the rest of the room. She grumbled, her blue light sparking, but Avin continued to pester.
“Wakey wakey,” he sung, and grunted as he dove under the pillow, itself, and threw her at the wall. It huffed on contact, falling, but Fili had stayed on the wall. Her light was dim enough for Olivier to see her in all her glory. Thankfully, though, only her back could be seen at the moment, and she was bathed in almost white light as she pulled herself free. Avin ducked as she left a...nother long burn on the ceiling. He chortled, hooking a thumb to it. “One more and she may have a tic-tac-toe... nah. I’ll fly up next time. Screw the entire thing up. Got to let the cat win, all that.”
Fili yawned, lazing back over to Olivier, and glowered at Avin.
“Why do you bother us?” She grumbled, wiping her eyes, and almost burnt Olivier as Avin bonked her on the top of the head.
“Think for a minute, genius. Why would I come to bother you two love-birds at all?”
“We’re not-” Olivier began, his cheeks paling Fili’s light at last. They had gained a rather rosy tint to start, as did his eyes... along with a small shade of black.
“Wait,” Fili interjected, making that black flare a touch. “Is mother-”
“Yup. She’s finally done. She was actually waiting on you, but settled for me. Imagine her disappointment. She knew you weren’t too far from him, so... congrats, Olivier. She accepts you and all the squidly-clay-fairy kids you two are going to make- seven. At least seven.”
Both of them were speechless, and it was a question which one was emanating more heat: Olivier, Fili, or the sun outside. Fili’s light was tinged red, rippling like a flame, and the wind seemed to boom after as she jetted out the window.
Avin chortled, and patted Olivier’s shoulder as he simply stared after his roommate.
“I was lying, by the way,” Avin said.
“Huh?” Olivier uttered, voice still so lost. “Lied about what now?”
“Strix didn’t send me. I simply heard through her window wondering where Fili was. I was half-tempted to go in and tell her that she was busy reenacting some of her favorite reading material, but... eh. I like living.”
“So she might not need me at all?” His heart was torn between despair and anticipation, both wanting it to be true but also wishing it was done and over with... He shook his head, and stood. He dawned his coat once more. It still seemed so heavy, so large, the sleeves able to fit four of him in just one, but at least it didn’t drag, just barely tapping against the top of his ankles.
Avin shrugged and settled on his shoulder.
“Who knows? But too late now. I already sent Fili, so let’s go check in. If she isn’t done, it’ll light a fire under her, and if she is, well, it’ll look good on your part- our part.”
Olivier found himself agreeing but, also, wondering how far he could get out of town before the silver streak smote him. It wasn’t too late; he was certain Avin would have joined him without a fuss, and what is adventure without a bit of chase? If Avin did try, did attempt to stop him, Olivier could have threatened him with the sword- no. That wouldn’t work. Avin saw how he fumbled with it, how he tripped himself over so many times on his blade. To threaten him with the sword would be to show him a leaf, but what about a quick punch? It would actually be something he wouldn’t see coming, but did he want to be on his bad side? Strix was bad enough; Avin seemed the kind of person who would hide what he could truly do until you lit the fuse... and, the entire time, he never once thought about Fili.
Avin chuckled as he smacked Olivier’s forehead, disturbing one of the tendrils.
“Hey! Listen. I know you’re scared, but you have nothing to worry about,” he said. “Strix may seem scary, but she’s really a big softy. I mean, she’s allowing her daughter to sleep with you. You told her the truth... mostly. It’s just that last, minor, inconsequential, most vital piece of information that really threw us all through a loop, even you. Especially you. Which she saw. So she sees it as we are all on the same page. At worst, she demands you to stay until a scholar or storyteller comes along... at least, that was the worst. I think, uh, I may have set the bar up two steps... at least.”
“R... right,” Olivier said, and finally made his way to the door and down the hall of the tavern one last time. Feo and his spotted Faun friend were at the table again, the tables around piled high with treasure... and Feo’s clothes. He growled as he looked from his cards to his opponent. She looked absolutely coy, wafting her cards to herself, still completely clothed. Olivier happened to see both their hands as he passed by; Feo would win.
“Don’t say anything. Keep your face forward,” Avin breathed into Olivier’s ear. Olivier did as he was told, and even tried to keep his visage blank, though he felt a bit of color stir in his eyes, allowed the full green as he stepped outside –only to turn yellow as the table followed after. Avin sighed, weary, and was felt shrugging through his coat. “What did I tell you? I even warned him, several times, but no. He doesn’t listen.”
“Where did she keep the cards this time?”
“Same place she always does; in the fur in between her left elbow. You would think he would change the deck to the ruby red, but he is always coerced into using the striped yellow set. Maybe if he did, everyone would believe me when I say she’s a cheatah.”
“You did it again,” Fili grumbled as she fluttered back to them. The fountain bubbled merrily, lost behind as they continued to trudge to the bridges, a bit faster now that Fili burned bright. She pushed against Avin, her light seeming to singe his as the prods against his chest rung through the village. “You never even went to her this morning, you little git!”
“But I wasn’t wrong, was I? She needed you, and you weren’t there. Did she ask how you two are doing, by the way? If you got a little monster in the oven yet –no offense, Olivier.”
“Take all the offense. Tell me your offended, honey. Please! Give me another reason to turn him into cinders!”
“Could you quiet down. I have a headache this mo-” Olivier mumbled, lost under Avin’s snicker.
“What? He may be strange, but there’s no denying that the thing you two would brew up would be... awesome. Oh! Can I name it? I want to name it... Soniqua.”
“You will never even be allowed near our children let alone be given a chance to name them! Besides, I already have the perfect name picked out.”
Avin snorted. “Please. You can’t even remember you love’s name half the time.”
“I told you, we are just playing!” She took a deep breath, and Olivier was thankful that she did. It was bad enough his left eye had a black ring scarred into it from her light, but he still wished to use it. He could still recover... hopefully. “She was waiting for us to wake on our own and be seen in town before calling us to her office.”
“Ah! So she did need us.”
“Y... you didn’t-” She growled, and floated down to Olivier’s hand. She practically launched him up the path, with his ankles once in a while landing and dragging on the boards. “Come on!”
Olivier managed to get his footing before the door. Not a moment too soon; she had let him go, barreling into its handle, hoping he would follow. Instead, Fili smacked right into the metal, squeaking as it clicked. The door seemed to have quite a bit of experience with this and opened a crack, allowing to fall inside. Olivier gathered her up, feeling the smallest of smiles creep onto his face as he plucked that crumpled Natorei up into his palm, and entered.
Strix was sitting on a tiny mat laid on the coffee table, her and the journal moved from the desk onto it. A slew of notes were plastered around, all culminating, attached to a map of Mortuim laid before both of them, right in the center of the table. Different entries, different colors, all made one by a solid, silver line, pointing to a blue dot between Palridian and Tartarus and just a bit west of Carapai.
Strix yawned. Her light flashed, seeming to pulse as she groaned and grumbled as she stood and flew, lazing over to Olivier. He had already started towards the coffee table, but decided to wait, watching as she bobbed in the air.
“This way, dear,” she mumbled, not giving him much choice otherwise as she grabbed his index finger and lead him to the couch. She made sure he sat before letting him go, fluttering before his face. “Did you have a nice vacation? Enjoyed your visit to Narvaal?”
“Y-yes ma’am...” Olivier said, shaking his head. “Wait. Enjoyed?”
She chuckled, more a crackly croak, and landed back on the small mat on the table.
“Yes. Did you and Fili have enough time to get acquainted?”
“He’s being modest,” Fili said, though her voice was a bit more... stuffed than a moment before. How she flew was, also, a touch lopsided, but she managed to make her way to his cheek, kissing it. “I love him so much.”
Strix still chortled, and heaved a weary sigh.
“That’s good. It’ll make her heart grow fonder as I send you off again.”
“What?” Olivier squawked, drowning out Fili’s exclamation.
“Surely you noticed when you entered. The coffee table? The journal, the notes, the map? I am not certain what happened to the darkness you spoke of, but what you stumbled upon is even more curious.” She yawned again, and flipped the journal shut, pointing to the name. “You know who this is, don’t you?”
“There isn’t a person in the Aqua Alliance who doesn’t know, ma’am.”
“Please, dear.” Fili interjected. “You can call her mom now.”
“... Then why don’t you enlighten the other two in the room?” Strix said. “I would, but I have a bigger reveal to save my energy for.”
“O... okay,” Olivier said, and took a deep breath, if only to settle his nerves. “Skipper Nejrat was the first mate of the Dread Pirate Baro. For close to five years, the pair had gathered a crew, plundered dozens of ships and even sank a few. Their ship, the Scylla, was a deadly shadow on the waters, as if it flew through the air to hunt down its victims. So many feared them, especially the Itchyoman, whom were slaughtered during their migrations with such indifference that their bodies were left to chum the waters and bring gulls from leagues around to that small islet of corpses.” He hadn’t realized it, but he had been squeezing his hands together in his lap, had been shivering, and the coat on him felt even larger. He blinked, trying to still the yellow in his eyes, and took another deep breath, releasing it with a shudder. “The tales I heard during my time in my father’s shop haunted my dreams. I was terrified to sleep, for I thought my dreams could bring them to my home, to Carapai, and truly bring ruin to all.”
“Yes. The tales were rather daunting, weren’t they?” Strix said. The way she said it seemed more like a taunt, her tone flat, as if toying with him. “Legendary. Grandiose... but that’s all they were. Tales. For so long, many even wondered if the Dread Pirate Baro even existed, especially since at the beginning of the Second Era he had faded into obscurity. How quick tales became legends, which will soon be no more than myths.”
“But we have the journal,” Fili said, “and even the coat with the Dread Pirate’s colors, don’t we?”
“Yes, and that’s why it is interesting. What we have here is the first ever physical proof the Dread Pirate and skipper existing... as well as a potential resting place for the Scylla.”
“R-really?!” Olivier exclaimed, sitting up more... before clearing his throat, letting the green fade from his eyes. “I mean, really?”
“Oh my. Someone got all excited,” Avin said, chortling, making Olivier wince as Fili pinched his cheek.
“Why don’t you ever get that excited for me?”
“For good reason, and he should be,” Strix said, fluttering into the air again as she lazed over the map. “This is... astounding! For so long people wondered where the Scylla made port... and, perhaps, now waited. It might have taken me a bit, but I have estimated the location. This is why your time is up here, young Cephater -a term I’ve been working on if you don’t mind- for it is now your duty- no, your obligation, if not your destiny, to go find it.” She flew over to the desk, and returned with a black notebook, dwarfed by the journal she placed it on, then also a scroll. “Inside that notebook are the details I could gather, what you are looking for, while the scroll is a missive. You are to deliver it to Ponitius Barolei of Lam Berel. From there, he shall give further instruction.”
“B... but I don’t know the way,” Olivier said, hating that he had an excuse.
“By horse, it is a day’s ride out along the trader’s route. I already sent word this morning to Luke to get a horse ready for you. Best not to dally longer; say your goodbyes.”
And that time he did want to complain.
“Wait.” He said. “You guys aren’t coming with me?”
“Eh... Nah. Not this time,” Avin said, chortling as he rose off Olivier’s shoulder. “Maybe the next adventure you decide to go on, but this sounds rather plain. Remember me when there’s a world-shattering, life-ending quest you are on, though, all right?”
His pink light winked one last time and he buzzed through the window, leaving Olivier to look to Fili, slowly lazing after.
“I’m sorry, Olivier,” she said, her voice so soft. “I’m... just not really cut out for traveling. Besides, we had our fun, and I won’t ever forget you.”
“Please, child. You do this with every new traveler that comes through town,” Strix said, making Fili’s blue burn so bright. She flashed out of the window, leaving him and her mother alone. She fluttered up to him and patted his cheek, tittering. “Truth be told, I wish I could go with you. I used to go on long adventures all the time in my youth, but as you can tell those two need me. This town needs me... With any luck, you will meet companions on your journey. For now, though, you ride alone, but know this: you never are. You have us at your back, every step of the way, and are always welcome here in Narvaal... Though... if you get back, I demand something of you: I want to ride on the Scylla. Nothing on or of this world or anything in the next shall stop me.”
“I’ll make sure you get that ride.” Olivier stated, and shocked himself with his laughter, laughing harder as he snorted, rising alongside Strix’s. She sighed, heavier with each one, kissed his cheek, and waited for him to pocket the notebook and missive in his jacket’s left breast pocket before leading him down to the trader’s path and the stable tucked just in the outer left wall. There a familiar, long-faced fellow waited, standing beside a dark mare. “Wait. You’re the stable-master?”
“Yes. This is Luke,” Strix said, bobbing in between, and Olivier felt rather small under the horseman’s glare. “I take it you met before?”
“You could say that,” Luke said, his voice deep, rumbling from his brown snout. He patted the mare’s side, tugging on the brown saddle one last time. It was rather bare save for a feedbag and several skins of water. “As I agreed to do, my best horse, mayor. Lana shall get him to Lam Berel in no time, and knows the way back.”
“Wonderful... Take care, Olivier. Let Astra’s winds guide you, and Natalie show you mercy.”
“Thank you,” he said, and approached the horse. She stamped her right foot impatiently as he tried to put his foot in the stirrup. He managed to, and tried to throw his leg over, but she stepped sideways. He cried out, and red flashed in his eyes as he heard Luke and even the Mare nickering.
“She can sense your inexperience,” Luke said, and picked him up, setting him on top of the mare. “Don’t worry, though. She’ll be gentle on you. Don’t expect her to be the second time, though.”
“Okay... and sorry.”
“For the blucher thing-”
The mare whinnied loud, and raised on her hind legs, threatening to throw him off, settling as Luke shushed her, caressing her snout.
“It’s okay. He didn’t mean it,” he said soothingly into her ears, almost... intimate. He sighed as he took a step back, and gave him a cold look. “Apology accepted, now be off with you before you excite her too much.”
Olivier nodded, and grabbed the reins, little more than leather cord, and gave them a small flick forward. She started off at a slow trot, seeming to toss her head back, to look at Luke, watching, waiting until he went back into the house before taking off on a full gallop. Olivier held on for dear life, and, as the midday sun shined down upon him, he finally had his first, true step.