Olivier thought, with the urgency Ponitius had shown, Durnst would be quick to be rid of the Itchyoman in his bar so they could go. Instead, as soon as he hopped back over the bar, a group of sailors stumbled into his establishment. They were laughing, talking up a storm, stifled by the door as it screeched and slammed shut in their wake.
They stopped a moment, staring at Olivier, but he quickly scurried off to one of the booths behind Ponitius. He wasn’t there to be an attraction, entertainment or an oddity. He was on a mission, a mission that these interlopers were stalling. And stall they did. None of them were content or even thought of leaving until all thought and reason abandoned them. The fairest of their group, an Itchyoman lass, started to complain that it was getting too hot and, instead of stepping out and welcoming the cool breeze of night, stripped down right there at the bar. Was she embarrassed? Did she show humility? No. Instead, she hooked her V-shaped tail underneath the chin of the Terrahn lad that was with them and took him into her arms.
“You have the most beautiful eyes of a child of clay,” she said, and Olivier never thought he’d find a sound worse than an angry Itchyoman. He was proven wrong; an aroused, amorous fishwoman sent a retch down his spine. A retch that wasn’t unheard. The Itchyoman practically threw the Terrahn aside as she stormed over to Olivier. Her red and purple scales shimmered in the dim light, lost to the black lines that outlined her chest and abs, all the way to her modesty. Blood rained upon the old timbers as her teeth ripped free from her gums, ending far from her chin and jaw, but were dwarfed by her nose, a long, loping thing that dug into Olivier’s forehead as she loomed over. “What? What’s the matter, freak? Have a problem with me loving a Terrahn.”
“N-no. Not at all,” he said, but he couldn’t keep any strength in his voice, making him feel even more like bait at the end of a line, being circled by many a hungry fish. What kind of hunger she brought, though, was enough to send an actual shiver down his back this time.
She growled, and it was as he feared. She gripped his shoulders and slid onto his lap, blood dribbling down his front onto his jacket and arm. It was still tucked against his middle, now his only bastion.
“I was wrong,” she purred, and gripped his face with her purple claws, tracing, creasing it. “You have the most beautiful eyes. Children of clay and squids should breed more often... Ooh... I could get lost in these forever.”
Her teeth started to recede, her lips closing in on Olivier’s, when her original victim approached. He wrenched at Olivier’s shoulder, forcing both of them to stand, and shoved him against the wall.
“What do you think you’re doing?” He croaked, hiccuping as his gaze, those lush, opal eyes, drifted in between the four of Olivier he saw. He raised his other hand, curled into a fist, and shook it. “You think you can just hit on my girl just like that? I’ll show you, freak!”
“But I wasn’t-” Olivier began, cut off by the Itchyoman as she slammed her tail into the Terrahn. He crashed into the chair beside Ponitius, still drinking away, lost to his own grumblings, while the Itchyoman made Olivier her prisoner once more.
“Don’t mind my ex,” she said. “He’s a bit of a show-off, but he has never been the same since we broke up.”
“You’re breaking up with me?” The Terrahn exclaimed, standing up. It took him a few tries, but he managed to balance himself on the bar. “You’re leaving me for this... thing?”
“Normally I wouldn’t, but... maybe it’s the grog in me, but... there’s something inside him that draws me.” She started to close her eyes, her throat and the bar rumbling with another of her amorous growls, and she puckered her lips, closing on Olivier.
Stopped as Durnst slapped the bar.
“Closing time,” he stated.
The Itchyoman tittered, and tugged on Olivier’s tunic.
“Guess we’ll have to continue this elsewhere. I have this little shanty up in the Itchyoman district that gets awfully cool at night. Would you like to... come warm it?”
“A-ac-actually I have places to b-” Olivier tried to say, quickly silenced by her rising growl.
“Come on, babe,” the Terrahn said, rubbing her arm. “It’s obvious that he’s not interested.”
She turned and snapped at him, pushing him against the bar.
“Don’t ruin this for me, you... handsome...”
She kissed him, moaned against his lips, and Durnst smacked the bar again before hopping over and making sure they got out with the rest of their group. The Itchyoman that had been sitting at the booth must have left at some point for, when Olivier came to his senses again, it was only the three of them. Durnst still had the door open, kicking the Itchyoman’s clothes out, and heaved a heavy sigh as he looked out on the dock.
“Finally,” he said, and let the door shut, wincing as it shrieked and boomed out into the cool night air. “One of these days I’ll get this fixed,” he trudged over to Ponitius and groaned as he hefted him up onto his shoulder. “Come on, Pony Boy.”
“Already? But I only begun to deprave myself,” Ponitius said.
“Wait. Why do we have to go now? Everyone’s gone,” Olivier uttered, and wanted to shrink away from himself for even saying it. Of course there would be a good reason. One that I haven’t thought of yet.
“That fish-brained fool may have been too deep in his mug to have heard any of what we spoke, but there’s no denying he won’t tell people along his way home that he saw a Cephamorian-Terrahn hybrid come traipsing into my bar, caused a... commotion, but, most importantly, made an old drunk excited for travel again,” Durnst said, and slapped his forehead. “Really, Pony Boy, you should have been a mite bit more subtle.”
“Aye. That I should have, but you should have done the same.”
“Now’s not the time to be pointing fingers, you drunken fool.”
“You’re right. Now’s the time to carry this old drunk home.” Ponitius guffawed, and slapped Durnst’s shoulder.
“Is that wise, though? Wouldn’t that Ithcyoman have heard that, too?” Olivier said, cursing at himself. Really need to learn when to speak! Stupid! St-
Durnst chortled, shaking his head.
“He has a point, Pony Boy. When has your shop ever been considered safe?”
“Aye. His shop and his home are one and the same. He lives up near the market district, almost near the warehouse district, and it should should be safe as ever... As long as nobody already came along and heard you, Pony Boy. Now... OFF we go.” He finally plucked the cobbler off his stool, but not before Ponitius managed to snag a bottle of rum behind it. He pulled off its cork as the two lumbered to the door, Olivier following closely after. He shivered, clenching his coat tighter, thankful that the red folds hid his purple arm so well, but what about in the shop, in Ponitius’s home? He will want to hang it, be a courteous host, wouldn’t he? After all, a coat in the arms is a hassle, and then, when he reached for it, he would either think him rude or see the arm and believe him a-
Olivier shook his head, and decided to throw on the coat again, clasping the nine brass buttons down its front until it was left to flare around his legs. It wasn’t really cold, but it did still his shivering, if only a touch. It, also, gave him time to dawdle and wait for Durnst and Ponitius to take a real lead, allowing his back to be touched by the moons instead of turned towards the shadow of the great ship beside. A coy, rather immature thought played through his head, of brigands and cut-purses and thieves stalking, prowling behind, only to see the colors brimming with moonlight on his back, and scatter as quick as they came... and, for once, his jacket gave him a bit of warmth.
They reached the stairs, and Olivier had to slow. Ponitius slipped and stumbled every third or fourth, grumbling such strange things. “Why do they enchant these steps at night?” “What sort of sorcery makes shadows into steps?” “When did they multiply?!” “This is some black magic fu-”
Olivier couldn’t help but chuckle. He fought it for so long, but it finally managed to slip out. Ponitius shot a look back over his shoulder at Olivier upon hearing the noise that disturbed the otherwise still night.
“Find something funny, half-breed?” He said, his voice slurring, weakened as fatigue started to take hold. “M... maybe it was you did this to the steps. Maybe you did this every night to the steps. You’ve been here this whole time, just laughing it up at an old man’s misery. Ain’t that right, tentacle man? W... wha... oh... What do you think, Durnst? Should we stretch him a bit? Maybe take him to the Loosed Groose to show him he can get his jollies elsewhere?”
“I think we are going to have to wait for you to sober a touch before we discuss anything, but you should be fine by the time we get you home,” Durnst said, chuckling as he kept a firm hold on the Terrahn, all three laughing.
Ponitius sighed, and patted Durnst’s back again.
“You see?” He said, hiccuping. “This is why I couldn’t think of leaving you behind, Durnst. You are the brains and brawn to my natural charm.”
“Well, Strix’s, but at least you have the boat.”
“Ah-hah! Exactly! I have the boat. You have the brains and brawn, Strix had the charm... what does tentacle man have?”
“Guess time will tell on that one.”
Durnst “winked” at Olivier, the soft, white film that covers an Itchyoman’s eyes fluttering a moment, before he continued to haul Ponitius up the steps, his singing and cursing far louder than Olivier’s chuckles. Sleep, though, started to take hold of Olivier, his steps dragging before they reached the one hundredth. The arc that awaited beside it stretched out further than the others below or beyond it, covering a small sitting area on the cliff side. Four stone tables were erected from the sandstone, while chairs of iron were tucked neatly into it, save for a single one, turned away from the table to stare out at the sea. They did not stop at it, though, pressing on.
Olivier found himself fumbling just as much, if not more, than Ponitius, but he couldn’t have been more awake as they reached the top. He wanted to kiss that plaza so bad, now empty save for two or three guards, mumbling as they passed. Olivier felt tingles on his back, as if he was being watched as Durnst and Ponitius seemed to head for the tavern. Instead, they turned left near the center of the plaza, heading downhill. Down they delved, shadow swallowing them; Olivier had started after.
Someone grabbed his shoulder.
“Halt!” A guard said. Metal rung on either side as the other guards flanked, glaring down at him. “We had received a complaint from the bartender that somebody was running around wearing the Dread Pirate’s old colors, and now we see you skulking after a drunkard being taken home?”
“I-I’m not... I’m following-” Olivier spluttered, shuddering hard enough to make his sword rattle in its sash. The guards fully drew their blades, aiming them at Olivier.
“Come quietly,” the guard behind said, grasping at his wrists. “We don’t want any trouble. Just stay a night in a cell, and you’ll be free to go in the morning.”
“You don’t understand. I... I’m not... I didn’t do anything!”
“We are a tolerant society, but we don’t take kindly to anyone who incites hate and fear by wearing those colors. Even if he is gone, there are still many that suffer the scars... Final warning. Come now, or we will have to use force.”
Olivier... gulped, and nodded. His head drooped, his shoulders slumped, and he allowed the guards to grab his hands-
He gasped, and instinctively pulled his right away, clutching it to his side as he spun a touch. The guard that had been behind him was startled by this, but quickly regained his senses, reaching for his sword.
“Wait,” Olivier said, holding out his left. “It’s not what you think-”
“Take him down!” The guard bellowed.
“How about not?” Ponitius slurred as he leaned over Olivier. He reeked of drink still, adding another layer to the air around him as he tipped his bottle of rum back, guzzling it down. He heaved a heavy sigh as he held up the amber glass to the moonlight, showing it was empty. “There we are.”
He pushed passed Olivier, and, in a flash and a crack that rung like thunder, brought the bottle down on the first guard. Glass tinkled onto the street, followed by metal as the guard collapsed from the blow. Ponitius grumbled at what remained of the bottle in his hand, but shrugged as he approached the guard before Olivier. They took a step back, flinching as their other comrade hit the ground, Durnst cracking his knuckles, stepping in-line with Ponitius.
“You boys do a good job watching the city for ruffians, but maybe you should ask before you defend an old coot like myself,” Ponitius said, and the guard only had time to cry out before he, too, hit the ground. Ponitius wiped his hands, the last of the glass taken care of, and wheeled around... a bit too much. Thankfully, Durnst stopped him and turned him to Olivier, allowing him to bow. “There we are! You should have asked us to slow a little, boyo. Let’s get moving before these lads wake and take out their horrid headaches.”
Olivier nodded, and fell in line again as they practically ran down the hill. Darkness took them, and now Olivier was sure he had eyes on him from every corner, jagged teeth and rusted blade ready to dig into him. He no longer had the law on his side. He thought, as long as he kept his head down, didn’t cause a fuss, he would be fine, but it seemed just wearing the wrong kind of cloth was enough to turn everyone against him... Maybe Lady Naomei was right after all.
Durnst suddenly turned left, heading down a small alleyway where he turned left once more. Olivier always jumped when it happened, expected to be ambushed, but slowly understood why as they continued to turn left, finding themselves back at the beginning of the alley way, this time heading straight before returning to the street only to repeat a few alleys down. Olivier fought so hard not to look back, unless he ruined everything Durnst was trying to do.
They came to the end of the street. They could no longer go straight, but it did split left and right, heading uphill and down. Durnst turned uphill, and went three houses before he allowed Ponitius to fall off his shoulder. He exclaimed as he cracked his head on the first step to the pale blue door set in rich dark wood, making up most of the house. To the right there was a sign: Pony Boy’s Cobbling and General Tailoring... Aside the beginning of it, the rest of the sign seemed so plain.
How was he supposed to attract business with that? Olivier thought, and smiled, remembering all the fun signs he had made with his father for the store. He remembered, one time, he had gone too far with a joke and a silver-shelled Aceon decided to ransack the place. What did he and his father do? Bend to the Aceon’s will? But of course! They apologized and took down the sign. Just to put one up that was worse... at least, to that specific Aceon. He chortled, remembering seeing how that Aceon seemed to steam himself, and jumped as a lock clicked.
Ponitius grunted as he turned the long, crooked handle, and it slid in, eerily quiet save for the smallest squeak at the end of its arc. Ponitius looked down at the door, and pursed his lip as he repeated it thrice, sighing heavily as he vanished into the house. Durnst gripped Olivier, and the two lumbered up the steps, making the door squeak one last time as Durnst closed it.
The entrance, its store floor, though clean, cleaner than what Olivier expected, was incredibly bland. Shoes lined the left wall, warmed by the candle in Ponitius’s hand as he returned, but none of them gleamed. Not even the top rack did, the “fancier” sets of shoes, all varying from black... to brown... to, wait for it... lighter brown. The pants that were piled on the first table, right before Olivier, were, also, incredibly plain, though Olivier wondered if he could ask for a pair, but the gloves had caught his eyes, too. He didn’t bother to ask, simply taking a pair of black ones, while keeping in stride with Durnst as he continued to goad him into following after Ponitius. They passed the second table, third, piled neatly with shirts, not a single brocade pattern in sight. Along the right wall were coats, traveler’s cloaks, hoods, and even a few pairs of robes, all rather plain.
Olivier touched one of the robes as he passed, and his eyes burst with a touch of green, surprised to feel how truly soft they were. He touched a hood as he passed it, too, and found it to be incredibly soft but heavy. Even just tugging on it it was more inclined to pull the rack it was on over than to raise from it. In fact, he didn’t pay them much mind when he picked them up, but, for how thin the gloves appeared to be, they were incredibly heavy. Function over fashion, indeed.
Another lock clicked, but this time Olivier did not jump, watching as Ponitius lifted a part of the counter, easing himself through before turning back, waiting for the others to slink after. He let it drop, thudding, booming into the store, and replaced its lock. Ponitius yawned as he pushed the same key into the door behind him, ushering them into his true home before pushing passed and lighting the candles along the dark walls. They twinkled in brass sconces, seeming to make those golden leaves glimmer. Slowly, the room was lit, and the darkness lifted to show three couches around a dark coffee table, etched with gold and silver. It reminded Olivier of the desk back in Strix’s office. They were almost perfect matches, down to the image sculpted and endowed upon the dark top, hidden under as Ponitius returned to it and unfurled a map over it.
Ponitius groaned as he plopped back into one of the couches, leaving Durnst and Olivier to one of each of their own. Olivier truly did not want to sit, made more apparent as the feathers in the fabric huffed in his descent, seeming to toy with him, wanting to pull him back and hold him against the soft back, to lull him off to sleep at last. However, it would simply have to wait as Ponitius cleared his throat, a noisy, raspy sound that murdered the silence that had settled.
“Right,” Ponitius said, pointing to the map. Specifically, to a city on the east coast of Palridian. “We are here... Where must we go, lad?”
“W-well,” Olivier said, and leaned over the map, as well, blocking out a bit of light, making it that much harder for him to be sure, to recall his memory, drifting, fading in the dark. He managed to shake the doubt away a moment, and prodded near Carapai, just west of it. “It’s about right here. I think.”
“You think! You think... That’s the best you can say?”
“Relax, Pony Boy,” Durnst said. “It’s been a long day for the lad.”
“It’s going to be even longer, too. We’re heading out tonight.”
“Really?” Olivier blurted, almost whined, but managed to curb his tongue before even the slightest inclination could escape.
“It’s our best bet,” Durnst said. “The Itchyoman would have talked, again my apologies, and a few other guards followed us for a time. No idea really why. Do you, boyo?” I do, but... Olivier shook his head, making Ponitius huff. “Then the sooner we can get out of this city and out on the open sea the better.”
“But what about your bar? Your shop?”
Durnst chortled, dismissing the worry with a wave.
“There’s nothing really worth it in there. Really. I just keep it open in spite of myself, and it gives Pony Boy here a place to drink his woes away without having to deal with any Ferin’s.”
“And no one should bother my shop,” Ponitius said, laughing, taking the warmth with its hollow barks. “Not when good ole Tallon is more than happy to undersell for pretty, petty nonsense. Besides, can you imagine the look on their faces when we come back with the Scylla?”
Durnst jumped to his feet, his fins fully fanned, scraping at the dark ceiling.
“Wait. That’s what we’re after?” He boomed, and guffawed. “And here I thought the lad was wearing those colors for the fun of it. Instead, he knows where it is.”
“I... I do,” Olivier said, not really a question but he had to say it if only for himself. He clenched his chest, or, rather, the notebook there. It was a fleeting thought, to tell them that he really didn’t know, that he had the item that would lead them, but decided to stay quiet. He would be needed, whether they liked it or not.
“Well, there you go! There’s your usefulness,” Durnst exclaimed, and laughed as he pulled Olivier to his feet, humming a small jig as he turned him around, cheering more seeing the colors fully on his back. “By Natalie! Imagine, after all these years!”
“We actually lived to find the Scylla,” Ponitius said, and chortled as he stood. He rolled the map up again and put it in his jacket, cracking his back. “Right. The Falchion is down a few levels. We are going to go downhill until we come to the fourth four-way, then take a right. There, at the end, will be a storeroom. We go in, then we get to it under.”
“Wait. What? What do you mean?” Olivier said, but Ponitius simply dismissed his questioning with a shake of his hand.
“You’ll see. You’ll see... But, before we do go, how about we get a bit of food in us. I could go for a nice steak right now, but, uh, I will be satisfied with a few potatoes and a cut of chicken. Sound find to you guys?”
“I’m not picky. You know that,” Durnst said, smiling wide as he let Olivier go. “What about you, lad? What’s your name, anyways? Wasn’t really paying attention in the tavern.”
“What a coincidence! Neither was I,” Ponitius exclaimed, heaving a cackling wheeze as he lumbered to the door behind his couch.
“I’m Olivier,” Olivier said, and held out his hand.
“Durnst. Now let’s follow after that fool before he cooks his hand again.”
Olivier wasn’t sure if he should laugh or not, but followed after the Itchyoman anyways. He felt incredibly rested, hunger and excitement fueling him, and he wondered what a Terrahn ship would be like, lost as Ponitius cursed, making him instead think what kind of seasonings he had added to his fingers. For better or worse, he had to trust them for now. There was nowhere else he could turn, and they didn’t seem that bad... so far.