Before they could leave, there was a new, sudden, somewhat important task they had to tend to. They couldn’t exactly leave the bodies out, now could they? Olivier is already under suspicion, a suspicion that will have merits once the three guards wake up, and there was no telling when some will come running to the scene, as if sharks in the ocean to derelict screams. The sandstone ran red with enough blood to entice, so stowing the bodies was a necessary price.
Olivier felt a touch nauseated as he handled the dead Itchyoman. Not because they were dead, mind. He had plenty of experience with moving corpses during his stay at Terra, experience and understanding that he needed to walk on eggshells lest he ended up as one of the “forsaken” that was... shown the Mother’s Love. No; it was their smell. The live ones were tolerable if a bit displeasing to the senses. The dead? They reeked as if they were freed of their mortal bonds for ages within minutes. Their flesh seemed to sop right off their dark, brown bones and reveal the Terrahn that was once underneath their scaled hide and finned frames.
The Itchyoman he handled suffered it the most. It was like their kite-like body was more than ready to fly off, slapping, making it a pain to handle. He must have dropped them enough for their innards to be jostled down to their feet, those three-toed blocks the heaviest part of the fishperson. Worst part was he felt rushed; all the others were taken care of, so they were simply waiting for him to do his part. At least, what they graced him with. What they allowed him.
Squall’s words still stung at his heart, making red dance across his vision. Even more as she bent and helped him. In fact, there was something about the Itchyoman’s name that made him both angry yet anxious all at once. But why? Where had he seen that name, seen her, before? He couldn’t recall ever seeing a pink Itchyoman in his father’s shop. He could not recount anyone even looking like her passing by in the cargo of the ship he skulked in, but that didn’t stop him from having that irk.
She groaned as they dropped the body again, and tried to shush Olivier aside.
“I got this. Time is of the essence and all,” she said, but Olivier refused to be dismissed. He was forced to step aside, but that didn’t stop him from grabbing those feet, hoisting them as hard as he could. Perhaps a touch too hard. Squall exclaimed, tittering as she regained her footing. “Where was this strength a moment ago? Doesn’t matter. ’S here now.”
Foot by foot they lumbered to the shanty, and, with two quick swings, the Itchyoman tumbled onto the pile with its other “entrepreneurial” friends. Squall wiped her hands together, a bit of red energy hissing and sparking free with each strike, burning away the grime that had seeped onto them. Squall must have been watching him, fanning her hands at him. In her palms there were two red runes, runes of the Dark Ones, slowly dimming away.
“I don’t have that good of ties to the old ones, but at least they can clean my hands,” she said, leading into a yawn. She cracked her back, and walked passed, heading for the storehouse that Durnst stood by. Ponitius was but a few paces away from the shanty, humming a small tune, and juggling his daggers in his right hand. He waited for Olivier and seemed to simply glide as he followed him.
But the storehouse hadn’t been opened yet.
Durnst leaned against it, watching, his six eyes gleaming in the moonlight, locked on Ponitius. The Terrahn still hummed away, seeming to get louder as they closed in. Olivier reached it, sidling by Squall, and turned around, watching Ponitius, as well, seeing as he seemed to saunter to the door.
He stopped humming, and his gentle appearance hardened instantly. He spun and tossed both daggers, both striking, flashing on the sandstone in between two webbed feet. They wobbled a little, grazing against the second and third toe of a young Itchyoman that had been waiting in the shadows by the shanty. Those digits cascaded with such color, as did the rest of the young one’s fair frame, all the way to the frill on his neck, flared, as wide as his pale blue eyes.
“Oh. It’s you,” Ponitius mulled, chuckling as he sauntered up to the Itchyoman. He knelt before him, pulled his knife, and only his knife, clear of his foot, holding it under his nose. The other was left, once belonging to the Itchyoman now serving as a warning, seeming to continue to teeter with Ponitius’s chortling. “Sorry, lad. Looks like you’re out of a job for a while. Can’t exactly steal business from a man on a hiatus, now can you?” Ponitius clicked the button on the knife; the edge slid back into its handle and was exchanged in his pocket for a sack, jingling in the young Itchyoman’s hands. “This should cover you for a while.”
“Wasn’t that-” Durnst began, but bit his lip, drawing blood as he continued to gnash at it, trying in vain to keep his growls at bay.
Ponitius patted the Itchyoman on the head and wheeled him around, pushing against his back.
“Now off you go, and remember: I’ll kill you if you try to ruin my business. When I come back and start working again... maybe.” He waved as the child ran away, his legs moving faster than the rest of him could keep up with. He had fallen four times over before he opened one of the stick huts on the right, making the entirety rock as he slammed it shut. Ponitius sighed, shaking his head as he returned, clucking his tongues. “Kids... little mongrels, no matter the species. Is there any wonder why I hate them? If it’s not their snot-nosed little faces, it’s their natural odor that can even repel flies.”
“Then why did you give him the money for your tab?” Durnst stated, curt. He couldn’t keep his growls in any longer, rolling like thunder through the poor district, stealing away what laughter and mirth had started to thrive once more.
“Tab? What tab?”
“The tab you owe me. Again.”
Ponitius waved it off. “Now, now. I already paid you. It’s not any fault of mine you lost track of the money after the fact.” He cracked his back, the night taking his moan as he eased by Durnst to the storehouse door. He reached into his pocket for his keys; each shuffle in that coat, each scuffle and stirring made Olivier tense, unsure whether it was truly the coat this time or a ruffian hiding behind them. Even against the building he felt as if knives were right on his back, their cold phantasmal steel leaving rime to melt and amplify the shivers down his spine. He almost climbed up the building when Squall rapped on his shoulder, getting his attention. Instead, he only went halfway up, popping off.
“You can move when you need to,” Squall said. “If you had shown any of that natural acrobatic prowess through town I don’t think I would have been able to follow you.”
“W... when did-” He began, wincing as he lowered his voice. He didn’t realize how loud he had been until Ponitius stopped searching his pocket for a moment and he heard his words bound down the street and return. Thrice over, actually. When he spoke again it was little more than a whisper, like Durnst’s, like Squall’s and Ponitius’s. “When did you start following? Really?”
“Remember when you were turned to the ship outside the bar? Did you happen to catch its name, or do I need to say it?”
“I... I didn’t.”
She sighed, shaking her head. “The Kappa. Looks like swordsmanship isn’t the only thing I’ll need to teach you... In any case, I was skulking around it that night. I heard a rumor that... it doesn’t matter. It was a dead-end regardless, so I was about to abandon ship when I saw, clear as day under the moon, the colors of the Dread Pirate Baro on the arm of a rather meek individual entering the Stay Golden bar. I decided to wait and wait... and... you get the gist.”
“Found it!” Ponitius cried out, keys jingling merrily in their absolute ability to ruin a mood and pull attention to them all. Ponitius chortled and palmed the ring, bouncing a few times. “It was hidden under my collapsible mug. Now... which one was it again? It was... no... Durnst do you remember?”
“Nope.” He stated.
“Looks like I’ll have to try them all, then.”
“… As I was saying,” Squall continued, “I didn’t move from my spot until your... friends were several paces ahead. That’s when I jumped down from the Kappa and into its shadow.”
“No one spotted you while you were up there?” Olivier said, feeling stupid for even asking. No. She was actually good at what she did.
“There was a close call with a stevedore, but I had hid behind the water barrels. I thought for certain you would notice me just as you came out and decided to put on your coat, but you were too lost in thought to have noticed, so it all worked out in the end. From there, the rest was easy. You make a lot of noise when you move, even when you think you’re trying to be sneaky, and are less perceptive than a Zephryian looking into a mirror. Trust me, not a compliment.”
“I know. I suck. You don’t need to rub it in,” Olivier grumbled. He may have had flashes of red before, but his eyes burned crimson now, redder than his cheeks, quickly changed to pink as she patted both his shoulders.
“You just lack training is all. I’ll have plenty of time to whip you into a proper brigand along our way. That is, if our Terrahn leader is telling the truth about it being a simple Terrahn-made ship.”
“The Falchion is true Terrahn, I assure you,” Ponitius grumbled, groaning as each key continued to simply scratch in the lock, refusing to turn. He took it out, tried the last key on the ring... and it refused to budge. Ponitius looked at that ring, dumbfounded, until Durnst cleared his throat and turned it over. “Oh! Right. Thanks.”
“Fixing your screw ups one at a time; it’s what I’m here for,” Durnst said, smirking at him as Ponitius mockingly laughed. The door clicked; he stowed the keys in his pocket again and pushed it open. There were no lights inside, save for the first two moons shining through the glass top, washing all in pale blue light. Sacks, crates, spare tools for sheering, metalworking, tailoring; all that and more lined the walls and dusty expanse.
Ponitius ignored all of it, though, and even seemed to melt through it, moving with such purpose through the labyrinth until he, and his followers, made it to the back wall. The ocean could be heard on the other side, rushing up to meet the dark wood, making it rumble.
He came to a stop before a long, heavy palate. It seemed to sink near the middle, loaded with crates and timber, all covered by large, white tarps. Olivier was about to ask if that was the ship, but, instead, the Terrahn simply pushed it to the side. Wheels squeaked, hidden by the hems of the tarp, revealing a small, pale trapdoor. It almost blended perfectly with the sandstone, only distinguishable by its black iron handle. Even its hinges were as white as the stone it was bolted into, but they made no noise as he swung it open, towards the palate on wheels, catching it. They looked down into the hole, and Olivier saw there was a ladder waiting inside. The rungs were hammered into the sandstone, twinkling in the darkness it stole into, telling it apart from the white walls that did close in upon them.
Durnst was the first down, followed by Olivier then Squall, leaving Ponitius last. Olivier wondered how he was going to cover the trapdoor again. His answer, though, came as the trapdoor slammed shut above him. Ponitius scrambled down a few, panting as the palate slammed against the wall, once more above.
“It’ll be a lot easier when we get back, I assure you,” he said, as if knowing the question that brewed in Olivier’s mind. “There’s a space between the boards for the trapdoor to hook, so it’ll move when I push it open.”
“If we need it at all,” Durnst said, rumbling from below. “If we get the Scylla-"
“Even if we do, we should not make port. Not until we report it to the city council first.”
“Right. So just leave it without a crew for Natalie knows how long while we wait for those old duffs to decide if we are allowed to keep it.”
“Oh, we’re keeping it. There’s no way around that. We are simply telling them that the scourge of the sea for the past five years is now under new management. If they don’t like it, there’s not really anything they can do about it, now is there?”
“They can throw us in jail. Execute us.”
“For stating we own a ship?”
“If Ferin decides it’s rightfully his-”
“I would sooner tear this Ferin’s throat out,” Squall exclaimed. “He shall not have the one true lead I have, if it ends up being true.”
“You doubt, madam?” Ponitius said.
“I’ve been hunting it and its crew for the past five years. I won’t believe anything until I’ve got my claws on it.”
“An attitude I can respect... Oi! Durnst? How much further?”
“A few more.” Durnst grunted. “Nevermind. I’m on top of the other trapdoor.”
“Alright. You remember where the latch is, right? If I know me... the opposite! It should be on your left, definitely not the right, just in between your knee and foot when crouching.”
“I’ve got it.” He grunted again, and again, growling. “It’s stuck tight.”
“That one was always a pain. Meant to change it to a knob or, even better, a bu- now why did you go and do that?”
Durnst chortled as wood crumbled and scratched on the blue cavern floor he landed on. Some dropped into water with an echoing plop. Squall managed to avoid Durnst’s grasp, but Olivier welcomed it, set on the ground gently, away from the wood and rising waters of the tide.
And what of Ponitius? He was left to fall on the debris. On one of the timbers with the hinges attached. One that Durnst pushed under waiting for him... The hinge decided to burrow its way someplace no one should have a hinge, and the sound Ponitius uttered made even Olivier cringe.
Ponitius took a moment to stand, whimpering, and was only silenced as he pulled the piece of wood free. His legs trembling as he glowered at Durnst through tear-streaked eyes... who simply shrugged.
“Your tab’s paid.” He said, and slapped Ponitius’s back, leaning against him as Olivier took in his surroundings. They were in a cave. Specifically, a cave just east of Lam Berel’s docks. The stern of the Kappa could just be seen, while another ship was pulling into the dock, passing right before the cave, stealing what light made it through the jagged entry. Water sloshed in after, making the Terrahn ship in that tiny grotto slosh and groan against its bindings.
Compared to Aqua Alliance ships, Terra Forces were puny, but they made up for it in speed. This ship was made with oak, the boards lacquered, tempered, bowed for years upon years until they made perfect recurves for the hull, all coming to a single, long blade along its bottom, riveted and smelted with iron, seeming to bleed the sea under its edge. The rudder on its back was like a cleaver, hacking its way through the sea, lead on by the wind, itself, wanting to pull the ship into the ocean now with the smallest breeze against its beige sails, folded tight against its two masts. There were a set of grates, leading to two sets of steps, but Oliver wondered why bother since it was only three steps down into the galley, seen even from the cave floor, while the captain’s quarters was little more than a box on the back, built before the wheel. It didn’t even have a door, showing the simple cot against the back right wall, and just the edge of a dark desk, the gold inlaid in it glistening from the moonlight allowed back into the cave.
Durnst helped Ponitius onto the board that lead from the cavern to the ship. It was large enough for two people, though Ponitius still looked incredibly uneasy, even as Durnst held him tight. Maybe it was because Durnst held him as tight as he did; perhaps his debt really wasn’t complete. They made it across all the same, and Durst let Ponitius fall to the ground. He climbed the black rungs hammered into the masts to get the sails opened, the top one looking like it would just pass through the rocks at the entrance.
Ponitius panted as he stood, leaning against the mast, knocked away from it as Durnst jumped down and made quick work to the next one, leaving the Terrahn to salute the two still on shore.
“Well?” He boomed, a bit of strength returned to his words, matching the green that left his cheeks. “You guys coming, or are we to sail off into the wild blue yonder with only the smallest of inklings to know where we are going?”
“After you,” Squall said, and pushed Olivier towards the plank, each step on it filling him with dread.
How long did we want to get off a ship? He thought, chuckling to himself as he hopped onto the deck. Now we’re wanting back on it.
Squall huffed as she followed after, and pulled the board in, laying it flat against the wall. She nudged Olivier’s shoulder and pointed to a bit of rope near the left end, rushing over to the right, and Olivier saw there were multiples in between, tied quick enough.
“Boarding board secured,” Squall said, “and all are on-board.”
“Great work. Glad to see you aren’t a novice on-board a ship. Neither of you.” Ponitius said, and lumbered up the steps, four in all, to the wheel. Given his... condition, it was a marvel his legs would allow it, but they gave out soon enough before his rightful place He leaned against it, heaving one last groan, and watched as Durnst landed on the bow, pulling up the anchors. There was no wheel to pull them up. No need; the vessel didn’t need more than two thirty-pounders to keep it in place, which Durnst heaved as if they were toys. As each one raised, the ship lurched a bit more, groaning, seeming to huff, wanting free.
Until it finally got its wish.
The final anchor was raised, and the ship barreled out into the dock. It was going so fast, the boards groaning, propelling towards the docked behemoths, yet the wheel barely creaked, barely spun for it to cut right, heading out towards open waters, into the deeper blue in no time at all. Olivier looked over the side, watching as the sea churned against the metal, bouncing a bit as the wind flapped and seemed to bark against the sails.
He jumped as Ponitius whistled, and he looked up to see him waving at him, gesturing to him to join. He did, and Ponitius tapped against a glass ornament near the wheel. The inside swiveled, settled at last, only jarred with each bump on the waters, but Olivier could still make out the red needle inside, as well as the four runes around it.
“Keep an eye on that, will you? If the area you told me is true, we’ll need to keep this heading for two hours or so then head southwest for two days. From there we can head south again, and it’ll be another month or so, then maybe, maybe we’ll be close.”
“Then why do you need me? Up here I mean?”
Ponitius chuckled, slapping Olivier’s shoulder. “You don’t need to be, but do you really want to receive lessons already?”
Olivier looked across the ship, Squall at the bow. Durnst had moved one of the grates and went downstairs, most likely checking on his kitchen, but she seemed to pay no one any mind, flourishing, practicing her blade, and how resolute she was with each slash, with each stroke, made Olivier a bit cautious to leave that compass. At least, for now. For two hours, he would have at least some mundane relief before he threw himself into the chimera’s den. For a bit, he will enjoy simply racing off into the sunrise, sparkling across the ocean.