The Scylla

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Though Olivier went to bed, as tired as he was, sleep, even as it took him, was the last thing on his mind. Especially after Ponitius’s parting comment... and the idea of being a pirate. As the storm churned the sea, both hammering against the hull, muffled a moment by the sudden creak of the trapdoor and Durnst swearing up a storm that rivaled the hurricane, itself, Olivier’s mind returned to that dream. He could only grin at how... naive, at how foolish he was to think any of it, Gwen especially. The only part of that dream that held any truth was the chest. After all, she would have never seen him like that. How could anyone? He was...

A loser.

A freak. A monster. An abomination; he could be the most grotesque of beasts, truly the epitome of terror and disgust, but it mattered not when they were too busy watching and laughing as he bumbled and fled from his own shadow. Even now, his mind was correcting his dream, showing moments when he would swing and toss the sword into a cavern or against a wall or trip over his own coat or even stall the glider out... Though, even then, his mind would not have Gwen laugh at him. She would get angry, agitated, the softer side he conjured gone, but she would never laugh... In fact, maybe that’s why he romanticized her so much. Perhaps that was why, against all odds, he felt obligated to save her, no matter the cost.

And so, with a heavy heart, he finally allowed himself to rest, given the boon of a dreamless sleep, a dark, blissful sleep... Olivier stirred as the trapdoor creaked open again, and Ponitius lumbered down the hall and into the room. He peeled off his coat, tossed it in the middle of the room with a small squelch, and his boots followed. A cot by him huffed in his descent, and Ponitius heaved a heavy sigh, mingled with a groan and a moan as he popped his neck, echoing in the room.

“Either of you awake?” He grumbled, low.

“I am,” Squall grumbled, Olivier’s cue to wake, as well. He saw that, once again, she had been turned his way, staring at him, freeing him from her gaze as she stood and stretched. “Trouble?”

“Nope. Smooth sailing, all things considered. The sails will have to be patched once we exit the storm.”

“Terra ships are truly a wonder. If this was an Aqua Alliance vessel -that thought it wise to stay above, at least; Natalie help those poor souls under such a fool captain- it would have been destroyed.”

“Terra ships are meant to be hardy. Fast and hardy. Aqua Alliance ships are slow and lumbering but utilitarian... In truth, I’ve always loved Aqua Alliance vessels far more than Terra design, but the Falchion will always have a place in my heart. It’s where I cut my teeth with the sea, after all, and I have a feeling that, if Durnst didn’t manage to bring it back, ole Bethilius would have sunk it to the bottom of Natalie’s domain.”

“Even knowing it was the fastest ship in his fleet?”

“Yup. Without a second thought. Just to spite me. He always said I loved this ship more than him.... Maybe he was right. Without a shadow of a doubt he is, now, but it was a different time.”

“Who is this Bethilius anyways? What are they like?”

“A big sweetheart, once you get on his good side. You already saw the result if you get on his bad one. It was that mercurial attitude that stole my heart once upon a time, knowing that no one day would truly be the same as another... but, as I grew older, I found myself preferring the mundane over the dynamic, the humble, drab, slice-of-life over drama and stress and walking on egg shells. Not saying the latter is better than the former, but... well, you can kind of guess what brought on that change.” He groaned, popping his back, and gave a loud yawn, like a mighty roar in the tiny compartment. “Truly, I fear for my guide over there.”

“Him? Why?”

“He has that... that spark in him. That fire that yearns to be fed, that craves more, kindled by your little training session.”

“Are you saying I should stop?”

“No. It’s for his own good. In fact, as long as he’s with us, it should be fine. It needs controlled, tempered, lest it becomes a wildfire where he abandons all hope as he travels from one fancy to another.”

“Do you really think he would? He’s rather... you know.”

“I have a feeling that as he comes to better understand the sword he will want something more to test it on, and that as he becomes more familiar with the ship, he will want one himself. As meek as he appears to be, he has great passion in his heart, an unbelievable drive, and unparelled willpower... which is why I am thankful you are here to curb it.”

Squall scoffed, and her feet padded, almost stomping, as she loomed over him.

“Don’t presume I have any ulterior motives... nor romantic. My motives are entirely professional and platonic. My heart already belongs to another, and I shall not lose faith in that love until we meet again.”

“So is that why you are on this journey with us? To find your love? Did he run with the Dread Pirate?”

“To put it simply, I have some unfinished business with the Dread Pirate... Now, how much longer are we going to be treading through the storm?”

“Four more days, if the masts aren’t struck.”

“If they are?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there... Now, if you don’t mind, I’m exhausted, and I doubt the lad’s ears over there are quite done burning.”

Olivier fought his urge to gasp as he finally exhaled. He had been holding his breath this whole time without realizing it. Though his lungs burned, his mind seeming to float, it had been anchored and dragged down by everything he had heard.

Did the captain truly believe he had such ambition? Did he truly think he needed controlled? Why? What would he truly do if left to his own volition? What about Squall? Had she only been nice to him for her own sake, to make her ends meet in whatever she was planning? What was her plan, anyways? What had she hoped to do when they reached the Scylla?

It was apparent now to Olivier she wasn’t telling the whole story, if even an eighth of it. For that matter... did the captain truly believe he had a chance with her? Has he seen him? He’s... maybe Squall was right in how she thought.

Three days passed in the hull of the Falchion. Three days of leftover stew, diluted to the point that the water being added was thicker. And had more flavor.

Olivier tended to pace between his cot and the dining room, grabbing the occasional slice of fruit. It was starting to rot, making the underbelly of that ship reek of its pungent sweetness. Squall had taken upon herself to clean out one of the storerooms, tossing crates and sacks into the hall, trying to clear the middle. The walls groaned, seeming to bulge out from every item lobbed into nooks, crannies, wedged, but, even as the days passed, it seemed an insurmountable task.

Upon dusk of the third night, Olivier accidentally bumped into her along his way back to the dining room. He gasped, and scurried back a few steps, hugging himself. He had been looking down at his hands, at those gloves, wondering if he should take them off for the moment. It was dark down in the hull, always dark. No one would be able to see his hands... nor his arm. He thought about his jacket too, but, when he rolled it up once to check in the dead of night, when the darkness was almost umbral, the red lines burned as bright as a well-kept fire in a grand hearth. So, it was a question if he could get away with the gloves, try to keep them in somewhat a good condition, when he bumped into her.

“S-sorry,” he mumbled, and fought the urge to cry out as she grabbed him by the arm. “H-hey-”

“Oh good! I was just coming to get you.” She said, dragging him into the room, and wheeled him about. She let him go, waited for him to get his footing, catching himself on the back wall of crates, at least five feet in between them. She wiped her brow, grinning wide, her green eyes sparkling. “It took most of the time, but I finally made enough room for us to do light training.”

Olivier blinked, and looked around, clearing his throat as his eyes started to fill with yellow.

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to practice in the sleeping quarters It has at least double this space in every direction.”

She held up a finger, the three knuckles that lead to that purple nail crunching as she bent it in, and dashed out of the room. Her feet were heard plodding down the hall, but she came back faster, as if she flew, her teeth completely free from her gums.

“Why wasn’t I told this sooner?” She exclaimed, her voice rippling the hull. It was like a distorted scream mingled with a growl. “We could have been practicing long before.”

“I... I thought you had your reasons,” Olivier said, rubbing his left arm, looking everywhere but at her, trying so hard to avoid that fiery gaze. And, hopefully, not be its focus. “You usually have a good reason... o-or three. A-at least, in the time I knew you that’s how it seemed.”

She snapped her teeth together, making him fight not to shudder, and growled.

“Well... as much as I appreciate your candor and compliments, this would have been one of those times for you to actually speak up!” Squall winced at her own bite, and Olivier could see a bit of... guilt in her eyes for making him cower a touch. She cleared her throat, teeth sliding back into her gums as she leaned back against the wall. “It legitimately never ocurred to me. I mean, we sleep there, though I suppose everyone’s been trying to keep busy.”

It was true. Durnst hadn’t left the kitchen since he had his nap from his first time through the trapdoor. He was either in there or at the wheel, and Ponitius tended to stay above, so the room, as long as the two were awake, would have been perfe-

Squall growled, and lunged from the wall, reaching for Olivier’s arm.

Stopped as he drew his blade.

She stopped just as he did, the sword resting right in between her eyes. Olivier was panting, the blade rattling in his grip, and he let it fall to his side, yellow teeming in his eyes.

“I’m sorry! It’s just the stress of it all, getting to me,” he said, rushed under his breath. He wanted nothing more than to shrink into himself and skitter between her feet, hoping she wouldn’t try to pounce on him as he went. “I really didn’t-”

He fell silent; Squall was clapping.

“Well done! Nice to see that little bit I did teach you didn’t erode away in the last few days,” she said, and gestured for him to follow. “Come and help me pile the cots in the four corners, then we can begin learning footwork.”

“W... what about swinging the sword?”

“That’s alongside it, but positioning and pacing and prediction are paramount.”

Olivier followed her back to the sleeping quarters and helped her hoist two cots into every corner. He froze a touch as a heavy wave hit the hull, making the cots before him teeter and creak. Another wave slammed against it, and another, and he simply stood there, watching the off-white mattresses on their black-iron frames ebb ever closer to him, even as he fell back.

Squall helped him to his feet, whistling.

“Must have turned night finally,” she said. “If what our captain says is true, this will be the last night like this, so let’s not focus too much on it. Instead, let’s go over the basics.” She turned him around, patted off his shoulders, and positioned him in between the four towers of cots, just a bit closer to the ones against the hull than near the door. She took three steps away, wheeled about, drawing her sword, and held it out a touch where her arm was just starting to bend out and straighten. “Hold out your blade like this.” He did, and his blade just met the tip of hers. “In most cases, this is how much distance you will want from your opponent at all times during a fight. The only times you change this pacing is if you are looking to escape or looking to end it. Now, if I take a step forward...”

Her sword scraped along the length of Olivier’s, reaching its middle. Olivier took a step back, returned to only the tips touching, and Squall hummed.

“Good. You got the basic gist down. However, your opponent is not only going to take one step, nor keep their blade still. Reset position real quick, and...”

She took a step, longer than the one before, and cleaved with her sword. It was a slow, clear arc, the blade not even whistling in its descent, but Olivier scrambled back from it as quick as he could, panting as it finally came to a stop before her, still pointed at him. Always pointed at him. However, as he pushed his sword out, not even with his arm completely stretched did he touch it. Something he was sure Squall was judging.

“I’m sorry,” he said, getting into position again.

“It’s alright. You had the instinct at least to back up, but why don’t you try swinging at me. Do the same kind of step.”

... After a moment to let it sink in, he nodded. She really wanted him to swing at her? What did she have in mind... Regardless, he took a similar, elongated stride towards her. He swung his sword over head, both hands on the hilt, arms raised, sleeves sliding d-

She took a step towards him. Her sword met his, ringing against the storm still thundering outside, and forced his blade off to his right, held there as he tried to scramble away from her.

As she looked upon his right arm.

Her teeth started to slip free of her gums again, those jagged, black rows flashing red, seeming to pulse with his arm, but she pulled her eyes from it, staring into his.

“What’s this, then?” She said, and pulled his glove off, seeing that his hand, also, was purple and red. “You mind telling me your story now?”

“I... I,” Olivier found himself repeating again and again, unsure of how to answer. Questions, worries, fears all crashed and roiled in his mind like the storm thundering outside.

Stopped. Silent. At last.

The trapdoor was thrown open again, and Ponitius came booming down it, cheering. He stormed into the room, his smile bright in the gloom, and Olivier manged to roll his sleeve down just before he entered.

“We outran the storm,” he said, and shook Olivier’s arm. “Now, if you don’t mind, Squall, I need my guide to help get back on route. If you wouldn’t mind, could you wake Durnst and get the tarps taken down from the grates, then grab the extra cloth from the store room? It was in one of the back crates.”

Though Ponitius couldn’t hear it, Olivier heard all too well how each of her knuckles cracked, how her neck jerked and her teeth squelched free, but she didn’t raise a fuss. She ran off to get Durnst, leaving Olivier to be pulled up on deck by Ponitius.

He helped him through the trapdoor, leaving it to swing freely as the moons, after so long, were allowed to shine down from the heavens. The stars were allowed to glisten and shimmer on the water, no longer the black cauldron but its smooth glass once again. Thunder still rumbled behind, rain just pattering against the back of the captain’s quarters, while the ship continued to groan, fighting against the anchors, all four lowered.

Ponitius threw his coat over the table in the captain’s quarters, the only bit of furniture that had survived the storm, and pulled a map from one of the inner pockets, unfurling it on top. He reached down and picked up a few bits of scrap iron, most likely the remnants of the cot’s frame, and held down the four corners.

“Right,” he said, pointing just south of Carapai... and a good bit east of it. “The storm most likely diverted us to here.” He pointed off to the west, to the southern coast of Palridian. “The Iron Scythes are at least here, while our goal is a bit south. There is no denying that, if we take a straight route, they will see us on the horizon. This ship will stick out like a sore thumb on the other side of the storm. So, if you can remind me again where our target is, I can come up with a new path to take. If need be, I’ll tread by Tartarus, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that... well? Where was it again, lad?”

“I... I’m thinking,” he said, looking down at the map, keeping his hands flat on either side of him lest Ponitius saw his hand without its glove. “C... could you leave the room a moment? I need to think.”

“Very well, very well.”

Ponitius patted his arm once more, and Olivier waited for him to lumber down the steps, to hear the grates shriek open before he wrenched his glove back in place.

That was too close, he thought, and looked over his shoulder thrice more before he pulled out his notebook, finally looking through Strix’s insight. Now, let’s see if I can give a... better...

His face paled seeing the note right at the top of the first page, his mind, that little nook that had irked him for so long, shrieking at him. His eyes were flooded with yellow and black, his heart racing away at the note that he had just glimpsed before when he opened it, now come back to haunt him.

He nearly jumped out of his skin as Squall plodded up the steps behind. He pocketed the journal quick as he turned to her, trying his best to rein in the yellow, to hide the black... and the touch of red that went with it.

“Everything all right?” She said.

“Y... yeah. It’s... it’s just that w-w-we are g-going to have to... to take a long d-d-d-detour,” he sputtered out, and wheeled to the map again. He picked up a bit of scrap iron by his foot, hand trembling so, as he placed it where he had pointed before, except a touch more south and a bit east. “This is our destination.”

Squall looked over his shoulder, and he held himself as still as he could as she did, fighting the urge to retch feeling her simply breath beside him.

“And you are sure?” She said. He nodded, and she slapped his shoulder. “Good! We won’t need to divert much. There’s Aqua Alliance trade routes along the way. If we manage to cross a few and hide in their wake, it should be smooth sailing... you sure you’re okay?”

He nodded again, and she left him. He checked the note again in the notebook before Ponitius lumbered up the steps, making sure he truly read it right, unable to keep the yellow out any longer.

Do not affiliate nor allow an Itchyoman named Squall to join you. Her only want is to kill the Dread Pirate Baro and Nejrat, and most likely anyone who gets in her way.

“Everything all right, lad?” Ponitius said.

He simply nodded; it was all he had left.

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