Blue Sands, Black Thoughts
Three weeks. That’s how long Ponitius stated it would take for them to reach their next point. “After that, it’ll be about two days of sailing then we should see landmass. Right?” Ponitius had asked Olivier, more times than he wanted. Each time it was asked, it was asserted to the point of accusing, but what could Olivier truly say? Even if he did check his notebook, a trial, a mortal risk in of itself, what clarity could it truly promise? What certainty could he give after getting lost in the storm? So Olivier could only shrug, and shrugged he did for every single time he was asked.
Another day came and passed on the seas. There had been no inkling nor sight of any canvas or shade across the vast blue mirror, only distorted by the storm that continued to churn away, but Olivier didn’t have time to admire the serene grace that was Natalie’s domain’s splendor. He wished he could, but Squall had another, long, arduous, grueling day of training ready for him. After they scrubbed the ship down, of course, a task neither Ponitius nor Durnst humored to aid. Olivier assumed it was Ponitius’s way to make him pay penance, his punishment for possibly lying and leading him astray, while Durnst simply stayed below, working there or guarding his kitchen. Ponitius as of late hasn’t been too keen on only enjoying morsels; more than once Olivier woke up to hearing the trapdoor slam shut, muffled by Durnst’s growls and even more by Ponitius’s whimpering.
But, though his body was more than grateful to be there, thanking him for the mercy he bestowed upon it at long last, sleep was the last thing on his mind when he finally retired to his cot, his thoughts pulled so many directions. His own body was even adding to the schisms, more areas demanding more thought and oversight than anothers. His gloves were starting to fray, their tops and his hands covered in nicks and cuts, staining the material blue with his blood. His legs felt like they had run miles, with heavy stone sacks strapped to each one. Who knew it would be such a rigorous exercise to simply step back and forth and back and forth and forth and back and, maybe, if he was lucky, truly, a bit to the left and right. It had become so tedious, so methodical, that it was like he and Squall were the pendulum, counting away every second, every minute until the dawn then dusk came once more. They didn’t even stop to eat until right before the last moon peeked over the horizon, the last kiss of the sun trailing along the sea’s nape far to the east, glowing only a touch more orange before it slunk away. And those were only two tangents, sprouting multiple heads, a hydra before it meets the flame to quell it.
As much as he wanted to rest, to burn the lopped ends that already existed, already starting to multiply; as much as he desired, nigh lusted, to simply sleep the rest of the night away, this was his chance, one of only a handful, to truly check inside the notebook. He may be in bed, alone for the moment, having made quick...er work of his meal rushed to the cots before Squall even filled her bowl, but it wouldn’t be long before she finished her vegetable soup. Even if she savored the concoction as he had, a change from the watery stew Durnst had made and kept for so long, she would engorge just as he did, gnashing and devouring the potato-laden meal alongside the corn, onion, tomato, and carrot. Yet, somehow, Durnst managed to maintain a similar, delectable texture in the warm, welcomed brew across all the vegetables. No finer a vegetable stew had been made before, no matter how humble Durnst tried to act... Olivier’s stomach growled, wanting another bowl... I’ll do it after I check the book.
He winced at it, feeling his mind chastise him for such an unholy thought only to double down as the pages crinkled. He turned over and froze, listening. Durnst and Squall were talking, and he was waiting to see if they would stop, if they would rush in to see what could have made such a noise. He wondered if Ponitius had heard, up in his own quarters, and that he would jump through the trapdoor, whisk into the room, and nail that notebook and his hand to the wall.
Thankfully, or, perhaps, unfortunately, none of that happened. Not even after sixty heartbeats nor after a hundred or even another hundred. He sighed, and looked to the book again.
Thick mist, more like fog or low-hanging clouds... Still waters, with only the softest breeze... blue, sandy beaches. He cocked his head at that. Blue sand? How come no one stumbled on it before... Pink palm trees, with serrated bark? A blue mountain with a canyon that ran to it? A strange sea creature that stopped any attempts to cross the fields across? But where was the Scylla?
He flipped to the last page, and hissed as it crinkled the loudest, the one most covered by ink. It had scratched out passages, dozens, some ripping into the rough parchment, itself. However, there was three words on it, completely clean, though it ended with a question that only spurred more questions.
In the mountain?
“That’s helpful,” he mumbled, closing and stowing it in his jacket.
“What is?” Squall said. She was standing in the entryway, her green eyes glittering in the gloom that seemed to follow anymore.
“N... nothing.” He hoped his voice was stiller to her ears than his own, that it wasn’t inflected with any of the yellow that blossomed in his eyes whenever she was near nor shook by the beating of his heart that catapulted upon her speaking and making her presence known. “Was simply daydreaming n...new ways t-to-”
She chuckled as she lumbered over. Each step made Olivier’s heart sprint more. All color faded before him, making those greens into whites, bearing down upon him. She sat at the end of the bed, and slapped his foot, still in its boot, shaking her head.
“It’s an ill omen, and bad manners, to fall asleep with your boots still on,” she said, and yawned, arcing her back. She stretched her arms to the ceiling, coiling them together until her hands met, and cracked their knuckles, rippling through the hull. “Can’t say I would call you on it. I’m right tuckered myself... You wore me out today, Olivier!”
“W... what can I say? I want to get better.”
“And you have been. In great strides. You are on par with Nejrat --at least, when I knew him.”
“He wasn’t that good with a sword?”
She snorted, and shook her head. “I didn’t say that. Between the four of us snappers, I was the best with sword. Baro, as an Aceon, was better at hand-to-claw or using thaumaturgy-”
“He could use magic?”
“He was an Aceon. They have an inherent capacity to do so... In fact, that’s how they talk, or did you think they were just throwing water at each other and at you all the time? Then there was his lovely, Tys. She excelled at artillery. Whenever we got really bored, we would set up four small cannons and aim as far as we could into the sea. Somehow, she always found a way to make the ball fly farther than any of us –or all of ours put together. You did not want her behind a cannon while you were in front of it.”
“So what happened to her? Baro and Nejrat both went on to become the Dread Pirates, but what about her? Also, did the Dread Pirates actually have a name for their crew, or were they just that?”
“You know more than me in that regard, I assure you... As for Tys... I don’t really know. I left as soon as I could from the Leviathan after... and I didn’t keep in contact with her. I hope she’s all right, though.”
“What happened that you had to leave?”
“There... was a coup, a mutiny on board. The captain was murdered.”
“Did Baro and Nejrat-”
“You know, you are doing a lot of probing when you have yet to uphold your end of our little bargain.” She yawned again as she stood, and lumbered to her cot, falling face-first into it. “Lucky for you, I’m too tired to push for answers for the moment. However, your luck runs out tomorrow.”
She yawned one last time, and sighed as her boots clonked on the timbers beside her cot, creaking as she turned to the wall. Olivier could finally find the urge to stand and, on wobbling legs, rushed into the kitchen. He filled another bowl to the brim with the vegetable soup, falling through the air in his descent. It rippled in the bowl, each drop making it back in with the smallest of plops, and he simply stared at it, waiting for his heart to settle.
Rising again as Durnst patted his shoulder.
“Late-night snack?” He said, and walked around Olivier, filling a bowl as well. “I know. It’s been a while since we had something other than stew and rotting fruit. Couldn’t sleep until I made sure it wasn’t a dream, as well.”
He sat across, and slurped down his soup with abandon, humming softly. Olivier finally found the motivation to grab his spoon, and let it rest on the top of the concoction. He moved it, stirred it, but never let it sink in.
“What’s on your mind, lad,” Durnst asked, muffled by a mouthful of potato. “What are you troubled by?”
“Oh. Nothing, really. Just... what if the Iron Scythes really do find us?”
“Well, they would be stupid to try to fire, for starters. Laying down artillery in a Aqua Alliance trade path? That’s going to garner a lot of flak. Hah! Get it? Flak. Artillery. Cannons. Oh dear... I should not be up right now.” He gulped down another round of the soup, gnashing on four potatoes at once. A carrot tried to escape, but his teeth sprung free from his gums, sinking into it. “Secondly -sorry- and most importantly, they would see us running perpendicular along the horizon. Not towards it, but skimming across. They would believe we are on the trail of what we are looking for, so they would try to preempt, but Bethilius was never the best at prediction. Not even when the two had grown so close.”
“Why did Bethilius turn against Ponitius? What had he hoped to gain?”
“On his own? Nothing. To his men, that had all set up separate contracts with him? It showed that he would not give quarter, not show an ounce of mercy, no matter how much he liked you. Fear, and respect; that’s what it gained him.”
“So why did you betray him?”
“Because I was always Ponitius’s cook, not Bethilius’s. Strix, Pony Boy, and I were the first. Bethilius came after, as well as Sarr and Dervalan. The six of us were the original Iron Scythes, but for the longest time it was only the three of us, off sailing the high seas, living from port to port. I would sooner gut myself and curse Cao’thugar than turn my back on Pony Boy. Or Strix, respectively.” He finished his bowl with one last gulp, and carried it to the sink, patting Olivier’s shoulder one last time as he returned, yawning. “Any case, you should eat that before it and your cot get cold... Simply know that, when trouble does come, Pony Boy would defend you with his life, and I would defend his.”
He lumbered down the hallway, leaving Olivier to simply stare into that red mirror in his bowl, brightening, flickering with the two candles left burning in the lanterns above. His eyes still had a bit of yellow to them, but the bags that hung under them weighed far more now that he had seen them. His arm, also, felt heavy, barely bringing that wooden spoon to his lips four times before he plodded his way back to pot and dumped his soup back inside. The bowl clattered a little in the “sink,” his feet making more noise as he slowly meandered back to his cot. He fell into it, not really certain if he should stay like that, with his back exposed to the air. He could turn to the wall and present a harder but still acceptable angle, or turn to the room, hopefully giving him enough time to open his eyes and see Squall slit his throat. Or, maybe the Iron Scythes, themselves.
Why did he have to say when? He thought, groaning as his body chose how he would sleep for him. It held him against the mattress as he slipped away. No dreams came to him once again, but was it truly a boon, knowing that he lived in a nightmare, that every waking moment was but a slash or smile away from being his last?
He shuddered as light and warmth slipped into the room, seeming to bleed on his back, trickling around the shadow of the archway, piercing him right in the center. Cold grew with darkness, looming again, and Squall shook his shoulder, making him jump. She tittered as he helped him sit up, shaking as she waggled her finger at his boots.
“Still kept them on, even after I warned you?” She said, and knelt before him, poking his nose as she clucked her tongue. “Anyways, you remember our little conversation from last night, don’t you?”
He nodded, and gulped, finding that his throat was far drier than when he first awoke. The words, buzzing, shrieking in his mind, seemed to not want to come at all now, lost on his lips as he opened them again and again. He gulped again, much harder to do this time, and shook his head, evening his breathing, hidden within a yawn.
“My mother was a Terrahn,” he managed to say at last. “A missionary for the Disciples.” He explained to her how she went first to Carapai, where she had met his father, and how she came back and found herself with child. With him. He told her how he was raised under the Disciples, how he was taught, until his mother left for Tartarus, and how he sought out his father instead and was treated like a freak show and not once during did Squall interrupt, simply watching him, unblinking, rubbing her chin. He came to the part with Gwen, about the mountain, the cave... and stopped, finally forcing her to break her statuesque stillness.
“What happened there?” She pressed. “What happened to this supposed Terrahn ally? What awaited in the cave, and how did this make you the guide?”
“I understand I hadn’t been forward with, not entirely, but none of that told me how you got here. What makes you so special?” She grabbed his right arm. “How did you get this? You neglected to mention this, as well.”
“I... I have intuition is all. Strix, Ponitius’s friend, believed me, and that’s how I ended up here. It was nothing special... I’m nothing special.”
She sighed, exasperation mingled with frustration, and let him go, standing at last. Her knees popped, legs creaked as she yawned and stretched, knuckling her back.
“Very well. I’ll trust that you have your reasons, but someday, soon for your sake, you should realize who you can truly trust. There’s only one person on-board I don’t wholly trust, and that’s because he doesn’t trust me... Now, come on. We have to drill you some more.”
Olivier nodded, feeling a touch guilty from what she said, but the fear still held, the note on the notebook in his breast pocket seeming to thrum against his heart, reminding him that he was not necessarily in the wrong. That, in showing some reticence, he was, also, potentially keeping everyone else on board alive. So, he stood, and hoped he had enough resolve to keep the yellow just around his star irises as he followed her up on board, ready for another couple of days of lessons, if it means keeping those dark thoughts at bay until they could find the blue sands against a blue horizon... Now that he had given it thought, it really was no wonder no one else found it.