It had taken them two weeks, but the Kraken made it to Lam Berel’s port. The sun warmed the seas far to the east, but the ship’s crew spurned its caress, wanting nothing more than to retire to the city that never slept and its menagerie of company in its pubs, taverns, and streets.
There would be no revelry, though. Not yet, for the last task given to Tarjen’s crew was to aid him in finding a place to take Bubbles. He didn’t expect to receive any report from the Terra Forces; he had heard them talking in their cots over the last few nights. He hoped they would have gone through with their first plan, his sword missing the tang of clay blood and animals with superiority complexes, but he would simply have to leave his arm to twitch and watch as they scurried away into the city’s shadows.
That’s the problem with Terra’s children, he thought, tapping his blade as he watched his crew disperse from their chains. There were only two left on the deck, when even Plu left, carrying the wounded Itchyoman on his back; the scrappy Aceon, and the Cephamorian lass. Tarjen’s eyes fluttered with a bit of green, intrigue laced through them in that moment, watching as she started towards the steps down into the galley instead of out to the town.
Frozen in place as he started down the stairs to the deck.
The Aceon, after waiting so long, decided now would be the best time to descend onto the dock, stepping out before a tiny bar on it, forgotten as he scuttled towards the steps up to Lam Berel. One eye was swiveled back the entire time, though, watching as Captain Tarjen approached the Cephamorian, his shell crackling as spines dug in, wanting to be free, but it was for naught.
Tarjen touched her shoulder, making her jump.
“Is everything all right?” He said, keeping his voice low and soft.
“Y... yes,” she said, shrugging his “hand” off. “I’m perfectly okay, sir. I’m... I simply don’t feel like leaving the ship, is all.”
“If that is your choice-”
“It is, sir. I... I’ll... I’ll be below deck.”
Her words seemed to have given her the push she needed as she practically dashed down the steps into the galley. Tarjen watched after for a moment before yawning. He had no want to go in the town, either, but he had to stop by the port office, register what he had on-board (or, rather, what he didn’t have), then take note, find the best sellers, and resupply the ship –a process that always seemed to take longer than a fortnight to do.
“Some days I wish I wasn’t the captain,” he grumbled, and lumbered towards the docking ramp. It was a sentence he had repeated more times than he could remember, a statement he will continue to hold and a sentiment that will only get truer with time. Especially with his first mate soon to leave; he was going to be alone, which sent a shiver down his spine.
Olivier climbed the deck, the last to wake, and found the others waiting above, staring off into the north. A bit of fortune came their way at last. The storm they had braved, the winds and rain that had hammered and torn holes through the sails and deck, had grown. What was once a jagged black mass had devoured smaller ones in its chase, reaching far and ahead of where they had been heading and now the Iron Scythes were.
Ponitius guffawed, slamming his spyglass shut.
“Do you all see that?” He exclaimed, continuing to laugh.
“Even the blind would be able to see it,” Durnst said, smirking as he took the wind out of Ponitius’s sails, but only for a moment.
“Pah! The important thing is Natalie is truly on our side. There’s no way the Iron Scythes can track let alone trek through that. If it keeps spreading west, they may have no choice but to turn around and go back home and we don’t necessarily have to make such a large detour. We can now head southeast and be at our target destination in the day.”
“R-really?” Olivier blurted. “It’s that big a difference?”
“Aye! So you and Squall continue your training and drills now while I pull us up to your mark before supper.”
“You heard him,” Squall said, gripping Olivier’s shoulder hard. “You’re mine once again. We are almost done with basic footwork. I’ll teach you how to swing next...”
As night approached, the sun once more lapping at the sea, tending to it one last time with a tender, intimate caress, Olivier collapsed on the deck. His brow was drenched in sweat, his shell lulling before him as he panted, rising, falling with each, ragged gulp. Squall sheathed her blade, and pulled him to his feet --or tried to, Olivier keeping his right arm secure in his pocket. The leather of the coat held well against her strikes, but the glove was no more, fluttering across the deck, stirred by the smallest, gentlest breeze that pulled the fog in.
Olivier blinked, and yellow blossomed in his eyes again as he realized the fog wasn’t from exhaustion.
He bolted to his feet, his shell almost conking Squall in the face, and rushed up the steps to Ponitius. He was smiling, about to say something snarky, both gone, lost to puzzlement seeing the yellow in the lad’s eyes. He turned the wheel, made it creak, trying to turn it in every direction even around, but the wind push him just above a crawl through the thickening mist.
“Strange. This wasn’t what I expected,” he mulled, wheeling the ship around once more, aimed proper. At least, what he, and Olivier hoped, to be proper. Ponitius looked down at the compass, and hissed, urging Olivier over to it. “Look, lad! Look!”
Inside the glass orb, the compass spun like mad, teetering, wobbling on its wheel. It threatened to break the needle off as it continued to spin faster and faster, whizzing and creaking. Olivier jumped as Squall leaned over him, watching the compass as well, but, while the captain had concern, her eyes were alight with wonder, her smile so wide it even hurt Olivier’s cheeks.
“Where do we go, guide?” Ponitius said.
“Just keep going forward,” Olivier said, trying to sound confident. What was forward now... “Are there oars aboard?”
“Somewhere in the storeroom. Squall, would you mind to go get t-”
“Already did, Pony Boy,” Durnst said, most likely saving Ponitius’s life as he climbed up the starboard steps. Squall clenched her hands shut once more, each knuckle popping again as she seemed to fly down the steps, leaving a trail of blood in her wake from her palms and gums. She snatched one of the long, light brown paddles form Durnst’s arms and took her place on that side, three others waiting in his outstretched arms. Olivier took one as well and chose to be on the same side as Squall, leaving Durnst and Ponitius on port.
Ponitius cleared his throat, and gave the water a small smack. Durnst, then Squall repeated it, waiting for Olivier to do the same. He had to heave a good bit over, but the end of his did hit the water. It was a start, at least, but it wasn’t good enough.
“Kneel,” Squall grumbled into his ear, and helped aim his pole under the rail. He did as she told, and found it was much easier to hit the water that way. “We’re ready.”
“Right. When I say ‘row’, we all row as one. Got it?” Ponitius said, and inhaled deep. His voice boomed through the mist, repeated for what felt an eternity to Olivier, calling out one word and only one word. His arms, his legs started to burn from the strain, the flames rekindled so soon in them after his training session.
That has to be a form of torture, Olivier thought but he didn’t slow. The thought of what laid ahead, of what Strix wrote in the notes, spurred him, keeping him in pace with the others as he endured into the “night”. At least, he assumed it was night. The fog had thickened, became as heavy as rain on his brow and back. His coat was drenched in it, his forehead a fowl mixture of sweat, “night’s” cold dew, and the sea’s spray, hanging thick upon his brow. For a moment or six, he could have sworn he saw the fog lighten, brighten, but, when he blinked, it was back to normal.
Though the fog was still so heavy, Ponitius groaned as he withdrew the oar and laid it on the deck. He cracked his back, yawned, and patted Durnst’s shoulder, signaling Squall to stop Olivier, as well.
“Wait. Why are we stopping?” Olivier exclaimed.
“We made good progress,” Ponitius said. “We’re all rather famished and in need of a good nap. We’ll catch forty winks then return in full spirit to take on the last of these waters, if we don’t end up getting there during. Wouldn’t be the first time the Falchion ran on land as its crew slept.”
Ponitius barked a small laugh, and lumbered down the stairs. Durnst followed, not even looking a bit exhausted, while Olivier and Squall were left on deck. Which left one for each side. Squall rushed to the port side and picked up one of the oars, her greens piercing through the fog, locked on Olivier.
“We are not stopping. Not when we are this close,” she said, and Olivier already agreed. They were right on the precipice of discovery; why would they choose now to stall and wait? The end wasn’t that much further; their destination was at hand. To dally now was to court failure. Olivier still had his his oar, kneeling once more and letting it slink through the railing. He looked back at her, nodding as she did the same. “Okay! One... Two... Three! One... Two. Three!”
Olivier repeated it a few times before letting it dull into a mull. He sung it a touch, rapped his finger against the handle in time, their oars beating in unison, not missing a beat as they propelled the ship just that much more through the fog.
“What in T... I told you two we were done for the night,” Ponitius declared as he returned up on deck, looking between the two. Durnst followed not too long after, heading towards Squall as Ponitius rushed over to Olivier. “Come on, lad. You need your rest. Getting there is the easy part. Who knows what awaits us there? Now. You had a. Long. Day... don’t... don’t fight me, lad. I mean i- I MEAN I-”
The ship groaned, and seemed to almost leave the water as it came to a sudden stop. All four were thrown through the air, crashing into a pile before the bow railing, grumbling, groaning as they pulled themselves apart. Olivier blinked the dots from his eyes, taking with them what energy he had, what drive he had maintained, but looked over the railing.
Seeing blue sand twinkling through the fog.
“Captain,” he said, his voice fading fast as his vision did, each breath slowing as he welcomed rest at last, “we made it.”