Hours passed. Now that the excitement was over, all of them obeyed the captain’s order, though Durnst was the last to settle in. He had some business to tend to in his kitchen, then he was out, but at least he was gone long before the sun touched the foggy sea that held them.
Olivier stirred some time during the sun’s reign, during its zenith, its climax upon the sea, but the mist around the ship and isle would not let it bore its true fury, left wanting on that coast. Olivier blinked away the small spots that lingered and pulsed before him, and found himself in the galley, in his cot. He sat up, and gasped as his coat started to fall off to the right.
Any form of fatigue or sleepiness was gone, his eyes burning bright with yellow. Did Ponitius see? Did Durnst? Who carried him down... and what sort of questions waited for him above?
His fingers trembled, his suckers on his right hand slurping hard on leather of the coat as he hoisted it up, dropping it as he watched the red on it. It seemed to pulse faster, brighter, lighting up the sleeping quarter with each racing beat of his heart. He now wished nothing more than to stay there and be forgotten. He pulled the coat on, suckers squelching in protest as they were forced to let go of the collar and forced into the sleeve, slurping and popping all the way down. However, no matter how tight he pulled that coat around him, no matter how much he burrowed inside, how many buttons he clasped, it would not still his shivering.
The red light seemed to fill the coat, a foreboding thing, but was gone as Squall’s greens peeked over the port side stairs.
“Oh hey! You’re finally up,” she said, entering the room fully this time.
“N-no, I’m not,” Olivier mumbled, and fell back onto the cot. He pretended to snore, growing louder as he cowered even further into his coat hearing her loom and prowl towards him. Each step sent a way of red and black through his eyelids, squeezed shut.
She simply sighed and picked him up, right out of bed, as if he was but a bit of cargo she forgot to stow. Olivier simply hoped she didn’t have any inkling to deal with any more cargo, heaving the tiniest of sighs as she forced him to his feet, gripping his right shoulder. Squall tittered as she goaded him out and to the stairs, humming a soft tune, rising with each step, which turned out to be a perfect match to Ponitius’s, already out on the shore. He was checking the hull, looking to see if the soft sand had ripped any holes, while Durnst was a bit further, just off the beach. His hammer rung through the fog as he drove a thick, blue spike into the grass, his pants, groans heard as the four ropes around his shoulders dared to pull him back to the Falchion, but Olivier wasn’t paying him nor the captain nor even the Itchyoman that forced him up here any mind. Not now. Not when he was in the presence of... beauty untamed. Of a world lost, now found.
They had reached the isle and its blue sands.
He looked back at the sea, seeing that the fog continued to hold to it and around the isle, even as the sun scorched and ravaged at its thick veil above. Thick, rippling lines of orange skewed through the mist, alongside rows of purple and yellow, all wanting to warm the dark beach, needing to show that it was its domain and nothing shall stand in its way. It was just passed its highest point, and yet Olivier could see it barely pierced more than a foot or so through the blanket, giving the shore and trees beyond a warm, orange glow. Indeed, it seemed to send a ripple through the pink palm leaves, whistling, shuddering a thousand times over by the smallest, gentlest of breezes, while it raced towards the mountain to the southwest, bathed in the shades of the sun’s ire and gleaming like glass.
“So I didn’t dream it,” Olivier said, gawking at the blue once more, at the sand strip they had run aground. He marveled at the pink palms and their bark, seeming to flash with each bit of light that worked between their segmented lengths. His jaw dropped as he saw the mountain, actually focused on it, seeing as it burned bright red and orange, rippling along its blue stone. “This... this is...”
“Not what you expected?” Squall said.
“No. It’s exactly what we’ve been looking for,” Ponitius exclaimed, guffawing as he climbed back on board. He patted Olivier’s shoulder, his right hand slinking back into the sleeve with each smack, and the good captain held out his hand to the island, to the palms and mountain. “Well? Where to now, guide, or does your supernatural knowledge fail you now?”
“Yeah... about that,” Squall said, wrapping an arm around him, as well, her mulling sending fresh waves of red through his vision. “For someone who bears the colors of the Dread Pirate yet claims to never know him you truly do know an awful lot.”
“I... don’t... don’t know.” He said, trying to sound calm. “I just... do.”
“No need to fret. I’ll fill her in finally,” Ponitius said.
“What?” Both Olivier and Squall boomed, making Ponitius chortle.
“It’s simple, really. Our guide here was one of the Dread Pirate’s crewman but had suffered a horrible blow to the head and suffers from amnesia... A good ole friend of mine found him wandering out by Mount Juda. There was a cave there which the Dread Pirate frequented, and this lad seemed to have been out of it for a long, long time. It took her a while to nurse him back to health, but he was getting memories back in flashes, all of which pointed to here. He agreed to help her- help us, for repayment for her services.”
“So that’s why you went quiet about your a-” Squall began.
“Yes. I have no idea,” Olivier jumped in, sniffling, shivering with more than just that quick brush with a topic he’d rather not discuss. Not yet. “I don’t know anything about my past... The first thing I remember, truly, is Strix’s silver light. Then the path to the Scylla started to come back to me. That’s... that’s why I know it’s here.”
For once, he hoped he didn’t sound convincing at all. If he sounded too certain, that would ruin Ponitius’s plan –whatever it may have been. What the alternative was, though... It only aided in making him sound truly lost... Or, rather, as he truly was.
Squall shook her head and patted his shoulder, sighing. She took a step and turned, looking him in the eyes, and Olivier could see that it had worked. And now he hated himself more; he knew pity when he saw it.
“In that case, sorry for doubting you,” she said, and cocked her head, “but what about that story you wove for me, about your mum and pop and leaving with a Terrahn from the Kraken?”
“A cover story,” Ponitius said. “He wasn’t sure he could fully trust you. You stalked him, after all.”
“In that case, my apologies.”
“When you guys are done yapping, could one of you come down and help?” Durnst boomed. He had gone through the forest a touch and came out almost directly to the left of the ship, the island widening as it got further away from the blue sand.
“Squall, if you don’t mind, I need to consult my guide,” Ponitius said. Squall gave Olivier the smallest, saddest of smiles, making the red flare even more in his eyes, and climbed down the ladder on the port side. Ponitius held onto Olivier’s shoulder until she had reached the forest, and patted his chest with his other hand.
Returning his notebook.
“You now walk a dangerous line, lad,” he mumbled, though it was more the lightest, deepest, darkest of breaths that carried those hints of words into Olivier’s ear. “You should have let me in about her from the start. Maybe then we could have come up with a better story, but, with any luck, she will be dealt with before we leave with the Scylla... Also, you mind explaining your arm to me?”
“I... don’t even know where to begin,” he whispered, finding it grievous to even open his lips for the words, worried that it would carry to Squall. “What do you mean ‘dealt w-’”
“Just tell me this: will it bring harm to Durnst or myself?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Has it ever caused you any harm, or is it there to simply look neat?”
“I... I don’t know.”
“Then we’ll lean on the optimistic side and say it is. At least now I know why you are really here. Now, why don’t we follow our fellow fairy friend’s notes to the mountain?”
Olivier nodded, not that he had much of a choice, and followed Ponitius down the ladder and onto the shore. His boots splashed into the water, the leather caked in sand, squishing under foot, leaving such clear footprints in the water. Olivier bent down to feel the dry sand, and was surprised with how soft it truly was. It was like beaded silk, caressing against his hand just as much as he rubbed along it. He hated once he had to dig his fingers into it, but those small, blue pearls seemed to part around his digits, while those in the palm clung to the glove, needing a right shaking to get off. Olivier rubbed it against his coat as much as he could, afraid to use his right hand lest they got stuck in the suckers, and was startled as Ponitius clapped his hands, waiting at the edge of the forest.
Squall and Durnst met him before Olivier caught up. The four ropes once around Durnst’s shoulders now were anchored and held the ship, creaking and groaning against the wind, picking up as the crew entered the forest. Ponitius lead them to the mountain. Olivier made sure to keep himself hugged tight to himself; Durnst and Squall kept themselves rather compact, as well, their arms already taught the lesson about the shimmering bark to the left and right. Ponitius didn’t seem to pay the trees any mind, always marching on.
“So we’re heading to the mountain?” Durnst said at last.
“That’s right,” Ponitius said.
“Isn’t that rather... obvious?”
“It’s the only landmark on this island-”
“Not necessarily. There’s a long gorge off to the west, and a spring just before that, as well as a wide, open plain across from said gorge.”
“Then why are we checking the cave? In fact, wouldn’t the plain be more obvious for what we are searching for?”
“My culinary friend who is but a single stroke away from making himself into one of his own entrees... I am but following the advice of my guide. He has yet to steer me wrong. If he says the mountain, it’s the mountain... Even if it isn’t, it takes the most obvious place to check off the chopping block.”
“Okay... so... how much sleep did you have today, Pony Boy?”
Durnst rolled his eyes but went silent as they picked their way through the ever-increasing brush and undergrowth. Thorns, nettles waited in the worst places for them to step on. Squall especially was having a hard time avoiding them, wincing, yelping as she seemed to skip from one to the next until she had enough and drew her sword, hacking it away. Her sword sung through the still, thick air, buzzing with the humidity that was creeping upon them, even as oranges and yellows that had followed them most of the day gave way to purples then the fog, itself, laying claim to its bastion.
However, Ponitius would not stop.
The smile on his face only grew as he caught sight of the mountain ever more, the blue glass seeming to cut the mist from it, not letting anything disturb its gleam. The underbrush jutted now, snagging at their clothes and coats, wanting to rip and tear and keep them at bay, yet they never came close to Olivier’s coat, simply hissing against their prying coils and sharp prods until, at last, he was the one to push through the last of the brush, right onto a dirt path. It lead to a small crook off the mountain, widening for them to walk two at a time, winding its way up its side.
It was strange, though. At least, to Olivier. Though they were climbing up it, the forest shrinking away, hidden under the fog, it felt more like they were descending, as if the path, itself, wanted to slip and fall away right under them. It felt as if he was still on the ship, the ebbs and flows of the tide making the timbers creak and sway, but there were no waves in that mist, no currents in that swirling blanket. He wondered if he was the only one, but saw Squall look over the side every so often, caught glimpses of Durnst looking back down the path, puzzlement creased onto his visage.
Off to the east the moons began to rise, and, by the third, Ponitius slowed to a halt before an opening in the mountain. He held up his fist, clenched tight, while his other hand slipped into his pocket. The soft clack of metal rung against his palm as he took a step towards that entrance. Olivier took a step closer to Ponitius, and saw why, torchlight flickering below, casting long shadows up to them.
Ponitius brought his hand down, ran his index and thumb along his lips, and gestured to Squall’s and Olivier’s swords. It was a moot point for Squall, her sword already out, and all three grimaced as Olivier drew his. The leather’s hiss echoed down into the cavern, returned as if a million nagas coiled and waited below. They waited for the hissing to fade, tensed, ready for war cries and charging steeds up that smooth, white corridor, but nothing came as it gave its last gasp.
Ponitius uttered a silent sigh, and entered the cave. His boots padded softly against, like soft hushes, raising only to reach them before were simply gone. Durnst was next, taking a step every third of Ponitius, while Squall waited every five of his. She made sure her sword stayed clear of the wall. Even then, though, it seemed to give off a light humming.
No, Olivier thought, taking his first step in, nine steps after Squall, counting them off on the grip of his blade. It’s not her sword. It’s the entire cavern, itself, humming.
It was subtle, sinfully so, but it grew and grew, warbling with greater frequency and power as they descended into the mountain. It seemed to claw at the back of Olivier’s mind, made him stumble or slide a step here and there. He wondered why the others weren’t affected, if they heard it at all, but pressed on.
Ponitius’s jaw dropped, his own anchor, as he came to an opening in the path. He stared off to the left, the white wall gone as it allowed them to follow the path down in to the mountain.
“Great Terra’s bosom,” he whispered, not caring if it echoed, bounding back to him thrice over. On the third it knocked him back a step, and would have bowled him over too if Durnst didn’t catch him. Durnst’s pearly eyes glittered like gold, locked towards whatever the pair was looking at, as were Squall’s as she reached it. Olivier was the last, awestruck as well, seeing the torchless, glowing cavern and the ship that awaited below.
Though it was smaller than the Kraken, that black boat was more grand than Olivier could ever imagine. The Scylla. It seemed to hover above the water it rested in –upon? Upon. It had six, large masts, the silver sails tucked away. Four of the masts had the Dread Pirate’s colors strung up on their tops, the blue on the itchyomen heads pulsing with the runes on the additions on its bow and stern, which were a pair of gilded engines on each, roaring softly in the gloom.
“Zephyrian modifications?” Squall hissed.
“The tales were true, then. It could fly,” Ponitius said, and all pretense of stealth was gone. He cheered and yelled as he raced down the path, shoving back Durnst as the pair seemed to push each other to the long boarding barge waiting at the bottom. Squall gave chase after, not one for wanting last place, but Olivier couldn’t muster as much enthusiasm. The buzzing in his head was way too loud, scraping, drilling at his skull. He had sheathed his sword, a trial in itself, missing it ten times over before he managed to get the tip in, letting gravity do the rest, and more than once he had to stop and lean against the cavern, head throbbing, readying to explode. Down below, he heard Ponitius call for him, but he couldn’t give an answer, not until the good captain returned, lending him his shoulder. “Oi. You okay, lad?”
“There’s... something wrong,” Olivier said, wincing, cringing as even saying that made his body feel the buzzing. He raised his right arm, the sleeve lowering. “I don’t... don’t feel so go... so goo-”
His words were stolen, eyes locked on his arm. The the purple and red were pulsing, growing, stronger than ever before.
Ponitius lowered his arm, and, with it, the sleeve. He pulled Olivier onto his shoulder fully, groaning as he lurched down the path.
“Looks like you’ll get your answers here,” he grumbled, panted, grunted as he heaved Olivier. Durnst met them half way, while Squall waited at the barge. Her face was a mix of worry, curiosity, and pain, but took her place behind the three as they hurried on board.
Olivier cried out and writhed in Ponitius’s and Durnst’s grasp until he wrenched free, caught just before he fell on the boards, but, even through a narrow slit, Olivier saw blood on them.
He coughed, and more sprayed on the timbers. His body twitched and convulsed, arm no longer able to be concealed in the sleeve. Darkness flowed out of it and towards the captain’s quarters. Durnst let go, spluttering, but Ponitius pulled him up the seventeen steps and through the thick double doors. The darkness congealed on the desk at the back, passed the simple cot against the left wall by the door nor its chest at its foot.
Ponitius settled Olivier on the bed and pulled out his knife, looming towards the desk, a similar make as the one back on the Falchion. He tried to slash at it, but it did nothing; he tossed his knife into it, and it clattered on the wood. Ponitius took a single look back at Olivier, shook his head, gave him a thumbs up, and simply reached for the darkness.
“No!” Olivier managed to cry out, but it was too late. His hand had passed through the thick veil.
And the buzzing stopped.
Ponitius huffed as he picked up the saber that awaited in the thick veil. Its silver cup shined in the dim light, as did the copper blade, not a speck of green to be seen on it. He twirled it in his hand, ringing softly, and retreived his knife, pocketing it as he walked over to Olivier.
Handing him the sword.
“I suppose this means it’s your’s,” he said, chortling. “Whatever that thing is it has a weird sense of irony. To give you a sword when you barely know how to use one...”
Olivier looked it over, turned it, examined every side possible, but it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. It looked like any other saber, if a bit more extravagant. He even pulled the tassels hanging on the end, four, heavily braided golden knots, slapping against each other so carefree.
And yet, as he held it, he felt nothing but dread.
His skin felt so cold, chilling more with each passing moment holding it, and he quickly gave it back to Ponitius.
“You keep it,” he said, but wrenched it back as the darkness returned. It roared from the blade, gurgling, grasping and rasping towards Ponitius, frozen in place. The look on his face like Gwen’s, but he gasped and backed away as Olivier took the sword wholly. He clenched his chest, and Olivier could see that he knew fear... and, if Olivier was a bit slower, Death.
“What... in Ignes’s holy flame... was that?” Ponitius exclaimed.
“I... I don’t know.” Olivier looked at the sword, looked at his reflection in the blade. The darkness was gone, as if it was never there, and tilted it a little towards the door.
Seeing a long-faced fellow standing in its archway.