The Escape, the Beginning
Olivier wheeled about, sword shaking in his hands, aiming at the Faun in the doorway. He nickered as he bowed his head and entered, clapping his dark hands together, making the yellow in Olivier’s eyes pulse. His white mane stood up straight, scratching against the wood as he righted, and its color matched his right eye. A long, gnarled scar ran from it down his trunk-like neck, seeming to thin and fade into his heavy gray jacket. It had seen some wear and tear, patched with brown, red, and a bit of black leather, as was the rest of his attire, save for his scabbard. The iron sheathe rung as he drew his sword, a simple, gray-handled saber, and aimed it at Ponitius. His other eye was a dark shade of green, a fire inside making it gleam like an emerald, yet that ire ne’er erred from Ponitius, never even paid Olivier any mind.
“It’s been a while, Pony Boy,” the Faun said. His voice was gruff, but lost it when he called out Ponitius, whinnying a touch. “You’re looking good.”
“And you still look like you, Betty,” Ponitius said, putting his hand on Olivier’s sword, gently pressing it down. “I’m surprised you braved the storm. How many of the ships survived?”
“Only the Claymore... It doesn’t matter, though. Not now. Not when we have both the Falchion and Scylla in our grasp.”
“That’s an awful lot of ships to be tended to by the four of you.”
“Only four? Your mind has slipped with age, Pony Boy. Do you really think I kept the Claymore understaffed all this time?”
“That was always our principle, yes. Keep the flagship with a skeleton crew while the ghosts that followed fell upon those that dared to intrude.”
“It was cute when it was only twenty or thirty of us, Pony Boy, but now we have no fear of that. We have more than plenty to tend to the ships, and even more of our fleet waiting back in Sulohn to fill in the gaps.”
“And what about the people, your crew that fell in the storm?”
“Immaterial. For every one there are hundreds lining up to die for me, for our cause.”
“You really don’t care for any of them, do you?” Ponitius barked out a small, wry laugh, shaking his head. “How you’ve fallen, Betty. Then again, you were never one for strong family ties, were you?”
“There is no need for family for one that is about to be a god. Don’t you see, Pony Boy? I. Have. Ascended. I have become more than a captain or a simple leader. I’m a paragon among man, while look at yourself. What have you done with your life? Apprenticed to a cobbler and tailor, gained their trade, and have been scraping by for cash while losing business, day after day, to another because you refuse to change and adapt. You refuse to add any flair, to make anything truly outstanding, lest it gets my and my crew’s attention –of which there’s the greatest joke of all this. You thought you were still considered significant for me to keep my eye on at all.” Bethilius started to laugh... but stopped. He stomped his hoof, silencing Ponitius’s, only making it louder. “What’s so funny?”
“For someone who claims he never watched over me, you know an awful lot. And you were always funny to watch when you go into one of your tirades. Your nose flares, your lips ripple, and you get the cutest twitch in your left e-”
Metal clashed against metal. Bethilius’s sword shook on Ponitius’s knife. Bethilius huffed and pulled back his sword, nickering again as he let it rest by his side once more.
“I see you haven’t lost your edge,” Bethilius said, and finally took notice of Olivier. “And what is this?”
“First you tell me what you did with the other two,” Ponitius said, stilling Olivier for the moment. He had opened his mouth, his eyes filled with yellow with a tinge of red near the stars, fading as Ponitius chuckled, twirling his knife between his fingers. “I mean, I know Durnst was serving you well, but he did kill your original messenger to prove himself.”
“So you knew he’s been spying on you this whole time?”
“Why else would the Falchion have been left intact? You didn’t only want me to suffer. You wanted to make sure I understood that everything I had was simply allowed, and, at any moment, you would take it all away, that you had true power over all.” He shrugged, chortling more. “Problem was, I don’t play these games, Betty. Durnst and I had a long talk about this awhile back and came to an understanding. We would watch each other’s backs, no matter what.” He shook his head, and gave Bethilius a hard look. “We are both tired of playing your silly little games. Oh, he continued to keep you up-to-date on what I was doing, most likely even told you we were after the Scylla, but he would sooner stick himself in his own oven than help you another step.”
Bethilius scoffed, and pointed his blade at Olivier.
Olivier met his blade.
Bethilius blinked, a bit shocked at the sudden clash of metal, and put his sword to his side, instead.
“True,” Bethilius mused, snorting. “I planned to kill Durnst once I took care of you, the freak here, and the shark lady below.”
Ponitius clicked his tongue, waggling his blade before him. “Now that’s not nice. He has a name, you know. Olivier, won’t you introduce yourself?” He rolled his wrist. As if attached, Olivier took a step for each roll, bringing his sword, and himself, ever closer to the Faun. “Go on. Betty, this is Olivier. Olivier, this is my ex, Bethilius Barolei.”
“It’s Bethilius Cartogne now,” Bethilius said, and he stopped Olivier’s advancement, sweeping his sword aside with his. Olivier stumbled a step back, but raised his blade, pointing it at the Faun once more. “So, this was your guide to the Scylla... Durnst told me it was somebody interesting, but not, shall we say, so freakish. Or pathetic. Look at him! He looks about ready to sully himself.”
“Now be nice to him. You two may end up having to spend more time together.”
Bethilius growled, and aimed his blade at Ponitius again.
“You threatening me, Pony Boy? You believe you can kill me?”
“That depends if you believe you two would spend a better time together dead. No... this lad is probably the real treasure aboard this ship.”
“What?” Olivier and Bethilius both said.
“Indeed. Try taking his sword, Betty. T... the one in his hands.”
Bethilius snorted, and took a long stride towards Olivier, whom held his ground despite the threatening clomp. Bethilius sheathed his sword as he did, reached for the saber in Olivier’s hands, and scurried back against the other wall as the darkness lurched free again. It gurgled and dripped on the timbers, seeming to rot the dark planks, turn them a ghastly green before returned to normal.
The deck thundered as a pair of heavy feet came charging up the steps. The belly of the Faun entered before its horned head. There were three in a row along his snout, each polished bright. The first even had piercings, four rings of red and yellow, glistening in the dim light of the cabin.
They drew their hammer as pressed in, its head as large as the desk yet held in one, gray, scaly hand, while its other hand was gone, replaced with a three-pronged hook.
“Everything okay, boss?” The Faun said, his voice crackly, like wood cracking and sparking in a fireplace. His tiny, red eyes glittered as he looked from Ponitius to Olivier, clenching his hammer tighter. “Do you need my assistance?”
“Get back downstairs, you oaf!” Bethilius boomed, punching the Faun in his pudgy belly, yet it was his hand that suffered more against hitting that plated gut. He hid it as he unsheathed his sword again, pointing it at Olivier. “I was about done with our old captain. We are keeping the abomination, however.”
“Now what did I say about being nice?” Ponitius said, shrugging again, and gave a two-finger salute to the large Faun. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Dervalan. How’s Sarr?”
The Faun reached behind with his hook, scratching, scraping along the hem of his olive green pants, and returned with a small cage. Inside, there were small bones, a skeleton. Its hands were still wrapped about the black iron bars, but the arms and head were nowhere to be seen.
Ponitius sucked on his teeth, shaking his knife at the Faun.
“That’s a real shame, that. I was looking forward to playing a few hands of Primed Rune with him. He was always the real challenge in this gr-”
Bethilius swung his sword, and once more met Ponitius’s dagger, twice, thrice as he tried to lean in on him, to force him back even a step. Ponitius kept his ground, shaking his head with each strike. He even yawned, covering his mouth with his free hand, while foam frothed from Bethilius, snorting, braying louder with each strike. Bethilius brought his sword high... but let it ease to his side once more, panting.
“Every moment you waste in here is another for my men to kill your friends.” He proclaimed. “Put down your weapon and let us go out on the deck, do what must be done there, and I’ll let the shark lady at least go free. Durnst is still going to be killed, and your freak on a leash still has some use.”
“Freak, boss?” Dervalan said, and finally noticed Olivier. He sheathed his hammer, and offered his hand. “Nice to meet you, freak. I’m Dervalan.”
“Now you see? Your attitude has gone and ruined any impressions Olivier would have had with your crew,” Ponitius said, and sighed, putting away his dagger. “Do me a favor and be nicer to him, won’t you? He’s had it hard enough.”
“P-Ponit-” Olivier began, cut off but Bethilius, chortling.
“Don’t you worry. Once he gets us whatever treasure he is truly worth, I’ll make sure he doesn’t suffer another moment,” he said, and wrenched at Ponitius’s shoulder. Dervalan stepped aside as the two marched onto the deck. Olivier took a step after, but faltered. His heart seemed to stop, hearing the sheer number of voices cheering, chanting Bethilius’s name. How could there be so many? There’s no way that many could fit on one Terra Force vessel, right? “Der, be a dear and keep the freak in the office.”
“As you wish, boss,” Dervalan said, though he didn’t really need to acknowledge. His belly did enough to block the way out, and didn’t even jiggle as Olivier came to his senses. He threw himself at it, pushed against it, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Ponitius!” He called out, panting, red filling his eyes. “Ponitius!!!”
Ponitius looked over his shoulder, giving Oliveir the smallest, saddest smile, and put a finger to his lips before he was forced to look back to the crowd. Olivier couldn’t see any of them over the railing, but the sheer weight their voices, alone, had made him feel a little sick.
Ponitius hissed as Bethilius grabbed his hair, practically scalping him through sheer grip alone, and brought his blade before Ponitius’s throat.
“Years ago, we thought this cur had died!” Bethilius boomed, echoing in the cavern, silent now that their captain spoke. “Decades, long before our mighty crew grew, before he could sow the seeds of dissent and ruin what has become such a flourishing empire. The likes of which drove the Dread Pirate into hiding, and now, upon our eve of true domination, of claiming even the Dread Pirate’s ship, he rears his ugly head! Now, how about we bleed him dry, make sure every drop of his dogged blood has sated the planks of the ship of the damned before it harbors something that even made the Dark Ones run cowering with their tails between their legs. Then we cut off his head and use it as our new figurehead, that, no matter how ancient the threat, how immortal they may seem to be, that even ghosts have no chance to stand before the Iron Scythe that comes reaping all.”
The crowd cheered, and, slowly, rising, booming, they chanted one word: Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut! Cut!
“Ponitius,” Olivier whispered, sniffling, though no tears would come. No tears ever came... He gulped down his... his anger, rising with the chant, with the red rising in his eyes, and growled, punching Dervalan’s belly. “Ponitius!”
“Now that’s mean,” Dervalan said, scratching his stomach.
“Let me through!”
“Boss’s orders. You heard him.”
Olivier growled, smacking Dervalan’s stomach again. The Faun huffed, and backhanded him, sending him flying back into the captain’s quarters. He felt weightless, wind whistling by his ears in that split second; he didn’t hit the ground, forced to a stop when he smacked into the wall, panting, wheezing for breath, but Olivier didn’t simply shook it off. He looked back to the door, at the Faun that had hit him, sent him flying so easily.
And saw an opening.
He groaned as he got to his feet. The voices continued to rise, though it wouldn’t be much longer, the blade like a fuse, sliding, sparking into place. He ran at Dervalan. He rose his sword, screamed Ponitius’s name, his voice stronger than it ever had been before, his rage felt by all, even stifling Bethilius’s arm as he charged down the Faun. Dervalan prepared, ready to catch his blade, to send him flying back once more.
Left to grasp at air as Olivier flung himself forward.
Olivier had hoped, prayed he had got it right, did something right once in his miserable life... and couldn’t help but feel a bit giddy as he glided right between the Faun’s large feet and wide belly out onto the deck. He hit it, hard, but managed roll and stand.
Right before Bethilius.
“What in Natalie’s-” Bethilius began, but brayed, clenching his nose when Ponitius bolted to his feet, slamming his head into his snout. Ponitius wrenched the blade out of Bethilius’s hands and grappled him, aiming it for his throat, but was stopped as dozens of men swarmed up the steps. Squall and Durnst were tied to the third mast, fighting against the innumerable amount of rope wrapped around them, but, even with them, there were far too many to take on.
Bethilius snarled, pulling free from Ponitius, and let his left hoof fly back, kicking Olivier right in the stomach. What air Olivier still had rushed out of him as he slid back into Dervalan, and the Faun grabbed him under the arms. Olivier struggled, writhed, panted, growled as Bethilius turned completely, giving the young Cephamorian-Terrahn such a quizzical stare.
“Now what sort of power does Ponitius have to even make the most cowardly of mice turn into lions?” Bethilius shook his head, and brought the pommel of his sword down on Olivier’s cheek. Blue blood splattered the deck, a deep gash left along it, and he brought the edge down next, leaving four, thin lines. “Let that be a reminder. Do. Not. Cross. M-”
Olivier spat, catching him right in the mouth, and Bethilius brayed as he punched him in the gut, again and again. He did not stop. He did not relent, calling him names that Olivier found tame compared to what he was used to. Even the beating he was giving was nothing, but that didn’t make it hurt any less, and he didn’t stop until Olivier simply hung in Dervalan’s grip.
Bethilius took a hold of his shell, brought his head up one last time, and slammed the palm of his hand into his nose, blood raining from it. He patted Dervalan’s arm, and he dropped Olivier. He panted, wheezed, his ribs aching, but he refused to give into the darkness, to the fog that swam on the sides of his vision. There was too much red for that, too much black.
He clenched the timbers, trying to stand, but Dervalan put his hoof on his back, keeping him down.
“You should really just stay down,” he said. “You’re in enough pain.”
“I say let him at this point, Dervalan,” Bethilius grumbled. “He isn’t worth the trouble... Now. Where was I?”
Olivier watched Bethilius’s shadow grab Ponitius once more, heard Ponitius hiss and his boots then legs drag over to him. Above him. Olivier growled, panted as he tried to get his feet under him, no longer pressed down by Dervalan, but his Bethilius made sure he stayed down, his boot slamming into it time and again. He kept trying, his arms shaking so much, still clinging to that sword.
I will not... give up, he thought, darkness overtaking the red. I will not falter. Not now. Not to the likes of him. I. WILL-
“It’s okay, lad. You’ve proven enough.” Olivier blinked, his heart sinking as he looked up, slowly, seeing that it was Ponitius who said it. He still had a smile on his face, his eyes twinkling. “You have great power in you. Don’t lose it.”
Bethilius scoffed, and his sword finally met Ponitius’s neck ag-
Olivier cried out, a primal sound, and lurched, lunging. He grabbed Ponitius’s legs, forcing him to fall before the blade was pulled, and met his blade with his own. Metal clanged again, slid along each other as Olivier tried his best to keep that sword at bay, shaking so much. He was crawling back, pushing, guiding Ponitius, working towards the railing, but another of Bethilius’s crew grabbed his leg, pulling him from the Terrahn.
“No. No!” He cried out, kicking the pirate away. “You won’t kill him... You will not kill him! I won’t let another die because of me! Not ever again!!!”
He swung with all his might at the crewman, a stocky Faun. They were more arms and legs than body; they knocked away his blade with ease, garnering a round of laughs from the rest.
“This is your mighty savior, Pony Boy?” A squawky Faun jeered. “This freak?”
“Seems his mother was the true hero. I would have thrown him in the sea once he came out,” another said.
“I would have thrown myself right in if I had know such a thing was growing inside me.”
They continued to jeer and taunt and insult, even as Olivier managed to get to his feet. The saber shook in his left hand, blood continuing to pour down his face, burning so much, but not as much as the fire in his cheeks nor the one in his heart. His knuckles popped, every inch of him, every iota of his being shaking, and something in him that had laid dormant for so long finally released.
His eyes were pure black.
He screamed, his voice like a banshee, screeching and racking at every inch in the cave. All his anger, all his hatred and loathing that had built up for so long was finally released, and aimed at the Faun that had grabbed him. His sword may have been deflected, but his fist still met their narrow head, crunching hard. The Faun started to fall back, but Olivier wasn’t done. He was only starting. He opened his right hand, letting the suckers stick on the side of their face.
And they shrieked.
The darkness, that had for so long stayed dormant, pulsed from his hand. The red lines snaked down his fingers and into the Faun, spreading, turning their red fur black, matting and rotting it off. They continued to shriek, beg, plead as they fell to their knees... silenced as the darkness consumed them wholly, finally freed from Olivier’s grasp. Their breath was raspy, wheezy, and their eyes, once cascading with colors, had been replaced with a pair of purple dots.
The thing rose to its feet, and turned to the stairs. Its breathing rose to frantic pants before howling with such pain and agony, making the others shudder, a visible wave running through them all. It dove into its allies. Their blades bit into its dark flesh, brought purple blood from its hide, but, one by one, they were consumed, made into another mass in that growing army.
It wasn’t long before they outnumbered the crew, their screams nothing compared to the rising shriek, flowing up the path, devouring all in its wake.
Bethilius charged Olivier, and grabbed him by the collar of his jacket.
“What did you do?” He hissed, the fear very clear in his voice, accentuated by his fidgety steps. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” Olivier said. All courage he had, all the rage surfaced was gone now, and he wanted nothing more than to get away from that black tide. He repeated it, yellow growing in his eyes as the dark tide returned from the cavern above, and looked into Bethilius’s eyes, instead. “I don’t know, okay?! Let me go. We need to leave.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Ponitius said. He had slipped down to Squall and Durnst during the chaos. He grunted as he gave the ropes around Squall and Durnst one last tug, and they were freed. Durnst rushed to raise the anchors while Squall climbed the poles, undoing the sails, leaving Ponitius to return to the wheel. “Come over here, lad. Help me understand all these extras.”
“Hey... Boss was the one in charge,” Dervalan said, reaching out for Ponitius.
“I think, for the moment, we should focus on survival,” Bethilius said, and dragged Olivier over to Ponitius, before the strange handles. There were four in all, as well as six buttons. “These go to the Zephryian additions, correct?”
“I... I... I think so,” Olivier said. “I... I don’t have much knowledge of Zephryian mechanics.”
“Seems simple enough,” Dervalan said, pointing a thick finger at the handles. “Those adjust the angle of the vents and which ones they fire, while the buttons decide how fast and which way the runes allow the fire to go.”
“Great! So which ones do we turn?” Ponitius said.
“The top and bottom would be height, right?”
“Why would there be two for height?” Bethilius snapped.
“Well, maybe you don’t want to go all the way up and it’s to allow you to stay at a certain... you know.”
“Right. On that assumption, what does that make the two in the middle, then?”
“Forward and back, and left and right?”
“Sounds good to me.” Ponitius said. He pushed the second one all the way forward. The golden engines on the sides grumbled and groaned, turning, ratcheting in place as a steady stream of flames kept them at the same height. As the engines went more and more back, though, the ship started to sail forward, slowly, turned blistering as Ponitius hammered the second button. The runes flashed white, and the engines roared, the cave, the canyon after gone as they took to the sea.
Ponitius leaned against the wheel, and heaved a heavy sigh, patting Olivier’s then Dervalan’s shoulders.
“We made it,” he said. “Thanks, Der. You always knew how to surprise us at the best possible moments.”
“Aw, shucks, Pony Boy,” he said, his gray cheeks glowing a bit red, gone as he stood up straight once more as Bethilius brayed.
“Now what, Pony Boy?” He snapped, pointing his sword at him. “Do we have our final confrontation now, man-to-man, as it always should have been?”
“You were always one for the dramatic, Betty,” Ponitius mumbled, and yawned. “I forgave you on that petty squabble a long time ago.”
“Yup. I just wanted to live a quiet life with friends, but then that changed when the lad came along with news of the Scylla. The chance for a piece of history, for true freedom, and to hang out with my friends on it? That is paradise.”
“I’m... sorry, then, for all those years, but now we have a bigger mystery on our hands.” Bethilius rounded on Olivier, thrusting his sword against his right arm. “You there. Freak-”
“Olivier. My name is Olivier.”
“And you best learn to call him by it,” Durnst said, lumbering onto deck.
“Hello, spy,” Ponitius said, but Durnst simply rolled his eyes, smiling. Ponitius nodded to the captain’s quarters, working the handles, adjusting, heading back towards Palridian. “Could you do me a favor and check the chest in there? There must be something more.”
“There has to be,” Squall said, gripping Olivier’s shoulder tight. “What was that back there?”
“I... I don’t know,” Olivier repeated. He looked down at his right hand, still pulsing a bit faster than normal, but it was at least under control now. For how long, though. “I have no idea what this is. Even now.”
“It’s trouble is what it is,” Bethilius said, slapping his arm one more time before sheathing his blade. He groaned, rubbing his snout, and sighed as he clomped down the stairs. “I’m going to take a small nap. Great Terra, this has gotten more complicated than it really needs to be... You coming, Der!”
“Y-yes, boss,” Dervalan said, and shook Olivier’s hand. “It was nice meeting you, Olivier. I hope we can hang out more.”
“M...me, too,” Olivier said, and watched Ponitius. He watched them as they moved the grate and lurched down into the depths, finally letting his smile go as the small hairs on Dervalan’s tail disappeared into the dark. “Are you okay with this?”
“Not at all, but they know not to cross us,” Ponitius grumbled, and glanced down at Olivier’s arm. “That none of us should cross you... Well, find anything in there, Durnst?”
Durnst came lumbering out, and, in his arms, was a thick, leather tome.
“An... a journal?” Olivier said, biting off his original question.
“Aye. From the Skipper Nejrat.”
Squall exclaimed, and tried to jump him for it, hitting the wall, instead.
“Give it here! I need to see,” she said, and lunged at him again. He simply stepped to the side. She spun, drawing her blade, and was stopped by Ponitius’s dagger.
“That would not be wise, missy,” he said, slapping the sword out of her hand, “or are you going to choose to turn on us now?”
“What do you mean?”
“We know you are simply here to kill the Dread Pirate and his skipper, as well as us once we no longer have a use.”
She winced, recoiled at his words, and sheathed her sword as she hugged herself.
“Is that so... You think I would be so cold, ruthless?”
“You, the Dread Pirate, his skipper have history, probably caused by your hands.”
“That’s a lie! I didn’t do anything! I... I didn’t do anything.” She gulped, and tears trickled down her face, mingling with blood as her teeth ripped free. “I did nothing... and neither did Nejrat. We were both betrayed that night.”
“You mean with the captain?” Olivier said.
Squall nodded, and growled as she pointed at the book.
“It’s why I need to find him, why I’ll stop at nothing to do so. He needs to know the truth. He needs to know... he needs to... that I love him, even now.”
“In any case, we’re taking this book back to an old friend,” Ponitius said, and winked at Olivier. “I have a feeling more of our guide’s memory will be known once we do. For now, let’s sail into that sunset.”
With that, Ponitius pressed the button at the bottom, the engines flashing... and failing, letting them splash into the ocean. Two, solid thunks came from below, and Bethilius and Dervalan came rushing up on deck, giving Ponitius a dirty look. He simply shrugged, and hummed a merry song, and Olivier, Durnst, and Squall joined in, resting against the wheel, the railing, and the wall, respectively. They were finally free of the fog, though shadows still clung, answers left unanswered as they sailed into the orange and purple sea, one with the sky, heading for that green fl-
“Wait,” Olivier blurted. “What about the Falchion?”
“... Natalie take me!” Ponitius said, spinning the wheel. “We’re coming back, baby!”
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