The Scylla

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V

The Itchyomen that had “encountered” Olivier and his “friend” didn’t even talk nor see the good captain. They didn’t even discuss the sounds they heard in the dark to the rest of the stevedore, wanting nothing more than to be off the ship and away from the stink of Cephamorian, which was more than acceptable to the Cephamorian and Aceon members. They tolerated their smell just as much, but knew they would be assaulted by their rank presence once more the moment the next ship sailed down the waterless current into dock. But it would not be this “night”. The current remained unstirred, leaving the town to thrive under the four “suns” from above, knowing all too well it would be under the gaze of the true dawn soon enough.

Captain Tarjen was the first back to his ship. He stood before the deck again, tapping his blade, humming a soft tune that carried far into the town. He had his pocket watch out, a copper pendent with a silver face. Two sapphires were chiseled away to make its hour and minute arms, while the seconds were counted away with a thin, rigid steel wire. He glanced at it often, counting the heads of each crewmember that returned, lumbering, grumbling at the orange that touched the dome and spread across it like fire. They averaged about two every ten minutes, and that was being generous. Some still seemed to slumber as they took their place, heads bobbing, wishing for more rest, struck awake as the snapper took up his position once again. The deck, cleaned, polished to perfection, was given its first lash of blue, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Morning,” the captain had said. “Actual morning.” Were they thinking he would count the next dusk as their send off?

“Snapper,” Tarjen said, making the Itchyoman jump.

“Sir?”

“I need you to make a round of the taverns and inns. I need you to check for any stragglers and remind, or clarify, that we are leaving within the hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

He ran off; Captain Tarjen leered at those empty shackles still on deck, still so many missing, unaccounted, either late or absent. The usual suspects were there, the Cephamorian lass, the two Itchyomen, but only one or two others since the last voyage had returned. He simply hoped that meant a failure to communicate rather than a refusal to re-

His gray head shuddered a little. A wave had slapped into it, sent from Plu. He scuttled onto the deck, one or two steps of his six legs missing the plank up to it but he managed, still waving his claw at the general area Captain Tarjen was at. An oblong orb tried its best to form, and was slung in a wide arc, dissipating before it ever reached Captain Tarjen but he got the message. He could only laugh at his skipper, even harder as he tripped on the grate, but he managed to make it over to him. He eyed his pocket watch again, what good mood he had managed to obtain sapped away by each passing minute, creeping ever closer to cast-off, and nobody was showing up.

His snapper returned, bringing with him a few of the older crew, but not as many as there were the “day” before. There would be many open slots on the chains this voyage; there were, however, two, new, fresh-faced lads that took their place by the chains. One was a Cephamorian, barely out of his shell, still only one, solid, cream color. His wide, spiral eyes gleamed with such blue and green, burned a soft amber by the passing wildfire of dawn’s passion above. The other was an Aceon. A scrappy one; he was missing one of his front legs and had a chip missing his large, right claw. It was rare he got to see a southclaw, and, standing out in his soft, sandy shell, edged with deep crimson lines, sprawling over his rounded back, he truly was a welcome addition to his gallery.

“Snapper! Skipper,” Captain Tarjen boomed, turning around and heading up the stairs. He pocketed his watch and rested his palm on the button on the railing, holding it down. “Make sure every one of our crew has it firm on their legs.”

“Aye aye,” the snapper said, while Plu wasted no time, actually doing what the captain asked. He wouldn’t be shown up, however; he snapped at each one as he made sure the silver shackle was in place on every single left leg. The new Aceon, though, once so content, almost bobbing in place, leered at the Itchyoman as he drew near. The soft shell gave way to hard, blue spikes, dripping with green venom, like Plu’s had, daring the Itchyoman to get closer. The Itchyoman simply smiled as he growled, his whip twitching in his hand. “Oh, please. Make my day. I will add some wear to that shell before you ever hit your first molting.”

The Aceons frills were buzzing hard enough to hum, a blur behind the tiny legs that covered them. More barbs rose free from his claws as he raised the right.

Stopped by a wave from Plu.

“Snapper,” Captain Tarjen said. Though it sounded bored, it did not take the threat away that lied underneath, a threat so strong, with such promise, that it loosed the whip from the Itchyoman’s grip. The Cephamorian crew laughed, the Aceon clicked their claws, silenced as he snapped down to it, and coiled it tight into his palm once more and moved on to the next until all were taken care of. The Itchyoman crewmembers did not laugh, just as sullen as their superior. He took his place beside Captain Tarjen, nodding as he bowed his head under the captain’s gaze. Those star eyes pulsed with orange and deep crimson, fading as he let his sword go, once more simply pawing at its pommel. He rose his hand from the button, and the shackles snapped shut.

“This is only a precaution,” he stated, and rolled his wrist to his skipper. “The chains are not meant to keep you in, but to make sure nothing can take you out. If you are here, you have agreed to serve on the Kraken under me, my skipper, and my snapper, Bubbles.” Another round of laughter and clicks rolled through the crew, and the Itchyomen did their best to keep his teeth concealed. The snapper held firmer than any of the others, drawing blue blood from his gums, wiped away with the back of his hand. Captain Tarjen waited for them to settle once more, and gave Plu one more roll of the wrist. He clacked his claw and made his way through the chain gang to the grating, lifting all four sets and opening the two sets of steps into the galley. “Most of you know, but the Current shall take us out of Carapai. You will need to row once we hit open waters, and our destination is the port of Tornul. Does anyone not know where that is?” The young Cephamorian raised one of his blue “arms,” but slowly let it fall again as no one else did the same. Captain Tarjen, though, saw it, and smiled at the young one. “It is on the northern coast of Palridian, land of the Terra Forces. It’s a grueling four month trip, but, with luck, Natalie and Astra will be on our side. If we add a bit of prayer as well, we shall have a strong wind to guide us most of the way, and the sea shall remain complacent in our flight across it. Your tasks on the ship are many, but you are also many. Split the work, do whatever you must to get everything done, so that my snapper, Bubbles, won’t have to.”

They mumbled in agreement, still snickering at hearing the snapper Bubbles name repeated, and Plu lead them downstairs, still stumbling a touch as he made his way into the depths. Captain Tarjen sighed, and turned towards his office, eyes flashing with orange once more. The Itchyoman had stomped up the steps after, following, as if biting at his heels, only stopping as he rounded the desk and took his seat. The Itchyoman, Bubbles, finally let his teeth be bared, glaring down at the captain as his hands trembled on his whip.

“Why did you tell them my name?” He exclaimed. “What right did you have to give them it?”

“Your hope is to be the skipper, yes? Perhaps the captain, in due time?” He said, the second question more a threat as his eyes filled with red again. “Then you best learn one thing: humility. Pride, aspirations, and an elitist attitude shall be your doom on a ship, made apparent from your outburst with the young Aceon.”

“He dared to bare his barbs, captain.”

“And so you stooped to his level --considering how you try to hold yourself aloft everyone else and make them feel inferior.”

“I am the snapper-”

“Everyone works together on a ship, young master Bubbles. If you cannot show compassion to those that are doing the true dirty work, then you do not deserve to ever rule one.” He held out his “hand”. “Your whip... if you don’t think you can show compassion.”

Bubbles growled... but wheeled away. He stormed out of the room, making it shudder as he slammed the door behind. Captain Tarjen huffed, and almost gagged, gulping it down as he looked at the window longingly. He wished he could open it, to be free of the Itchyoman’s musk, but, as the sky outside brightened, as the ship creaked and floated towards the edge of Carapai, he knew he would simply have to wait. He sort of worried about Bubbles, if he would make it under the grating in time before it became solid, metal slats. A small worry, the tiniest of bumps in his mind, gone again as he slapped the bottom fish on his chime and watched as they returned to their flight, staring, settling as he watched the colors swirl and dance through the room, brightening with the light until all was taken by the dark sea.

Once more, the drums boomed through the belly of the Kraken, but the oars were not manned. Not yet. Bubbles paced through the oar room, going back, forth to the two anchor wheels, belching out commands, snapping his whip to make sure they pushed as one. The anchors, and the masts and their sails, slowly rose, cut open by Bubbles as they passed, fanning as they emerged from the hull onto the deck of the ship, creating great air pockets. Thus was the secret to how the Aqua Alliance reemerged their ships from the briny deep, four sails per six masts. Bubbles frothed around where they emerged, water trying so hard to penetrate the ferrisom bark, instead rising, catching inside those sails, growing until each could lift a single ship in their own right, making up for the weight of the anchors and chains.

The wheels thunked into place, the sails completely raised and the anchors and their chains put away. The hull groaned, matching the grumblings of the crew as they were forced to the oars again, kept still. Plu did not drum, listening, waiting, hearing the bubbles above gush and hiss before lost to a great roar. Sun shined into the portholes, warming the crew, and Plu thundered on the drums in triumph. They were on the sea once more.

Bubbles heaved a heavy sigh, and climbed the stairs to the deck. He waited for the metal to break apart into its grating once more, no longer solid metal slats, and eased it aside. He climbed out into the sunshine, his dark skin turned almost a deep blue under its rays, and sneered at the wind slapping into the sails.The crew would not have to paddle that hard this day. A true shame; how his arm itched, twitched, wanted, needed to use the whip. He returned downstairs and gave the news to Plu, which made it ache that much more. He didn’t need to be on drums. The crew didn’t need guidance; they had their orders, but they didn’t need to be pressed. He hoped one would step out of line, maybe that Aceon that dared challenge him, but none, not a single one of them, slowed or even refused. If only they had to row; he had put that Aceon, a southclaw, closest to the porthole for the oar. It was simply begging to be a happy accident, but no. But no...

No matter.

There was always his secret, and what better time than when he was not needed. The ship was still clean, still pristine; what workload was there to punish on the first day. Even the crew knew this, lumbering to the cots on the lowest level, slumbering once again, meaning he was free to do the Dark Ones’ biddings. He wasn’t able to cure his itch with what was expected, so now let’s see if it would be tended to with his aspriations.

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