Growing Tides

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Fruit Basket Case

Though his body was weary, his head still ached so much, the last thing on Olivier’s mind was sleep. He sat at the bow of the ship, contemplating climbing out onto the prow if not down onto the figurehead of the ocean goddess Natalie, but his limbs wouldn’t have it. They were stiff, as if frozen in place. The last of the moons had descended over, bringing with it darkness. The heavens themselves seemed to turn off, with the only light being from the engines, a glow Olivier feared.

Any moment, there could be another of those things, those shadowy monsters. They would be one with this darkness, with only their pinpricks of whites to be seen, given a blue glow by those engines, as if goading them on. As if wanting them to reap their vengeance. Olivier didn’t mean to turn them into monsters; it just... happened... He made them into monsters, like him. No, not like him; even as monstrous as they were, he was still worse for making them.

And so he waited. He hugged his legs and waited, making his head hurt all the more as he focused on any small noise, any slight sound out of the ordinary, even as the sun gave the horizon its first kiss. It wasn’t long until the Falchion was bathed in shades of fiery red and succulent orange, dispersing the deep purples and languid blues of dusk, still holding on to the Scylla and the Claymore behind Olivier, but he didn’t notice- no. It wasn’t that he didn’t notice, he refused to notice. He refused to look towards that ship again after what had happened, and almost hoped, though feeling guilty for how selfish it was, for somebody, anybody to wake up soon, if only to drag him away from his thoughts.

And his arm, and his hand.

The red lines had calmed once more, hidden under the purple, but the pearl on the back remained. It pulsed, beat with his heart, still swirling with green light. It never went beyond the pearl, nor did it dim as the sun finally reached him, warming and thawing him out. Though his body had become rigid with night’s touch, he never felt cold, even as it started to drip and run down his spine. In fact, his right arm was simply... numb. He could see the cut that Bethilius had left on it, once so prickly to cold and heat alike, but now, under that pearl, it was as if it wasn’t a part of him anymore.

Was it? He thought, tapping it, and jumped as the captain’s quarters opened at last. He hid his right hand into his pocket and scooched on his rump, turning around to see Squall lumber out. She waved at him as she made her way down the stairs, yawning, covering it with the back of her free hand. And the sword in it.

“Morning, sunshine,” she said, rolling her blade thrice, once to the right, to the left, and before her, pointing it at Olivier. “You up for a morning spar? Gets the blood flowing.”

At the same time, though, the grate down into the galley groaned, and Bethilius and Dervalan. The Faun had yet another pipe in hand, this one made of a soft, red wood, and it was the shortest of them all, barely longer than a Terrahn’s index finger. It was already lit, smoke rising into the brightening sky, while the Faun’s eyes were already very much alert, glaring at Squall.

“I could think of another activity, but I’d rather not, imagining something like you partaking in it,” he grumbled, and cringed a little as Dervalan let the grate go. “Dammit! Be more careful.”

“Sorry, boss,” Dervalan mumbled. “The metal was cold and slick.”

“I almost lost my pipe because of you! This is my last one; better hope I don’t, or else I’m going to acquire a nice ivory one!” Bethilius took a hard drag off his pipe, making its end burn bright, paling the red wood around it. He held it a moment, then opened his mouth, making smoke rings, widening, as if wanting to wrap around the middle sail, but broke as it made contact with the fabric. He huffed, holding his pipe close to his chest, and drew his blade. The sword hissed, almost sung in its scabbard as he did, and pointed it towards Squall. “However, I wouldn’t mind being your partner this morning.”

“Not interested,” she said.

“In a duel, because it seems you need clarity.”

“And that’s what I meant.”

“Surely you would prefer a real challenge of the walking catastrophe on the bow. Sort of thankful you all came out alive now; don’t think I could handle all his screaming.”

“Eh? Mister Squid is up here?” Dervalan said, and looked around, slowly. He finally caught a glimpse of Olivier up on the bow, and waved at him, giving him a big grin. “Morning, Mister Squid!”

“Derva,” Olivier said, and sighed as he rubbed his head. With his left hand. His limbs finally thawed enough for him to stand, and he started towards the stairs, each lumbering step down cracking more rime free. “Sorry Squall, but I’m not really feeling it this morning.”

“So we heard,” Bethilius grumbled. “If it wasn’t common for you to shriek like a banshee I would have come barreling up to celebrate your demise. Instead, I lost an hour of sleep because of your incessant caterwauling.”

“Oh, don’t be so hard on him, boss,” Dervalan said, patting Bethilius’s shoulder. “He doesn’t know how much you worry.”

Bethilius’s face shifted from smug certainty to a look that truly did not suit him, but it was only a flicker as it settled back into a sneer. He pointed his sword at Olivier, instead, nickering softly.

“So, how about we give you something new to linger on at night, eh?” He said, nudging Olivier’s shoulder with the tip. He took a step towards Olivier, digging it in harder, but the coat was tough, the tip still not felt even the blade started to bend. “I have been told my drills... are nightmarish.”

“From how horrid they are? I believe it,” Squall muttered, and grunted as her sword clashed against his, swung her way. Bethilius snorted, and flicked her blade aside, pointing it once more at Olivier.

“How about a simple word of advice, then? A nugget of knowledge, if you will.” He eased his sword drop down onto the pommel of Olivier’s other blade. His initial sword was stashed under the wheel, still coated in black ichor, which it would be cleaned of the moment they reached Narvaal and he had a moment alone. Bethilius raised each of the golden knots, one by one, and let them drop, getting ever closer to the cup hand guard on the handle. “You should be ready to draw your blade with either hand at any given time, even if it is to block or make some room. Tell me, has she taught you at all how to draw with only your left hand?”

“She was going to get around to i-”

Olivier gasped as he flailed for his sword, risen out of its sheathe by Bethilius’s blade, but his main focus was making sure his right hand was as still as the grave in his pocket. He winced as his palm and its suckers slid along the blade, allowing it to taste his blood, raining down onto the deck. He managed to find the handle, the sword was still half in the sheathe; eased it back in, and held out his left hand, shaking, trembling with the blue welling up and oozing out.

“Was that really necessary?” He exclaimed, wincing at his own voice. Of course it wasn’t for the cut; that was painless. The blade still had a sinfully sharp edge and separated his skin and the sinew under with ease.

“Hold on,” Squall grumbled, heading for the galley. “I’ll go grab some banda-”

“No need,” Bethilius said, and reached into his jacket, pulling out a roll of off-white cloth. He reached out for Olivier’s hand, but Olivier had pulled it back, clenching his hand. The Faun rolled his eyes and lunged, snatching his hand, and started to unfurl the roll. There was a bit of green herb hidden in the first layer, pressed against the cut, tingling already as he continued to wrap five times over. He sliced it off from the rest and pulled it as taut as he could, sighing as he put it away and took a drag off his pipe. “There! All taken care of, and my point made. Looks like she should have taught you sooner.” He nickered as he slapped Olivier’s shoulder, and fanned his arms as Durnst joined them on deck. The pitch-black Itcyhoman didn’t even bother with the stairs, jumping over the railing and charging over. “There you are! I am famished. What is on the menu this m-”

Durnst grunted, lost to a rumbling growl as he let his fist fly true. It rang against the flat of Bethilius’s blade, crunching, bending a touch as Durnst let loose another punch, forcing Bethilius back a step. Away from Olivier.

Dursnt crossed his arms, glowering at the Faun.

“Mind your distance,” he said, and raised his right hand, cracking every knuckle as he clenched. “Understand?”

“Yes, yes. Very imposing. Now, be a good turncoat and make me eggs over easy... Well? Chop-chop!”

Bethilius clapped thrice, but Durnst refused to move, his focus now solely on Olivier. He was looking him over, grimacing as he saw his bandaged hand.

“Are you all right?”

“The lad is fine,” Bethilius said.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

Bethilius groaned, tapping his sword on his shoulder as he took another drag off his pipe. “I know my first-aid. Give the meridas a bit of time to soak in and the cut will be right as rain.”

Durnst’s teeth spurted free, the fastest Olivier ever saw an Itchyoman let their teeth loose, and loomed over Bethilius again, growling.

“Why was he cut in the first place?” He barked.

“If you are implying I had anything to do with it, I’m afraid not. The lad did it to himself. Even then, that’s the risk one takes when playing with swords.”

“It already feels better,” Olivier blurted, if only to diffuse the tension. His hand told a different story, still shaking. He winced as he squeezed it tight, but it did calm it a touch, enough for Durnst to nod and look away, glowering at Bethilius. If only the same could be said for his pocketed hand; it quivered, wanting free, and Olivier had thoughts that weren’t his own, of grabbing the Faun by his smug snout and- he shook his head. “Are you going to make breakfast, Durnst? I mean, it’s okay if you aren’t, but if you are-”

“I am making a fruit platter this morning,” Durnst said, his voice soft compared to how he talked to Bethilius, though that didn’t take the edge from his eyes, still glaring at the Faun. “Better for the body.”

“But nowhere near as filling,” Bethilius grumbled.

“Then better tighten your belt.” He looked back at Squall. “Pony Boy will be up soon, then I believe you and Olivier should be free to spar.”

“They are free now. I’m not stopping them.”

“Then I’ll join you in the kitchen,” Squall said.

Durnst chortled. “That would be appreciated... Der, would you like to join us?”

“You know I always loved being in the kitchen with you,” Dervalan said, yawning again as he followed after Durnst and Squall into the galley.

Bethilius sighed, rolling his sword before him, and took another drag from his pipe before sauntering over to the railing and tapping it empty.

“Fine. Treat me like I’m not even here. I’ll eat your food and enjoy the sunrise,” he mumbled, and knocked on the railing before turning around. He returned to Olivier, stopping three feet short, and slammed the tip of his sword down into the timbers, leaning on it. “You know that cut was superficial, yes? Barely broke through. Looks like you’re a natural bleeder, though, so any sort of true fight is going to get rather messy. Both good and bad; opponent will think you’re seriously injured and get cocky, but it gets to be a nauseating situation.” He grunted as he pulled his sword free, and hummed as he walked around Olivier, nudging his right arm with the blade. “What I find most interesting, though, was that this one did not show that sort of result the other day, and I made sure that one was deep.”

“I don’t know,” Olivier muttered, shirking off the blade as he turned around to face him.

Bethilius was sneering down at him, clicking his tongue.

“And you don’t think that’s a problem, to have no idea of the power you truly hold?” Bethilius heaved a heavy sigh, and once more thrust his sword through the timbers, this time at Olivier’s feet. He leaned on his blade, looking straight into Olivier’s eyes, and Olivier only realized he was seeing red. And only red. “Now, how about that training?”

Olivier scoffed, looking away, feeling the red drain from his eyes... and the guilt start to return.

“Actually,” he mumbled, both hating that he was about to ask and that he needed to ask, “there is something you could teach me right now.”

“And what may that be?”

Olivier put his left hand on the hilt of his blade.

“How do I pull it out like this?”

Bethilius snickered as he sheathed his blade on his right hip, resting the matching hand on it.

“It depends. Are you hoping to draw for defense, or simply draw? Never mind. Don’t answer.” He pressed down on the blade, down, down, until it was almost pointing to the ground, and gripped the handle. He withdrew the sword, making sure the blade was parallel with the ground until, at last, the scabbard was in its rightful position. The sword still pointed at himself, but he eased it in between his arm and side, letting it glide until the handle was just before him then switched grip, sliding it back towards Olivier in an upward arc before holding it proper before him. “This was to simply draw. I slowed it down so someone like you could see exactly what I did... Normal draw? Habitual? Skilled?”

He leaned back on his right leg, forcing the scabbard to point up a touch, and flicked the blade out, held before him in a blink. He swiped thrice then sheathed it again. It seemed to home in as it entered its scabbard, only to return again with a song, pointing once more at Olivier.

He stabbed it into the timbers again, and rolled his wrist to Olivier as he leaned upon it, chortling as the boy fumbled to even get out of the sheathe. His laughter only deepened after the second, fourth, and sixth attempt and only eased up as he managed to pull it out on the tenth... only to bellow with it as he dropped it on deck.

Olivier’s eyes swirled with red and blue as he picked it up, feeling the metal bite into the bandages on his palm, still throbbing. It didn’t throb anywhere near as much as his brow as he sheathed the blade again and drew. This time the blade slid out perfectly. He even managed to keep hold, as well.

Even as Bethilius’s clashed against.

His arm popped, a sickening squelch at both the shoulder and wrist, but Bethilius didn’t press any further, content with having bent the blade back to point it at Olivier’s chest, as his own grazed the lad’s cheek. Bethilius sighed as he took a step back, sheathing his sword at last, and nickered, smiling.

“And that’s how you draw for defense,” he said. “Of course, normally you would lock your arm and wrist to make sure it didn’t cause any damage to you as well as, you know, put up a fight behind it from getting cut or your enemy close, but that’s the basics of it.” He leaned over, nickering more as he looked Olivier straight in the eyes again, his green gleaming. “Of course, what good will any of this do you when you are more than content to let others fight for y-”

Olivier swung his right hand free, stopping just before the side of Bethilius’s snout. The red reawakened in his arm, lurching off the suckers of his palm, and wanted to taste the Faun’s flesh so bad. So... so bad. The green eye on the back of it paled Bethilius’s. But there was another change over the Faun that made green swell in Olivier’s eyes, his smile gone to a trembling lip, his eyes wide, no longer narrowed but as big as plates, watching that hand.

“I hate having my friends fight for me,” Olivier said, putting away his sword as he kept his hand firm, locked right beside Bethilius’s head. And not any closer. “I hate having to fight at all, really. I wish there didn’t have to be violence, that we can all talk it out, but I’m not stupid. I know that there will always be someone who wants to cause harm, if not to me then to my friends. That’s why I’m learning. It’s not for me. It’s for them... and for you.”

He pulled his hand away, quick to pocket it as he wheeled around to see the captain’s quarters bang open. Ponitius yawned and groaned as he stretched and walked out before the wheel. He stopped, though, seeing only Bethilius and Olivier on deck, and awfully close.

“Getting friendly with the lad, Betty?” Ponitius called down.

Bethilius cleared his throat, then snorted and reeled back towards the railing, as if Olivier’s mere presence caused him offense.

“I was simply teaching your boy some new techniques,” he said, but shook his head. “Er, combat techniques.”

“Ah... so where are the others?”

“Down in the kitchen. Making a fruit platter.”

“That sounds downright dandy this morning. By the time we eat that, we’ll have reached land.”

“I still say we are heading the wrong direction, and you are blinded by your friend’s advice to understand-”

“What am I not understanding, Betty? That it’s a wiser idea to head straight to our destination, or a better idea to go to a busy port with a legendary, infamous ship?” Bethilius’s lips smacked open a moment before closing, and Ponitius chortled as he lumbered down the stairs. “Now he sees sense... First for everything. Come on, lad. Let’s go get some grub.”

Olivier nodded, and fell in line behind Ponitius. But he kept looking back at Bethilius as they descended into the galley... and yellow coursed in his eye a moment as he saw the Faun looking at the back of his own hand. He looked up and into Olivier’s eyes before he descended into the dark halls, and the light, the understanding in them made his back crawl.

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