Sour Grapes: Best to Leaf it Be
Gale’s lamentations turned to threats, demands that gave way to bargains and such honeyed words. The saccharine nature of her offers, of her deals that would make the Dark Ones blush, made the air acrid around her, a bitterness that dragged her back down to her less-than-negotiable demeanor only to try to wear the cracked mask of the damsel in distress once more, begging, pleading to be saved from a fate she imposed on herself, the cruelest of torturers. Her sorrow, her anguish, given by her own hand, continued to be a chorus of mirth and joy on the Kraken through the morn. Conversation and camaraderie bred among the crew, grown and flourished by her self-martyrdom. Even the sea around the Kraken seemed to glow from such positivity blossoming on its deck and friendship and cheer down inside its galley as it continued to sail south, all while the Scylla continued north.
Olivier was the first one back up on deck. He sighed, the sun kissing, soothing his shell as it bobbed with his return to the bow’s mast. It still throbbed, ached, but he preferred that over the numbness in his right arm. He was rubbing his belly with his left hand, his right still firmly in its pocket, and wondered if it was the darkness that made it that way. Rather, maybe it was his mindful refusal to move it, his conscientious drive to keep it and its new addition hidden, which took away feeling, that made it seem to disappear to his other senses.
However, that proved not to be the case. He looked back over his shoulder, made sure the grate over the galley was absolutely still, that no sound could reach him. He waited, holding his breath, his attention focused entirely on the deck... but it seemed safe enough. He removed his hand from his jacket’s pocket and held it before him, clenching it. He felt his suckers pull at each other, felt his fingernails gently dig in between, pressing at the palm, but it would only stop there, only at the softest, faintest pressure. No matter how hard he squeezed. He looked down at the railing, and opened his hand. He waited for every single sucker to remove from the other, and slapped it down on it as hard as he could five times over. He even turned it on its side and brought it down, wondering if his fingers would snap from it. It was the wood that gave first, though, hacking away as if the side of his hand was a hatchet, yet not a single sliver nor splinter wanted to stick. He moved to the triangular corner that separated the bow from the prow beam, the most reinforced part of the railing, and brought it down, cleaving right to the metal bar.
“Huh,” he breathed, raising his hand slowly. Even though he had hit metal, it didn’t even crack, not a bruise nor imperfection to be s-
“I don’t think the good captain would be very appreciative with you destroying his ship,” Bethilius said, leaning on the left rail behind Olivier. He nickered as the lad jumped and wheeled to him, seeing him rubbing his belly. His face, though, showed anything buy contentment. “Had you enough to eat? I didn’t; fruit just isn’t as filling as meat or egg... Tell me: Do you like eggs, boy?” He snorted, and loomed over him, sneering. “What does a freak eat exactly?”
“I had my fill,” Olivier said, cold and direct, and stowed his hand again as he gripped his blade. “What do you want now?”
Bethilius snorted as he nudged his head towards the front.
“Simply wanted your opinion is all. Do you think we are going the right way? Do you think this is the best course at hand?”
“You mean do I think Squall is leading us wrong. Or Ponitius.”
He shrugged. “I simply wanted to hear your mind on this... You have one of those, don’t you? I don’t see a collar nor strings, so I’ve been perplexed at how you even breathe, unless you are one of those fellows that does it through their skin --which I highly doubt due to the nature of your attire.”
“I do... I trust them.”
“Trust is well and good, but I am asking you if you believe this is right. What do you think we should do –and I do mean think. I know it has been a while since you’ve had to do something so mentally taxing aside saving up for your screaming fits.”
Olivier looked him in the eyes, his own cascading with more and more red as the Faun spoke. His blade rattled, but he kept his hand firm on the handle, kept it in its sheathe. For now.
“I believe,” Olivier began. He eased his hand off the sword, and took a deep breath. No; he would not give the Faun the satisfaction... The red faded from his vision, but he could feel it welling still from seeing Bethilius continue to smirk, as if knowing he had gotten under his skin. The harder he pushed it back, the more it made his shell ache and his heart burn. “I believe that we need to get to Narvaal.”
“But why... well? Tell me. Surely you have the why. We have the journal. Us. We can discern and dissect the contents within on our own, so why do we need to go see Strix?”
“Because I made her a promise.” He said, fighting the hardest battle yet, one he was quickly losing as his voice shuddered with rage. He could feel the lines in his right arm growing, and broke his gaze to look down at it, seeing the fabric glowing. He grunted, and locked eyes with the Faun again, letting the red... and black swirl in his gaze. “She wants to ride in the Scylla. She wants to join us. And that is good enough of a reason.”
“That it is, and that she will,” Ponitius said, chortling as he lumbered up the seven steps. He was wiping at the sides of his lips with a pale yellow handkerchief, tossed into the runic engine as he grunted to a stop before them. “That fruit-and-egg platter hit the spot.”
“E-egg?” Bethilius said, his face simply blank. All the arrogance and sinister glee he had a moment ago was simply... gone, replaced with indignation. “Did you say egg?”
“Oh. Yeah. Durnst made it for me. All I had to do was I ask him. Squall asked for a bit of summer sausage to be in hers, while Der was simply happy to have some scrambled.”
Bethilius was in disbelief, his brow twitching even as he shook his head and scoffed, looking absolutely dour.
“It does not matter. The fruit sated my appetite, and my want for eggs was but a fancy.”
“That’s a shame. I was coming up here to ask if either of you wanted some,” Durnst said. “I found them in the ice chest, yet the yolks inside were pristine, as if untouched by weather or time. The Scylla truly holds many mysteries... So, would you like some egg, lad?”
“I’m alright,” Olivier said.
“Very well. Then I’ll start preparing myself a plate.”
“Well, I would-” Bethilius blurted, but Durnst had already jumped down the stairs, both to deck and the galley... He clomped his hoof on the timbers, snorting, panting as froth foamed on his muzzle. “Can you believe him?”
“I know. Still so spry after all this time tending a bar,” Ponitius said. Bethilius brayed, taking a step towards Ponitius, but stopped as Ponitius hummed, twirling a dagger along his left hand. He stopped as he pointed it out towards the sea, and guffawed. “Would you look at that? I was right with my statement.”
Olivier wheeled, and in the distance, land grew, the horizon of blue giving way to soft yellows then greens as they rocketed towards it. Olivier felt blue fill his eyes, quenching the fire that had roiled in it, and his mouth drooped into a goofy smile, remembering when he first flew over the ocean to the seaside. It was a shame the ship was higher off the water than the gilded glider, but he could still see it ripple a touch under the engines.
Bethilius turned as well, and snorted.
“Looks like the fish woman was right,” he grumbled.
“She was, indeed,” Squall said, leaning on Olivier’s right shoulder. She winked at him, and pushed off, her boots clonking as she turned to face Ponitius. “I’ll start slowing and lowering us.”
“Why? We’re in an airship,” Bethilius said. “We could easily fly all the way to Narvaal.”
“We could,” Ponitius mused. “We could indeed do that... We would, also, be passing over trader routes, close to the Terra Forces’ capitol... Tell me, Betty: how do you think they would react to seeing the infamous ship Scylla that far in-land. What would their magus’ first reaction be?”
“Narvaal isn’t far from there, anyways,” Olivier added.
“And you would know that how?” Bethilius blurted, blowing out a bit of froth, though a good bit already drooled onto the deck.
“When I first made my way to the Dread Pirate’s hidden cove. This was the same path G-er, my friend took, and Narvaal is closer.”
Bethilius scoffed, and leaned harder on the rail, making it groan. He wiped his mouth clean, washing his hands in the spray from the engines, rising as the ship already started to descend, making the water below gush.
“Someone needs to stay behind, then.” He stated. “If this coast is as close as you say to Narvaal, then there’s the very likely chance someone will commandeer it.”
“I will,” Durnst mumbled through a plate of egg and fruit as he lumbered back up the steps. He gulped it down, then ripped into a loaf of bread, gnashing it apart. “Besides, Strix doesn’t miss me as much as Ponitius –and most likely you, Betty.”
“That’s Bethilius to you, spy, and do you really think one man will stop a group, a crew, or has your brain suffered from what mine did to you?”
“I surrendered of my own will to protect Squall, the lad, and any fool in your crew that thought they could take me. With everyone on shore, I won’t have to make such a sacrifice.”
“And what’s to stop you from taking the boat, yourself?”
Durnst swallowed his piece of bread, licking his chops clean, then loomed over the Faun. His eyes rolled back. His teeth ripped themselves out of his gums as he bore his claws on his free hand, reaching for him.
“Are you really questioning my allegiance?” He whispered. A growl seeped through, and a silence settled between all of them. The engines wound down, yet the high whining, the tension between them all was still there... Ponitius clapped, breaking it at last, in time for the Scylla to touch down with a soft hiss.
“It’s settled, then,” he said. “Both Dervalan and Durnst will stay to watch over the ships while the rest of us go make our presence known to our lovely lady friend.”
“I don’t think Squall should go either,” Olivier blurted, a tinge of yellow staining his eyes. “I... I mean... I just don’t think she’ll feel comfortable there-”
“And why is that?” Squall said, boots clonking up the stairs again. This time, no snarky smirk nor warmth touched her face. Instead she looked... hurt. Insulted.
“It’s... it’s...” Olivier stammered, his breathing growing fast as he shook under her gaze. He averted his gaze from her, looking down at his hands as he wrung them together, and tried to shrink into his coat. “N-never mind... I-I-I’m sorry.”
“The lad didn’t say it to cause offense,” Ponitius said, gripping Olivier’s shoulder. “It’s an inkling, intuition, and he’s right in that feeling.”
Olivier’s head snapped up, looking at Ponitius. “I am?”
“Aye. Strix, though she tries her darnedest to hide it... can’t really stand Itchyoman. Especially in her office. She takes pride in keeping it scented with lavender and whatever fruit she is craving that day, and Itchyoman tend to leave a... residual odor. Not only that, she thinks them rather shifty to begin with; in fact, she was the one to come up with the idea of the flag for the Iron Scythes.”
“He stayed near the kitchen, anyways, and always smelled of his food.”
Squall scoffed, and crossed her arms. At least she didn’t look as betrayed, which made Olivier feel a bit better, but he still lied to her. A lie he made out of ignorant understanding.
“In any case, I’m still goin,” she said. “She’ll just have to deal with it... but thank you for trying to look out for me, Ollie.”
Olivier nodded, and turned around again, watching as the ship crept into the shallows. It stopped just before it could run aground, and his heart leaped and sped as the chains rattled away, sinking the anchors into the soft sand. He and Bethilius lowered the hemp ladder to it, and were just as quick to climb over on them. It wouldn’t be that long a trip, but Olivier was simply happy to feel (mostly) solid land under his feet again, and the chance to see old friends once more... marred a touch, remembering a certain Natorei that would be waiting for him.
But he had to focus on the now, on what was before him. Sand gleamed in the sunlight, its almost copper hue a solid sheen as far as Olivier could see. It rose gently, keeping the horizon, the zenith just out of sight, each hiss of the sediment under growing louder with his heart, wanting nothing more than to be over and onto the soft green grass that waited on the other side.
Beautiful. Serene. Calming with the roar of the sea behind, but it quickly lost its charm as he raced to that horizon, always out of reach. It had felt like nothing on the glider; then again, so did the trudge to the cove, the Golden Golem Grotto, and yet that took him half a day on foot. But he would not let a little thing like sand get in his way of knowledge, of where his path now lead, and so he pressed on, with more heart than the others could muster at that point. Squall had the least, lumbering after, easily ten paces behind Bethilius, with Ponitius the closest to keeping pace.
Speak of the devil.
Ponitius tapped his shoulder, clearing his throat, growling a touch as he was forced to catch up again. Olivier didn’t slow, feet driving through the copper sands... but he at least looked back to see him.
“Lad, do you think you might slow down a touch?” He said, panting a little. “Some of us aren’t as spry anymore.”
“But we are so close,” Olivier said, fighting so hard not to make it a true whine, but its tone managed to slip into the final word, dragging it out. He grimaced at himself, forcing his feet to slow. “Sorry.”
“No reason to apologize, lad. You are simply excited.” Ponitius clapped his shoulder, guffawing. “You’re in like company, at least! I’ve been wanting to meet the old fairy for a while now.”
“Goody for you,” Bethilius grumbled, snorting. His hooves clomped into the sand, spraying it up with each step. He almost had to gallop to keep up, now settle to a steady stride, panting. “I, for one, would have prefered to stay back at the ship.”
“Ah, don’t be so hard on yourself, Betty. She probably missed you, as well.”
“I can assure you, that is nowhere even near the case... Last we met, it was through a cage very much like Sarr’s-”
“That reminds me. How did he go?”
“Natural causes... Der keeps him around in case Astra decides to return his soul on the wind.”
“I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time. There’s a reason he was our cleric... Say, how did you ever take his hammer away from h-”
Bethilius cried out, and Olivier was forced to a stop, wheeled about to see the old Faun down in the sand. It was as if he was trying to make an Zephyrian, writhing and flailing until he got his legs under him. He clamored to his feet, wiping off his front while sand streamed from his sleeves, all the while braying and snorting and frothing.
“Now this is why I didn’t want to make land,” he exclaimed, motioning to the desert. “I hate sand! It’s rough and coarse and gets everywhere! Why couldn’t we have docked on one of Palridian’s many lovely rocky cliffs? There! See? There’s one not even a league away that we could have anchored to.” He pointed to it, off to the right. Across the sea of sand, where the line of water and earth skewed, it ended with a jagged line of crimson rock. The red stone seemed to dribble like blood down, down to the grass, turned to sand in its shadow, while ragged teeth seemed to bite at the sea miles away and above the coast. He stamped his foot, sending sand flying, and snorted. “We could have placed anchor on Ignes’s Cradle and simply walked down from there, so why did we have t-”
He stumbled again. While standing still. Truly a most spectacular accomplishment. This time when he stood he only grumbled to himself, Olivier given enough slack to return to his march- only to be stopped again. This time by Squall. Bethilius cried out once more, as did Squall, but there was only one solid thunk. Olivier looked back, seeing that to be the case; only Bethilius was in the sand. Squall wavered, rolling her arms, balancing, but held.
“Could you be a bit more careful where you stand?” She said, huffing with indignation, and walked around him. “Rude!”
Bethilius bolted to his feet, panting hard, glaring after while she simply hummed. Olivier’s heart still stung, knowing he had reduced her to such a “sullen” state. There was a reason he wanted to keep focused ahead; yellow still filled his eyes whenever he looked her way, knowing he lied, and only brightened when she caught him looking her way.
Ponitius chuckled as he let go of Olivier, slowing to walk beside Bethilius, and clapped his hands once.
“So about Sarr’s hammer,” he said, but Bethilius kept his lips locked. The party continued along the sandy coast in silence... Until the gulls broke it. They returned from the ocean at last, calling overhead as they disappeared over the ever-shrinking horizon. Bethilius found himself stumbling a lot more whenever their shadows passed overhead, snorting, grunting, and cried out as he collapsed one last time.
On grass at least.
Olivier stood at the top of the hill, in awe once more at the plains of green that stretched out before him, dotted with pinks, reds, blues, and yellows. It was only marred by the lake in its center, the river that connected it disappearing far to the east, while the mountains and the cove of the Dread Pirate were far across. All they would have to do was walk straight; alas, their destination was west, to the forest that hid the mountainside entrance to Narvaal.
He relished it a moment longer, allowed the others to stumble ahead, then headed down. Grass whispered under his feet, almost seeming to lift him, to allow him and the others to glide to the edge of the forest, whisking him into memories. Though they were recent, they were some of his happiest, from tripping because branches grabbed his blade, slung over his back once upon a time, to his Natorei friend...s. Friends... but he wanted only to deal with one at that moment, and what better way than a souvenir.
He made sure to pluck one of the leaves off those thick, oaken sentinels, and his cheeks hurt a little from his smile. He could hear the bend of the tree, the quick snap of it, and Avin’s cursing as he was catapulted as clear as day. He thought he saw a flutter of pink flashing off in the forest; any moment it would return, demanding him to never speak of it, and he would hold up that leaf.
Olivier continued to twirled it, looking over its almost hand-like shape, though any hand with that many digits couldn’t be healthy. It could be a wing, however, or maybe even a toad’s foot and its webbing, though even the grenmahal toad didn’t have as many toes, and he would doubt that it would have an open space in betwe-
He gasped as Squall gripped his shoulder, but was thankful that she did. He looked out over the cliff before him... one foot hanging out into thin air. Wind whispered against it, rushing up to stir the ragged remnants of his pants before echoing far and away. The bottom, another plain, was hidden by mist, starting to roll out and rise from the sea.
Olivier eased his foot down before he wheeled around, and let loose a deep sigh, taking the yellow out of his eyes with it.
“Thank you,” he said, and exclaimed as she swiped the leaf from him. “H-hey-”
“So what’s so special about a leaf?” She mused, twirling it.
“It’s... a long story.”
“Toss it over the cliff and reminisce later. Which way is the entry?” Bethilius blurted. He and Ponitius had only got out of the forest, and Ponitius was looking a bit worse for wear.
He held up a finger, wheezing. “H... hold on... by Terra’s great bosom, I’m getting too old for this.”
Bethilius scoffed, and slapped him on the back.
“Quit complaining. Soldier on. No good comes out of whining and bickering about every minute thing.”
“Are you really one to say that?” Olivier blurted... He had no idea what gave him such courage around the Faun, but he was sure it was going to come back to bite him one of these days. He simply hoped it wouldn’t be now; he could see that Faun’s eye looking from him to the cliff behind him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He said at last, cracking his knuckles.
“Never mind him,” Squall interjected.
“Always do,” Olivier bl- again! Yellow flew across his vision, but he was too scared to shake, even as the wind tried to help him.
“Then which way is Narvaal, Olivier... and our... lovely new crew member?” Her tone could poison snakes with how venomous it became by the end of her question. It made Olivier’s stomach turn a bit, staining his eyes green, and adled his mind a moment as the sheer hatred she had in her eyes burned brighter than the sun giving the sea one last kiss.
“O-oh. Uh. It’s... t-that way.” Olivier said, pointing to the left, at the edge of the forest and where the mountain seemed to end. He cleared his throat, and took another deep breath, settling himself. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“I’ll behave myself, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ll be the nicest freakin’ person you’ve ever met... until the moment she insults me to your face. I’m not responsible after that.”
She handed him back his leaf, almost knocking him back with the force behind it, and wheeled on her heel, heading towards the mountainside. Bethilius followed after, leaving Olivier.
And Ponitius to wheeze and catch his breath. He was doubled over by a tree, holding his middle, but didn’t turn sick, finally standing up. He reached into his jacket and pulled out his flask, taking another drink, and heaved a heavy sigh with it, chortling.
“So how was my acting,” he asked.
“Y... you were?”
He laughed more as he bowed, his metal flask shining in the dusk as he did.
“Thank you! Thank you. You’re too kind.” He stood up straight, and his face was serious, stalwart. “I’m sorry for having to put such pressure on you, but she cannot know what was in the note. She cannot know that we were warned about her. If Strix warned us to be wary, there’s a good reason.”
“So what do we tell Strix?”
He sighed, and approached Olivier. He rested his hands on his shoulders, rubbing gently, growing more firm as he squeezed.
“Sadly, that’s going to be the truth. We did not know until it was too late... I’ll take the flak on that. I openly allowed her to come, and I am the captain. So... that’ll take some heat off you. However, don’t be surprised if Strix bites your head off for not advising me otherwise, eh?” He patted Olivier’s shoulders one more time, and smiled once more. “Now, let’s go catch up. We’ll need to be the buffer.”
“For Strix and Squall?”
“For Betty and Strix... She... sort of hated what he was.”
“Well, that, and his preferences... She overlooked it for me because I, well, don’t have one... and she believed she had a chance.”
Olivier nodded, and followed after the old Terrahn, the only barrier left a long, dark hole in the wall.