Ella hummed, rocking along with the Kraken’s sway while Roe fought against it, puffing and panting and wheezing as they scrubbed the galley benches against its ebb and flow. Roe worked on the left side while Ella on the right, wettening their brushes whenever the bucket managed to slide over. The four rows behind them gleamed in the soft lantern light, all thirty-two, sixteen on each side, already cleaned, leaving only this final one before the great drums.
They both reached the end of their benches. Ella was faster, but Roe was the first to stand, hissing and holding her middle. New bandages had been wrapped before they began, but they were already stained crimson. She dropped her brush into the bucket, making it splash on Ella, exclaiming as she stood.
“H-hey!” She managed to say, wiping her face of the dirty water.
“Sorry,” Roe wheezed out, lead into a fit of coughing. She sat down on her bench, covering her mouth as best she could while still holding her middle, whimpering with each ragged hack. “Dark Ones help me...”
“Are you okay? You didn’t have to push yourself so hard.”
“And let you win?” She uncovered her mouth long enough to show Ella that she was smirking, quickly replacing her hand as another round hit. Blood dribbled out from between the bandages, seeping down onto her legs then onto the bench –one of Ella’s benches.
Ella eased an arm under hers, goading her to stand, shaking a touch under the Itchyoman’s weight. She didn’t want to tell her that she was going her speed; if it was only her, as it usually was, she would have been done long before. Instead, she carried her passed the great drums, each one larger than the benches they sat before and almost thrice as wide, and down the hallway on the right. They only had to stop once, in the middle of the two storerooms, where Roe gave it a small coating of bile and blood. Luckily, the hall hadn’t been scrubbed yet, so that would be taken care of once she was settled in their destination: the kitchen and its galley.
Ella eased her onto one of the long benches that ran before the first table. It was bare save for a few iron candlesticks nailed into the dark wood. Their luster had seen better days, their bases red with rust, but a quick knock and the iron underneath would shine anew, enchanted to weather all storms. Ella left her there a moment to fetch bandages from the first storeroom they passed, returning to her coughing again.
“Great Cao’Thugar, Themself,” Roe uttered, wheezing. She finally caught her breath, but that seemed more a burden, shaking, teetering so in her seat. She could barely keep her eyes open, and even then was blinded by tears. She jumped a little as Ella took her other hand, but eased when she felt a small, clay cup pressed in it. She didn’t hesitate to tip it and the water it held into her mouth, guzzling it before taking the next cup offered, then the next before finally sighing, shaking her head. “Thank you.”
“It’s the least I can do... You sure you don’t need my help to bandage you?”
“I got it covered, so don’t worry yourself about me.” She winced all the same, rubbing her belly. “I heard the stories about the Cat, but to actually be struck by it.”
“And he was being gentle...” It was more a question, a mulling of cautious wonderment rather than an actual statement, but it came out wistful as Ella looked at the steeped cloth on the Itchyoman’s chest, slowly being unwound.
“Aye. That he was... I don’t think the captain has it in him to truly harm somebody- er, I mean that in a good way, of course.” She huffed, grimacing as it brought another bark of a cough, but shook her head. “As I told you, I had the chance to talk with him, and he seems like a big old sweetheart. There doesn’t seem to a be a single malicious bone in his body –figuratively speaking.”
“He is. He really is... In fact, I didn’t even think he was possible of... that. He showed authority, but I’ve never seen him actually strike anybody.”
“He really does seem the type to understand a situation and figure it out before using brute force... Didn’t exactly work with the Dread Pirate Baro, though, did it?” She spat, a good bit of blood flowing with it, into her stained heap of bandages, tossed into a bucket that Ella handily retrieved. “That bastard... He better hope we never find him. Not only for the captain’s sake, but for my ma.”
Ella hummed her reply, waiting for her to completely discard every single ribbon before heading over to the sink. Its split barrel halves were filled with water, one filled with normal, cold water. The other was steaming and filled with suds from a bit of fat mixed with herbs from Palridian, giving the cabin a soft, flowery scent. It had a hazy coat, but you could still see to the bottom, to the dark wood of the barrel, lost to the blood mist that overtook all as Ella dumped the rags in. The water would need replaced before they were completely clean, but she already had a fresh pot of water on the stove beside, as well as new coal stowed in its belly, the fire crackling with such gratitude. It wasn’t a task she was charged with, but, since she was already there, why not take care of two Zephryians with one arbalest.
It would take the bandages a moment or so to soak, anyways, so she gathered a fresh bucket of water, cleaned out her brush, and scrubbed the bile and blood from the hall before returning to her bench. She wasn’t one to leave a job unfinished, and the more distance she had from Roe the better. Not because she hated or disliked her, no, but because her curiosity was already piqued and wanted, needed to know more. What did the Dread Pirate do to her mother? Was it specific, or was it only because of the attempted genocide? Either way was justified, but she was afraid the conversation would lead back to her and why she was there. That, at the moment, scared her more than anything, that she would let slip even a single bit of information. Again, not because of Roe; there were others on this ship she’d rather not have privy.
So, she pushed back to her bench, and scrubbed it of the blood. It was still liquid, thankfully, not a bit of it dried on yet, so it was a simple matter of wiping it u-
The Kraken had swayed, but returned from the flow quicker than she anticipated. Ella yelped, chains rattling as she hit the galley floor, but bemoaned more for her brush, snapped on an open shackle. That brush had served her for close to twenty of her tours, and now, with one miscalculated moment, it was gone. Its use, its place, all shattered with one, swift, unthinking moment of passion.
It was free now, she thought, wincing as she stood. The chain held on to her yellow “legs,” dark purple bruises rising under them before they slopped back to the ground in a clangor. Freedom... Isn’t it all we want?
She looked down upon the remnants of the brush... Rather, could it be called a brush now? What was it, now freed? What was its purpose, its goal? What did it truly want now that it was unbound from any clear destination or route? Unrooted, unburdened with the world, and so no longer truly a part o-
Ella shook her head, and backed out of the aisle. She returned to the stores, this time the one at the beginning of the hall. Inside, there were six brooms hanging off the wall closest, as well as six mops and six coils of fresh rope, with six others piled underneath, all beside the corner filled with buckets. The rest of the room had been filled with crates, easily able to be slid away for the mast, but only the two corners were filled with them.
She grabbed the broom closest to the door, and turned around to find Ruu waiting for her. His eyes gleamed in the darkness, his claw rolling fast before his fretting frills. The orb was small, but its impact, its intent was known before it ever flew, his eyes looking down at her “legs”.
“I’m fine,” she muttered, and sighed as she crossed her “arms”, and a touch of red fluttered across her eyes as even Roe came lumbering up. She hadn’t finished bandaging, both ends still lazing in the air, showing the cuts on her chest. “I’m okay. Really. I... got lost in thought for too long.” She shook her head, and patted Ruu’s left eye stalk. “What about you? The others? What about the captain... is he okay?”
“I’m also interested in the captain’s well-being,” Roe said. “Our ‘skipper’ made a wonderful songbird but she seemed to have been cooked a bit in the head. She stood there simply drooling up at him while he gave us our orders.”
“She didn’t hurt him, did she?”
Ruu trilled softly, making small chuffs as he spun another orb.
Stilled by a solid thunk, somewhere off in the galley.
The light in Ruu’s stalks swiveled to the right. Roe looked the same way, at the beginning of the hallway, and grimaced as feet padded through the rowing room and slowed there.
“Hey, guys,” Gale said, lumbering into view. She was wearing a smile, and didn’t seem to notice the blood running from her nose. Her cheeks grew a touch warm as she rubbed the fin on her head, plucking at the second red tip. “So what were you talking about?”
Ruu lowered his claw, and both Roe and Ella simply stared at her, as if bored. The only sounds in the galley at that moment were the soft flickering of the fires on their wicks and the creaking of the ship... Gale cleared her throat, her smile trembling, lips bathed ruby red by her own blood.
“I saw you got the rows done. Impressive! Especially for you, Roe. It must have only been five minutes, and you were able to do that with your injuries? I mean, I can only imagine how you’ll be once you fully recovered. Just remember who holds the whip, okay?”
Gale laughed, a bit too boisterous, bombastic for its own good, but the other three simply looked on. She sighed, patting her chest, and finally noticed Roe’s bandages, reaching for them.
“Here. Let me h-” She began.
Roe took a step back, grabbing both ends, and worked on them again.
“I got this covered. Thank you,” she said, though there was not a single hint of warmth in her deliverance, no gratitude anywhere in that declaration. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be above singing us a few more songs?”
Gale’s smile slipped a moment, only a moment, showing her true feelings that mirrored their own, but once more wore that mask, chuckling as she pulled at her fin again.
“Yeah, I got a bit overzealous, didn’t I? I can’t blame you guys for laughing; I would have too if I saw something like that.”
“Then I’m sorry for laughing. I shouldn’t have stooped to your level,” Ella said, and nodded to Ruu. “I’m okay. Was there anything in here you needed?”
Ruu waved his claw before him, and the shine in his left eye turned towards Gale before it returned to parallel the right. He spun the smallest orb he could with his tiniest legs before his frills and wafted it gently to Ella. She leaned in close as she cupped her mouth by the base of his eye’s stalk, her lips just touching his carapace.
“I should be fine, but keep an ear out just in case,” she whispered then righted herself, looking into Ruu’s eyes. He gave a small bark of a trill, and turned around, forcing Gale to back out of the hall as he scuttled off to the deck again. Ella sighed, stepping out into the hallway, and took three steps before Gale blocked her way again. “What is it?”
“Heard you two took on a rather hefty workload.”
“What of it?” Roe said, but Ella shook her head, cutting her off.
“Yes, we did,” she said. “I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the amount Captain Tarjen is paying me, so I wanted to do my best to truly earn it. Roe simply wanted to assist me, so this isn’t some challenge for his affection, like you so want it to be. This isn’t some competition to take your spot, so, if you don’t mind, just go so I can get back to work.”
Gale growled, reeling back a step, as if Ella had smacked her.
“Do you really think that little of me, to think that was what I was thinking?”
Ella and Roe gave her a bored look; Ella raised her broom before her.
“If you don’t mind, I have a brush to sweep up then a new one to find.”
“And I have to go clean out my old bandages,” Roe said. “They might not have been as bad as my first set, but they were still saturated from the Cat’s claws. You know, the punishment you gave me for simply joking around.”
Gale scoffed, and her hand flew so fast, wrenched the broom with such force, that Ella had no time to react. The best she could do was brace against the wall before she completely fell. Gale gasped, and took a step towards her, patting her shoulder.
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to do that... almost knocking you over I mean, not the ripping the broom out of your grip.”
Ella growled, and slapped her hand away as she righted, red growing in her eyes. Her growl was answered with Roe’s, stepping up beside Ella. Her bandages were in place, which left her hands free, splayed out as their clawed tips ripped free of the skin.
“What did you expect to happen then?” Roe exclaimed.
Gale backed a step, shrinking a little.
“I-I thought you had your feet locked-”
“Why would she have them locked! She wasn’t going to fight you.”
“The thought never even crossed my mind,” Ella said, straightening. “Though now it has, two against one are rather poor odds, aren’t they?”
“C... could have fooled me with how you held the broom.” Gale shook her head, groaning as she hugged that bristly spear to her. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to come off as-”
“A bitch?” Roe said.
“Yes... that... It’s... I have had my eye on the captain for a long time, and love makes you do some crazy things, you know?”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been in-love.”
“Never? Really? Never had a crush? An inkling?” She looked to Ella, still holding the broom tight. “What about you? You and that Aceon seem close.”
“Ruu? No. Natalie’s great geysers, no. He’s a sweet lad, but-”
“Why does any of that matter?” Roe interjected, taking a step towards Gale. Even in her state, even a touch doubled over, she still managed to stand a head taller than Gale, shrinking even more. “What are you playing? Are you planning to make them jealous or something, like with the captain?”
“N-no... Just curious, is all. You must have someone, don’t you? Well? Do you, Ella? Do you have a special someone?”
Ella was about to reply again, a resounding, definitive, cutting rejection... but was silenced as that Terrahn-Cephamorian flashed in her mind again. Pink touched her vision, ebbing the red enough, but she gasped as she saw it, trying to hide it before Gale noticed, hoping she didn’t. Sadly, she did, and her coo returned the red to its full ire, tingeing with black along the edges.
“So there is someone,” she mused, and giggled. “Okay! Who is he? What is he like?”
“That is none of your b-” Roe began, but was cut off by Ella.
“He told me he was nobody, and right now that’s all he is.” Ella spat back, and stormed back into the storage to get another broom, shoving aside Gale and Roe in her tirade to the broken brush. “If you don’t mind I have a job to do. Jobs.”
“Well, yeah. That’s why I’m down here. I want to help... and, possibly, start again? I want to be your friend-”
“Well, I don’t want to be yours!”
Silence fell through the galley, only disturbed by the soft scratching of the broom and the soft clattering of the brush and its bristles leading towards the kitchen. It would burn, be given use, and be imbued in the food that would be made. It would live on as smoke in the wood of the hull, never truly gone but shall surely be forgotten. She watched as the bristles crackled and snapped in the black iron basin a few moments, the red in her eyes gone for a somber blue.