And so the Kraken sailed towards unknown shores, its crew working tirelessly for the rest of the day, cleaning it, tending to its needs while it carried them to destiny and Fate’s clutches. The fog was on the horizon by the time dusk settled in, and the crew retired to the mess hall for food and drink. Laughter rumbled in the depths of the vessel, creaking, joining in on the mirth, only disturbed by a certain Itchyoman trying way too hard to assign seats –where hers was right beside the captain, as was expected of a first mate. She didn’t necessarily bring anything interesting to the table, not for the good captain, too lost in conversation with another that, by the time night truly rolled in, it was only by his skipper’s continued attempts that he retired to his quarters. He set the bar on the wheel, then went in, while the rest went below, falling asleep before their heads even hit the hammocks.
The Scylla’s crew, meanwhile, finally made it down the stony tunnel, just a few more steps from Narvaal. The entire town was surrounded by cliffs and rock, capturing what remained of the dusk in its jagged teeth. Off to the north, a path had been chiseled out of the rock, allowing traders ease of access into this haven crafted by Terra, Herself. Most of its houses were built into the trees, the elder oaks that had crept their way in from above and laid claim to the land now tended to by Natorei, Faun, and Terrahn that rejected The Church of Terra and its “holy” doctrine. Though there were many lean-to’s folded down into stalls, there was only one, true building in the entire town and it was the tavern, filled with cheer and song and packed to the brim.
Their mirth was so bombastic, filled with such merriment that it seemed to brighten the pass Olivier and the others took, rumbling with every booming bellow and guffaw, carried by the beating of drums and the soft plucking of a lutes. There were at least two of them, their strums just out of tune to each other to differentiate while still keeping a pleasant melody. Olivier found himself bobbing his head to the beat more than once, becoming rather impossible not to as the others ahead also did the same. Even Bethilius, whose hooves clomped it and his tail did conduct.
Bethilius, sadly, realized he was doing such, and halted it all, disturbing the joy as he scoffed.
“What sort of backwaters place is this?” He said, and spat, tail shuddering as it wanted to continue with the beat again, kept still through sheer will. Even as he talked, though, his head had a rigid bob to it, his words forced in solid form rather than bounce with the songs. “This whole cave permeates with the stench of simpler-minded individuals, and I can only presume the town, itself, is going to drain my mind of all higher thought. Just listen to that music; there’s no deeper meaning behind those strums, no care for chords or touching the soul. It’s-”
“Just plain catchy,” Ponitius said, chortling as he reached out and pulled on Bethilius’s tail, making it and the Faun it was attached to jump and bray. His hooves clomped down hard, but his tail was free to swish of its own accord again... conducting the beat once more. “Come on, Betty boy. You used to love hearing this all the time.”
“N...nonsense! I never ‘loved’ it, as you exaggerate. At most, I tolerated it.”
He snorted, and pushed by Squall. It was a shame it wasn’t during the day; the cave into Narvaal, its entry would gleam like a thousand jewels were embedded in the stone and would wash up the steps in a whirling cyclone of color. As it was, only moon and faint torch light touched it, making it a shimmering, almost mystical, portal into the town.
Ponitius could only chortle as he watched after Bethilius, seeing him try to tuck his tail under his arm. Its tip still swished to the beat, and more than once did he have to falter his steps, to get off that rhythm he so supposedly despised. Alas, Bethilius had no choice as he stepped into through that portal. The colors there ensnared him, his chocolate brown hide warmed almost to an amber, tempting him, awakening his true feelings in that split moment. He practically sprinted away, his hooves clomping with his loud brays, cheering.
“‘Tolerates’ it,” Ponitius said, chortling as he shook his head. “He requested it specifically during our wedding.”
He sighed, and Squall was the next to step through the portal. Her pink skin was paled by the colors that bled onto her dark brocade shirt and pants, yet those scales would not allow themselves to be warmed by those hues, any warmth stopped at her scowl and glower.
She doesn’t look happy, Olivier thought, and once again felt that twinge of guilt in his gut. Blue washed over his eyes, the rhythm gone from his steps in that moment.
Just as she looked back at him.
He tried to wipe his face, spitting as if a cobweb had hit it, trying to keep his eyes covered, but she had seen. And she had stopped.
Squall slowly turned around, her visage even darker, graver than before, and simply sidled to the left to allow Ponitius by. But not Olivier. She pushed against his chest, growling softly, growing as Olivier started to shudder and cower, more blue filling his eyes.
“What? What is it?” She said.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to stammer, sputtering and shrinking into his coat as he tried so hard to avoid her gaze. “I’m sorry. It’s nothing. I-”
“Why are you pitying me?”
He looked up, and the blue fled from his gaze, just as startled.
“W-what?” He managed to say, spluttering with the next. “Pitying?”
She scoffed, and Olivier saw a tear in her right eye.
“Stop it. Just... stop it. I’ll be fine. Itchyomen are used to being treated like this by the other races. By Ignes, sometimes in between ourselves, so quit looking like a boy who just lost his first dog every time you look at me.”
“I... I’m not-”
“Then what is it, then? Huh? Is it worry, fear that I won’t keep my word? I told you. I promised I would be on my best behavior... Do you believe me? Trust me?” He tried to say he did, that it was truly his own fault, but no matter how hard he tried, the words would not form. He just spluttered and stuttered, made all the worse as her teeth started to slip free, the tears build in her eyes as much as the blood welled up in her gums. “You can’t even say it, can you... I thought you were my friend, someone who was searching for a place to belong as well, but it seems I can’t even trust another forlorn wanderer.”
Olivier continued to try to answer, but the freshly skewered hole in his heart made it hard. His eyes welled with blue and pink and even indigo, all clashing and swirling as he sobbed. He collapsing back on the steps, his legs refusing to hold him a moment longer under her verbal assault. No tears would come -they never did nor could- but his whole body still shuddered and racked with his crying. He hugged his legs to his middle, falling to the side, rocking gently back and forth.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to say at long last. He repeated it, over and over, his voice growing more hoarse until it was little more than a croak. I’m sorry... that I can’t tell you the truth.
Squall scoffed, and turned her back on him.
“Maybe it’s for the best,” she said, her voice bitter... hurt. “Why would I want someone like you as a friend? Too easy to crack.”
She took a step into the light, into that portal of warmth and mirth... and stopped. Her head was bowed, looking down at the city, and Olivier could see she let her tears go at last, each one capturing the light from the portal she stood in, swirling and cascading with color. She sniffed, and took a long, shuddering breath, holding it. Olivier looked through her legs and down the path. Ponitius waited there, looking right at him with a rigid smile plastered on his face while his eyes, those pale pearls, fought so hard to keep their pristine hue instead of giving to the bloodshot they wanted to be... and he felt a chill run down his spine. It was subtle, minute, but he saw Ponitius’s fingers, their tips straightening, as well as the cold glint hidden in the sleeves, peeking out with each, soft flex.
Squall released her breath, slowly, and wheeled back around, giving Olivier a sad smile.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and her smile was replaced by perplexity, wondering why Olivier shot to his feet. She stepped to the side as he stood before the portal, and gasped as he collapsed again. “Are you okay?”
“I... I will be,” Olivier croaked out, and groaned as he sat up... making sure that the dagger in his jacket didn’t fall out. He still “hugged” himself, still tried to tuck away in his jacket, even as Squall tried to pull him out. He would not relent until he pulled it clean through, which, thankfully, it only dug in a nail’s deep into his right side. He managed to work the rest of the dagger through, then finally stood, looking her in the eye. “I never meant to hurt you, you know?”
Her worry shifted again to that sad smile, and she sniffed, nodding.
“I know... and I didn’t want to hurt you. I’m a little... sensitive when it comes to being excluded. I didn’t mean anything I said... You’ve been through enough that you don’t need to be bullied now. Not by me nor anyone.” She hugged him, which Olivier fought to not whimper... and hoped his blood didn’t make it through the small tear. She let him go quick enough, making him relax a touch, and cupped his cheek, forcing him to look in her eyes. They were a pale shade of green now, tinged by red, but had renewed warmth. “No more secrets. No more lies... okay?”
Olivier... simply nodded, and she chuckled, letting him go.
“Good! Then let’s get this show on the road. Strix can’t wait to sanitize her room a moment longer.”
Olivier simply nodded again, and let her race down the path to the tavern while he slowly lumbered after. Ponitius was still waiting for him, his smile broken as tears streamed down his face. Given how his chest heaved and the smile on his face, Olivier doubted it was because of worry.
“Sorry, lad,” he said, letting a chuckle slip through. as well as an orb of silver buzzed softly. “I thought things were going to head a different direction. I’ll patch up your coat once we have the chance... Good reflexes, by the by.”
Olivier gave him back his dagger, a touch of red passing over his eyes as he slapped the weapon into his hand, but passed as yellow started to fill it. From the treetops, a silver light grew, glowing, almost burning the leaves a pale white in the moonlight, growing as it swooped at them. Ponitius must have saw the silver light in his eyes for he bowed his head in time for that orb of silver to streak by and swirl around them, landing on his shoulder. Olivier could see now that there was a being inside the light, her red eyes burning brighter than the light around her. Her wings buzzed angrily, reds turned to the tavern, to where the Itchyoman had raced off to, lost to a sudden explosion of laughter as the doors clacked open. Four Faun stepped out, no small feat, given their horns were stuck, and cried out and shouted as they stumbled towards the center, collapsing into a four-pointed star. But Olivier kept his eyes to the treeline, the yellow still there, wondering if another orb of light would be on its way... hoping, praying that it wouldn’t.
“Looks like we meet again, Olivier,” Strix said, her voice still as smooth as velvet, though it didn’t hide the bite of venom behind it. “I take it everything went well?”
“Better than expected,” Ponitius answered for him, and withdrew the journal from his pocket. “The Scylla is waiting down by the shore, as well.”
“Wonderful. Let us retire to my office, and... discuss what to do next... Who is that Itchyoman with you, by the way? That doesn’t look like Durnst, unless my memory escapes me.”
Squall looked back, whether it was she heard the Natorei’s words on the wind or finally noticed Olivier wasn’t following, and rushed back.
“Didn’t notice you were here.” She stated, nudging Olivier hard in the ribs as she did. “Should have told me instead of letting me run off, meanie!”
“That’s because I wasn’t here until a moment later,” Strix said.
“Oh... Well, I am Squall.” She held out her hand to Strix. “A pleasure to meet you.”
Her tone said otherwise, but Strix shook it all the same. The ridges of her sphere rippling, wanting to expand, but they held.
“Likewise... I am Strix, the mayor of Narvaal and the one who instructed Olivier to go find the Scylla.” She let go of Squall’s hand, and turned her attention to Ponitius. “I saw Bethilius walk to the tavern, but is this all that came with you? Durnst? Sarr? Dervalan?”
“Durnst and Dervalan are back at the Scylla, while Sarr is... also back at the Scylla,” he said, clearing his throat. “We needed some to watch the ship, after all, but Durnst is pleased to see you again.”
“You know him. Big ole love sponge.”
She tittered, and sighed. “Quite... I have no doubt Sarr is dying to see me. He always did try to cap my light, but we can reminisce once we’re back on the Scylla. For now, there is work to do... if you will follow m-”
“Ollie!” A blue-energy Natorei slammed right into Strix as it rocketed towards Olivier, making her spin into the side of the entry as she met her target, making Olivier’s nightmare a reality. The energetic Natorei burst into tears of joy, hugging the side of his face, coating it in kisses as she clawed gently at it, holding on so. Another Natorei followed after, grumbling inside its pink sphere as its wings whispered rather than buzzed like Strix’s or the emotional one’s crimson butterfly wings.
“I tried to stop her,” Avin mumbled, yawning. “I tried to tell her you would only get angry if she disobeyed you.”
“You truly gave your all, didn’t you?” Strix grumbled as she pulled herself off the wall, and buzzed over to the Natorei still attached to Olivier’s face. “Fili!”
“Oh! Sorry,” the Natorei exclaimed, and giggled as she pushed herself off Olivier. “I just missed him-”
“And what about the eighty others that came through and you showed such affection to?” Avin said, making the blue orb spark red. Light glowed on the walls, spikes slowly protruding, aimed at the pink ball Avin resided in.
“I was just being nice to them, but I felt a true bond with Wallie h-” She stopped, and looked over at Squall, seeing how close she was to him. “Who is this? O... ollie? Did you... you did, didn’t you? You found another woman! Then you brought her back with you?! How can you be so cru-”
“Going to cut you off there,” Squall interjected. “Me and him? No. I have my heart set on another.”
“Oh! So you’re just toying with him, then? Playing with his heart?”
“What? No. We’re just friends.”
“And you better be! Just so you know, Tombi and I are meant for each other.”
“That’s not even close to his name.”
“So?! Polly and I have a special bond that goes beyond simply names.”
“But you could at least know it.”
“I do! Of course I do! I have to know the name of the father of my child.” She flew down to Olivier’s (left) hand, and pulled at the index, letting him feel her belly. Which was pudgier than he last remembered. Also, she was wearing actual clothes, a rarity for Natorei. A soft, black dress. “We’re going to be a fam-”
Avin yawned again and flew down to her, reaching under her dress, pulling out-
“Congratulations, Olivier. It’s a pillow,” he mumbled, tossing it on the ground, and sighed as he flew up again, floating before Squall. “You’re fighting a losing battle. Trust me. I’m surprised she keeps her mother’s and my name consistent.”
“No one asked you... You ruined everything,” Fili exclaimed, and whined as she flew up to Strix. The Natorei finally peeled herself off the wall and lazed on Ponitius’s shoulder, blinking and dimming. “Mother, does Oppai need to go with you? Can’t he hang out with me?”
“Well, not necessarily,” Strix began, but cleared her throat as Olivier shook his head, mouthing his refusal, stopped as Fili wheeled around. “However, I do believe I would like his perspective on all that had transpired as much as Ponitius’s.”
Fili wheeled around again, sniffling.
“But that can be done later, can’t it?”
“I’m afraid not. It must be done while it’s still fresh.” Olivier started to relax, heaving a silent s- “Although.”
“It will take me some time to look through the new journal, so-”
“I will have plenty of time to spend with him!” Fili finished, cheering as she flew off. She was sparking so bright, while any warmth in Olivier’s cheeks was robbed.
Avin sighed as he floated over to him and landed on his shoulder, patting it.
“It was inevitable, dear friend,” he said.
“It was, and I am truly sorry,” Strix said. “Anyways, can we be off now?”
“Just like old times, huh? Avin whispered into Olivier’s ear, chortling as they followed after Strix to the hanging bridges, and Olivier gained a little cheer as he robbed his, holding up a leaf.
“Yup. Just like old times.”