Growing Tides

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Left in the Dark

Olivier set down his glass of water, covering its top. Strix had raised the carafe, ready to fill it for the seventh time, but Olivier had finally reached the end of his tale. During most of it, he tried to suck himself down into that pewter mug, to get away from retelling, from an accidental slip of the tongue here or a bit of misinformation there that would spark the crackling air around. But, his tale was finally done, and he came out of (mostly) unscathed.

He slumped back into the couch, welcoming him into its weathered folds. He would have been more than happy to disappear inside if given the choice. His eyes were still tinged with a bit of yellow, his body shaking, both from Squall’s outburst and from the possibility of another. And not only Squall, though she was the closest. She sat right beside him before the small table in Strix’s office. Ponitius on her left, possibly the reason she hadn’t dove for the journal on the Natorei’s desk. It took up the entire right side of the room, while all three were flanked by two lounge chairs, “occupied” by Fili and Avin. Taking up the rest of the left side were four long bookshelves, packed to the brim with thick, leather tomes and exotic baubles, trinkets from all over Mortuim.

Strix fluttered, humming, mulling the story over as she rose and left the new journal and the desk and made her way over to those shelves. That desk was made of a darker wood than anything that could be found in Narvaal or the entire region. The craftsmanship on the legs, on the polished top, the intricate weaving of metal into wood almost like cloth so delicate that it made it even almost divine, as if a gift from the Mothers, Themselves. Golden winged beasts seemed to shimmer and fly across the wood, seven of them from all four corners, shrinking as they descended for the golden castle in the center, surrounded by weaves of green, blue, and red gems. The rivers of jewels sprawled down to the legs, warmed by the dawn seeping through the door, sending swirling colors over the tiny table before the crew.

The silver light that surrounded Strix robbed it, though, as she returned, boring straight down on the turrets and parapets of that castle before turning around. She lazed over and came to a stop before Olivier, all the while still mulling over what she had heard. She stared right into his eyes, seeming to turn him to stone under their crimson glare.

“So,” she said at last, making the buzzing that had made itself at home in the office flee, “sounds like you’ve had a lot of fun... Now... what was that about your sword?”

“W-well,” he began, but Ponitius stopped him, waving it off.

“Just hand it out to her lad. It’ll all become clear,” he said, chuckling. But Olivier knew there was no joy in it. He did as he was told, his hand, its suckers fumbling at his sash as he undid it. The blade rattled as he held out the handle. The cords on its pommel barely touched her silver aura as she reached out, turning it purple, and a stream of it smoked after as she rocketed back towards her desk, landing on it.

“Great Astra!” She shrilled, wincing and panting. “What was that? It felt like my entire self was being... corrupted... It was like it was erasing what made me who I am and replacing it with... with-”

“Darkness,” Olivier finished, tying the sword back on, grimacing at the task. It was easier to take off with one hand.

Strix heaved a heavy sigh, and lazed back towards Olivier, wary. “So... that’s what happened with your arm? That’s why you hunt for it, and to s-”

“It’s why I hunt for it now,” Olivier interjected, forcing his voice to stay even, no matter how much it shook... or wanted to bark. He turned his head to the wall, lest Squall noticed the yellow that had filled his vision... or any of them would have noticed that streak of red that flitted by. “I may not have known when you first found me, but now I do. I want to find the Dread Pirate, and the source of this darkness.”

He hoped he sounded convincing, prayed that Strix noticed him pointing towards Squall, and was thankful that both were answered. Strix hummed, and floated back to her desk, sitting on it behind the journal. Squall kept her stoic silence, continuing to simply glower at the Natorei.

“Very well. Thank you for your telling,” Strix said, and sighed. “If everyone could leave, I need to speak to Olivier. Alone.”

Ponitius leaned forward, holding his palms out.

“Strix, show a touch of mercy,” he said. “The lad has had a long day. This, alone, would have been torture, considering he suffered from amnesia until you saved him.”

“He did?” Fili exclaimed, and wailed as she launched and latched herself onto Olivier’s cheek. Again. “Why didn’t you tell me, Poly?”

“I know it is rather... challenging considering his situation, but I truly need to speak with him. Alone.” Strix stated once more. Though her voice never raised, Fili went silent and retreated with Avin out the window behind the silver-hued Natorei. Ponitius was about to intervene once more, but one look from her, her reds piercing the solid silver orb, made him shut his mouth tight. He simply stood and left the room, leaving only Olivier... and Squall. Her nails tore at her dark leggings, her green eyes locked straight ahead, while a soft growl bubbled in her throat as Strix turned her attention to her. “Please.”

“What are you going to discuss?” Squall demanded.

“Matters that only concern us as of this moment.”

“Whatever concerns him also concerns me.”

“Squall-” Olivier began.

“It is about his blade,” Strix blurted, her silver sparking, as if slapping him for even opening his mouth. She fluttered over to the bookshelf beside Olivier, three rows over, one shelf down, and her silver poured into the tome there, pulling it out and over to her desk. “In the original journal he had on him, it stated that the Dread Pirate Baro picked up a sword from the Scylla and it responded to his command.”

“There was an original journal?” Squall said, turning her ire towards Olivier.

“He did not know. Not in his catatonic state. I had it removed from his person before he was completely conscious and studied it... However... that sword is special. It seems that whosoever wields it is the true captain of the Scylla.”

“What!” Both Squall and Olivier blurted and both started to speak at once. “Me|Him? Captain? I am no captain|He is not ready to be one! I’m too much a coward|He’s still too soft.”

“This must be a mistake!” They both ended together, which Strix simply sighed.

“Mistake or not, it is what it is,” she said. “Now, miss Squall, if you do not mind, I’d like to give guidance to Olivier. You can use this time to tell the others what I have told you, and to prepare them to help get him ready for his new role... Understand?”

Squall was about to argue, but she looked over at Olivier, down at his sword... She scoffed, bolting to her feet, and stormed out the door, thundering in her wake.

It creaked back open a touch; Strix fluttered over to it and made sure it was shut and locked before checking the windows, checking to see if they were completely and utterly alone. However, even then she didn’t seem content to talk until her orb darkened and whined softly, letting loose a pulse that blanketed every corner, every nook, and only then did she return to the table before Olivier, sitting on it.

“There. I cast silence on the room, so no one outside can eavesdrop,” she said, and her voice turned harsh, matching her gaze. “So, if I remember correctly, in my notes I told you to be wary of an Itchyoman named Squall. I could have sworn I stated that under no circumstance should she join your group or know what you are doing... Mind explaining to me why she is not only a part of your entourage but also your keeper!”

As she spoke, her voice raised, its tone tearing into him more than any wild beast ever could. There was no venom to worry about, the sheer heat and fire and ire bellowing from her words burning away any trace that could enter his blood, cauterizing wherever they lashed. Her silver aura glowed so bright that it was turning blue, crackling and sparking and roaring as if she had become fire, itself.

Olivier, however, endured the tirade. He had expected it all this time, had prepared, so allowed the wrath to wash over him. He held his hands together, through both pockets, remaining still lest he tumbled away in its tide until he was certain it had calmed enough... He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, then slowly opened them, looking into Strix’s.

“I’m sorry,” he said, slowly. He had plenty of time to think during Ponitius’s telling, and had rehearsed it even as he gave his, but he had a calmness about him that even unnerved him as he continued to explain. “I didn’t have time to read your note fully until we were out on sea, and by that time she had saved me... It would have been rude if we had turned her away. Who knows what she may have done if we tried. If we tried to send her off while we were sailing to the isle she would have followed after anyways, and-”

“How much does she know? What sort of act are you and Pony Boy playing?”

“She knows we were after the Scylla, and that my past isn’t exactly clear. Other than that, she believes I have amnesia and am an old member of the Dread Pirate’s crew... I almost let slip that you didn’t want to see her or even know she was with us, so Ponitius lied and said you hated Itchyomen.”

“Ah. That explains why she was trying to kill me with her gaze the entire time.” Strix groaned, and broke eye-contact at last. Olivier hadn’t realized it, but his breathing had slowed, as well, heart racing as he realized that he had been so eerily calm. “I really should have put that warning at the top of the note or told you while you were still here... or even put it in Pony Boy’s missive so that he would know what to do if she appeared... No matter. What has passed is in the past. No use trying to place blame, so let’s focus on what’s ahead.” She rose from the table and returned to the desk, her orb flashing as the room gave a soft pop. “Go. It’ll take me a few days to study this tome. With any luck, this one will point us to Baro’s and Nejrat’s final location-”

’There was one other thing,” Olivier blurted as he stood, and each step towards the desk was heavier than the last. This was something else he had pictured, had practiced, but that didn’t make this any easier. His right hand wanted nothing more than to stay in his pocket, but he finally forced it out by the time he reached it, and showed her the pearl on its top. “I also got this.”

Strix looked down on it.

“…What? A cut?” She said. “That looks deep, and yet no blood? Truly interesting. Can you feel p-”

“Not the c... wait. You don’t see anything else?”

“Is there supposed to be something else?”

“N... b... no. I guess not... I’m going to the tavern now.”

She hummed, and energy once more crackled on the page of the journal, flipping over just as Olivier left the room. He lumbered across and down the suspended walkways, lost in thought and staring at his hand, at the pearl there that was but wasn’t... but was since Bethilius saw it but wasn’t because Strix didn’t... It even sparked a bit green as he looked at it, as if in mockery, given its full luster as the sun started to rise beyond the wall of the crater.

He managed to break away from it as he reached the bottom. The merchants were pulling up their lean-to’s, ready to start the day, while Olivier was more focused on the tavern across. He was more than ready to call it a night in the Dimmed Natorei, as he had no doubt the others joined Bethilius.

Save for Squall.

She leaned against the dark, wooden railing that made up the porch The nine tables were still laden with people, still packed inside and very much alive with cheer. No one seemed too close to another, always enough room to move around the dancing, cheering, drunken, tired gathering.

Three Faun stumbled out the doors as Olivier approached, grumbling and guffawing. One stumbled into him, his three-point horn just grazing his shell, and the Faun turned, snorting.

“What? Want to fight about it?” He said, raising his fists. “Come on.”

“Settle, Bombo,” one of his friends said, her voice so soft coming from such a pinched face. He could just see a pair of buck teeth at the base of her long nose, her beady, blue eyes twinkling in the magical light from the sign above. “I musta had too much to drink. You look lika cross between a Terrahn and a Squiddy.”

“Now that’s something I would like to see!” The third Faun boomed, chuckling, and his long, drooping ears seemed to rise with his goofy, drunken laugh. “How do you think a Cephamorian and Clayman would? Would the Cephamorian- well, I guess it depends on which one’s the boy and whichuns the girl.” The Faun seemed to hop a step towards Olivier, but ended up falling into him, throwing his short, white arm around his shoulders. “Tell me, bud: was your mother into the tentacle, or your father risky for the beaky?”

“Leave him alone, Brer,” the female Faun said.

“I just want to know.”

“Listen to your friend,” Squall said, glowering at the Faun. “Move along.”

“Now I thought I smelled something rotten. When do the exiled of the Divines come this far from the ocean?”

Squall growled as she jumped over the railing, landing before the Faun. Her sword was already drawn, wreathed in the fire the dawn gave its steel.

“Get lost,” she hissed. “My friend doesn’t want to deal with you.”

The Faun guffawed as he backed away from Olivier.

“Well, lookit that. At least it can make friends. Looks like it’s not so bad to be a fetish b-”

Squall’s teeth gnashed as she swung her sword at him, and he squealed as the tip of his left ear slopped to the ground. The other two Faun gripped his shoulders and carried him off, his squalling still heard echoing through the town even as they made their way out of it to the merchant’s tents beyond. Only then did Olivier realize how quiet it had become.

He looked behind, at the tavern, and the doors were open. Their shadows grew behind, away from the tavern, and even the shadows that crept onto the porch did not dare get any closer to the pair of them... Squall sighed as she sheathed her sword, turning away from the tavern.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, and walked off into the village, leaving Olivier there as the gazes broke from him and followed after her, even his own.

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