The dawn came and went as fast as the day. Olivier was out like a light as soon as his head the pillow. He was given the same room he had when he first arrived in Narvaal, its window looking out over the town, almost centered. Traders came, revelers departed, all forgotten with long, heavy, dreamless sighs as he tumbled away on sleep’s tide. The last few wisps of the dusk seeped over the horizon, casting the crater and ocean in a soft wash of red, and, at the very edge, there was a flash of green.
The first of the four moons began to rise to the east, o’er the Barator sea and the Kraken, still coasting south. Most of its crew were settled in for the night, another long day of work taken care of. Their bellies were filled with stew, prepared by the captain’s order, himself. It wasn’t anything too spectacular, but a feast was a feast, though even then one will soon tire of it if eaten enough, as one would tire of a trip if it were to go on too long. There was still no sign, no destination in sight on the horizon, taken by a strange fog.
Captain Tarjen closed his telescope with a weary sigh, set the bar on the wheel, and retired to his quarters once more. However, three were not ready to go quietly into that good night. His skipper, Roe, and Ella, still had much work to do under the pale moonlight.
Much to Ella’s and Roe’s displeasure, it seemed Gale was genuine in her want to help --rather, her desire to grow closer. Ella didn’t know what the Itchyoman had in mind. Given the stares Ella and Roe exchanged, both of them truly did not want to know, but whatever it was must have been worth the effort.
After they were done with the benches, they swabbed the poop deck. After they cleaned that, they cleaned the rest of the deck. They broke off the fresh barnacles from the hull before they could truly cling, and after that they checked the ropes to the masts, the chains to the anchors, and the gears to both to ensure they don’t snag or lock unless on the spokes of their wheels. Even through all of that, Gale stayed by their side and... “helped”.
With the final cog cleared of any debris in the deepest recesses of the Kraken, Ella finally wiped her hands clean on a bit of blue cloth. She had been carrying it all day, waiting to use it, a signal to her and Roe that they were completely done. Roe, herself, had come a long way in a day; her bandages were only somewhat soaked, the wounds under scabbed and a bountiful bouquet of color. She hissed and winced whenever she had to bend, but she no longer walked doubled over or panted like the bellows under a furnace.
That being said, Ella didn’t want her cloak sullied, so she left it back at her hammock. For good reason; her orange-and-red limbs were coated in soot and grease and sweat and sea spray. Roe, also, was quite a mess herself, but both felt far cleaner any time they looked at the pile of grime that hid a Gale somewhere inside it. She did pant like a chimney, dribbling dirt and muck onto the freshly cleaned floor. It seemed to clump and plop off of her with every heated breath, but that was why Ella brought a few extra buckets of water.
She tapped Gale’s shoulder, the Itchyoman turned away, towards the door. Her mound of slime and refuse waited for instruction to begin its dirge into the hall, now forced to lurch around to face her. Just as Ella threw the water on her. She spluttered, gasped, wheezed as the cold salt water splashed against her, but the second one shocked her back to herself, making her reach out for Ella as she readied a third.
“What do you think you’re doing!” She shrilled, her teeth peeling free just to shrink back in with the splash from the third.
“Cleaning up,” Roe answered for her, sloshing a bucket of her own onto the filth-Itchyoman hybrid. Ella handed Gale a dry cloth before she poured the third on herself. Her eyes flushed with red a moment before settling again, then started to wipe at the muck she had on herself, running down in thick rivets.
“You were a lot more... zealous in your duties,” Ella said. “Thought you could use the extra aid.”
“Well, thanks, I guess.” Gale sneezed, jumping a little as Roe splashed herself, but settled and scrubbed at her skin and scale and slacks, grimacing as she shivered. “I prefer the term assiduous.”
“You fit the first part perfectly,” Roe said, snapping her cloth at the other Itchyoman, making her yip.
“Dance! It’ll make the slop fall off faster. Hopefully it’ll take that ugly smirk with it.”
“Well, let’s hope that you can remain dedicated to this level of commitment and be as meticulous with every task every single day.” Ella said and only exhaled as she finished. The look on both of the Itchyomen’s faces showed that it had the right effect, which made her sigh. She doused herself with another bucket, and dried off her “feet” before she stepped away from the puddle she left. She grabbed one of the two mops she brought down, as well, cleaned up hers, then handed Roe the other as the two followed after Gale as she went to get her mop, still up above. Maybe it was her eyes playing tricks on her, but Ella could have sworn she saw the slop left in her wake writhe and try to give chase and heard on the wind something crying for its mother. It was gone just as quick, the muck wiped away, but maybe it was simply her stomach playing tricks. It gave up on growling some time ago and now left her light-headed.
Either way, she did not care what Gale did now. They were done for the day; Ella tossed her mop into one of the barrels by the door in the second storeroom then lurched out and to the kitchen. Roe joined her, waiting behind for the great, black pot. Gale, sadly, also did, sitting right beside her while Roe sat across, glowering at the skipper, still wearing such a wide smile.
“Well,” she uttered, much too loud for either of them –then again, anything above silence was too loud. “We did a lot today, didn’t we?”
Roe scoffed, her gaze deepened with indignation.
“‘We’?” She said.
“You’re right. I was trying to be nice, given your injuries, but it really was mostly me and Ella.” She nudged Ella’s shoulder, tittering and ignoring the red seeping into the Cephamorian’s eyes. “Isn’t that right?”
“This is good stew,” Ella said instead, focused on her bowl and the contents inside. The beef chunks were thick yet soft, melting on her tongue as she slid it through her beak, and the vegetables, the carrots, potatoes, and onion all carried the spices, the thyme and rosemary and sage that had been left to permeate the very essence of the broth and soup.
“It is,” Roe said.
Gale scoffed, scooping a hearty portion onto her spoon, but gave it such a disgusted look as she slowly turned it over and let it splash back down into the bowl.
“I mean, it looks serviceable, I suppose,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the fact I’m starving, I wouldn’t even consider it.”
“Like you did earlier?” Roe said, slurping up a potato.
“I didn’t see you eating much of it.”
“Because I let it get cold. Reminiscing with the captain does that.”
“Yes, well, I still don’t think it’s safe.”
“It was made by the captain-” Ella managed to say before Gale simply inhaled her bowl. It was a wonder the clay survived her feeding frenzy, enduring through chomps, sighs, crackling, moans, and the inevitable gulps before she pulled it out of her jaws, spotless. She plucked at her gums with her nail, her cheeks a bit flushed as her legs seemed to quiver, basking in the after glow of- “ordering Ruu and talking him through it.”
“What? So, wait. That divine meal wasn’t made by the captain?” She growled, and tossed her bowl on the ground, shattering it. “Why didn’t you just say it was made by Ruu, then!”
“It made you eat it, didn’t it?” Roe said, and how the tables had turned. Now she smirked while Gale looked so indignant, but no other words were spoken as the two ate. Ella looked over the room, the tables, remembering when this ship was packed and how she was once one of the first to be on rotation to eat. You can’t have the entire crew down in the galley at a time, so there were shifts, periods where parts of the crew were allowed to eat, usually no more than three, and she did not envy anyone who was on the last. She never had been, but Ruu was assigned it during his maiden voyage. So she volunteered, giving him first choice, an offer she would never give to this... thing that sat beside.
“Shouldn’t you head to bed?” Ella said to Gale. “You’ll be up earlier than me.”
“And why is that?” Her tone sparked with assumptions and accusations, all laced with venom, all redirected towards Roe as she chortled.
“We know how bad you want him,” she said. “You’ll be up exactly when he is. It’s actually rather perplexing that you sleep at all.”
“The captain wakes up at the last moon’s setting every single ‘morning’,” Ella added, which turned the lovelorn Itchyoman’s gaze upon her again.
“And how, pray tell, do you know that?”
Ella took a slurp from her stew, then pointed up at the ceiling.
“You can hear his boots as he trudges around the deck, checking on the crews’ work the day before. He grumbles a lot, too, and then sings old shanties. I’m a light sleeper to begin with, so... it’s not the worst way to wake up, but I often drift back to sleep for the hour or so I have left.” She lowered her fork to the stew again, and pushed it gently into the meat, taking the thinnest, cleanest slice off it. She raised it to her beak, taking her sweet time to grind it up before swallowing, positively enjoying the twitch in Gale’s brow. She gulped, and sighed, twirling her fork towards Gale. “Don’t worry. You’ll pick up on these things as you continue to travel with him. Maybe quicker, given your... passion.”
Gale scoffed, her cheeks burning bright, clashing so much with the dark circles under her eyes. They laced into her lids as they closed a moment, and she took a deep breath, the scowl on her face turning to a smile as she let it go.
“I just care about him, is all,” she said and sighing, almost wistfully, as she clenched her chest. “Can you blame me? You know him-”
“Better than you, it seems,” Roe said, a jab that almost took her grin. Almost.
“For now. And that’s only because she’s been around him. I know most of his quirks, at least when he docks, when on-land, and when he is about to disembark. I’ve watched him for the past... Natalie help me. I don’t remember. It’s been that long.”
“Or our lovely curse is doing its job.”
“No. I mean, maybe? It’s getting worse each year, for all of us. I can barely recall a year ago let alone when I first started watching... All I know is, when I first saw him walk up the steps of the Kraken, when he was first appointed, I remember seeing the Keeper of the Aqua Alliance pin that medal to his hat. I saw the air of command envelope him... and it didn’t change him. It was as if he was always meant to have it. He didn’t buckle his shoulders, nor did he try to stand any more upright. He kept the same, calm demeanor. He didn’t even bother to change it for the Keeper --the Keeper, of all people. His eyes didn’t even change... I doubt those eyes ever saw yellow, let alone knew what it was.” She sighed, bordering on uncomfortable for Ella to hear, and she hugged herself, looking up at the ceiling. “I have never felt such a pull, but what did I know? I was only an urchin at the time. It seemed so long ago... and yet the feeling did not wane, even as he left port. Instead, it only grew stronger and stronger. My heart leaped whenever I heard that the Kraken was docking.” She giggled, rocking a little in her chair, and her hands slid up to her cheeks, smiling wide. “My mother and sister always teased me about it, but I didn’t care. I remember running out of the house and down to the pier to see him stride out on-deck. Those times always stood out as the happiest moments of my childhood... and now, next month I shall be nineteen, and I am right here, with him. As it always should be.”
She sighed again, slipping into a soft moan... and scowled at Ella as she simply hummed an answer, her attention returned to her stew. Roe, however, was still watching her, her cheeks a bit warmed.
“Well?” Gale barked. “That’s all your going to say?”
Ella looked up. “Huh? You were still talking?”
All heat vanished from her cheeks as she glared at Ella. Her hand laid on the table, rapping it gently, chewing it on her lip.
“So what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Well, I told you about my past --for the most part.”
“Good on you.”
“We’re about the same age, aren’t we? We must have seen each other around. Did you go to the Academy at all, ran by old Shlitz?” Gale giggled, smiling once more. “That woman was a force to be reckoned with. I guess she had to be, to teach Itchyomen and for it to stick, but I wouldn’t cross paths with her.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever do meet her. I never went to school.”
“Why?” Roe said, her cheeks still a bit warmed, positively glowing in the dark galley. “You’re smart, Ella. You could have gone far.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Gale said, tittering as she nudged Ella’s shoulder again. “What? Your parents didn’t push you to go?”
“No.” Ella said, and the way she stated that seemed to slap Gale back in her seat, pushed back a touch as she continued to enjoy her stew. She saw a tinge of red by her eyes, but knew that Gale didn’t need to see it to know the true ire and bitterness that came with it.
“I see... You don’t get along with your family, do you?”
“Gale-” Roe began, but Ella spoke over her.
“No. No, I don’t. For your own sake, drop it.”
Gale sighed as she shrugged.
“Fine. Sorry. Didn’t realize it was so touchy. I was simply wondering if we had met before.”
“We haven’t.” She finished the last of the broth and stood, careful to pick her steps through the shattered clay to the sink beside. She washed it in sullen silence, red continuing to pulse as she heard Gale stand, as well as Roe. She hurried to put the bowl on the drying rack beside the double-barrel sink before rushing out of the room. She stormed through the hall, but did her best to quiet the suckers on her feet as she passed through the rowing room, closing in on the sleeping quarters. She wasn’t ready for bed, not now, not while red still pulsed in her eyes, but she needed her cloak.
She slowed to a crawl as she passed the stairs leading to deck, and eased her way through the hammocks. Ruu was the closest to the door, almost blocking it even when all folded up. His eyes were open, ever open, those black beanstalks forever looking on, but the soft, white film over them showed that he was unconscious, as did the soft hums from his frills, rising with each breath, all just out of harmony, creating a cacophony of serenity, a chorus of bliss to the creaking of the ship and the roar of the sea.
Ruu’s smaller claw clacked every so often, a soft sound, answered in turn by the soft grumblings of Storm. The Itchyoman’s head protruded a little into the hall, his tail lazing on the hammock behind, covered in its own blanket, so Ella cut through the hammocks on the other side. Faloo and Dernish rested on the cots around Ella’s, something she wished they didn’t, but they were always out before her and she was always up before either one, even now as she continued to trudge through them and the benches.
She retrieved her cloak and, just as careful, just as slow before, worked her way back to the entrance. She climbed the stairs to the deck and up the next set to the bow, looking out towards that fog bank. Stars twinkled over and under, the sea and heavens as one, the Kraken sliding across it as if like glass, not leaving nor disturbing either. Only the ships soft groans, given warmth by the sighs and breaths of the crew, and the soft hush of water disturbed the night, ruined as footsteps lumbered onto deck. Ella took a deep breath, steadying the red in her eyes, and slowly turned around as Gale and Roe climbed the steps after.
“It’s a beautiful night,” Gale stated, ruining the silence even further, and sighed as she leaned on the railing beside Ella, looking out on the sea.
“How much longer do you think?” Roe said. “I can’t really tell because of that fog.”
“I don’t know, either.” Ella said, walking towards the port side, leaning over it instead. She hoped only Roe would follow, but of course Gale did, too.
“There’s not a single cloud out there at all.” Gale stated. “Not a single, stray wave, not like the ones that surround Carapai. It’s... almost as if we are going through the heavens, themselves.” Gale tittered, wiping her eye. “Wow, that was bad.”
“Yes. Yes, it was.”
“Well, sorry. It’s my first time ever sailing.”
“Join the club,” Roe said.
“From what I hear, you at least had your dad to tell you about it. For me, this is my first time ‘seeing’ the world... and being away from my mom and sis... Out here, I’m basically alone. You know?” She sniffled, chuckling. “I never realized how... crushing it is... I mean, I always did say I would go out and be with him... but never imagined the kind of want I would have to just go back home. Do you ever feel that?”
“Nope,” Roe said. “Da knows I’ll be back when I’m good and ready, and I want to explore all of it. I want to see it all, from Bordunyal to Balvot. I want to try Terrahn cuisine, Faun cuisine, even Arthrogon delights. I want to see the golden cities of the Zephyrians-”
“I wasn’t asking you,” Gale interrupted, clearing her throat, and nodded to Ella. “Well... Hey... come on! Do you ever feel that way... do you?”
Ella sighed, knowing there would be no end if she didn’t give an answer, but that didn’t stop the skim of red from giving all a rather nasty shade. She looked over at Gale, glaring at her, and huffed.
“No,” she said. “Not anymore.”
Ella scoffed, and shoved away from the railing. Red clung to her irises, pulsing bright, but it was the price to pay. There was another color that she truly did not want shown at this moment as she still glowered at Gale.
“Look. Whatever it is you are looking for -a friend, a companion, a shoulder to cry on, or a conspirator- I want nothing to do with it. This is my final trip, then I am gone, so you have nothing to worry about. Okay? After we are done, the captain is all yours. I do not care.”
With that, she huffed and spun on her heels, storming down the stairs and steps to the galley and her bunk. She didn’t care if she was quiet anymore, suckers pulling hard at the planks, making them shudder more than her breath as she hurried to sling herself into the hammock. She was panting, hard, the blood in her head pulsing hard as the red in her eyes could no longer keep the black at bay... easing away as she heard Gale lumber down the stairs. Crying.
Good, she thought, and curled up, holding herself tight under her cloak, and closed her eyes, quickly giving in to sleep. Besides, I’m not the one she should be worrying about.
Gale may have been blind, but Ella saw, as clear as day, that another Itchyoman was winning over the good captain and she wasn’t even really trying... That made the black melt away a bit, along with the continued sniveling, drifting away far too soon as the tide of sleep finally took her under.