With the last wallet given and the crew sent off, Captain Tarjen finally heaved a heavy, heavy sigh. Its weight seemed to make the ship groan, clattering like the anchors against its dark hull. It was strong enough to send the hat tumbling off his head, right into his awaiting left “hand”. His suckers pulled on the soft yet rugged fabric, feeling every stitch along the three tips of the tricorn as he slowly rotated and rolled it over his weary tips.
It almost slipped as it reached near the back of his “hand,” the suckers there barely grasping. A long, jagged scar wove through them, an ugly shade of white against the otherwise perfectly gray landscape, but it wasn’t alone. It and its ghastly hue matched the line running from his left “shoulder” down to his middle, hidden under his heavy, brown coat. A clean cut, a precise strike... a wound that cut deeper than people would ever truly know.
His boots clomped, the good captain claiming weary as his mantle, wearing it with pride as he climbed the stairs back to the captain’s quarters. It was twenty-one steps in all, but it might as well have been an eternity. Each second was counted off by the turning of the tricorn hat, making almost four perfect rotations before it was placed and allowed to settle and rest upon the coat rack in his chambers. He shut the door before he added his coat, taking a moment to admire the dark, almost black, ferrisom timber it was made of. It had been fortified with soft, blue iron, usually saved for the Terrahn ships, but it was his personal touch to this otherwise humble vessel. He pulled his attention away long enough to remove his boots and place them underneath the coat rack before he lumbered over to the left wall and eased himself down on the cot.
Captain Tarjen heaved another sigh, fighting the urge to lie down, but did lean against the wall. He watched the soft silver lights dance on the walls around, reflected from the chime on his desk against the back wall, ringing gently in the dusk of the cabin. Each light seemed to follow the other, as much the school of fish they were forged after. They spiraled ever higher, dimming, shrinking to points only to swim back down, almost just touching him before swimming back up.
He followed them, humming a soft, somber song, lulling his head back more and more only to pull forward again and see the chime, the desk, and the letters on it. It had been two weeks since he had to make port in Lam Berel for an... inconvenience... His arms still stung from having to strike the drums as well as snap the whip, but, at long last, he could r-
There was a knock at the door.
“Come,” Captain Tarjen uttered, hoping, praying that whomever it was took a moment to feel the threat laced into the word, that, whatever their reason may be, they better be sure it was truly... truly worth it. His gaze rose then fell on the trunk against the other side of the room, at the saber leaning against it... Even if he really wanted it, though, the most he could muster at that moment was to sit up completely.
Just as the door opened. For an Itchyoman.
He wished he had the strength to get that cold gray saber. He knew his threat was wasted; there couldn’t be much a mind underneath that heavy, yellow crest. It spanned from in between their beady, white eyes all the way to the base of their sweeping tail, it crest and the tail both tipped with dark, red spines, matching the whorls on their chest, clashing with the seafoam green of their skin. Their legs and extremities were hidden behind a pair of ragged brown pants, the top and bottoms stained with sweat, while their feet were uncovered, allowing their blue nails to rap and sully his timbers.
Captain Tarjen took a deep breath, just in time before their musky odor could completely permeate his quarters, and stilled the red that wanted to flood his vision.
“To whom do I owe the pleasure?” He said, his voice cool, almost cold.
The Itchyoman simply smiled, slowly, making sure every slither of their mouth and stretching of their gums could be heard as they showed their jagged, black teeth, and yet were completely oblivious to how frigid the room had truly become. Instead, they fanned their arms, their hands and the webbing in between their seafoam green hands stretching taut, showing the thin, pink membrane in between each one, before they bowed.
“I am Gale, and it is a pleasure to meet you, Captain Tarjen,” she said. Just like the good captain, her voice was too soft to have come from such jagged jowls, but Captain Tarjen did not realize this. If he had, he would have had a bit of green in his eyes, disgusted that he shared anything with this walking sushi bar. She slowly looked up at him, meeting his gaze, and once again there was no sign of fear, no hint of her understanding the gravity in the room, completely oblivious to the pressure pushing down on her. “Your reputation precedes you, sir... as does word you are short a skipper and snapper.”
Tarjen groaned, cupping his “hands”.
“Speak plain. What is it that you want?”
“Mind if I sit?” Tarjen had more than enough of her already, but nodded to the chair before the desk. She took it and turned it around, leaning forward on its back, on eye-level with him now. “Thank you. And it’s not what I want... It’s what you want.”
“And what may that be?”
“Information. On the man that left you that scar.” She clacked her jowls, tittering as she made the chair groan more, as if growling for its keeper. But the nuisance still wouldn’t take a hint, she creased her fingers together, shaking a touch, obviously not from dread of fright. No, she was excited by all this. “I mean, you actually met him, didn’t you? That’s why you were appointed captain of the Kraken, wasn’t i-”
Tarjen leaped to his feet.
“Hold your tongue on things you don’t fully understand,” he said, the ire in his voice seeming to cut into her well before he ever reached for his blade. Red burned in his eyes as he glared down at her. His head rose and fell with such fervor... settling with him as he sat again, the red in his eyes gone, what strength he had managed to muster gone with it. “Besides, the Dread Pirate is long gone.”
“Maybe so, but I come from Lam Berel. I was aboard the Kappa, and do I have some news for you. There was a gristly massacre in the Itchyomen district. Though it was dark, the Itchyomen all agreed upon one detail: they were lead by a Terrahn-Cephamorian in a coat, bearing the Dread Pirate’s colors.”
“And you survived this massacre? How fortuitous.”
Gale’s smile finally slipped, turned to a sneer.
“Yes. Well.” She cleared her throat, gripping the chair, biting into it with her nails. “I... may have fallen asleep on-duty... down in the belly of the Kappa.”
“Ah. So you’re not only an opportunistic little parasite, but a lazy one at that... How do I know your information is genuine?”
“Because I saw the Iron Scythes give chase. They were heading south.”
“Still doesn’t mean anything. The Iron Scythes are brigands, just as opportunistic, if not moreso, than you.” Tarjen sighed, shaking his head, and pointed to the door. “If that is all-”
“They were going after the Scylla.”
“Many have. None found i-”
“A woman joined them. An Icthyoman named Squall.”
Tarjen stopped. Gale smiled once more as she saw the blue fill his eyes, and leaned further over the chair.
“Now do I have your attention?”
Tarjen... shook his head.
“Still doesn’t mean anything.”
“Really? The woman who vowed to hunt down the Dread Pirate Baro and his skipper suddenly makes herself known to a group just so happening to be looking for the Scylla with one of them wearing his colors... and that’s merely a coincidence?”
“I’m not saying it again: Speak plain. What do you want?”
“The same thing as you do now: to go hunting for the crew.” Tarjen looked her in the eyes, and what he once thought was simply excitement was now replaced with anger and loathing. “Even if it’s not the Dread Pirate, himself, they killed my family. I want them to pay, and you have the chance to take your revenge. Win-freakin’-win.”
Tarjen... cleared his throat, and shook his head, if to parish the thought that sprung to mind.
“It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple,” he grumbled, eyes filling with red not at her but at his own thoughts. He couldn’t keep them all in, and so spilled as he mulled them over. “I am not on contract at the moment... a crew wouldn’t be too hard to put together- it can’t be... but...” He shook his head again, and focused on the Itchyomen. “I’ll humor you. Let me resupply the ship, get a crew, and you are more than welcome to join... How much are you wanting to be paid?”
Gale smiled, and stood, cracking her knuckles.
“None. Their blood shall suffice... Though I wouldn’t turn down the role as your skipper --temporarily, of course.”
Tarjen hummed, still looking her in the eyes, unwavering... even as he raised his right “hand.”
“Welcome to the crew then, miss Gale. Now be off with you.”
She shook it, giggling.
“Does the skipper get special quarters, as well?”
“Very special. Down below, right behind the drums. Plu was a large Aceon, so you’ll be living in luxury in his hammock.”
“I’ll move in post-haste.”
“Then be off with you.”
She let his “hand” go and put the chair in its rightful place before leaving at last. Tarjen made sure the door was shut and wiped his “hand” on his pants, catching a glimpse of his scar as he did. Red touched the sides of his vision, but he shook it away, retching a touch as he hurried to open his window, panting hard. Though he wished he was sick, a heavier weight than his exhaustion had settled in his stomach, one that kept him on his feet as he lumbered behind the desk, preparing a letter for Plu.
Just in case, he thought. If this bears fruit... I have doubts, especially from a fish, but... The Scylla.
The red became scarlet a moment in his eyes, settling as he wrote. Each stroke of the quill seemed to send a gust through the room, making the anchors outside clang that much louder. Fate had reared her ugly head again.