Growing Tides

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Dreams of Grandeur

Wind shrieked across the Kraken, ripping at its sails, lost to the darkness that claimed both sea and sky. Lightning arced through the clouds above, the only warmth and light allowed through, shouting its defiance in great, thunderous cracks. The sea was churned into a froth, slamming into the ship, bashed against by ever-rising waves that threatened to upend it. It was madness, simply, completely utter madness, but this was no simple fishing boat or tide skimmer. This was the Kraken!

Its crew, its captain and its skipper, especially its skipper, knew it could brave the storm. The sails would not be torn asunder by those gales nor the squall it carried. The hull would not buckle under such a laughable assault. Indeed, the crew guffawed and cheered as they rowed through. Their numbers were in the hundreds, maybe more, fighting to be on the oars as others tended to the cannons, firing at the storm and what awaited in the center of it.

Gale beat on the drums, the heads drenched in her sweat, rolling down the saturated handles and soaked arms. It rained off her forehead as hard as the downpour beyond the black planks, hearing the wind roar off the port side. They were making a seventh pass around that maelstrom, cannons blasting, silencing all a moment, even the wind, before exploding with cheer, hearing metal and wood splinter and crack. The wind died down, little more than a whistle, and they could see through the portholes what awaited in the great storm, what they sailed all this way for, waiting inside.

The Scylla.

The wind rose again, and it was once more hidden behind its spiraling black barrier. Boots thundered down the steps and into the galley, Captain Tarjen rushing, pushing his way to the drums, to his darling skipper.

“It won’t be long now.” He stated as he sidled behind the large drums. Behind her. He wrapped his arms around her middle, coiling up to her shoulders as his beak pressed against her nape. His breath sent a chill down her spine, made her moan between her ragged pants, still beating in-time even as her hands shook. “Once we drop it out of the sky, I’ll need you more than ever. We are taking the fight to them... You understand?”

“Y-yes, captain,” she breathed, and inhaled, steeling herself. “Keep rowing! If we stop now, we’re all dead.”

“Aye aye, ma’am,” a Cephamorian exclaimed, chanted by the others. “For the captain! For his skipper!”

His skipper. His. Another moan rippled from her lips, resonating from her throat, and she swooned a bit back into his embrace. However, she did not miss a single beat on the drums, dulled by a fresh round of cannons firing. The wind died again, revealing the golden hull. She never saw it herself, but she heard stories, about how it was a golden calamity that brought pain and despair wherever it flew, and now she was experiencing it herself.

“Fire the chains!” Captain Tarjen boomed, and smaller cannons thumped on the deck. Metal whistled through the air, then clanged and shattered, sparking on the golden monstrosity. Lightning flashed through the heavens again, illuminating nine long chains, connecting the Scylla to the cannons above, to the anchor wheel they were bolted to. “And... lower anchors!”

There was a chorus of huffs and exclamations above, and chains rattled out of the Kraken, splashing down into the ocean. They came to a sudden halt, brought upon by another round of screams and grunts, and Captain Tarjen let Gale go, taking her by the hand instead.

“Come! We board,” he said. Though he started to lead her, she took up the reigns. Gale practically sprinted through the galley, the crew giving her the space and respect her rank deserved, falling in line behind as she leaped up the stairs. She paused by the port railing, one foot up, balancing on the chain, and glowered at that golden vessel. Its engines sparked and cracked, whirring in vain, but it still kept aloft. Captain Tarjen let her go, and she growled. Blood dribbled from her maw, teeth and claws freed.

She roared, and the crew bellowed, following her up the chain. She ran with an unnatural confidence, with balance she never knew she had, and swiftness born from both vengeance and love. Captain Tarjen was right behind her, his sword drawn, lightning flash on its edge as if captured, making the metal ripple and burn.

“For the captain!” The crew boomed, giving them the strength to keep up, the chains groaning under the sheer numbers on their links. “For his skipper!”

“For all that have suffered!” Captain Tarjen bellowed, and leaped over her onto the ship.

“For every drop of Itchyoman blood spilled!” Gale answered in kind, and joined him, slashing at the ghastly, retched crew of t-

She snorted, and cried out as she fell out of her hammock.

Gale picked herself up, grumbling as she rubbed her nose, glaring at the six on the oars, still chortling. Roe wasn’t there, but neither was Captain Tarjen.

“Where’s the captain?” she grumbled, walking around the hammock... and shot a dirty look at Ella. She and the other Cephamorians were on the port oars, while Ruu and the Itchyoman were on the starboard. Completely uneven. She tittered, and waved a finger to the Cephamorians, pointing to the other side. “Okay. Tall and lanky? You should be over there. There’s no way this will keep a straight line.”

“That’s because we aren’t trying to go in a straight line,” the Cephamorian said. Rather snide, to boot. “We’re trying to turn the ship around.”

“Why? Was... was I wrong?” She growled, and pointed at Ella. “You! Where’s the captain, dammit!”

“Where do you think?” … Roe interjected, panting as she entered the galley. She had on fresh bandages, but they were already a bit red. She limped over to Ella, joining her on the row behind, and sighed. “He’s up in his quarters.”

“Is he doing alright,” the other, lumpier Cephamorian asked. “He was rather pale.”

“He’s fine. Just a bit exhausted. It took a lot out of him to row the port side on his own when he came back.”

Gale’s teeth slid free, glaring at Ella... and Ruu.

“Why didn’t either of you help him?” She exclaimed. “He’s your captain and you just let him do the labor on his own?”

“We were helping him,” Ella said. “We were in charge of the starboard oars. He ordered us to; I was a bit... shocked with how strong he really is. We could barely keep up.”

“As I said, he’s fine now,” Roe said. “He has a pot of tea on. He insisted I had a cup before I came back; sorry about that, Ella.”

“It’s quite all right,” she said. “Did you enjoy your time?”

“Very much so... I finally know my mom’s name, at least. It was-”

“How fascinating,” Gale interrupted. She sidled from behind the drums and started down the galley, grinding her teeth into her gums, leaving a bloody trail. “If you will excuse me.”

She didn’t care what they had to say. She didn’t care if they cared if she was there. She wanted- no, needed to know. Was she right? Was it all for naught? Was there treasure? Treasure, though this one was for the most part, wasn’t always gold; after all, she would have the greatest treasure of all depending on the answers she sought, small troves of gems in their own right.

Gale paused a moment, shooting another look at Ella, close enough to actually make out her face. Though no colors swirled in her eyes, the look in them was utter despair. In that brief flash, Gale could have sworn she felt a sense of loneliness that not even a castaway would know, no matter how long they endured. It was as if she had sunk into herself, both fleeing from the truth while trying to claw for it, wanting- no, needing it to be anything but the answer that was already given. A look of true sorrow.

A look that warmed Gale’s heart, and gave fire to her step.

She skipped up the stairs, humming a soft tune, lost against the mist that still held, and made her way up the second set of steps to the wheel, her captain in the room beyond. She opened the door, hit by the smell of herbs and spice, and, while Ella’s face may have been sorrow, Tarjen’s was rife with ire. The air around him seemed to hiss and steam as his gaze bore through it. His “arms” were covered in blue rings, throbbing with his “hands” on his cup at his desk, gently ebbing away.

That is, until she opened the door. They flared up again, matching the pink in his eyes, and he heaved a heavy sigh, putting down his cup.

“Finally awake, skipper?” He said, his voice heavy with fatigue. “Well? What is it?”

“W-well,” she began, and looked down at her hands, squeezing them together. “I... I was simply c-curious as to how it went... The others had been q...quiet about it, but Ella looks like she has seen the Dark Ones, Themselves.”

He huffed, shaking his head. “You could say that.”

Gale meandered through the room, each step heavy yet floating, unable to walk in a straight line. It was as if she was drunk, inhibitions lowered not from any form of alcohol but taking in his love. She managed to find her way to one of the chairs at the desk, and plopped down in it a bit too hard, making it creak and pop.

“Captain,” she breathed, fighting back her urge to shudder, clenching her hands hard enough to bring blood around her nails. “What was out there?”

“Answers, and more questions,” he said, fighting to keep them coherent through a yawn. “Lam Berel.”

“Sir?”

“That’s where we’re going next. Go tell the others... Once we exit this fog, we are heading due north. Unless there’s a storm or a trade ship, it should be fine. Otherwise, we are going to head northeast.” He yawned again, and picked up his cup, finishing it off before stowing it under the desk. He stood, and lumbered over to his cot, sighing as he turned to the wall. “If you don’t mind, skipper.”

But she wasn’t satisfied. She didn’t get her answer. Gale bolted out of the chair and sat beside the cot, shaking his “shoulder”.

“Was I right, then?” She pressed. “The stories of the Scylla-”

“It was here.” He stated, which gave her pause.

“Wait... Was?”

“We are after it now.” He huffed, and turned a touch, looking at her with one of his starry eyes. “You were right... There. Happy? Now be off with you.”

It took her a moment to realize what he had said, for it to truly sink in, but she bolted to her feet again, fighting the urge to jump on him. She ran out of the room, her face aglow, the brightest light in the mist. She jumped over the railing, rolled on the deck of the ship, and even cartwheeled down into the galley, skipping all the way to the drums. The world couldn’t have been better for her at that moment... well, it could, but even she knew it was too soon for that. Marriage first, then true happiness.

For now, she will settle for being praised by her captain, though she now could set her bar higher. First, the removal of a certain, unwanted Cephamorian on-board. Then, the love, the true love, of her captain. Not just his admiration, not only his respect, but requited amorous connection. She wanted him, and now the possibility of him wanting her was more than just a dream. It was tangible. She knew it could work, but only after a dour lass was gone. Permanently.

Her drums echoed far into the mist, the heads knowing no quarter as she hammered hard and fast. She giggled, panted with each beat, but the crew had their mark. Ruu had set it well, but she didn’t care. She would drum, just like her captain told her to do. She would bang away into the mist, into the night, for as long as was needed, if not longer, if her captain asked her to, her heart speeding it up ever more as the ship lurched. It wouldn’t be long now. Oh, no it wouldn’t.

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