Heart of Terror
Terror. Not just simple fear, that fleeting emotion that could just as easily be turned to rage or courage, nor fright or anxiety, gone in a moment’s notice. No. True Terror, where the mind and heart both know and agree that there is no way to escape their Fate. No matter how much they pray and fight and stand against it, it would be coming for them, and they are absolutely powerless to stop it. It would take divine intervention, mercy to be “freed”, but one is never truly released from its grasp. It has already taken you, and one day you will return to it, and it shall be willingly if but to end the hold it has on you.
Hours had passed. The day was almost done, the sun teetering on the horizon once more. Olivier had spent the day training with Squall again, Fili buzzing about, demanding that the Itchyoman be easy on her darling, while a pair of bright orbs watched from the prow. Claire’s purring was louder than the engines, stretched out under the sun’s rays, watching as steel clashed and sparked brighter than the sun that embraced her, and only acknowledged that there was something outside of it all when Durnst walked up to deck, telling them food was ready. She stretched, yowling softly, and jumped over the railing, landing before him down below.
Squall and Olivier followed soon after, his mind weary, demanding food before the need for rest became too much... but, even as he ate, as his mind wanted to be numb and empty, he still could see that look in the Itchyoman’s eyes. Whenever he closed his eyes, whenever he blinked, or in his room whenever the light waned enough from Fili’s form to allow a dark spot on the roof.
Though the Itchyoman tried so hard to sound hard, attempted to be spiteful, vengeful, one glimpse into those eyes revealed the terrified little girl, still hiding, cowering from the unspeakable horrors that sent her life into this spiral of self-destruction and loathing. Now, now that her vengeance was so close at hand, the reward, the answer she has been seeking for so long, she found something far worse to stalk her.
And it was Olivier.
He was doomed to hold a place in her mind now, to wrench and crush her heart, to pull at its strings as she followed after. Maybe she knew she was following him, and maybe she didn’t, truly, but she will return at the worst possible time. Then, and only then, will she be whole again, whether she realizes it or not.
His eyes filled with green, realizing the horrid fate he truly left her. The corruption may have been bad, but at least they were reduced to nothing... right? She had to live every waking moment thinking of how she was pitied, how she looked pitiful enough to be shown mercy. At the height of her power and pride, no less, so, in the end, who was more the husk?
Olivier scoffed, and rose out of bed. He barely managed to keep his retching down before he threw open the door. He stumbled to the railing, and sobbed, croaked as he released his guilt upon the winds and fire. Over and over he tried to repent, hoping the steam that rose would give him alms, forgive him for what he had done.
But even they had abandoned him.
He wiped his mouth, and blinked, seeing that there really was no more steam from his rejections. In fact, they went straight down, the runic engines cold, dimmed.
“Everything okay, Goalie-” Fili began, caught up at last. She had tumbled off his shoulder when he lurched to his feet. Her blue aura had been incredibly bright before calming, seeing him hunched over the rail, but now? She was white, the intensity burning his arm as she clung to it, shrieking with him... and Squall. She manned the wheel this night, her knuckles pale on the wheel while her claws scraped against the console, hammering away at the buttons. It was for naught; nothing could slow the Scylla’s fall from grace.
Wind and water roared as they crashed down with a mighty thump. Several cracks were heard both on-deck and underneath. Water burst around, hanging there moment. Each drop, each rising geyser streamed with color stolen from the sun’s depart before it came crashing down. The sudden squall ripped holes in the sails, pounded against the timbers. And the crew that were strewn on them.
Olivier cupped Fili to his chest, bending his back to it, and managed to lurch over and on top of Squall, saving her from the battering as well. The water couldn’t cut through the jacket, but it minced the bottom half of his pants. His shell and tendrils suffered as well from the bombardment, but it was his feet that were hit the most, coating the deck in blue blood.
At last, it came to an end, and he rolled off of Squall. He panted, winced, groaned as he simply laid there. The world spun, sparking with each pulse that throbbed in his head. A sick curiosity wandered into his mind: would it be better if his feet were healed, or if they were completely discarded at this point.
“Olivier,” Squall blurted beside, much to his disdain. Her voice cut like a thousand daggers --or at least a hundred. After all, he already felt a million in that downpour. “Fili, are you all right?”
“Yes, but my poor Wally,” she exclaimed, sniffling, but green energy already poured from her, coursing across Olivier’s body.
Meanwhile, another voice decided to thrust itself upon Olivier’s senses, grumbling and snorting up the stairs.
“I understand you all have a taste for death, but could we keep it to a minimum of two a week?” Bethilius exclaiming, clomping so hard, too hard on the steps.
“Don’t look at me. The runes just... died,” Squall said. “How can runes just die!”
“Working on it,” Strix grumbled, her wincing clashing with her buzzing. Sight finally returned to Olivier, no longer the sparks nor undulating pulses but true vision, somewhat impaired by the green aura still pulsing over him. He could still see Strix thumbing through the journal, mumbling to herself as she fluttered over them... and into the captain’s quarters. “If you don’t mind, I prefer to do my studying someplace... private.”
She closed the door behind her, just in time to avoid Ponitius’s belly aching as he lumbered up the stairs. He was rubbing his right eye, the skin around it already a lovely shade of purple, scowling at Squall.
“I left you to the wheel for five minutes, to go grab something to drink, and you let it plummet?” He grumbled.
“Runes died. Not my fault,” Squall retorted, huffing, and helped Olivier to his feet. She had him lean on her shoulder as she carried him down to the galley. “You’ll be starving after that healing.”
“I guess?” He mumbled, though his stomach answered for him, growling so much, needing sustenance for his (new) limbs. The last of the green energy finally faded away, showing him whole... if a bit more colorful than before. The new tendrils had a bit of red to them, not pleased with the orange or blue that coursed through the Terrahn-Cephamorian and wanted a bit of style of their own, matching his new, crimson feet. Fili landed on his shoulder, humming softly, and he could feel her kicking out her legs. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing, Doodle,” she said, and kissed his cheek. “You saved me, after all.”
“Even when he saves you, you can’t remember his name,” Avin said, clucking his tongue as he landed on Olivier’s other shoulder. “So what happened, exactly?”
“For the last time, the runes simply died,” Squall exclaimed.
“What was that?” Durnst called from the kitchen, guffawing as Squall’s teeth gnashed together. They made it to the dining room, and she deposited Olivier into a seat while she stomped down to the end of the table and sat in the furthest corner. She tapped her nail on the table, digging it in, scratching deep grooves into the dark boards, and almost cracked it before Durnst entered the room with four bowls of stew. Squall gave it a rather sour look, which Durnst only shrugged. “I did warn you.”
“You knew the runes would die?” Fili exclaimed.
“No. That she would grow tired of my stew. Think this is our... ninth time eating it.”
“At least it hasn’t been in a row,” Olivier said, prodding at his own gray concoction. What was once tantalizing and exciting was now a murky slurry... and answered with a rather crude sound as he stuck his fork deeper, displeased with his assault. “At least, for the others. I didn’t get to eat anything in Narvaal.”
“Nor me,” Squall said, her pink face turning a touch green as she pulled a bit of what she hoped was carrot free from the slop. She took a bite, and the revulsion turned to neutrality. Olivier understood why once he took a bite: it was nothing. It tasted of nothing. He tried adding salt, and it was nothing with salt. However, nothing was better than something terrible, so he ate it all the same, and only wondered why there were two more bowls when Dervalan lumbered in.
He yawned, and scooped up the one that didn’t have the Natorei poking at it, jumping away from the huge, gray bubbles that rose.
“Morning,” Dervalan mumbled, and tipped the bowl into his mouth. He gulped it down thrice before heaving a heavy sigh, returning the empty dish to Durnst. He rubbed his head, groaning. “Say, did we hit something? My head h-”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Squall cried out, both laughing and sobbing as she pushed her bowl away, laying her head on the table.
“Uh... is she all right?” Dervalan said.
“Perfectly fine, but ask her about the runic turbines next,” Avin said, chuckling, made even louder as Squall looked up, giving him a glare that even the Dark Ones would shy away from. The stew around went still, deflating against the wooden bowls, and Olivier noticed they gained a bit of flavor... though... what it was he couldn’t quite place. However, with the Scylla grounded, the sails in shambles, and their scholar holed up, her and her crew were forced to tread water the rest of the evening and into the night. They did their best to patch the sails. They stripped the masts clean from the Claymore and Falchion, but six of the masts were still barren. Not even the strongest wind would be able to move it, so there was no other option but to row. To where, though? There was no land nor horizon to give an idea of direction, and the wind was not favoring any way in general, settled alongside the sun as the four moons rose over the horizon. For that matter, who would be on the oars?
It was with all of this in mind that they came to a unanimous decision: They all went to bed... Well, almost everyone.
Olivier knocked on the captain’s quarters, yawning. Fili was already passed out on his shoulder, snuggled up against his nape. For some reason he still did not understand, she did not snore when she slept like that, so he took one for the team and allowed her to stay there.
“Strix?” He called through the door, lost to another yawn, but Fili didn’t stir. Not even as he knocked again, louder.
“Do not disturb me. Working.” She stated.
“But you are in my room... A room you forced everyone else to give up for me.”
Normally, Olivier wouldn’t care, but he still had a bit of red from his previous statement. He hammered on the door again, growling. It was true: he didn’t want the room to begin with, but she forced it upon him. Now? Now she turns him away? Olivier continued to strike the door, the thunks echoing across the deck and sea.
“You are being awfully rude, you know?” Strix grumbled inside.
“I’m simply acting as captain. Again, what you forced everyone else to give up for me!”
“... Then if I may make a suggestion, captain?” Olivier could hear a soft crackling on the other side, and the door started to glow- quickly grow bright. He dove to the left just as the planks turned white, hissing and steaming as a bolt of light continued out towards the horizon. It had passed through the spokes of the wheel and the narrow passage that was between it and the console, but the hole left in the door was easily as large as Olivier’s head. It still hissed and crackled, glowing as silver fire crackled inside, patching it back up. “Hopefully we have come to an understanding?
Olivier stood, and agreed to her proposal. What could he say? There was a reason she was their tactician and logician. So he headed down the steps and into the galley, to sleep with the others and be where he truly belonged, as he believed. His stomach even felt better, blue and pink light illuminating where the lanterns could not, keeping the darkness at bay. Keeping those terrible eyes away.
The soft breaths of his friends, the occasional snorting purr of Claire in the hammock above, was a boon compared to the rippling silence when he was alone. It had been a long time since he fell asleep so quickly, and rested so soundly.
If only the same were true of Ella.
The drums had quieted at long last. Gale’s drive, both of passion and contempt, was finally superseded by the need for rest. She slumped into her hammock behind, snoring away before anybody even rose from their bench, and Roe, Ruu, and Ella pulled themselves away from the oars. They were the last ones there, the others already snug in their hammocks, in there since they raised the anchors. Tarjen could be heard above, the wheel creaking softly, making his way through the watery graveyard once more, but he did not call down and demand why they stopped. He did not demand them to continue to slave away, though Ella didn’t have a problem continuing. She was worried about the others.
Roe collapsed back onto the bench, coughing, hacking. Her bandages were soaked through again, the bench and the floor at her feet soaked in blood. She had been panting, hissing, holding back those barks for the last few hours, watching and matching Ella’s pace even as it spurted through the cloth, but she would not relent. She did not back down until Ella did; even Ruu looked worse for wear. His breathing could actually be heard, his frills rippling with each ragged pant. The Aceon could barely even conjure an orb, taking on such a ragged edge or just giving up before it was finished, but he finally did send his message, making Roe chuckle. Painfully.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m more than ready,” she said, and groaned as she stood- and fell. The noise she uttered when she did was pitiful, as if her body, itself, decided to cry, unable to muster the strength for a true exclamation of pain and fear. Ruu caught her, but her weight caused his legs to buckle, spreading out under him as she simply laid on top of his shell. “Sorry. Guess I wasn’t ready.”
“You really shouldn’t have pressed yourself so hard,” Ella said, putting an arm under hers, and heaved her up on her shoulder.
The Itchyoman scoffed, turned to a wince as she held her right side.
“The sooner we get out of this fog, the less we have to row, right?”
“You keep this up, and those wounds will never heal... Let’s get you some fresh bandages.”
Roe looked a bit guilty, almost embarrassed as Ella helped her to the kitchen, settling her by the sink before hurrying to the closest store –stopped by Ruu. He had went in during, and, in his larger claw, he held up a roll of the cloth. She thanked him, and his feet skittered close behind as they returned to Roe. She was having trouble peeling off the old bandages, as if they were a part of her now, squelching and sticking so much. She winced and sobbed, as if picking at a scab... and was both thankful and pained as the others helped tear them off.
They slopped into the cut barrel that was the sink, filling with water, already stained crimson. Though they were more than happy to help with the next bit, Roe waved them off, her cheeks already red enough without them scrubbing her down for her. Instead, she took the rag from Ella’s grasp and soaked it under the running water, wiping away the darkened “scale” that had congealed on.
“How do you do it?” Roe grumbled, wincing as she scrubbed.
“I could ask you the same,” Ella said, looking at the sheer mass she was removing. The sink had to be drained four times over before it wasn’t pure crimson with the first six inches, a soft pink even now.
She chuckled, regretting it, and shook her head.
“It’s not that I’m used to pain or anything. Hell, I could honestly say I never knew what it was until the Cat... but...”
“It’s only temporary. You get used to it, or it goes away; regardless, you have to do what you have to do. You can’t put your life on pause for it. You can’t just give up; you press through it, knowing that-”
“Whatever awaits is better than what you are dealing with now,” Ella finished for her, yellow, red, black... and a touch of pink swirling and clashing in her eyes. It cleared instantly after, which Ella was thankful she was looking into the sink, hunched over at the time, pulling the plug again. It gurgled and belched as it took the red again, and the bandages were almost back to their brownish hue.
Roe threw in the rag, rags, smearing and staining the water crimson again, and wound the fresh bandage around her.
“Besides, I want to do all I can for the captain,” Roe said, and cleared her throat. Ella finally looked her way, and saw she had a bit of pink left in her cheeks. “Can you guys keep a secret?”
“You are enamored with the captain?”
“It was that obvious, huh... Aye. I am. It’s... the stories, the life he lead, the people he knew and the places he has been; it’s all so... intoxicating. When he speaks, I can hear the very path he had walked- I dunno. It’s just... I want to hear more. I want to know more... And, if it means keeping Gale from him, all the better.”
“She is the reason you have those cuts.”
“How dense can a person be? I’m an Itchyoman and even I know a joke when I hear one.” She shook her head again, but a growl escaped all the same, grimacing. “If he is fine with her, then I won’t stand in the way, but there’s a part of me that thinks he cannot stand her- strange, right? Why would he have her as is skipper if he doesn’t at least tolerate her... maybe it is my wishful thinking, my own want getting in the way, but... I don’t know. It’s weird, right? He sailed with my da, and is probably far older than him.”
“But it’s fine for Gale?”
“Heh. True... or maybe it’s not fine... I don’t know anymore.” She grunted, wincing as she gave those bandages one last tug, and eased herself away from the sink. She teetered a little, but managed to keep her footing, giving Ruu a small smile as she waved off his claws, stretched out. “I’m fine, ya big oaf. You don’t need to play hero all the time.” She rolled her eyes... and gave his left eye a small kiss. “Thank you, though... Anyways, I’m beat. Thanks for helping patching me up, Ella, and I better not hear you on the oars without me.”
Roe chortled, and limped out of the room and down the hall. Ruu followed after... and Ella couldn’t help but notice that he was stumbling a bit over his feet, nor how the spindle tips shook when they had to still a moment for the next. She shook her head, and wheeled to the sink again, tending to the rags. It would be a while before she headed to bed herself, after all. Not yet. Not while they were still in the fog.
It seeped in through the kitchen’s portholes, casting such hues in the final glows of the lanterns. They were going to need refilled, their glass cleaned; Ella’s next task, then, if she was to be forced away from her post.
Alas, Ruu returned and trilled as he pulled at her, goading her to the hammocks. She argued at first, starting on the first lantern, but he kept insisting until she complied. She placed the lantern on the hook by the first storeroom, and allowed herself to be pushed down the hall, through, the galley, and back into the resting quarters, and he did not relent until she fell into the knotted, thinning ropes.
She rolled her eyes as Ruu hit her with a wave, lumbering off to his bed. His legs were slow, some already curled against his shell, more than ready to welcome rest, while Ella wished for it to stay its hand. Just a little while longer. Take her when she was completely exhausted, so that she would not dream. She did not want to see her father’s face again. Not now, or ever. She could live another thousand years, and never want to see it again. Not like that. Not-
Her stomach lurched, but she kept her beak firmly shut. It wouldn’t give up that easily; she knew she was fighting a losing battle. Her “arm” flailed under the bed, trying to find her bucket, which, when she did, she pulled herself over the rim to be rid of that horrid memory, making her shudder. It had brought back more than just misery. Disgust, loathing, desperation, anguish, virtue; all bitter, all just as quick to slither away whenever her father entered her mind.
She had hoped that with home long gone she would never have to worry about that, but it seems it had scarred her. There was no way to truly escape it. It was only a matter of time before it pulled her back; she had already made up her mind. She would rather die than allow that to happen... she laid there for hours, simply staring up at the ceiling, watching the mist swirl and cast such colors from the (near empty) lanterns around her. Consciousness became an abstract, thought cast adrift among the cascading waves, crashing against opalescent shores and prismatic landscapes until the first drum sounded come the morn.
What was Gale doing up already? She thought, but was thankful for once that she was. That gave her reason to clamber to her tired feet again, to lurch back to her oar, and take up the reigns of-
“Morning,” Gale said, booming from the front. Her voice was too chipper given the groggy croak that resounded with it. “Did you sleep well?”
Ella didn’t answer, focused on keeping a steady pace. Because she was the only one at the time, she had to stand between the rows, rowing both the port and starboard as one. Meanwhile, the lovely skipper simply used magic again to beat, reclining in her hammock.
Gale growled, “beating” the drum harder. “Hey! I’m talking to you.”
“So you are,” Ella said at last.
“How did you sleep?”
“How did you?”
“Very well, thank you, but my obligation to the captain is bound by honor. I will sleep the minimum and keep the crew motivated.”
Ella looked behind her, at the empty rows and filled hammocks, and huffed as she kept rowing.
“If you say so,” she said.
“It’s not my fault not everyone has the same kind of drive as me --us, actually- oh, good morning.”
“It was until you opened your mouth,” Roe grumbled, taking the port oar from Ella. “What did I tell you last night?”
“You two seem awfully eager to forgo sleep to aid the captain,” Gale said, taking away Roe’s tired smirk.
“How could anyone sleep with you screaming?”
“I simply want out of this fog and back out on open sea,” Ella answered. “I’ll sleep then.” I hope... I pray.
Gale hummed, nodding as she mulled it over, but kept beat on the drums.
“So, what has you so shaken up?”
“Yeah. Yesterday, and even now, you look like you have seen Natalie, Herself. As if she was ready to whisk you off to the bottom of the sea.”
“I have no id-”
“Was it something that happened on the island? What did happen down there?”
“Which thanks for waiting for me,” Roe said, winking at her.
“Didn’t the captain tell you,” Ella asked Gale, who scoffed.
“No.” She said. “He only told me that I was right, and that we were heading to Lam Berel.”
Lam Berel? Does this mean... A bit of blue sneaked into her eyes, surrounding the pinprick of red as she looked right at Gale.
“Well, what do you expect me to tell you?”
“What really happened... Sure, it was nice for the captain to state I am right, but what was I right about? What was there? What got you so spooked?” She grunted as she brought both hammers down. They cracked the mist, breaking away as soft sunlight streamed through the first row of portholes, warming the dark hull at last. A ray caught across Gale’s eyes, making them twinkle, but also showed the heavy, black bags underneath. “I simply want to know... I don’t like being left in the dark, being the skipper and all. So, please?”
Ella stood. Her eyes were now fully blue. She held back her chortles as Gale lumbered around the drums and approached her. Roe stood, as well, following behind Ella, standing upright after so long. Which, now that she was, Ella realized Gale was a foot shorter than her and easily two under Roe. She was a bit skinnier in the “shoulders”, but had a good bit more muscle on her “arms” in comparison. That gave her the bit of confidence she needed as she readied herself, steeling her voice lest her giggling gave her away.
“You wish to know more?” Ella said, keeping it straight.
“But of course! If I am to be the ship’s skipper, it is paramount that I have a firm grasp on everything going on.”
“Then do you know that you will be replaced once we reach Lam Berel?”
Gale’s halfhearted smile faded. “Excuse me?”
“The true skipper, Plu, stayed there to look after the recovery of our snapper. He had hoped to gain information on what happened, so, once we make port, you will be replaced.”
Gale reeled back a step, clenching her chest. Her eyes glistened with tears, her teeth ripping free from their gums as she growled.
“This can’t be,” she said, repeated it, and bared her claws as she took a step towards Ella. “You’re lying!”
Roe’s own claws ripped free, her breath warming Ella’s nape... but the Cephamorian held up her hand, keeping her back.
“Don’t take my word on it,” she said. “Go ask the captain... I for one can’t wait for Plu to return. He was an amazing Skipper.”
Gale looked her down, and for once in a long time Ella was filled with glee, knowing she had the upper hand at last. She even kept a straight face, no giggling nor tittering escaped until after the Itchyoman howled with rage and stormed up the steps. She and Roe gave chase after, but she practically skipped up the stairs compared to her friend’s stomping, growling chase behind. They stopped on the deck, and Ella leaned on the rail, watching after Gale. She hadn’t even bothered with the stairs up to the captain’s quarters at that point, leaping up and over the rails by the wheel, thundering against the door.
Ella could have stayed there and watched forever, enjoyed seeing her pained, confused, angry, but, most important of all, completely and utterly useless. She had no power, not anymore. What power she did have was stripped with such a simple statement, a declaration that any that truly knew the captain would have known long before. Plu and Tarjen were always together, and no amount of “love” would change that. Even Roe understood: Tarjen was a man of business. She should have known, from the start, that this would be how it ended.
So, she heaved a triumphant sigh, and turned around, watching the sun rise over the water and caress it once more, twinkling and sparking as if in celebration... Taken. Her heart sank, seeing an Aqua Alliance vessel on the horizon. Fast approaching. It was like a shadow, a dark, inky splotch on the sea, refusing to be warmed by morning’s glory. As if Death, itself, was stalking her down, and in her heart she felt terror once more.