The cavern howled, great gales of wind bringing in the churning tide, threatening to overturn the legendary ship in its tomb. Cheers and jeers were laced in the gusts, carried off, up the path away from the Scylla. They only grew louder, more boistrous, with each hit to a rather peculiar being, a miracle of both Terra and Natalie. He had many titles, monster, freak, abomination, mistake, fool, pawn... but he only had one name.
He couldn’t hold in his voice any longer, wheezing as the next blow struck. The spiral shell on the top of his head lurched forward, grazing the captain of the Iron Scythe’s fist as he pulled it free from his middle. Bethilius’s ghastly right eye gleamed in the dusky cave, catching the lightning outside while the rest of him was washed in darkness, only illuminated again with the next blow. His blue tendrils flopped before his eyes, but he refused to be blind, to ignore the brigands that gathered and reveled in his pain, in his sorrow.
The faun brayed, clomping his hooves as he swung again, this time right at his face. Olivier could taste blood in his mouth, his nose pressed up far enough so he could see it, blinding all but the middle of his vision, locked on the Terrahn knelt beside the pirate captain. The knife was still held by the Terrahn’s thin, pale green neck, paled even more by his pearly eyes, begging, pleading for Olivier to stop. He still wore that sad smile, wavering as Olivier doubled over on the Faun’s fist, dug into his middle.
Bethilius nickered, flicking back his white mane, and had the oaf of a Faun that kept him pinned so long to drop him at his feet. The cheers, the jeers, all interest in Olivier was gone as he did, replaced with a single word, repeated again and again.
“Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut...”
Olivier looked up, up at Ponitius, but no fear touched his eyes or his heart. Terror, futility; weakness wasn’t an option. Red grew in his starry eyes, blazed on his right arm, burning brighter and more lush than the blood that whetted the blade against the Terra’s throat. It had started its pull, yet the Terrahn still smiled. Ponitius still smiled.
But so was Bethilius.
He slowly drew the knife, savoring the blood spilling onto it and his hand. His left eye burned so bright, the green orb gleaming like a finely polished gem, while the milky right one seemed to drink in the red that spilled, making the long, jagged scar that ran down it and his long snout pulse, stealing all light that gave the cavern an eerie glow.
Olivier tried crying out, but no sound escaped his lips. No words dared to disturb that darkness. He cared not and continued to lament, to threaten until words were not enough. He simply screamed. He screamed and writhed and fought against that darkness that started to consume them. He flung out his hands, clawing with his right.
And the darkness shuddered.
The red faded a moment from his right arm, showing the purple, tainted flesh as it started to glow. His fingers grew, crackling, popping as they wove their way through the crowd, touching everyone and everything they passed, seeming to pull their very life, their essence, into them. First there was the silence, the chants gone.
Then came the screams.
Horrid shrieks rose against the wind, trying to suck them out into the storm, to be rid of such blood-curdling pain, as red poured from those fingers into everything. Terrahn, Faun, Itchyomen; it did not matter. All was reduced to fetid, smoldering, rotting flesh.
Only to rise as dark husks.
Their howls shattered the darkness, the blood left in their wake glowing, twinkling in the twilight. Bethilius and oafish Faun fled down the steps, but Olivier did not care. He had to check on Ponitius.
The cobbler had collapsed. His right hand landed beside Olivier’s, watching him, hearing him as he gasped and wheezed and gurgled on his own vim, warming his cheek and chin. Ponitius turned his head over, and Olivier could only watch as the light in those pearls slowly faded and fogged, reflecting him.
And the darkness in his own eyes.
Olivier shot awake, sitting up in the hammock. He clenched his chest, his heart beating hard, racing, throbbing with the yellow and red in his star eyes. His soft, Terrahn face felt so cold, the scars on his left cheek thrumming with each beat. He could not see them, but the way they ached told him they were still quite bruised. The suckers on his hand held hard to the red fabric of his jacket, its shoulders, sleeves, and hem patched with yellows, greens, and browns. At that moment, he could feel the patch sewn on the back. Four tentacles, as white as bone, coiled together, end over end, splaying out towards the center where smaller, dozens, if not hundreds, of them wrapped and snared at the Itchyoman skull in its center. On the top of its sleek top was one, last tendril, gleaming with blue gems, which now stung against him.
Must have laid too long on my back, he thought, and winced as he pulled his hand free at last. He still rubbed his chest, soothing it as best he could, but it was only when the ocean offered its aid, rumbling against the dark walls of the Scylla, that it finally did settle. Moonlight streamed through the porthole across the room, illuminating Ponitius on the cot, perfectly fine.
Olivier sighed quietly, eased by his captain’s smiling, tired face, and started to settle back only to jump as Dunrst snorted in the hammock above him. His hammock creaked, making him curse at himself, but settled back in. It seemed Durnst had jumped from him sitting up as he did; his black fin had slipped through the knots of the hammock and were resting above Olivier’s head. He most likely hit it when he sat up, but now he could see the Itchyoman pull it snug against the rest of his red-scaled back, settling once m-
“Bad dream, lad?” Durnst mumbled, making Olivier jump again. In that smallest of windows, the Itchyoman had flipped completely around on the hammock, silent, and stared down at him with his six blue eyes. They never blinked, they never looked away, ever locked onto their prize even when asleep.
Another hammock creaked off to the right, behind the desk, and a pair of brilliant emeralds shined through the dark, also locked and boring into Olivier. Even if there was a smidgen more light, she was dressed completely in black, denying her pink scale the caress of sun and moonlight alike.
“What’s going on? Everything all right?” The Itchyoman, Squall, hissed, metal hissing on leather.
“Lad had a bad dream,” Durnst stated.
“I-I di-” Olivier began to sputter, stopped as Ponitius groaned. He rolled over on his side, his pearly eyes blinking open as he pushed back his hazelnut hair.
“Why did I think it was a good idea to have you all bunk in here?” He said, and yawned. “So what was it, boy?”
“It... it wa... nothing. It was nothing.” Olivier looked down at his right arm. The sleeve was rolled up enough to show off the purple flesh, clashing so much with the yellow and blue everywhere else, but it was the single line of red that ran through it that made his heart freeze a moment. It had pulsed, glowed a bit brighter than it should have... but settled. For now. “At least, I want it to be nothing.”
“Hopefully we’ll have answers once we return to Strix, but that won’t much help you now, will it?”
Squall groaned then sighed as she climbed out of her hammock. Her back, her arms, her jowls all cracked at least thrice as she stretched before she heaved another sigh and picked up her blade from the desk, kept far and away from the blade at the front of it. She dared not to even let her arm go across it, but did motion to it as she walked over to Olivier, hoisting him up.
“I’m wide awake now, so why don’t we wear you out with a spot of training?” She said, beaming at him as she patted his shoulder, then goaded him to the desk. “Can’t have dreams if you are knocked cold, can you?”
Ponitius turned over on his cot, waving them off as he gave a weary chortle.
“Sounds good,” he said. “You do that. I’m going back to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be hard enough to paddle to that damned isle.”
“You could always leave the Falchion there,” Squall mused.
“We could always throw you overboard as well for such a mutinous accusation... Now, don’t you have pointy things to prod each other with?”
While Squall tittered, Olivier was looking at that blade waiting on the desk. He felt... cold, chilled more with each passing moment gazing down at that steel saber. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary; it looked like any other saber, if a bit more extravagant. It had four, heavily braided golden knots on its pommel, as well as a polished, copper cupguard, fitted with gems that gleamed as bright as the day they were socketed. Dread washed over him, wanting nothing more than to pick the blade behind it, his sword, the one he chose not the one that chose him, but he knew he had to take the saber.
He slid it onto the belt of his leggings, drenched so much that they were a sodden shade of brown, and slipped on his black boots by the door as best he could before Squall heaved him out onto the deck of the Scylla. Even now, Olivier wasn’t sure if any of this was real. The Scylla, for the most part, looked like any other Aqua Alliance vessel. Its hull was made of the finest lacquered ferrisom bark, crafted over years, decades, now gliding across the Barator Sea with such grace that it seemed the stars and heavens opened above and below to allow it to simply... float along in its majesty. Its six masts and their silver sails stole the four moon’s beauty into their folds, whispering gently against the soft breezes that carried them back towards the fog, lulling, taking its time. By morning they would be inside that wall of mist, then there would be no breeze, and those sails would pulled taut again against the polished timber. The flags at the top of the four tallest, the black flags that carried the Dread Pirate’s colors, were taken down, but, even if they tried, everyone would know it was the Scylla and not another vessel of the Aqua Alliance.
After all, the four, gilded engines were hard to hide.
Even now, their blue runes glowed, warming the golden metal, but they did not raise the Scylla, did not give it flight --for now, and Olivier was not looking forward to another attempt. Squall led him down the stairs from the captain’s quarters and the wheel before it, seventeen steps in all, and had him follow her to the mast wheel in the center. Its spokes were banded in gold, as well, another tell, but she walked away from it, around him.
She took seven steps then turned, brandishing her cutlass.
“So, where did we leave off?” She said, pointing her blade at him.
“We were on footwork. The basics of it,” Olivier said, and raised his sword as he heard a familiar nickering, stealing what shred of warmth he had reclaimed. The grate to the left rose and groaned as Bethilius lumbered onto the deck, rubbing his chin. He leered at Squall and Olivier, finding it hard to find one to truly settle upon.
“Basic footwork? Are you a babe barely off the teat?” He said, and reached into the pocket of his gray jacket, retrieving a pipe. He stopped rubbing his chin to hold it, fishing through again for a packet of tobacco, but he did not lose focus. He stared down one then the other as he packed the red wood. He put the leather packet away.
Then snapped his fingers.
The grate groaned, almost creaked as the oafish Faun from Olivier’s dream, Dervalan, lumbered up the steps, making the ship bob a touch with each lurch of his thick, gray hooves. The rings in his first horn glittered, sparkling on his beady red eyes, while he rubbed tiredly between the other two along his snout. Bethilius groaned, and pulled Dervalan up to him, and struck the pipe’s end against his horn, getting enough of a spark.
“Took your time, didn’t you?” He grumbled.
“Sorry, boss. You know it takes me a few moments to wake up,” Dervalan said, then waved at Olivier. “Hello, mister squidman.”
Squall swung her blade, taking a step towards Bethilius and Dervalan.
“What do you want?” She demanded... but Bethilius simply shrugged.
“Nothing, in truth. I simply came up for my routine morning smoke. It just so happens there’s a show to watch. So... let’s see, hmm? Let’s see what makes him so special, aside the... conditions of his birth.”
Squall scoffed, and nodded to Olivier.
“Ignore him, then. Come.” Olivier rose his sword, stopped as he heard Bethilius snicker. Squall growled, stamping her foot.“What? What is it?”
“You taught him right-handed? When you know the power it holds? Truly, Ponitius only enlists the brightest.” Bethilius took a long drag off his pipe, making the tobacco glow an evil red, and blew it out --right into Squall’s face as she marched over. “Yes?”
“Get back down below. Where you belong.”
He hummed, and took another drag before tapping the end on Squall’s sword.
“Are you in any place to truly tell me where I belong?”
“I’m going back to bed, boss,” Dervalan mumbled, and waved again at Olivier. “Hope you get better, mister squiddylad. Night.”
“Good night,” Olivier mumbled, not truly taking in any of it, instead looking down at his blade... At his hand... he shook his head, and gripped the sword tighter. “No. I want to wield it in this hand. I... I don’t want to even consider it.”
“Then you are a fool,” Bethilius said, and blew out his smoke again into Squall’s face. He walked passed her and to Olivier, hitting him in the back of the head before grabbing his shell, forcing him to look up in his... eye. “What you did back there, with my crew? If you didn’t, your friends would all be dead. You would be my little cabin boy until I deemed you no longer useful... This arm? It’s the only reason you all came out on top... keep that in mind.” He let Olivier go, turned, and bowed to Squall. “Madam.”
He took one last drag of his pipe and sauntered around her again, nickering with each step down into the galley.
Squall slammed the grate back into place. Her teeth were bared, blood dribbling from her gums onto the cold steel, panting hard. She looked up at Olivier, her visage contorted with rage... with revulsion as she winced and pulled her teeth back in. She shook her head, hiding her face from him as she lumbered before him again, letting her head hang low before she took a deep inhale, smiling once more.
“Right. Basic footwork.” She said, brandishing her blade once more, twirling it thrice before pointing it at Olivier. “Come. We’re wasting moonlight... Ollie?”
“Huh? Oh,” Olivier said, and cleared his throat as he raised his blade... In his right hand. It’s what he’s been taught, after all. What he was truly comfortable with doing... What he actually knew and could trust.