Dawn, morning came too soon for the Scylla. Olivier stirred when Bethilius barked his wake-up, already complaining about the sun, as if it had true intention to pierce through the porthole just perfectly to hit him right in the eye. Ponitius stated such as he, too, grumbled and rose, and Olivier followed after him, his gait just as haggard and tired, heading for the captain’s quarters. It was still shut tight; Ponitius knocked on it.
“Not yet!” Strix called through the door.
“You’ve been at it all night, woman!” Ponitius yelled back. “Can you give us some heading?”
“Any idea, then? Some inkling.”
“What part of not yet don’t you understand?”
“Have you been to bed yet?”
“I’m not repeating myself. Again.”
Ponitius groaned, and patted Olivier’s shoulder, turning towards the stairs.
“There’s no helping it,” he said, each step down the stairs like lead, each thunk echoing, booming into the dawn. “When she is consumed by something, she won’t stop until it has fully digested her.”
“Uh... don’t you mean when she has?” Olivier said.
“No, lad. No, I don’t.”
Bethilius met them at the bottom of the steps, his scowl a bit more awake than it was when he was lying in his hammock. It disappeared a moment as he yawned, smacking his gums before once more glowering at Ponitius.
“I take it we are stuck here another day?” He grumbled.
“If we’re lucky,” Ponitius said, “so let’s all go get a nice meal, and plan how we are going to pry her away from that book.”
“Ah. You wish to talk fantasy, then.” He yawned again, and shook his head nickering. “Some food does sound nice right about now, though.”
“I’m not hungry,” Olivier said, cursing his stomach in his mind as it outed him for his lie.
“I can’t say I blame the boy,” Bethilius said, nickering turned to snickering. “I cannot fathom another day of eating that stew.”
“Well, better believe it, Betty. I’m not cooking anything new until we dock somewhere,” Durnst said. He climbed up the steps to the deck, stretching his arms, groaning as his back popped. He gave Olivier a sad smile, though, and tossed him a blue-skinned apple. “I know it’s hard to stomach the same thing over and over, lad, but it’s better to have something on it than nothing at all.”
Olivier caught the apple, slapping dully in his left hand, though it did almost fumble out the bottom, hugged against his chest.
“I know that,” he said, and looked down at the apple. “It’s... I have a bad feeling, is all... Did I make the right decisions with those pirates? The sorcerer?”
Ponitius sighed, and squeezed Olivier’s shoulder.
“It’s best not to get hung up on the what-if’s or the should’ve-could’ve-would’ve’s. Whatever is going to happen now is what it is.”
“Trust me, lad. Even if you had, say, killed the sorcerer or had done... whatever it is you did to the pirates to the Itchyomen, it would have haunted you just as much. The question, though, is which one could you more live with.”
“That remains to be seen,” Bethilius said, and lumbered down into the galley.
Ponitius followed soon enough after, but not before goading and pulling Olivier free from his place. He still looked down at the apple, his stomach growling in protest as he kept it away, tempting, teasing it so. It was true; he had a bad feeling, and even his arm knew it. The red lines were pulsing bright this morning, brighter than normal, and it had an uncomfortable weight to it, seeming to grow heavier with each pulse.
Bubbles gasped awake. His head swam, filled with colors and lights, as was his vision. The world seemed to spin, faster than it ever did, crashing into itself, reversing, upturning before righting, all the while he was stuck in the middle, enduring each blow it cycled through. If his stomach wasn’t empty before, it would have surely tried to expel whatever remained in it under such duress, but maybe it was preservation that stilled its gagging, mouth packed with a dirty linen, choking any word that may escape from his lips.
He grunted as he wrenched and writhed, but his legs, arms, middle, and even head were all restrained, held down by some notched material. Whatever it was it was as dark as night, covering his eyes, though one seemed sort of excessive. The gauze was still over it, pressed hard against his eye.
It had really grown back.
He could have laughed at that moment, but his voice was stolen from him, breath even stilled as he heard voices. They seemed to be arguing, but there was no denying that two of them were female. Terrahn. There was a third, belonging to a gruff male, a Faun, given his cuffs and small growls whenever he inhaled, and the growing growl underneath it as he was losing the argument.
However, they all stilled as they drew close, replaced by a door opening. The scent of lavender and sage wafted into the room, following in the presence of a pair of soft heels. They stopped by Bubbles, and he tensed as he felt a pair of fair hands touch the sides of his head, loosing the strap. Slowly, light was allowed in, almost blinding with the new colors and sparks it wrought, but it cleared as he blinked them away, focusing upon an aged Terrahn beside him. Most of her was hidden in flowing, brown robes, as rich as forest bedding after a heavy downpour. The fabric looked incredibly lush, as if it never had known a day of hardship, pampered and treated with such care. Along its shoulders it was beaded with gems of green, red, and blue, yet they looked more to be rising from the cloth, like crystals rising from the earth, giving it such a natural beauty, while her face was the fairest gem of them all. It was heart-shaped, framed by her habit, with a single red gem in its middle, resting over her forehead, with two blue gems on either side, complementing her rich, dark skin. Her eyes were two peerless emeralds, their middles etched by the Earth Mothers to have soft, glowing fires, forever burning with compassion, even as she stared down upon Bubbles. She had a button nose, and a pair of soft lips, their edges the only thing giving away her age, dimpled and marred with ages of smiles.
“Good morning,” she said, her voice heavy with years gone by, yet it still held such power in it, such kindness, temperance. “I am Madam Volum, from the city of Terra, and a Disciple of the Earth Mother Terra.” She gave him a soft smile, and pulled the cloth from his mouth. She let it fall by the bed, then rested her hand on his forehead. “Might I know your name?”
“I doubt it, but, hey, small world,” Bubbles said, chortling before coughing and gagging at last. “Cao’thugar, what was that?”
“One of my old aprons, torn into shreds,” one of the other voices, the Faun, stated. He glared at Bubbles, his amber eyes heavy with black bags, but Bubbles only have him the smallest of attention, wondering where the third w-
“You are in Narvaal,” Madam Volum said. “Lobos found you laying out beside the cliff face, and brought you back here.”
“How kind of him. Maybe next time I cast my spell, I’ll spare him a long death,” Bubbles said.
Madam Volum’s smile faded, but she kept her face even, not allowing any emotion to touch it.
“So you admit to using sorceries on the Earth Mother’s children. On Terra’s flock.”
“I told you. We should have simply lynched him and called it a day,” Lobos exclaimed, snarling as he bore his fangs. “You know how many people were terrified, fearing for their life, after what he had done?”
“Collateral damage, I assure you. You meant nothing,” Bubbles said, yawning as he looked around the room. What he once thought was a tavern room was in truth a storeroom. He had been lain on a table and strapped down to it, while the other three walls were piled with crates and goods. There was a mirror just outside the entry, but Lobos was blocking it. Blocking his view of the third person there, but he could see that they were wearing red, and it was a habit. “Trust me, I wouldn’t be this far from the sea if it wasn’t for that freak.”
“Freak?” Madam Volum said.
“I had been on the hunt for him for a while now. He was the one who took my eye --well, his friend was. The pair ganged up on me after having hid in the belly of the ship I was assigned to, and now, though she seems missing, that Cepha-Terrahn brat has gained a new gaggle of misfits to follow his illicit ways.” He spat, away from her, and snarled. “I was this close to taking out that budding band of pirates, but then one must have had a trinket or something and conked me out.”
“That would’ve been Claire,” Lobos said. “She won that necklace awhile back. Told her she should have simply given it back, that it was ill-gotten, but now it saved us all.”
Bubbles scoffed. “‘Saved’. Where is she now then, hmm? Where are the others? They duped you.”
Lobos looked ready to pounce, but Madam Volum held up her hand.
“Did you, per chance, catch the name of this Cephamorian-Terrahn hybrid?” She said, and the red habit behind Lobos stirred, the three gems now seen along its crest.
“Yeah... yeah, I did! His name was... I’m sorry, my memory is a bit fuzzy. I know one mentioned that the Natorei lass always got it wrong, but I couldn’t tell you which part.”
“Can you describe him?” The red habit finally showed it belonged to a pale-skinned woman. Her yellow eyes were shaped like diamonds, and given just as many facets, shimmering with every color as she pressed beyond Lobos. She was a touch shorter than Madam Volum, finally showing emotion, irritation at her companion showing such disrespect.
“Lady Naomei-” Madam Volum sputtered.
“I’m sorry, Madam, but I couldn’t stand idle any more,” The red habit-wearing lass, Lady Naomei, said, and knelt beside Bubbles. Her face was sharp, her nose sharper, yet her full lips quivered with such softness, weakness as the question already pleaded in her eyes. “Tell me, Itchyoman. Describe him. Surely you saw him.”
“But of course, but isn’t freak good enough? That’s what he is. He’s like a child of clay had the top of their head scalped and had a Cephamorian attached. It’s like a Cephamorian wanted to know what it was like to be Terrahn so decided to chop one up and glue their body parts on. Whoever that thing’s parents are should be ashamed; that ain’t no life to live.”
Lady Naomei’s eyes burned brighter with each word that belched out of his mouth until it had was a raging fire at the end. It had lifted her to her feet, had raised her hand, but it was stopped before it could lash out by Madam Volum. No anger showed on her face, but the room felt its pressure as she looked down at the Itchyoman.
“So, you know what he looks like, then?” She said, her voice cold.
She looked at Lady Naomei. The red-habit lass bowed her head, looking disgusted at herself, and took a step back, allowing Madam Volum to pull the straps loose before she, too, took a step back from the table. Bubbles was slow to realize, but was even slower in sitting up, allowing the straps to fall to the sides, clacking, clattering to the dusty floor. He eased his legs off the side of the table, and looked Madam Volum in the eyes, her face once more lit by a soft smile.
“Then you can lead us to him,” she said, and offered her hand. “In doing so, you may yet be spared.”
Bubbles scoffed at the hand, but nodded.
“Then you have my thanks, madam... you may go. I’ll meet you out in the... entry? There’s only one way in or out this way, isn’t there?”
“Indeed, and the only way is through me,” Lobos said, and stormed away.
Madam Volum looked back at Lady Naomei, and nodded. The red-habited woman left, her heels clacking softly under her brisk walk, echoing back even as she entered a far larger room, but Madam Volum did not stir yet. She still simply had her hand up, held towards Bubbles. Bubbles looked at it, then at her, several times over, before clearing his throat.
“So, uh, I take it you aren’t going to move until I take that?” He said. Silence was his answer; he rolled his eyes, and finally grabbed it. “Fine. Whatever. D-”
He hissed, gasped, gurgled as white fire lurched down his arm, yet he was frozen in place, made stone. The flames did not stop until they raveled around his throat, coiling, closing in before cooling to solid chains, shrinking, rusting. They cut into his neck, melted into it, leaving behind white scars, glowing with an eerie light, and only when the final coil was burned in did she let go, and he could move.
“In case you decide to deceive us,” she said, and bowed her head to Bubbles. “We shall await you in the tavern.”
She turned around, and her heels clacked so loud against Bubbles’s head. Louder than Lady Naomei’s. Louder than even Lobos’s boots. His head, his heart boomed with each tap, until at last his own feet were forced to thunder against his mind. His legs felt like jelly as he stumbled towards the door, giving out half way. He caught the handle, but his hand slid from it, as if repelled, smacking, raising dust from the floor. He raised his other hand, clenched it, grimaced, winced, but no darkness came to his digits. He tried to use the Old Words, but none were allowed through the chains.
“Curse that woman,” he croaked, and struggled to his feet once more. He managed to stagger to the wall outside, to the mirror there, and saw his own face. The gauze around his eye was heavily sullied, browned with blood, and that was the best looking part of him. He scoffed, and unfurled the cloth, wanting to see how his eye was, to see how well it grew b-
And his hand slowed with each revolving removal.
Purple stained the bandages underneath, oozing with it, dribbling its tainted miasma onto the ground, yet he could not feel any of it. He continued to unravel, slowly, seeing more and more, as well as a pinprick of red, growing. With one last wound, his eye was freed, a jewel of red, oozing, gushing, frothing with purple.
Bubbles... huffed, and blinked, clearing it to its pink a moment before it returned to its red and putrid purple.
“Well, looks like I have more of a reason to find the little freak,” he said, and wound the gauze back around his eye, chortling. “For now, though, let’s keep this my little secret, eh?”
He shoved off the wall, his legs holding firm, given new reason and focus as he marched down the hall with such determination.