Growing Tides

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Set in Motion

Noon settled over the Scylla, the sun high over it, still stranded in a sparkling sea of blue. Both it and the sky above were peerless, with only the most courageous, or heinous, of clouds daring to mar its purity and innocence. The vast expanse stretched from both horizons, the air still, serene, calm save for the soft scratches and scrapes of Olivier’s blade against his sheathe. He finally found a good rhythm with his left hand, now certain on how much force he needed to squeeze it with, how hard he had to tug. Squall coached him, watched his every move, but she wasn’t the only one –and it wasn’t Fili. The Natorei decided to leave, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sun she was expected to be exposed to. Instead, it was Bethilius that watched over. He sat on the railing behind her, studying him, reacting to what went right... and how much was wrong.

Olivier watched his reactions just as much as Squall’s, not satisfied until both nodded, with Squall none the wiser. She almost caught Olivier looking behind her several times, but whenever she did Bethilius would simply roll off the railing and fall somewhere along, pulling himself up with almost otherworldly grace. Not a single board creaked when he settled on the railing again, smirking.

Stolen as the captain’s quarters thundered open.

Bethilius fell over again, but there was no grace to be heard from that departure. He grumbled and smacked against every board and porthole down until he smacked onto the water with a clangerous crash. Squall jumped from the explosion, and practically flew towards the railing, one great leap all it took to reach it. She exclaimed, pointing at the buoy that was Bethilius’s body, floating face-down.

“I knew there was something going on behind me!” She declared, turned to a growl as she spun towards Olivier. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Olivier simply shrugged, though his cheeks felt a bit hot.

“I don’t know,” he lied, hoping she wouldn’t notice the red in his face. They were at it for a while; his brow was drenched in sweat, and just as baked. However, even then, there was a good chance that she could tell he was lying regardless. After all, he knew all too well: it was simply... fun to watch the back-and-forth... He doubted she would be pleased with such a reason, though she must have known it was a lie, regardless. She puffed out her cheeks, crossed her arms, and gave him such a dour look.

“What was he doing behind me, huh?”

“Nothing.” Another lie, though only a white one. All he really did was shake his head or nod it, with the rare change on his long face. Olivier shook his head, and looked towards the captain’s quarters. Silver light fluttered through the opened door and down the stairs, though to say it was elegant... or consistent. Strix didn’t seem to know what a straight line was anymore, bobbing, dimming, brightening mere moments apart. It was as if she was drunk, but that only made Olivier fear more for his life.

He rushed over as she reached the bottom of the first set of steps. Just in time, too; he caught her as she plummeted. In his left hand, of course.

“Are you okay?” He said.

“Fine. Where are the others,” she asked. Her voice was rather crackly, heavy with need, for rest more than anything, but the fire underneath it staved it off, if but a moment longer.

“Well, Betty Boy decided he wanted to go for a swim,” Squall mused, and slung her arm over Olivier’s shoulders. “The good captain and I were getting more sword practice in. As well as working on his FOCUS!”

She stamped on his left foot. Olivier winced. His body lurched forward, every part of him wanting to scream... but he held strong, righting himself with but a hiss. His foot shuddered in his boot, throbbing, wanting to be raised and be consoled, but he kept it flat on the timbers, much to her displeasure.

Squall scoffed, and patted his shoulder one last time before he let him go. She gestured to the rest of the deck, empty.

“The others are below,” she said, chuckling. “Most likely contemplating what to cook up to replace that gray goop... I’m starting to think calamari, or horse.”

“I could go for a nice shark steak,” Strix said. Though she probably wanted it to come off as a joke, at least that’s what Olivier hoped, her fatigue reduced it to an icy threat. Squall reeled back a step, face paled from the venom slung her way, but regained some color as Strix yawned. She patted Olivier’s hand, and he felt her lay down in it, getting comfortable on his suckers. “Take me to them, won’t you, child?”

Olivier nodded, but Squall already goaded him around. She guided him passed the railing Bethilius had sat so many times before, had perched without her knowing, now climbing back onto it again-

Just in time for Squall to knock him off.

She wore such a wide smile as he cursed and fell back into the water with loud splash –not as loud as the one he made before, but loud enough to hum along to. Olivier eased off his boots as he followed after, leaving them by the steps down to the galley. If she decided to turn on him, he will tear the planks up with his suckers to make sure he remained rooted to the ship.

But Squall did no such thing. She simply continued to push him down, down into the galley, and prodded him towards the dining hall. The oaring rows were empty, the benches dusty and started to reek of mildew; Olivier managed a glance back at the sleeping quarters, finding it empty, before he was coaxed towards those benches and beyond, lost to the dark walls and empty halls.

However, as they drew closer to the end of the rowing hall, he could hear voices coming from the kitchen. Angry voices.

“Can’t you swallow your pride?” Ponitius exclaimed as they drew close. It was directed at Durnst, blocking the entrance to the kitchen. His teeth were bared, claws digging into the doorway, growling and glowering at Claire, Avin, Fili, Dervalan, and, of course, Ponitius. He sighed, sounding unbelievably exasperated, and approached Durnst. He had his hands up, palms flat and faced towards the fish-spy-cook-bartender. “We are not doubting you. By Ignes, we are all on the same side in this.”

“Then you should take my word on it.” Durnst stated. His voice cold, even as his throat and eyes raged and roiled with such fire.

“We do... I-I mean, of course we do, but-”

Durnst gnashed his teeth, lashing out at Ponitius. His claws snagged a lantern hook in its arc, sending sparks onto Ponitius as he reeled back.

“No but’s about it,” he barked.

“Come on, Durnst. We just want to-” Dervalan started, taking two, squashy steps towards him. He was stopped as Durnst swiped his way, catching him across the belly. Though his claws didn’t pierce the thick hide, it did raise more sparks, sizzling on the boards below, and left four, long, white gashes against the gray hide.

“No means no. All of you!” He boomed.

“Is it really that big a deal? It’s only a kitchen,” Avin said.

The look that Durnst gave the Natorei could have easily killed forty men, but the Itchyoman showed restraint, seeing Olivier, Squall, and Strix behind the cattle that willingly volunteered for the slaughter. Durnst straightened himself, and withdrew his claws, cracking his knuckles as they settled once more. He even retracted his teeth, bowing his head to Strix.

“My apologies, madam. Lad,” he said, and shot a glance at the others as they turned around and saw the three. “What you stumbled upon was not proper, but the others-”

“All we wanted to do was look in the larder, Golly,” Fili exclaimed. She launched and latched herself onto Olivier’s face, sniffling. Olivier would have been annoyed by it, but her skin was cool, a relief on his cheek. “We simply wanted to see if there was really nothing else in stock. We were worried about you-”

“And ourselves,” Avin grumbled, following it with a disgusting gurgle and clearing his throat. “That stew is more glue than food now.”

“We thought, -Avin and I, that is- that we could try to work a little Natorei magic and make some fresh cuisine.”

“I don’t know about that, but if there’s even a potato back there I can do wonders,” Claire said, her tail flicking hard as leaned against the wall. She gave Durnst a bored look, and huffed. “However, our lovely chef refuses us to even see.”

“That is because, as I keep telling you, there is nothing else in there,” Durnst said. “Maybe on the Claymore, or Falchion-”

“Already checked. The Falchion, at least.” Ponitius said, shaking his head. “We really did pack light.”

“And all my food was tainted by those monsters,” Bethilius said. He panted, hard, drenched and dripping, pushing passed the three. Claire glared at him, eye twitching with each drip that splashed on the planks, fur bristling, keeping away as best she could as he continued to trudge towards Durnst, collapsing at his feet.

“Then our only choice is to tighten our belts and ignore our bellies,” Durnst said.

Dervalan raised his hand towards Durnst, his teeth loosing again.

“Come on... Surely you can at least go see if it’s empty-” He began, but was caught off by Durnst, growls returned.

“I keep telling you. There isn’t anything back there any of you can use.”

“Then what about you?” Olivier blurted, feeling a bit hotter under the collar as he realized he was now in Durnst’s sight. He shrugged his shoulders, rubbed his arm, and looked away as he inhaled. “I-I m-m-mean... y-you are saying no one else can use anything back there, but what can you make?”

“Well-”

“We can discuss that after I tell you my findings!” Strix interjected, sounding outright haughty now. “Bed. Need. Cut to the point. Engines simply need charged. Any magic will do. Baro and Nejrat used Itchyomen sorceries, but he did remark that anyone who was in-tune with the arcane can possibly do so.”

“Great!” Fili said. She sprung off Olivier’s cheek, the hall glowing bright blue as she inhaled... cheering? “I shall show my Holly my love! I will power this entire ship for h-”

“However,” Strix cut in again, “doing so seemed to drain the very life from the sorcereress they lured onto the ship.”

“Lured?” Olivier... and Squall said.

“You won’t like this, sharkfin soup, but it seemed Nejrat had a natural affinity at attracting Itchyoman women... I’m talking to you of course, Squall, and it’s all due to his new complexion.”

“New... complexion? As in his entire body changed or-”

“He’s gray now. Solid gray. Bright blue circles rise from it, though, and glow when his emotions are heightened... It seems, because his complexion is now of a pure-blood Itchyoman, he is now cursed to attract all Itchyoman to him.”

Squall scoffed, and leaned against the side of the hull.

“It doesn’t matter. Whatever he has done was all an act. He only loves me.”

“Then would you be fine with knowing he bedded said sorceress?”

Squall stood up straight, all emotion gone save for sheer disbelief. Even when she spoke, her voice was high, as if first resonating through the chasm of her heart, echoing through her mind before exiting.

“He did what now?” She said, almost a song, a lark singing its sorrow.

“It doesn’t matter,” Strix said, and Olivier felt her try to rise on his hand. Her grumblings, and how her feet shook, showed that she did not really want to, but she had to. “What is important, right now, is that we should not risk our lives.”

“What are you proposing, then?” Bethilius said, and huffed. “Go find an Itchyomen sorceress? Ask them nicely to drain their life into our ship, for a temporary fix from the sounds of it.”

“Well,” Claire interjected, purring a little as an evil glint played over her amber eyes, “there are those lovely ladies, the Gunpowder Fish. Maybe we don’t need to ask, but get them close enough for the engines to suck them dry.”

“That is actually a brilliant idea. They already vowed vengeance on Olivier’s head, so all we need to do is find them again, and-”

“No.” Olivier said, once more feeling all eyes turn on him. “I... I don’t think we should.”

Bethilius scoffed. “Then what, boy? Just use your lady friend’s ‘love’? We’re sort of short on options.”

“W... well... w-what about the Zephyrians? They made them, didn’t they?”

“Ages ago! Those engines are antiques compared to what they use now.”

“Then what if we can find one to work on them? Maybe... I don’t know, upgrade? Perhaps they just need tweaked... or... something.”

“Not a bad idea,” Ponitius remarked, making Olivier feel a touch better, and immediately dashed it after. “However, there’s a tiny snag: finding one that would be willing to help. After all, we have two Itchyomen on-board-”

“And our captain,” Bethilius added.

“Yes, but they could look the opposite way. Treat him as a novelty --no offense meant, lad. And, even then... it’s the Scylla.”

“The lad never said it would be easy,” Strix grumbled, falling back onto Olivier’s palm. “But there’s a chance we could find one in Lam Berel. Never know what sort of opportunists are just waiting for a chance to prove themselves.”

“Then we are going to Lam Berel?” Olivier said.

“As good a place as any to start. Now, would you be a dear and carry me back to the captain’s quarters for a nap?”

Bethilius scoffed as he stood, shaking his head.

“Oh no. No no no... You aren’t leaving us on oar duty. You, dear Strix, are going to help us.”

“But I already did, and it was the hardest part. Now all you need to do is get us there... Unless you want to negotiate.” Though he was brazen, arrogant, downright nihilistic at times, even Bethilius knew when to stay quiet. Strix patted Olivier’s hand thrice, and he turned around, returning down the rows, to the steps and deck. She yawned as he breached into the sunlight, and chuckled. “You surprised me there, kid.”

“I did?” Olivier said.

“You shut down all talk about the Itchyomen or my Fili giving her life for the engines in one fell swoop. Even gave a better option. At least, in this way, none of them can bicker about food now. We’re going to be restocked soon, and they’ll be able to enjoy whatever they want while in town.” She sighed, and rubbed his hand as she settled back on her palms, stretching out on his. “You’ll make a good captain yet... and, if I were a bit younger, I’d probably be competing with Fili.”

Olivier’s cheeks, and eyes, burned a bit pink on that, which he was thankful she didn’t question. He climbed the stairs to the captain’s quarters, and eased her onto the cot, turning around to leave.

“I don’t think you should try,” she blurted, yawning as she did.

“What?”

“I’m not sure if it crossed your mind, but don’t try to use your arm. Best case it drains you, and that’s not exactly a good thing, now is it?” Her silver light seemed to dim with each word until it was faded altogether, revealing her soft, frail form. She was covered in a dark, silk dress, seeming to trace her fair frame before being paled by her raven hair. It was almost blue in the soft light, streaming into the room, while her four eyes truly were. They glistened like jewels, blinking open, close, taking longer with each one. “I hope you don’t mind me invading your domain for a bit longer.”

“Of course not... If anything, I feel better if you or Ponitius are in this room.”

She chortled, and shook her head.

“You are the captain, and one day you will accept it. Willingly.”

Olivier simply shook his head and finally left her, their destination now known. Lam Berel: where all people, from all walks of life, converge. When they do, the Divine Mothers, the Dark Ones, and a touch of destiny, all will play their part and set the stage for greater events to come. All that is left is for the pieces, the actors, to get into place.

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