No Pleasure Cruise
As the Scylla set its sights towards Lam Berel, the Kraken not far behind, and the Divine Mothers and their nefarious guide, Gale and Ella paddled away in the dingy. They watched, almost wantonly, as the Kraken sailed passed. It didn’t leave a single wave in its wake, nor a current to drag them. No, they had to paddle the entire way.
The Mako was long behind them at least. Only its sails were able to be seen against the watery horizon, as if frozen there. However, it gave Ella no comfort. Instead, she tensed looking upon those tips, those sails like knives, as if ready to cut through and cleave towards them. It seemed though the ship was toying with her, as if its gentle rocking from the sea was it readying to swipe, and she was but a meek rat, cornered in such a tight nook, a tight little noose for when the executioner threw the lever and-
“I’m beat,” Gale exclaimed, letting go of her paddle. She heaved a heavy, dramatic sigh, groaning as she stretched her arms. She giggled between pants, entirely soaked with sweat while Ella was only starting to bead on her brow. The Itchyoman beamed at her, all smiles, those dagger points simply adding to the stress. “How about you?”
Ella didn’t answer. Instead, she grabbed the other oar and kept on rowing. She kept her breathing steady, her gaze locked on those sails behind, and was forced to shift, to keep it that way whenever Gale decided to thrust herself into view.
“Hello? Excuse me? I’m talking to you,” Gale said, growing more and more agitated with each echo. After the twelfth, it was little more than a growl. She wrenched both oars out of Ella’s grip, and tucked them underneath her with a sigh. “There we go.”
“Do you mind?” Ella blurted, gesturing to the sea. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of nowhere!”
“Exactly! Which is why we should be taking it careful. Don’t want to tire ourselves out, you know? Who knows how long we’ll be out here. You remember what the captain said. The current should take us most of the way... as it... carried them by.” She huffed, holding herself tight. “Why didn’t they grab us? If they were coming this way-”
“Do you really think that blowhard of a captain on the Mako wouldn’t have spread the word?” Ella cut her off. “They’ll be hot on Tarjen’s tail now-”
“That’s Captain Tarjen to you- oh! Speaking of. Have you ever thought the current and the Current may be linked? I mean, they are both called the current, with a The and everything.”
Ella... gave her a bored look. A simple, dull glare, her right eye twitching, trying to process how and why that even came up. Meanwhile, Gale continued to drone on with mindless chatter, with pretentious drivel that had even more leaps of cohesion, that made the gears behind her head stir. For the first few minutes.
It didn’t matter, anyways; after a while, Ella didn’t bother to nod her head nor shake it, nor grunt an affirmation or declination any time the Itchyoman stopped and waited, barely a breath before she resumed. It really was a wonder she had this much energy to gab while still panting from the bit of rowing that reduced her to a sopping rag... Ella looked down. She could just see the handles of the oars jutting out from Gale’s right... She contemplated it, but, in the end, knew it would serve no one any good if she tried. Best case? Gale would be flipped into the water and Ella could paddle off on her own... As tempting as it was, she did promise Tarjen. She would get along with this... thing.
As Gale was doing, she thought... She shook her head, finally ready to speak, and clacked her beak as she did, as if punctuating her introduction into the conversation.
“Do you ever breathe?” She said.
Gale blinked, a few times at that, looking a touch perplexed and perturbed by the question.
“Yes?” She dragged out, scratching her head. “Why?”
“Just wondered was all. So you’re just naturally long-winded.”
“Oh. Hah! Sorry. When I get bored, I do what I can to fill the time, and, you know, tiny dingy and all-”
“Then wouldn’t rowing be perfect to fill that gap?”
“Like I said, we needed a break. To catch our breath-”
“Then maybe you should instead of chasing after it.”
That gave Gale pause. It broke her smile, her true feelings seen in that flash of a sneer, but that saccharin grin was back in place once more, held there by puffed cheeks.
“You know, I thought you’d be a little grateful. I was the one to step up and lie to the captain of the Mako for your sake.”
Ella huffed a wry laugh, shaking her head.
“Oh! So that’s why you did it?”
“What do you mean ‘that’s why I did it’?”
“Why else? You were hoping to hold it over my head. Use it later for some form of favor.”
Gale scoffed, her smile taken completely.
“Aren’t you full of yourself? Ever think I did it out of the kindness of my heart?”
“You? Kindness? Ever since I got on the boat every word you spoke dripped with venom. Every action you took there was a knife at my back, all because you believed I was after your beloved –which is humorous for two reasons, at that. By the way, how did you take the news of your discharge?”
She chuckled, a bitter thing, and smirked at Ella.
“I’m not going anywhere.” She stated. “The captain has his reason for bringing Plu along, but, after that, I will return to being the skipper. I will be, once again, at his side, while you will be gone... or did you lie?”
“Oh, I bet they do. Guess you were hoping your past wouldn’t come back to haunt you, huh?”
Ella bolted to her feet, making the dingy creak and sway dangerously as she loomed over Gale.
“You have no idea what you are talking about,” she whispered.
“You’re right. I don’t, but what I find funny is that my original plan was almost right. You see, I had full intention of ousting your seedy history, or making it if need be, to prove to the captain how untrustworthy you are.” She shrugged, giggling, yet there was no joy to be taken from it for Ella. “What happens, instead? Murder! With a side of arson, I guess. Oh! And a tie-in to the criminal underworld. A true triple threat.”
Ella shook as she sat, not out of fear but anger. Her eyes were nothing but red. The edges pulsed, ebbed with the tide, bringing in the black with each breath before letting it flow out.
“Again, you have no idea what you are talking about.”
“And, like I said, I don’t, but I don’t need to either... I did feel bad for you. I really did. I... I didn’t want it to be as bad as it was... but... since you want to remain vindictive, I don’t really have to care. You broke Captain Tarjen’s trust. He will never believe you again.”
“And that matters... why? I never lied.”
“No. You simply omitted the truth until you couldn’t.”
“What about you, then?”
“Me? What about me?”
Ella chortled, a dark thing as well, and pointed at her.
“You admitted to lying and conspiring aboard Tarjen’s ship. You wanted to cause a mutiny-”
“Not against the captain-”
“But against one of the crew, which is just as bad. To him, at least. To Tarjen. To your precious captain... He always states everyone is equal on the ship, no matter what their placement, age, sex, or creed. We are all one... and you were planning to disrupt that.” She clacked her beak again, and a bit of blue swirled its way into her eyes. “Tell me: do you think he would look highly upon that?”
Gale scoffed... but all arrogance, all snark faded from her face, instead replaced with... Ella could only figure was disappointment and shame.
“No. I suppose he wouldn’t.” Gale shook her head, and looked into Ella’s eyes. “Look. I’m sorry, okay? I know it probably doesn’t mean much, but... love. It makes you do crazy things. Things that you would never imagine you would do... I’m not usually like that. I’m really not, but I’ve never wanted anything more than the captain’s love. I’ve wanted it, needed it for so long... so, when I thought there was a potential threat, I... snapped... Can you accept it?”
Ella simply stared at her, watching as she writhed under her gaze, feeling a bit giddy from how pitiable Gale was trying to look. If only she knew that the real threat to her happiness was still on the Kraken. Maybe, in time, she would, but right now she would enjoy this fish wriggle and fight at the end of her line.
Gale growled, and let both paddles touch the water again.
“Look!” She barked, taking hold of the left while allowing Ella the right. “It’s a long way to shore, and it’s going to be even longer unless we can bury the hatchet. Is it not enough to admit that I was-”
“Yes. That... I know now that you aren’t after the captain-”
“Nor was I. Ever. Roe was, but I w-”
“Of which I now can see that. You have your own precious to chase...” She grunted, rowing once more, and it seemed that parting shot didn’t hit as the Itchyoman giggled. “You know what? I would like to help you find him... it’s... it’s a him, right? Not that it matters, but making sure.”
“Yes. It’s a him... I don’t want your help.”
“But you can still have it. I mean, there are a million fish in the sea; two rods out makes it a lot easier to find a specific one, right?”
Ella was not going to argue with that logic. Instead, she simply sighed, and extended her “hand”.
“Fine... I suppose, if we happen to cross paths again once we reach land, you can help me with my search.”
Gale grasped it, shaking it eagerly as she tittered.
“All right! Trust me, I know how that kind of love feels. That yearning hunger to find them, to be with them, to go to the ends of the world for it if need b-”
The dingy rocked, soaked. The water to the left of it exploded into a fountain. A solid thump filled the air, like thunder, yet the sky was clear.
Save for a single, black dot, growing, widening.
The air whistled in its wake, and this time the water exploded to the right of the dingy, dousing them with it as it spread and reached for the heavens as well.
The red in Ella’s eyes fled, yellow taking full hold as she looked over Gale’s shoulder. The sails, the Mako hadn’t moved.
Gale pointed, almost frantic, to Ella’s right. Off to the left a dark, Aqua Alliance vessel loomed. Another thump thundered through the air, and this time Ella saw the halo of red that was its lightning, set in the direct middle of the ship. The cannonball rose into the heavens, becoming a pinprick before growing once more.
Ella cried out as Gale pulled her overboard. Just in time. The dingy crackled as the cannonball tore right through its middle, reducing it to rubbish.
Gale pulled Ella over to one of the bits of debris. It was wide enough for them to throw their middles over, panting and shaking, but they could not afford to rest.
“Start kicking,” Gale exclaimed, reduced to a whisper as thunder clapped again.
Ella did, now wishing for that break. Her heart raced, faster than her feet, propelling that bit of board. The water behind roared as it was forced to rise towards the sky, again and again. Ella kept her eyes forward, no matter how close it got to her feet.
However, what laid ahead did not still her heart but made it race even more, made the yellow in her eyes continue to brighten.
“We’ve got to paddle another way!” Ella shrilled.
Gale’s question froze as she finally looked up from the board. There was a ship, another Aqua Alliance vessel ahead. And growing closer.
She uttered a curse, tried to nudge the board to the right, but was forced to go left then straight. She shouted another profanity, panting hard.
“They’re leading us right to them.” She stated.
“What do we do?” Ella said.
“What can we do?”
And so the pair bowed their heads. Ella didn’t know what was going through Gale’s mind. Maybe she was praying to the Dark Ones. Perhaps she had another scheme. None of that mattered at the moment. What did was what Ella, herself, was going to do.
Who, or what, awaited on that ship? Were they looking for her, working for the Council, or just opportunists, simple brigands? Again, it didn’t matter. Not until they were on-board.
The thumps, the soft thunder escalated to thunderous clangor. The silence before or that which followed was taken by shouts, commands, and cheering. Jeering.
Metal scraped as it recoiled from the burning halos, their dark wisps clear to see, before all came to a sudden halt. The boards slapped against the dark hull. Faces, Itchyoman faces, peered from the portholes, from the deck, retreating as a ladder was thrown down. A voice, a feminine crackle, ordered three of her crew down it, all garbed in black robes. Two grabbed Ella and Gale, while the third carried a sword. Its edge gleamed even in the shadow of the ship, daring them to resist.
They did not, and were tossed up onto the deck, amongst more jeering and taunting. Ella was the first to try to stand, and was the first to be slammed back down on it under a heavy, oiled, black boot.
“Well well. Lookit we have here,” the Itchyoman on her back said. Her voice was crackly, as if corroded away by the sea, taking with it its almost metallic shrill. Ella looked over her shoulder at the Itchyoman, their six, slanted eyes made white by the golden yellow that had snared her vision. Her teeth always protruded, curving over one another as she sneered down at her and Gale. She had a large, white frill, four tips of it dipping over her shoulders and around her neck, making a collar of thorns. But it was the hand print on the left side of her face that caught her attention. It was Terrahn, but the indentations in the palm were Cephamorian suckers, burned into perfect detail.
The Itchyoman must have felt her staring at it, for she sneered and dug her heel into her back harder, forcing her to look away.
“Now, what may an Itchyoman and a Cephamorian be doing in a dingy out on the high sea?” The Itchyoman demanded.
“Nothing! Nothing at all,” Gale blurted, chuckling as she tried to sit up and waved her hands. “We were just out on a leisurely, casual, pleasure... row... thing.”
The crew was silent for a moment after Gale finished. The air suffocated her soft, timid chuckles, leaving her in a sea of eyes. Seconds passed, stretched to minutes, warped to an eternity and half with each groan of the ship, until the deck exploded with laughter, echoing far across the sea.
“You hear that?” One of the Icthyoman said. “A pleasure row thing!”
“I remember when I had a pleasure row thing,” another said, sighing as they wiped their eye, and the rest of the crew chided in with their own remarks. “Good times.”
“Love me an old fashioned pleasure row thing.”
“It’s been a while since I had a pleasure row thing.”
“Never had one. What’s it like?”
“Well, it’s kind of leisurely, sort of casual, but definitely pleasurable.”
“Will you all can it?” The captain exclaimed, and Gale cried out as she stepped on her back, as well. She raised her right hand, and the air around it darkened and hummed. It crackled, closing in on her palm, the umbral center, and she clenched it into a fist. It oozed through her fingers, squelched on the deck before it faded, and a sliver grew from the front, widening, forming into a saber. She rolled it in her grip, then wheeled, grinded her heel on Gale, towards Ella, letting her sit up. “You there. What’s the real reason? You were mutinous cretins? Running from the Council?”
“I... I am,” Ella said, her tone defeated, but not scared. She would not allow herself to be scared.
“Well, whichun? It kind of matters?”
“The... the Council. I... murdered my father, and burned his house down.”
The crew cheered, and clapped.
“You go, girl,” one of them hollered.
“He probably deserved it,” another said.
“Well? Did he?” The captain said... and knelt. She still dug her heel hard into Gale’s back, while her other was bowed to Ella, putting her on eye-level with the Cephamorian. Her tone, like her eyes, became soft. “What did he do to you?”
Ella was about to answer, but the shift in her eyes seemed to have been enough of one, the captain giving a silent awe.
“That bad, huh?” She shook her head, sighing. “And now, because you fought back, the Council wants to execute you. For standing up for what’s right, instead of cowing to their rules. You took justice into your own hands.” The captain opened her hand, and the saber disappeared. Only the smallest, darkest traces of that dark energy held onto her palm as she extended it to Ella. “Well then, we are more than happy to accept you to the Gunpowder Fish... Your friend here, though, is another question-”
“She helped me escape them.” Ella stated. “If it wasn’t for her, I’d be dead right now.”
“Is that so?” The captain huffed, and took her foot off Gale, helping her to her feet as well. “Then both of you are welcome aboard... Tell me, where were you heading?”
“Then Astra guided you to us. We were heading there ourselves; the word needs to be spread. The Dread Pirate sails again.”
“You met the Dread Pirate?” Gale exclaimed.
The captain scowled, and tapped the mark on her face.
“I did, and he left me this mark, as well as humiliated me in front of my crew.”
“Who was it?” Ella blurted. “Did you get his name? What was he like?”
“I didn’t catch a name, though I think he tried. He was a freak, though: a cross between a Cephamorian and a Terrahn. Why?”
“N... no reason.”
“In that case, Raina!”
“Show them to their quarters.”
The one known as Raina did, but Ella was guided by Gale, too lost in thought. It’s him, she thought, both pink and darkness welling in her eyes. It must be him. We will meet. Soon... soon...