Before the Storm
Time, after seeming to stretch out, bounced back. Hours flew by. The sun seemed to rush across the sky, cutting its affair with the sea short this day, leaving it wanting, demanding. Angry. Not even the moons could quell its swells, nor its rising currents, working up into a right froth against the side of the Scylla still set and making its way towards Lam Berel.
Those four silvery sentinels and their attempts to appease, to try to make peace, instead angered the very heavens they dwelt in. Clouds gathered to blot them out, crackling and sparking and lighting both the darkened sky and the steeled sea. Wind, great gusts swept through the sails and hull, uttering an eerie howl as they whisked away every flicker, every smoldering, lingering ember in its lanterns.
Olivier was down in the galley, in the kitchen with most of the others, too anxious to even pick up his pewter mug. The others were just as quiet. It would have been absolute silence, the storm and sea given its full timbre, but their navigator kept it at bay, refusing it domain. Ponitius was at the wheel, his grumblings and cursing with its creaking echoing down into the galley and fighting the storm just as much as he, both sides waging war and showing no quarter. Each turn of the wheel, every little shift of the ship rattled the cutlery and plates on the table, as well as the crew sitting before them.
Lightning lit the dark galley. Thunder rumbled after, always barely a second after, as if the storm were chasing them. Its crack was a softer blow than the water that drenched the vessel, that poured through the portholes by the oars, pulled in for the night, but any sight outside the porthole or even on deck was concealed in thick fog. Only the torches, barely blots of orange, that glowed about Lam Berel could be seen far, far off in that sea of mist.
Olivier jumped as Ponitius exclaimed. The others stirred with him as they heard metal creak, but settled as it clicked into place. Ponitius grumbled as his shoes padded and squelched before his descent down the steps, echoing even more with each, leaden thump. He lumbered through the rowing hall and into the kitchen. He slung his coat over one of the chairs beside the door, leaving it to drip.
Durnst was sitting there, waiting, and rose and followed after as Ponitius made his way into the kitchen, preparing his bowl, the true reason he waged that war, why he had the morale and will to keep going. The “stew” was no more, slain, destroyed at last, and was replaced by a fresh vegetable medley. Carrots, celery, onion, mushroom; even a touch of tomato, all in a cream-based sauce.
Ponitius cocked his eye at the concoction, and looked to Durnst. No words were uttered, both men too tired to say much of anything, but Olivier understood. He had the same worries, the same amount of hesitation, the same trepidation, all gone upon taking a bite of it. Ponitius’s brow settled, and did not question it another moment, returning to his coat and the chair forced to endure it.
He slumped into it, though it wasn’t long before he had to stand again and return to the kitchen. He filled his bowl four times over, each one faster to be filled, but four was the magic number. He started to slow. His chin and its beard was drenched in the sauce, grown easily a foot since they began their journey, much to his chagrin as he wiped it clean.
“I am going to be absolutely thrilled to be back in town,” he grumbled, pulling on that matted mess. “Going to see a proper barber.”
Claire purred as she chuckled. She was sitting by Olivier, tail swishing, hitting him in the back as she leaned on it. She rested her head in her hands, gleaming at him from across the table.
“Why, though?” She mused, trilling. “It makes you look like the Faun you really are.”
Ponitius huffed, giving her a tired smile. “That’s exactly why, though. The Faun are unbelievably jealous of the Terrahn’s ability to grow more majestic hair than them. Thus why we keep it trimmed down; don’t want to hold all the power, eh?”
“Please. I’m fabulous,” Bethilius exclaimed, running his hands through his mane as he did. “No mere Terrahn can hope to compete with this.”
“I don’t know... I mean, Der would be hard to top, but you?”
Dervalan chortled, rubbing his bald head.
“It’s true. This is truly beautiful,” he said.
“It really is,” Avin said, landing on it, and sighed. “Nothing like a smooth top to relax on.”
Bethilius put his hands back on the table, his mood once again sour. So back to normal.
“So what are we going to do? Wasn’t the entire point of landing on that beach when we went to Narvaal to avoid attracting attention? Now we are just sailing through open water to a busy dock.”
“Nonsense. The fog is doing wonders to hide our approach,” Ponitius said, and finally picked up his mug, taking a long, well-deserved drink. Thunder rumbled again, hiding its soft clack as he placed it back on the table, and clasped his hands before him. “I plan to park the ship pretty in the cove I originally housed the Falchion, and use my baby to get back and forth from the dock. It’s fast, only needs two to crew it, and, best of all, it is rather small. It can weave in between, and, hopefully, not attract many onlookers. A Terra Force vessel zipping around? Nothing new in these parts.”
“The question, though, will the Scylla fit in the cove, with MY Claymore attached, and wouldn’t it have issues getting out? Again, with MY Claymore.”
“If we can find a Zephryian to fix it-”
“Yes. If. If we can, they can hopefully fix the engines-”
Ponitius gave Bethilius a cold look.
“Are you going to do this with everything I say?”
“No. Not on what you are saying, but the source, on the boy’s plan. It would be far easier to conscript an Itchyoman sorcerer or two and be done with it rather than wonder if a bird-brain will help us. That is only if they are able to help at all.”
“It’s better than having people sacrifice their lives,” Strix said, joining them at last. She yawned, fluttering down to the table beside Ponitius, and lifted his spoon from his bowl. “I have faith, and maybe you should show some, as well, until it turns out to be a complete and utter failure.”
“I’m simply saying. The possibility of it being done in a timely manner-”
“And what do you suppose would be a ‘timely manner’? We don’t have to rush; the island isn’t going anywhere.”
“That we know of,” Avin added.
“And the Falchion had been holed up in that cove for a long, long time,” Ponitius said, shrugging. “No one came near it.” Small, chuffing sounds filled the air. Everyone looked around, wondering where it was coming from, but quickly found it was Dervalan, opening, closing his mouth with each one. The look in his eyes was queer, as if he was about to say something, wanted, needed to say something, but every time decided to simply let it go. As all eyes locked on him, they became slower until, at last, he simply looked down at his mug again... Meanwhile, Ponitius shifted his attention to Olivier, beaming at him. “What’s the matter, lad? You’ve been quiet all day.”
It was true; he had not uttered a word or even gave much acknowledgment to anything around since he went down with the others to row. What was the point, though? Him voicing his opinion again, his worry and doubt and the foreboding sense of disaster, only catalyzed by the storm continuing to pound against the ship, wouldn’t change anything. In fact, why take away any morale? He was better to suffer. Alone.
“N... nothing, sir,” Olivier said. His voice crackled a bit, as if shocked that he had the power to speak ever again. He averted his gaze from Ponitius once he did and returned to his silence, watching his arm under the table as it continued to pulse.
“Oh, come on, Rolfie,” Fili said, almost singing it, and hugged his face. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had a star-shaped tan on his cheek; she didn’t leave him the entire time he rowed, using her magic on the row in front of him to do her bidding. “It’s going to be fine –better than fine, actually! We’re going to go shopping, then find a place for a nice meal- oh! What kind of gift are you going to get me? Because I was thinking something simple but elegant would fit very w-”
“I don’t think you two should be in town together.” Strix stated. “As is, you draw way too much attention --and I am talking about Fili, lad. Not you, though you would generate a bit of presence, yourself.”
“Especially with that jacket,” Ponitius added. “You should probably leave it on the s-”
“N-no! I can’t... I mean...” Olivier hugged the jacket against him. “I know I probably have to, but... d... do I really need to go to shore? Into town?”
“I suppose not-” Strix began, but was cut off as Claire yowled. All attention was on her as she laid against his arm, purring louder than ever before. Her tail struck his back harder, flicking faster, as she looked into his eyes, her pupils completely open.
“But of course! A captain should help just as much to find a new crew member,” she said with a wink, though it was more a question for whom it was for. She rolled her hand towards Fili after, answering it as her hand laid on his chest. “Don’t you worry, little lady. I’ll look after our green captain.”
“As if... er, I mean as if... that wouldn’t attract as much attention,” Fili exclaimed.
“I’ll have you know I can be quite conspicuous... Besides, it’d make more sense for us to be seen together, since we are almost the same size.”
“Oh, you did not just go there!”
Claire giggled more, leaning harder against Olivier, and clicked her tongue into his ear.
“Would you look at that? Short AND short-tempered. She is an accident just waiting to happen.”
Fili growled, and sprung from his cheek. She buzzed thrice around them, her blue energy turned bright red, while a white skewer grew from it.
“Enough!” Strix boomed, risen even higher by an uncommonly loud bang of thunder... and sighed. “Fili, it is best if you stay and watch the ship. I do believe Claire is right; seeing her with Olivier out and about is far less conspicuous than you and him.”
“On top o’ that, I can hold his arm and hide it.” She gripped it in both of hers, and somehow managed to slide into his lap as she did, trilling against his chest. “You see? Well, no you can’t. Bad choice of words.” She looked up at Olivier, the amber rings around those pupils gleaming so bright. “Oh my. I never realized how smooth your skin was. I could paw at this all day... and night.”
And, at last, the situation finally caught up to Olivier. Pink filled his eyes, a touch of yellow followed, and he cried out, trying to get free. His sudden jerk, his full-body jump, pulled him straight up out of the chair and right onto the ground –and only him. Claire had let go, falling right back into the seat with a soft huff. She covered her mouth with the back of her left hand, still laughing, while her tail flicked fiercely.
“In any case,” Ponitius said, trying to ease the tension that had built up, hoping that the bright red orb and its ever-growing spear wouldn’t explode with the next roll of thunder, but stayed long enough. He groaned as he stood, cracking his back, and sighed. “I should return to the wheel. It won’t be long before I have to steer it into the cove-”
“And potentially wreck,” Bethilius mumbled. He stood as well, heaving a heavy yawn. “I don’t know about all of you, but I am quite exhausted from rowing.”
“But it was mostly the current-” Dervalan began, which was drowned out by Bethilius as he rose his voice.
“So I am heading to bed! I would advise everyone to do the same. Even if but an hour, it’s better than nothing, for the night life of Lam Berel is alive and well.”
With that, he (swiftly) departed. Dervalan, then Ponitius followed, though Ponitius’s shoes could be heard heading above. Olivier hated himself, but he had to agree with Bethilius. A bit of rest would not be so bad. He left the dining hall, headed for the hammocks.
When he was stopped by Squall.
She spun him around, concern showing through the fatigue on her face.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” She said, nodding back to the dining hall. “You seemed incredibly out of it.”
“I’m... simply tired, is all,” he said, but Squall only gripped him harder, irritation giving way.
“I thought we agreed no more secrets.”
“I know... it’s... nothing. Really. It’s the same worry as before. I... I have a bad feeling is all.” He grimaced as he rolled up his right sleeve, showing the pulsing lines.
Except it was more than simple pulses; they were seeping dark ichor. It had caked the inside of his sleeve, and now was allowed to drip to the ground. His stomach churned seeing it, yellow and green filling his gaze.
“It wasn’t doing that earlier,” he muttered; Squall let go of him and recoiled a step.
“What is that?” She hissed, trying hard to keep her voice low. He repeated his answer, but was surprised that it did not have a smell. It looked rancid, moldy, but it didn’t change the salty musk of the ocean nor the ozone the storm wrought... Squall shook her head, hardening her face again, and gripped his shoulder, leading him down the rows, away from any perking ears. “Could it be because you let that captain go? Could it be excess?”
“I don’t know... I suppose. All I know is, whenever I think of Lam Berel- see?” He accidentally shouted, the lines glowing brighter than all the times before. He shrunk a little under her worried glare, and cleared his throat as he rolled his sleeve back down. “I just... I don’t like this. I don’t like this one bit.”
Squall looked at him. She refused to relent, to allow him to move from under her stare... but had no choice as steps approached. She sucked on her teeth, and heaved an exasperated sigh as she finally blinked, shaking her head after.
“What’s the matter?” Strix said. “Everything all right?”
“Why did my Olfy scream?” ... Claire said, giggling as she eased her way passed Squall and patted Olivier’s shoulder. “What happened, Foley? Bolfy, my closer than friend but not quite my lover?”
With every word Claire said, she laughed harder, and he could see Fili. At the other end of the rowing hall. She was glowing and growing redder with each name, with every declaration. Energy crackled along the outer sphere, the white lance threatening to pierce the left hull, sizzling, singeing it, but she kept her composure. She kept calm as she flew up to Claire.
And blasted a fresh, white lance right into her chest.
Claire cried out as the light flung her back then up the steps to the deck. It did not stop until she was in one of the crow’s nests, then continued its flight into the heavens burning away the clouds that dared stand in its way... Fili heaved a contented sigh, and hugged against his shoulder again –much to his distress; she was still hot enough to make his cheek hiss.
“Come, Ollie,” Fili said. “Let’s go to bed.”
Olivier did not argue, simply thankful that the red faded when he took his first step, as well as the white lance dispersed. She settled onto his shoulder as he laid in one of the hammocks, and kissed him, over and over, until she finally drifted off to sleep. Sadly, the burns still throbbed, so Olivier wasn’t as quick. As much as he wanted to.
He had company, anyways.
“Well... never seen that reaction before,” Avin said, settling by Olivier’s other shoulder, and sighed. “Looks like you’re stuck with her... Now, is everything all right?”
“Y... yes. For now,” Olivier said.
“You see, it’s that ‘for now’ part that has me hooked. What do you think is going to happen?”
“I don’t know. I... just a bad feeling is all.” His eyelids were drooping. The pain was fading far too fast, and everything was going away, as if it was on a gilded glider of its own. “When I wake... when we finally get to town... I have a feeling this is not going to be fun.”
“Heh, for you, maybe. Whatever may come is going to be a blast! Hey, think there will be a chase... Ollie? Buddy?”
Olivier was out before he finished asking, his body too weary to answer, but he still hoped otherwise. One last crack of thunder rumbled the ship, made the hammocks sway; it could have been a cannon shot, could have pierced the hull and had them sinking to the bottom, and he wouldn’t have been able to escape it. Nor would he want to, at this point.