Thunder, rain, and wind followed the Scylla, hounding them through the night. The others woke during, kept the ship from drowning, bucket after bucket empty tossed out the portholes only for more to slosh in, while Olivier slept. He didn’t nudge nor stir even as the others clamored and grumbled. And screamed. He was completely blissful to the rogue waves that smashed into the ship, making the timbers roar from its crash and almost turning the ship on its side. But the Scylla endured. Its crew endured, and all resonated with a heavy sigh as they made it into the cove.
Lightning flashed off its stalactites, making them gleam. Their shadows stretched after the Scylla, delving into its maw, “gnawing” at it. The vessel creaked and groaned, its wheel practically always spinning, keeping from hitting the sides as the waves continued to follow and crash inside the cavern. The wind continued to bite at the sails, making them ripple, threatening to rip and tear them, but it was the silence that punctuated all. Only the storm could be heard in that cave, in the ship.
Ponitius held his breath, clutching, spinning the wheel. His eyes were focused ahead, watching for the end. His ears were pricked, and he winced and grimaced at every wave, at every, soft scratch of rock along the bottom. But it only just scratched it, and never touched the rudders. Every little movement, every small nudge this way or that made his grip on the wheel stiffen, but his eyes remained glued on the back wall.
Claire yowled as she jumped down from the crow’s nest, landing with a heavy thump, and kicked the anchor wheel. The anchors clanged free, their chains rattling away.
Far too soon.
The ship lurched, knocking Claire into the wheel. Her head made a solid thump- several solid thumps against the spokes as they spun with abandon, keeping her upright until Bethilius grabbed her shoulder, steadying her. She mewled weakly, barely conscious and seeing more stars than any citizen or traveler would this night, shaken away by the long-faced Faun. He forced her to stand, steadying her on her feet, and chortled as the others came rushing up the steps.
Surprinslgy, Olivier was the first on deck. He was still wiping his eyes, but his other hand was rubbing his shell, wincing. Fili was absent on his cheek, and was the last to flutter up the steps. She gave him such a dirty look as she landed on his shoulder, instead, her blue energy pulsing weakly. Avin was snickering, taking up residence on Dervalan’s head again who also laughing. It was in his goofy way, so he wasn’t entirely sure why he was laughing but he was. It was as if something on his mind was suggesting he should laugh... so he did.
Fili laughed, as well, but at Claire’s disposition, and the bruises rising on her face.
“Everything all right?” Durnst said, looking between Claire and Fili. “We heard her scream, but it seems you weren’t looking for a new rug.”
“Why is your first thought that I did something?” Fili mused, and kissed Olivier’s cheek. “I’m a lover, and a tactician. I know when somebody is fighting a losing battle, so why would I waste my energy? Isn’t that right, O’reilly?”
“Is she okay?” Olivier said, instead, glaring at Bethilius. “What did you do to her?”
“No, mommy, I don’t want anymore milky,” Claire mumbled. Her head still lulled, eyes wide, but they were wide without any sort of light, as if her mind was occupied but nobody was home. She giggled, an empty thing, but then gave herself a quick slap, spluttering as she shook her head and pushed away from Bethilius. “Whoa! Ever heard of personal space?”
“You’re welcome,” Bethilius grumbled, nickering, and sneered at Olivier. “I did nothing. The fool let the anchor wheel spin in the shallows; really, I think she would be better as a rug.”
“Nah,” Ponitius said, chortling. “Cleaning it, alone, would be hazardous. Can you imagine how much alcohol is steeped in that fur?”
Claire growled and lumbered over to Olivier. It didn’t sound grand, but it took a bit longer than the two simple steps it truly was. Indeed, it was like watching somebody go on an epic journey, grand, brass music playing as she teetered and tottered across the entire deck, returning thrice before finally turning and falling backwards into his arms. However, the moment her shoulders touched his hands, she reached back and gripped his arms, flipping over him, landing and under his right arm. She raised it and fell into its embrace, meowing softly, pitifully.
“They’re picking on me, captain,” she whined, and shivered as she hugged him. She was still sopping wet from the rain, and her fur indeed reeked of alcohol, fermented over... years. He fought his urge to gag so much as she purred and held even tighter, and only recoiled when she tried to slip into his coat. “You have the power to end this abuse!”
“Hey! Hey!!!” Fili shrieked, glowing painfully bright... or was it. The whole world seemed to brighten and dim on a whim to Olivier, but there was no mistaking that growing ball of white beside the Natorei on his shoulder was getting brighter. “Get your filthy mittens off him, you drunken minx!”
“Big talk for a glorified candle.” She sneezed, a cute little sound, and hugged closer to Olivier, trying so hard to claw underneath his jacket. “Warm me, my captain.”
“Keep it up, and I’ll remind your addled mind of how you got cold in the first place! This time there won’t be a crow’s nest to catch you.”
She hissed. Her pupils shrunk to slits, and growled at the Natorei.
“Ever heard the phrase ‘threaten a cat with a bath is just as bad as giving them one’?”
“No! No. It’s really not. Actually bathing them would at least take the smell of rotgut away. How can you not smell it? It’s no wonder no other guy wanted you.”
“Please... as if any guy before was worth my time. They were all the same, boring traders and peddlers and would-be gamblers... though you went after them often enough. I’m surprised the captain shows you any favor, but I guess he is the charitable sort to put up with used goods.”
“So the ship fit into the cove after all,” Squall piped up, saving not only Olivier but everyone from those two headaches. Fili’s energy dimmed as she, too, took in the scenery. Though they made it in unscathed, it really was a tight fit. The Falchion and Claymore were just on the edges of the cave. Another foot or so and they would have been starting to be crunched against the wall, or, for the Claymore, against the landing. The trapdoor and ladder could just be seen through the gloom; Durnst hopped off the ship and grabbed it, pulling down. Hard... which it opened easier than it did in their original departure. Durnst fell on his rump with a hard grunt, but no one chuckled. Squall clapped her hands, wincing at how loud it truly was in the cove, and turned to Olivier and the others. “So! What’s the plan? Who is going, what are they doing, and who is staying behind?”
“Well, those that are going will split up and look for clues,” Ponitius answered.
“Gee, I wonder who is going to be on their own,” Bethilius grumbled, tapping his chin.
“I’m going with the captain.” Claire stated, meowing as she hugged him again. It turned into a yowl, though, as that ball of light Fili had been making protruded into her chest, pushing her at least four inches away.
“No. You aren’t!” Fili shrilled, glowing red. Olivier could have sworn he heard Ponitius mumble something, but whatever it may have been was lost as energy continued to grow and crackle. “I will be going with him. You can do whatever, but you aren’t going to be with him!”
Claire giggled and purred as she simply smirked at the Natorei, her tail flicking behind.
“If my memory serves me right, little one, your mommy told you you weren’t allowed to be with him in the city. And I haven’t been drinking, so it must be true.”
“I don’t care! I’m not leaving him with the likes of you.”
“Excuse me?” Strix said, flying before them. Her silver energy was tinted with red, growing, as if stealing it from Fili’s, dimming and shrinking alongside her weapon.
“S-sorry, mom-” She began, but was silenced by Strix’s shush.
“Go to the captain’s quarters and stay there. You are grounded, young lady.”
“To the captain’s quarters.” Fili let go of Olivier, her sniffling heard as she floated up the stairs, obeying her mother’s orders. Strix huffed, and her energy turned towards Claire, clucking her tongue at her. “You have really got to stop picking on her.”
Claire whined, unable to sit still, purring away.
“But why? It’s so much fun. She’s so easy to rile.” She meowed again, and let Olivier go long enough to jump on his back. Her legs wrapped around his middle, and her claws digging into his chest a touch while she pawed at it, her purrs rumbling through him. “So what are we going to do in town, huh? Oh! I know! I can show you all the great nightspots. As a captain, you should know where your crew may end up, and how to bail them out of trouble... if need be, of course. No one here is lawful stupid, right? Nobody’s a goodie-two-shoes?”
“I don’t... Wait. What do you mean bail them out of trouble?” Olivier said, trying to understand it all while her purrs befuddled his mind. Made louder as he fumbled on his words; her claws dug a bit harder, and he felt her middle jerk with each flick of her tail.
“Oh my... We’re going to have so much fun. You’ll see.”
“As long as you remain inconspicuous, of course,” Strix regarded, and fluttered over to Ponitius, taking his arm. “Would you mind too much to chaperon an old friend around the town?”
“I have no problem with that, but Durnst will be tagging along,” Ponitius said.
“I’ll stick with chrome dome here,” Avin said, patting the top of Dervalan’s head. Avin was still up there, but quickly fluttered off as that scaly hand thumped softly.
“And I guess that leaves you and me, S-” Bethilius began... but she already hopped onto land and started up the ladder.
Ponitius chortled, patting Bethilius’s arm.
“You can always join us,” he said. “Be like old times.”
“Hi. I’m here,” Avin said.
“Yup, with me not invited and everything,” Dervalan said, nodding, while Avin buzzed between.
“I could go with him. Just saying.”
Bethilius scoffed, and shirked off Ponitius’s hand.
“I’d rather be alone.”
With that, he made his way after Squall up the ladder... leaving Avin behind. The Natorei huffed, and landed on Olivier’s right shoulder shoulder, stretching and groaning as his back popped.
“Looks like it’s going to be the three of us, then-” He started.
“Actually, I would like for you to stay behind,” Strix said. “Somebody has to make sure Fili stays.”
“Oh come on! I finally get to leave Narvaal and go on an adventure and I am stuck on boat detail?”
“Yes. Yes, you are.”
He groaned, rising from Olivier’s shoulder.
“This is so lame! Curse Fili...” He huffed, and slapped Olivier’s shell, making him wince. “You go have fun for me. Make it truly unforgettable.”
“Oh, we will. You can bet on it,” Claire said, trilling, and a shiver ran down Olivier’s back as she climbed off, pulling the jacket with her. “We got to make sure this stays behind... though I can see why you wear it. You look... thin without.”
Strix took the jacket and put it in the captain’s quarters, then, one by one, the groups went u-
"Wait," Dervalan said, still scratching his head. "Who am I going with?"
... There was always a five-minute gap between one groups’ climb and exiting before the next, just in case anybody was watching the warehouse. Olivier and Claire were the last; Ponitius was waiting, and covered the trapdoor with the “floor” once more. All three went through the double doors into the Itchyoman district, where he departed with Strix, waiting, dimmed, beside the rickety building.
Not a single light could be seen in those stick huts, but Olivier did not feel any safer. He could feel eyes watching after, just as hungry, as opportunistic as before. He hugged himself tight, feeling naked without his jacket, with only his green tunic to defend him against the wind and rain... and a Claire on his arm.
She rushed him down the district, through business, and only slowed once they reached the halos, the lanterns around the center of Lam Berel. The tavern was packed this night, filled with cheer and song that rang through the eastern half of town and even down the steps to the docks. Even at this time, in this weather, the city was still teeming with people. Or was it as late as Olivier thought. He slept like a stone, but it couldn’t have been that late. The shops were only starting to close... or did they close? He hadn’t stayed long enough before, but the smithies still hammered away into the night, giving the beat for bards and minstrels all through the town.
Claire dragged him through those people, pushed him against Terrahn, Faun, Cephamorian, Aceon, and even the rare Itchyoman, but not one stopped nor shouted after. Not one paid any attention nor mind to them. None of them paid him any attention... Maybe that was why, even in the gloom of the storm, he felt happier than ever, that, even with present company bombarding and shoving her way through with such abandon, he was practically invisible. He was left alone, to do whatever he wished or wanted, without anyone giving him a queer look or treating him as a monster, an abomination. A freak... Even as his arm continued to drip that dark ichor. Perhaps it was because of the rain, but not even Claire paid it any mind, staining her white top and the fur underneath, while the rest was left to run in the streets, pooling along the sides.
They turned a corner, and Claire stopped before a heavy, wooden door three houses down. She knocked on it thrice, paused, then did three more, following it with five rapid raps before ending with an open palm smack. A lock clicked behind, and opened to reveal a thin Faun waiting on the other side, smiling down at Claire... before scowling at Olivier.
“Gaz,” Claire sung, and leaned up to kiss him on his narrow snout. “It’s been a while.”
“Claire.” He stated. It was almost a grunt, as if he was forcing it out as he nudged his head towards Olivier. His antlers scraped at the entry, twelve points in total, and were wrapped in three rings of copper each, clashing with his white-and-orange fur. “Whose your squeeze?”
“My new captain. I’m showing him all the fun places.”
“Captain, eh? You look a bit too scrawny and doe-eyed.”
“He’s new to it all.” She purred, nuzzling his neck. “I just want to show him a good t-”
“Is that Claire?” A high, squeaky voice called from inside the house, and soft pants rose as a mousy lass came hopping out of the darkness. Her fur was deep red, her ears perfectly round and a soft shade of pink. Her eyes were a pair of shining topazes, gleaming as she launched herself at Claire, hugging her tight. “It’s been so long!”
“Anni!” Claire said, giggling as she pawed at the thin tail behind the Faun. She eased the mousy girl off and gestured to Olivier. “Anni, this is Olivier. My captain.”
Anni squeaked, and wheeled to Claire again.
“You went back on the water? After what happened?”
Claire smiled wide, waving her hands before her. Almost frantic, in fact.
“Let’s not bring that up, okay?”
Anni turned to Olivier again. Her eyes sparkled, mouth agape, as if in awe... and didn’t really hear Claire. Or didn’t seem to care.
“Wow... you must really be something for Claire to go back on the water.” She giggled, and hugged Olivier. “I’m Anni. If Claire is fine with you, then so am I.”
“Must you? Really?” Claire grumbled. She sighed, sounding absolutely exasperated, but Anni simply giggled and grabbed both of their hands.
“Come on! It’s only started.”
“What has?” Olivier said, pulled along anyways, dragged through the dark house.
The entry was empty, and only served as a conjunction to the kitchen across and the living room beside, while a door sat in the middle, taken, leading underground. Anni pulled them down it, the door left wide open, and each of their steps echoed and boomed. There seemed to be nothing, the stairs spinning into themselves, until, three stories down, a soft roar of voices rose. It grew with each revolution until, at last, light lit the soft, clay walls.
The three stepped into it, and a large crowd was gathered before a well-lit pit, soaked with blood and riddled with fragments of steel, wood, and things Olivier did not want to question. Four Terrahn stood in its center, dwarfed by the sheer size of the pit. Each one was armed, all aimed towards a gate in the back. Whatever was inside was cloaked in darkness, and helmeted, their faces hidden in gold.
Anni lead them to a set of seats near the ring’s edge, shaking with excitement as she sat to Olivier’s left, Claire remaining attached to his right. No matter how much Anni tried to budge her off.
“What is all this?” Olivier blurted, eyes filling with yellow and green. And red.
“The blood pit,” Claire said, kneading his arm.
“And what is the blood pit?”
He received his answer as a Faun across blew into a hollowed-out horn. They were rather short for a Faun, but what they had in bulk easily made up for it. The crowd around quieted, sitting at last, showing there were easily sixty rows around the arena, fifty seats per, and almost all of them were packed.
“Our first contestants tonight are Belatren of Reden, West of Terra!” The Faun bellowed. His voice was cursed by a soft bleat between words, robbing all strength from those heavy words, but the crowd clapped all the same as the right Terran raised his shield. It was a full kite shield, emblazoned with two, purple lions, back to back. The right one was on a golden background, while the left was on red, each with a black moon in their top corners. The second Terrahn raised his mace, its flanges a touch cracked and most definitely rusted. “Local grown Luresh, then Yunai from Terra.”
The third raised her spear, and let loose a great roar. Her chainmail rumbled with its ferocity, shimmering as it cascaded down her form, covering every inch. She had on a red surcoat, embellished with Terra’s holiest of symbols: the Hammer and Sun. Her roar only seemed to grow as it bounded and echoed; not even the crowd could even dull it, only allowed to fade as the fourth raised his bow.
“Finally, we have Belugia from Narvaal.” The Faun declared, and he waited for the crowd to silent again before continuing. “Tonight, they face a danger no man should ever have to fight. A fright that should only stay in the night in dreams, and be fleeting at that. Tonight, they face... the Garolot!”
He threw the lever beside him, and the gate across dropped. The crowd all leaned in; Olivier found himself doing the same, watching the darkness behind it with bated breath. Even the four in the pit were still, steeled, waiting for something to stir in the dark.
And something did.
A large, purple talon emerged from the darkness, raking at the soft ground, digging in as another followed... then another, and another. There were eight in all, each attached to a wiry, curved leg, leading to a thick, bloated orb. Soft lights opened all over its body, a thousand eyes simply... looking around. It was confused, scared, trilling softly. All the eyes slowly focused on the four before it, and held them in its gaze as it continued to trill. It leaned towards them, reflecting them in their many faceted eyes.
Before something squelched.
Saliva oozed, splattering on the ground right under it, and a pair of jowls drooped from underneath it. A set of pincers followed, clacking together, approaching Luresh.
Then it howled. Right in their face.
Olivier yelped, as did others, wanting so bad to put his hands to his ears, but found himself gripping his chest instead, as if it tore at it. However, a fresh layer of rime, also, rolled down his spine, breaking him out in a cold sweat as it seemed to continue for an eternity, but it did stop. And its eyes turned blood red.
It swiped out with one of its claws, knocking all four off their feet.
“Oof! The Garolot got first hit. That’s never a good sign,” the Faun exclaimed, dictating their moves. The four got back up and surrounded the beast, trying their best to outsmart, to outmaneuver it, but Olivier did not care about the four. No. Why would he care about them? He was too focused on the monster, as it simply fought to protect itself, as it was confused, unsure what to do. Any yellow he had was gone, replaced with red that pulsed in his eyes, grinding his teeth.
“This is what you call fun?” Olivier hissed into Claire’s ear. She shushed him, dismissing his question, but winced as one of the four was slammed into the wall. Stilled.
“There’s Belugia down!” The Faun boomed. “Narvaalians are so quick to do so. You would think they would be made of stronger stuff, but the show must go on! Whose going to jump in and take his place!”
The majority of the crowd stood, pushing, shoving, fighting one another for their chance to fight the beastie, but Olivier had seen enough. He wanted nothing to do with this.
“I’m going.” He declared, standing. “This is sick.”
“No. Don’t go,” Claire argued, but he wanted nothing to do with this. He tried to push through the crowd, as she had done, but they chose now to fight back. They pushed him down, back towards his seat, as if he was trying to fight them, to keep them away, even as he argued otherwise.
Until he accidentally fell into the pit.
He groaned, his shell aching for the second time from sudden impact, but managed to get up all the same. He leaned against the wall, rubbing his head, and looked up.
“How am I-” He began.
“Looks like we have our contender,” the Faun exclaimed... and cleared his throat. “Uh, hello... lad? Lad? Does anyone know his name?”
“That’s Olivier! My captain,” Claire said, which made Olivier finally wheel around and face the Faun, face the arena.
Face the monster.
It had turned its focus on him... Turned out he used its leg to stand. Its eyes were locked on him, its jowls, mandibles clacking ever closer, but Olivier did not reach for his sword. He did not move whatsoever, only disturbed by its trills.
It howled, and spun away, towards the archer that had fired into its leg. It quickly turned again, towards the shield that slammed it in the shins.
“Well, Captain Olivier, welcome to the blood pit!” The Faun declared. The crowd cheered, and Olivier felt a chill run down his spine, as if they were wanting his death. So much for laying low.