Having made their pilgrimage, the four moons dipped over the horizon, one by one, each sending a green flash over Carapai’s dome. As the last faded, the capitol was plunged into darkness, with only the soft lights from windows to be seen inside the great dome. The soft roar of the ocean beyond rumbled through the town, wrapping, blanketing it, muffling and stilling even the busiest of taverns and gave it a serenity and peace that would hold until the sun, the true sun, rose once more. It wouldn’t be for a while, the sea allowed a moment of rest, as well, before it was warmed again in the dawn. The sun would slowly stretch out on her resting body, teasing it slowly with its rays, making it blush and burn so bright until it slipped up on top and made her beautiful body glisten and sparkle, as well as the dome hidden in her torrential folds shine.
To its denizens, though, the sun was no different than the moons that came before, but it was the fact it was alone that told them it was morning. It was the single, bright, white dot, standing alone in the sky, that told them it was time to wake and begin the day. And so the blanket was peeled away, the stifling darkness kept at bay as all of Carapai seemed to rouse and welcome it. It rose o’er the yellow-and-orange Cephamorian’s home, but darkness still seemed to cling to it, to linger in its spiraling levels. Though no blind nor curtain covered the carved openings in it, only darkness and shadows waited for anybody who peered in.
The pearl door shot open, and the Cephamorian lass panted as she flung herself out of it. Her eyes were yellow, but they weren’t purely that color. Red pulsed in between it and the solid, thick line of black in their center, thinning with each ragged whimper. She slammed the door behind her, the suckers on her feet making such a cacophony of squelches and squeaks as she raced down the street to the four-way, trying so hard to still her racing heart.
The shops were only beginning to open, but the crowd had already gathered, buzzing with anticipation. She passed the clothier, his wares already up, still in the same order as they were left the night before. It was as if he never took them down, which made the Cephamorian give pause. If it was really the same as yesterday... She thought, her eyes flitting between the bright dresses, the flowing robes. She didn’t know if they were truly the same as yesterday, though; the red, yellow, and black in her eye washed all in a murky brown. However, if they were, then the cloak hanging on the rack to the left was still a nice, soft blue... and very much loosely placed.
The lass took a deep breath, forcing the red and black to retreat a second, and saw that it was at least green. The hem around the hood was laced with silver, leading to a knot for the neck that was clasped with a silver pendant, an eight-pointed star with a yellow gem at each end and its middle. She touched it, let the fabric glide across her “hand”; it was heavy yet smooth. And already teetered, ready to fall off.
She was thankful the others underneath it didn’t stir as she raced off, the crowd too packed for anyone to really take notice of somebody less than nobody. It wouldn’t be for a few roads before she heard any commotion at all. She loosened the pendent enough for her head to slip through, hiding the red circles burning bright along her back, throbbing so much, but they were mercy, other parts of her in far... far worse pain. All of it, all of her bruises, cuts... tears were a parting gift from father, the last boon she would receive from him, as the cloak was Carapai’s.
Though her heart raced, her body shook, her mind, her eyes were set like stone, pressing onward to the Kraken. Every step towards it brought such color, taking the red and black and replacing it with greens, blues, and even pinks. She was in a world of color at last, her heart skipping, knowing it to be true, though it was still so heavy.
Fortune- no, Fate seemed to smile on her as she approached. Captain Tarjen was already there, standing off to the side of the boarding plank discussing with the stevedores about stock. She felt a touch bad, seeing the red in his eyes, growing more as he pinched his brow. She slowed as she approached, agitated that she was forced to a crawl, easing behind the group, listening in.
“I told you. It has to be done within the hour,” Captain Tarjen grumbled.
“So I did hear correct. You expect us to fully load a larder, clean the ship, check inventory, clear out rats, and do maintenance within an hour.” An Itchyoman snapped at him. “One of those alone takes two, at least, and that’s with all of us working on one task!”
“As I said, you will be compensated, but only if you manage to do it within an hour.”
“Cephamorian lies,” another spat out. “He knows we can’t.”
“Not if you keep arguing... Load the larder to half, skip checking for rats, take light inventory, but do proper maintenance; can you do that in an hour?”
“Why the rush, anyways?” A third Itchyoman piped up, and the Cephamorian lass could see the red flare up in Captain Tarjen’s eyes again.
“I explained this already. Four times,” he said, keeping his voice even. “I have need to leave as soon as I can.”
“‘As soon as you can’? Which means you can wait for us to properly do our jobs,” the first Itchyoman said. The Cephamorian lass was starting to grow anxious; the conversation just looped, and it would no doubt do so again and again. She was forced to stay in this city even longer, a notion that both terrified and angered her as well as annoyed the good captain.
At last, it seemed Captain Tarjen had enough.
“Do what is necessary, then,” he said, and spun to the boarding plank, stomping up it. The Itchyomen moved away, chuckling, mocking the good captain as they dispersed, but not one of them mentioned the Cephamorian that had waited behind them. She remained still, watching after Captain Tarjen, waiting for him to climb the stairs to his quarters, waiting for the door to close. When it did, it was like a cannon shot, making her jump and her feet to take flight.
She rushed up the plank, up the stairs... but paused before his door. Her “hand” was outstretched, just before the handle, but didn’t grasp it. Her whole body shook, eyes filled with yellow and nothing but... She took a deep breath, her cloak stretching against her head, and slowly let it go... knocking, instead.
“We already came to an agreement! Leave me to rest a moment before you prattle off my ear again.” Captain Tarjen called through the door. His voice dripped with venom. She had never heard the captain like that before; who did he think was at his door... She shook her head and opened it anyways.
She squeaked as metal clanged beside, warbling as the saber bounced, stuck in the timbers. Captain Tarjen stood before his desk, his “hand” still stretched out, all of him still tense after his throw. He shook his head and hurried over, pulling the sword out of the wall before wrapping an arm around her and easing her to a seat.
“I am so sorry, lass,” he said, putting the sword down by his chair across. “I presumed you were someone else.”
“I... it’s alright,” she mumbled, but looked down at her “hands” lest he saw the fear and terror in her eyes. “I... if you don’t mind me prying, what’s got you so wound?”
“Incompetence, and news that I am unsure is dire, good, or fallacious.” He heaved a heavy sigh. “It’s always fishmen, isn’t it? They know how to get right under your skin... so how are you? That is a beautiful cloak; looks like you got something really nice with yesterday’s payment.”
“Oh, uh, this? It’s something I’ve had for a while.”
“Well, it looks good on you regardless.”
“T... thank you... When’s the next departure?”
“Not too long, though it is for my liking. Lousy fish bastards... I take it you are here to accompany, yes?” He heaved another sigh. “I’m afraid to say I don’t think you want to join this one.”
She looked up, red flaring near her middles, clearing before he locked her gaze with.
He looked into her eyes, his star still once more, clear save for a single trickle of red through the right.
“It’s... a personal trip... In fact, I was going to run pretty much solo... save for my new... skipper.” The red grew a moment in his gaze, but settled once again.
“But why? What kind of shipment is it?”
“It’s no shipment. It’s more a... reconnaissance. Scouting. My... skipper brought me some interesting news. Well, more rumors than anything, but, if there is an inkling of truth to it at all...”
The Cephamorian lass grabbed his hand.
“I want to go with you. Need to go with you.”
“Like I said, I cannot ask for s-”
“Then pay me. In fact... I was going to ask... the next time you departed, I had hoped for quadruple my payment.”
“I know it’s a lot to ask, but... but I had... I had hoped to have enough to start a new life elsewhere. I... I don’t... no, I can’t live in Carapai anymore. I just can’t! So... please...”
Tarjen simply stared at her, the weight behind his eyes making her shake and shudder.
This was a bad idea, she thought, panting. Her throat felt like it was quickly being stuffed with cotton, while her skin started to take on an ashen hue. I shouldn’t have done this. How could I have thought this would have worked? I-
“You have been incredibly loyal,” Tarjen said. “Not once have I heard from my snapper or skipper that you shirked your duties. You’re always up early, punctual and precise with your tasks, and offer incredible morale to the others. In fact, that one Aceon fellow, Ruu I think his name was called... the one in line behind you yesterday; he had hoped to see you again.”
He nodded, and clasped her “hand” between all four of his.
“You are an invaluable member to my crew, or any crew. I couldn’t have asked for a better deckhand the last few tours... However... I can see the passion, the true need in your eyes... If you truly want to start anew somewhere else, if you truly want this to be your last expedition, then who am I to stand in your way? I will gladly pay you the amount you asked.”
She choked on her words, lost to sobs as she leaped over the table. The chair she had sat in crashed to the floor while Tarjen’s simply slid back, embracing her as she hugged him.
“Thank you so much, sir,” she exclaimed, pink overflowing her gaze, crying. “This means so much to me.”
“It is no trouble,” he said, easing her off, his starry eyes burning blue... before fading to red looking behind her. “What are you doing here?”
The Cephamorian lass looked back. The door was open, and an Itchyoman stood in its arch, glowering. At her.
“I was simply stopping by to check on the status for our departure,” the Itchyoman said. Her teeth squelched as they slid free, her gaze still locked on the Cephamorian. “I didn’t realize you arranged for a whore.”
“Hold your tongue, you insolent hagfish,” Tarjen said, bolting to his feet. “This woman just offered her services to our cause.”
“And what, pray tell, kind of ‘services’ are those?”
“She has been on-tour with this ship for close to eight years now, and always been a welcome addition. She didn’t even bat an eye when I told her what kind of mission this was, so show some respect.”
The Itchyoman... sucked back in her teeth, and sauntered across the room, offering her hand to the Cephamorian.
“Very well,” the Itchyoman said. “I am Gale, and I am the new skipper-”
“Temporary,” Tarjen interjected.
The Cephamorian tentatively took Gale’s hand, squeezing it hard, matching Gale’s.
“I am Ella. Ella Sindrel.”
“A pleasure,” Gale said, flat, and looked to Tarjen. “Shall I show her to her quarters?”
“I know the way.”
“Count it as a formality. I need to get used to my role.”
“As much as I disagree, she has a point,” Tarjen grumbled, waving Gale off.
Gale nodded, and gave Ella’s hand one last squeeze before letting go, her nails dipped in blue blood. Ella would not give her the pleasure of a wince, but followed her out of the captain’s quarters, down the stairs, and to the galley all the same. She didn’t help her move the grate, let her struggle to lift the blue iron, then took her time down the twenty steps to the dark galley and the rows upon rows of benches for rowing. The lanterns, ten in all, lit four each, with two rows left in the dark lest the current made them creak, giving them a touch of light outside the portholes for the oars. At their front were two borsel drums, each as large as a keg. Their deep, almost red wood gleamed with the lanterns on either side. The skin was recently oiled and ready for the mallets, and behind them a large hammock awaited, housing the bucket and rag that was used to oil them.
Gale snapped her fingers before Ella’s eyes, drawing her attention to the stern. Rows upon rows of hammocks were hung, each with two chests at their ends.
“Take your pick. I doubt you’ll have much competition,” Gale said. Ella nodded, started to walk passed, but when she did the Itchyoman sunk her nails into her left “shoulder.” She drew her lips close, her teeth squelching free again as her jaw cracked, and a soft growl rumbled against Ella’s head. “Let me be blunt, though. The captain is mine... You keep your dirty tentacles off him from now on, you got it?”
“I can assure you, you have no fear of that.”
Gale hissed, and pushed Ella into one of the hammocks, storming back upstairs, unaware of the black that stirred in her eyes once more... gone as she shook her head.
No, she thought. Not yet. I have to find him. I NEED to find him.
She pulled herself up on the hammock, and looked at her hand. Blood still seeped from it, but at least it was her own blood... this time.