The Final Piece
Ponitius, Durnst, and Strix were the first back to the Scylla. They checked the business district and stables, enjoyed a drink and listened for rumors in the Shelled Aceon and caught up, then were back in the Itchyoman District and its warehouse long before the Garolot took to the streets.
Dervalan was at the Shelled Aceon during its surfacing. He checked, and had no luck, in the Faun District earlier that evening, but now he had something he could report. He might have been confused when he first began, but now he had a clear goal. He rushed back to report this to Ponitius, forgotten in the chaos.
If Bethilius kept some sense about him, he would have noticed his oaf of all oafs was that one that shoved him aside. For Der’s sake, the gods shown favor, his vision too far gone to the ale that was now spilled onto the stable boy he persuaded to... “join” him at the tavern. Now, he had no one for the night, and took to the streets instead. He didn’t flee from the tremors, growing ever closer, nor did he have any desire to allow these simpletons to stay in his way, shoved aside as he had been, following the rubble back to the ruined home. When he got there, he demanded the Faun stationed there to pay for his drink --which he did, and offered triple if he would but get him out of there. Bethilius almost didn’t agree, but after Gaz told him he had such a handsome face, how could he resist not breaking the shackles?
The local authorities were not as enthused and gave chase, forced to show mercy as an angry mob was tailing after three Faun and what looked to be a Cephamorian, demanding their blood be spilt on the street and their bodies hung in the plaza. The paperwork alone on two of them would take the rest of the night. It wasn’t often they were able to charge the Farrin’s, but they made sure both to lavish as well as languish in it. They tried to throw a local tavern keeper under the cart, as well, but none of the others could recall Loralei being there. So she was released in the morning while the others were kept for more logging, leaving her to cross paths with some inquisitive souls about her soon-to-be squeeze, whom was more than happy to skirt away hearing her voice.
Olivier took the back exit while the three Faun carried Spack Jarrow. All headed to the Itchyoman District in their own way, their goal all the same, to the warehouse. The beginning... and now the end.
But what about Squall? Where did the Scylla’s longing Itchyoman, its yearning wanderer, the pilgrim of the heart go? She never left the Itchyoman District. She had plans to, but only after she took her stroll down memory lane. Seeing the stick huts, feeling the constant dampness and decay in the air; it reminded her of her first “home”.
“‘Four rows down. A left. Two more rows then a right. Turn around, and, under the sun’s sight, you will know the way’,” She mumbled to herself, following it to a T. It didn’t matter where you started in the District, never did. Whether it was at the beginning or the end or anywhere in the middle, Squall always ended up right in the center, at the building there. Her “home”. It was always there, blotting out the sun. It had a special roof, that, no matter the time of day, it always hooked it, and seemed to hold it in its shadow. Even after all these years it still stood... She approached it, slowly, carefully, shaking at the memories that cascaded, digging themselves up for her to see. Her ‘aunt’, Torei, would always sit on the stoop and carve into broken thatch. It was willingly offered, given whenever the carpenters were done crafting new boards for homes elsewhere. They were often the leftovers, the drafts or chaff of their work, but Torei always made such beautiful things with them, such intricate carvings, which were now most of the building. Sprawling tapestries of foreign, mythical beasts from seas and tales long ago and far away; there was plenty of thatch now by the door, discarded, still given so willingly, but nobody to carve it since her ‘Uncle’ Squirt ripped out her hearts.
“‘They are only children!’” Squall remembered her screaming, wailing into the night. “‘How can you do this? They are only children!’”
Squall gagged, remembering how her heart tasted, forced silent by it, but moved ever closer to the building, remembering how justice was delivered. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day, yet the lightning that lanced from it not only struck once but four times over, not relenting until he was a smoldering husk... But, because of justice, Squall no longer had a home. None of the children did, so what had become of the building in the good ‘aunt’s’ stead?
She clenched her fists, inhaled deep, and rushed to the side of the door, across from the broken thatch. She knelt under the window. It was but a postage stamp, but Squall knew how much one could see through it, perfectly at eye level no matter where you were in the room. This was not a good place to look; that was the second window on the right side. It was a bit off from the others, at an odd angle, making it easy to peep in but not to peek out, and that’s what she did.
There were rows of beds instead, filled. Some were wrapped in bandage; others weren’t even given that luxury, too far gone to really matter. Young, old; it did not matter in those beds. All were tended to by Itchyomen in soft, white robes, walking the aisles.
One turned around, their face lit by the soft candles on the tables scattered about, and Squall’s heart dropped. Frose. She looked to another, just as the candle caught their face, as well. Sno.
They stayed, she thought, tears welling in her eyes as she cupped her mouth, keeping her shuddering breath quiet. They stayed, and made this a hospice.
She focused on the third. No doubt Molly, and stifled a happy, bittersweet sob as the Itchyoman’s hands glowed a soft puce, holding the face of whoever was in the bed before her. The soft light lurched out of their hands into them, the bedridden, the downtrodden individual, and their breath rose to a soft moan before settling, sounding far better at its end. She always did want to use her gift to help. Now she had it.
As much as her heart ached to meet them again, to reunite with her first family... she shook her head, and looked away.
Before looking back.
In the corner by the window, leaning against the wall, there was an Aceon, just out of sight. Thankfully, for Squall, he couldn’t see her at all, nor feel the anger that rolled off her. Never before had she had to fight the urge to growl, or to forcefully root herself in place and become like stone. There was no denying who that Aceon was.
Her body crunched, creaked as she fought even harder to remain still, to keep even her teeth from rolling free. All she could see was red, bleeding into the Aceon’s shell. His eyes were fogged a touch, his frills moving only the slightest touch, but Squall did not want to risk anything. Her body cracked in several places, painfully, as she crouched under the window, listening, putting everything she could into that simple yet arduous task.
A pair of feet approached him, the Itchyoman humming softly, and grunted as the carapace of the Aceon shuddered a touch. His frills ruffled like feathers, perturbed, and his claw clacked quick, slowing, seeing who it was.
“Rested, Mister Plu?” The Itchyoman said. The air tensed a moment, released in a wave that struck even Squall through the wall. Its message wasn’t foreboding, nor was it threatening. Instead, it was almost pleasant in its delivery. The Itchyoman must have thought the same, giggling a little. “That’s good... I’m sorry, sir, but you cannot stay here another day. Without your friend, your presence is costing a bed to someone who may need it... I do not mean ill, sir, but it’s the truth.”
The Aceon known as Plu sighed, but released another wave, again just as pleasant, as amicable. The sounds he made as he unfurled his legs, though, were anything but, and the Itchyoman stepped aside, allowing the Aceon to make his way to the door. He released a final wave at it, showing his gratitude, and stepped out into the night. With a shadow at his wake.
Squall was not content. This was Baro; she recognized that crack in his claw from anywhere. He got it during... She shook her head, grimacing at the smallest snaps her neck made, and continued to follow the Aceon through the Itchyoman Disctrict. He took his sweet time, enjoyed the fleeting, virginal moonlight, breaking through the storm enough to wash over his deep red shell. Its many edges were accentuated with purple, matching the spiral barbs that she knew were waiting underneath.
He left the district in time, and she gave chase into the central plaza. Every so often he would look back, back into the crowd, but he never seemed to find the suddenly shifted eyes, the hidden face in it. The Aceon did not stop at the tavern. He did not stop at any shops. Instead, he went straight down the stairs, to the port.
Squall grimaced at this. There were less people heading down. Plenty coming up, but that meant she always had to have a heel pointing the other way, and the odds of one of the sailors not exclaiming at some point when she did made her heart ache. Baro was always a hard one to sneak up on; the amount of times he caught her trying to join them up on deck, or had been following Nejrat, was more than proof of that. It’s what made her improve her craft, in case she ever did run into him again. She did not want him to have the upper hand, did not want him to warn Nejrat ahead of time.
Her heart fluttered, and made her step a touch too loud.
Plu stopped. He looked back, seeing nobody coming down after but plenty going up. Squall just slipped into the crowd. One grunted, but they did not say anything else, much to her appreciation and disdain. This would force her to stay back a few steps, force her further away from him... and the potential to see her love again.
Was he here? Was he the friend the caretaker was talking about? She thought, and this time a growl did bubble out. Did he hurt him? Was that why they were in the hospice... Was Nejrat dying? Was he sick? Was that why he pushed me away?
Her thoughts only hastened with each passing beat of her heart, with every step up the stairs and every stone further from Baro. Thankfully, he finally started down again, and Squall did, as well.
She made sure her steps were perfect, light yet fleet. If she fumbled again, in any way, there was no saving her this time. The crowd had become too thin, those taking up the rear looking for a reason to cause a scene, so she persevered as best she could, girding herself, her wants and desires.
They made it to the bottom, but she did not follow him down the port to the left. The boards would give her away long before he ever bothered to look back. Instead, she went straight, to a tiny little nook on one of the piers, closed by the owner about, say, three month prior.
The Stay Golden’s door, though, gave easy enough, and she slipped inside, watching as Baro continued on. He passed ship after vessel, his feet heard scuttling against the roar of the ocean and the pattering of the rain. Mist blanketed the ports, but she could see small clouds puff out from his frills, caught in that ever expanding and encroaching fog. His red shell and its jagged edges tore through the thickest of it, still so bright red even in the darkest of moments.
At last, he stepped off the port, and towards a tavern nestled against the wall.
The Hag’s Loveshack, huh, Squall thought, and left the safety of the Stay Golden, dashing to it. Wonder if Belehue is working tonight, or out on the prowl?
She rolled her eyes. The amount of men she had seen that tavern’s keeper ensnare would have destroyed the majority of families not only in Lam Berel but most of Eastern Palridian. She feared for any that had the unfortunate fate of having her nails hooked into them or her eyes set upon them. Always looking for mister right, yet never happy until she finds just right.
Regardless, she reached the tavern, and ducked under the second of seven windows along the left of its porch. It was made of stone, as if chiseled from the wall. The world seemed to allow the tavern to stand, given alms everyday, polished and swept to gleaming perfection. The tavern, itself, though, was rather basic, little more than a lean-to constructed of ferrisom timber, but its size, alone, showed the strength of ferrisom, even when not tempered over years. There were chairs, padded, and even blanketed seats on the porch, but it must have been too cold for the sailors this night. All of them were huddled inside, easily two hundred in the open while another hundred sat. All were laughing, singing along with the soft strumming and whines of a lute and fiddle. The music started to pick up, and clapping filled the air, followed by stomping as cheers and guffaws rose into the night.
Squall looked through the window. It was mostly Terrahn, Cephamorian, and Itchyoman inside, with the occasional Faun spread in between, which made seeing an Aceon or two all too easy. It didn’t help that Baro already stood out like a sore thumb. Always had; in all her years, Squall had never seen another Aceon with that same shade of red, which is how she doubted that it’s merely coincidence that another could exist that looked so much like him.
And the company he kept, also, made it hard to believe.
Baro approached the Aceon at the other end of the room, a softer shelled lass. Both her claws were the same size, rubbing together as he approached... and, when he did, she embraced him, practically jumping on him.
Tys, as well? Squall thought, watching as the two crossed legs then sat. There was a long couch along back right wall, people, couples lost to themselves, as those two succumbed, as well. She watched them converse for hours, both creating orbs as the other was finishing their own. Such intimacy... such yearning... It infuriated Squall. Why were they allowed to have such a relationship? Why, when they were the-
Squall hunkered under the window’s edge, but rolled her eyes as they headed for the steps --which meant Squall had to brave Belehue’s lovely little trap... She stepped tentatively inside, casually yet meticulously choosing her steps after through the crowd. She made sure that she both attracted attention yet showed that she had no interest in any light pillow talk. After all, she was a married woman, not some tart throwing herself at the sailors like the majority of the others that were there. Very much to Belehue’s ire. But she couldn’t exactly throw them out; no, she had to show restraint, play the game fairly.
Squall managed to make it to the stairs in one piece, and completely lost all air of companionship as she climbed them. She had watched after Baro and Tys as best she could; they had gone to the fourth floor. Though it took them the entire walk through the crowd to get up there, Squall did it in three quick leaps. One of the perks of not being encumbered by another, not slowed down in her ascent by any comrade... but she wished she had someone watching her back as she walked down the rows of dark doors. Soft candlelight glowed along the hall, but they might as well have been eyes, shimmering, daring Squall to walk down their path. Baro, alone, was enough of a challenge, but with Tys?
I wish Olivier was here, she thought, but took a deep breath, stepping into the hall. She paused at each door, listened, either greeted with silence or the various noises of the night before continuing on. Room after room, candle after candle, until the very end. She heard carapace crunching inside, and tuned it out as best she could, waiting, agonizing for any bubble with information and filtering out anything else.
Dawn seeped through the window before anything came at last, but it wasn’t them stopping. On their own accord, that is. A sparrow had chirped its lovely song as its wings could be heard fluttering into the room. Baro’s frills uttered a rather irked groan, and Squall heard him unfurl parchment... and his frills stop. A wave emanated from the room, from Tys from the feel of it, and Baro answered in kind. His wave shook Squall to her very core, and a feeling was kindled she had not felt in a long time: Hope.
He was coming? She thought. He was sailing into port later today, and they were going to go looking for the Scylla?
She had to be dreaming... I... it all had to be a joke. After all this time, everything was simply falling into her lap? Why, she could have laughed, but, instead, held her tongue, held the fire in her chest, heading for her feet as she righted. She had to go tell Olivier, tell the others.
Baro and Nejrat were both here, in Lam Berel!
She had never moved faster in her life, not caring anymore if her steps could be heard, booming down and out into the morning sun. It seemed to kindle the fire under her feet even higher, seeming to make her fly up the steps and through the plaza. Tears streamed down her cheek, smacking onto the cold stone harder than the rain. She was overflowing with... with...
She seemed to glow, to burn, bright in the dreary air and day as she made her way through the Itchyoman District. It illuminated the storeroom as she skipped through it. She pulled aside the wheeled pallet, and jumped down, slamming both feet into the trapdoor, opening for her as she was placed before the Olivier, Claire, and their newest arrivals.
“S-Squall,” Olivier sputtered. “Everything okay? You’re crying.”
She nodded, weeping as she hugged herself, sniffling.
“It’s better than okay, but I’ll wait until everyone is up.”
“That’s good, because I’m going to go pass out,” Claire declared, and yawned, hoisting the Zephyrian higher on her shoulder as she did. “Hopefully, by then, our lovely friend will be awake, too, and we can get out of h-”
“We can’t leave. Not yet.”
“What? Why?” Olivier said.
Squall shook her head. “No. I cannot say yet. Just... trust in me, okay... You’ll stand by me, won’t you, Ollie?”
“O... of course.”
She laughed, and hugged him. She cooed, cooed of all things, and kissed his shell.
“Good... Thank you so much. For everything.”
With that, she let him go, and headed downstairs to her cot, forcing herself to sleep. It would be worth it; by tonight, all will be as it should.