The Falchion backed out of the cove. It wasn’t as simple as lowering it in the water, especially these waters. Dervalan and Gaz did most of the lifting, but it took all of them to pull it free then carry it to the stern, where they waited for that sliver of blue, that single moment of calm to ease it down upon the quieted tide.
Olivier, Squall, and Claire jumped aboard. Avin wanted to come, but Strix told him to stay to watch Fili. She was, also, forced to stay behind --mother’s orders. Each had a fishing harpoon, clinking into the cove’s walls, clawing their way out, fighting against the swell. They grunted, strained as the walls widened, where about three yards from the entry they could only hope, that the momentum they gained was enough to carry the Terrahn vessel the rest of the way.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, it was. The tide started to turn again, but it aided in turning the ship, facing it towards the shore. Lightning flashed in the clouds, drifting, dispersing off towards the plains, but it was the thick plasmal roots of the storm that approached that had Olivier’s tendrils flailing. Yellow flooded his eyes when it crashed into the sea, sparkling and snapping before silenced by the thunderous crashes that followed, but the tide kept pulling them on, thrusting them upon the docks.
They still held their harpoons, thrusting them into Aqua Alliance vessels as they passed, propelling them until, at last, they found an opening. Squall dropped the anchor, slowing them as they made port to the right the Stay Golden. Olivier hopped almost instantly out of the vessel, carrying several rolls of rope, and tied them incredibly loosely to the bollards, already attached to the hawsers. He gave each one a quick flick, making sure they were as easy to pull off as they were to put on, then covered them with the thick ropes still on his shoulders, making it seem it was secure.
He straightened, heaved a heavy sigh, but jumped as someone tapped his shoulder. It was Squall; no remorse was seen on her face, instead lost to an ocean of emotions, clashing of want, anxiety, and annoyance. Claire was already heading down the pier, but she was walking backwards, humming. However, though she acted nonchalant about all this, her eyes were glued on that Itchyoman.
“Is it good?” Squall said, her voice demanding the ‘right’ answer.
“It’ll be fine until we leave-” Olivier began.
“Which won’t be for a few hours... right?”
“Unless something happens-”
“Even then, though, we can find someplace to hold up until it cools off then continue to wait.”
“For the evening.”
She scoffed, and let him go, hugging herself.
“That was the agreement... I’m really sorry for putting you through this, Olivier. It’s... you know how the heart is.”
Not really, he thought, but gave her a soft smile all the same.
“I did say I would stand by you.”
She tittered, and laid her hands on his shoulders.
“Which is why I am so thankful to have you as a friend.” She clapped his shoulders thrice before letting go, wheeling to the deck. “Now, last I saw Baro he was at the tavern down here by the port. Belehue’s place.”
“Belehue?” Olivier blurted, almost bleated. A fresh surge of yellow swept over his eyes, and his feet chose then to lock in place... He forced them to move, however, following her, almost tripping to keep up. He saw the tavern emerge from behind an Aqua Alliance Vessel, illuminated by another fork of lightning, and it sunk a stone into his gut that only seemed to slow him down more.
“Aye. Loralei Belehue.” Squall repeated, glowering at the tavern. “I must warn you, she’s a maneater. Just... don’t show off, and you should be f-”
“Can I stay outside, or check the taverns up in the city?”
“Not a bad idea, really,” Claire said. They finally caught up to her at the end of port, purring as she scratched her back against a lamppost. “After all, the more ground we cover, the larger the net we can lay.”
“Have you ever been in the Hag’s Loveshack before, Claire?” Squall said. “Its main room alone is a labyrinth. It’s always filled with people, and making your way through without attracting attention, either the suspicious kind or the more tawdry, is a nightmare in of itself. Then there are the seven floors, each with easily a hundred rooms, and the cellars, which connect to the sewers. There is not a net big enough to cover all of that, no matter how much you may check above. Our best bet is to see if Baro decided to continue his reunion with his love. Then, if he did, we stake out the room and down on the main level until he does leave.”
“And if he didn’t?”
“Then we question the guests. One look inside, and you’ll see w-”
“I’m going to go check the Shelled Aceon,” Olivier blurted, already heading for the steps.
Stopped by Squall.
“H-hey! I need you,” she exclaimed... and Olivier was surprised to see she was red in the cheeks. She cleared her throat, rubbing the back of her head. “Out of all of us, you look like you... belong here.”
He looked at her, at Claire, head shuddering with each snap between them.
“R... really?” He yipped. “Me? I look like I belong?”
“There’s the occasional Itchyoman, but Faun rarely visit this tavern. Why would they? They don’t get on boats often.”
“Then why aren’t you going in?”
“I’m not saying I’m not going in there. Just that... I... need someone else that looks like they belong.”
“So does that mean I get to go check out the other taverns?” Claire mused, trilling at the thought.
“That is entirely up to you two,” Squall said. “As long as you don’t get in my way... but I need you, Olivier.”
Olivier was about to argue another point when he saw Loralei walk passed the window. She had but strolled by it, no real care given to look out, but she must have felt his gaze for she stopped. Yellow flooded his eyes as she turned her head, wanting nothing more than to run, but his legs refused to move as her stare finally fell on him. From there, it seemed time slowed for him to suffer. He watched as her face slowly understood, then warmed, then split into a wide smile. She had amazing teeth, given her age and where she worked, and more life than he expected. Her entire body had come to life, adjusting, twitching, making sure her burgundy dress was smooth, its corset just right, giving her chest its lift and beauty she so wanted him to pay attention to as she sauntered with otherworldly grace through the crowd inside and through the doors.
Time caught up as she stormed over, and he was finally broken of his spell, able to look around. Claire had already left, and that’s all he knew before his world was ensnared in darkness.
“You came,” she said, moaning as she squeezed him in harder, making his back pop. He dared not flail, waiting for it to end, and felt a surge of pink as she lifted him out and up to her lips, giving him a long kiss. “I knew you were the one. I had this gut feeling.”
“You two know each other?” Squall said.
Loralei turned to her, giggling as she continued to hold Olivier, and most likely only noticed she was there at all.
“I’m afraid we haven’t met,” she said, holding out her free hand to Squall. “I am Loralei Belehue, the owner of this establishment. Are you a friend of my love... hopefully not too close of one.”
“Love, huh?” Squall said, smirking. “Ollie, you sly dog.”
“It’s not like that,” Olivier managed to whimper out, but was squashed against her. Loralei stroked the tendrils on his head, tittering as she hummed.
“He really is something, isn’t he?” She said, and cocked her head. “But you called him Ollie... Does... does this mean you two a-”
“Don’t fret. We’re only friends. You have nothing to fear... unless, you know, you hurt him.”
She gasped, squeezing Olivier even tighter against. It was getting hard to breathe, his head already swimming with the scent of her viper lily and bergamot perfume.
“I would never!” She spat out.
“I am simply saying... Now, Ollie and I were here for two reasons it seems. He didn’t tell me that you two were-”
“Fated? Destined? Meant to be?”
“All of the above, but it now makes sense. I am here for my own lover-”
“Really! Is he inside right now? Oh, you poor dear... I’m sorry to say, but the men that usually end up here aren’t the ones that are worth worrying over. With the exception of my Olivier, of course. He was here for me.”
“Well, my love is not here in town. Yet, at least... but his friend was seen going here. A red-shelled Aceon.”
“You mean Plu? He’s been coming here for a while. At least, when his sister, Jho, is in port.” Squall snickered, which made Loralei cock her head the other way. “What? What’s so funny?”
“You think they’re siblings?”
“Yeah. They even told me. They ask for the same room every single time so that they have someplace private to catch up.”
Squall sighed, and patted Olivier’s back.
“Oh, Ollie... You sure do know how to pick them.”
He felt Loralei take a step back, heard sand crunch as she stepped off the porch. The air around was growing tense, her nails tugging a bit too hard now on his tendrils.
“I don’t think I appreciate your tone.”
“What? I meant it as a compliment. He always seems to go after the most compassionate, sympathetic, gracious people.”
“Oh. Well, thank you, darling. And I can say that at least he has some sense to keep good, wise people around.”
“So... about Plu?”
“He doesn’t stay here during the day. Attracts too much attention to Jho. He’s a right stickler and defends his baby sister. He goes to the Itchyoman District or hangs out in the markets. If you are looking for him, that’s your best bet.”
Squall clapped her hands together. “Thank you so much. Ollie and I will be on our way n-”
“Oh, I think you’ll be fine on your own. For at least an hour or so. Surely, you can understand that absence had made the heart yearn, and I have need of my s-”
There was a solid thunk, and the world went sideways for Olivier. The sand huffed, puffed as Loralei landed in it, and he managed to slip out of her bosom to see the shoe that had hit her on the head roll off into the disturbed sands. The leather had been crafted rather crudely, the sole coming loose already from the sudden, jarring impact it had to suffer, but it had served its purpose, its target out cold.
Olivier pulled himself free from Loralei’s embrace, looking down at the goose knot rising from her forehead, before glancing back at the steps, seeing Claire running down them.
“Did it hit her?” She called after, but saw for herself as she sprinted along the wall. Sand rose in clumps in her wake, kicked back until it sprayed around, coming to a sliding stop. She let loose a long whistle as she knelt, shaking her head at the unconscious tavern keeper... before stepping over and retrieving the shoe. “Huh. This held up better than I thought. Got to make sure to leave a nice tip in the sole when I return it to the vendor.”
“What have you done now?” Olivier blurted. “C... what have you done!”
“Eh. She was going to complicate things. I did what I had to do.”
Olivier gulped... but crouched by Loralei. He hefted her onto his left shoulder, grunting, groaning already as he righted. What bones haven’t been popped by her embrace now crunched under her weight, panting as he tried to make words.
“Help me get her up on one of the sofas at least,” he managed to say. “We can’t leave her like this.”
Claire blinked, taken aback. “We can’t?”
Squall stepped in to help, and eased her onto porch. Just in time; the rain caught up to them, hammering on the awning over them, running down it in thick rivulets before they even made it to the closest sofa. Olivier pulled the afghan off the back of the squashy seat and covered her in it, all while looking at the throbbing bump on the top of her head, feeling a touch guilty. He gave her a small kiss, thunder rumbling as he pressed his lips to her cheek, and patted her shoulder before standing.
“At least some good came of this,” Squall said at last, leading the way to the stairs. “We know where Baro tends to prowl. You know, when he’s not ‘consorting’ with his sister.”
“Sister?” Claire said. “I thought Tys was his lover.”
“Tys may be Baro’s lover, but it seems Jho is Plu’s sister.”
“At this rate, I’ll be my own grandpa.”
Claire huffed, and rolled her eyes as she smirked at Olivier. She nudged his shoulder, making him stumble a step on the stairs as another roll of thunder rolled over.
“You’re welcome by the way, captain,” she said.
“Eh? For what?” Olivier said.
She scoffed, and nudged him, again.
“I see! That’s how it is. I save you from a potentially life-threatening situation, and I don’t get a single thank you.”
“Oh. Uh... I guess.... thank you for stealing a shoe?”
“Ah-ah! Borrowing. I plan to give it back. We just have... to...”
She, Squall, and Olivier all stopped at the top of the steps, bathed in darkness. No lamps, no candles, not even a stray Natorei orb; all was taken by a thick veil of pure black. Lightning lanced through the sky, lighting the plaza, giving them flashes. And Olivier wasn’t sure if he wanted to even see those.
Bodies. Scattered around the plaza. Puddles, glistening on its soft stone, pattering with the rain, muffled, but there was no hiding that metallic tang nor their deep red that had washed out the soft blues, browns, and grays of the cobblestone. People seemed to be floating overhead, but it wasn’t until the fourth that Olivier saw they were held up by chains. Once he was able to, though, he could see them in the dark, flashing in between each one, and, when it did, there was a muffled thump and another body on the ground.
He cried out, and looked down at his arm. His right. After so long, he felt something in it. A sharp, pricking pain. The orb on the back was crimson, and was sparking. He raised it to the darkness, and it was as if he pulled aside a curtain, clearing it.
There was a person in the middle, holding the chains. Every time they simply... twitched a finger, the chains sparked, and another person was added to the mounds. They were facing away, but with the darkness lifted, they slowly wheeled about, facing Olivier.
He gasped, yellow... and red filling his eyes again, and wanted nothing more than to shrink away.
“Madam Volum?” He exclaimed. “What are you doing? Why are you here? What’s going on?”
With every question she had taken a step towards him, had dropped another body. Lightning lit up the area again, and he could see her better. She was shaking, twitching.
Darkness flowed from her eyes, streaked down her cheeks, seen for a moment before they were lost against bright blue lines. They coursed through her and to her bright, white hands, making them twitch again, another round of bodies to the slaughter. That light was tainted, a sickly, hollow shell of its former self.
“Don’t come any closer,” she gurgled out, gasping, sobbing as her hand rose. “Run! Now!”
The light burst, a bright halo left around her hand, and Olivier saw the chain shoot towards him. It ratcheted, clanged, clinked through the air. And was aimed right for his throat.
He was knocked off his feet by Squall. She rolled off him, about to pull him to his feet, when Claire knocked them further away, avoiding another chain. Olivier rolled to his feet, facing her once more, but he no longer had any yellow in his eyes.
“Madam Volum, what’s wrong?” He said, taking a step towards her. “Who did this to you?”
“Can’t. Tell,” she said, sobbing hard as her hands burned bright again. As the pearl on the back of Olivier’s burned at him once more. “Was commanded... P-please! Find Lady Naomei... Get out of here!”
She cried out as she unleashed another pair of chains. This time, however, Olivier held up his right hand, let them slap against it.
They dropped to the ground, and rotted away before their very eyes to nothing.
Olivier’s heart fluttered as he looked from those fading chains to his hand, and gripped his arm, keeping it raised. He ran right at her, chains shot and lost along the way, and touched her head, stilling her at last. Far too late, alas; all the victims she had strung up were gone, but at least he ended her reign.
She panted, croaked against his palm, his arms as she collapsed into them. Tears streamed down her cheeks, running alongside the darkness, panting so hard.
“Please,” she croaked.
“Don’t worry, Madam Volum. I’ll-”
Thunder boomed again, fading into the silence. Even the rain seemed to quiet, or at least no resonate in that plaza, reeking of blood and death. It took a moment to sink in, but Olivier finally shook his head.
“N-no. I won’t. I can s-” He began.
“I’ve been tainted... corrupted by the Dark Ones. There is no life for me, even if you could save me. Death would be the greatest boon you could grant me, child... please.”
Olivier gulped, shook his head.
“N-no. I won’t. I’m not a killer. I’m not a m-”
She spat, her lip quivering. “You were always a monster. The worst kind: you have a pitiable face.” Though she tried to sound cold, he could hear the desperation under, the fear and pain... She groaned; the blue lines pulsed bright, and she shoved him away, panting. Her hands glowed white again, chains rattling in the distance, rising with the thunder and rain as she stood over him. “You were always a disappointment, a stain on the Divines, and your refusal to fulfill a Madam’s last wish continues to be an insult! I should have killed you while you were but a babe, for you are too far gone from Their embrace to be saved. You ruined your mother, lead Lady Naomei astray, and now you doom us all. You damn me, you damn Lady Naomei, and damn all your friends t-”
She gasped, the blue gone from her cheeks, and looked down at the blade ran through her chest. Olivier had bolted to his feet but his head was bowed, the rain running down his back and face, giving him the tears he could not make himself... He pulled the sword free, and let it clatter as he and Madam Volum both fell to their knees once more, holding her as she gave her last breaths.
“T... thank... y-” she croaked, and heaved one final wheeze. Gone.
Olivier continued to hold her, sobbing as the rain washed over them, caking the blood on his hands and chest. For the longest time, the only sounds that could be heard in the plaza were his sobs, the rain pattering, adding to the growing puddles around, but that didn’t last. Peace never lasted.
People, merchants, sailors, all started to trickle in, their chatter turning darker than the thunder that rolled above. Squall pulled Olivier to his feet. Her sword was drawn, aimed at the guards as they pushed their way through the crowd.
“You. You three did this, didn’t you?” One of the guards called out.
“N... no. I di-” Olivier began.
“I recognize that voice,” the Shelled Aceon’s keeper spoke up. He emerged from the tavern, his maul in hand, fire in his eyes. “Yeah. You’re the runt who came in wearing the Dread Pirate’s colors!”
“The Dread Pirate?” The crowd rumbled with it, quieting as Armoore pushed his way through the crowd.
“So that’s who you are, huh, Captain Olivier? Or, should we say Skipper Nejrat? Captain now?”
“No! I’m not Nejrat!”
“But you are the Captain of the Dread Pirates. Isn’t that right?”
“No! I’m not! I’m not the captain of the Dread Pirates. We are not the Dread Pirates!”
“Hey! I recognize him,” one of the guards blurted.
“Yeah. It’s that kid who was skulking into the Itchyoman District a few months back,” another said, followed up by another stating, “There were a lot of dead shadmen after that.”
“Arrest him! Charge him for mass murder! For assaulting the guards! Arrest them all!”
“I think we should leave. Now,” Squall said, and pulled hard on him. Thrice, in fact, only able to be budged by the third. The crowd gave chase after, but there was one face in the mass that caught Olivier’s eye, one that made his chest go cold. He did not have the time to dwell on it, though, and lost sight as he was pulled down the steps.
The Falchion wasn’t far after that. Claire, being a Faun, reached it in leaps and bounds while they had to hoof it. Squall pulled the ropes free, leaving Olivier to stand on deck, watching the mob roll down the steps... And yet it wasn’t yellow in his eyes. In fact, he felt no fear.
All Olivier could see was red.
Squall tugged on his arm, but he shrugged her off, heading back up the pier.
“Ollie? What are you doing?” She said. “We have to go.”
“They will simply follow us into the cove,” he said, his voice hollow, trying so hard to keep it that way instead of letting the anger out. Not yet. “You guys go... I’ll find a way.”
“I’m not going to leave y-”
He couldn’t hide the anger in his voice that time, a spark of the raging inferno let loose, and the look on his face must have struck her. She let go of him, tears shimmering in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, and returned to the ship, leaving Olivier to run to the Hag’s Loveshack. He glanced down at Loralei in his passing, and stopped at the double doors, waiting for the mob to descend the stairs. They did, and started towards the pier, but he saw a small wave as they pointed towards him. They all turned as one, like a flock of birds, and chased after him into the tavern.
I hope Squall was right, he thought, heading for the backrooms, the mob thundering after as he descended into the tavern’s depths. Let their anger be focused on him. Let them hate him; he would not endanger his friends. This was all his fault, after all, for surviving, for sacrificing his first friend, so now he will face these growing tides alone. He will face this sea of anger, and make his way back to them... He simply hoped they would be waiting on the other side.
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