Growing Tides

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The Porcelain Lord's Proposal

As the Kraken readied to leave Carapai, forced to waste precious daylight for the stevedores and their “routine” pace, the Scylla basked in it, indulging in the warm rays that spanned across the glistening sea they lazed across, knowing it would be all too soon that it would be robbed of such pleasantry. The mist was not too far now, its current already meeting and pulling the Scylla into its embrace. It seemed to accelerate with each passing minute, with each second, counted off by Olivier’s and Squall’s bouts. Each strike of their blades, every crack of steel was like the thump of a clock’s pendulum.

Though it had been merely hours, to Olivier it might as well have been days. If their blades made the seconds tick by, his heart rattled out the seconds in the seconds. He was focused, like he never was before, determined to retain every movement, every cut and beat-down and lesson she had to give him. Not even the mist loosed his focus, instead adding seconds to the seconds to the seconds.

Squall stepped to the left; Olivier’s heart jumped. He knew what she was trying to do! He pushed the advantage, sweeping, feinting from the right, hoping he was right... and the pommel and their golden bands managed to hit her on the chin as his blade stopped hers. He gasped, heard the metal clank dully on her chin, watched a bit of pink scale flake off.

But, most importantly, how close his hand was from her. Somehow, during his movement, he had changed hands, and now his right was clawed towards her face. He recoiled, crying out as he fell on his rear, but continued to reel and crawl back, writhing away from the black thoughts that flashed before him, of the phantasmal screams as she crumbled underneath his palm, of the ghostly, ghastly nails and wails that bit into it and his heart.

“No,” he said, hugging his sword, and exclaimed as he backed into the mast wheel. He spun and struck it with his sword, pushed back.

Right into Squall.

He jumped, wheeled about as he bolted to his feet... and backed into the wheel once more. This time he toppled over it, falling face-first on the other side. Squall walked around it, her face a horrid mix of worry and mirth, her chest already heaving with silent chuckles.

“You okay?” She said, but didn’t wait for an answer to laugh, bringing yellow to his eyes. “I’m sorry, but y... but you should have seen your face. It was... ah!!!” She continued to laugh as she offered her hand, hoisting him to his feet once more. He adjusted his coat, feeling a touch of red underneath the yellow, but it settled along with her laughter. She gave him a sad smile, and pointed to her chin. “Look on the bright side. You finally hit me.”

“Why, yes. What a marvelous achievement... for a blind, drunk, one-legged Arthrogon.” Bethilius stated. Olivier hadn’t realized he had come back up, once more leaning against the port railing. His pipe was lit again as well, though the flames at the tip were starting to look rather low, barely showing smolders in its basin as he took a long drag. The smoke barely made it through the mist, aided as he marched over and prodded Olivier in the chest with its tip. “You should know, lad, this lass isn’t doing you any favors by taking it easy on you.”

“I’m not,” Squall said.

“Then I’d be even more worried. She’s an amateur, at best. Most likely self-trained against drunks and blind men.”

Squall scoffed, digging the tip of her blade into his chin.

“And you think you can do better?”

He nickered as he tried to blow smoke in her face, but barely got more than a wisp, dissipating before it ever touched her.

“I was taught by Ser Montalban Quicksilver, apprenticed under Madame Jean Valdez, and was even chosen as Lord Olfstein’s leader of the royal guard.”

Squall gasped, and curtseyed.

“I had no idea I was in the presence of such nobility. Hold on while I go grab a throne for you. Per chance a bucket, or one of those new Zephyrian contraptions made of porcelain.”

Bethilius snorted, and tapped his tobacco out. Onto Squall’s boot. He pocketed his pipe before she could react and let his hand rest on his blade.

“Is that a challenge, then? To see first-hand that what I say is the truth?”

“It’s my way of telling you to piss off! What are you even doing up here, anyways?”

“Durnst, being the good cabin boy he is, ushered us out of the galley so that he may cook in peace.”

“Us?” She looked around, smirking as she looked back at him. “Looks like only you, really.”

“Dervalan volunteered to help Pony Boy row.”

“When did they go down?” Olivier blurted, a bit worried. Did he go that blind during his fighting? That... that couldn’t be good, right? But neither seemed to hear him, too locked in their own battle to notice him... normal, then?

“And you didn’t feel like a bit of labor, to earn your keep on this ship?” Squall said, snickering as she sneered at him. “How noble.”

“Like you? Or do they believe you now want to kill them?” He snorted, gripping his sword wholly, and shook his head. “I see how they keep their fronts to you... In fact, I believe they had no qualms sending me up so that I can watch the boy’s back.”

“I would never harm Olivier-”

“Is what you say for now, but what about after his usefulness runs out? What happens when he’s not able to help you anymore, like so many others before? Will you just leave him-”

“Like you left your crew. You had forsaken them to... whatever those things were.”

“Yes. ‘Those things’; they must have caught your attention, too. Do you plan to harness that down the road, use your... charms on the lad? He has shown to be weak-willed; you wouldn’t have to do more than pat his shell most likely to get him to do it.”

“I have no such intentions of doing anything with him!”

“And why is that? Because your ‘heart’ belongs to Nejrat and Nejrat alone? What, then, will happen once you two meet and you rip it out? Will you do the same with your own?”

“I don’t want to kill him! I want to set things right-”

“There’s a phrase that has many meanings, but it’s never a good one.”

“I don’t need to take this. You are our prisoner; we can keelhaul you, and will if you keep this up.”

“Torture it be? Silence those that speak the truth about the real you? Now you are showing your colors, dear Squall... or, would you rather I call you by your nickname?”

She took a step towards him, raising her sword as if to backhand him with the handle. Her teeth had ripped free from her gums, dripping blood onto the mist, adding steam to the mix as her body beaded in the cool blanket, shaking so hard.

“If you dare even utter that name,” she began, her voice low and slow, her arm shaking harder as Bethilius continued to nicker and snicker.

“Did I strike a nerve, lass? Do you hate what you have become in every port and on every ship that has traversed the Barator Sea?” He looked over at Olivier, smirking. “Believe me, lad. I may have made your life miserable, to the point that real torture would have been paradise, but you would have been better off going with me than to accompany this lass.”

“I... I trust her.” Olivier said at last, and lumbered up to stand beside Squall. Red burned in his eyes, seeming to reflect off his blade, brandished before him. “She is my friend, and I won’t stand by while you insult her. Not anymore!”

“Is that so?”

Bethilius snickered thrice more than sighed.

Finally drawing his sword.

The iron scabbard rung hollow in the mist, the gray steel of the saber’s blade almost invisible against it, only seen as he turned it to the flat, clanking it against Olivier’s.

“I’m not sure your keeper would appreciate it if I killed you,” he said, “so why not be a good little pet and put it down before you get h-”

Olivier swung, cleaving through the mist towards Bethilius’s snout, towards that haunting right eye, but it and the green didn’t even bat as his sword met Olivier’s, stopping it in its flight. He flicked his wrist up, nudged Olivier’s off, and walked around to the wheel, towards the center of the Scylla. He slowly wheeled about, and rested his left leg back as well as his free hand, his right, against his chest.

“Have you faced a left-handed swordsman before?” Squall raised her hand, but the nicker he gave before it knew she would. “I mean a real swordsman? Not some watery tart.”

Olivier didn’t respond. He couldn’t, his vision taken by the red. He lunged at Bethilius, both hands clenched tight on the grip, bringing it down towards Bethilius’s snout again.

Only to be deflected as easily as the first.

Bethilius simply chortled as he slowly paced around Olivier, as if leading a dog by the leash, a puppet by its string. His hand bobbed with each swing as his long, white tail bristled and flicked along.

“Is this really all you can do?” Bethilius mused, swatting away his strikes as if they were gnats. He pointed at Squall, shaking his head. “Is this what she really taught you? Lob your sword at your foe? Don’t think? Did she teach you to be so easily blinded by rage?” He scoffed, deflecting another blow, but this time he did not go back into the same rhythm, instead slashing the back of Olivier’s hand. Olivier winced and dropped his sword; he stooped to grab it, but was forced on his side as Bethilius knee’d him in the jaw. He kicked Olivier’s sword aside and squatted, nickering as he tapped his own shoulder with his blade. “Truly, you are a... disappointment.”

He chortled as he started to right himself, but was knocked over by Squall. She put an arm under Olivier’s, helped him stand, and let him go get his sword as she loomed over the Faun. Her teeth were still bared, blood raining down her face, and her once green eyes were white, rolled back.

“Leave him alone,” she exclaimed, a growl bubbling after, growing as Bethilius only laughed harder. “What’s so funny?”

“It all makes sense,” he said, and sighed as he ran a hand through his mane, still sneering at her. “He can never learn to control his emotions when his teacher is just as quick to fly off the handle.” He rolled his wrist to the stairs as Ponitius and Dervalan peeked up over the side. “Pony Boy. You’ve come at a most fortuitous time.”

“And why would that be?” Ponitius said. “Squall about to frenzy on whatever stupid thing you decided to do?”

“No. I’ve decided to take your boy under my wing. Looks like we get to be parents after all.”

“I refuse!” Squall boomed.

“In all fairness, madam, it’s not your decision to make.” Bethilius sheathed his sword then jumped to his feet and walked over to Olivier. He offered his hand, snorting softly. “What say you, boy? If it’s a matter of pride, remember this: I could have killed you, there and then, at any given moment. Because I’m not only a swordsman, but a pirate.”

He looked up at the masts, and hopped back to the closest. He kicked the spoke holding the rope for the masts, and it came free, propelling him up onto the first beam. He walked over it, standing above Olivier, and crouched, smiling.

“There is more to fighting than simply waving around your sword and circling.”

“I...” Olivier began, looking between him and Squall. Her teeth had been pulled in, and she was hugging herself, giving Bethilius a dirty look... while looking worriedly at Olivier.

“There’s also the matter of that power of yours,” Bethilius continued, and jumped down in front of him. He pointed at Olivier’s right arm, clenching his fist after. “All that power, with no control? You are a powder keg... You don’t need to answer now. You have already been riled, though sooner would be better than later.” He swept his mane back again and looked to Dervalan. “Is the spy done playing ferrom chef?”

“Just finished,” Durnst called up from below. “There were a lot of preserved goods in the larder.”

“Wonderful. I have grown an appetite, if but a small one... Again, boy, consider my proposal.”

Bethilius marched across the deck, brushing by Squall, Ponitius, and Dervalan as he went. He even hummed a song as he went downstairs, still heard rumbling through the galley. Dervalan followed after, but Ponitius approached Squall and Olivier. He put a hand on Olivier’s shoulder, stilling his shaking, a tremble he had not noticed until then.

“You going to be okay, lad,” he asked.

“I... am tired now,” Olivier mumbled, shirking off his hand, and turned around to head for the stairs of the captain’s quarters. “I don’t think I’ll dream.”

“Very well... Squall-”

“I got it,” she said, and put an arm under Olivier’s, helping him along the way and up the stairs. “Thank you.”

“Hmm?”

She smiled at him as she eased him down on his hammock, and patted his shell.

“For trusting me. For being my friend... It means a lot.” Her smile faded as she let out a snort, and puffed her cheeks. “It pains me to admit it, as well, but having him teach you alongside wouldn’t be such a bad idea... It’s true. I’ve never had much a true education when it comes to fighting. I just... go with the flow... So don’t feel too bad if you decide to accept... okay?”

Olivier mulled and turned away on the hammock, asleep before he even fully closed his eyes.

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