Growing Tides

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Pearly Whites

Olivier sat on the starboard railing, feeling as if he really was riding the stars that spanned around him. The fog below seemed a part to the swirling, purple nexus that spread out in the twilight, that wound its way through and to each moon, making their way over the boat and down into the fog behind. The Claymore creaked below him, its sails just reaching over the railing; he could jump into one of the crows nests, but the railing was fine, the metal siding on the captain’s quarters far more soothing to his head than the wood would ever be.

His eyes started to lull shut, pulled, goaded by the soft roaring of the engines, the gentle caress of the wind, and the rippling of the fog under the flames under-

Squall grunted, muffled by the sudden boom of the iron bar, locked in place on the wheel. Olivier jumped, eyes wide again, yellow brewing at the edges as he clung to the railing. Squall yawned as she stretched her arms to the heavens while turning to Olivier, and brought them down on his shoulders, patting them. She gave him a tired smile, yawning again, and chortled.

“Alright, Ponitius,” she said. “The ship should be set, so I’m going to go pass out. Unlike some, I haven’t had a wink of rest.” She winked at Olivier, giving his shoulders one last pat before she turned to Ponitius. He, Durnst, Dervalan... and Bethilius had made their way up to the wheel, the three listening, focused on her. Meanwhile, Bethilius was looking up at the stars, rubbing his chin, as if studying them. “If the wind doesn’t pull us, we should arrive at the Palridian Coast in no time-”

“A touch west and south from Lam Berel,” Bethilius blurted, chortling. He flashed her a smug smirk, lowering his gaze at last, and sauntered over to the wheel, reaching for the bar. “Here. I’ll adjust it for the proper coordinat-”

Ponitius stepped in the way, chuckling.

“You will keep your grimy mitts off it. Her plotting is actually spot-on.”

“It is?” Both him and Squall said at once.

“Aye. Fortuitous, even.”

Bethilius snorted. “And why may that be?”

“Because our destination is Narvaal.”

The Faun’s face pale, eyes widening.

“No... You can’t mean-”

“Aye. We’re going to see Strix.” Ponitius reached into his brown jacket; after all this time, after the torture and blood spilled upon it, the plain, pragmatic cloth was still pristine. There wasn’t a marred fabric nor even the slightest tear to be seen, and it even barely moved on his fair frame as he fished vigorously through it, grunting and grumbling until he retrieved a journal from his right breast pocket. How it fit in there only the Earth Mothers knew; it was easily as long as his arm, if not twice as thick, yet, after he gave it a pat, he slipped it right back into his jacket, unchanged in any way, shape, or form. “That was what lead us this far, thanks to her. From there, though, one can only wonder... Course, you probably have more to wonder about, don’t you Betty boy?”

Ponitius continued to laugh, Bethilius trying so hard to give him a dark, disdainful look, but it only came off as fish-eyed, given his disposition. He was still pale, and, for once, Olivier could sympathize. His eyes had sparked with yellow when Ponitius said her name, remembering how she almost made his entire body “spark”. Then there was the matter of her daughter, which a bit of green oozed into his vision. He hid his gag by clearing his throat, as well as his eyes by looking out on the sea of stars.

“Anyways, I’m heading to bed. Wake me up if Bethilius does something incredibly stupid,” Squall said, and yawned one last time before entering the door to the captain’s quarters at last. She was about to shut it when Durnst grabbed it in its swing. He gave her a small smile and answered with his own yawn, following her inside then off to his own hammock. Ponitius caught it next, grumbling as he cracked his back. Olivier had turned his head to watch them leave, but nobody seemed to notice... until Ponitius. He tilted his head back, giving the lad a small smile.

“It’s okay, lad. It’s just been a long day,” he said. “You should be counting your blessing you slept as well as you did. You would have been downstairs with Betty and I, or been swimming out with Durnst and Der to get the ships.”

“You mean he actually helped?” Olivier blurted... yellow crossing his eyes again as he realized that he did. His eyes shot over to Bethilius, giving him a hard look, but it was Dervalan that made him jump.

“Now that’s not very nice,” the oafish Faun said, sniffling as he looked down at his thick gray hooves. “I put in a lot, you know.”

“Ah, he didn’t mean you, Der,” Ponitius said, rolling his wrist to Bethilius. His gaze only darkened, no longer touched by the fear, alleviated. His hand was on his blade, but the dagger that gleamed in the finishing roll of Ponitius’s hand kept it sheathed. “All in good jest, of course.”

“... But of course,” Bethilius said, though his tone’s edge could have sliced right into Olivier, pressed by that gaze.

Ponitius pocketed his dagger again.

“Now, I’m off, too,” he said. “Der, you okay downstairs?”

“I’m perfectly fine with it, b... captain.” Dervalan said. “I much prefer it.”

“That’s good. You go get some rest, too.”

“I will... is that okay, boss?”

“You can, but come here a moment,” Bethilius said, withdrawing a pipe. It was made of polished black wood, packed already with fresh tobacco, and just over the length of Olivier’s arm.

Sliced to be half of it.

Ponitius hummed as he rocked the basin of the pipe under his heel, once, twice, thrice before he kicked it off to the left. It fell under the railing, disappearing into the fog below. Ponitius twirled his dagger between his fingers, sliding it back into his sleeve as it rounded his thumb for the fourth time.

“Nasty habit, don’t you think? Always did try to get him to quit,” Ponitius told Olivier as he pulled out a tin flask. “He should really look out for his health. Addictive substances only bring trouble.”

He popped the top and took a long drink, reeking of the rum as he wheeled and lumbered into the captain’s quarters, finishing his night cap with one, soft belch... Dervalan patted Bethilius’s shoulder.

“Do you still need me, boss?” He said, breaking the angry stupor that Bethilius had been struck by. Bethilius growled as he spun towards Dervalan, panting hard as he threw what was left of the pipe at him, simply bouncing off his protruded belly. “Boss?”

“Just go,” Bethilius exclaimed, shoving against his shoulder, and “forced” the Faun down the stairs to the galley, leaving Olivier alone on deck. Alone, after so long.

Olivier lumbered down the steps, along the port side. The Falchion was tied there, creaking as it swayed back against the force of the jets. It bathed the soft, off-white wood in a pale blue glow, swirling and flickering on its base as it bobbed against the clouds, as if it was once more skating across the ocean, finally emerging from the fog bank below. He looked back a moment, and gasped at just how vast that ocean of fog truly was, but it wasn’t only because of its size. No, it was also how it was shaped; far, far off to the east and west, the edges simply... disappeared, as if forming a capsule around the air, unchanging, unerring. It was already known it was no ordinary fog nor a simple locale, but to see it from on high was... mystifying.

He smirked at his own pun, and looked from that fog down to the Falchion again. He gazed fondly at the resting vessel, as if it had been years since he seen it. He looked over captain’s quarters and its “chimney”, jutting out the back. It was attached to the stove below; he chuckled, remembering how it fired cannonballs at the ship not even a stone’s throw away now, hanging off the starboard side.

“Never keep a kitchen tool with a single use,” he muttered, then walked over to the Claymore. It was a good bit longer than the Falchion, with two more sails to compensate. On the middle one hung the colors of the Iron Scythes, a simple, drab bit of gray fabric with a black and blue sickle rising from the left corner. As it approached the top right, though, its edge turned crimson, curling towards an Itchyoman skull in its center, hooking it and bringing three clear drops of red, spooling down its jagged left cheek.

Olivier, though at one time found it exciting to see a pirate’s colors, now knew the man behind that flag, and couldn’t help but laugh... however... it faded quick when he had another thought: Was he laughing because of how little a threat Bethilius truly was, at how he tried to come off as imposing only to be goofy... or was he laughing because he seemed nothing compared to Ponitius? Not even a moment before, he had drawn another dagger and cut faster than a blink of an eye, with so much precision, with almost no time for thought. In fact, for someone that had almost killed him not once but twice, he was quick to aid his killer in tasks that would subdue him for a third attempt, yet it was Bethilius who showed restraint. Ponitius was the Iron Scythe’s original leader for a reason, and it took the entire crew to take him down; only now did that truly dawn on Olivier, making him shudder against the wind... He bowed his head against it, hoping the yellow would fade from his eyes as he looked upon the deck of the Claymore-

Olivier blinked, but it was gone. He shook his head, looking up to the heavens. The stars continued to twinkle, the moons marring their beauty as they made their journey across. Only one still lingered near the center, the rest already homebound, racing towards the horizon, so there was plenty of light. There wasn’t even a cloud in the sky, and, even if there was, they were well above them... Maybe it was simply his head playing tricks with him. Perhaps that bump did more than he-

Something hot wafted against Olivier’s cheek.

He slowly turned his head, back towards the Claymore, andthere, on the railing before him, was one of those beasts, one of those... corrupted souls. Its bright purple eyes gleamed in its rotting black flesh, hunched over, gripping the railing with four of its twisted, lengthened hands. Its spine could be seen, the bones blood red, clicking and rattling against each other as it straightened and hopped down before him, given room as Olivier reeled back towards the center wheel. It gasped, wheezed as it closed in, reaching out with its ghastly hands, little more than claws as the flesh simply gave from the tips.

Olivier wanted to scream, but his breath was caught in his chest. He scrabbled at the wheel, trying to climb over it as the beast continued to encroach, rasping and moaning. Olivier slid off, pressing his back against, and had no choice but to draw his sword, bearing it at the monster.

The shadow stopped and looked down at the blade, then back at Olivier. Green pulsed in the center of those eyes, dribbling down to the bottoms where it trickled to the jowls of the monster. It seemed to sear into its “lips”, spliting them open, and its jaw cracked sickeningly as it widened, not stopping until it was wide enough to swallow him whole.

It let loose an unholy shriek, a mixture of pain and suffering and fear and anger that sunk Olivier’s heart into a sea of rime, but he held his blade true. The shadow lunged at Olivier and rammed right into it. Dark ichor spilled down its metal, tearing into the fetid flesh, slopping down onto the planks, but the shadow didn’t even seem to notice. It kept pushing itself onto the blade, skewering itself wholly to the hilt.

Olivier cried out and let go of the blade, finally finding the strength to pull himself over the wheel. The shadow was caught off-guard by this, reeled back a step, but lumbered after soon enough, the blade still hanging out its middle, bobbing with each lurch.

“No. Please. Someone,” Olivier breathed, but it died on the wind. His eyes were flooded with yellow, almost pure topaz as he fell and conked his head on the railing behind, backing up against one of the bars. The monster kept pressing on, clicking its throat, almost trilling as it loomed over him. Olivier closed his eyes, and threw both hands up, covering his face. He was alone. “Please! Not like this. Not like this!”

His breath froze. His heart stilled as he felt its gnarled hands grasp at his right arm, and it howled.

Not in triumph, but in agony, true terror.

Olivier opened his eyes, and gasped, seeing as the beast writhed and flailed. It tried to scramble, to flee, writhing all the while its hands, its arms... melted into his. The purple glowed while the red veins burned bright, growing, spreading into more intricate patterns as the beast was consumed into it, almost like a fine, silk pattern. As the beast howled its last, its head next to go before its chest, its pearl eyes became one on the back of his hand settling there. It swirled with green, dimming to a soft white as the last of its essence was... was...

Absorbed.

The captain’s quarters burst open, and Squall leaned over the railing by the wheel.

“What’s the matter? Everything all right?” She said.

“Y... yeah,” he said, rubbing the back of his head with his right hand. “I must have dozed off again and been dreaming... I’m fine now.”

“Okay... if you say so... Try to stay up, okay?”

“I will. Sorry.”

She yawned and returned inside, leaving Olivier to look at his arm’s newest addition.

How did I do that? He thought, tapping the pearl. What does this mean... and how come it didn’t attack Dervalan?

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