In the Belly of the Kraken
It seemed a lifetime ago since Olivier was on the Kraken, and even longer since he last boarded it. He was so naive back then, short-sighted, but he had one, clear goal in mind: get away from Carapai and his father. Little did he know, that goal was only one step on a longer journey, one of isolation, dread, misery, despair, and hunger.
He walked down into the galley, hearing the soft sighs and groans of those still abed in its rest quarters, and made his way through the rowing hall to the storage rooms before the kitchen. There were two, both very much empty save for some scraps of burlap and crushed crates. Soft sunlight bore through the portholes in them as well as the one across, set and aimed between the sliver of wood across that separated the two arched entrances. A metal lamp hung there, its glass stained with soot, but Olivier could still remember the soft blue light it and the others gave off each night, casting shadows and fear into his little corner of the world.
He took a deep breath, settling his heart and the yellow it brought to his eyes, and slowly exhaled, stepping into the second storeroom, the closest to the kitchen, as the last wisp escaped his lips. The second was harder, much harder, seeing the wood, the planks below. They were darker than the others around, and he could remember what made it that way, could smell it as clear as day, the metallic tang. He could still see it, gleaming, almost glittering in the soft light, turned black under the blue light, matching the skin, the scales from which it rose and dribbled from.
Whatever happened to him? He thought, finding both fear... and mirth in the thought. The last time he saw him, he was left on the side of a cliff, before the storm hit. Is... is it wrong that I hope it took care of him? Would be one less thing to worry about.
Olivier knew, though it was true, that was a pebble in a rock slide, a sliver from an earthquake, a drop of rain from a storm that was bearing itself right on top of him. He had far greater worries now than an ambitious Itchyoman- more ambitious Itchyoman than normal. He was now being hunted, and not only by the citizens of Lam Berel.
Baro was after him.
He hoped he didn’t make his fear too clear, but, at the same time, he was glad that he had shown some. More than likely, “Plu” was going to tell “Tarjen” his real name, and the good captain would more than likely see all the lovely wanted posters calling for his demise, as well as hear all the rumors of who he was. All of that was certain to happen –at least, to Olivier. If that was the case, then showing a bit of fear was for his sake; it would mean they would toy with him a bit. If he had been confident, unfazed at all, then they would have more than likely struck him down there and then... if they were truly who they were, that is.
However... as Tarjen talked... Olivier wasn’t sure. Was that truly the Skipper Squall yearned for? Sure, he was big, bulky, but he seemed too... he didn’t want to describe it as soft, tender, but there was no better word or phrase. Would somebody like Squall, with her brazen attitude and drive, really want somebody so... carefree?
Love is truly strange, he thought, and finally looked away from those darkened planks- and jumped as he realized people were coming his way. They were grumbling in the rowing hall, yawning and mumbling, still waking up, but Olivier wasn’t ready to face them. He sidled against the wall, hugging against, hoping dearly that his brown robes were dark enough to hide in the shadows and against the ferrisom bark. He held his breath, heart thumping, pushing yellow into his eyes, but he focused on his ears, made sure they could hear even against those thunderous booms.
“Those freakin’ arbiters.” One finally was coherent, just a bit away from the end of the hall and the start of the one to the kitchen. “They took our stash.”
“We shouldn’t have brought it in the first place,” another said, their voice... higher? It was as if they were on deck or closer to it while the other was low and to the floor. “Roth is going to be so mad. If she knew we lost the entire shipment-”
“You don’t have to remind me. Look at what happened to Mallo.”
“Yeah... Even if she did live, It wouldn’t have been for long. Tearing off her beak was a bit extreme.”
“’Maybe if you weren’t so busy shucking them into this, you would have turned a profit.’” His shudder could be heard, finally walking down the hall, passed the store. Olivier flattened himself further against the wall, watching the doorway, praying they would mistake his yellows for the sun as they went by, if they noticed at all. Luckily, they didn’t see him, but he sure saw them. One was a Cephamorian. They were on the tall side, easily twice the height of Olivier, but almost wire thin. The other was an Itchyoman, his skin and spines white. There seemed to be no true pattern to those spines, as if they had been a part of larger spread that had broken and weathered away. The Itchyoman shook his head, another shiver running through those spines, twitching so. “At least we’ll make enough from the good captain once he gets back to cover for them, eh?”
“She’ll probably demand more because we lost them,” The Cephamorian said, and Olivier could see those spiral eyes had a touch of yellow in them, as well.
“You see, that’s the best part! We’ll say we sold ’em. She’ll be damned proud of us... though you may be onto something... Maybe we should ask the captain for a bit more.”
“I don’t think that’s wise. He’s already being incredibly generous as it is.”
“And that’s why we should! The guy is obviously a softy. Look at the company he keeps.”
“I would rather not. That woman annoys me to no end. I still don’t understand how the captain puts up with her. Those hours she spent up in the crow’s nest were my favorite time hearing her voice.”
“I understand it. Sometimes a guy just needs a bit of strange-”
“But that’s way too much strange.”
“Ever been with an Itchyoman lass?”
“No, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I wouldn’t fret. With a body like yours, not a single one would look your way. The captain, however; he’s like a magnet to them.”
“You’re telling me. He has three women competing for his attention... It’s just not fair.”
“Here we go again.”
“What? It’s not like you haven’t thought about it, too.”
“Yes, but she’s gone... Oh, what I wouldn’t give to feel that orange skin against mine.”
“You think you have a shot at her, being an Itchyoman and all?”
“With that innocent look in her eyes? She’s a major freak deep down. I think I can pull it out.”
“And what about Roe?”
“Eh... No. No... I respect her tenacity.”
“She makes us all look bad.”
“However, she still upholds what I say about Itchyoman women. How could she think it’s anything but a bad idea to go after a man being hounded by another Itchyoman?”
“Really, I think she’s winning.”
“I would rather her win; I’d kill to see the look on that arrogant, self-righteous bitch’s face when he finally turns her down.”
“But then she would take it out on the rest of us-”
“Which then we could keelhaul her and enjoy more lovely music from our favorite songbird.”
“Huh. Good point... So what are your plans on port?”
“I’m going to hit up the Shack. Belehue is one mighty fine place to visit first.”
“The fact you go there means I should avoid it at all costs.”
“Again, wouldn’t fret. I doubt you could even attract a blind Arthrogon.”
“I’ll have you know women love my size –more than they like Klauwitz’s stubby members!”
“Very funny,” a third voice uttered, slurping into the kitchen down the hall. He was the lowest, the shortest of the trio, but was the largest in bulk. He had to turn sideways and slurp down the hall that way; if he didn’t suck in his head, there would have been no way he could fit through the kitchen’s archway, expanding and showing off its black, oily top once he did. It cast so many colors down the hall, shimmering as he made his way further into the kitchen before settling into a chair. “I’ll have you know women love girth.”
“Have either of you been with a woman?” The Itchyoman said. “Truly? They don’t really care for either one. Some have preferences, but it’s all about who you are and what you can do –which both of you are lacking.”
“Big talk coming from a shadman,” Klauwitz said.
“Yeah!” The other spoke up. “Bet you’re nothing but talk as well.”
“Words are cheap,” the Itchyoman said, sipping on a cup. “How about this: we’ll all go in a group around the city and try to hook up. Whoever does wins.”
“You’re on... but first, let us have some of this soup.”
“Yeah, I’m starving after last night.”
Their chatter faded to soft slurps and hisses, as well as the sloshing of liquid. Olivier waited, listening, studying it before he made his first move. His suckers squelched beside the sloshing, pulled from the timbers, his robes hissing with their sips, his steps creaking with their clattering, hastening as he made it to the rowing room. His robes fluttered as he rushed towards the steps, focused on them. The rest of the world was a tunnel, a tunnel of yellow, thinning more and more as his heart thundered in his chest.
Crashing as he was forced to a halt.
He had let his suckers remain lax on his feet, sliding to a halt, falling back as a red Aceon loomed over. He was wiping his eyes with his larger claw, his right instead of his left, and Olivier could see it had a chip on it, as well. However, his shell was far more jagged, and green barbs broke through instead of purple, pulsing as he looked down at Olivier.
Olivier got to his feet, holding up his hands- gasping as he forced his right down again, locking it against his side. The Aceon didn’t seem to notice the motion, too busy spinning a rather unstable orb. His frills were fluttering fast, humming in the still air, broken as that watery message crashed against him.
“Wait! I can explain,” Olivier said, wincing as he heard feet rushing from behind. He gestured to himself, his hand resting over his heart, clasping at it, ready to catch it if it sprung out of his chest. “I met Captain Tarjen this morning. I’m a new member of the crew.”
“Great. Just what we needed,” the tall Cephamorian grumbled, the first of the three to make it through the hall. Olivier didn’t pay him any mind, his gaze still locked on the Aceon. His barbs were still bared, claw clacking, twitching with such... excitement. “Well, it’s the life we live, I guess. Not many women want to sail.”
“What’s your name, sardine?” Klauwitz said, slapping his left shoulder as he introduced himself. “The lanky bastard to your right is is Harmon. The scrab before you is Ruu.”
“Scrab?” Olivier said.
“Scrappy crab,” the Itchyoman clarified, standing right behind him. Boxing him completely. “And I am Hale. I take it you already met Roe, as well as Captain Tarjen.”
“And Plu. He... he saved me... so I owe Captain Tarjen. That’s why I joined his crew.”
The Aceon’s barbs shrunk back into his shell as Olivier explained, but his frills still buzzed. The orb he made next was just as erratic as the first, as if the Aceon didn’t know how to quiet his thoughts, crashing against them all again. The three groaned, freeing Olivier from his box as they sat back on the benches.
“Great,” Harmon grumbled. “She’s back.”
“We just woke up, you half-shelled ninny,” Hale exclaimed, and acted as if he was crying, as if his world was falling apart. He laid back on the bench, covering his eyes. “Why did I have to wake up to this?”
“Why? Is there something wrong with this Gale?” Olivier said.
“She is the most annoying person you will ever meet.” Klauwitz stated, one that Olivier wasn’t sure was true. He knew Fili, after all. “I wish she drowned or something-”
“Wait, guys!” Harmon boomed, his feet, all ten of them, slamming onto the timber as he bolted to them. “We are focusing on the wrong person in all of this.”
The others gasped, standing as well.
“This means-” Hale began before all thundered in one, resonating voice. “Ella’s back!”
“We are saved,” Klauwitz said, actually weeping, though no tear would ever come. Cephamorians couldn’t cry; it’s why Olivier couldn’t. “All hail our savior. May her arms always be blessed and her duty always strong.”
“Amen!” They all said, but the Aceon wasn’t as enthused by the declaration. His frills had quieted, his dark stalks almost jet black, as if glaring at them, and spun another orb. This one hit the hardest but was the quietest out of all three. The message it carried, also, sent a shock of fresh yellow through Olivier’s eyes.
“What? Here?” Harmon said, his voice hushed and shaking.
“Why would they risk- They did what?”
“They have that kind of power?”
“And this is the person Ella is fawning after?” Hale said, audibly shuddering once more. “Talk about stiff competition... Still, I’d be afraid for her if she ever met them.”
“Does this mean we don’t have much time ashore?” Klauwitz said, which all of them moaned. “Looks like we got to hurry. Oi! Either you want to come along?”
“I’ll stay here,” Olivier said, and Ruu seemed to think the same. He turned sideways and scuttled back into the sleeping quarters, allowing Olivier in as the others rushed on-board, stomping off and onto the pier, rushing off. Olivier looked over the rows upon rows of hammocks and chose the furthest in the back, hung before the stern’s curve to the prow. He sat on it, looking down at the ground, stilling his heart as much as his breathing; he would have tried to settle his mind, but that was a lost cause at this rate.
Stupid! He thought, red flashing in his eyes. So... Why did I let them live? They know who I am... They will rat me out in an instant. As soon as that Itchyoman sees me, I’m...
He shook his head, and plopped back in the hammock. His head, the shell on it thunked on the hull, looking out upon the rows of others... at the Aceon sitting at the front. Watching him. They simply stared at each other, minutes, moments passing in utter silence.
Ruu moved first, his scuttlings ringing through the hull, as if thrashing a million rats in his charge. He was weaving a fresh orb, but the barbs on his shell, the green they leaked and glowed with, told Olivier that he was right for reaching for his blade. The orb smacked into him four rows back, but the Aceon continued its charge, frills buzzing away.
“I don’t even know this ‘Ella’ person,” Olivier said, pulling his blade free. “Stay back!” Ruu sent another orb, but he could see now that his stalks were ruby red, his claw clacking fervently. “I don’t know why she is after me, okay? I never met this Ella person before in my li- wait. Are we talking about the orange-and-red Cephamorian?”
Ruu finally made it to the final row, sidling towards Olivier with haste... but stayed his claws, simply bearing down on him. He answered, and Olivier shook his head, putting his sword down across his lap.
“I remember her... Back then, I was a stowaway on this ship... she met me the day before the Itchyoman tried to kill me... and I was saved by Gwen.” He sat up, letting go of his sword entirely, and held out his hand, instead. “Please. You’ve got to understand. We barely shared more than a couple words... I didn’t even know her name. She said she was simply ‘less than nobody’... I don’t mean her any harm, I swear. I... I just want to get away from the city. The moment we dock somewhere else, I’m gone.”
This brought back the red in Ruu’s eyes, made his barbs burst free again. He slung another orb at Olivier, frills starting to spark with his agitation... but Olivier was only getting more and more confused.
“Wait... you want me to meet her?” He said, scratching his head. “So... you’re angry because I’m here, but also angry because I want to leave. You don’t want me t-” Ruu splashed him with another orb, making him groan as it made his headache even worse. “Just... just stop... I want to be left alone- I- I sa... I said I want to be l- Leave me alone!”
He let his right hand fly, those pulsing digits wrapping around one of those stalks. The Aceon shrilled, an unholy sound, and its legs both wanted to curl up under its writhing form but also splay out, leaving it in an abominable state of convulsing. His hand burned into the stock, glowing blue and sending pulses of blue down into its shell, tainting the green to an almost cerulean.
“I’m sorry, but you cannot draw any attention to me,” he hissed, sniffling, but held firm. “You will not tell a single person about this, nor will you allude to this Ella I am here. I do not need any more annoyances than I already have... Now go.”
He let his eye go, pushing it, and the Aceon scuttled away, shrilling still as it hurried to the front of the sleeping quarters. The blue faded from it along the way, but its left stalk, the one he grabbed, seemed to have a shock of blue through it, seen as he gazed back at Olivier a single moment before heading upstairs and out towards the pier.
Olivier sighed, and leaned back in his hammock again... grimacing at his right hand. It laid beside him, once more dead weight, not a single light to be seen under its blackened flesh.
I need to get rid of this. Somehow, he thought, and sighed, looking up at the ceiling... eyelids feeling heavy. He wanted to fight it, to remain alert, but after the night he had he was still recovering... Besides, no one should be back a while, right? A bit of sleep... a bit of peace.