The Scylla eased through the ocean, anchors pulling it ever downward. The sun, what rays could pierce through that gentle surface all the way down to the murky depths, danced across its engines, casting colors through the rippling world around them. Lorimon nipped and struck at those colors, their silver scales painted in them, washing over the schools as they gave chase. The engines glistened a bit, their soft blue runes whirring as it propelled them towards the great dome of Carapai.
Unlike other Aqua Alliance vessels, the crew didn’t need to bunker in the hull, the deck and the ship kept dry by its own barrier, much akin to the one they were closing in on. Olivier stood on the bow, leaning on its railing, fighting the urge to climb over and stand on the prow as they approached. He had never seen a ship enter the city –not like this, at least. From a porthole, sure, as the ship made its way through the light, through the rushing waters and buzzing pressure before turned to soft droning and chatter, but now he could see, as the others could, first-hand, how a ship truly slipped through that dome.
The lorimon bid adieu, scattering as the prow struck the dome –no. Struck wasn’t the right word. It seemed to graze it, and the dome reached out, wrapping it in its embrace, as it did to the railing, the bow, the ship as it passed through. The ship’s shell faded away, accepting the city’s in its stead, and a soft wind wrapped about them, cooled the engines as it guided them down to the port. There was room for one more along those piers, which Olivier knew a few there. The Kraken, the Leviathan, even the Kappa; they all were in this day.
The Scylla eased into its pier, and there simply floated. No anchors were needed, nor ropes. The Current would keep it in place until they were ready to go, but Olivier wasn’t worried. They weren’t staying too long. In fact, aside Gale, he didn’t really pay much attention to anyone else on board, but she didn’t exactly give him a chance to ignore her. Not that he was complaining; anyone that kept Fili off him was welcome. Indeed, the two- three women did not see eye-to-eye. Fili and Strix both voiced their apprehension along the trip, but Gale offered a great counterargument in the form of a stick of reed. It seemed Strix finally met her match in terms of negotiation, but that didn’t stop her from glowering, wanting to be where Gale was... For what reason, though, Olivier wasn’t sure. It wasn’t like he was paying her any mind.
Dervalan lowered the gangplank onto the pier, and Olivier was off... mostly alone. Again, Gale. She prattled away as he took in the sights. It had been almost four years since he set foot in this place, and only in the last few months has his life turned around. He had friends, notoriety, tales of his own to share. He wasn’t the scared little boy in the belly of the Kraken anymore, nor was he the puppet that danced on its strings in his father’s shop. He was a captain, and held his head high as he entered the city.
The first place he (and Gale) went were to the stalls, Cephamorian, Terrahn, even the occasional Faun or Natorei selling the finest wares they could make or bring. There was a clothier with such garments that Olivier felt he should pay for the right to look upon them. He could tell how soft, how strong, they were without even touching them; in many ways, it reminded him of Ponitius’s craft, but they were not only exceptional but extravagant. Nothing against Ponitius, but having a bit of flair, of color like these; Olivier now understood why it wasn’t always form over function.
He could stand and stare at those clothes all day, but Gale pulled him to the stall across the street. It was a baker’s stand, loaded to the brim with bread and baked goods of all kinds. With that many sweets beside savory morsels it should have clashed and overloaded the senses, but somehow they could all be smelled and enjoyed on their own, leaving him (and Gale) to bask in their rich, luscious aroma.
Olivier bought a croissant for himself and a sweet roll, hoping it’d gum up her mouth a bit, but it was already gnashed to pieces by the time he returned to the right side of the street, standing before an armor stand. He wasn’t one for armor; he found it bulky, cumbersome. He had argued with customers in the past at his dad’s store about it, but they always said the same thing: get a properly fitted set, and you won’t even know it’s there.
Or... get better at fighting, he thought, smirking as he realized the hubris in his words... and realized he might just need a set... Another day. Another time. The next stand was, unsurprisingly, weapons. He scanned the boards, the stands, seeing the usual fares. Swords, daggers, knives, axes, hammers, maces, mauls, bardiches, glaives, spears; even now, none of them ever tickled his fancy. He might be forced to use a sword, but he would much rather have something... with range. Crossbows were nice, but he wanted something a bit more... compact. Like... a cannon in hand form.
Alas, none of the stalls carried such a device, and he doubted the actual market beyond did, either. However, there was a store he had in mind to check. Maybe it was because Gale was with him or maybe it was the air he carried about him, a Dark One-may-care attitude, but no one was paying him any mind. In fact, the baker didn’t even look at him cross. He simply accepted the fifteen silver and bid him a good day. Olivier wondered if the clerk and owner of the shop would give him the same treatment.
The bell, that cursed, damnable bell rang as he opened the door to the store. It was a simple place, the interior walls of glass fit snugly against the red clam shell that made the entirety. Attached to them were shelves, piled high with such nick-knacks, baubles and triflings that it made the mind wonder who would buy these wares... Pilgrims. Mostly pilgrims. They treated these items, the pins and statues and gaudy paintings as trophies after their long trip, and for that they were priced more than even the armor and weapons down the road.
But there were no pilgrims there this day. There was only the keeper, a tired, blue-skinned Cephamorian, humming away as he swept the floor. He didn’t even seem to notice Olivier (or Gale) as they entered; it took Olivier tapping on his shoulder, and scaring him half to death, to get his attention. He spun around, his long, lanky limbs jiggling a bit, while his starry eyes were beaded with yellow, chuckling sheepishly to cover his sudden fright.
“My apologies. Musta zoned out,” he said. “What can I do for y... say. You look rather familiar. Have we met before?”
“Dad?” Olivier said, blue... and red filling his eyes. “It’s me. Olivier.”
Blue also surged into the Cephamorian’s eyes, looking Olivier up and down.
“Olivier? Olivier!” He guffawed, and embraced Olivier, still laughing, trying so hard to hide his sobs in it. “You’re alive- and doing well!” He sighed, stepping back... and finally noticed the person Olivier wasn’t noting. “And who is this fine lass?”
“I’m Gale,” she said, hugging Olivier harder. “Ollie and I are very close.”
“So I see... Gone and found yourself a bride... To be honest, I’m proud of you, son. You’re doing right where your old man did wrong, so I approve of the two of you.”
“Did you love mom?” Olivier blurted.
“W-well... for half a year, at least, then she had to leave, but, my Natalie, what a time that was... I know I’m not what you expected for a father, but I still loved you.” He clapped Olivier’s arm, then slung himself over the counter. “So, what can I do for the two of you?”
“I simply came in here to see you.” Olivier stated, turning to the door. “I can’t stay long, though. The rest of the crew needs me.”
“Eh? Crew? Who did you join?”
“I didn’t join anybody. They joined me... I’m the captain of the Scylla. I found it on my journey, and have been traveling all across the world. I’ve been to Palridian, Lam Berel and Narvaal, and even found my way to Balvot.”
“My, my... You really did move up in the world... Well, don’t forget your old man while out there... I’m proud of you, son.”
Olivier hummed his acknowledgment, and was thankful for once in his life that he could not cry. He still held his head high, stepping back out into the busy street. Gale giggled, hugging his arm harder... while also reaching for what was left of his croissant- raised out of her reach just in the nick of time.
“So mean,” she whined... and winked at him. “I didn’t hear you correct him on the whole ‘wife’ thing.”
“Eh? He said that? Sort of spaced out in there.”
She whined more, clawing at his arm, before turning serious, glaring at him.
“Well, for that, I’m not giving you a choice. I am your wife and you are my husband. Got that? Do you understand me, little minnow?”
She tried to nab his croissant again, and would keep trying as they went through the town, visited the other stores and sundries the town had to offer, spiraling back to the port and its piers. He thought about going to the tavern, but, for the most part, he simply wanted to be back in his room on the ship. Gale didn’t seem to mind the idea, yawning away, just as tuckered as he was, and so they climbed the gangplank with content stomachs and heavy feet, thudding on the steps up to his quarters. He looked back as he reached the door, at the dome across, reflecting all that laid around him and before him.
All on fire.
He blinked, and looked down at his hands. They were caked in blood, shuddering, holding two heads. One was his father’s, the other was Gale, both stretched into garish howls of pain and agony. Their eyes were gone, leaving empty pits, and dropped with two, hollow thunks on the deck as he let them go, finally hearing the screams in town against the racing of his heart.
Olivier rushed over to the rail and looked back at the town. Panic, chaos, despair; these would have been boons to the people left in that Hell. Bodies were strewn on roofs, hung like party decorations or run through on marketing stalls, all blackened by that sea of flame. Shadows, grotesque abominations, shrieked their sorrowful cries, chasing after the survivors, their eyes bright purple against the red and black that surrounded all, matching the jewel on the back of his hand.
Olivier heard a voice, but wasn’t sure where it was coming from. It continued to call to him, growing louder, angrier as he looked around. There was no one else aboard, only him on that rotting, dilapidated ship, but it was so close, as if it was breathing down his neck. He spun and shoved open the captain’s quarters, finding not but fire and ash in there, as well, the archway crumbling from his shove. He covered his face, keeping the cinders at bay, and wheeled again, facing the barrier.
And seeing what was calling out to him.
“There we go,” his reflection said –at least, he hoped it wasn’t his reflection. Who else could it be, though? It was standing behind the wheel of the Scylla, where he stood, but he wasn’t that... that- “Monster? Is that what you want to say?”
It cackled, that jagged, scarred visage crackling and ripping as it did, showing layers upon layers of razors in its singed lips. They seemed to rotate, spiral inside its maw, and softly buzz with the electricity sparking in its eyes. It raised its right arm... and so did Olivier, those limbs the only thing that seemed similar. However, Olivier had nowhere near the same number of gems... of eyes on his.
“Why do you squander your potential?” It said, and flung its hand out. So did Olivier, and the gem on the back of his hand... disappeared. It shot out of his palm, onto the deck, and that shadowy figure from long ago, the one he had absorbed into the arm, stood before him, rasping and retching. Slowly, the darkness faded, its... his body straightened, and the Terrahn looked up at him. His pink skin, his soft, brown hair... his bun...
His bright green eyes.
The monster cackled, pulling Olivier’s attention back up to him.
“Now you’re getting it,” It said. Olivier started to question, but was cut off as the Terrahn spoke.
“Why?” He said, and Olivier’s heart sank, recognizing that voice, its tone, how it enunciated. “Why did you do this? What did I do to deserve this?”
“I... I didn’t know,” Olivier whimpered, repeating it, again and again, rising along with the cackling and the rasping as the darkness closed in.
For once, Olivier would like to dream and not be scarred by it. Can’t he have a nice...r dream without it having to rake him across the coals or pin him to the wall? It was already a rather taxing dream with Gale in there, but how it ended... He wasn’t sure it was real or otherwise.
Was that thing him? Was that what he would become if he kept using this power? How strong was it really... and how much was it permitting him to know... Regardless, he woke with a start, and Gale behind cried out from the sudden exclamation. She, too, jumped, far harder, and almost pulled Olivier along for the ride. He clung to the hammock for dear life, suckers pulling on the twine, keeping tacked on as it almost rolled completely over. Only Gale fell on the floor, making a solid thud not once but twice as the hammock came crashing back down, catching her in the chest and shoving her down onto the planks.
“Hey! What gives?” She managed to wheeze out.
“Sorry,” Olivier said, easing himself out of the hammock and to her left. He reached for her arm, but stopped, seeing the green gem on his right hand. Flashing. “Wh-”
Heavy, metal boots clanked down the steps, drowned out by a soft buzzing, growing louder as they continued to descend. Light seemed to follow them, cascading off their silver armor, hidden behind a thick, blue cape as they stepped down into the galley. Olivier’s heart sank again, knowing that armor... as well as the spell it was concocting in its arms.
What are the Arbiters doing here, and why are they sinking this ship? He thought, but yellow filled his gaze as they loosed that orb toward the rowing hall. He could hear the screams of the rest of the crew –rather what was left of them. They must have taken care of everyone above already... How many are here?
“Not these goons again,” Gale grumbled, yelping as the entire ship rocked. Timber groaned, splintering, but none of the dark spikes made it into the resting quarters. Which, surprisingly, was only the two of them. Did he and Gale sleep that soundly, or was their arrival this sudden? The spikes did jut through the wall separating the rowing and sleeping quarter though, and, already, Olivier could hear water gushing into the hull, as well as begin to froth around.
He gripped her arm tight, yellow overtaking his vision completely.
“We need to go. Now.” He stated. “This ship is about to go down.”
The Arbiter started up the steps again... but stopped, hearing Olivier. Their eyes turned red, preparing another orb. Olivier wasn’t going to stick around, so sprinted towards the other side of the room, dragging Gale along. He could hear its steps giving chase, trying to sidle through the rows of hammocks as it continued to charge its spell. The Arbiters may be powerful, but they were never the brightest sort; Olivier pondered why they didn’t simply climb the steps and wait for them there or better yet leave them to their fate. The ship was going to go down regardless, sucked into a maelstrom, so why give them chase?
They made it to the other steps, and Olivier pushed Gale up them, staying at the bottom.
“What are you doing?” She exclaimed.
“I’ll deal with him,” he said. “There should be a ship above. I pray that it’s close, but you need to get to it.”
“What about you?”
“Don’t worry. I can take care of them. Just go!”
“This is c-”
The Arbiter finally caught up, stepping around the corner, and exclaimed as it tried to throw the orb. Gale yipped and dashed upstairs. However, Olivier had other plans. He lunged out with his right hand, catching the Arbiter between the plate and helmet, and darkness coursed into the Cephamorian. They screamed, only a second, but Olivier knew his command was heard. The orb in their grasp shifted, burning white, and shrouded them in light as he forced the Arbiter to charge up the steps and leap onto whatever ship he came from.
Olivier let them go, allowed them to collapse on what he presumed was the prow of the ship, thankfully right as he not only hugged it but wrapped around it with his legs. He rolled back, hanging upside-down, and hoped Gale was close, that she spotted the ship before the dazzling lights, holding his hands out for her. Which, for once, his hopes paid off. She grasped his hands, and he pulled her up, righting himself just in time for the light to fade... and even managed to put his hood back up during.
All three panted, gasped, and cried out as the ship lurched. It was close, right beside even, lodged against the bow. Not a good place to be at all. Olivier could hear the oars under, splashing, frantic, trying to escape the swelling waters, swirling towards the Cocytus. How could the Arbiter think it was wise to use Natalie’s Embrace this close to their own vessel?
Again, not the brightest bunch, he thought, and winced, rising with the coral blade pressed against his throat.
“Raise your hands over your head. Nice and slow like,” the Cephamorian ordered. Another had joined him on the prow, ordering Gale to do the same. Olivier lifted his left arm, but his right took a bit more effort. It still clung to a bit of red, but he could see through the sleeve that only half was lit. However, he wasn’t the only one paying it attention. The Arbiter watched it, eyes red, stained with yellow, giving it all his attention, the yellow pulsing as it did. When it was finally raised, he stepped off the prow, and both of them were ordered onto the deck, forced down the steps with the sword at their backs. There were three other Arbiters there, a curiosity. The Council never sent them in odd numbers; was considered a bad omen. What happened to the sixth?
He gasped, feeling the Arbiter grab the back of his hood, and hoped, prayed he changed in time as it was yanked off... Today must have been his lucky day, for he saw his arms were both pink. “Luck” might have been pushing it, grief and horror taking root in the pit that was his stomach knowing now who it was... and how he was doing it.
“On your knees. Both of you!” The Arbiter boomed behind, and shoved his foot into Olivier’s back, forcing him down. The three Arbiters before him separated, and a rather... meek Cephamorian stepped out from between. He had on a tricorne hat, emblazoned with the Aqua Alliance pin, and a coat that seemed far too large for him, even by Olivier’s standards. He looked upon them with such... arrogance.
The Cephamorian chortled, and rolled his wrist to them.
“I am Captain Lehroo, captain of the Mako and esteemed escort of the Arbiters of the Aqua Alliance.” He stated. “Pray tell, do you swear allegiance to the Powderfish or that dastardly villain captain, Nella Tarjen?”
“I-” Gale began, but Olivier cut her off.
“We were stowaways,” he said, fighting to keep the fear out of his already rippling voice. He could see his arm, fading in and out, trying so hard to cling to the pink. His arm was growing especially heavy, shaking so much as he kept it raised. “We were just looking for a way out of Lam Berel in peace... There was a massacre.”
“A massacre, you say? And you were simply looking for asylum?” They sighed, and raised their hand to their head, looking dramatic. “Fate truly is fickle, for you to find yourself aboard a pirate’s vessel, allied with a monster.”
“Captain Tarjen i-” Gale blurted, cut short by the Arbiter’s coral blade, pressed flat against her throat.
“I do not have time to listen to your story at the moment,′ the Cephamorian stated. “You will have plenty of time after we return to Carapai. For now, off to the brig with you two.”
He waved them off, and the Arbiters yanked them to their feet, marching them down to the galley. Unlike other vessels, it didn’t have storerooms passed the rowing hall, packed to the brim with people still frantically rowing. Instead, its wooden archways and panels were gone, replaced with iron bars and two doors. The right one was occupied with two Itchyoman Olivier hoped would have gone down in the crash, but the left was nice and empty, ready for them.
“I’ll take care of them from here,” the Arbiter that “guided” Olivier told the other, and opened the cell door, waiting for their companion to leave. Olivier could no longer keep his right arm raised, popping painfully as it swung down, and took his “skin” with it. The Itchyoman in the other cell gasped, growling, bearing their teeth... but were silenced as the Arbiter grabbed Olivier by the shell and shoved him into the cell, all the way back against the wall. They slammed his head into it, again and again, panting, growling, himself. “What did you do to me? What did you do!”
“Get your hands off him-” Gale once again started, clawing at the Arbiter’s arm, but was slapped off, flung against the right wall.
The Arbiter let Olivier go, let him slide down the wall, and aimed their sword at Gale. Olivier picked himself, up, turning, and saw there was no malice in those eyes, no red to be seen. Instead, the Arbiter only saw pure yellow, shaking, trembling like a leaf in a storm.
“And you! You aid him? You allow him to use that power?” They growled, whimpering, and raised his blade. They gripped it with both “hands”, but even that didn’t stop it from shaking. “You’re just as much a monster as him! By the will of the Council, such evil shall not live! It will not live! I refuse!!! I REFUSE!!!”
The Arbiter cried out, a pitiful thing, as they swung with all his might... meeting Olivier’s blade. Rather, its guard, stuck in between the bars. The Arbiter slowly turned their head, looking at Olivier, but he didn’t pay them any mind, already wheeling about. He heard the Arbiter cry out, such distress rippling in the roar. He heard its blade whisper his way, but he wheeled about in time, pulling out his sword again. He flicked aside the strike with ease, fear nothing to anger, the Arbiters focus shattered as he snapped his head back and forth, between him and Gale.
“B... your s... How d,” he spluttered, crying out only one more time as his helmet was knocked off by Olivier’s swing. The Arbiter backed out, whimpering, sobbing as he scrambled away... and hit the wall across. Hard. His eyes, once fraught with yellow... went blank as the Arbiter slid down the wall, limp.
“Are you okay?” Olivier said, holding his hand out for Gale-
She ignored it, instead latching herself completely onto him.
“By the Dark Ones, you are amazing,” she exclaimed, giggling as she hugged him tight. “Thank you... thank you so much. You saved my life thrice just now.”
“Don’t you dare thank him!” Captain Sheira shrieked in the other cell. She roared, launching at the bars, and they screeched eerily, bending a bit at her onslaught, but once again all Olivier saw in those eyes was fear. “He’s a monster! He’ll kill us all!”
“Eh? Ollie would do no such thing.”
“Don’t underestimate him,” the other Itchyoman, Raina, said. She was also shaking, but didn’t show the same kind of fight as her sister, who was still trying to cleave through the bars. Instead, she was back against the wall, holding herself, glowering at the two of them. “There’s a reason he’s the captain of the Scylla.”
Gale let Olivier go, as if she just told him he was walking refuse, and looked him over.
“Y... you... Ollie. You’re the...” She shook her head, chuckling, and sneered at the two in the other cell. “No. You’re both wrong. There’s no way Ollie, sweet, meek Ollie is-”
“I am,” Olivier blurted, sheathing his blade. His head hung low, as heavy if not heavier than his arm. His chest felt empty, his heart sunk down into his stomach, feeling like a fathomless pit. “Or, at least I was the captain.”
“O-Ollie... H-h-how? Why!”
“Trust me, I didn’t want to be. It simply... chose me.” He gulped, and looked up at her. What was that look on her face? It wasn’t anger, pain, nor fright of any kind. No... the closest was... disbelief? At least, that’s what he thought... He took another breath, holding it, and released it, slowly. “We found a journal, the tale of the skipper, Nejrat. It lead us to an island where the Scylla waited... Somehow, because I was able to pick up this sword, that meant I was its new captain... There’s more to it, at least I hope there is, but, please, you’ve got to believe me: I never wanted to be its captain. I never wanted to take up the mantle of Dread Pirate... but I am.”
All three went silent, with only the oars to be heard. Olivier hoped they covered his voice enough, that none of the others could hear him, that it was only the four of them. The Arbiter snored away, completely blissful of the pressure in those small cells, building as the three women looked upon him.
Gale, of course, was the first to break the silence.
“So where are the others?” She said. “Did they leave you... were you responsible for the massacre in town that you spoke about?”
“You kidding? His face was plastered everywhere,” Raina said. “How dense do you have to be? He is wanted. Dead.”
“I didn’t do it,” Olivier said. “Somebody else did... Somebody that controlled a Madam of the Church of Terra.”
“Somebody that just so happened to have the same power as you?” Sheira said, scoffing. “She was controlled. Completely against her will. She was screaming for somebody, anybody to help her-”
“And how do you know that?” Gale exclaimed, charging at the bars herself. “Were you there?”
“No, but that’s the story from the townspeople. The ones that were actually there... They saw him, and only him, and he killed the Madam-”
“She begged me to,” Olivier blurted. “I didn’t want to... I broke the spell on her, but she said she didn’t want to live. She was ‘corrupted’... I didn’t want to kill her.”
“So you were there,” Raina said.
“Of course I was. I was there helping a friend... They were looking for their love... Wrong place, wrong time; as usual.”
Or was it? His eyes went wide, his heart leaping back into his chest and beyond, getting lodged in his throat. Did somebody know I was going to be back in town?
He didn’t have time to stew in that thought, though, as Gale smacked his shoulder.
“Regardless, I don’t think Ollie would do that,” she said. “He saved me-”
“Enough said,” Raina interrupted, smirking, and Gale gave her a dark look –darker look.
“Multiple times when he could have left me to die... If he was as cold and callous, as malicious as you are implying, he would have left me dead... He would have killed you all, as well, when you first ran into him.” She huffed, stepped back, and patted Olivier’s shoulder again. “I believe Ollie. He wouldn’t have killed all those people.”
“As if it matters,” Sheira said. “We’ll all be dead by dawn at this rate. He has the worst luck.”
“And there’s the matter of the Arbiter,” Raina added. “Once he wakes up, he’ll report what happened to the others. No matter how strong you think you are, Olivier, you cannot take on all five Arbiters.”
“I know that,” Olivier muttered, and looked down at his right hand. It was able to twitch, the softest of reds starting to flow through, but not enough. Not yet. “There’s nowhere to run... Who knows how long he is out... However...” He looked up at Gale, at the others, yellow flowing across his eyes. “Can you all keep a secret?”
“If it means we live, then so be it,” Raina said.
“As much as I hate to agree... I still don’t forgive you,” Sheira muttered.
“Anything for you,” Gale said, and helped him pull the Arbiter into the cell, setting him against the door, kept open the tiniest crack.
Olivier looked at his hand, the red growing stronger. The green gem was still missing, no ichor to be seen, but Olivier knew, once it did, it would not be alone... and he would die a little more inside.