As excitement and tension surmounted on the coasts of Palridian, as chaos and mayhem reigned in the golden city of Agutrot, the crew of the Kraken was finally settling for the night. They lumbered down the steps, all equal as they dragged themselves to the kitchen. Even Ella, who seemed indomitable, found her feet dragging, and was the last one to join the gathering. The damage, considering what transpired, was superficial, but even the tiniest scratch can become mortal out on the seas. The two Cephamorians and their Itchyoman friend rubbed at their middles, paler than the rest of them but no less red, rubbed raw by the ropes that looped them.
Ella’s “hands” stung just looking at them, arms quaking, shaking as she poured herself three bowls of stew. Its scent gave her the strength to hold them, to endure the walk to the tables. She didn’t care where she sat at that point, so she made those three stooges’ days, sitting with them. The captain, Plu, and Roe were a bit further down. Meanwhile, Ruu decided to stand up from the table far across the room, their usual place, and joined her, pushing her further down the bench, putting himself in between those three and her.
For their sake.
They had gone... quiet, almost meek when she first sat with them. For all their big talk and jeering and objectification, once she was close, all that seemed to melt away. A shame, really; after all the tension that day, she could have used some release. What better way than to flay a few idiots... no... that wasn’t fair. They were good to her so far, so she’ll consider them loud-mouthed braggarts for the moment –same place she put Gale, but the less she thought of that woman the better. In fact, the less she thought the better.
Her head, her mind was heavy with sleep, growing with each spoonful of the stew. The first bowl disappeared far too quickly; surely it was the Dark Ones and their schemes. Nefarious, indeed, as the second was gone just as quick. The third lasted thirty seconds longer, but it took the fifth bowl for it to stop simply... vanishing from those clay basins.
She finished it, and started on the sixth, pondering if she should get more. Her hunger had been eased, though not truly sated; however, the balance between it and rest has been turned, and so her body started to nag her even more, demanding rest at last. It was a wonder she didn’t drop her bowl, the stew inside sloshing as her head bobbed, as her arms swayed, desiring to go limp.
Ella shook her head... almost dumping the contents as she did, but held true. She wasn’t the only one that was tired. All of them were, and they did the same as her if not more. She had no reason to show such fatigue while the others soldiered on. Especially Roe.
Ella looked over at her, still sitting with the captain, still managing to stay upright. Thick, black circles hung under her eyes, bloodshot, drooping something fierce, but her mouth was plastered with a big, silly grin, listening to the captain’s take on their most recent escapade –which made her feel even worse, even more guilty seeing his disposition. His eyes were filled with blue, as brilliant as sapphires, not a hint of fatigue to be had. Even the blue circles on his gray skin were lit, shining like the brightest beacons as he regaled his tale. It was as if he got energy from this situation, as if this sort of thing gave him vim and vigor, and he wasn’t alone. Plu’s eyes shined like polished jet, weaving orb after orb, “correcting” the captain and laughing when he retorted.
As Plu hit him with another orb, the captain groaned, raising his fists towards the crab. The Aceon raised his claws, as well, rolling them around each other, frills buzzing, laughing with the captain.
“Oh yeah? Think you’re so tough?” Tarjen said. “Bring it on, old man. Let’s see if you can actually use those big, meaty claws for something aside stuffing your face.”
“Boys! Boys! Settle,” Roe said, giggling as she patted the captain’s shoulder and Plu’s eye stalk. “At least let me get some bets taken before you rumble.”
“Ah! Good point, Roe,” Tarjen said, reaching into his jacket. He pulled out a leather wallet, putting it on the table. “All of it on Plu.”
Plu, not to be outdone, weaved an orb in the air, but not the same kind as one used to communicate. This one was dark, heavy, and faded quick enough, revealing two, heavy leather wallets. They settled on the table, and Plu pointed at Tarjen.
“Oh yeah? Triple my offer!” Tarjen boomed, guffawing as he pulled out- NINE wallets. He slung them on the table, reaching for more as Plu continued his onslaught, as well, making a wall of leather, coins, and twine. “Don’t be so modest. You know you were always the better fighter- yes, even when tir- don’t give me t- You will win and you will like it!”
Plu shrilled in response, a warbling, chiding thing, still chattering away with laughter... until both him and the captain hit the ground. They both went silent, dumbstruck, watching as Roe picked up each wallet and emptied them into her own, the only one she put on the table. She still smiled, though looked a bit guilty. Ella didn’t know why; she barely pushed them.
“Looks like I win,” she sung, counting the coins at her leisure, disappearing into her dark, leather pouch.
“That’s cheatin’, you scurvy lass,” Tarjen said, clambering back onto the bar, but he didn’t seem upset. In fact, his eyes were still filled with blue; he nudged the dark wallet in her hand, though recoiled as she pulled it back. “Easy, Roe. I was simply kidding. It was a fair bet; you earned it... but I see you got your father’s magic wallet. He was always so proud of that... Also won it in a bet like this one.” He sighed, stretching four of his arms, and only then did the blue wane on his form and in his eyes. “At any rate, to finish my tale -without interruptions, PLU- this was nothing, in truth. We’ve been chased harder, pushed into a tighter corner, and dealt with far better people.”
“I have no doubt about that, captain,” Roe said... still putting coins away. “You went after the Scylla and the Dread Pirate, after all.”
“Really, he wasn’t that much for cat-and-mouse. That dastardly scoundrel preferred blowing holes in our sails and simply getting away rather than face us head on. Took a good bit of work to be ahead of it, and even then we’d have to be quick before they activated the engines.”
“So it could really fly?”
“Like a Zephyrian glider. Even gleamed like those gilded heaven-fliers. It was always a... morbid joy to see it in the sky... But I’m not talking about him. There have been plenty of pirates in my day, and I’d rather be held up by those wretched swashbucklers any day than have to deal with a boot-licker like Lehroo. At least they were passionate about what they were doing. By Natalie, Lehroo is everything wrong with the next generation. All they want is to kiss the Council’s tuchuses and hope and pray their brown-nosing is enough to get them even bigger tithes and privileges rather than earning it for themselves. They have no true drive of their own but for the organization they attach and meld themselves into.”
“You’re showing your age, captain.” Roe stated, tittering as she finished off the last wallet. She kept the pile of leathers separate, both collecting them up as she pocketed hers. She nudged the captain’s shoulder- grabbing it and righting as he started to fall. “Sorry... but you are definitely showing it. Especially with that word. ‘Tuchus’. I get what it means, but... what language does it come from?”
“Can’t really tell you that, but I originally heard it from your father. He used to say it all the time, and it would always make us laugh because his throat would try to drag out the middle so much, which only made it funnier. It was... endearing... I suppose your father doesn’t use it anymore though, does he?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“Then that’s another memory of your mother gone... He told me he heard it from her initially... At least, that’s where he remembered hearing it. Rather, where he wanted to remember hearing it... He tried so hard to keep her in his thoughts, so that he would never lose her in his heart.”
Roe hummed, looking away- and Ella snapped her attention back to her bowl, hoping, praying she didn’t notice –of course she did. Roe tittered as she stood and lumbered over, resting her hands on Ella’s weary “shoulders”, goading her to stand and join them in their quaint little corner of the world.
“Ah. Ella. Thank you for finally deciding to join us,” Tarjen said, chortling. He reached into his jacket again and retrieved a bottle of rum –smacking it against Plu’s claw as he tried to reach for it. “Wait your damned turn! Roe, if you wouldn’t mind- ah. Ahead of me, I see.”
“But of course,” Roe said, setting the four wooden mugs down on the table then settled beside her and Tarjen again. She was closer to him than before... and yet the captain didn’t seem to mind, filling the mugs and passing them out. Plu was last, much to his chagrin, and ignored the mug for the bottle, guzzling it before he took the mug. Roe nudged Ella, tittering. “Why didn’t you join us to begin with? You could have made some money.”
“I’m not exactly hurting for cash,” Tarjen said, pulling out yet another leather wallet, and held it out to Ella. “Here, lass. You’ve earned it.”
“Oh. No. That’s not necessary, captain,” Ella said, pushing the wallet back, but he simply let it go, forcing her to grab it. Pink touched her eyes, looking at it, and gently withdrew, putting it with the others on her back tentacle. “That really wasn’t necessary, but thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank me. If it wasn’t for you and Roe, today would have been a lot longer –and, of course, thanks to our two fine crimson crabs for getting us out of a pinch.” Ruu trilled, sitting beside Ella again, and the green on his shell eased away. Tarjen sighed, taking a drink from his mug- and coughed, spluttering, settling it down. “There we go! Jean never skimps; should have grabbed a crate of Blackstar Ale while I was at it.”
“I think, for our health, it was wise that we didn’t,” Roe said. “Dark Ones know that we were more ale than person by the end of that week, all thanks to that specific blend.”
“Yeah. Yeah... but it was worth it. Isn’t that right, you old crusty todger?” Plu raised his small claw straight up, still guzzling the bottle, though it was at its final drops. He slammed it down with a clang, grabbing the mug next, his eyes growing red with each gulp. Tarjen meanwhile, nudged Roe, winking at her. “We haven’t had that much fun in years.”
“In that case, looks like you’ll just have to be my guide at every port from here on.” Roe said, chuckling... stifled as Tarjen hummed.
“That’s not a bad idea-” He began, and she spluttered, waving, almost flailing her hands.
“I was only kidding! You don’t need to do that.”
“I already told you. I do not mind in the slightest. Your company has been incredibly pleasant, bordering on welcoming, if not a treat.”
“No. Thank you. As I’ve said, it’s been years since we had that much –okay, thanks Plu; since I had that much fun... In fact... it reminds me... of...”
He trailed off, taking with it the last of the blue in his eyes and skin. Instead, a new color started to teem in their depths, a shade Ella had never seen before in her captain’s eyes: white... He shook his head, sniffling, and stood.
“My apologies. If you will excuse me.”
He left without another word, an eerie. An almost uncomfortable silence, an unwelcome pressure settled in with his departure, centering around Roe. What warmth touched her face, what smile she wore, was gone, replaced with worry. She wrung her hands on the table, reaching for her mug only to stop, and couldn’t sit still.
“Did I say something wrong?” She said. “I... I didn’t mean to offend him, I swear. It’s- o-oh... He’s had lady problems in the past?” She chuckled, hit with another wave from Plu, surprisingly solid given how he teetered. “She was that important to him, left that big a mark, huh?” She must have been an exceptional girl.”
She sniffed, and looked over at Ella, which she hoped she wouldn’t. This really wasn’t her forte, given her past with Gale.
“Ella?” Roe began, gearing up just like that Itchyoman, though she doubted Roe would be as... abrasive. At least, she hoped. “Do you think I’ll ever measure up? I mean, if it actually worked out- when it does-”
Plu silenced her, hitting her with another bubble, and this one was an incoherent mess. The basic idea was clear, but it rambled and lurched in between other ideas, as if chasing fish. Plu tried to clarify with another, but it only came out more jumbled, lost to his laughter as he excused himself, leaving the three- two. Ruu followed after Plu, making sure he made it to his hammock safely, which left Ella alone to confront this beast.
Roe sighed again, sniffling, and clenched her mug hard.
“I’m... I’m scared, Ella,” she said.
“Why? What are you afraid of?”
“Rejection? No. That’s not right... How do I put it... I... I know how... attached Itchyoman can get. Rather... territorial with those they care about... I don’t want to scare the captain away. I don’t want to descend into that... but I also want the captain. I want him to know my feelings.” She sobbed, tears running down her cheeks as blood ran down her chin, biting her lip. “I don’t know what to do... I... I don’t want to lose him. That week... it really was a blast. The stories he has, the places he goes, and the sheer fact he can cut loose if he wants. Yes, he is business, but he’s also a sweet guy. Almost a boy at times... Far and away from the captain that used the Claws on me... and that sorrow he carries... It was only a glimpse, but... I want him to be happy. I want to be with him, Ella, but I don’t know what to do. Especially given Gale and how she acted.”
She took a long, sharp breath, and wiped away the tears. Ella winced for her as she brought the mug of rum up to her lips, hearing it bubble against the wounds, but she endured it, downing it to the very last drop. She slammed it back down on the table, fresh tears freed, but the look in her eye told Ella they weren’t continuing that topic... Not now, at least.
“Thanks for listening, Ella,” she said. “I know I can be a pain at times, especially with this, but... Speaking of, how do you think Gale is doing? She was all over that new person- wait. Do you think they got out of the ship before it went down? I mean, I’m indifferent to Gale, but that guy seemed nice.”
And yet another poor soul tormented by G- Ella was about to say, thinking it over, smirking at herself.
Lost to darkness, whispers, and fire. So much fire. It crackled all around her, bristling on trees far above, made of crystal, shining, shimmering on a sea of gold. Screams filled the streets, those copper paths washed in blood, covered in charred, mutilated bodies, being feasted upon by dark, jagged mockeries of life.
One rose before her. Its rasping breath was hot on her face, reeking of death, while two, soft purple points glowed, looking at her, studying her. She looked away, down at her hands... and saw they were washed in flames, as well. Dark, purple flames, pulsing with the thing’s eyes.
The monster snarled, pulling her attention up to it, and its “lips” parted, as if its form ripped itself asunder and showed rows upon rows of razor, buzzing as it inhaled, shuddering so.
“Olivier,” it said, then bellowed in her face, racking her mind with its pained shriek. Others rose around her, joining in the chorus of the wails of the damned, making the world around her ripple and crack. She dropped to her knees, holding her head-
And snorted as her face hit the table, back in the Kraken again. She could smell the soft scent of wood burning, and kept her “hands” firm on the table, holding back her winces as the flames under them lapped at her suckers. She shook her head, looking over at Roe again... who, for good reason, seemed concerned.
“Are you okay?” She said. “You looked like you were a thousand yards away.”
“Y...yes... I’m fine. Simply... tired.”
“Then go to bed.” She tittered again, slapping Ella’s back. “Don’t stay up on account of me. I’m pretty much ready to go, as well.”
Ella hummed, and waited for Roe to stand and leave before removing her “hands” from the wood, seeing she left two, blanched rows on the table. Her eyes filled with yellow... but also pink, and a bit of black. One thing was for certain, a trend she picked up on back at Lam Berel: she was close to him. With any luck, it won’t be much longer now.