of Beasts and Man

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Prickly People

They had waited such a long time, a time that seemed to stretch on for eternities for Gale. Their travels, her adventures with Olivier, she could write tomes about, from the time where they fled the Black Isles to the west, through the gap between Palridian and Tartarus, to their saucy escapades on Zephyrian lands, but it all paled compared to her journey to win his heart. At long last, their left hands had the Dark Ones seal, binding them to one another, and that night she made yet another tale, of a monster that could not be mounted... at least, not without her permission.

As morning rolled in, the sun through the tiny porthole in their ship, Gale hugged him so tight, looking, beaming upon his resting, smiling face. It shined with sweat, giving those orange, gray, and blue cheeks a rosy hue, matching the soft claw marks on his chest. She traced them, feeling a touch guilty with how deep some were, but he had it coming. He made her wait five years for this. Five! She used to pine after someone else, but... she couldn’t even remember their face now, nor why she did. All she could remember was her time with her darling Olivier.

He groaned, and his eyes started to flutter open, wincing as the sun caught those starry heavens, making them glitter. She raised her hand, blocking it until he was able to keep them truly open, and was rewarded with an even bigger smile and a kiss.

“Morning,” he said, a croak, and cleared his throat. “Sleep well?”

“I didn’t sleep at all,” she said, laying her head on his shoulder. “I’m scared to. What if this is all a dream; I don’t want to leave this behind.”

“You’ll need to sleep at some point-”

“No I don’t!”

“If you say so.”

“I do, and I say I don’t have to sleep. Ever.” She tittered, rubbing her belly, all but her arms and head wrapped in those soft, blue sheets. “Besides, I’ll be too busy to sleep soon.”

“Where do you want to take them?”

“Oh... I’m thinking... Lam Berel. It’s where we met and all. Would only be fitting, but it’s up to you... I know you don’t exactly have the best memories of that town.”

“If we were going to go off that, then no place but the sea, itself, would be right.”

“Then why not? They’ll get their sea legs the moment they hatch.” She sighed, still rubbing her belly as well as stroking his chest, feeling, dreading the pull of sleep. She wasn’t ready to give this up. Not yet. It was too... perfect... “I love you.”

And she drifted off to sleep... only for her worry to come true. She woke back on the Arbiter ship, back inside that little holding cell, alone. Raina and Sheira were in their cell, at least, both of them stirring as well as the first rays of dawn burned red on the ground before them.

“Well, that’s a lovely omen,” Raina grumbled, yawning and wincing as she stretched. “Blood, a lot of it, was spilled last night.”

“If it was that bastard and his crew on the Kraken, good,” Sheira said. “That two-timing calamari cur... When we get out of here, I will personally see to his limbs being cut off, fried, then fed back to him before taking his brain out of his squishy, fat head!”

“Can’t really do that if he died, now can you?”

“S...shut up!”

“Besides, that’s only if we get out of here.”

“Oh, we’ll get out of here. With or without his help. Either way, I’m going to cut off his arms, fry them, and make him eat them before cutting off his squishy, fat head!”

“Is that your answer to everything?” Gale grumbled, growling as she stood. “What did I tell you about threatening him, by the way?”

“It’s no threat, chum bucket. It’s a blood promise. He better follow through.”

“He will! I swear my life on it.”

“That’s just sad,” Raina said. “Downright pathetic.”

“Why is that?”

“Because suicide is the coward’s way out.”

“Tell me, how long have you actually known him?” Sheira piped in. “We didn’t see you aboard the Scylla.”

“About two weeks,” Gale said, making Raina scoff.

“And you believe in him that much?” She said. “Are you that blinded by attraction?”

“You’re wasting your breath, Rain,” Sheira said, yawning as she waved Gale off. “All we can do is wait. Once the Arbiters arrive, we can-”

She cut herself off, sitting up as heavy, metal boots clomped their way. The wood clonked with each step, echoing to them from the rowing hall, shaking their cells harder with each stride. The bars started to shudder, ringing. The doors, themselves, shook something fierce, rattling almost off their hinges. All three stood, but while Gale stayed near the back of her cell the others tried their best to look... shall we say inconspicuously conspicuous. They were trying so hard, putting so much heart into trying not to look like they were putting any thought in acting nonchalant that it must have been an insult when it was only the one Arbiter from the day before. He stood before Gale’s door, looking at her.

Fading into Olivier.

He leaned against the door- and cried out as it gave, letting him fall in. Gale caught him and the door before it became completely off its hinges, and eased him to the fly while “fixing” it in place again. She had to bend the metal back into place, pried once already to be as loose as it was, but it proved to be fickle, breaking off a chunk at the very top... She tried her best to simply... lean it on... then helped Olivier to the cot.

“Thanks,” he said, panting and looking at his right arm. That purple limb was as cold as stone, missing its bright red lines, and was just as heavy. It took Gale’s help to lift it onto his lap, and she almost threw her back out when she first started to lift, far heavier, denser than she expected. He thanked her again, but she simply scoffed, pouting.

“You know you don’t need to keep checking on us,” she said.

“I... I know... It’s... I’m still getting used to this power.” He groaned, shaking as he tried to lift his arm, but it would not budge. “It was close this time. If I had stayed one more minute above-”

“What’s the word above?” Sheira interrupted. “What’s going to happen to us?”

Yellow touched his eyes, grimacing at that limb.

“They are setting up the Circles. All four of us are to be executed within the hour.”

“Like hell we are!” Raina shrieked, lunging at the bars between the two cells, bending them-

They broke, and the raging Itchyoman uttered such a silly squeak as she rolled into their cell, flopping right at Olivier’s feet. And by his hand. A thin, faded line of red pulsed through it as she looked upon its jagged edge, and all color retreated from her face, easing away from him.

“Have you come up with a plan?” Sheira said, stepping into the cell, as well.

He shook his head, his gaze growing darker as he did.

“The Arbiters are never alone, and I don’t mean they are always in pairs. The crew always has an eye on them, gossiping about them... I can’t do anything to them. Not directly, at least. The crew, itself? I could possibly work two, maybe three at a time, but I would need to have a reason to request them to be away from the others, which would raise suspicion no matter what... The captain-”

“Is a waste. We know,” Raina interjected, back to her sullen self. She picked herself up off the floor, wiping her legs as she did, and sighed. “We remember that airhead back in Carapai. He was one of the reasons we decided to become pirates.”

“A sniveling clerk to the Council.” Sheira stated. “He never once thought about the good of the people; only about padding out the books and making himself look good to those old todgers.”

“What is surprising is that they let that sycophant actually captain one of their vessels. The man never sailed before; refused to get his hands dirty. My sis and I worked for years on ships all across the world. We’ve been stevedores, bilge rats, deckhands, snappers; we were never to afraid to get our hands dirty.”

“And what did the Council do for us? For years of esteemed service?”

“Fat load of nothing,” Gale answered.

“All because we were Itchyoman,” Raina said, spitting at Olivier’s feet. “Haven’t we suffered enough? The Dread Pirate almost erased us from the world; haven’t we paid our dues... Well, have we, Dread Pirate?”

“Will you lay off?” Gale exclaimed, teeth slithering free as her growls continued to grow. “Think for a moment: If he was the real Dread Pirate, he wouldn’t be offering you, of all people, aid.”

“That’s a joke coming from you. ‘Thinking’... and of course he would. The Dread Pirate was crafty, and unbelievably persuasive. Tongue of pure silver, he had. Could even persuade those he was killing to join his side so he could stab them in the back.”

“How dare y-” Gale began, teeth and claws freed, halfway lunging at the two.

“Gale.” Olivier said. It was a simple utterance, no louder than a whisper, but it was enough to quell the fires in her chest. Her teeth slithered back in, claws reined in again, and she sat by Olivier’s side. The others had quieted, as well, all looking at him, which spurred the flames a touch. How dare they look at him like that, after how they treated him? In front of her, no less! They already knew and stated that they knew how she felt about him, and they dare give him those smoldering looks? With not an ounce of guilt between them, to boot, while she had to shoulder so much.

Curse that Captain Tarjen. If only he requited her feelings, she wouldn’t be going through this ordeal... His freakin’ fault in all this. If he was simply honest instead of doing that tit-for-tat nonsense, that coy back-and-forth, those flirtatious undertones, she wouldn’t be in this conundrum of loving that she feels this love but absolutely hating it as well. She was falling for another man, another powerful man, one that had his own, dark past, and his own adventure that she wanted so desperately to be on. The captain of the Scylla... truthfully, she still didn’t believe it, but she found it even harder that she was falling for him if he was. This soft, doting, quiet-

Hunted man.

Her heart faltered, shuddering as a chill ran down her spine. If he was the captain of the Scylla, that meant Captain Tarjen would be hunting him down. His tenacity knows no limits; at some point, he and sweet Ollie were going to clash. They were both insightful individuals, but given Captain Tarjen’s past with the Dread Pirate, she doubted logic would make itself known when they did.

If they came to blows... who would she side with? Rather, how could she side with either one? She didn’t want either one dead. She doubted Ollie was the true Dread Pirate, that he was telling the truth in that regard... but if he was, would he really hold back? And Captain Tarjen. He had his reasons; would he listen to her, even a moment, with his target found after so many years, so many restless nights of the terrors he wrought upon the world?

These were all good questions; shame there wasn’t time to consider answers. Gale growled, and slapped Olivier’s shell, making him jump a little.

“Are you rested up enough?” She said, already knowing the answer. His arm sort of gave it away, its red lines burning bright. “You need to get back out there! Would be awfully suspicious if one of their Arbiters went missing.”

“Any sign of the Scylla,” Raina asked.

“No. Kind of hard to at the moment. The red makes it hard to stare up at the sky. I’ve been looking towards Agutrot, which is the closest Zephyrian city, but I haven’t seen a single glider nor vessel coming from that way.”

“All night?” Sheira said. “That’s strange- moreso, since the festival is being held there this year.”

“I heard about that, too. Rahn and Lurr were both perplexed by it.”

“That explains the red this morning, then,” Raina said.

“What? What is that supposed t-”

The ship rocked. Hard. Harder than the calm sea should have. Olivier was gone, replaced by the Arbiter again, and left the cell, hurrying back up to the deck. Gale and the other two rushed over to the portholes, and saw that they were surrounded by more Aqua Alliance galleons.

“Great. Pirates.” Gale muttered. “Leave it to them to arrive at the worst possible time.”

“Yeah. It’s what we do.” Sheira said, shoving her aside to get a better look. Gale grimaced at her, but turned to curiosity as she shook her head. “No. Those aren’t pirates. No colors.”

Gale pushed her back and peered through the porthole again.

“Then who are th...” Gale began, trailing off as she saw Arbiters ascend to the decks of those galleons, dozens, hundreds of them. Their armor seemed to burn, a bonfire on the sea, closing in on the vessel she and those two pirates were on.

“Looks like luck shines upon us,” Raina said. “It looks like an impromptu meeting of the Arbiters. New orders from the Council?”

“Who cares?” Sheira said, starting towards the door. “We can hop onto another ship while their doing their pow wow.”

“What about Olivier?” Gale said. “He’s surrounded, and alone.”

“Yup. Doesn’t look good-”

“Shut up! He’s going to be okay.”

“... Yeah. He is. I was talking about the Arbiters... You really have no idea how powerful he is, do you?”

“No, but even he can’t take out that many people.”

“You have no idea... the things I’ve seen...”

Gale turned from the porthole, looking upon the marked Itchyoman. She had paled, her eyes looking off, lost to another world, but it was that hand print that stole Gale’s attention, its suckers, its color... and how it pulsed.

“What do you know?” She said, but it wasn’t a demand. Rather, it was soft, as if talking to a newborn babe, or a mother who just lost her child. “What... what was it like?”

Her gaze darkened, but Gale saw the ripple that ran through her, shaking her to her very core.

“It... it was as if he was taking my very essence away.” She said, shivering again. “My life, my spirit; everything was being sapped into that arm of his... I was becoming a part of him... Rather, a part of whatever that thing is. I saw everything that he has done, what he has gone through... He could have remade me whatever he decided, if he truly wanted. He could have killed me... but no. He left me branded. He left me with this feeling... I’m a part of him now, and it will never go away...” She looked up at Gale, tears shimmering in her eyes. “If you don’t believe me on anything else, believe me on this: don’t let your guard down around him- it- whatever that thing is.”

Gale simply listened to her speak, drank in every detail, every emotion that slipped and flowed in those words. She had never seen someone so... terrified... yet amorous. The way she shook and shuffled in place, the way she paled and flushed all at once, the way she spoke- how she spoke about it, how intimate it seemed... It both enticed... and enraged her.

Oh, she’ll take that Itchyoman’s words to heart. She’ll believe it... she would be marked, just like her, and she will accept it willingly. It won’t be as crude of a mark, but it shall be a memento, a reminder immemorial of their love and devotion to one another for she shall mark him, as well. She shall be the beauty to his beast, his skipper.

Oh, captain my captain, she thought, and shuddered as she looked towards the window again, teeth squelching free, smiling... fading. I need to get out of here. He’ll need me. H-

A dark figure blotted out the porthole, and Gale had just enough time to step back as a Terrahn shattered through the glass. She was in bright red robes, sullied and stained -recently, and from the kitchen, given the smell. She wiped the glass off, and looked between the three of them... confused.

“Where’s the Terrahn?” She said.

“Who are you?” Sheira said.

“I’m Lady Naomei, and I’m here to rescue- you.” She pulled on Gale’s hand and helped her through the opened porthole, leaving the other two to scream and demand. “Where’s your Terrahn friend?”

“Ollie? He... found a way.”

The Terrahn hummed, while Gale looked off to the right, towards the deck. The Arbiters were gathered there; she couldn’t tell which one was Olivier in that ring of fire.

I hope they were right- She began, but gasped as she suddenly scrambled for something to grab on, let go by the Terrahn.

“H-hey-” She began, muffled as she covered her mouth.

“I helped you, so you need to help me,” she said. “I need you to tell me where that Terrahn is... otherwise...”

The light around grew intense, and the rail she had grabbed on started to prickle into her palm. The Terrahn uncovered her mouth, and creased her hands together, waiting for an answer.

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