of Beasts and Man

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No Good Deed...

Olivier had climbed the stairs up to the deck. He had to go traverse the rowing hall to get there, but there was certainly no rowing happening. Not at that moment. All the oarsmen’ attention and faces were glued to the portholes, silent save for the soft buzzing of thought and wonder, crashing against the rushing tide of water around. What was going on? Who were they? What were they doing here?

Even Olivier wasn’t immune to that contagious strain of questions, pondering it so as he clomped up the steps –which was another perplexity that forced itself upon him. Though he was coated in that plate from head to foot, it was as if it wasn’t really there, as if it was just his skin now, a part of the robes hidden underneath. In fact, though the Cephamorian was easily a foot taller and several wider, he didn’t feel the size. Oh, he could see he was bigger, wider, but it was an illusion. Sight was an illusion, as was hearing and touching... He didn’t know about taste, but hoped no one would try.

Aside what he felt, though, by all other accounts, he had become the Arbiter... and, when he wasn’t, it was a soft periwinkle gem on the back of his hand, right behind the green. That wasn’t to say it didn’t shine as bright. Quite the contrary; the Arbiter’s gem shined, almost painfully, whenever he wasn’t shifted into his form. Even then, Olivier could hear him screaming in the back of his mind, demanding and commanding him to let him out. Olivier would simply tell him in due time, and hoped that it would be soon. However, that only raised another question: could he, and, if he could, why wasn’t the green one demanding for their release. Did their physical states contribute to their will, vim, and, to put it bluntly, their life force? Was the other too far gone to have a voice outside of his nightmares and subconscious?

These thoughts passed through his mind again, a constant cycle since last night, his mind burned from the miles it had already traveled, now being cooked by the morning light. His eyes strained against the fire around him, blazing off the sea and the Arbiters around, not to mention his own set of armor. He hoped he would have a longer reprieve, but now he had to put on a strong face again, stand tall with the other Arbiters, all waiting on the deck before the anchor wheel and Captain Lehroo. The captain looked as lost as his crew, head snapping back and forth, watching the sea spring towards that red sky and a new, dark vessel settle onto its rippling body, closing on the ship.

The other Arbiters, meanwhile, simply stood, unfazed. If any of them had a shred of fear, Olivier could not see it, and he hoped they couldn’t see his, either. There were sixteen ships in total, all the same make as the one Olivier was on now, and all carrying the Aqua Alliance’s moniker. Chains rattled free, their anchors sinking into the depths, making a perfect circle around the ship, even as it tried to keep pressing on.

One of the Aceon Arbiters broke rank, walking up to Captain Lehroo, and eased him aside. The captain started to question, yelping as he jumped. Olivier almost did the same, fighting so hard to keep still as that anchor wheel spun away, adding its chains to the chorus around, and all were silenced as one, stopped before the masts sunk down into the vessels. The Aceon Arbiter fell back in line, just as the air filled with rippling flames.

Boots thundered onto the deck, fiery heels that made the wood splinter and hiss with their force, adding to the line Olivier was in. On both sides. More and more Arbiters rained from the sky, as immeasurable and innumerable as rain, itself, until the line had to wrap around, closing the captain in a ring of flickering flames. It wasn’t only the one, either, as four, five, six rings expanded behind Olivier. Much to his disdain.

At last, it seemed to reduce to a trickle, finishing off the twentieth ring on the deck. Olivier struggled to breathe. It was as if he was stuffed into a pickling barrel. His arms, shoulders, even ribs tried to squeeze together in front of him, trying so hard to make some room for there was none to be had from behind. He could feel at least three rows behind him, three people in each one, on either side, all jammed tight enough to touch him in some way. Each one was as still as a statue, all facing the captain.

Rather, who landed before him.

The others might have been like thunder, but this behemoth of a Cephamorian crashed onto the deck with enough force to send a ripple through the wood, making it undulate under Olivier’s and the other Arbiter’s feet before hissing along the sea. Even crouching, he stood five heads above Olivier, tripling as he picked himself up, and even seemed to dwarf the mast that stood before him, in both height and width. He had a thick, golden metal helmet, running down his back like a cape, while the rest of him was in black iron plate, imbued with blue runes that traced the Aqua Alliance symbol on its front. His eyes were on the side of his head, four in total, four slanted, thin eyes that seemed always filled with red, clashing against his neon green body.

Olivier knew of this Cephamorian, but only in tales, rumors, barely even myths. A Cephamorian that towered over all, that was blessed by Terra with Gigas blood and a dragon’s temper. He was the head of the Arbiters, the Metatron, the true voice of the Council. It was said that if you ever met Gorgol the Colossus, you insulted Natalie in the worst possible way and there was no coming back... Olivier simply hoped he wasn’t there for him... or the ship, itself.

Though he wouldn’t lament it nor blame her or Gorgol, given how Captain Lehroo reacted.

“You big oaf,” The captain boomed... smacking Gorgol’s “shin”. A visible and audible shudder ran through the Arbiters, as well as a streak of yellow through the Cephamorian eyes. Captain Lehroo, however, didn’t even notice that, still going off on his tirade. “Be more careful! You almost sank my ship under your gargantuan weight. Now, what is the meaning of this?”

A silence filled the air, all eyes on Gorgol. He didn’t answer right away, instead simply... watching Captain Lehroo, seeing him grow impatient and fidget and rock on his feet. The captain’s eyes started to glow red, tapping the arm of his jacket, staring up into those four, red-stained, blackening eyes with such impunity.

The black faded, though, and the Cephamorian colossus heaved a heavy sigh. The simple breath stirred the sails he was on eye-level with, and rocked the boat forward, making the chains jingle.

“My apologies for this sudden meeting, captain,” Gorgol said, and Olivier was surprised with how... fluent his voice was. It had finesse, class even. It was slowed, enunciated clearly, but he could tell that those dulcet tones wanted to race, to match the light in his eyes. “There has been an incident of which requires the retracting then redeploying of our finest soldiers. These orders come straight from the Council, Themselves, and are to be followed punctually.”

“We don’t have time for this!” Lehroo boomed, stomping his foot onto the timbers, making a fresh line of black flash through the giant’s eyes as well as a refreshed shudder and yellow through those around. “We are after some very dangerous criminals as it is. The last of a pirate fleet, at that; what is so pressing that we must be recalled from that!”

“Although the act of purging those that commit malicious acts upon other seafarers is indeed a rightful duty, what has transpired is far more insidious and demands priority. The northern colony, Treast, over night, has fallen quiet. A scouting party was sent and has reported back that the entire town was completely desolate. Abandoned. Four-thousand people, traders, artisans, even Council members, simply gone, vanished without a single trace.” He raised his arm, the very act making the air stir and groan from the metal, rumbling like thunder. It cast a shadow back onto Olivier, as if he was a part of a sundial, fading as he slowly turned, feet crunching with each, minute movement. “You are all to return to Carapai, where you shall stay and defend its people until the mystery has been solved. We left Treast unguarded, but the same shall not be true for our home, the Aqua Alliance’s jewel and Its gift to the world. Also, Captain Lehroo, though your services have been greatly appreciated, you are no longer needed to be the captain of the Mako. The Council shall compensate you for your time once we make port.”

“B... but I-” Lehroo began.

“Being the flagship of this generation of vessels, I shall personally see to the Mako reaching port,” Gorgol stated, and plucked the hat and coat off of Lehroo. He wrapped the coat around his “finger”, but put the hat on the “top” of his head –and Olivier could have sworn he saw a flicker of blue go through those eyes. “You are dismissed, Lehroo. Tell the crew to prepare to descend.” Lehroo did, grumbling away, and the giant sighed, lowering his arm with a thunderous rumble. “Now, Typus... Typus? Typus.”

The Aceon beside Olivier nudged him, and Olivier realized that Gorgol was referring to him.

“Sorry, sir,” he said, shuffling his feet a little. “Yes?”

“What’s the status report? What have you learned while sailing under Lehroo? Do you think he is fitting to remain a captain in service to the Aqua Alliance?”

“I... if I may speak plain, sir?”

“Of course, Typus. You know you are.”

“O-oh... t-thank you, sir-”

“You don’t need to call me sir, Typus. All the men here know I’m your father.” The Arbiters laughed, but were quickly silenced as Gorgol sighed again. “However, your response speaks volumes, the lack of an answer an answer that descends depths... He’s a moron, isn’t he?”

“I-I wouldn’t go that far-”

“But a moron with heart and drive insurmountable. He’s a tad dull, but he only wants to serve the Aqua Alliance as best he can. An ideal not unworthy of merit... however, did he have any thought? Any aspirations outside of serving the Council?”

“Not as far as I can recall.”

“I see. A shame, then... Once we return to Carapai, he shall return to being a clerk in the Council’s office. I persuaded them to give him a chance, so this is a touch disheartening... At least you haven’t failed me, Typus.”

“That’s right, daddy’s boy!” One screamed, others jeering.

“You do us proud, baby boy,” another exclaimed, all silenced as Gorgol raised his hand.

“That will be quite enough of that,” he said. “Now, Typus, was there any other business to take care of before we set out?”

“W-well... No. None that I can recall.”

“But what about the-” One of the Arbiters that were initially aboard started to chide in, cut off as Gorgol pointed to the back of the ship.

“That’s quite the odd sight,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a Terrahn aboard this s... wait... Are they dangling an Itchyoman over the rail?”

“The prisoners are escaping!” The Arbiter shrilled, him, his pair, and the two Aceon breaking rank and trying to shove through the rings. Olivier wheeled to see, yellow already filling his eyes, seeing Lady Naomei holding, dangling Gale by the hand over the sea. It was only a matter of time before the others realized that it wasn’t him but a different Terrahn; he had to think of something, but what could he do? He couldn’t take them all on, especially Gorgol the Colossus right there. No... what he needed was a distraction.

A distraction, huh? He looked down at his right hand, remembering his dream, then looked around. All eyes had turned to the scene at the stern, on the captain’s quarters, which meant he could start close. He wasn’t sure how to, though. He simply remembered the thing flinging its arm out, which, in turn, made him fling his out-

And he summoned the shadow right before him.

It stood right before Gorgol’s boot, barely more than a rivet on it, and gasped and rasped. Slowly, he saw the eyes turn to it, saw yellow blossom again in the Cephamorian’s around, and, when it wailed, all attention was on it. Another shudder ran through the rings, allowing Olivier to squeeze through, heading for the steps while the others simply... watched that figure.

Olivier heard one of the Arbiters gasp, and the shadow turned towards the back of the ring, towards Gorgol. Its purple eyes flashed red, and it wailed again.

Crushed under Gorgol’s boot.

“Interesting,” he said, grinding it into the deck. “Never seen a specimen like that. Make sure to collect its remains so the Council can research i-” He went silent, and raised his boot, finding there were no remains. It was simply gone, and the green gem was back on Olivier’s hand. “Most intriguing. A monster that can disappear on a whim. A colony that vanished over night and left desolate... I do believe that these two events may be tied. Don’t you agree, Typus... Come to think of it, where did it even come from? We’re in the middle of the ocean... Typus? You’re thoughts? Typus... Where did he go? Typus! Did anyone see where he got off to-”

“Wait. What happened to the Terrahn and Itchyoman?” One of the Arbiters barked, and pointed at a rather confused and disoriented Typus. He was picking himself up off the roof of the captain’s quarters, while Olivier, Lady Naomei, and Gale hung off the back. “You! You let them get away, didn’t you?”

“Huh? What?” Typus uttered, but shook his head. “Wait! No. I didn’t-”

“Come, Typus. You tried your best,” Gorgol said. “Let us go below and enjoy an ale. You can tell me all about your tale. I want to hear how you enjoyed your first sail.”

“Y...yeah. Okay, dad.”

He yelped as he fell off the roof, but managed to make his way back down to the (grumbling) mass. Their boots thundered once more, launching off the ship and returning to their own, while the entire ship quaked with Gorgol heading downstairs. The Arbiters’ grumbling only grew with their descent, stating vehemently about nepotism and all it entails, until it was barely more than a murmur, then it, too, fell silent.

Gale, Lady Naomei, and Olivier pulled themselves back up onto the captain’s quarters, all heaving a weary sigh. Olivier looked down at his arm, blackened, darkened again, but only had a moment before Lady Naomei and Gale both lunged at him, holding him.

“Ollie!” Gale cried, sniffling. “You saved me.”

“At last, dear Olivier,” Lady Naomei said. “I’ve been searching for you for so long.”

They both pushed off at once, glaring at each other.

“What do you want with him?” They both said. Gale scoffed, gesturing to herself. “I’ll have you know I’m Ollie’s best friend. What are you to him?”

“I’m his betrothed,” she said, holding up her hand, and the golden band on it flashed, reflected, answered on Olivier’s hand. “We were due to wed three years ago. I’ve been searching for him ever since... and I won’t be denied now.”

Gale scoffed, pulling Olivier towards her, much to Lady Naomei’s ire.

“If that is true, ever think that he is just not that into you? Ollie and I have been inseparable since last week.”

“Since he fled from Lam Berel, where he killed Madam Volum then fled into the sewers.” She reached out for Olivier’s hands... but stopped, seeing his corrupted right arm. She pawed at it, worry and tears filling her face, and her lip quivered. “I had hoped. I prayed... but it was true, wasn’t it? You’ve been corrupted.”

“It’s not what you think,” he said, shaking. His heart ached seeing such pain in her eyes, such sorrow and despair, knowing it all too well. “I’m... I’m cursed... There was a chest... I’ll explain everything, but we need to get down below. We’ll be submerging soon.”

“We’ll hide in the deck storeroom,” Raina said-

“When did you guys get here?” Gale shrieked.

“Shut up and get moving,” Sheira said. “The deck is cleared, but won’t be long if you keep screaming your head off.”

And so the party of five did... Although Olivier was happy to have saved and reunited with Lady Naomei, he couldn’t help but feel he didn’t deserve this punishment... No good deed goes unpunished, though, and this was what he got: a return to a painful time among people who would sooner tear him in half than let any of the others have all... Why did he feel like he was back in Terra, or his father’s store? Rather, he felt like he was in a place he had no wish to go to –at least, not yet. Maybe, perhaps if events continued to transpire and spiral ever downward, it would be a nice vacation there. A bit of respite from the true torment he now endured, and its overwhelming pressure that now quickly built upon his shoulders.

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