of Beasts and Man

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Dredge Tidings

The chains began to clatter, loosed into the briny deep, echoed, answered, rising into a chorus of clangor from the gathered armada. Their hulls groaned, wobbling as water frothed against their underbellies, churned up by ever-increasing links of chain that penetrated and descended into the ocean’s depths. Shouting could be heard outside of the tiny storeroom, feet rushing to close the sails before retreating downstairs, pulling the heavy grates shut behind, wanting, needing to be below before those masts sunk in.

One by one they would dip below the surface. One by one they would aim towards the south, where the great dome of Carapai awaited, and only when they were fully turned would the next one submerge, joining it. The Mako would be the first to go under, the center of this gathering, and the first to endure the pressure once again, a pressure Olivier felt all too well before they even went under.

But they weren’t the only ships out near Agutrot that morning. Tarjen stood at the wheel of the Kraken, looking out towards the horizon, blanketing, hiding the armada in its red glare. Even then, his eyes were locked above, watching the skies, focusing on that ever-nearing crescent of red against a paling sky. With each lurching wave, with every rise and fall, carrying them towards it, his stomach tightened. The rest of the crew was hard at work, tending to the deck, checking the sails, patching them; he could hear down in the galley below, muffled squabbling and clamoring. Such innocent ignorance, and yet that did nothing to take the edge off.

It might have been early, far too early for most revelers, but Tarjen knew that Agutrot- nay, Zephyrian cities in general didn’t know rest. There was always a stream of gliders coming in and out, and, at the more... liberal cities, there was always a gout of “Zephyrian magic” that could be seen for leagues. And always plentiful.

Agutrot, especially, was known for such spectacles. Even moreso considering the Fesitval was being held there this year. There should be a heaven’s worth of “magic” surging from that city... and yet, here it was, only given life by dawn’s touch. He continued to watch it, even as the red finally faded from the golden edge, but nothing stirred. Nothing rose into those heavens.

“Captain,” Roe said, making him jump. He looked from that golden crescent at last, looking to the left of the wheel, and saw Roe standing before the steps on that side. She was dripping with sweat, and panting so hard it was a wonder she could even address him. However, there was still such... life in those eyes, such energy. Such happiness. She took a step, her feet squelching on the boards, wobbling a bit but holding firm as it settled back down, standing proud before him. She took a deep breath, letting it go, slowly, steadying her breathing. “The crew is almost finished. What else would you have us do?”

“Truly?” Tarjen said. “It hasn’t even been an hour since you all awoke.”

“The worst of the damage was done by being pinched between the two ships, and Ruu and Plu already tended to that. It’s been rather smooth sailing, all things considered.”

He sighed, leaning on the wheel, and looked out upon the horizon once more.

“You shouldn’t have said that,” he said... and looked down to the masts. “Were the crow’s nests done? I can’t recall anyone climbing on the hooks. They have a distinct ring.”

“A good captain knows all the sounds of his ship, huh?”

“A bored captain, in truth.”

They chuckled, which Tarjen felt a bit of pink touch his eyes... taken as she answered.

“Not yet. However, we did have a few volunteers.”

“Volunteers? Plural?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I suppose it’s our three... exceptional friends.” She repeated her answer, which brought a bit of purple to his eyes. As well as red. “And they all want to do it? All at the same time? One-by-one?”

“I also found it a bit suspicious, so that’s why I came to ask if it would be all right if I can... listen in.”

“You didn’t need to ask, Roe.”

“I know, captain.”

He chortled, looking at her, and nodded.

“Very well. I wish for you to tail them. Find out why it takes three hearty men to clean a single, tiny nest at a time... And only report back if it’s meaningful for the crew.”

“As you wish.”

They chuckled again, and she left him there, returning to the deck. Tarjen wanted to focus on the horizon, on that golden edge of the world again, but for some reason his eyes wouldn’t leave her, watching after, seeing the sweat glisten on her back, rolling down her bright blue scales. They held onto their rounded edges, accentuating the soft green there, before rolling down to the next set, making their way with each, sauntering step to her short tail. And what waited just beyond.

He shook his head, more than a bit of pink holding this time, and realized he had another guest. This time he didn’t jump; he had heard her slink up the other set of steps awhile back, heard her breathing as him and Roe talked, but now Ella felt comfortable enough to make her presence known, climbing up to the wheel.

“Yes?” He said, and looked to her. There was a bit of yellow in her eyes, and seemed to be suffering from a soft chill. “What seems to be the matter?”

“Oh. Uh, nothing,” Ella said, though her voice, and the new round of yellow, did nothing but add to the contrary. She cleared her throat, head bobbing a little, and eased herself back against the railing, trying so hard to look at ease. Failing at every turn. The railing had given a little, creaked, and she yelped, skittering a few steps away, towards Tarjen. She stopped herself before she ran into him, but only made it worse by propelling back into the railing, almost leaping right over it... She settled on it, sitting, wrapping two of her legs around it as she only shook worse, and cleared her throat again. “S-s-so... How much f-farther do we have t-t-t-to go?”

Tarjen pointed to his favored place this morning... and felt ever more uneasy about the lack of... anything along it.

“That’s Agutrot,” he said... and nodded to her. “It’s quite alright, lass. Believe me, I’m not feeling all too well this morning. A foul irking has taken hold, ever since the dawn was soaked in blood, and only grew as I watched.”

“Why?”

“A Zephyrian town doesn’t stay silent for long... It’s as if Natalie, herself, had claimed it. Still as the ocean’s depths... Keep your head low. Stay out of trouble. I don’t know what is coming, but I have no doubt this is no normal calm.”

“Should I tell the others, sir?”

“No. Knowing Plu, he has already warned Ruu, and I can take care of R... The ones that understand will be all right.”

“And those that don’t?”

“Ignorance is bliss.”

She nodded, and left, leaving him to watch after Roe again. She had taken position on a water barrel, taking a drink, but he could see that her eyes were focused on the stairs, gleaming, watching for the three. She didn’t have to wait long, as if the oafs were summoned by hers... and Tarjen’s wanting. His “hands” tightened on the wheel, watching as they all approached the same mast, as they all climbed the same mast... at once. All three fought over the spokes, quarreling, fighting to climb up before the others, which, somehow, through sheer ignorant force, they all made it to the top at the exact same time, and all were none the wiser of the fourth that clamored in their shadow.

Soon, he thought, wheel groaning, “hands” shaking, eyes filling with red as he watched after her. All I need is evidence, you morons. Concrete evidence. Once I have it, I’ll keelhaul all of you.

If it wasn’t for them, after all, they wouldn’t be fugitives. Because of them, they were now on the run, all because they botched his plan. They were now targets because of their incompetence, but, more than anything else, they put Ella in danger. Ella, of all people. She was ever his hardest worker, the light, the warmth and fire he needed down below, and they snuffed it away... She was the daughter he never had, and a daughter of a monster, at that.

Black overtook the red, shocked with yellow as he realized his “hand” was wrapped around his blade. Pulled out halfway... He huffed, and pushed it back into its scabbard, though his “hand” still trembled on its handle, wanting nothing more than to release it once again.

It’s a good thing she killed the bastard then, he thought, yellow fading for the swirls of red and black. Otherwise, when we made port in Carapai-

Strange. That wasn’t a normal thump.

Tarjen looked away from the three simpletons, rather what lurked below them, and down to the starboard bow. More and more thumps slapped against the hull; he walked over to the stairs, looked over the side. Green filled his eyes, fighting hard to keep what meal he had ate down, met with that gruesome sight. There were Zephyrians there, face down in the water, slapping, lazing by the hull as the Kraken continued on its path. A path laden with more and more corpses... moreso than normal. It wasn’t a queer sight to see a handful of them during the Festival, but not enough to make a small island. At least, not all at once. He could only watch as the ship reached the bodies, slapping more and more before shoved aside.

That is, until one tried to claw at it.

Tarjen raced down the steps. His heart pounded in his ears, eyes a swirl of color, of so many shades as he ducked behind them for the briefest moment. It was little more than a breath’s time, but it felt agonizing to lose sight of that Zephyrian for even that. For good reason; by the time he returned, they were gone, no longer on the starboard side.

He cursed. They must have gone under the boat, or under the water. Either way, he had lost his chance for answers, and hated that he didn’t keep rope on the sides. He turned around, about to throw the rope back under the steps, when he heard the smallest of gasps. From the port side.

He ran over, and there was another Zephyrian, trying to grasp the hull. Being pulled under.

“Hold on!” He boomed, and jumped into the water. Rope spiraled behind, an end left on deck. He hoped, prayed to Natalie that it would snag on the railing, but there was no way he was going to let this chance slip by. The current carried the Zephyrian to him, but he still had to swim, keep up with the ship, pulling on it, pushing against the hull as he tried to climb in vain.

The rope continued to hiss, loosing more and more from his “arm”, wrapping, snaring him as he continued to hold on. However, he could no longer hold to the side, and soon the ship was starting to leave them. He looked up at the rope, at the railing... and his heart sunk as the end of it slipped right over the rail, dooming him and the Zephyrian to their watery gr-

“I got you,” Roe exclaimed, catching it just under the rail. The rope groaned as she disappeared again, creaking as it was pulled taut, kept that way as Tarjen made his way up and over. He fell on deck, rolling the Zephyrian ahead of him on it, panting as he finally let the rope go. He simply laid there, panting, face down... but was forced to face the light again as Roe turned him over, smirking at him. “Jeez, captain. Trying to give us all a heart attack?”

“Sometimes I like to swap the roles,” he said, and accepted her hand, standing up. The Zephyrian had basically landed right beside him... and, thankfully, was still alive. How much was the question; they weren’t long for this world, bleeding out onto the deck, already a puddle in that short bit of time, though if it was actually theirs or another, caked onto their purple plumage, was uncertain.

Tarjen gently turned them over, and saw their gentle, white beak was cracked and blackened, their eyes half-glassed and showing no signs of slowing... and neither did her beak. He couldn’t hear it against the waves, his heart, but now, in the softness on the deck, he could hear that they were muttering something. They were praying.

Their eyes darted back and forth, though Tarjen they could see, but he was wondering. What were they seeing? What did they see?

“Hey,” Tarjen said, loud but soft, but that only increased the Zephyrian’s muttering. Their voice started to crack, turned to croaking coughs, hacking up so much ash. Ash and blood.

“Darkness.” They managed to spew. “Darkness! Shadows. S...screams. So much... blood. So much blood! Astra! Astra save m... save... me...”

They went limp in Tarjen’s arms, settled back onto the deck, and he stood, looking to Roe, then to Ella. Yellow had stirred in both of their eyes, knowing what that meant.

“Captain?” Roe said.

“Return her over the side,” Tarjen said, marching up to the prow, and looked upon the sea of corpses. “Let her return to her people.”

Ill omen, indeed... He sighed, raising his vision to the horizon again, to its accursed light... and saw two peculiar sights on its edge: a glint finally glimmering far off on the cooling sky, and a gathering on the sea... There would be no way for him to catch up to that glint, and he wasn’t even sure if it was what he hoped. However, why would ten ships meet this far in open water. Aqua Alliance ships, at that... As much as it pained him, as much as he would love to go after the glint, he had a niggling that must be taken care of.

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