of Beasts and Man

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Powderfish, Powder Keg

The Kraken was swallowed into that gray, its black hull nigh invisible against the sea and sky. The sails that once kept it apart were quickly closed and tied taut, but it was not without its resistance. The wind tried to whip its way through the closed fabric, tried to tear it open as the crew worked to leash it down. Blasts of rain, crashes of thunder, of lightning slamming into the metal rivets of the ship; it was a hard-earned battle, but a battle they did win.

The crew retreated downstairs, manning the oars, while Tarjen and Roe, remained on top. Both were at the wheel, keeping it pointed towards those docks, at an empty pier. Tarjen thought he caught something out of the corner of his eye, a ship lodged against the rocks off to the left, underneath the Itchyoman District, but didn’t pay it much thought, pressing, holding on. Roe growled, helping him hold the wheel steady, nails biting into the planks as wave after wave of wind and rain tried to take them.

Meanwhile, further out at sea, an armada was approaching, encroaching on that wall. There were eight ships, all of Aqua Alliance make, headed by the Cocytus. It was manned by the leader of the Powderfish pirates, the sapphire-scaled Itchyoman called Sheira. Her six, slanted, yellow eyes sparkled, looking upon the city in the distance, licking at her teeth. They were bejeweled, unable to be pulled into their gums anymore, freed to be their long, jagged, snaggletoothed, crisscrossing selves. They crossed over each other more than a basket weave, and almost matched in color aside those beautiful studs that perforated them. Her jowls always seemed to protruded, to quiver –even worse now with that purple hand mark on her face. Her large, billowing crest was closed this day, four points of it lazing on her shoulders, making that crown and collar of white thorns look like a cloak, while the rest of her was hidden under a thick black robe.

Another Itchyoman climbed the steps up to the wheel, to her captain. She was almost a perfect copy of Sheira, with the only difference being her teeth, actually able to be pulled into her gums, her mouth able to be shut.

“Yes, Raina?” The captain said.

“It’s about our newest ‘recruits’,” Raina said, not even hiding her disgust for the word. “The Itchyoman will not shut up. The crew is getting incredibly annoyed... and inclined to introduce her to the barnacles.”

“What about her keeper?”

“She seems to have mastered the ability to ignore her... Last I saw she was sweeping the kitchen and dining hall.”

“That’s awfully kind of her. Make sure she gets plenty of food tonight. As much as she desires... as well as prepare a wallet for her pay.”

“That’s a lot for somebody who has only been with us for a few days.”

“You saw it in her, Raina... She’s a drifter, a lost soul. She has a goal at the far end, but if she ever gets to it... It doesn’t matter. The world has cast her aside; I simply want to make sure she knows she’s welcomed somewhere.”

“But not her ‘luggage’... right?”

The captain growled... an almost... cuddly noise, and sneered at Raina.

“We’ll be throwing her out at the docks as soon as we make port. I doubt we’ll have any argument from Ella for that.”

No, I really wouldn’t, Ella thought, humming, softly chuckling to herself as their words drifted through the closest porthole in the dining hall. The orange-and-red Cephamorian was sitting at one of the four tables that spanned it. Unlike other Aqua Alliance vessels, it only had one storeroom, set behind the rowing room, the second given for the length of this dining hall. There were still remnants of it, however, the supports left in check, tables carved in their centers to fit around them. Each one could house forty, sixty if packed tight, which two of the tables were at that moment. The majority of the crew were Itchyoman, all different shades, different fin and sail patterns. They all had more than two eyes, but she noticed that none had more than twelve, all different shades of yellow, blue, and green.

Ella was still a bit shocked, in truth. She thought, with this many Itchyoman on a single vessel, dissent and chaos would be routine. However, there was almost never any conflict, never a single ounce of tension... so long as her “friend” wasn’t around-

And speak of the Dark One.

“There you are!” The Itchyoman, Gale, called through the room. Somehow, in all the noise and voices, hers overpowered all, silencing them as they all glared at her. For what good it did; she traipsed through the room, smiling, grinning from ear-to-ear as she made her way to Ella. The Cephamorian pondered if it was too late to change seats, sit in between some of the crew. Her mind must have been thinking it loudly, the Itchyoman trying to make room, shoving into each other to make a space, but it was too late. Gale plopped beside her, and groaned as she stretched, giggling. “Where have you been? I was cleaning the poop deck all by myself; thought you were coming right back up.”

“I never said I was,” Ella said, curt, red blossoming once more in her spiral eyes. “I decided to clean the hall, instead... Thought you had it covered.”

“You were right, but being around this many Itchyoman? You should be more careful.”

Such a crass remark. Such a loud voice... such a lukewarm reception. The crew returned to their jovial banter, but kept shooting dirty looks at the Itchyoman... The one actually talking down about them, belittling them for who they were... Ella sighed, knowing all too well the irony was lost on somebody like her, and simply gave her a bored expression as her stomach growled.

Gale chuckled, patting it... Ella wanted to offer to help, give it a real thorough beating, but kept silent, still simply staring at her.

“Looks like I worked up an appetite,” she said, then waved at the crew. “Hey! What’s good today?”

“Peace,” one said, while another replied. “Quiet.” A third voice said something incredibly vulgar, gaining a round of jeering and whistles, but were quick to add that they were not interested in any way for somebody like her.

Gale, meanwhile, had already stood and marched over to the kitchen nook, tucked away in the stern. It was little more than an iron stove and a sink, made out of two barrel halves over a spigot that pulled in salt water. On the stove there were two squat kettles, each one steaming as she lifted their lids, filling her bowls with what smelled like beef stew.

The ignorantly blissful Itchyoman replaced the lids and returned with the two bowls... putting one on the table behind Ella.

“There you go! Thought you’d be hungry,” she said, plopping down beside again, and took a great sniff of her stew. Ella simply looked at it as she pulled away the steam, seeing the brown broth, the bright orange carrots, the chunks of potato and its skins, and, of course, the main ingredient of any beef stew. Thick, succulent chunks of meat bobbed in between, darker, more robust than the concoction it simmered in, and all the more inviting to Ella’s hungry stomach.

However, she took her time to turn around to her bowl, and took even longer picking up the wooden spoon out of the wooden basin. She kept an eye off to the side for Gale, watched her, seeing as she slurped down that stew with such gluttonous indignation only to hiss and wince and complain that it was hot in between bites.

“But it’s so good!” She declared. Every single time... The rest of the crew started to leave, the ones closest patting Ella’s shoulder as they left, offering their condolences. Ella finally managed to bring a spoonful of that stew up to her beak, its steam making her middle rise more, keeping her head away from the hot air, but turned it over, letting it fall on the ground under as Gale slapped her “back”. “We’re almost there, you know! The city can just be seen on the horizon.”

“So that’s why you’re so chipper.” Ella said, putting her spoon down before she could use it... and not for the food.

Gale sighed, almost shuddered, if not moaned, and hugged herself.

“Of course! Of course of course of course! Oh... I can feel him. Captain Tarjen... We’ll be reunited soon.” She sighed against, wistful, and Ella had a bit of green rush across her eyes, taking with it her appetite. “And looks like you have a new calling, huh? You’re going to be a pirate.”

“I don’t know,” Ella said. A bit of pink rose in her eyes, her heart fluttering in her chest, remembering Nobody. “I still need to find him, after all.”

The Powderfish, though were a good place to start, she had noted back when they were first taken aboard, when they had been fired upon and left in a dingy, running from the Council’s arbiters. The handprint on the captain’s face, the suckers on a Terrahn’s hand, and the fact they were talking about the Dread Pirate and how they were a freak; she knew it was Him. It had to be Him.

But could he really be the Dread Pirate. Has her Nobody become the embodiment of what everybody feared? And what about that Terrahn lass that helped him? Red and black blossomed around the pink, remembering that... that thief!

“Hey, you okay?” Gale chided in. “You haven’t touched your stew.”

“I’m not hungry at the moment,” she said, her voice cold, eyes still teeming with red, only growing as that Itchyoman cackled.

“I’m not either. I’m so excited! I’ll be back with my captain and be off on another fantastic adventure! Hunting down the Scylla, together, with my darling Captain Tarjen... I’ll have to do some serious recruiting, though! It’s the least I can do for him giving me this prestigious duty of looking out for you.”

Ella scoffed, and stood. She picked up her bowl, marching to the sink, and rinsed it out before heading for the entrance. Gale of course followed, trotting behind like a puppy, a cur that didn’t know when or where boundaries were and continued to test them all the way to the prow. Ella leaned on the railing there, taking up the V, and looked out upon the horizon. Lam Berel, the storm, was ahead, still so far, but she could see where the ocean turned black, a perfect line.

Her heart thumped. Hard. It was only one beat, but it was enough to make her whole body collapse, breathless.

Gale exclaimed, grabbing her by her “arms”, and helped her stand.

“What happened?” She said.

“I don’t know,” she said, and her heart continued to race, seeing the veil of black, pink... and purple before her, outlining the city on the horizon. Not even the lightning could break the image, so pristine... She shook her head, and it was gone, but her heart still hammered away. Why is this happening? Why now... Why again?

She wrenched free from Gale’s clutches and pushed her aside, heading for the galley once more and the rest quarters. A majority of the hammocks were filled, the hall rumbling with sleep as much as the impending thunder, but hers was always open, placed at the far back, nestled against the prow plank. Gale had followed her, but was forgotten as she flung herself into that mesh, turning away... and hoped, prayed that the purple would do the same.

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