of Beasts and Man

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Threadbare

The storm raged on through the night, but was gone by first light. Any trace of those dark clouds, of the sound and fury they held, were nowhere to be seen. The sky was clear, clearer than it had been for days, almost a soft white, bleeding with the sun’s touch. Red trailed through it, tinged by orange, as did the ocean welcoming it upon its grand body once more, calmed by its embrace.

Squall woke with a start, the Scylla groaning, lurching forward... then back. The hammocks all swung, leaned towards the entrance, settling as the ship lurched forward again. This time, she was awake enough to hear Ponitius bellow, his voice crackling and still stiff with the night’s dew.

“Heave!”

There was a chorus of groans, of wood creaking, and the ship tried so hard to move back again. Squall fought to get out of her hammock, practically slid to the entry, but was able to rush up the stairs, almost sliding into the anchor spoke as the ship lurched forward once again. She braced herself against it, and saw everyone, everyone that was on-board save for the Zephyrian, even the Natorei were digging harpoons into the stone wall. Ponitius bellowed again, grunting as he dug that pike in, the wood bowing alongside the others as the ship lurched towards the entry once more... only to settle again.

“Blast it all,” he exclaimed, panting as he leaned on the railing. “All we need is an inch.”

“For what?” Squall said. All eyes turned on her, as if she was unwelcomed... though some were harsher than others.

“We need to get a move on,” Ponitius said, nudging his head to the entry. “Weather broke, but the blasted tide is just as fickle as ever. This is so much easier with the Falchion-”

“And what about Olivier? Did he come back last night... Is he in the captain’s quarters?”

“No, but we cannot afford to wait any longer,” Strix said. “The Zephyrian will be up any moment, and we need to be out in deeper water before that happens... Be thankful I’m not throwing you off now, but we could use the extra muscle.”

“‘You’ throwing her off?” Ponitius said, chortling.

“My apologies, captain.”

“So you made him captain,” Squall said, her tone bitter, edging on venomous. “How fortuitous of you two.”

“It’s not too late. The landing is right there... Besides, this is what Olivier would have wanted.”

Squall growled, and took a step towards the silver Natorei, swiping her hand at her.

“You were the one that pushed him to be captain in the first place! What about the rest of you? Fili, are you really okay with this? You said you love Ollie, and now you’re leaving him??”

Fili looked like she was about to answer, but was silenced as Strix’s silver orb flashed bright.

“I explained to her that we would be back, in haste, to retrieve him. However, the ship and its crew must come first; Olivier would understand.”

“And you, Bethilius? Are you fine serving under your ex?”

“Don’t get me into this,” he grumbled... and Squall saw that his milky eye had a bit more darkness around it than usual, clashing with his dark brown skin.

“We’ve all... discussed this at great length this morning,” Strix added. “We all agreed this would be the best course of action to take-”

“But that would depend entirely on the captain’s say. Olivier’s say.”

“I actually said that,” Avin said, clicking his tongue. “As usual, nobody listened to me or what I wanted... like GOING OUT TO TOWN, for instance.”

“We shall return once the engines are taken care of,” Strix said... as if Avin hadn’t spoken at all... Now, take up a harpoon or return to your hammock.”

Squall scoffed, but did, finding a place between Claire and Beatri-

“This is a power move. Plain and simple,” Claire mumbled.

“What?” Squall said, but she didn’t answer, her question lost to Ponitius bellowing his command once more. Maybe it was because Squall had helped, but the ship finally got over its “hurdle”, continuing towards the cove instead of back into its resting place. Ponitius dropped his harpoon and took his place behind the wheel while Strix gave him commands on how to turn it, how much to turn it, and when to spin it the other way.

Slowly, languishing, the Scylla felt daylight again. Strix commanded Squall to collect the harpoons and told the others to hurry to the oars. They needed to slow down before the tide took them completely to Lam Berel’s port, as well as turn towards the open sea. Though nobody wanted to, they hurried below deck, and Squall did as she was told. For now.

She simply stood there on-deck, holding all those pikes, glaring at the gilded engines. Their blue runes were cold, but the golden metal gleamed in the sun, as if capturing the actual flames and holding them in their glistening basin. There were four of them, two on each side and front and back, clashing against the tempered ferrisom bark, an amalgamation that should not exist but does.

The oars splashed in the water, disturbing its glassy top, sparkling, shimmering with such joy as the sun warmed it again, starting its long journey over it, lavishing it at long last. The timbers groaned, as did those on the oars, but the ship slowed to a halt soon enough, and was just as quick turned out to sea, lumbering towards that seemingly endless horizon.

Strix cleared her throat, her red eyes boring through the cloud of silver she was in.

“What are you doing standing around? Go place those oars in the supply room at the prow.”

“You do it,” Squall said, dropping them at last, clattering and rolling. “I am but a glorified stowaway.”

“Do you think this is a good look on you? Petty? Spiteful? I’ve read enough about it in Nejrat’s journal. Maybe I should tell you the truths about the contents, about how he despised you and all Itchyoman.”

“That’s a lie-”

“I do not lie, Squall... Olivier knows that. The three of us have been conspiring this whole time.”

“That is a lie! A bold one, an insulting one at that. How dare you besmirch Ollie’s name!”

“Am I now?” She tittered, flying up to Squall, the light hurting her eyes with how brilliant it shined. “If you are going to call me a liar, how about I make it worth its merit? When- if Olivier returns... how do you think he will react when he hears how you tried to stage a coup against him?”

Squall snarled, teeth squelching free as her nails, her claws ripped their way out of her fingertips. She could only see red, and that Natorei’s light right now rang against her ears like a dinner bell.

“I would never!” She shrieked, growling. “Ollie knows that to be true.”

“It’s a matter of who he believes more: the Itchyoman he has had to wear a mask around to stay alive, or the devoted Natorei who has served as his guide... Tell me, how is your faith in that? Do you truly believe he would believe an Itchyoman before a Natorei?”

“I believe you are using him and don’t really understand him... nor want to.”

“Now who is slinging insults? I happen to have a great deal of interest in Olivier, but facts are facts. Common sense may not be so common nowadays, but there are still three universal rules: water is wet, violence should always be a last resort, and you never trust Itchyomen.”

“Well, Ollie does trust me.”

“He may be our captain, but he is still no better than a child- a dog, if you will forgive the comparison. He is like a lost pup who simply wants to make anyone who shows him affection or attention happy.”

“Am I interrupting something?” Avin said as he flew out of the galley.

“Nothing important.”

“Why y-” Squall began.

“That’s good,” Avin said, clearing his throat. “The Zephyrian woke up. He is currently in the process of ye olde ‘expel out of porthole’.”

As he said it, they all heard a rather disconcerting sound, as if somebody had grabbed a chicken very... very wrong, then promptly started to punch it in the chest. Water splashed several times, the sound only becoming more uncomfortable with each one, until, at last, with a loud, long, low crow, the porthole was clasped shut again.

It wasn’t long before they could hear talons clacking up the steps, and the Zephyrian’s bright plumage rose over the railing. No one feather was the same color as its neighbor, running along his, arm, and the wings attached to them. The yellows were tipped in bright orange, the others gradiant shades to their edges, a bit jagged, as if serrated. His eyes, though bloodshot, were usually bright green, and he had on a ruffled orange tunic, leaving his feet and talons free to move. His beak was long, curled a touch at its end, clacking as it grumbled and yawned... Stopping as he saw the sea off to his left.

“Oh, bugger. Again?” Spack Jarrow said, his voice an enigma, both wanting to be bright and vibrant yet scratchy and haggard. It was leaning more to the haggard side this morning, but his eyes quickly cleared seeing that glowing sea. He whipped his head back to Squall, clacking his beak. “Tell me lass: Did I marry anyone this time? Possibly adopted a kind stewarding wench?”

“Not that I’m aware o- did you say this t- again!”

He waved it off... and practically cooed, seeing the golden engine up the steps. He stopped, and whipped around, seeing all four but also what they were attached to. His feathers ruffled, lifting him as he seemed to fly to each corner, admiring them.

“Could it be?” He exclaimed. “Am I really on the Scylla? Sorry to all the lasses I left yearning above, but I shall gladly settle down with whoever is my fair maiden... It... it is a maiden this time too, right?”

“No. No maiden. No marriage,” Claire said, strutting up on deck. Her tail flicked behind her, though there was no joy in her eyes, wide and watching the Zephyrian. “You involuntarily volunteered to aid us. Captain’s orders.”

The Zephyrian landed by Ponitius, holding out his hand.

“I take it that’s you, dear chap-”

“Only temporarily,” Squall corrected.

“Yes. Our actual captain is currently... indisposed at the moment,” Strix said, taking the Zephyrian’s hand. “I am his adviser, however, as well as the temporary captain’s. Strix.”

“Charmed... and I can see why you would need my help. Those engines are ancient –as to be expected. How old is this ship? 5, 600 years? Yet still in pristine condition.” He cleared his throat again, making that uncomfortable sound, making everyone recoil. “Relax. I got it out of my system... Now I take it the engines won’t fire. Those runes are even older; Lyral scribe. Language of the Lyral back when they were treated as the slave caste. Weak and unreliable. Nowadays most Zephyrian engines are engraved with Larokal. Holds the strength, the Voice, of Zephyria almost infinitesimally... However, if we get back to a city, I have another idea.” He fluttered, cooing, his green eyes shining so bright. “Oh, the things I want to do. Not everyday such a rare specimen falls into your lap.”

“Shall we take that to mean you are willing to aid us?” Strix said.

“You can take it up the rear if you want if it means I can toy with this legendary piece.”

That... gave Strix pause, made her light flare a moment before dimmed... a bit too far. The other members of the crew had slunk up during that delivery, which many struggled not to laugh. Avin didn’t; he had no problem, and couldn’t see why the others struggled. It was as natural as breathing.

Strix’s hue returned to its normal, optimal brightness, and she let go of his hand.

“It is important those engines are fixed, so we cannot deny you... however, there is a slight problem. In our current state, there is no way we can make it to a Zephyrian town. We would need a charge. A minor one, but enough to reach one of those golden cities.”

“Luckily, we have our own fan club following after us, huh?” Ponitius said, chuckling again.

“You can’t be serious,” Squall uttered. “Y... you just can’t!”

“More outbursts, Squall?” Strix muttered.

“No! This is going too far!”

“What is?” Spack said.

“You should know the Scylla’s fame... Rather, the inverse,” Strix said, shooting a dirty look at Squall. “We’ve had a certain band of pirates, mostly Itchyoman sorcerers, on our tail since their embarrassing encounter with our captain.”

“Yup,” Ponitius said, chortling more, making Squall’s eye twitch with each lackadaisical utterance. “Now, we could ambush one of the back ships and bluff that the good captain has demanded one to come on-board. It would only be a moment, just enough to give the engines a jolt-”

“You were thinking it. Even after Olivier refused such a notion.”

“We are sort of lacking alternatives,” Strix said. “Olivier would-”

“Would Olivier be truly okay with this? Sacrificing a life? Would he be truly fine with standing by and condoning this... Would he, Strix!”

“Well, we don’t really know, do we?” Bethilius interjected, snorting. “After all, it was because of you he’s not here... I don’t necessarily care for this plan either, but if it means returning to get our real captain sooner, then I-”

“No! I refuse to back down on this... Not even a day after, and you are all spitting on him.”

“Perhaps it’s because you have personal reason?” Strix said. “It is one of your kind being fed to the engines, after all.”

“I have had it with your mouth!”

However, all sound, all anger, faded as Ponitius’s chuckle rose. Gone was its simple, vapid existence, now laced with malevolence and anger. He rolled his wrist at Squall, feeling very small at the bottom of the steps, and thought she saw something glimpse in his tailor jacket.

“Now now. Enough fighting,” he said. “Truth be told, I’m not really liking this idea, either. I was just speaking my mind... However, there’s not a lot of leeway here, aye?

“About that,” Spack said, clearing his throat again, and reached into the top of his tunic. Light started to spill forth from that plumage, resonating from a small, blue crystal. “I have an aether shard. It’ll give the engines a bit of juice, but we’ll have to get almost under the city before we can use it.”

“Then we make for Balvot-”

Spack squawked, waving his arms furiously while seemingly wearing a wide smile.

“Let’s not go there,” he said, chuckling sheepishly, and sighed. “I do believe Agutrot would be far more suitable for my- our needs. Far more accepting... and busier. If done right, we can slip in and out without anybody taking notice of a hulking dreadnought in the skyport.” He reached into his plumage again, pulling out a strange, golden object. It was small, able to fit in the palm of his hand, and had eight, sharp corners. The strangest thing, however, was that it seemed to be a solid shape... until he pressed his thumb in its center. Cracks formed around it, and the top of the object expanded out, showing a blue diamond underneath. He pulled his thumb away, and strange runes popped up, almost a match to the runes on the engine but thinner and more refined. “I see I was only out a few hours this time. Aren’t you all lucky... It’ll take us about two weeks to sail, so that should be around the Highwind Festivale. Perfect; we can say it’s a prop for the parade.”

He tapped that diamond, and the golden seemed to slither back around it, sealing it away as he tucked that and the crystal back into his tunic. He bowed his head to Ponitius, Strix, then all on the deck below, squawking again.

“Now, if you do not mind, I am absolutely famished.”

“I began breakfast not long ago,” Durnst said.

“Ah! Very good. I take it the kitchen is in the same place as all Aqua Alliance Vessels? Something I will never truly like about the fishpire’s ships: way too uniform. There’s never any surprises –save for this one’s hulking engines, of course. So bulky; they have no reason to stand out like that... It really was a good thing you knew I was an aether engineer... or lucky, I don’t know. Excuse me.”

He muttered to himself as he hurried down the steps then down into the galley. The others followed; Squall started to do the same, but was stopped by Strix. She was gripping her shoulder, but it was the light that hurt the most, burning her.

“Let me make this incredibly clear,” Strix whispered, sending a chill down Squall’s spine. “You speak up against me, you insult me or Ponitius ever again, and I will personally string you from the center mast and set you ablaze... Does that walnut of a brain comprehend that?”

“Crystal,” Squall said, shrugging her off, and stomped down the steps into the galley. Her heart hammered into her chest, feet slamming into the timbers as she made her way across the rowing room, and practically threw a chair out as she pulled it from the table and sat. Durnst was at the oven, humming away, lost to his own world, and so was Spack, pacing from that room to the sleeping quarters and back. Which the left the Faun, Avin, Fili, and Squall to stew in their anger.

“This isn’t right,” Fili grumbled. “We shouldn’t be leaving without Kali.”

“And you still can’t get his name right,” Avin muttered, though even his pink light was stronger than normal, almost red. “We are going to tear each other apart without him here.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” Bethilius said.

“I take it you didn’t get that shiner from ‘simply following orders’,” Squall said.

He snorted, glaring at her. “No. I didn’t... You did a brave thing up there. Olivier would be very proud of you-”

“If he’s still alive-” Claire mused.

“Will you can it with your negativity!” Beatrice shrilled.

“Are you really one to talk? Besides, I am not being negative; I’m being realistic. The entire town is on the hunt for him, as well as possibly Baro... It would be a miracle if he’s still alive... I’m a betting person, but even I don’t bet on a dead ringer when I know it’s been swapped.”

They went silent again, the only sounds of Durnst and his humming and the food sizzling, as well as the occasional squawk from Spack.

“He’s alive,” Squall blurted. “I know he is.”

“He has to be. He wouldn’t leave me,” Fili said. “He just wouldn’t.”

“I just met him!” Anni whined, squeaking as she laid on the table. “There’s so much I don’t know about him yet... He is so interesting.”

“I would be lying if I didn’t agree,” Beatrice grumbled, moaning. “I really shouldn’t be here-”

“Well, you are and so am I,” Gaz retorted, bleating. “That bastard promised me money, so he better be alive.”

“Like it or not, all we can do for the moment is hope,” Bethilius said.

“Hope what, boss?” Dervalan said.

“I take it you haven’t been paying a lick of attention.”

“Sorry... Hungry is all.”

“It’s almost ready, bud,” Durnst called back, making them jump.

Bethilius nickered, and lowered his voice, leaning towards Squall.

“Again, I just wanted to say that was a brave thing you did, but you really... really shouldn’t have,” he said, looking her in the eyes. He nickered again, clomping his foot, and she saw a bit of ire in that big brown. “You are now on Ponitius’s bad side... You don’t know him like I do, but, because of you, we all have to watch our backs now... We are all in danger until the rightful captain is behind that wheel. So you better believe I’m hoping- nay, I’m praying you are right.”

With that he sat upright, looking out the porthole while everybody else acted like nothing happened. Strange, though, how all of them were so tense, even though nothing did happen, or how the air buzzed with that tension... It was going to be a long, long two weeks.

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