of Beasts and Man

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Unexpected Aid; Unlikely Alliance

Ponitius set the bar on the wheel, and stretched, reaching for the sun above. It was just about above him, still a wee bit to the east, but he arched his back, groaning as it popped and creaked. His hands were clasped, the two daggers hidden in their palms hissing, ringing against one another until he separated them, bringing them back down on that wheel. Strix was sitting on it, on the spoke right in the center, watching, waiting on him to finally look down at her, but he took his time, gazing up at that clear sky.

“It has felt like a lifetime has passed since I sailed under such clear skies,” he said, taking a deep breath. He held it, puffing out his chest with it, enjoying it as long as he could before he had to release it, slow and steady. Only when he finished did he look down at the silvery orb on the wheel. “You sure this was the right choice?”

“No,” she said. “I’m not.”

“It’s not too late, you know? I can always take the Falchion and go find him.”

“From the tale Claire gave us, there is no way any of us can enter that town safely... As much as I despise it, we have to focus ahead. When we get the Scylla airborne again, we have a better chance to come back and find him... or, in that time, he can find us.”

“We’re heading to a Zephyrian city though, Strix. They already had a hard enough time finding one without leveling the entirety.”

“Maybe we should have actually spent the time finding the Zephyrian instead of catching up.” He mumbled something, chortling, and Strix flashed bright. “What was that?”

“Do you really want me to repeat it? It’ll only piss you off.”

“I am going to be angry now whether you tell me or not.”

“Fine! Fine... I would have much preferred that plan. After your little question, things got sort of awkward.”

“It was but a simple inquiry-”

“Asking your old friend if they would like to try going out now ‘that they were single’ is not a simple inquiry, Strix.”

She scoffed, rising from the spoke. “You seemed to rebound quick enough, regardless.”

“Of course I did! I had no other choice. Somebody had to command this rowdy group until we get our captain back, and everyone knew it would be me.” He groaned, rubbing the back of his head. “I feel a bit bad for Squall, though. The guilt must be eating her-”

“She used similar guilt to force our captain’s hand and make him leave. We are in this mess because of her!”

“Is that why you punched Bethilius in the schnoz?”

“It was either that or filet that Itchyoman. How could she sleep so peacefully, knowing the trouble she has caused?”

“Eh. We already know she has done far worse.”

“And the true tragedy is that Olivier will forgive her.” She sighed, exasperated. Her light dimmed enough to see her silhouette inside, knuckling her brow. “That lad is so sweet, but that kindness is going to be his ruin.”

“Won’t lie: his choices so far as captain have not been good.”

“Good or not, he is our captain... If he returns, that is.”

“Even if he does, he’s more than likely to make another questionable choice... I care for the pup, but are you sure it was wise to make him the captain?”

“I didn’t; the ship did.”

“Then why isn’t it turning itself around to go get him?”

“There’s always the worst possible outcome and obvious answer, but when was Olivier any of those things... Perhaps even the ship knows he will find us. He is rather serendipitous in that regard.”

“Guess we are stuck waiting. Plenty of time for that, so let’s get busy waiting.” He stretched again, knuckles popping as he laced his hands this time, wincing. “I wonder what Durnst made. Could really go for a... strawberry confection of some kind.”

Strix hummed, and followed him down into the belly of the Scylla, sailing off into the wild blue yonder to the east. Wind whipped at its sails, driving it onward, further and further away from Lam Berel. The city, itself, was slow to stir, to rouse to its buzzing crowds and rowdy streets, but who could blame them.

Body upon body was carted out of the city, off to the northeast, where a great pyre rose towards the heavens. People grumbled, cried, retched as they piled them onto wagons, as they filled buckets with hot, frothing water and flooded the plaza with it, draining the blood and viscera down the steps, while others put up posters. Wanted posters, all of Olivier. They received a quick alteration in the early morning hours, no longer asking him to be brought in alive.

Alas, commerce doesn’t grieve. It doesn’t wait for anybody, and now, with the storm broken, the boarding planks were freed, slapping onto the piers. Their clacks echoed into town, echoes of the night before, and soon the march of multitudes became like thunder, rumbling up the steps and into town. Merchants entered town, some having camped the night before while others were arriving, fresh from their journey and innocent of all that had transpired.

By noon, it was as if nothing had happened, the city and its routine back to normal... save for chunks missing from the streets thanks to a certain Garolot –which ended up being a boon in its own right. A lot of the denizens were spared the gruesome fate that befell the city that day, out hunting for it, and were none the wiser when they returned home. But not all was mirth and joviality in the city, for there was always a dark cloud over the Itchyoman District. There was always a fine rain, not enough to warrant cover but enough of a presence to make your day dreary.

In the center of the District, surrounding by those stick huts and yurts, little more than reeds and old boards, stood an actual house, made out of carved wood that created such tapestries across its multi-colored form. Great beasts of legend, exotic, far away lands, abstract beauty; all clashed and wove together, giving it an almost... otherworldly charm in an otherwise dreary and miserable place.

Inside the building, there was a calmness, a soft pressure that did not press down but lifted, as if it wanted to remove any troubles of the world. Though it was not quiet, there was a serenity about it that lulled those in its cots to relax and rest, that gave them hope when they felt so close to death and desired to welcome it proper. Four Itchyoman, garbed in simple, brown robes, patrolled those forty or so beds, aiding those that laid upon them as best they could, taking away the sickness and ills and creating a place of peace in an otherwise hostile world.

Olivier was there. He was in one of the cots in the back of the room, with one of the Itchyoman always aiding him. They took shifts, changing almost every two hours, keeping him bathed in green energy all through the night. They even had doubts; he had already started to gray, Death’s Kiss taking away his orange and blue, but now it only touched where the blue and orange met on his chest and back as well as around his eyes, adding bursts for those stars. His left arm, his fingers all pointed one way again, the right way, but it and the rest of him was still horribly bruised. His clothes were unable to be salvaged, tossed away, but they gave him one of their brown robes, laying at the foot of the cot.

Where Plu waited.

It was about time for the Itchyoman to swap places, Olivier left alone for a moment, looking at peace on the cot at long last. The Aceon started to doze off... but rose, his legs creaking underneath, cracking as Olivier groaned. His eyes, once starting to cloud, welcoming rest at last, were bright and alert again, frills vibrating loud enough to be heard as Olivier blinked, waking up. The Cepha-Terrahn gasped, shooting up, but Plu reached out with his small claw and eased him back down, walking around to sit before him.

Olivier stared into those stalks, heart racing. Yellow swirled in his eyes, tainting that ball it wove with its larger claw... settling a touch as it splashed on him.

“Y... you,” he said, voice crackling, and started to cough. An Itchyoman rushed over with a clay carafe and a mug, filling the mug with water. She handed it to Olivier, gulping it down between hacks, almost drowning himself in it before handing it back. He needed three more cups before those coughs settled, but the yellow did not, seeing that Itchyoman and the others. “W... where am I?”

Plu was already ahead of him, another orb splashing against before he even finished asking. The answer he gave, though, only raised more questions for Olivier. A hospice, in the middle of an Itchyoman District? How? Itchyoman were not generally skilled in the healing arts... yet, here he was, alive and mostly in one piece. He looked around at that dark room, at the plethora of other Itchyoman on cots very much similar to his, and watched as those brown-garbed ones bent to them, washing them in green.

Plu hit him with another orb, frills buzzing still, and Olivier felt a tinge of pink touch his eyes.

“T... thank you,” he said... Olivier shook his head, wincing as he adjusted on the cot, leaning against the wall. The wood was cool, welcomed on his head and aching back, pulsing, throbbing with... every other part of him, really. He raised his left hand, and was surprised to see it wasn’t a mangled claw... but his heart jumped again as pink filled his eyes, finally realizing he was bare. “My clothes! What h-”

Plu lobbed another orb at him, but also picked up the brown robes at the end of the bed, placing them on his lap. Olivier touched them, feeling the coarse fabric, heavy yet breathable... He pulled himself away from the wall, every part of him screaming, chastising him for doing so as he pulled them on. He had to hop a bit on the bed to get it under him, making it creak and groan... and yellow touched his eyes as he realized all those brown-garbed Itchyomen were looking his way.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, settling against the wall again. He could have shut his eyes and drifted off to sleep like that... However, another orb splashed against him. Plu’s stalks shined, looking into his eyes, frills still buzzing, waiting for an answer to his question, an experience Olivier really didn’t want to relive at that moment. However, the buzzing only got louder, more agitated, as he started to make another orb. “I wasn’t doing anything, I swear... I was... I was tired... I didn’t have anyplace else to go, so I was hoping one of the storerooms was unlocked.”

A lie, and not even a good one; Plu’s shell started to creak, purple barbs breaking through, and his orb only got more erratic, unstable, slamming into Olivier. He winced, as did the other Itchyoman, all eyes on the pair of them.

“I swear. I was not up to anything,” Olivier pleaded, panting as he clenched his chest, where the orb had hit. It made him wheeze, still panting, looking into those stalks... and the barbs retreated on the Aceon’s shell, his next orb far more gentle than the previous. “Because... everyone is after me... I... Everyone believes I did something horrible... Were you here yesterday? Did you see what was in the plaza?” Plu answered, but the question that came with it brought a bit of red to his eyes. “I didn’t do it. In fact, I was the one that put an end to it... but you don’t believe me, do you? No one ever believes me.”

He sighed, looking up at the ceiling again, and once more wanted to cry so much. He needed some release, some way to relieve this burden, but that was one gift he was denied of his bloodline. He could only sob, but no tears would ever grace his f-

His head dropped, blue swirling in his eyes at what Plu “said”.

“Y... you do?” He said... and yellow touched his vision next as his next orb hit. “You were there? Then why d-” Another orb hit, and pink once more bled into his vision. “Thank you so much... I owe you my life... Who are you, anyways? Er, sorry... I’m Olivier. Olivier Naomei.”

It wasn’t often Olivier gave his full name, but this Aceon had risked his life to save his, had put himself in the middle of a feeding frenzy, endured the Dark Ones wrath to save him. If anyone deserved to know his full title, it was this man... which was why his heart dropped with the next orb. Yellow flourished in his eyes, overtaking all other colors as he heard the Aceon’s name in that orb.

“I... it’s nice to meet you, Plu,” Olivier said, trying so hard to keep his voice even, to not shake nor quake under the Aceon’s gaze. The Aceon stood, which Olivier had to force himself to keep still, to not flinch nor recoil nor even exclaim as its joints creaked and popped. It lobbed another orb at him, already turning away, scuttling down the aisle before it could walk to the entrance, but Olivier’s mind hatched a plan most heinous. “H-hey! Wait... I want to go with you.”

This gave the Aceon pause. The light in its stalks, once focused on the door, glinted his way. He started to sculpt another orb, but stopped, scuttling back to Olivier and reaching him just in time for him to lean on his shell and stop from falling.

“Thank you again... and sorry,” he said, easing himself back down on the cot... Olivier shook his head, and growled as he looked into Plu’s eyes. “Please. Take me with you... I won’t be able to get out of this city without a bit of help, anyways... You said your friend is down at the port? Is he a captain?”

Plu trilled in response... but his frills went still. He crafted another orb, soft, gentle, as if picking his words carefully.

“I swear, I will not bog him down. I will do whatever I can... It’s the least I can do... So please! Introduce me. I don’t care what the job is, what the pay may be.”

Plu simply gazed at him, watched him a moment, but Olivier was resolute on this. He did not need to fight to stay still, his mind and heart set on this... much to their despair. Yellow still washed everything in a nasty hue, but he did not back down. He did not look away, genuine about his request.

At last, Plu spun another orb, but Oliver already knew what it said, standing, leaning on the Aceon. Blue touched the center of his starry eyes, yellow fading as he followed after the red-shelled fellow out of the building. He pulled up his hood as they stepped out, strength returning to his legs, standing on his own by the time they left the Itchyoman District, heading for the port, but the entire time his mind was screaming at him.

We are walking right into the dragon’s den, he thought, and kept Plu, the Aceon supposedly meant to be Baro, always out of the corner of his eye... Taking him to meet his old Skipper, Nejrat himself... He grasped for his sword- only to gasp, realizing it wasn’t there. How could I-

Thankfully, the sword saved him from his own mistake, appearing and tying itself to his sash. Its golden braids rubbed against his hand, soothing him, settling his heart as he simply focused on keeping his head down, passing so many pictures of his face that all said he did the right thing in following to potential doom.

Better than certain doom, at least.

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