Ario’s story – a sort-of choose-the-story story of sorts!

Part 3

By Nocturnaliss

PART 01  |  PART 02  ||

 

 

Part 3: Of heart and Kokai

 

     Wheezing, hand at his pounding throat, Ario stood on shaking legs while the shouter’s hatred bore into him. It permeated the air like thick fog, suffocating, malicious. Well, perhaps malicious wasn’t the correct definition for the muddy, boiling heat clogging his throat, but then Ario had never before felt hatred like this. Like it possessed a life of its own.

     “That’s ridiculous,” he told himself, scoffing out the idea to clear up his throat. Emotions were owned, they did not own; although, this growing hatred was sure doing its damnedest to drill itself a searing hole into his chest now. The last time he’d felt anything remotely close to this hatred, he’d been a rambunctious kid. Ario remembered all too clearly his teacher’s flushed face, his deep yelling, his excessive spitting, all because he’d broken a jar full of preserved wida embryos. He remembered the beating that had ensued, and shivered.

     “I shouldn’t be thinking about all this,” he told himself with a sigh, leaning now against the railing, and pressed his fingers against his temple to force out nicer memories – of better times, of past successes and merits, of pleasant enough encounters – but, between all thoughts, ambient hatred seeped through his every pore and made him twitch. So Ario grit his teeth and focussed harder; he swallowed and tensed, and forced his mind to remember intriguing books read and memorized, fascinating experiments performed – and, most importantly, the reason he’d set foot on this ship to begin with. “Adventure,” he reminded himself. “Discovery. Maybe meeting that infamous Orebashi and writing a whole essay about its glistening scales. Yes. This is what you’re here for,” he said, waving his fist for inner emphasis. “And this is what you’ll do.” Never mind crazy sailors or hideous Alweira or anything else that might pass his way. Like dinner, for instance. Or just a big snack.

     His stomach rumbled now in distracting agreement, and Ario set a hand upon it and looked up, towards the blindingly bright skies. How much time had passed since last he’d eaten – or, rather, since last he’d thrown up? How much longer would it take for dinner to be announced, or for drinks to be made available – if at all? Ario’s eyes widened as he quivered, realizing that he was on a ship, headed for the other side of the world, with no definite arrival time. What if food became scarce and people’s tempers flared? What if they started beating each other to death to, and he gulped as the thought crossed his mind, actually have something to eat? Every graphic Yorei dissection he’d ever read flooded his mind, and Ario turned round, heaving, heaving so hard as he forced himself not to throw up. How much worse was this trip going to get!?

     Loud creaking yelped Ario out of his thoughts and, to his relief, out of his heave. He gulped what little sourness had made it up in his throat, then flung his arms over the railing and pretended to stare out at the sea… At least, he tried. He tried so hard to stay distracted, but he couldn’t ignore that hatred, suffocating the very air he was breathing in. Ario frowned, his legs shaking beneath him. It couldn’t be… Could it?

     He chanced a glance to the side, and repressed a shriek. A kokai sailor – the angry kokai sailor, the one he’d noticed when first he’d come aboard. That huge heap of muscles was heading his way – harpoon in tow. No, he couldn’t really be heading his way, could he? For what purpose? What had he done? Nothing! At least, Ario hoped he’d done nothing—

     The sailor suddenly screamed and whirled away from him, and Ario shrieked and hunkered down, wrapping his arms tightly about his head. He couldn’t breathe; the air steamed with hatred and vengeance and horrors Ario didn’t want to get a clear reading on. The sailor’s boots stomped closer, far too close for comfort; whimpering, Ario shook on his heels, coiling himself into as tiny a ball as he could while the sailor’s hatred engulfed him, crushed him, caused every nerve in his body to prickle and cry. Suddenly, the sailor yelled out, and Ario screamed. He ran his fingers across his face, clung to his skin, begged for the sinking hole full of boiling mud to spit him back out. Tension, shouting, hating, drowning; he was drowning; he was—

     Something suddenly grazed his shoulder and Ario twisted upright, screaming, swatting wildly in front of him. He kept on screaming, and swatting, and screaming, and between yells he thought he heard someone say: “breathe”. So he screamed and breathed, and screamed in between wheezes, until his throat grew dry and hoarse and pained. Finally breathless, he took a step back, startled as he knocked into the railing, and gripped it tight. He panted and stared out into the haze before him, twitching as something squeezed his shoulder.

     “Breathe,” he was told, and despite his mind racing with the worst of thoughts, of scientists come to skin him alive and use his limbs as research material, Ario became aware of an emptiness growing in his gut, in his chest, that spread across his limbs and quieted the panic in his heart. Calmness was taking over – a deep, voluble calm that drained out his fears and his anguish. Upon his shoulder, he recognized fingers squeezing, gentle, liberating. In a heartbeat, Ario felt himself deflate like a toxic ahikua.

     “Good,” said a deep, accented voice. A feminine voice. Ario blinked a few times, and held back a gasp when his gaze strayed towards two deep, dark eyes, staring back at him – dark eyes set within a dark tan, beneath a rough, grassy patch of red hair along which ran two long, pointed ears; dark eyes set upon the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen. His gaze flitted from her lips back to her eyes, these mesmerizing, glittering eyes – eyes that, he felt, were somehow absorbing all of his anguish and filling him with… Oh no.

     In his mind – at least, he hoped he hadn’t spoken out loud – Ario cursed the Alweira and his disgusting, improper thoughts, which all too clearly still lingered. How was he supposed to conceal such blatant discomfort? What would she say if she noticed? Shaking with embarrassment, Ario slowly shifted and lifted his leg, bringing it back down as he crossed them and forced down his pulsating shame. He then gave the Kokai lady a smile he knew to be stupidly awkward. When she returned it, Ario melted.

     “Better, Yosen?” she said.

     Ario let out a sound – he didn’t even know what kind. All he knew was that his chest had deflated and a noise escaped, and that the Kokai lady still looked at him with a kindness and compassion and a warmth that no one had ever shown him.

     “A—Ario,” he said, and he winced from the squeak in his voice. He swallowed courage and saliva, and opened his mouth to speak – yet no words came out, for no words crossed his mind. He felt empty; pleasantly, wholly empty.

     “I am Rika,” she said, straightening. As she pulled back from him, Ario felt his heart skip a beat; it compelled him to demand she stay by his side, so Ario leaned forward, ready to speak, but not a single word formed. Fingers – her fingers, assuredly – squeezed his shoulder, gently, and slowly lifted. Don’t leave, he needed to say, but the words caught in his throat. He knew but to reach out, and grab her arm, and hold her in place…

     And once her fingers off his shoulder, something changed. Suddenly, Ario was gasping again, panting as though he’d just pulled his head out from a full bucket of water. The sea’s freshness assaulted his nostrils, asphyxiated him, as though he suddenly breathed in hours’ worth of air and his nose couldn’t cope. He heard loudness, and distant voices, and the quiet graze of waves and, loudest of all, the beating of his own heart. Ario took fright. He immediately shoved her arm away from him.

     “What did you do?” he had to ask – he had to know! Or at least had wanted to know, until his eyes had strayed towards the massive, angry-looking, harpoon-wielding sailor standing right behind her, and Ario tasted again the heat of his hatred. No, not only hatred, he realized: the sailor carried something else. Something like… an undefinable sense of nothingness.

     “Ursuri,” Rika stated, calmly; so mind-bogglingly calmly. “He will not hurt.” She added something in her language, something that carried the same sense of absolute calm which Ario had perceived from her but moments ago; a calm that dissipates storms. An unnatural calm, he came to realize; she spoke to this monster of a man without even a hint of apprehension. At length, the sailor let out a loud noise, like a gruff cough, and marched off, soon to round the raised quarterdeck and disappear. To Ario’s relief, so did his hatred.

     Fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, Ario leaned against the railing, one arm looped upon it for stability. This journey was turning out far more extenuating already than what he’d expected – if he even had expected anything beyond catching a glimpse of the mythical Orebashi.

     “Are you well, Yosen?”

     What was he supposed to answer, Ario wondered? Was he well at all? What was he even feeling right now? Ario sighed and lowered his pinching hand. As he lifted his gaze to meet hers, his eyes strayed upon her cleavage, and immediately heat flared again between his tightly crossed legs. With a trembling whine,  he looked away from her – towards the corner that the sailor, Ursuri, had rounded. He caught a fading whiff of anger and knew, right there and then, that he couldn’t tell her how he really felt. He couldn’t – shouldn’t – ask what all that hatred was about. Not if it related to…

     “He… doesn’t like me, does he,” Ario stated.

     “Ursuri likes no one. Ursuri is Ursuri. Trusted, yes, but not trusting.”

     Something felt off, Ario noted to himself, along with the stolid gentleness with which she spoke. Not a hint of affection, nor of concern; he only perceived a stable sense of attachment from her, and nothing else. He bit his lip to keep himself from prying, as he realized that would lead to the dreaded: how do you know about this? That realization itself startled and disturbed him.

     “You’re very calm,” he needed to say, and somehow you make me calm. He couldn’t ask about that. He could only state, “In your shoes, I would’ve been terrified of getting hit. Or, you know: killed by that harpoon.”

     Rika smiled – at least, Ario thought she was smiling. The corners of her lips seemed to have briefly lifted, moved by the sense of amusement her heart had shared.

     “Ursuri will not hurt. I know,” she added with a self-ascertaining nod. “Ursuri is loud, he is angry, he will threaten, but he is good. We work together often,” she added, turning her attention back on Ario. “He is as bomb to us all, but will only ignite when he meets his mark.”

     This mark had to be someone on this ship, Ario thought. Or, perhaps, on a ship that had departed earlier, and Ursuri had boarded the Oroi in order to catch up with them? Whatever or whomever Ursuri’s mark might be, Ario preferred not to know. Clearly, he could deduce from the fact he did not end up on the sharp end of that harpoon, he wasn’t Ursuri’s target. Or Rika had somehow convinced this mass of muscles and hatred to let him live. Ario gulped.

     “Thank you,” he said. “I mean, you didn’t have to help me. Ursuri’s your friend, isn’t he?”

     Rika smiled – or, at least, her lips flattened in such a manner that it could be mistaken as a bitter smile. “We work together,” she said, and Ario thought he caught a hint of sorrow in her heart. “Ursuri is Ursuri. He knows no trust.”

     “But you’d like him to be your friend?”

     The corners of her lips rose, but Ario perceived no affection. “I need no friends,” she said. “I am of the sea. I return to where I belong.”

     Ario frowned so hard he gave himself a mild headache. “What do you mean?”

     “Do you know of Kokai legacy, Yosen?” She turned her gaze towards the raised quarterdeck, and Ario felt a sense of longing emanate from her. “It is said that we descend from people across the sea, long, long ago. I feel this strongly. And I am born different as proof – with power, you would say. I calm. You felt this.”

     Ario stared at her, speechless – horrified. How could she be so open about who she was, what she felt – about her innate abilities? How did she speak without even a hint of fear, without dreading persecution? Or experimentation? Or death!?

     “You shouldn’t speak so freely,” Ario needed to say. He glanced about himself then, and saw no one eavesdropping. Still, he lowered his voice. “There are scientists aboard. We—They would… Don’t tell them, Rika. Please.”

     Her eyes glistened, and she smiled – a flat, grateful smile. “I thank you for your kindness, little Yosen. You prickle, but you are good.”

     With these confusing words, Rika waved her hand, and Ario could but watch in silence as she marched away, in the same direction Ursuri had taken. It was odd; it was so odd how, moments before, he’d have ripped out his own heart from his chest just to keep her by his side, and now, he couldn’t care less about the sight of her curvy, bouncing rear—

     “Stop that,” he told himself, and he tore his gaze away. “This isn’t what you’re here for. Adventure. Discovery. Disproving legends. Those are your goals.” He tensed his legs and squished out what lingering heat remained trapped between them, then reached down to ensure everything had flattened back into its rightful place. He repressed a sudden shriek when he touched wetness.

     “What did—When!?” He looked down at himself and, to his horror, discovered a large, dark stain on his grey pants. Ario shrieked and began rubbing and scraping his groin with his bare hands, wincing, panicking. The stain was still there; and, he was certain, it’d grown even larger. Worst of all, now his hands smelled of urine. “How did this happen!?” he yelled. Suddenly, he stiffened, a painful gulp rolling down his tightening throat. No. Oh no. Rika couldn’t have… noticed?

     With a shrieking yelp, Ario wrung his hands, then he shrieked again when he realized what he was doing. He needed help; he needed pants! And water to clean his hands! He briefly considered throwing himself overboard, which would have solved all his issues – except for dying a stupid, panicking, drowning death. The only option left was to get to the hold and find his bag. Somehow. Without being spotted or, worse, smelled. So Ario quickly twisted the sash around his middle to wrap its extremities about the stain and, gulping courage, headed on tiptoes towards the front of the raised quarterdeck.

    Once he rounded the last corner and the Oroi’s deck and its numerous passengers sprawled before him, Ario flattened himself against the wall, a shriek caught in his throat. He closed his eyes and counted vials in his head, cautiously stepping along the wall, until his hand grazed a change in its texture. He patted the wall until he caught the door’s handle. With a grinning sigh, Ario whirled around and promptly rushed inside the, to his relief, silent quarterdeck. In the dim light of high portholes and a lantern swaying overhead, Ario quickly noticed a winding staircase heading down. This had to be it: his way to the hold. To his bag. To a fresh pair of pants.

     But as he headed down the creaking stairs, relief soon turned to anxiety. With the ship swaying beneath his feet and wooden walls cracking all around him, Ario had to pause a few times to shake the staircase’s oppression out of his head. Somewhere in the middle – at least, he hoped he’d already gotten that far! – Ario stopped to repress a heave, caused by his upset stomach reminding him that it was running on empty. He lifted his hand up beneath his nostrils, and yanked it and its stench immediately away. This was stupid; so stupid. I’m stupid, he told himself; this is what I get for talking to people.

     The rest of that thought, and the vision of Rika’s curvaceous attributes, popped out of his head when he finally reached the ship’s lower level. The air here was stuffy and hot, portholes few and far between. Before him, a hallway lit by swaying lanterns stretched out like the coiling, deadly maw of a kinusa. He wouldn’t have been surprised, only terrified, if the many doors lining the hallway suddenly grew rows upon rows of sharp fangs, or that opening one would trigger acid to spray in his face. Dizzied, Ario trembled, and caught himself on the nearest wall. As oppressively unpleasant as this place was, he simply couldn’t return to the deck in this state. His bag had to be somewhere around here. So, swallowing courage, Ario stiffened, straightened, and cautiously made his way to the first door on his left. As soon as he’d pushed it open, he immediately pulled back, just in case it was trapped. After a few seconds of nothing happening, he peeked inside the room, and coughed from the dust. In the dim light, he noticed barrels, crates, a desk, what might have once been a wardrobe… Ario held back a gasp.

     “These can’t be… our cabins!?”

     “Who wants to know?” a voice said, startling Ario into shrieking towards its source.

     A man stepped out of a nearby room – a tall, dark-skinned, pointy-eared and clearly Kokai man who glared back with frowning suspicion. He wrung his hands a few times, undoubtedly ready to strangle the stupid Yosen who’d just disturbed him. Why did I have to talk, Ario complained to himself, gulping. He lifted up his hands, hoping the Kokai would accept his gesture of surrender. To Ario’s relief, the Kokai man only tossed hair out of his face – long, black hair, which gave Ario pause. Weren’t Kokai’s hair always a bright red, like Rika’s? Like every other Kokai he’d encountered in Sabeto? A memory flashed suddenly in his mind; of Ursuri stomping away, anger-faced, black-and-red-haired—

     “I asked you a question, Yosen,” the Kokai spat, his voice gruff and unpleasant. “Cabins are off-limits for now. Unless you feel like grabbing a swab and helping me out.” He turned his bright gaze back to the room. “I swear, these sailors have no sense of hospitality.”

     Grumbling to himself, the Kokai man marched back into the room from whence he’d come, and soon Ario heard rummaging, things clanking, the Kokai cursing. He should’ve asked him where his bag was before angering him, shouldn’t he? Was he going to return with a weapon in hand? A giant harpoon? Serrated gloves!? Ario gulped, glanced about himself; these stuffy, creaking walls bore down on him like predators, like ill-willed individuals about to skin him alive to learn the secrets of his abilities. Grinning figures surrounded him; scalpels glinted in lanternlight. Ario felt a sound escape his throat, and his legs grew weak; he leaned towards the wall, and felt too late his fingers slip across its surface. His head collided with force against a sharp edge, followed by his back upon wood and dust. Bells rung in his ears, rung and rung and screeched and he could but groan and squint, nothing coming into focus. He let out another sound, which was echoed by the thundering creak of floorboards ripping, ripping through his skull. Ario repressed a heave; and repressed a second one as, suddenly, he was pulled onto his feet. Dizziness overwhelmed him.

     When finally a sense of reality returned to him, Ario blinked a few times, staring into a haze, listening to the fading ringing in his ears. He felt dizzy and nauseated, and knew but to breathe – at least, he tried to breathe, but the dry stuffiness in his throat rather forced him to cough. He leaned forward, and something wet pressed against his forehead, pushing him back – spreading dull, heavy pain through his skull.

     “Stay still, Yosen,” he heard, loud and muffled upon the lingering ringing in his ears. Ario immediately stiffened and gripped his knees. Though his eyes still refused to focus, he could tell that someone was standing before him. Wetness pressed again against his forehead and, wincing, Ario tried to pull back. A hand gripped him tight. “I told you to stay still,” the voice said – the man – he’d heard this voice but moments before, hadn’t he? “You hit your head hard. How did you even manage that?”

     Practice, Ario kept himself from sneering out loud. How many times hadn’t he stumbled over chairs, or discarded scrolls, or, worst of all, his own feet? He wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, but he could make a good guess as to how it’d happened. “I slipped.”

     “What did you slip on, wax? Did you go, ‘aaaahhh’,” the man said, and Ario was certain he heard him arm flap about, “and just flung yourself at the wall?”

     Upset, Ario pinched and rolled his lips, fingers pressing hard on his knees. There was nothing he could say to that – nothing that wouldn’t risk offending this idiot and getting him beaten up – so Ario simply sat in silence while the man carried on with these hard presses on his forehead. After a while, his eyesight focusing, Ario spotted bright bandages in the man’s dark hand, and realization struck him. The man must have been treating his wound. Frowning, he reached a hand up, and startled when the man slapped it away.

     “Not with those filthy hands you’re not,” he said. The man looked down at his hands then, clicked his tongue, then wrung them with a cloth before carrying on. “Remind me to fetch your gear so you can get changed.” He paused. “I still can’t understand how you hurt yourself this badly from a minor slip. You can’t be from around here.”

     Ario winced as the man started wrapping his head in those bandages. “Is it that obvious?”

     “Obvious enough,” the man replied with a light shrug. ” We Sabetians are built sturdy. Even the Yosen here can take a hard tumble and come out pretty much unscathed.” He paused then, and Ario felt something – a tug in his heart, quickly buried. “In any case, we won’t sustain such an open wound from a wall. Unless the wall in question is lined with blades – and even then, the injury might be minor.”

     Ario’s ego crumbled in his chest and sank deep, deep into the pit of his stomach. That, to his surprise, is the moment the man cracked a grin and started laughing.

     “You really believed that, didn’t you!” The man slapped Ario on his back, causing his head to spin and ring as he gasped. “You’re alright, Yosen! I like a gullible man!”

     “Th—Thank you?” Ario replied, though he knew that can’t have been a compliment. With a deep shiver, he remembered Soba’s insidious courteousness, and how the Alweira had deemed him ‘peculiar’ before throwing his disgusting cravings at him. Glancing now at the Kokai man – he was Kokai, wasn’t he? – Ario figured he’d meant nothing by it, if only to tease him and his weak constitution. But Soba’s word lingered in his mind, taking a meaning of its own. Ario’s eyes strayed up towards the man’s pitch-black hair, and the need to ask grew in his chest, until he could no longer contain it.

     “Are you… kokai?”

     The man straightened and stared at him, offended disbelief twisting his face. Then, his eyes flitted upward, and he grinned. “What, this?” He pulled a strand of hair between his fingers and flicked it in front of his face, his other hand then waving about himself – at his dark skin, Ario came to understand, and at his pointed ears. “What do you think?”

     I think I don’t know what I’m thinking and that my head hurts, Ario thought. Oh, how he regretted every single one of the life choices that had led him here, to this very moment, antagonizing a Kokai sailor on a departed ship and with nowhere safe to run or hide or to even find a meal. “I,” he said, and he stopped to swallow drool. So much drool. His head was beginning to spin. Oh, this couldn’t be good.

     The world around him became a blur of darkness and oppression; it smelled now like the old labs at the academy, stuffy, mouldy, sickening – places of horror which teachers had used as punishment by forcing him to clean up foul, oily remains that had sprouted tentacles and sucked the marrow out of screaming embryos. Ario frowned then.

     “That… isn’t right,” he told himself with a shaking sigh, breathing in mould and dust. He lifted his arm up onto his boiling forehead and watched how a tiny wida flapped its wings across speckled rays of light and sand. He smiled, and reached out a finger in its path so it may rest upon it, but the wida merely imploded into a cloudy puff. He chuckled, and lowered his hand.

     And suddenly Ario startled awake – or at least he thought he’d startled awake. He remembered nothing save for darkness; had he been sleeping? Dreaming? He swallowed hard and set a finger upon his throat, taking in the rush of his heartbeat, willing it to quiet down, in vain. Floorboards suddenly creaked and Ario yelped himself upright – to immediately fall back down upon hardness, hands at his now throbbing head.

     “Why,” he whined to himself as he rolled onto his side, pain drumming through his forehead. His eyes watered, his nose ran, and it was all he could do not to cry. What had he done to deserve such retribution today!? That’s it, he told himself, I’m going crazy. I’m starting to talk to things that don’t exist. Without surprise, that thought mud-balled, until the Alweira’s sinister words crossed his mind again,

     ‘I can feel it, Yosen. Crawling beneath my skin. Death – Azor’s curse—’

     “Get out of my head!” Ario yelled out.

     “Whoa, easy there, Slippy.”

     Ario’s brow twitched. He shifted and gazed about, wincing as pain throbbed through his head and neck. A man stood there, at the threshold. A familiar man. It hurt him to think any harder.

     “You alright in here, Yosen?” the man said. “Did something happen?”

     Ario squinted at him. “We’ve… met, haven’t we?”

     There was a long silence. “You take a moment to gather your head,” the man said. “I don’t really need you to be here for this. I’ll come and tell you the name of your bunkmate when we’re done.” He pulled what could have been a door towards him as he stepped away, then paused to add, with a nod towards the floor, “Gear’s at your disposal. You might want to change your clothes before your bunkmate joins you.” The door closed then, and Ario stared on in perplexity, to startle when the door cracked open again and the man’s head briefly peeked through. “Oh, by the by, I washed your hands,” he added. “That’s as far as my generosity goes. You’re welcome.”

     Too many words at once, Ario thought, hissing from the loud pounding in his head. With a repressed heave he shifted onto his back, and breathed, and stared up – at, he soon realized, the top half of bunk beds. Bunkmate, the man had said. Horror suddenly froze him. “I’ll… have to share this tiny space with someone else!?” He held back a shriek, fist at his mouth. The stench of urine filled his nostrils. Ario’s eyes sprang wide open.

     “That’s what happened!” he said as he shot up, snapping his arm between himself and the top bed right in time to avoid another collision. Memories flooded his mind now; of the angry sailor’s seeping hatred, of Rika’s eerie calmness; and of discovering the wide stain on his groin. He stared down at himself, dumbfounded, and soon shrieked. “I need to change!”

     So Ario rushed to his bag, ignoring dizziness and sickness and the drumming of anxiety guiding his hands through his belongings. He pulled out a spare of everything – shirt, pants, sash, shoes – and quickly silenced the sneering thought that, if the trip carried on this way, he would run out of clean clothes in a matter of hours. Focus, he told himself then; so Ario hurried to wipe himself clean and get dressed and, once ready, he waited. And waited. Beyond the door, muffled, irritated voices soon enough arose. Curiousity, and the grumbling of his stomach, drove him to put his ear to the door and, eventually, crack it open to listen in.

     “I understand your frustration at the delay,” he heard a man say – and he recognized him as the man who’d come to check up on him. “Rest assured that we are now ready to proceed with bunk assignment, which will be followed by a hearty meal. So, without further ado, let me first introduce myself: I am Triku, your diplomat and problem-solver for this trip, fluent in all boarded languages – so don’t try to sneak in a pointed insult at me or any of the crew: I’ll know.” There was the hint of a smile in those last words, dissipated as Triku carried on. “Now, please come forward – one at a time, people – and pick a stick.”

     At first, all Ario could hear were floorboards creaking – passengers indeed coming forward to, obviously, get assigned a cabin. Soon though, a whisper of dissent grew amid the other travelers, until it erupted into full-blown arguing when someone stated that two travelers had been assigned to the same cabin. Tempers flared among the travelers. People yelled; ‘Do you realize how expensive this trip is?’; ‘How dare you treat us like cattle!’; ‘This ship is big enough to have single cabins!’; ‘I want to see the captain!’.

     Triku’s voice boomed then, claiming silence as he spoke. “This ship is sailing under a rotation contract. This means, and I’m only explaining this for the sake of all you inlanders, that there is no assigned captain. All of us crewmembers can and ought to be viewed as acting captain. And it has been decided that I will be your captain until my next break.” His tone sharpened then and, somehow, grew even louder. “So if anyone has a problem with the way I’m captaining, please, feel free to take one of our lifeboats and row back to Rao. You’re all so strong,” he said, his tone shifting to mockery, “I’m sure it’ll only take you a few days.” He paused then. Ario heard barely a whisper now. “Right,” Triku said. “Any further objections?”

     Whispers, yes, but no outright complaints. The lingering whispers of dissent gradually faded away, replaced by the sullen, regular creak of floorboards. Travelers came and picked their stick, no doubt, and after a while of listening to their footsteps, a thought struck Ario. No one had yet been assigned to his cabin – at least, he expected this cabin was his. Could it be Triku had ensured he’d be left alone, so he could recover? Or…?

     Ario gulped. Considering how poorly this trip had gone so far, he could only imagine the worst was yet to come.

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‘Ario’s story’ and its long title and tale, is (c) 2021-2022 to Isabelle ‘Nocturnaliss’ Apel. You may share my work if you credit me and link back to this website, but you may not claim it as your own or otherwise appropriate the creation of Aeyuu or any of its characters. You may, however, write fanfiction, as long as you also share it with me so I can read it.