So many people think it'd be so awesome to have super powers or be a vampire or be a psychic. But very few people ever really think about the consequences of having these sort of powers—what happens when you're not using them to solve crimes or kick ass.
Or what happens before you're savvy enough to use them that way.
A Pirates of Dark Water fic by Firestar9mm
I can't believe what is happening to me
My head is spinning
The flowers and the trees are encapsulating me
And I go spinning
Do we not sail on the ship of fools?
(Erasure, Ship of Fools)
For someone whose name was at the top of literally every seafaring villain's hit list, the captain of the Wraith certainly smiled a lot.
"If this day turned out to be a treasure of Rule," he mused aloud from his seat atop one of their few remaining barrels of water, face tilted up to enjoy the sunlight, "I wouldn't be the least bit surprised."
"Terrific," the helmsman responded gruffly, eyes focused on the horizon. "Stuff it in the bag with the others and we'll be that much closer to finishing this jitatan quest."
Both the captain and the ecomancer standing beside him glanced up at the cranky pirate—her gaze was neutral, but he only smiled, his good mood unflappable. "I'll take a turn up there if you're tired, Ioz," he offered pleasantly.
The helmsman's gaze swung sharply down to his captain. "You may be prince of Octopon, Ren, and captain of this ship, but that's an order I'd sooner die than follow. Am I really so useless you think I can't even steer her on calm seas? I was fathered by lightning in the teeth of a hurricane! I grew up drinking seawater and—"
"Here he goes with the lightning again," the final member of their crew, and the only feathered one, mumbled as he flapped down to the deck on brightly colored wings. "Is it too much to ask that we get attacked by the Maelstrom just so he'll stop?"
"Leave him alone," the ecomancer murmured, earning her a curious look from the monkey-bird; it wasn't like her to jump to the pirate's defense. "He's restless and keyed up. We all are. I'm sort of having trouble adjusting to going from crisis to crisis myself."
"I'm just glad for some quiet," Ren said, folding his tanned arms behind his head and closing his tropical eyes.
"I was glad for the quiet until we got the seawater speech again," Niddler huffed, beating the air with his wings. "I'm going to hide in the crow's nest until he pipes down." Smiling at his crewmates, the monkey-bird licked his beak. "Wake me for dinner, would you?"
"While you're up there, you may as well keep watch," Ren called as Niddler ascended above their billowing sails. Opening one eye, he treated the ecomancer to an impish smile. "Guess I spoke too soon about 'quiet', eh, Tula?"
Had she been in a more argumentative mood, Tula might have asked him what in the twenty seas he considered "quiet". The ocean was never quiet—even on a clear day like today, it rolled and splashed behind their stern, chuckled up at them from the sides of the boat, rose to greet them with playful slaps to their bow. She was aware of the fact that her ecomancy likely made her far more sensitive to the racket of nature than most, but she still felt mildly envious of her young captain as he rested peacefully on the deck, every trouble smoothed out beneath his lowered lashes.
Tula herself felt like screaming. It was a constant struggle not to let on to her crewmates how much difficulty she was having dealing with the onset of her ecomantic powers. She'd come a long way in the short time since they'd matured, but she was beginning to wish she'd had more time to spend with Teron. Surely there had been more to learn than what he'd already showed her, more questions he could have answered for her. Ecomancers had a bond with nature itself, could by sheer force of will bend the actions of the elements, enlist the aid of plants and animals the world over. Tula wanted to know if there was a limit to the power one ecomancer could hold. She wanted to know how long ecomancers generally lived. She wanted to know if there were actions she needed to avoid. She wanted to know...
She wanted to know if any of them had ever gone insane.
It was the noise, she lamented silently, watching the sun-tipped waves march beneath the bow of the Wraith. It was just the constant racket that she didn't think she could take. Whether she liked it or not, Tula's senses had been opened to the thoughts, the feelings, the activity of the flora and fauna all around her, the constant motion of the planet itself.
And what a noisy place the world was. Tula's lullaby was now the shrieking of leviathans as they plowed through the waves. Every lightning strike threatened to split her skull. The sunlight felt like a leaden weight on her shoulders, and the stars chattered incessantly to each other in the canopy of the sky. Animals wore their moods like fur and feathers; she could sense pain, fear, surprise, excitement. It was amazing. It was magic.
It was maddening.
She'd had one nightmare at the very beginning of the ordeal, on a night when they'd been far too exhausted to push any further and had chanced to anchor in the shelter of some high cliffs. After falling into a fitful sleep, she'd been assaulted almost immediately by a dream in which she'd tried to take a step forward only to find that her feet had twisted into the ground, taking root as her fingertips elongated into creeping vines. She'd opened her mouth to scream and been choked off by the sinuous movement of a morning glory, winding its way out of her throat to unfurl before her eyes. Waking in a cold sweat, she'd tilted her face to the ceiling of her berth and indulged in one shrill, panicked scream, delighted even in her terror to have back the voice the dream had stolen away.
Luckily for her, the only crewmember she'd disturbed had actually been Niddler, who had lost the argument over who should keep watch and had been consoling himself by going on a larder scrounge. Tula was fond of the monkey-bird and he of her, and it hadn't taken too much sweet talking to convince him that it had only been a silly nightmare, and she was fine, and there was no need to trouble Ren or Ioz about it. While she'd been fairly certain that her feathered friend would have kept her secret simply because she'd asked him to, she hadn't minded bribing him further by offering to keep watch in his stead, which Niddler had readily agreed to, and Tula had spent the rest of the night prowling the decks, staring out into the night, knowing that there would be no comfort, no sleep, until the strange energies sorted themselves out inside of her.
She'd told Teron that she found the idea of being an ecomancer ridiculous, that she had been born for battle and nothing else, and that it was a mistake. And she still felt the same about it; her very blood felt like it was bubbling and hissing in her veins and she was beginning to worry that, pushed much further, she'd do anything to make it stop.
Ren was fond of remarking that he wasn't special at all.
Sure, it was a strange joke coming from the lost prince of Octopon, son of the great King Primus, the one charged with the legendary task of recovering the thirteen lost treasures that would restore his once-proud city and free his planet from the threat of the evil dark water forever. But given the company he'd been keeping lately, he sometimes wondered how much of a mistake he'd look like in the family paintings.
It was a ragtag crew he'd gathered around him—the grizzled pirate, the warrior woman and the garrulous, gluttonous monkey-bird—but it was his crew and he valued them as much as any treasure. When he wasn't allowing himself to be seduced by the siren song of a get-rich-quick scheme, Ioz was death on the waves with a blade as sharp as his complaining tongue. Despite his near-constant bravado about how they were nothing but trouble and how he wished he'd never embarked on this ill-advised quest and how he ought to be in Janda Town right now with a prostitute and a stiff drink, there had been plenty of times when Ioz had put himself in harm's way to pull Ren or another crewmember out of the fire by the scruff of their neck. Ren didn't mind Ioz's blustering and posturing as long as he could count on the man to meet steel with steel when the outlook was bleak, and the battle-scarred, topknotted pirate had proven his loyalty time and again.
So had Niddler. While the monkey-bird talked almost incessantly and ate them out of keel and cabin, he was nevertheless a cheerful, entertaining presence on their ship, and regardless of how he cowered and panicked when danger arose, he always found it inside himself to lend a wing in the end. And he wasn't choosy about who he helped—he was just as willing to scoop his number-one detractor, Ioz, out of danger as he was to lend his aid to his own people on Pandawa. When he'd stood tall and incited the imprisoned monkey-birds on Pandawa to rise up against the slavers and fight for their freedom, Ren had been downright proud of him. Niddler's brain was a little addled at times, but there was no question that his heart was in the right place.
Tula was something else again. The only female member of the crew, she could still match swords (and wits) with anyone on the high seas. Ren had been concerned at the beginning that she might not last long dealing with both enemy attacks and disparaging remarks from Ioz, but whether one was measuring by combat or insults, Tula could give as good as she got. If Ioz gave her lip, she simply gave it back to him, and while he never quite backed down, Ioz had relaxed enough to even pay Tula a languid little compliment every so often (and usually when she was not around to hear it). Ren had stopped worrying about them a long time ago—at this point the pirate and the ecomancer had been through too much together to mutiny against each other. Ren wasn't confident enough to say that it made them friends, but it made them something, and he knew that if he ever weren't around to help his crew, then they would certainly help each other.
Still, Ren didn't know as much about his crew as he would have liked. He felt like they knew everything about him—after all, his lineage and destiny was the lynchpin of their entire quest—but even after all this time, he wasn't sure what he'd done to earn the loyalty that seemed to be the only thing that bound them to him. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the only treasure they were going to take home from this quest would be a moral victory, and yet Ioz still stared ferociously down his course as he steered the ship, his eyes still lighting up with excitement when the compass blazed into bright light in Ren's hand. It might have been something as simple as the fact that Ioz wouldn't be kept off the water—for all he crowed about retiring to Janda Town and living like a king, the pirate was happiest out on his beloved ocean, testing his mettle against thieves and madmen and gloating when he came out on top. Ren had briefly met Ioz's younger sister, Solia, and while there appeared to be no love lost between them, even Solia had mentioned that Ioz had been bound and determined to seek his fortune and nothing would have kept him at home. Maybe this was just something for Ioz to do, and so he applied himself to their quest with the fervent single-mindedness he applied to all his treasure hunts.
Ren had a feeling Niddler stayed with him because getting into scrapes aboard the Wraith was infinitely preferable to a life of servitude aboard the Maelstrom, which was where they'd met. Perhaps Niddler still felt that he was in Ren's debt, and Pandawa was not exactly safe—slavers and pirates still plagued its coast. Niddler was silly at times, but not stupid—he had to have known how lucky they all were to have escaped those first few skirmishes with Bloth.
As for Tula, Ren figured her major reason for staying aboard the Wraith was simply not having anywhere else to go. Andorus had been severely crippled by blight and by dark water, and there was nothing left for her there. If she felt she was still paying Ren back for her earlier betrayal in order to free Teron, he wanted to tell her she'd done more than enough to get back in his good graces. Still, he could see why she might prefer life on the Wraith, where she was treated like an equal and could be useful, to a life in Janda Town serving grog to rude, grabby bar patrons with no manners. Moreover, he knew that despite all they'd seen, Ioz was sometimes skeptical when it came to the power of the treasures they sought, but Tula believed. She had to—she herself was surrounded by a halo of magic that was teaching her to respect power bigger than herself.
Watching her now as she gazed idly out over the water, Ren was reminded that he'd wanted to speak to her alone, ask her if she were feeling all right. A casual observer might not have noticed, but they'd spent enough time together for Ren to be sensitive to changes in his friends' moods.
Ren was no ecomancer, but he didn't need magic to see that Tula obviously had a lot on her mind—which meant she might be induced to talk. "Everything all right, Tula?"
She angled a glance at him, gold earrings swinging beneath her dark hair. "Why wouldn't it be? As you said, it's a beautiful day."
He couldn't help but smile at the evasion. "You didn't answer my question."
Instead of a snappy retort, she turned her head again. "It's a beautiful day. The sea is calm. The wind is with us. Everything is fine."
Ren felt mildly disappointed—not just at the absence of her usual razor wit, but at the idea that she wouldn't tell him the truth. Changing tactics, he folded his arms over his chest, leaning back against the wall of the cabin. "When I was a boy in Octopon, Jenna told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a dolphin."
He was rewarded with the slightest curve of Tula's full lips into a smile. "A dolphin?"
"Actually, I told her I wanted to be a white dolphin with a blue lightning bolt on my head."
The smile stretched a little, as though she were suppressing a laugh. "Did Jenna redefine 'anything' when she heard you say that?"
Ren's eyes softened as he remembered his guardian, her warm smile and her strong hug. "No, actually. She let me play in the water for a whole summer trying to be a dolphin. How do you think I learned to hold my breath so long underwater?"
Tula chuckled, lashes lowering to half-mast. "Jenna must have loved you very much."
Ren nodded; all his life, he'd never doubted his guardian's ferocious care for him. "She knew these days would eventually come. My destiny is clear now, and there's no turning back from it. I am Prince of Octopon, and if the fates are kind, someday I will be king. Maybe Jenna wanted to give me just a little more time to think I could be anything I wanted."
For the first time all day, Tula looked at him, really looked at him. Her normally steely gaze was curious now, and her head was tilted, considering him. "I think," she said slowly, "that you would have made a very good dolphin."
He smiled at her. "We'll never know."
Again, the tilt of the head, which he was beginning to realize was what she did when she was choosing her words carefully. "Any good man would make a good dolphin, because good men do what they do as best they can, whether they want to be dolphins, pirates or kings."
Ren's brows arched in surprise at the eloquence of her statement. Tula's measure of a man was not an easy test to pass, and he was very aware of the compliment she'd given him.
"Thank you," he said simply, and for a few moments they watched the waves, until Tula's eyes flickered tiredly and Ren decided it was now or never.
"Tell me," he said gently, nudging her boot with his. She looked confusedly at him and he saw the scales balance behind her eyes as she weighed the possible consequences of unburdening herself, eventually deciding the risk was worth it.
"You wanted to be a dolphin," she said. "Now you're a prince, and someday you'll be king."
He nodded, waiting for her to continue.
She glanced out over the waves again. "I wanted to be a warrior."
He knew her use of the past tense was deliberate; he would have argued that she was and would always be a warrior; he'd seen enough to know that, but something else was clearly bothering her. Before he could even speak her name again, however, a squawk from the crow's nest drew both their attention to Niddler, who was flapping his way down to the deck.
Glancing back to Tula, Ren made sure to lock his gaze firmly on hers. "We'll talk later," he promised, but he could already tell it was no good; it was like watching a gate slam down behind her eyes even as she nodded.
"What woke you up, monkey-bird?" Ioz asked sarcastically when they were all gathered around him on the deck.
Niddler squawked indignantly. "Nothing can wake me up when your long-winded speeches put me to sleep, Ioz. But if you'd like to continue sailing when those overtake us, be my guest."
"Those" were distant thunderheads, and while Ren could see that they might eventually be a problem, they were far enough away that he wondered if Niddler was overreacting.
"I don't know," the young captain said, rubbing his chin with one hand. "We can either make landfall and call it a day, or we can keep moving. It could go either way, but the wind is with us...Ioz? Tula?"
"You're the captain," Ioz said. "Honestly, I'm all for stopping somewhere with a real bed and an open bar, but I'm wondering if we should press further while we can, while there's no weather to stop us."
Ren opened his mouth to voice his own opinion, but it was Tula who interrupted, sounding positively spent.
"There never isn't weather."
Now he knew something was definitely wrong—her normally steely glare was halfhearted and bleary as she stared past them all at the threatening clouds, and her tone made his own bones ache in sympathy to her suddenly obvious exhaustion. Even her voice was weary, as if the idiocy of the very idea of no weather had wrung her out.
And it was an idiotic idea, Ren realized as he watched her swing her head back to the waves, staring across them. No weather. What a foolish concept, when the planet spun faster than any of them could feel, through rain and sunshine alike.
Ren's brow furrowed in concern, the sight of her unnerving him; he got the sudden impression that she could see far further over the water than any of them could, and he could not shake the feeling that what she saw was somehow unpleasant. The urge to shake her, to snap her out of it, made his hands cramp and curl into fists at his sides, but there was something he could do for her that would ultimately be more helpful.
"I don't see why we need to break our necks out here today," was all he said, trying to keep his tone conversational and even. "I don't think it would hurt us to eat a hot meal and get a decent night's sleep for once."
Ioz nodded, but he didn't look nearly as pleased as he should have; his dark eyes were also trained on Tula. She gave no sign that she cared whether they stayed on the water or not, but she didn't tear her gaze from the horizon.
When they dropped anchor at a little out-of-the-way port early that evening, Ren was comforted by the fact that Ioz and Niddler were easy to please; as soon as their bellies were full and they had a flagon of ale or two, they'd be content to have an insult contest and sleep it off. But Tula wasn't looking any better than she had in the afternoon; her brow was furrowed and she kept glancing around, her eyes sweeping the landscape nervously. He couldn't imagine what was bothering her; the inn they'd chosen for the night was entirely pleasant, and the food at its downstairs tavern wasn't half bad, either.
"Are you going to eat that, Tula? No, you don't want that. Better give it to me," Niddler said happily, neatly swiping a heel of bread off Tula's untouched plate. He'd been so thrilled not to have been turned away at the door of the tavern—some places refused to serve monkey-birds, something Ren found ridiculous when something as hideous as Konk could stroll into any establishment he pleased—that he'd celebrated by consuming two plates of food already.
Ren frowned at Niddler, but Tula absently slid her entire dish to the gluttonous monkey-bird without a complaint and focused instead on her tankard of ale.
"Slow night," Ioz remarked as their buxom, smiling barmaid returned with more ale. Aside from the crew of the Wraith, only three other tables contained patrons.
"Not really," she answered, pouring a generous amount of ale into Ioz's tankard. "We're surrounded on three sides by woods and one by the ocean, so if anyone from the mainland wants to visit us here, they've got to navigate the rivers."
"Rivers?" Ren asked, covering his tankard with his hand as a sign he didn't want any more ale.
The barmaid laughed, one heavily made up eye flickering. "Well, they don't call this place the Inn at Three Highways. Three rivers meet just beyond the edge of town and join into one that leads all the way to the ocean."
"Three?" Tula asked, rubbing her temple and waving away the ale. "No wonder."
Everyone stopped whatever they were doing—Niddler was in mid-bite—to stare at her. Eventually the barmaid broke the silence with a chuckle. "No wonder what, dear?"
Tula blinked, as if just suddenly realizing she'd said something that made no sense. Instead of answering, she held out her tankard. "You know what, I think I will have some more of that."
Ren regretted that they'd been interrupted earlier when she'd begun to tell him what was wrong, but he had a feeling she'd never confess her troubles in front of Ioz—he'd seen enough of their fights to know she'd die before looking weak in front of the pirate. Aloud, all he said was, "If you've got a headache, Tula, you might want to go easy on that ale."
Tula smiled dimly over the rim of her tankard. "Duly noted, Captain," she murmured, and tipped the mug back.
Shaking his head, Ren turned back to the server. "I'd think more people would travel the rivers and stop here, considering your location."
She shifted her weight, popping a generous hip as she thought about it. "The rivers ain't easy to travel, sir. Many a man's lost his life on rough waters over the years, and the Three Rivers are no exception."
"You're not just singing a sea shanty," Ioz agreed, raising his tankard, then sipping.
"Why stay here, then?" Ren asked. "Why build here at all?"
The girl smiled, which changed her odd face wonderfully for the better; she looked almost pretty. "Oh, sir, ain't nothing to worry about from the rivers. We've got the dam on the northeast side keeping the water back from us, should anything go wrong. Indeed, if t'weren't for them, we'd have even less travelers here than you see now. Nothing to be afraid of, sir."
"He's not afraid," Tula murmured. "He can hold his breath underwater for quite some time, so I hear."
Ren arched a golden brow over his quizzical smile, unsure if she were joking until one tired eye flashed in a wink.
The barmaid laughed, even though she had no occasion to understand the joke. "Sure and aren't you a bold one, sir! I'll come right back with more bread. Would you like that, love?" She addressed this last to Niddler, who nodded fiercely as he chewed, cheeks bulging out.
"Maybe Ren's right and you ought to go easy on that stuff, Tula," Ioz said, shaking his head. "You've been talking nonsense all day."
All Ren's pleasure at her jest faded instantly at her response.
"Nonsense," she said idly, draining the last of the ale from her tankard. "Indeed."
The rain started just as they finished supper, and Ren was glad he'd elected to take Niddler's warning about the storm seriously; it would have been quite unpleasant to be out in the torrential downpour and his already keyed-up crew would not have taken well to being cramped in close quarters all night. It began looking like a sudden, harsh cloudburst, but after an hour of heavy rain, it became apparent that it was a fierce storm, and not likely to stop any time soon.
In fact, spending the evening at the inn proved to be quite enjoyable. No one was particularly keen to venture out into the storm, and the innkeeper and serving staff weren't strict about forcing anyone out of the tavern. A few of the patrons got together an impromptu card game, which Ioz happily joined. Ren shook his head and smirked as he watched the pirate crow about the hot streak he was currently on. Apparently repeated instances of losing all his money (and in one instance, a gold tooth) at Zoolie's Gaming House in Janda Town hadn't taught Ioz anything about cutting his losses.
Niddler had made friends with Betta, the barmaid, and was regaling her with stories about his adventures on the high seas. Ren overheard enough of the conversation to know that these stories were largely embellished (he was particularly fond of the one where the entire crew was hung by their ankles while Niddler swashbuckled his way through a fleet of bloodthirsty pirates to save them).
Ren would have liked another chance to talk to Tula, but she wouldn't sit still. She paced restlessly around the room, and when she finally did settle down, it was on the sill of one of the windows, watching the rain abuse the panes of glass. When he felt confident that she'd finally landed and wouldn't move again the instant he got too close, Ren approached her carefully, as though she were a horse about to bolt.
She didn't look at him, but spoke anyway, as though she'd somehow sensed his nearness. "We should leave."
"Leave?" The statement took Ren by surprise. "Into the rain? We came here to stay out of the rain."
"We have to go," she repeated. "Three rivers. I don't like it."
Ren relaxed, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You mean that stuff about rough water during dinner? Tula, we were just making conversation. Are you worried the rivers will swell?"
"Swell," she hissed. "Swell if we're lucky. And we won't be. Three rough rivers, all meeting here, in the middle of a storm."
She was beginning to scare him—her dark hair slid over her shoulders like fur as she shook her head, gold earrings flashing shiny, then dull, then shiny in the light. She was no longer the woman who'd served him ale and swiped his maps on that long ago day in Janda Town—she was something primal and witchy; a creature of power. "Tula, did you hear the girl say there's a dam in place? Surely this isn't the first bad storm they've had this way. This town's been here for ages."
"It won't be here tomorrow," Tula said ominously, eyes burning out at the rain as if it maddened her. "Neither will we, if we stay."
"You're being silly," Ren said, as gently as he could. He could feel how tense she was beneath the hand he had on her. "You're—"
"I'm what?" Tula reared back from him, throwing off his hand as she was pushed to her feet by the force of her frustration. "Talking nonsense?"
Ren became aware that they'd gotten the attention of the rest of the patrons; Niddler had paused in his latest story and was gaping at them; Betta the serving girl looked nervous. Even the men seated at the card table were looking up in mild surprise.
"A little, yes," Ren said carefully, keeping his voice low so as not to draw more attention to them. "There's no reason to believe anything will go wrong."
Tula inhaled deeply, shakily, eyes sliding shut. "I can..." She leaned heavily against the window, her reflection dim and warped by the driving rain. "I can..."
Almost. Ren was unable to help petitioning her to trust him again. "Tula, tell me," he repeated.
She shook her head. Stepping away from the window, she glared reproachfully at him. "I hope you're a good dolphin," she said, striding past him and towards the back of the tavern, where a wooden staircase led up to the rooms for rent. "I hope you're a very good dolphin, when it comes."
The assembled men and women watched her stalk out of the room, and then returned slowly to their previous activities. Ren glanced out at the storm, blinking as a particularly vicious-looking streak of lightning slit the night and crackled across the horizon where water and sky could no longer be told apart.
Upstairs, Tula lay on the small, narrow bed in the room that had been designated as hers, resting on her side and staring out at the rain mercilessly pelting her window. One nice thing about being the crew's only woman was that she was given the privilege of privacy wherever they bedded down for the night, while the men often doubled up to cut costs—their particular brand of pirating focused more on moral victories and didn't exactly pay well. Normally, she was grateful for the quiet, especially if she were berthed far enough away from wherever they were sleeping to ignore the sounds of Niddler's squawking, followed by the thud of whatever Ioz threw at him hitting the wall.
But there would be no quiet tonight, no sleep, not with the incessant hammers of the rain beating down on the roof and the windows, threatening to split her skull; not with the malicious chuckling of the three rivers beyond the town limits, too far away for any senses but hers to pick up. Not with the way the earth creaked and groaned beneath her feet, unstable, untrustworthy. She hadn't felt stable in such a long time, the world seeming to tilt and rock beneath her feet like the Wraith at sea; she knew that the earth and water gave their secrets up to no one, no one but her.
No, sleep was impossible.
The answer seemed simple enough—leave this place. There was nothing but death waiting for them here, and the fastest, most effective cure would be to just depart.
Rolling onto her back and closing her eyes, Tula exhaled slowly and imagined the other answer, the one that had been circling in her mind ever since she'd felt blight racing through her body, since the first night she'd been kept awake by the laughter of stars and the conversation of starfish several leagues below her. She could just wait—just ignore all this a little longer—and then the noise would stop.
The men downstairs thought she was crazy, and they wouldn't come up here looking for her. She could let them amuse themselves with their drinks and their cards and their stories, and for the last few hours they'd be happy.
To just lay in the dark, let the water and the silence rise over her…
A whispering voice in the back of her mind told her that this would be extremely selfish. There were far more efficient ways to kill herself, ways that wouldn't risk the lives of a few tavern patrons and her crew. Still, they wouldn't believe her—they had already looked at her like she was out of her mind. What concern of hers was it when they wouldn't even listen to her?
Ren's voice echoed in her mind. Tell me, Tula. He'd wanted to listen—but then he'd dismissed her. His smile had told her he didn't believe. Still, she hadn't tried very hard to convince him after that. It was just that her head hurt so much and she knew he wouldn't understand, no one would understand…
Maybe she just wanted to give me a little more time to think I could be anything I wanted…
The dark behind her eyes no longer felt as welcoming as it had a few minutes ago. Instead, it tasted of failure and of surrender, and that was nothing like what she'd wanted to be when she grew up.
This time, the voice that echoed in her memory was her own—her own bold words to Teron the day fate had thrust the mantle that she'd never wanted upon her. "I'm a warrior, born for battle."
Sitting up, Tula swung her legs over the side of the bed. She was not about to drown tonight—not in water, not in ecomancy or anything else.
Most of the inn's few patrons had retired upstairs to bed down for the night at this point; the rain showed no signs of letting up. Niddler was happily snoring in a chair beside the bar; Ren was now sitting at the table with the card players, amusing them by continuing to decline their offers to deal him in. "Come on, Son of Primus," the local doctor chuckled, multiple chins wobbling as he laughed. "A little vice never hurt anyone."
Ren smiled beatifically. "Thank you, Doctor, but I only gamble with my life, never my money."
The rest of the men at the table roared, and Ioz chuckled as he pushed a gold piece to the center of the table. "He's not lying about that. The man'll risk his neck to save a baby leviathan, but try getting him to play a game of roulette!"
"Perhaps that's why I'm not up to my elbows in debt," Ren jabbed, smirking at his crewmate. "You'll end up owing your left arm to Zoolie one of these days."
"Maybe so, friend, maybe so," Ioz chortled. "But not today. Call 'em in, men, let's see what you've got!"
However, the game was interrupted by the return of Tula, boots on her feet and a haversack on her back. She advanced to the bar, teasing a gold piece in front of Betta the serving girl. "Begging your pardon, but could I trouble you for a loaf of that bread, and would you mind filling this?" Tula asked politely, leaning in close and keeping her voice low. As she spoke, she handed her flask over the bar to the confused girl.
Looking baffled, Betta obliged, taking the gold piece and handing over the loaf in return. "Going somewhere, dear? Not in this weather, I hope—you'd drown like a rat."
"That's what I'm trying to avoid," Tula murmured, just loud enough for the others to hear. When she had her water and bread safely stowed, she stroked a gentle hand over the sleeping monkey-bird's head and smiled, then turned to walk towards their table.
"What in the twenty seas are you up to now, woman?" Ioz asked, and while his tone was stern, his expression betrayed concern.
Tula ignored the jab. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm going," she said, loudly and clearly enough for everyone to hear. "If you're smart, you'll come with me to higher ground, but I'm going with or without you, so I thought it best to let you know."
The table immediately broke out in arguments. "You can't go out there, young lady," the fat doctor said kindly. "It's raining fit to drown the world. We're safe as houses here. Have a seat, and try to calm down."
"I'm very calm," Tula responded. "And we are not safe here."
Another player, the wiry man who ran the local smithy, was less kind. "Crazy woman. See it all the time. Every time they see a raindrop, they go into hysterics." He tossed his cards onto the table.
Ren opened his mouth to snarl at the man, but surprisingly, the first argument came from Ioz. "The wench is a lot of things, but hysterical isn't one of them." Turning to Tula, he said, "Woman, listen to reason. If you're stubborn enough to go out in that mess, you deserve to drown." Looking her up and down, he added, "And I know you're stubborn enough."
Tula frowned at him, and a little of her usual spark flared as her spine straightened with fierce pride. "And to think I felt I couldn't leave without warning you. Try not to make a mess when you die, Ioz." Turning her back on the pirate, Tula looked at Ren, and when she spoke, her tone was gentler. "It's been a pleasure sailing with you. I am sorry about this."
"Good night." Abruptly she turned and walked out of the tavern, and Ren wondered if she was cutting him off because she sensed he'd try to talk her out of it. Ioz was less than concerned, waving a hand in the direction of the door.
"I give her half an hour. She'll come back soaked to the skin and feeling like a fool."
Ren stared grimly at the door as well, then turned to the window, which was nearly impossible to see out of due to the driving rain. They were safe and dry, and there was no threat of imminent danger. Ioz was most likely right.
So why did he feel like a fool?
Tula spent the first five minutes of her slog through the rain using colorful curses to describe the patrons of the inn and her crew.
"Chongo longo," she muttered, sloshing through an already-ankle deep puddle in the street. No one was around to give her funny looks for talking to herself—they were all inside hiding from the storm. "Narrow-minded, chauvinistic, kreld-eating oafs. By dawn you'll be under far more water than I will!"
She stopped walking and glanced around, at the small shops, the tiny houses. This was a little town that didn't see much action, the serving girl at the inn had said. Normal people, minding their business, going about their lives, and by morning it would all be swept away, if the prickling up and down her spine and the heavy feeling in her stomach was any indication. They didn't deserve it.
Neither, she admitted grudgingly to herself, did her crew. It wasn't that she blamed them, exactly—she knew she sounded crazy, but it only made the hammer of the water in her ears and the pressure of the storm against her skin worse, because she wasn't crazy and there was no way to make them understand...
I wanted to be a warrior.
Well, she wasn't a warrior anymore, she thought fiercely. That future had been snatched from her hands when every nerve ending had blazed bright with new, unwanted power. She wasn't a warrior, she was a freak, and freaks didn't have to be brave. This freak was getting out of here before the water rose.
Stopping her walk, the water swirling around her ankles, she thought again of Ren, of the ease with which he spoke about his destiny. It was all well and good to joke about dolphins and childhood, but what else had he wanted before fate washed up on his doorstep and said Always the quest? What had he dreamed? Had he just expected to keep the lighthouse all his life, and nothing more?
It all made her feel seasick—the thoughts of paths diverged on an ever-changing sea, the very idea that one could end up so far from where they thought they were going. That one could wake up a completely different person.
Water lapped against her calves as she imagined countless futures, futures in which Ren had ignored his destiny and refused to take up his mantle, futures in which the water rising around her feet was black and caustic and sticky. If he'd run—as she was running now.
She'd been thinking this whole time that she hadn't had a choice, but she'd been wrong—there was a choice, and even if it wasn't the choice she'd predicted, it was still a choice.
"Noy borqua," Tula muttered viciously as she dropped her haversack and changed direction, but her steps were determined on the course she realized had been laid out for her all along.
By the time everyone in the tavern had retired, Ioz had realized he was not going to get any sleep tonight. "You want to go after her, don't you?"
"You don't have to come," Ren shot back. "It's clear you don't think anything is wrong."
"Hardly!" the pirate retorted, a sneer stretching his leathery face. "Something's been wrong with Tula for days, but you saw her tonight—there's no talking her out of her insanity. Let her stay out there and maybe the rain will beat it out of her. She could stand to cool off, anyway."
"Regardless of how she feels, it's not safe out there," Ren insisted. "She's still a member of this crew, and I am going after her. Stay here if you want to."
"Fine, I will," Ioz declared peevishly, wandering into the room that had been designated as theirs. The door slammed. Smirking, Ren waited five minutes, and sure enough, Ioz emerged from the room again with Niddler in tow. The monkey-bird squawked sleepily, rubbing at an eye.
"What's the big idea, Ioz? I was having a great dream!"
"No time for dreams, monkey-bird," Ioz said crisply. "We've got to go out and fetch the woman."
Niddler blinked and looked around, as if only just suddenly realizing that Tula was not with them. "Tula? Why? Where is she?" He hiccuped, looking to the window. "You don't think she's out there, do you?" Brows flattening, he corrected himself almost immediately. "What am I saying. That's exactly what you think, isn't it?" Glancing from Ren's determined expression to Ioz's sour look, the monkey-bird made a worried sound. "Do I have time to waterproof my feathers?"
Tula was beginning to theorize that the reason all legends about ecomancers told of the mages doing whatever it took to help people and commune with nature was because if they didn't, they'd go mad from the noise. The minute she changed direction and headed towards the dam the barmaid had described, her senses were assaulted with the frenetic laughter of the rushing rivers, the straining and groaning of the earth and stone that kept it at bay, and the minutely shifting ground beneath her feet. The latter was most distracting as she hurried to the edge of town; she knew it was so small as to only be felt by her hypersensitive awareness, but it seemed trying to trip her up all the same. Many of the streets were already partially flooded, which was also annoying; slogging through the freezing, knee-deep water slowed her down and feeling every current, every shift in temperature, every sensation as she displaced the liquid threatened to make her dizzy with sensation.
There was no need to stop and ask for directions; Tula knew where her target lay—she could hear the suffering dam tolling like a bell on the edge of her consciousness. The shift of stone upon stone had her grinding her own teeth, and she realized that as she drew closer she had begun rubbing her fingertips together, trying to shake the phantom feeling of the tightly packed earth dampening and slipping dangerously away, loosening the stones it held together and allowing the frigid water to sneak through.
She'd just passed the shop of the surly blacksmith who'd called her "hysterical" when she hit the wall—literally; glancing back and forth, Tula realized that what the barmaid had airily referred to as "the dam" was in fact a stone wall that bordered the entire northeast section of town. Even in a small village such as this one, the towering structure was impressive, and Tula could see why the townsfolk had such faith in it. Still, should any section of the wall fail, the water overflowing the now-swelling rivers would not just rush through and flood the town, the remaining sections of "dam" would effectively stop it from draining. Yet they'd written her off as a lunatic back in the tavern.
Shaking these thoughts away, she told herself she'd have all the time in the world to be angry at them later on. There was a weak section of wall—she'd been listening to it fight the water all night, and there was little strength left in it. It exhausted her to feel the slow surrender of the flaw in the wall, the endless slipping of sand and earth that was impossible to see but grated against her senses.
What she didn't know was where it was. Foolishly assuming the fault in the wall would be easy to spot due to the urgency that had pressed upon her skin the entire day, Tula had neglected to remember that it was now the dead of night, in the middle of a downpour, and she had no torch. Even if she had, there would have been no way to keep one lit in the heavy rain.
Her hands began to cramp and curl and her ears perked almost painfully.
Closing her eyes, Tula inhaled a deep breath of wet air. She didn't need a torch. She didn't even need to see; her fizzing blood calmed with the idea that the wall itself would tell her where it hurt, if she asked.
Stepping close to the wall, the part of her brain that remained a stubborn swordmaiden briefly balked at the idea of standing so close to a failing dam. If the structure chose to fail while she was so near, the falling debris would crush her, and if that didn't happen, the deluge of water would drown her.
Only way, she told herself resignedly, and reached out, palms open, her hands making contact with the cool, slippery stone.
Immediately she could feel her consciousness stretch, spread like water itself to fill the wall before her. She scented the earth that had been used to cement these stones in place, felt their rough edges against her senses as they were torn from their places and carted to this spot. She could feel the water from all sides, hammering at the top of the structure, licking at its sides like flame, sharp and insistent. Exhaustion tugged at her arms, weighed heavily on her shoulders, but she pressed her hands harder against the wall, seeking, searching.
It was like opening her eyes just a crack in the morning in her dark cabin on the Wraith, a small spot on the edge of her dreams that let the light in. She could see the difference in the magical map that spread behind her closed eyes, feel the weakness in the wall.
All at once the world stopped rocking to and fro beneath her weary feet. Hands still firm on the wall, Tula felt stronger than she'd felt in days. She knew that she could mend the rift—everything she needed was right at her fingertips, in her veins, pumping from her heart.
Lifting her face to the rain, she took in another deep breath and held it, held it, and for one shining moment, she could feel every raindrop suspended in midair. With her eyes closed, she imagined that she was fading away, blurring into the gray stormy air, becoming part of it, part of everything.
There was a sharp tug at her consciousness, a warning not to become too enamored of the feeling, lest her vision come true and she disappear into it. Remembering how leaving herself completely open to her ability had let blight overtake her system on Andorus, the fear was enough for her to pull her mind back, her surroundings reemerging dimly on the edges of her awareness. Quickly, Tula scraped a thumb against the stone wall beneath her hands. The pain was sharp and immediate, and as her eyes opened, she saw the blood welling up thickly from a shallow cut. As she swiped the blood across the stones, she felt the power in her snap taut. Eager. Waiting.
Ready, she thought.
"Ready," she whispered, her voice lost in the fury of the storm.
It took less than a minute for the storm to soak them through, plastering hair to foreheads and weighing down Niddler's feathers. Ren grit his teeth and blinked against the onslaught of icy rain that threatened to glue his eyelids shut. He could deal with the discomfort, but the idea that Tula had voluntarily decided to come out in this downpour because she found it less frightening than what might happen did not sit well with him.
Niddler was the first to complain, squawking and trying vainly to cover his head with his sopping wings. "We shouldn't be out here!"
"Neither should Tula," Ren called over the howling wind. "I'm wondering if we should split up and search the town."
"Not a good idea. She said she was heading to higher ground, so she'll be on her way out of town," Ioz said, and Ren was mildly impressed that he'd remembered that fact. Ioz pretended to blow off anything he wasn't interested in, but the pirate was as sharp as his sword, and little got past him. He'd been listening to Tula as closely as Ren had.
Still, Ren couldn't shake the feeling that Tula was nearby. "I don't think so. She's still around here somewhere."
Ioz frowned at his captain, his topknot comically drooping, heavy with water. "Maybe Tula is contagious, Ren. Now you're talking nonsense."
Ren didn't blame his friend for not believing him, but his mind was spinning with images—memories of Tula fighting the blight back on Andorus, her face straining as she called fire to her hands in a tight spot. Flowers growing at her command, and the way she'd stared out at the rain as if it maddened her…
"She's here. She's gone to the dam," Ren said suddenly, knowing he was correct.
Niddler squawked. "Why on Mer would she do that, Ren? You said she was afraid of the dam."
"Not afraid," Ren clarified. "She said the rivers would swell—worse than swell. That's where she is. I just have a feeling."
Ioz threw up his hands in defeat. "We're out here in the rain chasing Tula because she can't shake a 'bad feeling' about this storm. Now you're saying we should go to the damn holding back three rivers in a hurricane because you've got a 'feeling'. Why don't we wait till the monkey-bird gets a funny feeling that we should all start walking on our hands?"
Niddler chuckled. "I'd pay a gold piece to see you walk on your hands, Ioz!"
"I told you, go back if you want, but I'm not going back until we've found her, and we won't find her anywhere but where the three rivers meet," Ren said, and his crewmates knew by his tone that he would not be talked out of his course of action.
"Chongo longo," Ioz muttered. "I've got a feeling we're all going to drown."
"Just trust me, all right?" Ren said, sloshing through the rising water.
Niddler chittered nervously. "I hate it when you say that!"
With Ioz's compass to give them a bearing on northeast, it was easy enough to locate the dam—the massive wall bordered the entire village on one side. Niddler gave a small hiccup of dismay when he saw it looming before them; he'd taken wing to stay above the swirling water. "Okay, here's the dam," he said, teeth chattering either from fear or the chill of the rain. "Which part does your feeling say Tula's at, Ren?"
Wiping his dripping hair out of his eyes, Ren looked up and down the avenue. It would take far too long to search street by street. "Niddler, can you take me up for an aerial view?"
Niddler looked dubiously up into the gray sky. "In rain like this? I'm not sure. Probably only for a few minutes."
"We have to try," Ren decided. "Ioz, stay here and keep an eye out for her. We'll be back after we get a good look."
"I don't like this," Ioz called as Niddler's talons closed carefully around Ren's shoulders and flapped his wings once, twice, then beat the air strongly to gain altitude.
"Not asking you to like it, just asking you to keep an eye out for Tula," Ren retorted, and Niddler laughed, prompting his captain to snap, "Don't drop me, Niddler!"
This only made the monkey-bird laugh harder. "With the way that town's flooding, Ren, you'd just splash!"
Slowly, they got high enough that Ren had a better view of the dam, of all the streets leading up to the massive wall.
"See anything, Ren?" Niddler asked. "I can't keep us up much longer!"
"Not y—there. There she is," Ren said, spirits lifting as he saw a familiar blur of color, bright silks and dark hair below them, down a long stretch of deserted, flooding street. Lifting an arm to indicate the direction, he raised his voice to repeat, "There!"
Niddler squawked in shock, listing dangerously to one side. "Hey! Watch it, Ren, or I drop us both!"
Ren smiled in relief. "Straight ahead, scaredy-bird. I'll tell you where to take us down."
Below them, Ioz was already running in the direction Ren had indicated, muttering to himself as he splashed through the streets. "By Davin's beard, if I had a gold piece for every time I had to do something ridiculous because this—"
The curse died on the pirate's lips as he rounded the corner at the end of the long alley, coming upon their lost crewmember soaked and shining through the driving rain. Tula knelt at the dam, head bowed, arms stretched before her, palms flat against the wall. A smear of blood as bright as surprise colored the stone she was touching, ruining the rest of the tableau; if not for that, the pirate would have assumed his troublesome friend was…praying.
As if hearing him slow to a stop, the water splashing around his boots, Tula turned, green eyes dilated to full flower, a graceful half-turn of her body as she kept her hands on the wall. For a wild second, Ioz got the feeling that she was the only thing holding it up.
"Can you see me?" the ecomancer asked, her voice almost dreamy. "Can…you see me?"
The question snapped the pirate out of his daze; he was far better equipped to deal with seemingly silly questions than with ethereal visions of demi-goddesses. Holding out a hand, he scolded her gently. "I see you, Tula. Come away from there. Ren's worried and it's raining fit to—"
Tula snapped to attention, hair flicking wetly over her shoulder as she turned, eyes wide with alarm. To Ioz, it looked as though she'd been startled by a noise, although how she could hear anything in the gale, he had no idea.
He reached for her again, and Tula put her hand in his, but instead of him pulling her, she tugged him close. "Lift me up," she instructed quickly.
"Tula, don't be—"
"Lift me up," she repeated more forcefully, and squeezed his hand—and he felt it; his vision blurred and there was a sudden tightness in his chest, as though something in him were about to break. Quizzically, he looked at Tula, brow creasing in concern. One second of feeling that pressure had nearly knocked him off his feet; if Tula had been feeling this way for days, it was little wonder she was exhausted and talking nonsense.
Finally acquiescing to the fact that something was indeed wrong tonight, and that maybe his friends' strange "feelings" had some merit, the pirate leveled a steely gaze on the ecomancer. "Whatever that is…can you stop it?" and was relieved when Tula nodded, very determinedly.
He nodded back, once, and his voice was gruff as he let go of her hand. "Fine, but quickly," he ordered, and was relieved when she nodded. Kneeling, he allowed her to climb onto his back, then stood; her weight was a brief annoyance before she got a foothold between the loosened stones on the wall and began to climb.
Disturbed air wafted against Ioz's shoulders and Niddler squeaked in dismay above them. "Tula, what are you doing?" Ren grasped the monkey-bird's leg in reflexive alarm and Niddler yowled. "What's the big idea, Ren?"
"Put me at the top of the wall and get her down from there," the captain ordered.
"At the top of the wall? That's not safe—"
"You can't carry us both and she's in more danger right now. Get her down from there, Niddler, now!" Ren called over the wind.
"We should have stayed out on the water today!" was Niddler's lament as he circled closer to the wall. But before he could let his captain down, Tula screamed a warning, turning her palm to them as a signal to stop, but the wind whipped her voice away from them.
"What'd she say?" Niddler asked, flapping his wings to remain in mid-air. "Sounded like 'no…wait'?"
"No...wait," Ren murmured in agreement, then realized what his friend truly meant. "No weight," he clarified, and his suspicions were confirmed when he noticed steady streams of water breaking through the stone wall. One burst above Tula's head, soaking her and causing her to lose her grip on the wall, dangling by one hand.
Ioz muttered a curse below, for more reasons than just Tula's current predicament; the water was swirling around the tall pirate's waist due to the added volume from the half-dozen splits in the wall.
"I can't stay up here much longer, Ren," Niddler warned.
"If she starts to fall, you drop me and grab her, understood?" Ren tugged on the monkey-bird's leg gently. "Got it?"
"I got it, I got it! You don't have to pull," Niddler whined.
"Noy jitat," Tula grit out, swinging by one hand and feeling the stone she was grasping loosen in her fingers. This was not going well at all and the freezing water was chuckling as it drenched her, every drop pricking at her sensitized skin like a needle.
Determinedly, she shifted her weight and placed her free hand against the stones once more, feeling them sing with tension. Closing her eyes and concentrating as hard as she was able, she could feel the remaining stones tremble, but they weren't her focus. The earth packed between them responded to her call, and a heady feeling spread through her chilled limbs as she felt it strengthen beneath the heat of her power, smoothing over the ragged holes the water had punched through the wall, becoming dense and impenetrable once again.
Just like that, the fevered noise in her head stilled. The water which had all day and night been roaring in her ears became little more than a hum, something dull and numb beyond the solidity of the wall. Lifting her face to the rain, Tula whooped in a breath of clean, stormy air, as though she could pull the silence into her body along with the oxygen. Closing her weary eyes once more, she let her cheek rest against the wall, feeling as though she herself were the water, being absorbed into its cold bulk.
No, she thought idly, the rational part of her mind screaming for attention beyond her fatigue. Not part of the wall. Not part of the storm. Not part of the water…can't stay here and melt away. Come down now…come down now…
"Come down," a voice was entreating beyond the dark of her lowered eyelids. "Tula! Come down now."
Opening her eyes, she saw Niddler struggling to stay aloft, his talons wrapped around Ren's strong shoulders. Their captain had one hand extended towards her, his tropical eyes bright with relief in his tanned face. "You did it, Tula," he soothed, reaching for her. "Come down."
Gratefully, she nodded, taking her hand from the wall. There was no feeling of suction as before, nothing tethering her to the spot anymore. The wall had all but forgotten her, her job done and its job resuming now that it was firm and strong again. Slipping her wet hand into Ren's, Tula waited until he offered his other to let go of the wall entirely.
"Wait, no—!" Niddler shrieked, but it was too late—Tula's added weight was too much for the monkey-bird's sodden wings, and they dropped perilously until Niddler released his talons in utter panic. Ren and Tula plummeted towards the flooded street, prompting a squawk of terror from Niddler and a colorful curse from Ioz.
The flood had done one useful thing, however—the water had risen high enough before Tula's intervention that the two pirates didn't have far to fall before splashing ungracefully down. Ren had been lucky enough to hit feet first, but Tula had swung heavily to the side when Niddler had let go, landing on her side with a loud slap against the water. Ioz started towards their point of impact with a yell, but there was no cause for alarm—a minute later, Ren resurfaced with a coughing Tula on his back, her arms strapped around his neck. "Are you all right?" he called, turning his head to gauge her condition.
"I wish," the ecomancer panted as she whooped in air, "I wish you were a dolphin!"
Despite everything, Ren laughed aloud as he stretched an arm out to swim towards dry ground.
By dawn, the storm was gone as though it had never been; the water had drained as quickly as it had risen, leaving a few first-floor dwellings damaged and a line of twigs and debris at waist-height on walls and storefronts to mark its passing. The townsfolk spent the morning helping each other to clean up what they could and exchanging small talk over the damages—they were used to this sort of thing and had no idea how close the dam had come to bursting the night before.
All of this was lost on the crew of the Wraith, who slept well into midmorning with the exclusion of Tula—sunrise had pressed on her like a weight, and as soon as she was conscious the temptation of a hot bath was too much for her to resist. Thus she was last to join her crewmates for breakfast in the tavern, but the men were pleased to see that she looked a thousand times better than she had the day before, smiling and swinging freshly washed hair over her shoulder.
"Here's to seeing another day," Ioz chuckled, raising his tankard of water as though he wanted to dump it over his head instead of drink it. Ren, Tula and Niddler all raised their glasses in agreement.
"Since we're on the subject," Tula said, taking a tone much gentler than her usual one, "I should thank you all for coming after me last night, and I think I owe you all an apology."
"You don't have to thank us for that, Tula—you're part of our crew, and there's nothing more to it," Ren said simply, before Ioz or Niddler could begin to tease her. "And I'm pretty sure apologies are owed all around." Looking at the anxious faces of his crewmates, the captain of the Wraith offered the solution he felt was most beneficial to all. "Want to just all be sorry and be done with it?"
Tula and Ioz both looked relieved—for completely different reasons, he was sure, but Ren was grateful they were in agreement all the same. "Agreed, then," he said cheerfully. "Forgiven, forgotten. What are we ordering?"
"Everything!" Niddler chirped happily. "I'm starved after all the work I did last night keeping you all out of trouble!"
Ioz rolled his eyes, about to start in on a tirade, but Tula simply reached out and tipped his tankard up, filling his mouth with water instead. Choking slightly, the pirate glared with bleary eyes over the rim of the mug, but said nothing.
"Sure and isn't it a luvvly morning!" Betta the barmaid trilled, sweeping close to their table. "And are you feeling better, dear?" she said to Tula, her smile kind. "Everything looks a little better in the light of day, doesn't it?"
"You're not just singing a sea shanty," Tula agreed warmly, and even threw a wink at Ioz, who chuckled into his tankard.
The wiry smithy, who was waiting at the bar for his own breakfast, clapped a victorious hand down on the wood as he turned on his barstool. His tone was also friendly, if condescending. "What did I tell you? A little rain, some lightning, and the girl flies into a panic. Get a few drinks down you and lighten up, girl," he advised. "It's not the end of the world."
Tula's smile was syrupy. "I'll keep that in mind."
Ren was less amused, blond brows meeting over his tropical eyes as he turned on the other man. "I'll have you know—" he began, but his outburst was stalled by Tula's warning hand on his arm. When he looked the question at her, she simply shook her head, no.
Confused, Ren let his anger ebb, choking it back with a slug of water from his own tankard. He remained annoyed until their dishes were served, but it was hard to stay irritated when Tula was clearly so much happier, tucking into her breakfast in a way that made even Niddler arch a brow in appreciation.
It wasn't until they were back on the Wraith (which was none the worse for wear after the storm save for having to swab the decks) that he asked her the question.
"Why didn't you let me tell them the truth?" he asked, and even as he waited for her answer he was relieved to see her looking so relaxed, as opposed to their last conversation on this same deck.
Tula merely shrugged, a liquid twist of her shoulders, and he noticed that too—she already seemed far more comfortable in her own body, in stark contrast to days ago, when she'd acted like her skin was a size too small. "The town is safe, and we know what happened. There was no harm done, and it wasn't worth arguing with them over. They would never understand."
No, they would never understand. Reluctantly, Ren nodded, realizing she was right. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you that it was brave to go to the dam instead of just leaving town."
Tula raised her eyebrows in clear self-deprecation. "It wasn't brave, and it almost didn't work—my fault for being slow. I won't hesitate next time."
He wasn't sure what she meant, but he liked the mention of "next time". "I'm sure with practice, you'll get even better eventually."
She laughed. "'Even better' implies that my starting point was good."
Unable to help himself, Ren smiled. "Someone once told me that good men do the best they can, always."
Amused at having her own compliment turned back on her, Tula smiled, folding her arms over her chest. "What are you saying?"
"That you are a good warrior, and a good friend," he answered simply. "And, already a very good ecomancer."
"…Thank you." Still smiling, she turned her face away from him primly, twitching her hair over her shoulder to hide her pleased expression. "Isn't it your turn to steer?"
Ren smiled too. "You might be right about that."
Indeed, he never minded piloting his own craft, and in truth, it was a fine day to be out on the water. Briefly impressed by how the sun had burst forth again after the intense storm, the captain of the Wraith enjoyed the feel of the light on his shoulders and the sound of Ioz and Niddler arguing over the right way to trim a sail.
"What is that woman doing now? If she wants to act like a figurehead, we can strap her to the prow sure enough," Ioz muttered, although his tone was friendly and teasing, also a marked change from how tense they all had been just days before. The burly pirate cupped a large hand around his smiling mouth. "Ay, Tula!" he called. "Quit daydreaming and lend a hand up here. This monkey-bird would run us aground if we leave him in charge."
On the deck, Tula turned to answer. "Right. I'll be up in a minute." Her stride was smooth and confident as she crossed the deck; hopping briskly up the ladder leading topside. Holding out one hand for Ioz to throw her a line, she touched Ren's shoulder gently as she passed. When he looked the question at her, she simply smiled and nodded towards the water, then turned away from him to deal with the sail.
Glancing in the direction she'd indicated, Ren saw them gleaming beneath the waves—first two, then three dolphins, weaving in and out of each other's paths as they followed alongside the Wraith. As a smile spread across the captain's face, one leaped to breach the water, flicking its tail as though waving before disappearing under again.
There is not nearly enough fanfic for a series as entertaining as The Pirates of Dark Water. It has the distinction of being one of the few series in which there is not a single character that I don't like, or feel is unnecessary to the plot. While it was essentially a series aimed at children, there were plenty of things that, given a little thought, were downright frightening when you considered them—people turning into dagrons, people melting into puddles of Dark Water, people doing illegal genesplicing experiments in the middle of a swamp. That's one of the beauties of fanfic—we can dive further into the things that a series might gloss over, really turn them over in our minds and see all the possibilities they have to offer.
That's really the point of this story for me—it was born when I was watching a Pirates of Dark Water episode and thinking about how cool it would be to be able to commune with nature. I spent five minutes or so thinking about how awesome it would be before I came to the inevitable conclusion that the racket of nature would drive me completely insane. Many storytellers ask us to suspend our disbelief in the case of stories about people with hypersensitivity—a man who has super hearing, or a girl who can read minds. The thing is, when you actually think about it, you realize you're not just picking an individual laugh out of a crowd a mile away, or reading one mind—you're stuck hearing everything that happens between you and your target, and let's face it, life is noisy. How would you stand it? A great example of this is in one of my favorite books, Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart, which was eventually adapted into the classic movie Hellraiser—you think it's a great idea to be able to feel pleasure so acutely, and only realize too late that hypersensitivity can be sickening, and worse, also translates to excruciating pain.
Anyway, these are the sorts of concerns I feel need to be addressed when it comes to supernatural powers. Otherwise, you've got people like Stephenie Meyer writing a vampire story that doesn't actually have any vampires in it. The best lesson still comes from our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who's been my hero for almost thirty years and other people's hero for far longer than that—With great power comes great responsibility. And when you take the great responsibility into consideration instead of just focusing on the great power part, that's where great stories lie. Let's get out there and find them! *^_^* There are so many great stories to be told.
Since my Evil Overlordess Regime of Mayhem and Terror ™ has no health plan, Cloudwalker beta-read this twice, even though she is not feeling well. Thank you, Cloudy—I shall remember that when I'm deciding who to execute for my subjects' entertainment in the arena of sport on Thanksgiving Day. Your name has been removed from the Spinning Bingo Drum of Doom. Congratulations!