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The Oomakudakeodkdodecahedron - Chapter III

Historianon Dec 24th, 2015 (edited) 573 Never
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  1. The Oomakudakeodkdodecahedron
  2.  
  3.             Chapter 3
  4.  
  5. The raft was rocked gently by the waves, the winds had died down and even at full sail it hardly moved, and the vessel’s owners were concentrating on a show very few mortals had ever laid eyes upon.
  6. Tia, the great and fearsome Red Dragon, had risen up to a height from which the raft and the man and woman aboard it looked as insignificant little dots. She enjoyed her freedom in the air for a bit, eyeing up the sea in every direction just in case another storm was trying to sneak up on her. Then she took a deep breath, turned her head downwards, folded her wings, and dived down. She’d gotten the idea from watching some birds. The air rushed past her and she prepared for the impact. First time around she’d almost strained her neck from it. Who knew water could get that hard?
  7. There was a loud splash and then silence. The underwater world with its dark depths offered many terrors, but none of them came this close to the surface. Up here, Tia was the apex predator. Her horns had skewered some fish she couldn’t recognize – she couldn’t recognize anything that wasn’t bass, salmon or pike – and now her claws caught a few more, barely. The second part of her hunting technique could do with improvement, her movements were so sluggish underwater that catching fish was almost up to luck. Or to the even greater sluggishness of some fish. Or sometimes a turtle. Turtles were better.
  8. The surface broke and Tia once again entered the realm of sights and sounds that didn’t seem muffled. Fish-fluids ran down her horns with the seawater as she spread her wings and used them in tandem with her wings and tail to move while holding up her hands and showing off her bounty.
  9. There was applause.
  10. “She’s pretty good” said Raoul, the male with the reddish beard and a deep tan from spending ages at sea.
  11. “She’s great!” said Judi, the Sea Slime who was now floating towards Tia to help her with the fish.
  12.  
  13. After being hit by the storm, the Dragon had been rescued by these two. Raoul and Judi lived on a raft – a massive and well constructed raft, mind – and sailed around the world, mostly aimlessly. Judi couldn’t really get on dry land, so Raoul had opted for living with her at sea. The story of how they’d met after he was shipwrecked had been touching enough, and so had his choice. The couple had filled Tia with envy and a strange kind of happiness, as if seeing them getting lovey-dovey with each other was somehow a sign of things to come in her life.
  14. She wouldn’t live at sea though. Cecilé was not a sailor, and she was glad about that. The sea ruined her hair, and would probably ruin his, too.
  15. The object of her affections had become a part of the discussion when her saviours asked her how she’d ended up at sea in the first place. She’d told them how she’d followed Cecilé and the knight whose name she actually knew but refused to admit she knew until he told it to her himself because of honour and things – she had no clue how chivalry worked, but she had a feeling that this kind of thing was part of it – and she’d found her way into the city of Port Artorias, where she’d beaten up some dumb Lizard who tried to arrest her and then she’d found out that her Cecilé had boarded a ship headed to Zipangu. Zipangu! What was even there? Where was that? That was dumb. Why would they drag him there? Her knowledge of geography didn’t extend that far.
  16. Raoul and Judi couldn’t tell her anything about Zipangu either. They did offer to take her there though…
  17.  
  18. “What?” Tia asked flatly, flabbergasted.
  19. Raul scratched his jaw awkwardly and shrugged.
  20. “We’re not going anywhere particular, ever. So we might as well go there. Nothing is off our way, see” he offered.
  21. “My kind usually just drifts with the ocean currents. If we get together to form flotillas, then we can control our movements better, but mostly we just drift. Sea Slimes are vagabonds…” she turned to look at her husband for confirmation at this strange word, and he nodded, “…so it’s like second nature to live like this” Judi added.
  22. “Besides, it’s never a waste of time to fight for love!” Raoul added, laughing a cawing laugh.
  23. Tia sat on the raft, hugging her knees and hiding inside a wing-cocoon like she’d done during thunderstorms as a kid. She wasn’t afraid this time, but embarrassed. The two fools had made her smile like a fool and weep at the same time. She did not fully believe them yet, though.
  24. “Why would you fight for someone else’s love?” Tia asked, not feeling silly in the slightest that she said something so absurd, being a romantic soul and a poet.
  25. The couple looked each other in the eyes for a bit, smiled, and held hands. Then Raoul cleared his throat at began.
  26. “Used to be I was a sailor in the merchant fleet of one nation, then another, going where the pay was best, or where the war was the furthest, or where the destinations were the most exciting, depending on the mood. Never had a family name, never served in any military, never had a language I’d call my own. Think I was speaking seven tongues around the time my balls dropped…”
  27. Judi gasped at this.
  28. “Don’t be like that, just a figure of speech, means I got old enough to, you know…”
  29. “Oh. That’s dumb” Judi said, feeling immense relief her husband hadn’t Alped at some point in the past and she just hadn’t noticed somehow.
  30. “Anyway, I served on many ships, with many people, went to lots of places, but never had any roots, you know? Nobody could tell me where I’d come from, apart from ‘somewhere in Lusciousia’ on account of my name, but the colour of my hair doesn’t fit that at all. Of course, it didn’t much bother me after a while, not until later, when we got wrecked. Can you believe the survivors of the Solare spent four years on a piece of sand and dirt you could walk around in a quarter-hour?”
  31. Tia shook her head. The very idea seemed appalling.
  32. “We did, we did. The Solare was one of those big, slow-moving things; I won’t bore you with nautical details. It was a big ship and meant for lots of cargo, and lots of cargo we had, gold and silver and jewels and pears, and I see I have your attention now?” Raoul stopped when he noticed Tia was beginning to salivate. This was her kind of story!
  33. “Weeell, anyway, we were bringing a ton of the stuff from the Amazons, who’d bought slaves from us, and we were feeling happy that everything went so fell, but there was a rumour later on that the captain and the officers didn’t intend to let the crew enjoy a share in the profits, and of course that made us rather cross. See, transporting slaves is always an unpleasant business, and it’s something you really need to be compensated for, and those Amazons prefer their merchandise young and blonde and with bright blue eyes, and those aren’t easy to come by, oh no. The Solare was owned by the Church, see, and they had seen to it that we got our slaves so they’d get their valuables” Raoul went on, the memories of his past misdeeds clearly causing him discomfort, and Judi patted his hand comfortingly.
  34. Tia didn’t like this either. She didn’t buy or sell slaves, even if some of her best underlings were into that sort of thing and maybe ran a little business on the side with hostages who weren’t claimed. The point was that she personally didn’t get involved with it, and therefore it was none of her business.
  35. “Then what happened?” she asked, wanting to move on from this topic.
  36. “Ah, well. There was gossip, there were rumours. And then there was complaining. And then someone brought up the fact that the Pirate Republic of Libertaria was nearby, and would gladly welcome men with money to spend, which we would be if we took the ship, and removed the greedy and ungrateful officers. Naturally we decided to do so, and we did do so. My first and only act of piracy, in fact” Raoul admitted, shaking his head.
  37. “I was young then” he added, by way of explanation. Tia shrugged this off. She saw nothing wrong with piracy. She robbed people all the time on land, there was nothing wrong with robbing people in principle. If someone let themselves be robbed, they had it coming. Except when Cecilé had been stolen from her, that had been cruel and wicked and she’d never forgive the knight for doing it.
  38. “In any case, we mutinied; we killed the captain and some of the officers in their sleep, and put the rest in the brig to let them consider their allegiance while we tried to figure out a new course and change our flag to a Jolly Roger. We put more effort into the latter than the former, and then uncorked some spirits from the captain’s personal stash, and then we celebrated our future in Libertaria. Most of us didn’t have homes to return to anyway. We fired off canons into the night and sang and feasted and had some fun executing those officers who thought it had been a smart idea to swear eternal fealty to the Church. Their duties took them into the depths. I’m sure they didn’t all die, mind you, lots of nice girls down there, with tentacles and stuff. Could have saved them. Some of them…” Raoul’s voice trailed off, and Judi reached around his shoulders. The hug took effect and he kept talking.
  39. “So we went wild, and had not a care in the world. Then God decided to punish us for not providing His priests with their bounty, and sent a storm to us. Not that night, of course, but later on, when our carelessness had already started a few fires. We got those put out, but by then everyone started to doze off or pass out and nobody even thought of putting anyone on guard-duty. Not like anyone would have obeyed anyone else at that point anyway, and we drifted freely after that. The storm hit, and we were badly organized. Sure we’d been doing this for a living all our lives, but even then, it was just a mess. We all knew what to do, but enough of us disagreed about what that was that we ended up losing the ship in the end. We ran on some sharp, jagged rocks, and the Solare had been swimming deep with the heavy cargo. Some managed to drown because they tried to save the stuff. Most of us didn’t, though. We made it to land”
  40. Raoul took Judi by the hand and kissed her neck, where his lips sent ripples through the Slime’s body. Tia had never seen anything like it.
  41. “We didn’t have many trees there, on that island we never even named, and we didn’t dare chop any down at first, since we thought those roots were the only thing keeping the damn thing from getting washed away by the waves. There were sharp rocks and cliffs underwater there, all around the place and some jutting up, and those kept the worst of the waves away during storms, so what took out Solare also gave us some protection in the end. We made boats out of what had survived of our old ship and went fishing, but didn’t even try to get to land. We knew we were too far. After the first few months some tried though, stole some boats and went off. Never came back. Doubt they found land”
  42. Tia was resting her chin on her knees and listening intently. This story was offering her some excitement. Chances are that the treasure was still to be found somewhere out there!
  43. “We tried our best to keep our hopes up and keep ourselves fed. Losing those boats and the supplies that the bastards stole with them was a bad blow, of course. Some cut their feet on some sharp rocks and got infected, feverish, and died. We learned to wrap our feet in the water after that. Sometime during all that we got a visit from a school of Mermaids. They took some of us by force, one man for each of them, and left. The rest of us never heard from them again. Many of us regretted not jumping at them, after two years of no women around. There were suicides. Another attempt to leave, and we lost all the boats for fishing. That’s when we began work on the first model of what eventually became this raft we’re on now” Raoul said, waving with his hand.
  44.  
  45. There was no way around it, the raft was exquisitely made. It had only five parts touching the water, with the rest of the hull above the surface. There was netting underneath there that Raoul and Judi checked routinely for anything it might’ve caught, which was usually a day’s meal at least. There was one big mast and one small, with kind of canvas and log cabin hybrid between them for storage and such. There were railings made with some sticks and rope, and there was a rudder, and spots for big oars that were usually kept out of the water since the couple wasn’t heading anywhere specific. There was a sort of ramp on two sides to let Judi move between the raft and the sea without any difficulty.
  46. “The original wasn’t anything as nice as this, of course” Raoul admitted. “But it did let us keep on fishing further out instead of trying to survive at the island. We were down to six men at the time; six men who had been stranded for three years, all of us angry and without much reason to live. Two turned to religion, but unfortunately it was two different religions, and one killed the other to please his god and get out. The rest of us built a sort of cage to keep him in, the raving lunatic. We tried to give the dead man a proper burial, and then one night we found one of the last sane ones had dug him and eaten bits of him, thinking it would turn him into a Wendigo and let him walk through the air to get out of there”
  47. Tia was feeling upset now. The story was awful. If she wasn’t a great and fearsome Red Dragon, she’d have bad dreams about this kind of thing! But she was, and there was no horror to her in c-cannibalism.
  48. “What were we supposed to do?” Raoul’s voice wavered at the end of his sentence and Judi closed him in another hug.
  49. “He didn’t let himself get caught easily. We chased him around the island for over a day. You’d think that on an island that small, you couldn’t play keep-away like that. But he sure could. We had to build another cage for him, and then it was just three men left free and working. Caring for prisoners wasn’t something we were prepared for. We had arguments. Wouldn’t killing them be better? They needed feeding, but couldn’t help get that food, so they were a strain to us. We wouldn’t be saved, we knew that by now, and we used all our free time working on the raft so it could support us at sea better than any of those boats could have. Then one of our prisoners escaped and freed the other during the night. There was a fight. In the end, only two of us lived, me and the religious murderer, who was now fatally wounded. I chose to let him die on his own rather than speeding him along, and he kept cursing us all and saying that Hell awaited us for not fulfilling our original duty to the Church and that God would send Angels to take him to Heaven for being a faithful servant who purged the heretics”
  50. Tia nodded. She’d met people like that. When they wore armour and tried to “slay the wicked Dragon”, they were very single-minded and dangerous enemies.
  51. “I don’t know why, but I took him with me on the raft when I had buried everyone else. I hoped that I could survive on the raft long enough to reach civilization and maybe bring him to justice. After all that time and all the horrors we’d faced, it was becoming too much to bear. Would I find Libertaria and become a pirate? Would I find some merchant vessel and tell them what had happened, and face the gallows? Would I lie? There was no certainty about any of that. All that mattered was that I’d eventually reach other people and that the man of faith would be alive when it happened.
  52. Things didn’t go as I’d hoped, of course. Storms can be dangerous in these seas, and in one such storm he was washed overboard, while I was injured and left helplessly drifting. Maybe his God had sent and Angel though, because I was saved” Raoul concluded this part of his speech and gave a deep kiss to Judi.
  53. “She found me while adrift herself” he said.
  54. “It’s what we do” Judi said with a shrug.
  55. “And she climbed on my raft and helped me. She fed me from her breast, she nursed me to health, and by the time I was fit enough to start fixing the raft… well. We’re practically married now, aren’t we?”
  56. “We are!” Judi confirmed happily putting a hand on her husband’s thigh.
  57. “Of course, a Sea Slime could hardly live on land, so to be together with her I had to give up on the idea of reaching civilization. We’ve been sailing and drifting ever since” Raoul finished, seemingly satisfied with his story.
  58. “So what was the point of all this?” Tia asked. The story was dark and had a happy ending, sort of, but that wasn’t very helpful to her. Was he saying that even when times were dark, there was still hope? She knew that already!
  59. “I suppose the point was that I was saved by love and that love is something you should never give up on?”
  60. Hmph. Too cheesy even for a Maus, and Tia was a great and fearsome Red Dragon! What use were such sob stories to her?
  61. “But what happened to the treasure?” the Dragon asked impatiently. That’s what she was REALLY interested in, and there was no resolution to the plot-point at all!
  62. “Could be there never was any” Raoul said, scratching his head with some embarrassment.
  63. “Could be I tailored that bit of the story to the… interests of the audience. Could be the cargo was just some masonry”
  64. “Masonry?” she asked with great suspicion.
  65. “Tablets of stone and clay. The kind of thing the Amazons either had made or someone before them had. Something the Church really wanted. It’s all lost now, so it doesn’t matter much. None of us could read it, so what value did it have? The mutiny started because of all the trouble we went through seemed to be for nothing” Raoul admitted.
  66. “Hmph. Then what’s your story?” Tia asked Judi, who became immediately flustered about it.
  67. “Oh no, I’ve no story to tell. I’m just a Sea Slime. Before meeting Raoul, I just floated. Sea Slimes aren’t very interesting. Nothing much in my life until I met him…” she mumbled while fidgeting, but then something dawned on her.
  68. “I guess in a way, Raoul saved me! From boredom and meaninglessness! Hey, isn’t it funny how that worked out?” Judi giggled and gave her husband a kiss on the cheek.
  69. The wanderer of the seas kissed his wife on the lips and then returned to face Tia, who was still squatting on the deck while resting her chin in her hands and hugging her knees. She was obviously not satisfied yet.
  70. “Umm, I did grow up on the flotilla” Judi added. “Thousands of families living together, Slime mommies and their husbands and children all together with flotsam holding it all together, catching fish like we do on the raft now… the flotillas are the most interesting thing about Sea Slimes. Maybe we could go see one with you” she offered.
  71. Tia shook her head.
  72. “I’d rather you take me to Zipangu” she said. She obviously couldn’t fly there, the distance was too great and there might be thunder, although she wasn’t afraid of thunder at all because she was a big girl and just because something could kill her it didn’t mean it was scary, but for the sake of convenience it was better to travel on a vessel like this.
  73. “Of course” Raoul said, smiling that sagacious smile of his…
  74.  
  75. It had been a few days since they’d told their stories to each other, and Tia had been helping them with the fishing since then. She had to eat herself, so it wasn’t like she was doing it to repay them for taking her to Zipangu or anything; it was just convenient that they ate her leftovers. Not like she’d eat food that she’d caught the day before, a Dragon hunted every day, and it would be a total waste to leave that fish rotting, so it was just fine like this!
  76. “You know, Tia, there is something I want to give you” Raoul said one day, and went into the cabin, rummaged around a bit and then returned with a bundle of cloth the lengths and shape of something that Tia suspected was a sword. And what a sword it was! There was no scabbard, so when Raoul removed the cloth that covered it, she was greeted with a full view of the glorious thing. It enchanted, nobody could deny that!
  77. “It could be that the man of faith who died on this raft… had been carrying a weapon with which to smite the wicked” Raoul said.
  78. When she’d been younger, Tia had read a book in mommy’s library. In it, a boy and a Jinko had been stranded on a boat. It had been a metaphor for something. She was guessing that maybe Raoul’s story had included one too.
  79. “I think it would be for the best if this sword was put to use in defence of love rather than leaving it here as memorabilia” Raoul said, and there was an unusually sly look on Judi’s face when they exchanged glances.
  80. “Thank you” Tia said, although great and fearsome Red Dragons didn’t thank peasants for giving them tribute. They did thank friends for gifts, though.
  81.  
  82.             ***
  83.  
  84. Things had not gone according to plan. They never did, but that was no excuse for it to keep happening. So you decide to sail to Zipangu, where adventure awaits. Fine. So you choose the longer route to avoid the corsairs and conflicts? Fine. Here’s a storm, here’s an island that appears on none of your maps, enjoy your side quest! No, you say? You will sail with the tide and ignore the enticingly mysterious jungles? Too bad! There is no tide!
  85. Ludwig slapped a palm tree and sliced the coconut that fell cleanly in half. If he’d been faster, he’d have been able to sheathe his sword and catch the halves before they reached the ground. He wasn’t faster than he was, though, and had to lean over to pick the halves up. Coconut milk was not particularly good in his mind, but it alleviated his boredom to do this practice. He’d scoured the jungle, expecting to face the many dangers that such islands as these were known for: man-eating (figure of speech) plants, lusty Kakuens, Amazon tribes with baby-making fever, a volcano with Lava Golems in it, waiting for healthy young men with powerful libidos to be tossed down to them… none of that was to be found. For a while he’d stabbed the ground, thinking this might have been one of those carnivorous “islands” that fattened people up and then ate them for real, but it wasn’t. It was just a small, insignificant place, with nothing worth an adventure to be found. That could only mean one thing: this was one of those adventures where people got stranded on a desert island and had to face their own inner demons. Those could take years, and Ludwig had faced his own inner darkness like five times. He’d won three of those times.
  86.  
  87. Cecil was dressed in nothing but some kind of skirt made of reeds and a wreath of flowers in his hair, dancing wildly around a bonfire while the group of Crabs scuttled side to side and snapped their claws rhythmically, frothing at the mouth, their faces all red.
  88. Then there was that. The Crabs had emerged from the sea on the morning of their second day stranded here, and they’d immediately taken to Cecil, who had immediately taken to them, as usually happens when he encounters womenfolk.
  89. Snap, snap, snap went the claws. Some of the sailors had cobbled together drums out of some hollow logs and were playing them, and the resulting music, the dark of the night, the roar of the fire, the company of women, it all made Cecil dance wildly, his body glistening with sweat from both the heat of the fire and the exertion.
  90. Hank, the gruff sailor, had no interest in dancing himself, it seemed, but he was keeping a keen eye on the festivities.
  91. “I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, that boy ain’t right” he pointed out when Ludwig showed up next to him.
  92. “That is how they dance in Lusciousia” Ludwig ventured in his squire’s defence.
  93. “Yeah, how women dance in Lusciousia. The men hold roses in their mouths” replied Hank, shaking his head.
  94. “I see” Ludwig shrugged the whole thing off. Cecil was young; it wasn’t such a dangerous thing to dance like a girl.
  95. “How’s the work on the ship coming along?”
  96. “Still stuck, but won’t be long. Shifting sand underwater is a pain, but we’re moving it” Hank explained, glad the subject he himself had brought up was now changed.
  97. “And our location?”
  98. “We’re not badly off-course. We’re closer to Zipangu than we were; seems like the storm took us ahead a bit. Not enough to make up for time wasted here, but some”
  99. “And how are the… patients?” Ludwig ventured at last, no longer having any excuses to beat around the bush.
  100. “Couldn’t say” was Hank’s reply, his tone making it clear he’d prefer to keep away from the subject. Ludwig shrugged. He would have to go meet the two at some point.
  101. “I’ll go and check, then” he said by way of parting and headed for the Great Grey Wolf.
  102.  
  103. Dietrich was where he’d been when they had run aground. He was dirtier than before, the stubble on his chin was starting to turn into a beard, and he was masturbating furiously after his daily dose of diluted Manticore venom.
  104. “You seem to be… alive” Ludwig said, unable to think of anything else that was positive about the apparition of the postman.
  105. “Hah… hah… hah…” was the reply.
  106. “I think going outside for a bit and washing up would do you good” Ludwig pointed out, and thought they would burn the bedclothes while the patient was gone.
  107. “Haah… haaahh…”
  108. “Tell me, what will you do when we get to Zipangu and you get your venom?” Ludwig asked, trying to face the person he was talking to without seeing the display that was going on.
  109. “I mean, getting more of the stuff you’re addicted to would only put off the problem, wouldn’t it? Addiction is a nasty thing, the withdrawals are horrible, but if you just get over it, you’ll be free then. You won’t need to use any more of it. If you do, you’ll just get more withdrawals and you’ll need more again to deal with those. Free yourself of it, and you’ll be fine. Don’t you think it’d be better to do so?”
  110. He felt a little cringe at his own words. He’d never been in this role before. Of course, Ludd the Reaver had spent some time in an asylum at the end of his career, but that time was… hazy. He tried to think back on the things that the Dark Priests had said to help him. Wait, had they been Dark Priests? Or had they been Church folk? Could be, Dark Priests would have treated addiction to aphrodisiacs like a quirk, not an issue to be dealt with. What is it that they’d actually told him, though?
  111. “Haaaahhhhhh…” Dietrich finished, and the room suddenly felt like it had less air to breathe. Ludwig coughed a little.
  112. “Anyway, I hope you understand that heading to Zipangu in the hopes of getting more venom into your system is simply not the solution to your problems on the long term” he summarized.
  113. “I know” the postman admitted. “But on the short term? It’s going to solve all my problems on the short term” he pointed out.
  114. “That’s stupid and you know it” Ludwig rebuked him. This may not have been how the priests had done it, but it was how he would do it if he was a priest, and this was how he did it as a knight.
  115. “True”
  116. “If the voyage lasts long enough, you’ll be fine by the time we reach Zipangu, and then you won’t need more of the stuff”
  117. “True”
  118. “If and when that is the case, I will hope you will do the right thing”
  119. “So do I” the postman groaned.
  120. “There is… another thing that has been bothering me” Ludwig said, taking a seat on the windowsill.
  121. Dietrich gave him an empty look and said nothing.
  122. “Albert told me he wanted to bring you so you could pay for some of the expenses of this trip and make it more profitable for him. But as I recall, you never did anything like that at Port Artorias” Ludwig went through his concerns while assuming the contemplative pose of resting his chin on his fist.
  123. “It makes me wonder what it is that Albert wanted with you in the first place. I’ve had plenty of time to think about these things, and it’s starting to bother me. He’s not the type of man to help someone out of the kindness of his heart. Has it occurred to you at all what it is that he wants with you?”
  124. Dietrich shook his head.
  125. “I haven’t been thinking much about anything. You’ll have to ask Albert yourself. All I care about is feeling better” the postman said.
  126. “And what about… Diandra?” Ludwig hesitated a bit, trying to remember the name of a girl who’s like he’d met by the thousand.
  127. “The Troll?” Dietrich asked after a moment’s thought. “What about her?”
  128. Ludwig raised an eyebrow.
  129. “Wasn’t she your lover?” he asked.
  130. “Sometimes. She got around. I got around. Sometimes we went together” Dietrich said matter-of-factly.
  131. “I see” Ludwig said, having learned another thing about his new companion. “Then I’ll leave you to it”
  132. “W-wait! Before you go… can I get another hit? You can water it down more; just give me a little…”
  133. The smell of Dietrich’s sweat and dried jizz filled the room plenty enough as it was.
  134. “I don’t think so” the knight replied, left, and locked the door behind him. There was angry shouting, muffled behind the door, but he ignored it and descended down into the cargo hold. He’d reached a sort of enlightenment about the situation he was in now. This wasn’t intended to be a side quest at all. Rather, the ship had run aground here so that he, the hero, could have time to “make the rounds” as Master Thomas had called it, and build a stronger bond with his companions. Bit by bit the hero had to pry out titbits of knowledge, learning their motivations and back stories, and so they would all somehow grow fonder of him. The theory was based on real life following the narratives commonly found in stories, and in Ludwig’s experience the narrative followed real life well enough, or was it the other way around after all? In any case, this part of an adventure should never be neglected. Even if he wanted to.
  135.  
  136. Opening the hatch to the cargo hold, Ludwig descended into a gloom and was greeted by the sighs and moans of the Ghoul twins, and the wet noise they were making to cause those sighs and moans. It was understandable, they had to stay in the dark, cramped space while everyone else got to go and enjoy the island, and after they’d been locked up in Port Artorias, too.
  137. There was enough of a sense of mischief in the old knight that he felt no impulse to stop the two from enjoying themselves on the island, with the sailors. It might make everyone happier, actually. Yes, he ought to tell the two go have fun.
  138. “Essie, Naomi” he called out, and the two Ghouls appeared, clinging to each other and panting and drooling. They were filled with so much lust, they might have been full of Manticore venom too. Maybe they were.
  139. “You two should go outside while you can. We won’t be… docked, for much longer” Ludwig said.
  140. “But daddy said we can’t” Naomi said, uncertainly.
  141. “And I say you can” Ludwig assured her, waving his arm toward the open air and the deck.
  142. “Albert and I need to talk things out with just the two of us” he added.
  143. “Oh. I guess that’s… okay then?” Esmeralda aired out her thoughts.
  144. “Yes. Go on. There’s a bonfire and dancing” the knight encouraged them. “Cecil is wearing some kind of reed skirt and I’m sure he could make some for you two as well”
  145. That settled it, then. The two Ghouls ran up the stairs on all fours and giggled.
  146. “Nice girls” Ludwig mumbled and went to the spot where Albert had been cloistered since losing the skull he had called Wilson. The spot had cloth over it, so he could stay in absolute darkness, hidden away from all prying eyes. Whatever dark arts he was practicing there, Ludwig would have preferred not to go in.
  147. “Albert? Come out” he called.
  148. “I’d rather not interrupt my meditations if it is not important” came the immediate reply.
  149. “We need to talk” Ludwig said firmly.
  150. “Do we?”
  151. “Yes. About Dietrich”
  152. “The dosage is well proportioned; he needs no more even if he threatens to take his own life should you refuse to give it” the necromancer explained.
  153. “That’s not what I mean”
  154. There was silence for a while then.
  155. “Albert?”
  156. “You’re still here?” he snapped impatiently.
  157. “I am, and I won’t be leaving any time soon. You have answers to my questions, and you will give them to me” the knight cleared the air.
  158. “Girls, remove him!” ordered the mighty reanimator.
  159. “They’re not here”
  160. “WHAT?”
  161. “I gave them some shore-leave. Keeping girls like that cooped up in here for days and weeks and months is no good. This is better”
  162. Albertus de Vries emerged from his enclosure, and he had changed since Ludwig had last seen him. There was a similar stubbly beard as Dietrich had managed to grow, and there was some stubble of hair as well. The man shaved his head under normal circumstances, then? What a silly thing to do.
  163. “My girls can’t be put in danger!” the apparition growled.
  164. “They are not in any danger. The island is perfectly safe. And boring. Nothing to worry about” Ludwig assured the concerned father.
  165. Albert took him by the shirt and stared into his eyes with the glare of a madman.
  166. “I can’t lose them. I’ve lost SOMETHING. I don’t know what it is, but there’s a part of me that’s gone and I don’t remember what it was and I won’t be losing anything else because I might forget that too and I’m not forgetting my girls!”
  167. This seemed a valid concern in the circumstances. The skull had been washed away by the waves, making Albert panic. As soon as it was gone though, he seemed confused and disoriented until he begun to feel the unease of having forgotten what it was he’d lost. All memories of the skull’s existence had been wiped away. No, that was wrong. He hadn’t thought of it was a skull; he hadn’t even known it was one. What and who had Wilson been? There was no point to asking Albert about it though, that was obvious enough.
  168. “We need to talk about Dietrich” Ludwig said, changing the topic.
  169. “What do I care about Dietrich?” Albert hissed.
  170. “Yes, that’s what I want to know” the knight confirmed.
  171. The necromancer let go of him and began pacing around the hold, clearly anxious and with no particular interest in this subject.
  172. “He’s used to the stuff. He’s the perfect test subject. I get this venom, capture whatever it is that produces it, and then I’ll test the effects of different dosages  see how bad the withdrawal symptoms get, how much does it take to get addicted, how much resistance does the body build up to it… he’ll be there as a sort of comparison for the other subjects. That’s the whole point” he explained.
  173. “And why did you not say so to begin with?”
  174. “Because you’re a noble hero, and if I told you such a thing, you’d disagree with me. You’d have rejected the whole idea and maybe even fought me over it. Now it’s too late to do that though. We’re on my ship, the crew is loyal to me, and you’ll just have to go along with it” Albert said, triumphantly.
  175. “You mean we’re on your wife’s ship and the crew is loyal to your wife?” Ludwig slashed at him.
  176. The necromancer chuckled.
  177. “Oh, you can try to insult me, but that won’t change the situation. You know you’re helpless! Hahahaha! You’ll do what you’re told, and you’ll go along with what I say, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so just accept it and think of your pay!”
  178. The cat was out of the bag now, then. Ludwig had suspected Albert of being the villain of this narrative, and sure enough, he seemed to be. A weak, inefficient and foolish villain, but a villain nonetheless. What fool gloated to the hero like this? They were hardly a day’s voyage from where they’d left and it would be months until they even reached Zipangu, where it would be days, weeks, maybe more months, before they found what they were looking for, and he was already revealing his cards?
  179. No. It couldn’t be that simple, could it? Of course not. The skull. Wilson hadn’t come out of nowhere. Someone was pulling Albert’s strings. But who? His wife? Could be. Ludwig reached a decision.
  180. “I was once known as Ludd the Reaver. Many have called me a villain. You know this. You saw me kill the guard captain in Port Artorias. I’m not some paladin” he said, speaking a half-truth again. “Tell me these things in advance in the future” the knight concluded. He left out all the concerns he’d had in recent days about his darker impulses, as those hadn’t bothered him since they’d made landfall. It could be “Wilson” had been manipulating him as well. That made whoever was behind it especially dangerous. Letting Albert believe he was a knave with loose morals might be in his best interests.
  181. “Indeed” Albert said, his voice somewhat calmer now. “Maybe we can do business after all, Sir Ludwig. But do not even attempt to cross me”
  182. The tone had implications of violence that Albert could never actually inflict on Ludwig, but it was quite clear the great reanimator didn’t know it himself.
  183. “Of course” Ludwig nodded.
  184. “Then go and look after my girls. I don’t want to take any chances” the necromancer ordered, feeling himself a victor and wanting to assert his dominance.
  185. “As you wish” Ludwig said and left the hold.
  186. He had reached some conclusions of this journey. He feared Zipangu would not be where this adventure ended, and that he wouldn’t get to explore all of it at his own leisure. Now all this mess was missing was some old enemy coming after him with new minions and some gimmicky weapon…
  187.  
  188.             ***
  189.  
  190. Tia, the great and fearsome Red Dragon, may have been dressed in just a tattered pair of shorts and a sleeveless shirt that left her navel visible, but she now had a weapon. A proper sword that was nothing like the lump of metal she’d tried to fight sir Lu… THAT knight with. A sword with no ornaments, no frills. Just a blade, a hilt, a cross guard and a red tint to reveal to the casual observer that it did, in fact, contain some Essence of Ignis, allowing it to become a flaming sword fitting a Red Dragon. Now she would be able to fight that damn knight and any damn fool who stood in the way of her love!
  191. She held it aloft, stared along the length of it to the sky and grinned as she swore an oath to her ancestors.
  192. “I, Tiamanthissine, will love no other man but my Cecilé for as long as I live, nor allow any other woman to love him as I do!”
  193. She breathed a breath of fire on the blade, and it caught fire, the flame fanning up and erupting to the heavens, sending her oath with it.
  194. “Now, let’s go to Zipangu!” Tia chirped happily, turning to her friends.
  195. “That will take a long time” Raoul pointed out.
  196. “Not if I can help it” Tia replied, and with her guidance they set up the oars behind the main sail, where the Dragon used her superhuman muscle-strength to send the raft moving through the waves while her hot, not quite flaming breath, filled the main sail. With the power of love, she could keep it up for as long as… as long as… wow, this really made her short of breath!
  197.  
  198.             ***
  199.  
  200. Cecil Bouvier was having another good day. The nice Crab ladies were all friendly and kept breaking coconuts for him, and now the Ghoul twins were out dancing with him too! He was kind of sad they’d have to leave the island and the nice Crab ladies, but he’d make sure to make it up to them with some memories later tonight. Maybe he’d make them some nice necklaces to remember him by.
  201. He made the steps of the dance move him closer to one of the Crabs, who was building a sort of mound to stand on while waving her claws and stomping her many legs. Cecil grinned at her.
  202. “Ready to call it a night, miss?”
  203. “Woop-woop-woop!” the Crab called, foam dripping on the ground and face flushing the red of a boiled lobster. She grabbed the boy in her clawed arms and took his hand in hers.
  204. “There’s no rush, miss…”
  205.  
  206.             ***
  207.  
  208. Dawn came upon the island, and the sailors got about to finishing their work on freeing the ship from the sand. They succeeded in this before lunchtime, and the final preparations for the voyage continuing were being made as Ludwig wandered about the clearing that had not existed yesterday. Cecil was asleep in the middle of it, with the Ghoul twins asleep under each arm. But surely they hadn’t caused the destruction to the foliage? Closer observation noticed several bruises on Cecil’s body, many of them on his buttocks. Ludwig nodded to himself. Yes, he was getting the picture now. So this is why the Crabs were gone now. They’d gotten what they came for, and had returned underwater now. Fair enough. It might be for the best if he didn’t talk to the boy about it, though. If he knew the implications of his actions, he’d end up staying here to take responsibility, and he couldn’t have that. A knight needed a squire, if for no practical reasons then at least for tradition.
  209. “Get up, we’re leaving” he said, prodding the naked buttocks of Esmeralda with his boot.
  210. “Nnngnnh” the Ghoul replied, nibbling on the squire’s ear. He giggled in his sleep.
  211. For the love of…
  212. “STAND UP AND FIGHT” he shouted as Bara Khan had when waking him up. It worked as well on Cecil as it had on him, and the boy jumped up, his sword pointing to the heavens. The grumpy Ghouls eyed it up hungrily, but didn’t dare act while Ludwig was present.
  213. “Oh, good morning Sir Ludwig!” Cecil said happily, not even trying to hide his morning wood. “Last night was pretty wild!”
  214. “We’re leaving” Ludwig repeated and turned around to head back to the ship. They would be leaving this place forever, and after that they’d head for Zipangu with no more distractions, no more detours, no side quests or getting better acquainted with his companions. It was all droll and boring. The beast that produced the venom that was at the root of this adventure better be a fearsome one to make up for all of this.
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