The Jewel of Thalass

The town of Thalass was eaten alive in the wake of a war, a battle fighting for the jewel that only had one map - Ithaca, a mermaid boy with eyes so cold they've scarred Chene's soul and the minds of his crew. They set sail, all for the jewel that was made a curse by what raged in the magic of jealousy, and that of broken love.

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1. The Sea Brought Anew

The sun rose a little slower that day.  The black smoke soared between the sky and the earth right where the birds flew, the ocean yawning itself awake, rippling mouths stretching as the moon cast its last silver glow over the town.  Chene let the last of his ash fall to the wind.  He would have to buy more today, he knew it, and as the dust scattered across seaweed-clad cobblestones that was all he could think about.  As his addiction grew darker, his pockets seemed to shrink.  He jiggled his coin purse, the worn red velvet of the stolen thing probably now worth more than its contents.

    He swore, the early morning wind carrying it off his lips and leaving salt water behind.  The sun was finally creeping into view, the sailors giving him a quick once over before setting up their ships.  Tall boats, fishing boats, tourist boats taking up their harbour as the summer season drew to a close.  The didn’t exactly dislike Chene’s being there, but it had now become a simple fact of life.  The thief would stand and smoke on the sea-cliff balcony, and watch over the sea as if it were his son he didn’t trust to be faithful, but loved with all his crooked heart.  He’d then go, as suddenly as he’d arrived, and as if on queue the day would begin and the sun would break the clouds and paupers and princesses filled the roads with carts and potions.

    But today he took a little longer, even without his smokes.  The sun could grow, and so could he.  It’s not like he had a thing to do for the next good while, he could let the gnawing warmth of the end of term soak into his grey skin.  He was a grey man, Chene.  Silver hair, washed-out skin, a little dusty fox that stuck to his ankles like an enfant.  His clothes varied, either the poorest rags or the most extravagant coats of silk and oak cuffs, woven somewhere in the mountains by elven monks, made for someone more than pirates.  Today, the tail of a waist coat whipped in the breeze, his pet jumping for it and digging marks into the gentle patterns.

    “Poplar, cut it,” he sighed, stitches in the collar already giving away the garments wear and price, “You bored?”

    A whine came from his knees, and the little claws that bore into them.

    “Right, right, we’ll be off.  Just wait for the sun.  Is anyone else awake?”

    Wisps of steam drifted over his eyes, making him blink and begin drifting off.  He nudged the fox with his barefeet, “Quit that, are they up?”

    Another whine, and the fox trotted off into smoke and returned partially solid, a tail whipping over and through the hot red tiles.  She lay down, and blinked up at him with diamond eyes.  Those bones, those eyes, that little animal was worth a fortune.  But to Chene, she was worth everything alive.

    “We can wake them in a few, there’s a change in this town, I feel it - it’s coming with the season.”

    Poplar drifted off, but he imagined that she would have asked for more.

    “It’s coming from high-up, that’s all I know.  Maybe a king trip away, or a visiting prince.  Whatever it is, it’ll be here before the next rainstorm, that much is true.  It must be.  The sailors have stilled and the soldiers loop around their rounds twice as much as ever before.  No matter what the matter, we must be prepared.  I feel I should wake the crew, it would be unfair for this to be sprung upon them.”

    He looked down and saw the ribcage of a gentle beast rise and fall, the world’s stillness seeming as apparent as it always was, and would always go back to being.  Chene sighed his defeats and took a place beside his animal, swinging his legs over the balcony, each one fitting between the bars as if he were back to being a child.  He didn’t grow up in this town, of course.  His accent was true but his saying betrayed him, he could never shake the mannerisms of a country boy who ran so far he made it to the sea, and beyond.

    He rested his head in his hands and watched loose trout and herring hop back into the waters.  A long way away a baby stirred in his sleep.  It would be only a few minutes before he would begin crying, and by then they hoped to be far away from this place.  

    He wondered what could be coming, and was it going to be as bad as he predicted.  Chene’s blood had that of magic in it, and although his powers were weak he could tell in a heartbeat when change was coming in from the air.  It made him a good captain, alright, although it left him bored most days.  Nevertheless, the smell of fresh baked bread that wasn’t mixed quite yet and the sniffs of a small child that grew louder with each sun ray catching off of the pearly ocean set him on edge.

    “Enough waiting around,” he said, petting Poplars soft fur, “Time to wake everyone up.”

    She whined, but with a small scratch to the back of her ear she stood up, stretched her shoulders low to the ground and bounded off to yap in the other’s ears.  Chene smiled as he heard how they would wake up in only a moment, and decided to follow them as they occurred.

    “Clam it, Poplar,” Berns grumbled, and took a swing at the fox with an unstuffed pillow.  She phased right through it and had another go pulling at his long looped earrings until he squealed and woke the rest.

    “Mornin’, Captain,” the youngest, Harper, said.  Chene ruffled his hair and asked him to fetch whatever breakfast they had left.

    “I went to grab more food today since there’s basically none, but there ain’t no money neither, so…” Josook sat up and grabbed at a pint of something tinted gold, and took it down with a single swig.

    “That’s why there’s no coins left,” Berns commented, rolling back in on himself just in time for a glass to hit at the headboard of the couch.

    “Oi, are you buying a new couch for us so?”

    “No, Captain.”

    “No, then quit throwing things.  Harper?”

    “Sir?”

    “Do we have any food?  Anything at all?”

The poor boy looked down at his hands.  In them he held half a wheel of cheese, a loaf of bread that had gone hard on one side and a variety of dried vegetables that someone - by someone, they mean Bern - left on the windowsill.

Chene chewed at his bottom lip, the skin cracking from his morning in the dry wind, “Okay, who wants some stale tomato cheese bread?”

“I’d rather swift death.”

“Thank you, Josook.  Anyone else?”

“Captain, where has the money gone?” Harper said, pulling apart bread with a blunt hand saw.  Their knives had been sharpened and polished so were out of order until their boat could sail off again, “I was thinking that we’d found that old chest out in Keenan's Cove?”

“We’ve blown it all.”

The room groaned, namely Josook who poured out a new glass, though this one was chipped.

“But there’s something coming,” Chene grabbed a handful of dry berries, “Some royalty, somewhere.”

This piqued Berns’ interest, “Royalty?  Do you think it’s in the region?”

    He thought for a moment, and swallowed, “I’m not sure.  I feel like it’s a distant change, but there’s enough of the army creeping around here of late.  Have you noticed?”

    “That explains why I had to take the long way around to the market today.” Josook said.

    Berns looked back to the captain, “But we’re not moving quarter?”

    He shook his head, “Highly unlikely.  I love this town, I’m not moving just yet.  Money will come, homes like this are few and beautiful.”

    Beautiful, it should be explained, is subjective.  Their home was made up of a living room, lined with half wrapped stolen artworks, vases, bookshelves and its ancient contents of lost languages from this quarter of the world.  Three couches of different makes and sizes faced the door, where gun would be easy to pull, and these doubled as beds most days on land.  Though the room was dark with its boarded up windows and two smashed lamps, not to mention the thick layer of dust that got caught in the floorboards and lungs, there was something in it that would rock the crew to sleep.  Maybe it was how it resembled their cabins so well, or maybe it was the company that had that effect all along. There was a connecting bathroom, loose blue tiles and painting of koi spaced across the walls and floor and a single bath that was grimier than under deck no matter how many times little Harper had scrubbed it.  The kitchen pressed out into a balcony on the other side of the cliff face, the harbour nowhere to be seen, but instead marketplaces and stalls taking up the view under the warming yellow sun.  The houses were placed like fallen dominos, each a different shape and size but the rippling reflections tying them together in union.  Windows were opened and white shirts and pink trousers and blue underwear were cobwebbed over the street below.  Although it was on the brink of autumn, there was something ethereal about their little place on the shore.  Even if the smell of their kitchen had soaked into the presses and damp yellow tiles, the balcony let in the cool shaded air of the day as it began.  On queue, a broken sob came from somewhere too far away for anyone else to notice.  Chene smiled to himself.

    “Yeah, it’s beautiful here, alright.  But I’m out of smokes, so we’ll be either selling that Claude painting-”

    “Not the Claude!” Berns piped up.

    “-Or we’ll have to get a job.  I know of a local witch looking for kelp, that sound okay?”

    The crew mumbled their yeses, save for Josook who appeared from seemingly nowhere, leaning against the kitchenette.  She held her shotgun in her hand, and unwillingly looked up at Chene.  It was when her cheeks hollowed, that’s when something was wrong.  She looked like a ghost.

    “Don’t know what’s coming, huh?”

    He shook his head, and looked away, if only to let her gaze falter and to set her at ease.  Her eyes dropped, but that pride-starved looked still dug into her face.

    “I suggest you go see a real fortune teller, Captain.  I’ve heard that the tide has been changing for a while now, I just couldn’t find it in me to run tell you.”

    “I know that my powers are weak, Josook, I’m not ashamed of that.”

    “I understand that, but I have to tell you this - if the tides do change there may be nothing standing between us and the law any longer.  Promise me this, you’ll take care and keep out of what doesn’t belong to you.  Promise me you won’t bother the fate which does not involve you.”

    Chene turned back to her, knowing that she knew more than she was willing to give up.  He smiled wide and pressed a new bottle into her hands, icy water slipping down her claws and turning her skin as green as burning copper.

    “Of course I won’t.  You know me.”

    She huffed what could have been mistaken for a laugh and licked the water from her fingers, “It’s that I know you is the problem, Chene.  And I know what’s to come, and if we don’t end it in the ground beneath the sword of a king, I’ll be surprised.  Know though it may usually be your fault, Captain, this one is not on your shoulders.”

    And with that, the bells of the town hall rang out, and the day began.

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