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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2. To See Is To Believe

The town’s name was Thalass.  It only took up a small portion of the coast on their quarter, but it was by far the busiest place, probably in the entire region.  The reason for that was simple, although there were two.  For a start, the foods they made and the fish they caught simply could not be matched in the cities or kingdoms or rural parts.  They stained the air and drew trails of people, peasants and kings alike, to the canopy stands that were strung through cobbled back streets.  That day, wears were tugged into markets and sold from there - not one shop was to be left unlocked when the pockets of the rich were full and the sky was as blue as a sheet of embroidered sapphires.  It may have been the fine clothes that dragged those people out, or the best street dancers in the entire world - but the townsfolk would like to believe that it was the food.  Sweet meats hung from hooks across shaded places, hot cakes took their place in stands taller than most children;’s grabby hands, stuffed beans, fruits that ran like water down your sleeves, cheeses and nettles and vines of berries, sap from poppy trees, clover buds and seaweed wraps so salty that they made the sea water drinkable.  The air smelled of honey and spices so fine they homes of the residents fell into disuse and disarray, because to the Thalass people there was nothing finer than the walking feasts and performers and people of that wonderful town, and with how they took up their spots in the sun at the same time of year, who could blame them for never wanting to go home?

    Well, there was another reason too, of course.

    “Please, Josook,” Harper whined, pulling at her sleeves.

    “No.”

    “Please!  I’m so good, I’ll wash all your clothes, I’ll give you my couch, I’ll - I’ll-”

    She shoved him off, “You wash my clothes anyway, scut.”

    “Oi, don’t call him scut.” Berns said.

    She shrugged, pulling her purse further and further from Harper’s pleading eyes, “You want money, you work harder.”

    “He cleans everything, Josook.”

    “Yeah, I do!”

    She sighed, having to stop to tease Poplar away from snapping at the buckles on her boots.  They shone like diamonds, Harper having polished them that morning.  She looked back up at him, his pleading, pixie eyes.  He could cast a spell on them all and snatch up their money like that, but he hadn’t so far.  He came to them as he looked now.  Scarred ears, the tips filed half-flat, more freckles than skin and eyes as big as that of a yith.  He was something, alright, not even mature and never maturing.  He came to them for work, and work he had, never once taking more than his worth given.  He begged her with mumbling lips, and eventually she gave in, tossing him half a silver and a stern warning, “Bring me back a copper and a slice of curd cake, or I’ll show you why I’m the only one here with any money left.”

    “Thank you, Josook!” he said, and scampered off to the game's cart.

    “You’re a good person, Josooky,” Berns said, and she pushed him so that his ribs cracked.  He laughed and pushed it back into place.  Half orc, half demi-god some say.  Not like anyone knows.  All Berns is is Berns, top bomber and mapper extraordinaire, at least coming from Chene’s words.

    “Off of that.  Where’s the Captain gone to?” she said, whipping her head around, “I can’t tell, it’s too crowded here.”

    “Where do you last remember?”

    She thought back, her eyes flicking blacks, whites, reds and blues as memories and visions traced her mind.  No matter what she was, her wicca was impeccable for her having no witch blood, “Back at the church.”

    “He’s praying?”

    “That would be the day.  The fortune teller’s stall is out past that way.”

    “So he took your advice?”

    “I think so.”

    “And you still think something bad is coming for us?”

    They stopped for a moment, leaning back up against an arch in the plaza.  Two guards stood watch at each beam, but only glanced at the two.  They looked away as if they had seen nothing.  A heavy pocket outweighs a heavy heart, and despite the thieving and kidnapping from time to time, the crew kept on the good side of the law.  But now, even the uniform amber struck a chord within Josook’s subconscious.  

She cracked her knees, an old nervous habit, “I’d rather leave it until the time comes.  We can spend our lives running, but nothing good comes of avoiding.  And anyway, I believe in our crew, in the connections we’ve made.  Between the alliances and Captain Chene, I doubt we’ll end up beyond our depths.”

“I’ll choose to trust you this time, Josook.”

She smiled and pulled out four coppers to give to passing flower girls, “For good luck!” they said, and handed them two dahlias each.

“That would be your mistake, Berns.” she said, and wove a flower into her shirt collar.  He tucked it into his hair, his mouth bobbing opened and closed like a fish, but he must have agreed that she was right, so shut it his lips again, but pulled tighter this time.

 

“Ms. Josook said you would come,” the ragged old lady said.  Fortune tellers had one local shop for their supplies, so most came with the same purple backdrop and flashy crystal ball.  But instead today the woman had nothing before her.  Not tarot cards, not shrunken heads - nothing.  Chene knelt before her, but chose to bite his tongue she knew what he was about to say before he did, there was no use explaining feelings with words, not when they resided so deep down inside of him.

“Clever one, you,” she said.  She was blind in each of her dozen eyes, and they rested on the room, clouded over by curses and time.  She smiled down at him, and he smiled back.  They were nearly equal in power, but when he could only look forward a moment in the future, she could see fates.  She didn’t need cards or crystals for that, and maybe that was the most terrifying part.

“Something bad awaits you, Chene.  Something bad.”

He waited a moment, his breathing growing stiller and stiller.  He struggled to keep his eyes opened.  Before long, he struggled to part his lips.  He panted into her spell, the eyes glowing, the world fading.

“You are about to turn a dangerous corner, your path finding a new spiral in the way of a new life.  Your path will intertwine with that of a stranger, a name sharp on the tongue and not yet revealed.  You will stumble upon this stranger, and with them meet your death together.  Do not struggle, Chene.  You must allow the Gods to speak down to you and show you your future.  It will be a life unlike any other, but between now and your tragic demise, you will change each of the four quarters.  Between the magic of the new mind and body, and the fiery hero’s soul you possess, the winds shall change and power may come a new to those who deserve it most.”

Chene pushed up against the reigns that tightened around his mind, dragging him deeper and deeper into sleep.  The eyes fanned him, the wings of bats, of dragons - hanging from the ceiling with claws as sharp as daggers.  Even as his vision faded, a mask of purple and gold stealing away his sight, he watched those eyes as they considered eating him alive.  If the Gods watched, they did not speak.

“Calm, child.  Allow the wind to carry you to where you must go.  I am sorry.  I am sorry that this is the way, but to change your fate would be a waste of your skills, no matter the pain you must endure.  This is simply the way that it shall be.”

No, he wanted to call out, I will not die for power, I couldn’t!  Leave the stranger out, leave me be!

The Gods began chanting back, You must.

“Do you hear them, Chene?  They call from you from the great sky.  They are asking for a hero, the hero you could be.”

No, no, I don’t want to die!

“Let them hold you, dear.  Allow the winds to carry you home as it did your people for so long.  Let them show you your future.  Let the Gods show you who you must lead into battle, who you must die for.”

I won’t die,I won’t die - that is not my fate, I will not become their hero, I am no more hero than saint, and I will not die for them!

“Not for them, Chene.  For him.”

The eyes turned in on themselves, the creatures howling in pain as time changed.  Chene was flooded with thoughts of the future, and the fires that consumed it.  He tried to look, but he was still rigid, unable to move as time past him in waves.  He swore he saw his crew, his friends.  Berns with his arms in bloodied and in bounds, Josook with two swords high in the air and crumbling in the shadows of the dark clouds looming above, the limp body of a man who was once a boy who was once the Harper they swore they’d protect, and a pet turned by evil and making a meal of his flesh.  He wanted to scream, to cry.  To call out for the wicked few who had turned their town into a desert of rubble and bone, the market square now strown with tombstones and the homes that were once coloured like the flowers in the bay now as red as the scorching magic that tore them apart.  But his lips were stiched and his arms were weak with wounds he couldn’t remember, and his head spun with the smell of iron, from weapons or blood, he couldn’t be sure.  He kept struggling against his ties as the next wave hit, time changing with each spotting of death and decay.  He closed his eyes as three towers came into view, each name one of his friends.  His only friends, who became not but bones at the base of a lookout point.  Whose names mark the spot where arrows would fly if there were any of left to shoot them.  Whose names were faded and whose towns were now reduced to the dust where monsters tread.

He felt a noise finally escape his lips, a pathetic sob.  The drums of armies ran in his ears like clockwork, the final words of each of his friends strumming in his mind like bombs.  He felt the pounding in his head outweighed by their screams as their lives were pulled from their bodies like teeth or scalps.

“Captain, I’m sorry, I’ve… I’ve failed-”

“Leave me, leave me please!”

“I’m sorry, Chene.  I’m so, so sorry…  You’re alone now.”

“You’ll be okay.”

He stopped.  Stopped the cries that fell from his mouth like droplets, and with that the words stopped too.  The drums, the raging fire, the screams of the dead - they just disappeared as if they had never really existed in the first place.

He felt a hand on his cheek, wet and warm, nails sharp on his broken skin and something awfully familiar about the way they swiped at the tears.

He opened his eyes and was met with the same purple and gold outline that had trapped him in this time, but as well as it was the smiling face of a boy he had never met and yet knew too well.

“Ithaca…” he cried into the mermaid’s hands, into his shoulder and neck, until the boy pulled him up again to look into his eyes.  His hair was as bright as the setting sun and his eyes far bluer than any ocean that Chene had seen on all his travels.  He smiled, so soft it could break with a push, if only Chene could move his arms to pull him in closer.  The sea water splashed between them, such a stark cold contrast to the warm touch of the stranger he had met and never before realised.

“You’ll be okay, Chene.”

“You-”

“Come find me,” the stranger smiled, “Come find me,”

Chene felt the water keep rising, one wave after another, engulfing him in an icy embrace and dragging his head under with it.  He begged the Gods to let him call out once more, but the water clogged his throat and left him coughing and spluttering as the boy smiled so sweetly as if not watching him drown.

“I know you’ll find me, Chene.  I believe that we were meant to be together you and I.”

His eyes screwed shut with both the salt of the waters and with how tired his body had grown from staying afloat.  The hand vanished from his face, only four small red crescent moons where the nails once were reminding him that it was once there.

“Ithaca,” he cried.

“I know you’ll save me, Chene.  You have become the hero you were meant to be.  I know that you’ll find me again.”

For a moment he blacked out, the oxygen in his body depleting, his tongue a sponge in his mouth and his ears still swimming with the words of the mermaid.  The strange boy whose face now failed him, all that was left in his mind’s eye being flashes of laughter, of pink hair caught in sea breezes and tilted eyes so blue they reflected the God’s homes themselves.  No name was left on his tongue, no warmth in his body.

He opened his eyes, the marketplace still not loud enough to replace the screams that stained his thoughts, the fortune teller’s smile one made of the stone the armies used to make graves for those he loved.  He scowled at her, a growl escaping his throat - maybe just to prove to himself that he could speak once again.  His arm was heavy, but he used it to run under his eyes and collect the wet trails of tears.  Under his right eye, however, there was none.  His breathing hitched in his throat, making the old wench smile all the more.

“I’ve already packed all I own.  I make a move to the Mavros border when dawn breaks.  A time will come when you will need to decide whether to rise to what the world needs you to be or to become dispensable.  To be fodder is to make waste of who you really are inside,” she held out her hand, “That will be two silvers, please.”

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