It was morning, so students were drifting down the halls like missing snow. Most of them were in similar robes to mine, albeit most of them were far more willing to show skin, so even among the robed ones I stuck out. Despite that, I managed to find my way past the classrooms and about halfway back to the rooms before I took a wrong turn.
Said wrong turn destroyed any chance of knowing where I was, so I settled for squinting outside the window and watching the crowds of people move in throngs through the streets.
While some of them looked like students, quite a few of them didn’t, like some growth of the city had forced the two worlds to collide, two seas of different salinity mingling together at their border.
The crew were a third sea, though I only caught sight of one or two of them at the market. I looked around for a way out of the hallway, and made my plans. Another hallway turned, and then I nearly ran straight into Thyn.
If he hadn’t side stepped, I’d be nursing a few puncture wounds.
“Oh, Charm,” Thyn said. “I wasn’t expecting you back here.”
“I wasn’t expecting you either,” I said, carefully prying his hand off of my shoulder. “The Captain and her Sponsor were getting very intense, so I left.”
Thyn shook his head. “I said she shouldn’t bring you into this…but I suppose misery loves company. Did you two stumble into Maurice as well?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Then everyone in the city’ll know we’re here,” Thyn sighed. “Dammit Captain.”
“That doesn’t sound like her fault,” I said.
“It is,” Thyn said. “I told her we should’ve snuck inside. Been in and out before anything official could happen. But she wanted to do it the normal way.” He leaned back, the quills on his back curling out of the way to avoid scraping the paint of the mural behind him.
It was a cute affair, ships, gleaming symbols, a sun that was more like a glowing eye… Maybe cute was the wrong word.
“Ah,” Thyn said. “This is where the academy of esoteries used to be, before they moved it to another island to the east.”
“…The what?” I asked.
“Well, Navigators can detect each other,” Thyn said. “But that’s not the only thing they can do. The best can detect other things. Seek out objects, islands, individual people. While for the most part, this school’s about teaching actual navigation and Navigation, they shove the more tricky stuff over on that island.”
“And not here?”
“There’s quite a few non Navigators here,” Thyn said. “And given how you’re reacting, imagine how most people react.”
I closed my mouth. Thyn rolled his eyes.
“They’re really going at it again?” Thyn asked, running a hand across his bony spines. “Great. She’ll be moody for ages. Ugh.”
“Where’s Sampson?” I asked, changing the subject.
Thyn shrugged. “Checking on something. He’ll be back before we leave, don’t worry.”
“I wasn’t worried,” I said. “I just-”
“You ask a lot of questions,” Thyn said. “You could just trust us.”
I glared at him. He shrugged again
“Or I guess not,” Thyn said. “I’d’ve thought after the ghost ship…”
“You’re so annoying,” I said.
“Ah, there we go,” Thyn replied. “You’re finally showing a bit of spine.”
“What do you want?!” I hissed. “Spine or kowtowing?”
“Either’s good,” Thyn replied. “Have you eaten today?”
I paused. “No.”
“Come on,” Thyn said. “I’ll take you to lunch.”
We slipped away from the half abandoned wing, down a hallway, down another hallway, and then out underneath of a set of stained glass showing off something covered in tentacles and grasping for reach.
I didn’t care for this place’s artstyle that much.
The place Thyn picked out for lunch had a decent view of the street, and we sat on the second floor. A waitress slunk around on many feet, a womanly half protruding up from a host of centipede legs. I didn’t stare. I’d gotten good at not staring.
Thyn ordered a fried chicken, and I ordered half of one, and he kept his gaze levelly out the window. In the far distance, on the other side of the port, we could just barely see The Song.
“So?” He asked.
“What do you think of all of this?” He gestured at well, everything. “Do you think you’d do good at the college?”
“I haven’t even seen any classes,” I said. “How would I know?”
Thyn’s eyes didn’t budge from watching the port. “I just wonder if we should be dragging you around,” he said. “Considering that we hardly know you, and you hardly know us. The Captain’s taken a fancy to having you here, but…” He shook his head. “She’s not always the best judge of character.”
Thyn gestured at himself. “She made me her second for one,” He said, laughing. “And she’s the type to plunge into the lands of the dead for another.”
“She made it back,” I said.
“If I didn’t think she would make it back, would I have gone with her?” Thyn asked, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter what she can do, because she’ll be able to do it. What matters is what happens after she does it.” He sighed.
“Tell me,” Thyn said. “When word gets out of what the Captain can do, do you think people are going to welcome it? She went into the land of the reapers and returned, Charm. The same reapers who have been harassing the border islands, carting off the sick and ill, even if they could recover. Don’t you think people are going to ask her to do it again?”
We heard the waitress coming on her many many feet, and we were silent until well after she left. Thyn picked up a massive piece of chicken and bit down on it like an apple, his long teeth making short work of the flesh. I heard bones crunching from it.
“Especially with you involved,” He said, gesturing at me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Lots of people have lost people to the reapers,” Thyn said. “But everyone knows that the sea of souls is suicide.” His eyes slid back over to mine, like little dots in his head. “But when word gets out of what you are?”
“I get it,” I said. “It changes things.”
“It changes many things,” Thyn corrected. “And the Captain will do it again, and again and again-” He shook his head.
“Why do you follow her then?” I asked. I took a bite out of a smaller piece, minding the tiny bones inside.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Thyn said. “She’s… she’s amazing. She’ll drag us across the world, and we’ll be as famous as she is.” He hesitated.
“That’s not why though,” I said, prying.
“Ha,” Thyn laughed. “Fine. She doesn’t see people how they are, kid.”
“I’m 20,” I reminded.
“She sees them how they could be. And she’ll do anything to get them there.” he paused. “Even if it means getting them to lose their lives.”
He plucked a large bone out of his teeth and set it down on the plate, and then a few thinner bits, then moved onto the other half of the chicken. Neither of us tried the sauce. I wasn’t ready for more mint, and Thyn just didn’t bother.
“And sometimes,” Thyn said, taking a pause from eating. “Sometimes it’s real nice to be believed in.”
“Why’s she like that?” I asked.
Thyn shrugged. “She showed up half a decade ago, did a few nightmare runs that nobody else would take, made a name for herself, and then just started recruiting whatever misfit ended up in her path. Even I don’t know that much more about her than that.”
“So what do you want to do then?”
He shook his head. “You don’t know me enough to ask that. Sorry Charm.” He leaned over. “So what are you going to do?”
“Me?” I asked.
“Are you going to pick an island? Try and figure something out?”
“I want to-”
“You’re in the living seas,” Thyn qualified. “I think you’ll find getting back across the sea of souls might be even harder than getting to ours. Considering everything.”
My mouth clicked closed.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to go home, I wanted to find my family, and I wanted to see my parents again. I wanted to go to university, finish my education, and never look at another monster ever again.
But there was only one person who would get me there, and she wasn’t going to hesitate to plunge down the maw of another monster if it got in her way.
But that wasn’t safe, and that wasn’t… I didn’t…
“Wow,” Thyn snorted. “The look on your face. You’re really conflicted over this stuff, aren’t you!”
I glared at him and took another spiteful bite out of my chicken.
“I wouldn’t glare like that,” Thyn said. “I was planning on covering your lunch. Considering I didn’t keep a good enough of an eye on you in the ghost ship.”
“Who’s Maurice?” I asked.
Thyn’s smirk dropped off of his face.
“A friend of the ship,” Thyn said, flatly. “Do you really want this story, or are you just fishing for a subject change?”
“The Song has a bad habit of going through Navigators,” Thyn said. “One of the first was a beastkin named Thomas.” Thyn took a drink of water before continuing. “I served with Thomas for more than a year.”
“Thomas didn’t make it home,” I guessed.
“Thomas didn’t make it home,” Thyn repeated. “Maurice was his little sister.” He looked back over the port. “You know, I’ve always liked this place for the view.”
“Yeah?” I turned and followed his gaze.
“When the lunch rush is over, the seagulls will come from the top of the academy and start harrying people for the scraps and trash. They’re a massive pest.”
“But you can’t really get angry at them. That’s just their nature, being trash birds,” Thyn said. “It’s in the Captain’s nature to collect things like that. She has a shelf in her heart where she stores all her pain where it can’t hurt her, I think.”
“Do the seagulls ever get into that?” I asked.
Thyn snorted. “It’ll be a poor day when a seagull gets one over our Captain.”
We were quiet for a bit, and the waitress, on her many feet, crawled over and took the plates from us, giving us a bit more water from a silver pitcher. “She ever tell you anything like this?”
“You get a peek at it when it comes up,” Thyn said. He shook his head, twisting to look at me. “But Charm, let me warn you.” He bared his teeth, the same teeth that had snapped through the chicken bones, and were still impressively large. “If you end up another hurt on that wall, and you’re still alive?”
“You’re going to fix that?”
“I’m going to send you right back where we found you,” Thyn said. “In nice, digestible pieces so you don’t frighten off your brothers this time.”
“I don’t tolerate traitors. So figure out if you want to stay, and if you do, you’re going to stay with all of your heart. Got it?”
“Got it,” I squeaked.
He snorted. “What the hell does she see in you? I don’t know anymore.”
I drank from the water until he stopped looking at me, and then, half drowned, I tried to find literally anything else to think about.
The Captain had protectors, and I was still planning on using her. She was…
What did I even think of the Captain? She’d saved me, and she was… she was incorrigible, she was a burning ember among a sea of paper, she was…
I didn’t know. But she was something special.
And her dream; she wanted to reach things that had never been grasped. She’d take us there, too. But what was the end goal? She’d find the treasure and…
I pursed my lips.
I didn’t know.