Song of the Venturing Owl (Part 4)

The closest thing the Song had to a doctor was a winding insect that went by the name of Folna. She moved about smoothly through her narrow room, lit by a flickering candle and a fractured glass window, and stretched, between her fingers, a roll of bandages. She wrapped them smoothly around my shins. “You’re not bad off.”

I was quiet. Instead of talking back, I was staring outside the window at the sky, which was the wrong shade of blue, and the sun, which was the wrong shade of yellow. It sat as more of a burning orange in the morning light. The moon was too big.

Getting through the mists had left me even farther from home. “Did you get shell shock?” Folna asked. “It’s not a good sign if you get shell shocked after the first battle, you know.”

I looked away from the wrong sky and the wrong sun and rested my eyes on her half green scales and her thin teeth. “Just… in shock. I wasn’t really expecting us to do that.”

“When the Captain decides something, she very rarely changes her mind,” Folna said. “That being said, she very rarely gets the lot of us killed.”

“What about…” I started.

Folna looked away, but her eyes were on the candle instead of the sun. She had a ruff of fluffy insectoid hair that twinkled in the thin lights, a half moth. She smelled of thick medicines. “The navigator was-” She shook her head. “He wasn’t ever part of the crew,” She decided. “He had been with us for quite some time, but he’d never really opened up to the Captain. So he fell victim to the mists because he never trusted her.”

I’d been there when he passed. He’d been the one to find me on that rock, staring into the thick mists, listening to hell itself coming for me, and I’d been here when he’d slipped from the ship and joined the reapers in the fog.

“That’s what you’re going with?” I asked. “He didn’t trust the captain?”

The moth woman shrugged. “She’s the Captain. We go where she goes. We fight when she fights, and we dance when she tells us to.” She reached over with one of her four arms and patted me on the shoulder. “And, with you as a good luck charm…”

I narrowed my eyes at her. Her wings shifted on her back. “Good luck charm,” I repeated. I was getting tired of hearing that.

“I think we’ll at least make it to the nearest port,” Folna smiled.

I sighed.

“Now get out of here, I need to tend to other people,” Folna swatted me off of the table she was using as a bed, and I slunk off, hoping to avoid other people.

It didn’t work, because a beastman, a rugged carpet of bison fur with red notes, glared at me with his one usable eye, his hand clenched tightly over the other, and I darted out of his way before he could get any other ideas.

——-

We broke a faint and tiny lunch at around noon, since we could finally use the sun to tell time. The captain took the tiniest of all the meals, a few crackers and a tiny bit of salted pork, and the massive fluffy white beast was earlier sat, frantically repairing a net with his tiny needle claws. I sat next to the Captain.

“No thanks,” I said, when she offered me my serving of grog. It wasn’t that I was a teetotaller, it just smelled awful, even for booze.

“What do you drink then?” The Captain asked. “Wine made out of souls? Skull mead? Bone Marrow tonic?”

“Whiskey,” I said. “Maybe some wine.”

“Oh,” She frowned. “That’s no fun.” She shrugged, then raised her glass of grog, which smelled salty, and spiced, and rank and awful, and swung it through the air. “To the crew of The Song!” She said. The crew snapped to attention, raising their variety of appendages and legs in the air, and swished their drinks. One flopped it over the side, and frantically sucked it up with his proboscis.

“When we get to port, I’m doubling all of your wages for the next month!” The Captain said.

The cheers were even louder than when she’d declared, as a matter of fact, that they were going to kill the serpent of death.

“I have never served with a finer staff,” The Captain said. “It is an honor to be in your presence. Truly, you honor me, you honor our Charm, and you honor this soul-ship which ferried us this far.” She gestured overhead, where they could still see the sky through the holes left in the ship. “Even if she’s not in the best shape anymore, she kept us out of the sea of souls, which is about all we could ask for. Three cheers to all of you!”

“Hip hip!” The crew started.

“Hooray!” I said, joining in. We weren’t all dead, and the cheer was contagious.

“And,” Thyn said, tilting his glass up. His skin was scabbing from where he’d torn out some of his own spines, healing far faster than natural. “Three cheers to the Captain, on another successful venture!”

“HIP HIP!” The crew said.

“Hooray!” I joined in.

The Captain puffed up her feathers, then casually combed her feathered ruff down, tugging her hair out of the mess of it. “Oh, you all spoil me so. We’ll be known as the slayers of death when we land!”

“The Slayers of Death!” The crew shouted back.

“And they’ll add it to our song!” The Captain said.

“Our song!” The crew parroted.

And then she started to sing. The song didn’t have any words, but it swam through the air until it was thick as honey, and the glee became so contagious that I followed along, bobbing my head.

Folna smiled, resurfacing with a crewmate with an injured leg, and sat down at the table, apportioning herself her crackers and salted pork.

“Three cheers to us!” The Captain finished.

And we cheered, for we hadn’t died, and we might be legends, even if only the ship knew about it.

——

I ended up in the captain’s quarters. She had a variety of fancy things on the wall, faded paintings of a great golden ship, covered in sails (our ship’s sail hadn’t been up for a long time in the sea of souls, since there hadn’t been wind in that place, and we’d had to rely on the soul of the ship to get much of anywhere. It couldn’t hold a candle to an actual sail in speed, though.) and gossamer silks that looked completely out of place next to the wild woman. She gestured for me to sit down at a table.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

She shrugged, and brought her foot up against the table and sharpened her talons with a bit of obsidian. “Just wanted to give you a warning,” she said, smoothly. “We’re not going to make it to any of the decent ports.”

I blinked. “So… what does that mean?”

“We’re going to have to stop at the nearest port,” She repeated. “Which is…” she gestured vague, flicking her hand through the air. “Hoity-toity. Not exactly my wheelhouse.”

I cocked my head to the side.

“Try to stay as close to the crew as possible while you’re there. You’d be… well, missed. I do still need to bring you back to my sponsor to get the crew paid all the way, you understand.”

“But you said you were doubling their wages,” I said.

“I am,” The Captain said, smiling. “It’ll just come out of my emergency funds instead of our next paycheck.” She shrugged. “It’s good to reward your crew for surviving some of the harsher things out on the reefs, you understand, even if you have to lie to them where the money’s coming from.”

“Stay close,” I repeated.

“And you’ll have to change out of your rags,” She gestured. She’d painted some of the long claws on her hands, I realized, and I stared at them. Blue was… probably not her color. Not that I had any room to judge.

I touched my clothes. I’d been wearing them for the last week, and the salt and general decay of the mists had rendered them from decent to salt-soaked rags.

“I understand if that might be a problem,” She said. “I have no idea what reaper-kin are supposed to wear.”

I bit my lip before I blurted out I still had no idea what she was talking about. “Am I still the good luck charm?”

“I suppose,” the captain said, owlish. “I was under the impression you were getting tired of that name.”

“I do have a real name,” I said.

“Charm,” The Captain pronounced. “I don’t need your real name, and it hardly matters on this side of the mists, does it?”

I bit my lip harder. Her claws were tilted out. Even painted, they were more than enough to carve out my throat in an instant. “Charm it is.”

“Good,” She smiled, not bothering to show her teeth. Her lips were painted the same blue as her claws, and she gestured at one of the chests behind her. “The navigator’s clothes are in that chest; I cleared out his room, since he won’t need any of it where he’s going.”

I frowned. “Is that uh, alright? To wear a dead man’s clothes?”

“He signed my contract,” The Captain said. “The belongings of the dead will be used as they are deemed fit, if not otherwise specified. He came on board, wanting to see the lands of the dead, and he told me he had no family left to speak of.”

I frowned. Maybe… his being dragged into the dark had been less of a murder than I’d thought.

“Oh,” The Captain said. “Don’t think of it that way. Many men meet their end out here on the sea. It is a wild place, after all. And you’ll look like a dashing navigator, and maybe it’ll keep most of the eyes off of you. You do still have his orb, don’t you?”

I picked up the weight and held it up. It twinkled in the dim candlelight, and the smell of metal polish overwhelmed the distant smell of tended feathers. “Got it.”

“Good,” she said. “If anyone asks, you’re my navigator and good luck charm,” She nodded, “You’re MY good luck charm. You understand me? If anyone else bothers you… well, remember who you belong to.”

I frowned.

“I mean that in the best way possible,” The Captain said. “In the same way that my crew is MINE,” she reaffirmed. Somehow, this made me frown even harder.

She shrugged. “Folna will probably be able to dress you, if you need help. Otherwise, prepare yourself, it’ll only be a day or two of sailing before we get there, if we catch the next windshift. The Venturing Owl’s capricious, this time of year.”