Language of the Waves

potassiumboron

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The journey back to the ship wasn't one of deep silence, where each member of the crew had fallen into solitude in response to the cruelty that had been destined to play out in their absence. On the contrary, the mood was joyous, the jovial atmosphere contributed to by the majority of the men who saw no reason not to laugh and banter amongst themselves in response to getting a job done and reaping the rewards for doing so. After the arduous journey out at sea to find the mermaid in the first place, and then having to endure the troubles she brought them all collectively, finally being rid of her was cause for celebration alone - but having the gold coins handed over to them for the completion of the task solidified their good mood.

After all, most of them hadn't seen Sereia as a being worthy of their respect nor of their sympathy. No, she was as Ryvel had referred - an 'it'; a creature from the depths of the ocean, primitive and wild and utterly deserving of being conquered and tormented, however unwillingly and involuntary it was. There was no reason to feel guilty for their actions in delivering her to a cold fate, no reason to emotionally torment themselves with knowing what she was destined to suffer at the hands of a man like Ryvel whose cruelty preceded him.

All they had to feel for the mermaid was bewildered disgust at her existence - even if there was also now a degree of gratitude for it, for without her kind's presence, the pirates wouldn't be clutching their reward like a trophy, laughing raucously amongst themselves in self-congratulating delight at the feat they had achieved. Above all else, there was no sympathy to be found whatsoever - because Sereia wasn't someone who would ever be granted it based on who -and what- she fundamentally was.

Of course, not everyone chose to partake in the festivities, nor found the strength to feign even a brief, temporary joy just to keep up appearances. It wasn't unusual for Ben to remain a little stiff in response to the liveliness around him, so his sullen silence wasn't too noticeable amongst his peers - but Ambrose's silence was, his awkward demeanour and an expression pinched with upset not going unnoticed by the men around him. Perhaps they knew on a subconscious level why their leader appeared so distressed, but when the answer would cause disbelief and disgust to rise, each and every man opted to turn a blind eye and pretend, as best they could, that everything with their Captain was fine; that he was just as overjoyed and proud as they all were.

Eventually returning to the ship, the celebrations inevitably kicked off on and below deck. The sounds of cheering as bottles were opened and laughter resumed made Ambrose flinch, but how could he intervene and cut the celebrations short when that would only provoke his men into questioning his attitude; interrogating him to discern why he was so miserable during a joyous occasion? No, all he could do was grimace to himself and bite his lip, holding back his words and distracting himself from the noise -and from thoughts of Sereia- by getting to work planning their next move as a crew. Life had to go on, after all, and as difficult as it was to ignore the guilt eating away at him, he had to return to his work; keep on the move on the waters and see what adventure next awaited him beyond the horizon.

Seeing his Captain and closest friend in such a way, the last thing Ben really wanted to do was contribute to it. Ideally, he would give Ambrose space and allow him to work through his emotions as the days passed; become acclimatised to the guilt, however hard living with it would be. Yet, he couldn't provide him that space and respite from further emotional difficulty - not when he had given his word to Sereia.

And a promise was a promise. He wasn't -and never would be- in the habit of breaking them.

Ben approached once left alone on the deck with his friend and, inevitably with some trepidation, let everything off his chest; communicated the promise he had made to Sereia to the best of his understanding and his ability. He might not know or had grasped all the details but the general explanation alone rendered Ambrose silent; left him turning to set his eyes on the water in the effort to make sense of what he had been told.

But how much sense could be made of knowing that, apparently, soulmates existed, were a real thing - and that he had heartlessly captured and sold off his own? He wanted to laugh aloud at the remark, wanted to chastise Ben for growing so close to Sereia in the first place that he was made a fool by her lies, but he couldn't; not when, deep down, he knew there was truth to what he was told. He didn't believe it on the basis of his invulnerability to her song (though that was obviously evidence helping the case) but rather because... innately, he just knew it to be true. He didn't know how, nor could he explain it, but he felt it and understood it, even if finding that clarity did little to excite him. He wasn't suddenly in love with the mermaid; longing hadn't just sprung up within his chest for her.

On the contrary, all he felt was the simmering, cutting sensation of disgust at himself for his actions. Being her soulmate didn't make his actions in handing her off to Ryvel any less abhorrent (it would always be cruel, regardless his relationship to the victim) but it did make his guilt intensify regardless, all strength seeming to leave his body as he held the side of the ship and did his best to steady himself. The revelation might not have stirred up feelings of deep romance (though he couldn't deny the attraction he had to Sereia, there was little point in pretending it didn't exist now) but it had tugged at the moral fibre at the centre of Ambrose's being; taunted him for enjoying the sunset on the ocean while his own soulmate was imprisoned and ruthlessly branded like an animal.

As tempted as he had been to spare her any pain at Ryvel's hand, especially when the branding pole had come into view, he was only now convinced to put those feelings into action-- at least, after a fully day of contemplating what course to take. As convinced as he was about saving Sereia and undoing all the wrong he had caused, doing so when it meant crossing Ryvel and setting himself up as an enemy to the man was terrifying. He wanted to avoid him at all costs when the job was done; set back on the waves and forget about the dealing with Ryvel altogether.

Working with him had been bad enough.

Making an enemy out of him was unthinkable.

Yet, after a night's rest (in which he had slept through the celebrations occurring elsewhere on the ship), Ambrose awoke in the morning with his mind set, a renewed sense of calm accompanying the clarity he now possessed. There was undoubtable fear in his bones at the idea of Ryvel's wrath and considerable reach, but risking it to save someone innocent from a dark fate was worth it. He had ventured onto the waves for the sole purpose of being unaccountable to anyone; of not allowing his fear of anyone to rule his decisions - and Ryvel was no different. He was terrifying, that much was true-- but he wasn't going to stand in the way of Ambrose finally seeing sense and doing what needed to be done, however long it had taken him to fully understand that.

The conviction now residing in his chest did result in a slight naivety overtaking him; one that became obvious when he alerted his crew to the change of course and of plan and was met with stony-faces - before outright, vocal objections were sounded in defiance. Some rested solely on the fact that going against Ryvel was a death wish, one they didn't wish to embark upon, while others were more confident in their voicing of displeasure, happy to communicate their disgust at risking their lives for a mermaid of all things. Perhaps Ambrose would have taken offence to that criticism before he knew who Sereia was to him (he liked to think he would have), but when he knew for a fact what she represented, he couldn't continue to bite his lip and allow the mutinous retorts go unanswered. No, he chose to openly defend Sereia, play on the fact she was an innocent suffering a terrible fate as a result of their own cruel actions, whose status as a mermaid shouldn't mean their sympathy was undeserved.

It didn't necessarily go as Ambrose had planned. Rather, his impassioned defence went down flatly, incurring the anger of the men he had called his family for years as they ventured the seas together. Some scoffed in disgust; some stared at him incredulously, and others held nothing back in outrageously ridiculing him for his switch in beliefs and opinions, mockingly accusing him of 'having a thing for the monster' - which wasn't too far from the truth. With tempers frayed and threatening to explode, it took Ambrose stamping his foot down as their Captain, asserting his authority and reminding them of the countless favours he had done them by bringing them on boat in the first place, for them to obediently get the ship on course for land once more. Their unhappiness and simmering anger was unsubtle but, Ambrose reasoned, he could correct that in time; show them that he was right to head back for Sereia. They were brothers to him, after all - all families fought, but they often reunited, able to move past little disagreements because love and respect for one another eventually won out.

That didn't mean he trusted them to accompany him on the journey to actually rescue Sereia; not when their opinions on her, and avoiding Ryvel's wrath, had been as forceful as they had been. The unhappiness at their insults and mockery remained but Ambrose had to push it aside and focus on what mattered - which, unfortunately for the crew that despised her, was Sereia. With only Ben in tow (because he was the only one Ambrose could wholeheartedly trust and the only other one who wanted her safe and out of harm), the long journey back to the circus proceeded forward until nightfall was upon them. The sight of the tents they had ventured past and into the day prior always alarmed Ambrose but never more than they did right now, his hands shaking at his sides as the realisation of the hell he was unleashing onto himself kicked in.

He wasn't a free man now, having to always be on alert for guardsmen of the kingdoms whose Navies he had targeted, but he had managed to successfully evade them for years, avoiding imprisonment for his crimes with ease. But he feared Ryvel far more than he did anyone else; trembled at the power and the connections he possessed--

Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

Ambrose breathed out slowly as the words were forced, as remembrance, through his brain, pushing his fear aside in favour of the confidence he knew he would need if they were to pull off the plan without any hitches - and having someone like Ben at his side did make that fear ebb away a little quicker than it ordinarily would have. With a quick nod up at his friend, he took a final breath in to restore his determination before, quietly, venturing forward on the mission to put right his wrongs.
 
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Viverescribere

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If Sereia hadn't already had a suspicion of how horrible her life was (seemingly) going to be now she was in Ryvel's grasp, then the last 24-hours had definitely given her something to base her assumptions off of.

After she had regained consciousness, the mermaid knew that she couldn't just wait for whatever was bound for her. Left in a tank within one of the circus tents, she had made her way up to the surface where she could grip the edge of the glass. It was a tall, wide object, shaped as a decagon, with rickety, wooden steps leading up to a wooden platform that walk around the top of the tank for people to peer in. As if the full, glass panels weren't enough already, put together with sturdy, wooden frames.

There had been an awkward gap between the edge of the tank and the platform, leaving Sereia to struggle in her attempts to get herself up onto it herself. With a few days in her alien human form, she had to once again accustom herself to the heavy weight of her tail - which was usually powerful and could help her in her attempts no problem, but due to lack of sleep, food and hydration, it lacked in strength. Then there was her shoulder, previously numb due to the salt water, it now seared in pain. Her entire attempt at lifting herself up and out of the tank was punctuated by a strained yet quiet groan as her eyes squeezed tightly shut and her muscles tightened and rolled beneath her skin.

But, all her efforts were for nothing. Despite managing to get onto the platform, the mermaid found herself with a cold barrel of a gun pressed to the back of her head with an equally cold warning to not speak or move.

It ended with her back in her human form, tied to a chair once more in Ryvel's tent. The shirt from Ambrose's crew wet and sticking to her form as her body trembled from the low temperature. The cruel and cutting circus owner kept her there for hours, demanding answers about her kind. Brutal in response when he got none and laughing harshly when he managed to extract anything. He had made suggestive, piggish comments; made her uncomfortable with hands sliding up her inner thigh but stopping before reaching anything too intimate, allowing his warm and wine-stained breath to stain her neck and breathed against her ear. Whispering that while he 'wouldn't ever be so disgustin' as to lay a finger on a fish... there would be plenty that would pay a pretty coin to say they'd fucked a mermaid.'

She had been locked in a cage that night - Ryvel knowing she was still strong enough to potentially escape and knowing he had to make her weaker as a result before she could be left in a tank overnight. The next morning she was forced out of the shirt and into something more 'becomin' of a mermaid'. A top, covering just her chest with some fake fishing net and shells, was all she had to hide her modesty (besides the rough, woollen blanket in the metal barred cage with piles of straw for bedding and a bucket in the corner for relief).

The whole day she had been gawked at. Seen eyes go wide with astonishment and noses pressed up against the glass. Children's hands stuck to the surface of the tank after they had run to see her, slapping the glass soon after before their parents pulled them away as if fearful that she would break through and tear them into the water with her. And she had nowhere to hide. The tank had rocks and stones, some sea plants, but nowhere for Sereia to hide from eyes.

It felt as though there was no reprieve from the crowd, like it would never thin out and that she would eventually be left alone. As the sun set, some of Ryvel's men even had to usher people out. No one questioned the bruises on her left upper arm or that on her left ribs. Nor did they point out the split lower lip. All too fascinated by the scales and gills. The true abnormalities in their eyes.

Her second night saw her transferred out of the tank, hauled out by a cast fishing net and roughly dragged up onto the platform by Ryvel's men. All of whom with cotton buds or other items blocking their ears. She couldn't keep her Song a secret the night before.

Later in the evening, while in her cage, Ryvel came to visit her. There was a gleeful shine to his eye that made the stale bread and hard cheese in Sereia's stomach threaten to resurface. The mermaid, reminded of the night before, shuffled back to the furthest part of the cage, blanket wrapped tightly around her body despite the coarseness of it.

The man laughed, snorting as he shook his head with dark amusement at the reaction he evoked. "Here I was thinkin' ya'd be harder to break." He moved up to the bars, slipping his arms through them with a casualness that betrayed his confidence: the confidence in the Sereia's fear of him.

"I came 'ere to thank you. Now, now, you're probably thinkin' why would he be wantin' to thank me? Some washed up fish, a monster... a creature that shouldn't even be exisitin'." A smirk pulled at his lips and he cocked his head, "That's cause, Fish, you're my best attraction to date. You know how many people came by today just to stare at your disgusting fin and tails? I'm fuckin' rich. Those pirates could've asked for a lot more money for ya based off what was brought in today. I got you on a fuckin' deal."

He turned his head to itch at the top of it, allowing Sereia a glimpse at the cotton that was also stuffed into his ears. When he looked back at her, Sereia sharply gave him her attention, not wanting to take her eyes off him for a second for as long as he was looking at her.

"You're goin'ta make me rich, darlin'. Ain't no doubt about it." He pulled back, gripping the bars for a few heartbeats before abruptly reaching through and slamming a fist against the wooden surface of the cage. Sereia startled, head and back crashing into the metal bars behind her. It made Ryvel laugh, head tipping back as his hand retracted back through the bars, "An' you ain't even goin'ta fight me on it anymore, are ya? Good. I'd hate to get rid of you early, Fish. Bad behaviour earns punishment. Be good, an' maybe you'll get somethin' out of it."

With that, the circus owner threw in a paper wrapped parcel, tied with brown string. Waiting until he had left, Sereia quietly leaned forward to unwrap it, only to find a fresh fish. Or at least as fresh as a day old fish from the monger could be. However, she was in no position to argue or shove away decent food. The mermaid made quick food of the 'treat', all the while feeling filthy and disturbed by her behaviour. How much of an animal she had acted with wolfing down the food she had been gifted.

Silently, the mermaid retreated to the back of the cage once again and pulled the blanket over herself. Tears began to prick at her eyes and with no one around, she allowed them to fall as she curled up, hearing them land ever so softly against the straw beneath her head. In an attempt to soothe herself and release her pent up emotions (her fear, her self-disgust, her longing for home and the pain of life and love lost), she began to sing. Her Song not applied, no power in place.

Just misery and heartbreak.
 
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potassiumboron

~I'm drinking coffee on a trampoline~
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Despite the benefit the cover of darkness provided, the entourage at the circus that Ryvel possessed and the security placed around to guard the location made the journey to just find Sereia a precarious one, let alone managing to successfully break out with her in tow. The latter and its inevitable difficulty continued to plague Ambrose but, he reasoned, it was something to focus upon when the time came - he would cross that bridge when he came to it. Until then, first finding Sereia amongst the various pitched tents was the sole objective deserving his full focus, determined to do so without caving to the pressure and the fear that remained resting uncomfortably in his chest.

At any moment, he and Ben could be discovered, after all - and there was no excuse nor justification they could give that properly explained their presence at such a late hour. Sneaking around in the dark, without choosing to disclose their arrival, was incredibly suspicious and meant the excuse of just wanting to visit the premises would hardly fly. No, there was nothing either of them could say or do that would adequately satisfy whoever came across them, which was more reason than ever to simply avoid being caught.

Ambrose kept quiet, his tread light, as he manoeuvred his way from tent to tent, determining which was a no-go from the noise and light within it. Was there a chance he was bypassing a tent with Sereia within it? Sure - but he couldn't risk taking a glance inside the ones with numerous, chattering voices to determine if she was there amongst them; not when it would mean he and Ben were discovered and their hope of saving Sereia shot down in flames.

All he could do was peer as subtly as he could inside the tents with little to no noise before pressing forward when none held the mermaid. Gradually, as this persisted, his faith began to fall, resigning himself to the fact that he had passed Sereia; that she was kept in a guarded tent amongst men whose refusal to leave her alone would ultimately mean there was no opportunity to save her. He could run in guns blazing, threaten violence until they handed her over - but he knew, without a doubt, the advantage in numbers they had over him would overwhelm anything he and Ben could throw at them, and where would that leave Sereia then? No other man in his crew would take the duty to save her onto their shoulders, so she would be left in Ryvel's company for the foreseeable future, left without a single hope of freedom.

And neither Ambrose, nor Ben, would let that happen.

It was only when he was about to divert his attention to Ben and enquire, in whispered tones, what they were going to do now the chance to find her without drawing attention to themselves had failed that the faint sound of singing reached his ears. The tones, pitch-perfect but tinged with sorrow, immediately sprung Ambrose into action, his eyes wide with equal parts determination and desperation as he followed the noise which grew clearer the nearer he ventured. That also meant that the misery contained within the notes became more obvious, but that was just more proof (if he needed any beyond a gut instinct) that this was Sereia. The recognition that she was in that emotional state tugged at his heart (and guilt) but there was hardly any time to devote to the emotional consequences of her song; not when reaching -and saving- her was of paramount importance.

"Keep watch, yeah? Come in but-- but be on alert, Ben. We gotta be quick an' we gotta make a run for it if anyone comes by 'ere. Just-- be dutiful, mate," began Ambrose just outside the tent, a hand on his gun in his fear that there was someone watching over Sereia, though the lack of cutting insults made against her singing gave him hope that that fear wouldn't be realised. With a quick exhale to psych himself up for whatever he might face within the tent, he finally pushed his way through and held out his gun to have a tactical advantage on anyone that may be present to put a stop to his escape efforts. Only when he made a quick survey of the room to notice that they were alone did he pocket the weapon without hesitation, rushing forward to the cage the mermaid was kept within.

The sight of her within it was enough to pull his lip down into a frown, the heartache hitting before his anger at Ryvel had a chance to interfere, though even that emotion, however strong, had to be forced aside in favour of getting her out from behind the bars she was imprisoned within. The desperation to break her from the cage did momentarily override the realisation that she was singing, Ambrose unaware (naturally) that this wasn't the Song that only he seemed immune to. As such, a fearful glance was sent across to Ben but, at the other's shrug and reassuring nod, the concern regarding it faded and he could once again turn his full attention to Sereia.

"Don't go sayin' nothin' about me breaking you outta here; we can do the 'Ambrose realises he was a cruel fucking asshole and has seen the error of his ways' talk later on, sweetheart," he muttered beneath his breath (albeit with a quick smile sent reassuringly to her), his eyes focused on the lock that refused to give no matter how hard and fiercely he tugged at it. With his spare hand, he wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead, his brows continuing to furrow as he pulled desperately at the bars, despite knowing that that effort would always end in failure.

"For fuck's sake," he spat viciously, his chest heaving in exhaustion from the efforts gradually growing more frantic as the seconds ticked by. "He's got the key, yeah? Ryvel? Fucking hell, I-- I can't-- I ain't gonna leave 'ya, don't worry, we'll-- we'll get you outta here, I just-- I need to think. There's gotta be a way-- I can shoot the lock, right? Yeah! Yeah, that'll work, that'll--"

"They'll hear and come running, Ambrose. They'll be all over us before we even help her up out of there," replied Ben from the entrance to the tent, a worried expression marring his own features. His teeth bit into his lip as he contemplated the best course of action, his own injection of fear forming a knot in the pit of his stomach. He knew his own strength better than anyone; knew he could, with a little effort, pull the metal bars aside and provide a space big enough for Sereia to slip through - but he would do so at a risk of Ambrose's suspicion. There was no way an average human, even one that possessed Ben's stature, would be able to perform such a feat - and yet, that feat alone seemed the only way to guarantee Sereia's escape.

And that made it worth the risk.

"You'll be okay, we've got you," he whispered encouragingly to the mermaid as he moved to kneel beside the cage. Any fear he felt at Ambrose's reaction had to be put aside as he rested two hands on the bars in front of him, his knuckles white with the effort of gripping the metal hard between his fists and pushing them in opposite directions to one another.

"What the actual fuck, Ben?" came Ambrose's inevitably shocked reaction to the action being performed, a lip upturned incredulously at the sight of the bars now pulled wide enough to provide an opening gap for the mermaid. Predictably, suspicion kicked in - but the countless questions that arose with it were destined to be asked another time, the priority to assist Sereia naturally taken precedence.

He held out a hand to the other expectantly, even though he was aware that the trust between them had probably been eroded after his abandonment of her to Ryvel's hands-- if that trust even existed in the first place.

"C'mon, we-- really should get a wriggle on 'ere, Sereia. You can throw vitriol my way later on, when we're somewhere safe. Hit me, yell at me, call be a deceitful bastard-- you get the privilege to do all of that. But not now. We just gotta get you out of here right now, okay? So come on."
 
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The sound of whispering wasn't enough to deter Sereia from her singing. She knew those who would be near her tent, and therefore near her, would have been warned about blocking their ears in case she attempted to manipulate them. However, when footsteps neared and no slamming of gun or pole against the bars came with them, the song trailed off and the mermaid hesitantly twisted where she laid to look over her shoulder.

At the sight of Ambrose on the other side of the bars, her heart leapt. It jumped so much that it felt as though it had become lodged in her throat. The mermaid silently rolled the rest of the way over, sitting up afterwards and ensuring the blanket remained wrapped around her waist and legs. She smothered a wince at the pain the movement caused her ribs, but not in enough time to stop her nose from wrinkling. However, she pushed through it, shuffling across to the bars with a furrowed brow at the sight of the man who had sold her off in the first place.

Her soulmate.

As he spoke to himself about how to break her out, Sereia reached out without a word to press a hand against his chest. It then went to his arm, gripping softly there for a moment, before it slid upwards and over his shoulder. It trailed up the side of his neck to hold his cheek, the sea creature wide-eyed and staring, unmoving once her hand laid at his cheek.

It wasn't a dream. He was physical. He was in front of her. He was trying to break her out.

With Ben. Ben was also there, at the tent entrance, keeping watch.

Or were they? Maybe she was unconscious. Maybe the brand had gotten infected and she was unconscious, in a deep coma of some kind. Or maybe Ryvel had some other creature that could perform illusions, and this was all some elaborate mind game. The thought had her yanking her hand back as if she was scolded, her frown deepening as she tried to work her tired mind into figuring out the truth.

She leant forward where she was sitting, resting her head into her hands and fingers tangling into her hair by the fistful. Hunger, tiredness, pain, misery and hearthache - all the perfect concoction for delirium and hallucinations.

But the mermaid sharply looked up again at the soft squeaking of metal. Ben was bending the bars. No other creature knew what Ben was, so how could they know he had the strength to do such a thing? So this was no illusion. Which meant it was either a hallucination or the truth. Ambrose and Ben were actually breaking her out.

"N-No. No. You cannot-- be here." She finally whispered, fingers now desperately clutching the blanket wrapped around her lower half. "You were safe. You were safe. What are you doing?"

It wasn't that she wasn't grateful for their actions. She knew they were risking their lives being there, helping her. But she hadn't wanted that. She had resigned herself to a life of misery and heartache and, simply, being owned. It had meant her mate was safe. It had meant Ben was safe. But this would mean they never would be, not so long as Ryvel was alive.

"H-He will kill you. Please-- please put the bars back. You were safe. P-Please. You need to go. You need to go. Now. I cannot-- risk--" Her eyes went to his outstretched hand, remaining there as she fought with herself. The need to get away from Ryvel and the desire to protect her mate.

Sereia eventually looked back up to meet Ambrose's gaze, the same desperate and fearful gleam to her eyes that shone in them in the tent when he left her a day ago, "You do not understand, Ambrose. I cannot risk your life." Her gaze darted next to Ben, attempting to figure out if he had told Ambrose the truth, but incapable of reading her friend in the moment, "You said you would protect him. Do that now. Go. Leave. I cannot risk you both being found here. Please."
 

potassiumboron

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  3. Nonbinary
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  5. No Preferences
Genres
Monsters, supernatural, fantasy, romance, criminality, slice-of-life (modern or set in past, usually with some twists)
Predictably, Ambrose had assumed that the other would jump at the chance to escape her circumstances, especially when a mere day in Ryvel's company had clearly been enough to terrify her - and that, combined with the ever-present threat of further physical punishments made against her, made it obvious to the pirate that Sereia would grab his hand without hesitation. He hadn't considered, not once, that she would present hesitation to the idea of escape - not because she wanted to remain in Ryvel's control, but because she didn't want harm to befall him and ben for their actions.

He wanted to spare a moment to be touched by the reciprocated concern, because of course it meant something to him. He couldn't fully explain nor efficiently comprehend the rush of emotion within him at acknowledging that she had that deep-rooted level of concern for him, one he evidently felt for her in return, but he didn't need to truly understand it to know -and accept- its validity. He knew it probably had something to do with the apparent bond between them - he had already been convinced of the bond's existence, but if ever there were creeping doubts, the way he felt at knowing she cared for him on some level brushed all of those uncertainties aside.

Now was hardly the time to sit down and have a conversation about the bond and what it meant for them as apparent soulmates. The questions burnt in his mind ever since Ben relayed the information to him, when he put together his stirring emotions towards Sereia and his immunity to her Song, but he could wait for those answers.

He just had to make Sereia leave with him first, and that was apparently far more of a challenge than he could have ever anticipated.

He nervously glanced over his shoulder at the entrance Ben had returned to stand guard at, his own movements riddled with the same anxiety coursing through Ambrose. He forced back a wave of anger and irritation at her continued refusal to reach out for his hand, uncomfortable with displaying that strength of emotion when she had, he could only assume, had probably had her fill of it from Ryvel. Instead, he let a slow breath escape through barely parted lips, choosing to ease down and rest forward on his toes in an effort to close the distance - not in the domineering, purposefully authoritative manner he had enacted upon the ship to her, but instead in an effort to reassure her; to speak in gentler tones, even if they were undoubtedly firm in his need for his words to be taken as seriously as his delivery.

"I don't understand? 'Ya don't think Ben told me all about-- us?" He began, unexpectantly cutting himself off at how... strange 'us' sounded in regards to him and the mermaid; a person he had met fiercely hating and exhibiting great cruelty towards just a handful of days prior. Yet, there was a collective now; a togetherness that united them. Ignoring it would be naive at this point, and a continuation of a cruel manner he was desperate to abandon.

"Sereia, I ain't gonna say I understand it all yet, but I need 'ya, yeah? To explain this to me properly. I've put together a few bits here and there but I ain't the mermaid; I don't know about your customs or traditions or culture or anything, like-- soulmates ain't something I thought existed. Yet here we are, huh? Here-- you are," he continued, his words drifting off as the firm manner momentarily disbanded, a light seeming to ignite in his eyes at the open acknowledgement. He hadn't fully vocalised the bond with Sereia, nor really how he felt about it, so being able to do so now, however hurriedly, did lift a weight that he hadn't even been aware rested on his chest. A smile parted on his lips before he could prevent it, the expression lighting the rest of his features as he reached back out to take her hand, this time not caring to wait for her to initiate that contact.

"We gotta go, d'ya understand? I ain't fucking leaving you here with that psychopath. Yeah, it's a risk to my life - but we can hide. We can evade that bastard. You being here is a greater risk. Do you think I can go on with my life worrying about 'ya? Thinking he's hurt you or killed 'ya? I ain't doing that, Sereia. So we're going, there-- there ain't a discussion to be had. We're going." Ambrose concluded as he rose to his feet, breaking the contact to avoid pulling her up with him - but the hand reached back down to her swiftly after, a brow arched in expectation.

"...You can see your family again; you can go back to normal. I want that for 'ya. I'll be fine, I promise, so grab my hand and let's go."
 

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Sereia couldn't have been sure if Ambrose had come to her aid because of the guilt he admitted he felt, or because Ben had told him the truth. However, hearing the ship captain confirm that he was now in the know caused Sereia's gaze to shift to the floor. She hadn't wanted Ben to tell him the truth with the intention that it would spur such a reaction and desire to rescue her. If anything, with how Ambrose had behaved and reacted towards her in the past, she would have thought he would have laughed and told the Orc he was a fool for believing her.

Not that it would end up with Ambrose risking his life to help her escape.

Her eyes remained downcast as he continued to speak, her face coloured red with the shame and embarrassment she felt at the fact that she had evoked such a response. It wasn't what she had intended. She only wanted to get the truth off her chest once she knew he was safe... and, in her cowardice, when he was in no position to laugh and sneer in her face.

The taking of her hand startled her, causing her own to jerk in his before she forced it to relax. A quick peek up at him provided her with a glance of his smile, but the mermaid didn't remain looking at him for long. Her eyes returned to their hands, observing them as her mind raced. The innate desire to protect what was hers was strong; not wanting to leave the cage for the fear of what would happen to him if she did. It would take Ryvel a while to figure out what had happened, how she had escaped and eventually who had helped. However, when he did, she knew (especially after the one-way conversation she and the circus owner had had that night) that he would be raising hell to find her again. Ready to kill whoever was necessary.

But then there was also that longing. The desire to be with her soulmate again as well as the desperation for her own freedom and self-protection. She knew if she stayed, there would only be abuse and cruelty.

"...I can't run. I-- can't run. I'll slow you down." She whispered, shuffling nervously towards the gaps in the bar. A sign of her agreement to leave with them, but her anxiety in causing them to get caught, "It's... they are worse than when you left me, Ambrose." She patted her blanket covered legs as she referenced to them, "I am... incapable of even walking. They carried me to that water today. You understand? That's-- that's how they want it. So if this moment ever did come... I cannot do it."

Her eyes began to water once more, this time in frustration at her own incapability. Her one hand grasped onto one of the bent metal bars while the other raised to quietly, and hesitantly, slip into his outstretched one. Sereia finally looked up at him again and her grip on his hand tightened, squeezing gently, "I will-- I will need help."
 
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potassiumboron

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Though he understood her hesitancy to be a result of her reluctance to drag him and Ben into the eyeline of Ryvel's wrath, Ambrose didn't anticipate her nervous movements towards the cage's forced opening to also be a result of physical issues. He wasn't blind - he could see the bruises she had gained in merely a day in Ryvel's ownership, but, perhaps in a moment of rare naivety, he hadn't quite anticipated serious physical consequences to have befallen her this early on, not when he assumed Ryvel needed his prized possession to be in peak condition for her shows to the eager public.

Evidently, that assumption had been wrong, the horror breaking onto his crestfallen expression as he took in how weak she truly was, coming to realise that that weakness had been purposely caused to prevent her escape. He hadn't exactly engaged in model behaviours when the mermaid was under his care on the ship, having almost delighted in weakening her through binding her to the mast - but he hadn't purposely intended to sap her of her strength. He simply sought to incapacitate her, with her subsequent weakening a -at the time- happy advantage.

For Ryvel to go out of his way to hurt her for the sole purpose of guaranteeing she had no energy to defend herself, to escape her jail? That was the purest form of cruelty Ambrose could contemplate - and to see it in action, a reality, made the strength and the confidence he had tried to rebuild start to ebb from him once again. He was to blame for the state Sereia was in, for the pain and torment she had faced and was continuing to endure, and nothing would convince him otherwise.

But he had a chance to make up for his wrongdoings; had the opportunity to prove to Sereia, and to himself, that he wasn't a lost cause. A pirate though he may be, he wasn't heartless nor incapable of turning a blind eye to the suffering of innocents.

Especially if that innocent happened to be his apparent soulmate.

"
You aren't gonna slow us down; we'll-- I'll carry you," he corrected without hesitation, biting back the flash of anger that had arrived during the considerations on the extent of Ryvel's cruelty. That anger wasn't going to help any of them out in the moment and so, with some effort, he let it rest to the back of his mind, opting -wisely- to focus on simply getting them all away from the circus, quickly and without discovery.

Handing his gun across to Ben for safekeeping, the pirate wasted little time in lifting Sereia up into his arms. He was too caught up in the moment to fully appreciate how... nice it felt to hold her close, to protect her with such obvious desire, but he did guiltily spare a second to peering down at her and admiring how right it felt to have her safe in his arms. It was something he would contemplate more when he had the time and the safe surroundings to do so, but even just a fleeting second of acknowledgement was enough to ignite a not-unwelcome serenity in his chest.

"Be on alert, yeah? And I know you don't like guns mate, but-- you gotta use it if we get caught out. I'd rather go down fucking fighting than surrendering," he muttered beneath his breath to the observing Ben, whose features pulled together in discomfort but a nod arrived regardless. He didn't like violence at the best of times, especially if he was the one expecting to produce it - but if he had to protect the ones he cared about, if he had to resort to firing a gun to give their survival the best chance, he would do whatever he had to.

"Right-- right, yeah-- we'll get to the ship an' you'll be okay, Sereia. That's a promise," continued Ambrose reassuringly, another quick glance sent in the mermaid's direction before he, reluctantly, broke the eye contact in the desire to hightail it from Ryvel's grounds as fast, and as safely, as he could. He followed behind Ben, breathing hushed and footsteps light in the effort to escape as inconspicuously as he could. With eyes wide and darting about anxiously, he bit his lip to prevent his breath from sounding louder than it ought to, swallowing back a brief pang of fear as he proceeded forward through the tents, manoeuvring his way past them until the front gates were passed and the rest of the town came into view.

It wasn't enough to bring any calm to Ambrose, of course. That calm wouldn't arrive until he was on his ship, miles away from land and from Ryvel, and so he proceeded forward with the same quiet intensity, unwilling to let his guard down until they were far from the circus and completely out of sight. Only then did he dare to come to a stop, opting to take a seat on a boulder beside the path, following which would bring them to the seaside port town his ship was currently docked at. With Sereia passed over to Ben to continue the duty of carrying her, he used his free hands to run over his face, a heavy exhale sounding through dry lips.

"...Ten minutes and we'll be at the ship; we'll be okay," he murmured out to the two in front of him, lifting his head from his hands as he lifted himself to his feet, the brief stop coming to a conclusion after a mere minute or two - because until they were on his ship, they couldn't afford to waste any longer lingering around on land. "You ain't gotta worry about us, y'know. I've been avoiding the soldiers of various kingdoms for years now. I reckon I can manage avoiding Ryvel too. The guy's nuts but he ain't more of a threat to me than the law of the kingdoms I've evaded, Sereia. I'm smarter than you give my credit for, I reckon."
 

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If she had known what Ambrose was thinking regarding her weakness and exhausted legs, she would have been content to allow him to continue blaming Ryvel. In reality, from the start her legs had been unstable and unsteady due to never having used them before. They may have promised strength - her tail muscles transferring to leg - but that didn't mean they were of any use. Then came the start of her exhaustion as she fought the crew, and also Ambrose, during her days on his ship. Lastly came the fall. After days of lack of proper eating (both out of her own stubbornness and because she wasted it while trying to escape), the fall had done more damage than it may have done if she had been in better shape.

The long walks to Pearl's tavern and then to Ryvel's circus camp had only drained what was left in the tank. Again, her stubbornness refusing to allow her to be carried by Ben.

It was the thoughts of that specific timeline that Sereia focused on as she was scooped up into Ambrose's arms. There was a warm joy that burst into her chest as she was cradled to the chest of her mate, however she couldn't help but feel awkward. The mermaid didn't know where to look, where to put her hands, if she ought to talk or just remain silent.

He had come to rescue her, yes. However, she was still angry. Still hurt at how she had been treated. Sereia knew she hadn't behaved well during their time together, but she believed her reactions and responses were provoked and earned. She gave what she got. That was something she had done her whole life.

It was why Ben had earned a quieter disposition from her and why Pearl had received a softness that Ambrose could have only dreamt at getting.

However, regardless of her emotions, it didn't take long for the stiffness in her body to melt with the warmth of his. In the moment of his footsteps, heated skin and the scent of sea salt on his collar, Sereia could fool herself into believing she genuinely was safe. That she was being carried to safety and all was well. In that false feeling, the mermaid's exhaustion took advantage and swept over her, causing her hands to go slack where she had nervously been holding them, tucked together atop her thighs. Her head lulled a few times before it eventually tipped to the side to rest against Ambrose's chest.

The bruise on her ribs had stopped her from having a comfortable and proper sleep the night before, during the day she had not a moment to stop and hide to have a nap and then that night Ryvel had provided a late night visit which left her highly strung and on edge. So she was out, and completely out, until she was handed over to Ben.

The shift in moving her and the change in body (plus warmth) caused her to stir, the mermaid's one hand reaching out subconsciously as she was held against Ben's chest next. Her eyebrows knitted together before her eyes even opened, lips parting to suck in a sharp breath as her heart rate accelerated as the fear of them having been caught and her being handed back over settled on her shoulders for a moment. It wasn't until her eyes seemed to become unstuck and she blinked blearily, hand still outstretched and searching.

At the sight of Ambrose sitting on the boulder and then Ben's face looming above her, Sereia's cheeks once more flushed red with embarrassment and she retracted her hand, averting her gaze to where it joined the other at her thighs again.

"And of your other men?" She questioned in a murmur, trying to move past the lack of dignity she felt at being held like a babe in Ben's arms, "I am also smarter than you give me credit for, Ambrose. The fact that it is only yourself and Ben does not give a lot of confidence. I cannot imagine they were happy with this decision of yours."
 

potassiumboron

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Unable to prevent it, Ambrose's features twisted at the painful memory of his crew's reaction to the plan; the fierce, mutinous retaliation he had faced over saving Sereia from the cruel confines of the circus. Having the men he thought of as family turn against him with such vitriol and disbelief would hurt regardless of the context, but to see that play out over the suggestion that they head out to save an innocent being from the ownership of someone as heartless as Ryvel had stung Ambrose more than he could sufficiently communicate.

Hell, he still couldn't get his head around it, still couldn't explain it to himself, so what hope did he really have of making sense of it to Sereia?

His gaze drifted to the ground, his hands reaching for a stick to aimlessly dig into the mud beneath his feet, as though that action would distract her from receiving an answer from him. When the silence became too much to bear, too deafening in his head, he let out an exasperated sigh and jerked his head up to meet her gaze, a smile playing on his lips in the effort of casualness; of calmness, as if the hatred and the insults he had faced from his own crew were simply water off a duck's back to him.

It was far from the case, and he was hardly playing it off as though it was, but feigning that dismissiveness, creating that distance from the emotions it stirred up, was the best way forward for now.

There were more important matters at hand than his hurt feelings.

"They weren't happy, nah. But it's fine. They'll come around. They just-- y'know, they don't know you like Ben does; they don't feel about 'ya the way I do. But they'll come around, when they get their thick fucking skulls around the idea that saving a damn girl from that hell isn't worthy of throwin' a tantrum over," he shrugged in eventual reply, snorting and rolling his eyes for additional effect. Purposefully choosing to avoid Ben's arched eyebrow and pointed glance (he knew the other would prefer he be far more honest in communicating how tense the atmosphere had been during the discussion but he opted to leave it unsaid; to focus instead on getting Sereia to safety), he inhaled slowly and repeated the step with his exhalation, seeking to -mostly- rid himself of the understandable residual nerves still battling away at him.

"We don't really got the time to get into talk of the lads and their... childishness, 'kay? Headline is, nah, they were pissed, but it's fine. I handled it. Had to stamp down my authority, mind you, but I'm the captain. I have the right to be a bit stern now and then, 'specially if the cause is an important one, so-- it's fine. 'Sides, Ben and me are the best in that crew. Who else would you want coming to your rescue?" He posed, the feigned smile gradually easing in place of sincerity - sure, it was undoubtedly arrogant, even cocky, but at least genuine and lacking in the cruelty that had encouraged the expression in their initial meeting together.

"Now, let's get going, yeah?" He encouraged, removing a hand from Ben's shoulder after a momentary offer of support to continue the journey forward. His nerves hadn't exactly eased but the further they ventured, the more confident he allowed himself to feel. The sight of the familiar seaside town that had often welcomed his crew in during their stops on land encouraged that confidence more than anything, particularly when the view of the expansive ocean just beyond it materialised.

Though in that delight, in that sudden deep-rooted belief that they had actually succeeded, Ambrose was guilty of overlooking the obvious - even when it was staring him in the face.

Ben was quicker to understand what had happened, the momentary confusion melting in favour of horror and, however rare it was for him, even anger, the flash of it crossing his face in disbelief. Cautiously glancing to his friend, whose smile remained obliviously in place, the Orc swallowed hard in order to brace himself for whenever the truth eventually dawned on the man.

And, a handful of seconds later, it did, Ambrose's confusion clear as day as he set his eyes on the docks that no longer held his treasured ship.

Mouth parting in that shock, his lips moved quietly as he vocally reassured himself that nothing was wrong; that his crew had simply headed from the docks, momentarily, to avoid the potential for trouble-- though that, of course, made no sense when they were always safe at the dock; always protected by the inhabitants at the nearby pub who wouldn't let any real trouble befall them. No, that explanation had to be dismissed, which left the real answer painfully obvious.

"They've-- fucking-- abandoned us? Taking my -MY- damn ship a-and-- and what? Headed off without us? N-Nah, they'll-- they'll be back, they gotta come back, yeah? They... they wouldn't do that over one fucking disagreement, that'd be-- I'm their Captain, their friend, their-- we're like brothers, they wouldn't-- leave me. They wouldn't. I... I saved them, I--"

The quiet mumbling gradually grew to more frantic, panicked expressions before finally culminating in an anguished yell, hurried expletives cascading from his lips as his head came to rest in his hands, fingers gripping desperately onto his hair, the pain of which kept him grounded in the present. Without it, he knew he would spiral into the crashing of emotions; would allow them to completely overwhelm him.

"...We can't stand here. We will get caught, Ambrose, we need to make a plan," began Ben quietly, cautiously, as he observed his leader and friend on the verge of either losing his temper or breaking down. "...You should go," he continued down to Sereia, carefully placing her onto her feet with a firm nod - or as firm as he was capable of being, anyway. "To the sea. To your home. You understand, yes? Go home, it is okay. Ambrose and I will be okay. We... will work this out. But you go home, Sereia. To safety. That is what you do now."
 
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The mermaid was unaware of the realisation that was dawning on the two men at first. She had barely seen the ship; to her, it was one amongst tens of ships that looked similar. She wouldn't have been able to pick it out even if her life depended on it (which was ironic, considering). Yet, at the stillness that took over Ben and Ambrose's bodies, she knew something was wrong. It wasn't until Ambrose began to stutter that it was all made clear to her.

Guilt twisted her stomach and made her go light-headed to a point where her fingers reached to grasp onto the cloth that covered Ben's chest. If she had been standing, she would have needed to sit. It was a good thing her legs were already too weak to hold her. That guilt was the only thing keeping the horror she too felt from taking over. Yes, there was a horror at how her mate had been treated, but more selfishly, the horror at her escape being thwarted.

Then Ben put her down, the mermaid barely glancing to the Orc as both seemed entranced by Ambrose's reaction. His words were muffled to her, like she was already under water and he was speaking to her.

"...go home, Sereia."

The words, as if by some magic, made her head turn slowly towards the sea. In the moonlight, seeing the water felt even more seductive and intimate than usual. It looked inky, with no hope of seeing what laid beyond the surface. She knew that as soon as she submerged herself within the cool and soothing waves, she wouldn't be seen again. It was an easy route, for her. She could leave the land behind. Leave the troubles and threat and danger all behind. If she listened carefully, she was certain she could hear the sisters and brothers of her kind singing softly, sweetly, as if trying to entice her in like they would with fishermen and sailors.

But her feet did not take her towards her salvation.

With quiet, unsteady and shaking steps, Sereia took the few that were necessary to reach Ambrose. She reached out to softly wrap her arms around his shoulders and head, pulling him into her chest. Her fingers began to massage the back of his head, tangling within the dark strands of his hair. Despite the aches and pains standing and stretching her arms caused, Sereia continued to hold him. His head tucked under her chin, arms warm and tender around him.

In that moment, he was not the man who tormented her and sold her off. He was her mate and he was in pain. It was not something she could overlook, even if she wished to. Even if, despite her instincts, there was a part of her that felt as though he deserved to feel a fraction of the pain she had done.

Her eyes shifted to Ben as she held Ambrose, offering her support and comfort but her grasp still weak enough (regardless of if she wanted it to be or not) for him to break out of it if he wished to.

"You have both risked much for me. I cannot abandon you. I will not abandon you. I cannot leave knowing that... that you will be in danger because of what you have done for me." Her words were firm, intentionally chosen without making mention of the mate bond she now had. A bond, similar to Ben's, that would make it difficult to ever leave Ambrose. "We go to Pearl's to hide. With your ship not here, Ryvell will... give chase to that, no? Your... brothers have done a favour. We will have time. And I will get you both a new ship. I swear to it."
 

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Ambrose heard Ben's gentle command, was able to remove himself from his panic, anger and confusion for long enough to digest it, but no words were able to leave past his lips-- and even if he did have that ability, what would he even say? Plead with her not to go back to the sea he had wrongfully kidnapped her from; return to the family and friends he had cruelly detached her from? He had a justification on hand, the reminder that they were supposedly soulmates who innately meant a great deal to one another, but voicing that when that realisation had only landed at his door a mere day before didn't feel... wholly appropriate of him.

Hell, he had spent the past few days practising disgust and spitting venom at and towards her. His feelings might have altered enough for him to regard her with the respect she deserved and the acknowledgement that they were fated together had been recognised -and accepted- without backlash, but to make that 180 and suggest she stay on land, away from her family and her home, actively putting herself at risk of recapture just to be by the side of a man who had caused all this mess for her?

It felt like far too big of an ask and so he... said nothing, however painfully tight his chest became the more he dwelt on the fact that this might just be their last interaction together. He wasn't suddenly in love with her after learning of their bond, far from it, but he wouldn't deny that there was something there; that a spark had ignited and opened his eyes to Sereia in a way he wouldn't have thought possible when they initially met.

So the thought of losing her did... hurt, even if he chose to put on a brave face, reminding himself in those few brief moments that selflessness ought to reign; that Sereia returning where she belonged, where she called home, where she could be safe, was for the best.

He opened his mouth once the words finally materialised in his head, intent -albeit not exactly determined- to echo Ben's sentiments and encourage Sereia to return to the safety the waves could provide her (at least, they stood a better chance of protecting her than the land did) until the mermaid approached and enveloped him in a hug. For a moment, a split second, he remained rigid in place in the surprise and momentary discomfort, the actual physicalisation of support being something he had been detached from for years. He... didn't do hugs - he didn't receive them and certainly didn't dish them out, so finding himself suddenly in one after years was... odd, and a sensation he instinctively sought to remove himself from.

That instinct faded into insignificance a few beats later, the confusion and slight discomfort fading the more he took the action in - and noted how nice it was.

He would never have predicted it himself but the hug was precisely what he needed and, from how natural it felt to tilt his head down and subtly reciprocate the gesture, what he had craved. The hug itself might have only lasted several seconds but, for those seconds, the troubles he had been hit with seemed to melt away. For those few quick beats of time, he was alone with Sereia, captured in an embrace that brought a heat to his cheeks and a smile to his lips.

Naturally, that smile dipped once the hug faded away and he was forced to reconsider his problems, his eyes drifting back to the sea's horizon in continued dismay and outrage - and eventually confusion, once he took Sereia's words in. Granted, that might have been what he wanted to hear, the confirmation that he wasn't going to part from her calming an inner-panic that had bloomed at that fear, but her safety was a great concern to him - and she stood the best chance of securing it at home, with her family.

"Sereia, you-- need to go home, yeah? 'Cos they'll search Pearl's place when they get here, an' so we'll have to go on the move before they do. We'll have to-- wander, find somewhere safe miles from here. It's a risk. You ain't got the energy or the strength for a journey like that, an' let's not fucking mention the danger we'll be in every step of it. If they find us, I'm dead, Ben's dead and you're-- back in that hellhole where death'll probably seem like a fuckin' godsend," he blurted, the strength he had been determined to deliver his words with fortunately sounding through, though his hesitant expression, his wariness and doubt, let him down instead. His brows furrowed at the inner turmoil he was faced with on top of every other problem he was still trying to fully comprehend, his hands returning to his head as he thought it through.

"...Nothing I just said is gonna convince 'ya, is it?" He eventually conceded with a tired, suspecting smile, his head tilting back to face her in amusement. "Nah, you've made your mind up an' I'm wasting fucking time tryin' t' convince you. You wanna stay with us? You wanna put your life at risk? That's-- the stupidest decision anyone's ever made, but I ain't gonna pretend I don't appreciate it, Sereia. I ain't gonna say I... want you to leave us 'cos I don't. You're a pain in my ass but-- I'm fond of 'ya. So sure, stick with us on this little suicide mission of ours if 'ya fancy it. Can't say I didn't warn you against it when it all goes to shit though."
 

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"They will see your missing ship first. They will not know where to go straight away, they will nott know your connection with Pearl straight away. We can... we have to take the risk. She-- she was kind. She... she likes you," she glanced briefly at Ben before providing Ambrose with her attention once more, "The both of you."

Sereia pulled away, hands lowering to the blanket that was still wrapped precariously around her waist. Her eyes followed her hands, focusing on her fingers as they fiddled with the material as he spoke. It wasn't exactly the most heart warming of speeches. The mermaid knew that both of them were going to feel awkward for some time. They were now both aware of the bond that apparently pulled them together, yet they were unable to talk about it. Not with the danger they were facing. It wasn't exactly what she had ever envisioned, either, when thinking about ever potentially meeting the one that was supposed to be made for her. How could it? There were only a few rare cases in which mermaids and humans were paired together. And even then, they didn't exactly have the start that they both had - with hate and cruelty and harshness.

But leaving him wasn't an option. Not any more. That could, and would, be explained to him later. However, it wasn't the right time.

"We should... we should go to Pearl's." She answered quietly, moving to lower herself onto a large rock nearby. A silent breath was pushed from between pursed lips in the relief in finally sitting down, "Like you said, I am in no position to flee and you cannot carry me all the time. We must... take the risk and go to her, see if she can hide us." Sereia then hesitated, a darker thought crossing her mind, "And warn her... if-- if Ryvel know's she is friends with you and suspects for a moment that she will know where you are..."

Her body tensed at the memories of the night before, eyes closing for a moment as she swallowed hard and composed herself again. As she opened them again, her tongue darted out to run over her dry lips and she focused on the two pirates, trying not to linger too long on Ben and give away his secret crush on the tavern owner, "We cannot allow that to happen to her."
 

potassiumboron

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Seeing his attempt at humour had gone down flatly -or more awkwardly, gone completely unnoticed-, Ambrose retreated from his effort to lighten the considerably dark, heavy mood and fell quiet as Sereia set out a plan. It was one he wanted to immediately disagree with, the idea of bringing Pearl into the troubles, putting her at risk of being the next victim of Ryvell's infamous wrath, making his stomach churn in guilt. He had been the one to start the problems in the first place by agreeing to the job, by heading out to capture and deliver Sereia to her future captors. Thus, it was him and him alone who ought to be on the receiving end of the consequences that came with reneging on the deal and taking Sereia back - not Ben, not Sereia and certainly not the completely innocent Pearl.

He had no doubt that she would lend her assistance in a heartbeat when that was simply the sort of friend she was, but he didn't want her to do that. He wanted her to remain safe and out of Ryvel's line of fire, to plead her ignorance and not be caught out in a lie - which ultimately meant keeping her in the dark and not turning up at her tavern seeking her help and subsequently explaining the entire situation to her to achieve it.

And yet...

"She has a point. I do not want Pearl brought into this but it is best she is. It is... wise. Ryvel will turn up at the tavern, it is inevitable, yes? It is best Pearl is... in on this; that she knows about this. That she is prepared. Sereia is right. We go to Pearl's," contributed Ben, sensing his captain's hesitance - and however understandable it was, they didn't really have the time to sit and ponder the case of what to do any longer. Ideally, Pearl would be left in ignorance, left blissfully unaware of the trouble the three of them were now enveloped in, but that would only result in an increased chance of danger when Ryvel's men inevitably arrived to question their whereabouts.

Wasn't it far more cruel to leave her oblivious than bringing her in; providing her a chance to prepare herself for what was destined to head her way?

If that in any way helped protect her, Ben's instincts screamed at him to see that plan through - even if it meant having to plead and beg Ambrose to see sense and add his agreement.

Fortunately, things didn't have to sink to those levels of desperation, Ambrose offering a meek nod once he acknowledged that, out of the limited choices available to them, Sereia's plan was easily their best chance at survival and continued evasion. Even if it meant Pearl subsequently becoming an accomplice - a fact that only added to the ever-growing weight of guilt crushing his chest at every given second.

"Nah, you don't have to go on a little speech convincing me; I'm convinced. We go to Pearl's," he confirmed as he set his eyes on the dockside tavern, swallowing the guilt back as best he could before it encroached to places in his mind he wasn't able of fighting back. "It ain't a permanent thing, we can't stay forever, but-- it'll do for a few days, if luck's on our side. But we gotta go now. We've wasted enough time as it is. Just-- I just need to get somewhere familiar and safe right now, I-- have a million things rushing through my head, y'know? I can't stand here waiting for 'em to push me over the damn edge."
 

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In Sereia's mind, there was even the possibility of Pearl coming with them on the run. The idea of the barmaid having to go through anything remotely like what she did on the first night sent a shiver down her spine. If there was even a hint of a possibility of Pearl knowing what had happened to them or where they had gone, and Ryvel wouldn't let go of her until he had all the information... and even then. Who knew what else the man was capable of.

However, after Ben's immediate agreement to her plan and in the knowledge about how the Orc felt about the other woman, Sereia kept those fears to herself. At least for now.

There was one issue that they would need to confront with her, though.

"...You are going to need to explain to her why. Why we hide. Why we run. That means telling her... what. What I am. What I am... supposedly worth." The last part was not meant as a dig at Ambrose, but rather as a reference to Ryvel and how desperate he would be to get her back. Her gaze awkwardly darted away from Ambrose as a result, the mermaid unused to these interactions that lacked any sort of vitriol. "But yes... we should continue on. Ryvel and his men are confident, so I believe we will still have some time... but the sooner we move on, the better, as you say."

The mermaid was also determined to act on her word of getting the two a new ship too. Her Song would be able to convince a King to give her his kingdom, if she so choose to do so. A ship would be no difference. However, she would need their help in being put in the direction of someone who could actually provide such a vessel. Something that could happen in due time.

After ensuring the blanket around her waist would be secure for the rest of the journey to Pearl's, Sereia (reluctantly and with a continued air of mortification) accepted the help of being carried once more. She was certain after a day or two of resting her legs, eating, hydration and some decent sleep and she would be more than capable of walking again.

Once they arrived at the backdoor of Pearl's tavern, she quietly murmured to be put down as to not raise any unnecessary concerns. It would be bad enough trying to explain themselves as it was, let alone with her visibly incapacitated.

"...I believe I know the answer to this," Sereia began in a whisper before the door was knocked, "But I wish to make sure my confidence is not incorrect. Can we be certain she will... not betray us once you tell her what I am? Ryvel will... he has told me how much money I bring in for him. Can we be certain that Pearl will not fall pray to the lure of any bounty that is set on our heads?"
 

potassiumboron

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The other's question wasn't the only thing to result in Ambrose coming to a stop just before they could cross the threshold into the tavern. No, the anxiety that came with bringing Pearl into the situation and making her complicit, as equal of punishment as the rest of them in Ryvel's eyes, was inevitably rendering him uneasy, the guilt that had tormented him for days on end reaching inexplicably uncomfortable levels.

And that, along with the pressure of the situation and the anger at his crew's rebellion against him (culminating in their decision to abandon their Captain on land and heading off with his ship) made it incredibly difficult for him to emotionally hold himself together. He wanted to yell, to scream, to rant and to rave - but he couldn't. He wasn't the only one under stress, feeling fearful for their lives and uncertain as to what the future held for them (if they managed to evade Ryvel long enough to even establish a new future for themselves, at least). Ben, beneath his seemingly calm, held-together exterior, was undoubtedly as cautious and as war as he was - and there was just no telling how scared Sereia was, nor how scarred she inevitably was from her short stint with Ryvel, particularly as she would have to return to that brutality and mortification if she was to be captured.

No, his troubles weren't the only ones to exist and he knew that, so prioritising them over the others, as if he was the only one to be feeling the way he did, wasn't appropriate, nor really something he willingly sought to do. Instead, he needed to be selfless; to seek to support them, to help them, as he hoped they would do for him in return.

When they actively had the time to devote to that sort of emotional recovery, anyway. Now, under the pressure of establishing a safe place to rest for a little while, wasn't the right time for that.

"I know you don't know Pearl that well, I get it, but-- she'd never sell us out. Nah, she's not like that. Like, sure, the cost of running the tavern is probably a lot, 'specially when most people don't come by here 'cos of the clientele, but-- she'd rather go broke than sell us out to Ryvel and his crew. Ain't a doubt in my mind that she'll have our backs, Sereia. You -we- can trust her. That's a promise," he reassured after his moment of hesitation came to an end. As ideal as keeping Pearl at an arms' length from the trouble, it just wasn't feasible or realistic - so the lest he could do, with her involvement all but inevitable, was assure Sereia that there was no cause for alarm... because there wasn't. Any niggling doubts just didn't exist when his full faith had been placed in Pearl a long time ago.

Stepping into the building, he was quick to take note of Pearl at work behind the bar, her hair loose from any ties but still wavy from Sereia's neat braid-work a day or so prior. With a bright smile on her face, the barmaid was happily chatting to a set of regulars at the bar; the only customers given the early hour - though she didn't mind opening up at that time and giving them the chance to have a good, hearty breakfast and some companionship. She had adopted the routine for years now, there was little point disrupting it just so she could have an extra hour in bed each day. After a moment, her eyes inevitably drifted to take note of the trio at the doorway, her mouth falling open in her surprise. After the emotional goodbyes, she hadn't anticipated seeing the men for a few months or so - and certainly didn't expect to see Sereia again, full stop.

"I would say long time no see but that wouldn't be accurate in our case, would it?" She grinned charismatically, resting her hand on her hip as she fully took them in - and was quick to let her smile waver once gathering that not all was well; that this wasn't an impromptu last visit for light-hearted reasons. "...What's wrong? Something's up with 'ya all, I ain't gotta be a genius to see that."

"It's-- not a long story, not really, but it's--" Ambrose awkwardly paused as he ventured closer, a glance sent in Sereia's direction in his continued hesitance to relay the details, from which there would be no going back, but he sucked it up and proceeded regardless-- when the two men at the bar had obediently retreated to a corner table upon Pearl's request once she sensed things were more serious than she first assumed. Taking a seat at the bar, his head came to rest in his hands as he took a further moment to pull himself together... before finally divulging the details, from his business with Ryvel, to Sereia's capture and subsequent rescue, and then finally to their current predicament - no ship or crew for escape or defence, with Ryvel and his men no doubt hot on the trail of tracking them down.

"Believe me, none of us want you involved, Pearl. Like, I-- I wish I didn't have to come here, drag you into this shit, I--"

"...You fucking kidnapped a girl and sold her off?" Pearl interjected with more force than she expected, her glare -sharp and intense- drifting from Ambrose to Ben, the latter of which also experienced a frown of disappointment from the woman. Exhaling heavily, she sent her eyes upwards and took a second to think, to fully comprehend everything she had been told, before turning back to face Sereia, the only burning question on her mind being the other's welfare.

"Are you alright, sweetheart? It makes sense now, our last conversation-- I'm sorry. I should have done more for you-- but you're okay now, alright? Nothing's gonna happen to any of you, we'll... figure it out. Keep you safe. Keep these two numskulls from being caught. You've got my word - an' that means a hell of a lot 'cos I don't go back on it, ever."
 

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"You... you don't care...?" Sereia's confusion was evident at the reaction they had just witnessed from Pearl. Considering that the majority of reactions she had received since being captured had been disgust or that she was seen as an object for profit (with only Ben - and most recently Ambrose - showing her some sort of compassion while knowing what she was), she was slightly perturbed by how concerned Pearl was. Before, it was fine to have that compassion - Pearl didn't know the truth, she thought she was human. But to still receive the same treatment now that the truth was out? It was oddly unexpected.

Her lips parted and then came together again, her mouth opening and closing like that for a few seconds longer until she simply looked down at the counter. Sereia quietly picked at a grain of wood, having sat down at the bar the moment she could. She was struggling and that was obvious. Not physically. But emotionally, psychologically.

She didn't know how to respond to the barmaid, even though it was her idea to seek her out in the first place. Perhaps it was because of the fury she had just seen, the mermaid surprised that Pearl would speak to her friends in such a way over a perfect stranger. Perhaps it was the events of the last 48 hours were finally catching up on her. The physical torture, the mental torment. The emotional pain of knowing that her mate was under threat and it was all because of her (granted, he wouldn't have been if he hadn't have taken the deal in the first place, but still).

Either way, she couldn't even find the strength to reassure Pearl. If it hadn't been for the fact that Ambrose was her mate, she probably would have said something to the barmaid. Instead, she had kept quiet, knowing it was better for her to be in pain rather than have it plague her for the rest of her days that he was hurt... or dead.

Even though that could still happen.

"Thank you."

That was all she could muster, hating how ungrateful she probably looked and sounded considering the woman was putting everything on the line for her. And for Ambrose and Ben. But she was exhausted and it really did feel like the moment she sat at the bar, everything just landed right on her shoulders and chest.

She rubbed a hand across her mouth only to flinch as it caught the scab that had formed on her lower lip. Her tongue darted out to catch the bead of blood that had swelled before she simply took that part of her lower lip into her mouth. She lowered her hand to her lap, legs covered by the make-shift skirt from the blanket that was in the cage with her.

"I... can I please rest now?" Her head raised to look between Ambrose and Ben, her shoulders sagging with the invisible weight she carried. "We did not sleep last night and... and the night before..." She shook her head, swallowing hard, "The, ah, adrenaline? The adrenaline is wearing off and I... am starting to not feel so good." She confessed, finally - and rather sheepishly - looking to Pearl, "I'm sorry. For dragging you into all of this."
 

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It wasn't solely Sereia that found themselves shocked at Pearl's seeming indifference to her inhuman state. Ben, naturally, fell into the same boat, his expression faltering just a second as surprise filtered through. He hadn't expected Pearl to exhibit the disgust that his crew had presented at the sight of the mermaid, but he had at least anticipated some... shock; some wariness, even, given the way creatures like Sereia tended to be treated in society - as a spectacle, 'othered' by humans to be entertainment, gawped at for the mystique and the curiosity they presented and possessed.

If Pearl did feel that way on any level, she certainly hid it well and didn't allow it to colour her opinion of Sereia so much that it prevented her from offering her sympathies and seeking to ensure that she was okay. That alone indicated that she was a decent person, that the faith Ben had always had in her was far from misplaced - though he couldn't dedicate much time to silently celebrating that fact, nor feeling more confident than ever that she too would accept him and his truth, like she had Sereia's, were he ever to reveal it.

Granted, his situation was a tad different to Sereia's. He had maintained the human facade for years on end now, deceived those closest to him in order to maintain his livelihood and the safety that his masquerade provided him. That duplicitousness might not have stemmed from a place of malevolence or ill-intent, but he wasn't stupid; he knew that the realisation that he had deceived them for all that time, regardless of his intentions and justifications, would go down horrendously.

So, cowardly as it might be, no such confession in the same vein as Sereia's was prepared to leave his lips anytime soon. It was why he sent her a quick glance, one that spoke volumes despite no words being added as context. He knew she would never reveal his secret without his agreement to do so - but, in his sudden fear, in his acknowledgement of how deep he had gone with the lie, it felt appropriate to ensure she understood how little he wanted to tell his story.

"I'll take her to a room, it is okay. You... two seem eager to talk alone," he began as he sent a glance in between the barmaid and Ambrose, having caught Pearl's continued disgust at her friend and her subsequent need to drill him for the reasons behind his choices. Eager to escape much of the anger that would inevitably be flung from Pearl's tongue, he sought to leave under the excuse of assisting Sereia - even if it wasn't much of an excuse when he reasoned she would need the assistance to tackle the stairs to her room.

Ignoring the glare from Ambrose, the captain having quickly cottoned onto Ben's desire to flee from the telling off, he held his arm out for Sereia to latch onto before making his way behind the bar and towards the staircase, taking time with each step to ensure his long stride didn't make things too difficult for the injured mermaid at his side.

"...I know you are not naive, you are smart, but... still. Please do not tell them about me, Sereia. It is not a good time and... they will hate me for lying to them. It will be difficult. Hurtful. Emotions will be intense. It is not the right time to reveal it," he began beneath his breath, imploringly, pleadingly, peering down at her for her understanding and agreement. "...It has been years since I didn't present as human. They... do not know what I am, it will hurt that I have lied. I will tell them one day, you understand? But not now, it... it is not important in the context of everything we are fighting for and against. I don't want to make you... complicit in the lie, that is not good, but I need a... I need someone to have my back on this. You are the only one I can turn to for that help."
 

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Sereia made no attempt to argue with Ben and turn down his offer of help. The mermaid knew she would have trouble with the stairs if that was where she was going to be taken (she would have been perfectly content to just collapse into an armchair) and, while suspecting a motive behind why Ben offered to help her after Ambrose's glare, she appreciated it none the same.

Every push up burned her legs, as was evident by the fact that her grip on Ben's arm tightened each time she lifted a leg to take a new stair. She barely heard Ben when he first began to speak, so focused on the simple task of getting up some stairs that she almost missed the start. Sereia paused with both feet on one stair as she looked up to him, blinking in surprise at the pleading and desperate expression on his features. A part of her was slightly hurt that he even had to ask such a thing of her, however, she supposed she could understand - the paranoia of not knowing when your secret could slip out was a poisonous one.

"You do not need to tell me or ask me, Ben. While I... am a little hurt you even think you have to ask that of me, I understand." She quietly patted his arm before turning back to face the stairs. She took a deep breath and started again; there were only four more left.

She stayed silent until they reached the top, leaning into him afterwards for support and stability as her legs trembled from the exertion. There was even a thin beading of sweat at her temples and forehead from the effort that simply climbing stairs took after so long without proper sleep, food or hydration. However, she did not allow Ben to carry on to the room, knowing she had to address Ben's fears.

After everything, Sereia knew not to say anything. If she had wanted to cause hurt and release his secret, the ideal time would have been on the ship when she had been captured. When she had nothing to lose. When she was fearful, angry and in emotional and physical pain. But she was not a spiteful creature and Ben had been nothing but patient and kind to her. Why would she reward that with the cruelness that came with revealing his secret to everyone? Especially when she had experienced, first hand, probably the worst that came with being unnatural to humans.

However, she knew it would be difficult for him to explain why he didn't act against Ambrose on the ship, when he knew what they were doing was wrong. He had explained to her and she had understood because they were different. They had that in common. His loyalty to Ambrose was unbreakable, they were bound together like brothers just as she was now bound to Ambrose as his mate. It wasn't as if he could explain the full extent and truth of that to Pearl without telling her everything else.

"I will be there when you are ready to tell them, do you understand? They may be shocked and perhaps hurt and angry. But they will understand. You see how Pearl reacted to the news about me - I'm certain she will still love you." Sereia murmured, head resting against his upper arm as she leaned propped up against the wall behind her, eyes focused on the door opposite her. "But Ben... with all that is going on, maybe it would be best to reveal... sooner rather than later. If something were to happen... wouldn't you rather them know who you are rather than... having lived a lie?"
 

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"If he asked me, 'Ben, are you human?', I would say 'no'. I cannot lie to him in that way. But he does not ask that. He does not suspect. So I... find it easy not to say. To ruin friendship with crew. When we were searching for you, they were... cruel in their words about your kind. It was... better to be quiet. To say nothing. To protect myself. Safer that way, you understand?" He began beneath his breath, his deep voice barely anove a whisper in his desperation and desire to remain as soft-spoken as he could. He was aware his voice, in its depth, could carry with ease, and the last thing he needed was for the others down in the bar to overhear the conversation - or even just hear a few unique words of it and piecing things together themselves.

He wasn't under the illusion that he could continue on for years upon years without saying anything about his origins, and his species, especially if (as he hoped) he and Pearl were to eventually admit their feelings to one another aloud and embark on a relationship. Under those circumstances, continually withholding the truth about himself from her wouldn't just be unkind; it would be downright wrong and he wasn't prepared to sink to those sort of depths.

But until that scenario arose, he wanted to keep quiet and preserve his friendship with Ambrose, given just how tight the bond between them had grown over the years. The bond initially had simply been a result of his life being saved by the pirate, an unfortunate consequence that bound him to his saviour's side, but a genuine friendship arose from it, the bond strengthening in ways that meant, were it to break, Ben would still feel that innate, deep desire to be beside Ambrose, defending him from harm and sharing in every experience that the man's life welcomed in.

Breaking that bond of friendship by revealing the truth to him would be sickening because there was little doubt in Ben's mind that Ambrose would take it poorly - and not just because he had been lied to throughout all the time they spent with one another.

"Our situations, they are different, Sereia. Ambrose cares about you, it is in his eyes when he speaks to you. He likes you. You are bonded. He... overlooks what you are, accepts you for it. Because you are bonded and his feelings toward you are... strong. He will not overlook what I am as easily. It is... more difficult. Uneasy. So I stay quiet. Be cowardly. To keep friendship. It is wrong but I-- I cannot... I don't want to lose him," he admitted after a further moment, having chosen to aid her into one of the rooms above the pub before opening up to her, just to avoid the risk of anything he said being overheard - his whispered tone did little to convince him that he was being quiet enough to avoid that situation unfolding.

Though that wasn't his only motivator, the desire to get Sereia to somewhere she could sit and release the pressure from her legs (and ease her exhaustion in general) being at the forefront of his mind.

"But I will say something. Soon. I will talk to Pearl, tell her I am sweet on her, and then tell her the truth. Then Ambrose soon after. I will be honest, but... not today. Today is not the time for that bombshell," he chuckled, allowing his voice to raise a little in pitch now the seriousness of the conversation had eased. "...You rest. We are safe here for a little time, so rest and let your mind switch off. I will be down in the bar with Ambrose. Call us when you wake. I will come and help you down when you are ready. It is... not embarrassing to need help, Sereia. So do not hesitate; better to be safe than sorry I think is the phrase, yes?"
 

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Allowing him to aid her the last little bit, Sereia's eyes closed with quiet relief as she was settled down onto the bed. She sat on the edge, legs dangling off but far back enough so her feet didn't touch the floor. Her hands pressed as fists into the mattress and the mermaid release a long, soft sigh to further voice her newly-found comfort. Her eyes eventually re-opened and she tilted her head back to look up at him, forcing herself to focus on their conversation rather than the exhaustion that felt like it had just grown ten-fold.

While Sereia doubted all that Ben said regarding Ambrose and his reactions towards her (since all she had known was vitriol and disgust and disbelieving that someone could truly change that quickly, especially a human who had no idea regarding her customs), she remained silent on the matter. She was too tired and confused and despondent to put up much of an argument or fight on the matter.

The same went with him needing to tell the others about himself. She knew, really, that he was right. To drop such news at a time where the other two were still reeling from their own revelations (Pearl - about the kidnapping, Sereia's truth, the hurt of what two men she knew and were fond of had done. Ambrose - that he and Sereia were bonded, his crew betraying and deserting him) then who was she to force Ben's hand. There would be a time, another and better time, to reveal the truth. But for now, she reluctantly conceded and agreed that he was right.

"I will keep your truth hidden, Ben. Until you feel more comfortable and ready to reveal it." Sereia quietly agreed, finally moving to shift her legs onto the bed so she could curl up on the mattress. A series of winces and slow movements accompanied her decision to lay down, all due to the bruises and tenderness to her body from Ryvel's interrogation only the night before last. As her head nestled into the pillow, she raised a hand to her lower lip to check that the split had stopped bleeding and exhaled when her fingers came away clean.

Her eyes shifted up to Ben again as he remained by the bedside, "You cannot allow me to sleep for as long as I want, understand? We do not have that luxury. Though I do not think I will have much to worry about. You say to switch off my mind but... it will not be as easy as that Ben. Not when I know... when I know all three of you are in danger because of me." Her gaze dropped to the floor, the mermaid losing herself to that thought as horrible images were conjured up by her imagination of what Ryvel would do to them if he were to catch them. "Half hour, at the most. Then come and get me. We cannot stay here for long. Promise me."