Before you is a well, a dilapidated thing filled not with water, but with a darkness so deep that you dare not go any closer for fear that you be pulled in. Behind you, a building—a house? a church?—and candles, so many candles, bright, blinding, and so great is their light that the glinting of the false-stars can't be seen. The only thing that the candles cannot illuminate are the people, the hooded figures skulking forward like creeping shadows. You can see their faces, but you cannot describe them. They are void of features save for their red smiles and the strange necklaces of stitches they wear around their throats.
The moist, warm air smells like seasoning and Mutersalt and something juicier, and your mouth waters even as your stomach lurches. A bell tolls in the distance. A man with a kind smile steps out of the congregation of shadows, holding a tray of red meat. "You have faced so much hardship," the man says. "Your toil must have left you hungry. Eat. Take your fill. There is enough to indulge."
So you do; you are ravenous. You descend upon the meat like the Vake descends upon its quarry, and you feast. The bell still rings, steady in pace but growing louder. For a moment, you almost think you hear the bell weeping instead of tolling, desperate sobs of "You wouldn't do this to your own brother—"
The moment passes.
Your belly bulges with its lot when you are done. Your tongue slicks over your teeth, seeking out any lingering taste. The smiling man places a gentle hand on your shoulder. "The well thirsts," he says. You had forgotten about it completely, and you turn your attention to it now. "Do you hear it?" You're confused for a beat, but—yes, there it is. A menacing sussurus of a mighty thirst seeps out, staining the tolls of the bell. "It drinks color," he whispers into your ear, his breath hot and stinking like steaming meat. "And it drinks memories. It will be a mutually beneficial transaction."
The shadows silhouetted by the candle-light move forward. The last thing you see before the black completely consumes you is a white smile trimmed in red. But the cage of darkness cannot keep out sound as it does light; contrarily the gongs of that God-forsaken bell are louder than ever, and they sound like the wailing of a dying man. The noise assaults a part of your forehead with bludgeoning strokes. You scream. The pain is too great. The well quenches itself as you fissure, writhe, rip, crack. The bell rings, and rings, and rings—
You violently wake. The bell still rings, but quietly now, and it echoes in time with whatever invisible force takes to your head like a hammer takes to an anvil. You fly out of bed and stumble onto the deck, racing to get to the side of the boat against the sick clawing up your throat.
You vomit, think through the body-wracking heaves, At least it's not red. Then you wonder why your vomit would be red. You wonder what made you think that at all.
You know you dreamed about something awful. The dread clings to you even in wakefulness. But the details elude you, sordid but slippery, a single Snuffer in a dense crowd. The bell, of course, still ringing, has followed you out of the dream. There was an island, and— candles, shadowy figures—
A red smile.
Your head aches.
You startle with a jerk and a cry cut off as soon as it starts. The Captain stands behind you, hands held up in a gesture one might use to calm a rearing animal. He makes no move to touch you, a thing for which you are thankful. Any semblance of contact would likely make you sick again. You groan, digging the heels of your hands into your eyes and then hissing when your fingers press on the sigil. You push your back against the wall and sink to the floor. You hear shuffling, and after a pause you glance over to see that the Captain has slid down to sit on the ground beside you.
You stare down at your hands to see that your right one is covered with blood. The color invokes such a strong reaction in you that you shout in alarm, before remembering that the brand on your forehead bleeds on occasion. You have to remind yourself through deep breaths that though something in your dream was red, it did not follow you out into the conscious realm.
There is the rhythmic creaking of the ship, the waves of the Zee curling around the hull. The...the bell, far away but very there. Above you, a large shadow crawls across the False-Stars and disappears into the dark again. The Captain is a calming presence beside you. He doesn't speak. He doesn't move. He exists, a warm body and steady breathing, and that is enough.
A drop of blood falls before your right eye, and on instinct you reach up to wipe it away before realizing that it would only spread the mess around your face more, and freeze, hand hovering in the air. You hear the Captain shift beside you, and then, slowly, a cloth enters your vision. There is enough time to stop it. You don't. With the most gentle of touches, far tender than one would expect from a man at Zee, he drags the cloth over your face. His other hand rests on your jaw to keep your head steady. It stays for a moment even after he lowers the cloth, until that too falls away, and you remember to breathe.
Once it becomes apparent to you that the Captain will not speak first, you say, "Do I need to talk about it?"
A chuckle, more breath than voice. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't force my crew to tell me everything. But...you can." The volume and humor of his voice recedes, leaving behind a quiet and soothing tenor. "If you want to. You don't need to, but I need you to know that you can, and if I can do anything to help you, I will."
"By the Three, you're not always like this, are you? This...altruistic?" you ask, dismayed.
He grins. "It's one of my charms."
Your laugh is more exhausted than it is humorous. "This sort of attitude very well might get you killed out at Zee. The Neath isn't kind, my friend. The Zee is even less so; she is cruel and fickle."
"She hasn't hurt me yet," the Captain says.
"You're tempting fate, now that you've said that."
"Fate can put its echoes where its mouth is."
You stand up and cross your arms, sighing. "You'll not think me a madman?"
"We're all madmen here, Navigator. You have to be mad to choose the Zee over London."
You bark out another incisive, humorless laugh. "My sleep is riddled with dreams, Captain." You realize you're pacing. Something warm and thick slides down your temple, and you know without a doubt that it is blood again, having welled up from your burning sigil. It throbs in time to that bell. "I see a lonely house lit by tallow and wick. A bell is ringing. It rings now! Do you hear it?" You turn on the Captain. The damn sigil itches, and you scratch and scratch. "Do you know this place, Captain?"