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Tuesday, 31st May, 2005, 01:19 PM #91
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 2: The Shrike
Though she flew Milandir’s colors, it was clear that the Shrike was rigged as a pirate ship, built and specialized for speed and clandestine missions. The crew was a motley lot, ranging from disgraced soldiers to exiled noblemen, petty criminals to pardoned pirates.
“If one of those slobs steps within two feet of me I’ll gut him like the pig he is,” said Ilmarė. The leering and the heckling were starting to get to her.
Bijoux backed up against her as some of the sailors circled around them. “I’m beginning to agree with you,” she said.
“Stand down gentleMENNNNN!” shouted Captain Bezyli in his usual high-pitched reprimand. “Ladies, please join your comrades in my office.”
The sailors grudgingly parted to let the only females on the ship pass.
Bezyli closed the door behind them. Vlad and Cal were already inside. Cal was hunched over such that he had difficulty turning his head to listen to the Captain.
“Yes, well then. The ship we’re searching for is called the Dauntless. It was a sloop carrying Milandir’s annual shipment of blastpowder, along with a secret new weapon purchased by none other than King Osric IV. The pirates we seek dwell on the southern coast of Altheria, somewhere within the Ophidian Isle. We’ll be docking at Fort M’kimbe, a lighthouse keep manned by the Altherian Patrol.”
“So what do you think happened to this—“
Bezyli cut Vlad off. “Talk to my first mate,” he said curtly. “I’ve got better things to do than chat.” He opened the door again and pointed out.
“But—“ said Bijoux.
“His name is Baldric,” said Bezyli. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to chat with you all day.”
They all stepped out of the Captain’s quarters and out onto the deck, only to greet a semicircle of irate sailors. The door slammed behind them.
A grizzled old sailor in a black hat and an eye patch pointed at Ilmarė. “Arrr, lasses on a ship be bad luck.”
“That’s good,” said Ilmarė, glaring back at him, “because I’m not a woman. I am Elorii.”
“An’ ye look like a cat,” the old sailor said to Bijoux. “Th' ship we`re lookin' fer that sailed' down? They had a cat too.”
Bijoux gulped. “I am Fihali,” she said meekly.
“Arrr, ye`re mighty strange lookin' t' me. I dasn't like th' looks o' ye.”
A low, deep growl rumbled from Cal’s throat. Some of the crew took a step back.
Vlad kept his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Look, we didn’t come here to start any trouble.”
“Aye,” said the grizzled old sea dog, “but trouble be all we’ve got these days.” He jabbed a thumb at his own chest. “I be First Mate Baldric. An' I don’t care wi' th' captain thinks, I own this ship an' th' crew listens t' me. If ye want t' be on here, ye`re goin' t' be havin' t' pass th' test.”
Grumbles of “pass the test” and “they won’t do it” came from the assembled crew.
“What kind of test?” asked Vlad.
Baldric grinned a mouthful of rotten teeth. “Arr, that’s th’ rub. Ye need…” he leered closer to Ilmarė, “t’ sin’ a song.”
Ilmarė blinked. “What did he just say?”
“I think,” said Bijoux, “he wants us to sing a song?”
“Sing the song!” shouted the pirates over and over. “Sing the song!”
“Each o’ ye has a certain part t’play. An’ ye better sin’ it!”
Crazy Bob handed out slates with each part of the song. Cal turned his around several times.
“What’s this say?” he whispered to Bijoux.
The Fihali looked at Cal’s slate. “That’s the letter A, I believe.”
Ilmarė looked up from her slate. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“’Tis no joke, lass,” said Baldric. “Now sin’ when I point at ye. Are ye ready?”
They all looked at him mutely. One of the pirates shoved Vlad on the shoulder. He took a deep breath.
“Aye, aye, Baldric.”
Baldric put one hand to his ear and leaned forward. “I can’t hearrrrrrr yoooooooou!”
They all shouted at the top of their lungs, “AYE, AYE BALDRIC!”
“Ooooooooooooh who lives in th’ grotto down under th’ sea?”
Baldric pointed at Ilmarė. “Oh, for the love of Osalian! Lev—“
He pointed at Cal. “Uh…”
He pointed at Vlad. “Vi?”
He pointed at Bijoux. “Than.”
The crew started muttering.
“Nay, nay, nay ye`re screwin' 't up!” Baldric shouted. “Ye!” he pointed at Vlad. “Ye stand next t' th' lass. An' ye, ye scaly scallywag, ye switch places wi' th' lad!”
Vlad and Cal obliged.
“Now once more wi’ feeling!” The crew cheered and joined in.
“Who lives in th’ grotto down under th’ sea?
An aspect o' Yarris an' evil be he!
If nautical nightmares be somethin’ ye fear,
Then run fer yer lives and dump all yer gear!
Leviathan, Leviathan, Leviathan, le-VI-A-THANNNNNNN!”
The crew went wild, hooting and clapping them on the back.
Baldric cackled. “Ye`re nay such a bad sort after all! Let me introduce ye t' me crew.” He nodded over his right shoulder to a dour looking sailor with a big nose. “That thar’s Edward.” Baldric nodded to his left at a goggled-eyed sailor with buckteeth. “An' he’s Crazy Bob. We run th' Shrike an' keep th' lass' in tip-top shape. If ye need anythin', we’ll be happy t' be at yer service.” He bowed low.
“Why do you call him Crazy Bob?” asked Vlad.
Baldric leaned closer and whispered behind the back of one hand. “We don’t talk much about 't after his accident, ye know.”
Crazy Bob giggled to himself. “We’re all doomed!” He shouted at the top of his lungs with an insane grin plastered across his face. “The Children of Leviathan are cannibals! They have a flying serpent queen who can call up giant sea devils to swallow ships whole!”
“That’s very nice Bob,” said Baldric, “now back t’ ye duties.”
Crazy Bob nodded too many times and wandered off.
Vlad watched Crazy Bob go. The crew went back to their regular chores, the amusement over for a moment. “So, what have you heard about this mission?” asked Vlad.
“The ship we’re looking for was lost in the Ophidian Isles,” said Edward in monotone voice. “The Altherians can’t find who did it, even with their gunships.”
Baldric nodded. “Aye, ‘tis true. ‘Tis why they put us aboard. All desperate men. A ship o' fools, ya be seein', ‘cause nay sane man would risk comin' aboard such a voyage. ‘Tis suicide. But then, most o' us would be hangin’ anyway. Th' Shrike’s a regular ghost ship, 'tis.”
“Osalian help us,” said Ilmarė, pinching the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “This crew is the best Coryani can offer? It doesn’t even have Kham on it.”
“Who is this Kham?” asked Bijoux.
“Don’t worry,” said Vlad, staring out at the water. “You’ll know him when you see him.”
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Thursday, 2nd June, 2005, 01:15 PM #92
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 3a: Fort M’kimbe’
The Shrike rounded a dark rocky peninsula covered in wind-twisted trees.
“Fort M’kimbe hooooo!” shouted Captain Bezyli.
As soon as the captain confirmed the sighting, the crew visibly relaxed. As the Shrike sailed closer to land, they could make out a small stout keep with a tall lighthouse perched atop a cliff, all of it fashioned of huge, dark stone blocks. The fort flew Altherian colors and was lined with several squat cannons mounted on towerlets facing the sea.
Captain Bezyli gave the order to weigh anchor and lower a boat to go ashore. As the men jumped to it, Bezyli turned to his first mate.
“Mister Baldric, I will go ashore with Bob and Edward to secure provisions. You have the ship.”
“Aye, Captain,” said Baldric with a look of distaste he reserved only for the captain.
A rope ladder was rolled down and secured. The captain and his two crewmen descended to the little boat. Ilmarė, Bijoux and Vlad clambered down into it.
Edward eyed Cal. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
Calactyte, claws extended, put one large clawed foot onto the rope. It creaked under the weight.
“So long as he doesn’t rock the boat….” said Bezyli.
Despite their concerns, Cal managed to not capsize the boat. He looked around at them all.
“Nothing,” said Ilmarė. “Just don’t move too much.”
The boat pulled ashore at a long barnacle-encrusted stone dock that was streaked with rust. In the cliff wall was a carven doorway fitted with an oxidizing but sound portcullis. Beyond the doorway was a dark stairwell that led sharply upward.
Light flooded the stairwell as the sound of a stout trapdoor creaked open from above. The jingle of a key ring was followed by the appearance of a short, barrel-chested Altherian.
“Greetings,” he said with a slight Altherian accent. “I am Sergeant Chaga.” The portcullis winched up in front of him as he spoke. “I’m afraid the Captain of the Guard is away on official business.”
He led them back to the trapdoor, guiding them through a guardhouse to an outside courtyard.
“As you know, the Dauntless has been missing for nearly a month,” said Chaga. “I’m convinced that it was the Cult of the Leviathan that attacked it.”
“Did they know what was on board the ship?” asked Vlad. His eyes were on the oddly shaped interior of the keep and the towering lighthouse that jutted out of it.
“Normally I would say it was a random attack,” said Chaga. “But in this case they had help. One of our men doused the light from the lighthouse.”
There were many soldiers of the Patrol, men of every nation, whispering amongst themselves and eyeing them with curious glances.
Bijoux’s ears flattened against her head. “Why are they all staring?” she whispered aloud.
“Don’t mind them,” said Chaga. “Solitary station turns to comfortable solace and camaraderie here. The men aren’t much used to…” he looked Cal up and down, “visitors inside the walls.”
“I should like to have a few words with the traitor,” said Ilmarė.
“Wouldn’t we all,” said Chaga. “His name was Caskill.” He paused, shaking his head and chuckling to himself. “I’m sorry, you must understand that Caskill was one of us. He was a brother-in-arms, and although the man was strange looking, it was overlooked.”
Vlad was careful not to look at his three companions. “I know what you mean,” he said with a straight face.
“Caskill locked himself in this room.” He stopped at a stout wooden door with an inset iron lock. The door was marked with a small scarab beetle, the sacred symbol of Neroth. “He swallowed poisoned before he could be arrested and questioned.”
He unlocked the door, revealing a slim stair leading up to a square room, its confines dimly lit through the cracks of a high shuttered window. The room had a few shelves with chirurgeon’s tools, herbs and chemicals. The light fell on a table draped in a white cloth. Something large was beneath it.
After staring into the gloomy doorway for an uncomfortable moment, Chaga pointed and said, “He’s there.”
He turned on his heel and joined Captain Bezyli, Bob, and Edward at the bottom of the steps.
“So…” said Bijoux. “That’s him?”
Cal leaned down and sniffed the sheet.
“Well, I’m not touching that sheet,” Ilmarė said, crossing her arms.
Before anyone could say anything else, Cal yanked the sheet off of the corpse.
Caskill was monstrously large. At nearly seven feet tall and in excess of 300 pounds, his feet hung over the table. He was bald and covered with scars, his skin unnaturally pale and varicose. His extremities and mouth were tinged blue-green from the poison. Caskill’s mouth was agape and his teeth filed down to points. His wide blue eyes stared blankly upwards in a hideous expression.
“I liked him better with the sheet on,” said Bijoux.
“Look at his tattoo,” said Ilmarė. She pointed at Caskill’s chest. It was a large tattoo of a faceless demonic-looking man with webbed hands. Instead of legs, tentacles splayed out across Caskill’s broad chest.
Ilmarė turned to the others. “That’s the human god Yarris. They’ve twisted it into something else—“
Then Caskill bit her on the wrist.
The Elorii’s statement turned into a shriek as Caskill hopped up and grabbed her with one meaty paw. He hurled Ilmarė around like a rag doll, standing naked on the table.
Everything happened at once. Vlad drew his sword. Cal reached for his axe, but realized he no matter where he swung it; he would hit someone other than Caskill. Bijoux crouched on all fours.
“Somebody DO something!” shouted Ilmarė.
Caskill responded by worrying her arm like a dog. The Elorii shrieked again at the top of her lungs as she pulled a dagger from her belt.
“I can’t get a clear shot at him!” shouted Vlad, struggling to hack at a part of Caskill that wasn’t blocked by flailing Elorii.
“Me neither,” said Cal, gripping his axe tightly.
Bijoux didn’t wait for an opening. She leapt up on Caskill’s back, clawing at his face.
Ilmarė stabbed Caskill repeatedly in the chest and he finally let go, dumping her to the ground.
Caskill whirled, bloody foam flying from his mouth. He clawed at Bijoux over his shoulders, but his sheer bulk put him at a disadvantage. Blood dripped into his eyes from the deep gouges across his face.
With a roar, he leaped from the table through the shuttered window. As the wood splintered, there was a paralyzing moment when Bijoux, perched on Caskill’s shoulders, was framed in the window with a shocked expression. Then they both dropped from sight.
“Gods!” shouted Vlad.
Caskill’s hysterical laughter echoed in the room as he fell. It was punctuated by a horrible crunch. Then they heard no more.
Vlad slowly approached the window’s ledge, dreading what he would see when he looked down.
He nearly jumped out of his skin as Bijoux landed lightly on the windowsill, the skin flaps between her arms and hips extended.
Ilmarė tore a strip off of Caskill’s shroud and wrapped it around her arm. “Fihali can fly,” said Ilmarė, acting as if a supposedly dead man hadn’t just bitten her.
Bijoux smiled, showing her fangs as she hopped out of the window. “Can’t you?” she asked innocently.
Sunday, 5th June, 2005, 06:24 PM #93
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 3b: Fort M’kimbe
“You mean to tell me none of you noticed that Caskill had taken Blue Sleep?”
Ilmarė’s lip curled into a snarl as she thrust a small vial of blue liquid in front of the Sergeant’s nose. His eyes crossed to focus on it.
“No, we thought—“
“That he was dead? I find it very convenient that you left us in there with him to examine the body. Where is your surgeon?”
“Our surgeon doubles as a—“
“Have you ever tasted Blue Sleep before, Sergeant?”
The Sergeant shook his head.
“Then perhaps you’d like to taste some now,” she said with menace.
The Sergeant’s gulp was audible. “I don’t see what the problem is. Caskill’s dead—“
“You see this?” Ilmarė growled, pointing at the wide bite marks on her wrist. “NOT DEAD.”
She began to pace. “When you drink Blue Sleep, it lowers your breathing and heart rate. The subject falls into a catatonic slumber so deep that he appears dead. And don’t even get me started on the dreams. If you had anyone even slightly competent at this fort, maybe someone would have noticed that Caskill wasn’t dead. Or that he held a vial of this poison in one of his hands. Or that he was a six-foot tall freak with fangs who has no business being around civilized people.”
“Hey!” said Calactyte from behind. Vlad put one hand out to silence him.
Captain Bezyli entered the room. “That’s not all. One of the men said he saw an unearthly maiden with snakes for hair flying around in the fog on the eve that the Dauntless set to sea.”
Chaga looked relieved that Bezyli had arrived. “We’ve seen her around here before.”
“Once again,” said Ilmarė, shoving her blood-soaked wrist in Chaga’s face. “NOT DEAD.”
“We’re leaving,” said Bezyli. “Now.”
Ilmarė spun on her heel and walked away. The others followed her.
“I’m going to have to ask you to keep this information to yourselves,” said Captain Bezyli as he stepped onto the boat that would take them to the Shrike. Edward and Crazy Bob were already at the oars and had secured provisions for the journey. “The crew is prone to superstition. I don’t need further problems on deck.”
Ilmarė ignored him.
“How do you know so much about Blue Sleep?” asked Vlad.
“Because,” said Ilmarė, staring into the inky depths of the ocean, “I’ve used it before.”
Wednesday, 8th June, 2005, 12:29 AM #94
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 4a: Natives Are Restless
The Shrike raised anchor and was underway shortly. It didn’t take long for rumblings of insubordination to makes its way through the crew.
Baldric approached Ilmarė. “We’ve been wonderin’ what happened to yer arm, lass?” asked Baldric. She was obviously cradling one arm, covered in a bloodied bandage.
“A large man bit Ilmarė, then he jumped out the window,” said Cal matter-of-factly. “He’s dead now.”
Baldric peered at the Elorii’s arm. “Is this true?”
Ilmarė stared him straight in his lone good eye. “I walked into a door.”
Baldric sneered but said nothing else.
They sailed on through the evening as darkness and high tide set in, beckoning a looming mist upon the waves. The Shrike passed a few shallow spots in the water and a small verdant islet or two. Captain Bezyli ordered the men to take soundings and furl sail to slow the ship.
The crew became quiet, their eyes riveted to the sea, searching for jagged reef or monsters, real and imagined. Only the lapping waves and the creak of deck and ropes gave any sound.
As darkness descended, the mist became a chilling blanket of fog. The cliffs off the starboard side became visible. Minutes seemed to stretch into hours…when Cal blinked and cocked his head.
“What’s that?” the big lizard asked.
“What’s what?” responded Bijoux.
“The thumping,” Cal said, sniffing the air. “Something’s wrong.”
Then they all heard it. What sounded at first like a hollow log trapped in the surf became a steady, droning beat. Drums. Dozens of them.
The crew gripped their weapons tighter and scanned the sea. The only thing anyone could make out in the fog were a few mangrove trees, betraying the edge of nearby islands.
“I’m going to take the high ground for a better look,” Bijoux said to Vlad. He nodded, drawing his sword.
Bijoux bounded from mast to mast until she reached the crow’s nest. The fog was complete; beneath her was nothing but mist. She may as well have been atop a mountain crested by clouds.
Flares of light sailed through the darkness. It took Bijoux a moment to recognize them as flaming spears.
The sounds of battle erupted below her. She strained to make out any one particular form, but all the fighting did was to churn the fog around even more.
Suddenly, a lithe, jet-skinned woman erupted from the swirling fog over the aft deck in mid-air. Her graceful form was wreathed in the silver-green moonlight, obscuring her face in shadow. In place of hair, serpents writhed and hissed upon her head.
Bijoux tensed. She couldn’t close the distance and reliably land anywhere. If she glided on the currents, they could end up tossing her into the ocean, lost amidst the fog.
A piercing green light flared from the flying woman’s eyes. Someone cried out and there was the sound of cracking rock.
Bijoux concentrated. A low purr rumbled deep in her chest as she sent out a plea to the sea creatures of Onara. She wasn’t sure what she would respond, but she hoped it was big and mean.
Friday, 10th June, 2005, 03:42 AM #95
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 4b: Natives Are Restless
The ship teetered from the rocking waves and the weight of many fighting forms upon her deck, causing the statue of Captain Bezyli to slip over the rail. With a splash, he disappeared forever into the briny depths. The woman flew backwards into the obscuring mist.
“Drive them back!” shouted Baldric, skewering one of the saw-toothed cannibals and kicking him off his sword.
Calactyte swung at a cannibal and missed, connecting with the ropes hung along the mast instead. Released from its moorings, a pole snapped out of the fog and whipped three of the cannibals back into the ocean.
Vlad blocked the spiked club of one of the cultists with his shield and stabbed his assailant in the throat. Another cannibal snuck up behind Vlad but was smothered by a falling sail, released from the pole Cal had struck. Vlad looked over his shoulder in surprise. “Wow. Nice shot.”
Cal shrugged back at Vlad.
Ilmarė had a bucket in her hands. “Put out the fires!”
The drums started again and suddenly the cultists were diving off the ship. Baldric took the helm, steering the Shrike through the channel.
Flames sprouted up higher in places all across the ship.
Someone, maybe Crazy Bob, shouted, “We’re doomed! Swim for it!”
Then they saw it. It dove in and out of the waves, its slick form a welcome sight to sailors everywhere.
“A good omen!” shouted one of the men.
“That’s right ya scurvy dogs!” shouted Baldric. “Now grab those buckets! Put yer backs into it!”
The men resumed putting out the fires with vigor.
Bijoux landed lightly on the deck. “What is that?”
“That’s a dolphin,” said Ilmarė, amused. “The humans apparently think it’s a good omen.”
The dolphin chattered and waved with one fin at Bijoux.
“Did you have something to do with that?” the Elorii asked.
Bijoux nodded. “I was hoping for something…bigger.”
The crew had put out the most dangerous fires. The Shrike would survive another night.
“We pirates have a legend,” said Edward. “The god Yarris was kidnapped by pirates, who mistook him for a wealthy prince capable of bringing them a hearty ransom. No sooner had the boat set sail with the captive Yarris onboard than the god caused seaweed to grow up along the sides of the boat, the leaves wrapping themselves around the mast and rigging, and the oars became eels. The pirates jumped overboard in their terror, yet as they floated in the sea Yarris showed compassion for them. As he uttered the words “I will make you happy! In my heart, I honor you”, all the pirates were transformed into dolphins, never again to harm or do wrong, but instead to fulfill their destiny of helping those in need, and providing support and assistance when called upon.”
Baldric appraised Bijoux as if he had met her for the first time. “Don’t underestimate tha power of great things in small packages,” he said.
Monday, 13th June, 2005, 01:10 PM #96
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 5: Mutiny
“We’ve got to get back to Fort M’kimbe!” shouted Crazy Bob. “When the fog clears we should get out of this forsaken place!”
“Yer talkin’ mutiny lad,” said Baldric. “I’m the ranking officer on this ship! That makes me yer new Captain. And I say yer mutinyin’. And ye know the penalty for mutiny.”
Sailors reached for sabers and belaying pins. Some lined up behind Crazy Bob. Others stood behind their new captain.
“Stand down!” shouted Baldric. “Yer duty is tah Milandir and King Osric. And don’t forget yer reward…”
The sailors shouts drowned out the rest of what he said.
“I don’t have time for this.” Ilmarė stepped forward and drew her slim longsword. “If you want to mutiny, you’ll have to deal with me.”
Her threat drew snickers from the mob.
“And me,” said Vlad. He drew his sword and stood next to her.
The mob stopped snickering.
“And me,” said Cal. The big lizard didn’t even bother to pull out his axe. He just flexed his claws.
The mob took a step back.
“Look!” shouted Bijoux, pointing off the starboard bow.
It was an Altherian man, snagged in a patch of vines on a nearby isle. The man was unconscious, draped in a bleached leather overcoat. His skin and lips were cracked and peeling. He had been out in the sun for far too long.
“It’s Kham!” shouted Vlad.
Thursday, 16th June, 2005, 02:06 AM #97
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 6: Tentacles
“Took you guys long enough,” said Kham, his eyes still crusted shut.
“Easy Kham,” said Vlad. “You’ve been through a lot.”
Kham barely moved his head. It was a sign of disagreement. “I know where…the cultists are. I escaped…the cargo…”
“If you were the specialist for the cargo,” said Ilmarė, “then what was the cargo?”
“Hi…elf,” said Kham. “Good to see you…too.”
Ilmarė couldn’t help but smile. “It’s a weapon, isn’t it? Something the Altherians would be foolish enough to put you in charge of.”
“Cannon,” said Kham. “We’ve got to get it back…or blow it up.”
“Great,” said Vlad. “Well, now we know our mission. As soon as you’re rested—“
“No,” said Kham, clutching Vlad’s wrist. “Now.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Kham,” said Ilmarė. “You’re in no condition to go anywhere.”
One eye cracked open. “You’re right.” Kham pointed at Calactyte, who stood outside of the Captain’s cabin, watching the exchange with curiosity. “But I can…hitch a ride.”
Everyone turned to look at Cal. “What?”
Just then the ship listed to the port dramatically, as if the keel snagged on something.
“What th’ hell?” shouted Baldric. The crew shouted a litany of expletives in surprise.
Suddenly, the ship lurched forward violently, enough to knock people to the deck. The ship sluiced forward for a bit then slowed, and lurched again.
The pattern continued unabated, as if the Shrike was being dragged forward by something very large beneath her.
Bijoux peered over the edge, watching the undulating dark mass that dragged the ship along. “I didn’t summon that,” she said.
“Who lives in a grotto down under the sea,” sang Calactyte behind them.
“Leviathan,” replied Vlad.
Sunday, 19th June, 2005, 09:17 PM #98
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 7: The Island
The Shrike was pulled through tropic blue-green stretches of water, past a series of overlapping islands lush with emerald jungle copses, pale beaches and buzzing mangrove swamps. The place was strangely devoid of fauna, barring the occasional stingray or flitting silvery fish. The sky was so dark with clouds that it almost seemed like night. The air had turned frigid, causing a diaphanous mist that played across the island dotted seascape.
As the Shrike rounded a mangrove islet, Kham pointed to another island emerging from the mist behind it. It was a large archipelago with a tree-shrouded cove that rose in steep cliffs.
“There,” said Kham. “The lair of the Leviathan.”
They had created a truss for Kham and strapped it to Cal’s back, over the shoulder of the Ss’ressen. Kham was still weak as a kitten, although he was more aware of his surroundings after drinking some water.
The lurching stopped. Baldric immediately took control of the ship and sailed the Shrike around the lesser isle to use the trees for cover.
“Well,” said Vlad, strapping his shield on his back, “no time like the present.”
As they boarded the little boat, the crew wished them good luck. All except Baldric.
The crew parted as Baldric approached Ilmarė. He had an ivory handled knife in a leather sheath in his hand.
Baldric looked the blade over thoughtfully. “This be th' Captain’s knife. It nere failed th' lad, e'en in th' worst o' odds. I didna like th' lad much, but he be a jack an' our comrade. His death requires...vindication.”
Baldric put his hand on Ilmarė’s shoulder. His expression changed from a kindly old salt to that of a bloodthirsty pirate. “Allow Captain Bezyli his final retort.”
“I’m only borrowing it,” said Ilmarė softly. She plucked the knife out of Baldric’s weathered hands and tucked it into her belt. “It belongs in your hands.” Ilmarė closed Baldric’s hands. “A captain’s hands.”
Then the little boat with its motley crew was lowered into the sea.
Wednesday, 22nd June, 2005, 04:11 AM #99
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 8a: The Caves
As they approached the island, they could see an ancient vine-encrusted temple atop the cliff at the far end of the cove, some distance away.
“That’s where the Children of Leviathan make their homes,” said Kham, pointing over Cal’s shoulder at the temple. “I escaped through there,” he pointed at the small beach on the western edge of the cove. A cave entrance lay beyond.
They landed and made their way into the dark cave. Despite its proximity to the water, it was dry. It reeked of decaying fish and seaweed.
“At the rear of this cave is a damp passageway that slopes downward,” said Kham. “It leads to a pool and steps up to a larger cavern with a hole in the roof. I remember seeing a winch mounted on the edge of the hole when I fled, so I suspect they must be keeping their booty or supplies there. Look!”
He pointed to a pile of creates near one wall. They had a Mhyrcian merchant stamp on them.
“Cargo of the Dauntless,” said Vlad.
Hanging on the far end of the cave were four water skins and a gourd.
“Just exactly how did you escape?” asked Ilmarė.
“Through here,” Kham pointed at the passageway that descended into darkness.
“Maybe you’re still a little dehydrated,” said Vlad. “That passageway is filled with water.”
Kham shook his head. “No, no, no. It was dry when I was here.”
“High tide,” said Bijoux. “How far is it to the cave?”
“Far,” said Kham. All the talking tired him out. “Far enough that I don’t think you can swim it.”
Cal loosened the straps that held Kham and plopped him on the ground.
“Ow,” said Kham.
He sniffed the gourd and then took a swig of it. Flashing his companions a wide, toothy grin, he dove into the inky water and disappeared from sight.
“He’s not by any chance part-frog, is he?” asked Kham.
“I think he’s more reptile, less amphibian,” said Vlad.
“Then he’s a dead reptile,” said Kham. He closed his eyes. “Wake me when it’s over.”
Moments later Cal resurfaced. He reared back and vomited a huge amount of seawater.
“It lets you breathe water,” said the Ss’ressen. Then he roughly picked up Kham.
His eyes fluttered open. “Wha…?”
“Drink,” said Cal, shoving the gourd into his mouth and upending its contents. Kham sputtered in surprise as the liquid poured down his throat.
“Wait a minute,” said Kham, “if you think I’m going to go down there strapped to your back you are out of scaly mind! What if the potion only works on lizards?”
“Then you will drown,” said Cal. He tightened the straps and this time tied Kham so that they were back to back. Cal threw the gourd to the others.
“I want to be strapped to somebody else!” said Kham, looking around desperately for sympathy. “Why am I attached to the suicidal alligator?”
“Drink. Then follow,” said Cal. Before Kham could say any more, he dove into the water.
“Will they be alright?” asked Bijoux, peering into the contents of the gourd. She sipped from the gourd.
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” said Ilmarė. “Just think of it as Kham getting what he deserves.”
Vlad took a swig of the gourd and dove into the water.
“What did he do?” asked Bijoux.
Ilmarė finished off the contents of the gourd.
“What didn’t he do?” she responded. Then she dove into the water.
Bijoux sighed. “I hate water,” she said.
Then she followed Ilmarė into the cold water of the passageway.
Saturday, 25th June, 2005, 01:58 PM #100
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
The Children of Leviathan - Part 8b: The Caves
They crept up a naturally hewn stairway to get a better view of the cavern, which had a gaping hole in the roof. A winch hung from the lip. The cavern walls danced with a lurid play of shadows and light from the top of the steps.
Once they reached the top, a large pile of crates, barrels and chests were visible at the center of the tier. Then the source of the light became apparent.
It was the lithe black woman that killed Captain Bezyli, her head wreathed with writhing snakes. She faced a stone altar that shed a sickly greenish flame, its surface carved with carven images. A well-muscled man with a wicked looking club lined with razor sharp shark teeth stood behind it.
Kham coughed and wheezed at Cal, spitting up seawater. “If the ladies weren’t taking a bath,” he said in reference to his handgonnes, “I’d shoot you.”
“Shh!” hissed Ilmarė.
“Uh, I think they see us,” said Vlad.
The woman turned towards them, her face obscured by a scaly pulsing green mask studded with gems, coral and crowned with swaying serpents. The large man grinned a grin filled with sharpened teeth. He struck a tubular bell next to him that resounded with a hollow peal.
“Get ready,” said Vlad, drawing his sword.
With a roar, the cultist bounded up a chest to vault onto the hanging rope. He slashed at the rope and something gave, swinging him towards Vlad.
“Down!” shouted Vlad as the winch whistled overhead.
The WOOSH of a spiked club penetrated the air where Vlad’s head had been. Vlad turned to face his assailant. Cal spun his axe out from his back, nearly nicking Kham in the face.
“Target the woman!” shouted Ilmarė. She drew her bow and fired, but the masked woman fled through a door on the other side of the altar.
Vlad parried another blow with his shield and stabbed the big man in the thigh. The retaliating swing from the cultist nearly pushed him off the edge of the tier into the water. He teetered for a moment and then righted himself even as the cultist lunged forward.
It was a mistake. Vlad was not nearly as unbalanced as he appeared. He hunched low and stabbed the cultist in the abdomen. The cultist fell to the ground in a pool of blood.
“I could get used to fighting in chainmail,” Vlad said with a satisfied smile.
“Who lives in a grotto down under the sea,” sang Cal.
“Why do you keep singing that damn…oh…” Kham craned his neck to see. The Ss’ressen and the Val were both staring upwards with wide eyes.
Vlad spun around to see a giant octopus, its rubbery skin covered in seaweed and slime, crawling itself along the cliff where he stood.
“We can take it Cal,” said Vlad, hunching down behind his shield. Quintus’ words echoed in his head. “Stand your ground!”
Five tentacles snaked up over the cliff, each wielding a longsword. They snapped and darted like snakes, gifted with inhuman speed no human swordsman could ever match.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Ilmarė, knocking another arrow.
Vlad didn’t have time to respond as two blades struck at him simultaneously. He blocked one with his shield and parried the other with his longsword. The blows were strong enough to rattle his teeth.
Cal suffered the wrath of three of the swords and he didn’t have the benefit of a shield. A gash appeared in his scales along his chest and another on his thigh, spinning him about like a top. Ss’ressen and passenger went flying in different directions.
“Oh crap,” said Vlad as all five tentacles arched backwards to strike at him.