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Forgotten Lore (Updated M-W-F)

Lazybones

Explorer
Book 10: ADVENTURES ON THE HIGH SEAS

Chapter 240

Standing on the aft deck of the Golden Gull, Li Syval already fading into the horizon behind them, Galendra Sond felt free for the first time in weeks.

She stood at the gap in the human-sized railing, where a small platform built specifically for her overlooked the main deck below. A large post as thick around as her waist rose up from the center of the platform, wound in thick coils of hemp rope.

She stepped up onto the platform and watched her crew work her ship. The Gull seemed to leap across the waves, as if it too was eager to leave the city and its “civilization” behind.

Her expression slipped a bit as she saw a figure stumble over a coil of ropes below, but even that did little to erode her mood.

“Some of those new hires act like they’ve never been on a real ship,” she said.

Trev, standing at the full railing behind her, said, “There wasn’t much to choose from, Captain. Not after they learned our destination.”

She looked over her shoulder at her second-in-command. “You all right, Trev? You’ve seemed distracted of late.”

He looked at her, his pale blue eyes intense. “I’m sorry, Captain. Just thinking about the crossing, I guess.”

“Well, think about it where the crew can’t see,” she said. Turning back toward the bow, she added quietly, “It will be all right.”

There was a small commotion as her passengers came up onto the deck. Some of them, at least; she would be surprised if the dwarf had recovered enough for a stroll up-decks, and they hadn’t even hit serious water yet. The half-elven woman saw her and waved; Sond allowed herself an acknowledging salute.

“What do you think of our guests, Trev?” she asked.

“They know enough to stay out of the way,” her second replied.

She felt a sudden change in the breeze. “Time to step up,” she said. Trev started toward the rope-covered post, but she forestalled him with a raised hand. “I think we can hold on that for now,” she said. Time for a show, she thought. A proper display of what the tiny captain of the Gull could do might be just the thing, both for the new members of the crew and for the passengers whose gold was paying for this voyage.

She didn’t bother with an announcement, just stepped up to the front of the raised platform. For a moment nothing changed, then some of the old hands saw her and nudged their newer compatriots. Soon everyone not directly involved in a critical task was watching her, including the motley assortment of passengers standing in a close knot beside the main mast. Perfect she thought.

She raised her hands, and embraced the wind.

She had done this hundreds of times, but it still never ceased to fill her with amazement when the wind responded to her call. The sails, which had begun to droop as the breeze shifted, now filled again. They surged against their spars and lines, causing the entire mast to creak from the effort of holding the sails back. But the solid wood held, and the entire ship surged ahead in response. Such was her control that the passengers’ cloaks were barely ruffled. They looked impressed, or at least were looking at her in a new light.

Galendra laughed as the wind swirled around her and carried the Golden Gull forward across the waves.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 241

Quellan was alone in the tiny chamber—cabin, he amended—that he, Kosk, Bredan, and Rodan shared when a knock came on the corridor door.

The cleric let out a small sigh. He placed a bookmark and carefully closed the volume he’d been reading before setting it on the fold-down bed next to him. “Enter,” he said.

One of the members of the Gull’s crew swung the door open and stuck his head into the cabin. “Beggin’ your pardon, m’lord,” he said. “Cap’n said to tell all you passengers that there may be rough seas ahead. The ship’s ready, just wanted to make sure you weren’t alarmed.”

Quellan nodded. “I will pass that information along to my colleagues,” he said.

“Your friend, the dwarf, I hope ‘e’s feeling better,” the man said.

At the mention of Kosk’s seasickness Quellan’s own stomach roiled in sympathy. With a firm effort of will he quenched the feeling, though he knew that it could get much worse, especially out here on the open waters of the Blue Deep. “He’s trying one of the cargo holds below. I read that sometimes it can help to get as close to the bottom of the ship—excuse me, the keel—when dealing with seasickness.”

“That sounds logical,” the crewman said. “Well, excuse me, m’lord…”

“Wait,” Quellan said. “You’re one of the new crew we took on in Li Syval, aren’t you?”

“Yes, m’lord,” the man said.

“My name’s Quellan.”

“Ah… Kavek, m’lord.”

“Excuse my nosiness, Kavek, but I’m something of a student of accents. I cannot quite place yours. You’re not Syvalian?”

“Ah, no, m’lord. Bit of a mixture, I am. I was born in Zesania, but I traveled to many lands in my youth.”

“That’s on the far side of Voralis,” Quellan said. “You’ve traveled far.”

“That’s the life of a sailor, m’lord.”

“Quellan. I’m not a lord, Kavek, I’m just a humble servant of the gods.”

“As you say, m—sir,” Kavek said. “You seem something of a traveler yourself, if you don’t mind me saying. Not many continentals make their way to Weltarin.”

“No, it is not a journey I would have expected to make,” Quellan said with a laugh.

“Must be a great treasure you’re seeking, sir.”

“Treasure? What makes you say that?”

“Why else would someone go all that way, sir?”

Quellan looked thoughtful. “I suppose that treasure comes in various forms.”

The cleric had to reach suddenly for his book as the ship rocked heavily, causing the blanket covering the bed to shift toward the floor. He was able to catch it before it slid off the suddenly precarious surface. “Ah, I’d best get back to my duties, sir,” Kavek said.

“Thank you for the warning,” Quellan said.

When the door had shut again Quellan held onto his book. He considered seeking out the others to pass on the captain’s warning, but decided they would all learn soon enough. He thought about heading across the hall to check in on Glori and Xeeta. Their room was even smaller than this one, a closet barely big enough to fit the two women. Kalasien and his two remaining soldiers had the last cabin, a narrow wedge that fit into the bow of the ship. Quellan had seen it briefly earlier and was grateful that the Arreshian agent had volunteered to take the forward space. From the way it bobbed up and down even on calm seas, he doubted that he would be any better off than Kosk was right now if he’d been assigned that spot.

The ship rocked heavily again. Quellan doubted he’d be able to get much more reading done during the coming storm. He carefully packed the book away, then made himself comfortable—as comfortable as one could get here—then closed his eyes. Praying had always helped him overcome physical discomfort, and he could feel the distractions of the ship and its constant motion fall away as he opened his mind to his god.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 242

He was in the last place she looked.

One wouldn’t think that it would be hard to find someone on a ship, but the Golden Gull had a surprising number of hidden nooks and crannies. Most of her fellow passengers remained in their cabins, but she’d run into Kalasien, apparently exploring the ship much as she was, and Kosk, the dwarf lying on the floor of the lower cargo hold. He’d looked like he was perhaps trying to meditate, and he looked so unhappy that she hadn’t interrupted him.

She finally found her quarry in the small storeroom that abutted the ship’s compact galley. In hindsight, it made sense; it was a quiet, solitary space, equipped with a small porthole. It was open as she came in, allowing in a bit of light and some fresh air from outside the ship.

She had to duck low to fit under the threshold of the hatch that accessed the storage compartment. Rodan was seated on a pile of full sacks stacked under the porthole. He was reading a book, but looked up as she entered. With the light behind him she couldn’t quite make out what feeling flashed in his eyes in reaction to her presence, but at least he didn’t tell her to leave.

“This is a good spot,” she said. “Quiet.”

“I bribed the cook to let me stay,” he said.

“Fresher air up top.”

“The crew are… not comfortable. My appearance.” With a flourish of his hand he highlighted features that were much like hers, though with a slightly darker tint to his skin and horns that were straighter, equipped with slight ridges along their length.

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “The amulet… you could wear it…”

He shook his head. “No. I was angry at first when you claimed it, but not anymore. I’ve decided I’m done with hiding what I am.”

There was a pause. There wasn’t really any space for her to sit, so all she could do was lean against the crates that were packed tight into the space. “What are you reading?” she finally asked.

“A book on the New World,” he said. “Quellan loaned it to me. The man carries an impressive library with him.”

“Anything useful about where we’re going?” she asked. She knew that Bredan had briefed him about their quest, at least the part of it that they all knew. He had told her that much himself.

“Not really. It’s mostly adventure stories and wild tales about monsters and lost kingdoms. But it is diverting. Perfect for a long sea voyage.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I said it before, but I want you to know that it’s genuine. I had no idea…”

He held up a hand to forestall her. “I know. I spoke with Quellan about that, the ritual spell that they used to bring us back together. It was not your fault, you were an unwilling participant. It was our blood that bound us together.”

“If there would have been any way I could have fought them…”

“I don’t blame you.”

“I blame myself. I can’t help it. Kalev knew I was coming. Apparently, he had magic that could track us. I would have stayed in Severon, had I known.”

“There was no way you could have known. And Bredan needed you.”

“Yes.” She looked away for a moment, but there wasn’t much else to look at in the tiny room except for him. “You didn’t have to come with us. You could have gone back.”

“I’d come halfway around the world in a heartbeat,” Rodan said. “Why not go the rest of the way?”

“This part is harder,” she said.

“Yes. He told me some of it. What he himself understands.”

“I think he understands more than he thinks.”

“I think we should be more understanding, being what we are. There was so much that was kept hidden from us.”

“I’m here,” she said.

“Not what one would expect,” he said. “Two of our kind. Engaged in a quest to save the world.”

“I’m not here for the world.”

“What then?”

“These people… they’re the closest thing to a real family I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for them. And from the start, it was Bredan who was my champion, who urged the others to give me a chance. Even when I didn’t believe that I deserved one.”

Rodan nodded. “Maybe I want something like that too,” he said. “If you don’t mind sharing.”

“It’s too late now,” she said.

“It’s a big boat.”

“No. You’re my family too, and not just in the way that Kalev thought. In truth, I was a little relieved that you did agree to come with us to Weltarin. I understand why you wouldn’t before. You’re the only part of Li Syval that I want to keep in my life.”

“It will always be a part of us,” he said.

“Yes. But it won’t define who we are.”

He nodded, and held out a hand, the last two fingers extended.

Her eyes widened in surprise, but after a moment she duplicated the gesture, touching her fingers to his and then hooking them briefly together.

“Family,” he said.

“Family,” she echoed back.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 243

Glori hadn’t realized how stale the air within the ship had gotten until she stepped out onto the main deck. The sharp wind immediately ruffled her hair—she’d let it grow out some since they’d left Arresh—and swirled it around her head. She’d gotten used to the constant rolling of the ship under her, but it now felt like it was deliberately trying to buck her. Sailors rushed about, intent on their tasks and paying her only enough heed to avoid a collision.

She saw Bredan, standing against the port rail. He was staring out at the reason for the crew’s bustle. To her eyes the dark clouds seemed to have crept almost to the surface of the ocean, though she knew that was an illusion of the horizon. Still, they seemed disturbingly close.

She went over to him, careful of the swaying deck. “What do you see?” she asked.

“The vastness of eternity,” he said without turning. “The raw chaos of the multiverse.” After a moment he turned to her and grinned. “Or maybe it’s just a storm.”

She punched him hard on the shoulder. “Jerk.” She peered out at the mass of clouds. “It does look big, though. And mean.”

“The captain and crew know what they’re doing,” Bredan said. “They’ve been out here before.”

“Most of them haven’t,” Glori said. “The crew, that is. I’ve chatted with a few, and while they don’t seem to want to talk about it, I gather that the last time they came out here things didn’t go so well.”

“The captain can control the weather,” Bredan said.

They both glanced up at the platform where Captain Sond had been earlier, but the space was vacant at the moment. She was likely resting, saving up her strength for what was coming, Glori thought. “She’s a storm sorceress,” she said. “But her power is limited. It’s impressive, but I noticed earlier that it doesn’t quite cover the entire ship, and while she can redirect the wind, she cannot affect the waves.”

“There’s nothing we can do about it now,” he said. But she saw the way his hands tightened on the rail.

“You should relax,” she said. “You know, if you’d like some privacy, you could use our cabin. Xeeta wouldn’t mind, she said that she patched things up with Rodan.”

He shot her a dry look. “I don’t need help with my romantic life,” he said.

“Just trying to help.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just… we haven’t been together since Li Syval. I don’t know if it’s him, or me, or… I guess the moment just passed.”

She put her hand on his arm. “Bredan… I know that the last few months have been tough on you, with all that’s happened, all that’s happening with you. But you can’t let your humanity go.”

He clasped her hand with his. “I know. Maybe after all this is over… I don’t know.”

Captain Sond emerged from one the hatches that led below. She had no difficulty moving about the ship, though nearly everything was sized for a human. She saw the two of them and came over. “You should get below,” she told them. “We’re tying everything down for the storm.”

“Is there anything we can do to help, Captain?” Glori asked.

“Just stay below and don’t get in the way,” she said. But after a moment she added, “I’m sorry. There isn’t anything you can do. The storm will be on us in less than an hour.”

“There’s no way we could avoid it?” Bredan asked. “Your power…”

“It’s moving much faster than we can, even with the trailing wind,” Sond explained. “No, when a storm like this one decides it wants you, there’s nothing you can do except ride it out.”

“If any of your crew get injured, Quellan or I can help,” Glori said. “We both have healing spells.”

“Thank you,” Sond said. “I will keep that in mind.”

She headed off to supervise her crew in the preparation of the ship, and Glori and Bredan went below. As the warrior navigated the narrow hatchway, he bumped his head. “Ouch.”

“It’s difficult, feeling so powerless,” Glori said as they made their way back toward their cabins. The only light was the dim glow that filtered down through the tiny window in the hatch, so they had to feel their way along the corridor. Fortunately, there was nothing to stumble into or bounce their heads off of; by necessity such hazards were kept to a minimum on a seagoing vessel.

“I’ve had a chance to get used to it,” Bredan said.

She paused at the door to her cabin, just opposite the one he shared with the other men. She touched his arm again, offering silent support. “Thanks,” he said. “For sticking with me.”

“Somebody has to keep you out of trouble,” she said. “Besides, who else could write the saga of your adventures?”

“I just hope I’m there to read it,” he said.

“We will be,” she said. “We stay together, watch each other’s backs, and we will be. Anyway, I’ll let you be the one to tell Kosk the news about the storm.”

He snorted. “Yeah, thanks.”
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 244

The storm assaulted the Golden Gull, the vessel bouncing over waves that rose higher than the ship’s decks, cresting each one only to plummet down into the trough to await the next.

In their tiny cabin Bredan and his companions huddled miserably. Kosk huddled over a bucket in the corner, while Quellan was just a limp form in his bunk. The half-orc had finally used a rope to fasten himself in place after the fifth time the bucking ship had hurled him from the narrow bed. It was loud, the sounds of the waves striking the hull like a battering ram, the shriek of the wind clear despite the thick layers of wood that separated them from the storm’s fury.

With an effort, Bredan managed to lift his head from his bunk. He could see Rodan lying in the hammock that he had gotten from a member of the crew. The swaying of it threatened to unleash a fresh wave of nausea, even though Bredan doubted he had anything left he could throw up. They’d all visited the bucket, and the floor was slick with vomit that hadn’t made it that far.

“You seem rather calm,” Bredan said. He almost had to shout for it to be heard over the din of the storm.

Rodan looked at him. The distinctive outline of his horns was clearly visible even in the poor light. “There’s nothing we can do in any case,” the tiefling said.

It was similar to what Bredan had told Glori earlier, but it was harder to cling to equanimity when the room was bouncing and sliding around you. Bredan pushed himself up. “I’m going to check on Glori and Xeeta,” he said. His first effort to stand failed, but after waiting a moment to gauge the shifting of the deck he was able to get upright.

Rodan sighed. “Hold on, I’ll help…”

He was interrupted as the entire ship suddenly lurched heavily. A new sound overpowered the background roaring of the storm, and for a moment Bredan thought that the ship was being torn apart. But the sea remained outside, and the sound was not repeated. The violent rolling of the deck continued, but the pitch of it had changed, and the angle of the cabin remained off, as if the entire ship had been laid almost on its side.

“What was that?” Bredan asked.

“Nothing good!” Rodan returned.

Bredan was already heading for the door, while Rodan extracted himself from his hammock and followed. They could hear Quellan shouting a question, but it was lost over the unabated noise of the sea and wind.

Bredan hesitated at the door to Glori and Xeeta’s room, but shouts from the hatch at the end of the corridor drew him forward. Rodan caught up to him as his hand closed on the handle. “Wait!” the tiefling said.

“The ship may be sinking!” Bredan yelled back.

“It might, but you’ll accomplish nothing if you’re flung into the ocean!” Rodan produced something, a coil of rope that had metal hooks at each end. Bredan had no idea where he’d gotten it, but he let Rodan hook one end onto his belt. The other went around a metal ring set into the wall beside the hatch. “You’re good!” he said.

Bredan nodded in acknowledgement, then pushed the hatch open.

The full fury of the storm struck him like a punch from a giant. The deck of the ship was awash with water, and the intensity of the wind threw a considerable amount of it into Bredan’s face. He’d thought it had been loud below, but up here it was deafening, a wall of noise that for a moment overpowered his senses. It was all he could do to hang on to the faring of the hatch and remain there, stunned by the intensity of the storm.

After what felt like an hour but was actually just a few seconds, he shook his head clear and looked around. He saw the source of the Gull’s trouble immediately. The main mast had snapped, dragging its cargo of sails and ropes over the edge of the ship. It was those anchors that were keeping the thing from sliding into the sea. The weight of it was what was causing the heavy list, dragging the battered ship toward the roiling waves.

Bredan was no sailor, but he could see that the Gull would not survive long with that dead weight pulling it down. He looked for the Captain, but could not even see the platform on the aft deck through the chaos of the storm. There were men trying to cut the mast free, but they were having understandable difficulty given the circumstances. Even as he watched a wave struck the ship, washing over the lower deck and sending men sprawling.

To go out into that was madness. But if the ship went over, it was almost certain that they would all die.

He rushed out into to the frenzy of the storm. He made it barely three steps before he slipped and fell hard onto the swaying deck. The water rushing across tugged him toward the starboard rail, where the falling mast had torn a massive opening. For a moment it looked as if the sea was rushing toward him, then he felt a hard jerk and came to a stop.

For a heartbeat he didn’t know what was going on, then he remembered the rope. He used it to pull himself up, grateful to Rodan for his foresight. He began to drag himself toward the base of the mast. He could see where the wood had snapped, not far above where it rose from the deck. But the break had not been clean, and part of the mast was still anchored to the ship. Half-crawling, half-climbing, he managed to make his way there.

Rodan materialized at his side. Somehow the tiefling had found an axe, and he clearly divined Bredan’s intent. “We have to cut it free!” he shouted.

Bredan nodded, and summoned his sword into his hands.

His first blow went wild, and he nearly lost the sword. That would have only delayed him, but he forced himself to focus on his task despite the confusion that swirled around him. Another wave crashed over the side as he struck again, but he ignored it, ignored the water that tugged as his legs as he slammed his sword repeatedly into the bend of bent wood that still connected the mast to the ship. On the far side Rodan echoed his blows with his axe.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of hacking, the mast tore free. Bredan almost followed it as the ship lurched again, but the rope allowed him to catch himself before he fell. He grabbed hold of Rodan, who he saw was not anchored as he was; the tiefling had given his only protection to him.

Their victory, however, had not been complete. The mast, he saw, had hung up on the edge of the deck. There were ropes that were still holding it, still dragging them after it. Some of those were on the very edge of the deck, right on the precipice where the hungry sea waited.

Bredan raised his sword and prepared to rush toward the nearest of the ropes, but before he could begin there was a bright flash. At first he thought that there had been an explosion, but as the flames flickered out he saw that it was Xeeta, anchored in the hatchway by Glori. Bredan didn’t think that the sorceress’s fire could do much within the storm, but as he blinked away the afterimages he saw that part of the rail where some of the ropes had been anchored was now gone.

Another large figure lumbered across the deck, and Bredan saw that it was Quellan. The cleric was holding a cutlass in one meaty fist, and as they watched he used it to hack through another lump of tangled ropes. The mast was starting to tear free now, and Bredan and Rodan helped it along by targeting more taut ropes further back along the deck. Some of the other sailors were cutting more, including a long length of sail that had gotten tangled up with some of the foremast rigging, and finally with a last groaning crash the mast tore free and disappeared beneath the waves.

Free of that dead weight, the Gull seemed to spring back up, the deck lurching under their feet. Bredan went down again, as did Rodan. The two of them started sliding across the deck, but Bredan dropped his sword and seized hold of the tiefling before the next wave could drag them toward the broken rail. He could feel the rope as it grew taut, and then they were sliding over the deck toward the hatch. He looked up to see Kosk pulling on the rope, his face a hard mask of effort as he drew them in. As they reached the hatch Glori and Xeeta reached up and pulled them up.

“Quellan!” Bredan said.

“He’s okay!” Glori said. She pointed back toward the corridor, where they could see the half-orc kneeling in a sodden heap. The others staggered back to join him, Kosk pausing to muscle the hatch shut again behind him.

They just collapsed there for a moment, breathing heavily after their exertions. “Think that’ll be enough?” Glori finally asked.

“Gods above, I hope so,” Bredan said. “I definitely don’t want to ever do anything like that again.”
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 245

Bredan jolted awake as a hand touched his shoulder. He blinked against an unexpected intensity of light. “What? Is it morning?”

“Early afternoon, actually,” Rodan said. “I would have let you sleep longer, but there’s a report that land’s been sighted.”

That brought Bredan fully awake, and he sat up in his bunk. The light was natural sunlight, which poured in through the porthole. Quellan and Kosk were not there, though the room still stank of their collective misery from the night before. “Land? Already? Where?”

“You already know as much as I do,” Rodan said with a smirk. “I thought you might want to go up and check in with the captain.”

Bredan nodded, and reached for his coat.

They ran into one of Kalasien’s men in the narrow corridor. “Ho, Elias,” Bredan said as they retreated back into their cabin to let him pass. The soldier looked like he hadn’t gotten any sleep since last night; his clothes were sodden and filthy, and dark bags hung under his eyes. But he nodded respectfully at Bredan, giving Rodan a more cautious look. The tiefling was still a bit of an unknown to the Arreshians. While they knew that Xeeta was of the same fiendish ancestry, her magical amulet allowed her to present what others considered a “normal” appearance. Bredan still bristled a bit on Rodan’s behalf at such reactions, though he knew that Elias was a solid man otherwise.

“I heard that you saved the ship,” the soldier said.

“It was a group effort,” Bredan said, gesturing subtly to clearly include Rodan in the tally.

Elias nodded. “We’ve been helping with the pumps in the bilges,” he said. “The ship sprung a few leaks in the storm.”

That news awoke a new urgency in Bredan. “Are we in danger of sinking?” he asked.

“The crew doesn’t seem to think so. But it’s going to be tough to make repairs while underway.”

“We heard that land’s been sighted,” Bredan said. “Perhaps we can find someplace sheltered to make those repairs.”

Elias just nodded. As he started to turn away Bredan asked, “Hey, have you seen Kalasien?”

The soldier shook his head. “He was below with us, earlier. Maybe he’s up with the captain. If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”

The scene that greeted Bredan and Rodan on deck still showed the aftermath of the storm. Men were working all over the ship—and women, Bredan amended as he saw Glori crawling in the damaged rigging that dangled from the remaining mast. He didn’t see Kalasien, but Quellan was there, talking with Captain Sond. The half-orc saw them and waved them over.

“Bredan, Rodan,” the cleric said. “Feeling better, I hope?”

“I was able to get some rest, thanks,” Bredan said. “Captain Sond. I’m glad to see you all right.”

The halfling sailor nodded. “Thank you for your help last night. We could have lost the ship when the mast snapped.”

“What happened?” Bredan asked.

Sond shook her head. “I don’t know. I did my best to reduce the strain on the ship, but that storm… it was just ill luck. Such things happen upon the Deep.”

“We lost four men,” Quellan said. “Including the second-in-command.”

Bredan reevaluated the shadowed look on the captain’s face; it was more than just exhaustion. “I’m sorry,” he said. “He seemed like a solid guy.”

“Trev was reliable,” Sond said. “He was on the main deck when the mast collapsed. The sea has him, now. That’s all a sailor can ask for when he goes.”

“I heard that you’d spotted land,” Bredan said. “I thought we were days out from Weltarin yet.”

Sond nodded. “It must be an uncharted island. The storm blew us well off of our course. But it’s serendipitous. The Gull needs repairs, and we may be able to find a sheltered anchorage to put in.”

“How bad is it?” Rodan asked.

“She’s a good ship, but she’s taken a beating,” Sond said. “I wouldn’t want to risk continuing on to the mainland without at least patching some of the leaks and putting in a temporary mast. We have plenty of supplies for repairs below, as long as we can find a suitable piece of timber on the island.”

Glori dropped lightly to the upper deck and ran down to meet them. “What do you see?” Bredan asked her.

“It’s just a dark splotch from here,” she reported.

“We’ll be there soon enough,” Sond said. “If you’ll excuse me, there are a few things I need to check on below.”

“She’s a tough little woman,” Rodan said when she was gone.

“The loss of her second hit her hard,” Quellan said.

“How’s Kosk?” Bredan asked.

“He’ll be all right,” Quellan said. “He went below to help with the pumps.”

“Yeah, I ran into Elias in the corridor, he told me about that,” Bredan said.

“You should get something to eat,” Rodan said. “Before we get to the island.”

Bredan knew him well enough now to gauge his mood. “You think there will be trouble?” he asked.

“I’ve heard stories of Weltarin, same as you,” the tiefling said. “Maybe this island is deserted, maybe not. But if we’re going ashore, then we should be ready for anything.”

“Wise words,” Quellan said.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 246

To Bredan it felt like the Golden Gull was limping as it eased slowly into the natural harbor. The crew had cleared away most of the debris created by the storm from the ship’s decks, but nothing could conceal the jagged remnant of the main mast.

The island wasn’t very big, maybe a little more than a mile across and half that in width. At first it hadn’t looked promising; the side that faced them on their initial approach had been mostly bare cliffs, rising up to a hundred feet above the level of the pounding surf. The island itself looked to be volcanic in origin, with a black peak that rose to a bare crest several hundred feet above the surrounding ocean. But the rest of the island was covered in a dense carpet of green, and as they’d come around to the far side they had seen this cove, a narrow wedge flanked by tiny slivers of inviting white beach.

It had been more complicated than that, of course. Sond had brought them in slowly, using her powers to shift the once sleek, now ponderous bulk of the ship through a gap in the reefs that surrounded the lee side of the island. Wary of submerged rocks, she had crew members perched on the bow keeping watch and taking frequent soundings. She finally called for the anchor to be dropped about a thousand feet away from the closest beach, and ordered the crew to begin unlimbering the ship’s launch for departure.

As the boat was being lowered down on its davits, Bredan joined the others gathered along the rail. They had already decided who would join the first expedition. The Gull only had the one boat, so the first trip would be to gauge whether there were any immediate threats near the shore. Their priority was to find a tree that could serve as a temporary replacement for the main mast. A second objective was to find a source of fresh water that they could use to top off the Gull’s supply.

The members of Sond’s crew that had been assigned to the first trip started down even before the launch was in the water, clambering down over the rope ladder that was dropped over the side. They included two common sailors and an officer, the latter carrying a small crossbow slung across his back. Rodan descended with almost as much ease. Bredan tried to gauge whether the crew drew back from the tiefling as he settled into the boat, then decided it didn’t matter. Whether or not the sailors were made uncomfortable by having Rodan in their midst, the ranger’s skills in the wilderness made him an invaluable addition to the team.

Xeeta followed him down. Bredan was next, but he hesitated as Quellan came up to him. “Be careful,” the cleric said.

“We’ll be all right,” Bredan reassured him. Quellan had volunteered immediately to be part of the shore party, but his size and bulk would have put too much stress on the tiny boat. Glori had agreed to come in his place, her magical talents in reserve in case they ran into something dangerous ashore. She lingered with the cleric a moment as Bredan started down the ladder.

The others had made it look easy, but the ladder seemed like a living thing, twisting in Bredan’s grasp as if intent on dropping him into the ocean. The weight of his dwarf-made armor didn’t help any, but he wasn’t going to leave that behind on a trip like this. He made it down safely, even if Rodan and one of the crewmen had to help him get situated in the boat.

By contrast, Glori dropped down lightly into the front of the boat almost before he had found his seat. She took hold of the small curve of wood that jutted out from the prow and pointed toward the beach that was their destination. “I’ve always wanted to be the first to discover a new land,” she said with a grin. “Shall we?”

“I notice that she didn’t bother reaching for an oar,” Bredan said to Rodan.

“There are only six,” Rodan said.

“Looks like Torrin wasn’t planning on being one of the six.” The Gull’s second mate—first mate now, Bredan amended—rather than pester the smiling bard, picked up the last oar and joined the others in piloting the small craft toward the waiting beach.

The water was crystal clear, and Bredan could see fish swimming below them when he lifted his oar from the water. They came up on the shallows quickly, and Bredan joined Rodan and the sailors in jumping out and dragging the boat up onto the shore. Once it was settled Glori hopped out onto the sand. “I claim this land, in the name of the Adventurers of Crosspath,” she declared.

Bredan was already studying the forest. Jungle might be a more appropriate term, he thought. The growth was thicker than anything he had ever seen before, and it seemed to press in against the narrow line of the beach, as if trying to claim that space as well. There could have been anything within that shadowed expanse, watching and waiting. The beach was never more than twenty feet deep across its face, and it vanished altogether where the cove met the steep slope that descended from the island’s interior. It seemed likely that there had to be fresh water somewhere within all that green, but Bredan didn’t know enough to know where to start looking. He could tell that none of the trees near the shore were straight or tall enough to serve as potential candidates for a new mast.

Torrin seemed to share his assessment, for the mate pointed to a spot inland and said, “I believe we will have better luck in that direction.”

“With all respect, sir, you may want to let us take a quick look around, first,” Rodan said, as he fitted a string to the new bow he’d purchased in Li Syval. “Clear the area, make sure there aren’t any nasties lurking nearby.”

“It’s doubtful that an island of this size would support any major fauna,” Torrin said. He was a young man, maybe a few years older than Bredan, and clearly didn’t like the idea of someone else taking change. “But we won’t go far in our initial survey. The ladies can stay with the boat until we give the all-clear.”

“With all due respect,” Glori said before Bredan could chime in, “Those two are okay if you need something chopped up into little bits or stuck with arrows, but Xeeta and I represent the heavy firepower of our group.” She nodded toward the sorceress, who produced a spike of fire from her new rod.

The display clearly had the desired effect; Torrin swallowed and said, “Gravis, Kavek, you two stay with the boat. Keep an eye out.” The two sailors seemed quite content being left behind, as the rest of the company trudged along the beach for about a hundred yards before turning inland.

The transition was dramatic. It had been warm and dry on the sunlit sands of the beach, but within a few steps the forest engulfed them in shadowed coolness and soggy damp. The ground was soft and spongy, and plants plucked at their sleeves and leggings with every step.

“It must rain here a lot,” Glori said.

“Stay close,” Torrin said. “It’s easy to get lost in all this growth.”

Bredan caught Rodan’s gaze and rolled his eyes. The tiefling smiled, but his attention quickly returned to the surrounding forest. He made less noise than any of them as they pushed deeper into the tangled jungle. Bredan wondered if the ranger was seeing more than he was. He didn’t see any animals, other than a few birds that stirred in the canopy above them at their approach, but the whole place felt teeming with life. He resisted the urge to summon his sword as they trudged forward, the boggy ground sucking at his boots with each step.

They’d covered barely a hundred steps before the ground began to slope upward.

Bredan thought that the jungle growth would have thinned as the slope increased, but if anything it grew even denser, until they were fighting for every step forward. Even Rodan seemed to have difficulty blazing them a path.

“There’s something over here!” Glori called out.

The others turned toward where the bard was pointing at what looked like an overgrown shelf of rock, maybe twenty feet out of their line of march. But as they made their way in that direction, they could see that it was part of what might have once been a structure, its lines too regular to be natural.

“A ruin?” Xeeta asked as they reached it.

“Somebody built this,” Rodan said, running a hand along the stone face that Glori had first spotted. It was crusted in moss and lichen, and overgrown with clinging vines, but they could now see the seams where the stone blocks had been fitted together.

“There’s nothing left,” Torrin said. “The repairs to the ship must be the first priority.”

“We’ll find the tree,” Glori said. “But if there was an ancient civilization here once, it might be useful to…”

She was cut off as they heard a sound coming from the direction of the beach. It was a cry of alarm, which abruptly transitioned into a scream of pain that itself was suddenly cut off.

“The sailors!” Xeeta said unnecessarily. Bredan was already running back the way they had come, with Rodan just a step behind him.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 247

“Bredan, careful!” Glori warned, but he was already twenty paces away and picking up speed. “Men,” she said to Xeeta as the two women hurried after them. Torrin, frozen by the first sounds, belatedly brought up the rear.

The work they’d done earlier to clear the path helped them now, but the dense jungle growth still whipped at them as they ran back to the beach. Glori and Xeeta, being less burdened, had nearly caught up to the men when they burst out of the greenery and onto the narrow stretch of sand.

“Oh, damn,” Xeeta said.

The source of the disturbance was still present. The largest crocodile any of them had ever seen, almost twice the length of their boat, was lying with its tail still in the water. It was chomping on something that was still vaguely recognizable as one of the sailors, its jaws soaked red with his blood.

The other sailor, Kavek, was running from a second, only slightly smaller crocodile. He was clutching his side and having some difficulty, the soft sand hindering him enough for the huge reptile to keep pace. He was headed in their general direction but was still over a hundred feet away.

“Kavek, over here!” Glori yelled. Bredan had already summoned his sword and was running toward the sailor and his pursuer, while Rodan strung his bow and had an arrow fitted to it before the warrior had taken ten steps. His first shot struck the crocodile but at a bad angle, bouncing off its armored hide.

Kavek had spotted them and shifted his course, but the crocodile put on a sudden burst of speed and quickly closed the distance separating them. But before it could strike Xeeta pointed with her rod and launched a bead of liquid flame that streaked past the fleeing sailor and exploded directly above the charging croc. The reptile let out a shrieking hiss as the fireball seared it. Kavek was knocked down by the force of the blast, but was far enough away that he was merely dazed, not injured.

Unfortunately for him, the crocodile was not seriously hurt, and as the sailor staggered to his feet the reptile lurched for him again.

Glori strummed her lyre, gathering her magic into another spell. The crocodile and its would-be victim were too close to risk a wall of fire, she judged, but she quickly summoned a major image that materialized along the boundary between the jungle and the beach. It took the form of half a dozen additional sailors that rushed the crocodile, shouting and poking at it with spears. The creature, distracted by the unexpected assault, spun and lunged at these new attackers. It snapped its jaws on one and slashed its massive tail though another, but of course it caught only empty air. The reptile, driven to a frenzy now, thrashed back and forth, raising columns of sand as its claws shredded the beach.

“We’ve got to help Bredan,” Glori said as Kavek staggered clear of the melee. Rodan scored a hit with his second shot, the arrow lodging into the creature’s neck just below its jaw, but the missile looked like a toothpick against the sheer mass of its scaled form. He reached for a third even as he ran after Xeeta and Glori to close the distance. Now that Bredan was getting close they could see again the sheer scale of the thing. Torrin, who had finally emerged from the jungle behind them, just stood there staring at the two beasts, his sword hanging forgotten at his side.

Glori’s illusions continued to distract the crocodile as Bredan rushed toward it, his sword shining brilliantly in the bright afternoon sunlight. The creature didn’t appear to see him at first, but its wild movements were still spraying sand, and as the warrior lunged a gout of it caught him in the face. It threw off his strike, and while the edge of the sword still clipped its body it was a mere glancing blow, inflicting only minor damage.

But the hit still caught its attention, and it spun toward the new threat with a speed that belied its size. Bredan tried to dodge back, but the churned-up sand slowed him enough that he could not get clear before the crocodile’s jaws snapped down and seized him in a crushing grip that enfolded his right shoulder and arm. His sword stuck out from the other side of its jaw, but with his arm pinned he could not bring it to bear. The weight of the creature pushed him to his knees. His armor kept its teeth from piercing his skin, but the sheer pressure from its jaws was squeezing his torso in a manner that he knew would eventually pulverize his rib cage and squash the delicate organs within.

Bredan’s companions were keeping up their attacks. He caught a flash of flame out of the corner of his eye as a scorching ray struck the crocodile’s side, followed a moment later by an arrow that quivered in its thick hide. He could hear the sounds of Glori’s lyre over the sounds of the crocodile’s movements, but did not know what she was casting. But the creature refused to relinquish its hold. Bredan suspected it would not loosen its jaws until he was dead.

The crocodile turned, dragging its captive with it. Bredan realized that it was heading back toward the water. He knew that if it made it that far, he would have almost no chance of escape.

He focused on his sword. Held as he was, he could not hope to move it. But a thought came to him. He closed his eyes and let his mind clear.

The sword disappeared.

A moment later, it rematerialized in his left hand.

As soon as he felt the familiar weight, he planted his feet in the sand and pushed upward. His strength was a pittance against the bulk of the crocodile, but its head came up slightly. That was all he needed. Gritting his teeth, he thrust forward with every bit of effort he could still muster. The crocodile’s head came up just a bit more. He lifted the sword and then let his legs collapse under him.

The only thing he felt at first was a soft sigh of air from within the crocodile’s gullet, followed by a hot wetness that flowed over his left hand. The weight of the creature was still pressing him down, but the inexorable pressure of its jaws hadn’t let up any. For a moment he listened for the sounds of his ribs snapping in his chest, but then a familiar face appeared, a look of concern written on her features.

“Bredan!” Glori said. “Hold on, we’re going to get you out of there.”

He heard a soft squelching sound, followed by a collective grunt of effort, then the jaws popped open and he was free. He fell backwards onto the sand, grateful at last for the soft surface.

Glori reappeared at once, strumming her lyre again to summon a healing spell. Bredan let out a sigh as the magic coursed into him. He turned his head to see the corpse of the crocodile, his sword still embedded in its throat. Its jaw lay hacked open, the thick muscles to either side severed. Rodan still stood over it, his bloody dagger in his hand. “The other one?” Bredan asked.

“It retreated back into the water with what was left of the other sailor,” Glori said. “Xeeta hurried it along with a few more fire blasts, but I think it was content to take its meal and go.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t decide it wants dessert while we’re making our way back to the ship,” Bredan said.

“Can you get up?” Glori asked.

At his nod he rose, though he accepted her offered hand with relief. “You know that was crazy, right?” she asked.

“In hindsight, yes,” he said.

Bredan looked over at the boat, relieved to see that it was still intact. The larger crocodile could have destroyed it with a single swipe of its tail. He looked for the other creature in the water, but while he could see the slithering track it had left in the sand it was already out of sight.

He stepped back over to the side of the creature he’d killed. “You like to live dangerously,” Rodan commented.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Bredan said.

“Next time, let us whittle it down a bit first,” the ranger said. “The sailor was out of danger, there was no reason to rush into close quarters.”

“Noted,” Bredan said.

“Ah, here comes out fearless leader,” Xeeta said dryly.

Bredan turned to see Torrin approaching, Kavek right behind him. The sailor was still clutching his side. “You take a hit?” Bredan asked.

The man nodded. “Tail swipe as it went for Gravis. We never even saw them until they were right on top of us.”

“Do you think there are more of them?” Torrin asked. “Should we go back to the ship?”

The young officer’s desire to command had eroded significantly, Bredan thought. “We’d still need to come back later for the tree,” he said. “Let’s see what we can find, but I suggest we stay together from here on out.”

No one challenged his suggestion. Bredan waved an all-clear toward the ship, though it was likely that they’d witnessed the entire encounter from its deck. Without a second boat, however, there was nothing they could do to intervene. That done, they turned back toward the jungle, warier now as they made their way once more into the interior of the island.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 248

The Golden Gull bobbed lightly at anchor in the sheltered island cove. It was a moonless night, and the only light came from several banked lanterns that only released enough of a glow to illuminate the decks of the ship. The only sound was the soft gurgle of water as the pumps continued their laborious effort of keeping the wounded vessel afloat.

A lot of work had already been accomplished. The cleaned trunk of what would become the new mast lay across the main deck, its ends sticking out over the water to each side of the ship. It had taken a lot of effort, first to find and cut down the tree, then to drag it back to the beach. It had been far too large to carry in the ship’s boat, so they’d attached lines and floats and dragged it over to the Gull once the initial work of preparing the trunk had been completed. There would be a lot more work to do before it could be lifted into place and attached to the stubby remnant of the original mast, but at least that work could be done on the ship. After the attack by the giant crocodiles, enthusiasm for exploring the island had waned considerably. They did find a spring while looking for the right tree, but it was considerably inland and getting the water into the ship’s barrels might end up being more trouble than it was worth. Captain Sond had promised to consider the matter.

Bredan thought about the day’s events as he stood watch on the raised aft deck of the Gull. His arms and shoulders burned, both from the mauling he’d taken from the crocodile and the hard labor of getting the new mast back to the ship. Quellan had spent another healing spell on him when he’d finally gotten back aboard, but it wasn’t just his aches and pains that were keeping him awake. He didn’t have to stand this watch. No one either among his companions or on the crew would have asked it of him after the day’s adventures, but he’d felt restless. The calm quiet of night in the shelter of the bay was a soothing balm to a mind run ragged by the events of the last few months.

A slight sound drew his attention around, reminding him that he was supposed to be keeping watch, not reflecting on his current situation. He could see the other two sentries from his current vantage, both members of Sond’s crew. One was walking back and forth across the main deck, while the other sat on a barrel on the forecastle, his back against the solidity of the foremast.

But the source of the sound wasn’t either man, but a shadowed figure that appeared on the narrow stairs that led down to the main deck. Bredan lacked the special vision that all of his companions possessed, but he didn’t need it to recognize the familiar presence of Xeeta. She was carrying a cup of steaming liquid, which she handed over to him as she joined him at the aft rail.

“Coffee,” she said. “Thought you might want something to help keep you awake on watch.”

“Thanks,” he said. He sipped at the liquid, but it was still too hot.

“So,” she said. “What about you and my brother?”

“Brother?” Bredan asked.

“There’s no way to know for sure,” she said. “But what happened in Li Syval suggests that we’re more closely related than we thought. We had different mothers, but we never were told who—or what—our fathers were.” She didn’t mention the look that the horned devil had given her as it stepped back through the portal into its own world. “I spoke with Quellan, and he said that the ritual Kalev used, there would have had to have been a strong link between us for the magic to bring him here, all the way from the Silverpeak Valley.”

“There isn’t anything between me and Rodan,” Bredan said. “Not right now.”

“He doesn’t blame you for what happened,” Xeeta said.

“He wouldn’t be here right now if not for that damned book,” Bredan said. “None of us would be here.”

“He chose to join this expedition,” Xeeta said. “We all did. I asked him why. He told me that he never thought it would be up to our kind to help save the world.”

“We’re not saving the world,” Bredan said absently.

“That’s what I told him,” Xeeta said. “Sometimes… saving each other’s enough.”

Bredan sipped his coffee and put his other arm around her. “I am glad you’re here,” he said.

“Will you talk to him?”

“You’re starting to sound like Glori,” he said.

“That isn’t an answer.”

“No. All right. I’ll talk to him. I promise.”

“Good,” she said.

He sipped again at the coffee. “How are you doing?” he asked.

She stared out at the open sea, beyond the waves that frothed as they passed over the hidden reef that warded the natural harbor. She didn’t need to ask what he meant. “I thought I would know what it would mean to come back,” she said.

“You couldn’t have known what would happen,” he said.

“It’s not that. Not just that. I’m glad that bastard Kalev got what was coming to him, anyway. I’m not sure I can explain it.”

“I know how you feel,” he said.

She looked up at him. “I guess you do.”

He released her and started to take another drink, but hesitated. For a moment he’d thought he’d heard something over the constant gush of the pumps. At first he couldn’t see the sentry on the main deck, but when he took a few steps forward he could see the man, now leaning on the rail with his back to the island. A plume of smoke rose from his mouth, briefly hanging in the air before the night breeze caught hold of it.

But the man on the forecastle was gone. He might have slipped below for a moment, but…

“Bredan, what…” Xeeta asked, but he lifted a hand for quiet. He listened intently, and finally heard something, a soft scrape against the wood of the ship.

He quickly made his way over to the side of the ship that faced out toward the ocean, and leaned over the rail. The starlight did not provide much in way of illumination, but it was enough for him to make out the humanoid forms climbing up the side of the ship. A face that was in no way human looked up at him and let out a harsh hiss.

“Attack!” he yelled, summoning his sword. “We’re under attack!”
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 249

Dark figures swarmed over the rail onto the main deck of the Golden Gull. The sailor on duty barely had a chance to draw his cutlass before one of the attackers drove a spear through his side. Another seized hold of him and snapped gaping jaws around his neck, tearing out a bloody gobbet of flesh. The sailor’s screams trailed off into a wet gurgle, but that lasted only briefly before the creature dragged him to the rail and threw him over. He hit the water with a loud splash even as more of the things crept on board.

Bredan returned to the rail, where the creature he had spotted was quickly surging up toward the raised aft deck. The thing saw him and lunged for the railing, but Bredan intercepted it with a powerful downward thrust of his sword. The steel pierced its body and knocked it roughly back into the water. But more were coming.

Xeeta was ringing the alarm bell that hung next to the ship’s wheel, just in case any of the crew had failed to hear Bredan’s shout of alarm. She turned as another crested the railing, meeting it with a series of scorching rays. Only one of the fiery beams actually hit the target, the other two shooting past it out into the night sky, but that was enough to dislodge it from its precarious perch and send it flailing back into the water. Another one managed to get over the railing, but before it could unlimber its spear Bredan met it with a sweeping cut of his blade that tore through its body almost to its spine. The thing flopped to the deck in a bloody mess, giving Bredan his first good look at their adversaries.

The thing was shaped like a man, but there all resemblance ended. It looked as though some madman had taken the features of a man, a fish, and a lizard and somehow jumbled them all together. Its flesh was slimy and scaled, with a deep green hue that looked gray in the pale starlight. It had gills, along with flaps of skin that protruded from the sides of its head and pulsed as the thing gasped out the last of its life. Its hands and feet were webbed, and it wore a harness of some sort of leather that let it carry its weapons as well as bits of shell that served it as armor.

Bredan stared down at the dying creature in horror. “Do you know what those are?” he asked Xeeta.

“Never saw one before!” she replied.

For the moment the aftercastle seemed secure, but the sounds of activity drew them toward the main deck. The two adventurers rushed forward to see a swarm of the things crawling over almost the entire length of the ship to the bow, at least a dozen of them.

“A fireball would be perfect right now,” Xeeta said. “But it could destroy the ship!”

“We need to buy some time!” Bredan returned. Neither of them had spoken loudly, but one of the fish-creatures turned and saw them, shouting something to its companions as it pointed with his spear. Several of the creatures immediately rushed toward the stairs that led up to the aft deck.

Bredan was there to meet them, blocking the top of the stairs so that the creatures could not easily flank him and Xeeta. He batted aside the thrust of the first spear and swung his sword into the creature’s side, cutting a deep gash in its torso. There wasn’t much room to swing his larger weapon in the confines of the stairs, but conversely it was almost impossible to miss with the things crowding forward into the narrow space. He followed his first swing with a thrust that pierced the thing’s rubbery hide and knocked it sprawling into its following companions. But even as the creature fell limp its companions came surging forward, trampling their dying ally in their eagerness to overcome their foe.

Bredan drew back and reset his feet, bringing his sword back up into a ready stance. But before he could engage the remaining creatures, another down on the deck below came into view. This one was clad in an ornate glitter of shell necklaces and bracelets that rattled as it moved. It lacked a spear or any other obvious weapon, but it proved that it did not need one as it extended one clawed finger toward Bredan. The warrior could do nothing as he felt a cold feeling pulse through his body, freezing his muscles and leaving him helpless as the two fish-men charged forward, their spears raised to finish him.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
What's better than a Friday cliffhanger? A bonus Monday cliffhanger!

* * *

Chapter 250

Held paralyzed by the fish-man shaman’s spell, Bredan could do nothing to stop the two creatures that came hurling up the stairs toward him.

But even as they started thrusting their spears at him, Xeeta appeared at his side. Holding out her rod, she poured a stream of fire down the stairs. The burning hands engulfed both creatures and spilled out onto the deck below, driving back several others that had approached the stairs. Xeeta tried to direct the flames up and away from the ship as much as possible, but in that confined space there was little she could do to stop exposed wood and rope from smoldering once the initial gout of fire faded. One of the creatures in the forefront stumbled backwards, clutching at its charred head, while the second slipped on the blood left from the first creature that Bredan had taken down and dropped to the deck. Bredan’s armor appeared to have stopped the worst of the spear-hits he’d taken, but Xeeta could see blood trickling down his side as he fought to throw off the effects of the spell.

“I can’t dispel this,” she told him. “You have to fight it off!”

But from the look in his eyes, he was already giving it his best effort. Xeeta scanned the lower deck for the enemy spellcaster, but it had already slipped back into the press of the creatures. Still more of them were gaining the main deck, and she knew that more would be charging up toward them within moments.

But familiar cries of battle told her that reinforcements had finally arrived. Both the forward and aft hatches had swung open, and both her friends and the crew of the Gull joined the fray. The first sailor to emerge was pierced by several spears and dropped to the ground, but others quickly followed, slashing at the fish-men with their cutlasses.

They might have been quickly overwhelmed, if not for the intervention of the ship’s passengers. Kosk and Quellan charged into a knot of the creatures, distracting them from the hard-pressed sailors. More of the fish-men rushed toward the fray, but were met by Kalasien and his soldiers, who quickly left one of the monsters bleeding out on the deck and several others sporting serious wounds. Glori and Rodan were last to arrive but quickly put their blades to work on stragglers that were still trying to clamber over the rail.

Xeeta shot the fish-man struggling to get back up at her feet with a fire bolt that put him down for good. She took up a protective stance in front of Bredan that gave her a good view of the main deck. Searching for the shaman, she finally spotted the bejeweled thing huddling in the lee of the forecastle. As she watched the creature made a gesture, and several fish-men who had appeared to be on the brink of death moments ago surged back to their feet and rejoined the fray. Xeeta lifted her rod, but she did not have a clear line of fire that wouldn’t risk a major blaze if she missed.

Instead, she yelled, “Kosk! The caster!”

The dwarf looked up, saw her, and followed the line of her pointed rod toward its target. He immediately charged into the mass of just-restored fish-men, knocking one of them back to the deck with a snap of his staff to its neck.

Xeeta turned back to check on Bredan, but was distracted by the appearance of another of the creatures on the aft rail. This one was big, almost twice the size of the ones they’d battled thus far, but as it climbed up onto the deck of the ship, she could see something else that sent a cold spike of fear through her gut.

The creature had four arms. Even as it gained the deck it used two of them to unsling a huge three-pronged spear from across its back. Spotting Xeeta and the still-helpless Bredan, it let out a hiss of challenge and then surged forward to attack.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Yep, they're classic villains, all the way back to the Saltmarsh series of modules. Always a threat when your campaign takes things out onto the seas.

* * *

Chapter 251

With no choice, at least not if she wanted to protect the still-helpless Bredan, Xeeta stepped forward to confront the mutated fish-man leader.

She raised her rod as it charged, blasting it with a triad of scorching rays. All three of the blasts struck it, but the four-armed monstrosity shrugged off what had to be considerable pain and pressed its attack. It thrust at her with its trident. Xeeta had conjured her mage armor as soon as Bredan had sounded the alert, but it did little to stop the sharp tines that pierced her side and knocked her roughly back to the bloody deck. She tried to crawl away, but looked up to see the massive creature looming over her, its weapon raised again to finish her off. She raised a hand, trying to gather her magic over the intense pain of her wound, knowing she would be too late.

But even as the trident thrust down it struck a glowing barrier that materialized above her and turned the deadly strike. The shield dissolved as Bredan leapt through it, sweeping his sword at the fearsome creature. The baron was clad in more substantial armor than its lesser minions, but the blade carved through the layered material and tore a shallow gash in its side.

As the two warriors engaged in their solitary contest atop the aft deck, the tide was beginning to turn on the main deck below. The defenders were still outnumbered, especially as the priestess continued to channel healing magic into her warriors, but the adventurers unleashed a devastating wave of attacks into them. Quellan fired a guiding bolt into the spellcaster that struck her in the chest and surrounded her with a limning aura that shone like a beacon across the deck. Kosk sighted in on that, darting through a tangled knot of warriors while somehow avoiding their desperate attacks. The last of the priestess’s bodyguards tried to simply tackle him, but he leapt to the side, kicked off of the forward bulkhead, and spun into a devastating kick that knocked the creature sprawling. Her momentum caused her to slide over the slick deck to the gap in the railing, where she disappeared, followed a moment later by a loud splash.

The furious fish-man warriors rushed in to seek their vengeance on the monk, but before they could reach him Glori blasted them with a wave of fear. The spell did not affect all of them, but fully half their number turned and in a panic followed their leader over the edge of the ship. None of the companions assumed that they were gone for good, but it meant that the fish-man warriors found themselves on the defensive as Kosk and Kalasien’s soldiers charged into them. The Arreshian agent himself was briefly pinned by a creature that leapt down from the foredeck. It trapped his rapier under its arm as it tried to bite him in the face, but Kalasien made a blade with his fist and drove it into the creature’s throat. It staggered back, choking, giving him space to free his weapon and thrust it through the creature’s heart.

The crew of the Gull had formed a half-circle around the forward hatch, barely holding back another half-dozen of the creatures, but the tide there turned as well as Captain Sond entered the fray. She rushed into the largest knot of the things, evading a spear that poked at her as she passed. She looked almost comical surrounded by the much larger warriors, at least until she lifted a hand and summoned forth a spell. A pulsing blast of sonic energy exploded through the fish-men, staggering them, while tendrils of electricity shot out from her body, jolting the creatures nearest to her. The sahuagin immediately turned on her, eager to destroy the dangerous halfling, but even as they raised their spears a sudden gust of wind surged across the deck. It rippled past the warriors and seized the tiny woman, lifting her up into the rigging of the aft mast, a good ten feet above the fray. A few of the sahuagin tried to stab at her, but she quickly ascended out of their reach.

Sond’s sailors were quick to take advantage of the opening, surging into the distracted and wounded creatures with their cutlasses swinging.

Bredan and the fish-man baron fought their way back and forth across the aft deck, exchanging violent blows that soon left both combatants bleeding despite their armor. Bredan had learned that he had not only the creature’s trident to worry about; his elbow blazed with pain where it had briefly seized him in its powerful jaws. With its four arms it could grapple as well as attack, and he already knew it was at least as strong as he was.

He summoned another shield as the creature thrust at him again with its long weapon, but too late realized that the attack was a feint. He tried to shift to the side, but was caught again as it snapped its jaws around his forearm, pulling him off-balance. He dropped his sword as it grabbed him its extra arms and hurled him toward the side of the ship.

He hit the rail and for a moment tottered on its edge, his upper body dangling over the water below. He looked down and saw that the water had been churned into a white froth by large fish equipped with very large jaws. Sharks, he thought, understanding now why the fish-men had thrown their victims overboard. Not that it would matter in his case; with the weight of his armor he’d sink to the bottom like a stone.

He clung to the rail and was able to keep from going over, but he turned back to see the giant creature charging toward him. Xeeta blasted it with a pair of fire bolts, but even though the second struck it in the neck, inflicting a serious burn, the thing did not even flinch and kept on coming.

Trapped against the rail, Bredan felt a surge of power come unbidden. Time seemed to slow around him as the magic coursed through him. The creature was a canny adversary, but suddenly he could see its next move as if watching it unfold before him. It looked like it was going to push him right through the railing and off the ship, but at the last moment it would stop and impale him with its trident, even though the weapon seemed to hang forgotten at its side.

In Bredan’s attenuated state, it felt like he was waiting for hours for the foretold action to happen. But finally, the last webbed foot struck the deck, and the thing’s entire body began to shift in its motion.

Bredan was already moving. The trident tore past him, the closest tine passing so close that it scraped along the side of his breastplate. The baron reacted quickly, lashing out with one of its surplus arms, but Bredan ducked under that as well. He spun, his entire body adding momentum to the swing as his sword swept up and caught it under the lower arm on its left side. The magically-enhanced steel tore through armor, flesh, and bone, and then the arm was flying through the air, leaving a jet of dark blood in its wake.

Bredan hit the deck and came up into a roll. The terrible wound he’d inflicted had staggered the creature, but was not enough to kill it. But even as it spun around to face him, he planted his feet and thrust forward as he rose. The point of his sword pierced the creature’s chest. Bredan knew it was a killing thrust even before he saw the look on the monster’s face. It knew, too. It tried to grab hold of the sword, but its strength was already failing even before it toppled over backwards. The abused railing could not absorb its weight, and it shattered, sending the creature over into the water.

For a moment Bredan just stood there, catching his second wind. He turned to Xeeta, who was up again but was clutching her side where the baron’s trident had scored her. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll live,” she said.

They headed forward to the edge of the deck, sword and spell at the ready, but they were not needed. Even as the pair watched the last of the fish-men on the main deck leapt over the side, most of them trailing blood from nasty wounds. They left behind nearly a score of the creatures, slashed and blasted and shot with black-fletched arrows. Kosk was already moving among the things, making certain of the nearest ones, while Quellan and Glori had rushed to the aid of the wounded. The bard looked up and saw the two of them there, and offered a salute that Bredan slowly returned.

“Another victory,” Xeeta said.

“Yes,” Bredan said, looking at the sailors lying on the deck, some still struggling as the healers fought to bring them back from the brink. “I’m not sure how many more of these we can survive.”
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 252

Dawn found the Golden Gull still resting at anchor in the island cove, though it was doubtful that any of its passengers or crew still considered the place a shelter.

The sun was still hidden behind the bulk of the island when Bredan made his way up onto the main deck of the ship, but he still blinked against the light of the morning. He had only gotten a few hours’ sleep and still felt groggy. His wounds burned and his shoulder was still sore; the injury he’d taken in the fight with the crocodile had been aggravated when the four-armed fish-man had thrown him halfway across the after deck of the Gull last night. He’d refused magical healing, as there were others who’d needed it more.

He didn’t see Glori or Quellan about; likely both were still asleep. The spellcasters needed lots of rest in order to regain their spells. He still didn’t think of himself in the same terms, although his magic had again helped to save his life in last night’s fray.

The deck was mostly cleared now, though there were still signs of the battle everywhere he looked. A few of the hands were cleaning away blood with buckets and sponges, but there were far more tasks that required immediate action. Getting away from here seemed like a possible priority, he thought as he spotted Captain Sond standing on the forward edge of the after deck. She was speaking with Kosk. He hurried over to them, stepping carefully over the bulk of the new mast.

As he climbed the stairs that led up to the aftcastle he had a flashback to the desperate battle. Just a few hours earlier he’d stood in almost that exact spot, though then he’d been trying to keep invaders from reaching the top. The sense of helplessness he’d felt when the enemy caster’s magic had frozen his body was among one of the most terrifying experiences he’d ever had. Had it taken even just a few more seconds for him to break free, Xeeta might have been killed, or maybe both of them. Had the four-armed leader gained the aftcastle unhindered, it might then have been able to turn the battle in favor of the invaders.

Sond and Kosk both nodded to him as he stepped onto the upper deck, and he forced himself to shake off those dark thoughts. Last night was done and over; now they had to focus on getting out of here alive.

“Captain, Kosk,” he said. “Did you ever figure out what those things were?”

“Sea devils,” Sond said immediately. “Never fought them myself, but I’ve heard plenty of tales from sailors who said they had.”

“Quellan said that the formal term is ‘sahuagin,’” Kosk added. “They live under the sea, but apparently can spend brief periods of time above the surface. They’re extremely violent and worship dark gods.”

“That seems consistent with what we saw,” Bredan said. “How many more did we lose, Captain?”

“Four of my men didn’t survive,” Sond said. “It would have been more, but for the quick intervention of your healers.”

“They’ve saved our lives more than once,” Bredan said.

“The question now is whether they’ll come back,” Kosk said. “We hit them hard, and killed their leader—well done, by the way—but their shaman survived, along with many of their warriors.”

“And we have no idea how many they have under there,” Bredan said, nodding toward the water.

“We’re keeping watch to all sides,” Sond said. “The water’s clear enough that we should see them coming, if they venture another incursion during the day.”

“So we’re staying?” Bredan asked.

The halfling shook her head. “It’s not by choice. We’re still in no shape for a long voyage. We’re making as many repairs to the hull as we can, but there’s only so much that can be done while we’re in the water. Your friend the bard was very helpful there.”

Bredan nodded, familiar with Glori’s mending spell. “They might wait until the next nightfall to try something again.”

“It’s my hope that we can be underway by then,” Sond said. “If we can sail on the evening tide, we might leave them behind. We agree that it’s likely that their lair is somewhere around the base of the island, close enough to the surface that they detected our approach.”

“Do you think we’ll be able to get the mast installed by then?” Bredan asked.

“The rigging and sails might have to wait. But I understand that you were a smith.” At his nod she said, “Then your help would be much appreciated, if you’re up to it.”

“If it helps us get away from this island faster, then I’m up to it,” Bredan said.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 253

Quellan woke and blinked against the intensity of the light that sifted in through the dirty porthole. It was already well into the day by the looks of it. He was alone in the cabin. He felt a momentary pang of guilt that his companions had let him sleep while they were already up and contributing to the repairs that had been a constant effort over the last few days, ever since they’d slipped away from what the crew was calling Crocodile Island on the evening tide.

Such feelings were foolish, he thought as he got up, used the chamber pot, and got dressed. His armor he left where it was; it would only get in the way on ship, and if he was knocked off the ship for some reason it would be a death sentence. He knew that ensuring that he—and Glori—got an uninterrupted long rest was important for the sake of the entire expedition. Over each of the last few days he’d burned his entire reservoir of spells. It was mostly healing, though the men he and Glori had treated after the desperate fight against the sahuagin would have recovered on their own, given time. But with a million tasks that needed doing, getting everyone healthy and able to work had been a priority.

But he’d also used his magic to help with the repairs. Here the flexibility that he had as a cleric gave him the advantage over Glori. While she had only a small cohort of spells that she could cast, he could pray for divine aid each day, selecting magic that suited their current situation. He’d already used that power to create water, augmenting the supplies that they hadn’t been able to refresh at the island. He’d enhanced the strength of various members of the crew, a boon that had been especially helpful when they’d raised the new mast. He’d even been able to summon magic to allow a party of crewmembers to be able to walk on water. The sailors had been quite nervous at first, even with ropes tied to them to ensure they didn’t drift away from the ship, but ultimately it had enabled them to make at least a few repairs to the battered hull of the Gull.

His morning preparations complete, Quellan knelt facing the porthole and opened his mind to his god. As always, he felt a sense of awe as he tapped into the divine wellspring that fueled his magic. To his surprise, he felt his awareness expand as he concentrated on channeling that power into the spells he would retain for the day. As it had so many times already since they had left Crosspath roughly a year ago, his ability to tap into that power had increased.

“Thank you,” he said, as he focused on locking the assorted spells into his mind. Once again, he chose magic that he thought would help the ship, its crew, and its passengers. It was not something that one could predict with any surety, and he often worried that he would fail, that someone he cared about would need magic that was beyond his reach due to the choices he’d made. But he was used to that uncertainty and did not let it delay him long.

He paused at the door to the cabin that Glori and Xeeta shared. He placed his hand on the wood but didn’t knock or try to enter. He missed Glori, especially as the trip dragged on, but knew that right now they had to focus on their mission, and keeping each other safe. His sense of duty felt heavier than any armor as he turned down the corridor toward the hatch.

As he made his way up onto the deck, he could feel the steady pulse of the ship around him. The gentle rocking did not bother him as much as it had; it was a reminder that the Gull was alive and well. He could hear the bustle and shouts of the crew even before he made his way up through the hatch onto the main deck. It still amazed him the way that they would climb high up into the rigging, only one misplaced hand or unexpected gust away from plummeting to the deck below.

He looked at the mast, now held in place by a ring of wooden staves tightly banded with coils of pounded iron. Bredan had helped with that, putting the skills from his past life to use. The mast still had a jury-rigged look to it, with partial rigging and only one sail, but it was better than what they’d had when they’d left the island.

As he came fully out onto the deck, he caught sight of Kalasien. “Good morning,” he said to the Arreshian agent.

“Quellan,” the man said.

“Seems to be holding, so far,” Quellan said, gesturing toward the mast but then broadening it to include the whole ship.

“A tough vessel,” Kalasien said.

“Did Captain Sond have anything new to say today?” Quellan asked.

Kalasien shook his head. “Just that the repairs seem to be holding for now, and that if we avoid any more rough weather we should reach Weltarin in a few days.”

“Well, that’s good news,” Quellan said.

“Yes. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can do what we came here to do. Excuse me.”

He slipped past and went down through the hatch before Quellan could manage more than a lame, “Ah, see you later.”

The cleric made his way over to the staircase that led up to the aftcastle. Captain Sond was there, along with the helmsman and Torrin, her first mate after the loss of her first in the storm. Bredan and Kosk were also there, talking with the captain. Both men waved as they saw him.

Quellan walked over to join them. “Everything all right?” he asked.

“So far, she’s holding together,” Sond said. The halfling woman looked exhausted, with deep bags under her eyes and a paleness to her flesh that spoke of the concern she had for her vessel and its crew. Quellan knew she’d been drawing deep upon her magic, using it to keep the wind from putting too much strain on the new mast. He thought of the amount of energy it took to cast his own spells and had a new appreciation for the tiny woman’s force of will.

“But something’s not right?” he prodded.

She gave him a hard look, perhaps not knowing how much she was letting show in her expression and manner. “She’s feeling a little sluggish,” she said.

“Understandable, given the damage she’s suffered,” Quellan said.

“There could be some damage to the rudder, or something else,” Sond said. “I was considering heading down to take a look.”

“Into the water?” Quellan asked. “Isn’t that dangerous? I mean, while we’re underway?”

“I don’t see any harbors around,” Sond said.

“That’s not the only problem,” Bredan said, nodding toward the aft rail behind him. Quellan went over to take a look. It only took him a moment to notice the forms just visible around the ship’s wake.

“Sharks,” he said. “Do you think that means the sahuagin are still following us?”

“Even with half sails and the damage to the hull, we’re moving pretty well,” Sond said. “It’s not unusual for sharks to follow a ship’s wake, but we haven’t been tossing slops or dumping waste since I noticed them.”

“Won’t they, ah, eat anyone who goes into the water to take a look at the keel of the ship?” Quellan asked.

The captain managed a grin that restored some of her usual manner. “That is a complication, yes.”

“I might be able to offer an alternative,” Quellan said.

“Alternative to what?” Glori asked, as she stepped up onto the aft deck, followed by Xeeta.

As Quellan turned to look at her, he could not help but smile. Her clothes were starting to look a little threadbare, and she had a bit of a sunburn on her neck and ears, but the wind caused her hair to form a halo around her features, framing her face in a way that set off her natural beauty. She quirked a brow and shot him a sly grin in return.

“Ship’s holding together but is a bit sluggish, Captain Sond was going to take a swim with the sharks to take a look, but Quellan might have some magic to use instead,” Bredan said. “There, you’re caught up.”

“You were saying,” Sond prompted.

“Ah, yes,” Quellan said. “I have a spell that enables remote viewing from a safe distance. It might work.”

“Well then, let’s try it,” Sond said. “We can always drown ourselves later if it doesn’t work.”

They formed a half-circle around the cleric, giving him room to work his magic. Torrin took a few not-so-subtle steps away, making a hex-mark with his fingers. It was a reminder that while magic infused every part of their world, most ordinary people were still wary of its workings, especially when other-worldly entities were involved.

Quellan ignored all of them, already focused on his spellcasting. He took up his holy symbol and closed his eyes. His voice sounded slightly deeper, subtly changed, as he intoned,

Lorekeeper, grant me sight beyond sight,
Open my inner eye,
Reveal to me secrets kept hidden,
Brighten the light within shadow.


As the companions watched his holy symbol began to glow faintly, and a moment later a similar glow materialized directly in front of him. It lasted only a moment, but they caught a brief glimpse of a small translucent sphere, eerily like the eye it was supposed to replace. Then it faded from view.

“That’s cool,” Glori said.

“Impressive,” Xeeta said. “I have heard of the arcane eye… it is a powerful spell. I did not know that Quellan had mastered it.”

Quellan’s eyes remained closed as he maintained the concentration on his spell. Bredan and Glori looked over the railing but could not see when the tiny eye entered the water.

“Can it see underwater?” Bredan asked.

“It has darkvision,” Quellan said. “I don’t see anything… wait.”

“What is it?” Sond asked.

“There’s something there, I think. I… ah!”

He jumped, causing a few of the witnesses to start as well. “What?” Glori asked.

“Sorry,” Quellan said. “A shark, it startled me. Hold on, let me get my bearings again.” The others watched while he focused, his brow furrowed with concentration. “There’s something there, attached to the ship.”

“What is it?” Sond repeated.

“I don’t know. It’s shaped like a claw, looks like it’s made of metal. It’s embedded in the hull. Big, as big around as one of those rope baskets. There’s something inside it, I can’t quite make it out, it looks like a sack or bundle of some sort.”

“Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be there,” Sond said. “And I doubt that whoever put it there means anything but ill will for the Gull and her crew.”
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 254

Leaving the aft deck to Torrin, Sond rushed forward and began issuing orders. The crew responded quickly, gathering long coils of thick hemp rope and taking them to the bow of the ship. They began fastening them together, tying multiple knots in the center of what became a strand almost a hundred feet long.

“What are they doing?” Bredan asked.

“They’re rigging a keel line,” Quellan explained. “They’ll run the rope down the length of the ship and try to dislodge the object.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

The cleric shook his head; he had no answer.

It didn’t take long to get the rope rigged. Several crew members on each side of the ship walked it back, passing it around the rigging and other obstacles. Finally, they reached the aftcastle. Bredan could see the moment when they hooked on their passenger. He joined them in taking the ropes as far back as they could go and then pulling the rope back and forth in an effort to dislodge the object. But they only managed to slip the rope free. At Sond’s order, the men on the both sides quickly added slack and rushed to the forward end of the aftcastle before the line could foul the rudder.

“Maybe we could try it from back to front,” Bredan said.

“No,” Sond said. “Get it taut again, about where the obstruction is,” she told her men. While the sailors moved the line back into position, she took up one of the ends of the rope and used her belt knife to cut a small loop a few feet in length. She went over to the starboard rail. “Bring it up as far as you can,” she said to the sailors there. They pulled up the rope as much as they could while allowing the men on the opposite rail a good grip.

“What are you thinking of doing?” Glori asked Sond.

The halfling found one of the knots in the rope and attached her small length of rope there. She made a circle that she twined around her wrist a few times.

“Captain,” Quellan said. “Maybe… ah, maybe one of us should do this.”

“It’s my ship,” Sond said. “And before you make a comment about our respective sizes, you should know that I am not planning on relying upon physical strength.” She twisted her head and free arm around, making sure that her muscles were limber, before she went up to the rail.

“I’ve never seen anyone volunteer to take a keelhauling before,” Rodan said.

Sond leapt up onto the railing, and gestured to her sailors to make ready. But before she could go over the side the ship shuddered, and then lurched heavily.

Quellan quickly grabbed for Sond, but the captain had already spun and dropped back to the deck, freeing herself from the rope. Bredan looked over the side, in time to see a dark shadow pass below the ship. The only detail that he could make out was that whatever it was, it was huge. It faded as whatever it was sank back under the surface.

Bredan looked over to see Glori standing at the railing beside him. “Uh oh,” she said.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
A little... rounder... :)

* * *

Chapter 255

“What is it?” Glori yelled.

Sond was already running over to the platform that jutted from the front of the aftcastle. “I don’t know, but it’s big enough to snap this ship in two,” she said. “All sails out!” she cried. “Ready weapons!”

Her crew rushed to obey, even as Sond lifted her arms and summoned her magic. The response was immediate, and the improvised main sail filled as the wind stirred at her bidding.

“Will the new mast take it?” Bredan asked.

“We’ll find out,” Sond said grimly.

The ship lurched and then shuddered again as it suffered a glancing blow from whatever was below them. The mast groaned ominously but held as the ship picked up speed. The crew got every bit of sail they could rig onto the masts, and the Gull bounced as it cut through the waves, but the crew and passengers remained tense as they awaited another attack.

“Think we can outrun it?” Kosk asked.

“I don’t know,” Quellan said. “Maybe it will decide that we’re not edible.”

A shout from the rigging above drew everyone’s attention. “Coming again, to starboard!”

The companions rushed to that side of the ship in time to see a dark shadow rise up out of the deep. “Hard to port!” Sond yelled. The entire ship listed as the helmsman obeyed the order, and the tiny halfling altered the wind to compensate.

“Here it comes!” Glori yelled, a scant heartbeat before the creature breached the surface.

It was massive, larger than any creature the companions had ever seen. It looked like it might even be bigger than the Gull, though it was difficult to be sure with most of its body below the surface. It looked like a giant turtle, with a huge armored shell and massive flippers that could obviously propel it at great speed. But the flippers culminated in scaled claws, and the head that emerged from the sea was that of a fearsome dragon. It opened its jaws wide and let out a massive roar that overpowered the senses of the people on the ship, a moment before it rose up and collided with the vessel itself.

The Gull reversed its tilt, being pulled over to the other side by the weight of the dragon turtle. The masts swayed dangerously, and one crewman was knocked free of the rigging, screaming as he plummeted into the sea just beyond the creature’s massive shell. Those on the deck scrambled to hold on to anything they could find, and several fell, sliding across the deck until they struck the starboard railing.

Bredan had rushed down to the main deck to get closer to the enemy. He rallied the sailors there who were tentatively holding crossbows. Kalasien and his men had come onto deck as well, carrying their own missile weapons. “Let that thing have it!” Bredan yelled. He had summoned his sword, but even with its surge up out of the water it was still well out of his reach. The others around him began to fire their bows at the creature, focusing on its head. But most of their shots merely bounced off its hide, those that weren’t deflected by its shell or which landed uselessly in the water.

But while the crew’s initial attacks were almost useless, Bredan’s companions were quick to unleash their own weapons and spells upon the monster. Glori tried to infest its mind with fear, but the spell seemed to have no effect. Quellan tried to hit it with a guiding bolt, but the stream of divine energy went wide and bounced harmlessly off its shell. Xeeta blasted it with a series of scorching rays, but while she managed a direct hit on its scaled head, the flames did not appear to have much effect.

“It’s resistant to fire!” she warned.

The crew and Kalasien’s soldiers continued shooting, but even though a few bolts now jutted from its hide, they didn’t seem to be having much of an impact. Rodan had appeared and rushed up onto the forecastle, leaning dangerously over the rail with one leg looped around one of the rope stays anchored to the side of the ship. He tried to put an arrow into one of its eyes, but between the creature’s movements and the bucking of the ship he could only manage to get one hit further back along its no-doubt extremely thick skull.

A crewman rushed onto the main deck, carrying an armload of large harpoons. Bredan saw him and ran toward him, but before he could reach the man the dragon turtle opened its jaws wide. A hissing sound like the workings of the largest bellows ever made rose from within its body. Quellan’s eyes widened, and he yelled, “Get back! Everyone, get to cover!”

But his warning came too late. As the dragon turtle’s claws tightened their grip on the ship’s hull it unleashed a blast of boiling steam that washed over the main deck of the Gull, the edge of it reaching as far as the forward part of the aftcastle where most of the companions were gathered. At least half a dozen crewmen on the main deck were killed instantly. Quellan, still exposed along the railing, staggered back blistered and blinded. He nearly fell, only the relentless endurance of his orcish heritage keeping him upright. Glori, who’d gotten back in time to avoid the worst of it, ignored the pain of her own searing burns to rush to his aid. Xeeta likewise caught the edge of the blast, but her own infernal resistance allowed her to withstand it.

Haverd had been reloading his crossbow when he’d heard Quellan’s warning. He’d started to move toward cover when the creature’s breath weapon hit, but was still exposed when the blast of steam knocked him off his feet and sent him sprawling to the deck. As the ship tilted still further the unconscious warrior started sliding toward the railing, which had only been temporarily repaired after the storm. Kosk saw him and leapt down from the aft deck, trying to grab hold of him as he slid past, but the steam had made the deck slick and the dwarf fell, nearly ending up going after him. Kalasien had burrowed into a cluster of ropes where the rigging was attached to the rail, and might have been able to grab him before he hit, but he either didn’t see the approaching man or wasn’t able to help him.

Haverd hit the damaged railing and for a moment it looked as though the repairs would hold, but then then the abused wood collapsed and he went over. The dragon turtle saw him and snapped him up in its huge jaws before he could hit the water.

Bredan pushed himself up, a bit dazed. He’d been caught in the blast of steam as well, but he’d reacted instinctively, sweeping his sword up as if he could somehow block the searing jet with his steel. That was insane, but he’d felt a surge of power that had somehow protected him from the worst of the deadly heat. He’d done something similar in the fight with the devil in Li Syval, but there was no time to ponder the question now, as they were still in a deadly situation. He’d seen Haverd go over the edge of the deck, and could see that several of his companions were likewise badly hurt. Xeeta was still trying to hurl fire at the creature, but if it could breathe steam it probably wasn’t going to be hurt much by her magic.

He bent and picked up one of the harpoons that the crewman had brought up on deck. The man was lying dead, the skin of his face and neck crinkled red by the gout of steam. He let his sword disappear, knowing that its magic was still with him, and made his way carefully toward the part of the railing that was still intact. The dragon turtle had dropped back into the water and the angle of the deck was more manageable, but he knew it would not release them until either it was dead or the ship was torn apart.

As he approached the canted edge of the deck, he heard a loud blast of sound. For a moment he thought it was another attack, then he remembered Sond and her shatter spell.

He looked over the edge of the deck into a maelstrom. The creature looked even bigger now, if that was possible. Its scaled head was pocked with arrows and bolts embedded shallowly into its hide, and scorch marks that had likely been inflicted by Xeeta’s magical assault. But Bredan could see that the attacks were just pinpricks, non-lethal scratches that the monster might not even be able to feel. Its jaws were covered in gore from consuming Haverd, and they opened again as it spotted Bredan at the rail, offering it defiance.

Bredan lifted the harpoon. He let instinct guide him, summoning his magic, letting it course through his body. He focused on the same target that Rodan had tried to hit, the bulbous, lidded globe of an eye.

The harpoon shot down. For a moment as the eye blinked shut he thought that the throw was going to miss, but then it blinked open again, just as the hooked steel tip drove home.

The dragon turtle reared back, its claws tearing free with a snap of wood giving way. Bredan shifted and nearly lost his grip on the railing. The ship shuddered again as the creature’s head smashed into it, and then the Gull bobbed up and clear as it was released. Bredan remained tense until he saw the dark mass of the creature sink deeper into the water and finally fall behind them as the ship began to move forward again.

“Good throw, lad,” Kosk said. The dwarf looked a mess, his forearms and face seared by the steam, but at least he was upright and functional. The same could not be said for many of those still on the main deck of the Gull. Quellan, restored somewhat by Glori’s curative magic, quickly made his way down to the main deck and went to the aid of those who could still be saved.
 

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