Thrice The Brinded Cat

The Eye of the Needle

Godsday, the 18th of Coldeven in the CY 594

The Captain set sail before sunrise. Once asea, the gruff Arganat called his crew, along with Derg and his trio of bodyguards to a meeting above decks. Kate could tell the captain was extra agitated and she wondered what new hell they were in for today.

Sybarate Isle was still visible as a black smudge across the starboard bow against the backdrop of just a slightly less-dark sky. The wind was even and blowing up from the south, making this a fast windward reach. It was the first time Kate had sailed downwind in the Dragonsprit and she was instantly amazed at how quiet and still the ride was. The ship sailed with the wind, leaving those on board to experience just the slightest of warm, moist breezes upon the backs. The Dragonsprit sliced along the coastal swells with an easy rocking chair motion and only the sound of the water parting the hull could be heard. To Kate it was a gentle and soothing “sushing” sound; it was a magical moment and she suppressed the urge to shout out with the joy of the moment.

“Well…today we face the needle once more,” Captain Arganat’s gruff voice brought Kate out of her reverie and back to the reality of the job she and her two friends had before them. With his good eye, the captain looked at each of the crew and passengers before him as if he were trying to see something beyond their very skin. “Are ye up to the task?”

The crew grumbled and nodded their assent. Kate had no idea what “The Needle” was so she just nodded along with the rest.

“As before, we’ll be sailing straight on till morning and should hit Seaton sometime after the morrow’s first light. No sleeping on the job, now!” he raised his voice as he stared down Zokar. “All eyes are to be alert,” he continued, now staring at Dogboy. “And all hands on deck,” now pointing at Bilge and Tonsil.

He then turned his eye to Lady Min, “And if you have to commune with nature, for the love of Xerbo, do it off the aft deck and make sure you hit the water or you’ll be cleanin’ barnacles off the keel when we make port.” Kate never thought she’d see the tough Lady Min blush, but that last bit from the captain brought a hint of color to her cheeks.

The First Mate was at the helm when Arganat turned to him, “Tully – keep your crew quiet. Especially when we make the Eye. Dogboy, when I give the signal, you raise the Lion Throne and you do it fast, you hear me! Bilge – you’ll be feeding the crew on deck today and you’ll only use the water dippers – I don’t want no one drinkin’ the good stuff till we hit port. There be time enough for a good drunk in Seaton.”

Kate wasn’t sure what ‘raising the Lion Throne’ was or how water dippers were to be worked into the day, but she wasn’t too worried.

The morning passed with the wind blowing hard west so the captain ordered Tully to take her further out to sea to take advantage of it. Before noon a thick fog set in and the temperatures dropped to a blessed comfortable level. As Tonsil passed hard tack and oranges out to the crew, Kate spied Bilge busily dipping deep iron ladles into one of the ship’s water casks and bringing a full one to each of them, keeping their thirst at bay, and, Kate realized, less likely for the crew to be tempted to slake their thirst on grog. Whatever was going on today, the captain meant for the crew to be in tip-top shape.

The Dragonsprit left Sybarate Isle behind and crossed into Fairwind Strait. The wind shifted again, now blowing hard from the southeast. Lady Min pointed out hulking Fairwind Island to Kate. It was just visible through the fog. Min explained that the straight was just nine miles across and the captain planned to make for it with great haste.

By noon the ship was sailing on the leeward side of Fairwind Isle. Kate saw that the land of this desolate island was quiet. Tully brought the ship within a hundred yards of the coastline and Kate could see the earth was pockmarked with huge swaths of scorch marks, as if the island had been besieged by lightning or falling stars.

Kate noticed the crew became very quiet as they sailed past the barren shore and their eyes darted this was and that, as if half-expecting ghosts to appear out of mid-air. After some time she heard Dogboy let out a low whistle from high up in his perch in the crow’s nest. Min and Zokar dropped from the rigging, creeping to the starboard rails and carefully leaned out, scanning the glassy water. Kate crept over and joined them, curious as to what the fuss was about.

Min pointed out beyond the bow and Kate looked out past her outstretched finger. She squinted to see better the object floating in the water ahead.

“Debris?” Kate asked in a soft, whispery voice.

Min nodded. “Jetsam, I suppose,” she said.

“Flotsam, more likely,” grumbled the hulking Zokar.

As the Dragonsprit sailed past, Kate realized the floating object was a rather large chunk of broken timber, planed and tarred as if it once belonged to the hull of a ship. She also realized that the plank wasn’t the only thing in the water. Suddenly hundreds, if not thousands, of objects appeared out of the fog bank, bobbing on the water’s surface. There were lots of pieces of tarred lumber, and there were bits of charred canvas, like sails, and wooden barrels and bottles and crates and all manner of things. The Dragonsprit continued on its course, sailing right through the sea of refuse.

“Flotsam? Jetsam? What does that mean?” Kate asked.

“Well,” started Min, “jetsam is stuff people throw overboard to, say, lighten a load or just to get rid of.”

“And flotsam,” continued Zokar,”is stuff you didn’t mean to throw overboard. Like when . . .”

Zokarr choked off the last words as a bloated, bleach-white corpse floated past.

“ . . . a ship crashes,” he finally finished.

Kate caught her own breath as she saw dozens upon dozens of floating bodies. They were a mix of dark skinned people, who looked a lot like Rhemi, and dark-skinned red haired people who looked a lot like the native Suel tribesmen from around Sasserine, and those of light skinned blond warriors and even others bodies that didn’t look human at all. Kate didn’t need to be a sailor to realize there was far too much debris in the water to all be from a single vessel. She figured this was the remains of many, many, many ships. The sight was more than she could stand and finally she looked away.

As evening approached, Tully pointed out the northern tip of Fairwind Isle. “Just beyond that, directly north is Jetsam Isle,” he said. He then pointed out to his left, “And far to port is Floatsom Isle. Right in between the two you will find Monmurg Head. At least, I think we’ll find it there.”

“Where would it go?” Kate shouted back to the First Mate. Tully waved her up to the aft deck. “No need to shout, lass. I, First Mate Tully, cordially invite you to join approach the wheel.” Kate had never been upon the aft decking as it was off-limits to all but Arganat and the First Mate. She felt a little trepidation as she climbed the ladder and joined Tully at the ship’s wheel.

Tully stared out at the horizon for a long moment. “Do you see that orange light out there,” he asked Kate. Kate stared out past the bowsprit at the darkening horizon until she could just make out a faint orange glow, like the last vespers of the setting sun.

“That’s Monmurg. Once the greatest city on the bay. It was the Capital of the Hold, or what once we called the Hold.”

“The Hold? What’s that?”

Tully raised an eyebrow at Kate and shook his head. “I see you don’t get out much, do you?”

Kate grinned and shrugged her shoulders.

“The Hold of the Sea Princes. Once a great nation of the most successful, glorious, beautiful, bloodthirsty, no-good, rotten scoundrels you ever could meet. They liked to be called things like “diplomats”, “ambassadors”, “governors”, “princes” and “kings”, but they was all just pirates, scalawags and buccaneers.”

“What happened to them?”

Tully looked wistful and stared off into the evening sky before answering. “Well, little lass, Tully’s really not too sure what happened to them. One day they was doing their pirate thing and the next they was gone.”

Kate gave a start. “Gone? How can that be? They all just disappeared in one day?”

“That’s how the people around here claim it happened. The Night of Death is what they call it. That’s been several years ago, now. Left the place in total chaos. Then the Shar showed up out of nowhere. They just kind of moved in. At first we all thought they was our saviors, come to rescue us from whatever evil took away our leaders. But it didn’t take long for us to realize things might o’ been better off with the Sea Princes. Evil lot, them Shar.”

“And, the Shar,” Kate asked softly, “that man on the docks back at Sybar. He was one of them?”

Tully looked grim. “Yes, lass. Brother Renn is Shar, as well as your Uncle Alresian, back in Sasserine.”

Kate looked confused. “Who? I don’t believe I know that person.”

Tully shook his head and mumbled something that sounded like “too young and too blind.” Tully scratched his balding head and grimaced.

Kate then suddenly looked surprised, “Wait! You mean the nice man on the docks? The man who is always smiling? The one from that new place? What was it called, the Scarlet Embassy?

“That’s the one, lass. The very one.”

“And those men who boarded the boat the other day?”

Tully just nodded.

“But those were Amedians with them,” Kate protested, “people of the jungle tribes! And there were a bunch of them with Brother Renn, too! I’ve never heard anyone call them Shar before.”

Tully sighed. “Those tribesmen are not Shar, and never truly will be.”

Kate looked confused. “But, why . . .?”

“The Shar are a proud, fierce and cruel people, girl,” Tully’s eyes darted left and right as he spoke as if afraid someone were secretly listening in on their conversation. “They like to keep their bloodlines pure and only the purest of their kin are Shar. Everyone else, especially the . . .” Tully suddenly caught himself and looked ashamed as he continued, “ . . . you know, halfbreeds,” he said with obvious pain in his voice, “they look upon them as the least of mortal-kind.”

Kate was all too familiar with the term “halfbreed”, and even though she felt Tully meant no harm in what he said, she still felt the sting. It surprised her how much that word hurt.

After a while she asked, “So, are the tribes-people half-breeds?”

“No, lass. Not all of them,” Tully said. “Take Rhemy, for instance. He can trace his tribe’s ancestry back a thousand years to a time when they first arrived in the Amedio. Olman is what they call themselves and their ancestors crossed the Azure long ago to arrive here. It was much later when the Suel came to the jungle, driven here by some long-forgotten war or, some say, a monster. Those that ‘mixed’ with the Olman are often lighter in skin and red of hair and freckled of face. Sometimes they even sire a white-demon, or so I’m told. But that being a rare event. Those Olman without Suel blood stay dark and pure in their own way.”

“I think I understand,” said Kate. “So, the Shar are pureblood Suel, then. And the tribesmen we have seen with the Shar have all had red hair – halfbreeds?” The word was foul upon her tongue.

“Aye, that’s the truth of it.”

“But, I still don’t know why the Amedians would travel with the Shar, or why the Shar would travel with the Amedians, if they hate each other so.”

“I suppose men will do strange things for a little profit.”

“Like pirates?” Kate asked, smiling up at the big man.

Tully harrumphed, “I prefer buccaneer, lassie. But, aye, something like that.”

“The Shar need fighters. Warriors. Eager souls on the front-lines of their battles. The front-lines are a dangerous place to be in a battle and if you are the Shar, you figure you might as well fill the front-lines with people who will fight fiercely and die on the spears of your enemy. What better place for people you despise than on the front-lines and dying for you.”

“Hmmm, but why do the Amedians do it? Why would they fight for people that despise them?”

“Well, that’s the catch, isn’t it?” Tully said. “If you dangle enough gold before a man’s nose it blinds him to simple truths like that. The Shar make grand promises to the Amedians. Lands, gold, power, slaves. They promise it all. Cousins is what they call them, and they promise some day they will find a rightful place within the Shar’s empire.”

“Let me guess,” said Kate, “that’s something the Shar will never give them.”

“Aye, it’s a dangerous job to work for the Shar and the Shar make damn sure none of their “cousins” live long enough to collect their rewards.”

Kate looked up to the top of the main mast. She could hear the red flag flapping in the night wind above them but in the darkness it looked grey and black to her. “And that flag. Is it a Shar flag?”

Tully nodded.

“So, are you and the captain Shar?” Kate asked in confusion.

Tully let out a bellowing laugh that brought the first mate to tears.

“Oh by the mermaid’s whiskers no, girl!”

Kate blushed at that and quickly asked her next question.

“So, what is happening in the capitol city up there? Is that fire? Is it burning?”

“Monmurg is always burning these day. Best not get involved with that, lass.”

“Who is burning it? The Shar?”

Tully looked pained as he spoke. “Years ago that grand city was the capitol of the Hold. No grander place of thievery and debauchery has ever there been, and, mayhaps, no finer a den of cutthroats and cutpurses will there ever be again.”

Kate thought Tully looked truly saddened by this, even though to her it seemed like burning down a place like that would be a vast improvement.

“Not only were the Sea Princes the best damn pirates on the seas, they were also very successful slavers. Before the Night of Death, folks on the seas figured there were eight slaves to every Holder.”

“That seems like an awful lot of slaves. Where did they come from?”

Tully laughed. “Well, all over, I suppose. But mostly from the Amedio.”

Kate furrowed her brow. “Tribesmen? From the jungle? You mean Amedian people?”

“Yes. Mostly Olman, but the Holders weren’t particular. They took everybody they could get their hands on.”

Tully looked out at the deepening orange glow on the horizon. “Nine years ago the Night of Death changed everything. The Princes disappeared in a single night and that very next day hundreds of ships flying red sails flooded the coastline and dumped hundreds of thousands of armed Amedians onto the shore to loot and pillage and kill any Holder that walked.”

“So, the Shar took over?” asked Kate.

Tully took in a deep breath. “Not quite,” he said. With the Princes gone and the Holders either dead or on the run, that left a whole lot of very angry former slaves mucking about.”

“Oh! So, they were reunited with their people when the Shar dropped their Amedian armies off on the shore. It must have been a very happy reunion!” Kate said, smiling.

Tully took another deep breath, “Once again, not quite,” he said. “Remember I told you the Shar had promised their “cousins” great wealth and power and lands. The Amedians of the Shar pillaged the land and killed anyone who got in their way, including their brothers and sisters who had so joyfully just been freed from their shackles. It was a bloodbath beyond description. And,” he said nodding toward the orange glow on the horizon, “the city still burns after all these years.”

Kate felt sick. So much blood and death and greed. She looked out north again and saw a hellish haze of orange light, silently flashing with orange blooms from the northeastern side of Jetsam Isle. Flotsam, remained dark, like an inkspot on an otherwise dark canvas. She remembered the flotsam and the bloated bodies from earlier in the day. What she at first felt were a series of strange and unrelated events since her first day on the Dragonsprit all began to connect like some horrible, gory puzzle in her head. Her thoughts consumed her as the darkness of night settled in and she drifted into silence, standing stock still upon the gently listing deck and letting the warm breeze envelope her like a blanket. She smelled smoke. Old and gritty smoke from far away. Monmurg is burning. The ferry is no more. The Princes are gone in the night, their isles blasted by the heavens.

Kate lost track of time standing there next to Tully, listening to the wind and the waves. Sometime later she became aware of a several lanterns bobbing up from below decks and voices accompanying them.

“Kate, you missed dinner,” Derg said as he climbed up the aft ladder to stand next to her. Gorbi, silently climbed up and joined them both. “Tonsil put together a delicious fish stew. Better hurry up and get some before Zokar eats it all.”

Tully stared daggers at Derg.

“I’m fine,” said Kate. “Not very hungry right now.”

Tully looked perturbed. “You are all invited to the wheel. I suppose,” he said quietly.

“Suit yourself. I’ve finally got my sea-legs and am going to take advantage of the fact my dinner stays in my stomach and not over the rails.”

More voice came from below and two more lanterns appeared. Galdar came into view, alongside Captain Arganat and Kate wondered her friend could possibly be doing hanging out with the captain, as if they were old chums who just shared a pint of ale.

“Master Moenthal,” the captain shouted up to them, “might I have a word with your bodyguards?”

“My bodyguards? What on Oerth would you possibly want with them? Don’t you have your own bodyguards, Captain?”

“Never needed guarding,” Arganat said, as he began to slide the wicked cutlass on his hip from its sheath. “Now, must I remind you we are planning to thread the Eye of the Needle tonight. Never been through there without at least a little spot of trouble. Just want to make sure your men know what the score is before we get into the thick of things.”

Derg shrugged, “As you wish, Captain. Just don’t take too long. I’m going to stay up here and enjoy the evening air. These three are getting paid good money to do their job and if they aren’t doing their job then I may have to dock their pay.”

Captain Arganat turned on his heel and, lantern in hand, stalked back to the captain’s quarters. Galdar motioned with a twitch of his head for Kate and Gorbi to follow.

The captain’s quarters was below deck through a hatch and down a long, dark hallway near the stern. Once inside Arganat lit several small candles and then shuttered the portholes. The cabin was small, but richly appointed. A bunk was built into the far wall and the bed was made crisply with woolen blankets. A large desk occupied another wall, and while it was covered in leather-bound books, scrolls and parchment and ink pots, Kate could see there was an order about the clutter. She also spied several brass instruments on the desk, a sextant and a spyglass were two that she recognized. The center of the room was dominated by a high wooden table. Dozens of rolled up tubes of long parchment were secured in several racks under the table. Arganat pulled up a bench and motioned for Gorbi to stand on it so he could see above the tabletop. Then the four of them gathered around in a conspiratorial manner.

“I won’t lie to you lads, uh, and lass. You signed up for a dangerous journey.” When he talked, Kate could smell the scent of rum heavy about his breath. “Last time through here we lost all me passengers and only me crew were spared. I got an itchin’ that tonight is going to see trouble o’ the likes o’ before, and I aim to put a stop to it before it begins.”

The captain reached under the table and removed one of the paper tubes from a rack. He untied a bit of cord around the middle and then spread out a map of Jeklea Bay. Kate heard Galdar gasp. In all the years she and Galdar had been friends, she knew he had no greater love than his dreams of faraway places and maps, any kind of map, moved him to near uncontainable excitement. Kate had to admit, this was a beautiful map. Aged and brown like leather but drawn with a delicate hand. She could see her home of Sasserine and the vast Amedio Jungle. There was the Horn and Syberate and Fairwind Islands, as well as Flotsam and Jetsam. And then, jutting out into Jeklea Bay, was the doomed city of Monmurg. Kate saw that the word “Sea Princes” was written on the lands around Monmurg and that there were other cities marked on the map, like Port Toli, Hokar and Westkeep. She noticed that the lands of the Sea Princes was cradled by high mountains to the west called The Hellfurnaces. To the north lay a vast swamp called The Hool and beyond that, further north, more mountains called The Jotens. A long river cut the Sea Princes lands in half, the Hool River and its headwaters were at a huge body of waters called Lake Spendlowe, located in a place called the Dutchy of Berghof.

“We’re here,” the captain said, pointing to a spot on the map just south of Flotsam Isle, “and we’re about to Thread the Needle. We’ve got a bilge pot of trouble all around us. Jetsom is here and the Commodore, Giannini was his name, and his family are long dead. That leaves a few Holders and their slaves. Judging by those bright lights, I’d say the Shar are involved in whatever is going on over there. I’ve met Brother Gimil-lum, who has been given control of that island, and he is someone we definitely don’t want to run into on a dark night.”

“Monmurg is over here,” he continued, “Its’ been burning off and on for years. We can all see it’s “on” right now. The person in charge over there is…well, let’s just say we want to avoid him at all costs. Last time the place lit up it was Olman slaves teaming up with a rabble of Holders and going at it against a whole pile of Amedians and some orcish shock troops that the Brotherhood brought over as reinforcement. No – I don’t mean the half-blooded kind. I mean the real unreasonable orcs.”

“So, see, what we need to look out for tonight . . .”

The captain’s words were choked off as the cabin floorboards suddenly dropped from under Kate’s feet. She saw the other three men hovering several feet in the air. Kate saw the floorboards of the captain’s cabin angle downward at a peculiar angle several feet below her. Then, just as suddenly, the floorboards shot back up to meet her with a crashing jolt. Pain shot up her lets and she crumpled to the floor, the others in the cabin ending up in more or less the same crumpled position. Books and papers and maps crashed down all about her. The lantern on its hook chaotically danced about, sending shadows strobing all about.

“What in the name of the five seas was that?” the Captain shouted, hurrying to his feet and out the cabin door without a care for the injuries of Kate and her friends.

Gorbi and Galdar were both on their feet and helped her up.

“Is everyone alright?” the Galdar asked.

Kate and Gorbi nodded and all three rushed into the dark hallway after the Captain.

When Kate got above decks, the first thing she noticed was how dark it was under the night sky. She could see no moon nor stars and no lanterns were lit. The second thing she noticed was the ship didn’t appear to be moving at all, the only sound was the flapping of the slack sails and the lapping of water against the unmoving hull.

Then she heard a short scream from somewhere towards the bow.

Fog blankets billowed in from all about and nothing else but darkness could be seen beyond the forecastle. Kate saw Tonsil crouched, slack-jawed and wide-eyed just to her left

“Cap’n. I don’t know what’s happening. We hit a fog bank and then we lurched downward,” the simple-minded cook said, “When the bow came out of the water we just stopped. I heard a scream up on the bow a moment ago, too.”

“Get that lantern lit now, Tonsil.,” the captain ordered in a hushed voice.

Tonsil fumbled at the lantern, striking flint on steel until the oil-soaked wick caught flame. A moment later he adjusted the large lens of the bullseye and directed the orange beam of light into the gloom. At first, Kate could see nothing but black fog and what appeared to be smoke. But after a moment she saw it. A figure standing upon the forecastle, very tall, even bent over. The woman’s hair was green and ropy and hung down in long wet strands, the skin of her arms were wet and green and warty, and her hands ended in long, sharp-looking, black claws. The woman jerked her head up as the light grazed her. Her eyes were enormous, wet, black pools that stared back with foul intent.

Several screams and gasps of horror issued from the deck and the rigging. Kate felt her bowels writhe at the sight of the woman-thing-creature and her feet seemed to freeze in place. She noticed Lady Min and Zokar in the fore-rigging, several feet above the woman-thing’s head, Min had the back of her hand over her mouth and was frozen in place, the other hand gripped a rope and one foot dangling free while Zokar scrambled up the rigging to get away from the horror below.

Tonsil moved the beam of light from his lantern to reveal another figure, this one even taller and larger than the sea-woman-monster. Tonsil shuddered as his light traveled up the black, glistening skin of a tremendously large creature – maybe eight feet tall and carrying the headless body of Derg in one hand. The creature was unlike anything Kate had ever seen before, all black spikes and armored plating that glistened with sea water. Barnacles stuck to its plates in patches like mold; seaweed and kelp dangled from protrusions on its body. The creature had glowing orange eyes and steam erupted from its mouth as it calmly reached up and plucked Lady Min out of the rigging.

The sea-hag laughed once then turned and dove over the rails. A split-second later the giant creature crouched low and then leapt overboard, as well, with the bodies of Derg and Lady Min in hand. The entire boat rocked violently and Kate heard a booming splash from below.

As the creatures vacated, the light from Tonsil’s lantern revealed three smaller green-scaled creatures standing at the bowsprit. Kate saw that while they appeared somewhat like men, with arms and legs, their heads were more fish-like than human and their hands and feet were laced with webbing like a duck’s feet. The creatures each held a menacing looking three-pointed spear in their hands and they began to shuffle forward towards Kate and the others.

“To arms!” shouted the Captain, “All hands to arms! Get these stinking creatures off my ship!”

Kate saw Rhemi appear to her right, a wicked looking long-knife in his hands, and Dog-Boy dropped down lightly beside him from somewhere above brandishing what looked like a short wooden club or a heavy peg of some kind. Tonsil drew a cleaver from his belt and even Bilge appeared with a mop-handle which he spun like a quarter-staff.

Just then Kate heard a mighty cry erupt from the bow, “Min! No!” and the hulking Zokar dropped down to the deck behind the advancing sea-monsters. Kate watched in horror as the massive sailor jumped into the sea after his lady love.

Captain Agranat swore loudly and drew a heavy scimitar from the sheath at his hip. He pointed the tip of the weapon at the advancing monsters. Before Kate knew what she was doing she drew her own weapon, a wooden handle with a spiked ball of steel at one end, and leapt toward the closest green creature, hacking down hard with an overhand swing. The creature easily raised it trident, catching her morning star amongst its tines and turned it sideways. The creature was strong and fast and Kate could smell the stench of rotted fish as she closed with the beast. In return, the creature lowered the trident and thrust it toward her. It was much stronger than her and she would have quickly been impaled if she had not remembered the simple martial techniques her father had taught her. Giving in to the creature’s advance, she rolled backwards and out of harm’s way.

Kate was vaguely aware of combat to either side of her. She could hear the heavy sounds of fighting, the shouts and crashes as bodies fought for life and for death upon the slick deck of the Dragonsprit. Kate’s own fear and the overwhelming sense of loss had fled and now her mind focused on just one thing – pulverizing the foul fish monster before her.

She just managed to find her footing once more and the creature lunged at her again, it’s trident low and aimed at her mid-section. As she prepared to parry, a dark shape moved in from her right and Tully slapped the creature’s weapon away with a downward arc of his shortsword. Together, the two of them paired off against the blue-scaled creature.

The next seconds were only a blur to her as weapons clashed and crashed and clanged. She barely registered pain as a sharp tine gashed her hip and warm blood drenched her thigh and a moment later. She barely rejoiced as a well-timed swing crunched through scale and muscle and bone, nearly removing the creature’s right arm at the elbow.

The creature let go of its trident with its now useless right arm and wielded the weapon with its left. The thing shook and bellowed an alien noise at the two of them and then it went wild, thrashing heedlessly in every direction, its trident whirling in a chaotic and unpredictable manner. The creature buried all three tines into Tully’s gut, the look of surprise on the First Mate’s face forever seared into Kate’s memory. The creature tried to yank the weapon free, but its barbs held fast to the Tully’s innards. The thing dropped its weapon and maniacally flailed about with its claws and teeth, slashing and biting at Tully’s flesh. Kate saw her opportunity and brought her spiked club down onto the sea-monster’s wet, fishy skull and through its brain. The creature continued to thrash about, biting Tully’s dying body one more time before going still.

Kate looked up to see Captain Arganat holding his bloody scimitar over the headless corpse of another creature, Rhemy and Tonsil to either side with blooded blades and shredded clothes and she was relieved to see Gorbi and Galdar dispatch their own monster, Bilge giving the creature a couple of whacks with his mop handle for fair measure.

The rest of the night passed in numbing silence. The Captain took the helm and ordered what remained of his crew to sail the Dragonsprit as best they could. After shoving the corpses of the sea monsters overboard and scanning the seas for any sign of Zokar, Kate, Gorbi and Galdar did what they could to help hoist and trim sails. Galdar spent a few minutes with Tully before sadly declaring the First Mate had passed from this world. The crew gingerly wrapped his body in a swath of canvas, said a few words and dumped him overboard.

“Zokar and Mr. Tully, they can’t be gone!” thought Kate. Then she remember Lady Min’s smiling face and the kindness she offered to her during the voyage. She remembered the headless corpse of Derg Moenthal, hanging limp in the sea creature’s giant claws. Her heart sank and she drifted. A deep despair washed over her.

Kate’s mind didn’t register the greyness of morning, nor the sounds of seagulls and distant voices as the Dragonsprit made Seaton harbor and moored up to one of the docks. She vaguely noticed Min’s hammock, hanging empty above her, as she climbed into her own, wrapped herself in a wool blanket and promptly fell into a deep sleep.



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