Cuana Chapter 11 Entry 2

Malleus’ journal

Cortos had picked the locks on the chains that held the Kushite slaves tied to their oars, and now sixty or so of them were making their way onto our ship. Of the Stygians that survived, only four – with the exception of the priest, Khonsardais – elected to stay with us. The rest remained about their tub, which was rapidly taking on water. Leaving them to their fate, we unfurled our sails and continued to sail in the direction we had been before we were attacked. There was plenty of work to do in repairing damage and preparation for the possibility of encountering other hostile vessels. The captain had appointed spokesmen to act as liaisons and translators from each the Kushites and the Stygians. Hajaga was chosen from the Kushites, and Kehpfa from the Stygians. Through these two, Hollan explained what their new responsibilities were going to be and what was to be expected of them. Both Cortos and I were left to keep an eye on things while the captain took Abizar and Khonsardis to his cabin to discuss matters. A few minutes later they emerged, made a slight course correction, and we continued to sail uneventfully for most of the afternoon.

Later that day a fight broke out on deck among the Kushites, apparently over a piece of jewelry. Immediately both Abizar and I pushed our way through the onlookers to where the combatants were locked in a struggle over a gaudy necklace. Abizar threw something into their midst that gave off a brilliant flash of blue light, momentarily stunning all of them. Using the fight as an opportunity to show the others the folly of brawling aboard the ship, I grabbed at the stunned Kushites and began tossing them overboard. Kehpfa and Hajaga ran over, and the Stygian – translating the Kushites words for me – asked that the last two be spared, that they were from Hajagas tribe and that he would take responsibility for them. Seeing that my point had been made, I assented to spare the two, but told Kehpfa to advise Hajaga that should they be caught fighting again, that I would toss Hajaga overboard along with them.

Early in the morning of the sixth day after our encounter with the Stygian warship, we spotted land. An island lay ahead. As we drew closer detail began to come into view. There was what looked like a large island with two smaller islands in front of it, one connected to the larger island by a bridge that spanned sheer cliffs on either side. Coming up along the smallest of the islands, we had begun to sail further in to get a look for a place to harbor when from the crows nest a cry rang out that something was in the water and heading straight for us – something big. I heard the word ‘whale’ from a couple of the Argosseans, and I went to the rail to have a look. The thing was huge! – far bigger than the dead dragon-creature we had seen blocking the path in the Pictish wilderness. It was gray in color, with a large, blunt head like a massive battering ram. Then I noticed the gaping, bloodless wounds upon its flank, where bones, a bright shade of white from the bleaching effect of the saltwater, shown through in several places. This thing wasn’t even alive!

As the colossal undead thing was bearing down on us, the captain ordered the ship to turn strait toward it at ramming speed. The deck tilted from the tight radius of the turn and we were forced to grab onto masts, ropes, rails – anything we could grab that would support our weight. We had almost completed the turn when the beast struck the ship, plowing into our port side just shy of the bowsprit, and sparing itself a direct with the full force of the keel behind it. There was a deafening crash, and the force of the blow knocked me from my feet despite the grip I had upon the mast. The boom from the foremast swung wildly, clearing the deck around it of any that had staggered back to their feet and sending several tumbling over the gunwale. I managed to regain my footing and stagger back toward the mizzen as the chainplates around the main mast were ripped from the planks of the deck. As the ship began to right itself we saw that the monstrosity was coming about for another run at us, and this time we had no forward or aggressive posture of our own, for all practical purposes simply adrift and vulnerable, easy prey for the undead colossus.

We watched as it circled around – the Northman had ceased issuing commands and instead simply yelled ‘Hold on!’. No one needed to be told. I saw a couple arrows fired at the thing, but they were as gnats to a bear for all the effect they had. This time it came at us directly in the center of our port side, and I felt the deck buckle upward underneath my feet as it smashed into the ship, once again tearing me loose of my grip on the mizzen and sending me sprawling onto the deck. There were terrible sounds – the ear piercing snap of wood, such as a large tree being felled, the groan of steel and timber as the decks themselves gave way, the thunderous roar of water as it rushed into the lower decks with the force of a waterfall, the snapping of rigging and mooring chains being shredded and torn as masts began to topple, and above it all the screams of the crew as they were smashed, thrown, drowned below deck, or washed overboard. The keel had been snapped, and the Dagons Valor was literally torn in two, both halves vanishing fast beneath the surface of the sea. I head an Argossean voice cry out ‘its coming about!’ and turned my head to see the vast bulk of the undead terror bearing down on us yet again. All I could think of to do was dive into the sea and swim for my life toward the closest of the islands.

After swimming a good distance I chanced slowing down for a quick look around me. I could see many others swimming in the same direction as I was, but few had covered the distance that I had. There was little left of our ship except for the tip of the prow sticking up from a field of floating rubble. Many survivors – mostly Kushites – were clustered about, attempting to grab onto pieces of timber left from the wreckage when the monstrosity surfaced and headed straight for them. There was no escape – arms flailing wildly and screaming in terror, many of them simply disappeared into the beast’s gullet. Submerging as it went, the undead monster began to turn about for another pass. That was all that I needed to see – I swam for the shore with every ounce of strength I could summon, the screams of another wave of doomed men echoing in my ears as they too were swallowed alive. Off to my right and still distant, the triangular fins of sharks were breaking the surface of the water, drawn by both the scent of blood in the water and the commotion caused by the sinking of the ship. To stay in the water was to die, either swallowed whole or torn to pieces. There were several others who were swimming madly for the island, but it was impossible to tell their identities from where I was, so I just raced for the island and hoped my friends were among those who might gain the island in one piece.

It seemed that I swam forever, death lurking behind and the island so far ahead. I was not troubled by physical fatigue, but the image of that huge dead thing – it’s lifeless eyes focused on nothing while it unerringly sought out the largest clusters of screaming Kushites, swallowing them by the score – played continuously in my mind’s eye, fueling the feeling of urgency that I must gain the shore. Finally, I began to feel the swells of the sea change, pulling me in the direction of the island as they resolved themselves into surf. This helped to propel me more quickly toward the shore, and I put a last, tremendous burst of effort to get the hells out of those deadly waters. I scrambled up onto the beach, well above the reach of the waves, and dropped to my knees. Looking back across the water, I saw the last remnants of our ship slip below the surface, and heard the screams of several men as the sharks ripped them to pieces. Of the dead colossus, nothing could any longer be seen. Standing and shielding my eyes from the glare of the sun, I saw several others were close to gaining the shore, recognizing one right away as the pale Northman. Within moments it became apparent that the other two figures struggling for the shore were Cortos and Abizar. None of the others could be seen, and as we rested on the beach to catch our breath, it became plain that no one else had survived.

We still had the map that had been carried by the Stygian priest, Khonsardais, so we took a moment to look it over. An ‘X’ was marked on the far side of the island, so we decided to go have a look to see what may be located there. Along the way, we found the wreckage of a Stygian ship called Neferrenpet, lying aground on the sand. Looking inside, we found a lot of provisions – grain, fish, etc – all spoiled. There were typical maintenance tools stored inside, all in workable condition. A gaping hole in her port side looked like it might be repairable, but it would take a lot of work and a great deal of time to do so. Continuing on, we soon reached the area of the island that had been marked on the map. Seeing nothing unusual, we explored the area, looking around in the wooded area that rose in hills above the shoreline. Suddenly we saw a woman with blue skin, standing on a nearby outcropping above the water. I suddenly heard a voice – a very seductive female voice – whispering invitations to me in my head. I pinched the bridge of my nose and shook my head, and felt the allure of the voice ebb away. Glancing around, I saw that the others had heard it too, Cortos staring at her with pure, wanton lust on his face and taking steps in her direction. The other two had not been effected by her voice, and recognizing danger, Abizar was loading an arrow into his bow. Both Hollan and I advanced upon the blue lady-creature as the Stygian’s first arrow struck her in her right shoulder.

From a closer perspective, this woman was not beautiful at all. Indeed, her demonic nature could be discerned much more clearly. Shivering at the thought of falling into the clutches of such a creature, I swung my blade at nearly the exact second that Hollan did the same. Both of our blades connected solidly, a second arrow from the Stygian striking her as well. With that, the creature vanished from sight. Apparently gone, Cortos and Abizar deemed it safe to search her lair, which had been made in an obvious cave right nearby. With the others searching around the area, I remained atop the outcrop where I had a clear view, keeping watch for her return or any other dangers that may be lurking about. Suddenly, she was standing right next to me on the rocky ledge. Her sudden reappearance startled me, and I began to reach for my blade when, looking into her eyes, I realized that she was absolutely the most beautiful woman I had seen in my life. No, she was more than that – she was everything a female could possibly be, and more. A goddess, perhaps. I took her into my embrace, and felt her arms slip around me in return. She then leaned backward, and we both toppled off of the ledge and splashed down into the sea. I was awash in passion, my hands pulling at her scant garment, intent on lovemaking beyond anything I had ever experienced. My vision began to fade, so I closed my eyes, able to see her breathtaking beauty very plainly in my mind, her sweet voice caressing my soul. I gave myself up completely, sinking down into a sweet dream of ecstacy and darkness.

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