The Rock-Eaters

When Idorsus finally woke, he found himself less free than he had been in dreaming. The Winged Whale had shattered upon impact with the craggy island, and broken timbers from the splintered ship pressed him body painfully against the uneven stone. He could only move his head.

“Kovin!” he yelled, hoping his first mate was in a better position than he was. If that was the case, and the whole crew had survived, the violent storm may have been a gift. The pirates were hunting the Winged Whale, which now decorated the highest crags of this small island. Assuming no pirates came to search for bodies (and Idorsus was more than willing to assume that), Idorsus would be assumed dead.

So, the only thing between him and freedom were these damned timbers. The planks may have been liftable had Idorsus had a good rest and a good drink, but it had been days since he’d had either, and the storm had sapped his strength.

“Genne!” he yelled. Kovin hadn’t answered, but maybe Genne would. She had been in a safer position that Kovin, who had been vulnerable at the wheel. Had she survived?

Still no answer.

“Durgrum! Twin one! Twin two!” No responses. Idorsus wondered if the twins would have responded if he had ever bothered to learn their names, but decided it didn’t matter.  More likely than not, they were dead. On the bright side, he was spared the awkward conversation where he explained that he didn’t know who was who.

But maybe they were still alive. Idorsus had no way of knowing how big the island was. There was a chance, though a small one, that he had been flung to the top of the crag with the ship, and his crew was even now searching for him.

In either situation, Idorsus decided that he needed to free himself. If help was coming, it would come slowly, and he hated waiting. He began to move his limbs as much as he could, hoping to upset the logs enough for him to slip free.

As Idorsus was trying to wiggle his right arm from beneath a heavy plank, he heard a faint sizzling, followed by a staccato sharp clicking. He stopped moving so as to silence the creaking of the wood, and cocked his ear. Without other noise, he could pinpoint the location of the sound. It was coming from behind him and to the right.

He craned his neck, turning as far as he could. At first, all he could see was the rain-slick grey stones and the brightening sky beyond. Then a small movement drew his gaze, and he could make out a creature the size of a melon not ten feet from his head.

The creature was the same grey as the stone, which is how it had escaped Idorsus’s gaze. And it’s skin didn’t only have color in common with the rocks; it was thick and rough, and seemed to be as hard as the rigid ground that it walked and Idorsus was being crushed against.  The creature was sturdy, with four chubby legs that ended in sharp, spade-like feet. It had a beak that scraped at the ground as Idorsus watched.

That’s where the sizzling and clicking came from. As Idorsus lay pinned, the creature spat a stream of acid onto the stone. The rocks began to melt and soften under the effect of the green liquid, and when it reached a desired state, the creature leaned in and bit off the chunk of rock. Its beak clicked together as it chewed.

The small creature fascinated Idorsus, and he was beginning to be very happy that the storm had tossed them from the sea. Not only had they lost the hunting pirates, but he had discovered this strange animal.

Idorsus whistled at it, then began to clack his teeth together in a poor imitation of the creatures chewing sound. The rock-eater glanced up from its meal. When Idorsus continued his clacking, it began to waddle over.

The rock-eater stopped by Idorsus’s shoulder and plopped back onto its hindquarters.

“Hey little guy,” Idorsus said.

In response, the rock-eater spit a stream of acid dangerously close to Idorsus’s head. It landed on the stone and began to eat away at it.

“Now, now. If you want to spit, please do it on the wood.”

The rock-eater ignored him, following his spit with its beak and taking small bites from the rock. It chewed noisily in his ear.

Somehow over the cacophony of chewing, Idorsus heard heavy footsteps. He looked past the little creature and saw another rock-eater emerge from what he had assumed to be a natural cave, but he now realized had been created with the creatures’ acidic spit.

The second rock-eater was massive. It was still sturdy and thick, but where the little one had fat, the adult had corded muscles. It’s spade-like feet were wickedly sharp, and its beak like a cutlass. At the sight of the little rock-eater by Idorsus, the mother let out a bird-like shriek and spit a torrent of acid.

The acid splashed over the broken planks, and the mother thundered across the stone to get between Idorsus and her baby.  As she backed away with her baby between her legs, Idorsus could feel the load on him lessening as the acid age through the wood.

He moved his arm as soon as he was able, throwing free the beam that had been holding it down. Then he threw free the dissolving wood and scrambled to his feet, clenching his teeth as some of the acid dripped onto his shoulder.

“Idorsus!” From nowhere, Durgrum leapt in front of Idorsus. The huge sailor had somehow kept hold of his warhammer during the shipwreck, and he now held it high. “Get behind me,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“No,” I said, putting a hand on the haft of Durgrum’s hammer and pulling it down. “Leave her be.”

The mother hadn’t spit again, and had made move but to retreat with her young.

Durgrum resisted for a moment, early still threatened, but lowered his hammer and retreated with me.

“Where are the others?” I asked as we picked our way down the crag.

“We split up to look for you.”

I sighed in relief. “So you’re all okay.”

Durgrum nodded. “And ready to get the hell out of here.”

 

This is Part 5.

Click here for Part One//Part Two//Part Three//Part Four

Sudden Storm

The Winged Whale made decent time as it skimmed across the crystal waves of the Javan Sea. The ship’s newest captain, Idorsus Cragfin, was almost annoyed by the pace, but kept reminding himself that she was only being towed by five sets of arms–Durgrum and himself on one side, Genne and the twins on the other. All that considered, it was a wonder they were still going.

Of course, Idorsus had kept his crew in mind when deciding what ship to steal. The Winged Whale had been the only ship in the pirate fleet that might even be moved by five rowers.  Idorsus counted their crawling pace as a victory.

Below decks smelled of damp and mildew. Idorsus had never imagined he would associate those smells with freedom, but now they were sweet in his nostrils. This smelly rowing bench was his way to safety. As he rowed, his eyes burned a hole in the hull. He knew that just through the thick wood were three fully crewed pirate ships, all bearing down on his escaping craft.

“Almost there boys!”

Idorsus could hear Kovin yelling down from the deck. The first mate struggled to make himself heard over the creaking of wood and pounding of waves.

“And girl,” Genne called back.

“Not the time, Genne,” one of the twins growled from behind her, his face twisted up as he pulled on his massive oar.

“We’re almost out of the harbor,” Kovin said. “On my call, make a sharp turn to starboard and get your asses to the deck to work the sails.”

The rowers called up their agreement and returned to their task.  Once out of the harbor, they could hitch a ride on the southern-blowing winds. Their smaller ship could then put some distance between herself and the pirate vessels.

“Three!”

Idorsus pulled steadily; ready to heave for the turn.

“Two!”

Idorsus kept his rhythm.

“One!”

Rough hands tightened around rough wood.

“Pull!”

With roars of effort, Idorsus and Durgrum pulled hard on their oars, bringing the ship swinging starboard. The thick oar creaked and complained under the pressure, but held.

“On course!” Kovin yelled. “Come get the sails!”

Idorsus slid his oar from the sea and racked it before heading above. As he stepped onto the deck, he stepped into a different world than the one he had left. When he had descended below decks, the sun had been out and shining heavily. The wind had been only a soft, warm breeze.

Now, clouds darkened the sky, and cold wind lashed the deck.  Idorsus shivered, half from cold and half with excitement. This new wind would send the Whale speeding towards freedom.

“Looks like a storm’s brewing,” Idorsus said. “Get these sails up and we’ll be gone before the raindrops can hit the deck.”

He was wrong about that, as it turned out. Rain started to fall the sails unfurled and were filled by the driving wind.

“I think this is too much,” Kovin said as Idorsus approached the wheel. “The ship won’t be able to handle it.”

“She’ll do just fine,” Idorsus said, bending over to lovingly pat the deck. “She’s flying right now.”

And she was. The Whale was hurtling southward, racing through the sea. The pirates and the harbor were fading quickly into the distance, obscured by sheets of rain that fell more heavily by the second.

The ship was creaking and straining in the gale, but that didn’t mean anything was wrong. The sails were full and the rain was giving the crew a much needed wash.

“We should bring the sails in!” Durgrum yelled from the prow. “The winds are too strong!”

“You too?  Durgrum, the ship is fine.”

“Listen to him, Idorsus,” Kovin pleaded. “We’ve put enough distance between us and the pirates. We need to find shelter.”

Idorsus mulled it over. He was used to Kovin worrying, but Durgrum usually sided with him against the first mate. That the big sailor had also advised caution gave him pause.

“Alright,” Idorsus said, “bring the sails in. We can find shelter past those rocks.”

The rocks he pointed to were spikes that jutted sharply from the churning surf just off the forested coastline.

“Thank you,” Kovin said, and shouted for the sails to be furled.

But before any orders could be carried out, a gargantuan gust of wind swept across the deck. The sails filled and the mast strained. Then, with an ear-splitting crack, the mast splintered in two and was blown violently into the sea.

“Get to cover!” Idorsus yelled, suddenly scared.  The Winged Whale was thrown off course by the separation of the mast, and was headed straight for the rocky monolith.

Durgrum, Genne, and the twins all found something to grab onto as the rocks loomed closer.

Kovin wrestled with the wheel, but could do nothing, and the ship slammed into the spike of rock.

Idorsus was thrown by the impact, hitting the stump of the mast. His head whipped back, and the storm faded to black.

 

This is Part 4.

Part 1//Part 2//Part 3//Part 5

To Unwanted Passengers

Idorsus Cragfin sat at the edge of the cliff, feet dangling, watching the pirate fleet that was docked below. The night before, the pirates had set the old Royal Harbor ablaze, distracting the Javan guard long enough for them to take the Low Berths, then the cliffs, then the entire island.

Now the pirates were busy up in the city executing the Javan Council, so the fleet was left with only a token guard.

The ship Idorsus was going to steal was a fast one. The Winged Whale sat high on the sea at the edge of the fleet, and only four pirates paced her deck. He and his crew would soon deliver them a message. The Whale was to be his, and other passengers were unwanted.

“Good thing all those council members are getting the axe,” Idorsus said, grinning at his luck.

Kovin Drake, his first mate, frowned. “Those are good people dying up there,” he said.

“Which means there are less bad people down here,”Idorsus said. It amazed and troubled him that Kovin was so skilled at finding something to complain about.

“Remind me again why I’m going to be doing the talking.”

“Because, Kovin, if a pirate was having an excellent time looting, then was sent back to guard a ship, he’d look grumpy. And I’ve never seen anybody look quite as grumpy as you.”

“Besides,” said Genne Porter, approaching with her hands wrapped around the hilts of her daggers, “The rest of us are going to swim around and climb over the side, and you can’t swim.”

Kovin scowled. “When were you planning on telling me this, Idorsus?”

“I wasn’t. You get worried if you know the whole plan.” Idorsus scowled at Genne, then decided to forgive her lapse. Maybe something good would come of Kovin knowing. Genne was a smart girl.

Idorsus patted Kovin on the head and started down the switchback stairs carved into the cliff, calling back over his shoulder, “Grab Durgum and get to distractin’.”

With Genne and the twins following, Idorsus stepped into the surf. He had shed his boots, but was a strong enough swimmer that he kept his other equipment. His broadsword, sealed against the water in its scabbard, was only a slight inconvenience.

The water was calm, and Idorsus made his way to the Whale easily. He pressed himself against the hull, joining the barnacles in clutching at the wet wood. As Genne and the twins arrived, Idorsus thought the barnacles must be glad for the company.

“…here to fetch you,” Kovin’s voice drifted from the deck. “Grimson sent us.”  The name was one Genne had heard two pirates saying.

“Grimson can send a hundred men; I’m not leaving until Vardon says to.”

So Grimson wasn’t in charge of these men. Unfortunate, but the mistake distracted the other pirates on board. Idorsus heard three more sets of boots stomp across the deck towards Kovin.

“Now,” Idorsus whispered, and one of the twins tossed a small grappling hook over the side of the ship. One by one, Idorsus, Genne, and the twins hauled their sodden selves up the rope and dropped quietly to the deck.

“I understand that you have your orders,” Kovin was saying, “but so do I.  Grimson isn’t going to be happy if I don’t return with you.”

“I might be able to help you there,” the pirate said. From where he crouched on the quarterdeck, Idorsus could now see the pirates. The one speaking was the largest of the lot, but they were all fairly scrawny and filthy. “Vardon wrote down his orders. I’ll give them to you, and you can show Grimson.”  The pirate started to turn. “I left them up on the quarterdeck.”

Worry was visibly taking over Kovin. If the pirate turned, he would see Genne and the twins sneaking up on him, blades bare. Idorsus drew his broadsword as a precaution, but gave Kovin a moment to say something.

“Don’t walk away from me while we’re speaking,” Kovin said.  He looked furious; Idorsus knew it was because he had been forced into the speaking role, but the pirates thankfully took it to be directed at them.

“What did you just say?”  The pirate turned back to Kovin and drew his cutlass. He and his three friends looked surprised by the sudden change in emotion.

“I said,” Kovin replied, calming as he saw Genne and the twins move into range, “Don’t walk away from me, filth.”

The pirate leaped forward, sword raised high, but collapsed to the deck with Genne’s knife buried to the hilt in his back.  The other three pirates dropped just as quickly, two to thrusts of the twins’ blade and the last one to Genne’s second dagger.

“That was close,” Kovin said, stepping over the corpses.

“Just close enough,” Idorsus said, grinning as he approached. “You sure kept it exciting.” He thumped Kovin’s chest in appreciation and began to give orders. “Durgum and Genne, cut the ties then get to the oars. The twins and I will join you. Kovin, take the wheel.”

The mate nodded solemnly and took his place on the quarterdeck. “Let’s be quick about it,” he said. “We aren’t out of this quite yet.”

“I know.” Idorsus grinned. The fun was just beginning.

 

This is Part 3.

Part 1//Part 2//Part 4//Part 5

All Flags Fall

Read part one of the adventure here.

 

Idorsus Cragfin peered over the crest of the red tiled roof, trying not to let the executions in the square before him dampen his spirit.

“That’s just unnecessary,” Durgum Wurs said, wincing as the harbormaster’s arms were cut from his torso. The massive sailor was quite the sight as he tried to keep his bulk out of view.

Idorsus agreed. It would be much easier to stay positive if the pirates had only been dismembering the Javan officials, not dismembering them.

“Shit.” Idorsus’ first mate, Kovin Drake, was pressed thin against the roof tiles. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Keep your curses,” Idorsus said. Kovin irritated him sometimes. Would it kill the man to show some optimism?

“Keep my curses?” Kovin whispered back as they watched another group of pirates marching the members of the Isle Council into the square. “How about you keep yourself in the present. I don’t know what world you keep drifting off to, but in this one a fleet of pirates just seized control of the entire isle.”

“I’m on the same roof as you are, Kovin.”  Idorsus knocked on the red tiles as proof. “I’m just not convinced that we’re doomed.”

Screams swelled up from the square as another official was relieved of their limbs.

“You’ve never thought we were doomed.”

“And we never have been.” Another knock on the tiles. “Otherwise we never would have ended up on this beautiful roof on this beautiful island.”

“He has a point,” Durgum said. “The cap’n has always gotten us out alive.”

Kovin glared at him. “Fine,” the mate said, turning back to Idorsus. “Let’s look at the facts: there are thousands of bloodthirsty pirates in control of the Isle. There are six people in your crew. Our ship is a burnt wreck at the bottom of the harbor.  How, since none of those things worry you, are we going to get out of the Isles alive?”

“You forget,” Idorsus said. “We got into a bit of pirating before the council gave us honest work. And we’re better at it than these brutes.  It won’t take much to steal a ship and be on our way.”

“Even if we make it out, what are we going to do about the Javan Council?  They’ve clothed us, fed us and given us work for six years.”

The pirates had moved onto the council members. The master of law lost a leg with a piercing wail.

“We won’t do anything.”  All flags fell, and the green Javan tri-star was no different. The wealth of the Isle had been sure to draw trouble, though a fleet the size of the one that had attacked was surprising.

Kovin’s frown deepened; he was clearly struggling with the plan. Idorsus had known he would. The mate could never see the good in things. He was the type of man to focus on the storm keeping them from the harbor and not the rain it was gifting the mainland.

“Okay,” Kovin said, “we’ll do it your way.”

“I know,” Idorsus said, and nodded towards the square. “Look.”

As a small group of pirates started down an alley past the butcher’s shop, presumably to fetch more victims, Cragfin’s plan leapt into motion.

Genne Porter stepped from the back door of the shop and slid silently into the group, daggers flashing, her movements sharp but subtle. The twins moved in behind her, longswords sheathed, hands ready to quiet any noise made by the dying men.

As the twins dragged the corpses into the shop, Genne threw sawdust over the pooling blood and flashed a thumb up to Idorsus on the roof.

“Time to go,” Idorsus said. Without waiting for a response, he slid down to the eves of the roof and dropped lightly to the cobblestones. “You coming?” he whispered back up.

Kovin and Durgum followed, the big sailor trying and failing to land lightly behind the mate.

“When did you plan that?” Kovin asked.

“As soon as I sent Genne off to scout. I have her different orders as soon as you were out of earshot.”

“And why the hell would you do that? I’m your first mate, Idorsus; I have to know what is going on.”

“You worry too much. I didn’t want you to fret about it.”

Genne had the small wooden door cracked as the three approached, ushering them quickly in and shutting it behind them with a soft thud.

The interior of the shop was dimly lit by faltering torches, and the ruddy light shone on a floor slick with blood; a mixing of the animals’ and the pirates’. Rows of meat hung behind a filthy counter, and most knives were absent from their pegs.

One of the twins (Idorsus could never tell which) was trying on one of the black leather tunics worn by the pirates. The other was busy stripping the remaining corpses down.

“You were supposed to avoid cutting the leather, Genne,” the clothed twin said as he fingered a puncture in the tunic.

“He moved. I was aiming for his throat. Don’t worry about it; we can explain it away once we reach the ships.”

“This is your plan?” Kovin asked, incredulous. “We’re going to dress up as pirates and try to steal one of their ships?”

Idorsus nodded, exited about how well everything was going. “Most of their force is ransacking the Isle, not guarding the fleet. We’ll be off before they notice a thing.” He gave Kovin what he knew was an infuriating smile. “What could go wrong?”

 

This is Part 2.

Part 1//Part 3//Part 4//Part 5

Burning Harbor

Idorsus Cragfin watched with horror as the scarred pirate tossed the torch underhand and it flew, trailing smoke and dripping tar, across the deck the Merry Mollusk, where it landed amid the vessel’s powder barrels. Time stood still as the flame licked at the barrels, then his world exploded into a fiery maelstrom.
The force of the blast hurled him over the railing, and he landed hard on the rough wood of the dock. Burning timber dropped around him as he pushed himself to his knees and pulled the splinter from his bleeding forearms. He turned to see the damage.
The scarred pirate hadn’t survived, Cragfin decided. Of course, nothing else had either, but he liked to focus on the positive. That meant looking past the fact that his ship was a blazing pyre, the flames licking at the night sky. At least the scarred pirate was getting a funeral pyre. His family would probably be happy about that.
The Merry Mollusk wasn’t the only blazing ship in the harbor. Almost the entirety of the northern docks were aflame, and the fire was spreading was spreading.
“Captain!” Cragfin’s first mate, Kovin Drake, was running towards him, the fire reflecting off his bare sword.
Kovin was a slight, wiry man with hair short short and uneven. His face stuck in a permanent frown, but it was even deeper now. “The pirates are pushing south into the city!” he yelled. Cragfin could barely hear him over the ringing in his ears.
“Where are they exactly?” he asked. He thought he must be yelling.
Kovin gestured with his sword. “They’re pushing through the Iron Quarter.”
“And the crew?” Cragfin had given his crew the night off to entertain themselves along the waterfront. He had stayed behind to go over the ship’s ledgers, which were now ashes. He may have just lost a fortune, but at least he had less work to do.
“I pulled them out of the closest alehouses and tried to smack the drink from them,” Kovin said. “They aren’t in prime shape, but they should be able to fight.”
“Good.” Cragfin had made a good hire with Kovin. The man was extremely useful; it almost took his mind off the hundreds of thousands of dragons worth of deals that had just gone up in smoke. “Onward, my good sir.”
Kovin led him though the burning waterfront and into the Iron Quarter. The houses were built close together, but Cragfin kept his sense of direction in the warren of alleys by keeping the burning harbor at his back.
Before long, Cragfin began to hear the sounds of battle. He stepped ahead of Kovin and turned a corner into a melee, drawing a massive broadsword as he did.
The pirates were fighting a group of guards and sailors in the Steel Square, lantern-light flashing off their blades as they traded blows around the Crystal Fountain.
That was something to seize upon. The square was slick with blood and strewn with bodies, but the fountain itself was beautiful. Water ran from the maw of a marble dragon and trickled over shinestone. The shinestone, which had been created by some wealthy alchemist, cast light through the water and gave it a glassy sheen.
If he hadn’t needed to fight, Cragfin could have watched the fountain all night, but duty forced him to strike at the nearest pirate with a wide sweep of his broadsword. The pirate fell in a spray of blood, and Cragfin ran to his next foe.
The arrival of Cragfin and Kovin lent energy to the sailors, and Cragfin’s crew began to make short work of the pirates. Genne Porter spun through the fray, her daggers flashing, and Durgum Wurs waded after her, laying about with his massive hammer. The twins fought back to back, and even the Iron Guard redoubled their efforts. It wasn’t long before the final three pirates fled the square.
Cragfin sped after them, with Kovin close behind him. Cragfin’s hearing was mostly back, and he thought he heard the first mate call for the crew to follow. Either he was imagining it, or his sailors were still too drunk to follow orders, because when he reentered the alleys around the square, only Kovin was with him.
As he ran, Cragfin noticed that the pirates were fleeing east , which was odd. The pirates’ ships were to the north, where their attack had come from. If it hadn’t been for the constant light of the burning harbor to his left, he would have thought himself mistaken.
“Where the hell are they going?” Kovin asked as they ran.
“No idea!” The Iron Quarter was already on the northeastern side of the island. The only thing to the east were coastal bluffs and a few small inlets.
Cragfin burst from the Quater and onto the bluffs. The fleeing pirates were less than thirty yards ahead, easily within reach, but he came to a sudden stop.
Kovin almost crashed into his back, but managed to stop in time. “Why are we-” his jaw dropped. “Oh shit.”
Moving stealthily towards the cliffs was a black fleet, nearly invisible against the dark sea. The attack on the harbor had merely been a diversion. This new fleet was twice as large as the crown could muster on short notice.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Kovin was muttering.
Even Cragfin struggled to find a bright side.

 

This is Part 1.

Part 2//Part 3//Part 4//Part 5