Soltaevar regales the O'Dells with a story form his merchant sailing days.
- Soltaevar Velca
CharacterHead of Mistfire Trading Company, Fellsgard, Tviyr; Cat slave; and Turco of House Velca.
Level0572 / 72 HP51 / 51 MP0p / 0g / 1s / 10c
- Race: Kerasoka
- Class: Bard
- Posts: 56
- Joined: November 9th, 2019, 7:57 pm
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“What have you been reading lately, Diana?” Sol took a sip of his brandy, feeling the warmth course down his throat. “Stories of happily-ever-afters or something more sinister?”
“Interesting you should bring that up - I happened upon a book of legends that were-” Diana frowned, searching for an appropriate description.
“Creepy, frankly,” Dash spoke up from his seat next to Diana. “Things no one could explain - disappearances, fire that didn’t burn, light where no people were…” He trailed off, frowning faintly. “Not my preference, to be honest.”
Diana nudged him with her shoulder. “It’s the season for it, dear. Days grow shorter, the weather changes rapidly, farmers begin their harvests. Death and cold seem like they’re coming ‘round every corner.”
Tipping his glass back slowly, Sol considered. “If you’re seeking eerie tales, I’ve got one or two, Diana - assuming Dash doesn’t mind.”
Dash snorted. “I’ve probably already heard it by now. Five times.”
Swatting at him, Diana admonished, “Don’t be rude. Even if you have known Sol since Bhelest’s fall.” Dash evaded her with a chuckle and slid an arm around her shoulders.
Sol gave her a mildly pained look. “I’m not decrepit yet, you know.” She raised her eyebrow and smiled impishly at him.
“This was before I met you, Dash, so you might not have heard it after all. I’d been sailing a while, but this was one of my first few voyages as a deckhand and not just a shantyman - although the captain expected me to do both jobs.” Sol gave a rueful chuckle.
“The first night out, I dreamt of fire. The sails alight, burning like a shrunken sun above us, while the hands scrambled on the deck below. I ducked below decks and a cloud of smoke billowed out from the galley. A figure swatted at the cook fire desperately, but the flames leapt out to burn our biscuit, our oil, and finally our rum. I was frozen in the doorway until a blast from beneath my feet sent me tumbling into the dark.
I woke up in a cold sweat for my watch. I told Charley about it - I’d crewed with him since my first voyage - and he froze, told me not to breathe a word to anyone else, but most especially not the first mate. So, I did my best to banish it from my mind, but fragments of the dream would reappear. I’d look up to the rigging and see it aflame before I blinked and everything returned to normal; I’d feel phantom flames passing through the galley.
We’d been out about thirteen days or so, coming around the northernmost curve before Varorthe and the port near Domrhask, when a storm hit. At first, there was a bit of rain and fog rolled in, which wasn’t unusual for sailing near the Irtuen Reaches. The captain ordered us to reef the sails, batten down anything not already secured on deck, usual storm preparations. The water began to swell, pitching us fore and aft, but many sailors have sailed through rougher seas, so none of the crew thought anything of it.
Scarcely had the hands tied the last knots before the sea unleashed its full fury. Waves as tall as the mizzenmast rose, flinging us almost into the sky before sending the ship careening into a trough. I looked up to see the ship surrounded by waves on either side, looking like a child’s plaything in comparison. The clouds blocked the sun from our sight and only the occasional crack of lightning lit our frantic work. Someone raised a shout. “There! The main topgallant-”
Shining an eerie blue, the main mast and the topmost yard were outlined against the dark sky. “Pheriss’s blessing,” breathed a weathered hand next to me, the line motionless in his hand. “She’ll make it through yet.” The light danced over the tops of the masts like flames. Though the waves began to calm, thunder roared and rain still bucketed down.
Stuck in this tempest, I hadn’t realized yet how much time had passed until I heard the bell for the start of the second dog watch. I looked up and met Charley’s eyes, which stared back into mine with the realization that the day was ending and the storm hadn’t abated fully. After sundown, things were going to get a whole lot worse. That far north, the icy wind at night chills the spray into a thick fog - as it would this night.
I peered into the fog, as transparent as a good chowder. Thankfully, the winds and rain had begun to die down, and the first mate called out, “Second watch to the galley! First watch on deck!” None of us had eaten more than a bite or two all day. Shivering, I filed below decks with the others of my watch to the galley. Constant motion had made a fire unsafe, so our rations were cold as the cook handed us a bowl of last night’s stew. I’d finished half the bowl when a shout came above decks.
“Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy off the larboard bow!”
With a rattle of bowls abandoned, all the hands of the watch rushed to above decks. In the fog, masts appeared, canvas dangling in the wind. Wind plucked at our lines’ ends and an occasional gust caught our clothing, but the other ship appeared untouched.
“Sir, orders?” called a hand. I glanced up at the first mate, who was all but petrified.
“Master, your wishes,” he said hoarsely to the captain. The captain studied his first mate for a moment.
“Send a boat. They may need aid.”
“Master, are you-” the first mate started, then quailed under the captain’s flat stare. “As you order.” He swallowed hard. “Second watch, three of you take the dinghy. Rig a line - this blasted fog-”
Our ship closed the distance. I trudged over to the dinghy with Charlie and the old hand who’d seen the eerie lights before. The three of us clambered in before we were lowered down. The older hand paid out a line from our stern as Charlie and I rowed to the ship.
“Ahoy! Ahoy! The Sooty Tern comes near!” I called out. The three of us craned our necks for an answering ‘aye, aye’ but no reply greeted us. I repeated the greeting to the same response. A rope ladder swung lightly against the hull with the waves. “Should we go aboard, in case someone’s too ill or injured to respond?” I asked Charley. He frowned, nodding slowly.
“You younguns go aboard. I’ll stay with her here,” the older hand offered. I nodded my thanks and maneuvered the dinghy to the ladder. Climbing up, I heaved myself over the gunwale and steadied the ropes for Charley behind me. Once aboard we looked around.
The ship was completely still. Nothing moved; the familiar creak of ropes and canvas the only sign we were at sea. “Gives me the ruddy creeps, it does,” muttered Charley.
“Probably ought to find the master,” I said, though the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Charley drew a knife from his belt and followed as I made for the captain’s quarters. Just as when we had first hailed the ship, no reply came to my knocking or calling.
I shoved the door open. A teapot sat on a table, its contents long since gone cold and scummy. The plate nearby held a half eaten scone with fuzzy jam. Charley scowled. “I don’t like this, Sol.”
Studying the room, the furniture didn’t appear out of place. If it hadn’t been for the rot, I might have thought the captain had just stepped out a moment ago. “Nor do I. Check below decks and then we’ll set out?” I opened a desk drawer and found the logbook. Laying it on the desk, I flipped through the pages to the last entry.
‘17th day of the 10th month, Year 53 after Cecilia’s Grace.
We are becalmed. The master has succumbed to the sea-madness and gone overboard. Our second mate Matteus has begun to invoke Bhelest’s power to bring us wind, over the protests of the rest of the crew. I fear for our souls.
Jonas Parker, First Mate’
I turned the page to find nothing more. Charley grabbed my shoulder. “Messin’ with that - idols only know what happened. I’ve no wish to stick around.”
Swallowing hard, I pushed down the hollow feeling in my stomach. “Below decks. I - we can’t leave someone to die in this.”
Huffing, Charley crossed his arms. “Two full weeks after? I don’t think no one would survive that.” I sighed, handed him the logbook, and strode out to the hatch below decks. Doors to cabins hung ajar and my calls raised no response. I pushed into the mess to find empty hammocks swaying and half-filled bowls sliding across the floor.
‘Where had everyone gone so suddenly - as though they were in the middle of a meal and everyone disappeared?’ The quiet was wearing on me - which is my only excuse for jumping into a beam as I felt something brush my ankles. Once I was able to take a normal breath again, I looked down to see a black and white cat pressing against me rather desperately.
“Poor little moggie, hm? I wonder what you could tell us.” Picking up the cat, I felt her ribs distinctly through her fur as she purred frantically. Charley came up behind me.
“Thought you’d found a ghost or somethin’. This cat is the only one alive, I guess. Skin and bones,” Charley remarked, gingerly stroking the cat in my arms. “May as well take it back. Don’t have a ship cat and we could use one.”
Nodding, I tried to hand her over to Charley, but she dug in her claws to cling to me. I shrugged and made my way to the galley. A thin beam of light shone inside and I stepped through the door.
A cloud of smoke hit me in the face, and I coughed painfully as the cat buried her face into my elbow. For a moment, I thought I was dreaming again. Fire flared from the cook’s fire and a shape flailed in the haze of smoke. “Come! We’ll rescue-”
Staggering toward me, the figure waved a spoon. I realized, with growing horror, that this person wasn’t alive - at least, not in the conventional way. It grunted, advancing on me. Smoke buffeted me; I couldn’t move, almost couldn’t breathe.
The cat in my arms yowled suddenly and dug her claws into my arm. I gulped and ran for the ladder above decks. “Charley! We’re going!” I yelled as I topped the ladder.
Shambling bodies poured out of doors, hatches, even lifeboats toward Charley. Meanwhile, flames from an unknown source began to lick up the tarred lines and reach the canvas. Transfixed by the sight, Charley stood against the gunwale, clutching the logbook. I bolted past a corpse who tried to block me and grabbed his wrist. “Ladder, down! GO!”
Charley shoved the logbook into the back of his pants and began to scramble down the ladder to the waiting dinghy. I turned to throw a leg over the railing. A hand snatched my shoulder, spinning me off balance. Another pushed me back against the gunwale.
Eight animated corpses faced me, feral scowls on their faces. One lunged forward and grabbed my shirt, pulling me up on my toes. It drew a knife, brandishing its weapon with a smile before it pulled back.
The cat leapt forward and bit the corpse’s hand with a loud crunch. I grabbed at her, tucking her into my shirt as I hooked my foot under the corpse’s ankle and swept its feet. Not caring if Charley had made it down or not, I swiveled over the gunwale. I’ve never climbed a ladder so fast before or since.
Without a word, Charley and I began to row furiously. Our third crewmate stared at us, the ship and the cat as we bent to the oars. “What did you-”
“Horrors. Don’t ask what-” I saw the wisps of smoke drifting up from the ship. Recalling my dream, I felt an icy finger of fear trace my spine. “Faster! We need to get away before-”
The ship exploded into flames. Chunks of the corpses flew and landed in the ocean where they continued to move. The wake of the explosion tossed our little dinghy about as we hauled on the line back to the Sooty Tern, Charley and I rowing as sweat dripped off our foreheads.
Yanking on the guide line, our crewmates dropped the lines to raise the dinghy back aboard. Once safely aboard, the master came forward.
Before he could ask, I answered. “Corpses. Animated corpses. Dark magic, likely. Got the logbook and a cat. Nothing else of value.” Charley nodded sharply before scurrying across the waist and leaning over the starboard gunwale to feed the fish. As he retched, I handed the logbook to the master. “Last entry was two weeks ago.”
“And the cat?” The master raised a brow.
“Seems to be a normal cat. Found her - it - in the messroom. Looked in the galley. That’s when all shit broke loose.” I paused, belatedly realizing what I’d said. “Pardon my language, sir.”
“I see.” The master studied the cat for a moment. She stared back at him from my hold on her, green eyes fierce. “We’re in need of a ship’s cat. Give it a quarter ration of meat and biscuit tonight, then it can start on the rats.”
“Yes sir. Thank you sir.” I carried my lone prize to the messroom and set her in my hammock. “Stay here. I’ll find food.” She curled up as I left.
Swearing and shooting me murderous glares, the cook gave me chunks of meat from yesterday’s stew and the crumbles of biscuits from the bottom of the box. I gave him a tight smile and took it to the cat, who ate gratefully until her belly was round before stretching out in my hammock again.
“Sara - tried to name her Serendipity, but it never took as well as her nickname - ended up being one of the best mousers any of the crew had ever seen. She refused to stay aboard a ship and followed me from one to the next. Rarely did a day pass that she didn’t offer me some of her catch - except for the 17th day of the 10th month. That day, she would hide, shaking the whole time until sunrise of the next day. She lived to a ripe old age - fell asleep one day in the sun and never woke. She began my obsession with cats,” Sol finished with a chuckle.
Armus walked in, his ginger coat gleaming gold in the firelight, before stretching exaggeratedly in front of the O’Dells. He stared at Sol before the Kerasokan moved his arm and patted his lap in invitation. Leaping up, the cat circled his new spot before curling into Sol’s lap, purring loudly.
“So Armus here has Sara to thank for being a spoiled housecat,” remarked Diana. “Much like little Remmy had you to convince us that we needed a cat.”
Sol grinned, petting the furry golden puddle laying on him. “You did, and yes, Armus owes his pampered position to a ship’s cat many years ago. Never had another cat like her - though to be fair, every cat has their own personality.” He scratched behind the cat’s ears gently. “More brandy, Dash?”
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