Ghosts’ Prey, Chapter Four, Part Four

Harl cursed his luck as he fell again into the hungry sea water of the first crescent. Even as he thrashed his way deeper into the water in his panic, he kept just enough calmness of mind to work this way back through the plan to see where it had all gone wrong.

First, there had been the seemingly simple idea of using the situation at hand. The Lion in Armour was already watched by suspicious city-voln guards. Kranen seemed to be settling supplies and men aboard the great slave ship, but the Emphon guard was still suspicious about his destination and what plans he had for the Denosians aboard. If he chose to keep them, perhaps even bringing the women among them down to the hidden deck where the lady sea-voln were, he’d be seriously in breach of Lios’ laws and doctrine. Ever since the bastard gods had drawn attention to Captain Kranen’s reluctance to either sell on the Denosians to good, and wealthy, citizens of Emphon, or to leave for Liosinium, the guards had been watching.

As had the Mouths of Lios. Harl had spotted six or so of the madmen walking the jetties of the first crescent under the grey light of the cloud covered moon. Even while avoiding them for his own safety, he’d still managed to survey numbers and see near enough twenty guardsmen on patrol, as well as the prophets. And the numerous sea-voln of other crafts like Captain Halgin’s Lion Rampant, who also watched intently to see the fate of the Denosians. The third crescent was a fire ready to spark.

And Harl had planned to be that spark. Pushing the guardsmen’s suspicions would mean the Denosians would be confiscated. Ilv’Andri would remain in Emphon. Perhaps she’d be sold to some lady like the one the bastard gods had shown up for keeping an illegal slave. A sinner in Lios’ eyes to be sure, but even so her house had been fine and warm. It was the best a Denosian slave could hope for… and Harl might still find a sneaky way to visit the amber eyed girl…

Of course, it had not gone that way.

The fog he’d sent forth towards the guards had had to compete with a sickly drizzle of rain that grew heavier as though mocking his efforts. Much of it was washed into the sea in rivulets of rain water that slicked the jetties. The wind as well seemed to join with its mate to scupper his plans; whipping up the paranoia and suspicion he’d summoned and whisking it towards not only the guards watching the Armour of Lios but also the wandering prophets and nosey sea-voln. Soon there was a crowd about the plank leading up to the top deck of the slaver and Harl now risked being seen by near a’fifty fold of eyes!

Attempting to skirt past the roaring crowd calling for Kranen to appear and explain, Harl had clambered up the side of the ship itself, working his way about to the prow and then the other side away from the wooden planks of her jetty. But the rain was heavy; plastering dank lengths of his hair across his eyes and making the wood of the ship treacherous. The many claws in his hands could not keep him on his perch, and so he plunged down the side of the slaver, arms and legs flailing as he fell into the hungry dark green sea again.

He surfaced once or twice, gasping for air and clawing at the night’s sky. His fog of suspicion had done its work well though, and there was no chance the soon to be brawling crowd would be able to hear him struggling for air over the sounds of their rants and accusations. Sea-voln aboard the ship fired warning blasts from their roarers, but the sound was muffled as he struggled again against the smothering embrace of the cold harbour water and it filled his ears and eyes.

Then there was the same cold pressure about his wrist as something grabbed a hold of him. This time he was awake enough to see the swirling creature in the green shadows of the water. Parts were fluid, like the arm that had grabbed him. But there were also smooth scaled parts and fins with barbed edges. A great maw opened in the dark and Harl saw the glint of a thousand sharp teeth. Teeth like the own making the sea-voln dagger he carried tucked into his string belt. The thing pushed at him, moving his arms and legs like a puppet with its own strange limbs. Another arm came forward from the shadows, but this time looking like a voln arm made from scaled flesh. It was learning.

But Harl was running out of breath, and the thing was still holding him down under the water. He kicked and thrashed as best he could, sending a charm along the flesh of the beast where it touched his. Help, he ordered. Help me.

It pushed him backwards and up towards the air, breaking the surface to place him back onto the hull of the ship, where he clung as best he could. More roarer shots broke the night’s air, but they were punctuating a background noise of sword-fighting. He pulled himself quickly up the ship, slipping sometimes, but not falling this time. On the deck Kranen’s men were fighting off the boarders with their barbed and serrated blades and sea-voln daggers. Harl huddled behind the railings on the main deck, and watched as Kranen reloaded a precious roarer, taking off half a guardsman’s face with it at the last moment as he was charged by him.

Harl floundered over the wooden rails and scampered up to the upper level where Ilv’Andri’s cage was. She was frantic, staring into a wet and starless night suddenly lit up by roarer explosions and torches. Her amber eyes found him and her panic hurt his heart.

“It’s going to be okay.” He promised, but he had nothing to open the cage with. Cole had taught him a few tricks with locks, but he had no tools! He’d hoped Kranen would be forced to open the cage by the guard when they came for the Denosians, but now it seemed the keys would have to be taken from Kranen’s dead body. But he had made this mess this, so perhaps he could unmake it! Harl quickly sat down, crossed legged before Ilv’Andri’s cage as he had done before, and this time concentrated on a calming fog. But the rain still chilled his sharp bones. And the noise of fighting below them was only getting closer…

“You!”

Harl looked up, expecting to see Kranen, but it was a Mouth of Lios. One of the ones who’d beaten him before. But looking at his furious face that was red but not bruised, Harl knew he was not the one that Cole had beaten in return.

“Consorting with Denosians! This damned ship is a pit of vice and foul filth!” The man ranted as below him Harl could see Kranen’s sea-voln being pushed back against the barrels and ropes of the far side of the ship, stepping away from dead and bloodied friends. “You need another lesson in the right way of things!”

The prophet raised his pale fist to smash it against the side of Harl’s face. But then the ship rocked on its mooring and the man stumbled. It rocked again, flinging some of the sea-voln over board and making the guards slip towards the seaward side of the slaver. Something large and dark was pulling itself up the side of the ship, clambering over the fallen sea-voln in the harbour waters, and flinging aside those who’d managed to grasp quickly onto the railings before they could fall. It was the creature. The child from the castle.

“Abomination!” The prophet cried, but he was looking back at Harl. “You and your kind have brought the Lios cursed ghosts to our cities!” Again, the man’s fist raised up to strike Harl, but this time a long and spindly arm wrapped itself about him and stopped his mouth with a moist hand. Suddenly the creature flung the prophet high up into the air and into the darkness of the night, his wail stopping suddenly as his body hit something solid out there in the dark like a stone wall. On the ship’s deck the sea-voln of the Lion in Armour pushed backwards against the surging guard, prophets and other sea-voln, falling to their swords as their fear of the beast made them flee towards the wall of steel. Harl kept low and darted closer to Ilv’Andri’s cage.

He pulled and tugged at the padlock keeping the front of it closed. “We have to get you out of there!”

She stood behind the bars, drenched to the bone by the rain but shivering in fear as well as cold. “H’arl. Run H’arl.” She begged him quietly, her big eyes turned up to the creature still surging up and over the side of the ship.

“No!” Harl shouted and laid his palm flat against the lock. “Open! Open!”

But the lock was unmoved by his attempt to charm it. Dampness came from his hand and some liquid dripped through the mechanism, but it merely merged with the rain to fall harmlessly on the deck at his feet.

Screams made him turn back to the main deck of the ship. The creature was done with breaking the necks of Kranen’s sea-voln and was rearing above the man himself, towering over the prophets and guardsmen also stood nearby him. And on the other side of Kranen, through the inky shape of the ghost, Harl could see the larger cage of Denosians that the thing was getting closer to. It was being drawn there by Kranen himself as he backed up that way. The Denosians in the cage were mostly women, but all were unarmed and dressed only in the rags of the clothes they’d been caught in. They were defenceless.

Ilv’Andri saw the ghost turning towards the sacrifice that Kranen was trying to make to save his own hide and wailed.

Harl leapt down from the upper level where Ilv’Andri’s cage was and sprinted and slipped across the rolling deck towards the ghost, bringing out his sea-voln dagger as he made his insane charge. A flailing arm of the thing, multi-jointed and scaled like a lizard, caught him and pushed the breath from his chest as it knocked him into a barrel. He slid to the wooden planks of the slaver, panting helplessly as the ghost continued towards Kranen and the caged Denosians.

Ilv’Andri began to sing.

Her voice was small amidst the shouting terror of the city-voln and the downpour, but it was picked up by the women below deck as it had been the last time. Songs of their devotion for Lios haunted the air and drew the creature’s attention.

Harl tried to shout, to warn her. But she had learnt to calm the sea with her voice. In order to be treated as more than a piece of flesh she’d taken on the sea-voln’s tongue and their ways. She’d sung with the women of the ship many times, and she’d proven her value to Kranen by soothing the waters. Rumour among the city-voln of Emphon was that the female sea-voln who lacked fair voices were thrown overboard as children. As a Denosian Ilv’Andri would never have shared that fate, but she’d used her voice to change her fate anyway. And now she thought she could calm a ghost as she’d calmed the prophets beating Harl.

But the prophets loved Lios. Worshipped him. Lived for him. The ghost was a child of the damned castle!

“No! Stop! You don’t understand!!” Harl screamed as best he could but the torrential rain washed away his words and his tears.

A prophet made the sign of Lios at the sound of the cant and lost his arm as it was torn out at the root. Another bent the knee and never rose again; the ghost swiftly taking the top of his bowed head off, and leaving him to drench the deck with even more blood. But the ghost saved its greatest rage for Ilv’Andri and the singers below the deck. Two great arms emerged to grapple with the cage, and then lifted it wholly… only to dash it down again, this time right through the levels of the ship and down into the waters below. For a moment Harl could see the decks below, exposed around the hole and full of screaming white haired women looking up at the suddenly revealed sky. Then the waters bubbled up and swirled about them, dragging their bodies away. Weakly he reached for Ilv-Andri, but she was long gone. Her body had been like a doll’s; it had tumbled and shattered with the cage as it had broken through the ship and down to the bottom of the harbour.

The deck then began to cave in around the hole, making all the remaining bodies aboard slide towards the hungry hole opened up by the ghost. Harl felt himself start to slide and he dragged himself up and over the railings to skid and slide across the wooden remains of the ship’s hull as it all collapsed. He fell into the first crescent’s water again and surfaced as quickly as he could with his thrashing swimming. He looked back to see the two halves of the Lion in Armour coming together as the sea claimed her.

The ghost was already moving off the broken hulk of the slaver and following after those who’d made it off of the ship in time. Thunder cracked suddenly, and Harl looked about for the lightning as he treaded water. Instead, he saw two lines of Emphon guardsmen. The first line was standing in the smoke of already discharged roarers. They then took a knee so that the second line behind them might shoot while they reloaded. Again and again thunder roared as the golden weapons lit up the ghost and peppered its wyrd body with shots that had been pushed through the open mouths of lions. Eventually the onslaught brought the beast to stillness and its fluid parts sloughed off the jetty into the water to sink to the bottom of the first crescent with much of the Lion in Armour. And Ilv’Andri.

Sobbing, Harl dragged his weary limbs into motion and slowly crawled back to a jetty. He was about to try to haul himself back up when Captain Kranen appeared above him and offered him his hand. The man was bloodied and stank of roarer smoke even in the cleansing downpour, but he was alive.

“Drowned rat.” Kranen said, smiling a little. But Harl saw the dagger glinting in the man’s other hand, ineptly hid behind the man’s girth. He let the man grab his hand, and then sent a charm into the man’s blood. Seconds after Harl had his feet back on the wooden jetty, shivering and exhausted, Kranen stepped straight off of it, intent on following Ilv’Andri down into the blackness of the water.

Harl took his own steps. Weary, hurt steps. He felt his heart still beating, but he wasn’t certain that he was alive any more. On his path a guard tried to usher him back to the second crescent, but then backed away when he saw Harl’s blank face. There were people running in the streets, searching for other ghosts. Some were telling stories of the doom of the Armour of Lios. And other prophets were gathering their faithful and newer fervent crowds and telling of the judgement of Lios in the first crescent.

Harl ignored them all in his numbness. His steps took him on past the Cant of Lios, where Cole still slept. He carried on until he marked the difference in the quality of stones between his feet. The third crescent. He took himself to the finest house he knew of and rang the bell at its great wrought iron gate.

A tall grey city-voln with sunken cheeks and an affronted nature walked out to see who bothered the house at this late hour. Seeing the half-drowned woods-voln he departed and returned a moment later with a long woollen cloak. Welcoming Harl into the courtyard, he swept it over him.

“Tersia Ellinostrum.” Was all Harl could say. The man simply nodded and led him into the grand house.

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