- September 26, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 7)
“You can only kill what you know is there.”
– Sigma Pole, 448 A.C.A.
The sail to the Icy Pearl Isles took a few days’ time. One day to sail down the Efunic rivers that flowed through the Soday Mountains and into the Secan Sea. It took another day to go deeper, away from where the border of Raydorn rubbed against Susanna. From there, it was smooth sailing to the mouth of the Secan, where the sea met the world’s largest body of water.
What Gronina called the Insa Ocean, the continent to the south, Seca, called it the Neverending Sea. At its mouth, between the two continents to the north and south, and between the sea and ocean to the west and east, were the Icy Pearl Isles.
Gone from the sight of both continents, and so gone from their minds.
Perfect for three ships full of international fugitives in the middle of wartime.
“Do you truly think it will be safe?” Malum’s right-hand asked him.
He hung onto the side of the crow’s nest with one hand and used the binoculars in the other. He looked at the Isles that his most trusted student was asking him about, and couldn’t make up his mind.
“I don’t see much in the way of threats,” Malum told her, peering through the binoculars. “The Isles are covered with plateaus, that while not all flat, have next to no trees. I can see everything, from the animals the people keep to the tents they live in. It’s almost as if I’m spying on them while they’re naked.”
“So, would that not encourage the hope that we will be safe on the island?” she asked him.
“No, do you not remember why, Sigma?”
Sigma hung from the other side, her cloak blowing like a cape as she clung to the crow’s nest. One would have seen her and thought she was the ship’s flag.
“I do,” Sigma answered, “but I wanted to hear something different.”
“It does you no good to hear me lie to you, but since you did not want to hear my words, I will not say them.”
Sigma sighed and tried to give her gratitude, “Thank you, master-”
“You will say them instead.”
Sigma was silent at the interruption. She looked around the crow’s nest at her mentor. While her mask hid her eyes, there was no doubt she was glaring at him.
She must want me to combust, Malum thought to himself as he lowered his binoculars, and turned to stare back at her.
“I’m waiting to hear it,” he told her.
“Waiting to hear what?” she asked him in turn.
“Proof that you remember your lessons.”
Sigma sighed and looked to the islands. “To look and find no enemies is more dangerous than to look and see them all.”
“And the rest?” Malum asked her.
“You can only kill what you know is there.”
There was a group of people collecting on the edges of the plateaus, the tribe of the Icy Pearl Isles. There weren’t many, but life on the Isles did not stop for the Black Legion was not unfamiliar to the tribe.
The ships sailed between two Isles far enough apart for the three ships, then headed to the dock the Legion had made hundreds of years ago. There, people waited for them, people who were warriors, but more who were not.
By then, Malum and Sigma had come down and stood along with the rest of their creed. The others of the Black Legion stayed away from them, save for a few.
Andelyn was one of the few.
“When we get there, let me and Quintus do the talking,” she said as she waded between Malum’s underlings, unfazed by them with their masks and shadowy cloaks.
“Are you sure?” Malum asked her, “I’ve been told I’m quite the people person.”
His joke had his underlings trading looks.
Andy gave him a sideways smirk. “You’re the definition of charming, and what would be really charming is helping us unload boat when we dock.”
“This is a ship, for one.”
Andy scoffed. “Lucy can get over herself.”
“Two, you really want everyone working? Have you considered that maybe someone should investigate, be sure that the island is safe for us? No hidden corpses anywhere?”
“I fail to see why that should take more than just you and your lackey.”
“Ah,” Malum huffed with a long nod of his head, “I see.”
“Sometimes, there’s no point in stopping people from doing what they plan to do, just make them meet you halfway.”
“That’s good advice,” Malum said as Andy walked away.
She only waved in response.
Malum then turned to the small sea of masks looking at him.
“You all heard her,” he said with a shrug, “prepare to put your backs into it, don’t let the cultists do more work than you.”
Then he turned to Sigma, to warn her, “Get ready to disappear.” She nodded without hesitation.
Malum and Sigma made their way to the back of the ship, moving like wraiths with their long looming cloaks. Quickly, they disappeared over the side of the ship like ghosts, climbing down to the water, where they quietly submerged. They were invisible in the shadow of the ship.
Malum stayed close enough to the shore to listen to how Andy was greeted. He watched as she walked down to meet the tribe’s leader and the Black Legion soldier in charge. Flanked by Quintus and Lucy, Andy had very little to fear.
“We’re happy to see you, Lady Stella, Sir Quintus, Captain Lucilla.” The legionnaire greeted them by their titles, garnering a look of annoyance, shock, and a smirk in return.
He doesn’t seem to know, which means the world truly has forgotten about this place. Malum made his way to shore, moving slowly with the current to not lose Sigma.
The wind and the water caught Andy’s voice telling their brother-in-arms the news. “We’ve been betrayed, Harry’s plan to sell our services to the highest bidder convinced just about everyone on Gronina to betray us.”
The lieutenant was understandably shocked, and seemingly the chief too.
The tribal chief, in broken Rayne, attempted to ask Andy, “Pardon me… my use of Rayne… what does ‘betray-al’ mean when you say it?”
Quintus answered the tribal chief, “Krone, Susanna, and Raydorn all attacked us at once, we’re all that’s left, and we need shelter. That’s what betrayal means today.”
Hold nothing back, Quintus, we have no time for that.
Malum submerged under the surface and heard nothing more. He saw the legionnaire fall to his knees as he learned that he was now a fugitive from his home country and that so many of his friends were dead.
I imagine that must feel terrible, but we have little time for that.
Malum and Sigma swam up the shore, where they could surface under the shadow of a cliff. The plateau extended a bit to the east, creating a little cliffside over their heads.
Malum and Sigma walked out of the water, and should any have been there, they might have had a heart attack watching these wraiths move in tandem up the shore. It wasn’t until they were free of the ocean water that they revealed their limbs from their cloaks.
“We’ll look around the base of the plateaus, see if we can’t find where the Black Legion stores their surplus.”
“Is that all you wish to do?”
Malum stopped and looked back at her. “No, that is not all I wish to do,” then he continued walking. “Tell me, do you have any recommendations on who to send to which courts?”
“Which court should I begin with?”
As they came over a sharp drop from a tree root to the sand, Malum held his hand to help Sigma down.
Rather than thank him, she gave him what he truly wanted. “Krone’s court is large, containing representatives and guards from across the continent, maybe even onto the next. Sending a Kronish man would be a mistake, they would draw expectations, ones we don’t want to meet. A man from Endica or one of the recently occupied territories of Susanna would be welcomed but ignored in the Emperor’s court. They’d need only watch out for the guards, and that should be no challenge.”
“I agree completely,” Malum told her, “send two that meet your criteria.”
Malum noticed the fade of her voice, like a dying wind.
“Does something trouble you?” Malum asked her.
“Master,” Sigma called as she followed behind Malum, “can I ask you something?”
Malum walked along the wall without looking back. “You can speak, can’t you?”
“Ugh,” she sighed, “may I ask you something?”
“I fail to see why not.”
“Did…” she hesitated to say the words. “Did your father have anything to do with this?”
Malum stopped ahead of her.
Do not call on the devil, do not invite him in.
“No, Sigma, I would have sensed him…” Malum said, as if nothing were off, as if his heart did not stop at the thought. “And never ask me that again.”
Sigma’s nod appeared more like a bow as she bent her head. “Yes, sir.”
Malum watched her bend her head down, and the irony was not lost on him. If he were here, the resemblance would seem uncanny.
Malum turned his back to his right hand and continued on.
Sigma lifted her head and hurried to follow after him as a good little assistant would. “What are our next steps once we relieve our new agents and replace the old ones in the court?”
“Depending on what we find out, a few things may happen. We may be rescuing someone or killing them. Either way, we need to build ourselves back in numbers, weapons, and ships.
“So for now, to accomplish that, do what Stella and Equitius say, and make sure all of ours know to do the same.”
“Lucy, you gotta beach the boat,” Andy told her.
Lucilla told her, “I will, after they’re done unloading, it’s so much easier to do from the dock.”
“Chief Alofa and Captain Chaxus made it very clear to me that there’s a huge drop off that your boat-”
“- ship is sitting on. And from the depths of that drop-off, are the mermaids.”
Lucy laughed as she continued to file her nails. “Mermaids, they’re getting all twisted over mermaids? What are they gonna do, lure me into the water with their tits, fish dicks, and singing until I drown?”
“That’s sirens,” Quintus corrected her as he carried a box meant to be lifted by two by himself. Lucy admired his form as he walked down the plank.
“Though to be honest, you’d be the kind of person to fall for that,” Andy muttered to herself as she looked at Lucy.
Lucy reacted with a scowl. “Haha, very funny.”
I wouldn’t be caught dead trying to fuck a mermaid. How would that even work? The top half is human, not the bottom half… wouldn’t even work in my octopus form.
“I’m serious, fishermen have been killed by man-like mermaids all the time. Mermaids made fishing the most dangerous job behind mining on the Golden Plateau. And here there’s supposed to be shark mermaids.”
“Andy,” Lucy stopped her as she crossed her arms, “do you have any idea how difficult it is to unbeach a frigate? Not to mention the repairs you have to do because there is no way we beach Lappy and don’t ding up her hull.”
“You know what’s harder to repair than that?” Andy asked.
Lucy rolled her eyes as she said with Andy, “Men torn to shreds.”
“I’m not mentally challenged,” Lucy sniped at Andy, “nor am I child you have to talk down to.”
“Oh, I don’t? Then why is your ship not on the beach?”
They continued to argue as the ship’s crew continued to walk down onto the dock that floated over the depths of the sea.
As Quintus was making his way back to the ship, he couldn’t help but make his usual glance towards it.
The dark depths would steal glances from anyone who risked looking at it. The vastness of space made the depths of the ocean appear small, but one was close and the other was so far away.
The mortal eye was not built to judge the distance and depths of the water, so it was easy for the largest of monsters to hide in it.
The floating dock shook as something hit it. It caused several men to fall to the ground, and several more to fall into the water with their supplies.
Lucy and Andy are quick to look over the sides down at Quintus. Andy called down to him, “What was that?”
“And I should that how?” Quintus asked as he looked around, finding nothing but men struggling to pull themselves back onto the dock. It’s shocking how many men and women on the continent don’t know how to properly swim.
The soft sound of something surfacing drew their eye to the sight of a decent-sized dorsal fin going under the water.
Quintus stayed silent, as did the women on the ship. Then they came.
The dock shook more as it was broken and cut off from the land. Quickly it spun and floated over the depths of the Secan Sea, where the mermaids remained.
And soon the mermaids in question began to surface, bringing their heads over the water. The average among them had a head and neck the size of a normal man’s torso, and the teeth to match a shark befitting their nomenclature.
But those teeth did not stop them from hissing like snakes. “Trespasse,” they said, sending shivers down men’s spines, just before they started to panic being over the water… and in it.
Quintus reached out for the closest man in the water and saw him snatched to the depths before his eyes. It took an instant for a man to disappear into the depths, and another for the blood to start pooling where he was.
Ohhh… Lucy thought to herself, I’ve fucked around and now I’m finding out.
Then one-by-one more found themselves dragged under the surface.
“What are they gonna do, huh?” Andy questioned Lucy.
“I get it,” Lucy said as she put one foot on the railing of her ship, “I fucked up.”
Lucilla grabbed her sabers and whipped her arms out, transforming them into octopus tentacles. A sharp pain ran through her left arm, letting her know it wasn’t fully healed after the Aurora Knight attacked her magic.
Fuck, I have to pay you back for that one, dickhead.
“Hey, fish brains!” she yelled at the shark mermaids hissing at their people. “You know what eats sharks? The octopus!”
Lucy leaped off the ship as Quintus and Andy both pointed baffled expressions her way.
“No, sharks eat-” Quintus tried to yell, but Lucy had already jumped into the water.
Andy raced to find Lucy’s form under the water’s surface as blood had started to surround the ship. As she looked into the depths, this shadow appeared under the blood, and a monster came up.
Andy screeched as a shark mermaid burst from the sea. This one was so large that’s arm length spanned the height from the water’s surface to the railing of the frigate.
His razor-sharp nails dug into the side of the S.S. Lappy, and as he pulled his gray flesh up the boat started to tip over.
The mermaid’s bulbous blue head roared and showed off its razor-sharp teeth as he pulled his head up and over the railing to peer over.
If only he had been quicker.
As soon as the mermaid saw the top of the ship, he found a pike stabbed into his head.
Andy immediately let go of the wooden rod to not be pulled overboard as the shark mermaid fell back into the water. The splash of the gigantic and dead mermaid’s body made a wave that the floating dock rolled with.
Quintus took the opportunity to use it as a launching pad, jumping up towards the frigate, with one man under his arm. Quintus managed to throw the man over the railing before he hit the side of the ship.
He banged his head, getting a little blood on the wood, but he was fine enough to leap up and onto the railing.
Andy came over and grabbed his shoulder to help pull him up when the ship shook again.
They both looked down and saw another shark mermaid, larger than the last under the water. Its shadow spanned the length of the frigate as several more swam away.
“Quintus,” Andy muttered, “Lucy.”
“I’ll get her,” Quintus said without a moment’s hesitation and jumped in only for Andy to call after him too.
Lucy had been getting busy in the minute it took for Andy to dispatch and dislodge their own shark mermaid.
When she had jumped in, she was between two of the fearsome beasts. Both were bigger than any mermaid she had heard about in the Secan Sea.
They’re a bit bigger than the Boar, she thought as she was surrounded.
When they both swam and lunged for her, Lucy’s beast transformation made her faster. With a push of her octopus arms, she both swam out of their grasp and sprayed ink in their faces.
In their mad rush for her flesh, they ended up digging their claws into each other. As they got tangled in the ink, smelling it and the blood of their own, they both turned tail and swam away as fast as possible.
They’re even dumber than the Boar too.
“Hah!” she laughed under the water. While it may have been muffled, another shark mermaid heard it and tried to attack her from behind.
Feeling the pull of the current change, Lucy sprouted two more tentacles from her back to wrap around the mermaid.
Have to keep it from snapping, Lucy thought and strategically too.
Rather than trying to grab and pull back the mermaid’s two hands, her tentacles wrapped around her limbs and then around each other again like the laces on her boot. Together, they pulled back the mermaid’s arms behind her back and wrenched them toward her tail.
Lucy’s learned how to fight underwater where one’s center of mass is where one chooses. If she had just gone to restrain the mermaid’s arms, the mermaid could use the rest of her body to twist and bite down on Lucy.
To kill it, Lucy takes her arm tentacles, armed with her sabers, and thrusts them into the mermaid’s chest, skewering the sea creature.
I don’t know where its heart is for sure, but I’m pretty sure I got it, Lucy chuckled to herself watching it go limp.
As she watched the corpse begin to sink, Lucy felt the currents shift again, and she froze in place.
Lucilla’s spent a lot of time underwater to master her beast transformation. She’s learned just how much a tentacle can sense through touch, and the current of the water is one of them.
Ocean currents are naturally occurring things, they happen on their own in most places… but sometimes if there’s something large enough, the current will bend around it. If said thing never moved and or kept its pace, the current wouldn’t change.
Lucy just sensed something quite large move as the water currents moved in turn.
Holy fuck, Lucy thought to herself, as she forced herself to turn around.
This shark mermaid was longer than her frigate, and its mouth was large enough to swallow her whole. Neither of those facts was what terrified Lucy the most.
It was long and loomed around the shark mermaid’s head. It flowed around her shoulders, nearly reaching the base of her back. It’s how she would hide her approach, the dark hair masquing her shape.
But more than that, it made her appear all the more human.
With her mouth closed, Lucy thought, She’s a person with bad bangs.
The shark mermaid’s eyes glowed behind the strands that covered the rest of her face in shadow. It wasn’t until she snarled, that Lucy could see the white, razor-sharp teeth, each nearly as long as a human arm.
With a flap of her tail, the mermaid could devour her whole. With a flap, this monster could flip Lappy, and they could all go down together. If only she would flap that tail faster.
This is when Quintus hit the water, diving down straight towards the colossal mermaid’s neck. The mermaid’s head barely had time to twist before he had his arms wrapped around her windpipe.
His arms covered barely half the circumference of her neck, and so the mermaid barely flinched, didn’t shudder, and didn’t cower.
She pointed her finger towards the small thing wrapped around her neck and chortled. “Hah.” Bubbles came from her mouth as it happened, and she had this smile.
Lucy stared, unable to tell if it was sweet or terrifying, cute or disgusting…
Lucy screamed underwater for Quintus as the shark mermaid finally started reaching for him, but she didn’t swim to him. Her tentacles arms went to her cheeks; she went to herself.
Then the shark mermaid opened her mouth, and nothing came out. She tried to gasp when there was no sound for her let out. Her hands went towards her throat but stopped just before. She had never considered what suffocation was, what choking was. She had gills on her sides, and they were hard to cover.
She looks so lost.
And lost she was since she had no idea what was happening.
Then Quintus squeezed harder.
And then she bent her head back and screamed.
Then her hands went to her neck, as her neck began to shrink. Her hands clutched at her own throat, covering the man who gripped it, as it was being crushed against her spine.
Lucy thought then to inch forward, to peer through the water and look closer as this colossal creature began to spin and turn and thrash about. She peered closer to watch as a man began to close her throat by force.
Lucy paddled closer and closer as the colossal mermaid began to thrash around like an animal choking on nothing. It’s when the creature turned over again, and her grip loosened, that Lucy saw this red flash. It blinded her one eye, but through the other, she saw the light’s shape, and how it peered around like an eyeball.
And then it was over.
With a sound, the shark mermaid twitched once and went limp. The water left her corpse stuck in a perpetual state of terror, with her hands holding her neck.
A man named Quintus snaked out from between her fingers, to try and reach towards the surface, and let out his last breath.
He can’t breathe underwater, Lucy found herself reminded, you fucking idiot, he’s only a man, and he… She started to swim, but her thoughts stopped. How could a man do that? What beast did Krone make him meld with?
Lucy swam to him as the sound of snapping teeth and hissing shark mermaids came from the dark depths.
“Trepasse!” they repeated some more, but they also said, “Mater!”
They’ll devour me, Lucy thought as she reached Quintus, who had not seen her coming.
He was unable to see underwater, but he was able to feel, and when her tentacles wrapped around him, he calmed. He went limp, and let her pull him free.
She swam up as the shark mermaids swarmed the corpse, to touch and hold the largest among them. More followed after Lucy and Quintus as they swam towards the surface.
Lucy struggled to swim with Quintus. He was larger than her, and her tentacles had not evolved to propel two.
They’ll catch me, she knew.
The sound of two more diving into the water grabbed hold of her gaze.
The water’s temperature rose before Lucy’s eyes adjusted, but the light that nearly blinded her let her know all she needed to.
Lucy turned away and blocked her eyes as Astrid’s ax lit up, and started sending fireballs past Lucy and Quintus. Lucy looked back, as the fire brightened the depths below her intermittently, letting her catch short glimpses of her.
The mermaid mother was surrounded by legions of her children. They had their hands on her, lowering her to the depths as she looked up with empty eyes. Her hands still laid on her neck as she looked emptily up at them. She was picturesque as her hair floated towards the surface, just before the darkness of the depths consumed her.
Good riddance, Lucy thought to herself.
Then she felt a man’s hand behind her back and turned to nearly head butt Jack in the face. Starshield made a circle motion with his hand to her, and she quickly wrapped the tentacles from her back around him, her, and Quintus. Then she felt the water rumble beneath her.
Jack propelled them up, sending them rocketing towards the surface, hitting the air with the blink of an eye.
Lucy lost her grip and let go, letting her and Quintus fall towards the sand screaming.
Lucy hit the sand face first, feeling a big bump on her face. The sand had softened the blow and the sound of her nose breaking. Everywhere else in her body was sore; her body was a solidifying jelly cup of pain.
The gods really shit in my breakfast this morning.
The sound of the Wind from Jack’s hands made a ringing noise in Lucy’s ears just before it blew sand in her face.
She went to cover her face, but found a shadow cast over her, and found Quintus turned on his side, shielding her from the flying sands.
When Jack landed, Lucy coughed and yelled at him, “Thank *cough* you! I really love eating sand after eating shit!”
“I mean I could have let you get eaten by mermaids but pick your poison,” Jack said as he offered his hand to Quintus.
Quintus immediately helped Lucy to her feet just as Jack did for him.
“Well, that was fun!” they heard Astrid say as she trotted out of the water, dragging her ax and…
“Is that one of the mermaids?” Quintus asked her.
She lifted the shark mermaid’s tail into the air before letting it plop to the ground with the rest of its corpse. “I figured we’d eat it, it’s got a lot of meat for one of the smaller ones.”
Quintus and Jack didn’t say a thing, they both touched their faces and tried to look away. The idea of eating the creature that nearly killed them was far from appetizing, especially one so human-like. Jack nearly gagged at the idea before he and Quintus locked eyes, and nodded their heads in unspoken agreement.
Astrid looked between the two of them with a plain look on her face. “Cowards,” she called them.
Before either could finish making their confused grimace, Lucy finished her coughing fit, and spit up some of the sand that was in her mouth.
This fucking stuff gets everywhere.
“Ugh!” she complained before complaining some more. “Speaking of fucked up shit, how the fuck have our guys fought those things?! They all nearly-”
“Special tools, probably nets, fishing spears, sea onions,” Astrid interrupted her, drawing the gaze of the other three on the beach. “What?”
“Did you just say onions?” was the first thing Lucy asked her about.
“No,” Astrid corrected, “I said sea onions, they’re like regular onions but they grow underwater and their smell absolutely repulses bigger sea creatures with a good sense of smell. They’re out of season now though, but during the spring and summer, it drives them nuts, especially good to wipe your weapons on them to burn their eyes and wounds. It drives them back home.”
“You… sure know a lot about sea onions,” Quintus said, nodding his head, his lip smushed up against his nose as he held back every thought he was having.
“Nah,” Astrid said, shrugging it off, “others know more than I do, I just know about killing shark mermaids because I did a stint here in my early days.”
“Oh,” Quintus said, “that’s nice.”
“Yeah!” Astrid agreed with a smile and nod of her head, at least until a wave nearly took her out at the knees.
She looked down at the mermaid corpse and said, “I should probably get this to the fire soon. I kind of cooked it already, so it should be good to eat in no time.”
Astrid went to the corpse that was larger than Quintus and bent down to pick it up.
“That’s too big-”
“You’ll hurt your-”
Before anyone could finish telling her to wait, Astrid had lifted the mermaid corpse onto her shoulder with no difficulty. Then she started her walk to camp without a look towards the other three.
Of the three shocked legionnaires, Quintus was the first to say something. “How did she have trouble getting her ax out of the wall?”