by C.M. Galdre
The crew of the Perilous Wench were a tad upset. It was not that long ago when they were living the good life, drinking and whoring in the fine city of Southport. Such was their reward after a few honest high-seas adventures and a few not-so-honest. They preferred the term “privateer,” but seeing as they weren’t always hired by one government to rob another and instead just robbed any old ship from time to time, it wasn’t entirely accurate. However, they did take the odd job on the up-and-up and their current one was supposed to be just such a venture.
The constable of the SPE (Southport Prison and Executionary) had visited their captain late at night and asked that he transport a certain V.I.P. to wherever he wished to go. The captain had accepted, his pockets sufficiently lined, and the crew was rounded up that very night to set sail. It had all gone swimmingly until, of course, the captain had decided that such an important person might be worth some ransom and had tried to take the man they were transporting prisoner.
The man had grinned something terrible as the crew and captain burst into his cabin, armed to the teeth and ready for action. His eyes had burned with blue flame and from his mouth poured a chilling fog as he stood and unwrapped a black and ragged blade. The candles in the cabin flickered and none saw exactly what happened, but the captain fell to the floor in a mist of spraying red blood. The crew quickly took flight.
There are not many places to run on a schooner and eventually most of the crew ended up huddled below deck as a gail blew in, it matched well with the typhoon of violence going above. Blind Jimmy, a favorite cabin boy among the crew, walked slowly down the stairs heading towards the shivering band. His face was slick with rain, his body was slick with blood, but not a wound was on him. Blind Jimmy was not, in fact, blind, but rather received his name for being particularly good at saying “I didn’t see nothen!” when asked by the authorities about the ex-Captain’s extra-vocational activities. Blind Jimmy was in shock.
“What is it, Jimmy? What is going on up there?” the remainder of the Perilous Wench’s crew asked.
“I di... I di.... I didn’t... see... see... nothen,” Jimmy stuttered.
The crew collectively frowned. “Come on Jimmy, you can trusts us. What’s a matter boy?”
“He’s tied the captain to the wheel and he’s cleanen up the crew that’s left up there,” Jimmy replied with difficulty. “He doesn’t kill em all... he just kinda tilts his head and listens for something. Sometimes he says in a big ol’ voice ‘Vengeance Accepted’ and then... then...”
“Come on Jimmy, we gots to know what we’re facen here!” the crew encouraged the poor boy.
“And then he stabs em with that blade of his, only... they bleed much more then they should... no amount of sawdust could dry that deck even if it wasn’t rainen,” Jimmy continued.
“And what if he doesn’t stab them?” The crew asked.
“He throws em overboard... or... or...” Jimmy stared at his feet.
“Or what, Jimmy?” The crew asked eagerly.
“Or he sends them below deck to tell you he’s comen,” Jimmy cried before jumping out the nearest porthole.
Erio placed more incense on the fire. The smoke had started to burn her eyes, but the elder had insisted on adding more. She wetted a cloth and wrapped it around her mouth and nose as she worked. Sweet grasses, sage, and cedar, more and more she piled them onto the burning embers, the sound of the elder’s droning chant growing in the smoke-filled shrine.
Erio swooned in the heat and her vision blurred. She saw a man wreathed in darkness and another that seemed to be made of iron blades as they approached the sacred forest isle on burning steeds, their eyes blazing blue and deep purple and black. The girl screamed. Her vision cleared. The Elder stood over her, his eyes red-rimmed and tearful.
“It is coming then,” he said. “The time of the falling of the gods.”
Beard heard a loud CLANK! and suddenly found himself upon a wide and sombre road. He had seen it before in the portal provided by Fate and Destiny and knew it to be the road to his vengeance upon the daemon-thing Släfgeit. The warrior could feel the weight of a blade in his hand, yet no blade was in it. The feeling was comforting. He took off down the road at his striding barbarian pace.
In the distance, a somber building loomed. Its construction was of ancient origin, the type of which only existed as ruins in Beard’s realm, but here was another matter. Here in the Realm of Dreams, before the Slumbering God’s dias, there was no concept of time or decay as is understood in the realm of men, except for those things that did not belong. It also appeared that at the time of the great building’s construction, columns were a two-for-one special.
In the cold barbarian lands of Thorgithe there are few horses, as such the men of the North are able to run at incredible pace and, because of this ability, Beard was soon bounding up the steps of the looming palace.
The dais of the Slumbering God was spartan and it bore down upon its occupants with terrible, foreboding weight. The dimensions of the structure were such that a man felt little more than a mote of dust blowing here and there within its echoing halls. It was through this colossal structure that Beard now padded, quiet as a panther, his muscles limber and primed for action. The entire building seemed to be made of only floor, roof, and columns, and, for the few rooms that there were, they seemed to be only storage facilities long left empty... or never filled... for all were barren.
Beard eyed a structure down a line of columns standing out in contrast to the vertical motif he had encountered thus far. It was large and laid upon the marbled floor, a strong horizontal line in this world of verticals. The warrior stalked cautiously closer to get a better view, traveling swiftly between each column then hiding and moving stealthily behind the next.
At last, he came upon a room -- a clearing in the forest of stone -- and found in the center a giant stone altar upon which a colossal figure rested. The statue was of a man of preternatural build and the glittering banded gold from which it was formed shimmered dimly in the bluish ambient glow that lit the realm. Beard watched the figure intently, looking for some sign of movement for so lifelike was its form that he expected it to leap at any moment from its resting place. He did not have to wait long, though the figure did not leap and call for combat -- it simply breathed a breath so long and large that it seemed not to be breathing at all. But breathing it was, and the wind that it stirred sang faintly through the columned halls.
The warrior stood in awe of what must be the Slumbering God, and wondered what things a god would dream. He wondered if, perhaps, this realm itself was just the dream of the sleeping lord. The idea was unsettling and the warrior padded silently by the sleeping god and left him to his paradoxical slumber.
Curse you, Släfgeit! Beard thought as he continued his fruitless search. Curse you, Fate and Destiny, for sending me on this wild hunt. Are you not gods yourselves? Why not send me straight to the cur, so that I may slay him outright?
Beard heard the sounding of a drum off to his left; low, deep, and far in the distance. He turned to see from whence it came, but found naught. But as fortune might have it (or perhaps it was fate), he spied a spot of daemoniac blood upon the marble floor. His hunter’s instincts took hold and he kneeled down to touch it. The blood was cold but had not been there long as it was still wet and uncoagulated. The warrior searched the area and found more droplets. He was on the trail of the wounded daemon-god that had dared to torment his mind and vision and played cruel tricks upon his soul. His nose flared like a scent-hound giving chase to an injured hart as he ran at a fevered pace to find his quarry. The blood started to appear more haphazardly upon the floor. Was Släfgeit bleeding to death, slowly from the wounds inflicted upon him in the mortal realm? Beard hoped not, for he wished to kill the thing in clean combat and take its cursed head from its still living body.
Beard came upon one of the large storage rooms where there was blood upon the door frame and a brighter light coming from within. He smiled to himself as he approached. The room was as Fate had described -- a nest in truest form. The room was littered with stuffed animals, blankets, refuse, remnants of meals, and what appeared to be crude drawings of Beard made of charcoal upon the wall. Truly this is the work of an unstable mind, Beard thought to himself. “It really is, isn’t it?” a voice came from a pile of rags upon the floor.
Beard flew into a fighter’s stance, feeling the hilt of a sword clearly within his blade-hand, though he could not see it. If he could trust nothing else in this realm of vision and trickery, he felt he could trust the feeling of the blade.
“I can read them, you know,” the voice continued. “Minds, that is. Actually, that is not entirely accurate... I don’t read them so much as hear them all at once... all the time. Occasionally, I am able to filter them all down to just the ones I wish to hear.”
“Show yourself!” Beard bellowed. “Släfgeit, I shall take your head and you shall invade minds no more!”
“Me? Invade your minds?” the voice cracked. “How very selfish of you to think that. It was all of you invading my mind all along.”
The rags on the floor parted and a very ragged Släfgeit stood up from among them. It appeared to be holding a torn stuffed osa.
“Do you know the wish that cursed me, Outlander? Do you know how I came to be like this?” Släfgeit laughed maniacally. “My mother and father were killed. Oh yes. In Turin’s time, they died whilst building that cursed black wall. Their bones are there. Didn’t even bother burying them, just filled in the section they were working on... right on over the top of them. And what of the child weeping in the street? All he had left were dreams, dreams, dreams, dreams, dreams, dreams...”
Beard readied his unseen blade and prepared to strike the daemon down, half in pity and half in vengeance.
“Then I shall end both our sufferings at once!” the warrior yelled.
“I THINK NOT,” a humming, metallic voice rang out in the fetid chamber. “THIS ONE IS MINE.” Släfgeit’s chest burst forth in a cloud of blood and a hundred varied blades. The shock on its face was rivaled only by the realization of what would happen next. In a matter of seconds, the daemon Släfgeit was there no more, only the husk of the twisted trickster impaled upon the iron blades of the Isenshrike, the creatures multifaceted eyes glowing deep purple through the haze of the dream.
The seam of the dream world split like breaking glass and a thousand thousand shards were formed from where the Isenshrike reached across the realms to impale Släfgeit upon its blades. The Dream Realm filled with the echoing sound of shattered glass as the shards broken realmveil fell away like scattered leaves.
Beard felt a painful jerk inside his body and his mind. The smell of brine and blood filled the warriors nostrils as spirit rejoined body in the realm of men. He stood before the Isenshrike, his hands and body covered in dried blood, the Tattered Edge tight within his grasp, and an empty pirate ship wrecked upon a stony shore behind him.