Author’s note: This is the prologue of the story I began during NaNoWriMo. I thought that it would be fun to post excerpts from it now and then! I’ve been inspired by today’s New Moon, it would appear.
He starts awake, gasping and choking. Coughing up water, gagging, snorting out sand-filled snot. He raises up on his forearms, struggling to stand…a wave of dizziness hits hard. He collapses helplessly. The crying of gulls is loud in the air…what is that clacking sound? He strains to raise his head – gods, it spins so! Bright light hurts his eyes; he clamps them shut and drags himself forward. His body aches all over. What happened? He can’t dredge up any memory save something from a nightmare…idyllic peace shattered in an instant…
Water lapping, calm seas, joy and general bonhomie as the grand ship cut through the waves on the journey home. Tall, proud son at his side, strong hands on the wheel. Grinning at his father in his good-natured way. Eyes that twinkle in the same way that the young man’s mother’s eyes did, so long ago. Eyes that now turn distant and intent, staring over the father’s shoulder, concern and the hint of fear growing rapidly. “What is that? By the gods – Father, what is that?”
Turning slowly…ever so slowly, as if in a dream…seeing the small island passing on the portside, nine figures cloaked in black garments, screaming foul incantations and dancing wildly, madly…time seems to slow to the cadence of heartbeats. Black clouds gather and roil, coalescing into lumpen shapes that begin to swirl ominously like the funnel-cloud of a tornado.
A helpless form, dressed in rags, hangs unsupported in front of the chanting, dancing worshipers. The chanting rises to a fever pitch as a thunderous sound grows in volume, getting louder by the second. The ugly noise travels through the ground and the water, seemingly filling the air itself with its oppressive presence. All on board the ship clap hands to ears; some fall to their knees, others writhe in agony.
A circle flashes into view above the chanting forms – a beam of light shoots down, vaporizing the ragged sacrifice. The chanters are washed with that hideous, sickly light; eyes ablaze, they turn as one, facing the ship. Waves suddenly churn – the ship plunges and whirls in unseen eddies. Massive chains drop from the circle in the sky, smashing into the tiny island. They lock into place and pull taut…the ground shakes from the impact, and the waves increase in intensity. The lookout in the crow’s nest is flung into the wild sea, screaming as he falls. Water washes across the deck, slamming helpless bodies into gunwales and tossing others to the waves.
The man reaches out, grabbing his unconscious son as they slide across the wet wooden planks. He desperately clutches at a flapping end of rope in an attempt to arrest forward motion, to no avail – the ship lurches madly as another freak wave heaves it to starboard. He’s falling…the side of the ship looms close. He strikes his shoulder on something…he loses his grip on his son. The cold water envelops him in an icy embrace. Shouts and screams are close, some growing faint and ceasing altogether. He tries to get his bearings by exhaling a stream of bubbles and following their trail.
He breaks the surface of the water. His eyes see the huge chains locked into the earth, but his mind still doesn’t register it as being real. Thunder rumbles continuously; the white light spins madly in the center of the circle, the clouds are black and ominous as they seem to be sucked into the spinning light. Creatures from the imagination of a mad god drop from the circle, summoned by the chanting, dancing worshipers. Their fell magics are directed at the sky, the water, and the now-sinking ship. The incessant waves have taken their toll and the port side has been stove in from some unseen impact.
“No…please…” he gasps, treading water weakly, still trying to keep his son’s head above the surging waters. Out of nowhere, a powerful arm grabs him around the chest and lifts him onto a couple of floating barrels that are still miraculously lashed together. His son’s limp form soon rests next to him – he is relieved to see that the younger man still breathes strongly. He looks around for his savior, but only sees a saurian tail cutting through the water towards another bit of flotsam. One of the lizard-folk, it appears…he had employed a goodly number of them. His desire for a diverse crew would pay off quite well, today.
The ship is floundering, quite resembling a dying cetacean or sea-serpent struggling and clinging to life. The sails hang in rags from the masts, rent and torn by the screaming winds. Forms, human and non, bob in the waves. Some manage to stay afloat – others tread water weakly, then cease their struggles, then disappear from sight. He turns blurred eyes to the limp form of his son. ‘I’m so tired…I must rest for just a little while…then I can help,’ he thinks. Darkness lays her warm cloak over his eyes and mind, and he floats away.
The clacking sound rouses him again…he knows that he needs to get away from it, but can’t think of why. He carefully moves his arms, stretching them out in front of him and feeling for something sturdy to grasp hold of. Splintered wood. Wet, wadded cloth. A soggy, frayed piece of rope. A hand…he clasps it, but it is cold and doesn’t return his grip. He carefully releases it, not opening his eyes, not wanting to know who it might belong to – or whether it is still even attached to the arm of whomever it belongs to. He needs to focus on survival. Head spinning, he makes minute, painful progress…then passes out again.
Voices call, getting closer. “Did you see that?” “What was it?” “Here! I found someone – come, come!” “Over here…no, that one is done for – mark them with the red cloth so the priests can tend to them once we find all of the survivors.” The sound of scuffing sand gets nearer still. The ugly clacking is so close…too close…sand scuffs harshly, there is a soft thump, and the clacking ceases. He groans softly, twitching his hands in the sand, trying to move. “Here – come, I’ve found another!” The voice, so close…speaking in a familiar language, but with a unique, distinct dialect. A woman’s voice. Hands press his arms and legs; questing fingers probe his shoulder. He lets out a loud gasp of pain, then dissolves into paroxysms of helpless coughing. “Turn him, quickly!” More hands grab him; fingers sweep into his mouth, clearing out sand and spittle. Fingers pull his eyes open – the sunlight is blinding and he tries to squeeze his eyelids shut against the burning intrusion. His head is cradled gently for a moment and a bowl is brought to his lips. “Here…drink this, slowly,” says a soft voice. He parts his lips; warm broth trickles down the side of his face as he swallows. He squints against the light, trying to see who tends to him – all he sees is a light-limned shadow. The broth is good…he relaxes slightly as the pain eases, closing his eyes again. His breath steadies as he falls into a deep, dreamless sleep. He feels nothing as he is transferred to a travois, wrapped in a wool blanket, and has pillows carefully propped behind his head and shoulders. He is lifted to the back of a horse-drawn cart and lain down between two others. The horse grazes quietly nearby; the driver eats his own simple meal, waiting for the order to take the poor souls to the nearby infirmary.
Other injured crewmen have been located. Those who can move on their own do so, heading to the triage tent that was hastily erected by the rescuers. Many of those with the fewest injuries are the lizard-folk, who are telling and re-telling the tale of what befell them as they are tended to by the healers. An elderly, blind priest listens to the recounted disaster, his fingers weaving runes of light in the air before his sightless eyes. His magick-infused writings are being seen in various guilds throughout the land, being transcribed to books, paper, and carved in stone by whichever mage, shaman, witch-king, or wyrd-woman can decipher them. For good or ill, this occurrence is recorded by all with the ability – and the tale spreads swiftly, like a virulent disease.