At the Verne’s board side, Altera flew and eyed the first torpedo tube. A tentacle had coiled itself around it and stuck its hook into the hole. She covered her partisan with a layer of ice and accelerated her speed. Lowering her altitude, she attacked the arm. The moment the frozen weapon came in contact with the monster’s flesh, ice invaded the metalorganic tissue, freezing the tentacle’s frozen head. She summoned her thorns. They pierced the frozen pieces and fell into the sea alongside the rest of the tentacle.
Good. She had freed the first tube. Only one remained.
But new arms rose from the water and tried to grab her. The arm writhed around her. Altera attacked with her partisan and cut through it.
The arm retreated into the water, and three more tentacles appeared in their stead. They beat like wings to crush Altera beneath their hooks' weight.
With the grace of a circus artist, Altera circumvented them all.
Rain splashed against her face, and the waves grew. With each movement, the sea reached for Altera, trying to swallow her whole. And every time their masses were about to pulverize her, Altera turned up her runes' power to their maximum capacity and jetted through the waves.
She zapped into the sky; The tentacles followed her trail, and as they were catching up, Altera’s flight grew erratic like the movements of a snake.
The monster’s arms imitated her, and they all soared into greater heights, their dance creating the image of a double helix. Eventually, the arms caught up to her. One, two, three, four…ten tentacles at once presented their hooks, their surfaces reflecting her image.
Did it think that she was a threat it couldn’t get rid of through mindless attacks?
Altera swung her partisan, freezing and cutting off any tentacle its winged diamond head touched. Rain and liquid soaked her hair and clothes. The arms that managed to avoid her weapon targeted her, but the Orichalcum blocked all attacks. The ensuing impact caused a clang, stunning the hooks, and Altera amputated them as well.
She glanced at her armor.
Impressive. Not a scratch. Even that monster couldn’t chink an armor made of pure Orichalcum.
Altera smiled and dashed towards the second torpedo tube. Now was not the time to celebrate. She had an objective to fulfill.
New arms surfaced and started to chase her or block her way. Altera flew around them in slalom, but there were too many. They attacked her from all directions. Rotating her weapon, she cut through as many as she could.
The numbers didn’t dwindle. New arms appeared and latched on to her. They grabbed her at her legs, wrapping around her naked flesh and dirtying it with ooze.
Altera shuddered at the cold sensation that touched her body. She shot ice at the arm and dissected it, but a new one replaced it. And a second, and a third. They all coiled around her legs.
“Let go. Of. Me. Motherfucker.” Altera gnashed and tried to get rid of the tentacles. She struggled and pulled her legs, but even with her runes, she couldn’t destroy all of them.
Instead, they coiled around her arms. In a reflex, Altera opened her palms, and her partisan fell out. Her eyes widened in horror as her weapon sunk into the water.
No. Without it, she was helpless against the monster. There was no surface area for her to summon her thorns. She had to get her weapon back.
Another tentacle wrapped itself around her neck. It pressed against her windpipe. Altera gagged, and the arms dragged her into the depths of the sea.
Her vision grew dark. There was nothing she could see. Water got into her nose, ears, eyes, and mouth before she was able to close anything. Her eyes and ears burned, and the taste of salt made her body wish to vomit. The tentacle’s pressure increased.
Nonononononono. Please no. She didn’t want to die. Not like this. Please no. She had to get out. She had to get out. Now. She had to get out now. Or she would die. Now. Everyone would die. She had to protect everyone. Everyone. If she died…No. Everyone she had to protect. Out. If she didn’t get out...
Her mind displayed the same words in an endless loop, merely rearranging their placement in an illusion of normalcy and variety.
Altera’s movements became frantic, and without realizing it, she activated the Hagal rune. But she couldn’t use it, and the monster wouldn’t let her out, dragging her further down. The water pressure increased, the burning intensified. Her lungs burned.
She wanted to breathe, but she couldn’t. But it hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so badly. The water, the monster, the salt, the lack of oxygen: Everything hurt, hurt, hurt. Please, she wanted to breathe. Air… She needed air. But if she did, she would die. She couldn’t die. Everyone would die. Nonono.
Fear, desperation, and panic infested her mind, and her thoughts grew out of control: The burning, the water pressure, the desire for air, the nausea. And every time a new sensation razed through her body and brain and brought her closer to death, her runes would activate. Their usage intensified alongside Altera’s death struggle.
But there was no way she could utilize them. They reached out for Altera’s Mana, unable to convert it. And as it built up, and Altera’s mind was on the verge of breaking apart, her subconscious released it all at once.
The tentacles froze within an instant. Altera’s wings beat at a velocity they had never reached before, and the water that surrounded her turned into a whirlpool. With a speed that not even a jet could arrive at, Altera charged out of the water, tearing away the frozen tentacles, and crashed into the ferry, ripping a new hole into its coating.
How did I do that?
Altera emerged from the debris she had created. She was in luck. Her armor had protected her, and there were only a few bruises on her face. Immediately, she vomited the water she had swallowed. Her clothes clung to her like a second skin and were damp and heavy, dripping with every step she took.
The smell of oil lingered everywhere, coating humans and wood alike.
She looked around. Her vision was blurry, but she could see that everyone was occupied with the monster and didn’t notice her crash landing.
It didn’t matter. She had to fulfill her objective.
Altera walked towards the board side. Unable to make out her surroundings, her steps resembled the walk of a drunkard. She might trip at any moment.
It didn’t matter. She had to move forward.
The first torpedo tube was still free. Perhaps the monster's focus on her had not allowed it to retake it. But the second one was still an issue.
Altera closed her eyes and pressed her hand against her forehead. A white noise buzzed inside her, hammering into her brain. She had to concentrate.
She could feel it. Most of her Mana was gone, but there was enough to continue to fight, and she could feel the runes she had engraved on her partisan.
Thank Twice. It was still within her reach.
She activated the runes. Ice covered the partisan’s head, and it spurted out of the water, levitating towards her.
Her breath became heavy.
Unlike her ice constructs, controlling her weapon without direct contact required more finesse, control, concentration, and Mana.
Doing this sucked, but it was preferable to losing her weapon forever, and it allowed her to remove the tentacles from a distance.
The partisan cut through the arms and flew into Altera’s hand.
“Mission complete.” She smiled and summoned a bird construct, which she sent towards the captain.
A boom erupted, and torpedoes flew from the ferry into the water. Where they hit, fountains rose and fell like rain. The water froze and transformed into ice sculptures connected to a platform that floated within the sea.
In the distance, they heard a scream, and the arms strengthened their grip. They shook and destroyed, tearing the ship further apart. The MS Verne didn’t give up either; its canons fired relentlessly.
“Just a little bit more.” The captain widened his arms like a priest praying to the sun. Following the movements of his arms, the sea split, and all the passengers stared at it.
Obsidian eyes floated everywhere, glowing in the light of an inferno. Circles of teeth desired to tear – ragged and crooked, positioned in a recursive pattern. One, two, three…No tens, maybe hundred until they disappeared in a soaring dark void where no light could ever shine through. Arms stretched out for the visitors like a carpet. A jungle of tentacles, orbs, and ragged circles had grown from the abyss. The sea was supposed to be open for a second; One second allowed everyone to see a fracture of its form.
A second that stretched into infinity.
They had to go. Into the circles. They had to go. It was where they belonged. It called. Come. Come. Come to me. They had to go. It looked so beautiful. These circles of teeth. To be pierced by them. They would tear through one’s flesh and bones. Don’t you want to hear it? Is there a greater joy than to be swallowed by me? To become one? They had to go. They had to go. Go.
Shattering Grendel’s hypnotic commands, the passengers began to move. To it. It called. Closer and closer. Their minds distorted. Something had transformed every thought and mixed it with this new instinct. With its voice. It made so much sense. They had to go. It was wonderful. Baptizing. A new life had started.
Yes. New. All these unnecessary thoughts were gone. Who needed to think about anything else? There was no reason. Just listen to my beautiful voice. One step after another. Why should they not follow? The weak followed the strong. They had to go. To the sea, to its mouths, to its arms. To it. That was natural. That was good.
All would be one. You would be one with me. No boundaries. No separate consciousness. Let me think for you. Isn’t that easier? So, come. They had to go. They heard and answered. Come. Yes, they would. Come. Come. Come. Yes, please. Just wait a little moment. Just a little bit until they were there. They couldn’t stop. Not now. They had to go. They had to g-
It stopped. A javelin made of ice was sticking from one of the orbs. Altera breathed and coughed. She drummed against her breast and stared into its shining eyes. Illuminated by the moonlight, it showed a grotesque beauty. She was gazing into the endless abyss of a gem, and for a moment, the abyss gazed back.
More, she could not notice, as, in that same moment, the ferry shot a beam. It traveled the open path and connected with the beast. A white gleam erupted a mist of ice. Within an instant, the creature became frozen. Every eye and arm – no matter how far from the core creature – turned into ice.
The sea merged and became one again.
Altera couldn’t stop looking. It was common practice to enchant weapons with runes. But an entire ferry took decades of training – and Mana reserves she couldn’t imagine. This was power and experience that could rival a Captain.
Who was the ship’s owner?
She shook her head and ousted the question from her mind.
She could think about this once they were all in safety. As powerful as this attack was, it was unlikely that the creature was dead.
She looked at the sea. Cracks started to build on the frozen tentacles that stuck out of the water. It would break out soon. They had to leave immediately.
Thorns rose from various parts of the ship and separated the frozen arms that were still clinging to the ferry. At that same moment, the Tyr rune on the flag began to glow. Both parts of the broken ship quacked as if they were the epicenter of an earthquake.
What was now going on?
Altera rammed her partisan into the ground, hoping that the floor was sturdy enough.
“Dear passengers.” Out of the ship’s loudspeakers, a female voice spoke. “Please hold onto something solid. Things will get turbulent because we are going to lift.”
Altera’s face turned white and blue, full of shock and disbelief. “Don’t tell me they're using the Fehu rune too. This is madness.”
“This. Is. The Captain.”
The captain laughed. Not even thinking about holding onto something, he embraced the wind blowing against his face and folded his arms. He stood like a figurehead as the ship's two halves levitated into the sky far outside the reach of the tentacles.
They torpedoed past the monster, and slowly – as the runes didn’t lose their power at once, but over time – they descended back into the sea and touched the water in the only manner a dissected ferry could.
In other words, they still crashed.