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Rum dashed down into the hold of the ship, trying his best to avoid hyperventilating. He wasn't quite too sure what Molotov had meant- but one look over the side and it was clear that a large, grey shape was cutting through the water on a direct collision course with the boat- and he wanted zero part of any of that, thank you very much. He rounded a corner, trying to avoid thinking about the yellowed-gnashing teeth of the shark and what his body would look like, chopped into multiple tiny pieces and served in a soup.

 

Finally he reached the steering room, his eyes darting around the crammed hold. He never knew what to rest his eyes on when he entered here- compasses twirled, globes both ornate and carved of wood spun, seemingly all on their own accord. Barrels of parchments, nautical maps and more were scattered around the room, some stacked on top of each-other- it was hard to tell how big the room actually was, with the walls so covered in charts and numbers and other artifacts of navigational importance.

 

And that wasn't even accounting for the incense- it hung thick in the air, a pungent smoke obscuring bookshelves and spidery nooks, bathing the room with competing scents of lavender, jasmine, and orange. Rum coughed, choked, and tried to filter the mighty scents, his eyes finally falling to the large wooden table in the centre of the room, completely barren of clutter... and the oily-green snake-man at the other side of it.

 

“Er, uhm, thought you just might want to be informed...” Rum began, his lungs still adapting to the sudden lack of oxygen. He stopped short as the yellowed eyes of the snake-man opened, mighty arms, hidden within deep orange robes, never once uncrossing from his chest.

 

Rum wasn't exactly sure what the snake-man's name was. He'd simply come with the ship. Frankly, he'd taken his appearance, lack of catch-phrases, polite conversational skills, and language in general, as a negative. But Molotov had assured him the orange-robed snake-man was a skilled Helms-Wizard, and it was daft to take the churning, glutinous Foggy Ocean without a Helms-Wizard.

 

In a world with ever-shifting continents, nation-building was a very, very hard thing to do. Tectonic plates with anxiety disorders flitted about the wide-ocean without a care for cartographers, trade routes and imperial boarders. What was to stop a small island from drifting out into the vast unexplored open ocean, not to be seen again for a century? What was to stop a frost-tipped mountainous isle from blowing southward, right in the middle of a key trading route between the Kingdom of C'Aath-Duendia and the Imperial State of Gruendia, bringing about widespread famine and political unrest?

 

The answer was... nothing really. In a world with such schizophrenic natural phenomena, Helms-Wizard's had arisen as a critical, much-needed profession, necessary for any jaunt or journey out beyond the immediate vicinity of an archipelago. Helms-Wizards were attuned, magically linked to their vessels from within the inner-most sanctum of the ship. Employed by every nation, cult, and crew of adventurers in the world, Helms-Wizards were much sought-after positions and persons.

 

Gone were the days of rogue waves splashing a Captain over the side of their ship, leaving a put-out pirate crew to return to the nearest port to dust off their resumes. From within the Helms-Wizards sanctum, magical ley lines built into the wooden core of the ship thrummed out, supplying magic to other parts of the vessel, like blood pumping through vast veins. Masts moved, ropes were pulled and knotted, winds were heeded.

 

It wasn't an exact science- there were good Helms-Wizards, and bad ones. Ones capable of piloting vast, luxury warships holding thousands, and ones who could barely manage a leaky row-boat. And every so often an isolated island would shift and bubble its way out of the Foggy Ocean, an island who'd independently developed their own means of combating the tumultuous sea, ignoring Helms-Wizardry all-together. Some of these isles had invented steam-powered monstrosities, others had tied sea-monsters to the front of their warships. One particularly aggressive tribe of barbarians had perfected the doggy-paddle. But by and large, a Helms-Wizard was the way to go for any sensible, travelling person.

 

It was just Rum's luck that his Helms-Wizard was a mute snake-man who constantly vomited eggs all over the deck. When Rum wasn't busy attempting to write his poems and adventures, he was mostly on mop duty.

 

“There's ah- there's apparently a shark approaching, off the port-side! I mean no, the other- the star-board side,” Rum squeaked out.

 

A tremendous jolting BOOM shook the ship, sending Rum careening into the frame of the door. He righted himself, managing a panicked giggle. “Can you do something about that?”

 

The snake-man, yellow-eyes glinting, didn't answer. But the vast wooden table in the centre of the room began to thrum, the metallic scent of magic overpowering the incense. Rum blinked, watching in astonishment as the wood was pulled upwards, a topographic of the surrounding ocean forming. The shape of the tiny two-masted schooner was positioned in the dead-middle of the table, a tiny wooden replica.

 

Rum's eyes fixed on a small knot in the wood, the shark presumably, making a wide arc in the ocean, swinging around to ram again. He scanned the rest of the table, desperate to see something- anything.

 

A coral reef, a sand-bar, an island- anything really! No, it's all just open ocean. I really should have been paying more attention to where this snake was taking us... wait!

 

At the very edge of the table, the wood began to rise upward, the tell-tale topographic height and shape of a small island taking shape. It looked like a half-moon to Rum's eye, a cove offering protection- waters too shallow for a shark to swim.

 

Any calm Rum felt was halted abruptly, as the knot of wood jetted across the table, slamming into the side of the wooden ship in the centre. Rum was shaken by another impact, mirroring the image on the board. It occurred to him that perhaps, as the one paying everyone on the ship, he was the Captain. And he should give commands, or other Captain-like instructions.

 

“Sna- I mean... Helms-Wizard!Turn us uh- away from that thing- get us away from it before it sinks us!” he said. “Beach us in that cove, where the shark can't follow!” The snake-man blinked his yellow-eyes slowly, one at a time.

 

I'll need to come up with a proper name for him. I nearly just called him Snakey.

 

---

 

Returning to the deck of the ship, Rum was perplexed to find Annay alone, quivering and holding tight to the mast in the centre of the deck. Molotov was nowhere in sight- but the island was distant in the waters to the north-east, looming ever closer with each chopping wave against the hull.

 

“Where's Molotov?”

 

Annay shook her head, curls bobbing around in the waters of the fish-bowl helmet. “He went over the side.”

 

At any other moment, Rum would have considered this an absolute win. But with Molotov being the only one with any real magical capabilities, specifically hired to protect him from being hacked into bits or eaten by a terrible monstrosity, he had some issues with this development.

 

"What do you mean he went over the side?!" Rum dashed to the rail, scanning the misty, bubbling waters below. But try as he might the murky depths remained inscrutable, obtuse, and generally mysterious.

 

"I can't see for shi-"

 

Suddenly, the water exploded upward, sending the boat, and Rum, rocking backwards. Rum squealed as he fell to the deck, a dark shape catapaulting up and out of the waves, landing behind him on the deck with a heavy, wood-snapping thud. He twisted around, the towering, 8-foot form of a hammerhead shark, hovering over him.

 

Rum blinked. The shark was balancing on its tail-fin, head tilting downward and to the right. Despite its best intentions to appear menacing, the hammerhead had to turn its head to the side, able to keep only one yellowed eye upon him.

 

Rum suppressed a laugh. It was the wrong move. The hammerhead's eye narrowed.

 

"Wise guy, huh?" The shark's words were mangled, but somehow intelligible as the common tongue. "Youse thinkin' you're a smart guy, laughin' at me!"

 

A silver switchblade suddenly appeared in its fin, flicking open to shimmer in the sunlight. The hammerhead shark tossed the blade from fin to fin. Rum gaped, eyes tracking the flashing blade.

 

He... actually DOES have a knife.

 

"I'ma gut youse like a trout if ya' don't get that stupid look offa' your face!" the shark snarled. Rum, eager to bow before any authority, scary voice, or pointy blade, did his best to wipe the stupid look off.

 

"Thas' more like it," the shark declared. "Awright, this here's a stick-up. I'll carve ya' a set of gills real good, so no sudden moves, no heroics, or you'll end up like your friend goin' over sideways... get me?"

 

"Y-you mean Molotov?"

 

If the wizard truly was drowned and gone, Rum didn't know what he'd do. Note to self- if I get out of this, invest in more body-guards. Ones who don't mention they can be bought at a discount during the hiring process.

 

Raising up his hands and scrambling to his knees, Rum's eyes scanned the deck to find Annay gone- probably slipping over the side of the ship in the confusion. Despite his intense, crippling cowardice, Rum felt a pang of relief that she'd avoided his fate.

 

"Ya' deaf, kid?!" the shark snapped. Rum blinked back to reality, realizing he'd drifted off in the middle of his own mugging.

 

"Uhm, sorry, can you repeat that last part?" he squeaked. The shark shook its beefy head, hopping closer on its tail and jabbing the switchblade at him. Rum squealed and backed up against the rail of the ship, the switchblade pointing toward his nose.

 

"I saids, where you stashin' the good stuff?! A fancy boy like you with the nice clothes and the jerkins, you had ta' have stashed it somewhere!"

 

"St-stashed?" Rum stammered. "Oh- oh my money! Yes, it's in the hold below, in uhm, in my room. No, wait, my quarters. If we're on a ship, I think it's supposed to be called 'quarters'. I'm the Captain, so-"

 

"I'll quarter youse, if ya' lying!" The shark snapped its jaws, jabbing the switchblade toward him. Rum cursed to himself.

 

Oh I set him up with a really good line there...

 

With a shout the hammerhead suddenly advanced, jabbing the switchblade toward Rum. Rum scurried along the rail, the switch-blade point slashing through the air behind him, missing by inches. Scampering up to his feet, Rum took off running down the length of the boat, a squeak of terror escaping from his lungs. Stumbling over loose rigging, barrels and boxes of undetermined supplies, Rum made his valiant escape as the hammerhead shark hopped after him on its tail.

 

Rum had always, vaguely, in the back of his mind, suspected he would die. But he'd hoped that like a true warrior-bard his death would be poetic, earth-shaking and sad. A time of great mourning for countless kingdoms and nations around the archipelegos of the world- songs would be written, children taught of his bold sacrifices and noble nature. Comparisons would be made to bold King Uther Dawn-Strong, or clever Ser Parsley Greenboot. Statues would be commissioned, designed by him in advance to show off his sleek cheekbones and manly jaw. The entire Foggy Ocean would mourn, and he'd probably ascend as the patron God of Poets. That had always been the most obvious and likely scenario.

 

Instead, he was about to be knifed to death by some sort of deranged aquatic kangaroo. Rum made a desperate dive across the length of the deck- above his head he could hear the switch-blade cut through the air, slicing a notch out of a nearby mast.

 

"Give it back, youse dirty pink-skin lout!" the shark snarled.

 

Sprawled on the water-slick deck, Rum twisted around, kicking his feet and sliding away from the hopping menace. The hammerhead thrashed its head back and forth, spittle falling from its open maw.

 

"No?!" it sneered. Then, with one final definitive hop, the massive bulk of the shark was looming over Rum, fin curled around the blade, the point angled down toward his heart. "Well, any last words then, ya' uncooperative lil' stink?"

 

"H-how are you even holding a switch-blade with your fins?!" Rum squeaked.

 

The hammerhead shark paused. Its head shifted, left-eye now studying its fallen prey. "Yous know, no one has ever asked me that befo-"

 

There came a noise like a whip. With blinding speed a nearby bit of rigging snapped loose, sending a rope whipping across the deck close enough to cut the hairs on Rum's head. It slammed into the middle of the hammerhead, seeming to snap the hapless shark near in-twain with the force of the blow.

 

"oop-!" was all the creature could manage before it was airborne, propelled skyward and spiralling out toward the horizon line.

 

Rum watched, eyes wide, as the distant figure of the hammerhead reached the peak of its arc, several kilometres up in the sky. Then, the tiny black dot began its slow flailing descent to the Foggy Ocean. Like a decisive period at the end of a paragraph, it hit the waters with a resounding belly-flop and comedic smack that resonated across the waves.

 

Rum staggered to his feet, wiping cold sweat from his brow. It seemed that while he had been looking elsewhere, someone had replaced his legs with noodles. Clutching the mast of his ship, Rum looked around in confusion- before his eyes fell upon the Helms-Wizard, lurking in the shadowed entrance of the ship's hold. The green-skinned snake-man stared at Rum, blinking his eyes slowly.

 

The rope which had sent the shark catapulting up into the sky moments ago, slowly lifted off the deck. Twisting across the wood to avoid ensnaring his feet, the rope began to retie itself to the mast. Rum watched in wonder as it pulled tight, knotting itself secure in place. His gaze returned to the Helms-Wizard, who simply nodded with satisfaction and retreated back below.

 

Oh, of course. Helms-Wizards control all parts of their ship...

 

"Thanks uh... thank you for that one!" Rum called out. "I really appreciate it, Snakey."

 

I really need to figure out what his actual name is sometime.

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