Re: The Crossing

  • Markshire PCs:

Thrakh held the tiller as the ship passed into the mist; Lars, nervously alert, stood oddly apart from him. The whole crew was on watch, but also strangely stationed about the ship, above and below decks, scattered. The thrumming began as soon as the mists closed behind them, an indistinct vibrating hum, felt as much as heard, seemingly part of the place itself. The ship, the men, the very air around them all seemed to throb to it—even the water through which they moved seemed somehow to churn and froth to its rhythm.

Sun-Ok looked about, but the men on deck showed little reaction to the thrum—they all bore the varied looks of fear, anxiety or determination that they had prior. It was still an hour short of nightfall, but the brownish clouds made the light dusky, and the mist gave the ship and its crew the look of a watercolor spattered with rain, the furthest shapes melting and the colors seeming to run and bleed together.

The sails were utterly slack now, and the vibration made it impossible to feel if they were even moving. She leaned out over the rail to peer astern. Even through the mist and the frothing water, their wake was visible, if anything becoming more pronounced. She looked up at Thrakh, noting his focus and determination to keep the course, though how he was determining that course without sun, stars or landmarks remained a mystery.

The fact that the ship was accelerating in no wind had filled her at first with dread, but after considering for several minutes the captain and what she knew of him, the dread changed to relief that their speed might end more quickly whatever ordeal was approaching. As that sense of the unknown mounted, however, it merged with the unreality to create an overwhelming feeling of helplessness—and a simultaneous and terrible sense of liberation that made her legs so weak that Sun-Ok sat heavily on the deck.

It was while she was sitting there that the first sheets of rain began to fall.

At least, it looked at first like rain—like the isolated sheets of rain visible at the edge of an approaching storm. The first few sheets, hitting the sea soundlessly well off the bow, were grey and brown like the mist and clouds around them. Within moments, however, it became clear that the “rain” was as much like colored light than water, somewhere between glistening drops of light and glowing pellets of rain. Sheets of blue rain-light, of red, of all colors began to fall ahead of the ship, and to flicker, partially obscured, in the murk and mist ahead.

The first to hit the ship was beautiful in its own way—a bright turquoise sheet of rain-light that struck the foresail, disappearing into it, with the sound of tinkling bells, the sound fading quickly. The next, a dark olive, struck the bow railing to port, the drops turning dark red and thick as they struck the wood, dripping down and seemingly freezing—despite the mild temperature—into a dozen icicles of blood. These melted slowly, running off into the scupper as a sheet of violet rain-light struck the crow’s nest and top-spar, leaving a ragged patch of orange and black butterflies behind it. The butterflies blew off in an unfelt wind—some clinging a few moments longer than others—fluttered for a few heartbeats, and seemed to dissolve in the thickening mist.

No storm materialized as they entered the deepening murk, however—the grey-brown clouds merely seemed to hang lower, and the mist from the water seemed more palpable. The sheets of rain-light continued, however, with increasing frequency, even if they did not coalesce into a downpour.

A dark yellow sheet fell across six barrels lashed to the port rail amidships. A moment or two later, the four barrels that had been struck burst open, pouring forth not the almonds they had contained, but hundreds of glowing, lavender scorpions, as big as a man’s foot. Many fell overboard immediately, the rest running about madly until they encountered the stream of cold blood running in the port scupper. They rushed to it in frenzied lines, becoming two writhing masses, one following it to where it drained amidships, the creatures dropping into the water and disappearing with the blood.

The other group of scorpions scurried toward the blood’s source, the slowly dripping icicles at the bow rail. Generally, the men had stood clear of the falling sheets, avoiding them as best they could, their dispersal around the ship apparently an effort to aid in that effort and limit damage. Zino, however, was paralyzed with fear when the scorpions emerged, and standing too close to the slowly running blood. The second mass swarmed over him, covering him completely, stingers flailing. The mass writhed briefly, then disappeared, leaving no trace of the crewman.

One of the remaining barrels rolled free of the now-slack lashings toward Marco. He leapt to one side, but the barrel split as it struck the aft lockers beside him, spilling untouched almonds over his feet. He laughed, too loudly, and ran to tie down the remaining barrel.

Lars, still waiting by the tiller to take over from Thrakh if needed, was watching the clouds closely. He shouted a warning as a glistening black sheet of rain-light emerged, falling directly toward the middle of the ship where Marco knelt. Marco stood, and slipped in the spilled almonds.

The slip probably saved him. The black rain sliced through the slack sail, leaving a ragged, irregular tear through the folds; some of it struck the barrel Marco had been trying to save, cutting it cleanly in half from top to bottom, the two pieces falling to either side, with only a few buckets full of almonds left in them to spill to the deck. Of greatest concern, though, was the gaping hole the rain made in the deck itself.

“Through the hull! Takin’ water!” came a shout from below decks. Thrakh nodded grimly to Lars, who scurried below decks, screaming, “Buckets, canvas, wedges, mallets—fast, boys, fast!” Marco turned to shove the remains of the barrels off the deck, and Sun-Ok, seeing no one else moving to his assistance and startled by the sounds of the mallets below, at last overcame her sense of helplessness, grabbing a swab and running across to help clear the almonds.

The rain-light did not pause. Tranak, the only other half-orc in the crew, was too slow to avoid a sheet of rain-light colored a violent, reddish orange. It struck him squarely along the backs of his legs as he dove vainly to one side. The crew on deck held their breath for a few moments, staring to see what would happen, but the only noticeable effect was a strong smell of vinegar. Tranak rose to his feet, roared, and ran to the bow rail, taunting the weather ahead in the guttural, snorting tongue of his father. The first buckets were passed up from below, and the crew on deck, except for the half-orcs at each end of the ship, moved to help.

The terror continued as the crew worked—heightened, if anything, by the wild unpredictability of the rain-light and by the need to bail, which denied them any chance at dodging it. The ship lost the bowsprit to another black sheet, and a putrid green sheet released the sound of wolves howling as it struck. A dark blue sheet brought the odor of baking bread, and a pale white rain turned most of the shredded mainsail into ribbons of oozing flesh that hung like new, curing bacon. Screams of mountain cats, crying babies, and hunting hawks, smells foul and fair, bizarre apparitions—all made even stranger by the sheets that had no apparent effects, or created unidentifiable shapes, sounds, and odors. On and on, a half-hour that seemed an eternity, until at last the pace began to slacken noticeably.

The mallets had ceased their pounding some minutes before, the makeshift plugs of canvas and wedge being packed as well with cotton and anything else the crew could find to stem the leak. Lars at last emerged from below decks. He squeezed past the bucket-line and started climbing the short ladder to the helm. “Ought to hold, but we’ll be bailing steady all the..grauhhh.” His sentence turned into a cry of agony as he was struck by one of the final sheets to fall near the ship—a pattering of dusky rose droplets that hit the back of his shirt and vanished. He fell to the deck, crumpling at the foot of the ladder face down and making a single odd gurgling sound before going still.

Still, that is, except for a bizarre, shifting movement beneath his shirt. Nils moved to help him, cutting his shirt away deftly with a dagger and revealing golden, six-inch maggots writhing along and through Lars’ flogging-scars, feasting. Following a tight nod from Thrakh, Nils pushed the horrid corpse off the deck with a pike.