Davitts slammed his hand down on the rail again and again, unable to bring his frustrated anger under control. Those idiots. Those seaweed infested, crack-brained idiots.
“Don’t break my ship, boy,” Captain Unav murmured, tracking the Shadow ship through her spyglass.
“We have to go after them, ma’am! Why isn’t a launch being lowered?”
She gave a grim chuckle. “Landbound, Davitts. You give yourself away. I think Essenin knows better and your Zie isn’t stupid.” She waved toward the cliff, then the ship. “Isn’t a small ship those monsters took hostage, is it?”
“I guess…no.” Davitts squinted, counting masts. At three, not a small ship at all. And the cliffs—oh. “There’s no good landing there. No beach. Probably rocks.”
“Probably rocks, the boy says,” Captain Unav muttered, before handing over the spyglass. “Look there. These cliffs are as ancient as the Mother. They’ve tumbled more than once. The humps and little islets are only the rocks you see. And at the speed she’s going, I wouldn’t wager on her chances once she leaves deep water.”
The way the waves broke closer to shore warned of sudden, dangerous formations just out of sight while tiny islands—some no more than glistening humps and others rising several spans above the waves, just large enough to support a few trees at the crown—dotted the cliff side of the bay. Not a place he’d want to take a single-oared rowboat, much less a seafaring ship. He had to concede that sending a launch in there would’ve been irresponsible.
This didn’t at all help the awful feeling of standing helpless on deck while people he loved flung themselves into peril, but he understood the captain’s reasons.
He turned seaward to find the oncoming ship through the spyglass. The sails flapped about the masts in tatters. The crew…oh, the poor crew. They lived, maybe, lurching about the deck in jerky movements as if their bodies didn’t fit together correctly. Davitts swallowed hard against rising nausea.
“Possessed,” he whispered. “Zie was right. The shadows possessed the crew.”
Captain Unav pried the glass out of his fingers and scowled through it. “Controlled, I’d say. We don’t know if it’s possession. Did he talk about this happening before?”
“No, but he was terrified it might have.”
Her scowl grew deeper. “What I don’t understand is how she’s underway at all with her sails in rags. How is she making such speed?”
He thought back to that night on the beach—the force and ferocity of the unnatural wind—and shivered. “They’re no good with water. The shadows. But they control the wind like no mage I’ve ever seen. And in ways I’ve never seen. I think… I think they’re pushing the ship itself. Like evil children with a toy boat.”
The captain might have muttered something about the world’s largest bathtub, but Davitts wasn’t certain, his attention focused on Zie’s diminishing figure, still atop the waves. Please let him make it this time. Please don’t fall. He wasn’t as worried about Essenin, at least not right then. Even with their boots on, Ess swam better than some fish Davitts had seen. Their head appeared through the waves intermittently, not quite catching up to Zie, but not falling farther behind either.
“The sailors, though, when the ship founders…” Davitts fought another wave of frustration. He couldn’t help them either.
“We’ll watch, boy, and see what we can do.” Captain Unav lowered the spyglass. The ship was close enough now that she didn’t need it. “But let me be clear. I’m not bringing any of those cursed shadows aboard my ship.”
A startling boom followed by scraping and splintering reached them. The Shadow ship had run afoul of all the underwater rocks the captain had mentioned, slicing her speed in half and in half again as the keel ground up against sharp boulders, timbers cracking and splitting. The hole at the prow became visible above the waterline and the ship keeled to starboard as it took on water.
A terrible shrieking rose from the deck and a dark, writhing mass formed around the base of the mainmast as every sailor dropped to the deck.
“Possessed,” Davitts whispered, not at all pleased at having been right.
Captain Unav grunted a response, both of them too caught up in what would happen next for more conversation. Davitts hoped for a moment that the shadows were out of options and would drown, but somehow they pushed the mast over so the top barely reached the nearest tiny island, a sharp protrusion of rock with its tree-covered crown twenty feet above the waves.
The shadows swarmed up the mast, abandoning both ship and sailors, barely reaching the island before the mast toppled into the sea. The shrieking grew worse and the trees waved and bent in the winds generated by the shadows’ fury at being denied their prey.
“They’re trapped!” Davitts whooped and drummed on the rail.
“So it appears.” The captain kept an eye on the foundering ship, and when sailors began to leap into the water, she bellowed, “Hands to the launches!”
Davitts stared at her, blinking in disbelief. “But…”
“It’s a selak ship. They’ll help the non-selak crew, but who knows what shape they're in. We won’t venture into the rocks, but we can meet them halfway.” Captain Unav strode off, shouting orders, leaving Davitts to keep watch alone.
Zie had reached shore—actual shore and not one of the cone-shaped islands. He’d stumbled at the last, but was able to catch himself on the rocks at the cliff’s base. Good. He was safe, the ninny.
Davitts would go through town while Ess and Zie would have to find a path up and around, but they’d meet at the inn soon. It was the best he could hope for.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.