Tag: Dammit Grendel – you went and got Lovecraft all over my swashbuckler!

4.25 – Unnatural Selection

The volley of arrows flew in a flaming arc from the Vidofnir across to the enemy vessel. At the peak of that arc, the crew brought their axes down into the deck boards. Not one of them missed, despite the fact that they all seemed to be crowded around the mast – in the area the Grendelings had actively avoided traversing.

Time seemed to slow for Einarr as the last of their flaming arrows buried themselves in the damaged deck of the enemy vessel. Moments later, the enemy crew was gone, vanished into the maw of the creature that replaced them. Einarr had a far better view of the monstrosity this time than the one on board the Grendel: he wished he hadn’t.

The first thing he saw was the crimson beak that shot upward – not the beak of a seabird, but of a massive squid – once again far more massive than should have been able to fit beneath the deck of a longship. Then the beak retracted and in its place climbed a curtain of tentacles that writhed in the rain.

Fear was not an emotion the Vidofnings were accustomed to, in the main. However, as the wall of webbed flesh climbed the mast and rose up toward the clouds, farther than even the tales told of kraken could hope to reach, there was not a man among them but felt a cold shiver of dread up their spine.

“Fall back! All hands – to oars!” Stigander’s order rang loud and clear across the deck of the Vidofnir. The helmsman threw his weight against the rudder even as the back line of archers fought to turn the sail. Despite the mass of writhing flesh that now tore through their sail to perch at the top of the mast, the enemy ship seemed stable for now.

The thing on top of it was another matter. Einarr could not tear his eyes away as he slung his bow over his shoulder: he would have to deal with the string later. If there was one thing to be glad of as he lunged for the end of an oar, it was that Jorir had just sharpened his blade. He threw his back into rowing while the new monstrosity twitched and writhed, sprouting feathered wings in nonsensical locations at impossible angles.

Stigander’s cadence was harsh and rapid, and slowly the Vidofnir began to pull away from the cultist’s vessel. The mass of wings and tentacles perched atop the mast twitched and writhed, until Einarr thought he could see its beak poking out through the top. A groaning of wood suggested that the mast would not hold out much longer – although it was hard to tell if the mast would go before the burning deck or not.

The creature beat its wings and the groaning became a cracking, somehow still audible over the sound of wind through the thing’s feathers. Three more convulsive wing beats brought the monstrosity fully into the air, and as its tentacles released the mast the shattered wood tumbled down into the sea.

Stigander’s cadence had ceased at some point during all this as every eye aboard the Vidofnir was drawn to the abomination that now, somehow, flew overhead. Part of Einarr thought they had wasted their last volley on the ship that now foundered not a hundred yards away from their port bow… not that he thought shooting that thing would do any good.

The monstrosity turned a ponderous circle in the air and flapped off back the way they had come. A moment later, Einarr heard the Brunning’s war cry, which still did not manage to drown out the thunder-clap of a reinforced keel tearing through the clinks of the last enemy’s bow or the tooth-grating keening that came from below its deck.

“Stand down.” Stigander was audibly weary, as well he might be at this stage of a battle. Down by a third of her crew, battle-scarred, and out of ammunition, the Vidofnir was out of the fight… but if Captain Kragnir couldn’t manage a single enemy vessel on his own, he deserved to lose.

***

As boarding actions go, the Skudbrun’s had been straightforward. Robbed of whatever it was that had been below their deck before the Brunning charge had broken its cage, the warriors aboard the last of the cultish vessels folded quickly. When Stigander brought the Vidofnir alongside the Skudbrun, Kragnir was in the midst of branding the surrendered as thralls.

“…You sure that’s wise?” Stigander called across.

“Perhaps not,” Kragnir answered, his words accentuated by the sizzle of flesh. “But it is Correct.”

Jorir made a disapproving noise from farther back in the ship – too far back, Einarr was sure, for the Brunnings to hear. Probably it was, in fact, very unwise to even think of these warriors as men any longer. On the other hand, when one’s enemies became no longer human, but merely beasts… well, that way lay depravity. Einarr shook his head.

“What kept you?” Kragnir had turned, now, and moved to face Stigander on the Vidofnir.

“An old grudge and a difficult fight.” Stigander shook his head. “Our little ruse failed to deceive the Grendel.”

Boots on deck stopped next to where Einarr stood, and an elbow reached out to jostle him. “’An I were you, I’d not let the Lady on board with all those so-called prisoners,” Jorir whispered.

Einarr nodded, slowly. He would not fault the truth of his own eyes, although he could not blame the other Captain for his reluctance: even still, those sailors had forsaken their humanity. “I have an idea.”

He found Reki and Runa both amidships, treating the wounded among their number. Einarr cleared his throat to catch their attention: Runa beamed at him even as she kept singing, but when Reki looked at him with her albino eyes it was jarring in a way it had not been since she came aboard. Still he beckoned her over.

“What is it?” she croaked.

He offered her his water skin as small consolation for requiring her voice further. “Captain Kragnir is taking prisoners off one of the boats.”

Reki’s grimace could have frozen the rapidly calming sea around them, but she took a swig of the proffered water.

“I thought I recalled you wanting to pay a visit to the Singer’s conclave, though, and I believe Runa is still expected there…”

Reki nodded, taking another swig before wiping her mouth on the back of her arm. “I’ll have a word with the Captain. Good thinking.”

She took two steps towards the two Captains, paused, and then thrust the water skin back at his chest.


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4.22 – Black Horror

A report as of the snapping of planks rang out over the ocean, echoing loudly off the rocks that had hidden the Vidofnir from three of their four pursuers. Everyone aboard stopped in their tracks and turned to stare at the burning Grendel, half expecting the ship to have cracked in two somehow.

If only it had been that straightforward. Smoke billowed up from the deck, even under the constant barrage of rain from the Grendel’s storm, but the fire had not yet caused their enemy to capsize. Instead, several tendrils of blackness extended upwards, waving about where the mast had been. One of them had wrapped itself about the mast and was waving it about in the air. Were it not for that one tentacle, they might have mistaken them for smoke.

“Row! Row, you fools!” Jorir shouted, and some of the Vidofnings began to stir themselves – Stigander among them. It wasn’t going to be fast enough.

The Grendel’s mast went sailing overhead, just barely missing their own sail. Einarr turned to face the last, desperate gasp of their foe, shield and sword at the ready. How are we supposed to fight this thing?

Not with the battle fury, that much was certain. Even if they hadn’t all just come down from it, Einarr was sure this thing was the source of the keening that had shattered the effect before. The distant sound of splashing said the Grendelings – those who still lived, anyway – were abandoning their ship.

A tentacle stretched across the gap between their ships – widening, now, but only slowly. A triad of arrows embedded themselves in the blackish flesh, but it did not seem to care.

“Kraken?” Someone asked, incredulous.

“Can’t be.” Einarr shook his head, not that he expected anyone to be looking at him. “Its body is under their deck. Somehow.”

If they weren’t careful, it would soon be on their own: that first tentative tentacle grabbed hold of the Vidofnir’s railing. Others were trailing in their direction, but the one in the lead mattered most right now. He charged forward and hacked downward with Sinmora once, twice, three times before he even managed to draw blood.

“Erik! Arring! Where are you?” If Sinmora could barely scratch the thing…

Erik’s laughter sounded from two paces behind him. “You telling me you can’t even break free of a little octopus without my help?”

A moment later a pair of axes drove into the break in its hide like wedges and black blood sprayed out over the defenders. The tentacle flinched but did not let go.

“Some octopus. Anyone care to wager whether it’s going to eat us or just bust open our ship?” Einarr was not really in the mood for Erik’s jokes, but it was better to roll with them. The big man laughed again even as he was drawing his battle-axe back for another swing.

Someone screamed from the other side of the deck, followed by a splash when they were knocked overboard.

“More chopping, less laughing.” Arring grunted, frowning, before hurrying across to deal with this new threat.

Einarr stabbed deep into the tentacle in front of him, to be rewarded by that eerie keening wail from the Grendel. Sinmora popped free just as Erik’s axe bit home again, and then there was a monstrous tentacle thrashing about on deck.

Einarr and Erik danced out of the way, although not before being further doused in its foul blood. The other defenders at the prow rushed in to hoist the thing overboard.

Across the deck, Arring had organized four or five others so that they all struck in sequence before taking the thing itself in a bear hug. The tentacle stretched as the rowers began to pick up speed. Another round of strikes severed it, and then Arring tossed the end overboard as though it were nothing.

Not fast enough, unfortunately. Three more grasping arms wrapped themselves about the Vidofnir’s prow – enough that Stigander gave the order to stop rowing. Einarr heard but could not care as he rushed forward to hack at the sickly black-green flesh that now grappled with the ship he called home.

He was not alone. Like woodcutters, the young warriors of the Vidofnir hacked at the trunk-like appendages with the only weapons they had to hand even as a fresh volley of flaming arrows soared overhead.

Einarr glanced up at the sound, and could not make sense of what he saw rising from beneath the deck boards of the Grendel. It almost seemed to bubble upwards, as though it was made of boiling pitch, but as it rose thick stone-colored carapace seemed to harden around it from the bottom up.

He paused, unable for a long moment to draw his eyes away from the spectacle on the enemy vessel. The flaming arrows that struck it – as most of them did, for there was no way the monstrosity could ordinarily have fit beneath the deck boards – caused another keening wail to rise. Whatever it was, it did not like fire.

The sound of an axe striking hide beside him brought Einarr back to his senses and he caught Irding giving him a dirty look. Einarr shook his head and brought his sword back down into the narrow cut Erik’s son had widened for him – by more than one stroke.

The tentacles were twitching, now, and Einarr could hear the wood of the railing begin to creak and crack. Dammit, no!

Without waiting on Irding to take another blow, Einarr brought Sinmora back around with all of his strength and drove it deep into the wound. The cracking stopped, at least for the moment: it had felt that.

He had no time to appreciate the effect of his blow, however: Irding’s blade was already sweeping down after Einarr’s. A quick twist of the wrist let him pull Sinmora directly back just a hair’s breadth before Irding would have dulled the both of them with his own blow. It was a contest, now, to see who could strike deepest and withdraw most quickly, and the risk of a chipped blade was worth freeing the Vidofnir of her bonds all the more swiftly.


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