Captain’s report: We are docked in Salrich, a client culture of the Pantheon, resupplying. Having a culture that is a known quantity, where crew can be given leave and not worry about entanglements with local customs, is a relief. Our plan is to set sail in three days.
Walking out of the bookseller, Sinclair Foran carried a large bundle of assorted books. Whistling, he walked along the cobblestone street and headed back to the docks. William Nickerson fell into step next to the healer.
“Quite a load of books you have there, healer,” said the quartermaster.
Looking down at them, the healer said, “Yes, but some of them are for the captain.”
“You know, if you let me know what you want, I can usually get better prices. Especially if you’re buying so many,” suggested Nickerson. Looking at the spines of the book, Nickerson read out loud, “101 Tales of Historical Romance.”
“The captain requested that one,” said the healer, coldly.
“I was going to bring this to you onboard, but since you’re here, I can give it to you now,” said William, feeling at his pockets. Pulling out a bag of sweets, he held them out to the healer.
Sinclair Foran stopped and looked at the quartermaster appraisingly. “If this is some sort of shakedown…”
“I don’t know why everyone is so ready to believe the worst of me,” said the quartermaster. “I know you like sweets, so I got you some.”
“Well, in that case, thank you,” the healer said, accepting the bag and putting it in his pocket. “I’d better get going.” He hurried off as Nickerson looked after him.
* * *
“You’re still not taking leave, Henry,” said Captain Baxtor, as he and Henry Cook stood alone on the main deck of the docked ship the Phoenix. “You don’t have anything to prove to me. I think you should blow off some steam,” said the Captain.
“After our time on Shazukar, I’ve been finding life onboard more relaxing than visiting ports,” said the youthful chief engineer.
With a chuckle, Joseph Baxtor said, “I can’t have a chief engineer who is afraid to leave the ship. Don’t make me order you to go for a pint, young man.”
“And what are you doing on board, Joseph?” asked Henry pointedly.
“My books are all on board,” protested the captain.
Looking out to sea, Henry said, “Is it just me or are there a number of ships on the horizon?”
Moving to the quarterdeck and taking out his farscope, Captain Baxtor scanned the horizon. Handing the spyglass to the chief engineer, he grimly said, “Zith.”
* * *
Clanging rang out across the harbor. People on shore could now see the approaching ships, and once their flags were visible, fled in a panic. On the Phoenix, Captain Baxtor and Henry Cook were assembling the crew on board and grabbing supplies to depart.
“I need to get something from healer Foran’s cabin,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“Can I help,” asked Henry Cook.
“No,” said Joseph Baxtor firmly. “I can handle it. You go grab anything of importance you can think of.”
* * *
Onshore, crew members from the Phoenix were fighting through the crowd of people moving away from the dock. Henry Cook joined them.
“Help carry what we’ve already pulled off of the ship,” he said, gesturing at the goods weighing down the deckhands with him. “Captain said no one is to get back onboard. We’re headed to the citadel.”
“There are just a few things I need to grab, quickly,” said William Nickerson, moving around Henry on the dock.
“Captain’s orders,” said the chief engineer. He handed the quartermaster the sack he was carrying. “We’re going to the citadel.”
The quartermaster took the sack and looked at the ship longingly.
Sinclair Foran approached the chief engineer and said, “You don’t understand. I must go back to the ship.”
“If it’s whatever is in your cabin, the Captain went for it already,” said Henry, looking at the healer curiously.
Exiting the ship, Captain Baxtor walked along the dock with a large bundle wrapped up and slung over his shoulder. Sinclair Foran’s face showed relief. He moved to take the bundle from the captain, until Baxtor said, “It’s fine, I have it.”
“Let’s move out men,” said Frank Ward, in his sweaty bedclothes. As a group, they began making their way through town toward the citadel.
* * *
Captain Baxtor led the ragtag group into the citadel. A low-ranking priest came up to them.
“Captain Baxtor! What support can we expect from the Pantheon? Has Mytar dispatched a fleet yet? What can you do to help us?” said the junior clergyman.
Gesturing at his group, Joseph Baxtor replied, “We’re as taken aback by this situation as you are. We’ve had to abandon our ship and haven’t been in contact with the Pantheon yet. Perhaps you can help us get settled first, then we’d be happy to begin coordinating the defense.”
“Why, of course,” said the priest, mouth tightening into a line. “Ensuring your comfort should be our top priority when we’re about to be raided by the Zith.” He called out to a number of stewards to prepare temporary quarters for the Phoenix’s crew.
“Send a report to Mytertown,” Captain Baxtor instructed Radiance. Turning to Albert Reeves, he said, “Talk to their city guard and defense force. Find out what they’re planning to do and how we can help.”
Following the stewards into a large dining hall, the crew helped move tables out of the way and spread out pallets to sleep on. Captain Baxtor insisted that putting up dividers to create privacy for the officers was a top priority and, once they were in place, he deposited the bundle he’d been carrying into Sinclair Foran’s designated area.
Minutes later, Radiance reported to Captain Baxtor. “The Zith elementalists are intercepting any sprites I try to send with reports. They’re preventing messages from being sent or received.”
* * *
As the Zith ships reached shore, they tied up on the deserted docks and raiders began pouring out of the ships, running into town screaming. Zith priests and their assistants began demolishing carts and collecting wood from around town and assembling along the main thoroughfares.
Over the next few hours, those citizens who had tried to hide were rounded up, bound, and taken to the burning pyres. From the citadel, Joseph Baxtor, Frank Ward, and Albert Reeves watched, along with a group of Salrich priests and municipal leaders as the Zith invaders sacrificed the citizens they’d captured.
Watching the Phoenix, the officers saw Zith raiders looting the ship, taking everything else of value they could find.
“They’re stripping her clean,” observed Albert Reeves. The Third Captain had a neatly trimmed goatee, but was otherwise clean shaven.
“I expect they’ll do worse than that,” suggested the northern looking Frank Ward. When the Third Captain looked at him questioningly, he continued, “I imagine they’ll assign a crew and take her.”
* * *
Creeping through the woods, Albert Reeves gestured to the group of seven marines following him stealthily. He reached the edge of the woods and watched the Zith raiders pulling the family out of their farmhouse and binding them. Tossing the bound family into a cart, the raiders began grabbing foodstuff and other useful objects that could easily be transported.
Gathering the marines, the Third Captain said, “There are only four raiders, so it should be easy to take them down without any injuries to the family. Do you all see the tracks from their cart? They’re going to head back the way they came. We’ll set up there, let them finish loading, and we’ll hit them from both sides as soon as they enter the forest.”
“Don’t let them see you or hear you and this should go over smoothly. Above all else, be careful not to hurt any of the locals when we attack. If you can’t get a clean shot, don’t use your hand cannon, stick to your rapier. We’ve got them outnumbered and we’ll surprise them, there’s no reason to mess this up.”
* * *
Norah Sinclair struggled to shovel out the stall. Laughing, she turned to William Nickerson and said, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard.” Her ravaged face lit up with joy. Shaking his head in mock seriousness, the quartermaster said, “You shouldn’t make bets if you’re not willing to pay the price. We need to build some muscles on those scrawny arms. Get some calluses on those hands.”
Glancing over at the pair, Sinclair Foran shook his head and entered the tent that was set up to treat the wounded who were brought to them.
Captain Baxtor, along with a number of local leaders, looked at a table with charts that Frank Ward was updating as information came to them. “You figure this is where the raiders will be moving to?” asked the Captain. The Second Captain nodded. “We should be able to dispatch some more guerilla groups based on this,” one of the local leaders observed. The others nodded.
“More Zith ships keep arriving to join the frenzy. Second Captain Ward’s best guess is that the ships that have left seem to be raiding other Salrich ports. They’re coming and going throughout your waters,” said Captain Baxtor, explaining the charts in front of them. “You figure that the Phoenix is still in local waters?” the captain asked the second captain.
“As far as I can tell,” said Frank Ward.
* * *
Looking around at the assembled men, Frank Ward explained the Zith movements to them. “As near as I can tell, they seem to be converging on us here. On one hand, that’s a good sign that we’ve been a thorn in their side. On the other hand, it’s an indication that we might be dealing with more pressure than we’ve felt so far,” said the Second Captain.
One of the local leaders said, “Do you have any idea why Alsos’ aura has vanished? And what this new aura we’re feeling is?”
Radiance cut in, “You all remain faithful to Alsos, so he can’t be killed.”
“But what happened to his aura then?” asked the leader. “Another god could kill him, even while the faithful remain.”
“Perhaps he’s been taken prisoner and is being killed by non-gods repeatedly. Maybe he’s been captured and taken back to Zith territory as a prisoner,” speculated Radiance, not noticing the horrified looks on the locals’ faces.
“We’ll repel the Zith and assist Alsos, whatever has happened to him,” said Joseph Baxtor, trying to reassure the locals.
Radiance continued, “The new aura is Zith’s god Nalvol. It’s created by worshipping him and reinforced by sacrifices. They’re trying to seize your territory. We’re all feeling constantly on edge. Part of that is just the stressful situation we’re in. It’s also Nalvol’s aura. It will get stronger as they perform more sacrifices here and have more debauchery. Eventually, it will drive any of us that remain insane, and we’ll join the Zith. It’ll also create an echo of Nalvol here.”
“Can’t we have Radiance create a portal to contact other resistance groups?” asked Albert Reeves. “And what’s an echo?”
“Zith elementalists would quickly disrupt any such attempt, and they might trace it back to our location and the location we were communicating with,” warned Radiance. “I haven’t been conjuring elementals or contacting the elemental planes out in the open, in case it gives us away. An echo is a weaker, local copy of a god. They form on worlds that worship a god from another world.”
“We’ll do our best to cause as much trouble for these new arrivals as we’ve been doing up until now,” said Captain Baxtor. Frank Ward began suggesting deployments for their guerillas.
* * *
Moving through the forest, Albert Reeves and his three marines watched the tall man with sky-blue skin directing the raiders who were ransacking the farm.
“Who’s that?” asked one of the marines.
“I don’t know,” admitted the Third Captain. “Standard approach men, we’ll set ourselves up near the road back to the port and take them when they’re leaving.”
“Third Captain,” hissed one of the marines. The blue-skinned man was looking in their direction. After looking for a few seconds, he returned his attention to the farm.
In a whisper, a marine asked, “How could he have heard us?” Reeves shook his head and put a finger to his lips.
* * *
Sinclair Foran was washing up before bed in the room in the farmhouse that had been assigned to him out of gratitude for the work he’d been doing with injured Salrich.
“I’m so sorry you’re caught in the middle of this sweetheart,” he said to his daughter, who was already in their shared bed. “I knew there were risks bringing you on the Phoenix, but I never expected anything like this.”
“I love it here, daddy,” she said, looking over at him and smiling. “I’m not stuck in the cabin, I don’t have to hide from anyone. It’s wonderful.”
“Captain Baxtor made it quite clear that you were part of the package with the rest of us. I’m glad that the Salrich got over their fear of infection as quickly as they did,” said the healer. Kissing his daughter on the forehead, he collapsed into bed.
“How are Henry and Adam doing?” asked Norah.
“I don’t know that we’ve heard from them recently,” said her father. “Henry has been doing some work on securing areas we might have to retreat to if the Zith attack us here. He had some ideas about fortifying an area that would be easier to defend. Adam was going with him to provide assistance.”
“I know, daddy. Mr. Nickerson told me all about it,” said Norah. “I’m going to marry them, you know.”
“Both of them?” asked the healer. “Isn’t marriage usually a one-man, one-woman type deal?”
“They’ll duel to the death over me, and I’ll settle their dispute by agreeing to marry both of them,” she said.
“Ah, that’s nice,” said Sinclair as he began drifting off to sleep.
* * *
Albert Reeves and his marines watched the cart move towards them, with the family from the farm trussed up in the back, along with their easily transported valuables and supplies. The blue-skinned, tall man and the Zith raiders walked next to the cart, surrounding it.
The third captain gave a shrill whistle when the cart drew abreast of the ambushers and charged out of the forest. Leveling his gold hand cannon at the blue skin man, he fired and was shocked as his target moved his body inhumanly fast and avoided the shot.
His three marines each took down one of the raiders, but they remained outnumbered by the Zith by more than two to one. With drawn rapiers, Reeve’s men lunged at the surprised Zith men, killing two more.
Reeves lunged at the blue-skinned man, only to see him dodge the rapier in a similar way that he’d dodged the shot. Seeing an opening, Reeves attacked again and this time the man managed to grab his rapier’s blade and snapped it in two.
Looking in awe at the man, Albert Reeves gasped, “What are you?”
“Your deliverance to Nalvol,” he said, approaching the third captain. Reeves raised his gold cannon and pointed it in his face. Laughing, the man said, “Your cannon is spent, fool.” Reeves fired it and the blue skin man fell to the ground, dead with half his head removed. Purple blood seeped into the ground.
The raiders had recovered and counter-attacked Reeve’s marines. Each side had lost another member. Reeves and his two remaining men faced seven Zith. “Retreat!” ordered the third captain, as he turned to run from the raiders.
* * *
Sinclair Foran was hard at work performing another amputation in the makeshift infirmary. Covered in blood, he put all his strength into sawing through the bone cleanly, while two assistants held down the struggling man. From the entrance, he heard Norah call out, “Daddy, do you and your friends want a cup of tea?”
“Not now dear,” he called back, sweat dripping down his brow. “We’ll be out in a little while.” The patient on the table passed out from the pain and the healer continued his work.
“How many more are waiting?” he asked his assistants.
“Thirteen more,” said the closer one.
“Maybe three cups of tea would be good,” the healer called out to his daughter. “Lots of sugar and cream.”
* * *
Adam Hudson and Henry Cook regarded the stone wall in front of them.
“We can cut right through here if that’s what you want,” said Adam to Henry.
“Ultimately we want to have it exit over by the cliff we surveyed earlier. That will be a hidden escape route, so if it looks like this position is going to be overrun, we can exit through there and hopefully slip off down the side of the cliff and leave unnoticed,” replied the engineer.
Three earth sprites appeared and began digging into the rock. “You’d like it to be ten feet tall and ten feet wide again, I assume,” the apprentice elementalist asked.
“That should be good, thanks,” said Henry. “Without any ships sailing, there should be some elementalists available if you’d like assistance. Will the Zith be able to detect the work you’re doing?”
“I’m fine, but the work will go faster with more of us,” said Adam Hudson. “They shouldn’t be able to detect us, since these sprites are working underground. They have air sprites patrolling, on the lookout for sprites in the air, or moving around the island. They might catch us though, so we should be ready to depart if they come after us here.”
* * *
Joseph Baxtor, Frank Ward, Albert Reeves, Sinclair Foran, and some locals poured over their maps. “We’re getting pushed back on every front,” said Captain Baxtor. “Our losses have increased dramatically since they’ve focused their attention on us here. The only good news is the Phoenix is back in port.”
“Who are those blue guys?” asked Albert Reeves. “I was lucky to survive the one we faced, they’re unreal.”
Baxtor and Radiance exchanged a look. “Those are the offspring of the Zith god Nalvol,” said Radiance.
A shocked looked passed over Reeves’ face. “I killed the son of a god? Will he come back to life? Will Nalvol curse me?”
Chuckling, Radiance said, “Offspring of gods don’t come back to life. No one worships us. I can’t speak for Nalvol, but I suspect he doesn’t know, or care, about the loss.”
“The guerilla tactics don’t seem to be working anymore,” said Frank Ward. “It’s time to start thinking outside of the box a little.”
“Is that why you asked me here?” asked Sinclair Foran.
“Yes,” said Frank Ward. “You have Norah’s infection under control?”
“Yes, I do. I wouldn’t say no to getting more medicine from the ship, however,” said the healer.
“Could you let a sample of her illness become contagious again? Something we could use to infect the Zith?” asked the second Captain.
Sinclair Foran looked horrified. “Deliberately infect them with a fatal disease? I wouldn’t be a party to any such plans.”
“Unfortunately, we’re past the luxury of such restraint,” said Joseph Baxtor. “Consider your assistance an order from me and I’ll take full responsibility for the immorality of it.”
“Well,” said Sinclair, hesitantly. “I could take a sample, culture it, and let it become infectious again. This is a very bad idea.”
* * *
Creeping along the dock, Albert Reeves and Frank Ward approached various cargo pallets and poured out the contents of a number of stoppered vials on them. Small groups of watchmen moved carelessly through the port, watching for disturbances that never occurred. Finishing their first task, Frank Ward whispered, “Now out to the Phoenix to get Foran’s medicine. We’ll go out under the dock and climb up her hull.”
Moving through the dark water, the two men wadded, then swam out to the Phoenix. Stealthily moving up the side of the ship, they surveyed the main deck and saw two sleepy sentries, watching the dock and out to sea.
Quietly moving across the deck, they slipped down the steps and headed below deck.
Moving along a passage, they heard a noise coming towards them as they reached Sinclair Foran’s cabin. Slipping inside, they made eye contact with four Zith who had set up cots in the cabin. As the four men looked at the two new arrivals in black without comprehension, the second and third captains drew daggers and set upon them.
All four were dead before they could make a sound or get out of their bunks.
* * *
“You’ll be happy to hear that the infection hasn’t taken, healer,” said Captain Baxtor to Sinclair Foran. “The Zith are sacrificing everyone, both Salrich and Zith, that show any sign of flesh-rot.”
“That doesn’t mean the infection hasn’t taken hold,” replied the healer. “If it was that easy to wipe out flesh-rot, it wouldn’t be a concern. For every person showing signs, ten others have the early stages of infection, are spreading it, and will start showing signs. Even if we liberate the Salrich from the Zith, all they’ll be left with is a flesh-rot colony.”
“That would be preferable to living under the Zith,” said Joseph Baxtor grimly. “The medicine Second Captain Ward brought back from the Phoenix is what you needed for your daughter?”
“It is, but we’re going to need vast supplies of it if disease breaks out in the camps.”
“Understood,” Baxter said.
* * *
“The Zith are coming, the Zith are coming!” screamed a young, Salrich worker as he ran through the compound. Frantically the Salrich guerillas and the Phoenix crewmembers grabbed what they could easily transport, remembering their planning and drills.
“Marines and Salrich gun soldiers, you’re all with me,” called Albert Reeves. “They’re coming from the West, so everyone take your western positions. Remember, no engagement. Take a shot when you have one and fall back immediately. We’re buying time for everyone to get away, this isn’t a stand-up fight.”
* * *
Crouched down in the forest, Third Captain Reeves watched the convoy of Zith moving directly toward the farm community the captain and healer were based in. He counted five blue-skinned Zith demi-gods with the war party of three hundred or so Zith warriors.
“Any time now,” he thought to himself, waiting for the gun soldiers closest to take their shot. A loud bang rang out as one of the men shot at the convoy. Immediately following this, other shots rang out and the forest was filled with the booms of hand cannons being fired.
The five blue-skinned Zith streaked towards the first shot, then when other shots sounded they split up. Albert Reeves put his matchcord to the touch hole of his golden hand cannon and fired into the convoy, knowing it was a waste of a shot to target the blue Zith. With inhuman speed, the blue-skinned warriors each reached a gun soldier, lifted them in the air by their throat, and shook them until their necks broke. They flung the corpses away and moved on to attack other ambushers.
The men were starting to reload, as the convoy troops poured into the surrounding forest counter-attacking the failed ambush.
“Retreat!” yelled Reeves. “Retreat!” As he stowed his gold hand cannon and began moving away from the convoy, a blue figure suddenly appeared in front of him.
Smirking with contempt at the Third Captain, she said, “So, this is the ghost that’s been causing us so many problems. I’m not impressed.”
Albert Reeves reached for his rapier and the blue woman’s hand shot out, caught his wrist, and with a quick twist broke it. The third captain gave a cry of pain.
“Uh, uh,” she said. “I’m supposed to take you in alive, but I’d be delighted to hurt you as much as you’d like before we do that.”
* * *
Radiance walked into Captain Baxtor’s new command post. It was a rough room carved from the rock in Cook and Hudson’s recently constructed underground complex.
“They didn’t even give you a door, sir,” observed the elementalist. “Rough accommodations.”
“They’re better than Third Captain Reeves’,” said the Captain. “The Zith have taken him prisoner.”
Radiance grunted an acknowledgment. “Myself and some of the Salrich have been sending out water sprites under the ocean to try to chart ship movements and positions.”
“Good idea,” said the Captain.
“I have updated info here.” He held a stack of papers. “They’ve gotten wise to what we were doing and their own elementalists are patrolling the waters more aggressively, so we won’t be able to get as detailed information in the future.”
“Understood,” said the Captain.
“They seem to have stopped moving in and out of Salrich waters, so that’s something. I don’t know if it’s the flesh-rot infection, but no new Zith ships are coming here and none of the ships here are leaving,” the elementalist continued. “We’ve found Alsos.”
Captain Baxtor gave Radiance his full attention. “Where?”
“They have a command ship that’s holding a position a couple of miles offshore from port,” said Radiance.
“Which port?” asked the Captain.
“The main port where we docked, with their citadel,” said Radiance.
“And Alsos is on their command ship?” asked the captain.
“He’s in a cage hanging underneath it, continually drowning,” said the elementalist.
* * *
Radiance, Adam Hudson, and four Salrich elementalists hung on to the skiff as their water sprites propelled them quickly underwater in a tiny air bubble maintained by Radiance.
“Remember everyone,” Radiance said. “If you sight any water sprites, take them out with one of your own sprites immediately. If one of the Zith sprites vanishes, we’ll get their attention. If a sprite returns with a description of us, we’ll have every elementalist in their attack force coming after us. Hold on tight and try to push us faster.”
“We’ll be able to rescue Alsos,” asked one of the Salrich elementalists.
“That’s why we’re all risking our lives,” said Radiance.
* * *
The Zith commander entered Albert Reeve’s prison in the citadel again. The third captain hung from a chain in the corner of the cell. Feces speckled his legs and pooled underneath him, in a puddle of urine. Both his shoulders were dislocated and he hung in agony.
“The priests keep wanting to sacrifice you,” the commander began. “Apparently your fighting spirit would make a nice snack for Nalvol. I keep telling them that you have information that’s useful to us, but really I just want you to suffer longer.”
“I’m not sure what I’m more angry at you about,” the commander continued. “This flesh-rot is some of the dirtiest fighting I’ve ever seen.” The Zith pointed at the visible disease on his face and his hand. “But killing one of Nalvol’s children hasn’t made you many friends. Apparently, his siblings are each claiming the right to light the fire at your sacrifice.”
Ripping open Reeve’s shirt, the commander ran the diseased flesh on his hand across the captive’s chest. Reeve’s moaned in agony as the contact pulled at his injured shoulders.
Drawing and holding up a thin razor, the Zith’s face contorted in rage. “Foreigners think that the Zith just mindlessly kill, like butchers. This is because that’s all they’ve seen, as they flee in terror when we conquer their cities. Privately, we can extend agony for days. Sadly, the people who have experienced this don’t tell as many tales.”
* * *
Captain Baxtor heard yells echoing through their underground complex, “The Zith are coming, the Zith are coming.” He quickly began packing up his materials.
Frank Ward sprinted into the room and began helping him.
“What do you think, Frank,” asked the Captain. “Will Henry and Adam’s gambit pay off?”
“Let’s focus on getting out of here. We can worry about that later,” replied the second captain.
* * *
A large cage, holding a red-skinned, 14-foot giant came into view. At its high speed, Radiance had to circle the cage twice as the skiff slowed down. The giant captive coughed up prodigious quantities of water now that he was in an air bubble and immediately began struggling against the chains that bound him.
Radiance summoned earth sprites within the links on the god’s chains, which broke them open as the sprites materialized. The other elementalists joined him in working to free the god.
“Keep your water sprites on the lookout,” Radiance ordered. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
“One of my sprites just caught a Zith sprite,” said the scrawny apprentice Hudson. “They know something is happening here.”
“Lord Alsos,” said one of the Salrich elementalists. “We’re here to rescue you, please join us on our humble vessel, and let us take you to safety.” The elementalist moved towards the god.
With a roar, the god ripped apart the weakened chains binding him. Radiance and the others were showered in bits of shrapnel from the broken chains. A large chunk of metal hit apprentice Hudson, who started to fall out of the skiff before Radiance grabbed the thin apprentice and pulled him back to safety.
Alsos grabbed the elementalist who had talked to him, and threw her violently against the wall of the air bubble. Hitting it at high speed, the group of elementalists heard a sickening crunch and saw her body crumple before she disappeared into the water.
Grabbing hold of the chain that held up the fragmenting cage, Alsos began pulling himself up it, leaving the air bubble as he climbed upwards into the sea. The remnants of the cage broke off of the chain and fell through the floor of the air bubble into the water below them.
“I thought he was going to come with us after we rescued him,” asked Adam Hudson. Looking at where the elementalist had died he said, “Why did Alsos do that to her?”
“Gods aren’t like you or me,” explained Radiance. “We’re lucky that he didn’t kill the rest of us in his rage.”
“Alsos is the incarnation of love,” said one of the remaining Salrich elementalists. “He is everything good, and kind, and decent.”
“I saw,” said Radiance. “I’ve fended off three Zith water sprites already, we need to get out of here now.”
* * *
William Nickerson looked out across the water from the high vantage point he’d been stationed at with a group of Salrich scouts. Rather than watching the port that they’d been assigned to monitor, he was watching the two armadas clashing in the water. He’d been keeping a close watch with his farscope then lowered it with a sigh.
“How goes the battle,” asked one of the Salrich scouts, hopefully.
“The Pantheon fleet is defeated,” said the Phoenix’s’ quartermaster. “They’re in retreat.”
* * *
Alsos pulled hard on the chain, hand over hand, as he shot upwards from the depths towards the command ship above. Onboard, the crew looked uncertainly at one another as the ship jerked from the movements below.
Getting frustrated at his slow ascent, the god abandoned the chain and began swimming upwards with mighty strokes, gaining speed as he rushed towards the surface.
Reaching the ship, he slammed into the hull like a cannonball, rocking the ship, and breaking some of the planks. Reaching into the fractured hull, the god pried open the crack further. Water began rushing into the ship. Pulling it open wider still, the god entered with the torrent of water.
* * *
“Another water sprite down,” reported Adam Hudson as the elementalists’ skiff shot along underneath the water. “They’re trying their best to take us down.”
“Less talking and more defense,” ordered Radiance. “I’m going to surface, in case they capsize our skiff, we can swim to shore instead of drowning.”
* * *
From the rocky outcrop on the cliff, Frank Ward looked over the edge through a farscope. Climbing back down along the cliff, he joined all the people who had previously been in the underground complex and, along with Captain Baxtor and Henry Cook, had left through the exit in the rear, leading to the ledge running along the cliff-face.
“It looks like all of them who are going to go into the complex have,” reported the second captain. “Most of the demi-gods remained outside. Two went into the complex with most of the Zith raiders.”
“I guess that’s as many fish as we’re likely to catch,” said Joseph Baxtor. “Fire at will, Mr. Cook.”
Henry Cook took hold of the taunt cord next to him and gave it a quick pull. Nothing happened and the men looked at one another expectantly, then a loud groan could be heard and dust flew out the entrance of the complex they had exited from and into the air above the complex.
“Seems like your plan to collapse it worked, Mr. Cook,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“Yes, sir,” agreed the ship’s engineer.
“I don’t think I’d like to work long-term in a facility that can collapse that easily,” the captain said.
“No, sir,” agreed the engineer.
“Let’s get these people moving before the remaining Zith think to look around back here,” ordered Baxtor.
* * *
Standing on the sinking ship, Alsos gave a guttural roar to the heavens and surveyed the waters around him and the approaching ships. Blood dripped off of his hands, from the many Zith deckhands and raiders he’d caught on the command ship. Most of the blood was red, but some was purple gods’ blood from Nalvol’s children.
With a cry and a mighty leap from the sinking ship, he launched himself into the air, flew hundreds of feet, and smashed down on the deck of one of the nearby ships, smashing through the deck and onto a lower level of the ship.
The deckhands looked at the arrived god in horror as he began ripping the new ship and crew apart.
* * *
Clotted blood caked Albert Reeves’ body as he hung, beaten, on a crucifix in the citadel throne room. A wavering, ethereal figure flickered in and out of existence by the throne, surrounded by a dozen Zith priests.
The commander who had tortured the third captain examined his handiwork. “The priests tell me that this batch of sacrifices should establish Nalvol’s echo here. I lost my fight to keep you, my plaything. As you burn I want you to be grateful that it’s gentle compared to what I would have done with you.”
Albert Reeves hung silently, enduring the torment. Kindling doused in oil had been placed underneath him.
A priest began chanting and lighting the fuel underneath the sacrifices. Screams began from the other victims as they burned.
The priest arrived at Albert Reeves, chanted over the beaten man, and started the fire underneath him.
“I never even got to carve out your eyes,” said the commander mournfully. “Plucking out the first one is best, since I could have let you look at it with the other one.”
Alberta Reeves felt new pain lance through his body as the flames began burning his legs. He started screaming, igniting pain in his raw throat.
Suddenly, one of the windows in the throne room shattered open, stone flying as the enormous figure of Alsos broke through the wall. The echo of Nalvol finished its materialization, saw the arrived god, and moved towards him with a snarl, knocking his own priests through the air to clear the path.
A crash sounded as the enormous figures collided and began raining blows down on one another. The howling sacrificial victims’ cries echoed through the throne room. The commander began cheering on Nalvol’s incarnation as the gods battled.
Getting the upper hand, Alsos wrestled Nalvol’s echo into a headlock. Pulling with all his strength, the Salrich god pulled the head off of the Zith god’s echo, detaching it from his body and pulling it loose along with a section of spine. Purple god blood sprayed from the figures and pooled underneath them in the throne room.
The commander and remaining priest ran to exit the throne room, ignored by Alsos.
Whether driven by mercy or irritation at their screams, Alsos gestured and the flames burning the victims winked out. Albert Reeves whimpered as he hung with charred legs and watched the Salrich god reclaim his throne.
* * *
With the return of Alsos’ aura, an uprising began throughout the Salrich culture as the downbeat populace rose up to overthrow their oppressors.
Zith throughout the Salrich lands suddenly found themselves under attack from the previously docile sheep.
* * *
Standing on the deck, the Phoenix crew prepared to cast off. The Salrich liaison stood talking to Joseph Baxtor, Albert Reeves, and Sinclair Foran. Norah Foran with a large smile on her ruddy, healthy face stood quietly next to her father taking in all the sights of the dock area.
“You and your crew’s heroics will never be forgotten, Captain Baxtor,” said the village elder who was seeing them off. “Know that you’ll be welcomed as living legends any time you return to us.”
“We appreciate that, and we’re grateful for Alsos’ healing wave,” said Joseph Baxtor. “When it cured your people of the flesh rot, it also healed my injured third captain and our healer’s daughter.”
“In truth, some of us are glad that we were able to free ourselves, rather than be protected by the Pantheon armada. Any future invaders will think twice before assuming the Salrich are easy pickings.”
“They certainly will,” agreed Joseph Baxtor.
Eleventh Story (conclusion)