The Shores of Eternal Torment (2)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Fantasy Realm
The continuation of the Isle of Eternal Torment

photo credit: https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=burning+town&chips=q:burning+town,online_chips:fantasy&usg=AI4_-kQ58j5pAtM336jLjV8bQSaI77zoRA&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiolYnN3KPkAhXUFzQIHfF4BXQQ4lYINygL&biw=1515&bih=730&dpr=1.25#imgrc=ZUBbbpZt-YtQyM:

Submitted: August 27, 2019

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Submitted: August 27, 2019

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An albatross flying overhead caught my eye as it sailed effortlessly through the crimson sunrise. An omen, and though I pondered on its meaning, I could not quell the habit of wondering what I could use its bones and innards for. Then the gulls came, like screams in wings, gorging their bellies as they thrashed above the calm tideline and burrowed their hooked beaks into the useful dead.

The seaside town was aflame, my orders obediently followed by my murderous crew.

As I waded through bloody waters, returning to the shores of Bardsdale, the watchmaker’s body floated by like an inversion of the omen above. The weight of his golden pocket watch could still be felt in my empty palm. I had no use for such trivialities. I turned back to my mates, their skiff full of the townsmen’s bounty, being jovially pulled back to my ship, The Haven. The bobbing vessel appeared proud of its fleshy cords as the cotton sails were pulled taut. Nothing went to waste after a raid, and this was not The Haven’s first.

I grabbed the watchmaker’s shoulders and helped him do an imitation of the graceful albatross towards the beach. As I scuttled his body, I suddenly found myself back in that place, where the unspeakable had happened. In my overwhelming fear and panic I ran and stumbled over a sandy log, falling into a shallow estuary. I looked up from laying on my belly, and came face to face with a nameless woman wearing the expression of death. In the new yellow daylight, flecks of diamonds sparkled in her golden hair, and her sunken eyes bore into me, unblinking. Her face was neutral in her death, as emotionless and uncaring as mine. Through the faintest smile, madness or wile it seemed, pulled at the very corner of her lip. But that may have just been the playful gore of gravity mocking the dead. I left her to rot, I had better bodies to attend to.

It wasn’t a log I had stumbled over, it was a scorched man. Undoubtedly he had failed to douse his flaming self, falling short as he crawled his way to teasing waves. Charred fingertips still reached, frozen in time, towards the faintest hiss of bubbling waters that would never reach him. The heat from the burning oil on his skin would have cracked his bones making the man only a useless corpse. The gulls could have him.

The watchmaker, on the other hand, had a bloated belly despite his otherwise wiry frame. An intestinal infection was exciting to me, as the sickness would cause thicker tissue to line his innards. Thick guts made for better rope.

I set to work, as I had learned how to on that god-forsaken Isle. My tool was sharp, having been forged specifically for this delicate task. Like a talon it curled, and pricked the watchmaker’s belly. I found myself impressed at the dignified revelation of his internal trove. It was the same feeling I had many times, but no longer, when opening a mayor’s work desk, or a judge’s chest-of-drawers. The gulls screamed at me, parting me from my happy memories that seemed a lifetime ago.

I called to Smith, and ordered him to volley the ceaseless birds. He and the men became like the pagan gods of old, abruptly altering the weather by making thunder as it rained chunks and feathers on my shoulders.

Fully consumed in my work, and not willing to part with my subtle labor, I called to Smith again, and repeated my order.

“There are no more gulls, Captain,” he said, and I heard paranoia in his voice. He had been too long at sea, I suspected, and was losing his mind.

The shrieks and screams continued as I broke my gaze from the watchmaker’s treasure and scanned the blazing steppes that had once been Bardsdale. The ocean waves would never reach a single flagstone of the billowing town. The scorched man beside me foretold the future, prophesying that Bardsdale, too, would be nothing but a nameless hunk of char forgotten on the shores of the sea. No person would ever inhabit this place again, it would instead be a breeding ground for gluttonous beaks.

Smith continued to stare, and the screams subsided. I didn’t believe him; the gulls were probably only out of sight and just now flying away to consume someone else’s valuables. Their veracious appetites knew no bounds, and their virtue lie only with their deaths. Vile creatures.

Rinsing the watchmaker’s intestines in the ankle tide eased my mind. Upon closer, and cleaner, inspection they proved fine quality, being long and thick. They fit, coiled like a watch spring in my hip-bag with the others.

Shark fin memories swam in my mind as we took the skiff back to my ship. I ritually held my bag of guts above my head as we rode. The beasts of the deep had keen noses, I had learned, and every hint of death drew them near. The sharks always came for me, and a fin pierced the water’s surface just as I began to climb the ladder.

“Bad luck on board!” Smith shouted. Mariner tales had branded me with folklore and a suggestive reputation. That’s what they called me on my last ship, The Resolve, in jest, but since then it had been revealed as the truth. Where I went bad luck followed, but I was not a victim, not anymore. That luck was my weapon and I aimed it like a thousand cannons. Luck was the vehicle I harnessed to level towns. I was the beacon of chaos in an orderly world where scholarly half-wits explained the rotation of the nightly stars in words only they could understand. The unexplainable curse of my existence made superstitious pirates, who’s rules are just as defined as the scholars’, shrink in fear at my passing.

The men avoided eye contact after each of their gazes briefly twitched to my bag.

Smith bore the heaviest burden as he heaved a crate of silver and gold rings up the ladder, and steadied himself on the railing. The crate escaped being eviscerated by unholy hands, and was taken to the First Mate’s quarters to be sorted through. None of the rings would prove to be what he and I were looking for, it was too early in our search. But we attempted to make up our odds with sheer quantity.

In my own tradition, I twisted the freshly harvested guts together as they now hung from the mast, open to the sun and salty breeze. Always two by two I entwined them.

Stronger in pairs. Stronger in pairs.

I blindly swatted at the squawking gulls that impeded my efforts. Their shadows intermittently blocked the sun’s placid rays. Without raising my eyes from my weaving hands, I shouted for Smith to volley the birds.

“There are none,” he replied, and the crew grew quiet with whispers of gold shifting in their fists. The screams grew louder. I repeated my order, quickening my practiced fingers.

Smith sent the volley, but there was no feather-rain this time. He must have missed. In the least, the thunder scared off the carrion birds until their next dreadful return to The Haven.

I completed the gut-twisting before my men settled on equal shares. The dead do not argue.

I was pondering the enigmatic scribbles of the Great Philosopher, trimming my thumbnail with my teeth, when Smith weakly knocked on my cabin door. My book was barley illuminated by either the orange lantern light, or sunset. Being consumed by the endless ramblings in the tattered text, I hadn’t looked up for hours. He opened the door, and his silhouette was dark on his body. It must have been sunset, then.

“You haven’t eaten, Captain,” he said, low and careful. He craned his neck to catch a glimpse of The Philosopher. “What are you reading?”

I told him.

“But, Captain, the pages…” He stopped short, and the faint glimmer of the sun reflecting off his eyes intoned a paranoid shift. He would need bedrest, and a good meal if he wanted to keep his mind. The sea was not kind to all who treaded her waters, and Smith must have been the randomly chosen vessel for her slow suffering. He would do well to find a quiet place ashore to retire to after our work was done so he would not lose himself entirely.

I told him I ate this morning. He disagreed. Not wanting to inflame his creeping insanity, I allowed him to bring me fruit and bread. After a single bite of each as he watched, I threw their remains out of the window when he left.

I spent the next three weeks awake as often as possible, staving off sleep where strange and dark images flashed. Their meaning only vague oracles to my waking mind, yet seldom could I ignore their ponderous messages. The men would cease their laughter when I stepped onto deck occasionally. I emerged from my cabin like a nautical messiah. All eyes lowered as I stood above them on the stern. Smith gave the usual order by my side: No survivors; bring every ring to him. The men nodded and whispered. Killing every man and woman never did sit well with those who had half the guts of a normal man, but they were wise enough to only mutter beneath their breath. I did not have the inclination to explain to them that orphans were jewels of humanity.

The crew parted as I made my way to the forecastle deck just as Baker announced that land had been seen. The wind hated me, and with every approach of a town or city, it tried to blow us back to the ruthless waves of the unforgiving ocean. My ship was strong, and my innard ratlines held stiff as my men climbed their webs to adjust the sails, but they always needed replacing.

The shore approached, and Smith came by my side. It looked like a quiet town, it lay misty-veiled between an azure inlet and tropical mountains.

“This is our seventh raid,” Smith said against the wind. “If not a single crewman dies, you will be seen as a goddess.”

As the scent of damp vegetation began to overtake the sea, brown juts of buildings grew. Faint shouting could be heard on the approaching piers and the church bell rang loudly at the town’s center. I could tell by the violence of the clangs that the pulling palms were frantic. Perhaps those hands were eager to complete their thirty-nine chimes quickly so they could instead be used for praying.

I wondered if men would pray to me one day, the goddess of chaos.

“You did it,” Smith said, and admired the skittering villagers. “They know you by flag and sail alone. You have become an omen.”

The screams ashore grew louder, and my cannons fired, silencing them momentarily. The lead balls hit every wall and sentry whilst their own shots fell continuously to either side of my ship.

Breaking from the deck, I strode between my men. They followed me to the skiff with elated shouts of premature victory as I climbed in. We shoved off, boldly dodging splashes of cannon fire, and quickly pulling the ores to our new destination. There were treasures to be had.



© Copyright 2020 C. S. Spence. All rights reserved.

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