Chapter Two: From the Depths
By: Erin Rowan, The Untamed Scribe
Adapted from the Notes of Erin Rowan & John Crowley III
Based on the Characters from a Home Brew World in our Pathfinder RPG Campaign
Freya could hear the screams coming from the docks as villagers ran past them. Boom and Samson were already ahead of her, moving around a corner building, closer to the chaos. The screams intensified as Freya sprinted forward. She heard James on her heels as they rounded the corner, the docks now in sight.
Freya took in a sharp breath and skidded to a halt as she took in the scene before her. The air held the smoke of fire just starting to gain momentum as one of the docks lit with the orange glow of flames. There were bodies strewn across the ground, dark blood seeping into the sands and streaking its way into the ocean’s tides. There were villagers face down at odd angles, and some torn in half with silent screams still on their lips. Fuath corpses lay strewn across the shoreline and among the villagers.
By the Gods, help us. Freya caught sight of a figure moving in front of the dock. She rushed forward, James still on her heels, as Boom and Samson were already closing the distance. As she came closer Freya could finally make out the man frantically moving about, a bucket of water in hand.
“Charlie!” She cried out as she started sprinting through the sand towards him. Boom and Samson slowed as Freya rushed past them.
Charlie turned, his plump cheeks flushed, his eye patch still secured over his left eye despite the newly bleeding gash found above it. His suit jacket with it’s polished brass buttons and deep blue fabric was smoldering on the ground by his feet, the flames slowly going out as it floated in the water. His normally crisp white pants were soaked along with his shirt. “Freya!” Charlie moved forward, his slightly heavy build moving fast for his age. “Captain Highwater!” He moved towards them both as James came into view just beyond Freya.
I’ll never get used to people calling him that, Freya thought as she immediately started to inspect the wound on Charlie’s forehead. A second later the others caught up to them.
Charlie and James clasped hands in acknowledgement. “Charlie Two Eyes,” James said the childhood name with a lightness rarely heard. “Good to find you in one piece,” James held the man’s hand for a brief moment more. Charlie was an old friend and seeing him otherwise unharmed meant a lot to James and Freya. Boom and Samson gave a quick look towards each other over the name the Captain had used, but didn’t say a word.
“You as well Captain,” Charlie said with a smile. He shooed away Freya’s hands from his wound. “Quit fussing girl! We have bigger problems,” Charlie moved away from them, bucket in hand. He immediately started to scoop up more water and release it over the fire, “Help me put these flames out!” He bellowed over his shoulder at the lot of them.
Freya glanced around to try and find something to help. Not far up on shore was a man lying on his back, his arms loosely covering his gut. His eyes were open staring up at the starry sky, lifeless. Beside him was a discarded bucket stuck in the wet sands. She knelt down beside him inspecting his stomach, the wound was a jagged hole surrounded by blood and gore. Fuath. At the angle with which he rested Freya knew that he had been trying to run away. She moved her hand over his eyelids, closing them forever. I’m so sorry, she thought as she quickly grabbed the bucket and made her way back to the fire.
Freya noticed Boom standing on the sands, keeping a large distance from the water’s edge. “I will keep watch,” Boom stated softly. Freya barely heard him as he turned away from the shoreline moving further up the sands, tendrils of steam trailing in his wake. Freya moved back to Charlie’s side, filling the bucket as she went, and throwing the cold water at the base of the flames. Some smoke billowed out with a hiss as some of the flames went out.
On the left side of the dock the flames were starting to increase as more of the dock started to ignite. Samson and James were using mangled and half broken crates, frantically dumping as much water as they could on the wood. The fire proving too strong.
“Go girl, I have this side!” Charlie shouted as his dumped his bucket over and more of the flames died with a groaning hiss.
Freya was already moving to the other side next to the men. She heaved water onto the newly forming fire. The wood was dry, crackling, as the flames kept spreading outward. She plunged her bucket under the water and immediately tossed it onto the dock. She was keeping a steady pace with the men next to her, but her arms started to feel heavy. The smoke and heat were not helping. She felt her lungs starting to burn and she felt her muscles straining to keep going.
“This isn’t working!” Samson spat as he heaved another crate of water on the flames. Freya could see his fatigue, the tips of his pointy ears red. She glanced at James. His face was covered in soot and he was looking no better.
She looked at Charlie. He was straining to keep lifting his bucket. She saw the defeat starting to creep into him. These docks were the livelihood of many of Aggramon’s people, Charlie included, and this dock was the biggest they had. It allowed for more trade and passage than the others. More than simple timber would be lost if they couldn’t put the flames out.
Flashes of Lincoln in the bar surfaced in her memory. The despair and hopelessness that consumed him. She remembered the broken people in the tavern, all silently suffering. Gritting her teeth she plunged her bucket into the cold salty water once again and continued on. She refused to let the city lose anything else.
“Keep going!” She shouted at the others as sweat dripped from her brow.
Witnessing Freya’s resolve the others kept pushing forward, matching her pace, desperate to kill the flames.
Freya’s arms felt numb with each bucket. She was starting to lose hope when a few men appeared by their side. They had buckets secure in hand and started to toss more water on the dock. More angry hissing could be heard as more of the flames were dosed. She recognized the blue trimmed shirts and white pants of the dock hands as everyone gained a second wind.
With the extra help the flames soon died out and there was nothing left but the smoke that billowed around them. Freya still felt the heat from the dock and wiped her forehead.
Her and the men all took a few steps back, coughing slightly as they moved out of the water. She moved next to Charlie placing a hand on his arm, comforting him as best she could. He clasped her arm in response as they stared at the dock in silence. It was charred black and the whole section in the front of the shoreline would need to be replaced. But they had saved this one part of the city. It was a small victory, but it still brought a moment of happiness.
Freya glanced at the dock hands that had helped them. “Thank you,” She said as they came closer to her and Charlie.
Charlie moved towards the men as they approached, extending his hand, “Well done men.”
As Charlie and the dock hands exchanged thanks Freya moved up the beach to Boom. He had his back to the docks and was silently staring down the beach. “The fire is out,” she stated as she moved to his side.
Boom said nothing, only nodding his acknowledgement, his eyes still fixed off in the distance.
Freya took a moment to look closely at the ifrit. His skin was steaming where the cracks ran across his skin. It was mesmerizing.
She couldn’t help but wonder why the ifrit was here. What was in it for him? He didn’t respond to their words with but a dismissive gesture, as if they were all beneath him, and while in battle he was pure power that was barely contained. She had seen his eyes after the fireball had flown by her. They were consumed with the thrill of the power that he unleashed, letting it weave into every fiber of his being, becoming a part of it, almost dancing in it. The magics he held were a fine line between control and chaos. It was raw magic and even some of the strongest men would be made weak by it.
Freya feared what he was truly capable of. In battle he was dangerous, there was no doubt, but outside of battle he had an eerie calm. The calm was what scared her the most. It was that silent part that no one could see or reach. The part that trapped who you are and all of your secrets away from the world. It was the part of you that could do horrible things that were justified within the depths of your own mind. She herself knew that part all too well.
As he continued to stare off into the distance she hoped she was wrong. She understood why James was alright with him joining them. Firstly, it hadn’t been his choice. But secondly, and more importantly, James was impressed with his power. She could see that clearly even if James couldn’t.
The ifrit took a few calculated steps forward as he stared into the distance, his head tilting slightly. Freya felt a chill run up her spine at how primal he looked. “Are you alright?” Her hands slipped around her daggers, ready. She looked beyond him to where he was staring but saw nothing through the fog and smoke. What are you looking at?
Boom’s skin started to crack open slightly as the other men joined them. “What is it?” James asked as he took in Freya’s caution and Boom’s defense, his hand going to his bow, unsure of the situation. Samson said nothing as he pulled out his polearm, waiting.
She tightened her grip on her blades, “Boom?” Freya’s voice was barely a whisper.
Boom’s skin began to crack a little more and everyone started to feel the heat that he was emitting. Freya kept her eyes on him, unsure of what he would do. The rest of the group scanned the sands around them to no avail. The fog was too thick for their eyes to see through clearly and not a sound could be heard around them.
“We are not alone,” Boom’s voice cut through the silence. It was the first time she had heard him speak and his voice was enthralling. It was a low sound, calculated. It was the sound that ash makes as it blows on a light breeze. Wistful, mysterious, and chilling. The sound moved through Freya’s nerves within a breath.
She shuddered as she looked into the fog, the others doing the same. At first Freya saw nothing but then Samson spoke, “The eyes of a devil are red with flames.” That’s when she saw the first pair of eyes, they were blood red and glowing, getting brighter as they approached. Then there was another set to the left and all too late they saw the figures surrounding them. They were human in form and as they came closer Freya could make out their bits of grey, wet skin. They had rags dripping water with algae and seaweed growing and twisting about them. Some carried cutlasses and others carried harpoons. They were definitely human as they shambled forward.
“Draugar,” Charlie spat as he pulled loose a dagger and sword.
“What is that?” James asked, notching an arrow.
“Those are the animated corpses of sailors lost at sea,” Charlie’s voice held an anger rarely heard. “Pure evil at our doors to use the corpse of the dead in such a foul manner!” His voice echoed out around them, furious.
That was all that Samson needed to hear as he rushed forward, thrusting his polearm into the chest of one of the draugar, a yell on his lips. Water gurgled up from it’s mouth, a wet moan escaping, as the creature fell to it’s knees. The blood red glow of it’s eyes flickered and started to go dim.
As the spark of it’s eyes died Samson saw the sailor behind the mindless corpse. With the spell broken Samson could see the young man before him. He had cropped black hair, golden brown eyes, and he was young. Far too young to have died at sea. Samson couldn’t help the intake of breath as he glanced down at his weapon now imbedded in the boy. What have I done? He searched the boy’s face as realization hit him. There was an intensity in the sailor’s eyes as he nodded slightly to Samson, a small smile on his lips.
Just as quickly the image of who the boy had been dissolved. Where once had been black hair was now a rotting clump of green moss, his skin flaked away revealing nothing but algae, greying bits of flesh and bone. The boy’s eyes, once a vibrant golden brown, were now empty husks devoid of anything.
Samson knew that Charlie spoke the truth. These corpses had once been human, they had once been men. He felt the sailor’s soul return to peace as he removed his polearm. His smile had been thankful. They were trapped within a curse. They had been pulled from their rest at the bottom of the sea to be used as puppets in a cruel game. A game that Samson himself didn’t understand. Samson’s jaw clenched and his fists tightened around his weapon.
He moved to the next corpse closest to him. They will no longer be lost, he thought as a clang rang out into the night, the corpse blocking the polearm with a cutlass. With anger and mourningful pity he yelled at the others, “Kill them! Kill them all!”
Hearing the fire in his voice the others didn’t hesitate as the rest of the corpses came closer.
With an arrow already notched James found a target not far off. As the arrow found purchase in the eye of a draugr James instinctively notched another arrow as it fell. Staring into the glowing red sockets of the next corpse he took aim, and let the arrow fly. The arrow dug in up to the fletching and the corpse fell back, the glow snuffed out, landing with a soft thud into the sand.
By the Gods, James thought as he notched another arrow and let it fly, catching a corpse in the shoulder. Who would do this?
There was a faint sound not too far in the distance. At first Freya couldn't make it out with all of the fighting around her. But as it grew in volume Freya recognized the cadence of chanting. Looking towards the sea she spotted the grindylow. It wore robes of seaweed and algae, with bits of bone weaved in. What caught her attention the most was that it had a trident. Made of crude fish bones and sharp angles it was a vile looking weapon. The grindylow had a tender grip on it as it chanted.
“Boys!” She shouted at the men around her.
“What is it, love?” Samson shouted back as his polearm found purchase within another draugr.
“We have more company!” She yelled as she threw a dagger towards the grindylow. It flew end over end and slammed into the creature’s chest. It’s eyes flew open, a pale glowing green, and found Freya. It didn’t stop chanting as it reached up and pulled the dagger free from it’s flesh. A small trickle of black blood flowed from the wound.
“I think I made it mad!” She yelled, ducking a swinging cutlass from one of the corpses.
James moved through the fray to her side, releasing an arrow. It flew through the air but the grindylow stepped out of its path with an eerie grace. James and Freya now stood back to back amidst the draugar.
As James and Freya became caught among the corpses, Samson rushed the grindylow. He thrust his guisarme forward and barely made contact as the weapon scrapped along its left side. Samson saw the fury behind its eyes as it continued to chant.
Pulling the weapon back he thrust out again, this time slicing through one of the octopus legs. The chanting stopped as a screech rang out from the creature. Samson moved into a defensive stance as the grindylow stepped back.
Behind Samson a blade clanged off of his armor as a draugr tried to run him through with a cutlass. A fireball streaked through the air, squarely hitting the draugr in the back. The mindless creature lifted up its cutlass for another strike on Samson, but fell to the ground as flames consumed it.
Boom paid no mind to the corpse as it fell. He floated next to Samson and released another fireball, this one aimed for the grindylow. It tried to move out of the way but was not fast enough. As the fireball connected the grindylow’s screech intensified. It pierced through the din of the battle. Freya found herself down on a knee as the sound encased her.
The grindylow’s robes were ablaze and its flesh was starting to melt, dripping off of it in puddles on the sands. It still stood, however, and rushed Samson, thrusting the trident forward as it did. The aim was true and made its way in between the plates of Samson’s armor. The trident found purchase in Samson’s lung. With a sharp intake of breath Samson coughed up a gout of blood.
As Samson stared into the grindylow’s melting face, he saw immediate surprise as a sword tip emerged from its chest. The blade twisted and as it did the light in the grindylow’s eyes went out. As it slumped to the ground Charlie removed his blade. Sheathing his weapon he moved under Samson so that he wouldn’t fall.
Boom moved to help Freya and James finish off the last of the draugar. Without the grindylow’s chanting to fuel them the draugar were more easily killed. They no longer had direction and were truly mindless beasts.
Freya saw Samson go down and her anger boiled over as she swept the legs out from under a corpse near by. It fell to its back, a soggy thwack noise ringing out, as she crouched over it and brought her blade down into its chest.
She stood as James and Boom finished off the last remaining draugar and rushed over to Charlie and Samson. Samson was lying on his back, coughing up blood. Charlie was trying to prop up his head while also trying to undo the straps of his armor.
“Help me girl, he doesn’t have long,” Charlie was calm as he spoke, but she could see the panic in him as he moved. His fingers were trembling and his brow was covered in sweat.
Freya knew wounds, it was part of life growing up on the streets. She got to her knees and placed Samson’s head in her lap, keeping his head propped up so he wouldn’t choke on his own blood. His eyes were fighting to stay open. “Charlie, you’re right, he doesn’t have the time. Stop messing with the straps.”
“I’m not just going to let him die girl!” Charlie’s anger and frustration were clear.
“Nor am I!” She shot back as she pushed his trembling hands away from Samson’s armor. Charlie was about to yell at her again when Samson coughed up more blood, catching Freya and Charlie with the spray.
“Come on Samson, hang in there,” she whispered as she moved a hand to her belt. Without looking she pulled out the third vial in the second pouch on her right side. When it came down to it, if you weren’t fast enough on the streets and you didn’t know what you needed to get things done quickly, then you died. Or worse, you got caught.
“Samson, I’m giving you something that will help,” She uncorked the vial with her teeth and spat out the stopper. “Charlie, help hold his mouth open.”
Charlie didn’t move right away, he just stared at her, angry and exhausted.
“Charlie! His mouth!”
Charlie started and moved a hand to Samson’s chin, holding it open as some more blood came up.
Boom and James made it to their side, watching and waiting, unsure of what to do.
“Samson,” Freya moved him ever so slightly, getting his eyes to flutter back open. “Drink this,” she said as she started to pour the liquid into his mouth. She knew that if he slipped into unconsciousness that there wouldn’t be anything they could do. She didn’t know how to heal, but she always kept a little vial or two for just such occasions.
As the last of the liquid was poured she placed her hand over Samson’s mouth, keeping it shut. He struggled but with Charlie helping her Samson swallowed the liquid down.
Charlie and Freya slowly moved their hands away. There was a soft glow to Samson’s skin and he finally opened his eyes. Charlie let out a breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.
Freya looked down at Samson who was staring up at her. “Well done, love,” Samson said as he continued to stare at her.
“I’ll take that as a thank you,” she stated as she helped prop him up.
“That was a healing potion, wasn’t it?” James asked, his voice taught like his bowstring.
Freya didn’t look at him. Charlie didn’t seem to notice as he hugged her, “Well done girl! You had me worried, but a healing potion! That is wonderful,” he pulled out of the hug. “What is the problem Captain? I recon we were mighty lucky she had one,” he said with a chuckle.
Freya finally looked at James. The anger in his eyes was justified. Charlie still liked to see her as the little girl that would slightly annoy him. But not James. He knew her too well. She knew that he had placed the pieces together. She was a thief after all.
Samson broke their stare as he got Freya’s attention, placing a hand on her arm. “Thanks, love,” he said staring between her and James. He clearly knew more about the situation then he was saying. “I appreciate it.” He winked at her as he stood up. Charlie helped him and after a quick word the two went over to inspect the corpses.
Boom, unmoving, kept his eyes in the distance. He silently stood and waited. He was unfazed by his surroundings, but not unaware.
No sooner had the others left that James pulled Freya aside. “When?” He stated, the anger barely contained.
“When what?” Freya asked, tired.
He scoffed a little, looking away from her briefly. “When did you steal it, Freya?”
She could see the heat rising to his cheeks. “Well before this evening, I can tell you that.” She started to leave and he grabbed her wrist.
“Who did you take it from?” His voice was on the verge of yelling. He wouldn’t let this go. She set her jaw, her eyes narrowing. So this was how it would be. He thought her nothing but a criminal. It didn’t matter that it had saved Samson’s life. It didn’t matter that she had used it for good. No, she was a thief and that was the end of it. No good deed and all that.
“Who I took it from is no concern of yours. I just saved a life, which is more than I can say for the city guard!” She knew she was yelling and that the others could hear her but she didn’t care. The anger, the helplessness, and the death that had surrounded her were weights becoming too heavy to bear. Now James. James wasn’t trusting her. “This is who I am! If you don’t like it then take me back to the post, Captain!” She said his title with disgust. James’ eyes were angry but also hurt as she turned on her heel. As she stomped over to the grindylow her back ached where the whip had torn into her skin, the wounds still fresh.
Ignoring the pain she kneeled down by the grindylow, pulling her dagger free of its grasp. Grabbing the discarded trident she stomped up the sands to Charlie. “Take this and see if anyone in town can tell you more about it.” She glared at James, “I know James can trust you.” James’ gaze moved to the ground.
Charlie took the trident without a word, but he did place a hand on her arm. She quickly moved away and walked down to the shoreline.
“I will,” he called after her sending a glare to the Captain. James didn’t meet his gaze, redness flushing his cheeks. Charlie turned back to Samson and the two knelt back down next to one of the corpses.
No one else spoke as the wind picked up and moved the sea breeze around them. Freya stood on the edge of the shore as a tear fell down her cheek. An image of her sister flashed in her mind, beaten bloody and left to die. She whipped her face her hand coming back with Samson’s blood on it. Bending down she ran her hand in the water. She watched as the blood swirled within the cold sea.
The heartache of loss wrapped itself around her, a steady friend.
Those were indeed hard to come by.
I am lost, she thought silently to the sea.