Bait

She stared at the wreckage of the once proud ship, now impaled by the protuding rocks of the sheer cliffside. It rose like a wall of pikes, awaiting the unfortunate charge of tidal destriers that triumphed over these waters. And here, one of them had made its grave; its life snuffed out in one tragic and disastrous instant. Among the spiked outcroppings of slick black rock, with hull split asunder and deck shattered, the massive wooden corpse lay forlorn to be bleached till the end of days. And already the lapping waves carried its bounty, as flotsam and jetsam drifted hauntingly over a now silent sea. There was no life to these waters, now bleak, smoky and grey with the stolen souls that drifted silently through its depths…

She fumbled with the hazy images of awaking to a darkened cabin. And then the eerie lamentation of a hollow voice that filled the night… until the doom of their ship was heralded by the thunderous crack of floorboards and the spray of icy seawater.

those fools.

On the deck she had found nothing but chaos. She was welcomed by an unforgiving tempest that battered what remained of her crew with gale-force winds, and pouring rains. She remembered locking eyes with a man swaying precariously in the wake of the storm, looking about him as if he had snapped out of a reverie. His eyes held the glimpse of unspoken terror, as if he knew the cause of this catastrophic offence.

those fools. Those damn, godforsaken fools! She had no inkling to weeping. Her anger rivaled the storm that she had survived. And beneath the now calm and overcast sky, she stood as the only sentry on the shoreline. A man’s desire will be the ruin of us all.

This was no accident. She turned on her heel. Of it’s own accord, her feet stomped across the wet expanse of sand that lay before her. Except for the tattered rags that still clung to her, she was unscathed by the shipwreck. There was no use in scouring the wreckage. The deeps had long since claimed it’s due. But it had spared some things… She felt a relief at the familiar knock of her scabbard against her thigh. She rested her hand on the pommel of her blade, taking comfort in the cool surface that met her touch.

The seas would not be the only claimant of the damned this day… She too, sought her due.

Momentarily blinded by her rage, she nearly tripped by ways of a stray boot that lay extended across her way. Irritated, she sought to bend down so she could hurl the wretched thing into the water to join its master… until she saw that even he had not retired to the watery grave of his shipmates. The boot was attached to a leg. And the leg, attached to the body of a crewman who lay on his stomach, head turned to the side. Hidden behind a chunk of debris that must have been pivoted to the beachfront with the force of the impact, he lay there motionless. Only then did she see the marks left by a body that had dragged itself over to the spot of its final breath.

She kneeled down ever so slightly. Palor mortis and milky eyes evidenced with one look that he had parted this world and was beyond her aid. Perhaps the last survivor beside herself, he issued his last breath here. But how did he die? No clotted blood stained the sands underneath him, nor did it clung to his corpse. Judging from the furrows in the sand, he was at best exhausted and rattled, as she had been. But surely no closer to death?

The sight of him unsettled her. Life may have left him, but a terror still clung to those eyes that had widened as he met his end; the only clue as to his perplexing fate. And so he had remained. Frightened to death…

She rose from the chilling scene. She left him there, not failing to notice that he had drawn his sword before his untimely end…

She paced back in the direction of the wreckage… before turning to the cliff. She had noticed an opening. Hidden in the wake of a tide pool, the rockface opened in a slight menacing tear that was large enough to suspect a cave. It offered a welcome foreboding as she stood at its mouth, in a pool that had been severed from the sea by the low tide. Come the eve, the cave would likely be flooded as the sea reclaimed it for the night. Perhaps there were others… seeking shelter on the inside.

She waded onto dry sand at the entrance, and steadily motioned into the dank abyss… there was just enough light. Her eyes adjusted to the low ceilinged chamber and swept across the dark floor of the cave mouth for any… …

…there… The uneven walls were deceiving at first. But there, in the corner, she saw something. Propped up against the wall. She edged closer, using the little light that faintly effused through the cave… and then backed away in horror…

She swung around and darted for the opening. There she stood in the dim light as a cold sweat clung to her frame. By some primal device, her sword was already unseathed… and she clenched the handle with white-knucled force. She was panting… if fear had gripped her, she did not have the leisure to entertain it. No admiral’s daughter did. But to see a man’s face slashed like that…

She stopped her thought short as she prodded the ominous feel that had settled around her… something was not right. Her keen eye was drawn to the tidepool that was covered in large dissipating ripples; as if something had only just waded through it. And she had been in the cave chamber for too long to be its cause…

She stepped into the water, and her eyes fell on the tracks that she had left while making her way to the cavemouth… tracks that were now broken by deep wavy furrows; almost as if something had slithered in her wake…

A hollow silence filled the seconds before she heard the splash in the water, and the rush of something blitzing towards her from her blindside with guttural fury…

Instinct guided her blade sideways and up as she slashed the body that lunged from the water. She felt her blade bite into flesh as she ducked and avoided the chitinous claws that swiped through the now empty air where she had been. The creature landed hard on the shallow surface of the pool. The blow was not fatal, but she felt it bite deep… and she knew it would only enrage the siren who now met her steely gaze with its own evil reptilian glare. Those eyes flashed dangerously, augmented only by the rows of dagger-like teeth that was bared at her defiance…

The creature was imposing, she had to admit. She had made it angry. But she was angrier… It was fast, but nothing could escape the reach of a sword that dealt a calculated blow. She just needed to get close enough.

As she stepped forward, a low rising pitch rose from the creature’s mouth like a scornful lamentation. It pierced her ears in its dreadful melody. Its sharp notes cut through the air in off-key tremors that broke like glass against her eardrums. The sirensong…

So this was it. The lure that had baited an entire crew of men; baited their temptations of the flesh with a song that blinded them with their own desires. The operatic display that had run a ship aground and caused nature itself to aid in the destruction. A sound that had left men quaking in the moments before death… Those fools.

But she was no man.

Gathering her resolve, she took another step forward, only to be met by the taunting look of the creature that now seemed to beckon her assault… The tonal shift of its song left her with an eerie dread, as if the fortune that had become her in her moment of reckoning was now being defiled. There was an anticipation there, in the way its amphibious coils shifted position. The song was near deafening

As she cringed at the heightened pitch, her revenge blow halted, she caught sight of a reflection in the water. A looming shadow that rose behind her in gravelike silence, with pale eyes staring balefully from a ghostlike complexion, as it raised a weapon…

And as she felt the frigid air part by the edge of a blade being swung at her neck, she knew that the sirensong was not meant for her…

Inktober #3