“We can’t get into another fight now.” You spoke as the thought came to you. You couldn’t fight an entire horde of those creatures, and if that was what was coming over the hill in your direction, you wouldn’t stand a chance. It would better serve you to get word back to the ship and prepare for the worst. With any luck Kindle would already have them on alert, but if not then you would be certain to get word through. If they were just a group of people and not a group of those things, surely they’d send someone ahead to contact the ship before you could drop sail.
With the decision made, you start off at a quick walk, but soon enough you and Vella are flying down the road as quickly as your legs will take you. It’s dangerous, foolish even, but fear propels you forward. Kindle is gone when you reach the point you’d last seen him, so he has either gotten the message and gone ahead or . . . you don’t really want to think about the other possibility.
It takes only a fraction of the time to return to camp that it had taken to reach the place where you’d fought the creatures. Both of you are breathing hard as you come to a stop at the camp. The fire is indeed out, a streak of blackened coals dashed across the stone circle as though something had crashed into the fire with force. A few coals still glowed, but nothing burns any longer. Things are disheveled. A sword lays in the open, the blade bent at an odd angle, and a smear of what might be blood streaking out from where it sits in the dirt.
“Come, we need to get back to the ship.” Vella’s voice pulls you out of the chaos of what you are seeing. She is right, of course. You need to keep moving. You can mourn for the others once the remainder of the crew is taken care of.
The silence of the night is pervasive. This late in the season the nights are always quiet, but for some reason this one feels even more muted than it should be, as though existence itself has been stifled. Every step forward comes with an urgency, like it might be the last you will take, but soon enough the lights of the ship come into view. You cross the rocky river beach and jump onto the wooden planks that will take you to the ship without slowing. The hasty walk down the long peer out over the river is a quick one.
As you draw nearer, one of the men at the foot of the catwalk leading up to the ship waves to you. “First Mate coming aboard!” He yells up to the ship, and the message is repeated by those on the deck. Things are quiet here. There is no sense of urgency visible as you begin your walk from the peer up onto the ship. Did that mean Kindle didn’t make it back? No one made it back?
You quickly make your way up the catwalk to the deck. “Where is the captain?” You ask as some of the men welcome you back aboard. They seem to detect the urgency in your voice and your movement, because smiles soon fall away and you’re directed towards the upper deck.
The captain is sitting in one of his favorite chairs, a bottle in one hand as he looks out over the river. He hears you approach, however, and turns to face you. His face is well lined and worn, slightly red from drink and from the whip of the wind across his skin for so many years. His skin has that well tanned, almost leathery, look that you get from being at sea for the better part of your life.
“Something the matter?” He asks, reading your mood before you speak.
“Has Kindle come back, Captain?” You ask first, your tone betraying the urgency.
“No, you’re the first one back in from the forward camp.” He answers. “Why, what has happened?”
“We were attacked.” You speak quickly. “We saw torches and went to investigate but when we got there . . . there were . . . “
“Creatures, Sir.” Vella finishes for you.
“Creatures?” A small smile plays at the corners of the captain’s mouth. “You’ve come to tell me about monsters?”
“Captain, Sir . . . Gravlock,” You use his name. You and the Captain have known each other a long time. “We need to hoist anker and get underway as soon as we can. I’m serious. Vella and I were almost killed, and the rest of our men are gone, likely dead.”
The Captain’s smile fades and he sits up straight in his chair. “You’re serious.” He nods once and sets down his bottle. “Anyone else and I wouldn’t hear them out.” He winces a bit. “We’re missing out on a big purse.”
“Alive we claim another, but dead we claim nothing.” Vella points out.
The Captain nods again. “Yes, truer words you’ll not find.”
“We saw a line of lights coming down the hills. It might be the passengers, but it might also be more of those that attacked us. If it’s our passengers, we figured they would send scouts ahead to notify us. However, the forward camp was gone when we got back, so those things that attacked us are close. I half expected them to be here when we arrived.” You explain as the Captain begins sending orders out to prepare the ship for sail. It will take a while to get everything packed up and ready to go, you know that. The men had been enjoying the down time.
“What sort of creatures attacked you? Was it deep-kin, wraiths, or shapeshifters?” The Captain asks, referencing fairy tales that many sailors whisper about while at the same time telling themselves that they don’t believe in them.
“Something like shapeshifters, I guess.” You speculate. “Though not like they were in the old stories. These things looked like men from afar, in low light, but they were unlike anything I’ve heard tell of once we got closer. They had tails with stingers on them, and a light that looked something like a torch. From afar you could mistake them for a man in a cloak, but once they got closer they were more like . . . “ You find yourself at a loss for words.
“Like giant insects infesting a corpse.” Vella ads to your description. You can hear her discomfort in the words.
The Captain is watching you both with a critical eye. He has seen many things in his time, but this is probably new to him. “Strange, strange indeed. Might it have been men dressed up to terrify you?”
It’s clear he believes there is a threat, but it’s equally clear that he’s uncertain of the nature of your warning. You’re not sure whether you’d believe yourself were you in his shoes, so you don’t take his doubt personally. “No, sir, we killed a few of them and believe me, they were not human. Nothing even close.”
“Torch on the path!” Someone yells up from peer and all action around you seems to freeze in place for a second as the Captain, and in turn you and Vella, head to the side of the ship.
There is a single torch coming up the Peer, though you can make out two shapes, obscured by the fire. They will be down to the long peer and to the ship in just a minute or two at their current pace.
You look to the captain. “You might want to order the men aboard and pull up the ramp as a precaution.”
You keep your mouth closed for the moment. This is the Captain’s ship. He should make the call here, and you can’t be sure who is coming. It might be some of the men from camp.
You draw your sword and rush to the ramp leading up onto the ship. You won’t let your men face this threat alone.