Scjouraan looked on in grim resignation as another ship splintered apart, listening as desperate men begged and screamed for another chance, before they were swallowed by the still seawater. It had been almost two hours since the great meteor had flown over the fleet, when the ocean had started to eat away at anything that touched it.
They wouldn’t make it to the mainland like Edwin had first wanted, so he had ordered the surviving ships to change course for the island of Grastell. Scjouraan grimaced at the thought of that cursed place.
His dark mood was encapsulated by the shadow of Hidros sailing alongside them. All thoughts of fighting had vanished with the waves. Most of his crew believed this was the Hidrossi, casting a dark magic designed to kill them all, but Scjouraan knew better. No amount of magic wielded by human hands could control the entire ocean.
Among the chaos and incoherent ramblings of his crew, Scjouraan eyed the hull of Hidros. Rust ate away at its surface too. Now it was a race.
Who would make it out alive? Would Scjouraan live long enough to walk Grastell’s shores once more? Or would they all share a watery grave?
Scjouraan looked up to see the faint outline of land: Grastell. ‘Land ho!’ he bellowed. ‘Make for the port, double time!’
A firework shot from the command ship. Scjouraan could almost see Edwin boasting to the men about how they’d survived the odds. But if their fearless leader expected to receive applause and enough free rounds to quench the thirst of a small town this time, he was in for a rude awakening.
Before Scjouraan could properly view Grastell’s coastline, he was clouded with memories, those better left forgotten. Hopelessness clawed at him.
A deafening snap from the port bow brought him out of his reverie.
Another vanguard ship sailing beside them had begun to splinter apart. Hired hands leaped desperately for Scjouraan’s vessel. Most barely made any distance before they hit the still water. Yet one soared through the air.
Scjouraan launched himself forward, throwing out a paw-like hand out to clasp the desperate man. The vanguard ship split in two, the mast tipping one half to one side. Waves swelled up in the wake. Before Scjouraan could pull him up, water slapped against the dangling pirates’ legs. Scjouraan heard a sound like meat sizzling. The pirate’s face contorted in pain. He screamed, flailing like a piglet pulled from its mother.
The pirate’s thrashing knocked Scjouraan’s hand loose. He fell, screaming in agony and terror for one split moment. The water silenced him.
Scjouraan stared at the spot where the poor man had fallen, a slack look on his face.
All that effort, for nothing.
By the time they caught up with Edwin’s vessel, the man was grinning ear to ear. ‘Well, Scjoraan, I’ve always said you were too kind-hearted for your own good,’ he gloated. ‘Or the good of others apparently.’ He’d slowed his ship and amplified his voice with an intricately carved wooden horn he’d claimed from some raid or another.
‘Care to fill me in on what’s so amusing, Captain?’ Scjouraan barked. He didn’t need any trinkets to carry his words across the water.
The wryness in Edwin’s smile was grating. ‘My concerns start and end with the wellbeing of my crew. These—’ he gestured to the remaining vanguard ships ‘—are nothing more than cannon fodder. Don’t act like you didn’t see the abysmal way they handled themselves in that fight. First sign of trouble and they broke formation.’
‘They use our boats and fly our colours,’ Scjouraan gestured back. ‘Far as I’m concerned, that makes them ours.’
Edwin’s smile flickered. ‘What would you have me do, Scjouraan? Their ships are dropping like flies. I won’t risk everything I spent the last twenty years making just to save a bunch of undisciplined thugs.’
Before Scjouraan could reply, Edwin continued.
‘Besides, why so fixated on this sorry lot? Grastell awaits just beyond those cliffs. That means fine mead, passable barmaids.’ Edwin’s smile deepened. ‘And, why, I almost forgot that’s where we first met.’ Edwin cocked his head. ‘Tell you what, we both make it through this, and I’ll give you time off. Do whatever your heart desires. Find a nice Grastellan girl, hit the local pubs, or even go visit your family and—’
Scjouraan smashed his fist against his ship’s railing. ‘Go fuck yourself, Side-Eye. How dare you talk of my family. Admit it, you’re scared, either of dying or knowing that you’ve doomed us all. If we survive this madness, we’re through.’
Edwin was not smiling anymore. ‘You ungrateful fucking—’
‘Land ahead!’ a crewman called.
Edwin turned away from Scjouraan and strutted to the front of his flagship without another word. His rage dissipating as fast as it had appeared, Scjouraan bellowed commands to the surviving ships to get into formation. The cliffs of Grastell grew ever closer. They would have to follow the cliffsides for a few miles before they reached Drest, Grastell’s only port town. Only then they would finally be safe.
But fate had other plans. From the corner of his eye, Scjouraan saw Hidros tip to portside. Rust spread along its hull with renewed speed. A monstrous wave was born from the Ship-City’s sudden lurch. It engulfed two vanguard ships and a Hawkship, leaving three rotting wrecks in its wake.
If Hidros sank now, it would doom everyone. Scjouraan laughed at the thought of the Hidrossi getting payback for Edwin’s assault on their city.
Hidros lurched again.
Scjouraan shut his eyes. The men around him screamed in terror.
Seconds passed and their wails continued.
Confused, Scjouraan opened his eyes.
They were still in one piece, alive?
He looked over the ship’s bow and gasped. They were atop a massive jet of water, pushing them up from the sea and towards the cliffs of Grastell. Not just his ship, but all surviving vanguard, Hawkships, and even Hidros itself. In seconds, they shot over the cliffs. Scjouraan watched the scene play out in awe. They had done it. They had survived.
Then the waterjet below them seemed to dissipate in an instant, and Scjouraan’s relief turned to horror as he realised what was happening.
They were at least a hundred feet in the air above the cliffs and, with nothing to slow their descent, they were falling to meet the ground fast.
Author: Flynn is a 4th year Creative Writing student with a penchant for fantasy, mystery, and the supernatural. Growing up, Flynn loved reading stories with worlds that he could get lost in for hours, and he hopes that one day he will write stories that others can also get lost in.
Artist: Irene Liao is a visual art student from Taiwan who aims to present figurative human art through her watercolour pieces.
Editors: Bea Warren and Rory Hawkins