By EM Malachi
Many years ago…
The rowboat leaked. With soggy boots, Lassorn spent each trip out to the anchored HMS Cape bailing water. They had drawn straws to see who would have to make the slog, and Lassorn now had to make eight trips across Lost Hope Bay to Minoc and back to the ship.
If the sailor’s orders hadn’t been specific, Lassorn might have been able to deliver the cargo in fewer circuits, but the contents of the crates were too valuable to risk. Lassorn had asked his captain what was in the crates, and he’d been told they were the final work of a famed artisan, a set of masterworks meant for the King himself.
A pair of guards, Madellene and Averill, escorted him from the Minoc coast to a small workshop. The door had been replaced recently, and the workshop inside was cluttered with tools, springs, gears, and other bits of metal. Piled in one corner were eight identical crates. Picking up the first one, Lassorn felt warmth and a sense of calm radiating from the container.
As Lassorn walked back to the rowboat, the locals nodded to him and shook their heads sadly. It seemed everyone in Minoc was wearing an orange-and-black ribbon. After each trip out to the Cape, the guards would meet him and take turns escorting him to the workshop and back. After a long day, the task was done.
As Lassorn went to his hammock, the evening watch weighed anchor and started the journey out of Lost Hope Bay. It was almost midnight when the HMS Cape reached the mouth of the bay, and the northern mountains blocked the moon. The ship had been moving at a good clip, when the winds suddenly stopped. The ship slowed, as if caught in a great net.
A crewman clanged the brass alarm bell, waking the captain and crew, while those on deck shined lanterns into the dark sea. The waters were filled with dozens of graceful shadows flitting back and forth. They had the elegant features of elves, but with gills and long fishtails.
“Mermaids!” shouted the botswain.
One of the creatures jumped aboard and pinned the sailor to the deck with a trident. “We are the Nixies! You disrespect us at your peril!” More armed Nixies clambered up the hull, as a large wave deposited a gangling sea witch covered in slime onto the deck. The other nixies formed a phalanx around their leader, Sycorax.
The captain stepped forward with open hands, “This doesn’t have to lead to violence. Our King has made peace with the remaining fae folk.”
Sycorax sneered. “Did your king’s peace protect my sister, Noxum, when a net dragged her from the shoals off Skull Island? I claim your lives for hers.”
The captain gave Lassorn a look, and the young sailor dashed to protect the cargo in the hold. “Surely you know that wasn’t us. We can resolve this peacefully.”
The sea witch drew a blade made from broken shells and stabbed the captain in the throat. “There is your peace. A pact of blood for blood.”
Before the captain hit the deck, his crew had drawn their swords, and the two sides clashed. The sailors managed to force the other nixies back into the water, but Sycorax held her place. “I’d hoped to take some of you captive.”
With her gills luminescing with strange magic, the sea witch started to sing. Every barnacle on the hull burst forth from their shells in agony. This frantic wiggling tore apart the very timbers of the ship. The chant sounded over the waters, making the dark sea churn. A maelstrom began pulling the broken ship and its crew beneath the waves.
As the ship filled with water, Lassorn desperately cut the cargo net. The crates smashed open. The carved stones inside tumbled out eight different holes in the hull. The sailor took a deep breath as the dark ocean covered him.
When the mayhem ended and the waters calmed, Sycorax smiled and sank back into the waves.