Chapter III: The Dockyard
From the crow’s nest of the Admare, Selene watched the still waters below. Renik sat nearby, filling his pipe with tobacco as they waited.
The docks had been quiet all morning.
Selene, alongside most of the forces, stood upon the makeshift barricade, made by cannibalizing large portions of the shipyard and docked ships in order to build a large enough wall between the sea and land. The Admare, as the greatest ship in port, was used as the centerpiece.
It was not easy, and Renik had initially disagreed with Dockmaster Evander’s suggestion. Eventually, they compromised, the ship was relatively untouched outside the necessary sacrifices to connect it to the greater wall.
Selene shifted awkwardly in her place. Nothing so far had happened by the docks.
It’s been three hours, surely something should have happened by now…right?
Not that Selene wanted it to start, but the waiting was beginning to wear on her.
Plus, we spent the last two days working on this. If Lendrig doesn’t attack here, all this work was for nothing!
Renik eyed her as she fidgeted, puffing on his pipe. After a moment’s deliberation, he took it out as if he were about to say something.
He stopped mid-breath. His eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to decipher something through the haze. The shift and the intensity of his gaze were enough to unnerve her even more.
Selene began to ask what was going on, but was cut off as Renik whispered, “Shh!”
“Something’s changed, horngirl. Keep focused,” he whispered, eyes still fixed on the horizon.
Focusing, Selene tried to sense whatever it was Renik had in his sights.
The change was not obvious at first. A slight shift in the breeze, or perhaps it was a change in the waters.
Or perhaps it was the crash of metal as the gates surrounding the docks were ripped apart.
A moment later, the very same torn metal flew through the dull, grey mists toward them. It only narrowly missed the mast and crow’s nest.
The time for waiting was over.
Selene pulled the rope nearby, dropping the sail as the sign that an attack was imminent.
Of course, anyone who had eyes just saw the fence fly through the air and crash into some building, so I guess this is kinda unnecessary. Still, I’d probably never hear the end of it if I didn’t pull it.
People below were already lighting the fires and preparing for battle. Outside the crew, militia members made up of dockworkers lined up their ranks in defense, standing ready to face whatever came. Many ran to the ballistas along the wall, armed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Renik dropped his pipe and began the climb down towards the action. Selene remained atop, transfixed by the waters below as the algae’s glow beneath them were lost as something large approached the barricade.
Incense burned through her once more as the bonfire began to burn below.
In spite of the distance between herself and the water, Selene drew her daggers, and stood ready for anything.
As Renik was about halfway down the mast, figures leapt from the water onto the deck.
It was the Merrow. At least a dozen.
Clad in their coral armour and armed with tridents, they slithered across the deck toward the armed militia and crew. Behind them, tendrils crept from the depths.
At first, Selene thought it was similar to the tentacles from the throne room, but soon the tendrils were followed by a bulbous head rising to the surface. Selene had never seen an octopus before, let alone one this size, but the sailors on the Admare had told stories of the strange creature before. This seemed to match their description. It rose from the depths, and its size seemed to almost match the Admare in scale.
Fighting broke out immediately. Merrow cut into the militia and crew with a savage ferocity, skewering several on their tridents or ripping them apart with their shark-like jaws. The crew and militia fired the ballistas, but the Merrow were far too quick and too small to hit in the water. A couple of the men managed to fire a bolt that hit the octopus instead, causing the great beast to bellow in pain, but the Merrow did not allow them time to prepare a second volley.
While the Merrow struck against the crew and dock workers defending the barricade, the giant octopus gripped the mast and other portions of the barricade with its eight tentacles and began pulling as if to rip and tear it all apart.
As the crow’s nest shook beneath her feet, Selene stood frozen. In spite of the fire burning within, her mind was incapable of accepting the reality before her. The monsters were horrific, and even from this distance, she could see that she and her allies were outmatched. The Merrow were remarkably quick in spite of their size, cutting through militia and crew members with ease. The octopus was also far stronger than anything they had anticipated.
Flight was her initial response, but she stopped herself. There was nowhere she could go. In spite of the confidence given by the incense, panic bubbled beneath the surface. Waiting to overtake her at a moment’s sign of weakness.
T–trapped…n–eed to…but…anywhere I go, there will just be more of this…I don’t think I–
That line of thinking was cut short by the bellows of the captain below her.
“Oy!” Renik cried out, “Don’t just stand there, horngirl! Help me get these blasted things off the mast!”
Selene looked over the edge to see Renik climbing towards one of the tentacles one-handed while his cutlass was drawn and held tightly in the other.
His words spurred her to action. Burying the panic once more, she searched for the nearest tendril. She found it along the wooden board holding up the sail by the crow’s nest.
Slipping out of the crow’s nest and onto the wood, she rushed toward it with a practiced ease. Her footing was sure and her tail made balancing a breeze. Once she reached the tentacle, she tried stabbing it with her knives, expecting a reaction similar to the dead Igryss skin they found.
The steel of her blade instead slid through the exterior with little effort. The creature below cried out in pain, its tentacle retreating from the attack.
Huh, for something so big, it’s surprisingly sensitive. Selene wondered, but she did not have long to ponder. Other tendrils still clung and pulled at the mast. Due to her natural agility and balance, Selene found herself practically flying toward the next tentacle.
This one seemed more stubborn, however, and Selene was forced to take her time hacking at it. It was not particularly strong, but the flesh bent more often than cut.
Still, a few stronger swings were enough to convince the octopus to release its grip. After that, she noted the ones that were still holding on suddenly released, including the one that Renik had finally reached.
What followed was a great splash as the creature fell back into the waters below.
Wait, was it trying to climb up?
Selene peered over the edge toward the water, studying the ripples as her mind raced. Gone was the panic from before. In its place, Selene felt the warm confidence surging within her. If that’s the case, then it’s not a threat to the barricade unless it can climb up, right? So if we defeat it in the water, that might help give the folks below a fighting chance!
There was no time to confirm her theory, but Selene knew for certain that, whether she was right or wrong, the beast in the water needed to be bested. Otherwise, it would overwhelm the crew and militia on deck and they would break through to the rest of the city.
That’s settled, then….now how do I beat it?
Selene considered her options, when an idea occurred to her. Despite all the peril of this moment, a slight grin touched her lips. I was hoping I could try this…
“Captain!” Selene cried out, getting Renik’s attention, “We need to take that thing out. I have an idea, but I’ll need your help. Can you get down to one of the ballistas?”
Renik eyed her suspiciously, then looked down searching quickly for any that may have survived the initial attack.
“Yeah,” he called up, “I think I see one far enough away from the fish on deck. What are you—?”
“Great, make sure to shoot with those bolts we soaked in alcohol the other day. Fire them when I’m in position, you’ll know it when you see it,” Selene said, a smirk playing on the edge of her lips as she climbed back up to the crow’s nest.
Renik paled visibly, realizing what she was about to do, “Oh no. Horngirl, ya better not be—”
“No time for arguments, Captain!” Selene called out, drawing up the rope from the pulley and tying it to the mast, “We need to keep moving if we want to survive this, right?”
He sighed, but made no further arguments.
While he got into position, Selene pulled her rope from her pack. She then grabbed the end of the other rope, adding its length to her own with a carefully tied knot. Her hands fumbled a few times through the steps of the only knot she knew, one she learned by watching the sailors on deck use it a thousand times over for rigging.
Hopefully that’s enough to hold my weight, Selene thought, before tying the combined rope to the main portion of the mast. From there, she gripped one end tightly in both hands.
Show time. Got enough rope, time to see if this stunt actually works.
Selene took a deep breath, then she jumped from the crow’s nest.
Her drop was slowed as she landed on the taut sail below her. Unfortunately, her drop was a little farther than she expected. Panic filled her as the sail bent under her weight, the sounds of cloth ripping filled her ears.
No no. Not good, not good, not good! As her desire to escape overwhelmed her, she suddenly felt time begin to slow. The sound of ripping ceased as the world was swallowed by the dark of Shadowstep. Her feet began to slide across the sail as if she was weightless, neither bending or reacting to her presence as she descended.
A giddiness filled her as she realized what was happening, It’s working! It’s actually working! Thank you, Shadowstep!
A short distance later Shadowstep ended, but it had done the job. Now, the sail bent to her weight, but did not break. Its sloped angle allowed her to slide down it. An odd sensation hit her in the pit of her stomach. She felt as if she were falling, but the sail managed to slow her descent.
It was quite thrilling, and Selene would have let out a cry of excitement in another circumstance, but she was too focused on her target to cry out. Rapidly, she neared the edge of the sail, as she looked ahead, she could see the octopus lined up before her.
As she reached the end, a thought occurred to her, what happens if I Shadowstep here?
Intrigued, she decided she would see what would happen. Right before she leapt from the edge of the sail, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
I want…this to work because…it will save us all…Selene thought, but then added, somewhat embarrassed, …And it would look really cool.
Time began to slow as the darkness took her once more. She flew from the sail and swung with the rope still in hand, despite her current state. As she reached the fastest point of her swing, she released her grip and was flung towards the beast below, its strange light gleaming like the north star amidst a night sky.
Right before her feet touched the bulbous head, she ended the Shadowstep with blades drawn. The octopus flesh bent beneath her weight, acting as a natural cushion for her fall. Her blades dug deep into its head, keeping her in place, and it released a great cry of pain.
Tentacles quivered for a moment before flying toward her, ready to crush or pound her to death.
“NOW, CAPTAIN!” Selene cried, unable to see if he was in position.
“Aye aye, horngirl!” Renik cried out. A moment later a massive wooden bolt struck the side of the octopus, just below the eye. It roared out in pain as the body undulated beneath her.
Acting without thought or fear, Selene stumbled towards the opposite side of the creature’s head, slamming her dagger into the exposed eye. The beast’s screams continued, but this time the tentacles still came, desperate to remove her before she could cause more harm.
She tried to dodge, but the bulbous head did not give her enough footing. It grabbed her leg, and lifted her up. Another wrapped around her torso, and pulled her toward its good eye.
It stared at her with a malevolence she did not expect from a beast. As it glared at her, she felt its grip tighten as it began to pull leg and torso apart. In spite of a separation of species, Selene knew what it wanted from those eyes. It would crush the life out of her slowly, painfully while ripping her apart, limb by limb.
All went quiet as Selene felt the air pushed out of her lungs and a strain on her chest.
Then she heard a sound, something flying through the air.
A wooden bolt hit the octopus dead center in the eye.
The shock was enough to cause the tentacle’s grip to weaken. Selene took this opportunity, and focused. Thanks to Shadowstep, she once more stood on the bulbous head, near the two bolts shot by Renik.
“Thanks for the help, Captain!” Selene called back towards him. Then, whether from some lightheaded delirium or just the rush of success, she added, “But you know, you cut it a little close. Thought that thing was gonna kill me.”
“It ain’t easy lining up a shot for the eye, horngirl!” He called back, a hint of relief in his voice, “You’re just lucky I didn’t hit you by mistake!”
Selene nodded, she put away one of her daggers and pulled a flint out from her pack. The attack happened so quickly, no one had managed to fire the volley correctly. Coated in alcohol from Ebna’s tavern, they were supposed to light them before firing. Now, two of those ballistas were skewered in this big octopus.
You may be a nasty sea monster, Selene thought, as she slammed her dagger into the flint, But I bet you burn just fine.
A spark flew from the flint and landed on the wooden bolt, catching almost instantly. The beast roared.
As the fire raged and the octopus panicked, Selene drew her shortsword. She struck against the flailing tentacles, hacking away at them with her shortsword. It was not a weapon designed for cleaving such a large mass, but it slowly found purchase and rent flesh in twain.
Her breath was ragged from the effort and sweat beaded her brow, but she did not stop until the tentacles could do nothing but float limply in the water.
The beast, whether by death or futility, at last, stopped struggling.
Relief and excitement filled her. She pulled her sword out and she let out a shout of victory as she raised the blade above her head.
As Selene stared down at the beast below her, relishing in her success. Bubbles began to rise from the waters behind it. Three more of these great beasts rose to the surface. Each of them studied their fallen comrade before glaring daggers into her. The grin vanished from her face.
…was all that for nothing? Selene thought.
Whether by fatigue or fear, her hands shook as she gripped the sword in both hands. She lowered and set herself into a defensive stance Argent taught her as octopi and their tendrils came down upon her from all angles.
She was cornered, with no way out.