by Rob Steiner
Rida fell into the water writhing with green, slimy tentacles, realizing her death was near.
If this is it, she thought, tightening her grip on her saber, this thing will have a few less limbs before it’s done with me.
One tentacle wrapped around her ankle, its barbs sinking painfully into her flesh, and pulled her out of the water. She hung on to her saber and swung at the green appendage, severing it. Her forward momentum continued, and she flew through the air several dozen paces before landing hard in the water again.
This time she lost hold of her saber as water filled her lungs. She gagged, and then struggled back to the surface. When she broke above the waves, she coughed up what felt like half the sea before whipping her head around, searching for more tentacles. The mass of kelp had flung her far from where it still attacked the Teelamark and the Windrider.
Explosions erupted behind Rida, and she turned in the water to see the Vendir and Kingfisher circling around and firing their cannons. But they did not fire at the mass of kelp tentacles pulling the wrecked Teelamark and Windrider into the water. They fired at the peninsula a half mile away.
She wanted to scream they were firing in the wrong direction, but realized that was where Brya had seen the three Angra trails. The two ships continued firing at the peninsula, pouring all their shells into the dense forest. Trees disintegrated up and down the peninsula, and dark smoke wafted from the fires that broke out where the shells hit.
Rida looked up at the Vendir, saw several crewmen calling to her while another tossed her a rope. She swam for the rope, grabbed it, and they pulled her toward the ship. Once she was close, they lowered a rope ladder and she climbed aboard. When she crawled onto the deck, she turned on her back and lay there, breathing heavily and gagging. The Vendir’s guns continued to roar from the cannon ports below deck, but at this moment, all she cared about was coughing up the rest of the seawater still in her lungs. One of the crewmen, the ship’s doctor by the look of his blood-stained white apron, asked her in broken Recindian how she felt. Rida waved him off to tend to the more seriously wounded.
When the firing tapered off, she pulled herself to her feet and looked to where the Windrider and the Teelamark had been. All that was left of them were the masts poking out of the water and a field of debris bobbing around them. The kelp tentacles no longer moved, simply floating on the water in a large gray-green mass. The kelp seemed to be dissolving in the water, turning the area around the two sunken ships into a brackish mix of gray muck, wood shards, and body parts. The crews of the Vendir and the Kingfisher were pulling aboard the survivors of the other two ships. There were not many.
The captain of the Vendir, with much more gray in his hair and beard than the captain of the Windrider, approached Rida. His clothes were torn and wet, and blood covered his entire left arm. Rida was reminded of her own bloody wound on her ankle, which began to sting when she looked down at it. Following the captain was Nyla Meck, one of the Tuathan priests stationed on the Vendir.
“A bloody debacle, General Myndehr,” the captain said in fluent Recindian, pointing to the sunken ships. “But we got the bastards on the peninsula, thanks to Nyla here.”
The young red-haired priest wore a blank stare that Rida had seen too many times on the faces of young men after their first battle.
“It was her idea to target the harrowers rather than that…thing out there.”
“When a harrower falls,” Nyla said quietly, “its Tainted spawn does as well.”
Rida nodded, not wanting to dwell much on these supernaturalist creatures. “How did the Vendir and Kingfisher fare?”
The captain shrugged. “We took a few bumps from the monster, but my men handled it well.” He looked out at the wrecks of the other two ships. “I know speed is of the essence here, General, but I would like to see if there are any survivors.”
“Make it a quick search, captain,” Rida said. “There are several hundred people out there at the mercy of these harrowers.”
The captain nodded, and then joined his crew scanning the water for survivors. Rida turned to Nyla and said, “Can you…send a message to Melahara and tell her what happened?”
Nyla nodded, and then raised her hand and closed her eyes. She mumbled something in the Tuathan language. Her eyes rolled beneath her lids a moment, then sprung open.
“They are also under attack!”
Rida slammed her fist on the deck railing. She limped over to the captain, who was talking with his first officer in Turician. “We have to go now, captain. The Tuathans are under attack and they will need your guns.”
The captain frowned, glancing at the waters around the sunken ships. When he saw nobody moving, he sighed. “Very well.”
He gave orders to his first officer, who began shouting to the other officers. The Vendir and the Kingfisher eventually turned away from the wreckages of their sister ships and raced toward Tsall.