Paul Kemp: Shadowbred

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Paul Kemp Shadowbred
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Rivalen and Brennus used minor magics to dry their clothing and gear.

"How fare you?" a sailor on Secret shouted across the water to New Moon. His voice carried easily over the calming sea.

"Wet but no worse!" came the shouted answer. "All hands accounted for."

Rivalen's augury was nearly at its end, but before expiring, it revealed to him an approaching danger. He secured the thurhn in his pocket.

"It's coming," he said to Brennus.


Rivalen nodded.

"Ready yourself and the crew, Captain Perin!" Rivalen shouted to the captain. "Something comes."

The brothers shadowstepped from mid deck to the rail, covering the distance in a single stride. There, they scanned the sea while the crew heeded Rivalen's warning and took up crossbows and belaying pins.

"My princes?" the captain called from the sterncastle.

Rivalen did not reply, but gripped the medallion of Shar he wore on a chain around his throat and stared at the water. Brennus held a duskwood wand in his hand. Shadows leaked from their flesh and cloaked them both.

"I see nothing," Brennus said.

"Wait," Rivalen cautioned.

They waited, waited… then saw it.

About midway between the two caravels, a soft red glow rose up from the depths and stained the sea crimson. It grew brighter like a rising sun, spreading through the water like pooling blood.

The crew saw it, too. They shouted, pointed, rushed to the rail, not knowing what they would soon see. Rivalen had said nothing about the creature, fearing he would not have been able to secure a crew.

"The glow…" Brennus said.

"Must be from the mythallar," Rivalen finished.

Brennus nodded. "It bears the mythallar with it?"

Rivalen nodded and frowned. Caution would be necessary in defeating the kraken. They could not risk damaging the mythallar with poorly chosen spells.

Brennus turned to Rivalen, a question in his eyes. "Strange that the Source has not contacted us, is it not? We know it to be sentient. We are close enough. It should have contacted us. It called to us before."

Rivalen nodded and said nothing. He'd had the same thought but did not want to give his concerns a voice. Brennus tapped his wand on the rail, demonstrating enough anxiety for both of them.

"Perhaps an attack has weakened it, or destroyed its mind? Perhaps it is now too weak to suit our purposes? Perhaps…"

Rivalen pointed a finger at his brother. Shadows poured from his flesh, betraying his agitation. "Enough, brother. We will know soon. Speculation is pointless."

Brennus looked chastened. "Of course."

The red glow grew brighter.

"What is it, my princes?" the captain asked. "What comes?"

The crew's curiosity was giving way to alarm. They eyed the brothers and the sea nervously. All were Sharrans, and all would die for Rivalen, but that did nothing to quell their fear. They would have been more frightened had they known the truth.

"We capture it, if possible," Rivalen said.

Brennus looked at him sidelong. "That will be quite a capture, brother."

Rivalen allowed himself a tight smile before he drew on the Shadow Weave and incanted a series of arcane stanzas. Brennus watched for a moment, noting the spell Rivalen was casting, then put aside his wand and mirrored Rivalen's efforts. Their voices merged, arcane power gathered, and both moved their hands through an intricate set of gestures.

The magic of their spell gave substance to the darkness and a net of shadows formed on the surface of the water, backlit by the red glow of the mythallar. The lines of the net's mesh were as thick as a man's arm. The brothers poured power into the spell until the net of shadows reached across the water, nearly touching both Night's Secret and New Moon. The water between the ships looked not unlike an enormous chessboard.

"That must be quite a fish," one of the crewman jested. No one laughed.

Rivalen and Brennus held the magic of the shadow net taut, waiting.

The glow grew brighter.

"Now!" Rivalen said.

He and Brennus released the pent-up magic of the spell and the giant net shot downward at the kraken, closing as it went. The net was powerful enough to scoop up everything in the sea between the ships to a depth of a hundred fathoms, killing most everything it touched, and trapping and weakening the kraken.

A rush of bubbles rose to the surface as if the sea were boiling. Hundreds of dead fish bobbed upward, their lives extinguished by the enervating touch of the net. A shriek, like nothing Rivalen had ever heard, carried up from the depths and out of the sea.

As one, the crew of Night's Secret backed away from the rail. Sailors exchanged alarmed glances.

"Steady, seajacks," shouted the captain. "We've a sound ship under our feet and two princes of Shade aboard. Steady."

"We have him," Brennus said, and leaned over the railing.

Rivalen was uncertain.

The red glow flared as the kraken broke free of the net, shot upward, and breached the sea. A glistening, dun-colored mountain of flesh exploded out of the water. Spray flew as high as a bowshot into the sky. Tentacles as tall as towers squirmed into the air and blotted out the stars. The tatters of the net of shadows clung to the massive limbs and dissipated into nothingness.

The crew of Night's Secret shouted in terror. Crossbows twanged but the bolts were too small to affect the kraken. The roiling sea set the ship to rocking, nearly tossing Brennus overboard. Rivalen grabbed his cloak and jerked him backward. Brennus steadied himself on the gunnel and cursed.

"At your stations, seajacks!" Captain Perin shouted. "At your stations! Harpooners to starboard!"

The tentacles retreated under the sea and the head of the kraken-sleek despite its enormousness-broke the surface. Rivalen saw what he had never expected to see outside of Shade Enclave: a Netherese mythallar.

Another shriek from the kraken split the night.

The glowing, crystalline shard of the mythallar, as big as a mature oak, stuck out of the kraken's head like an enormous unicorn's horn. The creature's flesh had grown over to enclose the huge crystal.

One of the kraken's huge eyes-partially visible above the waterline-fixed on New Moon, and the great creature dived under the surface. The mythallar's glow highlighted the kraken's form in silhouette. Its massive size surprised even Rivalen.

With a single undulation of its body, the kraken darted like an arrowshot toward New Moon. The panicked shouts of the crew carried over the water.

Brennus began a series of complex gestures and incanted the words to a spell to blast the kraken with dark energy. Rivalen took hold of his brother's hands and interrupted the spell.

"No. You could damage the mythallar."

Brennus's eyes flared. "Those are worshipers of Shar, brother. Men serving us."

"I know." But Rivalen also knew that he could not risk the mythallar. He needed it; Shar needed it.

The kraken plowed into New Moon without slowing. The ship, a three-masted caravel from the Pirate Isles, disintegrated in a cacophony of cracking wood, roiling water, screaming men, and the shriek of the kraken. The creature dived under again, circling below the floating debris.

Flailing men and hunks of broken ship dotted the sea's surface, lit from below by the light of the mythallar. The kraken's silhouette glided under the men. They screamed in terror.

The crew of Night's Secret watched it all in fearful, silent awe.

"My princes," shouted Captain Piren, the fear evident in his tone. "No ship on the sea can outrun that beast."

"We are not running, Captain," answered Rivalen over his shoulder.

Two harpooners hurried to the rail. Rivalen eyed the powerfully built men bearing iron pikes tipped with sharpened hooks. Rivalen waved them back. Harpoons would not harm the kraken. Nor would most of his spells, at least not before the creature could destroy the ship. He would have to try something else.

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