Chapter 19: "Beast"
“Hey, lovebirds! You got room for a lovethird?!” Felix came jogging across the deck toward them, big charming smile shining in the sunlight. “I just talked to the Admiral, finally. That man hides from me, I’d swear it.”
“I can’t imagine,” Marielle grinned mischievously. They had been at sea on the H.S. Mightier for almost two weeks now and Felix hadn’t allowed Admiral Morton a moment’s peace the entire time.
“Anyway, the Admiral officially charted the creatures’ island. Drew it onto the map with the vertical and horizontal lines and everything. He named it Asher’s Lot. Isn’t that something? My little brother has his own island. And he chose that on his own; didn’t follow my lead or anything.” Felix’s face drooped from its usual charismatic mask to something that looked almost regretful. “He thinks I hate him, you know. Wish I could tell him that I’m proud.”
Marielle walked over to Felix and hugged him. “It’s never too late. You said it yourself: the island is charted now. Asher’s not lost; he’s found.”
Just then, the piercing scream of an alarm sounded out over the entire ship. Kori, Marielle, and Felix all clutched at their ears to muffle the sound. Immediately, the entire ship came alive with activity. Mothers cradling crying children as they rushed to the lower levels of the city-ship. Soldiers pouring out of the barracks and bringing their battle stations to ready. That echoing crack rang out again and again from points along the upper decks; it was the sound that they now recognized as gun fire. The H.S. Mightier had erupted into chaos.
They hurried to the deck’s edge and gazed out at, what was once, the sea beneath them. But it was no longer the view of serene waters that it had been before. It was as though the sea had been cast aside and replaced by the darkest and deepest abyss. The laws and forces of the world no longer seemed to apply as a black chasm bored up from the depths, creating a fierce tide around its summit—the surface of the water. It was this unnatural roil that held the H.S. Mightier suspended in place.
Marielle screamed as the entire ship, truly a floating city that housed over two thousand people, shuddered and began to whine against the force of the waters. Kori made no sound; he was transfixed on the depth of the dark abyss below. It looked endless, eternal…but not empty. Despite the oppressive black, Kori could see—or sense—movement in there. Kori’s hair stood on end as that sense of movement crept upward toward the surface, toward their ship.
There were simply no words to convey the scene that unfolded. As the ship’s defenders fired their weapons down into the darkness, the beast that lurked within slithered into view. As immense as the H.S. Mightier was, the beast was a match and then some. Its central body was a long, purple spade, plated with jagged walls of shell. Hundreds of bright yellow eyes drew lines up either side of the beast’s diamond-shaped form.
Marielle yanked very hard on Kori’s arm as he stared, dumbstruck, at the monster. He was frozen in terror and barely had even the ability to think coherently. Marielle slapped him, “We need to go, now!”
Kori spun around and, seeing the fear in his love’s eyes, snapped out of his trance. “Where can we—”
Marielle screamed and pointed above Kori. As she tried to back away, she fell and twisted her knee. Kori looked up and saw a forest of purple-blue tentacles looming over the ship, each of them the size of an ancient tree trunk around. The tentacles crashed down upon the ship and began to constrict. Structures fell and fixtures exploded in flame or spark. People onboard shrieked as dozens of others were crushed instantly.
Another cluster of tentacles crept up from beneath the city-ship’s hull and began to worm around the substructure. The ship’s frame groaned under the pressure. One of the armor-plated tentacles aligned just above where Marielle had fallen and then began a thunderous descent toward her; she screamed “Kori, I love you!”
But instead of running to safety, Kori rushed to Marielle’s side and dove under the falling tentacle with her. He held her tightly as they closed their eyes against the horror above them. The tentacle smashed down upon them both with the force of a thousand hammers.
Yet the beast’s appendage recoiled immediately and raged up above them as though it was a creature of its own. Kori and Marielle lay there on the deck of the crumbling city-ship, unharmed and astounded by their own survival.
The deck of the ship was a battle scene. Bodies lay unconscious or dead, strewn about the vast surface; the world was heaving and pitching, filled with the screams and panicked cries of the ship’s citizens. It seemed as though nothing was solid enough to be real and no noise could be heard over the cacophony of all the other noises. It was chaos in its purest form.
The Old Man could see the massive tentacles dropping violently across all angles of the ship’s hull like a net constricting around its quarry. He lost his breath for a moment as one fell shockingly close to Marielle and Kori a distance away. Though it looked like it’d crushed them outright, he could see that they were unharmed as the tentacle lifted away. He could see Felix climbing up to join the gunmen at one of the heightened lookouts.
As Felix vanished from view and both Kori and Marielle climbed to their feet and hurried to cover, the Old Man continued his surveillance of the area. A puff of flame suddenly bit out at him from a nearby barrel as a wire connected with it. The Old Man spun away and crouched as low as he could manage behind a stack of wooden crates. He could feel the aft of the ship begin to lose its hold on the sea below as the beast crushed and started to devour the front hulls. It would surely suck the entire H.S. Mightier into the depths if the ship’s buoyancy gave out. The Old Man covered his mouth as the realization struck him. “Oh God,” he whispered, “Lesedi.”
He quickly peered out and around, searching frantically for his friend. It didn’t take long; Lesedi was the sort of man that was not easily lost…even among the madness. The Old Man could not stifle a gasp. Lesedi stood unhidden, unprotected, and seemingly unafraid. He stared defiantly toward the beast at the front of the ship.
Lesedi had scrambled and hidden just like all the rest. But, as the wind whirled around his head, he was quickly reminded that he was not actually like all the rest. He was not supposed to run and hide. He had been given a purpose by an angel…and that was his only purpose now. It was this reminder—this constant message—that the wind gave him with each gust.
Why do you still love Ashia? The wind would ask.
Why do you waste your love on her? She is gone.
Why do you pine for what can never be again?
Lesedi had born this mockery each day since Ashia’s passing. He had grown to despise the wind and the air for its callousness. But as he beheld the destruction and ravenous appetite of this beast, Lesedi came to a new understanding. The wind had never been chiding him, never once. It had simply challenged him to answer truthfully…which he had never done before.
That was when he decided to leave his hiding place and open his Soul to the woman’s song. The Old Man was certainly their guide, but the woman’s song sings through all things, alive and dead. “You are the light in the sea, the luster in the shadows, the beast’s enemy. You are the strength of them all, the brightness in the shadow, the beast’s down-fall.”
Lesedi stood tall among the chaotic backdrop. Flames burst around him and debris fell past him as the ship began to cant forward sharply toward the beast’s churning maw. Lesedi, though, stood strong. “I love her!” he shouted into the wind. “I do love Ashia! And I always will! I do not waste my love; I give it freely each moment of each day! Love does not die with a person; it remains among the waves and the stars and the Souls of the living! Love is purity! Love is the brightness in the shadow and the strength of us all!”
Lesedi breathed deeply, inhaling the wind as it encircled him. It continued to ask its badgering questions, and now, Lesedi answered each time with his heart. He closed his eyes and pictured his love, Ashia. Her smile, her laugh, her embrace, her soft voice in his ear. Then he opened his eyes again and bolted directly toward the beast.
The thundering tentacles whipped around the ship, toppling structures around him as he ran. Yet he did not falter once, nor did he even glance from his target.
The Old Man shouted out as Lesedi launched toward the fore of the ship and the beast that was perched there. His voice was dampened and lost in the chaos around him. The Old Man wanted to chase his friend, tackle him, and pull him to safety. But he knew what was happening; it was the woman’s song beckoning Lesedi forth. The Old Man felt tears slip from his eyes as he whispered to himself, “The beast’s downfall.”
He recalled briefly Lesedi’s words on the dock of the Great City as he had spoken about the ancient gods beneath the sea: “Men are not welcome upon the waves. It is sacrilege…and it invites wrath from below. Only the pure may stand against the gods; we are unwise to tread upon their domain.” The Old Man wondered now, what could make a man pure. Love? Sacrifice? Selflessness? Only for a moment did he consider how Kori and Marielle had not been crushed just moments before.
The Old Man wept openly as Lesedi’s pace slowed to a calm and purposeful walk. Then, as though in a dream, the Old Man swore that he could hear the wind whispering amid the beast’s fury. Lesedi’s eyes closed as he strained to listen. The Old Man saw a gentle smile cross Lesedi’s stern lips as his eyes reopened to the monster before him.
The beast’s maw gaped open as debris shattered around it, a bellowing roar thundering out from its gullet with a dull blue glow. The Old Man could see Lesedi breathe deeply one last time. Then, without another moment’s hesitation, Lesedi marched forward into the beast’s horrible mouth and did not slow until he had disappeared into the darkness.
A rapid pulse of red light shuddered through the beast, emanating from its core all the way out to the tips of each tentacle. The H.S. Mightier rocked and tumbled back from the monster’s grasp as the tentacles released their holds on the ship. The waves that had been a roiling tumult, now turned back on the beast as it let out a high-pitched scream of agony. The red pulse continued its work within the beast, each time creating another shriek of pain. Within a fraction of a moment, the beast fell slack and sunk away from them into the black depths below.
The sea went silent and still as the inhabitants of the city-ship came together and mourned for those that had been lost. A song poured out from the masses to the heavens above. They prayed their gratitude off on the wind, hoping that it would lift the wings that carried Lesedi’s Soul beyond.