Chapter 5

The Gem of the Sea


The Armada existed outside of reality, sequestered into a pocket of unreality by Mikhail’s magic. He saw polygons, dodecahedrons, trapezoids, and a strange milieu of unfathomable and unnamable shapes, all in assorted sizes, reflecting or refracting back equally extravagant and mesmerizing colors, hues, tones, and intensities of light. Connecting them all together were waspish tendrils of luminous, ethereal energy. They were all now unequivocally adrift in the land of the unreal.

Mikhail’s head spun if he thought about it for too long. Wisely, he didn’t. But the sight of men tossing their lunches down on the lower deck informed him that the others weren’t as immune to his gift as he had become inured. Shrugging, he focused on detecting weaknesses or abnormalities in his creation, which he could then fortify.

Throughout it all, the young man up in the crow’s nest on the mast—a boy in his teens, no older than fifteen—relayed their position back to the navigator, who would then plot or update the course accordingly. They worked as a well-oiled machine. And in the face of what he had accomplished here today, a feat which had surprised even himself, Mikhail found their ability to cope with the disorientation his powers naturally imparted to be the most unnerving experience of the day. Even as an impediment to battle, he wasn’t used to having his gift be so utterly defeated. At worst, it was an equalizer; rendering himself and foe alike blind. Yet, they had effectively rendered it useless.

Sighing, he tried to focus again, locating and isolating a weak point in the field of invisibility he had constructed. The area was leaking negligible amounts of manna, but more than he was comfortable with. The amplificatory effects of Ennui’s totem had multiplied his powers exponentially, but dulled his sensitivity to the copious amounts of manna now being generated, manipulated, and released nigh autonomously. A minute trickle might release more manna than he naturally generated in a week. Worse, it might cascade to create a rift, in which case the structural integrity of the field could be placed at risk. It was a fickle balancing act, vying for equilibrium.

He fortified the weak point with his magic. It shifted, bursting to life in a kaleidoscopic rendition of its earlier ambulatory incarnations, before slowing to a crawl, and finally coming to rest in a somewhat lazy approximation of what it had once been. Though none of the visible distortions could be said to be immobile, they listed flaggingly enough to seem that way to the inattentive observer.

Mikhail then refortified the area again for good measure. He had been doing this nonstop for the past three hours. Ships only moved so fast, to the mercy of the winds, that prudence dictated they approach as cautiously as possible. Sometimes a lone crew member would offer an observation; a cynical ‘you missed a spot’, if they were sufficiently bored and had nothing else to occupy themselves. After all, it’s not as if they had a war to prepare for…

Mikhail’s focus expanded from the wormhole it had become, containing only his appointed task as a frame of reference, to incorporate the rest of the world around him. He was jarred, having been addressed by name.

“You’re Mikhail.” a gruff voice said by way of questioning.

Mikhail turned and saw someone he hadn’t—or perhaps actually should’ve—been expecting. The man was an officer, by dint of having attended the same strategy meetings as Mikhail. But not too esteemed; since Mikhail still didn’t know who the man was, after all.

This particular man had been staring at Mikhail all day, to the point that ignoring him had become a chore. Usually, he might drum it up to intrigue regarding his powers, station, or if his powers played a role in obtaining his station, but the man had expressed an intense interest which superseded mere curiosity. Mikhail was being studied, scrutinized.

“Aye.”

“I’m Brogan.” He said as a means of address, seemingly a man of few words.

Mikhail nodded.

“Captain wants you prepared to drop it.” He gestured to the refractions. “Said to give you notice.”

“How much notice?”

“Didn’t say.”

“How considerate.” Mikhail drawled.

“You must be unfamiliar with our captain. For him, that’s considerate.”

“I know the man well enough.”

“Most would say they know the man too well.”

Shocked, this simple phrasing gave Mikhail pause. Likely due to the unexpected abruptness of such candor. It spoke of a time before political intervention in the navy bound the tongues of sailors. A time when marine’s could speak freely, if brusquely. Candidly, if coarsely.

The seas have always been a beacon of freedom, inviting to those who sought liberation from the manacles of conformity. A refuge. Taking the man in, Mikhail realized that he may be staring at one of the few traditionalists remaining. Men who embodied the ethos of the sea.

Maybe.

“Most wouldn’t speak ill of their captain.” Mikhail said measuredly, eyeing the man’s reaction.

“I’m not.” Brogan shrugged, seemingly indifferent to the rebuke. “It’s the truth; take it as you will.” He spoke plainly. Again, with candor.

Mikhail pondered those words, wondering what part of Isolde Brogan hailed from or if his ancestor’s had hailed from the land at all. His speech wasn’t accented, but neither was it like the jargon spoken at the capital. There, false smiles and self-interest marked the currency of the land, pocking the local vernacular with chords of insinuative undertones. To speak of having a nice day might be interpreted through context literally or to mean the opposite. It was a haphazard jungle of double edged wordplay.

He noted that Brogan had yet to take his leave after delivering the captain’s message.

“Those people… might be right.”

Mikhail had never lusted after the capital anyway.

Brogan nodded. “Most would agree.”

“Would you?”

Brogan hesitated before answering. “I would follow the captain into the deep fathoms.” He said with surity, if a bit reticently. “But I’m not inobservant to the man’s faults." A polite way of saying duty bound him, but not to the man.

This man was interesting, Mikhail decided. He understood what it meant to be bound by honor. Though the sea had set him free, he remained a marine through and through.

“Maybe you’re not the only one.”

“Aye. I’d wager I’m not. We all follow the captain." A deflection.

"What about into the Atreian capital?” Mikhail said, baiting the man. Subtlety was never his strongsuit.

Brogan seemed to twig onto this fact, but nonetheless the man’s candor won out. Weighing those words, his eyes went stormy, face conflicted.

Mikhail knew what he was thinking: Aeria lay ahead.

“Aye. That too.” He answered, finally.

“Do you speak for all the men?”

“Yes.” Brogan said, bursting with resolve.

“Then I should think everything should work out.”

“If only it were that simple.”

“Oh, but it isn’t?”

“You’re the Second-Lieutenant.”

“That I am.” He noted the man’s own insignia for the first time. “You’re a sergeant.”

Brogan nodded. “First-Sergeant.”

“Congratulations.”

Brogan ignored him, continuing on as if he hadn’t spoken. “You’ll have a lot of men looking towards you for leadership.”

Mikhail hadn’t pegged the man for a kiss-ass nor for a regular one. The man had intentions, that much was clear. Though he had yet to spell them out.

“What do you mean to say?”

“You earned your title.” Ah.

And Jondar hadn’t. The man was sly, slandering his own captain so openly, if through subterfuge. Wasn’t he worried about reprisal?

“As have a lot of men.” Mikahil said. “As have—I imagine—you, yourself.”

“Aye.” he said, prideful. “But after what you did today… well, suffice it to say that you’ve impressed a lot of impressionable men.”

Somehow that didn’t sound like a compliment. The look on Brogan’s face revealed that it wasn’t.

“I see.” He didn’t.

Brogan nodded, apparently satisfied.

Mikhail was at a loss. Though he returned the gesture, he wasn’t entirely sure what he was assenting to. But in the world of politics—and this man, traditionalist or not, seemed determined to play a political gambit—there were usually a lot of useless gestures, mostly empty ones.

They turned to watch the horizon shimmering in trillions of glittering pieces. Despite the budding disorientation, it was truly a sight to behold.

“The men will be looking at you to lead them.”

At me? What game does he think to play? He toes the line between commentary and sedition like he’s talking about the weather. Mikhail was never gifted at subtlety or subterfuge, skills best saved for criminals and politicians. He ventured that neither was this man, though he was likely more proficient than himself.

“And you?”

“I meant what I said: I would follow my captain into the deep fathoms.”

Mikhail snorted. “Somehow I doubt Jondar would ever—” Mikhail cut himself off at the realization, his eyes widening fractionally in understanding.

Ah, and there it was…

Brogan nodded. “I see you understand. We’ll be in your hands.” he said, clapping Mikhail on the shoulder.

The ‘don’t fuck it up’ which went unsaid sounded loud and clear in Mikhail’s ears, enough that he had to affirm that Brogan hadn’t actually spoken the words aloud.

What a strange man, he mused. Mikhail decided that he liked Brogan.

They basked in the sea breeze, viewing the water while limiting their exposure to the sky or rehashing their previous discussion. Mikhail went back to observing for faults, then fortifying those areas. The silence became comfortable, despite their recent meeting.

“You’re fixing those areas.” Brogan spoke up after observing him for a while.

Mikhail hummed, but since he hadn’t been asked a question, he didn’t feel inclined to provide an answer.

“Is the shield deteriorating?”

“It’s a field, not a shield. For all that it may appear to block us from the outside world, it wouldn’t stop a pebble from passing one way or the other.”

“That’s not very encouraging…” Brogan said blithely.

“It’s not meant to be. It’s the truth; take it as you wish.” Mikhail parroted the man’s words from before right back to him.

Brogan hummed, amused. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Perhaps you asked the wrong one.”

“Perhaps.”

“Aren’t you going to ask the right one?”

“Would you answer it?”

“I generally answer any question that’s answerable.” he said, smirking.

Brogan chuckled. “Very well. Are those areas—” He used his fingers to emphasize. “of the ‘field’” He did it to annoy Mikhail. And it worked “—deteriorating?”

“Yes and no.” Mikhail relished the annoyed expression which broke over Brogan’s features. “The field is too large.” He continued. “So it weakens when stretched too far—point in case.” He gestured to the fleet. It was vast, made vaster by the separation of ship and sea. “So, while it’s not necessarily ‘broken’ per say, I suppose one could say that yes, I am ‘fixing’ those areas—"

“Mikhail!” A screeching voice interrupted. Turning, he spied Hurom on the top deck, standing by Jondar’s side. No, his shadow, he amended.

“Be prepared. You have five minutes.”

Mikhail looked to Brogan, who returned his own even gaze, then back to Hurom. His eyes finally landed on the captain. Nodding, he assented. “I am prepared.” His words carried a certain weight to a them, a heft that left even Hurom floundering in silence.

He turned again to face the horizon.

“Are you?” Mikhail asked.

Brogan nodded.

“My soul is prepared for the pit, if that’s what you mean. But, no—no one’s ever prepared to perpetrate the sins we’re about to commit this day. Not fully.”

“You’re a strange man.”

“I don’t think you’re allowed to call anyone strange.” Brogan gestured to the mosaic the world had become.

Mikhail started. Had he said that aloud?

“I suppose you’re right.”

Up on the deck, Jondar convened with Dosis while Hurom struggled to appear part of the conversation. Admittedly, the lieutenant was doing a fine job. At least, until Dosis noticed his slinking and put an end to it. Abashed, Hurom had the decency to excuse him from the foredeck. No sooner had he left than he found a pair of sailors who had witnessed the entire thing and were laughing at his expense. It was their misfortune to provide the man with an outlet for the anger his shame invariably produced. The ensuing chastisement could be heard across the ship.

The navigator strode up to Jondar shortly afterward, following the latest exchange with Armin in the crow’s nest. He spoke remarkably few words to the captain before being summarily dismissed.

Jondar looked to Dosis, his gaze questioning, possibly seeking guidance or permission. The admiral assented.

The captain then searched the deck for his First-Lieutenant, finding him at the bow where he’d been last for the past several hours. It really should’ve been the first place he looked, but supposed that his nerves were starting to fray. Mikhail seemed to be in mid-conversation with a crewman he didn’t recognize. After all, it wasn’t as if he could be tasked with recognizing all—or any—of the deckhands under his command. He had no ambitions of being captain that long. No, this station was merely a stepping stone towards the admiralty. Afterwards, he would never have to tread foot or water outside the capital. And intended not.

“Mikhail!” Jondar shouted to attract the man’s attention. Unfortunately, his words were eaten away by the wind and died on the breeze, soft as they were spoken amongst the relative din of the galleon. Going unheard, he tried again to the same effect. “Mikhail!”

Groaning, he quickly flustered at demonstrating in front of the admiralty how diminutive a presence his tentative authority really held. It spoke volumes of a captain that could not simply belt out an order and expect it to be followed, post haste, whether it were whispered or shouted, as unrealistic as that standard may seem. After all, in the world of politics, appearances were everything.

Jondar only hoped that the admiral—a fumbling public speaker himself—would be understanding of a similar foible, Jondar’s idiosyncratic tongue. But the stern look on the man’s face quickly dashed those—as he learned—fantasies.

“Mikhail!” Hurom, finally taking notice of the captain’s predicament, screeched indignantly.

Mikhail stared at Hurom, wondering what the man wanted. When no express instructions were forthcoming, he looked for the captain. Predictably, he found the man where he had been seen last, glued to Dosis’ side, like the First-Lieutant was oft to do at his own. Jondar’s face was grim. His eyes harder than usual. And was the man blushing? No—he must’ve be angry for some reason.

Mikhail knew what was coming. He was prepared.

Jondar nodded. “Drop it.” he ordered.

Mikhail assented, spurring into action, and almost immediately afterwards the world around them began to shift and change. Colors swirled, and the opaque mosaic that Mikhail had created from only fragments of the real world shattered into infinitely uncountable shards before vanishing altogether. As Mikhail’s magic retracted from around the fleet, reality morphed into shape around them.

Mikhail stood resolute after the horizon cleared, arms crossed, as if immune to the magnitude of what had just transpired.

And perhaps he was, as it was his own magic at work, Brogan thought. However, he had not blessed by the magic of invisibility, nor any magic to speak of, really. So, he found the entire process to be incredibly disorienting, and wondered how Mikhail was able to bear the confounding effects.

What shocked him, was that Dosis seemed to bear no ill effects either. But then again, he’d heard the man was blessed as well. Though, it seemed that no one was quite sure where the man’s magical prowess lay Many stories circulated, but none were definitive, for every iteration told a different tale. It was rumored that few had ever pushed his strategic mind far enough to force him to use his ultimate trump card. The thought of going against such a beast of a man made the sergeant grateful that the admiral was indeed on their side.

Brogan had just gotten his sea legs back under him when the last of the men, boys and those with weaker constitutions, finished expelling their breakfast over the rails, much to the jeers of those who hadn’t.

Istan lay ahead, and Aeria beyond it. Their cannons were in range.

He swallowed. The moment was now.

Istan stood a stone’s throw away from the capital, a small island off the mainland that served as a port and supply base. Strategically, it was far more important than that: it provided a buffer for the capital should it ever be attacked, and proved to be a knife in the back for whomsoever was foolish enough to circumnavigate it in order to besiege the palace that much faster.

The small isle boasted an old Atreian name, which roughly translated to the Gem of the Sea, on account of its lush forests and greenery, which shone a brilliant verdant atop an equally striking azure ocean. From afar, it gleamed beatifically, as if a gem set in the world’s largest inlay. Hence the moniker.

Admiral Dosis had expressed his disdain for the island during several strategy meetings, referring to it as an annoyance and a blight. But where the man had only seen numbers, Mikhail saw beauty as well. The muttered aspirant of ‘beautiful’ that Brogan let slip conveyed the man’s own thoughts on the island.

“Port cannons to position!” The clatter of heavy iron shafts being cranked to new positions, hunkered down with pronounced clunks, and the following affirmations filled the ship.

“Ammunition to position!” The callbacks were briefer, much more condensed, as the ammunition crates had already been readied.

“Runners to position!” The youngest, most inexperienced boys would be made to ferry supplies down the line.

“All hands on deck! Prepare to fire!” Loud war cries sounded on the deck, below, and across the fleet. The sea itself shook with the anticipation of what was to come.

Yet Istan did not quake. In defiance of the bloodlust directed at it, the gem shone brighter, its beauty blossoming, a welcome invitation offering peace, tranquility, and the promise of serenity to those searching for sanctuary. And they were about to destroy it.

Mikhail and Brogan shared a look, realizing that they too were on an island. Perhaps they were their own, immobile to the winds of chaos; all the while, the tides of war raged and threatened to overwhelm their isolated bastion.

Today had been a day of firsts. Brogan had never witnessed magic displayed on such a large scale as Mikhail proved himself capable of conjuring and manipulating. And Mikhail had never met a man as strange as Brogan—as strange as himself. In many respects, they were alike. Of the crewman, no one aboard had ever laid eyes on Istan before, save Dosis during more peaceable affairs. And beyond today, no one else might. Ever.

“I changed my mind.” Brogan said. He spoke hurriedly, almost breathlessly. He may have not meant to speak the words aloud.

“I—” But whatever Mikhail would say, was cut off.

“Fire.” Dosis said. Unlike his previous utterings, the word came out sounding crisp, clear.

Gripping the railing, Mikhail struggled to comprehend the ease with which the man could so easily order so much death and destruction to be rent. By all appearances, it fazed him none at all, a task as simple as ordering a meal.

This was the plan, he knew. In their quest for an expeditious conquest, civilians and children would die--making the ultimate sacrifice, all casualties of war. A necessary evil, surely, when weighed against the alternative of a prolonged conflict.

Peace cannot exist in this world. Not for long, at least.

But when did the admiral lose his humanity? Mikhail shuddered.

“Fire!” Jondar shouted, chorusing the admiral’s command.

“FIRE!” Hurom bellowed, erupting loud enough to be heard across the fleet.

The cannons went off while the Chorus of Fire, the litany of the word’s many repititions, made it’s way down the ship and across the armada.

“Gods help them.” Brogan said somberly, staring out across the sea past rising, twining plumes of white smoke, the remains of spent gunpowder.

“Which Gods do you think will intervene?”

Beyond the fiery plumage, past the booming peels of thunder, glowing red streaks of molten metal buffeted across the Atreian sea. The horizon mottled with strafing hues of red, arcs of light took form as the ordinance careened upwards towards its apex only the pelt down into the land with a crashing, concussive force. Shells whistled, then exploded. Buildings rent, shattering as their very foundations quaked. Wood splintered, bricks burst, and the land itself burst apart at the seams in a fiery conflagration as the heavens beat its fury down upon it.

As the last cannon fired, and shouts to reload carried up from below deck, the first soft whumps of impact could be heard coming from the distant city. Fires erupted, billowed, and spread. It wasn’t hard to imagine the terrorized screams which followed.

The second volley was followed by a third, then a fourth. By the fifth, the first cannons were too hot to reload, their red barrels steaming from overuse. Steam hissed, screaming a warning as the metal was tempered by buckets of cool water hand-carried and poured. The auxiliary cannons followed suit while white steam drifted up from where the main cannons were being doused.

The island was beset upon by a deluge of raining fire. It appeared as if the Gods themselves were exerting their very wrath on the island. The sky opened up to flames, and the forests were becoming fields of ash. Istan, the Gem of the Sea, glowed ethereally. No longer an emerald, hazy black smoke fringed a blood red ruby, tinging its edges darkly where land met sea. Even in death, Istan gleamed beatifically.

“It’s to late to stop this, you know.” Mikhail spoke somberly. Once enough steam had obscured his vision, he had found his voice again. Speaking sounded preferable to the alternative—watching.

“I know.” Brogan said, coming to the same conclusion.

“Would you? If you were given the choice?”

“What kind of question is that?” Brogan shook his head. Huffed. “What kind of choice is that?”

“An impossible one.”

“Then how could I possibly answer it? Tsk. Now who’s asking unanswerable questions?”

“Your hesitation is answer enough. Inaction is a choice in itself—when we choose not to act.”

“I couldn’t stop this—” He swept his hand out over the island. “even if I wanted to.” He answered angrily.

The island was slowly transforming into a burning husk.

“Do you want to?”

That brought him up short.

He was a marine, a warrior. He fought, he killed, and did so with the understanding that it was a necessary evil. His was a role which prevented an even greater bloodshed, an investment in peace at the price of his very soul, those of his victims, and of the countless other men who shared the same burden he carried. Each soldier sacrificed themselves and their humanity so their own kin would never live to see the same horrors. Never tasked to commit the same sins.

“Of course, I do.” Looking out towards the burning isle, he felt himself a hypocrite. But an honest one, both meaning what he had said, and recognizing and accepted the existence of his own inherent hypocrisy.

“But…”

“I wouldn’t.” He chuffed. “Does that make me a monster?” Shaking his head, melancholy laced his voice. In the face of the atrocity he was bearing witness to, and would later tacitly commit, he felt undeserving of the emotion. A deep shame welled within him, a familiar beast.

Unbeknownst, Mikhail stared at him with burning eyes. His rivaled the intensity of the flames ashore.

“I could stop this.” He finally said.

“What?” Brogan asked incredulously.

“My powers. You can’t strike out at what you cannot hope to hit.”

“That’s…” Brogan stared back at the island, eyes wide.

“But I won’t.” Mikhail said, reminding the man of his own convictions. “I suppose that makes me culpable for this, then. Doesn’t it?” He smiled wryly, a facsimile of the real thing.

Brogan hadn’t thought of it that way.

He had always been nothing more than a single, mortal man. And yet, here stood before him the right hand of Ennui himself, a demigod in his own right. Benign though his powers were, being a half-god meant routing an entire army was not entirely outside the realm of possibility. He could, in fact, likely stop this atrocity. Just as likely, at the cost of his own life, the lives of anyone he had ever cared about or could be used to hurt him or shared his name when the king learned of his treachery, and at great peril to the kingdom after an aborted invasion attempt.

Mikhail had been right the first time: it’s too late to stop this now.

But he could.That realization came as both humbling and a bitter pill to swallow. It resonated with him in a way that churned his stomach. If this how it felt, knowing there was nothing you could do to change the fates, then how must it feel to know you can yet remain fated to inaction?

It must truly be maddening.

“I don’t envy your burden.”

“Would you want it?”

“I used to think I did. Now… I’m not so sure.”

“If you think yourself a monster, then what must you think of me, I wonder.”

“Insultingly little, I’m afraid.” He smirked half-heartedly, which was returned as earnestly.

Brogan sighed. Shoulders sagging, his elbows came to rest on the railing.

“No, you’re not a monster Mikhail. No more than I, or anyone else aboard.”

Mikhail huffed. They both knew that wasn’t entirely true.

“Save maybe…”

They each looked up towards the top deck for a brief moment. When their eyes next met, they found a symmetry in the other’s that was mirrored in their own.

As fires erupted on the distant coast to fill his eyes, Brogan wondered for the first time in his life if mages thought of being born normal as often as those same people thought of being born mages. He felt a crack form in his preconceived worldview which threatened to spiderweb if left unchecked.

Mikhail shook his head to clear it. “We’re close. Gather your men.”

Brogan nodded and left.

In truth, Mikhail wanted to absolve the man, in part, of bearing witness. As he stared out upon the flaming city, he wished someone would do the same for him.

Another part of him admitted that he wanted Brogan gone because the man was dangerous. He courted sedition so brazenly, and while neither would ever forsake their loyalties, Mikhail’s time in the capital had shown him that there were others out there who would not be as forgiving or understanding; least of all, the king.

Brogan made his way to the rear of the ship while the cannoneers continued their assault. Everyone was on the port side, which faced the island, but the better viewing was on the aft. He bitterly tried not to think about anyone under his command receiving pleasure from watching mass murder unfold, or that man mind find himself on the wrong end of a not-so-accidental mishap. Maybe.

“Captain!” came a cry from the crow’s nest. “Captain, there’s something—no, someone—”

The world shifted again, except it was no illusion that the spotter in the crow’s nest was thrown from his perch. He had been truly expelled. The horizon rose high in the sky as the bow of the ship dug a trench into the sea. Men were thrown forward, and a few luckless fools were thrown clear overboard. The aft rose to meet the horizon, eclipsing the sun to their backs and casting the deck in screams and shadows.

“Hold on to something!” someone shouted.

No shit.

Brogan slid forward, having been thrown, and scrambled for purchase as he threated to slide to the depths. He had dropped his weapons in the confusion. His groping hands found the leather boot of a man clinging dearly to a weighted crate. The man yelped, surprised, before being jarred from his hold, joining Brogan on his descent. He hadn’t the luxury of feeling remorse at the moment. He’d indulge in guilt later, if he survived.

Out of options, he clawed at the deck, scraping his fingertips bloody as the nails were ripped away.

A stray spear found its way into his vision, and he vied for the weapon. Please, Gods!

His request was granted. Spinning the haft in his hand, he stabbed into the floorboards with the blade. It skidded off initially, catching on the second thrust. Even so, the blade only sunk an inch, and levered at such as angle that it was nearly horizontal. But was enough to arrest his momentum, though he rued the leverage was dismal.

Some fool caught onto the back of Brogan’s tunic, pulling him down and their combined weight dislodged the spearhead. His eyes widened.

“Sorry! Help me!” the fool pleaded.

The spear caught again, levered down, and the decorative spike protruding from the base of the head dug into the wood. Brogan sighed in relief, but noticed that the hold seemed tenuous at best. It won’t hold, Brogan realized. Conclusion reached, the decision was made for him; he was rearing back to slug the burdensome oaf from off his back when he recognized who it was that was crawling on top of him.

“Oster?” he said, astonished. “You bastard!” he snarled. Loyalty kept him from swatting away his best friend and feeding him to the depths.

Oster stared at Brogan with wide eyes. “Brogan?” he laughed.

The spear came loose, and both men screamed. Brogan slugged Oster after all, but doubted the fool even registered he had been struck.

The ship stilled, though Brogan did not. He was quickly running out of deck to slide across, though he was noticeably slowing. Then the ship fell down, and it didn’t matter anymore.

The screaming on deck renewed with a rekindled vigor as gravity lent her swift dismissal. But the loss was brief and soon all manner of men and supplies crashed to the deck. A few items skidded, and few more men were lost to the waters, but as the boat rocked, it settled. And when it did, all was quiet.

“What…” Mikhail’s baritone voice broke through the silence.

Brogan was surprised the man hadn’t been thrown overboard with the rest of the unfortunates, as Mikhail had nearly been straddling the figurehead when they… what, collided with the ocean?

“… the Hell…” Mikhail grunted, pushing several men away. It appeared he had created a bottleneck at the bow, saving at least half a dozen men from falling. Though the muted screams from the waters below told him that they may have survived the drop. “… was that?” Mikhail managed to sum up the confusion on the deck succinctly.

What the Hell was that?