pirate story / chapter 7
by alisa
 

John reached the waterlogged planks Lowthian was clinging to and helped her swim ashore. The surf was high and the craggy rocks were hard to get a grip on. They were battered and scrapped against the cliff before finally managing to scramble to safety.

They climbed up the side of the mountain until they reached the tunnel John had just come out of, and  there they stopped to catch their breaths.
‘Where did you come from?’ asked Lowthian  
‘Vekna's...’
She punched him in the face and scrambled for the mouth of the cave. She could not believe her bad luck! She would never escape these people.

‘Wait! He was yelling, I'm not going to hurt you, I'm running from him too!’
She stopped, warily. This was just one young man, a boy really. She figured she could get away from him if he tried to restrain her.
‘Vekna is probably moments away from killing me, so you don't have to worry about it,’ he said wearily.
‘Why?  She demanded, why would he want to kill you? And why would you want to help me?’

‘Its a long, horrible story, but it kinda started when you ran away.’

Lowthian was startled. She didn't recognize this man. Unless... the morning she was taken from her father's castle and brought to Vekna's lair she had been greeted by a handsome young human.

‘You look ghastly! I never would have recognized you.’
‘Thanks.’
‘We don’t have to worry about Vekna anymore.’
Lowthian described to John the battle on the black ship.
‘They're all dead, everyone of them. I can't even begin to tell you how that satisfies me.’

She spoke with little emotion and it caught him off guard. It was hard to believe this beautiful, fragile, innocent looking creature could be so callous. But she was an elf. They just weren't like us, he reasoned.
John was glad he was out of immediate danger but he still felt guilty over Vekna's death.            

John finally noticed she was shivering.

‘We should go to town and get some dry things, get a room or something.’ He reached in his pockets. Empty. In his blind panic he had fled the castle with no money, no food, ten miles away from town over treacherous ground. Boy, what an idiot he was. If Lowthian hadn't killed Vekna he probably wouldn't have gotten a mile down the beach.

‘Or we could go back up to the castle...’ he finished lamely.
‘Well, I could use a horse and some supplies.’
Unlike John, Lowthian knew exactly what she wanted to do. She had been daydreaming about escape for month’s.

They headed up the tunnel. John couldn't help but feel like he was walking back into the mouth of the lion. But it was a silly fear, wasn't it? 

He had embedded an axe into Vekna's back and Lowthian had set him on fire. Nothing could live through that. And yet, visions of Tamat standing calmly in the dining room hearth goaded his memory.  He refused to think about it further.

The dark tomb-like feel of the shaft soon wore at their nerves. They found themselves making idle conversation to ease the oppressive silence and alleviate the claustrophobia that was disarming them both. John told Lowthian his story, how he had come to work for Vekna many years ago.

He was an only child, his mother a prostitute. Her name was Illena and she was the love of his life. She was more like a sister to him than a mother, there was only  thirteen years difference in their ages. They grew up together, more or less, and he worshiped the very air she breathed. She treated him like a prince. Buying his favorite foods, taking him to the ocean for long lazy afternoon picnics, just the two of them.

He didn't really understand that her profession was considered dirty or wrong. Not at first. It didn't occur to him that people lived any differently than they did. She dated a lot of men, big deal, so did all of his mother's friends.

Sometimes when her dates came to the house they would give him candy or other small presents. Then Mom would tell him to go play outside. He had a few friends down there on the wharf.
Their mothers were the same way. Single, young, attractive. Life was sweet.

He was ten when everything changed. She met a man - a customer - that she fell in love with. His name was Victor. For a few months it was fine, they were like a little family, and this guy, this Victor, was really fun to be around. Mom stopped seeing all her other boyfriends.

And then Victor lost his job at the cannery. Money was scarce and Mom went back to work. It was the cause of a ceaseless battle. Victor thought Mom was the lowest form of filth for going back to the street; but John noticed he had no qualms about eating the food bought with her money and drinking, more and more steadily, the booze bought with her money.

After months and months of fighting the unspeakable occurred. 
It had been a lovers quarrel. One too many. John saw it happen.

John, Victor and Mom were on the roof watching the sunset. Although it was early in the evening, Victor was already seriously inebriated. He had been drinking all day. They were arguing about money and in drunken stupidity, Vic backhanded her. She stumbled backward and fell from the roof. She died instantly when she hit the cobblestones, her head cracked open like a melon.          

Victor stood in stunned silence for a moment, then ran down the fire escape to her. One of the neighbors must have called the police because they showed up about fifteen minutes later.     

John sat on the roof and watched Victor holding the limp form of his mother in his arms. Rocking back and forth, crying quietly, Illena's brain dripping out the back of her crushed skull.

The police finally climbed up on the roof and confirmed to the distraught boy that his mother was dead.
John killed Victor with a concoction of various rat poisons in his breakfast porridge the next morning.

It was obvious to the authorities what had happened, what with the foam coming out of Victor's mouth and his face all purple. And considering they had been out to the house the previous evening for the ‘suicide’  you couldn't exactly claim natural causes. But they felt for the kid. Being the son of a prostitute wasn't an easy road to run and he did seem to have some natural ability.

So the D'Merici  police chief  sent a message to Vekna, asking him if he needed an apprentice and voila; John had a new life.

John asked Lowthian about her childhood, but she declined to tell him anything and turned the conversation back to him.

‘How long have you served Vekna?’
‘Eight years.’ He had been like a father.

 When Lowthian and John finally climbed out of the steps it was morning. They were so relieved to be out of the crypt-like cave, they lay on the grass and held hands. They soon fell asleep, warmed by the sun.

*

Had John and Lowthian known the seared and blistering body of Vekna lie on the floor of his western tower, they would have chosen somewhere else to nap.

Just like the last time he was injured, the teleport spell automatically snapped Vekna home when he lost consciousness. Only there was no concerned lackey to tend to his wounds this time.     

Not that it would have done any good.  He had been burned too severely for any mortal  to survive.
The human piece of Vekna was dead. But there was more to him now, Vekna had become a new man. 

*

Hempel Jopi and his little brother Weedy had watched the fire on the water the night before. Could be some good picken's out there but ya had to get out fast before the tide towed it all away.

Gosh, a few years back they had found a wreck and got two gold pieces for the salvaged sail. As soon as the sun started up they rowed out in their fishing boat.

There wasn't a whole lot of wreckage left floating though and they were feeling a little like hanging it up when Weedy spotted Cruz.
They rowed over to Cruz and studied him. He was laying on a chunk of what used to be the black ship, snoring, an empty bottle of wine clutched in his fist.

They looped a rope around the  charred piece of hull  and headed for home.
Cruz woke as Hemple and Weedy hoisted him onto the dock.
‘Where am I?’ he asked stupidly.

‘Darn lucky to be alive is where you are, mister.’
‘Thanks guys.’ Cruz started to walk away.
‘Don't you think you owe us a little for our trouble, Mister?’ Hemple scratched his chin. Cruz chuckled and kept walking.
‘That ain't very neighborly of you.’
‘Fuck off.’

Muttering under their breaths, they left him on the dock and rowed back out to sea. Bound to be something of value out there.


Cruz looked around the wharf and got his bearings. He was on Pier 29. There was a Bed and Breakfast only a few blocks away where he could go to and get himself cleaned up. Gods, what a way to wake up; despite loosing his boat, and cargo, and crew, Cruz felt superb.

Last month he wouldn't have been able to swim for three hours until he latched onto some wreckage. Hell, who was he kidding? Last month he wouldn't have been able to swim three minutes. He never felt better! He laughed out loud.


Cruz reached the end of the breakwater and headed up the steep cobblestone street to The Death Trap. One of the more colorful hostel's in the neighborhood.
The regulars down on the wharf  referred to it as ‘The Fetish Hotel.’

The bar was empty except for a woman sleeping by the hearth. She was curled up in a comfy ball under the mantle.
Well, it was pretty early, dawn to be exact. He guessed the place probably had only just shut down for the evening.

He tapped the sleeping lady with his toe and she opened a weary eye.

‘What do you want?’
‘A room.’
‘We're full, come back in the afternoon, someone bound to check out.’ She closed her eyes and turned her back on him.

There was a couple of booths in the wall next to the door. He sat in one and sipped his beer. He was starting to feel his exhaustion.
He reflected on the previous evening. He had thought he was dead this time. Thought his luck had finally run out.

The wizard had nearly choked the life out of him when Lowthian threw the molotav cocktail that set the unholy beast on fire. Little Lowthian, saving his life! Go figure.

He couldn't get over it. If it would have been a bet, he'd have lost money for sure. He guessed she was drowned. It was too bad, he mused, he'd miss her. He would have never admitted it to her, it would just give her ammunition. But secretly, privately, he'd grown so very attached to her.

And what about that sorcerer? Good Lords what had happened to his eyes! What a nightmare. Cruz shuddered and laughed again. He leaned his head against the wall and was soon fast asleep.

*


 John woke up and stretched. It was too cold to sleep outside. He felt stiff and irritated. He shook Lowthian by the shoulder.
‘Come on lets go in, hey, wake up’ he shook her again.

She seemed lifeless. He slapped her face lightly, no response. What the hell? He picked her up and carried her to the servants entrance, the closest. He nudged open the door with his foot and lay her on the breakfast table.

‘Lowthian! He shouted, Wake up!’
She didn't move. John felt her neck. There was a pulse, she was alive. What should he do? He didn't have a clue as to what was wrong with her.

The hair on the back of his neck bristled. He shivered. Shit, he felt weird. He had the creepiest feeling that there was someone here, yet the castle seemed so empty the silence was almost tactile.

He carried the Princess into the great hall and lay her carefully on a divan near the fireplace. He pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. She was so beautiful like this. When she was awake she a cold air of suspicion about her that made her seem older. Formidable. But asleep, she looked peaceful. Innocent. A gold and silver fantasy.


He went to the hearth and stoked up the fire. The room was in disarray. Dozens of empty whiskey bottles littered the mantle. He felt nauseous thinking of all the alcohol he'd consumed of late.  John wanted to pack a bag of silverware and get the hell out of here, but he couldn't just leave Lowthian. Could he?

Well... he could prepare to leave anyway. He went out to the stables and chose two horses. The poor animals, he didn't know when the groom had left. They all looked a bit scruffy, as opposed to their usual splendor but seemed to have been able to get enough to eat. The paddocks were open and they were able to graze in the adjoining fields.

He guessed they came back to the stable at night out of habit. Hoping for oats, no doubt. He saddled a couple of mares and led them into the courtyard. Leaving them by the long dining room doors, he went inside to fetch the sleeping princess.

Lowthian, hey, wake up.’ Still no response.           
He heard a shuffle behind him and turned.

There stood Vekna.

He was burned beyond recognition but John had no trouble identifying him. Those yellow glowing eyes peered out of his blackened skull.
‘You're alive! John screeched. I mean, Thank the Gods you're alive...Vekna, I was so worried about you.’

‘Were you John?’ Vekna asked, smiling. What a sight to behold. John could see the skin on his face crack, little flakes of flesh falling to the floor.

‘I was possessed! Yes! I was possessed by Tamat, I couldn't stop her. You have to believe me Master, I would never do anything to hurt you. She wanted to take over the city... and, and you were in her way...’

‘So rather than just kill me herself, she thought she'd make a little game of it? Is that right John?’


‘I know how it must have seemed to you, but I swear I'm telling you the truth.  Look, John stammered, desperately pointing to Lowthian, I brought the girl back for you.’
Vekna glanced at the sleeping elf and looked quizzically at John.
‘Why did you return home, John?  When you knew I would kill you?'
Veknas's voice was deeper than it had been. Quieter.
‘And why lie to me?  Why bother.’ Vekna absently picked at some loose flesh hanging from his wrist.


Tears came into his eyes. Why indeed. Yes, he probably deserved to die for his treachery, he knew it, but he was sure his actions were warranted. If only he had made sure Vekna was dead when he drove the axe into his body. Now this mutation, this new demon, was loose upon the city.


‘I came back because, I hoped I could make you understand.’
John decided to mix a little fact with fiction.
‘Tamat had to return to the abyss and I was supposed to let her back here...in five days. She was going to take over the city, I'm telling you the truth. She possessed me.’

‘Tamat is gone?’ Vekna asked, he was confused. Why she had remained was obvious. But why, when John had planned to kill him, had she disappeared?  It seemed like her perfect moment. She would have had the entire coast to herself.


John was starting to relax a tiny bit. At least Vekna was listening to him.
Come here,’  Vekna held out his hand. Bone showed through the blackened skin on his fingers. 

John took a tentative step towards him.
Vekna grabbed him by the throat and squeezed his windpipe. John struggled to escape. Visions of Vekna drinking his blood filled his mind and he fought with every ounce of strength in his body.

He managed to punch Vekna squarely on the jaw and the weakened, battle weary, wizard loosened his grasp for a moment.

A moment was all John needed.

He kicked Vekna in the hip and the demon stumbled. John bolted out the tall glass door and onto the nearest horse. In an instant he kicked the startled animal and she took off. They were out of the courtyard before Vekna was even back on his feet.

His horse flying over the southern gardens. He couldn't stand to think of her there stranded with Vekna but what could he do?