Prey to Catch

Posted: March 28, 2022 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Captain Gaveston sat in his cabin, slumped forward in his chair, his bloodshot eyes fixed on the chart spread across the stained and scarred table. His right hand was planted on a rune inscribed skull, his left on crystal globe, the interior swirling with a purple cloud. His greying black locks fell to his shoulders, and his eyes had the wide manic stare of the fanatic. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept or the last time he’d set foot on land that wasn’t surrounded by water.

Artwork created using Wombo.

The cabin door crashed open and First Mate Ningle lurched into the cabin, dragging the wreck of his leg behind him.

“Captain, we’ve nearly caught them.”

He slurred his words, the result of the right side of his face being a melted ruin, the eye clouded over and unseeing. His left leg was nothing more than bone and a few dangling scraps of sinew. How long ago had he died? How long since Gaveston had bound his departing soul to the remains of his corpse? He felt like if he could remember he could solve the puzzle to his own continued existence. Ningle had been the first he had dragged back beyond the Black Veil. He had not been the last.

“Caught who, Ningle?”

Ningle dragged one ragged finger against his cheek. A bit of rotting flesh hit the floor with a wet slap. “Our… prey, Captain. The one you set us on the trail of.”

“Did I?” Gaveston stared down at the chart, stared at the small ships moving across it, the storm bank approaching from the east. If they put all the sails out, if they had a bit of luck, they’d catch their pursuers as the storm hit. Gaveston frowned. Something about that should bother him more than it did, a memory gnawing away like a mouse in the hardtack. “Yes. I did.” He felt a pull, like a steady hand on the rudder of his soul.

“More sail, Ningle. We’ll need to fly like the dead to catch them but catch them we shall.”

“Do I tell the crew to beat to quarters?”

“No need yet,” Gaveston replied. He looked up and stared at Ningle. He could see moonlight streaming through the hole in his chest where his heart should have been. “Wait until we’re within sight of the ship.”

How long had they pursued this particular vessel? How many days and months and years? Wind whipped through the cracked and warped planks of the vessel, as dead as the men that crewed her and as seemingly oblivious to the fact, still slicing through waves and weathering storms, still bending to the will of its master.

He stared down at the chart, watched as the gap between the ships grew ever closer. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he could hear the crack of thunder echoing across the water when Ningle opened the door to the cabin once more.

“We’re in sight of them Captain.”

“Beat to arms, Ningle. Ready the guns.”

“Are we taking prisoners?”

Gaveston locked his feverish gaze on Ningle’s one good eye. “Bring me the captain. I don’t care about the rest.”

“Aye Captain.”

Gaveston stared down at the map, heard the thunder grow closer, heard the calls for sails to be furled. The long guns boomed. The other ship returned fire, one shot crashing through the rotted wood of his cabin and revealing the storm-tossed sky outside. Gaveston kept both hands fixed on skull and globe, his will holding ship and crew steady. The wall knit itself back together, an ugly scar running along the hull, another scar to mark their damned passage.

There was a sudden crash as the ships came together, and he could hear the shouts from the crew they pursued. His own band of cutthroats didn’t utter a sound. No need to talk when you were dead. He wasn’t sure how Ningle communicated to the rest of the crew, and he realized that such a triviality didn’t interest him. The sound of steel clashing on steel rang out, muffled only by the sound of thunder and the piteous groaning of the ship’s timber.

Then all fell silent.  

Ningle reentered the cabin, pushing the enemy captain in front of him. The captain’s coat was torn, and he bled from a gash in his forehead.

“Casualties, Mr. Ningle?” Gaveston asked.

“Six of ours are no longer fit to fight sir, but we were able to take sixteen of theirs in turn. Figure half will be fit to fight again, Captain. The others will suit as supplies.”

“Good,” Gaveston replied, though he made the word sound anything but.

“Gaveston?” the enemy captain looked up, his eyes having trouble focusing. “Captain Gaveston? I know you… it’s me, Bentinck. We served together six years on The Scourge. Don’t you remember me? What happened to you?”

“Bentinck?” Gaveston blinked at the man before him, something vaguely familiar about the shape of his face, the sound of his voice, but he couldn’t quite place it. A baleful green light shone in Ningle’s ruined eye. “I… I don’t remember.”

“We thought you dead, lost at sea five years ago. Is this… is this The Golden Storm?”

Ningle cuffed Bentinck across the back of the head, sending him sprawling to the floor. “This isn’t The Golden Storm, it’s The Blood Abandoned. You understand?”

“Mr. Ningle.”

“Apologies, Captain,” Ningle replied, tipping an imaginary cap. “I overstepped my bounds.”

“Yes, well, make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“What do you want done with him, sir?”

Gaveston looked down at Bentinck, but all he saw was a pile of squirming, bleeding meat. And there was other prey to catch.

“Dispose of it,” he replied. Staring down at the chart, his eyes fixed on another small moving dot. Another ship. He felt his soul called to pursue.

“Cut ties to the other ship, Mr. Ningle. We have prey to catch.”

(A bit of flash fiction I drafted for an open call. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut, so I decided to put it here instead for you to enjoy. Artwork created via wombo.art where you feed an AI words and it generates art.- MXG)

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