Tuesday, January 20, 2009
New year. This is a leftover bit of flash from last year. Enjoy.
"One if by Land" by Paul R. McNamee
Powerful swimming strokes propelled Dusimi across the inlet. Reaching the opposite shore, he scrambled among slimy, slippery rocks, finally finding purchase on dry, rough stones above the waterline.
Beneath the moon, the stone tower loomed over him; a strange structure with archways at its base and not a single opening or arrow slit anywhere along its vertical length. Dusimi wondered how the abandoned structure had been defended in ages past. Entering under an archway, he found no entrance over his head, only stone.
Chilled, he dressed in clothes taken from his oil skin sack. He removed his steel mace from the bag, looped the chord to his belt. The gray spit of land was desolate except for the mysterious tower. The ebony-skinned mercenary felt uneasy.
The rough stones of the tower’s outer wall provided plenty of footholds and handholds. Dusimi, a natural born climber, deftly scaled the structure. He crawled over the crude, jagged crenellations of the peak onto the roof.
Under the moonlight, Dusimi espied the hole in the center of the roof; a hole created by design and ringed by cut stones. He skirted the illogical aperture, which provided the only entrance into the tower. Peering cautiously over the opposite edge of the roof, the moonlight exposed a small armada bobbing on the waves. Dusimi knelt to ready his signal lanterns.
Wood scraped rock and someone muttered a curse far below. Dusimi halted, glanced over the roof’s edge. A large rowboat rubbed against the rocks. One man tied off the boat to a jagged stone outcrop, while seven other sailors clambered from the vessel.
A grappling hook scraped across the roof until it caught the wall and held taut. Apparently, the men were not as adept at climbing as Dusimi. He guessed their purpose was the same as his; to signal their land-bound allies of their arrival.
Dusimi crouched and waited. Using his knife, he impaled the neck of the first man who came over the wall. Silenced, the dying man struggled with his attacker. Dusimi had no time to waste; he pushed the man into the waiting maw at the center of the tower roof.
Too late, the black warrior turned to the grappling hook. The second man was over the wall and charging with drawn sword. The man slashed, Dusimi swerved, pressed forward and caught the man’s ribs with glancing blow of his mace. His opponent staggered but recovered before slipping into the waiting hole.
More grappling hooks clattered against stone. Men yelled from below. Dusimi charged, feinted and spun the man around with a fierce blow to the head, sending the leather-armored sailor to the same fate as his comrade, into the belly of the tower.
The tower trembled, Dusimi lost his footing, clutched the crenellations for support. Looking down he saw two sailors swinging wildly on their ropes, feet dislodged by the tremor. But it was not enough. The other men gained the roof before Dusimi could cut a single line. Grim faces encircled him, weapons gleaming in moonlight.
“Black devil,” one face said.
“Send him to hell what he did to our lads,” someone else suggested, pointing a short sword at the hole.
The tower trembled again, and something disgorged from the stone mouth. Fleshy with suckers along its length, it lashed around one man’s waist and pulled him forward. Other tentacles, each the thickness of a man’s arm, emerged from the hole, seeking prey.
Whatever slumbered in the tower had been aroused by flesh and blood. Dusimi joined the melee, beating at the flailing tentacles with his mace, but the spongy flesh resisted damage from such a blunt instrument. The men with swords fared better, though writhing appendages bodily knocked more than one man over the crenellations to their death on the rocks below.
Dusimi retrieved his oil skin bag. His knife slashed open leather flasks of oil, and he tossed them into the hole. Dodging tentacles, he opened a lantern and lit the wick. Darkness swallowed the flame as it plummeted into the abyss.
Firelight and an inhuman, unearthly shriek burst from the hole. The tower reverberated again and again as the creature, insane with pain, slammed its bodyweight against the sides of its chamber. However small it had been when it found refuge in the tower, it had grown too large to exit the hole.
In the chaos, Dusimi found a secure grappling hook. Wrapping his hands in the oil skin bag, he grabbed the rope and slid down to the ground, never looking up, even as stone cracked and men screamed.
The bottom floor of the tower collapsed. The burning beast fell to the ground like a sickly shooting star. Still shrieking inhumanly, its horrific cries carried across the still night for leagues. The thing slithered over the tumbled, broken rocks and plunged into the ocean, smothering the flames upon its blubbery hide.
As it quickly passed through the moonlit shadows, Dusimi briefly thought of squids or kraken - but how one might survive in a land-locked tower away from the sea for years was a mystery he dared not ponder too deeply for sake of his sanity.
Dusimi fled across the rocks, not chancing that the vile beast might return from the water. Dusimi did not consider the mission a failure. He had not lit the lanterns, but the creature’s shriek of pain had warned everyone that hell was breaking loose.