A chill wind blew across the choppy waters of the Great Inner Sea. The sturdy ship, Wave Rider, cut through the waves like a knife, making good time heading southward… straight toward the approaching storm on the horizon. A low sea shanty rolled over the deck, sung by the veteran sailors to keep everyone rhythmically in time with each other as they hustled this way and that, performing their various duties.
The storm billowed like a cough of dark bile against the otherwise cloudless blue sky surrounding it, and the more veteran of the sailors noted how abruptly it had appeared. Some even whispered of sorcery or witchcraft, even though such storms were common along the Inner Sea, particularly during the later months of the year, like now.
Whether the result of sorcery of a natural occurrence, the ship was heading straight into the teeth of it.
Against this threat, the captain pressed the more able-bodied passengers into helping out. Tasks like battening down the foremast and keeping the decks free of debris, whether barrels rolling around after the rope that had secured them to the deck came loose, or the copious amounts of seaweed constantly heaved up onto the deck from the rising waves.
Vhade clung to one of these ropes while a wave of water washed over him, trying to make the furs he wore stick even closer to his sopping wet skin, but failing. Many of the others, having no sailing experience, were tossed this way and that. He was a brutish, bear-like young man, made sure to hang on even tighter whenever he saw the rising waves approach.
The gales came much harder now, accompanied by flashes of lightning dancing behind the clouds, though none of the actual peals of thunder could be heard. A wave smashed headlong into the ship, which Vhade thought would send them to the bottom for sure, but once again, the cork-like buoyancy of the vessel managed to surprise him. When it reemerged, all the crew remained in place, some of them even smiling, for they knew this was only the beginning.
The captain, a tall thin man, strode toward him, his sandy-brown hair plastered to his head from the spray. His long moustache dripped miniature waterfalls onto the deck.
“Get up on the stern deck, lad!” the captain shouted even though he was just a few feet away. “We will need your strength to keep those ropes leading up to the mizzen tight, as well!” With that he strode off shouting orders to others, determined to keep his ship and crew afloat.
As Vhade headed off to try and complete his new task, he did not fare as well as the captain. Trying to walk on something that was being tossed about like a child’s broken toy was not as easy for him. He gripped whatever he could reach to steady himself while trying to make it to the rear of the vessel. Another wave crashed over him, and as the cold water dripped down his back, he wondered why he ever left his people to the north.
He could almost feel the warmth of the fire in the hearth at his parents’ house when he was a youth. The ship and storm were now gone from his thoughts and he was running through the woods of Freilund, the land where he grew up. Because of his size, even amongst other Freilund children, they usually chose him to do the heavy labor while the others were allowed to help track and hunt. His brow furrowed as the memory of his past life burrowed through his thoughts as a maggot feasting on carrion.
This image fragmented as another wave of water washed over him, this time knocking him off his feet.
He failed to grab onto something to steady himself, and cursed himself for letting his mind wander. Something solid pressed against his right side and, still panic stricken, he lashed out with his hand and held on with all of his might. As the water drained away once again, he used his free hand to wipe away as much water as he could from his brow, and discovered he had grabbed onto the central mast. The wave that knocked him down had carried him a good ten paces across the deck.
He dragged himself to his feet and looked around to get his bearings. Thunder rumbled and, when the lightning streaked across the sky, he saw that many of the crew members were now absent. The few that remained were hanging onto whatever they could, their duties forgotten.
Remembering the captain’s order, Vhade struggled to continue his quest to locate the aft of the ship as rain pelted him in the face. Coaxed by the gales of wind, it began to feel like pellets of gravel striking his exposed flesh. The rain also reduced his visibility. With his free hand he grasped the iron circle of the All-Father he wore underneath the hides and furs, one of the only presents his parents ever gave him. It indirectly was responsible for this voyage as well.
As he struggled with each step, it felt more like he was climbing a mountain than crossing the deck of a ship. His arm and leg muscles began to ache from the constant struggle to stay upright and level on a surface that was constantly moving about. He swore again and again that if he ever made it back to land he would never leave it, no matter if his dream again led him to stray from it, which was why he was in this dilemma. Each step now took almost a full minute to complete. Why should you bother? His mind badgered him. You are out of your element completely you fool. Gritting his teeth he continued his trek, but his thoughts were relentless. What do you think you will do once you get there? Save this whole ship by yourself? You should have stayed in the hills and forests like the savage you are.
As if to punctuate his thoughts, the next wave brought the lifeless body of one of the other passengers that had been forced into service during the storm, his barren, empty gaze staring up at him. Vhade only got to ponder the unmoving form for a mere moment before the next wave carried it away, washing toward the front of the ship and out of the range of the limited visibility. Death was no stranger to him growing up in the wildlands of Freilund, yet he was out of his element here, on a floating cork caught up in a maelstrom that could throw those trapped inside anyway it pleased.
Pressing forward he felt a surge of pride as the wooden stairs leading up to the stern deck emerged ghost-like through the foul weather and he began the final stages of his journey that had begun forever — just a few minutes ago.
Using his last bit of strength, Vhade lifted his feet to each new stair, pushing himself with his people’s northern fury to overcome any obstacle with a fire in their souls. Rain pelted him. Lightning and thunder raged overhead and the gales pitched the ship so violently that if the visibility allowed it, Vhade would have seen nothing but the sea below him. Finally climbing the last stair, he saw the first mate at the ship’s wheel with a length of rope securing her to the wheel itself.
Vhade shouted, “The captain told me to assist you however I can!” to the woman wrestling with the wheel.
“What?” she screamed at him.
Vhade leaned in as close as he could and screamed with all of his might, “Passenger Vhade Vo’Kovan reporting for duty! The captain asked me to come back here and help!”
At this the middle-aged woman was taken aback and despite the discomfort of being tossed about, and red welts appearing on her face from the force of the rain striking her, she managed a smile revealing one of her teeth was missing. “Son, you are either the most foolish person I have ever seen in the twenty years I have been sailing or…” She stopped mid-sentence and a roar of thunder shook the entire ship which quivered like a leaf. “Nope. You are truly the most foolish person I have ever seen in all the years I have been sailing!”
Vhade smiled at the compliment. “Maybe so! But what do you need me to do?”
The first mate drew back her breath and managed a, “Well, we could–” And those were the last words said upon the Wave Rider before the hull cracked, sending everyone and everything onboard into the dark, churning waters.
Vhade’s legs burned with the frantic energy of survival as the seas tossed him about like a cork. Waves threw him around, making lose whatever progress he made is his attempts to move forward and soon the number of the times he was pitched this way and that as well as waves the size of a house pushed him under, threatening to fill his lungs with water. Vhade continued flailing his arms and kicking his legs, even though the soreness in his limbs was increasing, as well as the shadow of panic and the realization that he was most likely going to drown increased as well.
For a moment he thought he heard a voice cry for help off to his left, as Vhade tried to swim in the general direction to offer assistance, but with the water crashing over him and the storm around him, it was a full minute before he could stop and try to get the bearings of the cries. Vhade strained his ears again to try and locate the sound, but he heard nothing. Another wave rolled over him, and realized that he had his own struggle to survive to contend with.
By now Vhade was swimming for almost a full ten minutes in this storm and even his endurance was beginning to wane. With each passing stroke and kick it felt like heavy weights are tied to his limbs and it was becoming apparent that he was starting to lose his struggle to survive in this relentless storm. Yet another wave rolled over him while gasping for breath and he started coughing with violent heaves, not ready to give in to death just yet.
While still coughing and struggling, a large wave carried him up into the air and it felt like everything began to slow down and move in slow motion as panic began to set it. He was so high in the air it was at least twice of the high of his parents two story cottage back in his village. As he continued to be carried upward by the way, he glanced down a large dark shape moving through the water, its shape clouded by the waves and the low visibility of the weather. The wave was about at its peak but Vhade was fixed on the shape. A single, unblinking yellow eye could be seen, even at this distance. It appeared it was staring directly at him and the wave was just about to carry him right on top of it.
After a moment’s pause where it seemed that time stopped, the wave descended at great speed, dropping Vhade onto the dark shape in the water, a few paces left of the unblinking eye that he could now see was almost as tall as he was. He tumbled under water and everything was chaos. He did not know which way was up and he was uncertain which way was up. Logic told him to sit still a moment and his natural buoyancy will direct him to the surface, but with that great black shape nearby, panic had a firm grip on him. He picked a direction and began to swim, trying to not give in to panic, but when his left foot struck something solid yet yielding, like a rock made of flesh, terror finally took over and he began swimming in a direction away from it in all his might, the soreness of his limbs burning like fire but not ready to give in to his survival instinct.
As he swam, he felt something brush along his left arm. In the darkness of the storm and the salt of the sea made vision spotty at best so while he could not see what was there, he drew the dagger from his belt and lashed out. It connected with something soft and it fed his survival instinct. He lashed at it again and again. He felt something engulf his leg. Not a bite like a shark, but it surrounded the limb and burned its way through his clothes and pain was driven into his leg up into his mind. His endurance reserves were quickly exhausting and he was being driven by pure willpower alone but it not stop him from stabbing it again and again. While his right arm and leg thrashed with wild frenzy to keep his head above water, determined that his life would not end in the belly of some nameless sea beast.
Then, just as quickly as it latched onto him, the creature let go of Vhade. He instinctively knew that his adrenalin would be wearing off soon, and when it did he would no longer be able to keep his head above the rough waters of the Inner Sea. As he struggled, he believed he saw a light in the distance! It did not appear to be a lighthouse but he did not care, Vhade was determined to make his last drops of energy count. He only went a few strokes before he felt his head sinking below water. Vhade’s muscles were pushed beyond their limit at long last. His head started sinking below the wavers as he heard an explosion from the direction of the light, and Vhade felt tendrils surround him. Fearing another attack by a sea beast, he tried in vain to struggle, but he was so sore he could barely do more than strain his left arm a bit before giving in to exhaustion.
Instead of being devoured, he soon felt himself being dragged upward. Up out of the water and into the air. The light was almost on top of him now and Vhade saw he was now alongside a ship, dangling in the air held aloft by some strange types of cables of which he has never seen the like. As the odd apparatus maneuvered him so he was over the deck, he could see people running this way and that, and could hear them shout to one another in a language he did not understand. He was dumped onto the deck as the rind of a stale cheese might be discarded. Vhade’s whole body was wracked with pain and he began to cough from all the water he swallowed. He groaned in pain, half thankful to be alive, but a sliver of him wished he wasn’t from the agony he was in,
As Vhade lay on the deck of the ship a few of the people crowded around him, looking up at them he could see both men and women all armed with belaying pins. They both had long beautiful hair, facial features that appeared as if they were chiseled from the world’s most talented sculptor. They were tall and lean, and appeared to be very athletic. He would have thought they were just a race of the most beautiful humans he had ever seen, except for the long pointed ears each of them had.
“Elves.” Vhade whispered in his weakened state.
His reply came in the form of the elves rained down blows upon him with their belying pins, spinning him into a world of blackness.