Captain Dice and the Isle of Twisted Stone
Captain Sullivan Dice leaned against the wall of the brig of the HMS Indomitable, as it sailed through the clear waters of the Caribbean. Or perhaps not, for Sullivan Dice had none nothing but the four cramped walls of his filthy cell and the squeaking ship's rats for companions since he had been taken off the coast of Jamaica some weeks ago. The bastard British, operating under the stern Woodes Rogers no doubt, had lured him to Port Royale with rumors of fat merchantmen weighed down with cargoes of riches. Instead, all Dice found was a cudgel against the back of his head and the rocking four walls of his cell.
"Bah," Dice muttered. "If the limey bastards came at me from the front, with cutlass drawn, I would have ran through the lot of them and be a-roving free and happy this very moment." He sighed. "But that is not the way of the Royal Navy." He was a broad-shouldered man, and his tanned skin and thick tangled beard told of his years on the sea. He wore a tattered crimson redingote and a frayed tri-corned hat bedecked with a single peacock feather. His voice had the harsh brogue of an Irishman, one who had left his homeland long ago and since been adrift.
A heavy knock at the door interrupted Sullivan Dice's meditation. He leaned against the wall and lowered his eyes as the light pierced his cell. Two soldiers in the king's red coats stood in the doorway, muskets at their sides. "Your presence is requested on deck, Mr. Dice," a young soldier said.
"That's Captain Dice, lad." Dice narrowed his eyes as he held out his hands. The soldiers clamped manacles around them, and led him out of the cell. "Though it not be your navy that I sail in, I demand the respect due to me."
"And what respect is that, you wretched pirate?" A thin gentleman stood at the entrance to the cell and he walked alongside Dice and his captors as they dragged him through the narrow hall of the creaking ship. He had a neat black coat, silken cravat, a hanger at his side, a thin nose and watery eyes behind pince-nez spectacles. "Your kind is the scum of the sea, and just because you have risen to the top, do not that will get you anything but a swift trip to the gallows in my vessel."
"Aye, but it ain't your ship, is it?" Dice asked. "No, I recognize you, lad. You're Chaloner Pendrake, East India Company, and scourge of all honest men." He spat in Pendrake's face, and received a rifle butte to the chest. Dice doubled over but arose smiling. "And if my name is Sullivan Dice, then there's a reason why you haven't killed me. You need something from me, don't you, boy?"
Pendrake turned away and drew a handkerchief from his pocket. He cleaned his glasses fastidiously as they walked up a stairwell and emerged on the deck. The HMS Indomitable was a proud ship-of-the-line, four decks tall and bristling with cannon. A platoon of Redcoats stood on the deck, their muskets resting on their shoulders and their red uniforms impeccable. The Indomitable was weighing anchor, and saw the ship was wrapped in a thick bank of fog. A harsh wind rustled through the upper sales, and Dice shivered despite himself. The air was not tempered with the pleasing odor of salt-spray, but something else, something stale and repugnant. Dice looked at the Redcoats.
"Royal Marines?" he asked. "What do the Admiral's Men want with me? Spanish dogs need to be thrust back into the sea? Or maybe it's the damned French that we're after this time? Or perhaps the dusky maroons?"
Dice was marched past the Redcoats to the aft of the vessel, where a table and spread and several chairs had been set up. A portly fellow with a monocle sat at one of the chairs, puffing on a pipe as if tobacco was the only thing in his life that mattered. A thin fellow with a pale face sat next to him, obviously uncomfortable. He had a hawkish nose, burning eyes deep in his brow and wore a neat red uniform to match is men, though he carried a rifle on his back and a long sword at his side instead of a musket and bayonet. He touched the brim of his hat to Sullivan Dice.
"Ah, Captain Dice." The portly fellow motioned for him to sit down. "I am Captain Julius Wainswin and this is Lieutenant Hieronymus Terror. Please, sit down. You may eat and drink as you wish."
Dice sat. He grabbed a bottle of wine from the table and swigged it heartily, then followed it with handfuls of bread and cheese. "I was telling the lad," Dice said between mouthfuls, "you limey bastard need me alive for some reason. I reckon it's got something to do with the lobster-backs. Perhaps you could enlighten me?"
"Of course." Chaloner Pendrake pointed into the mist. "And island is out there."
"You don't say." Captain Dice sunk his teeth into an apple. "What about it?"
"It's an island of stone." Pendrake stared into the fog. "Spanish explorers discovered it many years ago. Though it has obvious strategic value, it was not settled. Isla la Diablo, they deemed it. They said it was cursed ground. I read in one of your captured ship's log that you landed year, soon after your time as a privateer in the War of Queen Anne came to an end. You must be familiar with the isle."
Dice's eyes narrowed. Half-masticated food fell to the deck. "Aye," Dice muttered. "I know of it. And I hope to holy hell that I'm the only one. The Spaniards lied not. That place is cursed, and no man should set foot on it with hope of seeing his bonny homeland again!"
"I'm afraid you issued that warning too late, Captain." Captain Wainswin crossed his arms. "It was colonized, five years ago."
"What?" Dice slammed his fist on the table. "Are you mad, man? Why would you send men, women, children even, into that horrid place?"
"Unlike you and the Spaniards, the Honorable East Indian Company does not put stock in legends and ghost stories." Pendrake snorted imperiously. "The colonists established a settlement on the beach, and appeared to be doing quite well." He paused. "Until earlier this year, when we lost all contact with them. Passing ships spotted smoke from the settlement, and we feared the worst. A Spanish or French force must have landed, or perhaps unruly savages attacked."
"The worst…" Dice shook his head. "You bastards don't know the meaning of it!"
"We know you have knowledge of the territory, and we would like you as a guide." Pendrake leaned down and stared at Dice. "I can guarantee a full royal pardon for your buccaneering and maybe even a post in the Royal Navy."
"Go to hell," Dice muttered.
"If you refuse to cooperate, we can have you swinging from the yard sail. Would you rather have that?"
Captain Dice stared into the cold mist that surrounded the ship. He swore he could saw the outline of the Isle of Stone somewhere in the fog bank, looming high above him like an areal predator. He shivered and gritted his teeth. "I want my weapons back and my manacles off."
"Of course." Captain Wainswin handed Dice a burlap sack. Dice pulled out the belt of six flintlock pistols, each with the large rounded butte of a Scottish gun and inlaid with silver. He tied the belt around his waist and withdrew a large cutlass. Dice placed his hand in the basket of the blade. He imagined he could gut Chaloner Pendrake and be over the deck and free before the limeys could blink. But there'd be nothing for him but the cold waters, the sharks, and the muskets of those Redcoats. And the island.
"Very well," Dice grumbled. "I'll lead you to the Isle of Stone, but I can't guarantee I'll be leading you out again."
They approached the island in seven rowboats, each full of Royal Marines. Lieutenant Hieronymus Terror sat in the foremost rowboat, his hand on the falconet at the front of the small boat. He looked at behind him at his crew. A damn civilian, a pirate, and an overweight captain. Terror shook his head as he looked back at the water. This whole mission seemed foul.
The sailors strained their backs, pushing their oars through the dark water. The rowboats cut through the mist, and approached the mainland. Terror shaded his eyes as he saw the outline of a sandy beach leading inland, and above that-high cliffs. They were not natural though, too square and regular, like the pillars and roves of obscene. But they could not be manmade, for the dizzying spirals, impossible angles, and twisting columns of the stone island could never be conceived by even the most deranged disciple of Nicolas Hawksmoor.
"Ruins?" Terror asked. "I did not know this island was inhabited."
"It's not." Pendrake said quickly. "They are ancient, and long abandoned. But they are complex, and some say this entire island is a great artificial construct."
Sullivan Dice shook his head and stared into the water. The rowboats paddled closer, until the fog receded and a small village of colonial houses and scattered huts appeared on the shore. Behind them, a thick cordon of greenery separated the beach from the stone ruins. No birdsong or monkey's chatter interrupted the doomful silence of the place. "Beach there, ensign," Captain Wainswin commanded. "Let's get a better look at these lodgings."
They beached the boats and the Royal Marines hit the surf, wading into the abandoned buildings. Lieutenant Terror followed his men, and looked around the village for any sign of life. The dwellings were empty and quiet, no stray animals or living things of any kind. Rotting food lay uneaten on tables, and Lieutenant Terror felt his heart quake when he saw an overturned cradle in the corner of one house. He felt goose bumps break out on his skin as he realized this mission was more foul than he originally perceived. He walked out the house and found Chaloner Pendrake, Captain Dice and Captain Wainswin standing on the beach.
"There was no fire here," Terror said. "You said a passing ship spotted smoke. I see no evidence of fire. None at all."
"Perhaps it was in the woods," Pendrake suggested, shrugging nervously. "It matters not, though. You see with your own eyes something occurred here. Something that snatched these people from their beds and hearths."
"Aye, and a foul thing it was," Dice muttered. "I beg the lot of you wooden-headed Englishmen, turn back now! Back to the ship and away from this cursed isle, never to return!"
"Cowardly corsair." Pendrake sniffed. "The Admiral's Men do not listen to the ravings of a drunken pirate. Do they, Lieutenant?"
"No, sir." In truth, Hieronymus Terror wanted nothing more than to flee. He greatly valued the life of his men, and he knew this mission was not a good place for them. Still, he had his orders. "Right, lads! Let's march inland, see if we can't find some clue as to what transpired here! One column, two abreast!"
The Royal Marines assembled and marched away from the village. Terror took his place at their front, his hand on the pommel of his long sword. He had fought and bled alongside them in a thousand combat operations, and he would not change his ways when confronted with the unknown. Captain Wainswin, the pirate Dice, and Pendrake walked towards the rear. Pendrake seemed particularly nervous, even the normally churlish Wainswin was silent, and Dice regarded his surroundings with a fierce malevolence.
They walked through the belt of trees, tall palms thick with vines and budding flowers, and arrived at the entrance to the great ruins. The high roofs of the cyclopean palace towered far above them and vanished into the mist. A pair of statues stood at the door, bizarre squid-like creatures with high haunches and eyes of shining onyx, twice as big as a man. Terror half-expected them to spring forward. He noticed something lying against one of the statues, a red bundle.
Terror broke into a run as he approached the statue and saw a wounded man, his garments red rags and his face flecked with stubble and sweat, lying against the stone beast's feet. He kneeled down and offered the poor soul a drink from his canteen. The wounded survivor had deep gashes in his chest, like the claws of a great cat.
"Easy, man, easy," Terror said as the survivor drank greedily. When he was finished, Terror tried his best to bind the wounds as the rest of his command approached. They shouldered their muskets and looked uneasily into the open mouth of the ancient ruins. "Have you a name, sir?"
"I know not," the pitiable man whispered. "I know not who I am, or who my wife was, or the names of our babes. I know only the black eyes of the fiends which slew them all." He shivered and suddenly came to his feet. "Ia! Ia!" he shouted, convulsing as he danced like a flimsy puppet. "The Star-Spawn! The Cthulhi! This is His house and they guard it! Ia! Ia!"
Dice looked away. "The poor bastards had his mind torn apart," the pirate said.
"Do not awaken Him! We have awakened the, and they are enough! The Star-Spawn! The Cthulhi! They are his children! We are all his children!" He threw back his head and laughed. His hacking mirth was interrupted by the crack of a pistol, and the survivor fell back, his skull shattered by a bullet.
Chaloner Pendrake replace the flintlock pistol into his frock coat. "Pity," Pendrake said. "He was a lunatic. I had to put him out his misery."
Terror walked over to Pendrake, his long sword held high. The Royal Marine placed his blade on Pendrake's neck and tensed his arm. "There is something you aren't telling us, Mr. Pendrake." His knuckles gleamed white against the blade. "You have been trying to hide the truth from us since we sailed for this cursed piece of stone, and I am sick of it."
"Remember your place, Lieutenant." Pendrake looked down at the blade. "The Honorable East India Company pays the salary of you and your men. Now do you duty and unhand me."
His eyes still ablaze with rage, Terror stepped back and sheathed his sword. He looked at the ruins and nodded. "Very well. We'll take a look inside and then sail away." He turned to his men. "Rigby! Divide the command and take half back to the beach. I'll go inside with the rest and see what I can."
"Yes, sir." Rigby was an able soldier, one of his eyes plucked out a Frenchman's saber long ago. He quickly counted off half of the soldiers. "Right, lads. Back to the beach!" he commanded.
Terror looked at the rest of his men and nodded. "Horner! Take up the rear. And all of you, I want muskets primed and ready to fire. First sign of trouble, we leave." He looked back into the yawning entrance of the dreamscape of twisting stone. "And the sooner that is, the better."
They walked through the shadow masked hall that went straight from the entrance to the some large chamber at the far end of the ruins. This was but one castle in a forest of the twisting stones, and Captain Sullivan Dice knew that the ruins twisted high above the island and deep under the surface of the sea. Dice withdrew a pair of pistols from his belt and held them high, the muzzles pointed to the high ceiling. He looked up into the darkness, where the mammoth stone walls met somewhere high over their head. This was like the main hall of some impossible cathedral, and Dice knew what kinds of beings worshipped here.
The Royal Marine lieutenant stood next to Dice, his rifle cradled in his hands. "Tell me, pirate," he said. "Why do you keep your weapons pointed upwards?"
Despite himself, Dice grinned. "That's where they'll come from, lad. And the Blacked-Wings One won't bother announcing their presence."
"What are these 'Blacked-Winged Ones,' these 'Star-Spawn'?" Captain Wainswin asked. "Are they some savage Indian tribe or some kind of animal?"
"Not men, not beasts," Dice said. "Something else."
"Please, damnable buccaneer," Pendrake muttered. "Spare us your superstition. There is not a being on this earth that science cannot explain."
A wind rustled through the cavernous hall, causing Dice's coat to flap abaout him. Dice bent his head and clutched his pistols. He spun around and tensed his fingers on the triggers, but there was nothing to shoot at.
Lieutenant Terror looked at the rear of his column and gasped. "Where's Horner?" he demanded. He walked past his men and looked around the ruins. "Where did Horner go?" He looked at the stone floor and stopped. A black Tricorne hat laid there, a spray of red across the brim. "Ten Thousand Hells," Terror cursed. "Something snatched him!"
"It was them." Dice scanned the dark upper chambers of the ruins, and the Redcoats raised their muskets to their shoulders. "You shan't have a chance to scream when they come for you. They're too quick for that."
"N-nonsense. Utter nonsense." Pendrake withdrew his own pistol and it shook in his grasp. "Well, let us proceed. We still have not located the colonists. We cannot leave until we do that."
They walked down the hall, and now Dice's eye keen eyes shifted in his skull as he examined every dark recess, every crack in the twisted stone, every crevice and cranny. They could be hiding there. At the end of the hallway, they found an antechamber, and the colonists lay within.
"Good Lord," Wainswin whispered as he stared into the large stone room, filled with leering statues, bowls carved from the sheer stone, and thousands of altars. The colonists had been spread across the room, each man, woman, or child butchered with precise marks so that their blood dripped or streamed into the stone bowls. They lay strewn across the statues, hung from rusted hooks that dangled from the low ceiling, and impaled on stone spikes that sprouted from the ground. The pale rays of sunlight that pierced through the cracks in the stone roof shone down on white bone and red flesh. No flies buzzed or maggots feasted on the flesh, which did not seem to be decaying.
Some of the soldiers looked away, and one or two was noisily sick. Dice stared at Chaloner Pendrake and considered killing the East India man. But something else was there in the dark hall, nestled in one of the blackened corners. Captain Dice brushed past a Redcoat and leveled both his pistols.
"I know you're in there," he said, causing the Royal Marines and their leader to stare at him. "Come on out, my pretty." He lowered his pistols as the fiend stepped into the sunlight. It unfurled its bat-like wings and reared up on its spindly hind legs, its claws held high above it. Dice only came up to the creature's waist. It was bipedal, with each arm and leg, topped with several long, curling fingers that resembled the gnarled branches of a dead tree. Large bat wings sprouted from its back, the same mottled green, sickly yellow color as the rest of the creature. But the most horrible feature of the fiend was its head. It had a bulbous skull, a pair of catlike green eyes, and tentacles of various sizes and lengths that reached down to the creature's upper chest.
"There you have it, lads," Dice said. "The Star-Spawn!"
The Star-Spawn leapt forward, both claws reached out. Its wings flapped lazily as it flew over the line of Redcoats and reached out a claw. The unfortunate soldier raised his musket to fire, but the beast struck down with a single claw. The long fingers cut easily through the red uniform and spilled the soldier's guts onto the cold stone floor. He died without a sound.
"Kill the foul thing!" Hieronymus Terror shouted. He swung his sword at the Star-Spawn, and buried the blade up to hilt in the monster's thin chest. It let out a rasping cough and stepped backwards. Terror twisted the blade and yanked it free, just as Captain Dice pointed his pistol at the Star-Spawn's head. He fired, and the creature's head splattered open as the bullet passed through it. Its head contained no brain or even blood, but thick clusters of yellowish strands. Without a sound, the creature sank to the ground in a heap.
"Good lord," Captain Wainswin muttered. "Those winged devils must have destroyed the colony."
Captain Dice stared coldly at Pendrake. "They wouldn't have had cause, if the colonists weren't there in the first place. Their deaths are on your hands, lad."
"Now, that is quite an unfair accusation!" Pendrake wagged his finger. "And furthermore, I think it's simply wrong to think of these creatures as demons or fiends. They have some intelligence, but I think they can bring great profits to England. Imagine if they could be domesticated, trained for war or other such martial duties. We could make England unstoppable."
"You seem to have thought of this before," Terror said. "You knew the Star-Spawn were here."
"What if I did?" Pendrake crossed his arms and grinned. "Perhaps I read the reports of the Spanish Dons and realized the benefits of controlling these creatures, and then dispatched colonists to claim the islands and capture the beasts. And when I found it went wrong, I requested some Royal Marines to investigate. I did nothing wrong."
"By thunder, I'll have your throat!" The rage that had been simmering in Captain Dice during his captivity suddenly reached a boil. He grabbed for Pendrake's neck, but Wainswin swung his pistol at Dice's face and stepped between them. The Redcoats pointed their weapons at the corsair.
"Easy now, Captain," Wainswin commanded. "No need for us to resort to violence."
"Sir?" One of the Redcoats pointed upwards. "Something's happening to the ceiling. It's all shifting and such."
They stared upwards. More and more shards of light appeared through the dark upper-levels of the titanic ruins, and the darkness of the stone itself seemed to change. Sullivan Dice replaced his empty pistol and drew another one. He primed both guns. "Nay, lad, the stones ain't moving. There never were any stones."
Soundlessly, their leather wings not even make a rustle, the Star-Spawn flew down from their perches on the upper stories of the ruins. It was impossible to tell how many they numbered. They winged down into the great hall, bouncing off of walls and reaching down with claws and writhing tentacles. Dice fired his pistols upwards, and then drew two more and did the same.
"Give them a volley!" Lieutenant Terror commanded. He aimed his rifle at a low-flying Star-Spawn and squeezed the trigger. His rifle shot proved accurate, splattering open the beast's bulbous head. The muskets of his men rattled after he fired, sending up a whizzing storm of lead. The Brown Bess muskets were inaccurate weapons, but the sheer numbers of the Star-Spawn made it impossible to meet. Several Star-Spawn fell from and died on the ground. "Affix bayonets!" Terror ordered. "Retreat!"
The orderly march to the entrance of the ruins became a terrified run as the Black-Winged Ones bore down upon them. The beasts flew over the first like of Redcoats, gutting soldiers with their long fingers, tearing their faces apart with their tentacles, and swooping away with still screaming Redcoats in their iron grasp. Captain Dice drew his cutlass and hacked away at the Star-Spawn that surrounded him. He lopped off the head of one beast, brained another with the hard basket of his cutlass, and slashed a thin arm reaching for his neck. The Star-Spawn tore through skin and flesh with no effort, as if they simply willed their long fingers into the bodies of men, and their preternatural speed and strength was truly inhuman.
"Back to the boat!" Wainswin shouted, firing his pistol. "It's our only hope!"
"Aye, that it is," Dice agreed. He turned around to look for the entrance, but stopped. A stone column had fallen down into the great hall, blocking their path. "Damnation!" Captain Dice shouted. "The bastards have trapped us!"
"What do you suggest, pirate?" Lieutenant Terror asked, holding back a dozen Star-Spawn with his agile sword arm. The Redcoats stabbed out with their bayonets, puncturing the scaly skin of the hideous Star-Spawn. "My men deserve a better death than this!"
Dice stared at the pillar and reached for his powder horn. "We blast our way through! Cover the damn pillar in black powder and set a fuse! "
Terror nodded and dumped his own powder on the pillar. "You heard the man!" he ordered his men. "Move it!" The Redcoats followed his action. Their muskets were useful only as club in this brutal melee with the loathsome creatures.
"Are you taking orders from a pirate?" Pendrake asked.
"Aye, and a pirate that wishes to live through this wretched day!" Dice smiled as he struck down another Star-Spawn.
Soon, a good pile of black powder lay around the stone pillar. A Redcoat reached for a match, but a Star-Spawn plunged both claws into the poor soldier's chest and eviscerated him instantly. He dropped the match to the ground and Dice dove for it. He grabbed the burning fuse and tossed it into the pile of gunpowder. The resulting explosion shattered the pillars and blackened Dice's face. He ran through the breach, Terror, Wainswin, Pendrake and the few surviving Redcoats close behind.
Once the Star-Spawn reached the trees, their lethal speed and eldritch strength only increased. They disappeared into the thick brush, and hapless Redcoats were dragged screaming into the trees by unseen claws. Terror and Dice stood side by side, their blades cutting through branches and the reaching hands of Star-Spawn alike.
Lieutenant Terror turned around to see the last pale-faced Englishman die, his musket torn from his hands and shoved bayonet-first into his gaping mouth. "Those were my men!" Terror shouted, leaping madly at the nearest Star-Spawn. He hewed the beast in twain and would have ran deeper into the brush if Dice hadn't grabbed his arm.
"We'll mourn them another time. Come, to the beach!" Dice fired off his last pistol as he tumbled out of the underbrush. As soon as his boots hit the sand, he waved his arms to the beached boats and shouted. "Loads the falconets! Prime your guns! Prepare for war!"
Terror appeared next to him, followed by Captain Wainswin and Chaloner Pendrake. The thin East India Company man collapsed on the beach, and raised his hands as he came to his feet. "Prepare the weighted nets!" he ordered. "We will capture them!"
Behind them, the brush shook as hundreds of Star-Spawn fluttered onto the beach. There was a moment of stunned silence while Rigby and his men regarded the inhuman creatures, followed by a deafening salvo of fire. The falconets had been loaded with grapeshot, and they cleared the skies of the hovering monstrosities. Body pieces and the yellowish strands fell to the earth like a grisly rain.
"Hah!" Dice raised his cutlass as the Redcoats presented an impeccable firing line and unleashed a hail of lead onto the Star-Spawn. "Destroy the fiends! Bring them down!" He did not notice the crouched Star-Spawn in the shadow of the palm tree until the beast lunged for him. Dice went down, his cutlass falling from his grip as the Star-Spawn forced him to the ground. It held his sinewy arms to the sand and leaned down, its tentacles writhing with anticipating of devouring the pirate's face.
Captain Dice struggled to reach the cutlass and throw off the Star-Spawn. He felt its tentacles reach down and touch his skin, and the very feeling of those alien tentacles scratching the surface of his face was more unbearable than bathing his body in flame.
"Get away from him!" Lieutenant Terror kicked the beast off of Dice and rose his long sword to kill the fiend, when he was restrained by Pendrake.
"The net, boys, the net!" Chaloner Pendrake commanded.
Dutifully, the Redcoats hurled a weighted net around the writhing Star-Spawn. They grabbed the edges of the net and dragged the monster back to the boats while their comrades covered them with constant musket fire. Dice came to his feet and reclaimed his sword. He and Terror walked to the boats and saw that Pendrake had the Star-Spawn placed in one of the rear rowboats.
"Let me kill that beast!" Lieutenant Terror commanded.
"You will stand down, Lieutenant!" Pendrake hopped into the boat. "Now, we will cast-off and return this creature to the Indomitable. It will remain in the brig during the entirety of the voyage, and be studied by the Honorable East India Company in London. You will not interfere."
Terror took a lingering look back at the beach, and climbed into the rowboat. Rigby nodded, and the Royal Marines retreated into the boats. Dice and Wainswin clambered in as well, and the sailors soon strained at the oars and carried the boats away. The Star-Spawn in the foremost rowboat writhed and tried to free itself, but to no avail. The other Star-Spawn fluttered around the island, but would not take off over the water.
"Look!" Captain Wainswin smiled and patted his chest. "We have the buggers trapped! They won't leave their island!"
"They fear the water," Captain Dice explained. "At least, that's what I've gathered from my time here. My boat pulled alongside and the beasts slaughtered my crew nearly to a man. But when we pulled away, they did not follow." He shook his head.
"What are they?" Lieutenant Terror asked, finally sheathing his sword.
"I've seen many a strange and terrible thing in my time, by thunder, but those fiends are beyond the ken of human knowledge. I don't think they're of this world, and they've been imprisoned in this fortress of stone." Dice looked at the Star-Spawn wrapped up in the rear of the row-boat. "Or at least, until now they were."
Chaloner Pendrake waited until the HMS Indomitable was far out to sea before he went to look at his prisoners. One was the trapped Star-Spawn, the other, the pirate Dice. The story about a Royal Pardon was a lie, and many a corsair would shirk their roving duties when they saw Captain Sullivan Dice's body swinging from the gallows on Port Royal. But the Star-Spawn was much more interesting. He had slept little these past days, and when he did he saw far-off vistas, boundless oceans, and alien shores. He longed for them.
Pendrake walked to the brig and looked at the two cells. He peered into the bars of the leftmost cell and coolly regarded the trapped Star-Spawn. The spindly, cephalopod sat in the corner of the small, creaking cell, its wings wrapped around it like a cocoon. It had not moved at all since the last time Pendrake had seen it. Food of all sorts, from salt pork and hard tack, to the carcasses of ship's rats, lay untouched on the cell's wooden floor.
"I wonder what mysteries you have seen," Pendrake whispered. "Perhaps you came from the burning mouth of Hell, or some far away star in the night sky. Or maybe some other realm of existence altogether." His hands tightened on the bars. "If only you could show me."
He pulled his gaze away as he heard footsteps approaching. He turned and saw Lieutenant Hieronymus Terror walking down the hallway. Terror stood in front of Pendrake, his hand on his sword. "Mr. Pendrake, a word if you will."
"Of course." Pendrake leaned against the door to the cell, his hands moving around the lock.
"My men, the few that survived your terrible mission, have been reporting nightmares of a most terrible kind. I admit, I have been beset by similar night terrors."
"Terrors for Terror." Pendrake grinned. "How poetic."
"That fiend is causing them, I am sure. I will destroy it now, and you will remove yourself from my way or by God I will strike you down." He gripped the handle of his long sword.
"You don't know…" Pendrake turned around and grabbed the lock. "You cannot conceive the things which it shows me in my dreams! I have seen their Mother and Father! The dreams are a gift! You should be glad of them!" He pressed his body against the doorway and slid down to the floor. "I have seen the furthest reaches of God's dominion. I have seen my master!" He suddenly stood up and raised his hands. "Come to me! Ia! Ia!"
The wood splintered. Hieronymus Terror stepped back and drew his sword as the Star-Spawn smashed through the door and stood unbowed in the doorway. It reached out its hands and gripped Pendrake's shoulders. The East India Company Man stared into the soulless eyes of the Star-Spawn and convulsed in laughter as the tentacles reached into his mouth, nose and eyes. When the Star-Spawn let his body fall to the ground, blood sprayed from every hole in his face.
"What's going on, lad?" Captain Dice demanded. "Let me out of here!"
Terror struck the lock off of the cell door and Dice rolled out. He saw the Star-Spawn standing in the doorway, and Chaloner Pendrake's corpse at the beast's stalk-like feet. "Serves the bugger right," Dice muttered. He turned back to Terror and gripped the Royal Marine's shoulder. "Come now, we must get out of here!"
"How did it break through the door?" Terror wondered, staring in awe at the creature. He looked behind it into the cell and saw the peeking heads of more Star-Spawn behind it.
"How do they survive on an island with no food? How are there so many of them? Bah!" Dice shook his fist at the Star-Spawn. "They are not of our world and they do not obey its laws! Now run, lad, run as if the very demons of Hell are behind ye!"
They ran down the long hallway, the Star-Spawn flying after them. The lean Star-Spawn hugged the walls and spread out through the ship, surprising and killing every sailor they found. Captain Dice pulled a belaying pin from a wall and hurled it behind him, crushing the skull of an approaching Black-Winged One, then clambered up the ladder to the deck.
But even then they were too late. Captain Wainswin ran to them, surprise and fear on his face. "Captain! Lieutenant! What the devil is going on? Where is Pendrake?"
"Dead, and deservingly so." Terror shook his head. "But the Star-Spawn, they have been released!"
Even as he spoke, the fluttering abominations tore out of the sides of the ship. They swept across the deck like cannon fire, slaying all who fell in their shadows. Some sailors drew boarding axes and pikes and stood their ground, while others cracked away with musket and pistol and the dactyl fiends. But there were far too many Star-Spawn and soon the deck was awash in blood.
"The powder storage," Wainswin announced. "We'll start a fuse, blow the ship. They hate the water, don't they? Let the bastards drown!" He grabbed a torch from the mast and held it high. "Come on, Royal Marine and Pirate. Let's avenge our crew!"
"Methinks I like the sound of that." Sullivan grinned.
"Then follow me!" Wainswin led them across the deck into the captain's quarters, a richly adorned room full of tapestries and a feather bed. Waiswin paused only to hand Sullivan his Scottish pistols and cutlass, and secured several duck foot pistols for himself. The odd handguns had eight barrels spread out in a circle so that the user could fire a large spread with one shot. Thusly armed, they entered the bowels of the ship.
The wooden hallways were thick with corpses and the quietly rustling wings of the Star-Spawn. Dice had his cutlass swinging in one hand a pistol blazing in the other, while Lieutenant Terror swung his long sword in lethal arcs that wrought ruin upon the Star-Spawn. Captain Wainswin fired a duck foot pistol in each hand, spreading waves of lead into the masses of Star-Spawn.
"A fine thrust, for a limey bastard!" Dice said with a grin as Lieutenant Terror decapitated a Star-Spawn. "But put more effort into the thrust! Don't deaden the blow. Watch me!" Dice ducked the claws of a horror hanging down from the ceiling, and drove his cutlass into the beast's underbelly.
"I'll be sorry when you're dead, pirate," Terror said, smiling.
"Down this way!" Wainswin ran down the hall and entered the powder storage. It was a high-ceilinged room, packed with crates of gunpowder. Wainswin held his torch high and illuminated all of the barrels. "Now, help me lay a fuse to the-" He stopped as a Star-Spawn flew silently down from the celing. He tried to bring up one of the duck foot pistols, but the Star-Spawn struck first. The claws pierced the front of his chest and forced him to the edge of the room.
Terror followed him and killed the Star-Spawn with a single swipe of his sword. He looked down at Captain Wainswin, and saw the grievous wound in his chest. "Come on, Captain," Terror said, sheathing his long sword. "Dice will lay the fuse, and I'll carry you back to the deck."
"No time…" Wainswin whispered. He looked at all the explosives, and nodded, a grim look filling his normally cheery countenance. "You and the pirate, run to the third deck and take a rowboat." He pulled a watch from his waist coat. "I'll give you a good ten minutes, and then I'll drop this torch."
"No." Wainswin patted the lid of a barrel. "I've never been a heroic fighter, like Woodes Rogers, or a dashing rogue, like Captain Morgan. But this once, I want to do something good. Let me go down with my ship."
Sullivan Dice put his hand on Terror's shoulder. "Come on, lad. We've no time to dally."
"That you don't." Wainswin chuckled. "The clock is ticking!"
Captain Sullivan Dice and Lieutenant Hieronymus Terror floated away from the HMS Indomitable in a single rowboat, each working an oar. The young Royal Marine and the older pirate strained alike at the oars, pushing the rowboat further away from the ship-of-the-line. Terror checked his watch and nodded to Sullivan. They both looked back at the Indomitable, now with a halo of circling Star-Spawn.
The ship dissolved in a fiery inferno of flying wood, silently dying Star-Spawn and black smoke. The ship did not even leave a husk, only a carpet of yellowish flesh and wet wood. Terror stared at the wreck and bent his back as he shoved his oar into the water. He sighed, and pulled off his red coat. "My command is finished," he whispered. "Then let me finish it." With that, Terror hurled his red coat into the water. It landed amongst the wreckage, became sodden, and sank.
"Aye, lad, that's the spirit!" Dice grinned and patted Terror's back. "I'll make a pirate out of you yet!"
"You have no ship, or crew, or anything. Just the cutlass and sword at your waist."
"True, true." Dice through his back and laughed. "And I wouldn't have it any other way! Now row, for the wenches grow lonesome and the rum sour unless it rest in my belly!" He shoved his oar into the water, and the two men paddled the boat far away from the wreck of the Indomitable, and further still from the cursed isle of stone.