Captain Dice and the Beast in the Wrecks
Captain Ignacio de Montana stood on the slick deck of his ship, the San Cristobal, a proud galleon of the Spanish Treasure Fleet, and looked out on the storm-churned sea. He looked around to the left and right, and noted the other galleons rocking back and forth in the storm. Captain de Montana felt the rain pound on his broad brimmed silk hat, drooping his mustachios and wilting the feather in his cap.
"Captain!" The boatswain, clad in a leather jerkin and morion helmet, appeared on the deck. "We can see the Brazilian coast from here! Shall we weight anchor and weight out the storm?"
"And be dashed on the rocks?" de Montana asked. "I think not. Spain needs these treasures, boy. And it will have them." He looked back into the sea. It was impossible to make out any shapes in the dark shifting waves, but de Montana noticed a thick tubular figure, one which remained firm as the waves splashed about it. It had to be some oddly shaped rock. But then, a crack of lighting split the sky and the formation was gone.
"In God's name?" Ignacio asked, drawing his spyglass and looked at the sea. "There was something there! In the Lord's name, I swear it!"
Suddenly, the San Cristobal rocked as if it had run aground. The ship shifted and Captain Montana felt himself slipping as the wood slanted under his foot. But this was like no wave that had ever crashed against a vessel. Captain Ignacio de Montana turned to the portside as another crack of lighting illuminated the dark.
What he saw towered above him, above the ship itself, and Captain Montana gasped in terror as he realized what the massive object was, a long cyclopean column shooting out of the sea, ending in a rounded point, and dotted with white discs as big as dinner plates. He gulped as he realized what it was.
"Dios mio!" the Spaniard cried. "A tentacle!" And then the great arm, and eight more just like it, wrapped around the San Cristobal and dragged it down. Captain Montana knew nothing more than the coldness of the sea.
The Rogue's Pleasure sailed just out of cannon range of the Brazilian coast. The fearsome vessel, which in another life had been a British ship-of-the-line of the first rate, had no friends among the subjects of Spain. Then again, she had no friends of any nationality. The terrible black flag, swinging proudly from the main mast, identified this ship as a pirate vessel. Men were busy about the deck, keeping the Rogue's Pleasure dead on course.
Captain Sullivan Dice stood on the deck, his hand on the railing as he looked out onto the sea. He sniffed in the salt and sighed. "Ah, there's that flavor!" Dice cried. "Ye can't duplicate it with a hundred boxes of the finest snuff!" He was a burly man, with a thick black beard, and he
wore a scarlet redingote and a tricorne hat. A cutlass swung at his side, and a brace of captain's volley pistols swung from leather slots at his side.
The man next to Captain Dice snorted loudly. "It is odious, is it not? Please, Captain Dice, do not mention snuff boxes in my presence. The blessed words seem foul on your uncouth lips." This gentleman wore a silken purple suit of the finest cut, and a fine lace cravat, powdered wig under a purple tricorne hat, and stockings completed his foppish look. His face was covered in powder, and he carried a rapier and a pair of ivory-handled dueling pistols at his waist. This was the macaroni corsair, Gentleman Jacoby Jackson, an aristocrat turned to a life of piracy.
"Damn ye, Gentleman Jacoby! Ye have no mind for the greater things in life!" Dice spread his arms. "Look at the world around ye! Full to the bursting with wonder it is!"
"I'd rather be inside. This sun is ruining my delicate complexion." Gentleman Jacoby was the first mate of the Rogue's Pleasure and an old friend of Captain Dice. He turned to Dice and snorted again. "Tell me, old friend, why am I here?"
"Money, Jacoby. The gold of the Spanish treasure fleet, which a storm has scattered for the taking somewhere along this jungle-lined coast." Dice smiled. "A stroke of luck that the powers of the world will be quick to take advantage of. It was by luck alone that we were sailing these waters, near the ruined galleons."
"Luck indeed," Jacoby agreed. "I will be in my cabin." He strutted away, sniffing the air. "Oh, and Captain Dice? Do make sure your new cabin lad can make a proper bed. My body rebels if the sheets it sleeps on are not prepared just so."
"Perhaps you'd sleep better in a pig's feeding trough!" A woman in men's trousers and a vest, a musketoon and fascine knife were slung into the sash on her waist, and her long brown hair fluttered proudly behind her, under a plug hat set on her head. "With your own kind, I mean!"
"So says a hairy creature which cannot determine what gender it is." Jacoby Jackson bowed low. "Good morning, Madame Bennet. You are looking well." Jackson doffed his cap and walked to his cabin.
"Sod off!" Moll Bennet was the second mate and the only woman aboard the Rogue's Pleasure. As such, she was tougher than any man and a deadly fighter in her own right. She looked at Dice. "No sign of the wrecks yet, captain. But all eyes are scanning the waves and the coast. From the fat cook Swiggins to your mad German doctor, Von Woopenhausen. Even the damn Ethiope is looking."
"Tell the men to keep searching. First doubloon we find shall go to them. And watch for other ships. No vessel in these waters is here by chance," Dice ordered. "And Moll? How's the new cabin boy treating you?"
"Fair enough," Moll Bennet agreed. "Polite as a priest, he is, but clumsy as a peg-legged hunchback."
"He is not used to it," Captain Dice said. "Go easy on him."
"Aye, Captain." Moll Bennet tramped away.
Captain Dice looked back at the sea. He soon noted a small boy next to him, standing uneasily on the shifting deck. The lad was around eleven years of age, had curly hair under under a tricorne hat, spectacles on his freckled face, and wore a neat black suit with a high collar, and white stockings on his feet. Dice looked at him and noticed his face was more green than pale.
"Enjoying your stay, young Herbert?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I am still getting used to the rocking sea, and these chores are quite new to me, but I can handle it." Herbert Welkins-Bulwer was the heir to the Glamshire Estates, rightfully a Lord of England, but he had forsaken his birthright for a life with the pirates.
"Do ye regret your decision, lad?" Dice asked.
"No, sir. I will never regret it."
"Good. For a pirate, there is no turning back."
Their conversation was interrupted by a shout from the crow's nest. "I see the wrecks, all along the coasts and into the fog, many yards to starboard!" The corsair in the crow's nest shouted down his joy for all to hear. "And it seems we're the first ones to visit!"
"Hah!" Sullivan Dice grinned. "A stroke of luck, by thunder!" He shouted commands to his crew, sending them scurrying to their duties. "Bring us in slow steady, boy, weigh anchor just off the coast! We'll take the row boats and go for a closer look!" Dice stroked his beard. "Ah, a stroke of luck at last."
After the Rogue's Pleasure was anchored off the coast, within sight of the mist shrouded wrecks that dotted the coast, Dice called a council of the crew aboard the deck. Unlike a naval or merchant vessel, no one man retained command of the Rogue's Pleasure. Captain Dice ruled by the will of his men alone, and could be deposed easily. Now, he stood on the upper deck and addressed his men, hoping they would agree with his sound plan.
His officers stood behind him. Gentleman Jacoby Jackson, Moll Bennet, and his third mate, a burly Basque rebel named Esteban 'Escopeta' Estevez, so named for the deadly escopeta musket on his back. Next to him was the ship's carpenter, Clyde Squelch with his wooden arm, tangled white beard, and loose apron. The gunnery officer, in charge of all the cannons on the vessel, was Ibrahim bin Ali, a Moore from darkest Africa who had served with the Barbary corsairs. Dice addressed them as well as he spoke.
"Now we're at the wrecks, and all is well and good, but things have a way of changing faster than even the tides." Sullivan Dice spread his hands. "I suggest me, Madam Bennet, and Gentleman Jacoby take a few men inland, to survey the wrecks, and see what we can find. No one knows what's lurking in the woods and I'm of a mind to find out before we begin recovering the treasure."
"We ain't got time!" a barrel-chested pirated cried. "The Spaniards may come, or the Frenchies! Even the bloody Royal Navy could show up!"
"We will not be gone long," Dice said. "And I trust Estevez and bin Ali can secure the waters while we are away." Sullivan looked to the two men and they nodded. There were no more objections from the pirates.
"Good. Then I leave the lot of ye in their capable hands." Captain Dice stepped off of the upper deck as the pirates hastened to lower the rowboats. They would take only one, keeping most of the men aboard the Rogue's Pleasure in case other ships arrived. Dice looked at the ruins as he waited for his crew to prepare the landing party.
"Captain?" Herbert stepped next to Dice. "Sir, are you leaving?"
Dice ruffled the boy's hair. "Ah, think nothing of it, lad! It will just be for an hour or two." He pointed to Escopeta Estevez, now spitting tobacco juice on some of the slower moving sailors. "You serve him now, right?"
"Yes, sir," Herbert agreed. He walked over to Esteban Estevez and stood at attention. Soon he was sent to fetch a bucket for Esteban's sprays of spittle. Captain Dice doffed his hat to the boy, and then hopped into the raised row boat with the rest of the landing party.
They were lowed down into the sea, and soon paddles were dipped into the water and the small craft sailed for the tree-lined coastline. The beach stretched out until it became thick jungle. Jagged rocks lay on the beach, but the wrecks of the Spanish treasure fleet had transformed the sandy stretch of land into a forest of hulls, masts, decks, and fluttering sails, all soaked from their time in the sea.
Moll Bennet looked at the smashed ships that littered the wide beach, some tangled in the trees and impaled on the long rocks that jutted out from the shore. "Must've been a storm like no other to shatter this treasure fleet," she said, as the rowboat moved closer to the shore.
Dice nodded. "I do not envy them, gutless Spanish dogs though they were." He looked at the wrecks as they approached the beach, and he began to feel uneasy. "But something ain't right about them ships. A lot of them have been torn in half, cleaved in twain. What kind of storm would do that."
"Oh, do calm down, dear Captain." Jacoby Jackson hopped out of the boat, careful to step into the water on tip toes so as to not wet his stockings. "One wave destroys one way, another in a different fashion. It matters little, unlike these winds which are ruining my delicate cravat." Jackson adjusted his necktie. "That's better. Now, how about we observe these wrecks first hand, and see what we may see."
The pirates left their rowboat and walked towards the wrecks, looking for anything that glinted in the sun. They didn't have to look long. "Captain!" a grizzled bearded pirate called. "Come hither! A whole chest of lucre!"
Dice and his lieutenants walked over to the chest, which lay under the shade of a splintered deck. There was a large chest resting in the sand. Sullivan Dice pulled out one of his
volley guns and shot off the lock. He grinned as he saw the glimmering golden coins, jeweled trinkets, and other riches within.
"A fine haul, by thunder!" Dice cried.
"Indeed." Gentleman Jacoby used his rapier to rustle through the coins. "Any rings in there? I would so like a bauble on each finger."
"Sullivan!" Moll Bennet had clambered to the deck and called down. "Come up here and have a look at this!"
Dice nodded to his men and they carried the treasure chest back to the rowboat, while he pulled himself up on the ruined deck. Moll pointed with her fascine knife at a corpse that lay stretched across the deck, waterlogged and ruined. "What make you of him, Captain?"
"Poor bastard." Sullivan looked at the body at noted the marks on his chest. Circles of his flesh had been stripped away, revealing bone and muscle beneath, as if his skin had been removed by a surgical tool. "What kind of storm would do this? By thunder, these marks are odd," Captain Dice said. He looked up at Moll. "Have ye ever seen its like before?"
"I have Captain, once before." Moll looked out into the sea. "It was on the arm of a Pacific islander, after he had tangled with a squid. And they were much smaller."
"Sucker marks then?" Dice gulped. "Some aquatic beast of great size, stupendous size, with tentacles to match." He shivered. "I know naught what creatures plow the dark depths beneath the surface, and I have no wish to know!"
"The devilish fish may return, Captain." Moll gulped. "It may never have left."
"Ye have keen eyes and a sharp mind." Captain Dice hopped down to the sand. "We should not linger here long." He looked across the wreck-strewn beach and raised his voice. "We'll be shipping out soon! Look quickly through the ruins and take whatever baubles ye can carry!"
The pirates grumbled, but doubled their search of the ruins. Soon a tidy pile of treasure lay in the rowboat, next to the chest. There were native idols and sculptures carved of precious metals, gold and silver crucifixes, and handfuls of golden coins bearing Spain's seal. Dice watched the pile grow and looked nervously out to the sea. Whatever beast had torn the skin from the Spaniard had been large enough to wipe out the entire fleet. He did not wish to meet it on the waves.
"My good captain!" Gentleman Jacoby walked to Dice, stepping carefully around the tidal pools that had formed from the storm. "I believe we have company!" He pointed to the jungle, and Dice watched as a score of swarthy men, all dressed in loose white shirts, leather vests and plug hats and carrying bandoliers bristling with pistols, machetes, and long knives, walked out onto the beach. Their leader had a long scar across his cheek, a red cape, and a golden earring in one ear.
He walked over to Captain Dice, took off his hat and bowed low. Captain Dice did the same, but he looked warily at the weapons of his men. "Ye are buccaneers, are ye not?" Dice asked. "Brethren of the Coast?"
"Oui." The leader of the buccaneers spoke with an elegant French accent. "I am Pierre Rebuse, called Rebuse the Slaughterer, and my men have sailed from Hispaniola, searching for the Spanish wrecks." He looked nervously into the woods behind him. "But we have found other things as well, terrible things, and we must be away quickly." He stared at the rowboat. It was big enough for all of his men. "No offense meant, my good man, but I and my brothers must have that boat!"
He reached for the pistol in his bandolier, but Moll Bennet blasted the hat from his head with her musketoon before his hand could get halfway. Bennet cocked her musketoon. "Next shot is a little lower, Frenchie! Right between your eyes!"
Dice's crewmen drew their weapons, and the buccaneers drew theirs. Rebuse looked nervously into the jungle behind him, and then turned back and held out his hands. "Please, my brothers, we do not need to lose more of our number!"
"Well, you are called the Slaughterer," Jacoby Jackson pointed out from over the barrels of his dueling pistols.
"I slaughter Spaniards!" Pierre Rebuse shouted. "The beast that attacked and sank my ship, and devoured half of my beloved crew, that was a godless monster that even I cannot kill."
"A monster?" Dice asked. "What manner of beast was it? A squid or octopus, perhaps?"
Rebuse stared at Sullivan Dice and his eyes widened. "A squid? Mon Dieu, are you mad? The creature I speak of is a snake!"
A flight of tropical birds took flight from behind them, and trees crashed to the ground as if something large was passing through the jungle.
Herbert Welkins-Bulwer stood behind Esteban Estevez, still holding his sloshing bucket of tobacco juice. Estevez was cleaning his teeth with one of his navaja flick knives, and flicking the pieces of masticated ship's biscuit into the bucket. When he was finished, he leaned against the wheelhouse and yawned. Estevez was a short Basque, with curly brown hair and a matching beard, dressed in a leather jerkin and a wide brimmed hat.
"Anything else I can do to help you, sir?" Herbert asked, for what was perhaps the eighteenth time.
"By our Lady of Begona, you are insufferable, child!" Esteban waved his flick knife. "Away with you, now!"
"What should I do?" Herbert asked.
"Caramba! I don't know." Escopeta Estevez shrugged. "Go bother the ship's doctor, Von Woopenhausen. He must have something to do, as he hardly ever shuts his mouth."
"Ship's doctor. Von Woopenhausen. I'll head straight there, sir." Herbert walked away from Esteban, walking into the doorway to the lower deck. Ibrahim bin Ali passed him and walked over to Estevez, joining him on the deck.
"No sign of trouble?" Ibrahim asked. He wore a white robe and turban, and carried a scimitar in a golden hilt."
"None at all! Though this damnable fog has shortened our sight considerably!" Estevez shook his head. "The only thing more annoying than the fog is that damned new cabin boy! Always asking to do something, never giving a man time to himself!"
"He is new to this," Ibrahim pointed out. "You must give him time."
"What do you no?" Estevez asked. "You don't even drink rum!"
"Allah frowns upon it."
"My amigo, any god that frowns upon the drinking of rum is not one to be worshipped." The Basque laughed. "But I suppose you are right. I am sure the doctor will give him something to occupy him with. He built Squelch's wooden arm, no?"
"That he did," bin Ali agreed. "Though I believe the carpenter only went to the physician because of stomach pains."
Below decks, Herbert stepped gingerly around sailors, muttering apologies as he headed to the doctor's quarters. He passed the ship's cook, an immensely fat fellow known only as Swiggins, who on a stool in the corner next to the Rev. Huckstable Cuthmuck, a thin, pasty-faced man in a somber suit and wig. Both were incredibly drunk.
"Where…ye going, sonny?" Swiggins asked, lolling forward.
"I'm going to see the doctor, to see if he needs any help," Herbert explained. "Good day, sirs."
The Reverend Cuthmuck stood up and jabbed a finger in the air. "Go with God, and hurry! Lest the demons of the deep grab you and drag you down to Hell itself!" Cuthmuck slumped down on his stool and sighed. "Good heavens," he whispered. "I've soiled myself. Again."
"Good day, sirs," Herbert repeated, quickly turning away and heading down the hall. He soon reached the door of the ship's infirmary, where Von Woopenhausen did his work. Herbert looked at the oak door and gently tapped it. "Um, excuse me?" he asked. "I'm just here to see if you have any work I can do or—"
The door was slammed open and a tall, hawk-nosed man with spectacles and an askew wig, dressed in a bottle green suit stared down at Herbert. "Ah! At last someone has arrived to
listen to me! Quickly, dear child, come inside mein laboratory! Gott ein himmel, we have no time! You must tell the others about the massive life essence under the waters!"
Herbert stepped inside. Half of the infirmary was an ordinary ship's hospitable, with clean cots pressed together, medial supplies neatly arranged in a cabinet, and a pale of water with several bloody implements resting inside. The other half looked as if there had been an explosion in a library, with several desks crammed together and covered in papers that were covered in scribbled handwriting, odd apparatuses, the bones of animals, thick tomes, and several globes.
"What can I do to help, doctor?" Herbert asked, as Von Woopenhausen sat down at his desk and began pulling aside papers.
"Doctor?" Von Woopenhausen stared up at Herbert. "I am no doctor! I am Professor Ludwig von Woopenhausen, University of Vienna!"
"You're a professor?" Herbert asked. "My god, sir! That's amazing!"
"It is, isn't it?" Von Woopenhausen agreed, tossing papers behind him. "Or it would have been, if mein degree hadn't been destroyed because those short-sighted fools at the university refused to accept the elegant and brilliant precepts of alchemy! Now my old friend Captain Dice must take me in, showing charity to me, the greatest scientific mind of the age!"
"Alchemy?" Herbert asked, watching as Von Woopenhausen pulled out a large bottle of greenish liquid. The Professor set it on the table and then produced a velvet-lined case filled with small crimson pebbles. "You mean like, the transmutation of lead to gold?"
Von Woopenhausen stared at Herbert, his haste forgotten. "How did you know that, dear child?"
"Well, I read my father's library, back in England." Herbert shrugged and felt his face growing red.
"That is very good. And good boys receive ein cookie." Von Woopenhausen opened a large crate at his feet and pulled out a small brown lump that looked more like a moldy piece of wet bread than a cookie. "Alchemy can do so much more. Would you believe that I transmuted ordinary ship's rats into these delicious cookies?"
"I could not believe that, sir," Herbert said. He looked at the brown lump as it wiggled. "Sorry, sir, but I'm not hungry."
"Suit yourself." Von Woopenhausen tossed the rat into his mouth and burped, which sounded largely like a squeak. "Um, would you be so good as to remind me what I was talking about when you entered?"
"A life essence?" Herbert asked.
Professor Von Woopenhausen nodded. "Yes! Yes!" He took a handful of tiny pebbles and tossed it into the green liquid. They splashed into the water, sinking slowly. "Each of these stones, synthesized from purest arcana, can detect the existence of almost anything, reflecting it
for the viewer! The green substance is of my own device, a jelly-like creation of secreted ectoplasmic material that absorbs a tiny amount of essence from any nearby creature."
Herbert nodded. Suddenly, one of the pebbles grew, becoming larger and larger until it touched the sides of the jar. "What kind of creature does that pebble represent?" Herbert asked.
Professor Von Woopenahausen nodded. "Some creature of immense size, larger than any known before." His wig fell off, revealing his bald head. Von Woopenhausen bent down to retrieve it, talking as he stooped. "And I postulate that it was this creature, not a mere storm, which so destroyed the Spanish treasure fleet! If so, we must be wary, for the gargantuan beast may still be about!"
"Oh dear," Herbert said. "It will attack us!"
"Indeed." Von Woopenhausen grabbed the lad's shoulders. "You must go to the deck and warn Captain Dice—"
"Third Mate Estevez," Herbert corrected.
"Whatever. Warn them that there is a ferocious monster lurking just under the water!" Ludwig Von Woopenhausen gulped. Herbert realized he had placed his wig on backwards. "I would go myself, but for some reason, I know they would not believe me."
"You can count on me, professor." Herbert headed outside, dashing down the narrow hallways until he reached the top. He stepped out onto the deck, and noticed that everyone was standing still staring into the mist. Herbert spotted Escopeta Esteban and ran to his side.
"Mr. Estevez!" he shouted. "Mr. Estevez, the professor has discovered evidence of a ferocious monster lurking just under the water and—"
"Caramba!" Escopeta Estevez snarled at Herbert. "Can you not see we are busy? I'll hear the mad professor's ravings another day. Right now, we are looking at a ship in the mist."
Herbert stared off into the mist, and sure enough, a sloop was moving towards the Rogue's Pleasure. It came alongside, and the British Union Jack was visible on the mast. The pirates ran to battle positions, Ibrahim bin Ali calling out orders as the sloop pulled alongside.
The sloop's sailors were scurrying into battle stations as well, and a tall gentleman in a neat blue uniform, a commodore in a dark blue uniform and bicorne hat standing tall on the deck. His monocle glinted in the dim sunlight, and he lifted a speaking trumpet to his lips. "Officers and crew of the Rogue's Pleasure, hear me out! I am Commodore Archibald Cuttingham of the HMS Warrior. It is my objective to arrest the lot of you and send you to England for trial. Please surrender or I will be forced to sink you."
Esteban laughed. The sloop was outgunned and its crew outnumbered. Even Herbert could see the ridiculousness in the small sloop attacking a larger ship-of-the-line. Esteban Estevez ran to the deck and shouted down to the sloop. "Are you loco? We could send you to bottom easily! Tell you what, you sail away, and we will not board, rob, and sink you! Now that is a fair deal!"
"Ah, but you forget we are trained British sailors and you are a rabble of pirates!" Commodore Cuttingham called back. "So you see, it is really you who must surrender!"
Esteban sighed. He turned back to his crew, all awaiting his command. "Blast them to hell!" Esteban Estevez commanded, and then a deafening cacophony of cannon and musket shot drowned out all else. The barrage of cannonballs thundered down on the Warrior, sending royal sailors into the water, gouging holes into the decks, and scattering blood and splinters into the air.
The pirates poured down fire onto the sloop, some hurling down gunpowder bombs while other picked off sailors with muskets and rifles, climbing the wigging to get a better shot. The sloop returned fire as best its could, destroying one of the Rogue's Pleasure's cannons and reducing the gun crew to red chunks. The smell of smoke and powder filled the air, and a chorus of curses, cries, and the rattle of gunfire filled the pauses between booming cannon shots.
Ibrahim bin Ali ran from cannon to cannon, helping aim the big guns, shouting words of encouragement, and crying out to his Mohammedean god with every shot the Rogue's Pleasure took. Clyde Squelch ran to and fro as well, his wooden arm flapping at his side as he tried to repair damaged cannons and shore up the sides of the boat. Even Professor Van Woopenhausen appeared on the deck, dragging the wounded back to his quarters. Esteban Estevez stood on the deck, firing down at the Warrior with his escopeta and scoring a kill with each shot.
Herbert Welkins-Bulwer stood paralyzed on the deck, and it wasn't until a sailor with his guts leaking out landed dead at his feet that he sprang to action. He saw Von Woopenhausen and ran to the professor's side. He was dragging a wounded pirate, lacking half a leg, down to his infirmary.
"Professor! I tried to warn Mr. Estevez, but he wouldn't—"
"Ah, I was probably wrong anyway!" Von Woopenhausen shouted back over the cannon's roar. "Help me get this fellow down to the infirmary, and then rally some more men! We can save them yet!"
"Yes, sir!" Herbert grabbed the pirate's good leg and they carried him down to the infirmary. After dropping him down on a cot, Von Woopenhausen tossed him a bottle of rum and nodded to Herbert.
"Go and grab more! Get whatever lazy bones you can find to help you! And do not disturb me!" Von Woopenhausen grabbed a saw from the bucket, drying it on his jacket. "I will be busy."
Herbert dashed off, and soon spotted Swiggins and the Rev. Cuthmuck sitting in the hallway. "Excuse me," he said, as another shot rocked the ship. "Would you two gentleman care to help me carry the bodies of the wounded back and forth?"
Swiggins yawned. Rev. Cuthmuck raised a finger. "I would, young lad, but the sight of blood makes me faint, and I would rather prefer to hide down here than to—"
"But they're dying, sir!" Herbert cried, surprised at his own voice. "We must help!" He had never raised his voice before, as it would have been a violation of decorum that would earn him a sound thrashing from his parents. "We must help…"
"So we must," Cuthmuck agreed. He stood up. "Come, Swiggins. Souls need saving."
The three of them were at the deck, and were soon doing the grim job of ferrying the bodies back and forth. Their hands were red, and their clothes worse, but Herbert ignored the ghastly sights and worse sounds and smells, and even his own fatigue. He had to do his job, for he was a pirate, and there was no turning back.
Eventually, Herbert looked around the deck for any wounded to help but could not see one. The cannonfire had stopped, and Escopeta Estevez stood at the railing, looking down with spyglass. He stroked his thin beard as he nodded.
"Sir?" Herbert asked. "What's going on?"
Estevez pointed down to the Warrior. "I am in such a good mood, I will indulge you. We've shredded their sails, cleared their deck, and blasted off their guns." He smiled. "They are the floating dead." He looked back at his crew. "I would board them, but in the name of Our Lady of Begona, I don't want to risk my men on such a skirmish. Better to let them float away."
"Perhaps we should do the same, Mr. Estevez," Herbert suggested. "The giant water beast might—"
"The Professor is mad!" Esteban Estevez shook his head. "I should not have sent to him, boy. I was trying to be rid of you, when all you wanted to work hard." Estevez pointed out to the ocean. "But look for yourself and see! See that there are no monsters lurking in the depths!"
Just then, the water under the HMS Warrior began to churn.
Captain Sullivan Dice looked into the jungle as the trees parted and something massive slithered onto the beach. It was so long he could not see the end of it, and when its mouth opened to reveal lethally tipped fangs bigger than boarding pikes, it was like looking into an endless cavern. The beast had iridescent green and blue scales, yellow segemented eyes, and it let out a low hissing noise as it approached. Dice knew exactly what it was.
"A sea serpent, by thunder!" he whispered. He looked out at his crew and Rebuse's buccaneers, still frozen by surprise. "Take cover!" he shouted, and all raced to heed his command as the sea serpent struck.
Dice joined Moll Bennet and Gentleman Jackson as they pounded down the sandy beach, ducking into the forest of ruined ships as the great sea serpent followed. The serpent gobbled down a couple of pirates that were slow to escape, and then crashed into the wrecks. Dice and his two lieutenants scrambled into a crow's nest, looking down at the scene below. Some of the pirates ran back to the row boat, but they could not leave without their captain.
"Good heavens!" Gentleman Jackson cried. "That serpent is certainly a menace!" He looked to Dice. "What shall we do, Captain?"
"I'd advise running like hell to the rowboat," Moll said. "Then paddling away fast as we can!"
"But that leaves the buccaneers to the tender mercy of the sea serpent," Captain Dice muttered. "And I have no wish to do that!"
"Bah!" Moll cried. "Nothing more than a parcel of Frenchies!"
The serpent headed towards the crow's nest, rising its snakelike body to their level. Its jaw opened and closed with a sound like a gunshot. Dice stared into the cold segmented eyes and felt his blood chill. "I'd rather be a Frenchie than where I am right now," he muttered.
The sea serpent lunged forward, but then a spinning machete slammed into its forehead. The great serpent reared up, and then sent it body crashing down scattering the ruins of ships, sand, treasure, and men alike. Rebuse the Slaughterer stood on a ruined forecastle, waving his hat.
"Mon Capitan!" Piere Rebuse called. "The big beast is not without weakness!" Behind him, the serpent reared up. Rebuse turned around. "Then again, neither are we."
"Hold on, Rebuse!" Captain Dice drew out both of his volley guns. "I'll make this serpent sorry he ever crawled out of the briny depths!" He leapt off of the crow's nest and landed atop the sea snake, his boots touching the scales of the great reptile. Dice fired down with both of his pistols, each barrel sending streams of blackish blood from the snake's back. The serpent twisted around and lunged for him, but Dice leapt off its back and landed on the sand.
Rebuse helped him up as the buccaneers and pirates both emptied their pistols and muskets at the serpent. Gentleman Jacoby and Moll Bennet stood side by side, his pistols and her musketoon firing in tandem.
"I thank ye for my hide, Slaughterer," Dice said, coming to his feet. "And I would stay here myself with the beast, to give you room in my rowboat."
Rebuse nodded. "No need! The rowboats here in the ruins would be enough for me and my brethren." He pointed to a small watercraft that lay upside down on one of the tilted decks. "It should be seaworthy, though it would take some time to prepare it. And there is the matter of the serpent."
"Aye, I'll deal with that." Captain Dice walked forward, holstering his pistols and holding his cutlass eye. "Men! Bullets are too small to prick its hide! Draw out your bombs and blow that overgrown worm to smithereens!"
Moll Bennet pulled a cherry-sized bomb from her vest, and lit it with the fuse of the musketoon. The other crewmen of Captain Dice did the same, and then they hurled the explosives onto the coils of the sea serpent. Whole segments of its scales were blasted off, and the snake hissed and snarled in pain.
"Now, Rebuse!" Dice cried, directing the bombs with his sword. "We brought not enough fuses and powder bombs to keep this beast busy all day!"
"Come, brothers!" Pierre Rebuse shouted. "Or we shall never see the green coasts of Hispaniola again!" They ran towards the row boat, clambering up the sides of the wreck as nimble as the monkeys with which they shared their forest. Several burly buccaneers grabbed the rowboat and began to haul it to the shoreline. The sea serpent seemed to realize its meal was slipping away, and slithered after them, reducing the great ruined hulks to splinters as it passed through. The last of the crew's bombs exploded around the snake as it pursued its quarry.
"I'll hold the slimy beastie off!" Captain Dice shouted, drawing his cutlass. "The rest of ye, get into the boat and start rowing!" He ran to the side of the snake, his cutlass flashing as he stabbed it between the scales. The serpent twisted around, forgetting the two rowboats and focusing only on Captain Dice.
Dice pulled his blade free and plunged it in again. Behind him, his men made it to the boat, and began to push it out into the waves. Rebuse's buccaneers were doing the same. Dice looked back at them and then up at the serpent. "'Tis a fine death," he told himself as the serpent's fangs drew closer.
"Too good for an old bastard like you!" Moll Bennet ran to Dice's side, her musketoon reloaded with double shot. She sprayed lead into the soft underbelly of the serpent, and it reared up and snarled. "Jackson! Now, damn your foppish eyes!"
Gentleman Jacoby stood on the top of a ruined deck, carefully aiming one of his ivory-handled dueling pistols over his arm. He fired, and the serpent screeched in terror as one of its eyes exploded in a blast of green goo. "And they were such a pretty color," Jackson muttered, holstering his pistol and running for the rowboat.
Moll Bennet and Sullivan Dice met him at the shoreline. They waded into the water, were helped into the awaiting rowboat, and then grabbed oars and helped paddle away along with the Frenchman. Dice looked back at the beach and saw the serpent sliding in after them.
"It's a tough beastie to slay, by thunder," he said. Dice looked to his lieutenants. "What methods do ye suggest, me hearties?"
"Cannon. And lots of it." Jackson sniffed. "A couple broadsides should do it."
"What he said," Moll Bennet agreed.
"Excellent suggestion." Captain Dice turned to the buccaneers, paddling alongside them. "Oi! Rebuse! Ye are welcome aboard the Rogue's Pleasure as long as ye care to stay. And I will drop ye and your gallant brethren, wherever they would so like."
"You are most generous, capitan!" Rebuse the Slaughterer waved his broad brimmed cap. "I accept your offer. But first we must make it back to your ship, or else we will sleep inside le serpent's belly for all time!"
The sea serpent slithered into the waves, moving purposely through the water. Its serpentine body became little more than an undulation of the water, a dark shape beneath the
darker waves, as it soundlessly moved towards the pair of rowboats. Dice turned around and stared at the approaching sea serpent.
"Damnation!" Dice shouted. "And the Rogue's Pleasure still a ways yonder!" He looked at his men and then the buccaneers. "Right, lads. Act swiftly now. Half of ye stand and fire, ye other half row. We'll hold the worm at bay!"
The pirates followed his command, around ten sailors standing from their post and firing their flintlocks into the water. The buccaneers did the same, and the waters rippled around the serpent as bullets found their mark. The second barrage was then fired and the serpent broke the water in a furious attempt to lunge at its attackers.
The great serpent's head splashed out of the water, and it hissed louder than all the gunshots aimed at it, and then plunged into the water again. The wave caused by it dive struck the two rowboats, propelling them forward through the fog-topped waters.
"A stroke of luck, by thunder!" Dice pointed with his cutlass, as the Rogue's Pleasure's silhouette appeared in the fog. "We'll be safe aboard soon enough!"
"Perhaps our troubles are not yet over, my good captain." Gentleman Jacoby pointed to another ship, sailing close to the Rogue's Pleasure and listing heavily. "A Royal Nay sloop, if I'm not mistaken. And I assure you, I am not."
"But she's listing heavily, fit to be sunk!" Moll Bennet laughed. "Those knuckleheaded navy boys picked themselves a fight they couldn't win!" She pointed to sloop, and to the smoking cannons in the gun ports of the Rogue's Pleasure. "I say we sail between them, right under the guns of our own vessel."
"Ye heard her, boys, paddle hard!" Dice cried. His rowboat began splashing towards the hull of the Rogue's Pleasure, the buccaneers close behind. The sailors aboard the corsair ship noticed their captain, and waved to him as they readied the lines and ropes to haul him up. Dice spotted Esteban Estevez, leaning down from the railing.
"Third Mate! What occurred here?" Dice called.
Esteban shrugged. "A pack of stupid bluecoats challenged us, captain. We sent a good many to hell, and now they can't fight back! I was thinking of boarding, but I did not want to risk our men on such a small prize!"
Dice nodded. "Good thinking, Estevez!" He patted the treasure chest, sitting safely in the center of the rowboat. "We have gold aplenty from our scrounging! We have new friends too, but ye must hurry and get us aboard! There is little time to waste!"
The captain of the royal sloop, a commodore by his hat and uniform, appeared on the deck. He waved his sword as he barked orders from his speaking trumpet. "Now see here! I am Commodore Archibald Cuttingham of the HMS Warrior and I demand you heed my commands! Present yourself as prisoners! Toss down your weapons!"
"Hope into a shark's belly!" Moll Bennet shouted at Cuttingham, laughing loudly.
"This will not be countenanced!" Cuttingham cried, just as Dice's rowboat began to be raised upwards. "I'm warning you, you don't know what I can do!" The waters under the Warrior began to churn. The waves splashed against the sides of the ship, but something had rooted it in place. Captain Dice stared at the waterline and reached for his spyglass.
"What's happening?" Dice asked. "Has the serpent picked a new plaything? And grown in size?"
Then the water around the HMS Warrior erupted in white froth. Green tentacles shot skyward, wrapping their way around the sloop and squeezing tightly. It tentacle towered into the sky, bearing suckers like dinner plates. The wood strained and cracked in their terrible grip, and then the owner of the tentacles came bubbling to the surface.
It was an octopus of enormous size, with countless tentacles of varying shapes and lengths that held the sloop into the air. A snapping beak emerged from the folds of skin, snapping hungrily as the tentacles smashed the Warrior to splinters. Screaming men, sails and rigging, and the wood itself fell into the octopus's maw. After it had seemed to get is fill, the great monstrosity turned its baleful squinting eyes upon the Rogue's Pleasure.
"Damnation," Dice whispered as the sea surged under the elevated rowboat. The bulk was visible underneath the water, its tentacles already touching the hull of the pirate vessel. "I have heard tale of those beasts, and I fear I may not live to tell one myself. It has but one named, feared worse than the devil himself by all mariners." Captain Dice gulped. "Lusca."
"I won't let this lusca get me without a fight!" Moll shouted, drawing her long fascine knife. "I'll hack off its arms one by one!"
"No." Dice looked up to Escopeta Estevez. "Cut the lines! Send us down!"
"Captain?" Esteban asked. "Have you gone mad?"
"It's your only chance, damn ye!" Sullivan Dice shouted. "Cut the lines. Swing wide, away from the beast, and fetch the professor!"
Esteban shook his head. "But you'll be alone with that lusca and—"
"No," Dice said. "Not alone."
Herbert Welkins-Bulwer looked down at the frothing sea, hearing his heart beat as the ropes holding Captain Dice's rowboat in place were cut. The rowboat splashed down in the water, joining the second rowboat of buccaneers, and the lusca. Herbert looked up to Esteban, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Mr. Estevez, you can't just leave him to the mercies of that sea-going demon?"
Escopeta Estevez turned away. "You heard the captain! Raise the sails! Swing wide!" Estevez turned to Hebert. "And you, boy, fetch the professor!"
"Yes, sir!" Herbert ran across the deck, stepping over the body of a dead sailor and ducking below decks. The Rogue's Pleasure swung away from the lusca, nearly knocking Herbert over. A strong pair of hands grabbed him, holding him upright.
"Where ye headed?" Swiggins asked.
"The Professor!" Herbert cried. "I have to find him! We're be attacked by a giant octopus."
"Ah." The Rev. Cuthmuck cleared his throat. "Leviathan from the biblical sources," he began to say, but Herbert had already dashed by. The boy ran into the infirmary, where Professor Von Woopenhausen was hard at work healing the wounded. He stood up and looked at Herbert, wiping his hands on his bloody apron.
"Ah! What can I do for you, mein dear child?" he asked.
"A leviathan, or a lusca, or a giant octopus is attacking the ship!" Herbert cried. "Captain Dice said you could stop it."
"I could." Von Woopenhausen looked back at his desk. "Yes, it would be a simple manner of taking anti-life essence and delivering it deep into the animal's body. That would do it." Ludwig ran to his desk, and he swiftly began mixing bottles and beakers of various liquids, steam boiling over and filling the room. "Get back to the deck, Herbert! Tell them, I must have time to work!"
"Yes, sir, professor." Herbert ran back, not even looking at Swiggins and Cuthmuck as he pounded onto the deck. He found the crew looking down at the sea, many of the veteran pirates gazing in amazement at what they saw. Herbert ran next to Escopeta Estevez and looked down.
Ibrahim bin Ali stared down and expressed the feelings of the crew best. "In Allah's name!" bin Ali whispered. "Two sea monsters!"
Sure enough, a sea serpent had emerged from the water, and was hissing out a challenge to the lusca. Captain Dice and the buccaneers floated like toys in a tub between the two giants, paddling furiously to stay away. The lusca turned to face the sea serpent, it tentacles flashing out and lunging for the large snake. The serpent tore away, biting deeply into one of the tentacles. A massive tentacle was torn off, and it crashed into the water and spewed greenish goop as it sunk from sight.
"Will they kill each other?" Herbert asked Estevez. "And then the captain will be safe?"
Esteban shrugged. "Hopefully. The slimy snake seems to have the upper hand."
The serpent lashed out at the lusca's main body, biting deeply into its body. The lusca soundlessly expressed its pain by the writhing of its tentacles, and then crashed its tentacles against the serpent's mouth, shattering one of its fangs. The long pointed tooth flew through the air and landed on the deck of the Rogue's Pleasure, sticking deeply in the wood.
Swiggins appeared on the deck, holding out his hat. "Bets? Wagers? Anyone?" But few of the sailors paid him much attention.
The sea serpent had slithered away from the lusca, just out of reach of its grabbed tentacles. The lusca lunged after it, and one of the sucker-laden arms wrapped around the sea serpent and dragged it back. The serpent seemed to realize its end was near, as it wiggled and hissed in an attempt to break free. The lusca wrapped more and more of its tentacles around the sea serpent, and lifted the snake clear out of the water and high into the air.
Its tentacles twisted downwards, and the sea serpent was torn in two. The lusca hurled the pieces of the snake away, where they splashed and sank in the water, and then turned back to the Rogue's Pleasure. One of its tentacles reached out, striking the hull with the force of a cannon ball. Ripples shot off from the blow, and Captain Dice's rowboat was turned over in the churning sea.
"Caramba!" Estevez shouted. "Give the monster a broadside! Drive it away from the captain!"
Under the command of Bin Ali, the cannons of the Rogue's Pleasure thundered away, many shots crashing into the body of the lusca. They tore gashes in its large body, but the lusca continued to strike out at the ship and the floating sailors with its tentacles. Several poor men were sucked into its open mouth, and their screams ended as the beak slammed shut. The tentacles slammed down on the Rogue's Pleasure, tearing through the sails and the rigging.
Escopeta Estevez drew his namesake and fired at a tentacle that had wrapped around the mast. The pirates ran towards the tentacles, hacking away at it with cutlasses, boarding axes, and pikes. But though their slashes drew gallons of greenish blood, the tentacle refused to budge.
Herbert paid little attention to the state of the ship, instead looking down at the red coat of Captain Dice, splashing in the water. "No going back," he whispered, remembering the carnage he had seen earlier during the battle with the Warrior. Still, the captain was his only true friend aboard the ship, a single familiar face. "Oh God," Herbert whispered to himself, looking down into the churning water. "Don't let this be the way a pirate dies."
Professor Von Woopenhausen emerged on the deck, holding a jar sloshing with steam red liquid. "Delivery system!" he shouted. "I need ein delivery system to send this alchemical concoction deep into the animal's spongy hide!"
"Would this work?" Herbert asked, pointing to a cabin.
"Ja, that would do it." Von Woopenhausen set to work, Herbert, Escopeta Estevez, and Ibrahim bin Ali helping prepare the cannon. They primed the firing tube, doused a ball in the red liquid and loaded it. Estevez used the flintlock of escopeta to light the fuse, and then Ibrahim aimed it at the lusca. For a few seconds, there was tense silence as the entire crew watched the fuse tick down. Then the cannon fired, sending its shot straight into the chest of the lusca.
The giant octopus ignored the shot, like it had so many others. It began to twist the mast of the Rogue's Pleasure, trying to cripple the ship. Von Woopenhausen tossed his hat to the ground and stepped on it. "Nien!" he shouted. "I knew I should have skimped on the rat's blood!"
"Look professor!" Herbert pointed to the lusca. "It's shaking!"
Sure enough, the Lusca began to wiggle back and forth, its tentacles releasing the Rogue's Pleasure as its dark green skin reddened and steam. One of its tentacles burst into flames, falling off and landing in the water. The lusca dived under the water, and then a great cloud of steam flew into the air, followed by a huge quantity of water, and finally, the green guts of the beast.
Lines were let down to help Captain Dice and the other survivors aboard. The lusca was defeated, and the crew of the Rogue's Pleasure, Hebert Welkins-Bulwer among them, tossed their hats in the air in their joy.
Captain Sullivan Dice stood on the deck of the Rogue's Pleasure as it sailed away, not wishing to linger in those occupied waters. The treasure brought from the wrecks had been lost when the rowboat was capsized, but Dice somehow didn't mind. There would be other troves of lucre, and seeing the two titans of the deep battle was reward enough.
"Set a course for Hispanola," Dice commanded Gentleman Jacoby. The captain looked to Rebuse the Slaughterer. "There's a good wind a-blowing, and I don't want to waste it."
"Can I ask you to come with us, mon capitan?" Rebuse asked. "I blame myself for your loss of the treasure, and there are many Spanish farms and ports to be raided by the keen blades of the buccaneers."
"I thank ye, but no." Dice spotted Herbert Welkins-Bulwer, standing near the prow. "My place is at sea." He walked over to young Herbert and stood by the boy's side. "So," he said. "Your first taste of battle, lad, and of the oddness that fills the azure waters. What did ye think?"
"It was horrid, and frightful, and wretched and…" Herbert paused and looked at the captain. "It was grand, sir. Nothing in all the books of the world can compare to the danger and the fear and the utter joy of it."
"That, my lad, is piracy." Captain Dice doffed his hat and spread his arms letting the wind blow his tangled beard. "And as long as there is breath in this old salt's body, that is what piracy shall be!" He laughed long and hard, as the Rogue's Pleasure sailed ahead to its next adventure.