THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS
Through the haze of sea mist The Drowned God revealed itself.
First, tentacles as thick as giant stone pillars thrust from the turbulent waters and lashed at the sky. Next emerged the monstrously rotund head, its skin covered in a thick layer of armor encrusted with barnacles from the deep. Finally its visage emerged from the watery depths, the yellowed, bulging eyes and maw the size of a cavern filled with row upon row of razor sharp teeth the size of a full grown man. The freshly drowned corpses of sailors floated in the wake of the creature towards its gaping mouth and Ophelia Barbosa watched in grim silence as her fallen comrades were swept into the vast hole and ground into red mush against the mill stone like teeth.
The beast roared with the primal fury of the sea. It's head alone was bigger than Ophelia's ship, and as its writhing mass broke the surface of the water it was like watching the sea birth fourth a new island, impossibly vast and headed straight for them.
The waters crashed around the creature like waves against a cliff. The turbulence lifted The Chambered Nautilus and sent it hurtling back down as if it were a play toy. Despite being an impressively sized brig, her ship was of no match against the great beast. Several other ships in her fleet were smashed into splinters by the flailing tentacles and the Queen Anne's Revenge was in retreat. The were on their own now.
"Hold this course!" Ophelia shouted to her panicked crewmen. She looked toward the horizon, the setting sun splattering crimson against the darkening sky. "Full speed ahead, straight at the bastard!"
They would collide with the beast within minutes. They would all most likely die, either crushed, devoured, or drowned. Nevertheless the brave sailors adjusted their sails and kept them on course while the cowards of her crew jumped overboard or prayed to the unforgiven sky.
Captain Ophelia Barbosa of The Chambered Nautilus didn't cower of pray however. She simply stood at the stern of her ship, her eyes locked on the demon that had haunted her dreams for the past twelve years.
On a sea of stirring, blackened death, they set course straight for the mouth of Hell.
Twelve years ago...
The fishermen carried her as if she were nothing more than a sack of fish. She was a young girl, no older than twelve of mixed race, her deep olive skin burned to a crisp by the merciless sun and sand like hair a tangled thicket from the salt water. They tried to be gentle with her but every touch was a tidal wave of pain, her skin peeling away in darkened strips.
Ophelia was the daughter of one of the most feared privateers to ever sail the Caribbean so she couldn't, she wouldn't scream. Her throat was so dry all she could muster was a pathetic dry hiss anyway. And then through her haze of unimaginable sun scorched pain she remembered how she came to be here.
They had to be warned.
Ophelia clawed at her rescuers shirt and tried to speak but her words only came out as a hoarse croak.
"Look at 'er teeth, poor thing has the scurvy! Probably best to just put her down now."
"You shut your mouth! I know this girl, she's got salt water pumping through her veins just like her father. She's a survivor!"
They entered into a cool hut away from the angry sun and laid Ophelia on a mat. "Raoul, help us! We found her washed ashore, she's barely holding on!"
Someone knelt next to the mat. Soft hands examined her sun burnt face and tilted her head back, her storm orb like eyes glazed and unfocused.
"Was it a ship wreck?" Raoul asked.
"Aye. She was clinging to a piece of broken mast when we found her."
"She must have been in the water for days. Fetch my medicine pouch and put some water on for boiling, these wounds need to be cleaned."
The doctor lifted her head slightly off the mat and placed a flagon to her cracked lips. He tipped the spout slowly into her mouth but she was unable to keep the juice down.
"There there child, you're going to be ok."
No I'm not. The sea beast will come for me, it will come for all of us.
The face above Ophelia drifted in shadows. The memories of that terrible day flooded her mind and threatened to drown her in her own despair. While she was still too young to travel upon her fathers ship during his missions she had snuck aboard and hid amongst the cargo. By the time she was discovered they were already too far from the coast to turn back. Cervantes Barbosa had always been a strict man, but Ophelia could sense he secretly enjoyed having his daughter around. Despite being a girl she wanted to grow up to be just like her father, to sail the Seven Seas and keep their waters free from the menace of pirates.
Once found, Cervantes did not scold his daughter too harshly. Ophelia even suspected that he had admired her daring. It was one of the happiest days of young Ophelia's life, the salt on her skin, the sea breeze blowing through her hair, and as she leaned out over the water against the ships figure head she sang, high and sweet, like some angelic Siren from mythology. The day soon turned into a nightmare as the sea turned a bile black and nearly swallowed them whole.
Ophelia teetered on the edge of sun drenched pain and unconsciousness. Her skin was so soft by the days spent soaking in salt water that the rough burlap of the mat cut through her flesh, spilling blood everywhere.
"My poor child, what happened to you?"
The sea itself had come for them. It's only mistake was leaving her alive.
Ten years ago...
Though the wounds of her body had healed Ophelia could never heal her scarred heart. With both her parents now dead and her fathers ship destroyed she had no one to turn to, no home to call her own, and soon she found herself living on the streets of Havana. She was at a crossroads, where her only options were using her body in brothels or once again proving her worth out on the open sea. Luckily she was given such an opportunity when an English privateer named Edward Thatch docked in Havana in search of fresh recruits for his expeditions. Thatch was a surly, physically imposing man in dire need of a shave and while he had known of the legendary exploits of Cervantes Barbosa he was not any more inclined to give her special treatment and even less to hear her tale.
"You waste my time with this foolishness!" Thatch snapped at her. "I should cut out your tongue for your impudence girl!"
Ophelia kept her eyes downcast but she could feel the judgmental eyes of the other recruits upon her.
"This sea beast is a lie. You're the only witness, a child who drank too much salt water and fried her brain in the damn sun. Your father died in a storm like a fool, there was no demon, only his own carelessness. He was probably drunk and sailed his ship up some rocks, and he was supposed to be the best privateer in the Caribbean? Ha! A fool and drunkard was all he was!"
Ophelia's cheeks burned like hot coals, the shame was unbearable. Her father had been the bravest man to ever sail these waters but now the truth of what happened to him was as unobtainable as the furthest reaches of the oceans.
"Look at you," Thatch continued. "Your breast only begin to blossom from mosquito bites and your hips are now wide enough for thrusting, you should be in the brothels like your mother but yet you dare come before me with your fairy tales. What do you have to say for yourself?"
When Ophelia spoke her voice was small, meek. "If we wait for it to come to us we're all doomed. We must hunt the beast while we can."
Thatch laughed. "Now you're gonna tell me how to run my own fucking fleet? So answer me this: how are we supposed to kill a myth with bullets and swords?"
"It's not a myth sir! I saw it clearly, it had a body bigger than any whale and hundreds of tentacles beneath it, a hideous creature of flesh and bone!"
"And yet no one else has seen this sea beast..."
"There have been other sightings," Ophelia said softly. "There was the schooner near Nassau-"
"Peasants! Their word means nothing! They were probably just as drunk as your father!"
Another recruit stepped forward. He was a very dark skinned boy a couple of years older than Ophelia. He lowered his head as he addressed Thatch.
"Please forgive me captain, but I too have seen the sea beast. Some years ago I was sailing with my father when we were nearly cast under by many tentacles bigger than any squid I have ever seen." The other recruits buzzed like flies.
"Silence!" The whispering stopped. "You get back in line boy, not another word. And you," Thatch turned his attention back to Ophelia. "If you're gonna work on my ship I don't want any talk of this sea beast ever again. Your father, despite being a drunken scoundrel, was highly regarded in these parts and that's the only reason I'm being so forgiving of you but know this, one more word of this nonsense and it's to the whore house you go!"
Eight years ago...
Day in and day out, Ophelia trained her body and mind under the dutiful eye of Edward Thatch. She proved to be as proficient with a cutlass blade as she was a flintlock pistol, but it was upon the open waters that she felt most useful and it was not a day that went by that she didn't immerse herself with boatswains, carpenters, and riggers in an attempt to learn all she possibly could about sailing.
"Ophelia Barbosa, you have proven to be most capable in your training. You swing a sword better than half the lads here and your navigation skills are quite impressive. Unfortunately if rumors are to be believed you spend your nights getting more drunk than the fishes and you sleep with every able bodied man in Havana! What do you have to say to these rumors?"
The other recruits snickered. Ophelia kept her head down lest Thatch see the sly smirk upon her lips. "I say let them talk, words are as fleeting as the ocean winds."
Thatch scoffed. "You are your parents child so I would not be surprised one bit if you are trying to live up to their reputation of a drunken whore. Still if I catch a whiff of alcohol upon your breath or see you in the company of a man we'll use your high yellowed arse for target practice!"
Thatch continued down the line of recruits. "Listen up you worthless sluggards! Today we're gonna work on your aiming, ready your blunderbusses!" The other recruits had already brandished their firearms and stood at the edge of the shore at the shooting range. "Each of you shall fire 200 shots today. First your arms will ache, then your hands will bleed, and finally your fingers will burn so bad you're gonna want to stick the barrel in your own mouth, but you will not stop until I tell you to stop. Ready! Load 'em up!"
Ophelia loaded her blunderbuss with gun powder and lead shot and aimed down the iron sight. The targets were made into strawmen and seemed very far away.
The shore erupted with an explosion of gunfire, leaving the strawmen smoldering with ragged holes though no direct hits.
"Again!" Thatch cried. "Barbosa, why don't you pretend its your little sea beast?"
Some of the recruits laughed, but as Ophelia reloaded her weapon she imagined, just for a moment, and they were on a sea of churning bile blackness. She took aim and fired.
The center of the target blew out in a cloud of straw.
Thatch raised an eyebrow. "For a drunken whore and liar your aim is true. Again!"
The second shot hit within a few inches just below the first.
"Hmmm..." Thatch stroked his beard. "Maybe the rest of you should partake in drinking before practice. Again!"
Ophelia didn't hear him. She was already reloading, a screaming child upon a sea of death.
The fourth shot smashed right between the strawman's eyes.
Four years ago...
"Fuck me papi! Aye Dios mio yes, YES, YESSS!" The sound of smacking thighs echoed through the storehouse as Ophelia was bent over a barrel of sugar by her lover. He thrust vigorously into her, their motions a whirl of ecstasy that was almost too much much to bear.
"Just like that! Harder, harder, Oh God!" With a feeble croak he keeled over her like a dead man.
"You slovenly, half perished land lubber, what was that!?" It took everything in Ophelia's power not to slug the poor bastard. "Go back to your mama you wee blowfish, you can't handle a real woman!"
The lad gathered his clothes and sulked indignantly out of the storehouse. Ophelia slumped against the barrel with her jug of rum and chugged down a mouthful of the swill. She sniffed at her panties to see if they were fresh, wrinkled her nose in disgust and cast them aside.
It wouldn't hurt to be a little free. She thought merrily.
She was lacing up her corset when the door to the storehouse opened. A rugged dark skinned man entered, his features barely a shadow in the gathering darkness. When he saw Ophelia his face broke into a toothy grin.
"My my, how the mighty have fallen." the stranger said.
"Who the fuck are you?" Ophelia asked as she scratched at the jungle between her thighs.
"The real question is, who are you, Ophelia Barbosa?"
Ophelia palmed her hidden blade. "Never heard of her, I'm just a whore out of Ambergis Key." she lied.
"No my dear, I can never forget a face as beautiful as yours. Even after all these years the sea couldn't poison you enough to wash that away. They say you were once the crown jewel of Havana's privateer fleet. They say you killed dozens of pirates upon the Caribbean."
"Words are as fleeting as the ocean winds..." she said softly. She had no idea how many men she killed, she had long since lost count.
"Yet here you are, reduced to a life of prostitution and drinking. It's rather tragic really, you tell someone that she's a liar without honor her whole life and eventually even she'll start to believe it."
"You watch your tongue bastard!" Ophelia warned. The man did seem to be somewhat familiar, like a face half remembered from the dredge of her memory. "Who are you?"
"I don't believe we've ever been formally introduced. My name is Adewale, I was a recruit with Thatch's company and I, just like yourself, saw the beast that haunts these waters."
Slowly, all of the tension drained from her hand. She stared at the man, Adewale, wide eyed. "Yes, I remember you now! You were the only one to back up my story! Whatever happened to you?"
"Once my training ended I became a diplomat, amongst other things, to the Royal Fleet. I was of little use with a sword but being one of the few Africans who could read and write has its advantages. I traveled abroad, to the Americas, Asia, Europe, collecting as many stories as I could." Adewale removed a parchment from his shirt pocket and gave it to Ophelia. "This is one such story about a great leviathan from the deep that has terrorized the Seven Seas for many years."
The parchment trembled in her hands. Inscribed beneath the foreign writings was a crude drawing, a drawing of a creature with tentacles, scaly armor, and bulbous eyes.
"It can't be..."
Memories of that dreadful day churned in Ophelia's mind. She had been so content to put the past behind her and wallow in her despair, but now she felt something stir inside of her, a slow seething hatred from the depths of her own heart.
"Where did you find this?" she asked.
"It was given to me by a merchant in Santanillas. The writing tells of the creatures lair deep in the jungles of Misteriosa. I can take you there if you are interested."
Ophelia handed the parchment back to him. "It's no use, I don't have a ship, no crew, you heard what Thatch said, I'm just a drunken whore!"
"Words are as fleeting as the ocean winds." Adewale said. "Look around Havana, there are plenty of ships for the taking, and what of the disenfranchised sailors and privateers? They need someone to guide them, who better than the daughter of the legendary Cervantes Barbosa?"
"They all probably think I'm mad, raving about sea beast."
"Quite the opposite. There are many whispers of your name across the taverns, they speak of your cunning and ruthlessness. You can unite these men under one flag, give them something to believe in!"
Ophelia stared around the cramped storehouse and truly saw what her life had become. There was no honor here, no glory, only four walls and self pity. If words truly are as fleeting as the ocean winds then it her deed that will always be remembered. She poured the rest of the rum out and tossed the jug aside. "If we do this we'll be outlaws, pirates."
"I have seen great heroics and horrific savagery from both sides, as I'm sure you have as well." Adewale said. "The one thing that sets privateers and pirates apart is that at least pirates fight for what they believe in. They are free, just like you. You may have the blood of a privateer, but make no mistake about it: you are a pirate at heart."
Ophelia rose to her feet. "If I'm to be a captain then I'll need a worthy quartermaster."
Adewale smiled. "I always wanted to be a pirate."
Six months ago...
"Farewell and adieu onto you Spanish ladies / farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain / for it's we've received orders to sail back home / but we hope very soon to see you again / now let every man toss off a full bumper and let every man drink off a full glass / and we'll drink and be merry and drown melancholy, singing here's a good health to each true hearted lass!"
The voices of the crew of The Chambered Nautilus rose high and true along the trade winds as they carved a bloody wake through the Caribbean Sea, and at the ships helm, dressed in her finest merchants garb, was Ophelia Barbosa.
As she watched her men carouse to and fro across the deck she was still taken aback by their loyalty. In fact she really didn't understand it at all. She had no real rank and there was no honor in following an outlaw, yet they obeyed her commands and trusted her with their lives. She suspected that half of them viewed her as a daughter while the other half wanted her for her cunt, but in the end they all respected her and that was the only thing that mattered.
After Havana they had been set upon by two Royal Navy brigs in open water, bu the sorry sea dogs were no match for The Chambered Nautilus's broadside cannons. After a brief skirmish they managed to sink one of the brigs and damaged the other so severely they were able to board and plunder its cargo. The overwhelmed sailors were given two options: surrender of be sent straight to Davy Jones's Locker. Now as she sailed away with the spoils of war and captives deep within the bowels of her ship, Ophelia felt as if she was at another crossroads. With enough loot, they could build a hideaway within the cove system at Great Inagua, they could live out their lives with nothing but sun and rum to ease their days. But the sea beast would still lurk these waters and her dreams, like some submerged and colossal phantom. She had to kill the beast, for herself and her father.
Besides, she was starting to get used to the pirate life.
They docked at Misteriosa and cut their way to the jungle temple. The land was oppressively hot and moist. It made their equipment rust and clothing soaked with sweat but they trudged on. They eventually came to the great stone temple dedicated to the Drowned God and entered into a massive circular chamber lit by flickering torches and covered in ancient murals. In the center of the chamber was a statue of the sea beast, the Drowned God, surrounded by scores of skeletons, no doubt human sacrifices.
"Damned savages," Ophelia snarled.
Adewale examined the murals with unabashed excitement. "Incredible, these writings predate even the Aztec arrival to this land!"
"Is there anything that'll help us kill it?"
Adewale traced his fingers along the carvings. Only he could decipher the gibberish.
"Hmm, it says that long ago a bone was cut from the Drowned God and fashioned into a weapon, a great spear." Adewale pressed a panel in the wall and there was a sudden grinding.
Ophelia drew her cutlass.
Rusty chains rattled in unseen crevices and the stone wall before them split open.
They entered into a larger chamber. A decorative alter dominated one side of the room and behind its pulpit was a bronze skinned priest adorned in a leopards pelt and ceremonial mask. He began roaring ferociously in his native tongue as they approached.
"He knows we are after the spear," Adewale whispered. "He says we will drown like the rest!"
Ophelia brandished her blunderbuss. "I'll like to see them try!"
From the shadows, savage cultist charged at Ophelia and her men with crude weapons. She took aim and fired at the closest, sending him crashing to the floor in an explosion of sound and smoke. Two more cultist followed, screaming, blades held high -
-No time to reload!
She blocked the incoming strike with her blunderbuss and in one deft motion unsheathed her cutlass and gutted her attacker. Another shot rang over her shoulder, catching the other savage between the eyes. She whipped around to find Adewale with his flintlock in hand, its barrel smoking. The rest of her crew was hacking the last of the cultist to bits. There would be no mercy for these devil worshiping fiends.
The pirates cornered the priest behind his alter. Nestled on the pulpit was a large, beautifully crafted spear, its pointed tip mortally sharp. The priest screamed and gesticulated wildly as Ophelia lifted the spear, felt the heavy bone on her grasp.
This foreign magic, this fossil, is the only thing that can help me kill the beast now.
"He says that we are too late." Adewale informed her. "The Drowned God is already on his way to our homes!"
The priest laughed, an eerie, hollow rasp. Ophelia lunged forward and stabbed him through the heart, silencing his mirth forever. The pirates gathered around her, uncertain of the priest last words. For a moment the only sound was the slow drip of blood dripping from the tip of the spear.
"Come now," said Ophelia. "It's time we left this vile place."
Ten days ago...
The crew of The Chambered Nautilus could see the thick, billowing smoke over the horizon long before they could see the Havana coast. Bloated corpses and all manner of debris floated from what had been Ophelia's home for most of her young life, They silently sailed past the growing destruction.
Havana had once been a beautiful city. Now it was nothing but a ruin. Buildings were leveled and uncontrollable fires consumed everything in its path. The once lavish Governor's mansion that overlooked the city had been smashed to pieces against the hilly countryside. Survivors pulled both the dead and dying from the rubble.
Ophelia and Adewale watched from the rail of the ship.
"It seems they have no choice but to believe you now," he said.
"Aye...I think so."
The docks were destroyed. The mast of sunken ships littered the bay and one warship had even been picked up and hurled inland as if it were a toy. There were other warships still afloat but they no doubt had arrived after the attack. One ship in particular caught Ophelia's eye. It was a massive frigate flying the flag of a skeleton and heart.
"Thatch." Ophelia hissed.
She hailed the crew of Thatch's Queen Anne's Revenge and was signaled to come ashore. Adewale and Ophelia used a rowboat to reach the shore, all the while under the watchful eyes of the privateers. After all they were still pirates.
As soon as they touched land they were surrounded by armed privateers. Their leader stepped forward, a lumbering, shaggy bearded man whose face betrayed no sign of surprise when he saw Ophelia.
"My my, look what the sea washed ashore," Thatch said. "You dreaded pirate bitch, I'll have your head!"
"Can it ye' flea ridden swine! All those years ago when that damned beast took everything from me I came to you for help, I told the truth! And what did I get in return? You mocked me and dishonored my father. You called me a liar and whore. You said the beast was nothing but a myth." Ophelia swept her hand across the carnage. "Does this look like a fucking myth to you!?"
Thatch's eyes narrowed dangerously at her words. "Oh this isn't a myth alright, it's a bloody horror story!"
"And I've come back to put an end to it. We've traveled many miles to the strange and savage lands and I think I may have found just what we need to send the bastard straight to Hell! But we can't do it without help, we'll need men and ships."
"You expect me to trust you pirate scum?"
"I expect you to see reason Thatch. Like it or not we're in this together. Man or woman, pirate or privateer, it don't matter because that thing is coming to fuck the lot of us and you don't look like a man that could use a good buggering!"
Thatch thoughtfully stroked his beard as he considered her words.
Tattered clouds hung in the dusty sky like unbleached banners. The Caribbean Sea ran red with blood and burning wreckage as smoke and the screams of the dying drifted along trade winds. The Drowned God's tentacles swatted ship after ship clear out of the water and despite the dozens upon dozens of cannons that fired at its armored hide the monster showed no signs of slowing.
An English brig was unfortunate enough to sail directly in the creatures path and was sucked into its immense mouth. The brig was enveloped by the monstrous teeth and crushed into a million pieces.
We just just have to get close enough...
The Drowned God roared a deafening challenge, its titanic mass heading straight for them.
"Hold this course no matter what!" Ophelia screamed over the waves.
"Captain! Our allies are retreating!"
The other ships had broken rank behind them. One by one they adjusted their sails and retreated. Ophelia watched helplessly as the banner of the skeleton and heart turned her back on them.
"Thatch! You gutless, shit eating craven! I'll tear your fucking eyes out and feed 'em to the fish, I'll burn your fucking ship to ashes, I'll-"
A monstrous wave rocked The Chambered nautilus to its core. Ophelia clung to the ships helm for dear life but several of her crew were not so lucky: they were flung overboard, flailing and screaming.
"Hold this course!" Ophelia shouted to her panicked crewmen. "Full speed ahead, straight at the bastard!" She readied her spear. There would only be one shot.
The Drowned God towered over them. Rain as black as ink cascaded upon the deck of the ship and Ophelia realized it was the creatures blood weeping upon them from hundreds of shallow wounds. Its vast, yellowed eyes fixed upon the ship, the same eyes Ophelia had looked into long before when she was just a little girl.
She was close enough to see the wild dilation of its pupils, soulless pits of darkness as big around as the bottom of a jug of rum. At 100 paces away from the deck of a rocking ship she planned to hit her target square in the eye.
Luckily for Ophelia she had spent many long nights staring into the bottom of rum jugs.
She drew back her arm in one perfect motion and let fly. The entire crew held their breath as the spear streaked through the blood rain and disappeared right through the membranous jelly of its eye.
The Drowned God's shriek threatened to split the sea. It reared back, its tentacles thrashing wildly amongst the ships.
"Turn hard to port, hard to port!" Ophelia screamed. "Now!"
They were too late.
The fleshy tentacles wrapped around the mast and rigging of The Chambered Nautilus like many snakes. The Drowned God began to collapse into the surf, its bulk sending up a massive wave that crashed upon them. There was an explosion of sound, like a forest being crushed to splinters, and with a thunderous snap the ship capsized into the waiting maw of the dying beast.
Through a whirlpool of bile blackness and gnashing teeth Ophelia Barbosa went all the way down to Davy Jones's Locker cursing like a fucking sailor.