There was nothing inherently evil about the creature. Evil implies some violation of an accepted moral code and the creature had absolutely no concept of morality what-so-ever. The creature simply was, as it had always been, a survivor. It had never known its mother. Its brothers and sisters were long dead. It was, in fact, the last of its kind… a creature hearkening back to an age that has become the fodder for fantasy. No thought beyond the present. No thought other than the hunt for food. It was the perfect existential killing machine. A serpent of immense proportions… a creature that never slept… a creature that knew nothing but survival and the insatiable search for prey.
Its ancient reptilian instincts alerted it now to the fear… it could smell it! The fear of death! It was a scent the creature had learned to recognize across the ages… animals of the land… clumsy… at the mercy of the sea and all that inhabit its depths. Ever closer to the scent… ever closer to the fear. From the depths, towards the surface, its great jaws part… the deathly cold grin of the Beast.
Emerson Lighthouse and Martin Malus clung desperately to a charred piece of debris cast off by the Henri Giffard XVI. Around them in all directions was the rising and the falling of the sea, sparkling under the intense equatorial sunlight. They were parched from the sun and the salt, almost too thirsty to speak. Damn you Coleridge and your taunting lines of poetry, was all Emerson could think as he rose and fell with the swelling ocean currents.
“Something is swimming beneath us.” Malus warned as he pulled a loose piece of wood from the flotsam upon which they clung to use as a weapon. “I can see it… like a shadow.” He held the piece of wood tightly, waving it above the surface of the water peering at the vague shadow circling far below them.
Suddenly, about 10 metres in front of them, the creature breached the surface, rising up to a most fearsome height. Its dark, jet-black serpentine form curved as it continued to rise, looking down on the two men with its small dark reptilian eyes… its mouth dripping sea water and a foul mucus-like saliva. Long white teeth gleamed in the sunlight like a thousand venomous daggers… the very embodiment of every child’s worst nightmare.
“You’re gonna need a bigger club.” said Emerson barely above a whisper.
“There must be some reason why it does not attack?” said Malus, assessing the immense height of the creature through triangulation.
“Perhaps it is not aggressive…” suggested Emerson hopefully, “like the cows from the Dairy Cooperative. Perhaps our fear is an overreaction to a simple case of curiosity.”
“I’m not so sure…” said Malus still sensing a missing variable.
“Let’s try intimidating it with warning shouts and splashes,” said Emerson, “like this.” he demonstrated, slapping the water with his hands and screaming. The creature remained motionless as Emerson, continued to splash water in the general direction of the beast accompanied with shouts of “Get! Get!” and “Vile beast, be gone!”
“Come on Mr. Malus, this clearly requires a concerted effort.” Malus, however, was still not convinced… something about the angle at which the creature held itself was not right.
The monster reared its head and hissed. Malus suddenly turned a full 180 degrees to see a great agitation arising from the water behind them. He tapped Emerson on the shoulder.
“Not me Malus… the water, slap the water!” shouted Emerson, redoubling his efforts at intimidation.
“I’m not sure we are splashing in the right direction…” but before Malus could alert Emerson further, the creature quite suddenly turned and retreated back to the depths from which it had come.
“We did it Malus!” shouted Emerson as the combination of adrenalin and relief exploded forth in bursts of jubilation. “Just wait until they all hear back in New Babbage how I defeated a sea-dragon with nothing more than my bare hands and keen wits.” He was still basking in the delight of self-congratulatory celebration, unaware of the spectacular vessel rising from the depths behind them, until the net quite suddenly descended, scooping them both from the sea.
Captain Maynard Quinn had been tracking the creature for the better part of 40 years, a life-long quest which had led to both the inception and creation of perhaps the most amazing vessel to ever sail the southern seas… or sail beneath the southern seas to be more precise. The product of both pure genius and relentless obsession, his vessel, The Leviathan’s Bane, was truly worthy of being counted among the seven wonders of the modern world. Unique in its design, a powerful sub-aquatic war machine with the sole objective of hunting and destroying the great serpent.
“The creature has haunted me,” Captain Quinn confessed, “instilling within me the madness of an all-consuming vengeance… ever since that moonlit night when it took my young bride, Lenore… took her the very evening of the day we wed.” He paused to wipe a tear from his eye. “This morning I had it my sights, by Gods I did. But it learns, aye it does; and it recognizes my craft. That is why it fled when I surfaced just behind you boys. It has no love for this craft, just fear and respect. It has a powerful instinct to survive, aye to be sure. But mark my words, before I take my last breath I shall destroy that fell demon and rid the world of its vile contempt for all that is decent and pure.”
There was no denying that the vessel was spectacular (and Emerson couldn’t help but wonder what his friend Nathaniel Lorefield might think of a ship such as this) however he had long since determined there to be something just a bit off about their host. Yet, in consideration of their debt to the captain’s good timing, Emerson decided that the prudent course was to pay homage to the man’s life-long endeavour.
“I salute you sir, and wish you success in your most worthy efforts.” He paused taking a sip of the wine Captain Quinn had been so gracious to share. Malus, he noted, was already taking the liberty of pouring a second glass. “Captain Quinn, you seem familiar with, not just the seas, but the lands of this hemisphere as well. I was wondering if you know of an island by the name of La Isla de la Hoja del Diablo Dulce?”
The old captain’s eyes narrowed. “Aye, I know the island of which you speak… less than a day from here at half-power it is. But you don’t look like the mercenary sort.”
“Excuse me?” Emerson asked, somewhat confused by the captain’s last remark.
“It is the war you seek, is it not? The great revolution that’s been a hundred years in coming.”
“What cause brings the island to revolution?” asked Malus.
“The cause of most revolutions,” replied the captain, “equality for a people too long impoverished by greed and corruption. The wealthy landowners, have held power for more than a century, basking in the riches of off-shore speculators. Their crop is one hundred years in coming to harvest. And it requires constant care. The people have been practically enslaved. Have you heard of the Sagrada Lucias, the product of the vile weed with purple smoke?”
“I may have.” replied Malus glancing over at Emerson with a suspicious glare. “Go on sir,” encouraged Malus, “you have me intrigued.”
This is the month of harvest, after generations of injustice. Yet, with luck, it is also the month of freedom from a tyrannical system of bondage. The people have chosen a leader, a noble king to lead them in their cause. But his daughter has been kidnapped and is being held as security, by the unscrupulous Sagrada Lucia cartel. So I ask you, gentlemen, are you mercenaries hastening to Liberty’s call?”
“I like to think of us more as diplomats.” replied Emerson uneasily.
Malus drained his glass. “I will fight for their cause.” he said, reaching again for the bottle. “But I fear with the downing of our airship I have lost my arms.”
“Not to worry lad,” replied Captain Quinn with a grin, “I have an armoury aboard at your disposal.”
“Gentleman, I can get you close to shore,” instructed Captain Quinn, “but you’ll have to swim the final 100 metres I’m afraid. The whale intestine bags in which I’ve sealed your arms should keep your powder dry. And I must say lad,” the old captain smiled at Malus, “you picked a fine sword indeed.”
“Thank you.” said Malus, returning the old man’s smile as his hand moved to the hilt of his new sword.
“I will wait here one week gentlemen,” the captain informed them, “should the battle be won… or should you decide war is not to your tastes. One week, and then I depart. I just ask you for one favour in return for the use of my vessel…” the captain paused, clearly uncomfortable with what he was about to ask.
“Go on, sir” said Emerson, “we are at your service.”
“Should you breach the compound of the cartel,” The captain continued, “you will find a small gallery displaying portraits of an historical nature. There is one portrait hanging that is of particular interest to me. A general by the name of Poe… the grandfather of my beloved.” the old man paused as he recalled a happy time. “The likeness of so worthy a gentleman does not belong in that compound… they are not worthy to hold as property the image of a man of such honour. And the new king…should he prevail… will not miss the single portrait of a bygone general…”
“Say no more,” Emerson smiled, “now you are speaking my language. Have faith, Captain Quinn, I shall retrieve your portrait and return within the week.”
“And win the war, of course,” said Captain Quinn with a smile, “for the good of the people.”
“Of course.” Emerson hastened to add.
The beach was the very definition of destruction. Bombs burst in a rain of confusion and panic. The stench of pandemonium assaulted the common sense. The scenery smouldered in washed out tones as screams were punctuated by the sound of gunfire. Emerson and Malus stayed low as they ran up the beach from the bloody shoreline taking shelter beside a crying soldier cowering beneath a ridge. “Never get off the boat.” the soldier, a boy of no more than fourteen cried in nearly incomprehensibly sobs, “Never get off the boat!”
“Where’s your commanding officer son?” Emerson asked as he tried to shake some sense into the boy who had started to mumble something about mangoes. “Son!” Emerson slapped the boy, “Where is your commanding officer?”
“Isn’t it you?” asked the boy.
Just then an incredible explosion rocked the ground around them and everything went dark.