The moon rose, dim and distant ahead through the amber fog, and the crew grew quieter and quieter under the ship. The occasional creature moved too quickly or scuffed against the wood, but all were ready for the battle. The Venturing Owl might’ve been an expedition vessel, but it was also armed to the teeth in the style of the captain, who had never let mere capital prevent her from being ostentatious.
I waited in the hold, fidgeting in the stale air. The smouldering haze of the sea of souls smelled expired and rank here, where the air had gotten trapped after days of unrest. The crates were almost entirely empty.
Eyes sat on me. I stared back at them, looking up. A horned man sat there, clad in a tattered vest adorned with buttons whose no longer had polish. His orange hair cascaded down his shoulders in shaggy sheets, and his teeth were pointed under the curve of his lip.
The Captain’s second in command, Thyn.
“So?” He asked. I realized he must’ve asked me a question.
I shrugged bonelessly. It was… It was a tad far from home for my tastes. This far through the mists I wasn’t sure of what was up and what was down. Or how I’d ended up stranded on one of the rocks.
“Let me ask again,” he said, flashing his teeth at me. “What’re your plans?”
“Stick around?” I asked. Was there really a choice?
“There’s not a lot of you running around where we come from,” he said. “I want you to know that.”
“I figured,” I said. I crossed my arms, and hoped that I’d get a thicker shirt after this. I was soaked to the bone and I still tasted salt from my time up on the rocks. “What are… you guys even doing out here?”
“Exploring,” Thyn said, leaning back against the hold. I relaxed. He wasn’t showing those damn teeth anymore. They were long enough to sink into my neck, and I didn’t need that image in my head any longer than was necessary. “What else? Take on a bounty, explore a hellish zone where the reapers come from, then return to tell the tale.”
A weight settled into my stomach. “And… bring back something?”
Thyn’s smile looked impish. “Oh yes, you’ll be quite the specimen there. That’s what I meant. No horns, no fur, not a hint of the continent’s blood in you.”
I swallowed. “You guys… aren’t going to eat me, right?”
“If you get us out of here, you won’t have to find out,” Thyn said. His ears perked up on his head (pointed like a cat’s) and then he sauntered off, his back a mess of jagged spines that slowly sunk back into his flesh. “Show time. You know how to man a gun?”
I swallowed again.
“Oh, this’ll be fun,” Thyn laughed. “Good luck!”
I turned off into the hall and was ambushed by a fluffy thing that was easily twice my height. Whatever it was covered in salt crystals and long shaggy fur, and they cree’d happily at me as I passed it, shoving a cloth bundle into my arms.
I stared at it, then looked up, and the beast was already shuffling off. What the hell?
I undid the cloth and saw a sheen of steel underneath. They’d given me a sword. Why the hell wouldn’t they at least give me a gun?
“ALL HANDS READY!” The captain’s voice boomed through the wood, loud enough to jar my teeth and send my ears ringing. The quiet that had wrapped up the ship shattered, and people of all sorts of fur, spine and scales shimmied about under her call. I scurried to meet up with them before I was swept off to somewhere I didn’t need to be, only to be left on the top of the deck.
“There you are, Charm,” The Captain said, clicking her talons against the ground. “I’d hate for you to miss all the fun.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’d hate to miss all the fun.”
The lead weight in my stomach grew larger, and denser. “So…”
“OVER THE HORIZON!” A man with long downy wings shouted from the crow’s nest. “SERPENT SIGHTED.”
The Captain spread her wings, her coat billowing out behind her, and then she vaulted up with a flick of her feathers to land next to him. “That’s the right killer serpent! Helmsman, bring us in!”
Where the hell was I that there was more than one killer serpent?
The ship howled as the soul trapped inside of it scrambled to obey the siren’s call to action, and we swung, crazily as the wood warped and howled in defiance of the death beneath of us and abruptly, even with my lack of position, and my lack of crazy animal bits, even I could see the shape struggling in the mist.
We couldn’t get anywhere else we wanted to, but we could lead ourselves straight to death whenever we wanted.