The Song struck first, and the cannons rattled hard enough to make my ears ring, the soul of the ship thrashing to keep the lot of us intact despite the sudden shift in weight and power. The Captain lazily slipped down the side of the crow’s nest, her wings keeping her aloft, and drew her gun off of her hip. “Charm, keep us intact, will you?”
“That’s not my name,” I said, but it was really more of a squeak because at around that moment the head of the beast pulled completely out of the fog, dispelling the ghastly spectres of the reapers and the idle hallucination of peace that I’d dared to slip into.
The ship blasted off with what guns hadn’t fired off, and grape shot erupted across the beast’s side, sending scales and hardened bone shattering off into the distance to plop pointlessly across the dead sea.
The beast screeched out loud enough to dispel the fog, and I saw the dawny blue of sky overhead, and briefly I could smell the sea air instead of rank fetid decay and then the blood of the serpent fell upon the deck of the ship like a splatter of a wave.
“To arms, Charm!” The Captain said, and she moved into the mass of blood.
It hissed. The blood was hissing, and it sounded like- snakes. It sounded like snakes, and the blood was moving and it uncoiled into a dense mat of snakes.
The beast bled serpents. It was asps all the way down.
The Captain didn’t move, that was incorrect, she danced. Her longs talons flashed across the mass of vipers, and she impaled them one by one, a flurry of feathers and movement, and she danced to some hidden beat that I could hear as a half echo.
The only thing that roused me from staring was Thyn’s roar, the sound of cannon’s shifting, and the horrific serpent which was still moving about.
Another head poked up out of the water, and I nearly dropped the sword. It felt like a lead weight in my hands. What the hell was I supposed to do with- “Head’s up Charm!”
There was a hiss, and I jumped out of the way of one of the asps. Black beady eyes and a mouth as red and my own blood, the tongue darted out.
“Kill it!” The Captain demanded. I looked at the sword and hefted it up, and in the next instant the snake was moving, and then, almost between seconds, faster than my eyes could really process (though they were working slower in the chaos) the sword thunked into the deck, and with a wet squelch the snake fell back into being blood. Then I backed the hell up away from the blood stain.
There were fewer snakes on deck, and though the Captain moved about on top of the pitching shift and took care of them, it wasn’t exactly like we were winning.
There was a second head to the creature after all. “Men, I see two serpents!” She shouted, and it pierced through the fog like a gunshot. The Captain had a hell of a pair of lungs on her. “That means we get twice the glory!”
There was a hurrah from under the decks, from dense lungs and denser people, and then the cannons rolled into place.
The Captain swept past me, and I stared at the monstrous blood dripping down the edge of the sword. My shoulder hurt from swinging it just once. “Charm, you’re doing excellent.”
“I’m not doing anything at all!” I said, and the boat pitched. The soul entombed inside of it yanked the vessel to the side.
I brace myself against the mass and a third head rose from the depths of the water, eyes as beady and blade as the much much smaller snake I’d killed, and it looked down at me. Then two other heads looked down at me.
I swallowed. Hydra of death. Not serpent.
Then the cannons went off, and I hit the ground, pain erupting out of my hip and the sword bounced out of my hand and slid across the tilting deck, and then I followed after it, squealing the entire way. A shower of heavy blood, achingly thick and bizarre sweet, and then one of the heads started to tilt down.
I through myself to the side, skinning through my knees, and it struck right next to me, shattering the railing, and then the mass of it beneath the water tugged it back across the ship, showering the mess of it in blood and then it disappeared under the water, hissing the entire way.
“One head down! Is that all you can do crew?”
I managed to get to my feet as the serpents decided on their next course of action, and their eyes stared at the three unfortunate enough to remain on the deck. The sighter, the Captain, and myself.
I was a great deal less threatening than either of the other two, so it was to my great displeasure when a head tilted up and back to eye me.
The mouth opened wide as it reared back, and I dashed across the ship to grab my sword and tripped as it bucked under the waves thrown up by the serpent, smashing my head against the far wall. My hands closed around the hilt, and I turned, just in time to see and hear the beast smashing forward through the top half of the ship.
“Let me handle this,” someone shoved me to the side, and then Thyn was there, and he grabbed a spine off of his back and twisted it off. As the beast reared back. Thyn stabbed into the throat of the creature, though a gaping hole showed off the crew underneath, frantically scurrying around like ants, and the ship was screaming (the ship was screaming, this was an utter nightmare, the ship was screaming) and then the serpent reared back, with Thyn clinging to it.
An instant before he would be tugged back over the side with it, Thyn twisted the blade free from the creature’s neck and fell to the deck, and the cannons went off and utterly shredded the second serpent in a blast of gore and gunpowder.
My vision swam from the hit to my head, and I slumped over, trying to keep from sliding about when the ship jumped. Thyn stood, dusted himself off drew a gun from his hip, and shot the ball of snakes forming on the deck. They writhed on the floor.
“There, two down,” Thyn said. “Maybe you’re good luck after all?”
I stared at the jagged hole on the top of the ship. A plank of wood tumbled down into the darkness below, and something screeched in surprise.
“Sure,” I said. “But where’s?…”
“Let’s make this something the bards’ll talk about!” The Captain roared into the darkness, and she drew her revolver. The last head roared right back at her, clearly angry something was louder than one of the serpent that guarded the door to death, and shot forward.
She gleamed like a candle in the darkness, and fired six shots. One of the eyes erupted into a cloud of gore, a tooth shattered, scales parted into yet more snakes, and then the Captain leapt back up into the air and landed on the serpent’s back as it broke through the aft of the ship. She tore the other gun off of her hip in a flourish of leather, pointed it straight down at the beast’s head, and fired six times.
“Holy fuck,” I said.
“Yeah,” Thyn said, nodding. “That’s the Captain for you.”
The last head slumped against the deck, burbling tiny asps from where its brain used to be, and then the Captain slid down the side of the beast and let it slide back into the water from whence it came. She sauntered over, nimbly stepping across the gaping gashes in her ship (which was whimpering now) and stood beside us. “Well then,” She smiled.
“That,” I worked my jaw a few times, but I couldn’t get any real words out other than a confused gibber, like my brain had leaked out through my mouth as well, but instead of snakes it was just a pathetic mewling. “That-”
“Alright,” The Captain said. “Charm, how do we get out?”
My mind hit a wall and I stopped dead. I dropped my sword, Thyn caught it before it hit the ground, dug the orb out of my pocket (when had I put it there?) and held it up.
She stared at it, cocking her head to the side. Her tufted ears twitched. “Well?”
“Er,” I said, squinting at it. I squeezed it hopefully, and the light intensified. The ship’s whimpering stopped.
The reapers were staring at me from the edge of the fog, gently drifting. Their amber clothes made them almost invisible, but the gleam of their human skulls gave me pause. Their arms stretched out into infinity, but just a hair too short to touch the silent ship. Dozens of eyes met mine. Their skulls shifted in their hooded robes, whispering words I couldn’t hear over the sudden hiss and buck of the sea.
The Sea of Souls had been silent the entire time we’d been there. This was- this was freedom.
The mist faded around us, and we drifted out of the dead sea and out into better waters.
Then I collapsed, leaning back against the ship and just tried to catch my breath. I listened to the buck of the ocean.