The Tale of Captain Johne

Worlds Below

"Be careful of what thou dost say, warrior" Astarol replied, "lest my weapon slip from my unskilled hands and stab thy foot." He shouldered his mandolin and slipped his backpack into the skiff that we had readied for our expedition. "Faulina, may I say that thou dost look resplendent this fine morning."

Faulina laughed and plucked at the worn leather vest she had donned over her violet robes. "'Tis a fine gown, is it not? Johne, art thou ready? Johne?"

I blinked. I had been staring at the wreckage of the Ararat. "Of course," I said, feigning a smile. "It has been awhile since I used this." I held up my mace. "Where is Sutek?"

"The mage?" Nosfentre barked. "He is still in the ship. I will get him. Perhaps he does not care if he wastes away in these halls, but Ió"

The claw emerged out of the darkness like a silent knife and before anyone could act, Nosfentre's throat had been slit. Faulina rushed to his side, chanting words of healing as the air suddenly erupted with monstrous shrieks, the rustle of leathery wings, and the foul stench of rotten meat. Astarol cried out, slashing at two yellow eyes that leered before him. A hideous wail followed as his opponent careened to the earth.

My mace also graced the darkness, hitting its target: a winged humanoid clad in fur, its face embodying both beast and man. Its lips turned up in a grimace of pain, revealing slender, white fangs, and it was those teeth that I struck next, satisfied to hear the resounding crunch of bone.

Astarol's scream ended my brief victory. I swatted the creature that clung to his back, but a second careened into the bard, knocking him to the ground. I raised my mace, but I was flung forward into the cold waters of the lake by another attacker. I twisted, striking out blindly. Only luck allowed my weapon to hit my foe. Yet still the air rained with creatures and the cries of my companions.

Then the words of a magical incantation thundered across the cavern, and a wind soared. The air around the creatures rippled in a dark wave, and they screamed as an unseen force flayed the flesh from their bones. Only a moment passed before Sutek's spell ended, but by then, the ground was covered with the remains of our enemies.

I struggled to my feet, drenched to the skin. I ran to where Faulina's body was draped over Nosfentre. Cursing, I reached out for her, tears in my eyes. I gasped when a gloved hand took my wrist.

"She is only asleep," Nosfentre said. "She drained herself saving my life. See to the bard, quickly."

I nodded dumbly and knelt next to the minstrel. His shirt was already soaked with blood.

Suddenly, Sutek knelt before the body. "Stand aside," he commanded. I caught the pungent scent of garlic and ginseng as he whispered, "Mani." Astarol's chest heaved, and he coughed, spattering us with blood. "That is all I can do for now," Sutek said. "I cannot spare the mandrake for a greater spell. Bring him to the Ararat so he can rest."

When both Faulina and Astarol had been lain in the bed of the Ararat's cabin, Sutek mumbled his satisfaction and then headed for the door. "Come along, Captain, we must be going. Nosfentre, thou shalt guard the mage and the bard."

"What?" I said. "We cannot leave them here."

Sutek stopped and turned, his gaze full of the power he had just wielded. "They will recover, but it may be a week before Astarol is fit to even walk, and we cannot afford that kind of delay. Someone must watch over them."

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