The sun shone, but did little to alleviate the chill in the air. Kael shivered, glancing enviously at Meowzer’s natural fur coat. The air upon the Desolation was as cold as Agthenfall frost. It sent Kael, and many of the others, shivering. The only human on-board not to be showing his discomfort was the Ronin, Kenshin. Kael didn’t envy him as much as the catfolk. Stoicism didn’t mitigate discomfort. It only created an illusion for the benefit of others. Kael knew that Kenshin was shivering like the rest of them.
“I ‘member when I was a lad on the long ships,” the Captain of the Guild Ferry continued to babble, his only audience being the always polite and friendly Pemnaq. “Used to be the Pike River back then. Not called that for the fish, mind. But cause o’ the Duke’s forces in the League War. The river was used to ferry men from Ankor to Glerania. Almost took the north of the High Kingdom, he did, then the mercs from B’Thain came in. Wholloped them all. Me dad was one of the Agthenfallers who shipped them across…”
Pemnaq nodded politely. Kael doubted he was absorbing any of the information. He, for one, knew that the Captain was severely overstating the importance of the river. Glerania initially failed due to its insistence on banning most forms of magic. Ankor succeeded because it didn’t have such prejudices. It was the advent of dimeterium that neutralised Glerania’s magic foes. The B’thain mercenaries were just cannon fodder before the Magebreakers could get to the frontlines.
Kael thought all this, contemplating some barrels in the corner of the ferry. The Captain was still babbling. Would he ever shut up? Pemnaq offered to play the flute to cheer up the refugees, but the Captain was more content with speaking over him.
Meanwhile, Meowzer had managed to strong arm one of the crewmembers out of a bottle of ale. Praising his goddess was a fulltime job, it seemed.
Kael sighed. There wasn’t any worthy conversation on this vessel. Maybe he could animate the barrels…
Breaking the monotony of the long boat trip, an eerie sound floated towards him. It was a soothing sound. As they drifted closer, the sound cleared to reveal voices. They sang in an ancient dialect – one of which the wizard did not know.
Pemnaq also heard the voices. He had prepared a spell about an hour before and decided to cast it. The Comprehend Languages spell revealed the voices to be Aylied, a very ancient language. The song was a love ballad – about a fisherman who had lost his way, never to be able to return to his love again. It was a mournful tune, with a sad meaning.
While casting his spell, Pemnaq failed to notice the Captain pause his speaking. The bard turned. The Agthenfall Captain wore a smile on his face. A contented façade, as if there were no cares in the world. He had also let go of the wheel.
With haste, Pemnaq grabbed for the wheel. If they were allowed off course, they would eventually fall into the Void wrought chasm that had caused the river to be renamed.
“The Captain’s gone stony!” Pemnaq shouted.
Figuring out his meaning, Kael raced to the wheel, aiding him in securing it back on track.
It wasn’t only the Captain…
The refugees, crew…almost everyone was in a trance. Then they heard a splash. Meowzer turned to see the crewmember that had “gifted” him the ale disappear. He reached for a rope, tossing it overboard. Nothing.
Kenshin, awakening from his meditation, placed his hand on his hilt. The song continued…then stopped. The silence was more unnerving than the bodiless voices.
Pemnaq did not feel this discomfort, however, as he saw the most beautiful thing in the world. Standing atop a spire of water, a naked damsel stood, beckoning. Pemnaq, a country lad, had never seen a woman of such beauty. Seeking to win her affection, he drew out his panflute and began to play.
“This is no time for fluting, boy!” Kael shouted, desperately trying to retain control of the wheel against the current.
The woman was not impressed, but continued to beckon him. Pemnaq pocketed his flute and walked towards her, straight into the water. Kael shouted and Kenshin darted forward, just to have his arm caught.
Clutching his wrist was a slimy, pale green hand. Its owner lifted itself from the water, revealing a female head dominated by a gargantuan mouth lined with thin razor sharp teeth. The Ronin drew his sword and took off the head of the creature in one strike, but that wasn’t the end. It let go, but its head was still connected to the body. With a scream, it took to the air, its serpentine body bearing wings that looked like fins. Its head gripped on by its sinews.
Kenshin sheathed his blade and drew his bow, releasing an arrow to finish the job of severing the siren’s head off.
Meowzer attempted to dart to the wheel to aid Kael, but a hiss and splash barred his way as another of the creatures rose from the depths to block his path. It slashed at him. He barely managed to avoid the foot-long claws and draw his rapier. He gave the creature a hard kick to the chest and then ran it through.
Meanwhile, the icy water had awoken Pemnaq from his trance. The woman before him was still beautiful, but as she reached in, her illusion failed. Her face and body were similar, except for a gaping mouth of razor teeth, and a fish-like lower-body. The bard, struggling for air, attempted to reach for his dagger. The siren gripped his arm before he could reach it. He tried with his other, to no avail. With nothing else, he kicked the creature. It worked, and she recoiled, allowing him to reach up for air. Kael didn’t waste time and lowered his staff, pulling the boy back onto the vessel.
As Pemnaq caught a breath of fresh relief on-board, the singing started anew. It was a new song now. Pemnaq could detect increased magic in its melody. It was hard, but his brush with near death managed to help him steel himself from the charm. His compatriots weren’t so lucky. Kenshin and Meowzer stood, mouths in a dumb smile. The wizard had resisted it.
Content with their work, a siren burst from the water, it screeched as it dove towards Kael.
Waving his arm, he aimed his staff at the diving siren and calmly uttered, “Va falma arrna!”
A wave of invisible energy swept forth and knocked the siren out of the sky – most probably breaking bones in the process.
Water splashed on Meowzer, which would have angered him in any other state, as another siren leapt on-board. Pemnaq gripped his quarterstaff and lunged. The siren parried the blow with ease, grabbing the staff and pulling the bard towards her. He tumbled and barrelled into Kenshin, who awoke from his stupor.
The siren, ignoring them, lunged for a refugee. Kenshin was quicker, decapitating the beast. Red blood spread across the deck, staining some of the refugees.
With a screech, which woke Meowzer, the siren who had been flung out of the sky landed on-board. The larger siren bore a crown of seaweed. Royalty was not immune to the paladin’s blade, however, and he spitted her like a pig at a feast.
Withdrawing his blade, he went into a ready stance. The party went back to back, preparing for another strike. But none came. Slowly, the rest of the ferry awoke.
The Captain, seeing the unmanned wheel, swore and turned it back on course. The party, realizing that they were safe, rested.