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   Chapter 12 The Trip South

Maldene - Volume One By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 45596

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02

"What ya' lookin' at Lindel?"

Eldar walked across the deck to where the golden-haired elf was standing, gazing out to sea. They'd sailed down along the length of Degaloth, down the middle of the two-thousand-mile-wide strip of ocean, known as the Channel Ocean, that separates the two immense continents of Degaloth and Cenivar. They'd passed by the open plains and farmlands of Degaloth, down past the Strip Desert to their south, and were now sailing parallel with the jungles of the south end of Degaloth, all within about a mere eight thousand miles or so of sailing. Ahead of them was the small subcontinent that divided their little strip of ocean into two thousand-mile-wide channels that went to either side of it.

Lindel was standing at the front of the ship, gazing out ahead of them. Three seagulls circled lazily overhead, flying twice around the ship and then away into the distance. He nodded his head in the direction towards which they were sailing.

"Just wondered if I could see it, " he answered.

Eldar came and stood beside him, his silver hair blowing in the stiff sea breeze.

"Monadaln, " he said, somewhat dreamy look in his eyes. "Land of Monsters."

"Quite a dangerous place from what I hear, " Lindel said. "Monsters and creatures too horrible to be found anywhere else; danger awaiting under every rock; a land completely untamed and untamable. There's no telling what you'd find in the jungles of Monadaln."

"Yeah, " Eldar sighed wistfully, "I know what you mean; a great place to adventure."

Lindel turned his head and looked at Eldar as if he'd just grown a third nose.

"That's not quite how I meant it, " he said.

Eldar smiled at the perplexed look of his friend.

"Don't worry, " Eldar said, "the Captain says that we won't have to come within five hundred miles of the place. You won't even be able to see the shoreline from here."

"Well, " Lindel said, as he turned back around to gazing out to sea, "that makes me feel a little better. But, still, danger aside, sometimes one wonders. . ."

"Well, cheer up, " Eldar said, perking up and slapping the other elf on the back. "We're in the tropics now, so all you'll have to worry about are a bunch of storms."

"Including Funnel Storms, " came a deep voice behind them.

The two elves looked over their shoulders to see the owner of the voice approaching them. Tall, widely built, stocky body, his deep tan being disrupted only by the excessive amounts of body hair protruding from it, his big oval eyes showing his Thirdocian ancestry. He didn't walk so much as he lumbered, on legs more used to balancing out the movements of the sea than the stillness of the land. The kerchief around his neck, with its blue stripes on red, signified his ranking as the Captain of this vessel.

"Hello Cap, " Eldar smiled.

"Never mock the storms you'll find here in the tropical zone, " he said, coming up beside them. "Be it a Hurrical, gale, or typhoon, you'll find them all around here, but a Funnel Storm, that's the worst."

"We've sailed through the tropics before, " Lindel said, "and have seen what the weather has to offer."

The Captain shook his head as he answered, "No mere couple of trips can show you what can happen out here. It's the winds that do it; out here near the Equator they blow straight up! Makes for some great storms. I've been sailing all of my life, and no two trips through the Equator are ever quite the same. Safety is never certain. Only a ship as large and wide as a sleem ever dares to cross the Equator."

"I'm sure there has to have been other ships that have made it through, " Lindel said, "not everyone has a sleem to sail on."

"Some others have made it through, " the Captain admitted, "but only sleems can hope to survive the worst the tropics have to offer. Only a Sleem can hope to survive a Funnel Storm; any other ship, and you'd find yourself popped up to the top of the atmosphere like a cork out of a bottle."

"Now that sounds like a fun ride, " Eldar brightened. "Any chance we might actually find one of those Funnel Storms?"

The Captain just shook his head in exasperation while Lindel tried to casually cover a grin with his left hand.

"Sign two degrees off port!"

The shout from up in the rigging interrupted their exchange and snapped the Captain to his work as he looked out in the indicated direction. Having apparently also heard the shout, Sabu, Bronto, Sindar, and several of the others began to cluster around the ship's railing to also have a look.

Out in the distant sea, straining eyes could make out what at first appeared to be streamers of air bubbles come up from the ocean. As they looked however, the sight began to more resemble a section of water starting to actually boil, frothing the water up into a bubbly foam from some unknown heat source. Furthermore, the stream of bubbles seemed to be making a rough line coming straight towards them.

"Man the ballistas!" the Captain turned around, shouting out his orders. "Get the Sea Mages up here! We've got metodane!"

The crew suddenly began to hustle as if hordes of devils were at their heels. Eldar and Lindel looked at each other in puzzlement. Then Eldar's face brightened with a sudden idea.

"Let's go ask our walking library, " he suggested, as he started walking over to Sabu.

"Which one, " Lindel countered, as he started towards Sindar, who was standing next to Sabu.

Eldar approached Sabu, standing next to Sabu's left side, while Lindel came up to Sindar's right side.

"So, " Eldar began, as he leaned on the railing, "I'm not even going to ask if you know, just tell us what it is."

"Well, as I recall, " came Sabu's calm thoughtful voice, "a metodane is somewhat like a shark, but several times larger."

"Sounds fun so far, " Eldar smiled.

The bubbling stream got within easy eyesight now, ever closer. The crew jumped around like a frantic anthill, while Eldar, Sabu, and the others at the railing remained calm and pleasantly conversational.

"They also radiate a certain amount of heat within about twenty feet of them, " Sindar added.

"As a by-product of their metabolism, " Sabu finished for his friend, "which consists of hydrolyzing water into its constituent components of oxygen and hydrogen, using the oxygen to breathe with, and then-"

"Hold it!" Eldar interrupted Sabu. "They're dangerous, right?"

"Yes, " Sabu replied, "the most dangerous fish in the sea, that I know of."

"Okay, that's all I need to know, " Eldar finished, pulling his sword out of its sheath, "it's dangerous, and there's one out there."

"More likely, several, " Sindar put in. "They tend to travel in packs."

Eldar paused for a bit, as if considering some new doubts, then brightened up again.

"Well then, that's more for each of us to handle, " he said, thrusting his sword up into the air.

"Uh, Sabu, " Lindel casually asked, though concern showed on his face, "what does it do with the hydrogen?"

"Oh, it stores it up for later use as a rather effective defense mechanism, usable both under and above water."

As concern crossed Lindel's face, Bronto and Shong made ready with their swords, Eldar tried to look as swash-buckling as he could, and Candol came up from below decks, Quickfoot at his heels, Kilgar following up behind. Mauklo, Kor-Lebear, and Kilinir also came over from the other side of the ship, while large crossbow-like ballistas started to protrude from the side of the ship facing towards the bubbles.

That's when they got their first glimpse of a metodane. Up out of the water it arched, its massive body going across everyone's field of vision for several long moments. Looking shark-like, but rather scaly and with even more teeth, its fins blended in with its body more than would a shark's, which was right now glowing a bright cherry red. But what caught everyone's attention the most was its size.

It was huge. Several shark-lengths passed and still it came, more of its great bulk still arching up out of the water. As large as their sleem was, this thing seemed larger still. Their eyes were riveted on it as the ship's two Sea Mages came up from below decks.

"It's got to be hundreds of feet long, " Lindel said in awe, "nothing could I shoot from my bow would even touch it."

"Approximately five hundred and twenty nine feet, by my estimate, " Sabu said slowly, "and about a fourth of that wide."

By now Eldar's sword stabbing boldly at the sky had drooped to his side, as he too stood staring at the thing large enough to swallow their entire ship.

"What does that thing eat?!" Eldar said.

"Anything it wants to, " came the obvious reply from Shong.

"Succinctly, if accurately put, " Sindar agreed.

The large red vision of death finally reach the zenith of its arc and was coming down when it opened up its huge mouth, one lined with teeth the size of trees. As it came down, out of its mouth belched forth a huge ball of fire, exploding outward towards their now small-seeming ship. The fire streamed down at them, as the metodane splashed back down towards the water, hitting the top of the hemispherical sails and exploding into a hundred-foot wide ball of fire and explosive death. A man in the upper rigging got incinerated instantly upon contact with the rapidly expanding ball, while the others on the deck cringed, awaiting their final moments.

But the fire washed around most of the ship, as if an invisible dome protected the top of it. They watched as streamers of smoke and flame soared down on all sides of the ship, but never getting near enough to so much as singe them.

When the fire cleared, the two Sea Mages wobbled on their feet from the sudden exertion of their power. The rear half of the metodane wasn't finished plowing down into the water with the rest of it before its front half began curving up again, cavernous mouth wide open as it came straight at the ship.

It came directly up from underneath the ship, its mouth coming up around either side like a large wall of spikes, threatening to bite their ship to splinters in its upward leap.

But the hull of a sleem is made to be tough, made to travel the seas of such a world. Its wood didn't immediately splinter, although its stress could be heard creaking from all over. Up the metodane carried the ship, rocking it around as people flattened to the decks and the occasional sailor was thrown screaming overboard to fall down into the mouth of the beast that now held them. Swords seemed tiny and useless against such a creature, spells but pitiful tricks.

Nonetheless, Sabu was running across the lurching deck towards the recovering Sea Mages.

"Transfer your protective dome to under the ship, " he shouted above the roar of the metodane, as he grabbed one of the mages by the front of his collar, "protect the underside of the ship!"

The Sea Mage nodded, righting himself as best he could, and then made a few quick gestures with his hands. The air above the ship seemed to flicker for a bit, and then an inrush of heat came in, still left over from the metodane's previous breath attack. The Sea Mage nodded an affirmative towards Sabu. Sabu put out his hand and immediately his rune-covered staff appeared. He held the staff aloft with his right hand and then said but two words.

"Purfuma Vexar!"

Wind rushed out from his staff, washing swiftly across the shifting deck and over the side of the ship, down into the mouth of the large creature. Its leap had now passed its zenith and it was coming back down, hull creaking, ready to shatter, ocean down below them getting swiftly nearer.

Then the whole body of the metodane suddenly spasmed, altering its downward plunge, its mouth now aiming straight out level with the ocean's surface. There was another spasm and then a sudden outrush of air and explosive hydrogen, washing up from below the ship and curving around the protective field below it. The large ship was popped out of the mouth like a large cork, the creature's huge jaws closing down quickly behind them. Out over the water the tumbling ship jetted as the second Sea Mage fought with his magic to steady its flight. Behind them the metodane, his aerodynamically correct dive now turned into a belly-flop, came smashing down onto the water's surface, sending up an explosion of water, as if a small meteor had suddenly hit the ocean's surface. A small wave of water came washing up behind the ship as a stunned metodane floated up to the surface of the wave-torn ocean.

Its course now righted a bit by the Sea Mages, the bottom of the ship was now at least level with the ocean's surface, though the ship spun about its central mast like on an axis, as it skidded inches above the water's surface.

Holding onto a mast with one hand, Mauklo made a few magic gestures with his other. In response, as the ship came crashing down upon the water, instead of crashing and spinning itself into a pile of splinters, it seemed to rest itself upon a cushion of air, skidding along it like a skater upon an icy pond. Sabu then straightened himself up as best he could and, holding onto a stretch of railing for support, thrust his staff upward with the other. A crack of thunder sounded and winds came swirling up out of the staff, spinning rapidly and expanding to around the whole of the ship. The wind spun around the ship, but rotating in the direction opposite to the ship's spin. Gradually, like a toy top spent of its fun, the counter-spin of the winds slowed the ship's rotations down until finally it had stopped altogether, straightening itself out as the conjured winds


"What keeps it going?" Quickfoot asked.

"No one knows, " Sindar answered simply.

"I wonder what's at its center, " Candol mused.

"Maybe just one big pile of ship wreckage, " Eldar shrugged. "Who knows."

Only Kor-Lebear saw Mauklo smile to himself.

Kor-Lebear casually walked over towards Mauklo, leaning on the railing beside him, as he spoke casually but softly to Mauklo.

"You know what's at the center of that thing, " he said.

"Let's just say, " Mauklo said slyly, "that I've heard some rumors."

"I'd love to hear them sometime, " Kor-Lebear said quietly.

Their course brought them alongside the edge of the Whirlpool, sailing down its great length. They watched it, Sabu noticing it seemed to get just a bit closer. At first he thought it a trick of the light, but then he did some calculations. When he calculated that they'd gotten some ten miles closer in the time it took them to sail that far, then he got concerned. It was then that he saw the look on Sindar's face and knew that his friend had also noticed it. He looked around for the Captain.

The Captain was talking to one of his officers when Sabu approached him. The officer got dismissed when Sabu came up to the Captain.

"Captain, " Sabu began, "we seem to have-"

"The current's pulling us closer, " the Captain finished for him, "I know. I'm afraid that we're caught in the Whirlpool's current."

"Can't we just put up the sails and use the wind to get out of here?" Sabu asked.

"I'm afraid not, " the Captain shook his head, "in and around the Whirlpool there's never any wind blowing. It wouldn't do any good."

Sure enough, as Sabu thought about it, he hadn't noticed any winds in the past several rises.

"Can we tack out of here, " Sabu offered, "like we did around that Funnel Storm?"

"Without any wind, it'll be difficult, " the Captain answered, "but we're going to give it a try."

"Maybe the Sea Mages can bring up some wind, " Sabu offered.

"We'll see, but for some reason, that's difficult to do around the Whirlpool."

The Captain shouted the sailors to their posts. Some pulled at the sails, others at the rudder, trying to work against the slow might of the immense whirlpool. The Sea Mages tried their powers at bringing up some more wind, but even with the help of Sabu and his staff, the air remained stubbornly still.

Nevs passed, and the waters of the swirling current became stronger and more insistent. The still air lay down upon their sails, as if not only refusing to move but also trying to trap them in and keep their sails from filling and blowing them to safety. A rise passed, and still they were drawn ever closer, irrevocably caught in the unyielding current. The Captain finally met in his cabin with Sabu, Eldar, Sindar, Mauklo, Bronto, and Shong.

"We're caught in the current all right, " he began, "and the Sea Mages haven't been able to muster so much as a stiff breeze around here."

"The ambient magic field appears to be rather resistant to certain forms of evocations, " Sabu put in.

"Whatever the reason, " the Captain went on, "we're caught in the great loop of the Whirlpool. We could be circling around and around for several kevs before we ever reach its center, but we'll never get out of it."

"There should be some way of creating a spell that would give some propulsive force to our ship, without benefit of winds, " Sabu thought out-loud.

"Unfortunately, we've no time to research such a spell now, " Sindar countered.

"That would mean that the only direction left is straight in, " Shong said innocently.

Sabu, Eldar, and Sindar all stared at Shong, and then at each other. Shong looked around with this what-did-I-say expression on his face. Finally Sabu spoke.

"Sindar, what about it?"

Sindar concentrated, getting a faraway look in his eyes. After a brief moment, his eyes refocused and he answered.

"It seems right, " he said. "I still foresee danger, but we appear to have a better chance than sailing around in circles waiting to smash upon the sea bottom."

"And, if I'm correct about what I've heard in a few of those stories..., " Sabu muttered to himself.

Eldar's eyes lit up.

"This sounds like something I'm going to enjoy, " he said.

"Um, " Shong interrupted, "do I want to know what I just suggested?"

"Not really, " Eldar smiled.

"This is suicide, " Mauklo said calmly, a slight frown on his face, "we'll all just get killed. I don't think that's something that would help too much."

"It's our only way out of this Whirlpool, " Sindar observed.

"Not to mention that it sounds like fun, " Eldar put in.

"We'll surely die if we don't try it, " Sabu said calmly.

"This isn't all that much better, " Mauklo said. "I refuse to go along with it."

"Well then, " Eldar grinned, "you can always get out and walk."

Mauklo scowled and gave no answer.

"It's agreed then, " Sindar stated.

"Captain, " Sabu ordered, "sail us straight towards the center of the thing. As fast a course as possible."

"You guys are crazy, " he said, standing up from his chair, "that's swift death for certain."

"And one heck of a ride, " Eldar said, also standing up.

"But, " the Captain smiled, "a swift death is much preferable to a slow one."

As the rest began to also stand up, Bronto let out a broad chuckle.

"That's the way to face death, " he grinned, "leaping straight for it!"

The ship now sailed a much tighter spiral, inwards towards the center, cutting short an entire swing around the Whirlpool down to a single spiral inward along a quarter of its circumference. Inward they went, the Great Whirlpool's waters eagerly accepting their sacrifice. The closer they went, the more rapid and vicious became the currents, and the thicker the innocent puffy white clouds overhead became. Everyone stayed at their posts, both day and night, afraid to move or rest. Stress emanated from the crew like a dull light, as each watched the center of the Whirlpool grow ever closer, worried about what it would bring. The passage of time seemed to stretch on to many times longer than what it actually was. A mere two rises journey brought them into the inner circle of the Whirlpool, its torrents now sweeping the ship around in a tighter circle, as the Sea Mages fought to keep the ship from also spinning slowly in place like a giant top. Everyone now constantly held onto the ship or kept themselves tied to it, for the danger of being thrown overboard was now very great.

"Sight ahead!" came the sailor's shout.

All eyes on the slowly spinning ship gazed ahead. Several miles ahead was the center of the Great Whirlpool. Miles of open air stretched across its open maw, as water poured down on all sides, spiraling miles down to some unknown watery end. All that could be seen of the bottom was a constant suspension of spray and foggy mist. All that could heard, for miles around, was the din of a thousand waterfalls all acting in unison.

"Tedelnosho, " Eldar said in slow awe at the impressive sight.

"Everybody hang on, " the Captain said, while strapping himself firmly to a mast, "this is going to be a bit bumpy!"

"A bit?!" exclaimed Lindel. "Now there's an understatement!"

"I just hope that I'm right about what to expect, " Sabu shouted above the constant roar.

"Me too!" Lindel shouted back.

"Just have faith in the Mighty Indra!" Candol yelled above the swiftly increasing noise.

"This is so undignified, " Mauklo said to himself as his ropes kept him firmly attached to a stout mast. "I feel like the catch of the day."

No more could be heard now, save for the thunderous roar of the Whirlpool, for the ship now spiraled around its upper lip. Round and round they went, on the edge of a watery precipice that went miles down to an unseen end. The air was now thick with the spray and mist, the sky full of innocent puffy white clouds. The only color around them was a constant foamy white. Water was soaked through everything and everyone. Between the whiteness and the roar, all senses were useless. Even the sense of touch got overloaded by the complete inundation of water.

Finally, the ship teetered on the edge of the great fall. The rear half of the sleem was still in the water, while the front part hung briefly suspended in the air.

"Here we go!" Eldar shouted.

No one was able to hear him, as the ship tipped over and plunged down into the white spray below. White mist blinded all senses, while the only sound in the world was one great roar of thunder. A dim white light seemed to also surround them, emanating as if from the mist itself. Everything and everyone on board the sleem was surrounded by a covering of both thick white foam and bright white light, growing brighter by the instant, until all was one huge blur of white sound, light, and foam, ship and passengers all becoming one with it all.

If one could view it as if seen from overhead, the ship, and all on it, seemed to vanish in a spray of foam, a flicker of white light. They never saw the bottom.

The ship was gone.

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