Voltag and Yolanthe were still waiting in the hallway outside of the Seatorn council chamber when they heard the noise. The first sound was that of splintering wood. They both looked up at the noise, but then shrugged it off. Probably something fell during the unloading of a ship. But then it happened again, and bells were ringing and horns were blowing. The hallway they were in had no windows so the sounds were indistinct and they could not see their source.
The council doors flew open. Men and women in rich cloaks rushed from the room with undignified haste. Soon the large room was empty except for Kerimos, who was standing at the large window looking towards the sea.
“What is it?” asked Voltag.
Kerimos did not answer so the dwarf and Yolanthe entered the room, circled around the great meeting table, and took up a position beside him. The window had a high and panoramic view of the harbor.
Voltag sucked in his breath. Yolanthe muttered an elfish curse.
They had a perfect view across the city to the harbor. It was in chaos. The remains of ships, great splinters of woods, barrels and bottles, bales of cloth and sacks of spices, boxes of dry goods, ropes and sails, all littered the water. One of the docks was smashed in half and a few people, unlucky enough to be on the far end, now found themselves trapped on a teetering structure in the roiling water. A fire had broken out in a warehouse beside another dock. Part of its roof was smashed in and black smoke poured through the jagged opening. The sea itself was bubbling. Great unnatural eddies swirled the debris while crazy waves smashed against damaged ships. Great patches of the water were stained black. There were bodies in the water, some alive, most not.
“What in the name of Moradin?” asked the dwarf.
As if in response to his question, two great tentacles rose out of the dark swirling ocean. As tall as temple spires, as thick as oak trees, the purplish tentacles moved with impossible speed. They smashed down on ships, tore pieces out of buildings, pulled people under the waves.
A lone guard standing on the Wall of the city near the water let loose at the nearest tentacle with a crossbow. The bolt hit and stuck in the rubbery flesh of the tentacle but did nothing except alert the thing about the guard’s presence. The tentacle swung at the guard, smashing him and a piece of the city wall out into the sea.
A flurry of arrows flew from the shore of the harbor. A troupe of Seaguards had rallied and made a stand behind a stone wall. Most of the arrows fell short, slipping harmlessly into the water except for one that struck a wounded man splashing in among the debris. The few arrows that hit the tentacle lacked the power to pierce its thick skin and bounced away. But they got the attention of the creature controlling the tentacles, and now it began to rise partly out of the water.
The three spectators gasped as the monster revealed the complex structure where the tentacles came together around a huge beak. Massive lidless eyes slipped above the water to glare at the confusion around it. The monster sprayed out a great flume of black liquid from somewhere on its body. The foul liquid rained down on the Seaguards, who immediately began to scream as it burned their skin.
“We must do something,” said Voltag.
“There’s nothing we can do,” replied Kerimos. “Nothing at all.”
So they watched the attack continue. The monster methodically sunk every ship, pulled apart every dock, and smashed every building it could reach. Anything alive was swatted into the water where it quickly drowned. The screams of dying men and horses faintly reached the ears of the three spectators above the sound of the destruction. It sounded as though an entire country were dying.
And then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. The monster sunk from sight beneath the surface. A great eddy showed where it was travelled out to sea. Soon even that was gone. All that was left was a half-destroyed city and a harbor filled with floating debris.
Through it all the sun shone brightly, throwing flashes of light off the waves.
“What was that thing?” asked Voltag.
He sat with Yolanthe and Kerimos in the deserted council room. They could hear the sounds of wailing and alarms below them in the city.
“A kraken,” said Kerimos. “A great kraken. The largest I have ever heard of.”
“Some sort of sea monster?” asked the dwarf.
“More than a monster,” replied Kerimos. “I have heard that krakens are intelligent beasts. They have magic powers, mind powers. They can enthrall people through their psychic abilities, reducing them to slaves.”
“The way Baltrog does?” asked Yolanthe.
“I don’t know Baltrog’s power. But a powerful kraken can turn a man into a mindless servants of its will.”
“Why does a fish need slaves?” asked Voltag.
“For its vanity. To intercede with land dwellers. I don’t know. I’ve never met a kraken’s slave, to my knowledge.”
“Has Seatorn been attacked before?” asked Yolanthe.
“No,” said Kerimos. “Not that I’ve ever heard. Some ships have been lost, but only if they have strayed into kraken territory. The local captains know the area and avoid it. But we’ve never had an attack. Never had any problems with the creatures.”
“There’s more than one?” asked Voltag.
“I don’t know,” said Kerimos, his head dropping in despair. “No one knows. Captains say there are only a few, and that one is always the leader. Perhaps that is what we saw.” He placed his head in his hands, exhausted. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
Voltag and Yolanthe looked at each other. “Could it be Baltrog’s doing?” asked Voltag.
Kerimos looked up. “Why do you say that?” he asked.
“Baltrog has been trying to isolate the Finger of Torn,” said Yolanthe. “He’s secured the land access. Now a monster has secured the sea access.”
“Strange coincidence,” grunted Voltag.
Kerimos looked at the dwarf and half elf with an expression of growing apprehension. “How could he? How could he deal with a kraken?”
“Don’t rightly know,” said Voltag. “But I’ll tell you one thing for free. Seatorn is cut off. And I’ll wager my beard it’s Baltrog’s doing.”
“And I’ll bet my bow that he’s going to attack the city,” said Yolanthe.
Kerimos’ face fell. “Now I must convince the council.”
“It was a random attack,” said Tan Landrel, High Thane of the Council of Twelve, the ruling body of Seatorn. He was an old man, thin to the point of gauntness, with a deeply lined face dominated by a large, sharp nose. He wore the ceremonial hat of the Thane and, because this was an emergency meeting of the council, held in his hand the Scepter of Order. When the Scepter was brought forward it meant that circumstances were so dire that the Thane could invoke extraordinary powers in the defense of Seatorn. The normal voting procedure of the Twelve could be overturned. For two weeks the Thane could act as a benevolent dictator, raising taxes for war efforts, conscripting troops, imposing curfews. At the end of those two weeks the Council could vote to extend the state of emergency for another two weeks, but after that the Thane would have to petition the Council for a special vote on every major decision.
The Thane continued. “It was a terrible thing. The worst thing that has happened to our city in living memory, but it was random. A mindless beast attacked our city in a rage. It is gone, and we must begin rebuilding.”
Kerimos could not believe what he was hearing. He stood in the council room, directly in front of Landrel who sat behind a long table that curved around in a crescent shape. The other members of the Council sat on either side of him at the same table.
“High Thane Landrel,” began Kerimos, “Members of the Twelve. A week ago you sent me to see what happened to our land trade. I have reported that the roads through the mountains have been blocked, bridges burned, and towns destroyed, all by sorcerer Baltrog. He rules like a monarch in Tzanasport, a city he has crippled with his cruelty. He had our emissary tortured to death.
“I hired two mercenaries who almost succeeded in capturing the sorcerer. They tell me that Baltrog has systematically cut off the Finger of Torn from the rest of the realm. This is part of his plan to isolate us. To leave us at his mercy. Then this kraken attacks us, destroying the harbor. This cannot be a coincidence.”
One of the thanes, a woman that Kerimos did not know, interrupted him. “Are you saying that this magician controls the monster?” she asked.
“Perhaps,” said Kerimos. “Or he is somehow in league with it.”
Several of the Council members snorted in derision. One laughed out loud. The Thane, however, sat grim faced. “A man controls a kraken? It does not seem possible, but I have taken the precaution of calling an expert to review the matter.”
The Thane nodded to a guard by the chamber door. The guard opened the door and gestured to someone who was waiting outside. After what seemed like an unnecessarily long time, an old man carrying a heavy book shuffled into the room.
Kerimos sighed inwardly. The old man was Pankas Carter, the city’s naturalist. He had held the post for almost fifty years, beginning when he was in charge of the small zoo attached to the fort. A previous council that had contained several members interested in animal husbandry promoted him to official city naturalist. He had held the post ever since, living on a small stipend and spending his hours in the city library assembling ancient animal lore out of musty travel books. Local farmers avoided him because of his arcane notions on the keeping of livestock. Hunters knew they could sell him animal skins that they had dyed or altered by telling him they came from exotic species. His name was a byword for scholarly inanity in the city. A common expression to denote something unnecessarily complicated was “Queer as Carter’s fish.”
Carter placed his books on the council, gave a creaking bow to the council members, and lowered himself onto a stool.
“Good Master Carter,” said the Thane, “We need your knowledge. As you know, the city has been attacked by a sea monster. A kraken.”
“That’s more than I know,” said Carter.
The Thane paused. Other members of the council looked at each other in bewilderment. “You don’t know about the attack?” asked Kerimos.
“Oh I know of the attack,” said Carter, “But it’s more than I know to say that it was a kraken that did the attacking.”
“But many people saw the monster,” said a member of the Council.
“Ah, but did a trained naturalist see the monster?” asked Carter, his eyes sparkling with glee. “No doubt it resembled a kraken. It may even have been a kraken. But was it a kraken indeed? That is more than we know.”
“What else could it have been?” asked Kerimos.
“There are many creatures in the sea,” said Carter. “Infinite numbers of strange fauna, most of which have not been seen by the eye of man, much less catalogued and studied to the exacting levels demanded of the true naturalist. So while it may have been a kraken, it may have also have been a pseudo-kraken, a creature that mimics the kraken in most ways. It may have been more than one creature teamed together so that they looked like a kraken combined. It may have been some creature that we do not yet know that looks, acts, and attacks just like the kraken but is not a kraken according to the definitions provided in the most authoritative bestiaries. In short, I know that the city was attacked by a creature, but whether or not that creature was truly a kraken, is more than I can say.”
The old man crossed his arms in a gesture of smug triumph.
“Well,” said the Thane, “Perhaps we had better ask another question. Our First Landguard, Kerimos, proposes that this, um, creature, whatever it was, was acting in league with, or under the control of, a sorcerer. That its attack was a strategic, intelligent action designed to further isolate the city. What have you to say to that?”
Carter looked at the Thane. He then made eye contact with every member of the council before turning his gaze on Kerimos. He smiled. Then he chuckled. Then he broke into a cackling laughter. This show of mirth continued for several moments until Carter finally wiped his eyes and caught his breath.
“Oh I’m sorry,” he said still chuckling. “I haven’t laughed like that in ages. A sea creature in league with a sorcerer. Oh dear. What next? Dolphins talking to each other in squeaks and whistles? Oh dear me.”
“Sea captains talk of such things,” said Kerimos tightly.
“Sea captains? Sea captains? Sea captains believe in fish that fly. Sea captains believe that whales breath air like human beings. No no no no. Sea captains are no authority. Superstitious fools, the lot of them.” Carter began to rifle through one of his books. “Ah here we are. Yes. If you want to know about sea creatures you do not ask sailors, you read Amthos Quire. This is his greatest book, A Compendium of Fish, Sea Fauna, Water Creatures, and Dwellers in Brackish Realms. Here we are, here we are.” Carter squinted at a page. “He has it right here. ‘Squid, octopi, and kraken . . .’ Mind, I haven’t confirmed it was a kraken, but never mind. ‘Squid, octopi, and kraken are as brainless as they are boneless, no matter their size.’”
Carter slammed the book shut. “There you have it,” he exclaimed. “‘Brainless.’ Quire says so. One cannot form a league with a brainless creature.”
“The monster targeted our ships, our docks, our warehouses. It was not a brainless attack,” said Kerimos through clenched teeth.
“A bird may peck at the letters written on a page,” said Carter, “And those pecks might accidentally spell a word, but that does not mean the bird can read.” He crossed his arms again.
The room was silent. Finally the Thane spoke up. “Thank you, Master Carter, for you, um, scholarship. You may go.”
Pankas Carter stood, bowed slowly to the Council, gathered his books, and moved towards the door. As he passed Kerimos he smiled and said under his breath, “In league.” He was chuckling when the guard shut the door after him.
“Well,” said the Thane. “It seems that the attack by the creature was an unfortunate coincidence. Do you have anything left to say before the Council turns to matters concerning the relief of the those hurt and left homeless by the attack?”
“I would like it recorded that I believe the creature’s attack was part of Baltrog’s plan to isolate our city,” said Kerimos. “I believe he will mount an attack on our city soon.”
“Does this magician have an army?” asked one of the Councillors.
“He has followers,” said Kerimos. “He has been using them to isolate the countryside and command the towns.”
“How may followers?”
“We do not know for certain. The mercenaries I hired spoke of a smallish number. Perhaps fifty.”
The Thane leaned back in his chair. “Fifty? Against Seatorn? Against the Seaguards? Is he mad?”
“Or are you?” asked another Council member.