I - The Calm Before
The endless sea stretched out on all sides as a tiny brown speck crossed its serene waters.
Another day was beginning, although it made little difference to the occupants of the little boat. This was their sixth day out at sea, and for the last three they had seen nothing but the unending ocean that filled the world.
The soft swaying of the boat brought Liana Keamy from her troubled thoughts. She considered dressing for the new day, eyeing her filthy clothes that draped over the old chair across from her cot. Once, she would have been too shy to sleep in just her undergarments in the company of a young boy–her mother’s scolding’s of what’s proper had successfully ingrained into Liana’s beliefs–but after so long in Jerrim’s company, she no longer cared for such modesty. Even so, she quickly pulled on her blouse and shorts, not taking the chance of being caught dressing.
She rubbed her eyes and couldn’t help but smile when she saw herself in a dusty mirror by the door. Weeks ago she would have spent a good half hour readying her hair and face before leaving the house. But of course, this was no house.
Up on deck, she saw the bare back of Jerrimas Lightrun as he steered the boat through the early morning haze. The soft wind and the creaking boat were the only sounds in the quiet morning. She hesitated before disturbing him, not wanting to ruin his peaceful moment. If it was one thing she was sure they had both learned during their trip, it was the necessity of spending time on your own.
Jerrim seemed to have accustomed well to the sea-faring life, not having complained nearly as much as Liana had so far. He stood only in his cropped blue shorts–not even wearing sandals–his wavy brown hair ruffling in the warm breeze.
“Morning,” Jerrim’s light voice called over his shoulder.
Liana smiled. Somehow he always knew when she was around.
Jerrim had certainly grown in the two years Liana had known him. The hardening lines of the man he would one day become were evident even in his nineteen-year-old frame. Liana found herself wondering what it would’ve been like to have been friends with him in the time they had known each other, rather than just being two people that saw each other around town. She still couldn’t believe that she had run away from home with a boy she hardly knew, with dreams of finding a treasure in the Islands of the Mare.
“You’ve missed an eventful day so far,” Jerrim continued without turning around. “A pod of Delphin’s came by to sing us the morning song, before they dropped off a nice hot freshly made persebanae pie. Oh and you missed the synchronised thumb dragons that gloriously danced overhead just a while ago.”
Liana hugged herself and stepped to him, preferring to keep quiet and not let him know he was funny, which only encouraged him.
Jerrim turned as she came to him, flashing his winning smile. “A singing P’sarri merchant conjured a magical rainbow–”
“Enough, Jerrim,” she said, suppressing her smile.
“Just say I’m funny and I’ll stop,” he huffed, feigning frustration in a childish voice.
Ignoring him as she’d learned to do, Liana studied the never-ending ocean. At first, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. After so long at sea she wouldn’t be surprised. But, squinting, she was sure that she saw something out there now.
Faint brown marks smudged the misty horizon. The longer Liana looked, the clearer the protruding shapes became. She rested a hand on the ship’s mast, the large white sail billowing above her.
“The Mare,” Jerrim declared in a deep, melodramatic voice.
Liana’s breath caught. They had finally arrived.
The distant forms of the cluster of islands could now clearly be seen as their little boat approached. Somewhere out there, on one of the hundreds of the Islands of the Mare, was a treasure that would change their lives forever. A treasure that Liana needed more than anything.
She didn’t want to think about how worried her father must be, having disappeared in the night like she did. The note she left didn’t say much, but she wished that she had done more, instead of running off on the spur of the moment. But she had to go–things had to change. This treasure would help her start a new life. A life away from Doran.
“We made it.” Liana’s relief was clear as the breathy words left her.
“Not yet, Priestess.”
Liana scowled at him, though Jerrim pretended not to see the look. His rosy cheeks made it clear he regretted the remark, however.
The wind picked up, whipping her hair into his face as if acting on her emotions. She let the wild hair flick into his face a moment, enjoying the hint of frustration on Jerrim’s face, before she brought out a band and tied her messy red mane back.
She would let him be the first to speak again after his remark, and focused on the enlarging islands.
After what seemed like a good hour–who could tell time on the ocean–their little sailboat finally drifted through the first few islands of the Mare.
These were relatively small, Liana knew, compared to the larger ones that made up the bulk of the collective islands, known as The Republic of the Three Great Schools. They were mostly rock and sand to start with, though as they progressed, some of the islands showed signs of vegetation and sparse trees. She scanned some of the more habitable looking landmasses, wondering if they would see any of the Great School species roaming around.
She thought of referring to the treasure map they had stolen from Old Krupp’s attic, but didn’t want to miss the sights around them.
“Quite something, aren’t they?” Jerrim asked over his shoulder. His hands held the wheel tight as he maneuvered through the islands, careful to stay clear of the surrounding rocks.
Now he had spoken, Liana was happy to talk to him. “They’re amazing,” she said honestly.
Liana had thought that the icy peaks of Iselda’s Crown were something to behold, although she had never been as awestruck by them growing up there. Not like she was now, taking in the dozens of islands in the warm breeze.
She had never felt so free.
The wind picked up as they cleared a cluster of islands and entered a large open section of the sea.
Jerrim grunted beside her, and she knew it wasn’t a good sound.
Jerrim’s piercing blue eyes continued to study the area, ignoring her question. She hated when he did this. He had the most selective hearing out of anyone she had ever met.
The strengthening wind howled. Bulges of soft waves rolled around them now.
Liana steadied herself as the boat rocked. Her heart raced, having not felt the boat feel so unstable in all the time they had been on it.
Jerrim stepped to the mast and pulled on the ropes, furling the billowing sail.
“Li....” Jerrim said as he worked the sail, his brow furrowed.
She waited for him to continue, though it was soon clear he was lost in his thoughts again.
“Yes?” she asked, failing to hold back a hiss of frustration.
Something splashed in the water behind them. Liana spun towards the sound and saw nothing but the disturbed ocean. The rippling waters sent a chill through her.
Jerrim finally responded. “We, ahh... we might be...”
Liana’s stomach dropped when she guessed what Jerrim was going to say.
A strong wind whipped at their clothes and hair. The sea heaved and the rolling waves grew larger. The sky somehow darkened, though Liana couldn’t tell why.
...we might be in trouble.
The boat crested a wave and splashed through the roiling ocean.
A massive bulge built up over the open sea ahead of them, filling the world.
An impossibly large eye broke through the crashing water, and then they saw it. A scaled bulk lined with giant suckers cleared the rolling waves, its enormous eyes glaring at them. Thick green scales covered the massive head, which rose up like a mountain from the water.
“Hold on!” Jerrim screamed over the crashing waves as he spun the ship’s wheel.
A deafening roar bellowed from the mouth of the enormous green head. The ripples of force were visible as the scream met them. The blast of wind shattered their ship’s mast, cracking it in two. The wayward sail swept over them before the splintered mast rolled into the rough waters.
A green column broke through the waves and lashed out. Muddy liquid poured from the suckers of the thick tentacle as it wavered, smacking the water near them.
The boat lurched on a bulging wave, for a moment becoming weightless in the air, before crashing back down into the swirling sea.
All around them, thick tentacles shot out of the water and thrashed around, sending the helpless sailboat back and forth. Barrels and crates on deck scattered, bouncing into the water or shattering on the sides.
Steadying herself, Liana shielded her face from the rain that belted down from the fast-moving storm clouds.
Jerrim shouted out, but she couldn’t determine the words through the storm. Turning to him, her eyes widened in horror at seeing he was no longer at the wheel. Liana called out his name, but not even she could hear her own screams. Scrambling to the cabin door, she slipped on the wet deck and continued moving on her hands and knees. When she reached the cabin door, she felt more than saw something large falling towards her.
A tentacle came crashing down onto the front of the ship, tilting it into the water. Liana managed to lock her elbow around a wooden beam as the boat lurched up and became almost vertical.
For a second she locked eyes with the great beast when the boat became fully exposed to it. Its glistening, bloodshot eyes watched her through the storm, the tiny pupils moving up to follow the path of the boat. The heavy protruding brows, surprisingly articulate, were downturned in an angry scowl.
Liana still couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
At the sake of their own lives, they had finally witnessed the legendary Kraken of the Mare. Through the turmoil, her mind singularly focused on their goal, the treasure hidden somewhere in the Kraken’s home. She glared at the monster, determined not to let it stop them.
With a loud smack the boat fell back into the water, sending Liana across the deck to land on a fishing net filled with empty shells. The breath knocked out of her, the world began to dim and the pounding rain blurring her vision.
Finding her feet, she desperately searched the boat–and the waters–for signs of Jerrim.
Another terrifying roar filled the sky, rippling her clothes and threatening to shatter her eardrums. Tears almost joined the rain and seafoam on her face.
A hand grabbed her arm and spun her sharply.
“Get back!” Jerrim shouted, appearing with a long harpoon in hand.
Liana stumbled back from his protective shove. She watched as Jerrim pointed the harpoon at the colossal head of the Kraken. It took him several seconds to aim, holding his firm footing on the rocking boat, before he released the harpoon. The unspooling rope wavered wildly as the harpoon darted through the storm.
The point penetrated an eye of the great beast, plopping in a gush of yellow fluid and thick red blood. The massive head reeled back, roaring louder than ever. Every tentacle tensed in shock, giving the impression of dozens of columns in the sea.
Jerrim let the rifle drop. As it hit the deck it was quickly pulled out towards the heaving bulk, becoming lost in the crashing waves.
Two of the stunned tentacles came to life again and smacked the waters near them, lashing out frantically, not caring if they found their target or not.
The boat careened sideways, gallons of water pouring onto the deck.
Jerrim wrapped an arm around Liana as he steadied her, his other hand gripping the remainder of the mast.
Gigantic waves built up ahead when the Kraken rose further out of the water. Specks of fish and marine life shone on its glistening bulk as it sped towards them.
The boat sloped downwards, caught up in the trough of the building waves, now red from the pouring blood.
For an instant Liana and Jerrim’s eyes met. Their terror-stricken expressions held an acceptance in them. An acceptance that this was the end.
The Kraken dipped into the red water, along with several of the nearest tentacles.
With a great heave the head burst from the sea. The tiny sailboat curled up along the rushing waters, and as it crested the immense wave it left the water, shooting through the air with fierce velocity.
The world spun. The young boy and girl held onto the remains of the boat for their lives. The shuddering roar of the Kraken subsided somewhat, though the beast was the least of their concerns now.
How high they were, Liana could not tell, but they seemed to fly for an eternity. The inevitability of death forever approached.
Holding on as best they could, an arm wrapped around each other, Jerrim pressed his cheek closer to Liana’s. She squeezed him tighter, more for fear of the inevitable than anything else.
The peace of the serene air was replaced by a rushing wind as the vast ocean finally reached out to them.
The tip of the boat crashed into the calm waters, splitting the ship in two on impact and throwing them both into its black depths.