Chapter 33: The Beast
Colin watched Mariselle emerge from her tent and move to the gallows suspending his cage, as lightning cracked overhead. He pressed his face to the bars of his cage to catch her gaze.
“Mariselle, look you don’t need to do this . . .,” he started.
“No more talk,” she said and yanked on the pillory’s drop rope. The pillory’s sides flew open, Colin screamed and locked his fingers into the latticed bars. The metal cut into his fingers as he dangled over the dark chasm.
“Damn you!” Mariselle screamed and pulled out her dagger, she sliced the support rope in half and Colin gasped as the cage fell with him into the dark foam far below.
He hit the water hard and immediately was slammed under the wash by the weight of the framework surrounding him. Colin struggled up against his cell as it pushed him farther down under the water line into the abyss. He struggled to push away from it, but his sleeve caught a jagged edge of bars and tangled his arm. Water filled his mouth, and Colin instantly shut it close, desperate to save what air he could. The cage folded around him like a hand as he landed on the soft murky bottom.
Door, opening, something, look for it. Colin’s mind raced. No opening in the bars seemed wide enough to fit more than his arm.
Where’s the side of this thing?
Colin reached out with his free hand and tried to burrow his fingers under the edge. Nothing. The darkness was all-encompassing. He could be facing the sheer cliff or a shadow for all he knew. His hands desperately ran across another edge of the cell and found it had hit so hard into the ground it was now sinking several inches below the agitated muck. Colin settled his frantic mind. The last of the air was leaving his lungs.
Dark. Cold. This is where I die.
A thousand dreams flashed in his mind: climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, buying a boat, spending time with his mom. But finally, his thoughts rested on Alex’s face.
Yeah, that’s the one. The thought surprised him.
Far above, through the liquid glass, Colin saw lightning flash, illuminating the pit surrounding him. There, staring at Colin in the darkness was the beast, beating its massive tail back and forth, its four eyes gazing through him. Colin pushed away from the cage’s edge, tearing his sleeve free as he turned to the soil a few inches below.
The creature rushed forward, its massive jaws opened wide.
It ripped the cage and Colin from the soil and shot upwards, breaking through the water like a missile with the metal mass wedged between its wide, serrated fangs. Colin gasped as they broke the surface and felt fresh air fill his lungs again.
Within seconds he was shoved underwater once more as the beast drove the cage into the side of the chasm wall. The cage squealed in agony as it collided with the rocks. Lightning flashed again. Colin stared at an infinite row of bloodstained teeth inches from his face. He hung on to the bars even harder. As huge as the creature was, it couldn’t swallow the cage whole.
The beast gnawed and gnashed its razor jaws into the metal, struggling to reach the boy in the center. One by one the bars folded under the pressure. Colin shrunk back, afloat in the center of his collapsing cell. The great beast tore the cage from the rocks and carried it upwards. The monster broke the ragged pillory through the foam again, and Colin again gasped for life.
Far above, Mariselle’s men jeered and laughed. Colin could hear her voice.
“Tell me when he’s dead,” she ordered and turned away.
The beast rammed the remnant of the cage against the exposed rocks breaking the surface of the water. The jagged reef held the framework in place as the creature’s tongue slapped up against Colin’s leg, savoring his taste. Colin screamed and tried to pull himself up from its touch as the metal around him folded into the rocks. With a moan, the metal hinge collapsed into the monster’s mouth and Colin’s cocoon opened, liked a cracked egg, leaving him completely unprotected.
The creature dropped hold of the cell and swerved around to the far side of the dark pool. Colin saw the beast rub against the latticed barrier blocking the way to the sea.
It wants out. It’s as much a prisoner here as I am. He looked to his sides of the rock wedges holding the remnants of the cage in place and realized he was now perfectly angled for the monster to grab. The creature turned and rushed forward again. Colin desperately felt for something, anything to defend himself with.
The word flashed in his mind. Colin dismissed it as he pulled a long loose bar from the broken cell and held it out, a miniscule defense against the reaper rushing nearer. The creature’s gaping jaws filled his sight and he screamed as he held the bar aloft.
It struck something solid and he clasped it harder. Again, they were under the water. Lightning flashed overhead once more, illuminating the pit. Colin saw the bar he grasped was caught between two huge incisors, holding him like bait on a line. The beast chomped ferociously at the bar like a horse working its way through a broken bit.
Again the word. Pacem appeared in his thoughts. They broke the surface.
“Pacem!” Colin yelled before water once again blinded him and filled his mouth. The creature slowed and its jaws paused. Its head broke the waterline. Colin was surrounded by rows of teeth. “Pacem!” Colin gasped again. The creature closed its mouth shut and darkness filled Colin’s vision.
“God, no, please! please! Pacem!” Colin cried. But the beast’s tongue was still. Colin lost his grip and fell into the cavernous mouth, waiting for the pain and loss of consciousness. He landed against a back row of teeth but they remained static. He felt the thing turn and make a sharp dive. Colin rolled forward into the beast’s front teeth as if the creature had flung itself onto something hard.
The impact was slight as if some unseen force was cushioning him within the monster’s mouth. The jaws remained shut, as the creature bashed against the barrier again and again. The thick stench of rotten fish and decayed flesh filled Colin’s nostrils. He wanted to gag but there was air here and he forced himself to breathe. He had to.
Another burst forward and Colin heard a mighty crash from outside his fleshy prison. The words he had spoken not only seemed to quiet the monster’s instincts but funnel its rage toward a specific target. As if some unseen hand was leading it, Colin felt the beast surge forward again.
The barrier, my God, the damn thing’s broken through. In the darkness, he waited for the teeth to open again, for the tongue to wrap around him and pull him down into the creature’s gullet, but the rows of razor teeth remained motionless.
Colin could feel a slight trickle of water leaking from the corner of the creature’s mouth and draining down to its throat. The rancid air was warm enough to be comfortable. In the blackness, Colin reached out and felt the bar, still lodged among the rows of teeth above him. He dropped his hand. The metal rod wouldn’t save him now. Better to be swallowed and die quickly then let the struggle drag on. The beast moved ahead with purpose and there in the mouth of death, Colin felt something different, a feeling that came across him slowly like the sun breaking through the clouds.
Pacem. The word became clear in his mind. Peace.
* * * * * * * *
“What?” Mariselle sighed as Ananias entered her tent and bowed before her.
“The boy is dead.”
She nodded. Not the easiest victory, but still a victory nonetheless. Ananias paused, his eyes darting to and from her face.
“What else? Speak!” she demanded.
“The beast seems to have broken through the sea barricade.”
“Just as well. It served its purpose. We have more pressing matters to deal with.”
Ananias looked down and shuffled his feet like a guilty child.
“Anything else?” Mariselle asked.
“M’lady there are . . . messengers . . . on the outskirts of the camp. They wish to speak with you.”
“I’m not holding court. Tell me the message yourself!” She moved past him and sat at her vanity. She picked up a hairbrush and began straightening out her long brunette tresses.
“I’d rather not. They are quite adamant that it be you and you alone they see. They won’t leave the shadows nor come close to our campfires. They claim to speak for Lord Dagon,” Ananias replied.
Mariselle lowered her brush and stared at Ananias in the mirror’s reflection. “Are they human?”
Ananias shook his head, “No, M’lady. I didn’t get that impression.”
She stood and cleared her throat. “Hissith. I should’ve known.”
Ananias saw the fear in her eyes. “Should I rouse the guards?”
Mariselle shook her head. “What good would it do? They’d be slaughtered before they could draw their blades.” She turned and walked out of the tent.