La Isla de Desolacion

Chapter IX: Enemies in Unfortunately High Places

After Peridas climbed the seemingly endless steps back to the top of the bluff, he searched the ruins of the camp for any survivors. He found none, and by the time his search was over the sun was just visible between the walls of the cove, a thin slash of red at the borders of the horizon. It suffused the sky with an all-too-cheery radiance that seemed almost inappropriate after the events of the previous night. As if in response to the light, Colossus raised anchor, unfurled her many sails and glided back to the bluff on the sturdy morning breeze. Once there, dismayed sailors exited the ship and escorted Peridas back on deck after scrounging the sooty wreckage for useful equipment. Along the way, they prodded the boy with endless questions of what had happened. Peridas recounted the tale, and having witnesses the banshees from the ship they believed him. They scoffed, however, at his mention of the hooded creatures.

“No men live on this island!” shouted many, or, “Boy’s done heard too many ghost stories.” These statements were not jeering, but concerned, for Peridas had saved the entire ship, and his presence always elicited a degree of respect. This facet of recognition never failed to disorient Peridas, for in his mind, all the men still had greater experience and authority than he.

On boarding the ship, the boy was informed that the tide had miraculously dispersed, and throughout the ship, preparations were being made to leave the island. When he heard this, Peridas demanded to be taken to the captain, who he found outside the first mate’s quarters, thirty feet above the main deck. He was surrounded by high-ranking sailors, and was intently studying a sea-chart. The first mate, Garvrek, a scraggly man that Peridas could smell from across the way, nudged the captain with his elbow. Frindic looked up at Peridas and said, “We’re glad that you are still with us, Hammerbane. When we first beheld the camp, many feared that there would be none left alive. Do tell me how all this occurred.”

Terrible anger welled inside the boy. If Frindic hadn’t left the men and retreated to safety, Colossus might have been able to drive off the attackers. And now, with half the ship’s crew missing, and just perhaps still alive, Frindic was preparing to abandon his allies. Peridas bit back an oath and, in a deceptively civil tone, recounted the story in as much detail as possible, leaving out his conversation with Ionus. When he finished and all the men were digesting what they had heard, the boy politely asked the captain as to why he was abandoning their friends. He worded his argument to sound as if pursuing the denizens was the only logical solution, for in the deepest, most cunning and mature part of his mind, he reasoned that unwavering determination and logic would impress Frindic, he being still quite young. But his tactic didn’t work.

Frindic rejected the proposal, saying, “Even if we could find them, I have no fit soldiers, only sailors. And we don’t know where they are, what attacked them, or even if they are still alive.”

“I’ve explained what attacked us,” Peridas replied, “and I tell you now, they are alive… they have to be. …They have to be.” He said again, as if repetition would make it true.

Frindic scowled. “We don’t know that. We actually know very little, save that banshees are now haunting our only port.”

Peridas mentally sighed. He hadn’t assumed Frindic would believe in the black figures, but had still hoped he might. The boy struggled to come up with a valid argument, but thousands of others were raging as well, just in his mind but equally exhausting. How would he find his friends? What would he do if he did? Did he really expect to challenge whoever controlled the banshees like dogs? Finally, he gathered his wits and said, “You yourself called this place hell. What did you expect to find here? Fat monks and lavish temples and merry revelries between all the men who were shipwrecked here? Do you honestly believe the whole world as tame as Greece? Think of all the beasts that we used to call monsters, but were merely animals! Here is no different! What will be said of us, when we tell our story back home, and everyone learns that we abandoned our friends on this gods-forsook island! Banshees can be killed- I’ve seen one die, as can everything else in this place!”

“Including us! Peridas, do you not know what this place is? Truly? It is the realm of legend more than anything! I’d wager you didn’t know that it is impossible to reach this island on purpose. Dozens- nay, hundreds have tried, but only a few succeeded. We know that because they were never heard from again.”

The boy’s eyebrows rose. “What do you mean, it is impossible to reach?”

Frindic scoffed. “Where do you think we are, boy? The Mediterranean? No, we were swept out into the ocean and pulled for hundreds of miles!”

Peridas suppressed his expressions of surprise at these remarks; he had to be rock-steady if anyone was to be convinced of the necessity of his mission.

Frindic continued, “Getting pulled by the current is the only way to get here. I’ve no idea what sea we are in now. No one does! There is no hope of rescue for us, unless we help ourselves. If we stay, we risk everything. Even more lives would be lost-“

“Aye, but they would die doing the right thing! Look around you, Captain. All these people will die some day. You, me; we all die. I would make certain that my death meant something!”

Several of the sailors were nodding in agreement and uttering low affirmations. Frindic fixed his eyes on the floor, and for a moment, Peridas believed his words would make it through Frindic’s thick skull, but then the Captain glared up at the boy. Peridas glared back, and both men’s faces contorted and reddened until they appeared more demon than human. The reason for the hostility was perfectly clear to the older sailors, the ones who had seen more than their share of mutinies. Peridas had the respect of the sailors, and he played on their hearts, while Frindic had the obedience of the sailors, and played on their fears.

Their argument continued for the better portion of the day, until Frindic thought of a cunning angle that he hoped Peridas had overlooked. “What happens to Greece if we stay here and die ‘honorably’?” he demanded. “Who would be left to challenge the Viking fleet? Without Colossus, Greece may already have lost the war!” 

Exclamations broke out among the younger crew members. Peridas, however, had anticipated the question, and said, “My family awaits my return in Greece, same as yours, but there is nothing we can do for them, now. If what you say is true, there is no chance of returning in time to aid our people. Athens has emptied, and we are all that’s left of it. Sparta will decide the fate of Greece.” He turned to the crowd. “‘Tis a dismal truth, I know, but if we still have the chance to save our friends from death here, then on my life, I will see it done!”

A few broken cheers went up from the crowd, then died away, replaced by scattered clapping. A hesitation rippled through the men, and then they threw off their shyness and roared and shouted and whooped; banged their scimitars against their legs and stamped their feet on the deck. Frindic bristled and shouted, “Silence! SILENCE! You can listen to this naysayer, this coward, but I tell you now, we are the hope of Greece. We will save it, and be sung of as heroes! Stay and be slaughtered if you want, but I for one am not about to let my city and family be massacred. And I will not send my ship to the bottom of the sea over the hallucinations of a blood-addled boy!”

The crews’ support shifted as easily as childrens’, and they responded with cries of, “To Athens!”

Frindic nodded, appearing satisfied. Then he turned to Peridas- who was sifting through his mind for a witty retort- and said, “Your snake-tongue would have seen me cast off my own ship! I, Captain Frindic the Unbranded, name you mutineer! Garvrek, throw this boy off my ship!”

“Yes, sir.” said the first mate with a smirk.

Peridas growled, dropped his noble tone, and began to curse Frindic as a coward and a child. The captain stiffened and said, “Now if you please, Garvrek.”

Still swearing, the boy was dragged up the stairs to the Captain’s deck by the foul-smelling sailor. That deck was a bit higher than the bluff, perhaps twenty feet. The men on the main deck had used a ladder to surmount the cliff, as Frindic considered his quarters too special for ordinary sailors to tramp through. Then Garvrek laid both hands on the boy and threw him off the deck. This took Peridas a bit by surprise; he hadn’t expected Garvrek hated him that much. The boy was still flailing about when he hit the ground. Hard. He landed on his left side- his weak side, and pain flared up his ribs. “Argh!” he exclaimed as his vision flickered and dimmed, and an image floated before him like the blobs of color he saw whenever he shut his eyes. It was gone in an instant, but he had time to see… a group of men standing on a glacier. A spiked tail erupted out of the ice and impaled one of them… That was all he could remember from such a brief image.

A loud grating sounded below him as Colossus raised anchor. Ever so slowly, the massive ship veered away from the bluff and sailed out of the cove. Peridas gazed after it, feeling nauseous. Those sick animals… they left me here… alone… with nothing. “You just left me!” he screamed. “Alone!”

He resumed his tirade against a mental image of Frindic. Presently, he was surprised to feel tears streaming down his face. Despite his disgust, he found himself on the very brink of losing his composure. His oaths became wordless, hiccuping yells, and his head swam with a sense of disbelief. And soon Colossus disappeared out of the entrance to the cove. With the vanishing of the last light of civilization, he let out an agonized howl and collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. There he lay, alone in his misery; Desolate. And the horizon became a rich orange gradient as the sun set, blessedly removed from the worries of the world.

And so, after having spent not even two days on the island, Peridas found that it was beginning to own up to its name. His desolation had already begun.

.

 

La Isla de Desolacion

Chapter VIII: Shrieking Winds Redoubt

The comet-like sphere of crying energy sped toward Peridas, flying low over the granite bluff. In the velvet darkness, the banshee gleamed with iridescent brilliance. The boy rolled to the side, and the banshee splashed against the stone where he had just been with a screech of mind-numbing intensity, and glowing indigo globs of liquid fire sprayed into the air, where they coalesced back into a single entity. Then the creature whipped around and resumed its pursuit of the boy.

Thinking, this is a bad idea! Peridas sprinted to the edge of the cliff and dived off it toward the cove’s brackish waters. For a handful of heartbeats, the boy sailed downward, wind whistling in his ears and whipping through his hair. At the last moment he pointed his arms over his head, straightened his legs, and took a deep breath. An instant later he slammed into the water and continued to plunge downward for a frightening while. His chaser followed… and collided with the sea, splaying outward like an opening fist. Its tendrils grasped at the boy with jerky, bird-like motions, but apparently it could not pass through liquid, and with one last shriek that sent ripples through the water, the banshee dissolved in a sizzling cloud of steam.

Peridas unfurled his limbs and paddled to the surface, where he quickly refilled his empty lungs. As he swam back to the cliff pass, he wondered at just how suddenly everything had gone mad. The past few days had been uneventful and therefore blended together without distinguishable incident until the crow’s nest lookout spotted land three days before. It took the rest of the day for the current to pull them to what turned out to be a large, mountainous island with hundreds of smaller, rocky islets that completely encircled their parent. From there, the current pulled Colossus  into a sheltered, high-walled cove that was enclosed by two tall, angled peninsulas.

At the far end of the cove was a tall cliff that towered over the water like a granite curtain, casting a broad shadow over the cove. An ancient, crumbling set of steps was carved into the cliff from the ocean up. Any ordinary ship’s crew would have had no choice but to climb the steps, which seemed perilous indeed, but Colossus’ crew was able to surmount the cliff with only a ladder. Over the edge of the bluff was a granite plateau, enclosed on all sides by jagged cliffs, the precursors of the black mountain that stood at the far end of the valley, about which wrapped a broad, dark forest. Several hundred yards from the forest was a dilapidated, walled redoubt which appeared to have once consisted of a forest of columns resting upon a marble base. It reminded Peridas of a militarized acropolis.

Almost immediately, the ship’s crew began to set up a tent camp on the granite bluffs, in the shadow of the redoubt, more for the comfort of the sea-weary soldiers than Colossus’ sailors. Peridas was elated at the possibility of sleeping on solid ground; the incessant rocking of the ship lulled him in a way nothing else could, but Peridas was born and bred on land, and land was his home, not the unfurled blue scroll of the sea.

Back on Colossus, after consulting amongst themselves, Skipper, Quentis, and Colossus’ captain, a haughty, intractable young imperial named Frindic the Unbranded, concluded they were on the mythical Isla de Desolacion, so named by the Spanish explorers who first discovered it. Once this discovery was made, the three men burst out waving their arms and yammering like needy hounds. The overlapping voices were mainly incoherent, but Peridas caught several snatches of warnings of danger and madness, and mutterings of a gore-filled future. Frindic insisted that the men desert their camp and return to the ship at once, but they called him an anxious young worrywart and remained among the tents. On hearing their reply, Frindic bristled with rage at the blows to his pride, and threatened the crew with charges of mutiny. The crew responded with jeers, pleads, threats and beguiling, but Frindic was unmoved. Peridas was surprised at Frindic’s evident defensiveness and wrath, but… that wasn’t quite what it was, not really. It was… was it fear? Several brawls were beginning to break out on the ship and the bluff between those who wanted to stay and those who were unwilling to be labeled mutineers. Before the situation could further decay, Skipper intervened and said, “Captain, if the men are adamant, then let them rest on solid ground. They only wish to-“

“They wish to see me beg!” the captain roared, his voice full of tension. “They will be disappointed!”

Are you certain of that “sir?” Peridas thought to himself from where he sat, arms crossed, against a beam in the captain’s map room. The last word he thought was so rife with sarcasm and derision that he involuntarily said it aloud. The captain’s head whipped toward him. “What did you say?” he demanded.

“Er- just… that- everyone seems… afraid, sir. What is this place? Really?”

Frindic exhaled a long, shaky breath that bespoke terror and anxiety and danger. Then he looked Peridas straight in the eyes and said, “Hell.” And so it proved to be.

Again Skipper spoke: “Sir, the current would not allow us to leave anyhow. Let’s wait and see if it relents. If it does, we will leave at once, but until then, it would do the soldiers good to be free of their cramped quarters.”

Frindic grudgingly relented and allowed the men to remain on the bluff if they wished, but warned them that the ship was to be sealed until dawn, and no one or thing would open its hatches before then. This elicited angry curses from the soldiers, but most insisted on staying anyway. Also, Frindic had Colossus anchored in the center of the bay, at the borders of the current, well away from any danger on the island.

These precautions were by no means subtle, but no explanation was given to the men, and great unrest was stirring the camp. The boy suspected he wouldn’t be the only one who was going to have a sleepless night. A pit was beginning to form in Peridas’ stomach, but he was heartened when Skipper and the Spartans elected to stay on the cliffs with him. Quentis Novale, too, preferred to rest on rock over water, and joined them in the city of tents. A large fire was lit in the center of the camp, and torch poles were stuck in the ground at frequent intervals, along with several watchmen stationed at every corner of the slum.

Early into the night, Peridas left his wool tent, armor donned, and crept to Ionus’s own gray tent. Along the way, he heard seemingly sourceless whispers of, “We be doomed,” or, “Did you hear that?”

“No, you’re being paranoid.”

Peridas knocked on the door post. “Hmm?” Was Ionus’s muffled reply. The boy entered. The tent was bare save an armor mannequin and a standard cot. His friend was laying on the cot with one arm tucked under his head and his other holding up a note which he was reading by lantern light. A look of profound sadness was on his scarred face. Ionus looked up from his note, and his features changed like quicksilver into a grin. “O Hammerbane! What brings one such as you to grace me with your presence?” He asked with a sarcastically loud voice. “Nothing in particular,” the boy replied. “I was just afraid that with nothing to do, I might fall asleep. And I do not want to sleep in this place, not tonight.”

“Mm.” said the Spartan, as if he had been expecting that exact answer. Silence gained dominance as the tension in the air suppressed their desire for conversation. After a few moments, Ionus scoffed, and said, “And how am I doing at keeping you awake?”

“Not very well, I’m afraid.” Peridas said truthfully, but with a sarcastic tone.

The Spartan scoffed again. The wind pummeled the sides of the tent, its howling making Peridas stir with unease. It sounded too sharp, too consistent… too sentient. It reminded Peridas of the wounded screams of agony from the men in the battle on Colossus. He shifted restlessly and said, “The bards sing of the honor and glory of war, but I’ve yet to find the honorable part. The politics aren’t. The killing isn’t-“

“Don’t tell my men that.” Ionus said. “They won’t know what to do with themselves.”

Then he added, “It isn’t dishonorable- the killing. Not in war.”

“No…” 

“And we don’t fight just to kill. If we did, you would be right. We fight to keep our people safe. There lies the honor, Peridas.”

Again the tension sucked away their attempts to be sociable. Peridas cast about for another subject. “Do you know the history between Skipper and Quentis?”

“I don’t.” replied the Spartan. So Peridas told him of the vicious quarrel that existed between the two men. In the midst of his story, the wind picked up outside the tent, and with his keen hearing Peridas could discern deep mutterings and whispers. Even Ionus tilted his head towards the noises. At first he thought it was just the watchmen, but then his jaw dropped as another gust of wind struck the tent, carrying with it snatches of whatever language the woman had spoken to him in. Horror burrowed between the boy’s shoulder blades. An instant later Peridas was out of the tent and sprinting through the camp, yelling, “They are here! They have found us!” He was too late.

The first thing that happened was that drums, deep and powerful, began to boom somewhere in the forest. Then a watchman’s torch was extinguished by a black whip that sped out of the darkness, and from the shadows where the guard now stood, a loud gag echoed forth, followed by a wet snick as a blade sliced through him. Then an unbearably loud shriek sounded sounded from the black void where the redoubt stood, and from its source flew five glowing orbs of energy that swirled and shivered with vitality all their own. They set upon the camp and whirled among the tents, burning through men and material alike, and sending drops of molten fire spewing in every direction before they fused back into a whole. A single man managed to swing an ax at one of the banshees, and the creature was rent in two, then crashed into the ground, creating a carpet of blood-red fire. Unlike before, it did not rejoin, but flickered and went out.

At the death of one of the creatures, the drumming intensified, as did the shrieking, and the Greeks screamed with unreserved terror. It was all Peridas could do to keep from being vaporized by the speeding creatures as the edges of his vision dimmed and throbbed in unison to their screeches. The boy had no time to think, he merely acted and reacted, dodging and diving and darting.

Seemingly by accident, two of the banshees crashed into each other while chasing the same man, and one jerked off course and spiraled into a tent a few yards from the boy, setting it aflame, and sending a green shock wave speeding into Peridas and throwing him backward several feet. Wisps of fire parted before him as he hurtled through the air and crashed into an oblivious soldier, from whom sounded a crack as Peridas landed on top of him. The man squeaked, wheezed, and thrashed for a moment, then died with a confused expression on his face. The death would have sickened the boy, but he was so emotionally numb that he barely noticed; he had just seen fellow comrades incinerated, and everything about the current predicament had a sense of unreality about it, like a nightmare. He needed to escape this madness.

He considered diving off the cliff into the ocean, but that seemed almost surely lethal. Next he spotted a descent hiding place several dozen yards away near the edge of the cliff and sprinted toward it. All around him, he heard the whistling creatures, and even felt the wind off one that came dangerously close. To his relief, he arrived safely at a man-sized cleft in the granite floor and crawled into it. The rift had a narrow opening that faced the camp, with a protective overhang that sheltered him from view.

And so he could safely see that at the edge of the camp, on the border of the anarchy, several pairs of red eyes appeared out of the gloom and advanced upon the Greeks. Time seemed to slow as Peridas beheld them. Banshees floated slowly past him, pursuing men that were moving like they were wading through honey. The red eyes left the cover of night, and a group of tall, snarling, hooded men with black cloaks and robes stepped into the fray. A soldier with his back to them retreated from a banshee, and one of the denizens swept his cloak over the man and pulled his screaming prize back into the darkness. Another of the hooded figures raised his hand and barked a twisted word in the same tongue that the woman had spoken to Peridas in. It was then that every hope he had that they were something else, something perhaps less dangerous than her, was erased. At the black figure’s command, the banshees ceased their assault and returned silently to the temple, suddenly placid and tame.

A wounded soldier with a broken leg and a steaming tunic noticed Peridas and crawled to his hiding place with agonizing conspicuity.

“Let me in.” he whispered.

“There isn’t room-“

A denizen noticed him and flung a wicked, twisting dagger out of its cloak, which buried itself in the soldier’s back with a muffled thump. His eyes widened and his mouth worked silently, then he collapsed over the opening to the cleft, obscuring the blazing camp. Peridas waited in darkness, scarcely breathing, with another’s blood dripping on his face, and he listened. He heard scuffling and cries of alarm, a few scattered sword clashes, a curse or two… and then nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, the boy warily pushed the body out of the entrance and surveyed the carnage. Piles of smoking ash lay everywhere, the remnants of the banshees’ victims. Appalling as this sight was, the sight relieved Peridas somewhat, as there weren’t enough piles to account for the number of soldiers that had been in the camp. But then, where were the survivors? Another, more disturbing thought occurred to him, and if it were true, he suspected that it would have been a mercy had the survivors been killed that night.

A low, buzzing drone, like some giant wasp mid-flight, reached the boy’s ears. Then a stray banshee swooped down to eye level and inspected the boy. It was a startling purple, and a nimbus of electricity crackled around it. The creature let out a triumphant wail, then darted for Peridas…

Trial for murder suspect reaches conclusion

-Phillip Miranda

April 11, 1781

Justine Moritz, 29, as of April 2nd, 1781. Moritz is condemned to die on April 13th for the murder of 7-year-old William Frankenstein.

A verdict has been reached for the perpetrator of a crime that has horrified residents of the pleasant and peaceful Swiss community of Geneva. Justine Moritz, 29, a maid in the Frankenstein household, has confessed to the murder of William J. Frankenstein, 7, who was found strangled to death, his windpipe crushed, in Plainpalais around four o’clock, eleven days ago on March 30th. William disappeared while on a walk with his aunt, cousin, father, and grandfather, none of whom knew of the boy’s fate until early the next morning. William is the youngest son of the syndic M. Frankenstein, a man of powerful political influence in Geneva.

Interestingly, the entire Frankenstein household remains convinced of Moritz’s innocence, but despite ardent protests by Victor and Elizabeth Frankenstein, William’s aunt and uncle, to waive the death penalty, the court remained steadfast in light of the solid evidence against Moritz, which was that a locket that belonged to William Frankenstein was found on Moritz’s person the day after the murder. Moritz claimed she could give no account for how the locket ended up in her pocket. Also, Justine Moritz’s extreme disorientation when confronted by the magistrate was interpreted as nervous guilt which stemmed from her murder of William. Moritz has been scheduled to die at the gallows two days from today, on April 13, 1781.

La Isla de Desolacion

Chapter VII: Hammerfall

Peridas observed the battle from the small deck outside the captain’s quarters. After landing on Colossus, the Viking forces formed one large semicircular shield-wall, which swelled to an enormous size as more warriors poured onto the deck. The boy glimpsed the feared Viking chieftain, Captain Borgrave, as he leaped onto the deck, clad in gleaming plate armor. The captain towered over the other warriors, standing over a head taller than his brothers in arms, who were themselves dramatically bigger than most of the Greeks- save the Spartans.

Borgrave wielded an impractically large warhammer with a double-sided head; both sides were divided into four symmetrical segments, and from each segment jutted a blunt spike about an inch long. The weapon’s shaft was even taller than Peridas and was as thick around as the boy’s forearm. Peridas guessed that just the head of the hammer weighed eighty pounds. The boy swallowed several times without noticing. We have to beat him? he thought.

A few other Vikings, arrayed in similar armor to Borgrave, joined him in the heart of the formation and formed a second shield wall well within the first. Clever… . Peridas thought. Any soldier that tried to reach Borgrave would have to fight their way past two walls and half the Viking army. Borgrave barked orders to his men with a thick accent and a harsh snarl disfiguring his face, doing his utmost to conceal the cowardice of his strategy; the three Greek commanders on Colossus were stationed at the heads of their battalions.

The last of the Leviathan’s crew had emptied onto Colossus’ main deck, and the massive force surged forwards- spreading out like an ocean tide- and collided with the Greek army, creating a deafening clamor.

The armies appeared evenly matched, but the Viking warriors seemed to have more stamina, and ever so slowly pushed the Greeks back, step by step. Even the seasoned group of Spartans that Ionus commanded were hard pressed to stay out of reach of the Vikings’ hungry blades. Captain Borgrave and his guards were especially lethal. They swept through Colossus’ ranks with near impunity, Borgrave laughing grimly the whole while, leaving none alive. Their advanced armor and exceptional martial training were indeed a dreadful combination. We’ll need every man we can get before the day is out. Peridas thought, already nervous. He pressed his left hand to his numb side, testing the amount of force he could withstand. The puncture wound throbbed but weakly. Somewhat reassured, Peridas swallowed his trepidation and dropped from his vantage point, loosely holding onto a piece of rigging to control his descent.

The boy landed lightly, then rolled under a vicious two-handed ax-swing and kicked his attacker in the gut. The warrior stumbled back several feet. Peridas rose, grasped the Viking’s ax and smashed his knee into the warrior’s side. The Viking cursed but held onto the weapon. While keeping hold of the ax with his right hand, the boy spun quickly to gain momentum and smashed his left elbow into the Viking’s temple, dropping the brute. Then Peridas jumped, grabbed a crossbeam and swung from it with as much momentum as possible, driving both heels under the jaw of another Viking. There was a loud crack overlaying a series of simultaneous pops. The warrior tumbled backwards, teeth spilling out of his ruined mouth, which was hanging open wider than an idiot’s slackjaw.

A duo of swordsmen stalked toward Peridas, warily keeping their arms and weapons tucked close to their bodies. At the same time, a spearman advanced on him from the opposite direction. Peridas collected his thoughts, mentally labeled the attackers, and then darted towards the third man. Peridas grabbed the spear near its blade and tried to rip it from the spearman’s grasp. The spear slid partway out of the Viking’s hands, but then he tightened his grip on the weapon, immobilizing it. Peridas swore, placed his second hand on the shaft, and thrust the blunt end backwards into its owner. It struck the Viking in the chest and he grunted in pain. Twice more the boy struck him, the third blow cracking his sternum. As the spearman’s body fell, Peridas twisted to face the first two warriors. A nearly invisible strip of silver sped towards his neck, like a whip made of shining gray thread. Startled, Peridas jerked his head back with a cry, and he felt a faint tugging on his collar. Before the swordsman that had swung at him could recover, Peridas lunged and caught him in the throat.The Viking collapsed with a gurgle. The boy instinctively drew the spear’s shaft to his side at eye level to ward of the blow that he knew was coming from the second swordsman. There was a dull thud that jarred his arm, and then Peridas swept the warrior off his feet with a twirl of the spear and finished him with a single thrust.

For Peridas, most of the battle was a nightmarish jumble of tangled limbs and flashing weapons. He dispatched several himself, relying on surprise and momentum to compensate for his lack of strength. Others he distracted or provoked into charging towards him, into the groups of Greek soldiers, where they where immediately slain. The Greeks quickly learned to mind Peridas’ presence and to take advantage of the openings he provided. Peridas tried not to kill anyone- he wanted no blood on his hands- but he could not spare every berserker or overeager swordsman that tried to chop him to pieces. After all, their lives were not above his. Not his, nor Ionus’s. And so, when he was in truly grave danger, he killed. And killed… and killed… . And all throughout the battle the frequent sound of Borgrave’s hammer cracking shields and swords punctured the din, accompanied by his feral giggling. The enormous man and his heavily armored companions had punched through the Greek defenses and slain the Athenian commander- leaving just Ionus and Novale to command the Greeks- and Borgrave was even at that moment advancing on Ionus’s cluster of Spartans. I have to kill him- now. Thought Peridas, If he reaches Ionus-

A quick punch in between Peridas’ eyes shook him from his reflections. He had been grappling with an unusually bright warrior for the past few minutes, dodging and striking in grim disdain of his opponent’s wit. Peridas finally triumphed by feigning a punch, then abruptly kicking the warrior in the kneecap and headbutting him in the nose as the Viking fell forward. There was a wet crunch as the warrior’s nose gave way under Peridas’ forehead. As the body slumped to the floor, Peridas glimpsed Borgrave striding toward him from the opposite side of the ship, teeth bared in a wicked, twisted snarl. His retinue continued to attack the Spartans, but Ionus caught the captain’s change in direction and glared after the man with a cold fury in his eyes at being unable to help his friend.

“You’ve caused enough hurt for my men, boy!” spat Borgrave in Greek.

“Not quite,” Peridas whispered to himself, already moving toward the captain.

As the two men charged, a pair of Greek soldiers darted in front of Borgrave and leveled their spears at his chest. Likewise, a Viking berserker wearing only breeches and covered with an elaborate tattoo that flowed over his entire torso, stepped forward and swung a massive greatsword at Peridas, as if to catch him in the stomach. Without slowing, Peridas caught the flat of the blade between his gauntlet-protected palms, yanked the sword from the Viking’s hands, spun counter-clockwise, and struck the berserker in the ear with the sword’s pommel. The man howled and dropped to the deck, arms wrapped around his head. At the same time, Borgrave swept both spears aside like they were nothing more than river reeds. Then, instead of slaying the soldiers with his hammer, the captain simply surged forward and trampled them underfoot, as a draft horse might.

…And they resumed their headlong rush at each other, bidding both armies to stop and witness their duel. As he ran, Peridas searched for anything in his opponent’s bearing that might provide him with an advantage. He found none- save Borgrave’s single-minded determination.

When they were but fifty feet apart, the captain lifted his hammer over his head almost as if he was preparing to throw it. The boy was aware of nothing but the man in front of him… thirty feet… and the drumming of his boots… twenty feet… and heard naught but the pounding of his pulse… ten feet… .

Borgrave took one prodigious leap and swung his hammer in a shallow arc that would have pulverized the boy, whether he dodged left or right. So instead, Peridas dove forward and slid between Borgrave’s legs. Before the captain could react, Peridas lashed out with both legs and kicked Borgrave in the back of his knee. The joint gave way several inches, held for a moment, and then buckled, sending the captain to his knees. Even on the ground, the man was so large that Peridas had to jump as high as he could to swing his hips and legs, and kick Borgrave in the side of his head with all his might. Through his leather boot, Peridas could feel Borgrave’s ear being smashed flat.

Having used both legs in his attack, Peridas toppled to the ground with Borgrave, who was cursing weakly in Old Norse. Before the boy could stand, Borgrave slammed his elbow into Peridas’ chest. The pain seemed too sharp to have come from a blunt strike; it seared and spiked deeply into his muscles, unlike the broad but dull ache that most punches elicited. Gasping in shock, he pushed off the deck and staggered to his feet, and remained there, stunned. As Peridas shook off his daze, a leg as tall as he was arced through the air and connected with his bicep. An inappropriately satisfying pop emanated from his shoulder as he flew through the air and collided with a mast. His neck kinked in a way it wasn’t supposed to, and a jagged line of ice-cold fire tore through his neck, then his shoulder, then his chest. He howled but couldn’t hear himself, couldn’t hear anything in fact.

With an enormous effort of will, he sat up and opened his stubbornly clenched eyes. Green… puddles- swatches of color- dominated his vision, but after a few moments they cleared and he saw the captain stumbling after him as if he were drunk. His right ear was torn and drooping, and his face was slack, but the position of his hammer bespoke everything. Peridas stood and an grimaced at the almost metallic shriek at the base of his brain-stem that punctuated his body’s thousands of protests. His heart fluttered like a wisp of flame in a gale. He knew what that meant, and if he was going to die, so be it. But if he did he was sure going to kill that smug maggot Borgrave first.

The chieftain’s stride quickened, and Peridas charged… and the hammer fell…

…And smashed through the deck where Peridas had been a half-second after the boy jumped backwards and landed safely out of reach. Borgrave tried to yank the hammer out of the planks, but it was wedged firmly in the deck. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Peridas darted forward and ran up the hammer’s shaft, then spun backwards and used his considerable momentum to kick Borgrave square in the chin. The boy heard a dull clack as Borgrave’s jaws smacked together, then he he completed his backflip and landed on a hand and a knee where he started off. He looked up at the captain; he was standing straight and rigid as a column, his jaws clamped so tightly, the bottom one appeared to be missing. There was a deep split running through his chin, which was dark purple and dripping blood and fluids. The ruined chieftain stood for a moment more, then tipped backward and collided with the deck. And throughout the entire ship all was still. And then a roar of excitement and admiration issued from the Greeks, accompanied by the Vikings’ groans of rage and despair. 

***

“Watch-“

“I’ve got him!”

“Not him-“

“Ow!”

HIM!”

Peridas ducked under a flying javelin and grabbed a short-sword from the ground. A Viking wielding two large daggers lunged toward him; the boy simply side-stepped him and continued. When he was within accurate throwing distance, he cocked his arm- ignoring his recently relocated shoulder’s throbbing protests- and sent the short-sword spinning end over end through the press of skirmishers and into the ribs of the warrior that had just wounded Ionus. The man dropped like an under-stuffed doll. Ionus inclined his head in thanks. The man with the daggers advanced on Peridas again. “Go away!” Peridas shouted. The Viking flinched, and the boy sprung forward and tackled him to the ground. A fist slammed into the boy’s side, his injured side, and he could feel warm blood starting to run down his stomach. Peridas gritted his teeth, then dug his fingers behind the Viking’s collarbone and yanked on it as hard as he could. A scream, a spasm, stillness… and the battle swept to a different part of the deck, leaving the boy alone with the dead.

Peridas lay on top of the corpse, panting, and gazing through the twisting system of ropes into the azure sky. Beneath him, he heard the steady rhythm of his dripping blood hitting the deck at an alarming rate. Phantom images floated across his vision. He saw children gazing forlornly into the gloom of night, waiting for parents that would never return; he saw widows- ragged, threadbare, and abandoned- weeping over empty caskets surrounded with lilies and wildflowers. He had killed earlier, but he didn’t have time to think about it. Now that he could, he was revolted. Families, farms, hopes and homes; how many of those had he destroyed by taking only a few lives in battle? He leaned over and wretched on the deck. His eyes darted involuntarily to the corpse’s chest. He willed himself to look away. He thought over and over: That must have hurt. How could I… What if someone did that to me? …That must have hurt… 

Beads of sweat trickled over his brow and down his nose. His hands shook, and his eyes couldn’t focus. His dripping blood sounded so loud, it hurt his head. He felt his fingers again closing around the Viking’s collarbone; crushing, constricting. Peridas let out an unexpected groan, which made him start at the noise. He stood and focused on breathing through his nose and out his mouth. Eventually, his heartbeat slowed, the tears ceased, and his hands stopped shaking.

The boy heard a faint whistling and turned, and a fist curved into his jaw and, for a brief instant, Peridas stumbled back, half unconscious. Before him was a weaponless Viking with a gash in his armor. He attacked again, and Peridas tried to deflect the blow, but missed, and an elbow hit him in the stomach. Stunned, Peridas kicked blindly upward, hoping to hit his attacker, who caught the boy’s leg and held it, and then said, “First you, then all of Greece!” and Peridas saw the Viking unsheathe a dagger.

“No!” He shouted, climbing up the man’s leg.

Peridas grabbed a shoulder and pulled himself onto his feet, then pounced and sank his teeth into the Viking’s neck muscle. The man screamed and fell onto his back, swatting at Peridas, who lost his grip and fell on his hands and knees. He lunged and tried to bite the Viking again, but the man maneuvered his arms between them and held Peridas at bay. The boy pushed and snapped with abandon, and thought that must be quite how a wolf or some such creature must feel when trying to subdue it’s prey. Beneath him, the Viking was uttering a high-pitched stream of curses. Before either of them could gain the upper hand, a shadow fell over the two men and the tip of a sword pressed against the Viking’s jugular. Peridas looked up and beheld Skipper, battered and scraped, but whole. With an exhausted sigh, the boy rolled off the frozen man and lay heaving on the deck, utterly spent. Peridas turned his head and looked toward where he thought the battle should be. A few hundred limping figures where striding over the remains of the carnage, scavenging equipment. “Skipper… did we win?” he asked between breaths.

“Yes, O Hammerbane.” replied the old man with a twinkle in his eyes. “We won.”

A loud crash emanated from the Leviathan to their right, and moments later a team of Greek saboteurs leaped off its deck and landed safely on Colossus. Then the Viking ship slowly began to drift away, sinking into the sea the whole while. Peridas gazed down at his blood covered hands. He was lacking a couple of fingernails, and a large chunk of flesh was missing from his left hand. “I’m not doing too well…”

“Come on, then.” Skipper said, grabbing him by the arm.

He led the boy back to the doctor’s quarters, passing Ionus along the way. The Spartan squinted and said, “Peridas, is that you?”

“Aye.” he replied, conscious of the motley of bruises and cuts and welts that covered his face.

The screams and groans of wounded men filled the doctor’s quarters, creating such a hideous clamor that Peridas wanted to plug his ears and leave. He sat in an empty corner and held his sleeve over his mouth and nose in an attempt to filter out some of the putrid odors that wafted through the air. After the better part of an hour, his wounds were dressed and bandaged, and he left for the barracks, hoping to forget the horrors of battle in the warm embrace of sleep. Any soldiers he passed in Colossus’ enormous and unnaturally quiet corridor greeted him with curt nods and mutterings of, “Hammerbane,” and while he found the title immensely pleasing, it was disconcerting for him to be recognized and addressed by complete strangers. Once he reached his designated bunk hold, he found an empty bed and collapsed into it, weary and haunted from the day’s events.