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       The Hollow, p.15

           Andrew Day
 
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taught them close combat with a staff, but Serrel had not exactly proven himself a natural born warrior. Even with Caellix holding back, and she was holding back he realised, he only narrowly avoided being impaled over and over by the skin of his teeth.

  With one final thrust, Caellix sent the spear flying to his throat. Serrel managed to cast his shield again, then felt a sharp prick right on his adam’s apple. He weaved his shield too slowly, and instead of stopping the blow, it had formed around the shaft of her spear, giving it easy access. Part of Serrel noted with interest the way the shield didn’t pass through obstructions, and just formed itself around them, and filed the information away for future reference. The rest of him focused on not moving a single muscle, or even breathing, in case he accidentally opened his own throat.

  He did not have to worry. Caellix held the spear with extraordinary control, and kept it perfectly still, its tip just touching the skin of his throat.

  “What’s next, Fresh Meat?” she asked him. “What’s your next trick?”

  Serrel held up a finger in a just-give-me-a-moment gesture. There were more laughs behind him.

  “Do try not to make a mess, Sergeant,” said Captain Snow, who was watching the fight from a spot near the helm.

  “Stick him!” yelled Dogbreath. “Heheh.”

  With perfect timing, the whole ship suddenly shook violently. There was an ominous groaning of wood and the ship listed to port. Caellix lowered her spear quickly to avoid causing a messy accident, and the two of them fought to remain standing.

  “What just happened?” Brant asked aloud.

  “Snow!” the ship captain was yelling angrily. “What’s yer bloody wizard doin’ to my ship?”

  “I didn’t do anything!” Serrel snapped indignantly.

  Caellix made a face. “Gods, I hate the sea,” she muttered and turned to look out over the railing, their fight forgotten.

  Serrel joined her at the rail. “What is it?”

  “Do I look like a sailor to you, Fresh Meat?” She pointed to the surface of the water. “Maybe you can tell me what the hell that is.”

  Serrel saw a large dark shadow under the water, growing larger and larger. Then suddenly the sea exploded, and a huge black object almost as large as the ship they were on hurled itself out of the water and into the air. Serrel had a momentary view of fins and a huge tail, before the creature fell back into the sea with a giant splash, spraying up a great wave of water that drenched the pair, and sent the ship rocking again.

  Caellix shook her head, spraying water from her dreadlocks over Serrel. “I hate the sea,” she repeated.

  The other Hounds and most of the sailors lined up at the rail.

  “Wow,” said Holly. “What was that?”

  “Whales,” said one of the sailors. “Great Blacks. Been a while since we’ve seen one of them. They don’t usually come to these waters.”

  As they watched, more and more of the creatures began surfacing all around the ship. Some came up slowly, and blew great plumes of water into the air as they took a breath. Others leapt dramatically skywards as the first had done. In other vessels in the flotilla, soldiers and sailors were lining up to take in the sight as more whales appeared amidst the mass of ships.

  The captain growled. “Blacks be bad luck,” he muttered.

  “Only if they land on you,” said Brant, as the ship rocked back and forth from the force of the landing whales.

  “Blacks be bad luck, you dosy boy,” the captain repeated. “That’s why we stopped huntin’ ‘em.”

  “They’re just big fish,” said Holly.

  “Mammals actually,” said Brant.

  “Tain’t the whales yer need to worry about,” insisted the captain. “It’s what comes after ‘em.”

  Serrel looked over at him. “Why?” he asked. “What comes after them?”

  The first sailor shook his head. “That’s just a-”

  He was cut off by another whale erupted from the sea. It was far too close to the ship for comfort, and it was the biggest one yet. Except...

  Serrel stared in horror as the whale landed back in the sea, only just missing the hull of the ship. It wasn’t just a whale. Something had been wrapped around it. He had a glimpse of what looked like... snakes?

  Another whale came up, thrashing violently, its huge tail throwing a mass of water all over the onlookers strong enough to send a couple sprawling. And Serrel saw it clearly. Not snakes. Tentacles. Huge tentacles wrapping around the struggling whale and yanking it back beneath the waves.

  “I told you!” roared the captain.

  “What the hell was that?” Holly asked in shock.

  “Krakens,” the captain snarled. “A whole school of bloody krakens. They come up, chasin’ the whales.”

  “Oh, well now. That’s just perfect,” said Caellix scathingly.

  “How much trouble are we in right now?” asked Captain Snow calmly.

  “Plenty,” said the captain. “If we don’t get clear o’ the school, them Blacks will knock us to pieces. And if we’re really unlucky, one o’ them krakens might decide he wants a bite o’ us...”

  “Oh. Well, then. No worries.”

  “If ye have a god, Snow, I’d start praying to him.”

  “Good point,” said Snow. He turned to his men. “Hounds! Off the leash. It’s time to pray.”

  Without a word, the Hounds dashed back to the hold. Several jumped down below-decks, while others waited by the ladder. Soon, a long stream of weapons emerged on deck, passed up from below and distributed around the group. It didn’t take long for everyone to be armed.

  “What d’yer think yer can do with those?” the captain asked witheringly.

  “We generally find a use for them in most situations,” replied Snow, accepting an ornate sword from Brant.

  Serrel was impressed at the speed and coordination of his unit. He stayed out of the way, and watched the sea seethe with monsters. Fleeing whales sped hurriedly through the water, while huge masses of red tentacles sped after them with alarming tenacity. He watched a giant kraken pass silently under the ship and disappear.

  Beside him, Caellix gripped her spear tightly and pursed her lips. Her eyes danced across the surface of the water, seeking the next threat.

  Then it happened. A large whale, masses of red tentacles coiled tightly around it, launched itself from the water and slammed straight into the ship nearest them. Serrel heard the sound of wood cracking, and breaking to pieces, then men screaming as their ship came apart around them. He watched in horror as the ship rolled over onto its port side and began to sink, men on its deck sliding down and landing into the sea.

  “Hell,” said Snow. “Come to starboard, we need to help them!”

  “Belay that!” said the captain. “If there be men in the water, they be as good as dead.”

  “They aren’t dead yet.”

  “There’ll be a frenzy! The krakens will attack anythin’ that moves!”

  “Captain!” Caellix snapped. “There are Legion on that ship. So you can either come to starboard, or you can go swimming.”

  The captain scowled. “Bloody Legion... Fine! On yer head be it! Come about, lads, and tool up! We be in for a fight!”

  Serrel held on to the rail as the ship veered towards the stricken vessel. He saw men and woman struggling in the water. Then he saw a vast red shape appear beneath them, and one by one they started being pulled underwater.

  He wondered who had been on that ship. If it had held someone he knew.

  The ship came upon the floundering crew, and the sailors quickly threw rope and barrels over the side. But anyone unlucky to be in the water was quickly dragged down and lost. The dying crew and members of the Legion aboard did their best to drag themselves onto the wreck of their ship, but it was sinking too fast to give them any real aid.

  Serrel watched one woman in a Legion uniform struggling up the side of the almost vertical deck, as a long red tentacle slithered up from beneath her. She screamed as
it wrapped around her leg.

  “’Scuse me,” Holly pushed past him, lifting a bow. She sighted down the arrow at the tentacle, and let fly.

  The tentacle twitched in pain as the arrow drove into it. When a second arrow fired by Brant impacted, it let go of the woman and shot back underwater. But just as someone threw her a rope, the woman lost her grip and slid down to join it.

  “Damn it!” Holly swore.

  Serrel looked at the water, at the red shape beneath the surface. It wasn’t too deep.

  “Can you hit the body?” he pointed at the long, thick mass attached to the tentacles.

  Holly and Brant lowered their aim, and fired. The arrows hit the water, but were slowed down too much and merely bounced off the kraken’s thick flesh.

  Caellix swore, flipped her spear over and impaled it blade first into the deck of the ship for safe keeping. She turned to the nearest sailor. “You! Harpoon! NOW!”

  She held out her hand, and caught the harpoon he threw to her. Then she leapt onto the rail and balanced upon it in a crouch. Serrel reached up and grabbed a hold of her belt instinctively, and braced his feet. Caellix pulled back her arm, aimed, and hurled the harpoon with all her strength.

  It sailed through the air, down through the water, and slid through the kraken’s flesh. The monster thrashed in pain, tentacles lashing out and hammering anything unlucky enough to get too close. There was the limp body of a man still held in one, flung back and forth like a rag doll.

  Serrel caught sight of the harpoon, still lodged in its body. He pointed his staff at it, and pictured in his mind a fist, no, a hammer, slamming down on the end of
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