Chapter 49: The Cost of Crowns
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Chapter 49: The Cost of Crowns

 

Norbert strained against the rope as the crew struggled to adjust the sails. Finally the sails were in the correct position and the ship would move well on the charted course.

“Aye that should do it, thanks young master.” the second officer Pete said as he clapped Norbert on the shoulder.

“I had my share of sailing in my travels.” Norbert said.

“Well that’s good to hear…” Pete said as the pair headed back to the wheel of the ship.

Norbert looked ahead past the prow of the ship and he saw the massive wall of mist that covered the Isles of the Dead. He was on an expedition to the Isles, legends say that on those cursed isles there held a great hoard of treasure. Piles and piles of Grahanam Crowns, enough to buy a nation or two…

Only problem was… no one ever enters the mist and returns. Some say the mist is sailed by the Drowned Armada, a fleet crewed by the drowned dead that died in that cursed mist. Captained by a cursed hero from a bygone age, with a face of a lamb and curved horns on her head. They say half her face was rotted with nothing but bones and maggots eating away at the flesh.

Well those were just stories, they have never been confirmed. Most likely the mist just affected visibility to the point that the ships ended up wrecking on the rocks. Scattered islands often had many smaller shoals of rocks surrounding them. 

If Norbert had to guess, that place was a ruin… probably one of those cursed places like the Sea of Mists of the Land of Shattered Bones. Why would an undead fleet sail aimlessly in the mists? Furthermore this legend was tied to this old sea shanty, which just adds further suspicion to the veracity of the claim.

Honestly Norbert, thinks the Drowned Armada is just an old wives tale, born from an old shanty. A shanty that has been turned into a lullaby by the way. This of course would carry the legend far and wide.

“You really think there’s no Drowned Armada?” the captain Felipe asked as he turned to look at Norbert.

“There’s no evidence of it. I’m not about to let an old wives tale decide my future. Have you ever met anyone that has met the Drowned Armada and the Two Faced Admiral?” Norbert asked.

“That’s because no one survives to tell the tale.” Felipe replied.

“Oh? Then where do the stories come from? If no one survives to tell the tale.” Norbert countered as he raised a brow.

“Wondered that myself honestly…” Felipe replied with a small chuckle.

“It’s a ghost story, the real danger is the mist… that problem I can solve…” Norbert said as he looked at the large glowing green lantern on deck. Norbert was a mage, trained in the great Istland Academy, the finest mage academy in Elysia and beyond.

“You know the deal, if the lantern doesn’t work. Then we turn around, if it works and we find that stash we split it half and half.” Norbert said.

“Aye that was the agreement…” Felipe said as he steered the ship so that it was now approaching the mist at an angle.

Norbert looked expectantly as they approached, this lantern was the product of years of work. Norbert held his breath as the ship approached the mist side on, to see if the mist could really be pushed back the lantern.

His heart jumped for joy when he saw the lantern glow and the mist retreated in a circle around the ship. The space was quite large, enough for the ship to navigate…

“Looks good. What do you say lads shall we go in the mist?” Felipe asked as he shouted down at the crew,

“AYE!” the crew replied with a cheer.

“HAHAHA We don’t believe in ghost stories!” Felips said as the crew laughed in response.

Norbert smiled as the ship turned and entered the mist proper. The Lantern was doing well, the mist was clear and they could navigate…

He looked down at his magic compass, a special tool he developed that was resistant against latent Ether interference. It should keep working as long as the mist doesn't crawl over the ship. 

Norbert looked at dead waters around him and he saw he was right; the waters were filled with jagged rocks that protruded above the waves. He could see some bit of driftwood bobbing on the waves.

“Looks like you were right, the rocks and the mist sank many vessels.” Felipe said.

“Told you they were just ghost stori…” Norbert began but they suddenly heard an ominous creak. Like a great ship was nearby…

“What was that?” one of the crew asked as the crew looked around but saw nothing.

Then Norbert heard the sound of humming echo out from the mists… it was coming from all around them…

“It’s just ghost stories…” Norbert muttered as he felt his blood turn to ice.

Then a female voice echoed out from the mists…

 

Ghost stories?

Well, you are right about that…

But one thing you should know, ghosts are real…

So ghost stories are just… stories about ghosts…

You better start believing in ghost stories

You’re in one…

But you will learn, the drowned can sing too…

Like my sisters, your drowned gaping mouths can sing too…

 

At the moment the humming grew louder and Norbert felt his heart drop as he realised what song they were humming… That old shanty turned lullaby…

 

So it's into the void

Now me girls and me boys

From mother's hands we go

We'll be sailing against the sun

Till the voyage is done

Then we'll be sleeping in the cold below

 

Sisters… below, below

We're going where the winds don't blow

Yes we're all bound down

To the deep and we'll all be

Sleeping in the cold below, below

Sleeping in the cold below…

 

Our sailing ship

Is for the hard and the quick

We roll our load and go

There's a living to be made

Or there's hell to pay

When you're sleeping in the cold below

 

Sisters… below, below

We're going where the winds don't blow

Yes we're all bound down

To the deep and we'll all be

Sleeping in the cold below, below

Sleeping in the cold below…

 

HAHAHAHA!

 

Norbert covered his ears as the mad cackling laughter echoed out from the mists around them, but still the humming continued…

Then Norbert heard a rumble and a great black ship emerged from the waves. The ship was made of rotted black wood and Norbert felt a growing despair when he realised that ship was crewed by the dead.

The ship turned and moved towards Norbert’s vessel but then the ship seemed to buckle and cave in on itself.

It took a moment but Norbert soon realised that the vessel wasn't sinking or collapsing. It was transforming. The ship’s rotted frame shifted, slowly arms and legs appeared from it’s frame formed from the rotted wood and metal. The colossus stood up towered over the ship and Norbert saw something that almost made him throwup.

The colossus had transformed into a humanoid construct, the front half of the hull made up the chest but… the hull had holes… and Norbert saw the hull was stuffed with bloated corpses that were flailing and thrashing…

Norbert looked up to see on the prow of that great colossus stood a figure with a soaked and faded red coat. The figure locked eyes with Norbert, he blinked and his vision was half filled by the face of a lamb and the other half was a rotted skull with a glowing red eye in the empty eye socket. Norbert could see maggots wriggling in what remained of the flesh and he could smell the rot flooding his nostrils.

Norbert and the rest of the crew on the steering deck screamed as the figure appeared.

“The Two Faced Admiral…” Felipe whispered in horror.

“You got that right…” the figure said as more ships emerged from the depths.

The ship shuddered as the massive colossus grabbed the front of the ship, halting it in its tracks. The force of the sudden stop sent everyone toppling to the ground. Norbert looked up to see the figure hadn’t even moved from the force.

“Wait… madam…” Norbert said as he found his wits first and scrambled to his feet.

“Why are you here?” the figure said.

“I… we…” Norbert stammered.

“Of course you are here for what everyone else is here for… you want to go to the Isles of the Dead.” the figure said nonchalantly as slapped the side of her exposed skull and some of the maggots fell free, falling from her face like white wriggling tubules.

“Then you should know about the toll… of Grahanam Crowns…” the figure said as she drew her sword. In an instant dark figures fell from the Colossus and landed on the deck of the ship.

Norbert looked around to see they were all of the same race of the figure, goat like creatures with rotted bodies. Some had skeletal arms, some had exposed rib cages with the organs still and dead within, while others had fully skeletal faces. They all seemed affected by whatever dark magics that bound them to this life.

“Not going to talk? Cat got your tongue? Alright then…” the figure said as she lowered her sword and leaned on it with the point on the deck.

“Tell you what little explorer. Every time I tap the deck with my sword one of your men will die…” the figure said as a twisted smile appeared on her face.

*Tap*

Norbert heard one of the crew scream as he was run through by one of the undead. Norbert could only tremble as he heard the sound of the body hitting the deck.

“Like so… you better start talking…” the figure said.

*Tap*

*Tap*

Again the screams then two thuds as bodies hit the deck.

“Not many left, I suggest you speak quickly…” the figure said as it raised it’s sword again.

“WAIT!” Norbert shouted and the figure’s hand stilled.

“I have your toll…” Norbert said as he took out his emergency contingency plan. From a secret seam in his robes he took out a single Grahanam Crown.

“Ghost story my ass, you knew…” Felipe hissed from the side.

The figure before him smiled at those words as she tilted her head, her rotted spine creaking from the movement.

*Tap*

Norbert could only watch as a rusted rotted saber emerged Felipe’s chest. He fell to his knees before falling face down on the deck.

“With a toll paid you will have safe passage.” the figure said with a smile but she didn’t reach forward to take the Crown.

“You and your crew may journey to the Isles of the Dead.” the figure said as she raised her sword slightly and Norbert's eyes widened as he realised what she was about to do.

 

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

*Tap*

 

“HAHAHA!” the figure laughed as she took the Crown from Norbert’s shaking hand to a choir of screams and bodies hitting the deck.

“The living come aboard, however much is left…” the figure said as she turned and began walking down to the main deck.

The figure paused as she looked at the lantern keeping the mist back.

“Nice lantern…” the figure said as she took the lantern off the hook. Her hand glowed an ominous green and the lantern dulled before extinguishing. Instantly the mist flooded back in and Norbert could now barely see past the edge of the ship.

Norbert heard a clicking in his pocket, he reached in and retrieved his compass to see it spinning erratically.

“Add it to my collection.” the figure said as she tossed the lantern to one of the undead crew.

“Yes admiral…” the undead crew said in an odd feminine voice, her words sounding distorted, muted as if uttered beneath water. Norbert then noticed that vile fetid water was dripping from their mouths. 

Their lungs were filled with that cursed water…

Then he remembered what the Two Faced Admiral said before that song began.

The drowned can sing too…

The figure turned to look at Norbert, her visage half shrouded in mist.

“What? You think you’re the first to come up with a contraption like this?” the figure said with a mad cackle.

“Sink the ship, add it to the armada and take the living.” the figure said as she turned around.

Norbert screamed as he felt rotted hands grasp him. It was a blur as he was dragged kicking and screaming by the dead. Finally he was dumped on the deck of the ship. How he got up here he had no idea…

He looked up to see the figure staring down at him…

“To the isles… through the cold, and through the deep.” the figure said with another round of insane cackling laughter. With that the deck shuddered and Nobert felt the ship descend before landing in the water with a splash, transforming back to the shape of a seafaring vessel.

Norbert then noticed the deck started to tilt downwards as if the ship was starting to dive. He looked up in panic and he saw that figure smiling down on him.

“What’s wrong? Afraid to get wet?” the figure said and Norbert scrambled to his feet. But it was too late, he stood up just in time to hear the screams of the living and see the wall of water.

In an instant he was under, Norbert tried to hold his breath. It was cold, so cold, the water felt like it was ice cold. He opened his eyes and felt the burning in his eyes from the salt water. He tried to kick off from the ship in an attempt to get to the surface but he felt his feet stuck like they were glued to the deck.

He looked at the figure and he saw her smile as opened her mouth, her chest rose as if taking a deep breath.

 

Breath it in…

 

Norbert heard her voice say, the sound muffled and distorted but still intelligible.

At last Norbert could stand it no longer and he gasped. He felt the ice cold water flood his lungs as his vision started to tunnel.

Again he heard her maddening laughter, again that maddening choir singing their cursed shanty…

 

Oh sisters you

So wise and true

When it's my time to go

Won't you lay me down

Under Grahanam Crowns

And I'll be sleeping in the cold below…

 

Today we sail

Under tattered sails

So farewell with a kiss

Then it's fast for the mist

Till we're sleeping in the cold below…

 

Hi guys a little lore building chapter here. 

Also, I will be releasing a beastiary entry tomorrow so you can stay tuned for that.

 

In addition, I have created a discord channel, since I hit the Patreon goal.

So you guys can join at https://discord.gg/CHsmYg4kCx

If the link doesn't work please leave a comment.

I will be posting chapter updates in the discord as well in case you want notifications through discord. The server is a work in progress and I've never run a server before so I'm sure there are kinks to work out. If you have any suggestions I would be happy to hear them.

Also, for Patrons message me on Patreon with your discord ID once you have joined the server and I will give you a discord role. (You need to join first for me to add the role.)

 

Song/Adaptation Attribution:

Sleeping in the Cold below by Digital Extremes (Warframe)

(2021) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EtOAaK19bA 

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