A story from the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: M
The corsair captain stood uneasily on his own deck, riding on a choppy sea. The skies had been dark and the wind alternating from cruel to becalmed through this entire voyage. The men blamed the strange cargo in the hold, and the stranger passenger they had taken from that tiny island. The man was inclined to agree, but the stranger had also brought gold aplenty with him. Strange relics they were, goblets hammered and impressed with geometric patterns that made a man ill to look at them to long and delicate knives sharper than a razor were hidden amongst simpler coins and trinkets. The ship was filled to bursting and the stranger's only requests were passage back to the ports of a civil land for himself and a large iron casket he had with him. It had seemed a more than fair deal but now this damned weather made it seem worse.
The stranger came above decks to speak with the captain. They were study in contrasts on the deck, staring across the horizon. The Captain was a short man well tanned by the days at sea, with slicked hair and a fine forked beard, while the passenger was tall, with wild hair knotted in patterns, his ebony skin was marked by tattoos across every inch.
“Your men seem uneasy around me Captain de Montfort.” “That they are Mr. Kore. They speak of devilry and witchcraft in you. They say you are sent here to plague us for being greedy. Others say you should be counted among the dead, and the iron box is your home.” The tall one burst into laughter at that. “They aren't all wrong at that first one. But I am no devil sent punishment any more than a heavenly reward. No I am just a man seeking passage home after fighting a great enemy. How far are we to port?” “Not more than a week from this point, but with this wind we've had to row the almost the whole way, and my men are tired. Could be as much as a fortnight.” This seemed to trouble Tane Kore, and the captain continued. “I don't know about the nature of your calling but I have some idea of what you are. Have you studied the sorcerous ways or do you come by the marks on your skin another way?” “I am a student of those arts yes. What of it?” de Montfort paused for a moment, considering what he was requesting. “Help us get home. I've met your kind, you can do a damned lot more than just haul an oar. You seem anxious, and we are running low on food.” Kore muttered in his own tongue before turning and going to his cabin. The captain returned to his musings as the men unfurled the sails to catch a rare eastward breeze. It didn't last more than an hour though, and it was back to rowing. The sky blackened overhead, impossibly thick clouds building.
As the breeze died a thundering crack was heard in the hold, reverberating through the ship. Every sailor held what he was doing in the silence. Some made signs to ward off evil, others loosened the blades in their sheaths. The noise came again, louder this time, and again and again. Regular as a heartbeat it was, and louder than anything on the ship had a right to be. The men grew nervous, the rowing deck and quarters were abandoned by now, each man standing on the upper deck away from the noise. Last came Tane Kore, clad only in loose breeches and holding a great dark wood staff capped with iron, stumbling out from the hold. The captain helped him regain his balance. “Mr. Kore what the devil is going on.” “The devil himself, or an agent thereof. I tried to raise wind for you, but it may have cost us all.” “What are you going on about man?” “The box, it's a Mort Safe, an artifact of my craft made to keep still the restless dead. But it's contents slipped my mental grasp when I gave you that breeze, and now it hungers for flesh.” One of the sailors overheard and drew his poniard. “He's brought our death, kill him!” Putting action to word the young man charged the dark wizard, but was only rewarded with a savage strike from the staff. “I brought you more booty than you could have made in dozens of privateer raids.” He snarled before turning to the Captain again. “Get these men as far back as possible. Arm them as you can, but do not interfere unless I fall.” De Montfort bristled at being given orders on his ship but he followed, wizards are rarely to be trifled with. Some men made for the boats, others huddled in the crows nest or amongst the rigging as the pounding continued.
Then it stopped, silence reigned for a moment, each man daring to hope that just maybe the crisis had been averted. Then the door to the hold flew off it's hinges as the contents of the casket were revealed. The thing standing there was foul in every sense of the word. A pale withered form, long dead, it's arms and legs twisted to unnatural angles. The mouth hung slackly open, showing sharpened teeth, and the eyes burned with a single minded malice. Some flesh had sloughed off, showing dried and cracked bones beneath, covered in a pulsing blackness. The same fetid ichor dripped from breaks in the bones. What skin it had left showed the remnants of tattoos all but identical to the intricate designs on Tane Kore's flesh.
The fiend launched itself at the wizard,the bones of it's fingers sharpened to wicked points. As it neared him Kore pivoted and brought up his staff. Runes inscribed in metal along it's length lit up as metal and wood met unnatural flesh. The creature was vaulted over Kore, only to right itself and charge again. This time he favored one hand over the staff, muttering and gesturing until a bright green flash shot into the creature's mouth, stunning it for a moment. The moment didn't last however and it's next attack rakes his leg, leaving deep claw wounds.
Back and forth they fought, one with strength speed and magic, the other with simply unholy determination. In time the unnatural vitality of the monster became to much for even the wild mage and he began to falter, bleeding from multiple wounds, his face mashed from a headbutt. Still he fought on, half blinded and enraged he fought the pale form striking him. And unseen to everyone the captain of the ship snuck down the rigging, a wicked dagger at his hip. Kore finally faltered, and the undead set out to finish him, only to have a blade shoved deep in into it's ancient heart. In moment's it was over, the creature dissolved to nothing. Tane Kore looked up, surprised to live. “Who are you sailor?” “One of thirty Tane Kore, wizard of the Dark. I could not have taken that beast myself, you did admirably. Now come, you need healing, and I think all the men need a drink once we are underway.” The crew roared in approval at that and set about cleaning the ship. Limping and leaning on his staff Kore still had to wonder. “How did you know who I am?” “I've always known, but again, don't fret. There is no quarrel between you and mine. Especially now that the beast is dead. What was it anyways?” “My old teacher. I sought to bury him properly on his grounds, but time away had taken it's toll after his death.” “Aye that's a bit unfortunate, but still, we live, we have treasure, and the sky is clearing.” “You are right about that one Captain.”