Topic: The Tempest Within - by Enmesarra
One of the original stories within the Legends of Belial universe dating back to 2003. What's great about this story is its use of lore, making it one of the more memorable stories.
The Tempest Within (Part 1)
Captain Meron Novir could smell the storm on the air. The scent came through her porthole as wisps of ozone and rain. But for the moment, she ignored it. Instead, she concentrated on the woman beside her. She ran her fingers over Falerina's tight stomach, relishing the warmth her body gave off. Fal pressed in tight against her until they felt as one being, one person locked together in perfect serenity.
"They're going to call you on deck," Fal said softly.
"I know," Meron sighed, burying her face into Falerina's hair. She kissed the crook of the woman's neck, whispering between each touch of her lips. "But I'm going to spend my last moments with you."
"I like the sound of that," Fal giggled, rolling over. The contact of her breasts against Meron's made Meron shiver with need. Fal's fingers slid between Meron's legs, parting the moist folds there with cunning skill. Rational thought and approaching storms faded from Meron's mind in a flash.
She'd met Falerina in Ondora seven months ago. The girl had been a merchant's daughter, treated more like a trophy than a young woman. They'd become fast friends during Meron's brief shore leave, Fal enthralled with stories of Assiah's unique cities and provinces. When Meron's airship, the Amaterasu, was ready to return to Wao, Fal begged Meron to take her away from her father. It took little convincing and Fal soon became a useful member of the crew; her former servitude forgotten. It took them another three months to become lovers. Since that time, they'd been inseparable, filling the void of loneliness in each other's lives. Even the crew was happy to see their captain happy again.
The ship shuddered as a sizable gust struck it broadside. The storm was definitely closer now. A moment later, there came a knocking at the door. "Captain? You're need on deck."
"Damn," Meron sighed. "I'll be there in a moment!" she called. The visitor left without another word.
Fal simply smiled, her face tender in the pale lamplight. Her finger tickled deeper inside Meron, making the woman groan. Then she slid away, leaving Meron panting. "You'd better get going, my love."
"Tease," Meron chuckled.
"To be sure," Falerina laughed, tying the bed sheet around her. "I'll make us some dinner in the galley for your return. Then I can warm you up in other ways."
Meron kissed her lover's nose and then searched for her undergarments. Trousers and a warm blouse were next, along with her leather boots. She finally added a leather long coat to keep out the chilling rain and wind. She stood in front of the mirror, tying back her long, forest green hair. "How do I look?"
"Beautiful," Fal said. "As always."
"You're making it hard to leave, Fal."
"So sue me."
Meron chuckled. "Do me a favor? Can you check on our guests for me? They'll probably be upset by the storm. Bloody land-born academics. They always make the voyage a pain."
Falerina got out of bed, dressing in a sheer and form-fitting blue dress. "Of course, dear. Besides, I'd like to learn more about their time in Gravetown. I'm sure they have plenty of interesting stories to share."
"Good idea. Break out the spiced wine if you need. It'll calm their nerves. I don't need that Dr. Brinn interrupting me on deck."
Fal took her hand, kissing her fingers one by one. "Consider it done."
Meron stared into her lover's eyes and a chill suddenly ran through her. She had a keen sense of foreboding, as if this would be the last time she'd see Fal smile and touch that beautiful face. She couldn't shake the feeling, even after they reluctantly parted. But she had little time to explore the strange notion when she stepped on deck and was swallowed by the storm.
Dr. Loyla Brinn was worried. Anxious ever since leaving Gravetown by now her unease had grown painfully acute. She'd been given the news of the approaching storm ten minutes ago. That meant delays and the longer it took to arrive in Wao, the greater the possibly of her secret being discovered. After all her work and bribes, she couldn't fail now. No matter the cost.
She felt the power radiating off the "Ëœartifact,' even through the wood crate containing its bulk. The hair on Loyla's arms stood up as if she were standing in an electrical field. Otherwise, the crate appeared completely ordinary; just another trinket from her archeological dig. But she knew that it was much more than that. The "Ëœartifact' would unlock secrets as yet untold.
Behind her, Harlon shifted uncomfortably. Unlike the rest of the giant airship, the cargohold wasn't heated. The temperature had dropped considerably, turning the crowded chamber into a virtual meatlocker. It would not be an enjoyable place to spend the night. Well, better him than her.
"Harlon?" Loyla said without looking away from her prize.
"Yes, madam?" he said, jumping at the sound. In the tomblike hold, her voice had been surprisingly loud.
"I need you to watch over this crate until the storm passes."
She turned on him, glowering over her thick spectacles. "Make sure nothing falls on it during the turbulence. I don't want the crate damaged, moved, or opened. Do you understand? It is more important than either of us. No harm comes to it, yes?"
"Of course, Dr. Brinn. I'll contact you immediately if there are any problems."
She clucked her tongue, "Make sure you don't /have/ to contact me, Harlon. Keep it safe."
He just nodded, staring at her pale face in the lamplight. The fervor in her voice had obviously upset him. No matter, she thought. As long as the "Ëœartifact' stayed safe, she didn't care one whit about Harlon's thoughts of her. She left Harlon with his blanket, thermos, and lamp; venturing upward into the galley of the airship.
The Amaterasu was vast, much larger than the gaudy transport vessels she'd grown accustomed to in her travels. Its bulk prevented the typical swaying and turbulence attributable to smaller ships; allowing Loyla to walk with some grace. Many of the luxuries and accoutrements of a passenger ship were missing, replaced by drab corridors and cramped quarters. However, despite its plain appearance, Loyla found some appeal to Captain Meron's airship. The cargo vessel possessed a frugal charm to it and a gentle quiet she enjoyed. One could wander the halls for hours and rarely encounter another soul.
So when Loyla heard the noise of conversation and laughter up ahead, she realized she was nearing the galley. She found most of her dig-crew assembled there, the twelve men and women enjoying food and drink. They were sitting at the main table, being served by the beautiful young woman Loyla had met when she came aboard in Gravetown. What was her name? Falenia? Falanna? Oh yes, Falerina; the captain's assistant.
"Dr. Brinn!" they all said when they spotted her. They raised their glasses, begging that she join them.
Falerina came over to her, touching her arm. "We were just talking about you, professor. Mrs. Jerrin was just explaining to me about your studies. Maybe you can share some more with us while we weather the storm?"
"Of course," Loyla said, taking a place near the head of the table. Someone served her a glass of peach wine and a bowl of turnip soup.
Falerina sat across from her, looking very much like a giddy schoolgirl. "Is it true that you were excavating a demon's tomb?"
Loyla nodded, sipping her wine. "Yes. My staff and I were studying the tomb of Unsere, an ancient avatar of Karma. Some legends even say that she was his daughter, but that's just conjecture."
Falerina noticeably shivered. "She was connected to the great demon?"
"Yes. Only the cruelty and power of her master matched that of her own. All feared her transforming touch and hypnotic voice. She once built a shrine to herself, formed from the still-living bodies of her victims. They say the moans and screams could be heard from miles away."
"She sounds horrible! Why would you ever want to study someone like her?"
The group chuckled and muttered amongst themselves. They'd all asked the same question before themselves. Loyla just grinned, enjoying her chance to teach someone new to her field of study.
"The Lord Karma fears only one thing," she explained. "And that is Freya, arguably the most powerful demon of them all. He has always been jealous of Freya's power over people, but has never been able to attract worshippers as she does. His cruelty is, and was, just too offensive for people to accept. So, he needed to create a perfectly loyal follower who could attract worshippers for him. Toward that purpose, he brought Unsere into existence, shaping her into a pleasing form. Through her, he could influence humans and gather an army of disciples."
The young woman nodded with understanding and amazement. "So, in other words, he was trying to create his own version of Freya? To replace the old one?"
"Exactly. Unsere could easily mimic Freya and take the demon's worshipers into her "Ëœchurch.' They would think they honored her, but in truth, they would be worshipping Karma."
A peal of deafening thunder startled every one in their seats. Glasses were spilled, people yelped. They all realized that they'd been so drawn into the story that they'd forgotten the world outside. People began to laugh and joke over their nervousness, lightening the mood once more.
Loyla watched the girl across from her closely. There was another question Falerina had yet to ask. It didn't take long.
"If she was so powerful, then why haven't I heard of her until now?" Falernia asked.
Loyla grinned, "Before Unsere could do too much damage, a group of adventurers ambushed her. Although several died and the others were...changed horribly, they were able to trap Unsere in a demon-bell before she could escape. The last warrior, still able to move despite her mutations, buried the bell somewhere in what would become Gravetown. Unsere's surviving worshippers built a shrine over this site, devoting it to their goddess. In spite of their devotion, the shrine was abandoned, passing into ancient history. Unsere became myth and legend, forgotten."
"And you found the shrine?"
"Yes. We found it and have begun exploring it. But it will take time to unlock all its mysteries. We could spend years excavating the site before we know the truth behind the legend. We'll return again next spring."
Falerina cocked her head, "And the bell Unsere is trapped inside? Did you find it?"
"No," Loyla lied. She hoped her voice was convincing enough. "I doubt we ever will."
Meron leaned into the wind as another blast of rain slashed across her. She was already soaked to the bone and the chill was settling into her soul. Around her, the navigators and deckhands suffered as well, ever one of them drenched and miserable. The rain stung Meron's cheeks like knives, projected by the gale force winds. Lightning turned the night sky purple and white, the thunder and roaring tempest forcing Meron to shout to be heard. And they were only catching the storm's edge thus far. Worse weather was quick to come.
Meron wiped the moisture from her mariner's compass, cursing aloud. According to her charts, they were being sucked into the storm despite the Amaterasu's massive engines. Unless she did something soon, they'd be in serious trouble. In her years as an air-captain, she'd heard more than a few stories about airships, even as large as hers, lost to autumn storms. It was time to earn her pay.
She slapped Karl's arm for attention. The frightened navigator turned his head, nodding to Meron.
"We need to change our course!" she yelled over the wind.
"The storm is too strong for us. I want you to turn us to a bearing of 145 and maintain course."
"Won't that take us over land, captain?"
Meron slapped his arm again, "Yes, it will. But I'd rather have solid ground beneath us than water if we need to land. The Amaterasu's a good ship, but we may have to put down for the night."
"Aye, aye, captain. Setting to 145!"
"Thank you navigator."
Karl pulled on the brass wheel, trying to adjust the Amaterasu to the new course setting. It quickly became obvious that he was having trouble. The tension gnarled his brow and his muscles stained. "Captain?" he said worried. "She's not responding! The storm has us."
"Damnit all!" Meron growled. "HELM!"
The helms-woman, Mikka, glanced backward, the young woman's features shining with fear. In the flash of lightning, Mikka's pale features appeared almost skeletal. "Captain?"
"On my command, reverse engines one and two, and go to full on engines three and four. Understood?"
Mikka bobbed her head and returned to the controls. Meron planted herself beside Karl, putting her frozen hands on the wheel beneath his. Karl nodded, understanding what she planned to do. He tensed up approaching stuggle.
Meron listened, watched, finding the storm's pulse and ebbs. "Steady. Steady. Steady."
The wind shifted in her favor and she yelled, "NOW!"
They acted simultaneously. Meron and Karl put their full weight on the wheel as Mikka reversed the port engines and fired the starboards. Her arms burned as she struggled to change the rudder's direction. The Amaterasu vibrated like a chew toy in the mouth of a rabid dog. For a moment, Meron thought the airship might literally shake itself to pieces with the strain. But just as she was about to give up hope, the combined effort began to move the airship. The compass slowly shifted to 145.
"MIKKA! FULL THRUST ON ALL ENGINES!"
The ship lurched as the engines fired. Meron slipped on the slick floor, banging her elbow and rump harshly. As she lay there, the others moved to help her. She quickly waved them off, laughing in spite of her pain. "Stay where you are. I'm fine. Just my ego bruised."
She stood up, squeezing Karl's arm. "Maintain course. The storm's outflow should carry us over land soon enough."
With the crisis momentarily adverted, Meron paused to think about her lover and their last few moments. She wanted nothing more than to go below deck, sweep Falerina into her arms, and take the woman back to their chambers. The chance to lay her head against Fal's breasts and listen to her heart would more than make up for this night of struggle.
But Meron was an airship captain. Falerina and her crew depended solely on her. The passengers and the Amaterasu's cargo depended on her. No, blissful rest would have to wait awhile longer. As the sky blazed with lightning once more, Meron quietly prayed they'd seen the worst for one night.
For Harlon the worst was yet to come and he knew it. He looked at the broken crate before him and wondered how he'd explain this to Dr. Brinn. All she'd asked of him was to keep it out of harm's way. So, of course, he'd done the exact opposite. The road to hell was paved with good intentions.
As the storm worsened, Harlon had unstrapped and rearranged some of the pottery crates, in the vain hope atht they wouldn't bang around as much. Save the precious pottery and make Dr. Brinn the happy boss. Well, that had been the plan anyway. Unfortunately, he hadn't realized one of the bronze statues of Unsere was propped up against a box he'd moved. Without the support straps or the box to hold it, the statue toppled over when the airship suddenly lurched only moments before. Its thick head smashed down into the Doctor's special crate and broke it open.
He stood there, gazing at the large, gapping hole in the crate's side. Package straw hung out of it like innards, exposing its dark interior. Seeing it this way, Harlon knew he couldn't avoid a reprimand from Dr. Brinn. Unless...unless she never found out.
A plan sprung to mind. This was a cargo vessel, after all. There were sure to be other crates lying around. All he had to do was put the contents of this one into a new crate and presto, no more trouble. It wasn't marked, after all. Quickly, he found a crate of similar size and shape, then pulled it over. With a crowbar, he pried the top off Dr. Brinn's precious cargo and began rooting through the packing material. What he found surprised him to the core.
It was a large, ornately carved bell of fine crystal. Gemstones were placed around its lip, each the size of his thumbnail; diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds. He didn't remember anything like this being found during the dig. And it certainly hadn't appeared on the manifest! Dr. Brinn was trying to ship this artifact covertly for herself. And no wonder. The thing must be worth a fortune.
Harlon chuckled to himself. This changed everything. Dr. Brinn would need to pay him handsomely to keep something like this quiet. The custom officers in Wao would love to throw a prestigious archeologist in jail for looting. She might not know it yet, but she just gained a new partner in crime. But first, he needed to keep the bell safe and hidden away for himself.
He pulled the rest of the packing material off the bell and out of its shiny interior. As he crossed to the new cargo crate, the Amaterasu shifted again making him jolt. Free to move, the bell's striker swung and hit the bell's lip with a musical chime. The sound resonated throughout the cargo hold, making Harlon's legs weak and his pulse race. If ecstasy had a sound, it would have been the same sound as the bell's. He paused, feeling the world swim around him.
Harlon shook the euphoric numbness from his mind, setting the bell down. He struggled to catch his breath, as if he'd been engaged in a bout of strenuous lovemaking. Indeed, every nerve in his body tingled with raw pleasure. His nose was filled with the sensual smells of freshly washed skin and rose-oil. He blinked, once, twice. Then realized that the darkness of the cargo hold was no longer quite as dark.
A violet nimbus filled the room, pushing back the shadows. The glow came from behind him, growing with each heartbeat. Desire turned to fear, making his sweat turn cold. He turned with a jerk.
Behind him, a thick mist churned and swirled with coiling tendrils. Two bright coals of malevolence burned at its heart. Half a second later, a section of mist shifted strangely, as if forming a pair of smiling lips. The feminine grin held little geniality. Then lips moved again and Harlon heard a hypnotic voice echo up from hell.
"I will be flesh again," it said.
The mists wrapped around him like a snare. Harlon didn't even have a chance to scream. He no longer even had a mouth with which to do so.
Unsere drank deep of the human's torment. Her earthy body slowly took shape layer by layer; bone, muscle, skin and hair and nails and teeth. Oh how glorious it felt to possess substance again. To breath with lungs, to feel with nerves, to see with true eyes. With each torment she inflicted upon the man's body, her form grew stronger and more substantial. By the end, he was little more than a squirming mound of phallic limbs and she was whole once again after more than a millennia.
The cold displeased her, so she reshaped the squirming mass into a living cloak of skin and fur. His suffering filled her with another rush of pleasure. And hunger. After so many years, trapped in the limbo of her demon-bell, Unsere had grown weak, her mana drained. The humiliation of this tender morsel only served to wet her appetite. She would need to feed on the anguish and helplessness of many others before the night was through. Only then could she return to her grand work.
Unsere's feline eyes gazed around the cargo hold in wonderment. She'd never witnessed such technology before. She sensed the tempest outside and how this "Ëœroom' was flying through it. How that was possible, she did not know. The humans had obviously matured in her absence. No matter. They would soon beg to teach her the ways of this New World. And then, she would take it as her own and remake it in the image of Karma, her lord and master.
She walked up a flight of metal steps, her nails clicking against the steel. A moment later and she found herself in a cramped corridor that stretched on and on. How strange this place was, how intriguing. Her tapered ears caught the sound of merriment and celebration from up ahead; humans and several of them from the sound of it. Her black soul craved them as a starving beast would raw flesh. Her hairless tail twitched in anticipation.
The man-cloak gibbered and squirmed against her naked skin. Unsere petted the creature, teasing it with her claws. "Be calm, my precious pet. You will not be alone for long."
Through her telescope, Meron could see a white scar cutting across the dark horizon. Another flash of lightning revealed it for what it was: the crashing surf. Despite the violence of the storm and several near-misses, they'd reached the Wao mainland Wao. For once, her luck was on the rise.
And then the scream came across the com-system. "CAPTAIN! HELP!"
Meron recognized the voice immediately; Penda, the ship's cook. A rounded, buxom beauty, Penda was not known for theatrics or upset. For her to carry on so, something had to be terribly wrong.
Meron picked up the speaking tube and shouted into it, hoping her voice wasn't drowned out by the storm around her. "Penda?! What's going on?"
"We have an intruder. She's not natural. She's trapped us... done terrible things. Unspeakable things. You have to stop her. I think it's a demon!"
"A demon? What are you talking about? What demon?!"
"She's... oh no. She's here NOW! Captain, you... aghhhh...."
Penda's voice dissolved into a guttural moan, as if she were trying to talk through thick cloth. The muttering and whimpering continued only a moment more until the line went dead.
Meron stood there, shaken from the desperation in Penda's voice. Something horrible was going on below deck at this very moment. She had to act now or the ship and her crew would be lost. And then she remembered a horrid thought. Penda would have been in the galley. That meant this demon was in the galley.
And she'd sent Falerina to the galley tonight.
"Karl," Meron said, her voice strangely calm. "You have the bridge. Mikka, sound general quarters. Have the crew met me outside the galley, armed and ready. Tell them to bring every weapon we have. We've got a demon to kill."