Storm and Sorrow
Also by concertogreat_8
He leaned over the railing, trying, like so many others, to catch a glimpse of the island. Thick clouds covered the horizon, allowing only for a mist-blurred outline of the island. Sighing, the Lupe turned around, allowing one of the passengers to take his spot. As the Catamara’s first mate, he had duties. The passengers did not.
He turned to face the young Kyrii who’d called his name. “What is it, Dustin?” he asked. “Other than the nearing land?”
Dustin dropped his head, fiddling with a strand of purple hair. “Well, sir, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but...”
“Out with it.” Sylv laid a hand on the cabin boy’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about repeating things or sounding silly.”
“Well, sir, the winds are rising.” Dustin looked up. “With a ship like this and the clouds, I’m worried about what would happen if the winds mean a storm.”
Sylv laughed, gently squeezing Dustin’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “That’s what Calvin and I are for.”
The cabin boy laughed with him, sounding relieved. “And anything I’ve noticed, the captain will have noticed too, right?”
“Of course! Now go and see what you can do for Markle.” Sylv gave Dustin a gentle push, and the boy scurried off, heading for the ship’s carpenter. Dustin was bright, the Lupe had to admit, since he’d noticed the wind picking up, but worrying about a storm? He shook his head. Nothing was going to happen to this beauty. The Catamara was built to withstand the worst the ocean could throw at her and laugh when it was over. It was the pride of Stonesun’s navy, and this journey was why it had been built.
Mystery Island would be a mystery no longer, once they had landed.
The pretty voice drew Sylv from his thoughts. He looked up to see a young Lupess hurrying toward him. She was dressed in the silks of a lady, and looking fine indeed – Sylv would have none less for his wife. He had not wanted to bring her on this dangerous journey, but she had insisted, saying she did not want to be away from him so soon. Sylv, thinking of the long, lonely days that would have awaited him otherwise, had not had the heart to refuse her.
"Brigid." Sylv grinned, striding quickly across the deck to grab the young Lupess' paws in his own.
"Sylv, you silly boy," Brigid said, twisting away. “You forgot to fetch me when the island came into view.”
“It’s not my fault,” Sylv protested, following her as she moved towards the railing. “I had duties.”
“And your duties are more important than me?” Turning back to face him, Brigid pouted a little. But, before Sylv could react, she laughed and wove through the crowd to the railing, leaving him behind. Sylv smiled, letting Brigid have her view. Soon enough, there would be more than mist to see. The wind would blow the concealing fog away, and with the sun burning brightly above, they would have the view that the first travelers must have had: pure blue waters and lush greenery.
He shook his head, making his way to the bow. It was a wonder that those explorers hadn’t gone further than the beach, if the stories they’d told were true. Or perhaps it wasn’t. He grinned, glad that the beaches were all that had been explored, so they’d get to discover what secrets lay further in.
As he neared the helm, Sylv brushed back his hair, trying to keep it under control, before replacing his hat. Nearer to Calvin, Sylv paused, waiting for the captain to acknowledge him. The blue Draik stood before the wheel as if being at sea was what he’d been born to do, and some of the passengers whispered that he’d spent his whole life aboard a ship or in the water. When Sylv had told Calvin that, the Draik had laughed until he couldn’t breathe, but hadn’t said anything about the rumour.
“Sir?” Sylv said. “One of the cabin boys – Dustin – said that he feared a storm was coming.”
"Storm?" Calvin laughed. "My boy, you're letting the stuff of rumours get to you." Rumours again. Sylv smiled ruefully as the captain continued. "The rumours of witches calling up storms are just that: rumours." He laughed a bit, but his voice quickly trailed off, and the captain fell silent, one hand resting loosely on the spokes of the wheel. His gaze was fixed on a point just above the horizon, where the clear blue sky met the deeper blue-green of the sea.
"As I see, sir," Sylv said, though he was sure Calvin was in another world entirely by now.
No threats of magic, real or otherwise, could keep the excitement from Sylva's heart. He was an adventurer, born and bred, and he could not wait to get his first glimpse of the new island. His first glimpse not fog-clouded, he amended. Despite the nearly noontime sun and the winds, the mist lingered on.
The day wore on, morning fading into afternoon, afternoon into evening, and the fog never abated. Neither did the crowd around the railings.
Evening became dusk, dusk became night, and the darkness brought relief from the heat and the crowds. Sylv sighed, enjoying his watch, the first of the night. The stars slowly turned overhead, and Sylv stared out towards where the night-shrouded island lay and imagined what he would find upon landing.
There would be wondrous fruit, larger than any of Stonesun, he was sure. Pristine beaches and clear water filled with new and interesting sea-life. They’d already seen some of those when the younger ship-hands, bored, began to fish. They hadn’t caught much, but what they caught had drawn gasps for its beauty, so strange and unlike that of the ocean-life around Stonesun.
Sylv had his own reasons for volunteering for the journey. Among them were his never-sated taste for adventure and a desire to show his beloved his kind of bright future.
It was then, as Sylv relaxed against the railing, breathing in the pure air of the moonlight-drenched night and thinking happy thoughts of returning soon to his wife, that the storm hit.
It was so strange, so unexpected, that most of the crew were caught unawares. The sun had set exactly as it should have, bright hues dipping down into the calm, even ocean. Sylv's watch had seen nothing unusual, save a pod of Delfins spotted a little over an hour ago.
But now the sky turned dark and angry and the ocean churned restlessly, tossing the Catamara sideways. Even Sylv, sailor that he was, had to fight to keep his footing as he stumbled toward the foredeck. The rumours filled his head. They had to be true. There was no other explanation for the storm.
“All hands on deck!” he shouted, trying to make himself heard over the storm. Grabbing hold of the railing, slamming into crates and walls as the ship rocked in the waves, Sylv made his way to the passenger quarters, calling as often as he had air. At the door, he found a group of anxious passengers. Staring at them for a moment, the Lupe shook his head sharply. “Only come if you can stay out of the way,” he ordered, “and pass the message on.” Sylv ran for the rigging before the passengers had a chance to argue, hearing Calvin’s voice roaring out over the storm.
He had no idea how long the storm lasted. He only knew that he never got a break, save in the short spaces of time between falling and standing up once more. He couldn’t say how many went overboard, crew and passengers both falling prey to the wind and waves that washed over the rolling ship. He could only say that this was the worst storm he had ever heard of, let alone seen, in his life.
The clouds blocked out almost all the light, and the wind and rain made it impossible to light any torches. They moved about in darkness, straining their eyes to keep track of where they stood and where the shifting ropes, crates, and people were. They were always moving, responding to any shouts that seemed reasonably intelligent.
But when they heard a sickening, shattering crunch, everyone stopped.
Everyone looked at each other. There was a pause, in which even the storm seemed to die down. Sylv closed his eyes, hoping, praying, but deep down in his sailor’s heart, he knew what had happened. And then Calvin’s voice sounded, confirming all his fears.
“Abandon ship!” came the call. “Abandon ship!”
The two words a sailor hoped never to hear. Sylv froze where he was, down in Catamara’s once-grimy belly, where he'd been bailing water with a dozen other crewmates – dark figures in the no-light.
They wasted no time in pushing past each other, dropping their bailing buckets into the rapidly rising water that was splashing into their boots and up their britches. Sylv searched frantically for the familiar shape of the ladder that led down to where they worked, and his heart skipped in relief as he saw it. A torrent of water rained down from the ceiling, and Sylv ducked as the planking let out a tremendous groan, the seams buckling and yet more water seeping through.
Sylv was halfway up, his sore paws gripping the rungs as the ship tossed and bucked, when he remembered Brigid. Where was she? With the other passengers, of course, but where were they?
Sylv half-turned, and smacked into the man right below him. He thought it was Markle, the Eyrie carpenter. In the darkness and the smashing booms of the ship tearing herself to pieces, he couldn't be sure. "Fyora’s wings! Do ye want to die, man?" whoever it was screamed at Sylv, grabbing the young man's arm. From above came the earsplitting bang of thunder, and a flash of lightning lit Markle's terrified face.
"I have to – Brigid! My wife!" A moment later, he lost his footing, and even as Markle swiped for his shirt, he tumbled past the Eyrie, smashing into the floor on his back. His head connected with the wood of the ship's underside, and everything went briefly black.
He struggled back to his feet, his head throbbing dully, hearing someone scream. More water was pouring from the ceiling into his eyes, but he didn't care. He had only one thought: find Brigid, get her out. Shoving his way through a crowd of people, Sylv made his way to the passenger’s cabins.
The doorway was blocked by the sheer number of people. Sylv didn’t care about any of that. He just wanted to find Brigid, make sure she was safe. He waited there, trying to catch a glimpse of Brigid’s light green fur, holding on to the hope that he’d be able to recognize her form.
There never was a path. Instead, there was a hand on his arm, fierce eyes staring into his. “Come on,” Brigid shouted. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
Sylv laughed, gladder to see Brigid than he’d ever been before. He took her hand in his and forced a path through the crowd to the railings. Glancing down, seeing how the water almost lapped onto the deck, Sylv shivered. He didn’t want to be here anymore. The Catamara would just take him down with her if he stayed. He leapt over the side in one smooth movement.
The icy cold sea seemed to come up to meet him, smashing into his chest with enough force to knock the air from his lungs. His clothes immediately absorbed water, dragging at him as waves splashed over his head. He spat water out, treading water furiously as he looked for Brigid. A tight panic seized him when he didn’t see her, but a moment later her head broke the surface, dark eyes wide in a pale face, hair spread around her, floating like silk in the water.
“Come on,” Brigid said again, gasping as she churned her arms furiously to stay afloat in the choppy water. Someone screamed onboard the Catamara, and Brigid’s head darted around to face it. Sylv grabbed her hand, drawing her back.
“No,” he mouthed, and he saw her nod, giving in. Spitting salt-water out of his mouth, Sylv turned and set himself against the water, falling into a rhythm of hard breaststrokes.
It was a struggle. Alone, he knew he could have made it. He loved the sea, and swam in it regularly. But now, worried about Brigid and taking care to keep near her, he slowed his pace, glancing at her every few seconds to make sure she was still beside him. Working half the night to try and save the Catamara hadn’t helped, and he could feel the toll it had taken upon his muscles as they burned, wanting to give up.
"Brigid!" He called her name weakly, fighting to keep his head above the water. Rain fell in tiny drops, splashing soundlessly onto the ocean's roiling surface. It was hard for Sylv to fight against the waves smashing into his chest and forcing his head under the water again and again. He felt himself begin to drift and desperately kicked out, yearning for salt-stained air.
His clothes were so heavy as they dragged him down.
Brigid. He wasn't sure if he said it, or if he only thought it. He was lost to the storm and the sea now. The sea pulled at him, forcing him into its depths. Sylv struggled, but his waterlogged clothes dragged at him like a lead weight. He tried again to call out, but only got a mouthful of water.
But then, like a miracle, an arm grabbed him, pulled his head above the waves.
A wave smacked into the Lupe’s face, spraying against his eyes and plastering his hair down. He gasped, and felt Brigid's tiny hand grab for his. He clutched at it, forcing his sodden body through the waves with his legs and free hand. The arm that had saved him from the depths disappeared, even as Sylv gasped his thanks. Blinking, Sylv cleared the salt water from his eyes.
He saw land.
The surge of strength hope gave him was enough to fight the waves and drag himself upon the sand above the reach of the waves. Still clutching Brigid’s hand, Sylv closed his eyes, and the storm slid away as he slipped into sleep. His last thought was of Brigid, safe beside him.
His dreams were of storms and of loss. They were of the wreckage that accompanied the hurricanes that assaulted Stonesun, of the peaceful dawn that gave light to all the chaos. Sylv moaned, the nightmares showing themselves in the waking world. But he didn’t wake, not until the sunlight finally touched his salt-caked eyes, and he felt warmth on his now-gilded yellow fur.
Then he woke, prying open his eyelids to find a cluster of soggy, salty, and sand-laden sailors looking at him. Sylv raised himself up to get a better look. Beside him, Brigid stirred. Sylv spared a glance for her, his matted and salt-caked fur pulling as he smiled, before returning his gaze to the survivors.
“What—” he said, but stopped. All that came out was a croak. Clearing his throat as best he could, Sylv tried again. “How many?” His voice wasn’t clear, but it would do.
“’bout a hundred.”
When Sylv found the speaker, he smiled. Little Dustin had survived, though the Kyrii looked much the worse for the wear, with his dusky purple fur matted and eyes red-rimmed from salt and lack of sleep. “The other officers?” he asked, fearing the answer.
Dustin shook his head.
Sylv closed his eyes. He had hoped. But now he was the highest ranked survivor. That was probably why everyone was clustered around him, looking at him like a saviour.
Sylv allowed his eyes to open once more, and met Brigid's warm gaze. Her eyes were clouded blue-grey with worry, but they still shone with trust. Sylv couldn't help the smile that touched his face as he instinctively reached out a hand to her. Brigid took it, and they pulled each other to their feet
Two hundred expectant eyes fixed upon him, and Sylv felt the weight of responsibility settle ominously on his shoulders even as he gazed around, adding to the pain of his already-aching body. He stood up straight with an effort, trying to make himself seem taller, older than he was.
They were on an unknown island. They would need food, of course, as well as shelter and help for the wounded, of which there would undoubtedly be some.
He squinted at the sun thoughtfully. It was blood red and sinking fast toward the horizon, painting the sky with gorgeous colors. The colors washed over the huddle of survivors on the beach, bathing their tired faces in beautiful hues. In the strange light, Brigid looked almost unearthly, her face shining despite their predicament.
Somehow, that simple thing gave Sylv the resolve to do as he knew he must. I will keep her safe, the young man vowed, even if it's the last thing I do.
Looking over the people gathered around him, Sylv nodded. “Right,” he said. “If we’re going to survive, we need to start working. We’ll need a shelter and some water, to start with. Food, too. I’ll leave you to organizing yourselves, since you know your skills better than I do.”
There was a pause, and then everyone started moving and talking. Not everyone moved quickly, but they seemed to have some idea of what they were doing. Sylv sighed, wishing that he knew what was going on, since he had apparently been appointed as the leader.
“Don’t worry,” Brigid said. “You’ll do fine.”
Surprised, Sylv looked at her. “How’d you know I was worrying?”
She smiled at him. “It’s not that hard to figure that out. Now come on.” She pulled him towards the trees. “Let’s see who’s wounded.”
* * *
Three days now. Sylv leaned against the tree, closing his eyes wearily. Even with his eyes closed, he still saw the huddled figures in their makeshift shelters, packed together to keep warm, hovering on the fringes of the thick forest, unwilling to venture into the darkness and not wishing to be covered by salt water at high tide.
The young Lupe shifted restlessly, thinking of the number of wounded. There had been many simply too exhausted from the storm to survive in these harsh conditions – unable to go on, without the strength or the will to push ahead. A few tears leaked out from under Sylv's closed lids at the thought. At this point, the only thing that kept him going was the thought of Brigid. He had to protect her.
A scream pierced the silent air and Sylv's eyes snapped open, his whole body stiffening. Rising to his feet, Sylv began running towards the source of the scream, hoping that he was wrong, that it hadn’t been Brigid who’d screamed.
Sylv cursed the slippery sand as he ran. When he’d gone past the trees and could see what was going on, Sylv cursed even more. Little things moving like beasts surrounded the wounded. Brigid was there. She’d been trying to help the wounded. Now she was trying to defend them. And the stronger people were all out in the forest, trying to gather fruit or meat.
One of the beasts saw Sylv and began calling to the rest. They bobbed up and down and ran forward, brandishing spears. He was almost there, almost able to help, when Brigid screamed again and Sylv saw her fall. A primal scream burst from his throat and Sylv pushed himself to his limits and beyond, charging the beasts.
The beasts disappeared into the forest, carrying Brigid – and some of the wounded – with them. Sylv ran after them, but their small size was an advantage in a place filled with vines and roots and fallen logs. They didn’t take two steps and then trip on the third. They didn’t miss a branch and have it smack them in the face. And they knew the forest.
Sylv blundered through the undergrowth until his hands were scratched and bloody and his eyes blurred with tears and sweat. He paused, panting, falling to his knees.
All around him, the silence seemed oppressive, cloying, thick. It wrapped around him, smothering him. There was no sound, not even the rustling of trees or the chirping of crickets. Sylv buried his hands in his face. He felt a sense of loss so profound it made his heart ache physically, and he wept tears of loss and desolation. Brigid. He’d vowed to protect her. Was that vow now a lie?
They came so silently he didn't hear until he looked up, and they surrounded him. At first he was too stunned to move, just staring at their masked faces, the way they moved so easily, pointing their spears at him and grunting in some strange language. Then something shook Sylv from his stupor and he started to scream.
He kicked and shoved, lashed out again and again, screaming and throwing wild, exhausted punches, but there were too many of them and he was too tired. His legs felt like sea-jellies, and his vision wavered with each movement he made. For each coconut-beast he knocked away, two more came back with a vengeance. They swarmed him, biting him, punching him, forcing him to the ground. Sylv struggled, but he couldn’t do anything about it, no matter how he tried.
They tied him up, covering his body with vines that twisted over and through each other in such a way that Sylv couldn’t even imagine to understand. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, staring at the tiny sliver of blue sky peeking through the trees. It seemed so far away.
Brigid and the others had all been there, easily within sight. He had almost saved them, but he hadn’t been fast enough.
Tears rolled down Sylv’s face, tears that mirrored those he had seen in Brigid's frightened eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered again. “So sorry.”
A native came up to him, making noises that Sylv couldn’t understand. Through the mist of tears, the mask that approached him looked like a monster coming to eat him. Sylv closed his eyes, shutting out the world. He felt a sharp, hard knock on his head, and then everything disappeared, sucked down into a tunnel of blackness.
* * *
He opened his eyes. The clearing he was in looked no different, but clearly some time had passed. There was a fire now, and screaming natives with masks danced around it. And there was something wrong, something ever so slightly off. Standing, Sylv looked down, trying to shake his nagging doubts, and was immediately transfixed by the sight. His golden-yellow paws were misty gray, and a branch passed right through him.
A sickening realization flooded Sylv. He was a ghost. Staring at the natives, Sylv growled. A few of the nearest paused in what they were doing. Stepping past those, to the natives that danced around their fire, Sylv let his hatred of them grow. He stood in their fire, and he howled.
The natives stopped. Sylv shook his head, and roared. The sound reverberated through the clearing, and the natives ran. They didn’t try to grab anything. They simply ran.
Sylv watched them disappear into the jungle. “I will protect you if you are still here,” he whispered, his voice a low growl. "If you are not, I will protect your memory. I will avenge you. I will protect you all, as best I can. From the natives, from each other, from anything that threatens – I will never lose again. For Brigid, I will protect you. I will protect you all."