Born of Darkness (William King) - William King


LIGHTNING CRACKLED ACROSS the storm-black sky. A gigantic wave broke against the bow of the Kraken’s Reach, smashing down on the ship with the force of a hammer blow.

Salt spray stung Kormak’s eyes. The howling wind lashed his tall lean form. It rippled his greying black hair as he braced himself against the wooden guard rails.

A few grim-faced marines huddled in the pools of light the storm-lanterns left on the deck. Kormak understood their thinking. If the ship foundered, anyone down below would drown in darkness as the shattered hulk plunged to the seabed.

Overhead sailors inched along rain-slick spars like human spiders. He did not envy the men atop the masts. The height amplified every roll of the ship, turning it into a monster that sought to shake seamen off like a dog ridding itself of fleas.

Rhiana strode over to his side, shielded her gaze with her long white hand and peered into the distance. The translucent second lids over the merwoman’s green eyes made her look cataract-blind but she could see better in this gloom than any of the crew.

“This is not good,” she shouted. She was a tall, powerful woman and her voice carried over the storm’s howl.

“Thank you. I needed your expert opinion to tell me that,” Kormak bellowed. He fought to keep his balance on the rain-slick deck as the ship heeled over. The motion threw them together. Her skin felt icy cold.

“Looking for a last kiss, Sir Kormak?” Her white teeth glistened in the gloom. Splashing seawater made the gills in her neck pulse. With her strange eyes and cropped silver hair she looked alien.

“Now hardly seems the time for romance,” Kormak said.

Rhiana’s eyes widened. Another huge wave broke. White foam surged over the forecastle, clawing at them. Rhiana held tight to the guard rail but the force of the flow lifted her free. Kormak’s hand clenched her wrist. His other arm held firm on the wooden barrier and kept them from being swept overboard.

“That was close,” she said. Her mouth was close enough to his ear so that he could hear her words without her shouting.

“It would not be so bad for you,” he said. “You could survive out there.”

“I would need to dive deep and far. The currents could still smash me against the ship. The Shadow-cursed waves could break every bone in my body if one hit me the wrong way.”

“At least you can get clear of the ship, if we go down.”

“Why so gloomy, Sir Kormak? We have not sunk yet. I have survived worse storms than this.”

“Really,” Kormak said.

“Well, perhaps not quite so bad. This is a real ship-killer. Damned if it had to happen to us so close to the Siderean coast. Maybe the sailors are right and this ship is cursed.”

“It was cursed by the Quan’s presence,” Kormak said. “But the Kraken’s demon allies are gone, along with their master. We killed them.”

Rhiana shook her head. “Their psychic stink clings to this craft. I do not like it here.”

“You could always have sailed on the Sea Dragon.”

“And missed your cheerful company? Why would I do that?”

She gazed out to sea, looking for the Sea Dragon’s running lights. They had vanished when the storm caught them in its clutches. Perhaps the other ship was already on the sea-bottom.

He smiled at her. She was a beautiful woman and a confident one, and she was not quite human. “Do you always flirt when death is close,” he asked.

“If this was my ship, I would be where Zamara is, up on the command deck shouting orders,” she said. “But since I have time on my hands, why not? How about you? Do you always play so hard to get?”

“I find struggling with terror takes away the magic of the moment.”

“I can see how it would do that,” she said. The boat rocked from another wave impact. Salt spray smashed into them. A man screamed as he plummeted from the mast and disappeared into the storm-tossed sea.

“I hate this,” Kormak said.

“That’s not very flattering,” Rhiana said.

“I hate feeling so powerless.”

“The sea makes everyone feel that way. It is always there to remind you that, whatever you think, you have no real control over your life. Everything can be taken away from you at any minute.”

The wind gusted. The storm-lanterns swung. Kormak thought he saw something on the horizon. He pointed. “What’s that?”

“Where?” Rhiana gazed into the distance.

“I saw a light.” Kormak squinted into the flying spray. Rhiana leaned against the guard rail and