READ THIS FIRST: Encounter at Sunkenskull Shore Duology I
The embers of a fire simmered deep beyond the mouth of the hidden cave that housed it. The rock was slick with humidity and more than just a few stalagmites threatened to interrupt whatever chance at a peaceful rest Galik might have. While not as cold as it had been on his raining surroundings on the outside, Galik could still feel the breaths of winter coming in from the cave’s threshold. The driftwood from the wreckage had proven itself to be more than enough to make a campfire to last the night. He had piled the planks atop one another right after setting them down to dry, and when all the moisture on them had left, he set it alight with the flint and steel he had spared from his pack.
A dull pool of light was the only thing that kept from being consumed by the encroaching darkness of the cave, and his eyes could not help but linger on the veil of dark that was at his back. Galik had just realized that he was alone in this excursion of his. His only company was the brown mare which he had hitched along the sturdier stalagmites with a rope he found by happenstance in his saddlebags. He brought his knees up against his shoulder and huddled up next to the wall. His vision drifted over to one of the sacks he had strapped along his horse’s body which was giving off a faint glow.
“That again, huh.” He mouthed the words to himself just low enough to trick himself into thinking he was not speaking alone.
He ambled towards his horse and caressed its neck when it grew restless with his approach. After calming his horse, he undid the cord that fasted together the hide sack and was surprised that it had not torn due to the earlier rain.
He took a gulp, as he knew the risk that he took with doing what he planned to do. The mercenaries had not chosen to follow him for any arbitrary reason, for he had indeed stolen something of great value from them. With a sigh, his hands rummaged through the sack and produced a thin silver pendant. A pendant that held no decorations, no engravings, no gems encrusted into it, and nothing that most would consider of note. But as he had come to learn only recently, there was much more to the trinket than what its appearance would lead one to believe. Casting an almost supernatural glimmer along its features, Galik smiled as he stared at his own reflection in the trinket. He dangled the chain with his fingers forwards and backwards until the piece spun around in place, coiling its parallel links together.
His hands began to tremble while he held. Galik recoiled at the frigid touch that came with the smooth metal, a touch that held more frost than winter itself! A mere trinket had been the reason that he’d left his ancestral home and not a day passed where he doubted his decision. But the more he traveled with it, the longer it stayed near him, the more did Galik begin to believe that it was supernatural in nature. He had to keep up his pace—no doubt he had outrun his opponents by a matter of days, he had little to worry of. Or so he believed.
From the thunderous claps that rang out beyond the entrance of the cave and beyond even the barrage of waves upon the rocky shore, Galik could hear metal chinks creaking. Without a moment to spare he rushed over to his steel sword, a broad claymore he had stolen from his father, and held it aloft with both hands.
Sweat greased through his fingers and made the hilt slippery, so he coiled his fingers along the leather-bound hilt tighter. He proceeded forwards with the claymore hugging his side. The flat of the blade grazed his cheeks with all the trembling of his hands yet he reminded himself I am a warrior, I am an adventurer, I am a swordsman, but I am not a coward.
Night had fallen upon the beach outside yet the storm was relentless. Moonlight cast little of its radiance with the clouds inhibiting it from doing so. His horse whickered and brought forth its front legs and wriggled its neck along the rope that held it against the stalagmite. He jumped back as a gale swept through the cavern and assaulted the light of his fire, which cast the shadows of his struggling horse against the slick walls. The chinking of metal continued and a horrid grating accompanied it. They came irregularly and with a great deal of effort. There was only one thing that he could assume based on what he perceived.
It was steps that were approaching him.
Galik straddled his legs and flung himself ahead of his mare. His beast had proved a loyal companion for much of his journey and it would be a great disservice to his stallion should he leave it out as bait for his foes. Then it was that his mind began to find itself treading through dark and devilish thoughts. Thoughts that did little to bring him comfort. Thoughts that reminded him of the legends that surrounded Sunkenskull Shore.
It was then that under the pale moonlight of the seashore, that he saw it for the first time. Skin stretched out over each one of its features, lining its rib cage perfectly along with its cranium. The same skin that was now blackened and broken to the point of looking like worn, rotten leather. The eyes were merely hollow sockets clogged up by a pool of black that held no expression as it dragged a Morningstar behind itself. The thing was what used to be a man—and not just any man but a sailor—a sailor that had found his tomb in Sunkenskull Shore.
Fear clutched Galik’s chest but that did not stop him from speculating just what manner of seafarer the undead had been before its demise. It snapped its head over to Galik, its bones cracking as it did so. Galik recoiled at the sight of those eyeless sockets capturing him within their gaze, as if they sucked the very life out of him. Yet he was not alone.
Trailing from behind him came at least five more dressed in the same fashion that they’d undertaken before their deaths. Tattered shirts, battered helms, rusty cutlasses, and boots with torn soles. Their hands were bony yet somehow they still retained a semblance of the vitality that they must have held in ages long forgotten. Their movements were jerky and unnatural as they stumbled from side to side in their efforts to clench their thirst for death, but the passion that they held in the past still followed their every gesture.
His feet began to turn back on him, urging him to turn tail and run away but Galik knew better than that. His only chance of survival would be to plow through them with sheer force and pray for the best. The abominations spurred their torn boots into a charge, or at least what was supposed to be a charge.
His horse gave a fright and Galik crouched down and sprang forth to his feet with his blade never leaving his side. He crunched through the bare stalagmite and leaped upon the first of his agressors, his blade cleaving straight through the decrepit skin. Its mangled torso fell with a thud as a hollow husk that had been slain twice in its life.
Two of the dread sailors brought down their weapons upon him, but Galik flung himself against the first one while his cutlass reached the rock floor. Pain shot down his shoulder as it crashed against the tattered skin, breaking the bone under his weight. Both of their faces grazed one another, the undead rasping one last repugnant breath before Galik took notice of its steel grip on his wrist.
Galik yanked himself backwards, but found that the undead was to him as an anchor was to a boat. Unearthly breaths could be heard behind him and he could glimpse the emaciated skin of his other foes approaching him. The hand of a demon had not only clasped unto his wrist but it had begun to strangle his resolve. The husk of a man tried to raise its sword arm before Galik bashed the pommel of his blade straight into its eyeless sockets. With a screech and in silence it fell limp upon the stone floor.
He swung backwards and caught the falling cutlass of one of his belligerents before it severed his head. The two metals rasped against one another and sang out the song of battle through their lyrics of steel. Both swordsman, living and undead, heaved themselves backwards and crashed back into one another with a flurry of pomp. Galik’s legs danced and weaved and skipped as his sword clanged against that of his foe, the fear of his other enemies speeding up his own blows. Moonlight made the swords gleam and the fire cast the shadows of the two fighters as though it were a spectacle being performed to an invisible audience.
Galik leaped backwards making distance between the undead and took the time for a couple of ragged breaths. His chest eased itself up and down, up and down, up and down—he had never been so near to death itself.
The undead he had battled earlier sprang up, emerging as though it spawned from the shadows, the curved blade arching to Galik’s abdomen. Galik saw the gleam of metal from under his matted hair, he flicked his wrists and parried the undead’s blow. His sword screeching as it trailed down the metal of the other blade, Galik plunged the cutlass downwards into the rock floor. Pressing his left foot to the initiative he brought back up the hilt of his sword and smacked the undead along its cranium. Its helmet bounced off and hooked itself on a stalagmite.
The undead brought itself back on its feet and raised a disfigured hand as though a trace of humanity was still to be found within its long lost souls. But Galik knew better than that. He knew that they had no hope.
He dug his sword into the chest of the undead, ripping through the rusty armor as though it ripped through a drapery’s cloth. The sword axed through the bone. When Galik heard a dud as his blade mad contact with the ground, he pried the notched blade from the century-old carcass.
He hoisted his sword upwards with only one hand. He crouched down again, ready to pounce on whatever foes with the ferocity of a tiger. When he reached his position he glanced up but then heard a whistle in the wind—!
A spiked mace came tumbling up above him from one of the undead that had pressed forward during his duel. A trickle of sweat slid from his cheeks and his head wrinkled back like a turtle concealing itself within its carapace. Yet he was not greeted with the sensation of one’s brains oozing out of one’s body—however that may feel—instead he caught a steely clang as the mace rebounded off a well-placed stalactite. The undead that had gone for the swing tumbled down, its jaw dislocating itself with the horrid screech it gave as it was impaled on the spear formations of the cave.
Embers flickered from the fire and moonlight only allowed him to see the last opponent that remained. The undead was strange among the others, in that it held some manner of frustration along its visage and lunged at Galik.
With a screech that reverberated all along the cave, Galik swung himself to the right and his back scratched against the rock. He feigned a charge and before the undead could realize its mistake, the arc of Galik’s blade swept right through him. It cleaved along its neck until chunks of skin came lose and sprayed against their surroundings. Galik forced his wrists and poured all the energy he could spare into them. He flung the corpse back with its head mangled and distorted.
Galik glanced over to his horse and watched its eyes flick open in disgust. It reeked of death.
He strapped his sword to his back once again and undid the hitching on his horse. He mounted the beast and rid himself of the amulet that still clung to his neck. He held the piece of silver cupped in his right hand “Only three miles remain. Only three.” He shook his head, and pocketed it into his saddle bag.
He exited the cave and spurred his horse into a gallop. This time he would make sure that it was far away from the wreckage near the coast. Let whatever further traveler make what they will of the haunted coasts of Sunkenskull.