This is an excerpt from the beginning of “A Mother Scorned” short story.
The Third Era
The Interior Ocean had not been kind to them. The dwarven shver-ship was the size of a floating fortress, one of the biggest transport vessels in the world, yet even this solid-built behemoth was thrown around like a toy by the recent storms. The crew, at least the few that had to stay on deck, were relentlessly flogged by wind and rain. On the few occasions they accidentally drifted into the Teeming Sea, they were also hit by storms of fire. The first one took them by surprise—it nearly melted the iron outer shell of the ship and severely burned a few members of the crew. They lost Malghar and his brother in that storm.
Urim Agadad was glad this was not one of those fiery nights. That evening it was only a milky fog that surrounded the ship and prevented the dwarf from seeing anything farther than an arm’s length. Although he was getting on in years, he was proud of his excellent eyesight—on a clear day he could spot even the tiniest bird several miles away. Yet at that moment, even though he was straining his eyes, he still could not see anything.
He stood at the front of the vessel, where he normally would have had a good view of the whole front section of the ship. Frost was forming on his brown beard. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and clasped his hands together to keep himself warm. He had already done his watch earlier that day, but due to his bad gambling habit, he found himself outside again, and that was on top of all the coin he lost in the wager.
Staring into the fog, he wondered about the pointlessness of his current duty. The purpose was more to keep an eye on the restless mercenaries hired for this wild dragon hunt than spot anything on the horizon. Otherwise he’d be up in the observation tower now. He ignored the sounds of drunken revelry coming from nearby quarters. As long as the mercenaries stayed inside their quarters, what they did was none of his business. He sighed. After months at sea, he yearned for even the briefest walk on solid ground. He was on the lookout for any land, even if it turned out not to be that island. But thanks to the fog, even if Uutta Toivoa had been right in front of him he still wouldn’t be able to see it.
Thorar Bazdun’s heavy hand slammed into Urim’s shoulder. “Spotted anything?”
“What do you think?” asked Urim, turning to the other dwarf.
His friend joined him at the railing. As usual he felt small next to his taller and well-built comrade.
“Everyone’s used to the ship now, so not even a poor soul puking his guts out to laugh at. As it stands I’m almost hoping for a kraken, or any other bloody monster, to show up and provide some entertainment.”
“My sword itches too.” They exchanged a sympathetic look. “We’ve been promised gold and blood, and so far I’ve seen neither. Maybe Aluthar lied. Curse that Ossentharian bastard.” He spat into the waters churning far below to make his opinion clear about the origins of the human that had started this whole expedition.
“I don’t think so,” said Urim. “He did give us directions and invested plenty of his own coin. He seemed pretty convinced about the whole thing if you ask me.”
Urim didn’t add that he had personally seen the notes of Aluthar’s grandfather—the notes that described a dragon-human hybrid, a being most foul. The information wasn’t very detailed, as the creature escaped not long after being captured, but the notes touched on some of its abilities and weaknesses, and, most importantly, described where it came from. And that last information was what brought it to the attention of the Brotherhood Without Glory, and especially its Sealed Lineage faction—the name Uutta Toivoa. The notes referred to the same island that the Brotherhood had been seeking, to no avail, for centuries. The same island that was rumored to be the home of one of the last dragons.
“Convinced my ass. It will be the tenth month soon. And we just keep broadening the search. Directions…” Thorar rolled his eyes. “It pretty much boils down to ‘somewhere on the Interior Ocean, that way.” He finished the last bit by waving his hand toward the front of the ship. “At this rate we’ll hit the Open Oceans sooner.”
Urim shrugged. The Ossentharian officer wasn’t with them on the ship. In fact the man didn’t even understand how important his discovery was. All he thought about was pleasing his superiors. Urim’s tattoo, the one that covered his heart since the day he joined the Brotherhood, burned with hate at the mere thought of the creatures they were looking for. That fool Aluthar wanted to send the creatures to Ossenthar to be analyzed, prodded, dissected and then very likely replicated. The naive human thought such a gift could help him rise through the ranks quickly.
That’s why, after everything was prepared and the shver-ship was ready to embark on this journey, the leader of the Sealed Lineage, Bantur Khurdud, gave orders to clean up that loose end. Ossenthar’s intentions were in direct opposition to theirs—the last thing they wanted was to see more of these abominations brought into the world. Urim executed the order himself. He wasn’t cruel, and made the end quick for the human. And he made sure to burn any of the papers he did not take.
He wished he could tell all this to his friend—his tongue had been itching for some time—but Thorar was here just as a hired mercenary. The Brotherhood didn’t survive this long by wagging their tongues left and right. But if the mission went well, and Thorar proved himself, then maybe they could become not just friends, but Brothers as well.
They were interrupted by a shrill whistle. At once, the nearby door leading to the sleeping quarters burst open with a loud thud, and a mass of dwarven bodies spilled onto the deck. It was as if they’d been waiting with their ears to the door all this time. Shouting, “To battle,” and some less civilized equivalents, they filled the open space hungry for action.
“You’d think their excitement would fade after all the false alarms…” Urim muttered.
“They must have seen something over the fog from the observation tower!” Thorar said, ignoring Urim’s remark. The tower stood nearby with its peak hidden in the fog. It was the highest building on the ship—the shver-ship was not powered by wind, so no masts were present. Thorar clutched his sword and rushed toward the crowd.
Urim was not convinced. So many times the whistle blew and all it turned out to be was a piece of rock or some uninhabited island. But at the same time, because his own sword was so eager to act, the excitement was starting to rub off on him too. He couldn’t abandon his post, so he turned his back to the water and tried to listen in.
The ship’s commander appeared on the bridge wearing his distinctive navy blue coat.
“Delrin! Delrin! Delrin!” the crowd called his name.
Delrin “Gravelbeard” Yemervond quickly proceeded to address the bloodthirsty crowd.
“Men! This is it! We’ve found the place where the beasts live!” The crowd erupted with noise, and he gestured for them to quiet their cheers. “I know you’ve all been waiting long months to meet these abominations and rid the world of them once and for all. You will have your chance soon, and we will win or die trying!”
He paused for a moment to let the cheers, stomping, and the racket of weapons die down a little. “First, we need to form a scouting party—volunteers will leave tonight in about two hours. Once we have all the information we need, we will attack.”
The whole crowd grumbled, but the mercenaries were especially vocal in their disappointment with the delay. One of them kicked a bucket that stood a little too close and sent it crashing across the deck. If it wasn’t for the commander’s presence, a brawl would’ve been very likely to start.
The commander was known for his briefness when speaking. Urim knew, though, that this was not how he earned his respect. Talk was cheap, but the sword he wielded had plenty of stories to tell. What Delrin was known for was fighting side by side with his men, often in the frontlines.
“Look, the fog is clearing,” Thorar said, walking back to Urim’s side.
“Are you going to sign up for the scouting group?” Urim asked as he turned to look over his shoulder toward the water. An outline of the island was now visible through the thinning fog.
“Hell yeah! I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to leave this dreaded ship. Even if it means I have to just watch the monsters and do nothing.” Thorar’s eyes lit up.
“Now you’re making me jealous. I’m stuck on duty here for another few hours.” Urim sighed.
“I warned you not to play more dice!” Thorar burst out laughing. “Especially once you’ve had more than one beer too many.” He gave Urim a friendly punch then pointed at something ahead of the ship. “What is that?”
“Ah, you mean that golden shimmer. That’s the protective orb Lady Ducilla always puts up when we approach unfamiliar land—it makes it so no one can see or hear us. I’m surprised you haven’t seen it earlier.”
“Well not everyone’s stuck on deck all the time you know.” Thorar gave him another nudge. “And speak of the devil.”
The human sorceress must have walked onto the bridge deck just a moment ago. She wore a long robe that covered up her not-so-shapely body. Her curly brown hair moved with the wind as she held to the rails and looked toward the horizon. She ignored everyone and everything, which was her usual way. Lady Ducilla spent most of her time with the commander. The rest of the crew rarely saw her leave her private living quarters.
“You think she can really hide the whole shver-ship and the expedition?” Thorar lowered his voice.
“For the gold I heard she’s paid, she’d better be able to hide us from the dragon itself,” Urim added in an even quieter whisper.
“I’ve heard,” Thorar said, “that they don’t need to see you, they will hear your Name coming from miles away.”
“That’s just legends,” Urim said looking toward the island. “Even if that was the case centuries ago, it might not even be a proper dragon, just some hybrids stuck on this island. If there was any dragon seed in them, all that inbreeding couldn’t have sharpened any of their skills.” They both chuckled.
Thorar opened his mouth and Urim expected some smart-ass reply, but the ship suddenly ground to a halt, almost tossing them overboard. The standard stopping procedure involved sirens going off before the colossal craft began to gradually slow down. Then, after several minutes, it would reach its resting position. But this time the sirens came after the fact. Because of the fog, they must have ventured too close to the island for a gentle stop. As he got up from the deck, Urim saw the repressed energy from the abrupt halt ripple through every plank and piece of steel in the ship, accompanied by creaking, groaning, clanking and cracking sounds. For a moment, he worried the ship might just fall apart from the strain.