Shift World I Book IV Chapter 10
by Christopher W. Gamsby
People constantly had to plug small holes because of it brushing against the ship. Although a fatal blow never came, the monster still ended up quite a nuisance.
Sleeping didn't come easy to the female forward gunner. Each night the ship's gentle rocking lulled her to sleep in her bunk until violent rumbling woke her. The first few days of that constantly repeating cycle left her exhausted. That tiredness carried over into her current watch standing.
Resting on the railing at the ship's front, she absentmindedly watched a darkened strip of water approach. A week ago, she called for the emergency alarm bell each time, but now, the bored sea creature made these types of passes all the time. Now, she couldn't be bothered anymore. The whole crew would rush to defend the ship just to awkwardly stand around for ten minutes and disperse again. One time wouldn't be much of an issue, but having to do that every hour or two took a massive toll over time.
The woman raised her right hand with one finger extended. A few moments later, a bell on the bridge rang a single time. She lowered her hand with a sigh and waited for the shape to pass under the ship. As she expected, two minutes later, the vessel rumbled and calmed again.
"Well, I guess we can expect it back in an hour or two." The sailor in her late teens would turn twenty in a matter of a few weeks based on her best guess. Her partner for the harpoon duty was nearly twice her age and helped look after her when she first started working on the vessel. Even after seven years on Sea Breeze, the other sailors viewed her as inexperienced, but that just demonstrated an average crewmate's experience.
Even with the collective experience of three crews worth of sailors currently onboard, not a single person had experienced anything even close to this leviathan. The only possible exception being the times when narwhal tried skewering a ship. The gunners either quickly killed or ran off the creatures before they could do any real damage. That, apparently, happened every few years. Which, based on her own experience, seemed right since she had witnessed it two or three times.
A darkened streak swam head-on, although only around ten minutes had passed. The girl held up her right hand with one finger extended. The bridge's bell rang out a single time. As she lowered her hand, and the leviathan's head crested from the water. Her arm shot up again with three fingers extended. The bell sounded every two to three seconds. The slow ring signified the creature acting strangely.
The woman expected the head to return underwater, but it kept charging. Before she could even change her hand to five extended fingers, the monster lunged toward the ship and wrapped its jaws around the bow. The warning bell sounded in a continuous barrage of frantic rings. At the same time, the woman flew back, dumbfounded at what just happened.
- - -
Karp snacked on a piece of bread while she pored over diagrams she hastily threw together during the last week. The weapons centered around inflicting damage to the leviathan based on the discussion she had on the bridge with Tan, Nordic, and Tark, but none of the ideas seemed practical.
Trying to convert a harpoon into a poison dart presented apparent issues with the supplies needed to create enough compound to fill each dart's payload. If a leviathan were the size of a person, instead of palm-sized like the ones used on humans, harpoons would be closer to half her pinky finger. Turning all of her herbs into the most concentrated poison possible could only net one or two of those injectable harpoons. Karp didn't even know if a sea serpent reacted the same way to poison as a human.
Designing an explosive harpoon had similar challenges in creating a payload large enough to seriously damage the massive creature. It also didn't help that Karp couldn't figure out how to detonate the harpoon. Transitioning a pop-gourd to a blast-gourd was nerve-wracking, but the mechanics of the change had been obvious. Karp still feared working with blasting powder so much that she stored all of her blast gourds in a different building than her storehouse. The idea of planning on systematically testing something that could kill her at the slightest mistake scared Karp. So, she scrapped the notion of creating a harpoon missile.
While musing on other possible designs, a single bell rung from the bridge. "already?" Karp spoke under her breath, and confusion set in because it had only been a few minutes since the last time the leviathan made a pass. A moment later, the bell rang in an even interval every two to three seconds, which suggested that the monster had begun acting strangely. Karp rose from her seat and headed toward the door when a sudden jerk threw her against the wall. The bridge's bell rang frantically.
Karp ran from the galley to the weather deck and pushed through a crowd gathered just outside the main door. She stood frozen before the leviathan's head which had latched on to the bow. The monster's jaws flapped and undulated as its mouth puffed and flattened against wooden flooring. Although the leviathan didn't appear to have jaws strong enough to crush the hull, its fangs dug gouges. Arriving at the harpoon launcher closest to the creature would mean running next to the fangs, so Karp sprinted for the starboard railing.
The crew positioned on the starboard harpoon launcher had a clear line straight to the monster, but they froze up, watching the behemoth scraping the ground. "what are you doing? fire!" The guards snapped from their daze and shot at the leviathan. The iron harpoon bounced off its forehead leaving a small scratch that trickled dark-purple blood. The angry serpent scrapped its jaw against the deck harder but didn't do any more damage than before.
"lower your aim a little bit..." Karp loaded a harpoon she had made in the Shift World after seeing the harpoon bounce off the skull. The projectile had been forged of steel instead of iron to increase its penetration capacity. Karp added several backward-facing barbs to catch the monster's flesh if it started sliding out. After fully drawing the launcher, the crew fired.
The harpoon sailed toward the monster's eye, but the lighter and irregularly shaped spear sailed too high and a little right. The tip sunk into the creature's forehead above the eye socket. The backward reaching barbs caught, and the projectile clung to the animal's face. Dark-purple blood oozed from the hole and smeared across the bow. The leviathan screeched and fell back into the waves.
Sea Breeze lurched forward without the monster's considerable heft arresting its movements. As the vessel traveled over the beast, it occasionally bumped its trunk, shaking the ship. The leviathan swam with a dark-purple trail following the head, circled back, and shot its head out from the ocean. Moving underwater must have pulled the barbed steel free from its skin at the cost of further ripping open the flesh.
The cut over the creature's eye tripled in size and depth but still looked utterly inconsequential next to the rest of the beast. Undulating sacks at the base of the monster's head squeezed, and a water beam shot, smashing the front of the hull. The blast crept up the ship's side and battered the forward harpoon launcher, tearing it from the base. Seemingly satisfied with the damage, the leviathan sunk back under the waves.
Before the crisis clearly ended, sailors poured over the damage and started patching and fixing broken sections. Repaired sections stood out but waterproofed well enough to prevent any flooding until permanent repairs could be arranged. Karp brought a dozen of her newly designed harpoons to the ship. Since the leviathan hadn't surfaced for a counterattack, the atmosphere regressed to the anxious anticipation from a week ago when the creature attacked for the first time.
- - -
"thank you for reimbursing the materials." Karp sipped tea after dinner. Nordic, Tark, Karp, Ban, and the Dragon Guard sat in the officers' galley discussing the leviathan.
"After acquiescing a plethora of materials, we couldn't deign ourselves to allow an individual to bear such a burden." Tark smiled and nodded.
"I think she means it would have been unfair?" A confused Ban tried to clarify, but that only left to the table laughing.
"eventually, you start to understand, even if you always feel like she's really saying something else."
The princess blushed. The awkward, flowery prose of the Creeping Ice's aristocracy had apparently come so naturally to Tark that she had to try very hard to speak like a normal person. The Turtle asked Karp to imagine trying to talk like Tark and explained that the princess found it challenging to compose 'regular' sounding sentences.
"Where did you think of a design like that?" Tan asked absentmindedly while fiddling with a cookie she ate for dessert.
"i based it on the sword that the mandrake used. i always thought that looked like it would be nasty to get hit with..."
"Do you have to use that name for Timore?" Ban looked sad, but Karp didn't feel the need to justify why she referred to him by the name of a murderer. Ban was his friend, and, apparently, he died saving Nort, but Karp would never forget everything she went through due to him and his family.
"Why do you think that thing was giving us love nibbles?" Baln changed the subject, but Karp frowned at the awkward way she liked phrasing her comments. Baln just winked when she noticed Karp's discomfort.
"I think it's trying to figure out how to eat the ship like it thinks we're a giant whale or something," Nordic answered directly, ignoring the question's joking nature. "It's been provoking us for a week solid, and we haven't attacked it. I don't think it's intelligent, per se, but it must know instinctively that we don't have the means to fight it."
"i still don't think we can..." Karp sipped her tea during the other's audible displeasure. "it would take 100 clean shots to kill that thing, even with the barbed steel. we're going to have to figure something else out."
"It will leave on its own after a few failed attempts. I don't know why it persisted this long, but it won't go much further... I hope..." Nordic pleaded with Karp like she could do anything about the situation.
- - -
Sea Breeze approached the mountain range that divided the Creeping Ice and the Lush Forest. At first, the mountaintops looked like a rumbling strip of onyx bumps rising from the horizon, but as the hours and days passed, the ranges grew so large that they loomed over the vessel. Nordic had steered to pass through a gap approximately three times the width of the ship.
During the approach, the leviathan stalked the vessel and crew. After Karp hurt the creature's face, it stopped ramming or chewing on the hull. Most of the crew members had hoped the leviathan would return to the world's edge instead of harassing them, but it lingered nearby anyway. The monster occasionally jumped from the ocean and swallowed a shark, dolphin, or narwhal. Apparently, narwhal saw leviathan as natural enemies due to the beasts' propensity to eat juveniles. Leviathan attacked adult narwhal for being obstacles to their next meal. Karp stood near the forward harpoon and lounged on the railing, watching the mountains.
"Well, if it happens, it happens." A woman assigned to operate the harpoon launcher sat on the deck with her back against the railing, talking to a male crew member standing nearby.
"It must be nice to be so relaxed, especially after what happened last time..." The man gave her a wry smile.
Karp wondered at their relationship. The man was significantly older than the young woman, which wasn't unheard of as far as lovers went. However, being near the crew for so long had really thrown off Karp's intuition about such things. Most of the crew members behaved as close as family, which included teasing or fighting most siblings leveled toward each other.
"I've been thrown to the deck because of hitting something before. I'm not so new..." The young woman, almost out of her teens, huffed.
"But, you're so green that you act like falling's unavoidable." The man smiled. "I think this thing's going to follow us to port. Though, maybe it won't like the cold and leave. I guess we can really only wait and see..."
"Uh-huh." The woman shook her head and returned to reading.
The man seemed to have finally picked up that she tired of the conversation and turned back to watching the ocean.
"when was the last time you saw it?" Karp had spent a lot of time each day looking out at the ocean but hadn't really talked with the crew on duty. Her sudden question pulled the young woman from her book, and the guy looked over.
"We haven't seen it yet, but the last watch spotted it swimming back from the mountains..."
"i really don't like the sounds of that..."
"Wh-why?" The young woman stammered.
"because if it's coming from there, that means it's fine with the cold water. i'm not sure if it's smart enough to scout or anything..."
"it spent a whole week testing the ship. so, that suggests at least some kind of planning or caution. i'm not sure i can think of a good comparison to nature. a cat stalking a mouse, maybe."
"We're the mouse?" The young woman squeaked out.
Karp answered with pursed lips and rolled eyes as if trying to say, "in what world would we be the cat?"
"watch out for any surprise attacks while we travel through the mountains. it's going to be an unavoidable funnel, after all..." Judging by the crew members' faces, Karp felt like she shouldn't have said anything.
- - -
"All I'm saying, Scorpion, is try not to scare my crew, OK?" Nordic shook his head while dunking a roll into his left-over soup broth. "It could be bad if they're too relaxed, but it's the same if they're tired from worrying all the time. You might risk throwing out that equilibrium if we're too hasty."
"yeah... but it should only last until we're clear of the mountains. so not a big deal."
Nordic shook his head. "Yes, a big deal. Now we're going to have to go on full alert while passing through. Knowing in advance and worrying will take a big toll on the crew... Please talk to me before saying anything like that again. We could have had them prepared for the crossing and more relaxed. OK?"
"sure. i'll try to remember that. being on a ship really is like being in a different world where i don't know the rules..."
"I think you're on a whole 'nother level than the rest of us normally anyway." Nordic laughed. Karp didn't completely grasp his meaning, but since it didn't sound insulting, she let it slide.
The next day, the ship approached the mountain range to sail through the gap. Tired-looking crew members huddled around the ship's superstructure and prepared to move if necessary. A few of the members leaned against the wall, looking half-ready to fall asleep, and others looked so wired that they might lash out at any moment. Some carried bale hooks or spears. Others had stone or iron-tipped arrows meant to shoot down birds.
The ship's shifters all wore the armor emblematic of their names. Karp wore her Scorpion armor, but except for the bladed whip, she felt the chances of using any weapons or armor were dubious. Nordic had insisted the shifters use their armor for the drill. Karp stood next to Tark, who wore the royal armor, a jagged set of black full-plate armor with red steel enamel lining her head in the shape of a crown.
The contrast between demon steel and seashell steel armor must have been intriguing because Karp caught people looking back and forth between her and Tark. If she made eye contact, they'd shyly look away.
"Are you sure we're getting attacked?" Rong the Turtle, wearing a full set of dragon fire steel, spoke while towering over all the other shifters.
"i was just thinking out loud. i didn't expect all of this to happen."
"Indeed." Tark chuckled. "Power grants a boon to conjecture and authority alike..."
"i guess you also believe i shouldn't have said anything..."
"Karp, you really do have an amazing lack of ability to see things from another's perspective," Tan spoke, and most of the gathered shifters nodded.
"i'm not like you all. i never had authority. no one ever cared what i had to say..."
"Karp," Tan sighed and started talking with the sympathetic, motherly tone she used during negotiations, "think about it this way. The royal champion, defeater of dragons, crusher of The Mandrake's conspiracy, is a person that talks on equal footing with the princess of the empire and the ship captain. The whole crew saw her invent a weapon on the spot that actually managed to hurt the leviathan. She speaks for the first time to a pair of sailors that she quietly stood near several days in a row and says... 'we are getting attacked by a leviathan.' How do you think they'd interpret that?"
The Dragon Guard and other shifters sighed. In the upper part of Karp's vision, she noticed a lookout acting strangely on the observation platform above the bridge. He looked aft, and based on the angle of his head, seemed to be looking at the ocean just behind the stern.
"i see... hold on to something."
Karp hurriedly wrapped her arms around a nearby post while the rest of the shifters looked around with confused expressions. The crew members looking to The Scorpion braced themselves against the superstructure while the members using harpoon launchers held onto the railing.
A moment later, after nothing had happened, Baln spoke up. "Karp, this is the type of stuff..."
The ship lurched forward, flinging everyone not braced for impact to the deck. That meant that only the shifters that didn't listen to Karp had fallen. The ship sped up as something that everyone guessed to be the leviathan pushed the vessel from behind.
Given the vessel's new speed, the ship would have passed the mountains in five minutes, except its trajectory slowly changed. The bow slowly turned starboard, and the vessel hurried toward the closest mountain. A voice shouted from the observation deck. "It's trying to crash us into the mountain!"
Karp released the pole and sprinted aft. Sailors stabbed over the railing and down the side of the ship. The leviathan's mouth grabbed on to the rear of the hull as the body snaked in water. The sailors' hooks barely irritated the monstrous face while the stone arrows bounced off and ineffectually fell into the water.
"Cut the sails!" A voice boomed from the forecastle, and a moment later, the ship slowed considerably.
Karp grabbed one of the archers. "go talk to nordic and make sure the sails can work again soon. if this thing lets go, we need to steer away from the mountains!" The sailor nodded and ran off. "people with hooks and arrows, back off..." The crew stepped away from the railing.
The launcher fired off a barbed harpoon that lodged in the creature's face. Since the monster's head never submerged while grasping the ship, the harpoons weren't doing any more damage than a regular attack. Three shafts already stuck out of the creature's neck.
"aim there..." Karp pointed to the base of the creature's neck, where the wave-like motion of its movement caused the section to bob in the water. The gunner aimed for the exposed neck and shot. The projectile matched the creature's movement and struck skin exposed from the water. The harpoon didn't do any more damage than the ones lodged in the monster's face.
The crew seemed disappointed by the results until the undulating section submerged and the leviathan let out a muffled roar. The harpoon caught on the incoming waves and gouged out a several meter long section of flesh before popping free. The gunners hurried to load another shot, but a meters-wide scratch on a creature that dwarfed a ship may as well have been a paper cut.
Karp turned to Baln and Tan, who now watched the spectacle with everyone else. "go gather all the harpoons..." Baln and Tan ran off with other volunteers to get the weapons. "fire near the scratch, but far enough away that it doesn't dislodge in a cut."
The crew continued the barrage bolstered by the harpoons gathered from around the ship, but the leviathan continued unabated. Cutting the sails slowed the boat, but she couldn't tell how long until collision with the mountains. Karp turned to the person standing on the observation deck and shouted, "how long?"
"Three minutes?" The scout's shout didn't fill Karp with confidence.
Tark came up holding a harpoon with a yellow tint. "I've procured more dexterous equipment..."
"that might be worse because it'll pull out easier..." Karp thought for a moment and had an idea that would either work magnificently or waste a small fortune in sunshine steel. She thought of giving it a try since it wasn't her steel. Karp shifted in a barrel with a rope attached to it, and while in the Shift World, she added a loop to the back of the harpoon. "someone tie this rope to the harpoon. make sure it'll hold!"
A nearby sailor quickly tied a knot. "This one won't come undone without a knife..."
With only two minutes until impact, Karp only had one chance to try something reckless if the barrel failed. However, she didn't want to do anything desperate since sinking in the ocean just to defeat the leviathan would be the definition of a Pyrrhic victory.
Karp handed the weapon to the gunners, and they loaded it into the harpoon launcher. "shoot it there..." Karp pointed to the creature's cheek, which stayed safely above the waterline. The shooter balked at first but then remembered their training and fired without questioning the order.
The harpoon smashed into the monster's cheek and penetrated all the way into its mouth, disappearing inside. Only the rope lead out. "Is that what you wanted?"
"perfect, thank you. rong, please throw this into the ocean." Karp stepped away from the barrel. Rong marched over and, with a low grunt, heaved it over the side. The rope dragged behind and fell into the water as well.
"Wow! That was heavy!" Rong chuckled.
"i filled it with sand... that's the only way to get enough force so that..." As Karp finished her sentence, the barrel's rope shot taught, and the harpoon that had been lodged in the monster's face dragged a cut down the entire length of its cheek.
Having a massive swath of skin ripped from the side of its face finally forced the monster to let go with a howl. It splashed back into the water. A purple splotch spread through the ocean around its head as blood bubbled from the gaping cheek wound, in addition to the slew of small cuts that had formed from the iron and steel harpoons tearing its skin.
If the original estimate had been accurate, then the ship would plunge into the mountainside in thirty seconds. Sea Breeze slowly swung away from the mountainside. Karp thought they were finally safe until a voice shouted, "Brace for impact!"
The ship lurched forward, sending Karp and everyone else who reacted too slowly flying onto the deck. The vessel creaked, cracked, and popped free before limping through the gap between mountains. After far longer than anyone had anticipated, they finally entered the Creeping Ice.
Thank you for reading up to current, please consider purchasing the full book. Book IV has a special prologue summarizing the events of Book III from Karp's perspective and special Epilogues that shows events from the book from other people's perspective.
Maybe consider purchasing and reading the Light Novel. Then, enjoy new colored illustrations (also available in the illustrated edition!) posted online each week. You could also enjoy reading the tale from a new perspective once you know the 'whole' story.
Book IV Chapter 11 will be posted in the future, Please come back then! Follow me on social media for an update!