Jenna had led him back into the lighthouse where she'd given him dry clothes. They used to spend their time on the second level of the tower, but she had insisted on going up to the very top, to the lantern room.
"So all I could do was comfort him in his final moments," he finished his story.
The old man had taken his hand, and Ren had seen the city reborn. Or what the city might have looked like before the year of the Black Tide.
Ren had been too young at the time to remember, but Jenna was there when Octopon was still a thriving city. She'd told him about its white buildings shining in the sunlight like pearls. People from all over Mer were driven to Octopon, from the lords to the fishers. He'd heard about hundreds of boats anchored in the port, and the market full to the brim with exotic food and the finest silks in Mer.
The woods surrounding the city had been covered in green once, and Jenna had loved to go for long walks to pick up sweet berries and flowers along the way.
It was a heart warming vision.
Ren looked out towards the sea, remembering the feeling of the old man's hand joined with his.
"Clearly he'd lost his mind, but," he hesitated. "For some reason I felt a powerful bond with him."
"It's because he knew you, Ren."
He turned to Jenna, wondering if she had gone mad too.
She straightened her back. "It was I who looked after you these twenty years, but it was Primus the king who fulfilled the prophecy and returned to his son." Her pink eyes locked into his. "He was your father, Ren."
The floor swayed under his feet. He shook his head.
"We all had to keep the truth from you." Jenna glanced out of the window; the corners of her eyes crinkled.
"Primus," he said that name out loud.
He'd lived all his life in the lighthouse together with Jenna. There was no blood bond between the two of them, but she'd been a mother to him nonetheless. He was told his parents were merchants who had perished in a sea storm, and not once he'd doubted that story might not be true.
"King Primus," he repeated through trembling lips. Jenna had told him about King Primus and his magnificent palace.
Tell him Primus has escaped the pirate king Bloth.
He saw the man's blue eyes again. The lines of his contorted face. Ren, my son. His heart skipped a beat.
"But if that man really was my father, that means-"
He couldn't speak anymore. The floor swayed harder than the sea, and Ren reached out for the wall to keep himself from falling.
Jenna's voice was solemn in a way he'd never heard before, "It means you are the prince of Octopon, our future king."
Prince. King. Ren shook his head. He was a lighthouse keeper. He had grown up in there, where he was to spend the rest of his life tending to the flames. He was nothing more than a lighthouse keeper with a fancy for archery and ale.
It was true, he longed for adventures; dreams about sailing away from the lighthouse and joining seamen on their quests for long lost treasures filled his head. But he was no king's son, no prince of no former majestic city.
Life as a lighthouse keeper was the only life he knew how to live.
As he leaned against the wall his nails dug into the stone. He was no king's son.
"You've lost your mind. I am no prince, no king," he stuttered. "Scupango Jenna, I don't even know-" He gasped as Jenna's lips spread into a smile.
The truth hit him in the chest like an arrow. He knew. He knew the way things were at court. He knew about the laws, about the history, he knew about Mer and its people. He knew how to address noblemen and kings. Jenna had seen to that.
His breath quickened, "All my life, you've been preparing me for this."
"Yes," Jenna's smile faded as she turned and walked to the fireplace.
Her hand flowed across the tiles, until it lingered on one that did not look any different from the others. She exhaled a long breath and pulled it away. There was a hole hidden behind, and Jenna dug her hand in to retrieve something wrapped in a rag the colour of royal violet.
"And that which was Primus' is now yours."
She unwrapped the fabric, letting it fall to the floor. In her hands was one the most splendid objects Ren had ever seen.
A sword, or half of it, its polished blade was broken in the middle and the edge was missing. Although, broken as it was, he couldn't take his eyes away from its hilt made of pure gold and the magnificent ruby mounted on the pommel. The gem caught the light from the fire and the warm gleam that it cast hypnotized him.
"What's the meaning of this?" his voice was nothing but a whisper.
"You've spent your youth tending to the flames of this lighthouse," Jenna said slowly, as if giving him the time to let the words sink into his head. "Now you will be the guiding light for all Octopon." She placed the sword in Ren's shaky hands. It was heavy, and cold.
"Is that my role in this... prophecy?" The word felt strange in his mouth. "Bring Octopon back to its former glory?"
"It is, my child. My prince. That and so much more."
There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but he had to gather all the information he could before the names slipped from his memory. "If you know all this, then you must know where I can find the one called," seek him in fire and smoke, "Alomar?"
"I do. The one you seek dwells within the Abbey of Galdebar. South and west from here."
He placed the sword in his belt as Jenna gave him further instructions on how to reach the Abbey. It was not the kind of weapon a lighthouse keeper should own.
"Oh Ren," Jenna's voice suddenly cracked. One of her hand reached for him. "I hope you'll find it in you to forgive me, for holding the truth from you," her eyes were blurred with tears. "Understand nobody could know about you. It was for your own safety, as for the safety of Octopon."
One of the windows exploded in thousand shards, and Ren never answered that there was no need for forgiveness. He never hug her tight as he wanted, and told her that he loved her and felt ashamed for ever thinking about leaving her behind.
The red beast that burst into the lighthouse acted too fast for him to fight back. Before he could reach for that new splendid sword, the beast was on Jenna and shoved her to the ground. Then, as fast as lighting bolt, it turned to Ren and with a powerful flap of its wings it was on him. It seized him by his shoulders digging its claws around them. Ren heard Jenna scream, and a moment later he was flying.
The storm had ceased, but the waves still roamed below his feet. The wind lashed at him and his captor, like trying to push them back to the lighthouse. The beast's powerful wings however cut straight through it.
"Let me go!" Ren cried out, squirming to no avail.
The big bird kept on flying, uninterested.
Except that the beast was not a bird.
It had wings, the long neck of a pelican and feathers, but its yellow beak stuck out from the face of a monkey; and his body, with its arms, legs and hairy hands looked terrifyingly human.
"You let me go!" Ren reached out for one of the flapping wings and plucked a feather.
The creature opened its beak releasing a deafening squawk; then it talked.
"You don't want me to drop you now, do you?"
"You can talk!" he shrieked.
"Thanks for the knowledge. You can almost fight."
The claws around his arms hurt too much, Ren could not be dreaming.
"What do you want from me? Why don't you bring me back?" it was hard to articulate the words. His chest was on fire.
"You're worth your weight in minga melons!"
"Where are you taking me?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
Even if the beast could talk, it remained an animal and he could outsmart it.
"Listen, you have to bring me back, you don't understand-"
Something hit him across the back. It took him a moment to realize the creature had just lashed at him with its long tail.
"If you don't shut your mouth I'll drop you."
Ren considered the option. He was a good swimmer who could survive a fall down into the water. But they had ventured too far into the open sea for him to be able to swim back to the shore of Octopon.
He kept quiet.
He wondered how long would it still take to reach the creature's nest as dizziness clouded his head and his sight blurred.
Ren closed his eyes and gulped down the content of his stomach.
Breathing got harder and harder, and the thought that he might have died in the mutant bird's claws started to seep through his mind. Probably a better option than getting to wherever the beast was taking him.
As he fought to push those dreading thoughts back down into the abyss they'd sneaked from, he reopened his eyes. Not doubt was left; dying in the beast claws would be a mercy.
The biggest sea monster Ren had ever seen floated on the water. His jaw dropped. Not just a monster. Nothing could be that big. It was a leviathan.
"Stop!" he shrieked. "Go back, go back!"
The beast kept on flying and he was too worn out to fight. His limp legs squirmed pitifully.
Ren had never seen a leviathan before, but they had told him everything he needed to know. Leviathans could leap out of the water; that was the way they captured other preys than fish.
"Please, stop," Ren yelped. "I think it's a leviathan."
The beast bent its long neck to look down at him. Its green eyes seemed amused.
"Do the bones scare you? Good, they were meant to. What covers the boat should be the last of your worries," it straightened his head up. "Fear what's inside."
Ren did not understand what that was supposed to mean, and it was not until the flying beast carried him on the very top of the floating leviathan that he realized the monster was in fact a ship. The white carcass covering it was everything that was left of a leviathan.
Fear what's inside.
The claws let go of his shoulders and Ren fell down.
Ren crushed on top of a sail that blocked his fall; but his arms were too numb from the fly for him to even attempt to grip the fabric. He slid down the sail and plummeted onto the deck.
A sharp pain pierced through his shoulder when he crushed on the wood, and Ren screamed. Pain, the pain burnt like fire. He rolled onto his back grunting, his eyes shut.
People were laughing all around him and the stench of fish, sweat and rotten wood punched his nose.
"Take a good swim and come back thirty years younger," he heard somebody say.
"Monkeybird, with the brain of a naja dog!"
"Monkeybird likes them young, like Mantus."
Ren opened his eyes.
At first he noticed the long table he'd landed upon, then he saw what lurked all around him.
Scrawny men, robust men, some humans more of them humanoids. Some wore ragged pieces of clothes, some dirty silks, some dirty silks and leather, and some nothing but a worn pair of pants. Long hair, curly hair, ragged locks and no hair at all. Skins kissed and burnt by the sun. Some of them had jewels, some of them eye-patches, some of them both. Each one of them was different, and somehow they looked all the same.
"My meal looks under-cooked," thundered a voice.
When Ren turned, the first thing he noticed was the sickening blue of the man's puffy lips. They smiled their way out of a thick, forked black beard.
The man came closer and poked him with a fork; the crew around them laughed louder.
"Pretty enough, make him the next cabin boy, uh, captain?" somebody said.
"Ay, this fair lady can scrub my mast!" Some other distant voice slurred.
"Give him to Mantus, he knows what to do with this one!"
"Noy jitat, get a real woman I tell you!"
"Ay, a squeaking maid, sweet as honey."
"Chongo, I've said a woman not a rat!"
The chorus grew louder and louder, voices and laughter intertwining together.
The man's blue lips parted in an open smile, revealing two rows of white teeth. They matched the white of his skin. Not the candid white of clouds, the white of a drowned corpse. He was tall, taller than all the others and as bulky as the ship he was standing on.
A shiver went down Ren's spine when he forced himself to stare into the man's eye; just one, his right orbit was filled with a yellow glass ball.
The man, who must have been the captain, was about to speak again when the flying creature approached him, floating in the air.
"What about my food? We had a deal!" it squawked.
The captain turned his bald head around, the two black tresses of beard danced across his chest like snakes.
"The deal was for you to bring me the old man, monkeybird." Although calm and collected, the man's voice was nothing but a growl.
"Old man, young man, what's the difference? I want to be fed!"
"Niddler," the man's smile washed away from his white face. "Have I ever lied to you? I'll feed you."
Despite his size he moved fast. His big hand shot through the air and seized the flying creature by its neck.
"I'll feed you to the Constrictus."
The crew cheered to that, their yells more beastly than the creature's strangled screeches.
Its wings flapped relentlessly as it squirmed in the grip. Then it managed to bend its long neck and peck at the captain's hand. Red blood streamed down his fingers.
The man screamed and loosed the grip, giving the beast precious time to soar away from the deck.
"Put an end to him!" he shouted.
Daggers and exotic curses flew into the sky, but the winged creature flew faster.
"Save your weapons you swine, the monkeybird won't survive long on its own. Let it go!" Yelled another humanoid who had approached the captain.
"This won't be the last you see of me, Fish Lips!" Declared the flying monkey from the safety of its distance, and then it flapped away.
The captain stared at the flying figure in the sky, clenching and unclenching his big fists. Then he inhaled a deep long breath and turned back to Ren.
"I apologize for this outburst," he smiled. "I hope my guest understands that the pressure of leadership weighs heavily."
"Why have you brought me here?" Ren wished he would sound more assertive, but his shoulder was still throbbing from the fall. Cold sweat ran down his forehead.
The captain's nostrils flared, "An old fool stole one of my boats and sailed it to the shore of Octopon." He paused and cocked his head. "Any chance you saw him?"
Ren suddenly wished he had wings too.
"So, you did know him?"
"Intimately. He was a long term," the captain paused. "Guest of mine."
"Then you would be," the king pirate. "Bloth."
"Yes," he raised one of his black brow. "But you have me at disadvantage. I don't know who you are."
"That's not important."
"Oh, but it is if the old man told you more than my name. Secrets, perhaps?"
"Then why should I tell his jailer information he died to protect?"
"Enough of this dancing about!" Bloth suddenly roared and Ren forgot to breathe. "The old man hid the Thirteen Treasures of Rule within the realm of Dark Water, and I mean to have them!"
"You won't get any help from me," Ren declared, jumping down onto the deck.
He'd lived all his life being Jenna's strong boy, but he couldn't help feeling so small in front of the pirate.
"The Treasure's no good to a dead man," the captain paused. He looked at Ren, his big hand stroking a black tress of his beard.
"Why won't you join me?" he finally spoke.
Blood rushed to Ren's head, "Primus was my father."
For a moment the deck of the ship had gone silent, and then all together thousand whispers filled the air. Anger had spoken, and too late Ren realized the deadly mistake. He would need to be careful in sharing the information in the future. If he still had any future to live in.
Bloth approached him, "Was he now?"
His eye focused on Ren's face. The blue smile was gone, a distant memory of a past when Ren could have made it out of the monstrous ship alive.
The skinny humanoid standing beside the captain sucked in air. "That face, my lord. His hair, his eyes!"
And the captain's jaw dropped.
"How could I miss the resemblance," he roared. "And I thought I had eliminated all his heirs!"
He stumped his feet on the deck as he approached Ren, "Well, here's an opportunity to finish the job."
Ren had enough time to make out Bloth's hand lunging through the air, and before he could move away that hand was around his neck. Squeezing.
He struggled like a mad man as he felt the grip pulling him up from the deck. He kicked, and squirmed, and clawed at the hand around his throat, to no avail. And his kicks got wilder. Ren felt his feet hit the target. The grip around his neck did not relent, but even when he felt his body weaken he still struggled with every inch of it.
Pain was everywhere; his lungs were on fire, he knew some instants were left until he won't feel anything anymore. In a desperate attempt he tried to scream for help, but no sound came from his open mouth.
He was dying.
But when he stopped struggling waiting for it to be over, the hand around his throat let go and he could breathe again. No filthy air had ever felt so sweet.
Until he was pushed, and for the second time that day he fell down.
The impact hit him sharp and wet, and Ren willed himself to stop breathing as the water engulfed him.
Had he been weak he could have drowned there; but he was strong, his arms used to the swimming by instinct propelled him up to the surface.
He sucked in air once, twice; it traveled all the way to his lungs, and back up and down again. Breathing hurt but no pain had ever felt so welcome. His chest burnt, his head spun, his shoulder throbbed and yet he was still alive.
The question was, for how long.
He looked all around him and then up; they'd thrown him down in what seemed to be like a large well.
The thought that they had thrown him down there to let him slowly rot away crossed his mind for a terrifying second.
Then the water began to tremble.
Ren froze. Something was coming out from under the surface. Something big.
For a moment he thought about the lighthouse, and then three eyeless worms as big as snakes emerged from the water; their jaws opened to reveal hooked teeth as sharp as knives.
He swam away and crushed against the walls of the pit. There was no hiding, no escaping. Bloth didn't throw him down there to rot away in the end.
Fear what's inside.
The yells and cheers of the crew echoed from above while the beasts spun around in the pit. They could not see him, and the pirates' shouts confused them.
Ren flattened himself against the wall, and that was the moment he realized it was covered in a layer of bones. Climbing his way up should not have been hard. He seized the bones and pushed himself out of the water.
When he threw a quick look behind him he saw the worms had turned his way.
He started to climb back up as fast as he could, ignoring the pulsing pain in his shoulder.
He had not made it half way up the pit when the water trembled again, this time harder; and he could not help but look down when the monster emerged.
The three worms were not separate beasts, they all sprouted from the feral mouth of a monster ten times the size of a man. At its wrenching screech the whole pit shook, and for a heartbeat Ren lost his grip on the bones.
Fear what's inside.
The monster lunged at him, its mouth wide open, ready to snatch him.
Ren leaped towards the other side of the pit, and Kunda must have blessed him for he managed to seize one of the white bones and prevent himself from falling down to certain death.
He remembered about his father's sword still hanging at his side. A single man wielding a broken sword against that monster could do very little. It was nonetheless a weapon and Ren reached for it; when he felt something else hanging from his side. The fireflask.
The screeching beast charged for him again, the sprouting worms gnashing their jaws.
Ren had to act fast.
He opened the flask dropping all of the oil down onto the water; then he willed his shaking hands to strike the flint over the neck of the flask. Until his hands lost their grip on the flask which went flying down the pit.
He looked up and saw the jaw crushing down on him. Then something exploded and the bottom of the pit lit up. The flames came up roaring right after, engulfing the air around.
The beast sunk back down into the depth of the water from where it came, with a last thunderous screech. The fire roamed the surface of the water, making the sticky air unbreathable.
Ren wondered what would happen if he'd just let loose of his grip on the bones and sink down into the flames. He shook his head. All he could do now was to climb back up and fight for his life.
One way or another he would die.
He bent his head and vomited down the pit.
An image of the lighthouse and its musty walls appeared in his head. His unfinished bow under his bed. The little boat hidden behind the rocks. Kaila's kisses and moans. Crast teaching him how to shoot arrows, and Joen's tales of pirates and lost treasures.
And on top of all Jenna. Jenna alone in the dark lighthouse, waiting for him to come back.
Tears mingled with the sweat on his face. His hand felt for the sword at his side and Ren climbed out of the pit.
The next two chapters will be up on October 11.