The Island of Richbeau
by Dana DeVries
Orduno's Galleon swung around the southern edge of Richebeau and dropped her sails. Four other ships clustered tightly in the harbor and Allende nodded in satisfaction. None of the ships flew a flag, but he recognized all but one of them as Brotherhood vessels. He leapt down from the prow where he'd waited and met Joaquin Orduno coming to meet him.
Allende's face was cold but something fierce danced within his eyes. "I'm going ashore to organize a party to retrieve the supplies. Signal the other ships. Have all the captains meet here at sundown."
"Aye aye, sire."
"Enough jesting, Joaquin. I may be called Pirate King by others, but to the Brotherhood, I am simply Allende. I'm one of the Brotherhood. Nothing more or less."
"As you say." The Castillian's tone held the promise that the matter was closed. For now.
Allende nodded again and leapt into the skiff that was being lowered. He reached the shore before the signalman had finished the message. A small gravelly beach disappeared beneath thick trees. Two other small craft had already landed and Allende quickly strode up to an Inishman.
"Sean McCorley, it's good to see you!"
"And you. Orduno rescued you?"
The two men clasped hands and Allende replied. "Him and his lovely cousin."
"Hmmm. Could be trouble there." Allende dismissed the concern with a wave of his hand and Sean shrugged. "So what's the plan?"
"We strike back. Now. Before they're ready."
"It's bold, daring...might work. Probably won't."
Allende shook his head and grinned. "Ah, the legendary Inish optimism."
Sean objected. "I'm not the only one who'll think it though."
"Well, I know just the thing to change their minds. We've got six casks of rum along with cannons, firearms, ammunition, sails, rigging, everything we need to launch an attack on our former home."
"Well, the rum'll help." The two men smiled.
"So why are you sitting here on the beach? You helped place the supplies. You know where they are."
"We started to. Got half a mile in and I spotted something odd." Sean paused and glanced around. The crew were talking in groups all around them in the loud tones men use when they've avoided death. They were watching the two leaders speaking, but were too far away to hear the words. "Something happened here. The leaves have been ripped off all the trees. No birds. No sign of life at all." At Allende's confused expression, Sean gestured towards the trees. "Remember the last time we were here? Chattering monkeys almost drove us insane then, right? Listen."
Allende turned towards the trees. The only sounds were of his men and the surf. "Doesn't matter, Sean. We need those supplies. We've got over a dozen men, enough to deal with trouble. Let's move fast. Get in and get out."
"Alright." The two men turned towards the shore party and began calling out orders. Within minutes, they were ready but before they could move out, another skiff beached. A young Vodacce woman shouted out and jumped into the surf. Allende turned and walked towards her with a puzzled look.
"I must speak to you, sir." Allende shrugged, waved Sean to get started and turned back to her. "There's something here, sir. Something unnatural."
"What do you mean?"
"I see a green strand stretching from you into the jungle that way." She pointed to the northeast. "And its twined with a black thread. I don't know what it means. Perhaps your death or the death of another who serves you. But if you don't pursue it, the entire shore party may be lost."
Allende considered her words for a moment. Then he spoke. "Thank you, Talia. I know your powers...trouble you. Thank you for using them anyway. Head back to the ship now and I'll check it out. Sean can lead the men for a few minutes."
The young Vodacce woman smiled gratefully and turned back to the skiff as the Pirate King strode calmly into the trees. Once out of sight, Allende began to jog through the light underbrush. Much of the bushes seemed to have been blighted because the ground was carpeted by fallen leaves. But Sean was right. Nothing moved, nothing called. The island seemed dead. Within minutes, Allende's bandana was moist with sweat, but he kept moving until a whistle broke the island's silence.
He whirled towards the noise and a tall figure motioned to him from a shadow beneath one of the few trees still bearing leaves. Allende's hand dropped to the sword at his side and he calmly asked, "Who goes there?"
"A buccaneer," came the response. The voice was rough and gravely, but seemed familiar.
"Why so shy? Let's have a look at you." Allende kept his hand at his side near his sword.
"No. I've lost a lot of weight. I doubt you'd recognize me." The figure raised a mug to his lips and drank.
Something about the downcast way he moved tugged at a memory in Allende's mind. Not the way he had usually moved, but the way he had moved the last time Allende had seen him. "Denny? Denny LaBree? Is that you?"
The answer was low and sad. "Aye."
"You went overboard. We thought you'd died."
"Aye. I...fell in with a bad crowd. When the ship I served on sank, I managed to get away. Me and another made it here. Didn't think you'd mind if I had a few drinks."
"You're one of the Brotherhood, Denny. It was your liquor to drink. Though I don't remember you as much for rum. Anyway, the Corsairs have seized La Bucca. We could use another sailor."
"I...can't, cap'n. I'm no good to you."
"You were one of our best topmen, Denny, and a good man in a fight. There's always a place with us if you want it even if you can't sail with us this time. If you ever need anything, let me know."
As Allende turned away, the figure raised its hand. "Wait. You're going into a battle for your life and your home, I turn you down and you still offer me aid?"
"You're a buccaneer, one of the Brotherhood. Not every swab may care about that, but I do. If you need something, just ask."
The figure paused for a moment and then staggered out of the tree's shadow. The flesh had peeled from its skull and its clothes hung loosely around it. Rum dribbled through deep punctures in its torso and pooled at its feet beside the rum mug it'd dropped. The thing fell to its knees and stared up at him with all too human eyes from his ruined face. "Kill me. The explosion didn't end this damned second life of mine. Drowning a second time didn't end it. I need it to end!"
Allende stared in horror at the man for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and drew his sword.
Denny raised a hand and halted him for a moment. "Three things. Do not open the rum cask in the clearing in front of the supply cave. The other one locked some things in it. Do not go into the second supply cave. The other one lives there. Get off the island before nightfall. That's when they come out. Now release me from this torment!"
As the former topman dropped his arm, Allende's blade cleanly sliced through his neck. Denny collapsed into a pile of bones and rotting flesh. Allende stared sadly for a moment and whispered a prayer to Theus for his friend. Then he picked up a handful of dirt and scattered it upon the remains before turning towards the supply cave and starting to run towards it.
A short distance away Sean McCorley and the shore party had reached the supply cave already and they gazed around uneasily. The trees here had all been stripped of bark and leaves and stood like silent skeletons around them. The bushes and undergrowth had all been ripped up and ground into the dirt. The moss and vines that did remain gave the entire area a haunted, ethereal appearance and a chill seemed to flow from the cave, despite the heat of the sweltering sun overhead. A lone cask of rum, almost four feet tall, stood in the clearing in front of the cave. One of the men, Tom Bardson, had cheered at the sight of it and immediately called for it to be opened. The Inishman shrugged. Nothing would stop a determined buccaneer from a mug of rum in such an eerie place, not a stubborn lid and not an officer.
While Tom began to beat upon the cask's lid with a crowbar, Sean lit a lantern and approached the cave. With a splintering sound, Tom bashed in the lid and then hissed. Sean whirled and saw that the men were all backing away. Stepping towards the cask, he saw that the cask was filled with a blood red fluid instead of the golden liquor they desired. Another step and he could see that something white floated in the liquid, something moving. Before he could move, the thing dragged itself onto the edge of the barrel.
The creature had been a monkey when it lived. Now as it pulled itself into a crouch and glared around, it gave the impression of being a foul wizard's familiar. It stood about a foot and a half tall and covered with rotting fur and flesh. The soaked tail hung limply along the barrel and the creature gave a small belch which the pirates could almost taste. The sight was almost comical, but the gaping wound in its chest and malevolent look in its eyes dispelled any mirth in the scene. With an inhuman screech, the bedraggled monkey leapt towards Tom. He barely had time to throw up his arms before the thing landed on him and bit into his arm. Tom threw the monkey away across the clearing and shouted in pain as the creature raked claws along his arm. The men stared in horror at the thing until Sean pulled out his pistol and fired. The creature burst apart in a shower of bones. That seemed to break the paralysis that had held the Brotherhood. As the men began drawing cutlasses and pistols, a half dozen more creatures pulled themselves from the barrel screaming and more bobbed within the fetid liquid.
The creatures were in various states of decomposition. Several seemed uninjured except for their drenching while the flesh had sloughed entirely off the bones of others. Others showed even more unnatural signs. Monkeys with green glowing eyes, monkeys with jagged claws, monkeys with fangs that jutted beyond their mouths, all these sat upon their haunches and chattered in twisted tones. For an instant the sounds seemed to form human syllables. "Fee-Nee"
"Fee-Nee" Then they screamed their defiance to the sky and chattered in twisted tones as they attacked.
Two of the creatures leapt towards Sean, who jumped backwards and dropped his pistol. The first monkey was upon him as he drew his broadsword and smashed the hilt into its chest. It fell to the ground chattering insanely until he slashed down at it. The monkey barely dodged aside as the second monkey reached out with its claws and sliced a long cut down Sean's arm. The Inishman stomped down with his boot and crushed the skull of the first monkey while he reached for the other one. The thing clambered down to the small of his back and thrust its claws into his back. Sean took two steps back and slammed into the side of the cliff, crushing the undead thing still clinging to him. Glancing around the clearing, he saw that three of his men were down and the others were still engaged with several monkeys who seemed to be focusing on the downed men.
One last creature was struggling out of the foul liquid in the cask. It seemed to sway unevenly on the edge of the cask as Sean stepped forward and grabbed the thing by its bony tail. Sean swung it over his head and smashed it down upon the cask where it shattered. One of his men who had seen that lifted a large rock from beside him and smashed it down on the monkey trying to gnaw upon his friend's ankle. The creature's limbs flailed for a moment and then went limp. Just as Sean prepared to rush to the aid of the last man, a tall figure came running into sight and without slowing, Allende slashed out with his sword and cut the final creature in half.
Sean quickly checked the downed men. Tom had deep cuts in his torso, arms and neck. He'd be lucky to survive the night but one of the crew moved up beside him and began treating the injuries. The other two would survive with only minor injuries. Several of the others were hurt, but it was mostly cuts and scrapes. The creatures had focused on only a few men with insane fury. Then he moved to the side of his captain who stood with his hands on his knees and took deep breaths.
After a moment, Allende straightened up and bellowed out. "Alright men. Bring Tom and as many supplies as we can carry. We need to get the supplies out of this cave and to get them off this island. Now! We've only got a few hours until dark."
One of the crewman stared down at the grotesque thing at his feet and blurted out, "But captain, what are those things?"
Allende dismissed the man with a wave of his hand. "I don't know. And I don't mean to find out now. We can come back and clear out these monsters after we've cleaned out our own home. Now, MOVE!" The men abandoned all pretense of democracy in their haste to obey the orders of a leader who knew what to do.
Sean leaned close to the captain and asked, "So where have you been?"
"Talking to an old friend. He warned me not to open that cask."
"You couldn't have told us that any sooner?"
"No." Allende's voice was even, but the words held pain and regret
"He share any other useful tidbits?"
"Stay out of the second supply cave. Get off before dark."
Sean nodded. "Good advice. It'll be close, but I don't think we'll have time to get everything off before dark."
"I know. But I have an idea on how to slow them down." The men had begun walking out of the cave towards the shore with casks, barrels and bags. Two men were carrying Tom in an improvised stretcher. Their pace was fast and their eyes were wide with fear, but they continued moving.
Allende waved an arm and halted one of the men carrying a chest. He flipped it open and took out a spherical object. As the crewman began moving again, Allende tossed the grenade into the air and flashed Sean a rakish grin.