The Marquis du Diablo
by Dana DeVries

   A bone chilling cold pressed tightly against the Wave Runner. Her sails stowed and her rigging covered in ice, the sloop sluggishly rocked amid the waves. A thick fog rose from the warm water all around her while a handful of sailors huddled out of the mild breeze and swore quietly. The proud figure of the Marquis Marcel de la Roche du Diable stalked onto the deck and quickly scanned the men with a sneer. He was a tall, thin man and the pale makeup, kid gloves and courtly wig he wore looked ludicrously out of place onboard a ship. Turning to the tiller, he finally spotted the captain. Climbing the steps to the aft castle with some difficulty, he strode up to the captain.

   Through clenched teeth, the nobleman demanded, "What is the meaning of this? I hired your worthless ship to take me to Marcino with all possible speed, not to spend the better part of a day adrift in a fog bank!"

   Without shifting his eyes from the thick fog or releasing the tiller he clutched, Captain Smith replied, "We're making the best time possible, Marquis. Raise the sails and they would freeze in place. Move too fast and the first glimpse of an iceberg is likely to be the last.

   "Iceberg? Are you daft, man? It's April."

   In a patronizing voice, Captain Smith replied. "I know the date quite well, sir, and perhaps this is just the work of a Vesten weather witch. But I saw something like this back when I was a cabin boy just before a frozen mountain loomed out of the water. Only a handful of men survived that day. So while I don't know for certain what is causing this weather, I'm not going to take a chance. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm a bit busy here, sir."

   The Marquis stood shocked for an instant and then he shouted out, "Don't take that tone with me, peasant. Who do you think you are?"

   The captain finally turned from the fog with a gaze as cold as an arctic breeze. "I am Marcus Smith, captain of the Wave Runner, the sole commander of this ship at sea and the man who agreed to rescue you from Montaigne's rather exuberant system of justice." With a gesture into the surrounding fog, the captain continued. "Now unless you want to transfer to another ship, I'd suggest you go below."

   The Marquis' face burned and he responded in slow clipped tones, "An excellent idea, captain." He turned slowly and made his way towards the ladder. Partway there, his foot slipped on a patch of ice and he fell to the deck amid a choir of laughter from the sailors watching from the main deck. Shaking with rage, he disappeared below decks while the captain muttered, "Good riddance."

   Below decks, the Marquis stormed into his cabin and slammed the door shut. For several long moments, he stood in the center of the small room and stared about without seeing anything. One of the other noblemen traveling with him knocked on the door once, but left when the Marquis du Diable did not respond. Finally, after several long minutes, the Montaigne nobleman began to laugh beneath his breath and declared softly. "Transfer to another ship. Another ship. Oh yes, I know just the one, Captain Smith. And I'll be sure to repay you for your actions this day."

   The Marquis rummaged among his bags for a few moments and selected a twisted copper dagger, a golden ring in the shape of a lion and a pouch of green powder. With a grin, he opened the door and stepped into the hallway. Strolling nonchalantly towards the crew's quarters, he pushed the door open and stepped inside. Most of the crew was asleep, but the youth closest to the door glanced over to the door from his hammock. He was a pretty lad with piercing blue eyes dressed as a cabin boy and he shook his head "no" when the Marquis held a finger to his lip and motioned the lad to come to him. But when the nobleman took the golden lion ring from his finger and extended it towards the lad, a look of greed crossed the boy's features and he followed the nobleman into the hallway.

   In the hallway, the lad clutched the ring tightly as the nobleman explained his need to meet a certain female passenger away from the other passengers. The youth nodded with a grin and drew the Marquis along the hall to one of the holds. The cabin boy pointed out a small cot behind a pile of crates, but as he turned back he gasped out in pain. The Marquis' eyes glittered with amusement as he drove the twisted dagger further into the boy's stomach and then up into his heart. The body collapsed to the deck as the Marquis quickly sketched a thirteen pointed star around himself with the blood dripping off the dagger, only stopping when the dagger grew dry to thrust it back into the body to rewet his bloody quill. With his left hand, the nobleman reached into his pouch and sprinkled a circle of the greenish powder around the perimeter of the star while he chanted discordant words that hung in the air of the cargo hold.

   Long minutes passed until the sounds of shouting began to filter down from above over his chanting and the high pitched whine of the increasing wind. Falling silent, the Marquis stepped from the circle of green powder. His steps were slow with fatigue, but filled with triumph as he climbed the short ladder to the main deck.

   The sailors that had been leaning against the walls of the aft cabins were now strewn across the deck lying amid pools of steaming blood. The cold fog still lay heavy, blocking all sight beyond the ship, but a large form loomed up beside the Wave Runner. Captain Smith still stood his ground beside the tiller while he desperately parried the attacks of three pirates who fought on despite hideous injuries. As he watched, the captain thrust his blade hilt deep into one of the pirates, but the man did not even notice. Before Captain Smith could withdraw his sword, his opponent reached out with both arms and grabbed the captain by the neck. While he struggled to free himself, the other two pirates seized him and began to rip off hunks of his flesh and hurl them to the deck. The thing holding him by the throat choked off even his screams of agony.

   The Marquis du Diable smiled at the sight until a claw bereft of all flesh gripped his shoulder. Turning around, he saw an figure with blazing red eyes and pale white skin drawn tightly up against its bones. Still completely at ease, the Montaigne nobleman shrugged the claw off of his arm and stated calmly, "Tut tut, peasant. I am not some morsel for you to chew on, I am the one who summoned you and your ship." Every word formed a small cloud that drifted into the fog.

   A low choking sound emanated from the figure before him. Only after the thing began rasping at him did he realize it was laughter. "You did not summon us." The thing's words were filled with an age-old agony. "We came because I chose to. Destroyed your enemies because it pleased me."

   The Marquis nodded and obsequiously replied, "My apologies, captain. I had not realized whom I addressed." Long experience with courtiers had taught him to allow his superiors to maintain their illusion of independence, even as they had led him to punish the captain for rising above his position. Still the thought that despite its denial, the creature before him had no choice but to answer the summons he had sent, to obey his wishes, warmed him against the frigid air around him.

   The creature peered at him for a moment and then reached out and grabbed the Marquis. Its words rasped out again and its breath was invisible in the frozen air. "And now it pleases me to assist you further."

   "Assist? I need no further aid this night, good captain, unless you could transport me on the island of Marcina."

   "No. Something else in mind. You look pale. You need fresh air, lots of fresh air. I know the perfect place. Don't worry, won't be more than a few decades." As he spoke, the captain dragged the Montaigne across the ship and to the bow of his own unearthly ship. Long ribs still covered in rotting flesh formed the hull while sails of human flesh flapped languidly in the air above. The captain ignored the Marquis's screams as he lifted him up against the ship's prow where ropes formed of dead men's hair twisted of their own volition and wrapped themselves around the Montaigne's arms. Within seconds, the nobleman was securely fastened and his objections became a scream of agony as a sharp blade of bone stabbed into his back.

   Captain Upham of the Black Freighter nodded in satisfaction as the familiar sound resumed from a throat other than his own.