Sea Demon ~ Scene 3
The giant snake sunk its razor-sharp fangs into the knight and reared its head, lifting its prey upward. Energized by the kill, the rest of the snakes hissed and spat, drowning out the soldier’s screams until his body went limp. The ones located at the backside of Medusa’s head screeched in frustration, unable to reach the cliff top while the ones that could, now attacked the remaining intruders.
Zad and his general drew their swords to defend themselves from the assault of vipers striking at their prey. Dar spun his staff in the ritual motion until the weapon transformed into the sword of Eldar. The trio managed to ward off the snakes that darted in and out, but as Medusa gained a stronghold and began pulling herself up the cliff; her eyes were nearly over the edge. The warriors were outnumbered.
One of the snakes darted its head skyward, jaws snapping desperately at the eagle circling overhead. But Sharak made sure to stay well out of harm’s way.
Outraged at the loss of his fellow soldier, Lancer roared and charged forward. Swinging his sword over his head, he brought his arms down with all his might and cleanly sliced off the head of one of the threatening snakes. The kill reduced the odds against them, but the spattering blood stirred the rest of the snakes into a frenzy. Medusa cried out in pain and lost her grip, slipping slightly down the cliff wall, her hair of snakes having the disadvantage from her sudden loss of balance.
Dar seized the opportunity to thrust his sword through a viper’s lower and upper jaw. Unfortunately, for the Beastmaster, Medusa reclaimed her hold, causing the powerful snake to hoist its head upward, hurling the Beastmaster and his weapon backwards. He landed with a thump, the wind knocked out of him momentarily. Sharak screeched high above to alert his friend as the same snake dove in for the kill. Dar rolled away just in time, leaving the beast to smash its fangs on impact against the ground. Taking advantage of the stunned viper, Dar swiped his sword in a swift motion, carving the blade deep into its neck. Turning to check on the others, Dar was alarmed to see his fellow comrade in grave danger. He yelled a warning, “Zad!”
Trying to fend off more than one monstrous snake at the same time proved deadly for Zad. While clashing with one beast, a second one swooped in and grabbed him around the midriff. It tossed him in the air and before Lancer could act, his king’s body flew over the cliff into Medusa’s hands. Unable to avert his eyes, Zad was turned to stone. The sea demon laughed as she released her hold and let the statue fall into the ocean where it quickly sunk to the bottom. Medusa once again attempted to climb over the cliff’s ledge, but the walls proved too slippery and she was weakening, losing blood from the headless and wounded snakes. She only needed to hold on long enough for the other snakes to finish off the intruders.
Two snakes teamed up again and attacked the Beastmaster, but Dar spun in a circle, wielding his magical sword, and dismembering the heads of each viper. Medusa’s screech could be heard above the raucous din as her voice echoed off the cliff wall.
The weakened sea demon slid down the cliff face. As a last attempt before falling back into the ocean, one of her snakes swung down and sideswiped Lancer. The motion swept him off his feet where he then collided into the Beastmaster. Both men went tumbling down the rocky slope several feet until they landed in a heap at a level area. Scraped and bruised, Dar reached for the battered knight who hung his head in disgust. “Lancer, are you all right? Can you move? We’ll have to enter Medusa’s lair from under the ocean.”
The general lifted his head, his eyes glistening with defeat. “Zad is dead. Rescuing Tao is pointless, Dar.”
“No, it’s not. Medusa is injured, now’s our chance. I won’t give up on finding Tao.” Dar looked down the embankment to check on the boat. He noticed Jessic talking to someone in the water. “Tao!” A smile of hope lit up the Beastmaster’s face.
Lancer craned his neck to investigate. Skeptical to share Dar’s enthusiasm, he grabbed Dar’s arm and yanked him down level with himself. “Stay down. Remember what Jessic told us? That Tao is becoming a merman, so he may be hesitant about coming with us.”
Dar shook off the general. “He’ll come with me, Tao is my friend.”
“Don’t be so pigheaded, Beastmaster! He’s my friend too.” Lancer flinched from the aches in his body and regretted raising his voice. He spoke softly. “I have a plan, but you’ll need to distract Tao.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Tao had arrived too late to plead with his friends to leave the island. The young fisherman he had found alone by the boat explained to him that the others had left in search of an entrance into Medusa’s lair. Having heard the demon’s cries before Tao’s arrival and thinking the worst, Jessic had been busy preparing the boat for a quick getaway. How ironic that the merman the others were searching for, found them instead.
Tao became sick with worry and, feeling helpless, edged his way closer to shore to scan the hillside for any sign of movement. There was nothing, not even the eagle flying overhead. “I can’t remember your name.”
“Jessic,” the young man answered politely. Memories of his sister flashed through his mind and he turned to the creature in the sea. “Medusa surely has finished your friends. I’m sorry, Tao, there’s nothing you or I can do, except leave this island.”
The Beastmaster crossed over the dunes in contradiction to the fisherman’s words. Dar’s face lit up at the sight of his friend in the sea and he smiled as he dropped the pouch containing the ferrets into the boat. “Good idea, let’s leave. Prepare the boat, Jessic.”
The fisherman was surprised, but delighted to see the Beastmaster alive. “Already done.”
Tao beamed upon seeing his friend. “Dar! Am I glad to see you...” the merman’s voice drifted off when he observed the bruises, scrapes and cuts on his friend. A deep gash on his leg bled more noticeably. He expected to see Lancer coming over the dune next, but he never materialized. “Where are the others?”
“Zad is dead,” Dar spoke with regret and walked closer to shore. He cocked his head, amazed by what Tao had become, studying the orange-hued tail, curled in a way so Tao appeared to be a man in waist-deep water if not for the clear azure-blue sea.
“And Lancer?” Tao asked with hesitation.
Dar couldn’t lie to Tao; so instead, he remained silent and lowered his eyes.
“No,” Tao whispered at the loss of a friend.
The Beastmaster stepped into the ocean and flinched as the salt water stung his scraped legs. He stopped when the merman, only several feet away, appeared nervous as he approached. “Tao, there’s nothing to keep us here any longer. Please, come home with me.”
Tao displayed a look of disbelief. “Home? Look at me, Dar. How can I possibly live in your world now? I’m a…” he paused and looked down at his fishtail beneath the surface, “…a sea creature.”
Dar edged closer, wading through the surf as he spoke calmly to his friend. “We’ll find a way to change you back. You can’t stay here with Medusa.”
Tao eyed the Beastmaster suspiciously, for Dar at this point passed the shore breakers, the water lapping around his upper thighs. “Medusa will stop us before we get too far. She knows where I am, Dar. She’ll find me and I won’t risk having you killed.”
Dar stopped moving forward when he noticed Tao’s tail move. His eyes focused on the merman so as not to alert him to the man swimming stealthily behind him. “Tao, Medusa is injured. Now’s our chance.”
Lancer’s plan was working perfectly and the ripple he made as he swam up behind Tao went unnoticed as the merman concentrated on the news. “Injured? How bad? I need to go—”
“No, Tao!” Dar pleaded and grabbed for Tao’s arm as he began to dive into the water.
Fortunately, Lancer also grabbed Tao; however, Tao’s tail swung up and struck the Nord knocking him aside. The merman propelled himself with his tail, but the Beastmaster yanked Tao’s arm, pulling him against his body and wrapping his arms around the merman’s torso. Lancer quickly caught his balance and grabbed hold of the tail. Tao struggled fiercely against his captors until he heard a voice inside his head—a familiar voice that he had heard long ago. The voice belonged to that of the Beastmaster. The voice was soothing to his thoughts and it told him to remain calm, that if he didn’t struggle, he wouldn’t get hurt. Tao relaxed and faced the man who communicated with him telepathically. Frightened eyes locked onto haunted ones, haunted eyes shadowed by the past, by the memory of almost losing his dearest friend once before. Dar felt Tao slipping away, the same way he did when Annubis had changed him into his loyal watch dog, Cerberus.
Dar never wanted to endure that heartache again. The docile moment erupted into chaos when the merman’s eyes broke free of the stare. Tao struggled to escape, twisting his body, his strength in the water outweighing that of his captors. The Beastmaster had no other choice. “I’m sorry, Tao.”
Dar’s fist struck Tao’s lower jaw, snapping his head back with a jerk. The impact sent pulsating pain throughout his head until blackness vanquished all light. Tao went limp. “Let’s move!” Dar ordered. The Beastmaster and Lancer flung the merman into the boat as soon as the fisherman cast off from the shore. Both men leapt up and over the boat’s side and began paddling.
Before long, they were past the breakers and rowing at a steady pace. Without warning, the boat suddenly elevated along with an abnormal surge. Medusa was rising, the boat with it. As she surfaced, the small craft capsized, its occupants tossed into the ocean. Jessic tried to swim away, but a giant hand scooped him out of the water. When he looked up, he froze, his body marbleizing from the sea demon’s gaze.
Medusa dropped the stone statue and searched for her pet. She didn’t bother with the other men swimming away. Instead, she dove below the surface and picked up the unconscious merman.
The survivors managed to swim back to shore, finding themselves trapped on Medusa’s island without a boat. Dar helped Lancer hurry across the beach to safety beyond the dunes. Kodo and Podo rode in a wave and tumbled onto the wet sand. Shaking their fur dry, the agitated ferrets then scurried off to find shelter. The Beastmaster sighed in relief when he saw his furry friends. What astonished him, though, was there was no sign of the sea demon or Tao. The boat had sunk along with the statue of Jessic.
Lancer recognized that look on the Beastmaster’s face. “Forget it, Dar! Rescuing Tao is impossible!” he managed to speak between breaths. His red hair stuck to his face, his blue eyes dull from defeat. He tried to sit up but cried out and then dropped.
Dar thought he had died. The man lay still, not breathing, with his eyes open. “Lancer?”
A voice from the other side of the dune spoke out, “Your way didn’t pan out so well, now did it, Dar? Let’s tally up the score: three of your party wound up dead and Tao is back with Medusa.” The sorcerer shook his head in overconfidence.
Relieved that Lancer wasn’t dead, only frozen by the wizard’s spell, Dar rose to his feet and roared, “What can you offer, Mathias? Can you change Tao back with your magic?”
Dark-blue eyes met those of the Beastmaster. “Unfortunately, no. A demon’s magic, especially when it deals with their soul human, can’t be altered, except by the demon itself.”
“I thought you were a powerful wizard!”
Flattered, Mathias smiled before responding. “Yes, Dar, I am. However, the world of magic is more complicated than the mortal world. We sorcerers cannot easily reverse a demon’s magic.”
Dar thought for a moment, recalling something to challenge the sorcerer. “But a demon can reverse another demon’s magic. Curupira gave me my powers but Iara was able to strip them away.”
“Ah, yes… I’ve kept up with current events while imprisoned. Eavesdropping has always been a favorite pastime of mine. Let’s see… Iara incapacitated the forest demon allowing her to take over the domain Curupira ruled. This, in turn, allowed Iara to act in Curupira’s behalf; thus, stripping you of your powers and throwing the world off balance.” Mathias frowned at the thought of tipping the balance for he, too, did it once. He passed it off as a time gone by and continued, “A sorcerer could never take your gift from you; otherwise, the Sorceress would be talking to the animals right now.”
Frustrated with talk, Dar climbed over the dune and confronted the wizard face-to-face. “You offer help but you can’t do anything, Mathias. You can’t reverse a demon’s spell, so why am I wasting time talking to you?”
“Don’t fret, Dar. Time is at a standstill. You cannot waste time when time is not taking place.”
The Beastmaster had an idea. “Can you keep time standing still long enough for me to rescue Tao?”
Iara had stepped out of the ocean and walked up to join them. “It’s only temporary, Dar. Mathias’ time freezes don’t affect immortals, demons included.”
The impossible got even more impossible. Dar’s head lowered. “Then Tao is lost to Medusa.”
Mathias eyed the snake demon with distrust. “Not yet,” he assured to ease the Beastmaster’s heart. “If you can’t break a demon’s spell, incapacitate her. Right, Iara?”
The snake demon scowled at the sorcerer. Handsome though he may be, he was trouble.
More trouble than she had realized. With a wave of his hand, a translucent liquid poured from above Iara’s head and embodied her as it hardened. Mathias knocked on the substance and Iara blinked. He smiled back with a wink.
“What have you done?” Dar asked.
“Incapacitated her. She’s alive, but can do no harm. You can do the same to Medusa.”
“I can’t make magic.” Dar gazed inside the crystal form as a vision appeared. Through Sharak’s eyes he could see Yamira, the demon who also turned mortals to stone. The flashback reminded him of how the eagle guided the Beastmaster to shine the blade of his sword at Yamira as she cast her evil eye and having it reflect back at herself, so she turned to stone. Dar smiled and nodded to Mathias, “I have to find a way into the lair.”
Mathias rolled his eyes. Did he have to give this mortal all the answers? The sorcerer shook his head and spoke, “Like most mortals you always look for the obvious choices. Everything is two dimensional with you. You tried the top and—“
“There wasn’t an entrance at the top.”
“And it is impossible for you to enter from under the sea.” Mathias waited for the Beastmaster as he watched him study the steep hill and then the crashing waves of the sea near the cliffs. “The world is three dimensional, Dar. How about entering from the side?” Mathias glanced at the thick brush flanking the path.
“A cave?” Dar asked.
“A very large cave,” Mathias replied.
The Beastmaster turned to thank the wizard but he had vanished. Groans from the dunes attracted his attention. “Lancer?” Dar rushed to aid the downed general. “I found a way inside Medusa’s lair.”
Although sore from the boat capsizing on top of him, Lancer forgot his woes and raced after the Beastmaster to the path that led to the top of the cliffs. Dar pulled back the overgrown foliage to reveal a cave.
“You’ll need a light,” Mathias offered, handing Dar a torch.
Dar nodded in thanks while Lancer carefully eyed the stranger who appeared out of nowhere. He knew there would be an explanation later, so he kept silent.
When the two mortals disappeared into the cave, Mathias disappeared but instantly reappeared next to the crystal form covering the snake demon. He snapped his fingers and the crystal shattered, turning into hundreds of butterflies fleeing for their freedom.
“How dare you!” Iara hissed. Her temper grew when the wizard started to laugh at her threatening tone. A question came to her mind and she wanted an answer. “Mathias? Why are you so interested in Dar?”
“Who said I was interested in HIM?” The sorcerer’s eyes twinkled with mischief before a bright light blinded her momentarily. When it faded, Mathias was gone.
Iara stood alone on the beach, baffled by his reply.