Sarc the Explorer by Sean Shroll & Anthony D Faircloth

It was a seventy short years after the crash of the Blue Star when Sarc looked out from under his cap, the rain stinging his face. The wind blew constantly, pushing raindrops parallel to the ocean’s surface. He scanned the horizon, eyes squinted hearing the faint beating of the surf upon the rocks. He scanned the ocean for rocks but could not see any- this is what he feared.

He dropped the sails but kept his men at the lines, ready to haul them up should he decide he needed speed. In truth, he knew this was not proper seamanship but I it was this or be driven upon rocks he could not see. Though fierce storms were not unknown in Cush, especially at this time of year, the length of this one was abnormal. It was the fifteenth day of the storm and they seemed to be in the same position, the wind blowing them one way, the strong currents pushing the other.

A gust of wind whipped at his wet hair causing it to sting his skin. Two days ago, they mistakenly thought they had seen land, first on one side then the other. Steerage was nearly impossible and then today, the sounds of surf hitting land.

“Captain,” Giinus Toms flew by him from the bow, driven by the wind and rain, “I sees something faint ahead ‘bout a hundred yards. Appears to be cliffs or a cove maybe … not sure but …”

Giinus had no time to finish as one of the sleek twin hulls heaved itself upon a rock like a obese sea mammal. Men, once at the ready, ropes in hand, now tumbled, scattering about the ship.

“Man overboard, starboard side!” someone yelled.

Sarc saw Frass slide by him trailing blood, as the ship slid off the rock and headed towards the cove Giinus had seen. He had hope for a moment. If we could make land, ground the ship, he thought, we might be saved and maybe even some of the cargo. His hopes were crushed, along with the keel, as a loud crack sounded and boat shuddered beneath them. Damn, altogether not my day, and now with the keel gone, steering is impossible.

“Men, prepare to ground the ship,” he ordered. He knew this meant nothing since they had no keel to raise and the starboard hull rested low, filled with sea water. What I should have yelled was ‘prepare for collision’ but it feels … discouraging.

In the next second, it did not matter, as a rock snapped off the end of the port hull. Those not thrown from the ship, jumped and swam, putting distance from the ship as it rose up, then slapped down violently in the storm.

Sarc drug himself onto the beach then saw Frass was the first to make it but the man’s crushed skull said he hadn’t made it there under his own power. Looking around, he saw what appeared to be the overhang of a cliff just a few hundred feet ahead.

“Men, come with me,” he yelled and started towards the cliff.

Giinus and Seaman Dreess grabbed Frass’s limp body and dragged him along until they reached the overhang. As they approached, they found the overhang was the entrance of a large cave. The mouth of the cave was large enough to allow some light to penetrate the interior. Sarc estimated it was larger than the largest temple in which he had been.

“Leave Frass here for now.” He pointed at a spot in the sand just inside the entrance and out of the way. “We will bury him after the storm, but keep watch on him lest the crabs and rats get to him.” Inside the huge cave, he walked towards a broad table of rock jutting from the sand about six inches. “Anyone have a fire kit?”

Old Dreess threw his hand up and Sarc smiled as he thought. Yes, if anyone had a fire kit it would be that old man, always prepared. Sarc supposed he had a small canoe and a side of antelope stuck down in the leather bag that always flopped at his belt.

“Dreess, good man. I see some brush and drift wood in the corner, drag it to the middle of this table and get it going. We can dry out and get a little more comfortable.”

“Yes, Cap’n,” the old man said, turning to leave.

“And Dreess…” Sarc asked.

“Yes, sir?”

“Good job,” Sarc said and smiled.

His cheeks colored. “Yes sir.” He turned to continue his chore.

Sarc turned his attention back to the cavern. The light faded as he walked further into the cave. He could see small birds flitting through the air near the ceiling of the cavern. Something crunched under his large weather-worn boots and he bent to see the floor littered with tiny bird skeletons. He deduced many generations of these birds lived and died in this cave.

Movement caught his eye and he noticed a large population of small beetles skittering back and forth along the far wall, crawling over each other in a thick mat at the edge of the light. He supposed that many generations of these insects also lived here. “The clean-up crew,” he mused.

He heard crackling from behind and turned to see Dreess sitting next to a small flame slowly feeding it dried driftwood. Seconds later, the fire leapt up bright, pushing the shadows back. Sarc looked around and drew breath as the light revealed large paintings, larger than a man, high up on the walls of the cavern. Some drawings were that of men in simple tunics, not unlike the way in which they themselves were dressed. Other pictures showed animals like sea elk, antelope and dogs while others showed giant bugs or spiders.

“Captain, what is those?” Meekneel asked, coming up from behind.

“Dunno, maybe the art work of the original owners of this cave.”

“What’s it mean?”

“Meek, does every sea elk tusk you carve have a meaning?”

“No, guess not, but these people took some kinda time and effort to do this,” he said, pointing at the pictures, “to scale them walls and paints them pitchers that high up … it meant something to them.”

Sarc thought about it. “Yeah, I guess you’re right about that shipmate.”

“Captain, I got some old dried meat in my pouch I’d like to share if you cares for some.” Dreess said from across the room.

Sarc smiled. “I figured as much.” He turned and walked back to join the others by the fire.

Two hours later, they were dry and fed, their bellies not quite as tight. The ship’s cook, Liggit Morst, ‘just happened’ to have a bag of wine in his hand – the Captain’s stock – when the ship hit, so now he and several crewmen slept soundly on the table rock a few feet from the fire. Sarc listened to Meekneel hum something he knew but could not quite identify as he carved on an old bone he pulled from the floor.

Sarc wrote in the ship’s log until the activities of the day began to take him and he too drifted into unconsciousness. The Great Shreen pranced around in his dreams, as it did in all his childhood dreams, causing droopy eyes and sleep. Unlike his childhood however, it did not stop, bending low, it let him climb upon its back and took him to Dreamworld. He drifted in and out of sleep, thinking of the shipwreck and the body of Frass, just outside the cave’s mouth, and the pictures on the wall. Did they have a meaning?

Sometimes men stood in front of him, dressed as in the pictures, but when he startled awake, no one was there. Other times, he saw antelope, buffalo and sea elk but when his eyes cracked opened, there was nothing. Then came the spiders, they were as large as two man-sized hands laid together and appeared to be made of crystal with multiple diamond eyes. They were beyond beautiful but they made him shiver as they floated down from the ceiling on purple threads. As they got closer, fear began to creep into his dream and he tried to open his eyes and wake up, but he found his eyes already opened and a large spider hanging only a few feet from his face. Sarc rolled his head from side to side only a fraction, and to his horror counted twenty or so spiders hanging suspended around the room.

“Men, we are undone!” he yelled as he rolled towards the fire.

Several men woke, and rolled to their feet only to stumble into the threads, and pull several spiders on to them. One spider lost no time in sinking its large fangs into Giinus, who screamed and flailed around, further entangling himself in threads.

Sarc reached the fire and pulled a large piece of burning driftwood from it, then rolled onto his back at the edge of the table rock and lifted the torch toward the nearest spider. Thankfully, it retreated up the thread several feet. Looking around the room for the next low hanging bug, he noticed an undulating black carpet of beetles lapping against the bottom of the table rock below. Once held against the wall by the exterior daylight, they were now released by the darkness to roam the cavern. They skittered, on the sand and even attempted to climb the rock, maybe sensing their next meal was only a few inches above. Looking at the insects trying to get at him, he remembered calling them, “the clean-up crew.”

“Stay on the rock, there is bugs in the sand,” the Captain yelled. This warning came too late for Cook Morst, and another of his crew, a new kid, Seaman Mursc, both wrapped in the purple threads of several spiders. They screamed, dropped to their knees, thrashed about until they rolled off the rock and onto the waiting beetles. The black carpet jumped as the men hit the sand, and then washed across their bodies like the waves of the storm, still raging outside in the dark night. Their screams faded within seconds.

Sarc made a quick count and discovered only Dreess and Meekneel stood with him, also lifting burning limbs toward the spiders. Dreess’s torch touched the thread of the spider and Sarc noted the thread was unaffected by the flames, though the spider detached and dropped to the floor leaving the thread. Dreess kicked it and it sailed from the rock to land in the bug-covered sand. The beetles fell on it instantly, apparently not only man-eaters.

This standoff lasted for several hours. Sarc was near exhaustion and saw the other two me were also near their limit.

Dreess yelled, “Captain, the fire’s almost gone but I done noticed that the storm has stopped and it appears to be nearing dawn outside. I say we uses the last of the fire and cuts a path to the entrance. I don’t reckon they will follows us too far.”

“Very well, Mr. Dreess”

Sarc tapped Meekneel on the shoulder, who had been seated quietly for the last few minutes, his torch lying across his lap. “Meekneel, grab the largest branch you can and …” At Sarc’s touch, Meekeel dropped his torch and topple backward. Both Dreess and Sarc grabbed for him unsuccessfully and he toppled backward, falling onto the swarming insects. In the seconds before the black beetles covered their friend, Sarc saw a spider emerge from beneath his tunic, then the beetles quickly covered both.

Dreess and the captain looked at each other and nodded. Each grabbed a second flaming stick, and with the spiders several feet over their heads, they stepped off the rock together, side-by-side, one walking forward and the other backward. One flaming limb held high, keeping the spiders at bay, while they swept the second burning brand low, cutting a swath through the hungry beetles.

They approached the cave entrance and were relieved to noticed the bugs held back, deciding not to follow them into the morning light. At the place where they laid Frass, only a few bone fragments and a shallow depression remained as a monument to their unlucky shipmate.

They sat silently on a fallen tree a hundred feet from the cave mouth, the morning sunlight warming their bodies. Eventually, they stripped off their sweat-soaked clothes and headed into the shallow water of the now calm sea to wash up. Dreess noticed the remains of their ship several hundred feet up the beach, the waves washing up around it. “Maybe we can salvage something from the hulk,” he said.

Captain Sarc looked at his only remaining crewmember. “It shall be an interesting life we undertake, for sure.” One side of his mouth slid upward. “You up to it Mr. Dreess?”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Good,” he said, slapping Dreess on the shoulder. “Now, let’s dress and go see what there is to salvage.”

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