Prequel to Ned Land vs. The Kraken Cult

The publisher I most often write for, wants stories of approximately 10,000 words. I often go over 10,000 words. >grin< Sometimes, as in this case, there is enough to begin looking at it as another story. This one is becoming the origin of the Kraken Cult. Keep a look out for the Adventures of Ned Land.

Prologue

Excerpted from the annals of Professor M. Aronnax – April 16, 1868

“…For one instant, I thought the unhappy man, entangled with the poulp, would be torn from its powerful suction. Seven of the eight arms had been cut back. One only still wriggled its full length in the air, brandishing the victim like a feather. But just as Captain Nemo and his lieutenant threw themselves on it, the animal ejected a stream of black liquid. We were blinded with it. When the cloud dispersed, the cuttlefish had disappeared, and my countryman with it. Ten or twelve more poulps now invaded the platform and sides of the Nautilus.

We rolled pell mell into the midst of this nest of serpents that wriggled on the platform in the waves of blood and ink. It seemed as though these slimy tentacles sprang up like the hydras heads. Ned Land’s harpoon, at each strike was plunged deep into the staring eyes of the cuttlefish. But my bold companion was suddenly overturned by the tentacles of a monster he had been unable to avoid.

Ah! How my heart beat with emotion and horror! The formidable beak of a cuttlefish was open over Ned Land. The unhappy man would be cut in two. I rushed to his succor. But Captain Nemo was before me; his axe disappeared between the two enormous jaws, and, miraculously saved, the Canadian, rising, plunged his harpoon deep into the triple heart of the poulp. …”

 

Hunting…prey sighted… food… fought back…pain…damaged and torn…sharp…pain…cannot see…must let go…leave this prey…too strong…shooting ink…dropping and shooting away…

I go…arms bleeding…home…return home…hide…

 

With these primal instincts the great beast lay in wait, hiding, eating such fish as were funneled into its reach. With time, and care, the great beast’s strength returned. Its tentacles grew strong and flexible again. As it ventured out from the lair, hunting larger and larger prey, the beast grew more confident. Though the healing took time, it had time.

After a few years, reports began to circulate of the disappearance of the occasional small sailing vessel. Sometimes bits would drift ashore on nearby islands, with no clue about the crews or the cargoes. During the war, Confederate warships had taken their toll, but they had always taken prisoners and the ship when possible. Even then, they had only really been a threat to American shipping.  In the Caribbean with its rich history of piracy, rumors spread with the tides. Though piracy in the Caribbean had largely been wiped out by early 1800’s, the Jolly Roger was seen on every horizon. Convoys of smaller merchant ships sailed for protection in numbers, while other ships attempted intimidation through false gun ports. All the while, the great beast lay below the surface watching them glide past, as whales upon the surface.

 

Autumn can be said to be the beginning of death, summer dying. Yet even in decay, there is beauty.

Innsmouth was a city in the autumn of its existence. In its summer it had been a thriving town with great fishing, whaling, and merchant fleets. Now, even with abundant fishing just off the coast, only a few whalers and even fewer merchant ships still called on the port. Once a prosperous city, Innsmouth was slowly seeping into decay. Densely packed gambrel-roofed houses, typical of New England architecture, lined the streets. Innsmouth was the very definition of picturesque – until you noticed the boarded up attics and peeling paint.

Elijah strode down the hill, enjoying the autumn, how beautiful it was on a warm sunny day with its crisp air, just oozing the last bits of summer from the year. He was just leaving the Esoteric Order of Dagon, formerly the old Masonic Lodge, feeling the high he always got from the energy of the rituals. He noticed fewer people out and about since last making port here, but no matter.  His face radiated joy as he was now one step closer to taking his Second Oath of Dagon.  He knew that one day he would return to fulfill his third oath, never to leave Innsmouth again until it was time to go to his true home, to live forever in the presence of Dagon as promised.

Elijah’s family had been in Innsmouth for many years. His grandfather, Abe McAlister, had been a part of Captain Obed Marsh’s crew aboard the Sumatra Queen. He knew this town as well as anyone could. Walking down Main Street toward the harbor he could hear distant rumbling of the waterfalls on the Manuxet. The chimneys of the Marsh Refinery were pumping out the black smoke, working the ores brought in to be processed for trade. Fishing boats out by the reef cast nets into the bountiful waters, blessed by Dagon to feed the town. It was good to see the town getting back to the old ways after the war.  So many activities and rituals had to be suppressed while the government draft men were here during that war back in ‘63.  Because outsiders were to be kept in the dark according to the First Oath of Dagon –

 

“Iä! Dagon!

 

“Solemnly do I swear I will neither interfere with, nor inform upon, the activities of the Order, or reveal any of their writings and communications to non-members. I acknowledge that I have been given one year from the date of my admission to the Order to prove myself worthy of the trust given to me, or be cast out forever.

 

Iä! Dagon!”

 

Every neophyte and native resident of Innsmouth has taken this oath. To break it is to be shunned and cutoff from Dagon. And before the neophyte can take the Second Oath he will need to show his growth in the arcane practices.

But the Civil War ended back in ’65. Once those government draft men left, the town got back to business. In the last 5 years, more attics had been boarded up, indicating an increase in the number of people who had taken the Third Oath of Dagon.

Though a tongue of sand had begun filling in the harbor out near the ancient stone breakwater, there was still plenty of anchorage for the few ships bobbing in the harbor. To the north, Elijah could see the warehouses for the goods which once flowed through town now falling into disrepair. There, among the signs of a wormy decay, was his ship. On this voyage he would be going out as Third Mate and would also be a boat steerer. With a good voyage at his new rank, he could earn enough to settle down upon his return.

The Nimbre was a brig, two-masted with square-rigged sails on both the fore and main masts. As with the town she shipped from, she seemed from a distance whole, but upon closer inspection one could see the filth and worminess of decay creeping into its hull. From his vantage point walking down the hill, Elijah could see the bulge of the tryworks fire pit just behind the foremast. Men were hanging over the sides touching up the false gun ports, a holdover from the earlier days of whaling.  From a distance, at least, they might fool anyone seeking easy pickings.

Elijah was eagerly anticipating the voyage ahead to the Caribbean, the Southern breeding grounds for the Humpback whales, and he daydreamed of settling down on his return. Though whales were slowly becoming scarcer, there was still plenty of profit for the 29-man crew of the Nimbre. Once they had collected all they could in the Caribbean, they could either follow the whales back to the northern hunting grounds or go around to the Pacific. At least for the first few months, they would be near plenty of places to get fresh water and food – anything to make the hard biscuits and salt pork last for the leaner times at sea.

The Nimbre set sail with the tide. Elijah was glad for his new quarters. As a crewman, he had had to stay in the forecastle of the ship where quarters were small, hot as an oven, black and slimy with filth. He had hated bunking there and had cursed the greenhands who became sick and fouled their own bunks, adding to the miasma of the cramped quarters.

By comparison, his quarters as a mate were luxurious and spacious. Sharing a 6-foot by 4-foot space with the Fourth Mate was an incredible amount of space. There were fewer rats competing for space and fewer bugs infesting the bunks. Elijah had shipped out as a greenhand when he was 17. Up in the forecastle, sometimes you had to fight the rats to walk. Often a sailor would be awakened by the lice and fleas crawling over his face. Still, it was a good way to avoid being drafted as some others had been, like his childhood friend Zadok Allen. That war had meant nothing to him, for he knew that if desired, the sons of Dagon could overrun the human race.

During the voyage south, Elijah continued learning the use of sextant and navigation arts. When it was his turn on watch and he was at the helm, he would let himself dream of being Captain of his own ship. He could see himself directing sailors in the rigging, making sure the sailors up top were alert, and as befit the Captain, conducting discipline. Discipline on board the Nimbre was at the whim of Captain Borden and his word was law.

It took the Nimbre ten days to arrive in the Caribbean, and the true hunt was on. Everyone took turns up top searching for the whale sign. On some ships, a reward might be offered for first spotting a whale, but not on board the Nimbre. Captain Borden, like many whaling Captains, made as much money as he could from his crew as well as the ship’s voyage.

Once in the area of the breeding grounds, the assignments up top doubled. Everyone kept a sharp eye to the horizons. A week into the hunt came the cry, “Thar she blows”.

The cry was followed by the series of questions from the command deck common to all whalers.

“Where away?”

“Two points off the weather bow!”

“How far off?”

“Two miles and closing!”

“Keep an eye out for her!”

“Sing out when we head right!”

With a nimbleness belying her appearance, the Nimbre leapt through the waves in pursuit. Elijah and the other mates made a last check of their whale boats. The Nimbre carried four with two spares. After checking the tubs of coiled rope, harpoons, piggin, buoys, and other supplies needed when out chasing the whales, Elijah and the other mates prepared to release the chocks on the davits holding the boats to the ship.

When the Captain judged they were close enough, the command Elijah had been waiting for came, “Stand by and lower!” At once, the men assigned to him boarded the whale boat. Releases were pulled on the davits and with a splash, the four 30-foot boats dropped into the water, sails raised and oars shifted, and the chase was on!

The whale sign that had been spotted turned out to be two whales as the Nimbre drew closer. Elijah’s boat and that of the Fourth Mate Jacob, by prior agreement and rank, took the one furthest from the ship.

This was the thrill of the chase whalers lived for, the hunt pitting the frailty of their mortal lives against the immense power of nature. The chase stirred the blood, for every crewman was eager to fill the hold with the oily materials and make good their lay. This, sighting their first whales so early in the voyage, was taken as an omen of good luck.

The humpbacks were proceeding leisurely to windward. Unaware of the hunters seeking them, they kept a distance of about a quarter mile from each other, blowing now and again. The spouts of air and water arose from the giant creatures two and three times, before they went up fluke and sank beneath the surface.

Elijah’s and Jacob’s boats kept after it, the light whaleboats propelled by the sails. When they drew closer, oars pulled by the strong young bodies held the boats close, following the whales’ path. Elijah cajoled his crew to push and close the gap, then on an instinct he gave the cry to hove up!

Oars raised, the whale boat slowed and drifted on its previous path. With no warning the humpback rose hard on their port side, so close its wake threatened to capsize the quick little craft.

In the bow, the harpooner kept his head, launching his harpoons in succession, each one secured to the 900 feet of rope coiled in the tubs directly behind him. Both struck solidly in their target, the cold iron of the harpoons’ barbs giving the first notice to the poor, majestic creature that it was being hunted. The second harpoon, though, had hit the fish’s life; with a harpoon in its vitals, the whale began spurting a fountain of blood. The pain of the barbed iron in its gut caused a bellow seldom heard by man, as the creature furiously began to writhe and then took off, swimming madly to escape the predator and the pain lodged in its side.

Thus began the Nantucket sleigh ride, as the only thing the crew on the whale boat could do was hang on while the harpooner tried to lodge more lances into the beast. The boat spun as a leaf in a whirlwind, racing through the seas and tossing spray, suddenly lying still as the whale sounded, and then jerking into motion as the whale arose. For almost half an hour this ride continued. Jacob’s boat pulled up and got fast to the whale on one of its trips to the surface.  Both harpooners continued to hit the whale, until with several hits deep in its core, the creature went into its final flurry of death. Jacob’s boat came in to begin fastening a hawser round the flukes, when in a final spasm a flip of the mighty tail came down, smashing Jacob’s boat into kindling and killing all hands on board.

Only then did the whale turn onto its back, finally peaceful in death. There was no time to mourn the shipmates so suddenly lost. Quickly, with a breast-rope attached, Elijah jumped to the carcass with a fluke spade. A few deft strokes and he had cut holes through the tail to attach a hawser. All that was left was the long tow back to the Nimbre.

Elijah took their bearings from the compass in the supply chest. Using the spyglass, he scanned that portion of the horizon where the Nimbre should be located. Soon he spotted the Nimbre and with effort they began the slow arduous journey back to the whaler.

During the trek back to the Nimbre for processing, the seas became calm. Elijah began to feel a prickling of the hairs on his neck. Abruptly, Elijah grabbed one of the boat’s hatchets, kept on board in case the need arose to sever the line attached to the whale, if at any point the whale boat was in danger during the hunt.

Just before Elijah could swing, the sea erupted in a geyser of spray and tentacles.  The tentacles wrapped around the whale, pulling chunks of flesh from the corpse. One of the questing tentacles found the rope; and began stretching out across it toward the whale boat. With a strength born of fear and desperation, Elijah swung the hatchet and severed the rope.

 

Scent…Fresh blood…Prey …Scavenged…strength…To feed…Sate hunger…Something more…What…

 

The great beast ravaged the whale’s corpse. The churning of the water tossed the whaleboat like a cork. Frantically, the six men on board tried to row away from the frenzied feast.

From below the surface a tentacle stretched toward the boat like a streaking torpedo, its target the fleeing whaleboat.

 

Scrap…floating away…Grab…Feed…

 

The rending of the whale boat as it sundered in half with a splintering crack spilled the six men into the bloody waters. As he fell Elijah called out for Dagon, and then was swallowed by the dark waters. Engulfed in the warm water he felt no panic, but a comfort and peace. He was able to see the great creature of the sea, agent of his death, by the will of Dagon. A brother of the sea under Dagon, Elijah felt compassion looking upon its mutilated eye.  Elijah saw a seeming flick of a tentacle, as if the creature pointed, and turned in the direction indicated. In his dying moments, Elijah saw his five men drowning. As a trick of the mind, he saw another group swimming toward them. As was true of many whalers, Elijah had never learned to swim. In his last seconds of life, he saw a beautiful young man reaching for him.

Bewildered, Elijah awoke upon a beach as the sun beat down. Sitting up caused his head to spin. Slowly he lay back down upon the sand, trying to remember how he got here and what happened to the men with him. Waves began to lap at him as the tide came in. Knowing that if he lay on the beach too long he faced threat of debilitating sunburn, he tried to sit up again. He peered across the sands.  He could make out several roughly man-size shapes. He forced himself up and staggered toward them. Shortly, all were roused and off the beach.  They discussed their situation in the shade of the jungle. Amazingly, no men had been lost. Elijah instructed the men to first see if anything from the whale boat might have made it to shore. Second, they would try to signal the Nimbre, which should still be nearby.

Scanning the beach, they found all the supplies from the whale boat in close proximity. The men marveled at it, for everything was there within feet of each other. The spare harpoons, the hatchet, lances, the lantern keg filled with tinder, lantern candles, bread, tobacco and pipes, and the steerers’ box containing the compass and spyglass, all dry and in good condition.

Elijah took the spyglass and the compass to a high cliff on the north side island, attempting to spot the Nimbre. There it was! Not as far away as feared.  The men worked together to gather brush for a signal fire. Then they waited. After a time, the ship could be seen to have turned toward them.  Soon they could see the sails without aid of the telescope. Rejoicing, the men returned to the beach to await rescue.

A couple of hours later, the stench of a whaler reached the shore. The men relaxed. It was a common enough occurrence to smell a whaler before sighting it. At last, the Nimbre dropped anchor in the bay on the north side of the island. From the beach, Elijah could see men in monkey belts working to cut the blubber off in strips. The other whale had been captured, so not all was lost.  A boat dropped into the water and started toward the beach.  The men waded into the water to assist in beaching the small craft. Remi, the First Mate, was leading the landing party.

“Elijah! Good to see you! We saw that giant squid attack and feared we had lost you all!” Remi joyously clasped Elijah to him. “Lookouts spotted the smoke from your fire. We hoped but had no idea it would be you. We are to gather some fruits, fresh water, and maybe game as a feast for the Captain and his mates.”

For the next few hours, they gathered baskets of fruit and skins of fresh water. When they had gathered enough for a boatload, they launched for the trip back to the Nimbre. The prickling on the back of Elijah’s neck began again.

“Stern all, Remi, for all our sake. Stern all NOW!” Elijah warned, but Remi ignored him.

“Just now realizing Captain Borden is angry?  Yes, he’s not happy losing two whale boats, and he’s going to take it out on someone.” Remi grinned, glad the someone was not him.

The waters around the Nimbre began to bubble as the hydra-like spray of tentacles embraced the vessel as an old friend. Involved as they were in processing the whale, the crew was unprepared for this attack. The Nimbre was quickly flipped to its side and pulled under the waters. A few of the tentacles started to query in their direction.

“STERN ALL!” cried Remi from his position on the whale boat, and quickly the rowers pulled the opposite direction, sending them swiftly back toward the island. By time the whale boat was beached there was no sign of the Nimbre. Not a timber, not a man. With the return of the calm sea, it was as though no ship had ever existed.

They were now stranded, and many of the twelve men became fearful. Remi began to give thanks unto God for their rescue and for being safe in a place with food and water. Several of the men joined him.

Elijah began to curse them. “You are nothing but dull-eyed sheep!  Nothing in your Christian heaven saved you this day! I know of people who pray to gods that give what they really need. Stand with me and we can reach out to certain powers.”  His voice softened and became persuasive.  “Soon we will not want for anything. When we go home, it will be with gold and jewels to line our pockets.”

Several of the men wanted to know about this faith that could provide such riches, and at last only Remi stood firm in his resolve. With all but Remi agreeing, Elijah did his best to contact what he believed to be deep ones, and a pact was made.

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