Episode 35: Nespirah's Shell
There had been a lot going on for the survivors since we had ended up in this underwater realm. By the time we reached Silver Tide Hollow we were the last survivors to report in since the massacre on the surface. Many of the others were reunited with friends they had long since thought dead. Each ship had at least a few survivors among them and it seemed that thanks to Erunak, the Briny Cutter's crew had been one of the luckiest groups as far as survival rate.
I had learned that over thirty specialized shaman had been sent on the mission and now only twelve survived, including Gadra and Erunak.
Meanwhile, I had adapted to the environment fairly well by keeping myself busy with the usual gathering of supplies for the growing numbers of survivors that flocked to the cave’s safety. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn't long for the day that we would finally be free of the ocean lifestyle. I wanted to get back to the surface and pick up the pieces of the world we had left behind.
“It’s time,” Erunak grumbled one early morning. “Toshe is requesting your presence.”
“Mine?” I asked as I scarfed down a piece of bread. When real baked bread had been available to me the taste of something artificial, like this conjured biscuit, had never quite worked. Now that we lived in a world were bread was no longer available, the “fake” bread tasted better than ever.
“He says the time has come to take the fight to the Naga.”
“One mage and a few shamans aren’t going to be able to take these guys,” I grumbled. “We’re going to need an army.”
“Toshe is under the impression that we will have just such an army soon enough.”
I took another bite and chewed on it for a moment while I dwelt on the issue. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go fight alongside the overly eager shaman, but my hesitation stemmed from the fact that Toshe had been referencing just such an army for several days now, and while he killed more and more of the naga, he never seemed to come across reinforcements for the survivors. The Hollow Shore refuge area was all that they had left now. If I provoked the naga into another direct confrontation it was likely that we would be overwhelmed and killed. There would be no escape this time.
“Will you be helping him?” Erunak pressed.
“I doubt it,” I replied.
“You will have to tell him that,” the shaman said with a sly grin. “He has just arrived.”
“Sionis!” Toshe’s voice was louder than any other and the cave’s acoustics only caused the already booming sound to reverberate several times before it faded away. “You’re just the one I’ve been looking for.”
“Toshe,” I said as I put on his best smile. “I think we need to talk…”
“I have spotted Fathom-Lord Zin’jatar,” Toshe interrupted him with a wave of his hand. “He is the naga responsible for the attacks on the survivors since our arrival here. I also have reason to believe that the Fathom-Lord has been holding the rest of the survivors as prisoners within Nespirah’s Shell.”
“Nespirah’s shell?” Erunak asked with a short gasp. “Why do you think this?”
“I have seen the naga moving in and out of the shell’s exterior. It is likely that they are within the creature for whatever reason that may be. I am sure it functions well as a prison.”
“Whoa,” I said, interrupting before Erunak got a chance to speak. “What is this shell we’re all talking about?”
“The creature you’ve seen outside of the hollow is named Nespirah.”
I thought for a moment and then realized exactly what they were talking about. There was an enormous shell beyond the cave that seemed to sit lifeless. I had asked about hiding there before, but had not received anything other than a short laugh from one of the shaman.
“So wait,” I started as I rubbed my temple. “Are you telling me that shell is alive?”
“Not the shell, but the creature within it. Nespirah is a massive crustacean. It is clearly not violent, but the shell is undoubtedly the creature’s protection. If the naga are living within the beast’s shell, then they must be doing something more than just looking for refuge.”
“What if they’re trying to control it?” I asked.
“That would be…”
Erunak nodded in agreement. “If they were to take control of that creature, they would have no problem rooting out the rest of us and claiming the area.”
I let out a long sigh and then picked up my squid-like staff. “Lead the way Toshe… let’s put a stop to this before it gets out of hand.”
The shaman nodded and pointed away from the cave. “He’s right this way!”
By the time we reached the shell's exterior, we already had our confirmation. The naga were swarming this place. I quietly stored away the knowledge that I had picked a very good hiding spot, knowing I could bring it up another day when my authority was challenged again. Still, the Fathom-Lord was not inside the shell, but outside.
“What are the odds that he’ll go down easily?” I asked when we finally slipped inside the shell and located the Fathom-Lord’s camp. “Are his guards as tough as he is?”
“I cannot say,” Toshe replied, his eyes scanning the area with great frequency. “Are you sure we should strike at the heart of the camp this quickly? It will make fighting our way out very difficult.”
I shrugged. “It shouldn’t be that hard.”
“You say that, but what if—"
Before Toshe could say anything else, I forced myself forward through the water. I had done this enough already to know that my ice bombs were devastating on the naga and they were not used to being hit with such attacks. The Fathom-Lord had fought them and fled. I wanted to make sure the naga knew why I was here. This wasn’t a kill of opportunity. Zin’jatar was the target, the sole reason why I was here. Once the Fathom-Lord realized that, his confidence in his minions would vanish.
“Hey!” I shouted through the water, my voice not reaching very far. “I’m here for you!”
Zin’jatar turned just in time to feel my staff slam into his snout. I didn’t put much force into the swing; it was foolish to make a melee attack underwater anyway. Instead, I took the moment of surprise to hit Zin’jatar with a deadly fire blast, my hand only an inch from the naga’s body, which made the attack extremely effective. There was such heat, such surprise, that the Fathom-Lord had not been ready. I made another move, pushing an ice bomb against Zin’jatar’s chest and then twisting around behind him as it went off. There was a moment where the color of red was so thick in the water I could not see, but it soon faded into the current and I was left holding the dead naga by his arms. All around me the other naga looked terrified and their shock was clearly displayed. I didn’t want to fight and I didn’t think they wanted to risk it either.
“Go now,” my voice boomed. “Go now or fight here and die here. The choice is yours.”
The creatures immediately turned and fled.
Toshe arrived at my side and held out a small pearl for me to look at. I shrugged and Toshe pointed toward Nespirah’s shell. It seemed obvious he was pointing out that the pearl had come from the enormous creature. Toshe then pointed toward the dead naga and I saw several of the pearls strung around his neck. I put two and two together. This was the evidence that Toshe had been hoping to find. He followed the shaman as they swam, ever so quietly, away from the scene of the Fathom-Lord’s quick death, and toward the opening in the shell that would reveal the naga’s intentions.
It was like being inside an animal’s body. The shell was a shell, plain as that, but the rest of the interior was organic. It was a slimy and sticky mess that I had not anticipated, but there was oxygen and it was dry enough to walk around. We reached the open interior and I nearly screamed when another shaman dropped down in front of them.
“Toshe,” the shaman said angrily. “Why are you here?”
“I could ask you the same, Duran,” Toshe replied.
“I’m trying to find a way to save this creature,” Duran answered. “Who is this?”
“My name is Sionis Sepher,” I said, introducing myself.
“I am Duran, a Shaman. I study living creatures. In this case, the largest living creature I’ve ever seen. I have attempted to speak with the creature, but I am not having any luck. It seems that the beast wants to remain silent as this damage is done within its body.”
“Perhaps it simply can’t respond,” I proposed. “I would suspect it is in a lot of pain.”
Duran glanced at me and nodded. “I believe you may be right, Sionis. I think in this case we may discover that actions speak louder than words. There are prisoners being held within the shell. Please go and free them so that they may aid us in our efforts.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Sure thing. I love fighting naga.”
“Oh, and Sepher,” Toshe added. “Show these monsters no mercy.”
The resulting conflict was one that I was fully prepared for. The naga were not a tough group to deal with, particularly when water wasn’t a major concern. I quickly leveled the attackers that approached me, trying not to cause damage to the sticky organs all around. Soon enough I had the entire prison camp liberated and they cheered for me before pulling me through the masses to the center of the group, where I was shocked to find someone I had assumed to be dead by now.
“Good to see you, Sionis,” the human man said as he saluted me. “I thought you might not have made it. I’m certainly glad to see I was wrong.”
“Likewise, Captain,” I replied. “I think the boys will be glad to have you back.”
“There are other survivors?” Taylor asked.
“More than you might think,” I said as he looked around. “Now come on we need—”
The ground beneath us suddenly rumbled and a horrible echo carried across the air, bouncing every which way off the shell’s interior walls.
“What was that?” Taylor asked.
“Trouble,” I replied. “I think it is time for us to depart.”
“Shouldn’t we stay and fight the naga?” Taylor asked in objection.
“No,” boomed another voice, one I recognized almost immediately.
“Erunak!” Taylor shouted. “You’re alive too?”
“Captain, I’m glad to see you are well,” Erunak said with a forced smile. “I wish I had time to explain, but the creature Nespirah is attacking everyone within its shell. We must flee now before we’re all killed.”
Taylor looked around and then nodded. “You don’t have to tell me twice!”
I shook my head and helped the prisoners as they started following Erunak toward the opening in the shell that we had used to make our way inside. The whole experience of running around inside a living crustacean had been a little too much. As I brought up the last group and started to move toward the exit, I was glad to finally put this place behind him.