Authors: Mel Odom
Forgotten Realms - The Threat from the Sea Trilogy - Book One
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Ebook version 1.0
Release Date: December, 10, 2003
Veemeeros Sea (The Shining Sea)
26 Eleasias, the Year of the Bow (1354 DR)
“You have followed a lie all these months, Priestess Laaqueel, or a figment dreamed up by your deformed malenti mind. We have had enough. We go no further.”
The harsh words challenged Laaqueel’s self-control as she stood in the mud covering the ocean floor. Malenti, uttered like a curse, still cut through her. Her heritage was all sahuagin despite her appearance. As fierce and hard inside as any of her people, her body and face came from the unfathomable tie between the sahuagin race and the sea elves Only her unique mutation had further deformed her Instead of the greenish-silver or blue skin of the aquatic elves, her skin took on the pinkish hue of surface dwellers, setting her even more apart and making her a target among her own people.
Little light from the surface world penetrated the murky depths around her and all that it touched held a bluish cast deepening toward indigo. Reds seldom penetrated the gloom at that depth. She stared at the abyssal hills surrounding the party, created from the line of volcanoes that still racked the savage land of Chult a hundred miles and more to the west.
Crustaceans roamed those hills, moving slowly under the great pressure of the depths. Every now and again one disappeared, seized and dragged into burrows dug into the mud by hidden predators. Manta rays and eels glided through the water, staying well away from the sahuagin party.
Somewhere out there, Laaqueel felt certain, lay the prize she’d come so far to claim. She took a deep breath through her mouth, flushing fresh saltwater into her system and the excess through her gills, and turned to the three sahuagin priestesses assigned to her quest.
“I am senior among you, Thuur,” Laaqueel announced. “As long as I remain such, no one may speak to me the way you have.”
At a few inches under six feet in height, the malenti was the shortest of the group. She wore her long dark hair tied back in a single braid. Besides her breasts, the long hair was the biggest difference between herself and her tribal sisters. She was cursed with the ugly body of a sea elf as well; all rounded and soft looking, wrapped in that pale complexion. If she spent too long under the sea without spending time in the sun, that color paled to the color of a frog’s stomach. On this journey she’d chosen to wear only the traditional sahuagin harness to carry her gear. The decision further flaunted the differences between her and her kin, but she had learned over her long life that those differences couldn’t be hidden. She had used them to make herself stronger in her faith and her convictions.
“Senior you may be,” Thuur replied, “but you are no longer fit to command us.”
Laaqueel felt the sahuagin priestess move through the water behind her. Even though she resembled a sea elf, much of her senses remained those of her own people. The lateral lines that ran from her neck to her hips picked up the motion, and she was already gliding into a defensive position.
“Beware what you say,” Laaqueel warned harshly as she turned to face the other priestess. She tightened her grip on the metal trident she carried. “You’ve already said enough that your words might be construed as a blood challenge between us.”
Thuur stood tallest among them. Her anterior fins lay back against her head, and her huge mouth was partially open to reveal her ferocious fangs. Her black eyes gleamed with cruel light. She wore the true colors of the sahuagin race, the nearly black green on her back that turned a truer green on her flat stomach. The fins on her shoulders, arms, and legs were black. Her tail was deep yellow, telling any sahuagin male that she was past the age for mating. As a female now, her worth lay in whatever office she laid claim to. For the last ten years or more Thuur hungered for the senior priestess position Laaqueel now held within the tribe.
Saanaa and Viiklee, the other two priestesses, held their own council, but they didn’t stand with Laaqueel as they should have.
“I know what I say,” Thuur said. Her broad, finned feet slid through the greasy black mud, assuming an attack stance. “I think we should turn back now.” She touched the loaded crossbow hanging from her waist.
The lateral lines in Laaqueel’s body turned more sensitive, reading every flicker of movement Thuur made. “We won’t turn back until we’ve found what we’ve come for,” she said steadily.
You’re dooming us to wander these forsaken hills forever.”
“Has your faith been shaken, Sister?” Laaqueel made her voice harsh and challenging. With Thuur, she knew there was no way to speak of reason. “Sekolah guides this quest. You should trust that.”
“I trust Sekolah, not some diseased abomination who has been given status by Baron Huaanton purely by accident of her birth.”
“That status was earned,” Laaqueel said, “not given as freely as you say. As a malenti, I was trained to be an assassin from the moment I was born. I’ve lived among the surface dwellers as a spy and helped our village grow. I’ve slain our enemies, and I’ve stolen their secrets. If High Priestess Ghaataag had not seen the promise in me to better serve Sekolah, I would still be among the hated elves as Haaunton’s dagger.”
In truth, the training spy was somewhat wasted. Laaqueel’s deception among the surface dwellers had been limited to brief excursions. With her pale skin, she’d been forced to adopt disguises and pass herself off as a surface dwelling elf among the sea elves, or a sea elf among the surface dwellers. She’d been the least effectual of all the malenti in her tribe. Had Priestess Ghaataag not sensed Sekolah’s blessed fin moving in her as a hatchling, she’d have been put to death the moment she’d been discovered among the newborn.
Thuur continued moving, turning Laaqueel to put the malenti’s back to Saanaa and Viiklee. “You worked a glamour over the high priestess,” Thuur accused. “She would never have granted you the position otherwise.”
“Sekolah granted my position,” Laaqueel argued. “High Priestess Ghaataag only followed his direction.”
“You lie!” Thuur declared, sneering and throwing an accusatory clawed hand toward her. “Long have we known Sekolah as an uncaring god. He gave us courage and fierceness in battle, and fertility to make sure that our numbers would always be strong in our wars. How dare you even suggest Sekolah would care enough to intercede on behalf of an ill-bred malenti over his true children. It’s sacrilege.”
Laaqueel continued moving. The insult cut through to her heart, touching all the insecurities she’d carried for the long years of her life. If not for the calling of the priesthood and her belief in Sekolah, there would have been no place in all the world for her. “We can settle this when we return to our village.”
Thuur laughed derisively, the effort causing her to expel bubbles into the surrounding ocean that quickly floated toward the surface. “If we continue on this insane quest, you know we’ll never return home.” She shook her great head, her black eyes steady on Laaqueel’s emerald ones. “No, we’ll settle this now.”
“There can be only one way between us, then.” Laaqueel crouched, her senses flaring. She brought her trident up, the three tines facing the other priestess.
“To the death, malenti,” Thuur agreed, issuing the blood challenge. “I say that you are weak and unable to fulfill the duties of your office. Further, I charge that you have no business living among true sahuagin.” She kicked free of the mud, taking to the water where her battle skills were most effective. “If you wish, I’ll spare your life and you may live it among those elves you say you despise so much.”
The offer was a further insult. Laaqueel expected no less. When Ghaataag had assigned Thuur, who was her bitterest rival, the high priestess had explained that the problem would take care of itself during the quest-one way or another.
Laaqueel expanded her trachea and air bladder to increase her buoyancy. Though her legs weren’t jointed in two places as well as her ankle like a true sahuagin and she had no tail, her training and experience in underwater combat were extensive. She’d faced more combatants than Thuur and had slain a greater variety of them.
Opposite Thuur in the sea’s cold embrace, she held her trident in one hand. “Let Sekolah take the weakest among us that the tribe may grow ever stronger.”
Thuur reached for the crossbow dangling from her waist and brought it up. She snapped off her shot as soon as she had it level.
Laaqueel focused on the quarrel as it erupted from the crossbow. She reached into the water with her free hand, spreading her fingers so the webbing between them could be more effective. Her toes spread as well as she kicked her legs. Her body turned, allowing the barbed quarrel to flash past her, missing her by only inches.
Thuur dropped the crossbow as soon as she fired it, seizing her trident and swimming to the attack. Laaqueel met her, choosing not to use any of the spells she had available to her as priestess. There were greater things to fear in the ocean than a jealous rival.
Thuur shoved her trident viciously at Laaqueel’s midsection, intending to impale her. The malenti shoved her own trident at her opponent’s weapon, interlocking the tines. Using the momentum of Thuur’s greater weight and strength in the water, Laaqueel bent her body and flipped over the junior priestess.
The malenti kept hold of her trident with one hand as Thuur managed to disengage the weapons. Before the other priestess could turn, Laaqueel slipped a broad-bladed knife free of her shin sheath. Coming down behind Thuur, she hacked at the priestess, slashing her across the back and cutting deeply into her dorsal fin. Blood filmed the water in a dark and murky haze.
Thuur screamed in pain and rage. She kicked the water, churning hard, and flipped around. Getting the trident in front of her again, she swam at Laaqueel.
The malenti used her trident to batter the other weapon away, and allowed Thuur to come close. When the priestess was within range, Laaqueel buried the broad-bladed knife between her opponent’s ribs. She tried to draw it out, but the ribs and tough muscle trapped the blade.
Laaqueel released the weapon and swam away as Thuur turned on her again. Before she could get completely clear, Thuur landed a backhanded blow against the side of her face. Pain wracked the malenti, but she remained in control of herself.
“You’ll die for that, malenti!” Thuur screeched. She tore the knife from her body, then flipped gracefully in the water and threw it at Laaqueel.
The knife sped through the water at the malenti’s throat. She lifted the bracer that covered her left arm from wrist to elbow and deflected the knife. The impact still sent a shock wave that partially numbed her arm. She forced herself into motion, drawing the trident back as she flipped. When she came forward again Thuur had moved, but Laaqueel’s lateral lines had already picked up the priestess’s new position. The malenti hurled the trident with all her strength.
The three-tined weapon sped true, impaling Thuur through the heart. She jerked spasmodically as the blow sent death thundering through her system. Her eyes widened in disbelief as she stared at the trident that claimed her life. She wrapped both hands around it but lacked the strength to pull it free. Her mouth opened, gulping down water, and fresh blood streamed from the gills on the sides of her neck.
“Finish it,” Thuur croaked as she held onto the trident’s haft. “I deserve that much from you. Don’t let me suffer.”
“Your heresies condemn you,” Laaqueel said as she closed on the priestess. “I am merely your judgment.” She popped the retractable claws from her fingers, another physical difference that separated her from the hated sea elves. She stared into Thuur’s black gaze.
“Your quest is true, honored one,” Thuur gasped as she settled gently onto the ocean’s mud floor, no longer able to stand or swim. Silt dusted around her in a small cloud. “May Sekolah grant that you find it.”
“And may the Great Shark you take with him into the Wild Hunt that you may forever taste the fresh flesh of our enemies,” Laaqueel answered.
“Meat is meat,” Thuur said. “Let me make you stronger.”
With great speed and care, she raked her claws across Thuur’s throat. “Meat is meat. You will never leave us.”
Blood misted out at once, spreading through the ocean.
Laaqueel smelled and tasted it even in the saltwater. Hunger pains vibrated in her stomach. She took the dead priestess’s knife and began slicing.
“Come, my sisters,” she invited. “Meat is meat.”
The other two joined her, wolfing down the gobbets of flesh as she sliced them free. More blood stained the water, spreading outward. Even a drop of it in thousands of gallons of water, Laaqueel knew, would draw predators, and they came. Some crawled on multi-jointed legs while others slithered through the water and still more finned their way to the death site.
All stayed back from the sahuagin, acknowledging them as the strongest of predators.
Vibrations through her lateral lines told Laaqueel when the sharks arrived. She glanced up, watching five of the great creatures swim in a circle overhead. She reached out to the predators with her mind, sending out a danger message that would hold them at bay.
The sharks continued to circle until the sahuagin finished eating what they could of Thuur. Meat was meat, and a fallen sahuagin comrade became a meal for the others. That way, the essence of the individual never left the community.
When they were gorged, Laaqueel ordered her party away, allowing the sharks to descend to finish what was left of the corpse. They divided Thuur’s possessions and the meager provisions they’d managed to put together three days ago between them. The dead sahuagin was the most they’d had to eat in weeks.
She swam, leading them further south, drawn by the promise of the story she’d discovered almost two years ago. With no other options open to her, the research she’d done offered her the only chance she had at a true and productive future among her tribe.