Actinal

The waves caressed the deck like a violent lover. The storm tossed the longship deeper into her arms, rain splattering the faces of the men on the oars, wet to the very roots of them, their bones soggy and their backs sore, deeper into the black sea, the black sky rolling over them like the ecstasies of a whore’s promises turned inside out. Lightning cracked and lit the faces of the men in the longship. Inside the sheets of wind and the ripped bedding of the flashing night, rose a howling, a gong, growing. Olaf pulled himself from his oar and vomited behind his bench; the sea slopped over the boards and flushed it away; he rowed, and vomited; the sea struck him, struck the deck. The man beside him vomited in his lap. Olaf grunted, and heaved, and rowed. They all rowed. The gong tolled on.

The longship crested a black swell. They glimpsed the mountain behind it only as a heap rolling forth from shadow, and when the lightning flared again it was no mountain but a wave, a coursing wave falling towards them, large as the long lost sky.

The men screamed. Their voices were added to the hail that smashed the deck, the thunder, the screaming gale, and the low of the gong. But the wave broke. It shattered to pieces, an explosion at its crest marking it not as a tidal force but the risen bubble of a monstrous fish. It leapt from the ocean, titanic, the electric night catching its metallic skin. A bolt of lightning tore the sky and found the beast, and turning, the men beheld its awful face.

Sparks showered off its silver tentacles. The ship caught fire. Lit by the flames, the leviathan’s eyes glimmered. The eyes covered its metal arms. A blubberous blowhole spat from either shoulder. Mouths gaped in its tentacles like puckered acetabula. Joined in chorus, the mouths resounded like a thrashing gong. And high above the ragged sail shined a monstrous smile, enclosed by incisors that dwarfed the largest of the men. The mouth was lodged in the center of its torso, where bright tentacles flowered from its lips like rubbery moustaches. The tentacles reached for their figurehead, the snarling dragon.

The men threw themselves into the water to escape the flame and demon. Olaf vomited into his mate’s lap and reached down into the salty pool around his ankles to wash out his mouth. He stood, as the ship tipped under the giant’s actinal grin, and drew his sword from his belt. He ran, the longship cracking, the fire parading past, and leaped into the storm, onto the metallic skin of the leviathan. The central jaws opened wide, and Olaf plunged his sword into the spongey gumline.

He sawed his blade down between the teeth and the beasts’s twelve copper mouths blared. A hand large enough to crush an elephant grabbed him and cast him to the sky, to the charged air. He vomited as he spun, and held onto his sword. Lightning struck the blade and sent him plummeting to the sea, hot as a falling star. He smote the demon in its largest eye, the green opal that stared from its throat.

His boots athwart its shoulder, his hands smoking, he dug his heel into the lip of its left blowhole and slashed open the vitreous humor. The jellied ichor erupted from the lens. The thunder rolled on, men drowning below. He hacked at the eye, the lid around it, and the monster beneath his feet spun in the battering waves. “Odin, see Olaf, son of Erik, son of Cuthbert!” Olaf bellowed. “Take me to Valhalla! For I die here, and take this beast to thee!” He stabbed through the pupil into the muscles of the throat. In its chest, the central mouth moaned.

The hand grabbed for him wildly, but he swung himself down the creature’s clavicle. The sword dragged behind him and caught on the metallic skin. The creature’s other hand ripped him savagely from its body. “Olaf? Son of Erik? Son of Cuthbert?” the mouths roared.

“Aye!” Olaf cried.

The monster shrieked loud enough to drown the pounding waves and began to crush him. But so loud did it roar that it missed the shattering of the king plank in the longship’s final demolition. Carried by the rising storm, the fiery ship sailed over the monster’s central jaw, ramming its throat with its splintering timbers. The flames broke deep inside its lungs. Its metal body aglow, it reeled, casting Olaf out into the waves and convulsing, its body twisting in the crackling thunderstorm, turning and collapsing. Olaf was unconscious and adrift and so he did not see, but the monster did not sink. It absorbed the ship and the pocket of ocean that girded its toothy belly, and tore down the sky behind it, falling out of the world and leaving the ocean to fill in the hole left by its frenzied escape.

The Sporadic Saga of Olaf & the Monster
 The Holler Out of SpaceIn which the Monster seeks Olaf across time and space
 The Golden BowIn which the Monster proposes a wager
 Bad CompanyIn which the Monster wins a bet

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