Scylla and Charybdis
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[Excerpts from the journal of Lord Blackwood.]

August 4, 1883:

My continued journey has led me to the island known by many, though recognized by few, the home of ancient Ithaca. Delighted at my happening upon such an auspicious place, I offered a small sum of money to an agreeable resident to act as my guide. I spent that day in his company, with him telling me the local stories that were passed down to him from his grandfather, and his grandfather's grandfather before him, and so on, he claimed. Tales, if believed, that were handed down from Ulysses' own midshipman.

When the sun had hidden its face beyond the far horizon, we retired to my new companion's home, to a dinner of lamb, bread and pickled vegetables. Thereafter, we spoke over wine, and I was regailed with further stories of that ancient voyage. I shall not pen them here, for Homer is a greater poet than I, and I would leave some mysteries for this dear friend of mine to pass on to his grandchildren some day.

August 5, 1883:

As the first rays of the sun found their way through the window, I opened my eyes, and I knew then what I must do. I thanked my most hospitable friend, gathered my belongings, and let him know the quest that had been revealed to me. I would charter a ship, and follow the legendary odyssey of Ulysses myself.

My acquaintance balked at my design, warning me that it was folly, that I would tempt divine wrath. I tried to convince him to look beyond his superstition and join me on my voyage, but he would not accompany me. As we discussed my proposition well in the afternoon, he relented somewhat, informing me of an adventurous neighbor who had purchased his own schooner just weeks prior. With a final word of thanks to my host and his family, I bid them farewell and sought out their neighbor.

August 6, 1883:

Fortune shines upon me. I have met with their neighbor and spoke with him long into the evening. The Captain, for that is what he fancies himself, gave his name as Aeneas, and confided in me that he had long considered a journey such as the one I suggested.

Perhaps he saw this as a sign, an answer to his long-pondered question. Perhaps not. Perhaps it doesn't matter. I paid him a modest sum, and our deal was struck. He would gather supplies and a crew, and we were to sail within the week.

August 10, 1883:

Twelve men, myself, and the Captain. A serviceable crew. Perhaps the dream the Captain and I share isn't such an uncommon one on this propitious isle.

The provisions have arrived and are being loaded this very evening. In an endeavor to gain my sea legs early, I shall be spending this night on the craft.

August 11, 1883:

I have never in my entire wretched life felt so ungodly ill.

August 12, 1883:

By God, it started moving. I threw up carrots this morning. I haven't eaten carrots in years.

Please, lord of mercy, strike me dead.

August 15, 1883:

At long last, I have recuperated to an extent that I am able to move about the deck without keeping always to the rail.

The crew has made no end of jest and jibe at my expense, but they are good lads, experienced all. We have had no issue on our voyage save the contents of my stomach, and are well on our way to the Ottoman Empire, whence, claimed my Ithacan friend, lay the true location of mythical Troy.

We've no desire to get caught up in local affairs, and will only go as close enough to glimpse the mainland. After all, the crew seemed in agreement, 'twould not do for us to get caught up in a war like those in whose steps we follow.

August 17, 1883:

The Barrelman called out a sighting of land at the break of dawn, and, wishing to remain clear of patrolling ships, we turned swiftly north to sight Cicones. Another two days, if the weather remains fair.

I remain eager for our journey to turn back westward, where we need not fear running afoul of an Ottoman fleet. Indeed, I am told, were it not for the swiftness of our small craft, none of the crewmen would have joined our venture.

August 19, 1883:

With no city to loot, the coastline holds no lure to our crewmen as it did to those of Ulysses, and so, in short order, we had had our fill of the sight of coastlines, and headed south and west, to set out on the longest leg of our journey, south and west, to Africa. There, just off the coast of French Tunisia, is said to lie the island of Lotus Eaters.

The last of our fresh supplies have run out with today's lunch, and so we start to our rations of hardtack and rum. It did not take me long to remember why the latter is oft served with the former.

August 25, 1883:

Dark clouds on the horizon this morning, a storm to the southwest, and a big one it seems. The Captain has decided to turn our course north. By my reckoning, we are two days west of Crete, and at the worst this storm could push our course off northwards perhaps to Malta, or, at worst, the southern coast of Sicily. No great loss, as we will be able to correct our course in short order.

August 29, 1883:

Fortune doesn't fain to smile on us, as this blasted storm has continued northward along with us unabated. At this rate, if we wish to continue westward, we must needs turn more sharply north, making our way towards the northern coast of Sicily lest we risk running aground along her eastern shores.

I pray the storm breaks across the island's southern shore, that our journey might continue in peace.

August 30, 1883:

Roiling waters off the shore of the Sicilian isle. Fortune would not favor us this day. Oh but if only the storm would have been the end of it.

Not another ship in sight, nor soul on the land, but from beneath the waves, just off the coast the waters began to chrun and boil in great lines, hundreds of yards long. The crew turned us aside, to keep us far abreast of these uneasy waters, and as we watched, I swear on my honor as an Englishman, we saw a host of warriors rise from beneath the tides. All hefting bronzen arms and chanting as one with a berserk fury.

Even near to a mile away from the nearest of their ranks, we could hear their war cry. My studies of the classics had me here stood in good stead, as I recognized the language of the Greeks.

"Great Mother Halyna, scourge the world of Iron. Fix your wrathful gaze on man, grant them not your spurn. Strip away flesh from flesh, flay alive her foes. Pull them into Mother's grasp, and take away their toes!"

We stood, transfixed to a man. Yet before we could ponder as to what sorcery was afoot to conjure such an army, we beheld Her. Hair as black as midnight, she rose from their midst. Her face was the very image of rage, and as she crested the waves, her myriad tentacles burst forth from beneath the surf, writhing to and fro. With a single shriek, she bade her army forward, across the waves, towards Italy.

My breath caught in my throat, I cast my gaze around the crewmen, men I have grown to know well these past weeks. Finally, my eyes turned to the Captain, whose stern mask had begun to crack, betrayed by the panic in his eyes. We had brought a small handful of rifles to arm the crew as a last holdout against privateers, and my measure of the Captain's bravery was not misplaced as I saw his gaze towards the locked hold where we had the munitions stored. He meant to strike out against this unexpected horror. Thinking quickly, I called out, rallying the crewmen, whose visages belied not but horror.

"Brothers! Hearken unto me! Fate has deigned to set upon us a collision course with a monster— with a legion of monsters! And yet, do not falter! Look around you! We, and we alone are here, chosen to bear witness to this monstrosity, and burdened with the sole responsibility of preventing this dread host from reaching land and bringing her horror down the innocent."

Scant, ragged cheers soon found themselves strengthened to great war cries when bolstered by the sturdy stock of a rifle. In short time, the Captain began moving us towards the advancing host. Roughly a mile wide, and perhaps a dozen ranks deep, her army marched across the surface of the water. As we neared, we could finally see the myriad horrors that replaced her army's legs. From writhing tentacle-like masses of veins, to featureless, porpoise-like flippers, each had had their feet, and oft their entire legs, removed. Removed and replaced, lovingly it seemed, by some new and mad replacement. No two of her soldiers could boast the same form, and yet it seems in their elation of their 'mother', they cared not.

Closer and closer we came, barreling head-on towards them, until, just over a hundred yards from them, we turned broadside. The men were quick to their positions; we would have precious few volleys before we must needs retreat.

"Aim for the witch that commands them!" I called to them. "Rend her from her tentacles! Send her back once more to the briny depths!" A resounding retort answered, rifles firing true, rending the sea witch's body with wounds. A cheer went up among the crew.

In an instant, however, the cheer was drained, as the bleeding witch cackled, lashing out with her many tentacles, pulling her own soldiers into her grasp. She uttered a foul sorcery, and twisted their flesh, pulling them into her. One by one, she plucked them from their march and added their mass to hers. By the time the men had aimed for a second volley, she had grown to the size of an African Elephant.

Screams erupted as her titanic visage turned towards the ship. Rage, a hot red light, shot from her eyes, falling over the Barrelman. We watched in horror as it reduced him to naught but a quivering pool of flesh, dripping from the crow's nest. We adjusted our tack, fleeing this horror, desperate for retreat. Yet whatever speed the craft could muster, the sea witch's growth threatened to overtake. Indeed, her foremost tentacles found their way onto the deck of the ship, pulling the Midshipman and First Mate away, screaming as their legs melted.

A fortuitous wind caught our sails, billowing us out ahead, and yet Neptune does not cast a favor without tempering it with a curse. Before us, not half a mile, began swirling a vast whirlpool, spraying froth two dozen feet high. The crew lamented, fearing this a new spell summoned up by the witch, and yet, to our amazement, something began to emerge from the whorl.

A metal shell, polished like burnished brass, and twice the width of our craft broke from the surf, risen aloft atop six gleaming legs, long and slender. Graceful, like a dancer, they moved. Emerging from the front of this metal titan loomed two tremendous claws, either well capable of reducing our craft to so much driftwood.

And yet, for reasons I confess I do not know with certainty, we were spared its wrath. As a great grinding noise and a burst of hot steam emerged from within the titanic brazen crustacean, the witch issued forth a scream of most primal rage as to shake every man to his core.

Water fell down from above as we passed beneath the long, spindly legs of the metal titan. The Captain gripped tight to the wheel, navigating to avoid crashing into bronzen doom.

Our breath was stolen from our lungs as the machine lunged forward, surging up a great wave which carried us away, towards the distant shores of Italy. We dared not question our luck, and could do little but watch in awe as the titans collided. Massive tentacles twisted and fought for purchase around the hardened metal carapace, while razor-sharp claw tore at the flesh of the titanic witch's breast. Searing blasts of steam shot from cleverly concealed holes atop its carapace to meet the withering rage emanating from her countenance. Their clash is, in my estimation, the most spectacular event to have taken place upon this green Earth. I shall meditate on what I have seen and transcribe every most minute detail of this epic battle on the morrow.

August 31, 1883:

[This page is missing.]

September 1, 1883:

We have arrived safely upon the shores of Italy. Our respects have been paid, and now we shall make inland, to recount what we have seen. I fear the crew have lost their stomach for adventure at sea, as, I believe, have I, for the time.

As I reflect upon the spectacle I have borne witness to, I can come to only one conclusion. Sometimes adventure isn't merely afoot. Sometimes, adventure is the entire damned leg.

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