Chapter 4
On the Shores of Notos

AT 1082 (AZ 1454) - Early Summer
Mouth of the Phoenicias River, Notos

The winds did not favor them. Perhaps it should have gone without saying that the men of Zephyr would be carried by the west wind, but while they were sped along by their patron deity, no god would lend his aid to the Darklanders. And why would they? Euros was dead, in spirit if not in truth, but where wind and wave do not carry, the oar driven by the lash must do.
Besides the three ships of the corsair Blackstone, there were two large transports of the Zephyrian fleet sunk in the Dragon's Maw, then raised again by the Monarch Lich's power and filled to bursting with the fell beasts under Medusa's command. Medusa herself traveled on Blackstone's own flagship, the Korax, and she took his cabin for her own.
She hated the sea. It was full of bitter memories for her. She spent the long weeks cooped up in her cabin, venturing out only once to speak with the Lord of Serpents Ophis Python, whose tribe traveled with them up to Notos before continuing on to Zephyr.
Medusa was not particularly desirous of company. Besides the delivery of meals and the occasional update from Blackstone, she was not to be disturbed. Company of some quality may have made the journey more tolerable, but she had no particular love for any of her subordinates and it was best to cloak herself in fear and mystery around the humans.
When the journey was well into its seventh week, there was a rapping on the door to Medusa's cabin and Blackstone's voice could be heard saying, "M'lady, we've arroved."
"Enter," she said.
Blackstone opened the door and stepped in. He was an ill-favored man but not that foul to look upon. His intellect was keener than most humans and he knew how to show proper respect to save his own skin.
"We've beached on the banks a' the river they call Phoenicias, north fork a' the River Notos," he said. "Notians don't cross the river. Stay on the south side an' they'll never touch ya."
"I am not here to hide," Medusa replied, "but perhaps this information will prove useful."
Blackstone was better than most mortal men about keeping his nerve around her, but he was clearly discomfited as he continued to explain the lay of the land.
"Keep followin' the river an' ya'll reach Maranthe. Small town, easy target. Follow it some more an' ya get Kordai. The Pearl a' Notos, they calls it. Not too well defended neither, least not since I was here last."
There was certainly merit in striking the enemy where they were weakest. Her forces could acclimate themselves to the land and be blooded on easy prey. Even with Blackstone's information, there was much she did not know about this place and it would be reckless to go forward blindly.
"Perhaps now that the Zephyrians have gone, your Promethean Alliance has fallen to fighting amongst themselves," Medusa mused. "It is the common downfall of such rebellions."
"I wouldn't know," Blackstone replied stiffly. "It was autumn when I was last in these lands. Knowin' that Rowland, though, his grip may be all the stronger. If ya mean ta carry the Lich's will, ya'll need ta strike soon."
"I suppose we shall see."
Blackstone stood there grinding his teeth, as if he were mustering the courage to say something.
"I can't go back ta them now," he said. "They'll know I brung ya here. Me service is done now, ain't it?"
Amused, Medusa asked him, "Are you so eager to be free?"
"A pirate lives by his own law, his own way," he said. "I've paid me debt, ain't I? Ya'll release me an' me crew?"
Considering his request for a moment, Medusa slithered up closer. The snakes writing about in her skull were getting agitated, bobbing their heads up and down. Being nothing more than creatures born of her curse, they did not eat, but they seemed to want to take a bite out of the pirate captain all the same.
"You have indeed served the Dominion well," she said. "I would say you have earned your release."
In a swift movement, she seized Blackstone by the head and stared deeply into his eyes. When she was first cursed she had no control over her power, but now it was the same as flexing a muscle. Through her curse she cursed others and before he could utter a sound of fear or protest, the pirate was left cold, lifeless stone, though unlike his name, he was common grey rather than black. For some reason, she found him more pleasing to the eye as a statue.
She caressed his cheek and said, "I will spare you the worst. Consider that your reward for your faithful service."
It was still dusk out. Medusa needed to wait a while longer yet. Few creatures of the Darklands could bear the light of the sun unfiltered by the perpetual clouds and haze of their cursed homeland. They needed the full cover of night to move. It might prove difficult to carry on a campaign like this, but it would take far greater power than Medusa's to combat the sun itself. Perhaps more could be done when the Monarch Lich arrived to personally assume command.
Once the light of the sun was safely hidden beyond the horizon, Medusa emerged from her cabin. From a glance she could tell that the crew on the deck wondered what had become of their captain, but none of them had the courage to approach her. All the better.
She went belowdecks to the cargo hold where the Korax's portion of her army awaited. As soon as she arrived, the Trolwif Belah Dinh was summoned to her. Belah Dinh was effectively her second-in-command, having served under Medusa ever since she was first given her commission by the Monarch Lich. Medusa like Trolwifs. They had strength and wisdom and sense enough to spurn glory. They ruled their people from behind the veil and did not hesitate to do whatever was necessary to ensure their survival. Besides Belah Dinh, there were two other Trolwifs in her army and together they acted as her commanders of thousands.
Belah Dinh bowed and asked, "Is it time, my lady?"
"It is," Medusa replied. "Gather our forces and prepare to move out."
"It shall be done."
"Before that, though, a treat. The humans have served their purpose. Any who have a taste for manflesh may have their fill."
Belah Dinh was taken somewhat aback at this.
"Are you quite sure, my lady?"
"Leave none to send word of warning to the Notians. I will go ahead and debark. Be quick about it."
"Yes, my lady."
By the time Medusa let herself down to enjoy the feel of terra firma beneath her, the din of fear and fighting broke out among the ships. The two transports raised from the depths were exceptions. The crew of revenants and the shadow walker necromancers who commanded them had neither the opportunity nor the need to feast on Blackstone's pirates or his galley slaves.
It was all over quickly. The galley slaves were chained to their benches and could offer no resistance. Some fifty or sixty pirates per ship fared little better. Apparently they had far less courage in the face of the horrors of the Darklands than the helpless traders they usually preyed upon. It was just as well, too, for they had precious few hours before daybreak.
Soon her forces were all debarked and assembled in loose formations of three or four hundred. Perhaps this was a conquering army after all.
"We await your orders, my lady," Belah Dinh said.
"First things first," Medusa replied. She then pointed to the ships and said, "Burn them."
"But, my lady!"
"If we are to return to the Darklands, it will be on the ships bearing our king's armies. We return in victory or not at all."
It was a bold gambit, but there would be no return to the Darklands in defeat. There would be no fleeing from battle. If they should fail, not even death would save them from the torment that would await them. Best that every single one of them truly understood that there was no going back.