It was as if the ocean itself waged a sudden and colossal war. The waves crashed against the ship, and the heavy spray of salty water made it nearly impossible to see anything. Most of the sailors had taken shelter, but some were still on deck and were finishing changing the regular sails to thicker storm sails. They shouted something at the lieutenant, but the heavy wind swept their voices away. The mist stung the young lieutenant’s eyes, and wiping it away with his hands only made it worse.
Lieutenant Yulin went down below deck to the helmsman with an urgent order from the Captain. It was an order Yulin knew to be extremely dangerous, may damage the morale of the sailors, and perhaps even be refused to be obeyed. He took a moment to breath and to clean his eyes with the fabric of his shirt. The fresh smell of the ocean was replaced by a musky odor of sweat and wet wood. The old floorboards creaked with each step Yulin took downstairs, as if the ship itself tried to plead, “I’m old, can’t you hear? I can’t survive this storm.”
When the lieutenant saw the helmsman, the man had a nervous look in his eyes.
“We’re gettin’ damned close to Arc’dael, sir,” said the helmsman. Then Yulin understood—it was a deep, unearthed fear of death he saw in the man’s eyes.
“The Captain ordered to increase the rudder angle to 30 degrees right,” the Lieutenant said flatly.
The helmsman was an experienced sailor, and sailed the same trading route dozens of times before. It was a long, but simple journey going from Tyr and visiting all of the colonies in Kal’bori and Kal’dael. Avoiding Arc’dael during the journey was like a law of the sea, an area forbidden by the gods themselves.
“Sir, does the Captain know this’ll take us directly to the Storm of Arc’dael?” he replied.
The lieutenant sighed heavily. “Yes, I’m afraid he understands full well.”
Placing his hands on the tiller, the helmsman hesitated to push it. They were close enough to Arc’dael to feel the ship sway aggressively, but if they maintained their current course, they would eventually clear the edge of the storm and be safe at sea.
“I have three kids back home,” the helmsman said.
Yulin waited for the man to continue, but he seemed lost in thought after those words.
“I’ll soon be a father, too,” Yulin said. “My wife had been pregnant for a half-season at the start of our trip. The baby will be born before I return.”
“Aye, must be tough for yer wife, sir, you leaving her to join a company of rugged, handsome men such as us,” he laughed.
“She warns me of you lot before every voyage,” Yulin smiled. He quickly tilted his head and hinted at the tiller.
All joy left the helmsman’s eyes, he drew a quick, sharp breath, and pushed the tiller to get the rudder at the right angle.
Yulin turned around and went straight to the Captain’s quarters. As he passed the other sailors, he could feel their heavy gazes upon him. They knew what was going on, and they didn’t want any part of it. He heard hushed whispers all around him, though he feared those who were silent most of all. How long could a hundred men stay peaceful on a ship sailing towards their deaths?
He knocked on captain’s door. The man looked at him in the window, a man who wasn’t much older than Yulin. The door opened.
“Captain Klint, the ship has been turned 30 degrees right, and is now headed towards the center of Arc’dael.”
“Good, thank you Lieutenant Yulin,” the captain smiled.
The captain’s quarters were neat and organised. All of his papers, instruments, and clothes were in their proper places. Yulin did not see anything that could suggest some sort of internal struggle.
“Sir, why do you intend to sail straight into the Eternal Storm?” Yulin asked.
Klint paced around to his desk, and looked at large map of the sea. He had a look upon him, as if he was daydreaming.
“You know, Yulin, no one has ever seen Arc’dael. So many stories are told about the island surrounded by the Eternal Storm. Some say the demigoddess lives there, others say there’s no island at all, and it’s all just a strange weather area. Is it a home for an ancient, magical people who keep the storm going? Are there artifacts there, left from the old Mage Wars, worth millions of gold coins? I need to find out, Yulin. I’ll be the first. How can we Tyrians rule the seas, and be afraid of sailing through a storm?”
Yuling frowned, “All men are afraid of the sea in storm.”
“The men will thank me for the rest of their lives once they acquire the glory of being the first to see Arc’dael,” the captain countered.
“They may not live to tell the tale.”
“You underestimate the strength of my ship.”
“And you do not understand the fears of men.”
The captain clenched his fists and furrowed his brow. “Are you here to lecture me, lieutenant?”
Some noise was heard outside the captain’s quarters. The ship tilted heavily to one side, and both the captain and the lieutenant struggled to keep their balance and stumbled. It was as if their small world was lifted from their feet, and the ship swayed again to the other side, and outside their room tables and chairs could be heard toppling over. Nothing but the dark sea and grim grey clouds could be seen through the captain’s porthole. There was nothing fascinating or magical, only a storm that wished to break their ship and send the living to the bottom of the sea.
“Captain, I beg you, we must turn around.” Yulin struggled to keep standing.
Klint kept steady by holding onto his desk. “This is the most difficult part, but soon, we will be in the eye of the storm, and see what the mystery of Arc’dael really is.”
Several heavy knocks pounded at the captain’s door.
“We’ve turned the ship around, you are no longer fit to lead us, Klint!” shouted a voice behind the door.
The captain shouted back, “You fools! The storm will pass, we are set for a historic moment! We must keep going, for Tyrian prestige, and for our own everlasting glory.”
A heavy thud brought the door down, and sailors swarmed the captain’s quarters. They grabbed Klint and Yulin and dragged them out. The young lieutenant was shocked at how fast it all happened and tried to break free from their grasp, but to no avail.
“What have I done? Why are you taking me?” he pleaded. He received a squall of responses.
“You both are gonna send us to the bottom o’ the sea!”
“Bloody bastards tryin’ to kill us!”
“Throw them overboard!”
The captain was ahead of Yulin, but he couldn’t see him in the crowd. They were being taken upstairs, though it wasn’t easy to keep steady with the ship rocking as it was.
It was bewildering to go from the confines of the ship to the open outdoors. Everyone knelt to avoid being tossed around by the heavy wind, and nothing could shield them from the powerful waves that hit the ship. After each wave, the sailors slipped and fell on the deck, but still kept inching closer to the edge of the ship with their two captives. The captain shouted something at the sailors, but Yulin couldn’t hear a word.
“I have a wife and unborn child!” Yulin shouted.
“We have families too, you should have thought about that before sending us to Arc’dael,” a sailor replied.
“Damn you, damn you both!” another said.
“I tried to reason with the captain!” the lieutenant cried, but the crowd did not hear him as they braced for another wave. The ship lifted and rode the tall wave, and on the way down Yulin felt as if his very soul was suspended above his body. Without any speech or warning, the captain was tossed overboard. Yulin heard a part of what a sailor beside him said, “…to chase the storm as he pleases!”
They brought Yulin to the side of the deck, up to the very edge. He tried grabbing on to the sailors, shaking his head violently, urging them not to throw him into the sea. They cared not. As with the captain, he suddenly found himself falling down into the restless waters. He hit the sea hard and swallowed a mouthful of water, and the inside of his nose burned with salt water. Once he resurfaced, coughing and trying to keep above water, Yulin saw the ship in the sea and how helpless it was, surrounded by the open water and dark clouds above. Another colossal wave formed and picked the ship up along with Yulin. They were both like toys for the sea, and on the way down, the ship split in two, sending dozens of men flying into the water. Several more waves crashed into the broken pieces of the ship, ripping apart the hull and sweeping away planks that were strewn all over. All was sent to the deep blue abyss.
Stories of the voyage spread across the Tyrian empire. Bards and poets tried to outdo themselves in fantasizing what mysteries the sailors saw sailing through the Eternal Storm. Perhaps, some reasoned, a few of them survived and washed up on the shores of the unknown island, with no way of getting back. In any case, the secrets of the isle of Arc’dael remain a mystery.