Lodoss Novel “Sea Demon”Author: Cool Snoops | Filed under: Record of Lodoss War
On their way to the new land they seek, the boat people from Marmo run into trouble…
There was neither wind nor wave. The surface of the sea had become a mirror, throwing back a reflection of the fleet of escapees from the dark island Marmo. There was an illusion of the world being split into two, with the ocean surface as a boundary. When you looked into the sea, your double gazed back from the looking-glass world. Was it thinking your thoughts, too? wondered Ashram, facing himself in the water-mirror.
The fleet had been in that part of the ocean for more than three days. In that time there had been no wind at all. With their sails hanging slack, as if they had lost all energy, the ships didn’t make the slightest motion. As for the rowing boats which made up the majority of the vessels in the fleet, heavy seaweed had twined itself around their oars, and no amount of exertion could budge them even a faction. The sea held the ships completely imprisoned.
Ashram knew little about the ocean, but he knew enough to tell him that there was something wrong with this sea. By the rumors running among the sailors, it seemed they feared it was something called the Graveyard of Ships.
As things stood now, if the fleet couldn’t escape, all its people would inevitably starve to death. The boats would rot and become driftwood in the sea. It would truly be their graveyard.
Of course, Ashram wasn’t watching the situation idly. He had ordered the dark elf Pirotess and the mage Groder to investigate the surrounding sea. But until their search produced a result, the only thing Ashram could do was wait; and while he waited, keep his nerve. If fear rose, it would bring about panic. With his manner full of unfaltering dignity, Ashram made himself visible to the people as much as he could, by walking the deck of his ship, going out in a small boat to inspect the condition of the other vessels, and so forth. In response, the people somehow remained calm.
However, every day wasted meant a day’s less provisions left in store, and drinking water was an even greater concern.
The new land towards which they were traveling was still a long way distant. This far continent lay somewhere to the south of Lodoss. It was a land of many enigmas, even it’s name being unknown, though it was said to be many times larger than Lodoss.
At the familiar voice, Ashram looked around. It was Pirotess. Coming around in front of him, she knelt on one knee in salutation. Behind her was the robed figure of Groder, who made a slight bow.
“How did it go?” Ashram questioned them both.
“As far as my field of expertise is concerned, there was nothing,” Groder answered somewhat longwindedly, then glanced at Pirotess.
“A spirit power is causing this,” Pirotess took over, “and it’s controller is at the bottom of the sea.
“The bottom of the sea?” Ashram looked dubious. Speaking again, he asked what its nature was.
“An ancient tree,” Pirotess answered concisely. This reply drew another askance look from Ashram.
“An ancient tree under the water, you say?”
Ashram knew something of the ancient trees. All flowers and trees were born from a legendary progenitor, the World Tree, Yggdrasil. Like the gods and the dragon kings, it was a life-form born in ancient times from the body of the Giant of the Beginning. When the World Tree’s holy fruit, the Fruit of Life, ripened, the gods took it and from it created the multitudes of plants and animals, fairies and spirits. Humans, of course, were amongst these. After the Fruit of Life was taken, the World Tree weakened until it came to the verge of withering. To save this ancestral tree, the gods sealed it in the spirit world of plants, the world which was the source of the spirit powers that ruled trees and flowers.
The ancient trees were not created from the Fruit of Life. The gods took the World Tree’s young shoots and planted them so that they might grow into new trees, whose role would be to raise up abundant forests. From the places where these trees were planted in antiquity, the old forests were born and grew over the land. Several forests on Lodoss were protected by the ancient trees. The Forest of No Return, spreading between Alania and Kanon, and the Forest of Mirrors north of Moss, were two of such. Ashram recalled that there was an ancient tree in the Forest of Darkness on Marmo. But that there could be an ancient tree in the depths of the ocean was hard to credit.
“Plants also grow in the sea, do they not?” said Groder, as if seeing Ashram’s question.
“We dived into the sea and investigated. A giant forest of seaweed spreads on the sea floor near here, and at its core lives an ancient tree, controlling a spirit power. It manipulates the water, and even suppresses the wind.”
“Do you think this ancient tree could be causing our confinement?”
Pirotess nodded, her expression pensive.
“Good work,” Ashram acknowledged them both.
“So then, what do you wish to do?” Pirotess asked him.
“It’s obvious. If we can deal with the source, escaping from this trap should be easy,” Ashram answered with a wolfish smile. He looked like a soldier again.
“Is it your intention to deal with this yourself?” Groder asked. Ashram shot a glance at him.
“This ancient tree’s roots stretch through the sea floor. It controls even the spirits,” Pirotess said; but she accepted that Ashram’s mind was made up.
“Even so, I’m going,” Ashram said. “I would dispatch a squad of knights to the ocean floor—but they couldn’t fight down there. If I went alone, could you use your spirit magic to let me fight underwater?”
“Certainly, it would be possible. So long as you and I go together,” Pirotess replied, smiling. From the water spirit Undine’s power source there were spells for breathing underwater and for freedom from the effects of water pressure.
“I may be bold in speaking, but you’re no longer a knight of the royal guard. Please don’t forget that you’re king of this drifting nation,” Groder admonished Ashram. He could recall the previous emperor Beld and his court wizard Wagnard having similar conversations.
“Regardless, I will go! This is not a pointless fight; I no longer intend to use my sword for futile purposes.”
It would have been if he could have kept serving as Beld’s champion, as he had in the past; but the present situation was different. The hero to whom he had sworn loyalty was no more, and the people fleeing the dark island had decided to make Ashram their king. Ashram accepted this. The people of Marmo had neither wealth nor leaders left, not even anyone who could serve as a king while the crisis lasted. As the person who was responsible for their being in this position was none other than himself, he wouldn’t shirk the task of sorting out the mess. They were looking for someone who could acquire territory, amass wealth and taken foreign thrones. After that, they could decide if he was a true king.
“As the number of people who can go to the ocean floor is so limited, then the best must be sent. But such is the last thing I could beg for!”
“Begging might become your future role,” Ashram said maliciously.
“I shall take that to heart.” While a rueful smile escaped him, Groder inclined his head deeply.
Groder, although one of Marmo’s wizards, was unable to use magic. By the hand of his own former master, the Black Adept Wagnard, he was under a geas. If he tried to cast any spell, his whole body was forced to endure agony. This was, in fact, the same curse that the Black Adept himself was under. The Alanian magic users’ guild, the College of the Wise, when the mage Larkas was its master, had imposed this penalty upon the dark sorcerer, for mages were prohibited against staining their hands with blood in pursuit of their calling.
Nevertheless, Wagnard continued to work magic; he was even able to perform lengthy necromantic rituals. It seemed that his tenacious will gave him the strength to endure the effects of the curse. Groder had only once tried to cast a spell, but after experiencing pain as though he were being ripped apart, he had regretfully abandoned the magic arts. After that, he had served Ashram as an ordinary advisor. However, his extensive knowledge and great intelligence were extremely useful to Ashram.
Groder awaited their arrival in the new country with interest. He intended to employ all his shrewdness to the fullest as prime minister, in other words, he would put his nose to the grindstone.
“Spirit of water, Undine! Maiden of flowing form! Allow us to go beneath the sea and drown not, and move freely in the deeps…” Pirotess began to chant a spell.
With the spell’s completion, an otherworldly power wrapped itself around Ashram. Unresisting, he emptied his mind and accepted it. All of a sudden, breathing became painful. It felt unnatural to be breathing air. He tried holding his breath, but the uncomfortable sensation of a foreign substance in his lungs remained.
“By your leave, shall we go?” Pirotess asked.
Ashram was going to unfasten his black armor.
“You may leave your armor on,” said Pirotess. “Your majesty’s person will neither sink nor float, and you will be able to move as you wish. Of course, in order to do so, you must swim a little, if…”
“Stiffly, but I can.” Ashram drew the demon sword Soulcrusher out from its sheath and gripped it in both hands. Then, climbing over the ship’s side, he dived head-first into the water. Pirotess followed suit with her rapier in hand.
As Ashram entered the sea, a soft sensation enfolded him. Despite the weight of his plate mail, he didn’t sink at all; rather, the surrounding water caught him gently, seeming to support him from every side. There came a feeling of being entirely absorbed into the water.
Resolutely, he tried breathing. Seawater flowed down his throat into his lungs. Feeling pressure in his chest, Ashram coughed violently. Bubbles rushed out of his mouth; but after a moment they ceased, and there came a false sense of comfort—which wasn’t a bad thing, he thought.
He shifted his sword into one hand and stroked his other hand through the water. Facing the bottom, he advanced a little. He stopped moving his hand and came to a halt. Just as Pirotess had said, the world under the water felt the same as the world above. Walking, he met no resistance. Only, it was different from the surface world in that here there not only forwards, back, left and right, but up and down to move in too. At that moment, Pirotess came up alongside him. She was swimming as splendidly as a mermaid.
All around, blackish green seaweeds stretched towards the ocean surface in countless numbers. In amongst the sea plants, fish large and small swam around, as though inviting you in. If you looked up towards the surface, you saw an outstretched ceiling of glass. There wasn’t even a pattern of light upon it, so completely still was the water. Evidently this was the forest, Ashram thought.
It was different from a forest on land only in that there were the sea plants in place of trees and the fish in place of beasts. By the great numbers of fish, the sea-forest was a bountiful place. However, to Ashram and his people it was a sea of hostile magic.
“Come, I’ll show you the way.” Pirotess took Ashram’s hand and invited him towards the ocean floor. Ashram placidly accepted the guidance. From somewhere a glimpse of pleasure came into Pirotess’s tense looks. Here, where the two of them were together alone, she was able to behave as though forgetting their respective rank. For Ashram it was the same. The dark elf woman was the only person with whom he could let down his guard.
Years ago, Pirotess had sought to take his life, believing him to be responsible for her older brother’s death. However, they had now come to be lovers. As much as Ashram disliked talk of fate, he acknowledged that there was a mysterious connection between them.
Pleasantly aware of her cool hand in his, he swam down towards the ocean floor. The water was clear and transparent, but in the dense seaweed forest it immediately became dark. The bottom was invisible.
“Are you going to summon Will o’ Wisp?” Ashram asked.
“It will be only be dark for a short while. The ancient trees radiate a golden light,” Pirotess said, shaking her head.
“Are you quite certain about destroying an ancient tree? Aren’t dark elves guardians of forests?”
“We only protect forests on land,” Pirotess said resolutely.
“If so, fine…” Ashram flicked a glance at Pirotess’s profile. There was no observable wavering in her expression. Of course, the question of how to defeat an ancient tree was by no means settled. But there was no time to grope around for a method. Ashram intended to take the simplest course of action. In the same situation, if he was the mercenary king Kashue was that what he’d probably do? If he was that free knight… The thought, which appeared suddenly in his mind for no reason at all, he immediately drove away into a back corner of his head. After that he swam downwards in silence. How deep had they dived? Everything was enclosed in darkness. Even if you looked towards the surface, you couldn’t see anything. He stopped feeling the water engulfing his body. Even the sense of disorientation faded. A hallucination of floating in empty space assailed him. In the midst of this, the feel of Pirotess’s hand was the only point of contact with reality.
It was then that he perceived a dim, indistinct light somewhere distantly ahead. It was a pale golden glimmer.
“It’s over there,” Pirotess pointed to the light with her rapier. “That must be the ancient tree’s glow.”
The ancient trees were also known as golden trees, Ashram recalled. The name came from their golden shinning leaves. He was interested to see what form an ancient tree living at the bottom of the ocean would have. It couldn’t be the same as a tree on land. He imagined a giant seaweed. If that was the case, then surely a single blow with Soulcrusher would be enough.
The glow became more vivid as they approached it. Initially visible only as a mass of light, the golden tree’s form now began to be apparent. The ancient tree had a trunk with a mess of countless thin branches separating from it. It had no leaves. It resembled the washed-up seaweed you found when you walked on a foreshore. But, as to be expected of an ancient tree, it was bigger beyond imagination. It was on the scale of a fortress.
As they got nearer, they saw that the tree was surrounded by sunken ships. These had to be the wrecks of vessels which had entered this area of the ocean and couldn’t escape. The assembly of multicolored swimming fish could be seen. While countless little fish swarmed, suddenly a giant fish would jackknife across your field of vision. Knowing nothing of humans, these fish didn’t try at all to flee when you came near them The scene was like an illusion.
You could live here, forgetting the ordinary world, he thought. But that wasn’t possible. Marmo’s fleet of refugees wasn’t going to be joining the sunken ships’ company.
“Let’s go!” Ashram yelled, and swam to close in the distance to the ancient tree’s base. Emanating tension, Pirotess followed.
In age and girth, the ancient tree’s trunk far surpassed the greatest cedar on land Even a skilled woodcutter would need half a day to fell it. But they didn’t have that much time at their disposal; Pirotess’s spirit magic wouldn’t be effective indefinitely. Ashram swung Soulcrusher over his head and struck at the trunk. It was a heavy blow.
Soulcrusher bit into the trunk deeply. As Ashram had hoped, the trunk wasn’t too hard. A hundred such blows would easily destroy the tree, he guessed. Taking heart, Ashram lifted his sword again.
At that moment, trouble struck. He hadn’t been feeling the presence of the water at all, it had been so calm. But all of a sudden a current surged violently. Ashram was dashed into a nearby rock. The side of his head struck a corner of the rock and blood curled into the water like smoke. Ashram gritted his teeth and clung to the rock. Wedging a foot into a crevice, he secured a foothold.
However, that wasn’t the end of it. The fish, peacefully swimming until then, abruptly all swarmed and attacked him. The nearby sea plants, too, stretched out groping dark leaves.
“Will you deal with these fish?” Ashram called to Pirotess. Undoubtedly the ancient tree was controlling the fish and the sea plants. He couldn’t very well ignore their simultaneous attack, but he wasn’t about to consider them as opponents.
“Flow of the waters, obey my will…” Pirotess began chanting a spell. As she finished, the current altered and began to whirl around Ashram. In the whirlpool’s center, Ashram felt little of it; but the fish and seaweed swarming around him were thrown away like discarded playthings. Now he as able to concentrate solely on the tree.
The ancient tree’s limbs trembled as if from anguish, and a shriek shook the sea floor. Millions of bubbles gushed up, completely obscuring Ashram’s vision. Even so, he kept hacking with Soulcrusher. Stroke by stroke, the black blade whittled more of the trunk away. Then a strange sound, like a stringed instrument, came from somewhere: “…What reason?” Some ten blows later this voice, if such it was, sounded again. Ashram heard it not with his ears but as an echo in his mind.
“Who are you?” Ashram demanded, not pausing in his attack.
“For what reason dost thou refuse me? For what reason dost thou injure me?” The voice in his mind repeated the same words many times. Finally, Ashram realized where it was coming from; the ancient tree itself was speaking, sending forth it’s will.
“Accept me! I am the guardian of this ream. I raised this forest and the creatures dwelling in it. Thou shalt be more than a visitor here; thou shalt dwell here, too.” The voice was gradually becoming clearer, as though the thoughts of diverse minds were aligning along one wavelength.
“We are people who live on land! Not one of us wants to live in your realm!” Ashram shouted, putting even more force into the blows he struck with his sword.
“I promise thee abundance here, so that thou shalt prosper…” Still the tree’s voice kept on echoing in his mind. Why are you injuring me? It repeatedly questioned, betraying pain. Already the ancient tree’s trunk was cut halfway through, and not surprisingly it had a defeated appearance.
“Whatever you are, I have to kill you! I must protect those who call me their king. That’s a king’s purpose!”
Ashram concentrated, focusing his mind, and with the demon sword that was once Emperor Beld’s, he wholeheartedly rained blows.
He realized that the ancient tree’s light as going out. From its base where it was severed the tree listed, then fell, near to the sunken ships.
Looking around, he didn’t see any fish swimming at all. All around him, seaweed torn in pieces drifted like clouds. The bubbles in the water were gone altogether, and with fallen leaves surrounding the tree the scene had the quietude of a winter forest. The ancient tree’s radiance was gone, but Ashram perceived a faint light filling his surroundings. It was a blue-white light.
“Pirotess?” Ashram slowly turned and looked around.
“That was splendid!” Pirotess spoke with a smile, but her face was harrowed with exhaustion. Behind her was the light of a Will o’ Wisp she had summoned. How much of her magical power had she spent while he was fighting the tree?
Ashram swam to her. Silently, he lifted her slender form with one arm and carried her. For an instant, she stiffened in surprise, but soon relaxed, entrusting herself to him.
He spoke as he swam towards the surface. “The dark properties of the forest, your people inherited them, didn’t they?”
Pirotess nodded. “The forest did not only give its bounty; it also took, no one knows how much. From the power of the spirits of the wind, water, and light…like the dwarves, living their cursed existence like parasites under the ground, it was loathsome.”
“Then this underwater forest was like your own?”
“Perhaps…” Pirotess replied. “To the fish, the sunken ships became like coral reefs. The drowned sailors’ flesh became their food. That ancient tree was created for the purpose of raising a forest in the ocean. It wanted to assimilate the things that came into it’s realm. No one can criticize it for that.” Pirotess’s mourning for the tree was evident in her words.
“I don’t blame it. This was nothing but a contest for survival, between our kingdom and this one. Perhaps there’ll be other battles like this.”
Pirotess closed her eyes and nodded. “Nevertheless, you were certainly the victor here. This country on the ocean floor is only the first to be conquered by you.” Her consciousness slowly became distant. Even a feeling that she was going to endure did not arise.
“For now, rest. Here in my arms.” Ashram’s voice reached her ears as though across a dream. Wrapped in warm tranquility, Pirotess drifted to sleep. A deep, deep sleep…