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Short Story • 4 Minute Read

Burial at Sea

By Graham McNeill

The sea was mirror-smooth and dark. A pirate's moon hung low on the horizon as it had for the last six nights. Not so much as a whisper of wind stirred the air, only that damned dirge carried from who knew where. Vionax had sailed the oceans around Noxus long enough to know that seas like this only ever presaged ill-fortune. She stood on the Darkwill's foredeck, training her spyglass on the far ocean, searching for anything she could use to plot their position.

Lore

The sea was mirror-smooth and dark. A pirate's moon hung low on the horizon as it had for the last six nights. Not so much as a whisper of wind stirred the air, only that damned dirge carried from who knew where. Vionax had sailed the oceans around Noxus long enough to know that seas like this only ever presaged ill-fortune. She stood on the Darkwill's foredeck, training her spyglass on the far ocean, searching for anything she could use to plot their position.

"Nothing but sea in all directions", she said to the night. "No land in sight and no stars I recognize. Our sails are empty of wind. The oar decks have rowed for days, but no matter which way we turn, land never comes and the moon neither waxes nor wanes."

She took a moment to rub the heels of her palms against her face. Thirst and hunger growled in her belly and the constant darkness had made it impossible to accurately gauge the passage of time. The Darkwill wasn't even her ship. She'd been it's first mate until a Freljordian reaver's axe had split Captain Mettok's skull and given her a sudden promotion. The captain and fifteen other Noxian warriors were laid within sewn-up hammocks on the main deck. The growing stench rising from the bodies was the only consistent measure of time's passing.

She lifted her gaze to the open ocean and her eyes widened as she saw thick black mist rising from the water. Shapes moved in the mist, lambent suggestions of clawed arms and gaping mouths. That damned dirge rang out over the water again, louder now and accompanied by the dolorous peals of a funeral bell.

"The Black Mist", she said. "All hands on deck!"

She turned and vaulted down to the main deck, running for the quarterdeck and the ship's wheel. Not that she could do anything to move the ship, but she'd be damned if she'd be found anywhere else. A haunting lament for lost souls drifted over the ship as men stumbled from below decks, and even as terror shivered her spine, Vionax couldn't deny the poetry in the sound. Tears pricked her eyes and ran down her cheeks, not in fear, but from infinite sadness.

"Let me end your grief."

The voice in her head was cold and lifeless, the voice of a dead man. It conjured the image of iron-rimmed wheels on a corpse-heaped cart, a knife cutting yet another death mark on a staff. Vionax knew the tales of the Black Mist; she knew to avoid the islands brooding beneath the darkness in the east. She'd thought the ship was far from the Shadow Isles, but she was wrong.

She pulled up short as black mist boiled up over the gunwale, bringing with it howls and screeches of dead things. Wraiths spun overhead, a swirling chorus of the damned, and the Darkwill's crew cried out in terror at the sight of them. Vionax drew her pistol and cocked the hammer as a figure loomed from the mist; towering and wide-shouldered, robed in tattered vestments like an ancient prelate, yet his shoulders and gaunt skull were armored as a warrior. A chained book hung at his waist and he carried a long staff with its haft notched by countless tally-marks. Spectral light shone at its tip and burned like a fallen star in the palm of his free hand.

"Why do you cry?" said the creature. "I am Karthus OriginalSquare Karthus, and I bring you a great gift."

"I don't want your gift", said Vionax, pulling the trigger. Her pistol boomed and fire exploded from the barrel. The shot struck the monstrous wraith, but passed through it without harm.

"You mortals", said Karthus, shaking his helmeted head. "You fear what you do not understand and would turn away from a boon that is freely offered."

The monster drifted closer, and the dark radiance of his staff bathed the ship's deck in pale, sickly light. Vionax backed away from the wraith's chill as her crew fell before the light, their souls drifting like steam from their bodies. Her heel caught on one of the laid out hammocks and she tripped, falling backwards onto her haunches. She pushed herself away from Karthus, scrambling over the bodies of her fellow sailors.

The hammock beneath her moved.

They were all moving, squirming and writhing like fresh-caught fish gasping for air at the bottom of a boat. Tendrils of mist rose from tears in the canvas and between the rough stitches the ship's sailmaker had used to sew them shut. Faces moved in the mist, faces she'd sailed with for years, men and women she'd fought beside.

The wraith towered over her and the dead crew of the Darkwill stood beside him, their spirit forms limned in moonlight.

"Death is nothing to be feared, Mistress Vionax", said Karthus. "It will free you from all your pain. It will lift your eyes from your mundane existence and show you the glory of life eternal. Embrace the beauty and wonder of death. Let go of your mortality. You do not need it."

He held his hand out and the light there swelled to envelop her. She screamed as it pressed through her skin, into muscle, through bone, down to her very soul. The wraith clenched his fist and Vionax cried out as she felt herself being unwoven from the inside out.

"Let your soul fly free", said Karthus, turning to carve another notch in his staff with a sharpened nail. "You shall feel no pain, no fear, no desire to feel anything but the beauty of what I have to show you. Miracles and wonders await, mortal. Why would you not crave such rapture... ?"

No", she said with her last breath. "I don't want to see."

"It is already done", said Karthus.

References

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