Why? No reason. There’s no point and no moral, and it’s pointless to look for one. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
The Lyathatan rose, manacles on its arms and chains clinking like great bells. The noise woke Calder, who ran out on the deck to see the monster hulking over the water. “Tonight,” it hissed, with a voice like the grave, “you will be visited by three spirits.”
“I had no idea you could speak,” Calder said. The Elder sank beneath the waves, glaring all the while.
The first spirit arrived before Calder made it back to his cabin. Her face was angelic, her pale hair shining in a halo over her long black coat. “I think I am the Spirit of Christmas Past.”
Calder glanced around, but other than the Head of the Blackwatch, the deck was empty. “This is stranger than usual, Bliss. What’s a Christmas?”
The Testament faded away, revealing the ratty old tenement in which he had once stayed with his father. “These are the shadows of things that have been,” Bliss said. “They are what they are. Or are they?”
Calder looked to where a small red-headed boy, a young version of himself, lay on a threadbare pallet against the wall. “Where have you brought us?”
“This was where you were on Christmas night, nearly twenty years gone.”
For nearly twenty minutes, Calder watched himself sleep. “Are we waiting for something?”
In a blink, he was back on The Testament, facing Bliss.
“I hope you’re learning your lesson,” she said.
“I don’t think I am,” he responded, but she was gone. The ocean breeze whistled through the ship’s lines.
Urzaia, wrapped in furs and wearing heavy mittens, laughed as he clapped Calder on the back. “Do not worry, Captain. I am the Spirit of Christmas Present. I am supposed to show you what happens tonight.”
Calder looked out to sea. The Aion was still and quiet for miles. Maybe an Elder had finally broken his mind after all, and these were the consequences.
After a few more minutes of nothing happening, Calder cleared his throat. “What happens tonight?”
“You talk to me!” Urzaia said, beaming. He pulled a flask from his belt, unscrewed the cap, and took a swig.
“I’m fairly certain I’m dreaming. Odds are at least…eight or nine out of ten.”
“I have always liked dreams. They can be as much fun as you make them.”
“Like life, I guess,” Calder said, accepting the flask.
Urzaia boomed out a laugh. “That is deep thinking, Captain. Maybe that’s the lesson you should learn tonight.”
The Champion shrugged. “Watch out for the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come.”
“I hope he tells me what Christmas is.”
Urzaia vanished, just like Bliss had before him. Calder stood alone again, with no flask in his hand.
When the third spirit arrived, she had a bronze dagger in each hand. Calder reached for a sword he wasn’t wearing, frantic to defend himself from Shera’s attack. But she didn’t attack; she pointed to a spot just to one side of the mast.
Warily he pried his eyes from her weapon, looking at the tombstone that had sprouted from his deck.
CALDER MARTEN, the stone declared. HE DIED FOR THE EMPIRE.
Calder stared at it for longer than he should have, his thoughts tying themselves in knots. Was this an omen? A nightmare? A hopeful dream? Was dying for the Empire a good ending or a bad one? A false future or true?
“Shera…I mean, Spirit. Is this true? Will this come to pass?”
The Consultant leaned against the railing, expression hooded by shadows and uncut hair. After a few minutes of expectant waiting, he heard her begin to snore.
“I don’t know why I expected better.”
Something moved in the darkness around Shera’s silhouette, flapping and fluttering in the night. It blasted toward his face, expanding to a pair of leathery wings and a face full of tentacles. Shuffles landed on his shoulder, laughing in its basso rumble.
“FATES CURSE US, EVERY ONE!” the Elderspawn declared.
And the dream ended.
Calder bolted upright in his bunk, sweating. Sunlight steamed into his cabin, and there was a noticeable lack of any strange visitors. Thankfully. “Petal!” he shouted. “You’re never cooking again!”
Outside his door, Petal squeaked.
Of the Cradle series
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