Monday, September 03, 2007

Dread Pirate Zakhi and the Curse of the Sea Witch

Years before the Red King's Turning there was a dashing privateer by the name of Ricardo Zakhi. Now sacking ports and making off with governor's daughters was all well and good to Ricardo, but he loved to sail to ports unknown as well. So it came to pass that the Dread Pirate Zakhi became known in all corners of the world, from Chin to Ge-Pan to Araby to Dule and beyond.

Zakhi was the romantic dashing sort of pirate, one that would treat prisoners fair and not even show mistreatment if the ransom failed to meet his coffers (though many a ladies virtue suffered his advances, 'tis true). One day his eye fell on a young woman in the Chin port of Ran Jang named Xue Yun, and he was smitten with her beauty.
Xue Yun was gifted with a fair amount of sense, and furthermore hailed from a minor noble house of Ran Jang. She spurned Zakhi at the first, but the man was noted for his charm and wit--not to mention his persistence. Time and again he professed his love for the maiden, and he did embellish the romantic adventures they could have on the high seas. Within a month Xue Yun relented, and stole aboard the Sunrise in the dead of night. The very next morning they were married by a priest of the sun god that Zakhi favored.

'Twas Zakhi's sense of fairness and generosity that turns the tale to sadder waters. Not wanting to slight his new wife's Chin gods, he bade her to choose a port where they could be married in Chin fashion. She chose a port far down the southern coast where dwelt a cousin of hers that was a priest. They were married in secret before her patron goddess, Kuan Yin, and set sail the next day for "all the world," as Zakhi had it.
Unbeknownst to the newlywed couple, the priest was consumed by guilt over performing the marriage and made confession to the high priest, who immediately notified the girl's family.

Where a poorer family wouldn't have had gold enough, and a richer family could have paid for a gentler hand, the Yun family was cursed with just the right amount of wealth to garner the services of the Sea Witch Antideluvia. They made offerings and abased themselves in such fashion as pleased the witch, and she consented to "turn the heart of Xue Yun."
Antideluvia gathered dark spirits and cast them across the waters of Chin. One of them found the Sunrise and crept into the nose of Xue Yun, wherein it was able to lay with her spirit. From then on she became tormented and frightful. She would imperiously curse her new husband and command him to return her to Ran Jang, and then come to her senses and beg him to take her as far from Chin as he could. Night and day she fought a spirit battle with the minion of Antideluvia, and the sun priest on board was powerless to cast it out. Zakhi and his crew could only watch in growing horror as the once-lively and beautiful woman began wasting away, consumed by the battle she fought within her very soul.

The priest bade Zakhi to take the girl to a Sun Temple where a high priest could cast out the cursed spirit, or back to Chin. Since the spirit was tasked with bringing the girl to Chin, the torment would end once she arrived on those shores once again. Zakhi set all sails to the Sun Temple in Chokoun, figuring to make port in two days.

Antideluvia heard the priest's words and Zakhi's decision from her spying spirits, and cast a great storm to blow the Sunrise far off course. Zakhi recognized a sorcerous maelstrom when he spied one, and called upon his priest and his faith to banish the storm. The priest's prayer was enough to blunt the furies force, and the Sunrise was back on course again. Antideluvia became enraged and appeared before the prow wreathed in unholy fury.

"You will give up the girl to me, filthy pirate, or I will have her soul away and leave you a lifeless husk!" she screeched.
Zakhi and his crew were paralyzed by terror and indecision. They could by no means give up Xue Yun to this evil crone, but neither could they let her soul be torn asunder. In that moment, Xue Yun took matters into her own hands. From the captain's quarters she crept, tormenting spirit held at bay by her will, and a silver knife clutched in her white-knuckled hand. Before the crew or the crone realized she was there, she leapt from the deck and plunged the knife into the crones withered breast.

Antideluvia fell upon the deck, bleeding foul ichor and clutching dark forces to her will. Twin eyes of darkness grew in both her clawed hands and she made to hurl them at Xue Yun. "My Death Curse upon you, whore of the sea!" she cried, and flung the blackness at the girl.

Is it a blessing or a curse, what went next? Surely no one would be surprised to hear that Zakhi threw himself in the way and bore the brunt of the crone's evil power. Who knows what would have happened had the curse struck its intended target?

For Ricardo Zakhi, the world went black and then gray, and all the folk around him grew so bright as to blind him. "Never will you know the living," whispered a voice from the darkness. "You will take no succor in the house of the Sun. You are bound, and bound, and bound to the dead. Ne'er will you walk the land."

The darkness left Zakhi and struck dead all the crew, and aye, his beloved as well. When he beheld her light fading, rage and grief made him draw his sword and strike off the hand of the Sea Witch. He advanced further to end her black existence, but she slithered over the railing and disappeared into the sea. "By sea and by blood, by the light of the sun, I shall end thee," he roared. Only the sea and the dead answered. For when he turned, he beheld his crew in horrible unlife, shuffling about the deck in vile parody of seafaring crew. So horrified by this was he that he failed to notice ten and two zombies slip overboard into the hungry waves.

Only his beloved remained still. Was she finally at peace in death? He knew not.

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