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Heads and tales

The sick men below deck were not recovering and the crewmembers topside were scarcely better. Captain Yidwell, the only healthy person onboard, could see the situation was dire and needed to get everyone to land quickly for them to have any chance of survival. Yet as was the case with so many naval conquests, there was a significant obstacle, this time a hydra looming over their craft. Always a hydra, thought the Captain.

Yidwell was literally born on the high seas during a journey across the Mediterranean, and had never particularly wanted to be anywhere else. His crew referred to him as Tidewell behind his back and many were truly convinced he had brine in his veins, so instinctual was his nautical prowess. A fearless and innate leader, the Captain had commanded more than fifty journeys before his thirtieth birthday, during which time he had seen it all: shipwrecks, pirate attacks, mammoth swells, hurricane gales, scurvy, cannonball fire, even lightning striking the mast once. But the bane of his seafaring ways had always been the hydra.

A hydra ate his mother on his fourth birthday, one of Yidwell’s earliest memories. He had been sitting with her entertaining himself with wooden blocks as they enjoyed the ocean spraying over the bow, when a shriek pierced the air. There was barely enough time to look up before a snarling head was blocking the sun and consuming half his mother in a single snap. Fifteen years later, he would witness a multi-headed seabeast devour half the crewmembers of the first ship he stewarded. There were countless incidents between those two encounters, as well as many others afterward that led to this latest confrontation, all of which had served to evolve the Captain’s nerves into steel cables.

Typically, the strategy to escape such a creature was to take evasive action by sailing away as quickly as possible while firing cannonballs at its throats. Loss of life was inevitable with any such encounter, and with the majority of his crew ailing down below, Yidwell’s personal odds looked particularly bleak. Five angry maws lacerated the air above the ship and the only two available men to assist him fainted straight away. Grimacing, the Captain surveyed his options hastily and rested his eyes upon a keg of gunpowder along the starboard rail. Salty waves splashed violently from the thrashing beast and hammered the ship. Yidwell was driven into the planks, but he struggled his way to the barrel, ripped his coat from his torso and wedged it into a small crack in the keg’s top.

The Captain removed a bottle of grain alcohol from his hip pocket, soaked the coat and ignited the far end with a nearby torch. He then heaved himself atop of the explosives and shouted angrily as loudly as he could manage at the hydra, waving his arms in the air like a man possessed. The action was not lost of the sea monster, which responded by swooping a head down and swallowing the barrel whole, just as Yidwell leapt backward and was slammed down onto the deck with another surge of seawater. The head reared back in slight confusion and exploded, sending bits of viscera everywhere. The hydra was not dead, but the remaining heads were visibly surprised, and it retreated back into the ocean, leaving Captain Yidwell concussed and heaving for breath.

Staggering to his knees to survey the damage, he noticed one of the fainting party had recovered and was staring at him in awe, mouth agape. This was a relief, as he would need assistance in getting the ship back aground. The Captain still intended to save his crew.

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