"God of Necrosis"
Time passed, an unmarked interval—minutes? hours of living
death?—as no more attacks came. The sickly gray, noxious air admitted
neither light of day nor bracing night from the world out of
which the Dark Venture had been torn.
At length, men on the waist and quarterdeck, and clinging apelike
in the rigging, lost heart to hear the rising yammer and wail
of their fellows’ pitiful suffering in those pustular cysts. The crew
began, in epidemic panic and despair, to roar and curse their gods
and throw their hands over their ears at the agonies of de Groot and
Crooq. Their torture was ungodly protracted, as if the creature fed
off their pain as well as their flesh.
Gonji winced, seeing Mori and Iwata scowl. No bushi would
surrender to shameful, pathetic high-pitched screaming, whatever
his pain of torture. Wordlessly, a grim Masao Mori moved to the
stern castle hatchway that led to crew quarters and below deck.
About that time, one by one, all on deck gradually saw and fell
under the whispery spell of the vision to starboard.
A pale orange or golden luminescence had formed in the dispersing
mist, its distance indeterminate. Yet it limned what now
appeared to be some sort of a shoreline. In deeper veils of the white
fog, still too dense for the eye to penetrate, there appeared to be a
structure, an outcropping of columns, with flat roofs, and broken
sections of risers or plinths within the columns.
And now the pale topaz light formed a figure, arguably a face,
pulsing as if alive, but displaying indescribable features. The crewmen
gasped and averted their eyes whenever the pale apparition
seemed to…regard them. A sense of being studied was apprehended
by all aboard.
Beyond the formless visage, there was a jungle shoreline, Gonji was sure.
Yet like that supernatural face, the ruin-like structure,
and the ensnaring living slime itself, the jungle shore seemed…
unfi nished, still fixing itself in space, in form and purpose. The
whole setting appeared primitive and abandoned.
Chillingly, the tortured, slowly digested men in their living
cells began to make obeisance to the distant, amorphous floating
“Please, my lord! Take my agony away—ooooooohhhh!”
Masao Mori returned from the belly of the ship, with his bow
and quiver. Gonji nodded to him, knowing his intent. Mori nocked
a shaft, took up a solid position and slowly drew overhead, rotating
But it was the thickly muscled crewman Mabenga who ended
de Groot’s suffering with a whickering bowshot through the substance
that pierced the man’s neck, the mercy stroke instantly killing
de Groot inside his pulsing, gelatinous hell. Watchers hissed to
see the spurt of pale blood within the suddenly quivering cyst on
its supporting tentacle.
“Stupid black ape!” bosun van Laar yelled. “While it fed on de
Groot the rest of us were safe! Between these Afrikaaner low-men
and this preening Jappo, we’ll be slaughtered like sheep!”
Mabenga said something in reply, but he was not looking at
“What?” the bosun demanded. But a Portuguese deck hand in a
shredded vest and bloody tunic held him back and translated.
“No—it’s, eh…one of the black tongues of the coast…he says
something like…‘No man should suffer past his…ability to forbear’…
something.” He shrugged.
The dull bronze apparition above the ruins morphed into a
shape—a monstrous eye. It glowered, glinting suddenly like a
falling headsman’s axe. They could feel a rising red anger. Heat
and humidity swelled at once like the opening of an oven, and a
renewed stink of the charnel house rolled into the men’s nostrils,
shriveling their tongues.
Abruptly the second monstrous slime-cell thickened in evanescent
layers of living, sluicing light and jelly, a fresh integument.
So the following mercy arrow, fired by Mori, failed to penetrate to
the still-keening Crooq. His entrapping cyst churned and squished,
darkening around the upside-down victim, as if the process were
accelerated, fresh layers of scum surging up from the main mass to
collect hungrily, protectively about its prey.
From aport, a new gelatinous spout burst from the viscous mass
that held the ship—her hull trembled—and began to slam down on
the deck like a colossal, angry fist. But there was purpose to its
fury. Its hollowed snout-end kept flaring and flowering to display
a cavernous aperture before each strike. And, as if it bore invisible
eyes, the blob-like horror targeted the offending warrior, Mabenga.
The muscular African averted its descent. Twisting away defensively,
he cut into that fleshy living viscera with his tulwar, taking
a corrosive burn on his elbow from fending off its bubbling
surface cankers. Gonji bolted to his aid and thrust a gaff into the
mass. Iwata and Turotai followed suit with more boathooks, their
combined leverage turning aside the descent of the man-eating
maw of slime. Others joined in with polearms, everyone on board
roaring with defiance or sheer madness, taking burns, as Gonji
and Bosch exhorted them. Even Malveira and his followers at last
“Fire!” Gonji shouted over his shoulder, scrambling after a
lamp, crab-crawling sideways on the slanted deck. “Fire the thing!”
He seized the green-fire lamp and hurled it at the swaying, glutinous
tentacle. The fish oil splashed alight, and viridescent flame
raced along the appendage’s length. It swayed and slammed against
the port hull, crashed through a spritsail, and then wriggled back
down into the morass that held fast the armada of haunted hulks.
A few shouts of triumph, and then men were scrambling to
start fires in braziers and cooking pans hastily provided by Marquerink.
Gonji constructed a torch. Others followed.
“You’ll set off the ship!” Captain Malveira railed. “Have a care
They hurled torches overboard into the living, viscous mass.
The surface rippled and puckered with eerie yellow-green smoke.
But at the last it sucked down all the torches, extinguishing them,
its surface discolored and seething as if with mindless anger. But it
seemed forestalled in its attack.
The men were momentarily galvanized, grunting and cursing
vigorously as they kept deck fires aflame along the rails. But it was
the pilot who ultimately drowned their spirits, voicing what they
all could see.
“Alas, no water beneath this creature, even if we burn it
through,” Bosch said glumly. “Just a matter of time…”
Yet Gonji found reason to exult. He leaped atop a rail and spat
into the festering nightmare. His father would have urged impassivity,
the calm of inner control. As for his Viking shieldmaiden
“No! We’ve sent it into retreat—fetid scum! Hah!”
Gonji leapt back to the deck and gazed across the bobbing,
bearded faces that sucked at breath in the fume, feeling the heaviness
in his own chest, knowing they were being slowly poisoned,
or perhaps paralyzed for easy feasting. But he would not die quietly,
nor would he permit these Europeans to quit on him, to deny
him honorable death.
Then Mori was standing beside him, his square battle-hardened
face an unreadable mask. He didn’t look at Gonji, only staring at
the others as he spoke calmly, quietly in Japanese.
“Your skill is a mystery between you and the Great Kami. How
you became shiki-nin at your age is a legend. But…you are young,
and you must learn the virtue of a calm spirit, in victory and defeat.
Don’t wear your feelings on your vambraces. Keep your vulnerable
parts beneath your armor.”
“So I’ve been censured before,” Gonji replied softly. Mori
bowed curtly and moved off.
Another flying manta ray swooped out of the fog, slashed over
the Dark Venture and tore through the mizzen lateen sail, reducing
it to ribbons. A second, then a third—crisscrossing low over the
deck and shearing ratlines and shrouds. The men scattered downhill,
toward the stern castle, swinging their weapons overhead
“Where the hell do they go? Into the slime?” someone howled.
Then a Portuguese sailor screamed from the riggings overhead.
He had perhaps sought high refuge from ingurgitation by the sucking
beast. But now a great funnel of the living mucous creature
twisted upward from its surface and fluted high above the burning
blazes set along the rails. It hovered over him, puckering and bubbling
in anticipation. Though he slashed valiantly with his cutlass,
the man was sucked head-first into the pseudopod, even as Gonji
and others scampered up the ropes and masts to his aid.
Gonji, Mabenga and Malveira were foremost among the aggressors.
The scrawny Jogo, yammering to drown his own terror,
attacked the column of slime with weak thrusts of a polearm before
spinning away with failed courage. This time even the imposing
Gorgulho found the doughtiness to match his bulk. He joined
the men at the starboard gunwale—the passive giant acting, at
last—but it was no use.
Van Laar yelled, “He’s gone! Get away from that thing lest it
gobble you, too!”
The jellied tentacle lofted skyward and swayed with the kicking,
struggling form of its victim. Rolls of viscous matter seemed
to pulse upward within it, in a horrid dance of excitation or the
rhythmic actions of a gigantic gullet. And the sailor was swallowed
upside-down into his translucent hell, head first, to be wretchedly
digested. His silhouette struggled in pain-wracked, sluggish motion,
a spider drifting down through molasses.
But this time the monster showed less patience. The gelatinous
cylinder pulsed and squished noisily around the jerking, encysted
seaman. In moments it seemed to have eaten through his outer
flesh. There came an abrupt burst of pinkish redness around his
The gory victim ceased to move, like a squashed tick.
Gonji panted for breath with the others, all goggle-eyed, their
faces twisted at the sight of the unspeakable fate that must surely
await them all.
“You see…” Gonji rasped, “…this is why my people…shun
Gonji dropped to one knee and steeled himself resolutely. He
was kneeling beside the massive Gorgulho. They eyed each other
uncertainly, neither speaking, if indeed the big man could. Gonji
tried not to project how he marveled at the knotted and bunched
display of perfect muscle under Gorgulho’s torn shirt. His flesh
seemed everywhere as baby-smooth as his bald skull and hairless
face, as if bulging sinews had stretched the skin enough to dislodge
the man’s hair follicles. And Gonji was sure that he could hear the
throbbing of the amplified heart that powered Gorgulho’s towering
The two Africans abruptly joined them, Mabenga addressing
Gonji in halting Portuguese, as Gonji’s bodyguards eased closer.
They surveyed the gathering armed survivors warily.
“Not friend. But not enemy—believe or no,” Mabenga said to
Gonji bowed stiffly. “That will suffice for now—allies.” Gonji
accepted the hand clasps of Mabenga and Turotai, Mori and Iwata
also exchanging bows with the black men.
Gorgulho seemed curious about these new allegiances, finally
nodding approvingly at the little cabal of allies. But he would not
accept any hand proffered in friendship, moving off to gaze out
toward the sentient, malevolent presence that glowed with beguiling
serenity, and the still solidifying ruins—for such they now appeared
with certainty—on the distant shore.
Gonji asked Mabenga, “You koku-jin—you are free-men of
Africa? Do your coasts know such dark sorcery as this?”
But it was Turotai, proving the better Portuguese speaker, who
replied, “There is no such festering evil anywhere on our coasts,
but for that in the hearts of men.”
“Keen eye for those axe-headed devilfish!” Bosch shouted
from the fo’c’sle. But now no one seemed to care.
An eerie, stunned despair, whether from the horrors they’d suffered
or the pall of the noxious fog, now gripped the ship’s company.
Men began to vomit and weep softly, as they collapsed on
the deck or slumped beside the green fires at the gunwales, no longer
in denial but now having accepted the hell that had taken them
in the full roar of robust life. Captain Malveira ordered some to
quarters, below decks, for safety until he might determine a plan.
Gonji objected to this spiritless display, stopping one man after
another as they pushed past him, blank-eyed, faces draped in despair,
oblivious to his appeals to stout hearts and honorable death.
One by one, they drifted aft and below, like languorous ghosts, to
collapse on bunks or swing listlessly in their hammocks, drained
of any will to live.
Marquerink brought out some salted pork and bananas, but
few had the stomach for it. Some took water, others swigging at
rum and wineskins, though they could hardly deepen their present
sensory numbness. Then they simply slumped away to the quarterdeck’s
hatchways, like condemned men to the gallows.
And now Malveira was eyeing the coast hatefully. The captain’s
lips trembled and his brow furrowed. He nodded his head
somberly, as if forming some resolution. And all the while, Gonji
thought, Gorgulho kept looking from the captain to the phantasmagorical
ruins that languidly summoned substance on the jungle
shore, as if the giant would crush Malveira for having steered them
But would Gorgulho instead be bringing his great ogre’s bulk
in fury against Gonji, if what the samurai suspected proved true?
He absently plucked at the leather thong under his shirt as he ambled
up beside the captain, wary of sorcerous attack all the while,
his right hand gripping the sharkskin hilt of his low-angled sword.
Malveira nervously tapped his own leg with the flat of a bloodcaked
cutlass, gazing at the mystically wavering ruins on the ominous
They both stood in the smoke of an oily jade fire, pale grime
etching their facial creases.
“So?” Gonji advanced.
“This is my burden. You know nothing of it,” Captain Malveira
said cryptically. They turned to each other and glared over bared
steel again, but they didn’t cross blades.
“Ah, so desu ka? Yet you do nothing about it,” Gonji charged.
“Nothing can be done. I have seen this magic before,” Malveira
shot back. “We must wait it out. It may even disperse with the
Gonji hacked out a scoffing sound, coughing in the heavy,
sweltering air. “You still refuse to accept it. Gomen nasai, but it
has been foretold. This hell-haunter has been set upon my path by
powers that seek to stop me from unearthing their secrets. You,
fool, will see us all devoured. I intend to act!”
Their blades came to rasping engagement.
But the hulking Gorgulho suddenly loomed closer, halting
them, speaking for the first time Gonji could remember:
“No more killing,” the passive giant said in a peculiar, littleboyish
voice. “Every man may be needed later.”
Both men paused to hear the oddly high pitch emanating from
this huge sailor. And Gonji realized now that even Malveira must
have hitherto assumed the man to be mute. It was as if Gorgulho
was some young phenomenon of nature, incredible in size and
symmetry, but somehow immature…a giant man-boy for which
the world was unprepared. Such unlucky manifestations seldom
fared well in a world that feared and hated the odd prodigious singularity.
In this single resonance Gonji thought he could slightly identify
with the enormous Gorgulho. Yet he thought the bare-skulled
giant’s sentiment rang hollow, and he wondered about the worth
of the man’s fighting heart. Some possessed valor only when they
borrowed it from braver souls. This powerful man may have drifted
through life untested in battle, by virtue of his fearsome appearance.
Malveira glumly withdrew toward his forward cabin, glaring
down into the sickly morass beyond the ship’s hull. Gorgulho presently
moved off without another word.
“Our own dark hearts have brought us to this. It is the blackest
magic,” a hunched sailor, slumping on the deck, snuffled through
hitching sobs. “We’re never leaving here…God in Heaven, save
Dr. Lasca came up from behind him, swigging rum from a cup.
“There is no black magic,” he snarled thickly. “Such things are superstition.
There are many things beyond our puny ken.” He went
on, after a bit, slurry but solemn. “We are entering a new Age of
Reason, pilgrims. One day all man’s questions will be answered,
systematically. Get a grip on yourselves and use your brains. Read
Copernicus and Vesalius, young Japones!” This last he directed at
Gonji, with an expansive sweep of his arm. “If you want to pray,
pray for some rational ‘spirit’ to come down, or up, or sideways
and talk reasonably about the unreasonable burden of human suffering.
Then send him to my cabin. I’ll have a few choice gripes
The surgeon glared at Gonji, who tilted expressions with him a
moment before gazing again, sulkily, into the foul gelatinous sea.
The young warlord cast piercing eyes on the lambently glowing
death-holes in the skulls that festooned the dead ships surrounding
Skinny Jogo, with his narrow twitchy face, like that of a
wounded fox, slumped against the stern castle bulkhead, clutching
his Monmouth cap in a ball and striking his temple with it, over
“Meu pai—my father,” he said to Gonji plaintively, as if needing
a sympathetic ear for confession, “he gifted me with a fine,
strong filly when I was thirteen. When she filled out to sturdy
mare, I rode off and left my father alone at the plow—him with an
old man’s heart. I never even thanked him. O meu pai…I fear he’s
Gonji listened, then cuffed the man’s shoulder reproachfully.
“Hey…by fighting to survive you repay him with honor tenfold,
nanban-jin. Don’t shame him.”
But fingering the hard warmth of the stone depending from the
thong under his shirt, Gonji, too, was transported back to wayward
Excerpted from "Gonji: Dark Ventures" by T.C. Rypel. Copyright © 2017 by T.C. Rypel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.