The voices in the auditorium died down as the projector came to life, displaying a tranquil maritime scene: a seal swimming on the surface of the ocean.
Click. A single fin appears behind the seal.
Click. The fin becomes a pair of jaws, impaling the seal on rows of gleaming teeth.
Click. Only a tailfin remains above the water.
Click. Tranquility returns.
The curtain fell, and a bearded kithkin scientist shuffled onto the stage.
“Esteemed guests, I present to you the shark. A mindless killer, it roams the seas of Shadowmoor, devouring anything unfortunate enough to encounter it. Here at Gravelgill Maritime Laboratory, my team and I have been working to harness the primal fury of the shark, to adapt the shark to a higher purpose.
“As you know, our natural disadvantages against the merrow in our naval conflicts have been compounded by their deployment of increasingly metal forces. The swordfish, hammerwhale, and most recently the rocketmanatee have routed our forces in nineteen major battles over the last six months. It was all our brave sailors could do to pump the fist as these kickin’ rad animals tore them apart.
“Over the past ten weeks, we have labored in secret, developing a weapon so totally sweet as to be unstoppable.”
The scientist signaled to the technician in the back, who shone a spotlight onto a water tank, revealing the most metal image any of them had ever seen: a shark wielding an axe. The audience was in shock: a few unconsciously played air guitar riffs, others delivered body blows to their neighbors, but most could only stand still, trapped under the weight of the heaviest of heavy metal.
“Exactly how metal are these axesharks?”
“Excellent question. We’ve taken a spinal tap from each of our axeshark specimens, and the results indicate that, on the Osbourne scale, the average axeshark measures approximately–“
Before the scientist could finish, an elf from among the audience stood and shouted, interrupting him: “What have you done?! You’ve taken Ghastlord’s most perfect killing machine and given it an axe! You’ve knocked us all to the bottom of the deusdamn food chain!”
* * * * *
Later that evening, a pair of boggarts, undeterred by the elf’s hysterical warnings, snuck into the restricted zone of Gravelgill’s labs. The hardcore potential of the axesharks that they had seen during the presentation intrigued them, and, upon seeing the equipment at the lab, they became further stoked.
The pièce de résistance was an enormous amplifier, so huge that the boggarts couldn’t make out the top of the device in the darkness of the lab’s high ceiling and so powerful that, even turned off, the boggarts could faintly hear the howl of a death-metal vocalist. A cable led from the amplifier to a Blight Sickle, a double-necked, twenty-four stringed guitar, which was adorned by images of skulls, redcaps, and a demigod of revenge.
A water tank, larger than the one in the presentation room but otherwise identical, was next to the amplifier, and one of the boggarts walked over to investigate. He tapped on the glass, and a large, dark, and badass shape rushed by, startling him. He stumbled backward, tripping over the amplifier’s on switch. Grabbing for a handhold to break his fall, he caught the master volume control and inadvertently twisted it all the way up to eleven. This proved to be his undoing, because the Blight Sickle had transfixed the other boggart, who, moved by the guitar’s unadulterated essence of rock, plucked a single string.
The noise was so loud that it was silent. The boggart next to the amplifier exploded as the sound wave rippled through him. The other boggart was blown against the opposite wall, the Blight Sickle wrenched from his hand. The tank’s glass cracked, and the axesharks, driven mad, pounded against it until it shattered.
* * * * *
The incident at the lab set off the station’s alarms, which woke up the scientists and their guests. Following the outlined emergency procedures, they hurried to the station’s south dock. The axesharks had already broken out, but, sensing the fear of the station’s inhabitants, they were trying to smash bitchin’ holes through the glass to reach and consume them.
The water was already pouring in, and the axesharks were surfing toward their fleeing victims. Only three were left alive: the head scientist, a kithkin reporter, and the protesting elf. They ran to the end of the corridor and reached the next room, but before they could shut the door, an axeshark wedged itself in.
“What did I tell you?” The elf yelled at the scientist. “We’re gonna get ate!”
“We are almost at the south dock. There is a boat there that we can use to escape. If we can find some way to delay the axesharks, we should have enough time to push off before the axesharks can reach us. We just have to think rationally,” the scientist said. He took a moment to study his creation, but it was a moment too long: “WOOOOOO! HELL YEAH! IT’S A FUCKING SHARK WITH A FUCKING AXE! ROCK AND ROL–“
The axeshark pushed itself further through the doorway and crushed the scientist between its wicked awesome jaws.
“What’s your name?” The elf asked the kithkin reporter.
“Olga, I’m Hexhunter. Run!”
They rushed toward the south dock as the shark struggled to force its bulk the rest of the way through. They found their escape vessel, a diminutive motorboat. Hexhunter swore.
“Here it is,” Olga yelled, “Let’s go!”
Just then, a trio of axesharks rose out of the water and lit into the craft, tearing off chunks of wood and plastic with their axes. Hexhunter took Olga by the arm and led her back in the other direction.
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
* * * * *
Hexhunter and Olga ran through the few dry hallways toward the north dock. The axesharks, distracted by their feeding frenzies, hadn’t noticed the pair, but, just before the stairs leading up to the north dock berths, axesharks crashed through the walls between them. They turned around, but more axesharks had moved to block their escape.
A nearby alcove was marked: “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS.” Hexhunter smashed it open and claimed the shotgun that was inside. He pumped it and fired at the nearest axeshark. The force of the blast send the axeshark back, but, further angered rather than killed by Hexhunter’s attack, it persisted in working its way toward him.
Surrounded and seeing her rockin’ doom approaching, Olga pulled out a lighter, lit it, and raised it as high as her stubby kithkin arms allowed. Hexhunter slapped her hand, and the lighter fell.
“Snap out of it,” Hexhunter shouted as the axesharks began to close the distance between them, “Quickly, girl. Do you know any folk songs?”
“I used to have to sing that stuff at camp. I mostly listen to classic rock these days. Folk music is so lame.”
“Exactly! Folk music is lame. Really lame. And it’s our only hope. Sing! Sing the lamest folk song you know!”
Olga began to croon an almost unbearably lame folk song. Hexhunter had to resist the urge to cover his ears. Gritting his teeth, Hexhunter joined in. At first, the axesharks seemed unaffected, and Hexhunter considered that when the axesharks got him, the last thing he’d have heard would be this awful music from some backwater Lorwyn clachan. Then, suddenly, the axesharks stopped moving toward them began to flail about. Hexhunter and Olga ran up the stairs, continuing to hum the unrighteous tunes.
They found a large research boat tied at the north dock, and rushed up the gangway. Hexhunter severed the rope with a shotgun blast, while Olga hurried to the PA system. The axesharks had recovered from their initial exposure to folk music, but Olga’s singing over the PA proved to be too much. The axesharks broke off the chase. Hexhunter took the helm and drove the boat away from Gravelgill. As soon as they were at a safe distance, the whole station, which had been rocking and rolling well in excess of capacity, exploded in a huge fireball, taking the axesharks, the Blight Sickle, and the research that had created them down to the sea.