Chapter 14: Sirens and Lies
“We need to get moving...now!” Draden shouted to Flagprim, backing away from the docks.
“Wavalash,” Flagprim whispered under his breath.
A burst of wind rushed past the boat, getting caught in the mast and causing it to billow as it pulled the boat slowly away from shore. The bow cut steadily through the water as the wind continued to blow.
However, they weren’t out of range of the Fra’tsi’s crossbows yet.
“Hogashalac!” shouted a Fra’tsi at the front of the group, the word guttural and throaty.
The Fra’tsi released a trigger on their bows and the arrows burst from the springs, leaving trails of smoke behind them from the flame burning on their tips.
Draden reacted fast. “Fractiniliium!” A blue shield sprung up at the edge of the stern, the Fra’tsi’s arrows sinking into the translucent material and smoking harmlessly.
Another wave of arrows pummeled his magical barrier, every second draining Draden’s energy. He collapsed to his knees as more arrows hit the wall, the boat growing ever farther away. More arrows struck his shield, and he dropped it as the strain became too much.
The projectiles that had been caught in the barrier fell harmlessly into the lightly churning water, but it was not those they needed to be worried about.
Draden fell forward onto his stomach, breathing heavily.
The Fra’tsi sent more arrows at the escaping barge, a few reaching the boat.
A couple of the arrows crashed onto the deck next to Draden in fiery sparks, an arrow slicing through the mast and setting it aflame.
Draden pulled himself around and muttered, “Wotiran.” A weak stream of water splashed onto the spreading fire, dousing it in black clouds. He collapsed to the deck and darkness overcame him.
Loran watched Draden drop to the deck, an eerie feeling of déjà vu creeping over her.
Kladspir lay cringing on the wooden floor, an arrow protruding from his leg. “They got me when I had my back turned,” he explained with a sneer.
She turned to see Flagprim at the wheel, spinning it furiously as he guided the barge past an outcropping of slate gray rocks. They sailed deeper into the lake’s mass, the boat tilting downwards as it rode a small swell. She wasn’t sure what to do for Draden so she grabbed a large cloth lying on a barrel and slid it under his head. Upon query, she retrieved a flask from Kladspir and poured the amber liquid into Draden’s mouth. The sleeping boy involuntarily swallowed, so she tilted more down his throat. A sharp, bitter smell wafted into her nose. ‘Must be beer,’ she thought. Her father had often drunk the creamy liquid, so she knew from experience its effects. She gave Draden another drink, hoping it would keep at bay the headache he would have upon awakening. He’d strained himself too much… but why? He’d used magic fine earlier. It was as if his magic was draining the more frequently he used it. But how could he regain it? She pondered asking Flagprim for the answers, but then thought better of it. It wasn’t her business, so she shouldn’t go poking her nose around as if she was romantically involved with him.
At this, her heart gave a quick flutter and her cheeks flushed. She looked around: Kladspir was still removing the arrow and Flagprim was focusing intently on navigation.
She sighed to herself; no one had seen.
Draden awoke to the soft breathing of Loran lying next to him. She lay with her knees up to her chest, hands clasped under her head for support. Their bodies were separated by a small gap, a flask lying in-between them.
A dull throb beat in his head; it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t comfortable. He placed his hands behind him and extended his arms, pushing himself to a sitting position. He looked around at the dark expanse of water. With no light, save for the dull crescent moon and dim stars, it was impossible to fathom how far they’d sailed. He squinted through the darkness but could see no sign of land in any direction.
Using the top of a crate for a handhold, he pulled himself to a stand. A moment later the barge gave a jolt as it passed over a wave, sending Draden collapsing into a group of barrels with a loud crash.
Loran stirred and gave a weak yawn, stretching her arms above her head. “You’re awake,” she stated, then laughed. “Did you sleep-walk right into those barrels?”
“I was bored,” Draden said with a smile, “Thought I’d rearrange the place.”
Loran giggled in response.
A hatch in the deck behind Loran lifted, and Kladspir walked up out of it, closing the door behind him. Upon seeing Draden and Loran’s smiling faces, he asked, “What are you two so happy about?”
“Nothing!” they said quickly in unison.
Kladspir eyed them suspiciously, then shook his head and changed the subject. “Draden, Flagprim said as soon as you awoke to go see him. He’s at the wheel. Loran, I need your help down below.”
The three of them parted. Draden walked around the barrels he had previously knocked over, and then passed by the repaired mast as it waved in a slight breeze. Puzzled, Draden looked over the water. They were moving quite fast with a breeze this slight. Something to ask Flagprim when he saw him.
He continued past a couple of stacked crates, then up a small staircase that curved up to a higher platform. There was an identical set of steps on the opposite side of the boat.
Flagprim stood with his back to him, hands slowly spinning a large wheel, spokes sticking out to provide easier maneuverability. Draden cleared his throat, announcing his presence.
The elf looked over his shoulder, exclaiming, “Ah! Draden, you’re conscious! It seems you spend more time blacked out than awake these days!”
Draden didn’t take this as an insult. Instead, he sought answers. “How come I’ve been weaker lately? It seems I’ve been losing my power…and how is this boat moving at this speed with barely a trickle of wind?” The last question came out accusingly, but he didn’t know why. It’s not as if the elf was doing something wrong.
Flagprim waited for a moment to make sure Draden had no more questions, then he replied, “I will answer your second question first, for it is the less complicated of the two.
“The reason the barge is moving so fast is, I’m sure you’ve guessed, magic. For me to create a breeze is somewhat simple, I just have to mass the particles in the air together and push them in a certain direction for an extended amount of time. This quickly drains my magic, so this is not the best means of movement for this barge. Instead, I am merely pushing the atoms in the water towards the boat to increase our rate of movement. It is quite effortless really.
“As to your second question, I am not sure as to why you have been weaker lately. It could be one of many reasons. An accumulation of fatigue that didn’t take affect until now…which doesn’t make sense. It could also be due to the climate. A person’s magic is affected by where they are geographically. For some people, their magic could be strongest around large bodies of water, but for others -possibly you- it could be at its weakest.”
’That does make sense…’ Draden thought.
Flagprim continued, “However, there is another reason. There are certain things that, if eaten, can affect a person’s magic. Unique plants like hoarweed, liliander seeds, fernalius fronds, and dragon leaves can increase the rate of magic depletion.”
Draden’s eyes widened in shock. “Kladspir fed Loran and I dragon leaves the day before you rejoined us!”
Flagprim scowled. “I knew he was up to no good! He kept eyeing me with vehemence. Unfortunately, the effects of the leaf won’t wear off for a few more days. Why he would feed Loran the leaves is quite confusing… it must have been a precaution for if she did have power. It seems he wanted the two of you weakened when you arrived at Cradof. I guess I am a slight bump in his plan.” He laughed heartily to himself.
“What do we do?!” Draden asked anxiously. With realization, he said with venom, “Loran is with him right now! What could he be doing?”
“We must be cau-”
The elf was interrupted as a high, clear note pierced the air. A dense mist encased the boat; all wind had ceased and the barge was no longer moving, except for the sway of the water. The note had crept into deeper threads of ethereal singing. Vibrato acted out each new note in a continuation of flowing beauty. They were lyrics by themselves, weaving tales of tragedy and romance. They covered Draden in a velvety embrace, promising him eternal happiness. The melody bloomed into existence as more voices joined the mournful chorus in a fleetingly heartfelt blur of high notes.
He gazed longingly into the mist as the mysterious singers enveloped tones of funeral bass. In the back of his mind was an annoying beat, opposing the beautiful rhythm of song that caressed him. He pushed it away, but it came back full force, screaming through his being, “Loran!” It burst through his body again, and he cried out, falling onto his hands.
The song in the mist took on an angry, staccato tone, battling the drumbeat of Loran in his mind. He fought through the madness, straining to keep himself together. The hateful melody threatened to tear him asunder, and it was all he could do to keep from giving in. His mind brought a memory to the surface, but it was beat back down by the vicious song. With a last reserve of energy, the memory blasted into existence:
‘There are tales of Sirens in the depths of Arema Lake. Their voices can take over your soul and leave you powerless. If, by chance, you even have enough willpower to retaliate, utter these words of magic three times, “Selenturian dordem baerto elentiria.” On the third time, throw something of great value into the lake. Then all will be over.’
With a pang, he realized Marfol had said it. And, since he was in the King’s Guard, it made sense how he had obtained this knowledge. At the time, Draden had just thought it was a children’s story.
Draden dragged himself to the edge of the barge, thick ropes forming a barrier so things on board wouldn’t fall off in a storm. The Sirens continued to attack him with their voices, sending wave after wave of intensely violent notes crashing down on him, hampering his progress.
His lips moved, but no sound came out, and he forced all his concentration on the function. At last, a mere trickle of sound escaped his mouth in a brief exhalation. ‘I can do this!’ he thought bitterly. The song continued to invade his mind, but he pressed forward. ‘This will not have been for nothing!’
“Selenturian dordem baerto elentiria,” he whispered in what sounded like a forced groan. A ghastly scream pierced the fog, causing a caesura in the music, allowing Draden to recover an ounce of his strength. “Selenturian dordem baerto elentiria!” he repeated, voice more confident. More shrieks were added to the first, ringing on his ears as they traveled into the whistle register. His face was contorted with the continuous strain on his body. He screamed one more time, “Selenturian dordem baerto elentiria!” The wails rose to a pitch so high he felt his head go numb. The deadly song had ceased and was now entirely howls of utter torment. He reached into his cloak, searching for something of value. At first, he thought of Isliaz, but that was too valuable. However, wasn’t that the point?
As he tried to come to a conclusion, distracted by the non-stop cries of terror, his hand rubbed something cold and smooth, and he grasped it. He brought before him Juleian’s gemstone, the surface a pale cerulean in the dim, misty haze. The small hole from his first attempts of magic was still centered near the top of the gem. With regret, he realized that now he would never get the chance to complete his handiwork.
In a cry of rage that battled the Siren’s screams, he threw the stone down into the fog, the gem disappearing from view as it was swallowed by the white mass.
At once, the screaming ceased and all became quiet. All he could hear was his labored breathing and the gentle lap of water on the boat. He collapsed to the dock in exhaustion, overcoming the urge to sleep and looking around him.
The mist was slowly dissipating, revealing the twinkling stars above. Flagprim lay unconscious next to the wheel as it turned absently, guided by a phantom’s hands.
He pulled himself to his feet, swaying as a wave of lightheadedness passed over him. He would let Flagprim sleep; with no wind and the calm water, they would not drift far. All he knew was he had to make sure Loran was okay.
Loran watched as Draden walked towards the wheel.
“Come,” Kladspir said, jerking her out of her trance. He opened the hatch and gestured for her to enter. She put her foot down cautiously onto the first step, then continued downwards. There was no light, so it felt like she was travelling to another world.
Her mind was still on Draden. She wasn’t sure what her attraction was to the boy; possibly his sense of adventure. Definitely, his smile… and his chiseled jaw line…. Involuntarily she let out a sigh, then covered her mouth with a hand, giggling quietly to herself.
Kladspir grunted in derision behind her, placing a hand on her back to speed her progress.
Almost at once, there were no more steps and she was walking on a flat surface. Behind her came a scratch and flame flared into life on the tip of a match.
Kladspir opened a hatch on a small, glass lamp, then lit the wick inside, quickly illuminating the room they were in.
It was a cargo hold, roughly the same length and width as the barge itself. The walls curved inward towards the bottom to conform to the shape of the boat. Crates and barrels lined the walls, and a small table and two chairs were in the center of the room. Ropes and nets were strewn haphazardly across the floors and cargo, completing the nautical atmosphere.
“Sit,” he commanded, placing himself on one of the wooden stools.
She hesitantly complied; something in his voice wasn’t right.
Kladspir tapped his finger as his eyes wandered over the surface of the table. He looked at her after a moment and asked, “Can you use magic?”
She was taken aback by his sudden inquiry. “Can I… can I what?”
“Don’t make me repeat myself.”
‘What’s wrong with him?’ “N-no….”
He sighed. “Then you are not a threat.”
‘Threat?! What is he talking about? I need to get out of here….’
“You aren’t going anywhere,” he snapped. “Don’t mess with me, little girl. I am a highly trained member of the King’s Guard; I can read your thoughts. You do not want me as your enemy. Do what I say and you will receive riches for the rest of your life. Disobey, and you won’t make it off this boat alive.”
Her breathing quickened as adrenaline began to pump through her veins. ‘I am powerless against him… it couldn’t hurt to hear him out.’
“A wise choice. I propose two things. First, is to help me… dispose of this meddling elf. Second, seduce Draden so he will trust you with his life. I know you have feelings for each other, however misguided they may be; that is on our side. Gain his love and he will follow you anywhere. He will be our puppet to do our every bidding. Do you accept?”
She didn’t even have to ponder this. She would gladly accept death than betray her friends. “I do not!”
Kladspir produced a dagger from his belt, the blade glinting dangerously in the firelight. “That is the wrong choice. I ask you again; do you accept?”
Her face was unchanged as she stared down the shadow of death. “I… do… not.”
He lunged over the table, knife swiping at where she’d been. She had jumped backward, stool crashing to the ground.
Kladspir rolled off the table, brandishing the weapon with an evil glint in his eyes.
A high note blasted into existence, startling them both as an otherworldly song was birthed.
Kladspir looked up at the ceiling, and Loran used this distraction to her benefit. She grabbed the stool by the legs and smashed it against the man’s head, sending him sprawling into the table.
She raced to the stairs, the song beating into her brain in a flurry of endless notes. She collapsed onto the steps as her willpower was drained, and she receded into an inky black, welcoming the eternal melody that accepted her with open arms.
Draden opened the hatch, dim light spilling onto Loran’s prone form lying across the stairs.
He stepped past Loran, bending down next to her. He squinted in the darkness; he could faintly see the reflecting glow of a glass lamp, though it was not lit. He could smell faint smoke in the air.
Loran awoke with a groan, rolling on her back. On sight of him she cried out, “Kladspir! He-he’s…”
“I know,” replied Draden, eyes creased in sympathy. He helped her onto her feet, and they heard a moan in the gloom below.
“He’s waking up!” she said, voice quavering with fear.
“Go!” he directed, and they jumped out of the hole, closing the square door. Draden touched a small clasp as it closed over a metal loop sticking out of the deck. The loop was a means of locking the hatch; but where was the lock?
“Here!” Loran exclaimed, grasping a metal lock that lay in a corner and quickly bringing it to Draden.
He accepted it, their fingers brushing, then slammed it onto the loop, closing it. A second later, something slammed into the door from the other side.
“What do we do?!” Loran questioned frantically.
“We talk to Flagprim,” replied Draden, jaw set as he ground his teeth.
Selenturian dordem baerto elentiria: Sel-en-tour-ee-in dōr-dem bār-tō el-en-tēr-ee-uh