Chapter Sixteen: Into the Sky
A quiet night passed and the morning dawned bright when a stout elf stepped on deck and stared up at the blue sky. He peered across the glittering sea and spied the coast of Rynne barely three miles away. He was about to go below and wake the crew when he stopped a moment, dimly aware of something in the sky. Looking up, he saw what seemed to be a bird, but as it flew higher, silhouetted against the sun, its true form was revealed and he gasped with fright.
He shot down the stair to alert the others. Efkin was walking down a corridor when he heard the cry.
“All to the deck! A dragon approaches!”
Responding at once, elves and men gathered on the decks armed with bows and spears. They looked up at the dragon in the sky. The beast was still far away, but they could feel the rush of wind stirred by its massive wings. Many scrambled with buckets of water, dousing the decks to dampen the ship against the fiery onslaught that was to come.
“This is the dragon that attacked us,” said Colun.
Efkin recognized it instantly. “It is the same dragon that has dwelt near Issost. I had forgotten its incredible size.”
The dragon soared past the men and elves amassed on the decks. The warriors watched the beast as it hovered above, its nostrils flaring, anticipating with dread the coming attack. They stood with shields and arms, ready to fight an indomitable creature that seemed impervious to all weapons brought against it.
The dragon descended upon the ship and the sky was suddenly filled with speeding shafts cast from elvish bows. Most of the missiles hit the beast, but the arrows fell away, deflected aside by its scales. Despite their grandest efforts, the archers could not pierce the dragon and they raised their shields against its flaming attack.
The air was ablaze as the ship was consumed in a cloud of fire. The flames vanished then, save for the many fires burning on the decks and along the ship’s mast. The dragon flew past the ship, boldly receiving a second wave of arrows, then soared skyward.
“That was unpleasant,” Ebin said beneath his shield.
“It is fortunate we are near the coast of Rynne,” said Colun, “for it seems we shall be forced to swim.”
Efkin did not want to abandon the ship, but feared they would not survive another blast. He was eyeing the beast as it curved in the air, falling toward them in a swift descent, when something stirred in the air around him. Almost in a trance, his hand went to the pendant and unfastened it. The winds twisted suddenly and a sighing breeze seemed to speak in a forgotten tongue as a windy presence surrounded him. A musical voice like a whimsical flute echoed in his consciousness and he knew this being was an elemental.
He closed his eyes and spoke words that seemed to flow out of some hidden memory, speaking an old elvish rune in a strange tongue:
“Shuuel, lord of the skies and winds that curve,
Who in years past the elves did serve,
I call on your windy might,
To lift me unto lofty height.”
For a moment, it seemed Efkin’s words had gone unheard, but then a breeze swept around him and he ascended skyward, carried aloft by unseen hands.
A bewildered crew watched amazed as he rose from the deck on his way toward the dragon. Efkin was also startled and, though it seemed he flew of his own volition, he perceived the presence of numerous beings dashing through the air, circling his waist like a twisting wind. He climbed higher and higher, thrilled as he soared through clouds, feeling a joy in flight he had never known.
He felt a rush of air suddenly and saw the dragon beating its wings overhead. It turned its horrible eyes upon him. Then its wings were drawn close to its sides and the beast was plummeting toward Efkin like a speeding shaft.
Efkin drew Harbinger and the sword was barely out of its sheath when he was pulled away from groping claws that would have torn him asunder. Before he realized what happened, he was wrenched away again, dropping in a sharp descent as if someone dragged him by the leg so that he avoided the dragon’s clashing jaws. Efkin was caught in a bizarre dance, blown like a leaf, swiftly and narrowly escaping death with each movement, his course guided by ethereal beings whose foresight steered him out of the dragon’s path. It was the strangest sensation for Efkin as he twisted through the air with the breezy spirits, at times uncertain if they dragged or blew him across the heavens. The dragon was a blur of snapping jaws and sweeping talons, whirling round in a rage as it chased Efkin through the clouds. Efkin was twirling across the sky, gliding through the air on a sentient wind.
Suddenly, the dragon swung in front of him and, without warning, Efkin was engulfed in a cloud of fire, as if the air surrounding him suddenly ignited. He felt intense heat embrace his entire body. For a moment, he thought he would dissolve into ashes as flames curled around him. Then he realized with surprise that he was untouched. He perceived great movement in the air. The breezy spirits were spinning round him wildly. He wasn’t able to count them, but it seemed dozens of the windy beings surrounded him. Their airy bodies formed a supernatural barrier that the flames could not penetrate.
Then the flames vanished. Efkin saw the dragon descend upon him again and he was suddenly afraid, for it was larger and more terrible than he could have imagined. He hung in the air, anticipating the beast would strike at any moment, waiting for the windy spirits to pull him away. Then he was shooting up, curving over the dragon’s head in a sweeping arc that excited him. He gripped his sword and the blade seemed to quiver with a sentient thrill in his grasp.
He swept down in a swift, curling descent, and it seemed that he steered his own course through the air, or perhaps the wind spirits responded to his mental commands. The dragon spun around and, before the beast could flash its claws, Efkin drove Harbinger through one of its scales with a swift thrust. The dragon roared and twisted in a rage as Efkin soared across the sky.
He heard cheers from the ship below and the spirited cries gladdened his heart and gave him strength for the battle ahead.
The dragon swept over him, darkening the sky with its great wings. The monstrous flapping stirred the wind and Efkin braced himself. He was soaring east, where the morning sun touched the sea, hoping to surprise the beast with a sudden turn, when he plunged suddenly. He went spiraling out of the sky and, behind him, he could feel licks of flame at his back and he knew the windy spirits had wrested him out of the dragon’s grasp once more. The beast was wild with rage, shrieking horribly as it cut through the air, speeding after the slippery elf.
Efkin skimmed over the sea, then swept up suddenly, curving to a lofty height, his sword a glinting wand of sunlight against the dawning rays. Though it seemed he propelled himself into the clouds, at this moment he had no illusion that he steered himself through the sky, aware that elementals guided his course.
He halted and hung suspended in the air. Below him, the dragon pierced through a cloud and Efkin lifted suddenly, dodging a fierce swipe. The dragon whirled round to catch him, its talons flailing and tail whipping, thrashing in the air like a maddened beast. Efkin was twisting round, weaving in and out, at times hurtling close enough to pierce the dragon, then wrested away suddenly by airy hands that stole him from the creature’s grasp. He tried again and again to breach the flailing offense, but the dragon met his fleet advances with fierce strokes that sent him reeling back, scarcely dodging the mad beast.
He was spinning in the air, hoping to pierce the dragon’s heart, when he realized he had no idea where he would find it. Then he had a notion. Suddenly, he was flying toward the dragon, as if the winds intuited his thoughts and hurled him forward to execute his plan.
Darting past its tail as it sliced the air above his head, Efkin flew straight for its wings. Gripping Harbinger with both hands, he passed the blade through one appendage as he sped by. The dragon let out a roar that boomed for miles as the severed wing fell into the sea. It was a terrible cry filled with pain and malice. With its single wing, the creature steered itself toward Efkin and, before he could react, the breezy spirits seized him once more, blowing him out of the dragon’s path. The beast swept its claws and Harbinger bit deeply into its flesh. The dragon screamed, thrashing with rage. As it fell away, its head twisted round and curls of flame spread around Efkin, bent aside by the windy spirits that surrounded him.
The dragon crashed into the sea. The beast kicked its limbs and whipped its tail, shrieking with impotent rage, and finally sank lifeless.
Cheers burst from the galley below as men and elves joined their voices in celebration. In the skies above, Efkin thanked the Wind Lord and his servants for their invaluable aid.
Amidst the clamor below, Ebin looked up at the clouds and stared in wonder at Efkin who hung in the air like a coppery sprite.
“It was a mighty creature, this dragon,” he said.
Yes,�said Colun. 典hey are fierce flyers, but alas, very poor swimmers.