Aure the Topaz: Book 1 of the Aglaril Cycle

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Thunder and Lightning

Daniel turned to face the others. “We’re slowing down.”

Evan nodded his head. “Sorry. My right hand is badly cramped so I’ve had to switch hands. My left hand just doesn’t have the same strength as my right one.”

“Let me hold it,” offered Daniel.

“All right.” Evan and Daniel swapped positions, squeezing past Brashani in the process. Daniel tightened his grip on the wind maker and the basket zoomed forward.

Iriel reached into a pocket of her trousers and pulled out a few nuts. They looked like small almonds. She crouched down next to James and handed him the nuts. “Eat these.”

The bard looked at them. “What are they?”

“Leingo nuts. They will ease your dizziness.”

James shrugged and took the nuts from her. He chewed and swallowed them. “Yuck. These taste awful.”

“Sorry, love. Give them a few minutes to start working.”

Evan tapped Iriel on the shoulder. “Iriel, a word please.” The elf stood up and went over to him. “We are going to need to take turns using the wind maker. Since James is ill and Brashani is busy keeping us in the air, Daniel, you, and I will need to keep the basket moving.”

“I understand. When will you need my help?” Iriel asked.

“Fifteen minutes, maybe less; it depends on how long Daniel can hold out.”

“Very good. I will comfort James in the meantime.”

On the west side of the basket, Daniel stood staring east and trying to keep the connection to Aure from dissolving. We’re coming, Aure. Don’t give up hope. We’re coming. He got no response.

The teen held on for half an hour, using Qua’ril techniques to mitigate the pain. In the end, he had to admit he couldn’t operate the wind maker any more. His hand was too badly cramped. The basket slowed and then stopped.

“Father Evan,” said Daniel, “you can have the wind maker back.”

“Give it to Iriel,” he said. “She’ll take over.”

The lad handed the magic stick to Iriel and moved to stand near James. Iriel slipped past him to stand along the west edge of the basket. Applying pressure to the handle, Iriel pointed the wind maker due west and the basket sped off to the east.

Daniel stared eastward and pointed. “What are those dark clouds?”

Evan glanced in the direction Daniel indicated. Dark gray clouds stretched across their path. “Looks like a storm. Rain most likely.” He faced Brashani. “I don’t want to fly through that. Can we go higher?”

“Probably, but I don’t know how much heat the canvas and the ropes will take. Going over the storm might not be safe. If something were to catch fire …” Brashani trailed off.

“Understood,” replied Evan. “But if there is lightning in that storm, we could be just as dead. Let’s try going over the storm first and watch for signs of overheating.”

Brashani grimaced. There didn’t seem to be a good solution to their situation. “All right,” he said at last and increased the heat to the canvas bag. The basket rose higher in the sky. Tendrils of smoke reached Brashani a few minutes later.

“Do you smell smoke?”

Evan sniffed. “Yes.”

Brashani looked up into the canvas bag and saw some of the fabric smoldering. He reversed the flow of heat to cool the canvas and the basket dropped a little in the sky. Then he resumed heating the bag at the same rate he had before.

“I don’t think we can go over the storm,” he said to Evan.

Evan looked at the dark clouds ahead. Thunder roared in the distance. He ran his hand through his hair and narrowed his eyes. “Then we have no choice. We have to go through it.”

The flying basket pierced the rain clouds and a light rain began to fall. Thunder echoed in the distance followed by flashes of light.

The rain had a cooling effect on the hot air. Brashani felt the basket descend almost immediately upon entering the cloud bank. He increased the intensity of the heat he provided and hoped it was enough.

James sat curled up in the southwest corner of the basket. His eyes were slits.

Iriel gazed at her lover worriedly. “How are you feeling, James?”

The bard spoke without moving. “Nauseous. And wet, thanks to the rain. All I want is to feel the solid ground under my feet.”

“The leingo nuts are not working?”

“Not yet.”

“They should soon.”

“It won’t be soon enough.”

They flew in a murky, thick sky for several minutes, the dark clouds acting like fog. Streaks of lightning could now be seen in the distance and were coming closer, followed by rolling thunder that punctuated the silence.

The noise gave James a splitting headache on top of everything else.

Why can’t the weather be quiet? he thought. The thunder sounded again; the lightning grew closer. What have I done to deserve this? Is my relationship with Iriel offending an elven sky god?

James couldn’t think of any elven sky gods, but his throbbing skull only served to muddle his thoughts.

No, he concluded at last, no sky god should care about Iriel or me. So why am I suffering so badly? Thunder boomed again, louder, and James groaned. His head felt as if it were splitting open.

Be quiet! he screamed to himself. The thunder replied by crashing again above them, as if to taunt him. It sounded a little like laughter too.

That’s it, he thought, and he stood up. He withdrew his whip; it uncurled and the bard lashed out at the storm. As he raised his arm with the whip, the weapon struck the side of the canvas bag.

Evan pushed past Brashani and Daniel, and grabbed James’s forearm. “What are you doing?”

James yanked his arm free and looked directly at Evan, whose narrow blue eyes bored into the bard like daggers. James stared back, in an attempt to convey his anger. He wasn’t convincing enough, however, because Evan didn’t move. I’m too wet, nauseous, and dizzy to give a good performance. And my head is pounding too. He glared at Evan. Now Evan is mad at me. Tendrils of fear surfaced. Would Evan call down some Michaeline plague upon him? No, Evan wasn’t nearly as frightening as the masters of his order.

“Nothing,” the bard said at last. “I don’t feel well. I just want some peace and quiet.”

“Well, slicing open the canvas bag with your whip won’t help,” Evan pointed out.

James realized what he had just tried to do. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “It’s hard to think straight with this headache.”

“I understand,” said Evan. “But you need your wits about you. Any one of us could kill us all if we make the wrong move.”

James put his hand on his forehead and rubbed it. “I know. It’s just … my thoughts are all tangled up.”

A bolt of lightning streaked past them and brightened the sky for an instant like a flare. Thunder crashed above and the rain became more intense.

James dropped his whip and nearly jumped out of the basket when the lightning bolt slashed across the sky. Iriel grabbed him with her free hand and he clung to her like a scared newborn clutching his mother. The basket rocked violently in the sky and Evan was sure that, if the basket had been a boat in the ocean, it would have capsized.

Evan suspected he knew how James felt — how they all felt. Nerves were frayed and tempers were short. Evan counted to ten and forced himself to relax. They needed to get out of the clouds. Evan began to brainstorm for a less hazardous path than where they were now.

Bright light once more illuminated his surroundings and a lightning bolt struck the corner of the basket. It caught fire briefly then fizzled, emitting some smoke and the odor of charcoal.

That was too close, Evan thought. If lightning had punctured the canvas bag or sliced through one of the ropes, we’d all be dead now.

James leaped up, broke free of Iriel, and stood on the basket’s southern edge. The ropes groaned at the disproportionate weight applied to them. Evan, Brashani, Iriel, and Daniel tumbled forward, and slammed into each other.

“What the …,” said Brashani.

“Ouch!” cried Evan, as his knee hit the transformed wicker.

Lightning struck near the canvas bag and wicker basket, missing both by inches; if James hadn’t moved the lower end of Cornwall’s flying invention, Evan was sure another corner of the basket would have caught fire.

Evan and Brashani pulled James back toward them, and the bard landed in the bottom of the basket again. The entire flying machine rocked back and forth like a pendulum for a minute before settling down.

“Stay there,” commanded Evan. He wanted to say more, to chastise the bard, but he had more immediate issues to deal with. Addressing the fire mage, he ordered, “Brashani, stop heating the air.”

“We’ll fall.”

“Yes, and maybe we’ll be less of a target for the lightning.”

The wizard considered this. It couldn’t be any worse than their current predicament. “All right,” Brashani replied after a minute.

The flying basket descended slowly. The thunder grew softer and the lightning became distant flashes of light. The rain increased, then slackened, and finally stopped. The sun came out. Evan looked behind them. The line of dark clouds was receding.

“A blessing from Elas,” said Iriel.

“Thank God and St. Michael,” said Evan, smiling.

Brashani smiled too and shook Evan’s hand.

“About time,” said James.

Evan peered out over the northern edge of the basket to see how far they had fallen. They were much lower than they had been. The copse of trees Iriel had spied earlier was now directly under them. Small figures with sickly green skin moved about. Evan was sure they weren’t human.

Goblins, maybe? he wondered. Whoever they were, they were no concern of Evan’s. Turning his attention to the ropes, Evan inspected them for damage. They seemed fine.

“Brashani, I think we need a little more heat,” said Evan.

“All right,” replied the wizard as he heard a thud.

Evan had heard it too. “What was that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Brashani.

Daniel pointed to the floor. “I think it came from underneath the basket.”

James jumped up as if his trousers were ablaze. “Daniel’s right. I felt something strike from underneath us.”

Evan looked out over the basket’s edge again. Below them in a clearing surrounded by trees, five small figures stood next to a catapult. The figures appeared to be of the same race as the people he had seen earlier, and these five all carried spears. They were pointing at the basket in the sky and aimed the catapult accordingly. Two of the figures loaded a large boulder into the device.

“How fast can we gain altitude?”

“Not very,” answered Brashani, “judging from my earlier attempts.”

“Well, do what you can. I’m not sure we can withstand too many of those boulders.”

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