We sat for a long time, letting the storm rage beyond the wooden hull of the ship. The sway kept my stomach turning, but the water that I sipped kept it from coming up again. The storm had finally subsided and the seas were calm again. The sun shone through the portholes lighting the room with a mid day glow.
I watched Arsan. He had a smile on his face, a smile that showed a small amount of hope.
“Land ahead!” The muffled shout of Mr. Deddub came from the rigging above deck. “Land ho!”
“We better go see what the commotion is about.” Arsan helped me to my feet, my legs still unsteady from the sway but my magic compensating with its strength.
The sun blinded me momentarily when I opened the wooden hatch to the deck. It glistened off the pools of water on the wood planking making everything seem white. It was like being back in the snow on a sunny day.
Every man on deck was hustling around pulling on ropes and tying them down. Securing cannons and closing hatches. Captain Decker was at the helm shouting orders to his men. That snake like grin that I so despised on his face again. “Good to see you came through the storm unscathed, little lady. Keep your eyes open, this is going to be an exciting ride.”
I ran to the bow of the ship. What did the land look like that we were coming upon? I waited to see what was on the horizon.
It wasn’t what I was expecting. Massive cliffs spanned as far as the eye could see from left to right. There was no city or town that I could make out and definitely no place to bring the ship into port. No one seemed concerned. The feeling that I was on a ship full of crazy men crossed my mind. Where did they expect to make land fall? Would we have to climb the cliffs? I had to wonder what was going to happen next. Would we follow the edge of the land till we came upon civilization? I had never sailed before. I didn’t know how these things worked. If only Delah had taken me north of the mountains.
We sailed on, coming closer and closer to the cliffs. Jagged rocks were visible at the foot of the massive wall, threatening to break the ship apart with just a touch. I glanced at Decker waiting for a sign that he was going to turn the ship, but he kept grinning back at me, a crazed look in his eyes. The feeling that I wanted to punch him again was difficult to suppress.
The cliffs loomed ahead, but we still sailed on. Another glance at Decker. He made no sign of budging. This game of cat and mouse put my nerves on edge, but my magic didn’t seem to feel danger.
“Drop the main sail.” Decker shouted to his men. “Raise the steam bag.”
The canvas of the main sail folded into a pile on the deck with a thud. A hidden door next to the cloth popped open and another canvas sail appeared. No, not a sail, a balloon. It grew extremely quickly, covering the sky over the ship, blocking out the sun. The sound of hissing air pierced my ears, forcing me to cover them. The men raced around the deck attaching rope to each corner of the balloon and securing them to the rails around the edges of the ship. The Stallings was transforming into a flying machine.
Soon the balloon was large enough to lift the ship out of the water. My hands grasped the rail as the wood all around me creaked and moaned from being separated from the sea. I had never heard of anything like this before. Amazed, I watched to see what was unfolding before me.
I was in awe as the Stallings lifted higher into the air. The shinning waves crashed far below beckoning for the ship to come back, reaching and grasping for it, but it wouldn’t. We were to fly over the cliffs and beyond, crossing the land in a flying sea ship.
The bow of the ship sailed with ease over the rock face, coming within feet of the hard stone. Still we climbed higher. We left the ocean behind quickly, grazing the tops of the tallest red wood trees in the forest beyond the cliffs. They were so close, I wanted to reach down and touch one, but the fear of falling kept my hands tightly clasped to the rail.
This new land was much like the one I came from with its green trees and blue waters that snaked through blooming meadows below. I didn’t know how far north we were, maybe Helina or the Apilashia mountain range? It was still cold even though there wasn’t snow on the ground here, but the farther into land we went the colder it became and soon ice covered the ground. Snow began to fall from the sky, a familiar sight.
The sun began to set, casting gold and orange shadows across the horizon. The temperature had dropped drastically in the last hour. I could see my breath in a white mist every time I exhaled. My bare fingers and face stung with the cold ice that fell from the sky. My body drew warmth from my magic, but it was still no good, the cold was beginning to seep into my bones. This was colder than any place I had experience.
Some of the men had lit a fire in a metal barrel in the middle of the deck to warm their frozen hands. It was a nice warmth that drew me closer to it. I loved the feel of the flames on my face when the wind bit at my nose.
I stood for a while warming myself, taking in the heat till my body stopped aching. Across the fire Arsan’s face could be made out in the shadows. He was watching me. I wondered what he was thinking.
Most the crew had gone below deck to hide from the winter weather, to keep warm. I circled the fire keeping my eyes on my companion.
In the quiet of the night a strange buzzing sound grew steadily closer. It was quick. I turned my ears toward the sound, trying to hear it better. What was it? My magic began to go wild with in me. Danger was near, but where. My eyes scoured the darkness beyond the glow of the fire. It was so dark, I couldn’t see anything. Then I noticed a ball of light floating towards us. It whizzed overhead, barely grazing the balloon above. It left a black streak of singed canvas in its wake. That was no ball of fire, it was an arrow engulfed in flames. I heard the all familiar twang of a bow string and the whizzing of another arrow through the night sky. The ball of light dropped ashes as it flew through the air, puncturing the balloon overhead. The canvas caught on fire as the arrow ripped through the other side.
Someone was attacking the Stallings, and I had a feeling I knew who it was.
The Stallings creaked and moaned with every tree that smashed into its hull. Chunks of the lower levels fell to the earth as the forest grabbed hold of the fragile wood and chewed it to pieces. The ship was going down quickly, us along with it.
One of the ropes that attaching the balloon to the ship broke from the strain. The Stallings pitched wildly to one side. I held on to anything that was secured to the deck for dear life. A rope, a barrel, even the hatch where the balloon had immerged from, but it wasn’t safe to stay where I was. The burning canvas bag overhead dropped pieces of flaming cloth down upon my head, burning my skin. I feared that the deck would catch fire around me.
Arsan, where had he gone when we hit the first red woods? Panic stricken, I glanced around me quickly. A few feet from me he clung to a rope but he was having a hard time holding on with his hands being so cold. I watched as his grip on the rope wavered and gave up, causing him to slide into the rail below with a thud.
The railing near him was missing, smashed from the hull by a hulking tree branch. It still lingered on the deck nearby. If the ship pitched any farther to the side he could slip over the edge. We were too high up. He would never survive the fall. My heart raced with what if’s. I needed to save him.
The ship shuttered again with another blow from the forest. I let go of my hold and slid down the deck to Arsan, catching his hand as the ship tossed him through the opening. He clung to me, holding tight. I pulled with all my might, using my legs to heave him up from the gap left by the missing railing. The strength from my magic aided my rescue, surging through my muscles to give me strength. I pulled Arsan back on to the ship with every ounce of power I could find.
We held tight to the side of the rail, the ship nearly on its side. The upper portion of the deck had caught fire. The same place I had been moments before. The flames lit our decent with a surprising luminance. I could see the ground coming quickly. There was no stopping the ship from hitting the earth with force. All I knew was that I had to hold onto Arsan and not let go. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his chest. I hated flying.
“Close your eyes. Don’t look.” Arsan’s soft voice whispered in my ear.
My hearing took in all the sounds of the insanity. I concentrated on slowing my pounding heart, but my attempts were no good, not even with my magic to help. The forest crashed around us, the snapping of branches and the crack of wood against wood. The fire overhead quickly spread to the deck, crackling loudly out of control. What was left of the crew shouted franticly on all sides of the ship for some kind of direction. The one sound I concentrated on the most was the whizzing of arrows still flying true to their aim. Puncturing flesh that attempted to put out the fires or escape.
The cries of dying sailors stuck in my mind. I hated these men, but I couldn’t stomach the killing. My face nuzzled closer to Arsan’s beating heart, trying to drown out the sickening sounds of death, but it seeped in no matter what I did.
I could feel Arsan’s body tense around me. This was it. I braced myself for the impact of the ship hitting the ground. The snapping of trees silenced with one big crash, then the crushing of wood as the bow of the Stallings impacted the ground filled the air. Our decent stopped with a sudden jolt and I was thrown from Arsan’s arms like a rag doll.
I felt like nothing, weightless and dead. The air around me was cold and left a ringing in my ears as it pushed me farther from the destroyed hulk of the ship. Branches and twigs lashed out at my exposed skin on my face and hands. They stung, leaving behind red superficial gashes that dripped blood into the nothingness of the air.
Would I ever land? Time stood still while I flew, reaffirming my hatred for flying. Then my body slammed to the ground. I rolled a few feet before coming to a stop on my back. My lungs screamed, begging for air. I gladly gave it.
The ringing in my ears muted my senses. I could only stare out into the distant night. The sky over head was lit by the fiery hulk of the Stallings a few yards away, blocking out any stars I might have seen. I knew they were there, watching me, waiting for me.
My body hurt all over. Mostly aches and pains, I didn’t think anything was broken. My head swam. The world around me was in chaos. I couldn’t tell what was real and what was fake, but I did understand the screams of death and smell of burning wood surrounding me. Where were the attackers? How did they find us?
Out of the darkness a figured loomed toward me. They staggered and stumbled but I knew they were coming for me. Their direction was clear. An explosion rocked the ground as the gun powder in the belly of the Stallings exploded lighting the forest around me. I could see him now. Mr. Deddub. His face was burned. Most of the skin over his left eye was missing. The gaping hole where his eye had been frightened me, causing my spine to shiver.
“Get to your feet, miss.” Mr. Deddub pulled me from my resting place, planting my feet firmly on the ground. “You have to run, he has come for you.”