The Phoenix Fate, Book 2 of the Enchanter's Cycle

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Chapter 8

After exploring the sunken ship further, Dral’rrche uncovered a few more caches of gold to go with his diamons, while Narthutet prepared a second spell in the chamber that had once housed the Alchemist Stone.

Kaileena, still connected to Narthutet via an arcane lifeline and thus having nothing to do, focused on further fortifying her enchantments, preventing even the tiniest leaks of energy as she had only recently learned to do.

Even when not in use, her enchantments depleted over time, especially outside of close proximity to her person. And it’d taken her well over a year and she was still struggling to make her enchantments usable by others.

Arteth had said that was a trick learned only through constant practice and repetition, and considering that she’d managed to create such a variety of working enchantments and then fortified them was nothing short of astounding for one her age.

Indeed, her experiences had undoubtedly shaped her more than her years had. Still eighteen, she was barely an adult among her society, yet she’d traveled from one end of the nation to the other, been apprenticed to a legendary Kamiyonanayo, affiliated with the equally legendary Kodama and the Sisterhood of Anima, battled a Dragon, a Demigod, the avatar of the Dread Hammer, a Skraul Matriarch, and countless others.

Just in the last week she’d helped capture Yokai, formulated a means to cheat the Eternal Return, received counsel and aid from an El’Dari Magister and an Ogre Rune-Magi, flown on a magic carpet, and explored a ship at the bottom of the sea.

It really was enough to make one think...

In spite of things...” Narthutet imparted telepathically, “I would have loved to see this heap when it worked. It must have been something truly impressive.”

Indeed.” Kaileena agreed, “That sums up the Pirate Lords in their entirety, really; impressive and terrifying because of it. They are ingenuity without ideal, might without temperance.”

The magister went silent at that, before daring, “You hate them ...?

She found that she couldn’t answer.

Indeed, she was what she was, had done what she’d done, because of the pirates that’d accused and falsely enslaved her. Her father, with true justice on his side, had tried to save her, and they’d killed him for it. They’d ruined her life, broken her family, for nothing but petty spite.

Yokai she pitied, the Dread Hammer she feared, and, in her early life, most of the people around her had made her uncomfortable with their prejudice and suspicions...but what of the pirates? Did she truly hate them?

Perhaps...perhaps they had taught her how to hate...

Wisely, Narthutet didn’t press, looking up, “I sense a storm brewing. Odd...usually a squall doesn’t form so quickly in early winter, though cold fronts usually do come down from the north.”

Perhaps we should leave, then." Kaileena added, now more than a little troubled, and followed him out of the chamber to find Dral’rrche in the hall, his pouch overflowing with treasure.

The Ogre grinned at them, but that grin soured as a loud metallic groan echoed through the hallway.

Narthutet...” Kaileena said, wide-eyed, “You mentioned that the ship was gradually sinking into the chasm, right...?

The groan intensified, and the angle of the hallway dipped somewhat.

Shit.” he cursed, “The teleportation ward was intended to function if anti-magicka imperiled us...I don’t know if physical damage will necessarily coincide. It would take some time to re-cast it for general use, and even then, I have not the raw magicka for more than one.”

I will remember to make a teleportation enchantment for next time.” Kaileena groaned, stabling herself by putting a hand to the wall, her legs darting back and forward in short, rhythmic chops, “Let us be gone.”

Dral’rrche grunted in accord, “Not have to cast if not here.”

They began their departure with much more haste than their arrival, and thankfully, the rune-magi seemed to remember the general plot of the interior and led ably.

We can leave through any exposed area.” Narthutet pointed out, and suddenly, the metal hull screeched, ending in a loud snap that told them something had broken below them.

Move, move!” Narthutet projected, and, slithering through the water, Kaileena darted around a corner. Right into a decomposed, leering head.

Blasting it with her telekinesis only shredded it, leaving little green fibers floating in a cloud in front of her.

Groaning with nausea, Kaileena backed away, then swam around it, circumventing the rest of its body, which had infuriatingly drifted into the hall. Dral’rrche pushed it away with a spell of his own, and Narthutet pointed beyond them, to an opening in the side of the hull, which had cut through four layers of the ship to their position.

The Elf propelled forward, covering several paces to outside the vessel, and turned back.

Damn!” he cursed telepathically, “It looks much worse out here. Good that we left when we did. Hurry, now.”

As Kaileena passed through the rim of the hallway and into the next, the floor began to drop, and the way out tilted up. Cursing, Kaileena arced up, as did Dral’rrche, as that opening became an ascending diagonal plane, the sound of the ship breaking in half all around them.

The water churned with bubbles of escaped air, and half a dozen of the sickly, green bodies floated upward, until then clinging to the ceiling. Ignoring the sickly feeling and the gorge rising in her throat, Kaileena swam upward as fast as she could, her legs and tail burning with the strain. She saw her peril as did the Ogre; a part of the next level up was falling down as their level fell up. In a few seconds, its floor would block the way!

Utilizing her telekinesis, Kaileena pushed against the water behind her, rocketing forward on a stream of rushing water, darting around another corpse. She felt something grabbing her foot.

Looking back, expelling a cloud of bubbles through her mouth as she tried to scream, she sighed when she found it was only Dral’rrche, who pulled her close, using his other hand to send a fireball careening behind them, which exploded in the instant before it sizzled out, the concussive force blasting them out the last twelve paces worth, just a moment before the next level up collapsed.

Still swimming, they went further out another bowshot before looking back.

Nutaku’s Flagship, perhaps because of their meddling, perhaps not, had completed its slow decay, breaking apart at its mid-point.

Corrugated metal compacting with the oceanic pressure and the slow decay of time, the two halves nearly vertical and parallel with each other, the ship sank another stone throw, then finally collapsed downward into the canyon with thunderous retort. The sheer impact rattled her bones, sent up a tremendous cloud of sand. She only saw perhaps the first third of its final descent before the sediment concealed the rest.

And so ended the journey of Nutaku’s Flagship; no further excavation would be possible. The most the world would see of it was a stray chuck of debris or driftwood in a few hundred years, perhaps.

I need a bath.” Kaileena remarked off-handedly, and Dral’rrche nodded, “Saltwater, brine, and ancient rotten flesh. Methinks I join you in that bath.”

There truly was no way to die from boredom, Vala realized.

After about an hour she’d been able to safely and comfortably walk in the mid-evening gloom with cloak and scarf, and had done so. In retrospect, perhaps the boredom was a fair trade. The company was quiet, but honestly, that was alright. The less eventful the whole awkward situation was, the better.

Mei kept to the wagon, and Mariko seemed ready to join her, bleary-eyed with fatigue. Hitomi said a few things to her in his odd, stilted dialect while his mate watched on, and humoring him, she linked minds with the human.

Now accustomed to her telepathy and curious, he wanted to discuss what she’d been doing around his home for the past few weeks.

“A little bit late for that?” she asked aloud, mostly for her own benefit, but conceded and tried to explain. She pictured Toshisha, in whipblade form, and showed herself sparring with it, honing her skill. After that, she also showed herself meditating, gaining insight, or perhaps understanding.

Hitomi looked to her, hardly convinced, gazing in an “oh, is that all?” sort of way, and Vala sighed. That didn’t really explain why she’d been coming back to the same house and accepting desserts. It didn’t explain why she’d defended them, nearly with her very life.

Confused as well, she projected the image of the palace all the Matriarchs had shared in the early years of their lives. It was a cold, hard place, all winding buttresses, hard angles, spires, and shadows.

She then showed the Silkrit home world; a ruined, blasted desert, with hollow-eyed slaves and leering purebloods with whips and manacles. Finally, she showed his home, in the middle of verdant fields of grass and wildflowers and the pleasant smell of baking food.

To her, the contrast alone explained her fascination, but Hitomi smiled knowingly, making direct eye contact. He sent his own image this time, of himself, his mate, their daughter, and his mother, all in the sitting area, talking and eating and laughing. He imparted to her the sense of oneness, of family. And finally, he implied perhaps a trace of envy, or desire, on her part.

Vala looked away. Damn, but he was smarter than he looked, smarter than her, at least...

She hadn’t considered her fascination to be anything but a passing fancy, an external intrigue brought about by the sheer strangeness of it all. Not once had she dared admit she envied them their happiness, for she’d never known it. She’d never known it!

Lost in herself, Vala kept at least four paces ahead of the others from that point onward. She didn’t want them to see her expression.

Tengu...” Yokai whispered, “...Be patient. I have not forgotten you.”

The unrest in the capital had worsened; the poorer sections (though they were still better off than most lesser villages) were in an uproar. The beggars and lower class, filtering in from both the West and South Districts, were becoming a mob, and Kaimei, rest his soul, had been spotted once or twice in the city limits, riling them further.

The Hitorigami’s power base was eroding...soon it would be he, and not them, who would be demanding a negotiation. He no longer entertained the idea of openly ruling Teikoku; the Hitorigami and his four lords were needed to combat the Skraul, who, lest he was mistaken, had just obliterated the upper half of the West District and cornered Lord Tetsyyubo in his home village.

“Speak of the devil.” he mused, watching the Hitorigami enter the vault, a neutral expression on his pinched face.

“I’ve had enough of this, rebel...order your-”

Yokai cleared his throat, “They will not accept surrender, even if I ask it of them.; you’ve been alienating your own people far too long for that.”

The Hitorigami scowled, “And I’m sure you have a better solution, then? What do you demand of me as my prisoner now?”

“So glad that you asked.” Yokai mused, “From the chatter that I’ve heard...yes, even in this room I can hear the goings on, it seems that Kiromichi has gone native with the pirates, funneling his wealth west to the isles. The people of the West District are equally as disenfranchised with their leader as those in the South. It seems like you need a new inner circle, your highness.

He said the last two words as an obscenity, and the Hitorigami’s anger boiled over, “You would dare demand a title of lordship, from me?!”

“Yes.” Yokai replied, unabashed, “Absolutely. They see me as a symbol, of a triumph over the hereditary superiority of the upper classes. I can take the refugees of the West district and mold them into the finest guerrilla army seen since the fall of the Renmei Kisai! I have gained power beyond a mortal man, and can use that power against the vampyres as well, with a resurrected Dragon as my general! But of course...” he added slyly, “I will demand that you illegalize the enslavement of enchanters, either disband or redirect the Karyudo Kisai as is already being done to an extent, cease Lord Tetsyyubo’s butchery of the Renmei Hyakusho, and offer the Renmei Kisai restitution for their two-century-long servitude.”

The Hitorigami snarled, shaking with impotent rage, then a peculiar calmness overcame him. Yokai took it as a bad sign...

“No, rebel.” he mused, “I have thought of a better way of dealing with you. Kaileena said not to kill you, and though your part in helping her is over I will honor that agreement. I will not kill you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t quash this rebellion another way. You say you’re a symbol to the poor...well then, all I have to do is make you into a symbol of futility in order to shatter that illusion. You are scum, Yokai, and you will be revealed as such...just you see...”

Back in Fusestu there was little for him to do but stand at attention while Minamoto filed paperwork. The sole hours of exertion in his average day were in the practice area, where Koukatsuna voluntarily trained and tested the soldiers, hardening them for battle against the Skraul and their slave armies. He did so now, and the only thing that kept him from killing someone was the fact that he was completely, painfully sober.

“The vampyres do not fight honorably.” he instructed, eyeing the newest batch of recruits from the village, “So neither will you. You see them running towards you, go for the throat or the legs. If one is facing away from you, hamstring them. Do not honorably allow them to ready themselves. If one is unarmed, run them through. If one is wounded, finish them. If one begs for mercy, kill them anyway. Females are no exception. Noncombatants are no exception. You take no prisoners, and you offer no quarter. That’s how you fight them, not like your fathers and father’s fathers tell you to. You fight honorably and you die honorably, and your family dies too, either right away upon a sword or years down the line by a fang or scalpel. End of story.”

One of the new batch, a youth barely possessed of his facial stubble, eyed him critically at that, which was all Koukatsuna needed for an excuse, “You there! Step forward. Impress me.”

Frowning but visibly itching for the challenge, the Human approached, drawing a standard issue katana with a wrapped cloth handle.

Koukatsuna was there before the blade was halfway from its scabbard, thumping him on the head with the pommels of his weapons.

The youth slumped, his eyes glazed, and as the other recruits watched, he delivered a hard, unsportsmanlike ascending knee to his chin, downing him.

“Expect an attack at all times.” he chided to the other recruits while sheathing his swords, who looked about ready to avenge their fellow, “You see someone coming for you with their weapon out, don’t just sit there with your thumb up your arse. Backpedal, use the sheathed weapon like a club, or, better yet, try what I will show you here.”

Taking the initiative, another recruit charged him, katana descending in a diagonal stroke. Koukatsuna watched calmly, his weapons sheathed, his hands at his sides. No doubt, the youth was expecting a lesson in footwork or even an unarmed retaliation.

Koukatsuna spat in his face instead, and for a moment the boy was so stunned he didn’t see him draw his barbed long swords.

“You let me prepare myself...” Koukatsuna accused, and steaming, the lad charged again, yelling his battle cry. Smiling, Koukatsuna sidestepped, butted him in the gut with Saku’s pommel, then kicked his knee out from under him, before delivering another knee to his chin. The recruit spat blood as he bit off the tip of his tongue, then collapsed, insensate.

Looking back at the others, who watched in stunned silence, he sneered, “Vampyres don’t fight fairly. They don’t know what that means. You’re food to them, not equals, and being honorable to their food isn’t something they will likely do. You trick them, you outmaneuver them, and you kill them. End of story. The half-bloods will be more like animals. You kill them like you would a charging bull; wear them out, get a few good hits in if you can, then run them through when they collapse, exhausted. Then cut off their heads to be sure. It will seem distasteful, but you will not hesitate. If you do, they’ll tear out your throats. And that isn’t even the crux of the matter; expect the purebloods to be unnaturally strong and fast. Let me demonstrate; all of you, attack me now.”

That was all they needed, as each of the seven remaining recruits advanced.

Koukatsuna spun Waru and Saku, trailing little spirals with their tips. They circled round him, and he let them, mentally plotting out their movements as they picked spots outside of his field of vision.

They attacked with coordination, which was good. Up until this point he’d given them basic combat instructions, and knew their swings would be confident and effective, if predictable. But he parried their attacks with ease, preternaturally fast, using the undulations of his body to find certain angles that redirected the momentum of their weapons more than reversed them.

Slipping around a pair of intersecting blades, he guard-struck two in the gut, spun under a horizontal stroke, brained another with the pommel of one sword, and somersaulted away, all in the flash of an instant.

To the humans it was like he’d turned invisible, but in truth he’d slipped under their weapons and used them as visual barriers, which in the kendo stance most katana wielders used, was quite easy to do. Everything had a weakness...

Before they recovered he kicked the knees out of one Human, leaped atop his back, and flipped back into the fray, then spun in a flourish, catching two more at the ankles.

Spreading out in their panic, he picked the Humans off one by one, outpacing them and slipping around their attack patterns. In less than ten seconds he’d struck each of them, at least four such attacks lethal if he’d used the edges rather than the flat of the blades, and an additional two thanks to the barbs present on his in particular.

“Six dead, one survivor. That’s how vampyres fight, and trust me when I say they don’t keep the last one alive for pleasant company.”

He hissed at the one that would’ve lived, letting him appreciate the meaning of that as he collapsed with a fractured ankle.

“Do not space out; your only chance against a pureblood with skill is to swarm them, giving them no room to maneuver. At least a few will die with each encounter, but you’ll put them down. That’s your best hope.”

Bowing unceremoniously, the bladedancer turned away, “Weapons training continues tomorrow at dawn. I expect you all to attend.”

If anything the groans got louder at that, and he left, smiling for the first time that day.

Minamoto hardly looked pleased as he stepped back into his villa, however, having observed from afar.

“Your techniques are hardly inspiring.” he said, to which Koukatsuna scoffed, “They’re effective. I leave the inspiration to the inspirational.”

Daring a look around, it looked like a few of the guards on duty (which he’d also helped train) looked about ready to attack him outright.

He smiled, “You asked to teach your soldiers how to fight Skraul, fine. But if you ask me to make fighting Skraul look pretty, you’ll be disappointed.”

Sighing, Minamoto waved dismissively, “Very well. We’re dining in the main area. Afterwards, I will be holding open court.”

Looking down at his roughspun tunic and breeches, Koukatsuna thought he hardly looked at place in a room full of nobles, but there was no way he was letting them weight him down with armor or soften him up with finery.

“Sounds good. After you, my lord.”

Hiroki eyed the approaching caravan (scratch that, traveling family) with little concern. He knew that to be Hitomi’s brood, which grew fruits and berries to the southeast. They weren’t the first family to seek refuge in the trading post, but since Hitomi had been a fellow soldier the guard was more than prepared to let him in.

The overseer wouldn’t disapprove, since the family could grow food near the post just fine if they had access to one of the two wells in town.

“Hey, Aori...” he said to his friend, blinking, “Who’s that one; the woman with the cloak?”

Aori squinted in the late evening gloom, obviously not understanding, so he clarified, “Hitomi, the berry farmer, bunks with his daughter, wife, and mother; three women. Who’s that fourth one? I don’t remember them entertaining guests.”

He only shrugged, disinterested, and Hiroki rolled his eyes, waiting for the lot of them to get closer. Hitomi’s ox looked ragged; they must have had it going all day...what was going on?

He offered a deferential nod to the man, “Welcome back, Hitomi. I assume stories coming down from the hills sent you running here?”

The jest was in ill taste, but he nodded simply, “The stories are true. Come, take a look at what I have in the wagon.”

The woman he’d noticed before, clad in a white kimono and a thick brown cloak and scarf, shied away, and ignoring her for the moment, he let himself be led behind the wagon. With Hitomi’s help the guard dragged a wrapped body out onto the ground, and set it down, panting. Now a little nervous, Hiroki waved Aori over and they set to cutting the thing open...revealing...

“What in the blazes?” he gasped, looking down at what might have been one of those pointy-eared elves were it not for its oil-black skin and fangs. It matched the description of a pureblood vampyre, definitely.

“Two of those, and six bug-like creatures attacked my house.” Hitomi said dryly, “The lands out there are no longer safe. I need to find a place here for my family. Will you help me get a plot here?”

“Absolutely.” Hiroki replied instantly, “ the Totoanatsukami, did you survive such an encounter?”

Hitomi sighed, “With help. Vah-Lah. Come here.”

The shrouded woman sighed, and obliged, pulling off her hood and revealing herself as an Orc, one of the vampyre slave-races.

Cursing, Hiroki drew his weathered katana, but Hitomi put his hand on his shoulder, “No. She’s with us. She defended our home from those monsters. We’d be dead without her. I formally declare her to be a ward of the family, under my protection.”

Stammering because he knew the overseer would have choice words with him now, Hiroki shrugged, “Very well. But if she does anything foolish, it’s on your head, not mine.”

As they began to take the body away, Vala stopped them, eyeing Hitomi sidelong. He nodded. They were going to find out about her needs sooner or later...

She knelt over it, her fangs extending as she sank them into the arbiter’s throat. Thanks to Toshisha, the Vitrium was still fresh. The Humans, Hitomi included, shied away, and she eyed them as she wiped her mouth with the hem of her worn cloak, challenging them to protest. Everyone needed to eat, after all...

The Human with the sword cursed in his native tongue, but admitted them through the gate and into the settlement.

As they surfaced, Kaileena was nearly hurled back down by the waves, which were well over ten times her size. With aid of levitation, all of them managed to get back onto the flying carpets, though they had no time to do anything else as Narthutet sped them back in the direction of shore.

The sky overhead was a foul black wall, rumbling ominously as it swept over calmer skies. As it passed over them, Narthutet cursed, “Damn...not enough time to make for shore. The waves will be perilous, but I dare not lift us higher for fear of lightning.”

That was true enough; they were caught in the middle of a (relatively) flat surface.

Just to be safe, Kaileena activated her ward and extended it to Narthutet and Dral’rrche. She’d never tested it against mundane lightning...and hoped she wouldn’t be forced to now.

As Narthutet’s defensive spells expired, Kaileena gasped at the newfound cold of the wind, sodden as she was by their expedition. Most of her clothing was still bundled in her pack, and she knew that retrieving and donning it would just get it wet too, so all she had for warmth was her underclothes. In the next few minutes it got so much worse...enough for her to contact Arteth again.

The Kamiyonanayo took in her situation, and cursed, “I can teleport in and help, but otherwise I cannot drag an item or person from an area I am unfamiliar with. I can increase your defenses, however, without drawing their suspicion.”

He paused at that, before adding, “If you have what you came for, I can come and get technically don’t need their further assistance...

I will not abandon them to this storm if I can help it. Narthutet can only send one person you think they will recognize you?” she asked, to which he considered, “By myself? Unlikely...the other Arteth of the time had been an undead entity. Narthutet, and probably even his apprentice, would recognize my blade, however, and I need it to channel my magicka.”

Sit tight then.” she decided, “If my life is endangered, then you can intervene, and former enemy or not they’ll just have to deal with their insecurity. I know who you are, and you are not the Dur’Arteth of the Dreadborne.”

I know, Kaileena.” Arteth replied, sounding sad but oddly pleased, “Keep safe, then. The other me had set foot in Arion, and I’ll be able to bring you back home from there.”

“We make for shore, then.” she concluded aloud, but Narthutet eyed the waters to the north, “There’s a ship out of Nassam’s harbor, battened down for the storm. It’s much closer.”

“Not a pirate ship, yes?” Kaileena asked, and he shook his head, “No, but it is a Human vessel. Even now, an Elf, an Ogre, and a Silkrit, of which they know not, will certainly draw some looks, and perhaps some suspicion. But if we can shelter there we can wait out the storm.”

“Let’s go, then.” Kaileena replied, quite used to Humans and their discomfort around her, and with that they veered north, across the descending edge of the storm. Rain began to fall, first in a soft mist, then fat, dark droplets, increasing in size and frequency.

Thoroughly miserable, Kaileena shifted some of the raw magicka in her enchantments into a dome of faint telekinetic energy, that didn’t stop the rain so much as redirect it around her. It got more tolerable, though every now and again a particularly huge wave slapped the bottom of the carpet and spattered her.

The storm soon overwhelmed them, forced to fly higher, roughly a stone throw, to avoid the monstrous waves that seethed below them. As they traveled, Kaileena started to notice a peculiarity to the east. For whatever reason, she perceived an elevated horizon, as if the line between sky and sea had shifted somehow in the last few minutes. She pointed the phenomenon out to Dral’rrche, and the Ogre’s ruddy complexion paled.

“By gods...” he gasped, “Master! Tidal wave.”

“Put up a barrier.” Narthutet ordered, sweat mixing with the downpour on his angular face, “I will do the same. Kaileena, if it gets close, hit it with as much telekinetic force as you can muster. That thing is a hull-splitter if ever I’ve seen one. We can’t let it reach the ship!”

Calling upon the runes painted, tattooed, or carved into his hide, Dral’rrche rose to stand in his flying-cloth-thing, snarling.

His third eye, the golden rune on his forehead, opened slightly, releasing a modicum of its power to him, amplifying his abilities as even the ink in his belt could not. The runes burned around the edges of his vision, unique to the shaman-sight perfected by his ancestor, Orche.

Drawing each symbol with his outstretched claw, a wall of shining-solid-not-solid-energy took shape in front of the sea-swell-death-tide.

Master Narthutet waved his hands while chanting from Surthath’s Codex, and his barrier was reinforced with a second, blood-color barrier crackling with power. The sea struck it, wavered, and broke through, albeit now traveling far slower. Another wave was revealed behind it, smaller but equally deadly to the sea-wagon they were protecting.

“A controlled detonation?” Narthutet asked him, and Dral’rrche grinned a mouthful of fangs, digging into his pouch of treasures. Finding what he sought, the rune-magi withdrew a handful of pearls, and, sighing at the loss of such jewels, crushed them in his closed fist. Sprinkling the powder over himself, his runes burned brightly, the destroyed shinies serving to empower his evocations.

“Big wave. Will make bigger explosion.” he said, his gnarled fingers dexterously marking out the new symbols that appeared in his shaman-sight. Narthutet channeled his own evocation.

There was a reason Dral’rrche had left New Haven for the pretty, delicate lands of the knife-ears. Narthutet’s reputation for destructive magicka had intrigued and enthralled him, and he’d learned much of that art serving as his apprentice. But it’d been a long time since they’d cast in the face of danger...

The flying-cloth-things soared on, and Kaileena shouted, “There! I can see the ship there, not much father.”

Nodding, the rune-magi finished first, and two dozen fireballs streaked from his opened palms, devouring the oxygen around them as they traveled and enlarging in turn. Striking the sea-swell-death-tide in key areas that would turn the water’s own momentum against it, the projectiles exploded on contact, turning the night to day for a moment, before clouding the skies with hissing steam.

The first sea-swell-death-tide collapsed entirely, but the second and third persisted.

“Why try to stop them entirely...?” Narthutet asked, “...When we can simply divert them around the ship? Wait a moment to get in closer, and then....there!”

A massive column of roaring, white-hot flame burst up from the sea as the second sea-swell-death-tide passed over. Like a sword it cut the wave, slicing it in two, displacing its halves around the ship harmlessly. The third one struck as well, and broke apart. Additional waves followed it, but the momentum had played out and they were nowhere near the size to harry the ship.

“Well done.” Dral’rrche acquiesced, genuinely impressed by the ingenuity. There was a reason Narthutet was still, he grudgingly admitted, the master. The sky suddenly went white, and he knew no more.

“Dral’rrche!” Kaileena gasped, willing her staff into being. Holding him and his carpet aloft with telekinesis, she winced as the resulting thunderclap of the lightning strike dissipated, leaving the Ogre stunned and smoking, but breathing.

“We’ve tarried enough.” Narthutet said, eyeing his apprentice with concern, “To the ship then, and let’s take a look at him.”

The scramble had dropped her far closer to the water, but still, as high up as they were, they were nearly level with the deck, the vessel roughly forty meters in length and half that high, large enough to comfortably hold sixty people with room to spare. A second bolt of lightning struck them, but was deflected by Narthutet’s defenses.

Shivering, Kaileena looked back, to see yet another wave, not like the others but massive nonetheless, slam into them, sending her tumbling through air and water. Her carpet vanished into the sea. As she spun upward (or perhaps downward), Kaileena saw Dral’rrche plummeting and lifted him with a burst of telekinesis while maintaining her own levitation.

Her magicka failing, she pushed him onto the ship with a loud thud, his flying carpet hovering uselessly for a moment before falling into the sea. Recovering it with her phantom hand enchantment, she tossed it onto the deck, where it rolled itself up, inert. Narthutet slid onto the deck, coughing and sputtering, and turned to wave her forward.

A second wave hit her, and without her carpet she was pushed forward into the starboard rail. Hissing with pain, Kaileena hoisted herself up the mundane way, her heavy pack dangling from her shoulder. Her side ached, and her breath came in pained gasps, but she persisted. Dragging Narthutet along, who was now barely coherent, she went for the door...

Captain Dolgar felt the killer waves rock the ship, and cursed the unpredictability of winter squalls.

He’d inadvertently sailed into the beast on a routine voyage to the Outer Coast Isles to trade lumber and iron for spices, fish, and exotic fruit, but damned if this weather wasn’t uncanny, even for this time of the year.

The best he’d managed was to get his ship, “Fool’s Moon”, locked down to weather the storm. After that, all hells had broken loose. He’d heard thunder the likes of which he’d never heard before.

Something hit the deck with a loud thump. Did a dolphin get rocketed up again? Well, there was little to be done, though if it was still there in the morning the crew would get to eat something other than pickled herring and salted pork for a change. Gods knew he was more than tired of the stuff...

But then something started banging on the upper door, muffled through the raging storm.

“What?” Dolgar gaped, “Up n’ at it lads; someone’s up there.”

Cutlasses and boarding axes were drawn as they rounded up the stairs, though he himself favored the crossbow in his quarters near the rear of the vessel. No time to get it now...

“Who goes there!” he shouted, and was responded by a muffled, oddly pitched feminine voice. Shrugging, he eyed Colt, his first mate, and pointed to the door, “No clue who the hells’d be out there, so assume they mean no good. Stowaways maybe that chose a bad time to scurry about.”

Nodding, his first mate eased the thick restraining bars, then jerked the door open, weapon drawn. Standing in the doorway was a sodden, gasping Elf in a pair of diver shorts, arm in arm with the strangest creature he’d ever seen.

For a moment they were too stunned to do anything, but when the front two men charged in, he stopped them, “Hold, lads...they look tame enough.”

The creature with the Elf, some kind of lizard-woman with a mane of pink feathers for hair, gasped, stammered something incomprehensible, inching her way into the doorway. She held the Elf up, barely, and pointed back outside, shouting in a tongue he didn’t understand.

Confused, he waved his men out past the thing, and his first mate shouted out, “Some big ol’ bastard out here, capt’n. Knocked on ’is arse.”

As the she-creature collapsed under the weight of her companion, he grunted, “Well then, get ‘em in here then, an’ see if there’s any more.”

The Elf sputtered, tried to speak, and gagged for his troubles.

“Get ’em some blankets out from the hold...” he said to one of the men, who was off without a word, though he looked back a few times at their “guests”. The rest lowered their weapons, but didn’t sheathe them. Dolgar could hardly fault them for that.

As his man returned with blankets he let the two wrap themselves up, and the men he’d sent out hauled in the biggest brute he’d ever seen. Wait...grey skin, tusks? He was one of those damn ogres!

The she-snake, still panting and shivering, was clad in undergarments and a few belts and pouches. The Ogre had nothing but a loincloth and a satchel, and the elf was in diving shorts, though each of the three had a second, larger pack. They went...swimming, in this mess? They were tens of miles from shore!

“I gotta tell you, lass...” he chuckled, taking a seat, “I’ve seen some weird things, but this takes the prize.”

“Wakarimasen. Gomen nasai.” the she-snake replied, apologetic, trying to rouse her Elf friend, failing, then going over to the Ogre. She reached into his satchel, careful not to let the Captain have a look-see.

Someone else, more caught up in the moment, might not have noticed, but Dolgar was nothing if not attentive. He snatched the bag out from under her, and looked in, expecting a weapon. Not at all what he found...

Wrapping the bag back up, he gave it back, certain not to let the crew see it. Mutinies had been started over less than that...

Nodding, the snake-woman shrugged, and tried to get the Ogre comfortable, before setting down herself. The men came in from the deck, holding a pair of carpets and a slim metal stave between them. Too frazzled to make sense of the items, he had them toss them to the side.

“Dolgar...” the Captain said, pointing to himself, “Dolgar. Yer name?”

“Kaileena.” the she-snake said meekly, shaking with the cold. The Elf slipped into unconsciousness, and the she-snake, exhausted, looked about ready to do that same. He didn’t stop her.

“Ar’right then. Seal up the door ’n keep a watch ah five on this bunch. Hopefully, one of these other two speak a lick of common tongue.”

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