Laura remembered falling, but she couldn’t pinpoint when she had struck the water. It had all happened so fast, and yet so slow at the same time. Where she was at one moment seemed ages from where she was before and in that time she found herself even more confused, for instead of striking the violent waters of the Sea of Loe, she had struck light. The pattern-less light approached her from the water as a narrow beam. She hit it and found herself not in the water at all, but someplace else, somewhere bathed in an ethereal glow that was warm and cold at the same time, and featureless except for the strange walls and pillars that made up the landscape. No designs, no markings to tell her what sort of place she was in. In that moment she thought she had died.
Then a new light flashed before her, brighter and strangely terrifying. When it faded she found herself face to face with a creature, or a man, or both—she couldn’t be sure. He stood taller than anyone she had ever met in her life and was clothed in nothing but light except where metallic bands surrounded his wrists. Two glorious white wings were extended, presenting a massive wingspan. In her peripheral vision she imagined he had an eagle’s head, but when she looked at this creature, the face seemed human, with prominent cheeks and eyes that shined gold.
And now she really believed she had died and gone to heaven. The revelation brought her to tears and she collapsed. She sobbed and was overcome by loss. She would never see her friends or her family again; this was the end.
It seemed like an eternity before the enormous man-creature approached her. He lifted her to her feet with massive arms and stared straight into her eyes. Warmth came over her and her tears subsided as if commanded to do so. Fear and sadness fell away and warmth enveloped her like a cocoon.
“Shed no tears, child,” the creature said. “Do you know me?”
She nodded. “You’re an angel,” she blurted.
He laughed. “Close. I am no angel, child, though perhaps where you come from you would know me as such. I am Nessian, the Father.”
She sat dumbfounded.
“Child, I am one of the Great Fathers that rules this land, or used to rule. But that is for another meeting. Now, time is pressing.”
“I don’t understand.”
He let go over her arms and she stood for herself. “I don’t expect you to right now. I’ll let James explain when you are brought back to the Luu’tre. Now, however, is your trying time, you moment of exposure to a world you have only begun to see. The world that inhabits something your people have forgotten.”
Nessian smiled and flexed his wings. “Yes.” He paused as if in thought, then continued, “Be careful. Carelessness cannot be afforded, for Luthien hunts you. Beware his eye. Beware those that would claim to be your friends who do not know you.” He turned and started to walk away, the bright light suddenly warping around him.
“Wait!” she cried, but he was gone.
For a while she just stood there, unable to comprehend exactly what was going on. The white light swirled like a cloud around her. She wondered who this Great Father was. Who was Nessian, or who had he been once? She shook that thought away. The Great Fathers didn’t interfere with the mortal world. They were gods, creatures of magic and power, rulers of a universe bound by order and law. Nessian couldn’t be one of them.
Yet, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself, she realized that Nessian was someone of importance, someone she knew Triska, Pea, and the others would be interested in hearing about, and possibly divulging informationg about. Maybe he was one of the Great Fathers. And thinking that startled her into a type of fear that she had never felt before: fear of the world gone completely wrong. If the Great Fathers are getting involved, then something worse than we expected is happening here. Loe is only the beginning.
The light swirled again and reared up like a snake. It struck down at her. The brightness blinded and she closed her eyes, burying her face into her arms.
Laura woke just as an enormous wave struck her floating body and pummeled her into the pink reef nearby. The porous, living creature cut into her sides and she jerked into action, trying desperately to swim away. Light erupted in the dark blue and something coursed through her veins—an energy, pulsing as if the veins were constricted. The water around her bubbled, becoming steam and rising until it exploded from the surface and disappeared from her view. Then, the energy coursed around her, through and into her, and, to her surprise, she rose up like a balloon. She broke the surface and gasped for air. Waves struck all around and a strong current tugged at her legs. Sea sprayed against her face as she kicked with all her might to stay afloat.
Looking up, she could only see the side of the Luu’tre, tilted to the side and gently rocking as waves pummeled the wooden sides. A loud boom sounded and something crashed nearby, sending bits of splintered wood all around her. She covered her face just as an undertow dragged her under. She fought it and managed to get back to the surface to find that a hole had been blown into hull of the Luu’tre. The Luut’re leaned precariously to one side, jarred by whatever had struck it.
“Help!” she screamed, but there was no response.
Another boom sounded and this time she saw and heard something shoot through the air and strike the ship on her side, sending more bits of wood raining down into the ocean.
What’s going on, she thought and tried to look through the misty swaths of vapor and the now forming fog. Another boom sounded, slamming into the water nearby. Cannon fire. The realization struck like a light and she pushed herself to swim towards the Luu’tre, stopping every few feet to scream as if her warning would alert her friends to something they didn’t already know.
She heard Iliad’s voice just as a wave drug her under. She swam up and coughed. She stopped herself from vomiting and turned herself in the water until she could see the scout’s form.
“Iliad, I’m over here!”
He saw her and swam in her direction. Once by her side he wrapped and arm around her to help her swim. “You alright?” he said, his voice roaring over the winds.
“I think so,” she replied. “We have to get out of the water. The ship’s being hit by cannons.”
“I know. We’ve been caught up with. Luthien managed to wrangle a ship, maybe more.”
“Can we get the Luu’tre off the reef?”
“I don’t know. Come on.”
Together they made their way towards the Luu’tre; a huge chunk of reef held her bulky front out of the water and Laura tried to indicate to Iliad that they should move in that direction. They swam, Laura lagging behind slightly. She hadn’t had to swim in such turbulent water before. Woodton—her home back in the world now a dimension away—barely had rapids in the single river that ran through it, and no lakes. And the pool offered nothing more than calm waters. Here, in this violent sea, waves tossed her one direction and then another. When they seemed to gain ground, a wave pushed them back. They constantly fought against an inconsistent tide, running in all directions as if it couldn’t decide which way to go.
Laura grew tired; her arms burned and she saw for the first time a group of red marks along her hands and wrists. She gave it only a momentary glance before continuing on, using Iliad’s fierce determination to guide her.
Another cannonball struck above, sending more splinters into the air. She heard Captain Norp’s protests. An instant later and a swift wind whipped down upon her and Iliad, accelerating and driving stinging drips of rain into their faces and pushing them sideways. It proved beneficial, for when they were able to open their eyes and swim again they found themselves in a milder section of the torrent of waves.
Energy resurged into Laura’s arms and soon she and Iliad managed to reach the edge of the reef. Iliad helped her up carefully, though in vain, for the crashing waves forced her to cut herself as she tried to climb to the top. After, Iliad tried to climb up, but only managed to pull his frame out of the water. Laura tugged on his arm and managed to drag him out.
“Well, this is marginally better,” he said. “The problem is getting someone’s attention…” A huge thud indicated another cannonball had struck the ship. “And that might be a little difficult if they keep doing that.” He pointed and Laura followed his direction.
There she saw another ship, its side turned towards them, all gunports open. Flying on a flag at the top of the central mast was a symbol she was, regrettably, familiar with—Luthien’s eye. It made her skin tingle and shivers ran all along her body. She couldn’t remember how long she had been under Luthien’s control, nor most of the things that had happened. But she remembered that eye. It had watched her while she lay comatose, peering into her dreams and inner mind, an invasive and alien experience for her.
Her stomach lurched then, and she held herself with her hands pressed to her belly, a pinch of pain erupting in her gut. Iliad turned to her and she buckled over before he could grab her. Memories flooded back to her then, all manner of thoughts and sensations pouring into her mind. And then it was over before she could make sense of it all; the pain slipped away and she stood. The memories were too much for her, all of them merged together like a collage that, overall, made no sense. Considering their predicament, she put them in the back of her mind, for she knew that here wasn’t time to deal with that now.
“You okay?” Iliad said, touching her shoulder.
She nodded. “We need to get the ship out of this reef.”
“That goes without saying. Look.”
She followed Iliad’s arm to the northern horizon. There two more ships appeared from the gloom of a thick fog—smaller craft that likely acted as scout ships rather than as members of an assault fleet, their bows stuck out in long points and their sleek exteriors rode through the wind with ease. Each bore the red eye of Luthien on their central masts.
“That’s troublesome,” she said. That’s an understatement, she thought. Three ships to one. Those weren’t good odds, especially if the ship under attack couldn’t move—and the Luu’tre was pretty securely stuck.
More cannon fire slammed into the water near the Luu’tre’s aft. Laura sensed they were running out of time. Sooner or later Luthien and those serving under him would figure out that they could do more damage at a closer distance. They had the advantage.
Laura screamed at the top of her lungs to get someone’s attention. It worked, for a moment later a face appeared above—a familiar face. James looked down at her and even at that distance she could see a wide smile crossing his bruised and battered—and dirty—face. It was some minutes later before a rope was lowered and one by one Laura and Iliad were dragged back into the ship.
Then the bitter cold finally took its toll on her. She toppled over and shivered, her hands suddenly numb and hard to move, as if the joints had seized up. Someone took her to Captain Norp’s cabin and wrapped her in a thick, wool blanket. Her body tensed as the man—who she found out was one of Norp’s crew and not one of her friends—tried to tell her she needed to get her wet clothes off; she wasn’t about to get undressed in front of some stranger. Realizing her position on the matter, he disappeared and after a long wait she undressed, finding a new set of dry, though stained clothing on a wood stool nearby. Another burst of cannonfire buffeted the ship as she dressed.
It didn’t take long before someone came looking for her, but not because they were worried about her; they needed her help. Outside she met with the others, each were displaying their talents in some way to keep the ship from falling apart. But none of it seemed to matter. The Luu’tre was stuck and no manner of rocking, readjusting the sails, or screaming and yelling—of which Captain Norp was guilty of—had managed to loosen the ship from her prison. Now things were getting desperate and they had to come up with something or they’d quickly find themselves without a ship, and very likely in the hands of Luthien. Of all places, Laura didn’t want to be there. She’d rather be dead.
She stood in the rain, dumbfounded and looking around confused. What can I do to help them, she thought. A few men hustled past her, compelled by Captain Norp’s barked orders to do anything and everything in their power to get the Luu’tre free.
Laura decided against entering the fray of the hustling men, or bothering her companions. They were too busy now with Luthien pouring his power over them. She stepped away and hurried up the steps to the quarter deck, where Captain Norp was on the railing looking down over the main deck, flailing his arms, his face cherry red with all the energy coursing through his veins as he ran one way and then another. He fell when something hit the ship and rocked it and climbed back up to resume his tirade.
She ran all the way aft and came to a stop with her chest against the railing. Her jaw dropped: more ships had arrived through the storm and fog, dozens of them and more floating in from the gloom. Two of the nearest ships took positions alongside the first ship and, their gunports aimed at the Luu’tre, opened fire. She saw the puffs of smoke, the brief bursts of flame, and the blurry shapes of cannonballs heading in her direction. Her hands unwillingly clenched the railing.
In that split second she heard nothing but a faint voice, unintelligible, but soft and somehow reassuring. It whispered in her mind and consumed her focus along with the sounds of the thumping booms as more cannons were set off.
The world worked in slow motion. She watched the cannonballs as if peering at them through binoculars, willing them to just go away as if this were all a terrible nightmare. But even clenching her eyes shut did no good; the cannonballs were there throughout. She took one deep breath; her heart beat—thump thump—in her chest, every vein pushing her blood around, circulating as something inside her grew.
Then that slow moment ended, abruptly returning to normal speed like an action sequence from a movie. She blinked, then closed her eyes and waited, seeing all the many balls of hot metal rushing through the air. She opened them again—curiosity taking over her instincts—and tensed…
Only, nothing struck the Luu’tre. Before her eyes she saw the cannonballs erupt into flames and melt away, each at the same spot, pouring into the ocean like miniature waterfalls of molten metal. A deep energy and warmth coursed through her, pushing the rain away from her face in streams of vapor. Her skin grew red around her hands, becoming like sunburns. More cannonballs fell to the same fate, all sliding into the ocean, sizzling as they went.
Laura sensed her heart rate rising and breathed rough, coarse breaths as she came to the realization that she had just used magic. When another volley of attacks came at the Luu’tre, she tensed again and willed the same thing to happen. But when it did, a dull pain shot up her arms and she became lightheaded. She turned, saw someone through her blurry vision and fell to the ground. The last thing she heard was her name, chanted amidst the booms of distant cannon fire.