SoD Chapter Four: Of Traditions Doubled

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.”
“Magic…”
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.
“Laura!”
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.

SoD Chapter Three: Of Ocean’s Fury and the Hunt

James slammed into the railing of the Luu’tre, his face stricken with terror after seeing Laura plummet over the edge. He barely held to the wooden edge as the ship rocked like a teeter-totter, partially settled in the giant reef below.
“Laura!” he screamed over and over, his voice becoming a hoarse cry of despair.
Captain Norp bellowed orders at the other end of the ship, but James could see that little could be done with the Luu’tre tilted thirty degrees on the port side. Two sailors at the other end of the incline lost their footing and slid wildly. He watched them, praying that they wouldn’t plunge into the sea and breathed a sigh of relief when someone managed to snatch the rope the two sailors held on to from the air and tie it to a beam. Both men jerked upward; one of them lost his hold and continued downward. He smashed into the railing and by a stroke of luck managed to hang on. Another sailor repelled down from the mast and eased the poor wretch into a safer position. The fallen sailor clutched his ribs, groaning.
“James!” Pea cried from behind and then appeared at James’ side. “Do you see her?” The Littlekind peered over the edge between the ship and the railing.
James watched the waters spraying white vapor and smashing against the reef. “No,” he said. He couldn’t see anything in the rough seas. A violent riptide ran through the narrow passage. Laura was somewhere below and the thought of her drowning brought such pain to his heart that he clutched the railing until his hands bled. Where is she? He wanted to scream he was sorry, even though he couldn’t explain why he felt that way.
Scanning the waves, James searched for anything that looked like a person. The frothy waters made it hard to differentiate the coral from the water and the water from anything else churning below, especially under the shadow of the storm. Winds ravaged the ship, rocking it against the coral now, splashing water high across the bow and forcing the crew to wrap the sails lest they be ripped completely away, dragging the masts along with them.
Then something caught his attention. A strange shape that stood out against the frothy waters. Maybe it was Laura, or maybe a bit of coral that had been dislodged by the rough seas. It bobbed in the water along the edge of the coral, a pale thing barely visible against the waves. The sea pushed it against the edges of the coral.
“There!” he screamed, jutting his hand out and thrusting a finger down. “I think I see her!”
“Are you sure?” Pea said.
James looked over at the Littlekind; Pea returned the gaze. He tried to tell Pea that he wasn’t sure with that look, only, what difference did it make? They didn’t have much time either way and if it didn’t turn out to be Laura she would be long dead soon enough.
“Alright.” At that, Pea slipped away and Darl slid into view.
“If that’s her, we’ll get her,” the old man said, clapping James hard on the shoulder. James bit his lip, stifling his cries of pain as Darl continued to bat his shoulder. His shoulders ached as if the wounds on his hands had moved there too, but he wouldn’t tell the others that—couldn’t tell them.
A moment later and Darl left, replaced by Iliad, who skidded down the wood surface of the Luu’tre and appeared by James’ side, carrying with him his bow and a single arrow attached to a rope. “We’ve got one chance at this,” he said through gritted teeth, “and then she drowns.”
“What are you going to do?” James said, pursing his lips in anticipation.
“It’s called being insane.” Iliad drew the arrow and let it fly. The rope hissed as it was dragged through the air, jerking violently one way or another as the wild winds of the storm blew against it. The arrow curved suddenly, yanking the rope into a wide “u”, before crashing through a foot of water and making contact with the reef. Iliad gave one quick pull on the rope and said, “And I don’t recommend it.” He immediately walked away, leaving James to stare down into the turbulent sea and the long rope that was now being pulled taut—though, despite that, it still wobbled in the wind and dribbled rain.
James turned around and almost wished he hadn’t. The rope had been tied in an endless collection of complicated knots around the central mast of the Luu’tre. To make matters more complicated, four of Captain Norp’s crew were now holding the rope firmly as if playing a one-sided game of tug-o-war. Iliad was nearby, fastening a pair of thick leather gloves—a mottled brown and gray color that made them look particularly old—over his hands.
“You’re not going to do what I think you’re going to do?” James said, widening his eyes as it dawned on him what was going on.
“Depends what you think he’s going to do,” Pea said, scurrying around the mast and double-checking the knots—an occasional burst of silver magic forced the rope to re-knot itself, becoming even more tightly bound. “I’d hazard to guess that tap dancing and aggressive berry picking are not likely to be what he’s going to do.”
“To answer your question,” Iliad broke in and turned to face James. “Yes. I’m going to do something I probably shouldn’t do. And it will probably kill me.
“Dare I ask if it will succeed?” James smiled faintly, recalling the last time he had asked a similar question.
Iliad got the joke. “Only if you want the truth, James. I’m afraid I’m in no mood for a good fib.” Then Iliad held out a strip of oiled leather, gritted his teeth and slid down the tilted ship, reaching out his leg at the last moment to propel himself over the edge. James could only watch helplessly as the nimble man disappeared. He closed his eyes tight and held his breath, pumping blood hard through his veins and praying he wouldn’t hear the sound of Iliad’s screams as he plunged into the depths, just like Laura only moments before.
But when he heard a thick, wooden thud, he knew that somehow Iliad had survived. He opened one eye and saw that the rope slid along the railing for a moment, supported by several of Norp’s men, and then became still. His heart stopped thumping against his chest; his breathing came slow. A thick hand gripped his shoulder—it was Darl, doing what Darl always did: confuse him with oddly un-Darl-like gestures. Something quickly came over him as a thick gust of wind pushed stinging drops of icy rain into his face; he had to see what was going on.
Moving away from Darl—and the others, Triska and Pea holding firm to the raised semi-dome over the cargo bay, where items could be dropped by wooden crane into the belly of the Luu’tre—James cautiously slid, knees bent and hands outstretch as if he were trying to learn to ski. He hit the railing with a thud, but managed to keep himself form tipping over. Now, with a clear view of the reef and all else below the deck of the ship, he could see Iliad working his way down, sliding on the leather strip down the rope past the portholes for the cannons and into the swirling mass of the ocean, .
James held his breath until he couldn’t hold it anymore, and then breathed rapidly as he watched his companion descend. Soon there came a point where visibility was low, where the waves crashed or where the wind blew up huge walls of water vapor. One moment he could see Iliad continuing down, and the next he couldn’t, and all the while he remained fixated on the object he had seen, the thing that could be Laura—it too disappearing with the vaporous sea water.
Something struck the ship at that moment, a resounding boom and crack, followed some moments later by another boom. James looked up as the shockwave dispersed into the water below and saw what had struck them: another ship, a darker ship flying the colors of Luthien—a crimson red eye.
When James looked down again to check on Iliad he found that the rope had gone slack, flapping in the wind. “Man overboard,” he roared. His words were repeated throughout the ship and all he could do was watch helplessly as the thick mist from the waves covered everything.

SoD Chapter Two: Of the Lives of Loe

The Luu’tre had struck ground. Sort of. She had hit something hard and unmoving, that much was clear, but when James and the others came out into the tempest they found the ship held at bay by something rocky, porous, and the color of the sun at sunset over thin mustache clouds.
Laura knew then what they had struck: a coral reef. Captain Norp cursed and fluttered about the deck, running one way and another, commanding and demanding to pull lines one way and then the next. Everyone else had already accepted that no wind would pull the Luu’tre from the great mass beneath them. They needed the tides.
Laura felt alone and crowded all at once. There was so much she didn’t understand about this world. Why did the great current in the Straight of Loe run so swiftly? Why did it run all the way down the coast of Traea? And most of all, why did this world exist in the first place? James had shown her his magical dictionary, humorously called How Not To Be a Barbarian, Fifteenth Edition. She was dismayed to find that the author, one Azimus Barthalamule, had gone into hiding and would no longer be supplying new entries. She wanted to know what was going on just like everyone else, and this little book that had once been sixty pages was their only connection.
Laura most of all wanted to understand why Luthien, a man she couldn’t quite remember, even now some weeks later and after having seen his face in Sempur, had wanted her in the first place. What did she have that Luthien, a man of apparently untold power, wanted?
Now she looked down over the deck of the Luu’tre and into the great red and pink mass below. Great waves bubbled and exploded. They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Darl was right. They were grounded.
James stood beside her and she tried to give him a sympathetic smile. He had tried to hide his emotions from her, but she could see through him, even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself. He was terrified and disappointed in himself. She stopped speaking to him about his magic to make things easier. She wouldn’t want to be reminded of her faults either.
But James was in bad shape, and she knew it despite not having a clue how the magics of this mysterious world worked. What she did know was that anyone with a hand that was constantly healing was not in good health; James needed more powerful healing magic and fast.
James didn’t return her smile, though he glanced at her with sunken eyes. “Coral,” he said.
She nodded. “I wonder how far it goes. Maybe it’s like the Great Barrier Reef.”
“Maybe.”
“You remember that Discovery Channel show we watched,” she started, attempting to keep up the conversation. It had been too long since they’d talked as friends. “The one with all the little orange fish.”
“Clown Fish,” he said.
“Right. And that really long slithery snake with the pointy teeth.”
“Moray Eel.”
“Right. So you remember it?”
“Yeah.” He eyed the reef below. “It gave me nightmares for a week when they showed those sharks eating the seals, though.”
“I remember. You wouldn’t stay at my place because we had fish.” She laughed. “You were afraid of the goldfish.”
James frowned. Then with enthusiasm he said, “Those were huge goldfish though. They had those big eyes too.”
Together they laughed.
Laura turned to look out into the vast ocean beyond and found herself face to face with Captain Norp and his tiny Littlekind face. He grinned and looked her straight in the eye. She yelped and jumped back.
“Don’t sneak up on people like that!” She cried.
“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am. Couldn’t help listenin’.”
“No, I imagine not. You nearly scared me half-to-death.”
“Better than full-to-death.”
Laura grumbled.
“What’s the Discovery Channel?”
“It’s a T.V. channel,” she said instinctively. Catching herself, she corrected, “Where I come from it’s a visual show about nature.”
“What, like a play?”
“Kind of.”
“Why’s it called Discovery Channel?”
“Well, because they discover stuff.”
“Bout nature?”
“Yes.”
Captain Norp rubbed his chin. “Sounds boring,” he said, ending the conversation and hopping off the railing to the ground. He skipped back to the bridge. A moment later his little arms could be seen grasping the wheel, turning it one way and then another. Curses followed.
Laura groaned. The Littlekind was going to drive himself madder than he already was if he didn’t let up. Or, he was going to drive everyone else mad with his gallivanting about with concerns and quibbles. She watched Captain Norp turn the wheel, run one way, then other, and slip down the stairs to pull on ropes and scream out commands. When she turned back she noticed that James had gone. She frowned. Whatever was going on in his head he wasn’t going to talk to her about it, even though she was his best friend. And he certainly wasn’t going to talk to any of the others.
Triska came to the railing from across the other side, taking care not to get hit by the whirl of ropes and pullies around the center mast. Laura returned the woman’s smile out of courtesy; she was too worried about James to smile with sincerity.
“He’ll be alright,” Triska said.
Yeah right. “I just wish I could help him,” Laura said, letting her weight fall to the railing. “He won’t let me. He saved my life and I just want to help him, but I can’t.”
“He has to help himself. We can’t do anything for him now.”
“I don’t believe that. There has to be something we can do,” she pleaded.
“Would he let us even if there was?”
No, she thought.
“Just let him get over this. He has a lot weighing down on his heart.”
Triska patted her arm reassuringly and walked away. She looked back over the railing into the pink below. In the background she heard the wind battering the sails. Voices spewed commands left and right, ropes became taut, snapping with resonating sound, and the ocean roared a violent triumphant note as she lunged her watery arms over the coral and along the grounded hull of the Luu’tre. Laura turned away and went back inside the Captain’s Quarters alone.
* * *
They were completely stuck and no manner of yanking, tugging, or commanding the sails and the wind could manage to pull the Luu’tre free. Hours had since passed and no progress had been made. Captain Norp was the most upset by it. He clambered over the deck roaring at anyone and everyone he could find to blame for their predicament. The little that Laura knew of Captain Norp told her that the worst thing one could do to the Littlekind was to strand him on his own boat; the glorious Strait of Loe had done just that.
She hadn’t spoken to James since her reminiscent moment earlier in the day. Her concern had amplified ten fold when she found blood pooled in the rough shape of a hand on a railing. She prayed his illness wasn’t getting worse, though she feared that if something drastic didn’t take place he might lose the hand. Infections were her greatest concern now. Whatever magic had succeeded in escaping his veins, or entered them for that matter, had caused him untold damage. So long as his hand bled, he would never use magic and he would always be in danger; his sword carrying days were on hold too. Darl, it seemed, had great plans for training James, all of which were dashed beyond hope—there would be no lessons and Darl would be grumpier for it.
Laura’s eyes hazed over as she stared out into the ocean. She let her mind wander, finding sweet comfort in not thinking about anything at all. Except her mind had other ideas. As it wandered it came to events she either thought she knew nothing about, or had suppressed. She had been glad to have forgotten what Luthien had done to her. Such thoughts brought her no joy, nor comfort. But her mind moved into a world of subconscious thought, begging to unleash the forgotten. When it came, the information was a torrent and she found that she could do little more than twitch her arm.
The eye held her in its old, dragged her as if by a mystical, invisible hand through a circular, flaming vortex. It felt like a tube of fire roaring around her, her hair flying in every direction, hitting her eyes, stinging her face as it whipped against her skin. Then the vortex spat her out and she found herself looking into a pair of black boots. Before she could look up, lights flashed and her body lifted until darkness overcame her.
The vision faded and her muscles loosened. She blinked rapidly, feverishly, in hope that reality would leave her and she could stand still and remember nothing. Tears streamed from her face of their own accord. Emotions she didn’t and couldn’t understand welled within her. The images that created them were lost somewhere within her subconscious and she didn’t want to relive them. Living nightmares once was more than enough in a lifetime. Finally over, she sighed.
The Luu’tre rocked suddenly. She grabbed the railing as the ship leaned sideways, pushing her face-first to the pink coral below. She held on for her life and clutched the wood until her nails dug deep canals. Fear clutched her heart; she scrambled with her feet, pushing against whatever she could to keep her from tumbling over. Grasping with her toes, the soles of her shoes, anything. Then she managed to cram her toes into the crack between two boards and held herself still. She dared not look down into the giant reef below. Her face was firmly planted sideways against the rail and her chest rest on the corner, heaving feverishly with adrenaline and fear.
“Laura!” James called from somewhere behind her.
She held firm and whispered, “I’m alright,” knowing full well that nobody could hear her. She heard rustling and the clatter of feet on the wooden deck. Metal clanked against metal; a rope hissed as it was drawn and pulled. Orders spewed out from somewhere far out of her view, but they weren’t Captain Norp's. Someone else bellowed orders now.
The ship groaned; wooden beams and boards protested against the pressure of the reef. Waves smashed and the vibrations rocked the masts. Laura braved a glance below. She saw the pink and red brighter than it had been before. The water that had splashed over the reef had since dissipated. Half-hoping it was just the tides, she moved her head so she could see farther out.
There, rising above the edge of the reef, ominous, blue and terrifying, a great wave rolled in. She watched it as it came up over the reef and crashed into the Luu’tre. Watched as the ship lurched and she held on for dear life. Watched as her hands lost their grip and she tumbled, down, down, down, and the rushing, turbulent waters came closer. Behind she heard her name, then nothing as she plunged into the roaring ocean.

SoD Chapter One: Of Dire Passages

(I am going to start reposting these in the correct order along with new chapters as they become available.  And so the journey begins! Chapter One of The Spellweaver of Dern!  Thanks for reading!)

The Luu’tre lilted to her side, spraying water up onto the deck and drenching anyone who wasn’t already soaked from the rough seas. The Loe Straight was a brutal, treacherous, and otherwise unfriendly passage for any ship to take lightly. But the Luu’tre never took any trip lightly; her captain saw to that. This was a trip that could end good or bad and nowhere between, because as she was forced hard by the rapid currents, plunged into a relentless expanse of ocean that would fight with all its might to keep her from finding her way across into calmer waters, her captain had wild, slightly crazed ambitions that couldn’t be quenched by the physical demands of the world. Men pulled and vied for control of the massive sails that flapped and snapped as wind tore them one way and then another.
It was here, just below the captain’s deck, where the giant wheel tipped and turned even in the stern grip of a madman, that James Fortright sat, huddled beneath a long set of stairs and hanging on to one of the support beams. He was wrapped in all manner of warm clothing, including a thick, manky cap of dirty gray and brown material. It looked itchy, and indeed it was, as he tried to reach up and scratch himself while winds and water sprayed against him, even in the shelter of the stairs. His left hand was bandaged, but the cloth that covered his wounds, wounds of battles long since ended, was tattered and falling from his grip. He groaned as a new spray of wind and bitter sea water slapped him in the face.
Someone bellowed above and he looked up instinctively. Captain Norp was arguing with the rudders, with the violent winds and the otherwise unfriendly sea. And the sea responded by pushing the Luu’tre so she suddenly leaned to the other side. It was clear to James that this ship, no matter how strong and sturdy, couldn’t afford to argue in any fashion with a sea that could easily crush this pile of floating wood.
James looked up into the sky. Gray clouds created a narrow strip of violent weather, but in the distance he could see the bright blue of the clearer skies and rays of sun. Here, in the Loe Straight, it seemed, a deeper magic lay. The sky was a torrent, an angry invisible god powered by long lost magic that James knew he would never understand, and with this invisible entity came a perpetual grayness and a never-ending, writhing sea.
What have I gotten myself into, he thought, pulling his jacket tighter around his body. It seemed like ages since he had last put his feet on sturdy ground. He had lost count of the days he had been at sea, with the Luu’tre and her otherwise insane commander, and his companions, and Laura. Laura. She’s safe now. His face warmed at the thought of completing at least one part of what he had promised.
Pain surged through his hands as the ship rocked. He tightened his grip. His wounds had never truly healed. Some still bled from time to time. Magic had torn him apart more than once. He hadn’t tried using his magic recently. The last time he remembered having utilized his abilities was when he and Pea had crashed an anchor into the dock in Sempur, subsequently allowing all of them to escape by sea. Luthien would be after them and he knew it. There were plenty of ships in Sempur for the man to use. But could any of them catch the Luu’tre?
“What are you doing up here?” a familiar voice said.
He turned to face Triska, her plump, motherly face pursed with concern. She gently took hold of his arm.
“Get back inside before you catch cold.” Then she tugged him back and he followed her through the door at the center of the bridge and into the captain’s quarters.
There was one large bed covered in what used to be white sheets. Now they were a dull gray from years of use and abuse. A long wooden table, dresser, and various other household items filled the rest of the room. This was a room that could have been fit for a king once, if not for the dust and the cracking wood beams that were ugly marks on an otherwise well rounded space. A grand window filled the back, silver curtains strung over the square panels to obstruct the view. The ship rocked and flung him sideways into the side of the wall near the door. He grunted and shook his head, spraying water everywhere.
“You should take better care of yourself,” Darl said—the grumpy one. His aged face looked even more worn than it had before and the old man hadn’t taken the time since leaving Sempur to clean up his scraggly beard and hair. James thought about the first time he had met Darl and how much the old man had changed inside. Darl was still the same angry, bitter, and otherwise grumpy old codger, but James had earned the old man’s respect, something he sorely needed.
The others were in the room too: Pea, the tiny Erdluitle, sitting in a pair of grayish children’s clothing that had once been owned by the Ship’s Boy, the likes of which had long since fallen overboard on one of Captain Norp’s crusades for greater adventure; Iliad, sitting in a corner wrapped in matted fur, stringing his bow and testing his arrows. And Laura.
Laura, he thought, allowing himself to smile for a brief moment as he looked at her blonde hair that couldn’t be tamed with sea water. She was his friend and the reason for coming to this dangerous place; his only friend. No, not my only friend. I have Pea, Triska, even Darl. He scoffed at thinking of Darl as his friend, but reprimanded himself for doubting it. Darl had been a good friend, even if his attitude needed adjustment.
“Sit down would you?” Triska said, pushing him over to a chair. He let her guide him and fell down in the seat with a squish. “You’re about as difficult as looking after Darl.”
“Well, I wouldn’t got that far, my dear,” Pea said. “At least James bathes.”
James snickered.
Darl grumbled and tossed something across the room at the tiny Pea. Pea dodged and everyone else had a good laugh.
Laura stood up and pulled a blanket around James. He shivered and let her wrap him up. “You know,” she said, “if we’re ever going to get home you’re going to have to start taking better care of yourself.”
“You’re all starting to sound like my mother,” he grumbled.
“Yes, and you’re starting to sound like Darl,” Pea said. “Still can’t use your magic, can you?”
He nodded. “It feels like my fingers are shattering every time I do. Ever since those wounds fully healed…”
Pea frowned, but didn’t move from his seat. James knew that Pea was thinking the same thing he was: will he ever use magic again? He prayed that it would be so. Some part of him missed wielding magic, as if it were truly a piece of his existence, of his being. But something had gone wrong with him since they’d tossed the anchor at Luthien. Long burn marks appeared on his hand where old wounds had healed, making them red like a lobster, and painful. If he even tried to use magic to so much as move a chair unbearable pain ricocheted through every bone in his hand until he could take it no more.
“Captain Norp is having problems with the current again,” James said, changing the subject.
“Figures,” Darl said with a grunt. “Getting out of this blasted current is proving more difficult than expected. It’ll probably drive us all the way to the Muértland before letting us out.”
“It’s the winds too. They’re pushing us in all directions. The current is the only thing driving us forward right now. The sails are useless.”
“Norp will figure things out,” Laura said. “He may be mad, but he knows how to sail a ship.”
James nodded. The Luu’tre shifted suddenly, rocked, and fell back in its original place, riding up and down the great waves. Droplets of water fell from his hair; he watched them dribble down his arm and to the wood floor.
Then an echoic boom roared and the Luu’tre suddenly stopped, lurching with cracking wood to the side and flinging everyone from their seats and to the floor. James tumbled, crashed into the side of a chair, and cried out as something round and large dug into his back. Then he slammed into the wall and Laura tumbled into him. He grabbed her and tried to keep anything from hitting her. Then everything stopped and the Luu’tre lurched back until it was straight and stopped moving but for a slow up and down motion.
“We hit something,” James said.
“No, not at all,” Darl said, “ships just stop and throw people around of their own accord.”
James looked for Darl, but glared into nowhere when he couldn’t crane his neck the right way to face the old man.
“You can let go of me now,” Laura said, pushing against his arms until he let her go.
“You alright?”
“I think so.”
James stood up and started to help Triska up from the floor nearby. Darl tugged Pea up by his color at the far end of the room and was met with flailing arms and loud protests about the proper treatment of Littlekind, to which Darl only grinned.
His hand suddenly shot with pain and he winced. When he wasn’t hurting, he was numb, and when he wasn’t numb, he was hurting. It was a vicious cycle that never seemed to end, even as his wounds healed. Except, his wounds never truly healed. They bled constantly from cuts that were supposed to have sealed up, or new cuts miraculously formed overnight. They didn’t bleed enough to make the others worried, but regardless, he was worried. He wondered if he had used his magic too much, if he had pushed himself too hard or if the magic within him had injured him too greatly. I can survive without magic, he thought. I can.
“I think a better statement,” Pea began, brushing himself off, “would have been ‘we hit something large and cumbersome and otherwise unfriendly to the necessary requirements of smooth and unhindered sailing.’”
James didn’t try to digest that, but instead gathered his coat around him and headed for the door.
“James,” Laura said. She came up next to him and tried to pull him back. “You need to rest.”
“I’m fine.”
She jumped in front of him and forced him to halt. “No you’re not,” her voice choked. “You’re bleeding from wounds weeks old. You’re in constant pain. You’re not sleeping. Nothing is fine with you. It’s all wrong.”
“I’m fine.” He tried to move around her, but she stood in his way again.
“Lay down and let Pea or Darl talk to Captain Norp.”
He wanted to tell her to move again. She wouldn’t move; she was as stubborn as he, only worse. When Laura wanted something she got it. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place, he thought. You and your stubbornness. Anger welled up in him and he tried to control it.
“Please move.”
“James, stay here.” Darl came from the back of the room to the door, pushed James aside, and struggled against the powerful winds rushing against the wooden door. Wind and rain roared into the room and then abruptly ceased as the door came to a clinking close.
James walked back into the room, his face a furor of irritation. He found a chair, righted it from the floor, and sat down. The others watched him; he could see them out of the corner of his eye. Pain poured through him like a river as he unraveled the tattered bandages from his hand. A myriad of scars, lobster red where some cuts had failed to heal or new cuts had arrived, covered his hand. Fresh scar tissue ran in cross-crosses over the tops and bottoms of his fingers, along his palm and the top of his hand, and even along his wrist. Old blood was crusted rusty-red to where some of the scars had split, bled, and healed. Freshly opened cuts dripped blood, rolling from his hand like a little crimson river and falling like a globe made of a red sea.
He sniffed as a sneeze found its way into his sinuses. He stifled it, thrusting it back and demanding it stay where it came from. With his right hand holding up his left, he examined the wounds.
“Still not healing?” Triska said, having come up next to him, her plump frame now firmly planted in his vision. She took hold of his hand and turned it. “I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know what I can do.”
“You’ve done enough I think. This is something I have to fight on my own.”
She patted him on the shoulder and looked at him with saddened eyes. “So long as you have friends like us, we’ll never have done enough for you.” Then a smile graced her face that glimmered.
James was warmed by the gesture.
“It’ll be fine,” Iliad said reassuringly. “It’ll just take time. Like any wound. I’ve had a few myself. None of them heal swiftly. Always a long haul.”
Like an infection, James thought. “Like having a cold, or something.”
“Exactly.” Iliad nodded gently. “Time will tell.”
But James wasn’t so sure. The wounds were related to magic, some sort of backlash of energy. He wasn’t sure it was like any other infection; it was too strong and it didn’t seem to mater what Triska or he attempted to do to make it go away. This was worse.
Darl burst back into the room, flinging the door all the way against the wall. It ricocheted with a wood-splintering crack, and slammed shut of its own accord as Darl stepped fully into the room.
“We’re grounded,” Darl said, grunting with the effort of slamming the door on the wall.