Beware the sting in the sky scorpion’s tale!
~ Pirate saying
The horizon vanished in an enormous mass of dirty thunderheads, pressing down on the surface of the heaving ocean, rushing insanely closer.
It came swifter than Bertin anticipated, but he was ready. Rayne spared a glance for their Captain as he secured himself at a point midway between Aven and Averroes.
The Captain’s expression was grim determination, his huge hands clenched to the helm. A bright gleam in dark eyes gave evidence to the fact the seaman welcomed the challenge ahead, and Rayne smiled appreciation of the man’s courage.
He looked up, checking the sail.
A thick rope led from the release knot directly to Bertin. The Captain intended to wield the sail himself, his only aid in the wind, hopefully controllable. Or it could prove their undoing.
It was uncommon, but Bertin was an old hand who generally sailed crewless. He likely gave thought to the fact that commands shouted through the storm from the bridge would not be heard, or not heard in time.
Rayne tied the final knot as the first gust of an almighty, ferocious and greedy wind shook the Calloway.
Averroes screamed, Aven emptied an already empty stomach and Cristi lurched forward, her line jerking her upright and back.
Another gust came, then another, and objects skittered across the deck as it rolled first one way then the next, and then it became endless; one long, hungry breath of terrible power. Screams, grunts, groans, and desperately fearful wails were grabbed and tossed away soundlessly, lost to the moaning, seeking mouth of the wind.
Worlds narrowed to a small deck space, each thankful beyond measure for their Captain’s foresight in insisting on safety lines.
Packs hurtled into the air, constricting waists, tearing at ankles and wrists, and paradoxically, pain meant they lived. They were thankful also to be on deck, bad as it was, as the crashes from below penetrated through the din of the wind and sea, telling of appalling injury had they been part of the process.
The Calloway was a sleek ship built for speed. While sturdy, she was no match for a storm of this violence. And violent it was, the sloop tossed like a tiny twig caught in a maelstrom with rapids approaching. Even so, Bertin held her and rode the wind with a degree of success. Faintly they heard him screaming obscenities at the monster enveloping them, his hair wild, his face a frozen horror of concentration.
In the nightmare on deck faces were a pale, strained blur, and Aven and Mordan clung together, Kisha held onto Averroes, with Kylan clinging onto both women. Cristi and Samson clenched each other’s arms about a post, holding on desperately.
Water barrels slapped into legs and cannon rolled in dangerous warning. Ropes snapped under pressure, flailing like whips, one such taking Belun full in the face.
The Centuar roared his pain over the ferocious howling of the wind.
Then the dark water rose in gargantuan ramparts straight out of watery hell, some lifting the ship high above sea level, others were crashing defiance onto the deck, almost succeeding in driving the tiny vessel into a netherworld grave. Without lines they would have swept overboard. They hung on, unable to bellow fear, sometimes tossed like rag dolls before smashing back onto the splintering deck.
Bertin negotiated the storm for over an hour, in deep dark, each turn more sluggish as the sail tore and tattered, and the cabins below filled with water. The hatch had long since vanished into the monster’s maw.
It did not let up; only intensified. Brutal winds screeched and deafened. Every wave was monstrous, every breath a forced swallow of liquid salt. Still they forged on, praying to their various deities, praying for Bertin with all their strength. If the weather did not change soon the beleaguered Captain would surely lose the battle, for his ship already was.
The weather did change.
For the worse.
The sail flapped down in pieces as Bertin released it. It was useless. If they had it bad before, now it became the fabric of nightmares.
The images of Chaos had nothing comparable, for that was beyond imagination, but this terror, this was real and immediate.
Along with wind came rain, torrents and sheets of it, whipping wildly, bruising all in its path. Breathing became a test in survival. Along with rain came thunder and lightning, inseparable, pealing awesome power overhead. The dark mass lowered further, touching the mast, seeking to drive them into oblivion.
Bertin screamed curses, lost his hold on the wheel and crawled back to it.
Aven hung limply with Mordan holding him, blue eyes reflecting terror.
Averroes clung to Kisha, her lips moving in soundless prayer.
Kylan stared over their heads, at the ocean, unblinking.
Belun crouched beside the lifeboat, his expression grim.
McSee stood legs braced, daring the storm, shouting unheard words, one arm wrapped around his safety line.
Taranis gazed at the heavens, wondering what this meant to the game, and how he could get everyone out safely. His face was calm, but he held on as grimly as the others did.
Magic was useless in this pervasive energy, or he would declare his ban void, but, below the surface, where it was calmer?
How to do so without drowning the mortals first?
Llettynn hung onto his line, furious, and it was directed at this interruption, unnecessary and time consuming, and he resolved to jump overboard the instant he heard the tell-tale crack of a sinking ship.
Glint kept determined watch over Samson and Cristi, marvelling at their tenacity.
Saska crouched, as frightened. She knew magic was useless, much like the sail, and fought also to prevent her legs transforming in the ever-present water, teeth clenched in effort … and she constantly sought out Taranis … and Rayne. Taranis would be all right, she knew, but Rayne? Would he survive this?
Rayne hung on, his watch for Aven. He shouted fury when a flailing rope bit into his back.
Lightning struck the mast, splitting it surgically in two.
Glint cartwheeled out over the ocean, white hair smouldering.
The two halves canted, then fell, one fore, one aft.
Taranis, Llettynn, Samson and Cristi were swept overboard, lines severed. Packs slithered after, still attached.
Only jagged planks remained where the small bridge and wheelhouse had been. They reached out to the storm, inviting it in, embracing it. Of Captain Bertin there was no sign.
McSee and Belun started cutting through the lifeboat ties, their efforts a testament to endurance and strength as they slid uncontrollably on the slick deck. It was a matter of time only; five in the water, their Captain more than likely dead, and the ship, now helmless, was doomed.
Trembling, frozen fingers began untying knots.
Then there was no choice.
The Calloway pitched onto its side, sending them slipping and sliding headlong into the roiling ocean. Safety lines unravelled in hasty, burning jerks, throwing them wide of the sinking ship. There was no time to do anything, not even scream.
The two lifeboats crashed in their midst; one damaged, vanishing into the depths immediately, while the other drifted inexorably away. McSee struck out, unwilling to give up.
In horror, Kisha watched as Averroes tried frantically to untie herself, hanging parallel to the listing deck. Her face was tiny, white, and petrified. Kisha started swimming, fighting Kylan …
Then Taranis was there, grabbing her leg and breaking her determined movement. “No!” he shouted over the roar of the ocean. “You will be caught in the vacuum as the ship goes under!”
Kisha fought him, and she fought Kylan. She saw Averroes reach up to her neck and pull at something, saw her toss it into the ocean, saw her hang limp, defeated. Kisha screamed, struggling harder.
“Kisha!” she heard faintly. “Aven …” And then the Calloway was gone.
Kisha sobbed, collapsing against Kylan, who tread water for both of them, face burning with effort.
Taranis glowered at the empty space. Useless. My magic meant nothing.
There was a sound then louder than the din of the storm, a sound such as water draining noisily from a barrel. A vortex had formed in the ocean where the sloop vanished, and a swell as huge as the storm’s waves raced out, with more power for a time, but it served the watchers in sweeping them up and driving them away from that particular danger.
Rayne, fighting the push, stared stricken at the nothingness. Not magic, not strength, not even sheer will, could have saved her. Not a prayer to the most powerful. She was gone, and Aven … Aven would be heartbroken.
On the swell came the Maghdim Medaillon, glittering on the dark ocean as if alive, seemingly weightless. Averroes remembered, saved it, and it headed directly to its true master. It floated into Rayne’s cold hand.
He glared at it, hating it.
Aven knew nothing. He was unconscious and Saska held his head above water. Rayne gazed in their direction, then his hand closed over the medal, and he made an effort to reach them, turning his back on the emptiness.
The storm gave no evidence of surrendering.