Tavis entered the dark, octagonal room, the scent of cherrywood full in his nostrils. Casting his eyes about, he noticed that this temple looked much like the one he recalled from his childhood so many years ago when he first went with Kenja. The arching struts of the ceiling, the gentle strains of the choir, even the plain chantry just off-center in the middle of the room, it was all the same.
Silently, a pale-skinned, dark-haired priestess wearing airy robes and an elegant headdress strode promptly toward Tavis. "Shetom," she said gently.
"What? -Oh…" Tavis stumbled for the words, " Shetom, rabta bashnai."
The priestess smiled warmly, looking into the youth's face with blue-black eyes. "Welcome to the temple of Anhur in Chalay," the priestess declared, her soft voice giving no echo through the chapel. "My name is Roe Vora. Sister Roe if you prefer. May you find peace this day."
"Thank you," Tavis replied hesitantly, "I'm hoping to find a little peace…"
Sister Roe discreetly looked down at Tavis' bandaged hands. Gently she reached out and took them in her own, feeling the rough bandages with her delicate fingers. "You are grieving this accident?" she ventured. "Unable to work at your job now, perhaps?"
"Well, no -I mean… well, sort of." Tavis let out an exhausted sigh. "I'm just a little unsure of things right now."
The priestess nodded once, slowly. "Have you ever had a Seeing done?"
"Come." She began walking to a table at the back of the temple and beckoned him to follow. Obediently, Tavis went along with the priestess and took a seat opposite her at the table. Carefully, Sister Roe began fingering through a tray of small items on her side of the table. Through her slender fingers, Tavis spied bits of glass, metal statuettes, miniature clay pottery, and other small items.
"What are those?" the youth inquired.
"A Seeing is a guide you receive, fragments of a map that show the direction of your life. As a part of the proceeding, you will be given a few tokens known as the Gifts of Seeing. You may carry them with you as a reminder of what you learn here and reflect upon them often."
"Oh," Tavis replied.
"Now, give me your hands, breathe easily, and relax."
Tavis obeyed, shutting his eyes, and slipping into the even breathing that Wiljes had taught him. He placed his hands on the table, and Sister Roe took them in hers. Gently, gradually, the priestess began to hum softly. Tavis deigned to open his eyes and instantly met hers. The lids were faintly fluttering, and she seemed to be looking at once into him and past him as well. She began speaking in fluid Delian, softly, evenly, almost as though she was singing a song.
Tavis closed his eyes again and tried to make out the words she sang. The combination of her accent, her singing, and the unfamiliar words she spoke made it difficult for him to follow. He caught only fragments of sentences.
"…Across the world of souls and mortality… …Twin vision of flesh and spirits…"
"…All the force of light inside……Vessel of might and energy…"
"…Destroyer of Serpents……Liberator of Kings…"
The priestess let go of his hands, and Tavis opened his eyes. Still in her trance, she fingered through the tray of trinkets before her, speaking as she set them on the table.
"Jhaway," she said, retrieving a dark yellow stone.
"Entesah," she continued, and set down a small porcelain cup.
"Moniah," she finished, placing a jade figurine on the table.
Tavis stared down at the three items on the table. He recognized the words, and felt them burn in his mind.
Mediator, Courier, Hero.
Mists of dark blues and greens pooled and swam before Tavis' eyes. Blurring, they turned to red and faded away into the background. A large, brown-red stone jutted up before him. Brogan lay on the stone, bloody and wounded, dark life seeping out of him and spilling on the rock beneath. Rhoden stood above him wearing his usual blue robes, but the sleeves hung limply at his sides. It took Tavis a moment to register that the conjurer's arms were missing. Grimly, Rhoden looked up from Brogan's broken body and examined Tavis with hard, grim eyes.
"Do you think you can help him?" Rhoden asked timidly.
Tavis opened his mouth to respond, but the scene blurred and changed at that same instant. Green hills now stood in the background, and the familiar house of Uncle Wiljes rose up before him. Quietly, Wiljes stepped out of the door, stood on the porch, and leveled his eyes at Tavis.
"Do you know what you need to do, then?" his uncle inquired earnestly.
Tavis reached out a hand toward his late uncle. "Wiljes…" he began, but did not finish., A horde of red-clothed, black-armored imperial guards, sprung straight up from the ground at his feet and as a body rushed the old man, pinning him against the wall. A clatter of weapons, a spray of red, a final cry from his uncle and their bloody business was over.
Tavis screamed and ran at the horde, not thinking, hearing the beat of his heart in his ears. He reached them instantly and began flinging their bodies aside, hurling them as though they had no weight at all. He dug and dug through the throng, not even hearing their bodies strike and crumple on the walls and ground. At the center, however, he did not find the familiar body of his uncle, but a little, blond Elf girl of no more than six summers.
"…Gin…?" Tavis asked, stupefied.
"Oh, Tavis!" the Elf girl screamed, leaping out from the pile of soldiers and into the youth's arms. "Oh, Tavis, Tavis… Don't ever, ever leave me. I want you to protect me and keep me safe from everything… everything in the world!"
Tavis returned her enthusiastic embrace, strapping his brawny arms around the tiny girl. "I've got you Gin, I've got you. It's okay. Nobody's going to hurt you now. It won't be like before…" his voice trailed off, however and he felt the ground he stood on rocking and creaking under his feet. Looking up, he saw the clouds and the horizon listing and reeling like a flag in the wind. The youth struggled to hold onto Gin who seemed to be growing, holding onto Tavis with arms that grew stronger as the seconds passed. A rich, full, bodily scent filled Tavis' nostrils and he could no more keep his balance. Like a felled tree, the youth toppled and hit wooden planks. The girl in his arms came down on top of him with what seemed like enormous weight. Tavis expelled a painful breath as thick braids of hair hit his face.
"Hey, buddy," the girl said in what was now a very mature voice.
Tavis looked up into the broadly smiling face of Kenja. Her deep, green eyes flared briefly and then narrowed. Clouds and sails whirled and billowed over them.
"How're you doing, ay buddy?" She then laughed a rich, crescendoing laugh and sunk her face into his, smothering him with lips and braids.
Startled, Tavis turned his head side to side, and tried to push her off. Her full, ripe scent filled up his nose to saturation, and Tavis felt he couldn't take in sufficient air to breathe. The youth's eyes began to cloud and fill in with color, and at that moment, Kenja's toned flesh turned soft, her thick braids became thin and wispy, and Tavis was able to shove her off.
Gasping, Tavis took in balefuls of air, swallowed, and sat up to look at the girl he had thrown. Under a nest of disheveled white-gray hair, and through teary eyes, Mother looked back at him.
"Do you see what you've done to me?" she sobbed, bringing up trembling hands and futilely pulling back at flying strands of hair. "Look at what I've been reduced to -All because of you!"
Tavis' heart began to beat again and he felt the blood rushing in his veins.
"All the time that I cared for you and tried my best to keep you out of harm's way… and this- is how you repay me?" Mother's voice broke up at that point and she fell into a heaving, raking fit of sobbing.
"No!" Tavis screamed, leaping to his feet. "You left me!" he felt his face grow hot. "You left me!" He turned away from the image of his mother and ran. "You never did anything…" The boys' feet hit solidly on the cement under him as the brick and glass of apartment buildings raced by. "The pain was always there and you just let it hit me and hit me… every time-" The boy turned into an alleyway and stopped short, cutting himself off. Horrified, he stared down at the body on the ground. Like a quivering pile of rags, the body shuffled as a hooded, bearded head looked up at Tavis. The boy's eyes darted all around, taking in the awful scene, lingering on the man's back where dark, thick blood leaked out in a slow trickle into the garbage in the alley.
"…There's not much time left, you know…" the dying man groaned, barely above a whisper.
Tavis stammered and staggered backwards. Fear was in the boy's eyes as he stumbled, tripped, and fell into a thousand, billion stars.
"Tavis… Hey, Tavis!"
"What- What -don't-" the youth sat up quickly, kicking off a blanket that covered his face.
"Hey, easy!" Gin said, stepping back startled.
Tavis looked at her, stopped, panted and clutched his head. "Ahhgh… Headache… Stars, how long was I out?"
"All night and all morning," Gin replied. "I didn't think you had any of Kenja's ale last night."
"I didn't drink anything last night," Tavis protested, then groaned and clutched at his head again.
"Well you were pretty far gone anyway. I tried to come in and talk to you earlier this morning, but you were pretty sleepy. In fact, you were a sleep."
Tavis looked up into her blue eyes. "What?"
"You know," she began, "like being a hungry or a tired."
Tavis rattled out a sigh. "Asleep, Gin. It's all one word. You say that I was asleep."
"Oh, whatever," Gin replied, waving a small hand in the air. "You have a confusing language."
Tavis groaned again, too absorbed in his headache to respond.
"You want to come out on deck with me?" Gin offered. "It's a pretty day out. It looks nice on this side of the clouds."
Tavis perked up and looked at her. "It doesn't look the same as the other side?"
"No, not the same. Here," she reached down and took one of his large, brown hands in her own small pale one, "I'll take you out so you can see." Tavis smiled slightly, stood up, and followed her out the cabin door.
The sun was almost directly overhead. As Tavis looked up, his headache redoubled and the youth grasped at a rail for support.
"You look like the rat that fell into the winebarrel." It was Brogan's voice booming through the sky and the rushing wind.
Tavis brushed it off, regained his composure and sauntered onto the deck.
"Hey, buddy," Kenja called from her post at the wheel and tiller.
Startled, Tavis spun around, recalling his dream from earlier. "Oh… Hi, Kenja."
She laughed playfully. "Well rested?"
"Oh yeah," Tavis replied, "a bit woozy, but I'm okay."
"Good. Maybe you can give Brogan a hand with the sheets."
"Aw, Cap'n," Brogan began to protest, "What's the matter, huh? I'm not doing a good enough job for you?"
"You can't tie down both ends of that shroud at once, sailor. Show Tavis how."
Tavis turned to Brogan who let out a single chuckle. "You heard the lady, go grab that loose sheet over there and knot it up on the rail at the same place I do. We gotta pull at the same time, though, or it gets uneven."
Tavis paced over to the far side of the ship and grabbed hold of a rope that was tossing in the wind. Digging in his heels, he pulled hard on it, bowing the beam that held his side of the sail down toward the aft portion of the ship. "Like this you mean?" Tavis shouted over to Brogan.
"That's it, kid," Brogan encouraged, "we'll tie down the little fredjer."
"None of that language aboard my ship!" Kenja reprimanded.
"Yes, Cap'n," Brogan replied gruffly, then went on to mutter several more curses under his breath.
Gin had wandered up to where Kenja stood at the wheel, gazing out at the clouds before them "Do you see those big, dark things up ahead?" Gin asked, pointing.
Kenja crooked her neck forward and squinted.
"There are a few birds that get up this high."
"I don't think they're birds, though… Wait, I can see them better now. No, they're definitely not birds; They're not flapping their wings."
"Are they moving at all?"
"Yeah, kind of fluttering."
Kenja's face went drawn and her eyes widened. "Look at them very closely, Gin, and describe to me exactly what they look like."
"Well," Gin began, still squinting, "That fluttering part that I told you about… It's kind of on top, but like hidden behind some stuff."
"Stuff? What kind of stuff?"
"Kind of looks like bones from here."
"Yeah, but the bottom part isn't moving at all."
"Can you see what color they are?"
"Just dark, like I said… -No, wait, there's some red on them too, on the fluttering part under the bones."
Kenja sighed, her eyes hard and her brow set. "Tavis! Brogan!" She called. "Get that sail set quick, we've got the king's soldiers up ahead!"
It was early. Tavis was sleeping soundly when Uncle Wiljes got him out of bed and took him out into the meadow behind the house with urgent news to tell him. Rhoden was already there, looking the same as he had when they first met, right down to the blue robes, silver ponytail, and trimmed beard. Tavis swallowed hard, trying to gulp down the morning taste in his mouth. The old man began to speak, and the youth had difficulty following what he was saying. Whether it was the early hour or the nature of his words, Tavis felt somehow that the things Wiljes said were all spoken through the haze of a dream.
"You will have to leave here soon… You and Rhoden will be traveling together…"
"And you, Uncle Wiljes?" Tavis recalled himself saying.
"I won't be coming with you… I can't…"
"Why not?" Tavis had inquired.
"Don't worry, son. You'll have enough on your mind in the next few days… You'll be going to Tenjir…"
"Up in Elf-land?"
"That's right. Just outside of Tenjir actually… You'll find something there, a weapon of sorts, very special weapon."
"Me? A weapon? Uncle, I-"
"Now lad, you've been learning how to use the staff just fine. I have no doubt in you, or in your being able to retrieve it…and use it. You'll have good help along the way. You can be sure of that…"
"What am I going to use the weapon for?"
Tavis recalled seeing his uncle's face become grim and drawn. "How can I say… I don't think that the Enteroh is an evil man by nature, but I do know that he has made some dark alliances, and that makes me uneasy."
Tavis swallowed hard. "The Enteroh…? What are you saying Wiljes? Am I going to have to… use it on him?"
"Oh no, son, no… I should hope it wouldn't come to that… But you absolutely must destroy what comes because of the Enteroh, or what he might become."
The youth looked at his uncle quizzically. "I… I don't understand…"
"You needn't lad, not now anyway. That's why you must leave. You must visit Rohnjeck."
"Rohnjeck? What's that?"
"The others who go with you, they will know. They will take you there… You can trust them… But enough for now. On with your day lad. Here," his uncle dismissed, placing a few coins in his nephew's hand, "Get me some garlic from the market at the edge of town -On your way, lad."
A few moments after Gin's discovery and Kenja's announcement, the whole company gathered around their captain by the wheel.
"Can you go around them?" Tavis asked.
"Or perhaps go under the clouds?" Rhoden added.
"Everybody just hang on a minute, okay?" Kenja replied. "Gin, what do you see now? Anything different?"
"Well," Gin began, raising a hand to shade her eyes, "It looks like there's a big dark speck now, and a bunch of little ones… Three or four, hard to tell."
"Great," Kenja replied, "Standard practice. They're sending out skiffs."
"Skiffs?" Gin asked.
"Little ships, fast too. They haven't got a blower inside them, just sails. They're launched off of the flagships in midair to chase down folks like us."
"Maybe you should get one of those?" Gin offered.
"It'd sure be useful right now, Ginny, but you can't get off the ground in one of those. That's why we launch them from the air."
"Whoa, stars," Gin exclaimed, "they're getting close fast."
"Told you," Kenja replied. "Okay, who's a good talker?"
The skiffs were on them much quicker than they anticipated. There was no time to come up with any kind of plan. In a practiced fashion, the three approaching skiffs surrounded them, gliding up on the aft and sides. Each skiff carried a compliment of half a dozen men and a wicked-looking giant crossbow, each manned, loaded with long wooden spears and trained on Kenja's ship.
One of the skiffs rode right up next to starboard and a stout bearded soldier stepped out where they could see him. "Ho there!" he barked. "Who's the captain of this ship?"
"Who want's to know?" Brogan bellowed in his gruffest voice, standing up to his full height.
"Enteroh Nashan of Temacus!" The soldier screamed back. He seemed unfazed by Brogan's intimidating shouts, a fact which singularly impressed Tavis. "We have orders to search for and arrest a Behemoth, a magic user, and a young fellow by the name of Tavis!"
Tavis' hair stood on end at the mention of his name.
"Well I'm a BeHemoth, pal," Brogan spat back, spreading his arms for effect. "What are you going to do? Arrest me for being a Trog on a sunny day?"
A crossbow cord twanged and a huge spear came flying over their heads. Everyone ducked. Gin screamed. The moment passed quickly, though. Tavis got a hold of his wits and touched Brogan on the arm.
"Don't you think we should be playing it a little easier with them?"
Brogan looked down at him over his huge frame. "You just be ready for anything, okay?"
"That is all!" the bearded soldier in the skiff next to them barked. "You will surrender and be boarded! You are all under arrest!"
The entire company stood silent, hearing only the wind in their ears. Each of their faces were drawn as a general sense of defeat and fatigue washed over them. How far have we gone, Tavis thought, to have it all end here. It would be so easy… But his thoughts trailed away, his headache was returning now, and he paused for a few deep breaths.
"Well?" the soldier barked again.
"Out of your fredjing mind." It was Gin who offered the retort. Not as a shout, but firmly, evenly, and loud enough to pierce the soldier's ears.
"Ginny!" Brogan cried, "For the love… Who taught you to talk like that anyway?"
They barely heard Brogan's complaints over the sound of the bearded soldier who turned to his crew and barked a few quick orders to the skiffs that surrounded Kenja's ship. The air about them filled with the sound of twanging cords and whistling spears as the artillery men in each skiff fired off a shot into Kenja's ship. Some of them punctured the hull, others flew across the deck, and one flew through the rigging and ripped through the mastbeam and knot that Brogan had diligently tied for Kenja back at Rhanjiir.
Brogan let out an insane roar when he saw his handiwork destroyed. At that instant, Tavis felt sorry for every contestant that ever had to step into the ring with the big red. "That tears it!" Brogan bellowed. The BeHemoth stomped back to the cabin door and planted his heels, eyeing a skiff that was cruising around the port side and toward the bow. With a grunt, Brogan shot off like a bolt from a crossbow, charging down the length of the deck in a handful of enormous bounds. His foot struck the railing at the front and the ship's bow sunk deeply causing everyone on the ship to lurch and swing their arms for balance. Arms spread, legs together, Brogan dove out into the sky as though he had wings. At that same instant the skiff swooped by. The skiff tiller saw him coming and corrected steering to try to avoid the diving hulk. There was no way Brogan could hit the deck. At first Tavis thought he was going to miss and plummet down through the clouds, but then Brogan stretched his sinewy arms and caught the rail along the edge of the ship. Like a huge trapeze, Brogan swung, kicked, and followed through, overturning the little skiff and sending helmeted soldiers tumbling to the ground below.
Gin screamed in delight, the rest of the company followed her with a great cheer.
The second skiff in the platoon headed straight for Brogan's swinging body, thinking to ram him. In response, Brogan completed his swing, letting go of his hold on the rail and leaping full on into the mast of this second assailing skiff. A deep, booming crack of wood sounded out of the skiff's hull as Brogan came down on the deck, taking the mast and all the rigging with him. As the big red hit the planks, helmeted soldiers rushed toward him, swords drawn. With a groan that bordered on a yell, Brogan swung the mastpole around, smacking all but one of the onrushing soldiers and knocked them overboard, flailing and screaming as they speed to the ground. The single remaining soldier looked at the hulking BeHemoth with wild eyes, glanced once at the ineffectual sword in his hands, and then jumped overboard and joined his mates.
Tavis looked on with eyes of wonder and amazement. From this distance, Tavis didn't see the grotesquely large, knotted muscles which clung like animals to the big red's body, he saw instead the taut, athletic form of a trained acrobat that leapt and swung from skiff to skiff.
The bearded soldier in the earlier and only remaining skiff barked orders to the gunner to fire more rounds. The crossbow gunner was completely useless at that point, however, frantic eyes fixed on the hulking BeHemoth that had decimated his comrades ships.
The moment was not lost on Zeyn, however. With otherworldly, scarlet eyes, the wraith fixed his gaze on the bearded commander of the remaining skiff, formed a pale blue glowing ball of energy inside his hood, and let it fly. Frantically, the stout man stumbled to get away, shouting orders at the tiller to turn. As the skiff reeled to avoid the oncoming sphere of magical discharge, however, Zeyn's glowing orb swooped and turned to chase them. Quickly it caught up with the evading skiff, hitting the bearded soldier full in the head and sending him reeling to the deck, dark fluids bursting from his eyes and nose. Panic-stricken, the skiff's compliment turned and fled, racing back to where it came.
The company cheered again, led as before by Gin's high-pitched screams. Keenly, Kenja pulled on the wheel, steering over to the skiff that Brogan now stood on. Seeing her coming, Brogan waited for her, then leapt, caught the rail, and climbed back on board. Instantly Tavis and Gin were on him, cheers and embraces galore. After a moment of frolicking, Tavis looked back at the other three. Kenja and Zeyn stood like statues, staring up front to the sky before them. Rhoden strode quickly to the bow, sat down cross-legged, and shut his eyes.
"Hey, guys!" Tavis called. "What's going on? Don't you have any triumphant words for our hero here?"
"Buddy," Kenja began, "I'd save some if I were you." She pointed up past the bow. "And pray we can use them later."
Tavis turned about quickly, casting his eyes in the direction Kenja signaled. Big as a thundercloud, the imperial flagship drifted toward them, a nightmarish contraption of rigging, steel, and prickling battlements.
Toting a thin string bag with two bulbs of garlic in a bandaged hand, Tavis walked back up the green hills and away from the market on the edge of town. It was almost a tangible feeling when he left the limits of Temacus and entered into the district just north known as the highlands. Wiljes had told him that you used to have to travel miles to get into Temacus, but it had just kind of grown and spread right up against the hills absorbing the highlands into the city somehow.
Other thoughts stirred in him though. Fragments of the conversation with Wiljes that morning were already slipping from Tavis' mind. He had rehearsed the words to himself all day, over and over in his head, but already they were becoming distant and losing their order. Perhaps Rhoden could remember, the youth thought, or help me understand what Wiljes meant…
"Tavis." There was Rhoden, standing by the house over the next rise, almost in answer to his question.
"Hello, Rhoden," Tavis replied, a little unsteady. Picking up his pace, the youth ambled over to where the conjurer stood. "I'm surprised to see you here."
Rhoden did not reply, he simply looked on at Tavis with hard, grim eyes.
"What's the matter?" Tavis asked quickly.
"There was nothing you could have done," Rhoden replied, his voice low and almost quavering.
"What? What is it? Look, you're not helping me with this. Where's Wiljes?" The youth looked over the conjurer's blue-robed shoulder to the house. "Wiljes! What's going on?"
Rhoden turned his head quickly and met the youth's eyes. Tavis felt himself unable to pull away from the harsh stare those hazel eyes offered. "He's gone, Tavis."
The youth froze.
"They came for him this morning shortly after he spoke with us."
"Who? Who came for him?"
"Who else? Royal soldiers of the crown. I was returning to pick up a book I had left. If I had arrived any earlier I would have been part of their bloody work, and then you would've had to bury both of us."
Tavis clenched his teeth together hard, wetness creeping into his eyes. He stumbled over words, unable to properly move them through his constricted throat. "Wiljes… Can't I see him… -See him just once more… Are you -Are you sure?"
"I buried him myself, Tavis," Rhoden replied, eyes hard as agates.
Tavis shook, tensed, hurled the garlic bulbs at the uncaring ground, and then hissed and heaved, trying to find some vent for his frustration and sorrow while at the same time holding back his wails. Rhoden waited patiently for Tavis to finish his tirade, letting the boy be the next one to speak.
At length, Tavis got a coherent sentence out. "What now, then?"
Rhoden looked the youth over before replying. "Now, you're going to take those bandages off and show me your hands." The conjurer paused, giving his words time to register. "Then we're going to pick up an old friend of mine, and leave this town."
Like a fog rolling in, the imperial flagship approached. Even from this distance, the company could hear the rush and swell of the enormous blower that kept the flagship aloft heaving like an enormous lung, so large that it drowned out the sound of the blower in Kenja's own ship. The 'bones' that Gin had seen earlier turned out to be a huge, prickling ream of battlements that rose from edge to edge and aft to stern and formed a great, oblong dome of fenestrated steel and jabbing spikes that covered the entire deck like the shell of an exotic beetle. Huge sails and long banners filled and snapped in the wind, lurking from within and behind those huge steel bones. Slowly, almost patiently, the flagship rolled in, and with each passing moment Tavis felt a pit open up inside him so large that he thought it would swallow him up and all his friends as well.
"Ho! Stand down!" a gravely voice bellowed from somewhere within the battlements of the huge flagship.
Quickly, quietly, Tavis ducked his head inside the cabin and scanned the room for his lance.
"You there!" the gravely voice boomed again. "Come out of there and stand where we can see you!"
Tavis felt his skin rise several degrees at the gruff command. Quickly, he retrieved the lance from where he left it, and marched to the front of the ship. Cautiously, Tavis walked past Rhoden who still sat cross-legged on the deck, eyes closed, and humming softly, it seemed. Purposefully, Tavis stopped and presented his lance, planting it on the deck with a resounding thud. He did not trust his voice to offer a reply, rather, he waited, observing the scuttling of the soldiers within the bonework of the huge flagship. Although it was difficult to make out the small bodies through the openings in the battlements, Tavis thought he saw a soldier hobble forward on a gimp leg. The limping soldier eyed Tavis seriously for a moment, then pointed and nodded his head. Another soldier barked a command then, and a group of men at the front of the ship threw open the door on some kind of cage.
Tavis' heart filled with horror as he remembered the last encounter with Mjorda's men and the cage they had brought with them. Before he could think any further, a pitch-black serpentine impetus flew from the cage, long batlike wings snapping in the air.
The sight of this nightmarish creature, coupled with the fatigue of the previous night and this morning's battle stung Tavis and sent his headache throbbing again. Swaying with pain, the youth stumbled slightly, bit down, then paused, relaxed, and began breathing like Wiljes had taught him. Evenly and solidly, Tavis took in and let out breaths, letting his headache wash away, stopping just when he felt the familiar warm glow deep down inside him.
At last, the youth opened his eyes and beheld again the snakelike beast streaking through the air, leather wings beating and tail slithering madly. Resolutely, Tavis jabbed the small spike in the butt of the lance into the planks of the deck, and coolly leveled the spearhead at the onrushing impetus. Already, Tavis could feel the lance vibrating faintly in his hands.
Unthinking, the serpentine beast, closed, bore its fangs, and dove straight at Tavis. As though he was watching from a dream, Tavis saw the lancepoint pierce, burrow, and bite into the demon's ebon hide. The word formed on his lips then, one of the words of power that Wiljes taught him. "Lus-tröh!" Tavis roared, his clear, unbroken voice resounding through the clouds.
Fanged head flinging back, wings beating madly in the air, the serpentine beast let out an ungodly wail that filled and haunted the entirety of the sky. Everyone present, both on Kenja's ship and on the flagship, cringed and stumbled.
Tavis felt the lance begin to shake, and found a hunger for that reaction from deep inside himself. Firmly, Tavis held the lance, feeling the surge from the silvery weapon, feeling it pulsate and throb as blue energy coursed into the beast relentlessly. The demon's cry curtailed painfully, and then the beast exploded, filling the air with the heady smell of electricity and brimstone.
A long moment passed where both soldiers and shipmates struggled to take in what had transpired. The first reaction came at length from the flagship. Within the osseous lattice of the prickling battlements, soldiers scurried and yelled, racing like bees within a hive. Tavis heard gears wind and cables stretch as enormous crossbows were loaded, but felt an great calm within him as though he could take on the entire flagship by himself.
"Look out Tavis!" Brogan's booming voice tore Tavis from his thoughts. Quickly, the youth turned and saw Rhoden rising from the deck behind him, eyes still closed and hands held high. Abruptly, Tavis jumped aside, feeling a growing heat on his back even as he leapt.
Just in front of Kenja's ship, an enormous wound opened up in the afternoon sky. It tore quickly, rending like flesh at the point of some great, otherworldly dagger. Then just as fast, the wound gushed out -not blood, but fire, and it seemed as though Rhoden had brought down the sun itself to fight their battles.
Shielding his eyes, Tavis stole a glance between parted fingers and saw that the fire Rhoden summoned grew wings, took form, and raced like a falcon toward the flagship. It rent the air with a trail of flame and a screech that almost rivaled that of the impetus from moments before. Effortlessly, it flew through the flagship's spiked battlements eating up wood, rope, and flesh all at once. The shrieks of the charred soldiers on board rose instantly and then died all at once as armor and flesh turned to ash. Still the fiery, winged bird tore through, consuming railings, rudders and sails. Finally, it tore through and out the back of the ship, sated, and disappeared, returning again to the burning plane from which it was summoned.
The blackened, burning husk of the flagship faltered in its course, the nose dipped down, and in the space of a handful of moments, began its long, slow plummet to the ground below.
Rhoden opened his eyes then, beheld the carcass of the flagship in its descent, and before any cheers could be offered, his eyelids fluttered and he fell to his knees.
"Hey, -Hey, Rhoden!" Brogan called, racing over to the prostrate form of the blue-robed conjurer. The BeHemoth arrived at his friend's side just in time to catch his limp, unconscious body before it crumpled to the deck. "Aw, Rhoden… buddy!" Brogan cried, as he carried his fallen comrade to the cabin in back.
A long, awkward moment of silence passed before any in the company regained their composure, and began tying down ropes and re-arranging equipment on deck. Dutifully, Kenja steered the ship on into the clouds, teeth clenched and eyes set.
Finally Gin paused and stepped up to the front of the ship. "Hey!" she called, shading her eyes, "I see the edge of a big city up ahead!"