Hitting the Barrier was like being slammed by an avalanche. Shannon was driven from his trance. Magics shattered and he stumbled. It was all he could do to catch himself from tumbling down the steps to the lower deck. A wave slammed up over the stern and hit him, causing a moment of disorientation.
The crew panicked as his hold shattered and their own fear hit them all at once. Without Shannon drawing the energy of fear away and making it strength, they suddenly felt it, as well as the weariness they had earned.
There was no time to worry about them. Nothing mattered beyond the fact they had just hit the Barrier Shield. The prow was crushed and they were still moving forward. The magics on the ship shattered and flared into flames, some even exploded. Shannon threw up his hand toward the Barrier. He had only one real option.
“Shaa!” he called for help. From a knot buried in his heart, the demon he always carried with him brutally tore its way out. The demon’s magic flashed out like lightning from Shannon’s hand
Shaa fed from the power of the pain he caused and used it to shield the ship. It slowed inside the Barrier Shield itself, as if passing through mud. The weight of the Sheild was like a humidity so heavy men could drown in it. Staggering, many fell to their knees, some even sobbing in fear as well as for air.
Twisting harder, Shaa pulled on Shannon’s pain to fuel the magic to hold the ship together and to keep it moving. The Dragon’s Claw shuddered forward against the drag of the Shield. Shannon clenched his teeth, trembling in the pain he endured, but it was necessary; there was no other way.
Pain was nothing new, but he had to admit that Shaa knew how to hit places that hurt in ways that were hard to even explain. There was no real choice. He did not know the magics of the Great Shield and likely had no way of working anything even it if he did, not with two priests on board. Calling up a demon was bad enough, but at least this way they had hope. Shaa would know to hide himself and his magics. He always did.
All at once they shot free, the speed far beyond anything they had reached yet. Shaa sank back into place and Shannon fell forward, catching himself with his right hand. He held his left hand to his chest. If he had truly needed to breathe, he would have been panting at this point, but he didn’t need air. He became totally still as he focused inward to let the pain pass. He needed a moment to recover.
The darkness of the storm could not follow them. Gerome could not follow them. Here it was only wind and rain, but the crew was terrified now and the magics broken. Lightning and burning runes were the only light. He was shaken from Shaa’s touch and would not risk helping the men. They would have to cope on their own.
“Uncle,” Elliot scrambled up the steps, “Uncle! Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Shannon said. “Just a little drained.”
“The ship is damaged. I can’t slow her or steer. How far is the coast from the Barrier’s inside wall? We are inside, aren’t we?”
Shannon didn’t have time to answer as Elliott crashed into him to the sound of crushing wood and snapping timbers. Elliott’s cry was as if it was his legs that had been struck. His ship was as much a part of him as his own bones, and the sound of its hull being crushed apart was an emotional blow the captain would likely hang onto for a great long time.
“Load the boats!” Elliott roared, choking on tears. He forced himself up, letting go of Shannon before he stumbled back down the deck.
Elliott’s voice was enough for the crew to get moving again. Lightning lit up the sky, hitting the water all around them. They could see the spear of stone they had hit, its rough edges appearing and vanishing as they jolted and jerked on the waves. The rock had crushed into the starboard side hull and held the ship impaled. Each wave drove them against the stone, snapping and tearing away more timbers.
Shannon moved to help Dave as Elliott jerked up the trap doors by the side-rails to throw hidden survival packs into the lifeboats. Using what magics he could, he projected his voice over the roar of the storm and the crack and boom of the thunder and lightning. He yelled for the passengers to abandon ship. The crew struggled to get the lifeboats free of their locks and ready to launch, but the jolting of the ship sent the men staggering and sprawling.
Shannon reached out and caught a sailor whose magic ropes snapped under the strain of the jolting, but two others were out of reach and crashed and tumbled aside and over the rail. Shannon shoved the wizard away and back into motion.
“Off the ship!” Elliott roared over the storm and the sound of splintering and cracking wood. The passengers fought to get to the boat through the wind, waves, and wildly swinging deck. Shannon grabbed Dave’s elbow as the young man snatched up a young boy. The boy’s mother jumped to the boat. She turned at once with her arms out to take him, but a wave slammed into them and nearly washed her over. Dave cast out his own ropes to hold himself against the wave.
The boy’s mother was driven hard against the side of the lifeboat, likely cracking rips and having the wind knocked out of her. Oirion was there, helping steady Dave before he helped a couple others into the boat.
“Go!” Dave yelled at Oirion. “I’ll hand you the boy!”
Oirion scrambled across to the boat between waves and reached out. Dave passed the boy over and was nearly torn away, but Shannon held on and Dave’s ropes helped keep him in place.
The next wave tore them free from the rocks only to slam them back onto it. The force had snapped Dave’s ropes and left him gasping and momentarily stunned at the broken magic. Only Shannon’s grip on Dave kept him from falling off the ship to the churning water below.
“Get that boat launched and get Dave off these bloody rocks!” Elliott yelled to Shannon. “I will find you on shore!”
“Go! Go!” Dave yelled to the dwarf who jumped the space as the deck jolted and tilted. The dwarf barely caught the edge of the boat as it suddenly swung out and below the port side hull.
The ship threatened to come crushing down on the lifeboats, but several of the crewmen cast their own invisible magic ropes to pull the ship back upright just enough that it didn’t roll.
Shannon could feel the strain of the few men who were able to hold such weight with their magic. It wouldn’t last.
As the dwarf scrambled into the lifeboat, Shannon all but threw Dave after him. Dave was about to object, but Shannon was in no mood to argue and Dave saw it in his face. Shannon followed his heir, easily stepping over others to get to the stern.
Water crashed up from under the lifeboat, almost tipping it over. The Dwarven cleric threw out magic and held the boat safe, but nearly blinded Shannon. It took him a moment to blink past the effects of the divine magics.
Shannon reached for the pulley’s brake clamp to set them rolling down. He had just grabbed the rope when the big Ezeeren jumped in the boat as well. His weight made the rope slip as one of the brakes broke and popped open. One end of the boat went down while the other held.
Any other man would have had the flesh stripped from his hands, but Shannon’s gloves were far more than just leather and his strength far beyond a mortal man. He caught them from dumping out and crashing down on the rocks below.
They swung on the uneven rope with Oirion and the woman both falling into Shannon. He couldn’t risk letting go of the rope to help them, but both managed to get a hold. Oirion grabbed the side of the boat and caught the front of Shannon’s tunic, his fingers finding a grip at the arm seam. Oirion pulled back, to support Shannon against the lean of the lifeboat as well as the woman’s weight. Shannon was a little impressed by Oirion’s effort to aid him. The grip on him might have meant life or death to another man, but for Shannon it wasn’t truly necessary.
A big woman, nearly as large as the Ezeeren, fought her way the prow of the life boat and grabbed the other rope to untangle it. It took her several tries, jerking hard with her massive strength on the rope. She got it free and they leveled out just as the ship tried to roll on them again.
“Pull us out!” Shannon ordered Dave. Dave cast out a magic rope, safe from detection under Shannon’s shields, and pulled them away from the ship’s hull that was looming over them.
They swung away from the ship and the thick ropes whipped free of the pulleys. They hit the water hard, but again the dwarf held the boat from rolling or tipping over with his own form of magic.
Oirion saved a young screaming noblewoman from going overboard as Shannon caught the mother who held her son tightly in her arms. Waves picked them up, threatening to drown them. Shannon dared not let go of the woman and her child or they would go over. He almost reached for another passenger as a cold wave hit them, but he was too far away to aid. The young man went over and was out sight almost at once.
Through the rain they caught flashes of the ship with its glowing runes and the fires that had started with the exploding magics. Soon even that was lost to the waves, which seemed to have grown worse. The only light was the lightning above and most of that was blocked by the drenching rain and crashing waves. The storm did not abate, but pounded them without mercy.
Shannon was vaguely aware that the boy, who was sheltered between his mother and Shannon, had shields of her making of even more skill than what she wore herself. There was power in the two of them and he knew in his mind that he should not be anywhere near them, let alone hold them in his arms, but as waves threatened to tear them away, he dared not let go. Rarely was he able to be near any living soul without feeling their energy and emotions, but these two were perfectly shielded to allow him to shelter them.
He could save them and would as long as Dave was safe. There were others, though, that lost strength and were torn from the small boat. Shannon let them go.
Even with the storm, he could feel their life and energy drain away below the waves. Not only them, but members of Elliott’s crew flickered out. Waves pulled Elliott eastward, further and further from Shannon and the boat of passengers. If Elliott was on a life boat or clinging to flotsam Shannon had of way of knowing.
They had made it through the Barrier against all odds, but now what? Shannon tried not to think about what would meet them on the shore. He tightened his shields and began to slowly gather in the fear and pain generated by the dozen people in the boat. Gently, he turned it back to those who created it and offered them endurance and strength.