CHAPTER FIVE .
The Albatross hit the next ship, jarring them sideways hard. The sound cracked as the hull threatened to crush, but they raced past. Kelly dove to catch Theo as he toppled sideways, hitting his head as he fell. She held the unconscious Theo tightly, protecting his body from the falling pumice the best that she could. His voice had pulled her out of the dark and brought her back to the world again; she would not leave him to lie on the deck, exposed to the rain of little black stones.
“Get him below deck,” Shannon yelled to her. Somehow, she heard his voice over the noise. Shannon turned from Kelly and moved to the ropes, ordering the sailors to hoist the sails. Suddenly, he sensed a small demon forming over Oirion. It was poised to strike the priest totally unaware. Kelly saw it as well, but was too far away to do anything about it, and she would not leave Theo alone. All she could do was watch as Shannon moved so swiftly that his image actually blurred, crossing the entire deck in three steps and a leap.
Grabbing Oirion, Shannon spun into a pivot, throwing the man aside. The attack that was aimed for Oirion caught Shannon across the back. The claws sliced through the leather and down through his skin. Shannon let go of Oirion, who spun with the momentum and came up on his feet in a stance, his battle experience taking over. Carrying through, Shannon whipped around to face the demon and retaliated with his own attack.
With a high kick, he hit the demon in what would have been the chest. The power in the kick shattered the demon instantly. It splintered in fragments of darkness that turned to smoke and was gone. Power shivered in the air where the attack had blown the demon apart. Oirion staggered and fell to his knees on the deck, still too weak to stand.
Shannon had the tears in his black leather mended before his foot even hit the deck. He hoped that he had been fast enough, that Riven and Oirion had not felt his blood power as anything independent from the demon’s.
Riven banished another demon as Oirion threw up a shield over the deck. The two priests both shouted the sanctifying prayer that would protect the vessel form further demonic attacks for awhile. Even in their condition, their magics held with a deep power far beyond what they would have hoped for. Even the pumice stones were slowed, dropping on the deck harmlessly.
As they reached open water, they could see the glowing red wall of liquefied stone and boiling gasses begin to pour over the city and spill into the harbor, igniting any ship unfortunate enough to be near the docks. Ships frantically tried to escape in all directions, creating absolute chaos within the harbor.
“Dear God, all those poor people,” the captain said as he raised his own power, filling the sails to their fullest. With a jerk that nearly threw them to the deck, they shot forward at a speed that the ship could barely sustain.
There was nothing left of the city, Kaava was certain of that. He had felt the power in Theo; the small quiet man hid so much. Kaava stood at the rail watching ash fall like snow onto the ocean. They had cut south, letting the current carry them once they were clear of the danger. He glanced over as Kelly joined him at the rail.
She still had green in her cheeks, but had been beaten the least. She was quiet, looking to the north where the island city burned; it had already begun to disappear into the wall of black smoke on the horizon. Many thousands had died to save them.
“I spoke to the healer. They will all recover. Riven is a bit surly and Dave might be blind in one eye, but we’re all here. We all made it.”
Kaava nodded. “You all made it out.” He looked over at her. “Theo?”
“It’s a magic drain. The healer doesn’t know for certain. It might have burned his cores in a way that would prevent him from using magic again.”
“He did it, you know… got Shannon through it, brought us to the harbor, managed to get in, and saved all of you. Such a shy little man to hold such power.”
“I think he just wants to be normal and fears his power. My God, Kaava, already drained, he buried half the city in lava in a just moments.” She shook her head. “I don’t know who he is really, but he’s no low level noble.”
“I don’t think he doubted he could do it, but the lives he took will haunt him. I do not envy such power,” Kaava had to agree.
They stood together looking out at the water until Ivan walked out, his arm still in a sling, his face white, his hair stirring in the wind a bit. He stood beside Kelly, looking out over the water.
“What will you do when you get home?” Ivan asked.
“I don’t know. You?”
“Go home,” he said, “build me a little hut over the Turtle River and watch the sun trace along the rim of the world.”
“Back to Ezeer?” she asked. “There is not much for gold there.”
“I think I will sing the songs of the dead and allow myself to grieve for my loss, and then try to do what I might have done if my sons yet lived. Maybe someday I’ll find another woman and have a new life.”
Kelly chuckled. “Just one, Ivan?”
He chuckled, but winced at the pain. “Ezeerens don’t marry as most other races. Love is like a river; it seems the same, but ever changes as souls meet and bend and grow. Only a fool defines the way a river will flow and dictates the rules of it. It is what it is.”
“Desert sands,” Kelly said with a distant look in her eyes.
“You going home?” he asked her.
“No, find a home maybe. Just for a few decades would be nice, I think. Plant a garden.” She looked over and smiled. “Tell stories of the day I met the great Ivan U’Shard.”
“A pity he died in a storm; swept overboard and drowned by the weight of his own jewelry.” He laughed his great laugh
“Not Ivan,” Kelly laughed. “He could walk on water.”
Oirion walked out, a bit shaky, but on his feet. He joined them at the rail. Leaning back on it, he twisted the ring on his finger.
“What about you, Oirion?” Ivan asked. “What will you do?”
“What will I do?” he asked.
“When we get home,” Ivan said.
“Get a haircut,” Oirion said, catching his hair out of his face. He got smiles for it, but his thoughts were far darker than that. He was troubled; they saw it and let him alone.
“How long until we reach the Barrier?” Oirion asked.
Just then, a burst of light exploded from the east, creating an eerie glow on the horizon. It was enough to catch the attention of everyone on deck. A moment later, a deafening boom shook the world, vibrating into the bones of everyone. The ocean became utterly flat and the wind ceased. The boom returned, echoing off the inside of the Barrier.
A horrified look fell upon Kelly’s face, but before she had a chance to speak, Riven could be heard roaring as he emerged from below.
“We need to shield the ship, now!” he yelled.
Shannon came charging up the steps right behind Riven, almost pushing him out of the way. He immediately began casting, raising a shield around the entire ship. At the same time, Kelly raised her hand toward the sails creating a gust of wind that rivaled the captain’s and Kaava’s combined.
The ship picked up speed again, barreling toward the western horizon which began to shimmer in places. Waters started to swirl in small whirlpools. They were approaching the Barrier.
Riven placed his feet firmly on the deck and threw his fists into the air. He cried out a Dwarven spell, sending earth magic directly into Shannon’s shield, aiding the man with all the power the dwarf had to offer. The shield itself seemed to crystallize and turn a dark gray.
Then it hit – the full force of what Theo had unleashed. A fluidized mass of turbulent gas and rock fragments came at them so fast that they could not have seen it coming. They had barely gotten the shield up in time. Even with the shield, the heat of the explosion made the air so hot that no one could even breathe. It crashed against the shield so hard that the ship was flung forward.
The island had exploded with a force that none of them could have predicted. No one anywhere near the massive island could have escaped. Millions were dead.
As they approached the Barrier at unimaginable speed, they spotted the other world outside the Barrier. The trade island of Kristy was a dark point on the water, the destination… if they could just get through the Barrier. Clouds began to gather out of nowhere; they were unnaturally created as a result of the Barrier. From this distance it did not appear to be a clear, thin wall, but rather a wall of power, storms, and shields.
Riven could feel Shannon desperately work to shift his shield, adjusting it to protect them from the force of the Barrier now. He attempted to shift in conjunction with Shannon, allowing his magic to flow into the modified shield. As they poured their energies out together in a cooperative spell, he couldn’t help but think of the man.
Riven wondered if what he had heard those months ago was really true. He couldn’t ignore it anymore. The weeks as a captive, locked in the dark, he had time to think and had been doing a lot of very serious thinking. Was Shannon the man who had murdered his family so horribly that men grew sick at the finding, or was he the Saint who wrote so many of the books Riven had studied? Was he King of Norwood – the Shadow King? Could Shannon be all those men at once?
Riven looked off through the shield. He could see a ship just on the far side of the barrier and wondered whose it was. Would they have more problems as soon as they were through?
They hit the storm all at once. It was not a light, gusting wind, but madness that rocked and rolled the ship. The heat of the explosion was gone; it had been replaced with blasts of freezing air and the normally calm waters had become a torrent.
Kelly moved at once to fight with the rigging. Oirion caught his breath and joined Shannon and Riven in shielding the ship. They all did their best to keep the ship together and the crushing power of the storm out. Ivan grabbed the helm with all his strength. He aimed for the island that he had spotted earlier, but that was now lost in the storm.
The waves turned on themselves, creating a hollow that the ship dropped abruptly into. Before they had even regained their balance, the ship rolled hard, and with a sideways blow, waves crashed over the deck. The suddenness of it staggered all but Dave, as he emerged from below. Many hit the deck hard. Others were washed up against the rail. Dave immediately cast a flurry of Ropes to save not only himself, but anyone on the deck within reach. Riven roared and caught on with his own rope of power. As fast as they were hit, the ship jerked to a stand-still. It creaked and groaned; they all heard the timbers below splinter and crack under the strain.
The storm was driven back and they were suddenly trapped in a ball of power. A green light swirled in a pillar on the deck. Shannon turned to face it as the entire crew fled in terror, some plunging themselves overboard. Everyone else dropped to the deck in dry heaves, sickened by the pure evil of it. Oirion’s ring of priesthood began to glow with a holy brightness. Despite the fact that Riven no longer wore his ring, his ring finger glowed nonetheless.
Out of the light stepped a demon; it appeared in the image of Shannon, but had glowing red eyes and robes of black. Smoke rolled off of his body, leaving the deck frozen at its touch. He smiled with pleasure and bowed, his eyes fixed on Shannon.
“Your Lordship, so nice to see you again,” he purred.
Shannon took a step back, sweating, his footing almost slipping on the wet deck.
The demon laughed at Shannon’s obvious fear and faltering step. The rest of them felt their guts wrench as they realized that Shannon was afraid.
“Oh, I have missed you, my love. Come home now so that we may resume our affair.”
Shannon looked for an exit. The demon laughed as his power crept outward toward Shannon. Shannon moved back to escape it, but it shot forward and caught him. It writhed up his legs and seemed to sink into him as much as touch him.
Clutching his hand to his chest, Shannon fell to a knee, out of breath and trying not to cry out. He was shaking; sweat ran down his face.
“Did you really think I would let Gerome catch you inside the Dome? My dear, you belong to me; I’ve been waiting for you to try and pass through. You walked right to me. You see? You do love me.”
Shannon looked up with tears on his cheeks. There was nothing he could say, no emotion that he hadn’t already screamed at that demon. Whatever he did would simply add to the thing’s pleasure.
“Come; let me see your hand. How did it turn out in this realm?”
Shannon’s hands were jerked out toward the demon. His gloves came off. They were utterly white, all except his left hand where two gold rings had melted from his last two fingers, the shimmering gold running down to his wrist. From the edge of the gold, blood was already flowing in a small but steady stream. It sparkled with power in this half-realm that the demon had created around them. The gold seemed almost to glow in the dark. The demon laughed.
“Now, isn’t that pretty.” His tone changed and he roared, “Denounce your God, Tyredelle!”
“Never!” Shannon yelled, sobs breaking free. “I defy you!”
Flames of green swept over Shannon. His scream had no sound and he fell forward, curled over by the sheer pain of it.
Somehow, Riven had gotten to his feet and he stepped between them.
“Ullalrish Vondrack Shneick susus Em Relldach!” He roared the banishment spell of the dwarves of old. It was written on the walls of the old city. His grandfather had made him learn it, just in case. A wave of warm air blew out in every direction, washing over his comrades. They all began to recover quickly, catching their breaths and staggering to their feet. The wave reflected back from the demon, however, and returned to Riven as a breath of blackness.
Shannon tried to get up, to save Riven, but he knew he could never do it alone; there was no way. This was the beast that had made Shannon what he was. Shannon was helpless before him. But, if he could just save the others from the demon…
Kaava had not been affected as badly as the others. He had already recovered, but his attack took more time to complete. He stood from where he knelt and threw up his hand. Out of his palm shot up a blue streak that swirled and spun out into a blue glowing form – not human, not orc, just power. Its wings flared out and it stepped down between the demon and Riven.
The demon snarled and became a giant black goblin, matching the size of the winged form. They rushed each other.
Riven collapsed and lay panting and blind on the deck. Shannon crawled toward him, looking for Oirion to help him get Riven clear. He barely had helped Riven to his feet when the Blue Summons was shredded in the demon’s claws. The monster roared with laughter and grabbed Shannon in his fist.
Shannon couldn’t scream; he would have if he had been able to. Flames wreathed up around him. The others were helpless to do anything. They had begun to recover from the nausea, but were still paralyzed with fear.
Shannon could feel his flesh starting to revert. It was burning away, reducing him once again to the demonic state. There was nothing he could do. He had lost. All that he could hope for now was that he would be worth so much to the demon that the others would be left alone.
Oirion panicked. He had failed and lost Jamie, and now he was about to fail and lose Shannon. He cast out with all the power he could muster, to try to pull Shannon back. It was an act of desperation. He could not allow the demon to take Shannon. Its desire to take Shannon was too supernaturally evil for Oirion to accept. It simply must not happen.
At that moment, something inside Oirion’s heart and soul slipped, and he felt his body falling back. Just before Oirion hit the deck, for a single instant he felt himself back on the river again… another man’s prayer filled his head, just as it had then. He felt the union of power from that moment. He felt the Link that had been created with Shannon, felt it in a way that he had not been aware of until this moment. The magic and desperation of his actions poured into that link, and for one horrible second he was hit with pain like he had never felt.
Fear and hopelessness blocked thought nearly to nothing; his body was in such pain that it went far beyond the ability of the body to feel. It was he who was in the demon’s grasp, his flesh burning away, the light fading as he was being pulled into hell. It passed almost as fast as it had hit him. Suddenly, there was complete calmness.
He was still in unimaginable pain, but he was also alive and coherent; he was momentarily stunned by it. Then he realized that he was no longer in control. He looked through his own eyes, but felt his body move on its own. He rose to his feet and opened up to a level of power that he had never before dared to touch. Lifting his arms, he surrendered himself fully and let the prayer for the Fire of Heaven explode in his heart. The power of Heaven filled him, and he released it as a prayer of banishment that he had never heard in his life, yet he knew it as if he had created it himself. It was not he who was in control of the prayer, the power, or the flesh.
The demon whirled from the delighted torture of its captive to look at the man on the deck, but was blinded by rays of Holy Light.
Then, horror and pain exploded in Oirion once again; he was crashing and felt the demon in his soul. The Light and the calm were gone, replaced with raging hell. Oirion screamed and jerked back. He felt as if his soul was ripped apart and that half of him was shredded beyond the pain of death. He hit the deck hard.
The banishment hit the demon even as Oirion fell. It screeched as it tried to crush Shannon with its final attack, but the demon was shredded to nothingness just as rays of sunlight melt away the shadows. The storm quickly crashed in on them as Shannon fell from the vanished grip of the demon. He hit the deck and did not get up.
Riven crawled over toward Oirion and Shannon. Oirion was struggling to get up. Then, before them, both Riven and Oirion saw it – a Vampire of more power than any they had seen before! All of Shannon’s shields were gone now and his power was surging out in echoes of the demons. Oirion shouted as he got up. Even as he moved, he began raising the power to kill. Not even Oirion realized how deeply he had been affected by the touch of Shannon’s soul against his own. Rage and pain roared in him. His world as a vampire hunter and a priest was all that he had to hold onto to keep sane. The link he moments ago felt with Shannon was still there, but now so deeply buried that he would no longer feel it or even remember it.
Ivan caught him and held the roaring Oirion back as Shannon grabbed Riven’s hand. Oirion screamed as he felt the vampire feed on Riven’s life. Riven cried out and collapsed, weeping, but did not pull away from Shannon. He didn’t even try to.
Finally, after a minute that seemed like an eternity, the ship shot out of the storm, through the Barrier, out under blue sky and into the blinding light of day. They all blinked and staggered as the ship slowed. Before they could regain their balance, a massive ship overcame the Albatross. It was so enormous it blocked the sun, dwarfing the ship they were on. It was a pirate ship; sleek, yet built to dominate. The black sails had the green tree of Norwood on them. The ship passed them so close that its outer rail hung over them.
Shannon jerked away from Riven and rolled up to his feet. His eyes were bloodshot and dilated, his mind intoxicated with the priestly energy he had taken from Riven. Right now, he was utterly a vampire…. and much more. Black smoke breathed out of his clothes and permeated the air around him. The blood on his exposed hand smoked crimson red; it only fell in drops now, but as each drop hit the deck it burst into flame.
Shannon moved to the rail. Holding his sides, broken and clearly in great pain, he lifted his eyes to Dave. Dave just stood there, stunned and staring at him. Shannon lifted a hand and caught a rope that was slung down to him. As the rope quickly retracted, he was jerked off the deck. Kaava ran and jumped; he grabbed the end of the rope as it ascended, leaving the deck and the others behind.
Shannon turned his back on them; looking up, he used both hands to climb the rope. He was pulled up over the rail of the gigantic ship. “Glorious Sun” was the Purtan name on the side, the flagship of the King of Norwood. He looked down at the others as Kaava was pulled up by the same men.
Ivan let Oirion go. Oirion shoved the big man.
“Why did you do that? He fed on Riven! He’s a vampire!”
“He’s Shannon,” Ivan said, almost in tears.
Dave helped Riven roll over and sit up. The dwarf looked like he had aged fifty years. He was white-faced and shaky, his hair nearly all white and his eyes bloodshot.
“It’s alright, Oirion,” Riven said. “He did what he had to. It’s better that he did what he did, than lose control and go mad. I didn’t crawl over there not knowing what he was. I allowed it.”
“You… but, Riven, you’re a cleric.”
Riven looked at the other priest. “He saved our lives, over and over again. He refused to feed on our pain when he could have taken us.”
“He’s hunted by the pontiff and we got in the way!”
Riven stared at Oirion in shock. “Don’t talk to me, Oirion,” he said as he pushed himself up. “Don’t ever talk to me again.”
The entire crew had gathered on deck, drawn by the commotion. They didn’t even ask what had happened; they simply attacked, fear-crazed at what they had just witnessed. Dave and Ivan shouted as the men charged, swift and armed. Oirion roared and threw at them a flare of fire. He had never cast such a spell and had no idea exactly how he had done it, but the three men leading the charge were instantly vaporized. Those directly behind them exploded into flames.
The spell took all the energy that Oirion had left. He fell to his knees and passed out as the others fought on. Theo stumbled onto the deck with the aid of the captain and shouted at what he saw. He waved his arms in a graceful move. The motion he used to cast his magic looked rather like a dance move. Out of his hands, a hail of blue arrows shot at the attackers. Just as the arrows found their targets with perfect accuracy, the ship jarred hard, crashing into boulders unseen off the point of the island of Kristy. The hull had been ripped open by the jagged rocks.
Kelly roared and charged into the remaining attackers from the side, swinging a stolen sword with extraordinary skill and power. She cut through them like nothing, ending the battle as quickly as it had started.
Dave was already headed toward the life boats and moved swiftly to get one off the tilting ship, even as the wind tore the rapidly disintegrating ship off the rocks and water began to flood the small hull.
“Ivan, grab Riven,” Kelly yelled as she hoisted up Oirion and carried him to the lifeboat. Ivan staggered. He tried to catch his balance and almost lost his stomach as the ship began to roll. He already had Riven under one arm. Dave grabbed a hold of Ivan to help him into the small lifeboat that was already heading toward the water with the ship leaning into it. Once again, they were forced to scramble from a sinking ship into a small lifeboat, but this time the mast and sails were coming down right on top of them; there was no way to avoid it as the ship rolled down toward them.
“Hurry!” Dave yelled, all but throwing Theo into the boat. They were not even all the way in as he cut the ropes, dropping them to the water. He and the captain grabbed oars and pulled hard. They seemed to move little, if at all, as the masts and sails came crashing down upon them.
One of the masts barely missed them, hitting not five feet away; it crushed into the water, soaking them all and creating a wave that nearly capsized the rowboat. The sails fell upon them, threatening to pull them under. The water boiled in turmoil as air escaped the ship’s compartments and water rushed into the hollow spaces of the ship.
Somehow, Dave and Captain Vandermeer got them turned just enough to survive the wave. Even with the sails pressing onto their heads, the two men pulled hard and kept rowing for all they were worth to get free of the wreckage, churning water, and jagged rocks. They had made it to the edge of the sinking sail successfully, but ropes and rigging got in the way.
They were raked over and tugged back and down by several ropes. Kelly cut at the ropes to free them, but Ivan was snagged by one and pulled overboard. He hit the water with a massive splash, sending panic into those who were conscious.
“Ivan!” Dave shouted.
The captain leapt from his seat and into the water with hardly a sound. Dave held his position, knowing that there was nothing more he could do at this point but keep the rowboat nearby and afloat. The waves crashed upon the rocky shore several times, before Ivan’s head broke the surface with an audible gasp for breath. He thrashed wildly in the water trying to stay afloat. Dave headed toward him.
The masts were completely submerged now as the ship capsized fully, revealing the keel and shattered hull for a short moment. Captain Vandermeer had saved Ivan; he had freed him from the entangling ropes, but at the cost of his own life. The suction of the ship had taken him down with it. Ivan grabbed onto the side of the lifeboat and hung on for his life.
Once free of the wreckage and turmoil of the ship and boulders, they turned the loaded boat toward a stretch of gently sloped beaches. Dave hung on his oars, exhausted. Off to the north, the black ship was just vanishing over the horizon. Ivan heaved a sigh. “I’m really going to miss all this,” he said sadly.
“Yes,” Kelly said. “It’s been nice to have comrades for a bit.”
“I’ll always be your comrade, Kelly,” Dave said, lifting his head.
She laughed a little. “That’s a nice thought.” She jumped over the side of the boat and ran the boat up the beach to the sand.