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Daughters of Fate (Chapter 17)

 Three days ago, we were attacked by a vicious beast fully twice as long as our ship when we anchored just off the shore of the Telowian Islands in the Southern Sea to make repairs.  The beast dove upon us from the clouds and tore men from the decks to devour in its maw.  Of the Archeons, I had heard before this, but never had I believed.  I count myself lucky to have escaped with my life and my ship.   

– Annals of Lord Finnas

Chapter 17 (19th of Taru-Des in the year 6198) 

“Get that rigging ready!” Reane called, pacing around the deck.  The target of her words, Brentai, was high above the ship testing the ropes and pulleys used to hoist the sails.    “I want out of here before that storm starts up again!”  Then added as a mutter under her breath, “And before any of the Archeons find us.”   

Bretnai tugged on one final rope.  He looked down to see the crew scurrying about to get The Oracle back out to sea. “We’ll have to make some additional repairs once we get underway!     

*I don’t care,* Reane told him with her mind.  *Get as many of those sails up as you can.*   

“Aye, captain!” He responded out loud, not realizing his mistake.   

Reane looked over her should and the starboard side of her ship.  The Oracle bobbed in the rough seas not more than five hundred feet from a vertical cliff of rock.  She watched the was crash over the jagged, rocky teeth at its base.   

Thanks to Brentai and the rest of her crew, The Oracle had survived after the primary anchor broken loose in the storm.  Had they not been successful at getting the backup anchor rigged and into the water, The Oracle would be in thousands of tiny pieces right now.   

With this lull in the storm, Reane wanted nothing more than to leave this place.  The Telowian Islands were not somewhere she wanted to be with the possibility of Archeons in the air.  

True, there were none of the foul breed to be seen, but Reane sensed them.  There was a tickle in the back of her mind.  Like something was stirring and poking around there.  Something not human.  Something primitive.  And she didn’t like it.  Reane knew they were out there, slumbering through the dead of winter. But the question in her mind was if any of them stirred from their hibernation. And whether or not any of them knew that she and her ship were here.   

“Prepare to set sail!” The Captain heard Brentai call to the crew as he came down from the rigging.   “Half sail only! Get ready to engage the docking propellers to assist!  Turn full to starboard and set them to full reverse!”    

Reane scanned the deck of her ship, her eyes coming to rest on Anthony as he leaned against a barrel used to harvest rainwater.  He seemed transfixed by the open sea and the dark clouds as they ran past overhead.  Taking a second, Reane focused her thoughts and pushed out, hoping to penetrate the void where his thoughts should have been.  She had no success.    

Bracing herself against the ship, Reane felt herself grow momentarily dizzy and lightheaded.  None of the sailors seemed to notice, and she quickly recomposed herself with a sigh.  Putting on the air of a confident woman, she strolled over to where Anthony stood.   

He turned as he heard her approach.    

“It doesn’t look like those ships will be a threat anymore,” Reane spoke as she rested herself to his right, leaning against the same barrel. “I’m sure that they’re halfway back to Catersburg by now.”    

“Why wouldn’t they just hold back?  Wait for us to make a break for it then jump us?”   

“Ah, it’s a big ocean, my friend.  I could go a hundred directions from here.  And besides the tales of Archeons and what they do to ships no doubt frightens even Captain Corsair.  He’s no fool.  Stupid, yes.  But not a fool.”    

“So then, by us being here I assume that you are not foolish?    

“See,” Reane shook her head as she stood and paced away from him then back, “now that is exactly the kind of thing that if you knew me better you would know not to ask.  Archeons, are a lot like dragons.  Only bigger, meaner, more aggressive – uglier.  Archeons have a limited range because of their huge size.  See, they’re so big that they can’t stay aloft very long.  They’ll make it to maybe the horizon and back. But no further.  We raise the sails, catch the wind while it’s in our favor, head out to sea, and there’s no damage done.”     

“Well, I’ve never seen an Archeon,” Anthony admitted. “Although, the myths are also very well known to me.  But I have seen the dragons that come with Hedric’s troops and I know what they can do.  Until we’re out to sea I won’t feel safe.”   

Looking into Anthony’s eye, Reane found herself captivated by the stranger’s serious demeanor.  There was so much she wanted to know.  But none of it would come from her special talents.  Reane tore her stare away to look across the deck and watch as sailors began to raise some of The Oracle’s sails.   

Billowing out, catching the winds, they caused the ship to jerk and move.  Then she heard the familiar churning and clunking of the docking propellers unwinding their springs as they assisted in the push away from the island.  That put her at ease.    

Then, in a sudden flash, the barriers in her mind seemed to collapse.  Thoughts of unimaginable hate and rage flooded out her own.  She crumpled to one knee on the deck and let out an agonizing cry as her head throbbed.    

As she gripped her head tightly in her hands, Anthony moved to her in startled surprise.   “Captain?”  

Reane struggled to bring her thoughts back as she whispered, “It’s coming.”    

“What?  Captain, what’s wrong? What’s coming?”  This brought back memories of what he had seen while the two hid below deck in Catersburg.  To him, it was bizarre and unexplainable.  No one would talk to him about it then.  And now it was happening again.    

“Prepare to defend!”  Reane shouted as she gathered enough strength and looked up.  She forced herself to her feet with Anthony’s assistance.    

At her warning, the lookout doubled his efforts. He traced his vision across the low hanging dark clouds.  Off in the distance, he spotted the danger. The end of a gray, serpentine tail tucked back into hiding in the clouds.  The bottoms of the clouds swirled as the faint sounds of leathery wing beats took up cadence above the winds.    

“Archeon spotted dead astern!” the lookout announced as he gripped the sides of his perch high on the main mast.  “Mount armaments!”   

His second call was mostly drowned out by a gust of wind.  But it was unnecessary. Every available man not securing the sails began to remove pieces of the decking.  They began to retrieve large ballistas that were hidden in the compartments below.   

Reane, struggling to replace the barriers in her mind, observed as her crew readied the mighty weapons and latched them to their mountings on the deck.  Each one took three crew members to lift and set.   

A roar of terror came from above the clouds.  Wingbeats became louder.  With the armaments mounted, the crew had proceeded to arm them with massive bolts into the launching mechanism. Then the men waited in apprehensive silence as the swirling spot in the clouds drew closer and closer.   

Anthony continued to help Reane steady herself as she reconstructed her mental barriers.  She tore away from his grip as the last one went back into place.  In her desire to find out the secrets that lay in his mind, she had inadvertently allowed them to weaken past the point where they could hold up against the powerful anger of an Archeon’s thoughts.    

“Best you get below,” she barked, still feeling the presence of the Archeon in her mind.  She now knew what it was doing.  It was using her mind against her.  Using her lapse in judgment to home in on her and the ship like a bloodhound.   

Then, without warning, the sound of the Archeon’s wings fell silent.  Reane turned to look and noticed the tell-tale swirling of the clouds slowly calming. Then, it stopped.    

“Perhaps it decided that we didn’t look all that appetizing?” Anthony quipped as he managed a smile while looking for any signs of the monster.   

The glower that Reane gave him in response told him that even she knew better.   

She sensed the crew start to relax as they too perhaps thought the same.  She turned to issue an order to remain vigilant, but before the words left her mouth the maw of the ancient beast erupted from the clouds and dove upon The Oracle with a guttural sound that hurt the ears.   

The giant flying beast missed The Oracle, but not by much.  Its body was a mass of horns and scales and teeth, designed for destruction.  Its spiked scales on its tail caught the mainsail and gashed it.   

Five-foot bolts fully six inches around and with forged metal tips began to rain from the sailor’s weapons as they fought to maintain their balance on the deck.  Most missed, but some found their marks, only increasing the beast’s rage.  The wind from the giant leathery wings pushed the ship this way and that upon the sea.    

As long as the ship from snout to tail-tip, the Archeon turned in midair with agility that belied its size and girth.  This was a small one, Reane knew, but none-the-less deadly.  It lunged back for the ship, digging its five-toed claws into the hull and deck.  The wood shattered in its grip and it let out a massive roar.  Hot breath and fear washed over the ship.  Some of the weaker willed sailors ran for the rails and abandoned their posts.   

More of bolts found their mark as blood from the beast began coating the deck. The monster began to lose some of its fight. It sank out of the air.   

The bow of the Oracle bucked up as the creature’s weight pulled the other half down.  As the ship crashed back to the sea, Reane felt herself launched into the air and across the main deck.  She slid at least twenty feet through salt water and blood before coming to a halt and jamming her head hard on a wall.    

She tried to right herself, but as she stood a piece of planking the creature had torn from The Oracle hurdled through the air and struck her in the chest. It sent her into the ship’s railing.  Wood snapped. She could feel it giving way behind her and felt herself begin to fall over the side.  In her decent, her hand reached out and caught a part of the railing tangled in a length of rope, abruptly stopping her downward momentum into the sea.    

Her grip son began to falter.  No one came to help her as the Archeon continued to attack the ship.  Focusing her thoughts into a knife, she sent out one, desperate plea.    

*Help me!*   

Anthony stumbled as the words blasted his mind with such force that it took a second to recover.    

He had never felt anything quite like it.  He recognized the voice and looked about as he gathered his feet beneath him.    

“Captain!” he called out blindly across the ship.   

The Archeon howled. Still more and more bolts pierced its thick hide.  Shrieking, the creature was near death.  

Anthony ducked a swipe from the beast’s tail that cleaved across the deck and caught more than a few sailors unaware.  Now it was only a matter of whether it would let go before taking The Oracle to the bottom with it. Sailors had rushed over and were hacking at its claws with swords and bashing at them with clubs of debris.   

“Captain!”    

The ship bucked again as the monster’s hold slipped, tearing a gaping hole in the ship.  Anthony heard its howl fading as it lashed about in the water.  Its death throws sent a wave across the deck that washed even more sailors overboard.    

“Captain!” he called again, moving in awkward strides across the pitching and tortuous deck.  As he approached a gap in the railing, he happened to glance over the side and saw the Captain holding on for dear life.  “By the Greater Goddess! Captain!”    

He threw himself flat on the deck and reached his hand over the side.  Behind him, the sounds of the Archeon rolling bloodied in the water drowned out a cheer from the remaining crew that went up.   

“Captain!  Give me your hand!”  Anthony strained as far over the side as he dared.  But, even with one hand on the railing and his body mostly over the edge, there was still a good half foot of space between him and Reane.    

“I can’t,” she spoke weakly as she strained with her other hand.  There was a pain in her chest that was unbearable.   

Anthony saw her grip slip and lunged, finding a few extra inches in his own reach.  But it cost him his own grip.  Catching her wrist with both hands, he could feel her weight begin to pull him over the edge with her.   

“Reane!” Sheala cried as she appeared at the edge of the ship with them.   

Anthony pleaded, “I can’t hold her much longer!”    

“Don’t worry,” Brentai boomed.   

Anthony felt his strong arms wrap around his legs as he began to slide overboard.  A strong tug brought him back on board, along with the Captain.    

Reane laid down on the deck of the ship and she looked at him tiredly.  She couldn’t even manage to speak, *Brentai-*    

“Quiet Reane.  Don’t strain yourself.”  He looked up to see Anthony staring at his response to the unspoken words.  “Quin!”    

*Brentai, please.  I’ll be fine.  Quin has others more in need.*    

“No one is more in need that the Captain.”    

*No doctors.*    

“Reane, please, don’t argue.”     

She looked ready to respond to his indignant tone, but her eyes rolled back in her head and Brentai watched her body go limp.      

Brentai did not know what to think as he watched, but he feared the worst. “QUIN!”    

Sitting perched against the wall outside of Reane’s cabin, Sheala fiddled with a knife in her hand, absently digging its tip into the wall.  As the door creaked open, Sheala jumped to her feet.    

A stubby man filled the doorway and blocked her as she tried to enter.  “Please,” Quin urged, “the Captain needs to rest.” Brentai appeared behind him.   

Sheala tried to see into the cabin.  She asked, “Is she alright?”     

“She ‘ll be fine.  But only if she gets some time to heal.”    

Brentai added, “Reane’s just got a few cracked ribs.”   

“And probably a concussion.”  

“Right. Quin says that it’s nothing serious that you won’t recover from.”   

The ship’s doctor moved out into the hallway, pushing Sheala aside.  “I have others to attend to.  Brentai, you just make sure the Captain does as I said and gets plenty of bed rest.  She’s stubborn and won’t listen to me.”    

As he spoke, Sheala slipped into the room.  Brentai moved to block her but she was far too agile to be stopped by him.   “Sheala!” he called.    

Sheala ignored Brentai as she walked through the cabin, which was once again in utter disarray.  Approaching Reane’s berth, she watched as her shirtless friend was sitting on the edge of her bed and fiddling with the bandage wrapped over her shoulder and across her chest.   

Reane stretched out her arm, to test her range of motion.  Even the slightest movement caused her pain.    

Brentai followed and saw what Reane was up to.  He spoke to remind her of Quin’s orders, “You’re supposed to stay in bed.”    

Reane scoffed.  Then she grimaced with pain.  “What do doctors know?”   

“You’re the one that’s kept Quin on as the ship’s doctor. You said that he knew what he was doing.”    

Reane stood tentatively.  “So do I.  And I know that I’ll be fine.  I just have to work the soreness out.”  

“Quin says that you have a few cracked ribs.”  

“And a concussion,” Sheala added.   

“Right. I’m no doctor, but I think that it’s going to take a little more than ‘working the soreness out’ to heal from that.”     

Reane shot him a glare, upset that he was questioning her.  Sheala stepped in and tried to get Reane to get back into bed. “Please Reane, do as Quin says.”   

Reane picked up a dry shit and threw it on.  She was not about to show these two that she was not capable of running her own ship.  She fought down the pain as she looked about the new mess in her cabin. “Where’s Anthony?”      

“Huh?” Sheala blinked.  “I don’t know.  I think that he went below to his cabin to dry out.  Why?”   

“Nothing, just making sure that my pay didn’t fall into the ocean.”  Reane got up and tried to walk out, but Brentai blocked her path.  As she tried to duck under his arm, the pain in her ribs flared up and she was forced to use him as a crutch.   

Brentai helped her stay on her feet.  “As long as I’m First Mate on this ship, you ‘ll do as Quin says.”   He walked her gingerly back over to her mattress and then made her sit.   “Now, if I have to post a guard at that door, I will.”   

“You’d keep me a prisoner on my ship?  You think that I can’t get past any man you put out there?”   

“Give yourself until we get to Fimmirra, Reane.  That’s all I ask.”    

Reane sighed and looked to the floor. “How’s my ship?”   

Brentai shook his head.  “She’s in rough shape.  We’ll make it there.  And we should make it by Yule.  But we’re definitely down several crew.  And we’ll probably only be able to sail at three quarter’s speed at best. Most likely sixty percent.”    

“How long?”    

“To Fimmirra?  I don’t know.  Fifteen days?  Maybe eighteen?”    

“Fifteen days,” she whispered.   “What am I supposed to do for fifteen days?”   

“Reane,” Sheala shrieked, “you’ve got a whole trunk full of books that you haven’t even looked at yet!”   

“Fifteen days?” Reane repeated.    

Brentai folded his arms across his chest, unwilling to compromise.  “You show me improvement before then?  You can leave this cabin sooner.  But until then, the ruling of the ship’s doctor is enough to put me in command.  What do think?  That I’ll run this ship into the ground?  She’ll be in one piece when you’re ready to get back on deck.”    

“She’d better be,”  Reane warned, laying down on her mat.  “Your salary isn’t nearly enough to pay for a new ship.”    

“Does that mean we have a deal?”    

“We’ll see about that.  We’ll see.” 

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