All day, the two wizards lived with a prickly sensation across the skin, a persistent warning of present danger. Again and again, Sinderian's restless pacing took her up to the quarterdeck, where she scanned the ocean from horizon to horizon. Though her heart said danger, eyes and ears could perceive no threat; extend her senses as she might, there was never anything there to be seen but endless miles of bright blue water, and the V-shaped wake of the ship, like curdled buttermilk.
At sunset, they decided to take it in turns to keep watch through the night. While Faolein went below, Sinderian stood the first vigil, holding her father's wayward little wind on a tight leash, but otherwise passing the dark hours uneventfully. A little before dawn, Faolein reappeared, and together they watched a flush of color spread across the sky, the pale rim of the sun rise at the edge of the world. Then she went down to the cabin they shared in the hold of the ship, and tried to fall asleep.
Yer Sinderian found that she could not rest. Even after the long, quiet night, she felt threatened, uneasy. Whenever she closed her eyes, she saw other eyes looking back at her: sea-green and deadly cold, like pale, venomous moons. And every time she began to drift off, she startled back awake at the imagined sound of heavy breathing: a vast windy exhalation within the tiny confines of the cabin, smelling of dead fish and rotting seaweed.
Finally, she slid into a deep, oppressive sleep filled with unpleasant dreams.
* * * * *
Hours later, she woke in the dark with Faolein's shout echoing in her mind. Drowsy and disoriented, she levered herself into a sitting position. Somewhere up above, men were screaming, footsteps clattered across the deck. On all sides of her, timbers creaked and groaned, while the hull of the ship vibrated as though it must surely burst apart. And again -- even more imperative than before -- came the wizard's mind-shout: Sinderian! We are under attack.
She threw her legs over the side of the bunk, and, with her heart rattling in her chest, she groped her way across the cabin in the dark, pushed open the door, and entered the crew's quarters. There at least there was light, thanks to a half-burnt candle in a hanging tin lantern. An overturned bench, a tankard lying on its side in a pool of ale, a sea chest thrown open and its contents scattered across the floor, all spoke of a sudden alarm, followed by a hasty departure.
Weaving a hurried path through kegs, boxes, bales, and hammocks, Sinderian finally reached the ladder. A babble of voices -- screams, shouts, frantic orders being relayed from man to man -- came down the hatchway as she kilted up her skirts and scrambled from rung to rung. Even before she reached the top, she had an idea what she would find. The air stank of blood and panic and the rank stench of some deep-sea creature.
She came out into the blazing midafternoon sunlight to find the decks awash with blood and broken bodies everywhere she looked.
* * * * *
Despite the wizard's vigilance, a great water dragon with eyes and horns of crystal had taken Balaquendor by surprise, rising from the depths, slithering up one side of the ship, and looping a section of its long, flexible body around the hull, almost before anyone had time to react. Men had scattered in search of weapons, calling out to their mates below, and Faolein's mind-shout sounded like a clap of thunder in his daughter's head. Then, constricting its snakelike body, the dragon began to squeeze the vessel until boards cracked, and the sea came rushing in. Sinderian arrived just in time to see the monster throw another coil around the ship.
It was nothing like she had dreamed it, being at once more beautiful and more deadly. Sun reflected off hard, glittering scales: steel-blue, amethyst, and silver, shading to mother-of-pearl below. Light dazzled off the pronounced ridges of its immense rib cage, shone through thin membranous fins all down its spine. It had pointed fishlike teeth, the color of old ivory, the smallest as long as Sinderian's hand, and a pale tongue that flickered in and out like a green flame. Around its neck, ancient wizards had placed a wide metal band, a collar forged of iron and bronze, etched with runes of power to keep it spell-bound -- but the runes had failed.
The ship gave another violent shudder. While Faolein frantically wove spells to keep the hull together, the water out, and the caravel from sinking, two men up on the quarterdeck armed themselves with bows and sent down a rain of arrows. At the same time, Prince Ruan, his guards, and the remaining sailors attacked the monster with swords, knives, axes, clubs -- anything that came to hand.
Linking minds with her father, Sinderian felt his lledrion take hold: shining strands of light and energy drew the broken timbers together and held them, slowing the leaks in the side to a mere trickle. Yet it took all of his thought and will to keep the ship from breaking apart faster than he could repair the damage; if he shifted his attention for even a moment, his spell would fail. Rather than distract him, Sinderian withdrew.
Dropping to her knees beside one of the bodies on the deck, running her hands hastily over him, she sensed a broken arm, a concussion, and massive internal injuries. The spark of life had been so nearly extinguished, for a moment she thought that he was gone. But dead men don't bleed, she reminded herself. And probing a little deeper she was able to detect an almost imperceptible flicker.
There was no time for the delicate joining of broken blood vessels, the careful knitting of flesh and bone; what Sinderian did instead was simple, crude, and temporary -- but under her hands the life force flared up, the sailor groaned, blinked his eyes, and mumbled a question.
"Stay there. Don't move, or you'll begin to bleed again," she tossed over her shoulder as she stumbled to her feet and staggered for balance. "I'll come back to you when I can."
The dragon's wedge-shaped head was weaving from side to side on its long, sinewy neck, and the great tail lashed back and forth across the deck between the masts, making it dangerous to cross. The boards under her feet were slick with blood and seawater. At the sight of a man sprawled unconscious or lifeless on the planks only a dozen feet from the place where she stood, Sinderian felt caution fall away. With reckless determination, she made up her mind that she would somehow find a way to reach him. She waited until one of the Prince's guards engaged the monster's attention by slashing at its head in a blur of motion, then she ducked under the thick muscular tail and flung herself down beside the man on the deck.
He was already dead -- had almost certainly died instantly, for his neck had snapped, and his head was battered beyond recognition.
Sinderian felt a sickening sensation of guilt wash over her. I wished to go back into battle, she reflected bitterly, but a wizard should always be careful of her thoughts. Did I, somehow, cause this to happen?
Yet she knew that to entertain these fears was worse than futile. Let a wizard start blaming herself for everything wrong that happened in her vicinity, and she soon became useless, too frightened to do anything at all, and ultimately a danger to herself. So she had been taught by her masters at the Scholia, and so experience had taught her since.
She rose to her feet, scolding herself for her momentary weakness. The monsters of the deep don't come at your beck and call, Sinderian, nor the Tides of Fortune flow at your command. Don't make yourself more important than you are. Still, the impression that she was to blame lingered like a thorn beneath the flesh, too painful to be ignored.
Over by the mainmast, a sailor failed to move quickly enough. The mighty tail swept him across the deck and crushed him against the bulwarks.
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