“Land ho!” the lookout shouted. Sam, Elice, and La’ss’a looked up from the deck of the ship. The shoreline of, presumably, Lantan was visible as a pale smear on the horizon, with several dark blotches that appeared to be costal villages. Garmon began shouting orders and the sailors hustled to swing the sails around. The Starless Sky creaked in as she began to come about, a maneuver that the man at the wheel fought furiously.
“We have to be careful,” Garmon explained to Olena. “There’s a killer current that circles the island. It’s very easy to be swept onto rocks or miss landfall entirely.” Further along the deck, Demaris leaned precariously over the rail and scowled at the water.
“Wow, look at the size of those sharks!” Elice said, pointing. Dark streamlined shapes, each at least thirty feet long, circled beneath the ship, feeding on the fish attracted to the bilges.
“Is that what you meant by killer current?” Sam asked, raising his voice.”
“Not exactly,” the Captain said. “I’ve never seen sharks that big before, I wonder what they find to eat around here that makes them grow so much.”
Demaris sniffed, still scowling. “Can anyone else smell that?”
Olena wrinkled her nose. Beneath the normal sea smells of brine and seaweed, there was a noticeable alchemical tang to the water. “What is that?” she asked.
“Are the sharks a danger to us?” Sam asked. Demaris shrugged.
“As long as we don’t try swimming with them, probably not. Sharks aren’t usually capable of attacking ships. Their teeth aren’t right.”
“Captain!” the lookout bellowed. “There’s a . . . a storm approaching?” Everyone turned to look. Dark clouds had formed, seemingly from nothing, a mile or so off the port side of the ship. They swirled together and the sea bubbled upwards, feeding water into the roiling mass. Greenish light flickered within the cloud, like ominous lightning inside a thunderhead. All at once it burst forward, directly towards the ship, it’s passage so rapid that it left a deep furrow in the water behind it.
“Are storms like that . . . common in these waters?” Olena asked a bit timidly.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life,” Garmon said grimly. “Furl the sails! It’s going to be a bad blow!”
“Can you feel that?” La’ss’a asked Sam. Psionic energy sheeted into the air around the cloud, making the hair on the back of Sam’s neck stand up. “It’s a psionic storm! Like the one that attacked the crystal and got us into this mess! Too bad we never got any proper information on what it is or how to fight it . . .”
A bolt of obsidian power formed in Sam’s hand and he hurled it at one of the sharks below. “If we wind up having to swim for it, I’m not dealing with those things,” he announced, sending more black bolts after it. A cloud of black blood billowed like smoke in the water and the sharks dove into the darkness below. Olena, Oren, and La’ss’a prepared themselves to fight. Moments later the storm was upon them. Oren fired his bow at the cloud. The arrow slowed in midair as though striking thick jelly, then whirled away on the wind.
A bolt of green lightning erupted from the depths of the crowd and blew a smoking hole in the deck of the ship. Demaris ducked out of the way as Sam sent a black bolt towards the center of the seething mass. Olena’s wings buzzed as she struggled into the wind, thrusting with Cyrvisnea’s massive sword. She felt as though she hit something at the core. Dark fists sprouted and pummeled her, sending her flying through the air, out of control.
“I’m not sure we can fight this thing effectively!” Demaris shouted as Oren sent another hopeful arrow towards the storm. “We may be better off taking our chances with the sharks!”
“I hate to point this out,” Sam said, dark power surging as he snatched soul arrows from the very air, “but if we go in the water, it’s still going to be here with us.”
“If it’s after us, getting off the ship will just mean that it follows us,” La’ss’a said.
“If it’s not after us, we may have a chance to escape.”
“I am NOT leaving my ship!” Garmon bellowed, struggling with the wheel. Elice made her way to the rail, where she began helping the crew lower one of the boats. Sam hurled another bolt at the cloud, blasting a streamer of mist away from it.
“Where’s your lightning now!” Sam shouted gleefully. “What, you can only zap an old man?” The cloud charged him, knocking him back across the deck. Now that it was in range, La’ss’a leaped onto it, clawing and biting as best she could. Demaris swung her staff uselessly and green light flickered once more within the cloud, bursting forth in a ferocious wave. The rigging burst into flame and the main mast splintered, crashing to the deck. Sam, La’ss’a, Demaris and Oren continued to engage the cloud, grimly.
“The boats are in the water, come on!” Elice yelled from the rail, waving a hand. There was a splintering crash. Massive, jagged rocks loomed up beside the ship, and there was a terrible grating sound as the hull scraped along the bottom. The storm slammed its enormous fists into the deck, shaking the ship violently.
Elice squeaked in alarm as she lost her balance and fell overboard. Sam turned his back to the storm, charged the opposite rail, and dove after her, grabbing a trailing rope on the way down. It yanked painfully at his arm but held. He watched as one of the boats tossing alongside the ship was crushed to splinters against another rock. Treading water, Elice grabbed Sam and the rope.
“You can leave the ship on a boat or over my shoulder,” Olena told Garmon, “but you’re not going down with it!” The Captain looked shocked and allowed himself to be dragged away towards the rail. Oren helped the Captain climb down the rope ladder while Demaris and La’ss’a continued to attack the cloud as best they could. La’ss’a gathered energy around herself and sheered away another trailer of mist. Lighting erupted for a third time and Demaris staggered away, smoke pouring from her clothing, her exposed skin blistering from the heat. She bumped up against the rail and half jumped, half fell into the water below. Cursing the salt water in her burns, she grabbed the side of a longboat and hung on.
Sam braced his legs against the side of the ship and began hauling himself and Elice upwards, ignoring the pain in his arm. Elice gasped as an enormous mouth full of triangular teeth burst out of the water and clamped down on Sam’s torso. She freed her two-bladed sword from her back and poked the shark in the gills.
“No! Leave me! Get in the boat, Elice!” Sam yelled, carving the shark in the face.
“Shut up, you idiot!”
Left alone on the deck, La’ss’a decided it was time for the better part of valor and jumped overboard. She swam downwards quickly, avoiding the rocks, and concentrated on healing her own wounds. She could see the dark shape of the shark nearby. Sighing bubbles, she began to swim in that direction.
Olena hovered over the water, whacking the shark repeatedly with her sword. “Let him go!” she shouted. It writhed in pain at the great gashes in its hide and worked its jaws, swallowing Sam whole. Then it dove and began swimming away. Elice shrieked in horror. Oren reached over the side of the landing boat and hauled her out of the water. She pounded him on the chest, bruising her hand on his armor.
“Your bow, where is it?!” Elice demanded. Demaris grabbed Oren’s bow, bracing her feet against the heaving deck. Fighting the too-heavy draw, she aimed at the rapidly disappearing bulk of the shark and let fly with an arrow. It must have struck something vital, because the shark thrashed one final time and went still, floating belly-up on the surface of the water. Olena dove down and hacked its guts open, pulling Sam free. She forced his mouth open and poured a potion down his throat, but the liquid simply leaked from his mouth. Bringing the boat alongside, Oren reached out a hand towards her.
“Is he dead?” Olena asked.
“Worry about it later,” Demaris barked. “We have to move quick, otherwise we’ll miss the shore! Look!” The current continued to push at them, swirling around and away from the island with terrible strength. “Have we got everyone? Where’s La’ss’a?”
“I didn’t see her,” Olena said, seizing an oar. “But she can swim better than any of us.”
Slowly and painfully, they rowed for shore, making landfall not far from what appeared to be a small fishing village. Small in every sense of the term; the tiny dwellings were not suited for anyone human-sized. Gnomes came running from all directions and gathered in a crowd around them. One of the gnomes, a white-haired fellow in colorful clothes wearing a large gold pendant, pushed to the front.
“Hail, travelers!” he announced in fine speechmaking fashion. “Welcome to Fasheezy! I am Mayor Gibsi! How may I assist you!” The gnome seemed utterly oblivious to their bedraggled condition.
“Do you have a cleric in residence with the power to bring back the dead?” Olena asked.
“Dead?!” Gibsi squeaked, startled. “Who’s dead?” The entire crowd took several steps backwards.
“One of our friends ran afoul of one of the monstrous sharks out there . . .”
“Damn that witch!” the Mayor bellowed, shaking his fist at the sky dramatically.
“Witch?” Olena asked, puzzled, looking at Oren, who shrugged.
The Mayor ignored her and addressed the crowd. “All right, you lot, get the torches, sickles, and pitchforks . . .”
“What witch?” Olena asked. “Hold on a moment . . .”
One of the gnomes in the back of the crowd raised a hand tentatively. “Um, this is a fishing village, sir, we don’t have sickles and pitchforks.” The Mayor thrust his hands skyward again, waving them in frustration.
“Then get fishing rods and nets! Do I have to do all the thinking around here?!”
“HEY!!” Olena bellowed. The Mayor turned around and glared at her.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to wait.”
“Wait for what? What in the Treefather’s name is going on here?!”
The Mayor turned back to the crowd. “Does anyone know any good mob chants? Anyone? No? Well, just shout, er, watermelon or something, it’ll be the same from a distance anyway.”
“Are they organizing a lynch mob?” Demaris croaked.
“I don’t know,” Olena said helplessly. “Are all gnomes like this?”
Slowly and carefully, Elice climbed out of the boat, picked the Mayor up bodily, and held him in front of her face. In a shockingly calm voice, she pronounced, “If you don’t tell me what the HELL is going on here RIGHT NOW, I am going to FEED YOU your OWN EYEBALLS.” Gibsi squeaked in alarm and Elice shook him. “NOW!”
“You’d better do what she says,” Olena said helpfully.
“Um, um, um, there’s an evil witch that lives up the creek from here! She’s been poisoning the fish, um, um! This is the last straw!”
“Why would she do that?” Olena asked. The Mayor rolled his eyes.
“Because she’s EVIL. Duh.” One of the gnomes in the crowd held up a hand.
“She uses magic to build all kinds of infernal contraptions,” he said.
“All right,” Olena said. “Why don’t you let us handle this, then?”
Gibsi scowled and Elice shook him again, eliciting another squeak. “No, no, no, you need a mob for a job like this. We’ve been practicing! We’re almost professionals!”
“I’m fairly certain an evil witch calls for a band of experienced adventurers, not a bunch of fishermen,” Olena said severely.
“But . . . but . . . oh very well.”
“Give us first crack at her, at least,” Olena urged.
“Do you mind if we tag along?” Gibsi asked hopefully.
“Just don’t start anything until we tell you,” Olena said.
“We don’t need to be fighting any witches, evil or otherwise, in our condition,” Demaris said. “We need rest.”
“You’re right, of course,” Olena said. “Do you have a place where we can rest up?”
“Well, there’s a temple of Gond up the road if you want, but between you and me they’re a bit crazy there,” the Mayor said.
“We’ll take it,” Demaris said, and began trudging up the path from the shore.
“Would, um, would you mind putting me down?” Gibsi asked Elice timidly. “Only, you’re tearing my waistcoat . . .” the young woman heaved the Mayor into the crowd, turned, and picked up Sam with a grunt of effort. Oren reached out his arms to help but she snarled at him and began walking. It was only a few minutes’ trip to the temple, a small, unprepossessing wooden building with a large sign outside saying, helpfully, “Temple”.
Inside the building was a large hall lined with rows of small wooden benches. A female gnome looked up from dusting a display of cogwheels. “May I help you?”
“We are seeking refuge,” Olena explained.
“Oh, well, come on in, make yourselves at home. Um, you’re awfully big, aren’t you? You’re not from Lantan, I take it?”
“No, from the mainland. Do you have anyone here who can raise the dead?” Olena asked.
“Oh dear! Wait here just a moment!” the gnomess said and bustled back behind the altar. There were some loud rustling noises, a few bangs, and then a loud metallic clang. Then she returned carrying a large metal cube. She deposited it on the floor, grinned, and rubbed her hands together briskly. “I’ve always wanted to try this out. Now, I’ll have to charge you for this, and it’s not cheap. . .”
“We’ll cover it,” Olena said. “Somehow.”
“Right!” the gnomess announced and flipped open the cover of the box to reveal a tightly wound scroll. “Stand back! Alakazam! Abracadabra!” She continued on in that vein for some time, then there was a brilliant white flash and Sam sat up, coughing.
“Wonderful!” The priestess bellowed, making everyone jump. “That’ll be fifty thousand gold, please.” Olena’s eyes widened in dismay.
Elice sat on the floor and kissed Sam. “See, I told you you should get in the boat,” he muttered. Elice laughed and buried her face in his shoulder. “I owe you for my life,” Sam said to the gnomish priestess, who looked pleased with herself. “The debt is mine, can we discuss payment in private?”
“Sure, we can talk in the nave if you like.”