Zilyana felt pressure on her face and realized she was laying face down on the table in her cabin. Whatever poison the treacherous Forcythe had used hadn’t finished her off, but it was making her limbs feel as though they were made of dead eels. Struggling to her desk, she fumbled and finally managed to press the three pieces of carved wood that opened one of the secret drawers.
She grabbed one of the antidote potions she kept there for just such an emergency and downed it. The alchemical mixture cleared her head immediately. Plucking her hat from where it had fallen, Zilyana closed her eyes and incanted a spell. The rest of the world seemed to slow down and she invoked another spell, vanishing from where she stood and appearing on the deck of her ship.
It was a scene of chaos; at least a dozen men were bleeding on the deck, a mad struggle between her crew and a bunch of people in dock worker’s garb. Worse yet, an entire god rotting platoon of soldiers was moving down the deck at speed with weapons at the ready. Moving with speed that made the others seem to stand still, Zilyana sprinted down the deck hacking through the thick hemp ropes that kept them secured to the dock.
“CAST OFF YA CRACKBRAINED RATS!” She shouted and her crew rallied at the sight of her. A flight of arrows streaked from the approaching soldiers and swept the deck. Zilyana wove through them easily to hack the last of the mooring ropes free and planted her feet on the deck. Raising her blades, she wove them in intricate patterns, scribing runes in the air and shouting words of Power. The water between the pier and her ship obeyed her commands and rose in a massive wave, heeling Wavebreaker over and moving him away from the pier.
“Prepare to lower sail, get to your positions and keep your damn heads down! We’re running!” She yelled, “Lindrix, take the helm I have to focus!” Without looking to see if her First Mate had obeyed, Zilyana bent her will to force the water to create a wave that swept the smaller craft out of the way as it shoved Wavebreaker out of the harbor against the wind.
Cries of anger came from the dockside as her ship surged away from the shore, gathering speed as it went. Wiping sweat from her brow, Zilyana gritted her teeth and looked ahead. A warship, King’s Ransom was raising its anchor. Shit.
Letting go of the force that kept pushing Wavebreaker forward, she pointed and gestured at the water on the opposite side of the Ransom and a vortex of swirling waters began to form behind it. The enemy ship spun lazily, turning away from them and foundering in the water. As their enemies were swept out of the way, the force of the whirlpool shot Wavebreaker out of the harbor into open sea.
With a grimace of effort, Zilyana hurled a wave back toward shore, knowing it would swamp the smaller boats and founder the larger. With any luck it might even sink a few of those bastards who had come to arrest them. Releasing the spell that gave her power over water, she focused on a more familiar friend and called upon Nordji, the North Wind to send them on their way. A private gale, just for them sprang up before her outstretched palm, filling Wavebreaker’s sails and sending them speeding from the city and their enemies.
“Another one?” Zilyana rubbed her arm over her pained, red eyes. When had she slept last?
“Aye Captain.” Lindrix said, lowering his spyglass. “We ain’t gonna be able to dock here either and if we don’t get out of here fast they will likely catch us.”
Gritting her teeth, she reached out for the power once again. Pain flashed behind her eyes but she forced the winds to her will again and sent Wavebreaker back out to sea.
“We can’t keep doing this.” She said, “I can’t keep doing this. Lindrix, I have to rest. The instant we lose that sail you need to take over the helm.”
“Of course.” He said, giving her arm a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll be fine for a time. You’re the only one who hasn’t rested. Go on, we can handle this.”
“Come rouse me in an hour.” She said, and stumbled to her cabin.
It had been many decades ago that she had discovered her brother’s strangeness. Her beloved grandmother, seven centuries old had died, old age claiming her at last. Zilyana had wept for days, inconsolable in the grief of losing the first person in her family who had discovered her magical gifts and nurtured them into a thing of deadly grace and beauty.
She had thought that Korikk shared her affection for the ancient woman, but he had been more interested in finding out if she had anything interesting in her personal effects than anything else. He hadn’t even wanted to attend her Final Rest ceremony. This hurt almost as much as her grandmother dying.
“Why doesn’t he care momma?” She had asked, sobbing into her mother’s shoulder. “He should care. Grandma was wonderful and I will miss her. Why doesn’t he feel sad?”
“You know how when you were very little your hair did not grow like the other children’s at first?” Verrona had said, smoothing her hand over Zilyana’s back. “It just took longer for your hair to begin to grow. Korikk is the same way, but for him it’s his emotions that are taking longer to grow in.”
This explanation had mollified her for years. She had waited for her older brother to understand things that she had felt for as long as she could remember. Gradually it seemed to happen. Korikk cried when their pets died. He laughed at jokes and went through several phases of romantic entanglements with different girls, being suitably morose when the relationships ended.
Zilyana thought at first that her brother’s emotions had finally started to develop just as Verrona had promised, but after a few years she became certain that he was perpetrating a carefully concocted lie. He was always sad for the same number of hours after each setback. He laughed for the same number of seconds and always started laughing after everyone else had begun.
“Mother, I am worried about Korikk.” She had said, approaching Verrona in her study where she knew they wouldn’t be disturbed. “It’s like he is just pretending. Like he is simply imitating the feelings we all take for granted.”
Verrona sat quietly for a few moments, then quietly walked to the door and closed it. The air tightened around them for a moment and Zilyana realized that this room wasn’t just private; it was magically warded against any kind of eavesdropping. Elves were folk whose emotions ran deep, and the thought that someone could be an elf and not feel was frightening.
“It must be hard for him.” Verrona finally said. Zilyana blinked; she hadn’t thought of it from that perspective before. “He knows we all feel things; joy, sadness, love, hatred… and yet he stands in the stream of Elven emotion as still as a stone. It all flows around him, gradually wearing him down and he doesn’t understand it.”
“Oh.” Zilyana said, “I never thought of it. Not like that anyway. I just see him looking at a situation and instead of reacting emotionally to it it’s like he calculates what the expected response is.” She shivered, “I saw him in a fight last week. He was just going through motions, he could have been punching a practice pell. It was like he was a monster, and he only stopped when he noticed that others expected it. I think he would have beaten that boy to death.”
“There is that.” Verrona agreed, the picture of calm. “He is a monster sweetheart, but he is our monster. Our family has come through dark times before you two were born. I fear we have some dark times ahead. There are many monsters in this world, I think it would behoove us to have one of our own.”
Zilyana stared at her mother in shock, and Verrona continued. “Zil I need you to help him. He needs coaching if he is to blend in and you know that he isn’t completely without feelings. They’re just subdued in him. He needs our love and understanding as well as our coaching or else we will just be ‘a’ monster instead of ‘our’ monster.”
“I understand mother.” Zilyana said, her mouth dry.
After what seemed like moments, Zilyana jerked awake to the sounds of combat. As she leaped to her feet, she could see that the day had passed and the moon had risen. That bastard Lindrix had let her rest too long, but she should have known better. He always tried to look out for her health and wellbeing, claiming it was his job as First Mate.
She had to grudgingly admit that feeling fully rested and magically recharged would be undeniably helpful in the fight though. Bursting from her cabin she saw they were flanked by two ships. Snarling in anger, she leveled a sword at one and sent a blast of flame towards it. To her shock, an answering weave of power dissolved her lance of fire into motes of light. Shit. They had a mage too and he was good.
Their arcane duel made the air hum with power as they employed elemental forces and sheer waves of destruction against one another. Spells that would have burned either of them to cinders or frozen them solid were deflected and countered. An arrow from the other ship slammed into her shoulder and Zilyana’s concentration wavered for just an instant.
That instant was all her opponent needed. He leveled a staff a pace long with arcane symbols on it and bolt of dark energy lanced out towards her chest. Zilyana was roughly shoved aside and a cry of anguish came from her mouth as she saw Lindrix falling to the deck with half his torso missing. It was just gone.
With a scream of fury and sorrow, she flung her will into the depths of the ocean. A wall of water fully twenty feet high rose between their ships, nearly capsizing the enemy vessel. After it washed over the deck, she directed it to fill the hold. Again and again she threw wave after wave and shouts of panic began to sound as the ship started to sink lower in the water.
The second ship broke away, its crew fearful of similar treatment. Zilyana did not stop until the ship that had carried the enemy wizard had sunk beneath the waves. Turning to the remains of her crew she set her jaw in a hard line.
“Make for open sea. I know Wavebreaker is a coastal vessel, and so do they.”
“Captain, this is madness! We can’t possibly survive so long at sea!” One of her crew protested. Others nodded in agreement.
“The next time which one of you will throw yourself in front of the death spell?” She asked, bitter tears streaming down her cheeks, “I wouldn’t ask it of any of you, but I know there are some who would. Next time they might bring several mages. We have a hold with food, medical supplies and a few other assorted things that should see us through the voyage. That combined with my magic will see us through. My life on it.”
She saw their attitudes chance when they remembered that they had never unloaded their cargo. More than a few started to laugh and joke about her luck and a few more began to sing a chanty when they remembered the substantial shipment of rum that was also on board. Zilyana stood rooted to the spot for a moment, amazed at the trust her crew had in her.
‘Our chances are maybe one in a hundred. If we’re lucky.’ She thought to herself, ‘But they’re better than if we keep losing men to enemy ships. A war of attrition is one we will lose, and quickly.’ Wondering idly if Norjdi was going to eventually stop responding to her demands, she once again summoned will, words and gesture that filled Wavebreaker’s sails and sent the ship on the course she had chosen.