Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Silent Sphere - 13

ii

The Dragon must die.” Albrecht stopped his foot.

A huff came from Jehanjir, the Captain was more blunt.

Let me read the first page from the first codex on dragon slaying. 'Don't!' It is also on half the other pages. We have nothing that could slay it before it shredded us all. Higar could pound its skull, you could stab all four eyes and Morwethe lay in with our cannon after I dosed with the most vicious poison that the law of mariners is death for uttering it. And what would we have? A drunk dragon, healing in the eyes, with a headache, and a very ill temper.

Albrecht bow'd his head and knelt one knee on the deck, he seemed to be skimming up some of the dust of space that had accumulated on the deck. He dusted his heavy gloved hands and stood up leaning heavily on one leg. He pointed at the shrouded shape of Korana with a single extended finger.
If it lives, crashing into that, will kill it.

He raised an eyebrow and delivered a hard stare at Niccolo.

Surely, and us with it.

The dragon must die, and I will kill it.

Alone?

With the last finger attached to my hand if necessary.

You are, mad.

The others watched the two figures, almost squared off, but neither had even made a motion to reach for their weapons. The captain hooked one leg up over the stays on one mast.

Let us hear him out.The giant's interjection made heads turn, so silent had he been.

Tell me why, swordsman. Aside from your own personal reasons.

It is the only way to break through the shroud. We tried the other way, and were only battered for our pains.

The only way to safely land is to slip around the bowshock, match velocity and vector with the sphere, and set down once the ship is within her influence.

And as we saw, good captain, even the best hand on the wheel cannot do this.

So you would propose simple suicide? Losing my ship for what?

Morwethe interjected:Better than the elaborate kind, if it came to that.

No, I am proposing we open our eyes to the simple truth. It isn't your ship. It is the summoner's artifact. He made it, we merely aided in its creation. He made it.

So?

Who is the only one of who is of the slightest use in telling what the essence of circumstances is on Korana? Me? Her?He pointed at Morwethe,Him?pointing out Higar.You? Jehanjir is forbidden summoning. Only one of us. The Summoner.

So?

The ship was as it was, is as it is, to carry the Summoner to Korana. We have to burn it, so that he can be free.

Nonsense.The captain turned and smirked.

No, he's right. I am an old fool. Let me explain. Before any of you arrived my old comrade in magic arrived. He did so by a rather unusual means, so I recount it to you now.He took a breath, and continued,I sent for him a mechanical bird, launching it from my observatory, after carefully setting and winding it, with a breath for his ears alone. I tossed it in to the air and it flew out. So, I was surprised and overjoyed when it returned quickly, thinking that it had a message that he would arrive in person soon. Instead it hurtled on to the deck of the observatory, and shattered, or exploded, its delicate workings scattered in every direction. But before I could be either puzzled or angry for long, there was the Summoner!

He looked around to see if the implication was clear enough.

How?Higar asked.

“Imprisoned his own self in the bird, and was carried thither by the bird.

How did he unset the spell?

“Breathimg into the bird the unmaking words, and when it arrived and sang them, so was he unfurled and back among the flesh.

Like the ship.Stated Morwethe.

Like the ship.This the captain repeated as he looked out over the bow.

So I believe that he tested his plan with the bird first, imprison himself in this ship, and then have us unleash him.

While Albrecht scuffed his boots and pretended to intensely examine the tips, Niccolo whistled.

But why not tell us?

He did, he said to burn the ship when we were done.

But no fire will light her, the binding of it is too strong. We saw that.

Jehanjir nodded:The cleansing fire of piercing the bowshock will, I fain.

Morwethe nodded, they all turned and looked at the mechanical princess who simply tilted her head and then nodded in agreement.

NiccoloAnd what of us? Even if only one remains behind, that one isn't you. Are you asking Higar to depart for this plan?

No, I think we have an invention available to us, that might change your perception of what can be done. I propose that we take the silk jibes, and fashion them into a clever device that will slow our descent, the inventor of which called it a 'parachute' in his drawings that I copied when I studied under one of his students in my youth.

A parachute?

Albrecht nodded.

So,it was clear that Niccolo's mind was whirring,we dive, pierce the shroud, use this 'parachute' on the back of the life boat to abandon ship, and leave the Summoner's plan to work itself? But someone will have to stay behind and I doubt you have the strength.

Higar stood taller.If it is what it takes, I will, though, I would rather weren't.
There was a fast head shake from Albrecht.I will stay behind. And so will the doll, she has to. Only the fire will burn the scale away, and give her a chance to be freed. Like the summoner, her soul is imprisoned.

You are, again, playing with magics you don't understand.

I don't need to understand them, just be used to them.He snapped back.
It will be done.There was a heavy finality to Jehanjir's voice.

Are you afflicted with his madness as well?

I believe the Summoner knew that Eo is a jealous woman, and would never let him go. This was his plan.

And the rest?

I think it dubious, but I am sure that since the princess is caught up in the spell, it will at least let her depart in piece. The purpose is to pierce the veil, and reconstitute the Summoner. This, I imagine, was his plan all along.

The doll did a slow graceful bow and then bobbed up. She walked in a series of interlocking circles.
Everyone watched, but could not ascertain what she was trying to communicate.

She turned, let her head bob right and the left, and seemed to emit a breathless sigh.

So, agreed? She and I stay, we rig up the spar to spring the dragon. That way all I need to do is aim the ship at it.

You are going to depart, I hope you are ready for it.A grim-faced captain looked at him, with at least some respect.

Met the ferryman once, if it is my time, then so it is. But I think there are still cards to play.
Which would those be?

The ones that the Summoner has up his sleeve.

And if he plays fair?

There is a word for a summoner who deals fairly with his opponents. That word is lunch. Because he is almost always at a disadvantage in all other ways. I think our artist friend has guessed something important, though I am sure he places far more faith in it than he ought.

Sail Ho!Came the boom of Higar's voice.To port two points.Two spyglasses snapped out and it was obvious that black sails with red stars were approaching.

I see two, Captain.

My eyes are no sharper. Though I cannot discern under what colors they fly.

I do not see any ensign at all... Wait... One is running up a flag of a trading house. Perhaps you know which one.

A golden crescent says they are from Korana herself. I cannot see the sign though. There is a sword, below, it is a war ensign.

Do they mean to fight?

We will have to wait to see if they run up the black flag for battle.

Do we?

I will not do so, unless forced. But we should turn towards them.

“Are that peaceful?

I doubt it.

Of what sort are these?

They are of an old design, three masts, top, port, starboard, with triangular rigged sails.Niccolo swiveled his spyglass.I count two fore, and three aft cannons, plus two either side. And I see men on deck, they look as if they are moving about.

We will see what their intent is.

Soon enough I grant, soon enough.

No want of courage, I doubt they see a vessel hauled by a dragon every day.

Albrecht could you run up a white flag?Niccolo's voice was even and dead, but it was still a command. Albrecht, however, dutifully complied without comment. It flowed majestically behind them, as tall as a man and twice as long as it was high, strung to the lantern line, and rapidly became a clear white clarion announcing that their stated intentions, at least, were peaceful.

Some minutes later, in response, the other vessels raised the red flag, which was a demand for boarding.

Niccolo snapped his spyglass shut.So it seems they want to board us. Hmmm? Well, we will see about that.

He called back over his shoulder.Albrecht, be a lad and haul up the red ensign. If they want to board, they are going to have to do it by force.

While complying with this, the swordsman noted.Again, no lack of spine in them.

This is, however, starting to verge on suspicious.Niccolo's voice was firm.I can't think of anyone who would challenge us in that way without powerful and fell magicks. This makes no sense.

Korana shrouded in dark lands filled with hideous monstrous beasts, no short of fell magicks about.

Which would imply, Albrecht, that we should close, because this may be our first chance to find some piece of solid truth into the matter of Korana.

I have never been one to shy away from confrontation.

So I observe.

It seems they are still closing.

So will we.And so he did, leaning the wheel into the approaching ships.

The spray of breaking ether hit the faces of those who were looking forward, the edge of the dragon's wings grew glowing purple and orangethe serpentine kind could convert ether without creating a great deal of heat at the same timeHigar hung easily off a rope, Morwethe checked the rack of hackbuts, Albrecht bandoliered his blades, and a clean scent flowed across the boat.

The stench of waiting was passing, the miasma of fear that had brought sickness of the hear to them ending, and their fortune rested on a trial by fire.

Remember the dragon must die, Niccolo.

Maybe so, hotblood, but not quite yet.

Before their exchange could kindle, Jehanjir, looking through his own spyglass, called out.They are raising a new ensign.

What is it? Is it black?

Albrecht looked straight through unaided eyes, and lowered his voice.No Captain, it is worse than that.

Moments later all could see what Albrecht had seen: a black field, with a rose of white, its five petals interspersed with five golden thorns.

He flies the flag of Death himself.” Albrecht noted.

Niccolo was scanning the decks, he saw assembled men in heavy plates of armor, domed helmets over their heads, and no visors. Above them on a pale white horse was another figure, a spear in one hand, from which flew a black pennant, again, with the white rose on it.

Jehanjir frowned,This is most unusual. Is there signs of death himself, or any of the unquiet dead among them?

I am looking Astrologer, I am looking.He kept scanning the deck, but saw nothing, yet, that would decide the question as to whether this was a ghost ship, or some other abomination.As yet, no sign is made among them.He held his foot cocked in the bottom of the wheel, keeping them on course, sailing slightly aside of the two vessels.

Can't you smell it, Captain?

From this distance, I cannot. What do your senses tell you?

The smell of roasting pork and hair, like the stench of people when thatched roofs are set afire, and cave in on those below. The hair burns first, then the skin singes. Then the fat catches fire, especially from the women, and a black acidic reek spills along the ground. Come back days later, and it mallows all. I smell that, Captain Niccolo. I smell that.

Niccolo shook his head.I do not understand how,he then turned and looked at his own ship lanterns, and at the peculiar ridging of dark red that splashed across the edges of the dragon's wings.
As our learned Astrologer is fond of saying, of course, I am such a fool. The influence of death will be on the ether, and the dragon before us will, as it changes it to ayres, will leave the touch of the miasma upon it.

Morwethe went over to the smoky ball where her God was puffing away.Isn't this where you are supposed to do something?

What do you think I have been doing?

Smoking.

And a good bit so! I am permeating the ship with the smoke.

You will have to explain this to me, your poor unfortunate and inadequate priestess.

There was a long fountain of exhalation from the vicinity of the end of the pipe of the hookah, and a pair of lips seemed to be outline by the turbulence in the smoke.

The cloud prevents the miasma of death from overcoming all of you. How many mortals do you think can face death directly, and not be left mewling and retching.

You didn't seem to be taking well to facing your own demise not long ago.

And am still not, but then, no God or Godling does,

One would think for greater courage from our divine masters.

Courage is what we give you, so that you will do our bidding.

So that's your plan, fog the ship?

Death, I must remind you from our own liturgy, that you helped write by the way, is not a God, nor Godling, nor any deitic thing. But only a job, held by some preter-soul.

And?

The less he notices me, the better it is for all of us. If he is here on an appointed round, I cannot and shanny not stop him.

And what is it you do then, holding people back from death?

I change the relative weights of their decision, making it more palatable to live.

And what are you going to do now?

Let's here the mouth of death out, shall we? Now be a devoted servant and be my eyes and ears on deck, I have several more cubes of resin to add.

With that, a long gyre congealed into an increasingly purple haze, as her god sucked in air, and mingled it with the spiritual resin.

Above Higar began to rein in the beast, its wing beat slowing and the lit rim on its wings dulling to a barely perceptible violet black, until it seemed to simply float in place.

Along the sides flags of red hailing, signaling that they were to accept boarding.

Their small vessel matched red for red, signaling in return that they would not peacefully accept such an action. Across the port bow they could see the armored figures lined up, rigid, arms at their sides. 

Where there were open faces to the helmets, it was clear that the figure within was some kind of corpse. Some where bleached clean skeletal figures, but others were in every other stage of decay, from ghost fresh dead white, to puckered holes being eaten by maggots, to ghastly bloated horrors lain some unknown time in the grave. Above them all a figure of a tall man, his helmet open displaying a skull from which wisps of flame leapt out from time to time.

A herald, his face still mainly intact on his left side, but mottled with back on the right placed a horn to his lips and blew, the call resonated above all and bright a stillness, where even the creaking of the ships seemed quelled. The horse that death rode upon, which was, itself, clearly dead, took two steps forward, and its rider spoke.

Hail, and accept boarding, you have one of mine.

Niccolo sauntered to the side rail and looked out over it.

I would have some words with you, master of the vessel. Why forth did you fly fake colors? It is a treason to the laws of spirits, gods, and men.

Are you going to give me mine or not, Captain?

Well we can hardly stand against if you, should thee wish to take it. But I think that you have not yet speaks of something. So I ask again, why were thee flying under false colors?

And who would you call to adjudicate such a thing.

“If I have to choose, to not think that there will be someone in mind, if you really would that we bring this before someone. I know you spirit, we have brushed cloaks many times. I know you work the will of others, and have none of your own. So pray do not glower and threaten.”

I will come for you one day, Niccolo. Sooner than soon.

“You will, and sooner than soon enough. But if that day were today, and that hour this hour, you would not need two ships of fell spirits, and a ruse.

I will come for you all soon, Captain.

Indeed you shall, all of us in our time. But you have not answered my question, and I defy you, knowing that without obedience to the law, you have no power.

You are not pleading your case well, Captain Niccolo.

It is no case to plead. If you will, run up the black flag of battle, and storm the ship. But I say, you have not the competence, being not in the right.

There was not even nervous stirring from the other ship.

Niccolo continued then,So it is. Pray then, run down the boarding colors, and parlay with us if you will.Niccolo leaned over the rail and set his legs wide apart for comfort, the feather in his hat bounced slightly in the air, and everyone on deck had turned to watch him.

With a wave of an armored hand, Death had the boarding ensign lowered, and a white one right up. Albrecht didn't need an order to run up the white flag of truce as well.

So, ship's captain, what is it you would parlay upon?

First, I would ask which one is yours, if you may tell.

I may not.

Then I ask of that sphere,He pointed his arm at it with a defiance.Is it yours, or no?

It is not, though mine are at play there now.

Good to know,murmured Albrecht under his breath.

But not on the shadowlands, are they?

No.

And hence your ruse, your writ does not hold in those tendrils.

Yes.

How very interesting.

If you will. Is this what you cared to know?

“Anything else you can tell me?

We could be here for the rest of your mortal hours if you like.

Do you know what has happened on Korana?

Yes, and no.

The astrologer came up behind Niccolo.If I may?

The captain gestured with his hands as if to saybe my guest.

Dread Death, I would have a word with thee?

You are known to my office.

So I am. I would have a word with thee.

You may.

Is the Goddess Korana still in control of her sphere.

After a fashion.

Were you to warn another of the events below, what would you say?

That which was once whole is now asunder, that which was divided is multiplied.

The astrologer put his hand to his lips and thought.

Ask quickly, I have tasks to perform.

Oh dark lord, I would have this last question of thee. Were it you sent in our place, where would you go?

I am already there. Now be done.

Niccolo interjected:Are we free to go?

You are.Death did not sigh, but it seemed so.

Slowly the dragon's wing beat began to speed up, and the reins strained under his pull. Slowly behind them the death ships shrank in the distance. Down ran the ensign of death, and up again, the ensigns of before. Slowly the dragon's wings began to beat, growing in color and chromatic light as it strained on the lines and gradually set to motion.

“We still have the problem of how to get down to the world below.Noted Jehanjir.

“I suspect that one of us will die, and not long after we enter below the shadowlands.Added Albrecht.

The were gathered on the aft deck near the wheel, feeling a slow spray of the ayre and the glow of the lanterns. Niccolo was standing with his back against the wheel, and on his left was the astrologer, who was staring down at Korana and the shifting shrouds of darkness that were set primarily around her middle, but reached upwards in a slow corkscrew that made several revolutions around her.

Higar stood looking ever to where he had the reins holstered, looking quite fatigued from his on again, off again duty. Then there was a ball of smoke, in the center of which sat the sisha from which a void in the shape of a huge four armed man sat and smoked. Then, at the aft rail was Albrecht and not far from him the princess was standing and looking forward, her mechanical eyelids bobbing now and again. Morwethe stood against the starboard rail, bouncing her hips against it, almost mockingly far from Niccolo. It was she who spoke next:

So death came why?

From the center of the smoke came an even though still deep and reverberating voice:Someone's time was due, but we were still close to the shadowlands.

And...

And he was attempting to fix what was wrong. Remember, he is always working for someone.

Who now?Asked Higar.

I have no idea. I am not the God of Ledgers.

Morwethe giggled slightly,So even death can be late.

Aren't you going to stay here?

The muscidae are not Death, my staying here will not help me.

There was a general silence. At this point the mechanical princess hung her head.

What is it?

The marionette sans strings began to pantomime, hands in front of her, and somewhat crouched. 

Finally she pointed on at the cat, which had just come up from below, with a mutilated mouse hanging from her mouth by what was left of its tail.

Morwethe bent down and retrieved the mouse, noting its terrible condition.

This one should be dead.

At this point the princess pointed and twirled about quickly, as if to confirm. Then she enacted tossing something overboard.

Albrecht grimaced.The good princess tossed another mouse out, thinking it would be dead. Higar began to reach for the mouse in Morwethe's hands,I can crush this one.

No!Morwethe shot back,that would be even worse. I propose we put whatever ones we find in a cage, and when we leave this deathless zone, they will expire. I am tender-hearted and would heal them, but have not the force.She stared over at cloud where here god was.

I don't have a following among mice, and fixing them is seldom worth the effort.

Morwethe put her arms akimbo and stared back.

Come here my priestess, and take a puff on the pipe, then blow it over the mouse. It will sleep like death and feel naught more pain in its time among mortals. How is that?

She came over, drew a toke on the end of the hookah, and steadied herself. A wide grin came to her face and her eyes brightened and her whole frame relaxed. She blew on the mouse, which ceased to struggle or squeak. It took a moment for her to draw a breath.My. Lord. Such a potent draught of smoke I have never had. We need a cage for the mouse, though.

Niccolo pointed to a pigeon cage that was normally supposed to be for messenger pigeons. Into this, the slumbering rodent was duly ensconced.

Higar looked at it.We might all want to be drawing on that pipe soon enough.

I have an idea,admitted Jehanjir,but it is a bit dangerous.

There was a bit of shuffling about, as everyone waited.

I was intrigued by Albrecht's suicide idea, because he captures at least one important point in its embryo, that being that the Summoner's soul is locked in this vessel, and that we need some place to unleash it, and having no other way, it is not inconsequential to entertain notions that might effect his release. But this virtue, notwithstanding, the mechanics of what he argued for are vanishingly slight, even for one who has turned cards with death.

Everyone waited for him to draw breath, which he did, and continue, which it seemed for a moment he was not going to, but he took out a pair of spectacles and looked at some parchment on which were drawn an elaborate range of geometric arcs. He then launched himself into his next paragraph.

When following the orbits of ether and influence, and orbit is on a plane with the heavier body at one focus of an ellipse.

Higar looked dubious, perhaps not understanding the words, Albrecht seemed to be holding his head above water, Niccolo was of course, bored with a recitation of basic astrogation. The cat seemed to be fascinated, and watched intently.

However, once bound in an atmosphere, the principles of fluids are invoked, and objects move in bands, steadied by the airs around them. We can see from the black lands, that they are moving as fluids, as if a shell is being built around Korana, a prison within a prison, so to say.

He paused, looked about, and hoped that he was not being too abstruse.

At one, or both, of the poles of each of the spheres, there is an entrance into the inner world. From this comes a vast gyre, that we see as the white caps and glowing crowns at the end. I propose that we in three elongated orbits bring ourselves to the vast Southern Gyre of Korana, which, I fain, is still intact, and has not yet been shrouded by the darklands.

Without pause, he launched into his middle argument.

I know that this will on the perigee of the orbit take us above the lands, and where death's writ holds, and that whomsoever he came for, will be taken from us, but this is true of any plan, and I would remark that none of us would enjoy the life of terror that would come from being set down on the fell country we saw before. It is also true that we will have lost any advantage in time to Bartine or any other pursuers by doing this. If this be an objection, I have an alternate plan that will take us by the shoals of the darkness, and cut us in. That would be even more dangerous.

And from there, Astrologer?

We ride the gyre down, and escape in the boat, using the parachute plan we have through of before. Only no one will have to stay behind, the ship will plummet down the gyre, and to the bright light of Korana's manifestation in the center of the sphere. There, to be sure, to be made incarnate again, if anything is capable of doing it.

So you are saying this is better than leaping off the gyre and landing outside? I am dubious, Jehanjir.Niccolo sketched quickly.I think we can use the force of the gyre to land.

Jehanjir nodded.I could plot this plan, but do we take the longer or shorter course?

Longer is worse. Our supplies are low, our pursuers are many, and our time is short.

There was general nodding, and Higar spoke.

Solid land again. Give me a place to plant my feet.

And so the preparations began to take them closer to the gyre, skimming what seemed from this distance to be the top edge of the shadowlands, and then to be captured in the gyre itself. While some few attempted such a course, in general it was an act of immense desperation to attempt it, even more so with the black shoals ready to tear them apart.

However, necessity can often bring a leavened happiness as much as a grim determination, and so it was with this crew, there was whistling and singing, with Niccolo belting out virtually every bad ditty he knew, and laughing between each of them, both at his own poor voice, and at the compendium of doggrel that his brain was able to call forth. Morwethe giggle at many of them, Higar joined in on half of them, and Albrecht would good-naturedly grumble at the concert of cacophony. The cat would yowl, seemingly in better time and not nearly as off of tune as to be expected, and the princess would make movements as if she were laughing and clap together her hands that produced a metal clank.

Then as they were ready to start the descent, Niccolo grew more sombre and sang one of the ballades of the sea, that almost all had heard:

High summer by sun, by sun, by sun,
High summer by sun, I sail away.
A hold all a laden with goods for the trading,
In high summer I thirst, I thirst to go.

All a lit, all alight, lanterns bright
High Summer I go.

High autumn by fog, by fog, by fog
High autumn by fog, I set my course
The ether burns, and twists and turns,
It carries me hither by fights and force.

All alit, all alight, lanterns bright,
High Autumn by fights and force.

Deep autumn by rain, by rain, by rain
Deep autumn by rain, we buy and sell,
Upon the sphere, we set to dwell,
For finery we trade, and tales we tell.

All alit, all alight, lanterns bright,
Deep Autumn we buy and sell.

Comes winter, by snows, by snows
Comes winter by snows, we wait.
Cold above, cold below, to crack the bones,
And creak of the hull in ice enchained.

All alit, all alight, lanterns bright,
Comes winter we crack our bones.

In flowering, by mist, by mist, by mist
In flowering by mist, we take to sail,
Racing the others, to win or fail,
Waiting is gone, cries succeed song.

All alit, all alight, lanterns bright,
In flowering we take to sail.

In spring by the by, our home is nigh
In spring by the by, our home is nigh.
Our loved ones do wait, to hear our fate,
For some far to early, for others too late.

All alit, all alight, lanterns bright,
Wait for me, in high spring night.

Wait for me, in high spring night.

He gazed over the starboard bow, at the looming furrows and canyons of the black land that were rapidly approaching. The course this time was not to dive between them, but instead to skirt the top edge, turning as far north as was needed to avoid the mesh of growing shards that protruded out from the edges of each band of blackness.

Passing over the bands of black, soaking in the same vision as before, but instead relentlessly egging the dragon on to pull them faster and faster as they descended and spiraled north. Soon the ether wind was blowing with such force that all but Niccolo and Higar were below in the hold. While above Higar was strapped in his teamster's place, and Niccolo gripped the wheel and braced the back of his boats against the small wind stock.

They passed over four bands of black, with winds from the equatorial bands pushing them into a slow downward spiral towards the pole, The last black band was like a vast beach peninsula, nearly flat, with an edge that was saw-toothed and jagged, but essentially flat. The light from the aurora began to cast flashing anti-shadows of light on the darkness, and upon it even at their speed, it was clear that long salamander like creatures wallowed on it, many had bright burning red markings, that looked as if they were writing more quickly than the monster they were attached to.

The edges seemed to grow quickly towards them, and Niccolo kept having to list the ship over to the starboard side, yawing harder and harder. Beneath Morwethe was back against the starboard wall, petting the cat and doing devotionals. Meanwhile, the princess had crawled near the central gear, in case she had to try the same trick of relieving the pressure herself, Albrecht's hands were on a lever that would release the ratchet. They could feel the banging on the side of the hull as now and again a single crystal would grow from the dark quickly enough to slap the side of the ship.

Above Higar was straining at the leashes, and they took a final turn away from the shadowlands, at the end were several of the salamanders, roaring and displaying their enormous crests, one took a leap off the end of the shard, but having no way to convert ether to ayres, sailed only for a moment, and then began to wriggle and plummet down launching gasps of fire in every direction. It grew smaller and smaller and finally faded against the obsidian shine of Korana's surface, now only miles below them.

Dead ahead, like a white waterspout, the top of the looming gyre itself, which was now sucking them in, the leashes, in fact, grew slack, and the dragon simply started to coast. Then suddenly, it turned and opened its maw, its eyes once again possess of self. its tail whipped forward, slashing off the top mast that was ripped free and flew backwards. Niccolo let himself slide down the yawing deck, and avoided being tangled in the rigging. Higar stared, stupefied, but then had the presence to pull the leaches and reach for the maul, however, it did not quite reach him, and, instead began to fall downwards below them. Higar grew sick and felt a pain in his sides.

Below Morwethe could feel a pain in her sides, and she dropped the cat on the deck and rushed upwards. She saw that her god was already blowing smoke into Higar's face, this was blunting the pain, but making Higar dizzy enough to rock from side to side. The cat padded its way softly to the deck behind Morwethe, and jumped up on Higar's shoulder, sinking his claws in. The sharp small pain righted the giant's senses, and he shook his head, tears in his eyes as he realized that his maul was plummeting down. He looked in ever direction and shielded Morwethe.

We've got to get to the boat.He rasped. Morwethe nodded silently, and they scurried there, to wait for the others. Niccolo saw them and waved them on shaking his own head. He stepped from banister to banister on the port side of the rail, and reached the port swivel cannon, which he spun at the dragon and scraped the a flint along the side to light some match cord. The dragon flew upwards at the last moment and used his tail like a giant plow, splitting the joins along the center of the ship. The cannon fired, bouncing off its belly as it passed, and leaving a massive roar of soot. It was at this point that Higar used a single hand to simply knock the boat off the side, and close the lid. They had reached the edges of the gyre, and the boat was sucked into one of the wraithlike arms, flying away from the ship at ever greater speed.

All the while the dragon began swinging around for another pass at them, tail flicking from side to side.


Himself slammed against the rail, Niccolo looking upwards as the dragon was preparing another turn. He pulled himself up to a seated position, ran backwards on the rail itself, his boots lightly touching on tip toes. He grabbed one of the parachutes and jumped, leaving the ship, and any remaining occupants, to their fate. The dragon lashed at the vessel several times, but feeling the pull of the gyre, began pulling with its vast wingbeat upwards, gradually in aching arcs trying to draw himself upwards. Niccolo was falling and had to attend to waiting for the moment to handle the parachute. The ship itself was pulled into the center of the gyre and vanished from Niccolo's view.

And from below it seemed a bolt flew from the gyre at its seems, streaking from far northern pulse towards the surface skin of Korana. Brutal bright it burned, brutal bright it fell, and then upon the surface did it strike, raising such a storm of dust and grit as to blow over all that was near it. It seemed as if monsoon wins had come again, and brushed with fury through the gullies of the wadi, through the alleys of the cities, through the caves in rocky cliffs, through the valleys gilt with wilting wheat. But as quickly as it came, the storm was silenced, and there was nothing more.