I know, I’m late. I’m sorry about that, and sorry for making you wait for this. Life sometimes moves too quickly, then I realize that it’s already Thursday and I missed posting on Monday.
If it’s any consolation, you’ll probably be glad that you didn’t get this chapter on Christmas to ruin the holiday cheer.
“Close the hatch,” Forziel shouts, hanging all his weight on the wheel with his unbroken arm. A wave rises higher than the mast. People scurry for the hatch.
I throw my crutch arm around the nearest handhold. The boat faces straight into the wave.
The wave crashes over us, fury and sound and grabbing hands. I hold Luemikaroeth over my head and try not to choke on the endless saltwater.
Then we’re through that wave, and another looms up.
“Furl the sail. Tie yourselves to the deck or get below,” Forziel yells. His face is white from effort.
I scan the deck. Most of my friends and family are below still, and Savi’s tying a rope around his waist. Gold hair catches my eye. “Yori! Get below,” I shout to her.
She’s going to protest, I can see it in her face.
“Stay with Mama Nihae,” I add.
Yori’s eyes narrow, but she does what I say.
Another wave pounds down. I almost lose hold of the boat. Then I’m gasping for air, and Savi is there, lashing me to the deck.
The wind shrieks, flying back and forth as kaites and aivenkaites grapple over our heads. The men work to wrap up our sail, but shrieking winds burst the cloth, snatching it from their control. A couple men hold the corners of the fabric and fly through the air. When the sail cracks, they fly off and thud onto the deck that’s now ankle-deep in water.
Forziel shouts. The wheel slips from his hands.
Drigo and Anik dive for him as the deck dips. The three of them barely manage to regain control of the boat. “Steer toward the waves, or we’ll be swamped,” Forziel yells. Together, the three of them wrestle against the shifting currents.
The water on deck begins to swirl. It grabs my feet, pushes me up. Struggling to keep my balance, I draw Luemikaroeth and desperately swipe it at the whirlpool. The metal digs into the water, and whatever aivenkaite was there cries out in pain.
I hack at the rest of the water on the deck. The water eddies away from me, but assaults the others on deck just the same. Wind grabs my hair, yanking me toward the railing. I lash out, swinging my sword, and it collides with what looks like thin air. The blade gradually starts to glow.
Somewhere Savi imitates me, swinging Elgarnoseth against the evil spirits. More and more, his swings force the aivenkaites back, even if he does not touch them.
But we are only two against countless thousands. The kaites do what they can to keep the aivenkaites away from the ships, but the sea and air are spacious and the kaites can do little but contain one or two aivenkaites each. Except for them, it is only we two humans with metal sticks trying to save a nation from the sea.
Fury born out of desperation makes Luemikaroeth’s light grow. As on our flight to the coast, the light spreads from my blade to Savi’s. This time it arcs around us, a blue-glow film encompassing us and the nearest boats in a globe.
But it’s not enough. Everywhere, our boats struggle against the unruly waves. The aivenkaites still disintegrate at contact with our swords’ light shield, but slowly. Some of them reach the boats before they’re yanked back into the Void. My people are still being injured, thrown into the water, killed.
Our boat lurches, tilting almost vertical. We slide along the deck, or fall, only caught by our ropes.
There’s a snap. Savi’s rope breaks.
Savi falls toward the gaping ocean.
I scream for him.
A bolt of fur and feathers flashes under him. An axex catches him.
I breathe again.
There’s another gust of angry wind, and more water leaping at me, trying to catch me off guard. The boat tilts again, racing down a wave toward its valley. We tumble forward.
Another axex darts into sight. It looks at me with one bird eye, then the other.
Overhead, Savi and his axex spiral and dart and slash at the aivenkaites. His added mobility gives him more of an advantage, makes him a greater threat against the aivenkaites.
I slice through the rope binding me to the boat, clamber onto this axex, and join Savi in the air.
We wheel through the air, shooting up, dipping down to the sea, chasing the enemy as fast as we can. We dodge masts and waves. We slice and stab and hack.
But no matter what, more keep coming.
With a deafening crack, one of the furthest boats splits in two.
My people are drowning. They escaped slavery only to die at sea.
And that’s it. I’m done with this.
“Aivenah!” I scream, voice raking my throat.
The storm pauses. The waves suspend mid-air.
I whistle for the axex to hover. “Show yourself, you coward! Stop sending your lackeys after us and face Aia’s Champions yourself!”
The world hums in dread and anticipation.
“I’m talking to you, foul fiend, wicked rebel, petulant wretch. Aivenah, show yourself!”
Savi mutters my name in warning.
A wave in front of me undulates and stretches higher, higher, higher. I lean back, signaling for the axex to give more space between us and the water. The wave takes shape, surging until it looks like a giant salamander with bat wings and a double-forked tongue, one of the zindrumih of legend.
The water-zindrumih opens its mouth. The voice that comes out that makes the marrow of my bones ache. “Hello, little Champion,” it laughs. “Surprised to see me?”
It is Aivenah.
My heart almost fails. What was I thinking?
I shake off the doubt. My days of fear are over. With a shrill cry, I urge the axex toward our ancient enemy.
Aivenah plucks my axex’s wing and holds us suspended in the air.
“Ah, you thought you were great enough to harm me, did you?” The liquid amphibian chuckles. “I, whose power rivals that of Aia Himself? I, who caused Elcedon to be destroyed and Orrock to be severed from Ierah? Is that what you thought, little Mailoua?”
I take in the ocean, waiting to swallow me whole. I look into the face of Aivenah, more terrible than my worst nightmare.
This is the end for me. But I have to try to do some good for my people. I draw back Luemikaroeth to hurl it at the evil one.
“Enough!” A voice booms over the too-still water.
Aivenah and I both look for the voice, which comes from the top of the nearest ship’s mast. Nhardah hugs the pole with one arm. His shoulders are straight; his face is full of rage and power that match the fury of the wind.
“Who are you to tell me enough, Nhardah the Firstborn?” Aivenah asks.
“I am just that–one of the Firstborn,” Nhardah answers. “Beloved by Aia.”
“Do not taunt me!” Aivenah roars. “Remember your inferiority. I watched your birth!”
“And you will never see my death,” Nhardah retorts. “How that rankles you, who hunger for the end of all Aia cherishes. You, who rejected His favor for your own power.”
Aivenah stretches taller. “Do not pretend to know my mind. Have you a reason for speaking, or do you delight in angering your greatest foe?”
“I propose an exchange,” the Firstborn says calmly. “You want to drown Maraiah, but I can give you something better.”
“What can you offer that will possibly tempt me? I have them all here in my grasp, all of Aia’s precious, pathetic humans.”
“You don’t, though,” Nhardah says. “If you kill them, I will still live to thwart you and spread the truth about Aia. Your victory will be empty.”
“Then what do you propose?”
Nhardah never wavers. “You will not touch them. You will leave Maraiah alone, unharmed forever. No child of Aia will be touched by you or your followers.”
“What can you give me that might incline me to agree?” the wave hisses.
“No!” Savi and I cry out in unison.
From his perch, Nhardah looks at us and nods.
Aivenah starts to laugh, and his laughter grows. The air and water fills with the snickers and guffaws of aivenkaites.
“You have a deal,” Aivenah declares. “I accept you in exchange for them.”
“Tell them about me,” Nhardah orders us. Then he plunges into the sea.
Muahahaha, there we are for today, folks. One more chapter! Please take a moment to like this post and share your thoughts about it in the comments below.
Also, stay tuned for a post coming later today about that super secret project. (If you follow me on social media, you already know the exciting news. If you don’t, why not? We can hang out on Facebook or Twitter, and you’ll probably hear news faster there, so it’s a win-win!)