Half a day’s sail south of the bay where the Zarnar confronted Serinity, the ship now rides easy swells inside an ancient caldera. Restless storm waves have opened the seaside walls leaving a quiet little cove where once raging lava spewed up and out of the earth.
Standing in the captain’s cabin, looking in the mirror that hangs next to the stern windows, Serinity stares at her face. Ashera, seated tailor fashion on the captain’s bunk, watches her friend staring at herself.
“You’d think,” comments Serinity mildly, touching first one side of her nose, and then the other, “that when you get a bloody nose, the mirror would reflect its image.” Shaking her head, the disgruntled woman leaves the mirror and settles next to her friend on the bed, and then sighs heavily. “I’ve lost nearly half my force, wounds have incapacitated another third, and the rest are blood-feud angry. Not that I blame them, but I’ll not have them abandoning the ship to die for no reason.”
Ashera, silent throughout her friend’s comments, opens her moth to murmur some platitude, and then close it quietly. Nothing she can say will return the lost warriors. Quietly she picks up several sealed letters, looking at the names on them. One letter is addressed to the king. Serinity has addressed six more to dukes, while she has written more than a dozen to nobles of various cities.
“Now that you have signed and sealed these, I’ll . . .” Whatever Ashera was intending to say is wiped out by the sound of thunder. Bolts of lightning smash against the volcano’s rim of old basalt dropping large chunks of basalt into the harbor, some narrowly missing Seeker. Above the sounds of thunder and falling rock, the pair can hear the sound of the captain yelling orders to his crew to “get my ship out of this trap.”
Longboats are quickly lowered over the sides of the ship, and sailors man the oars. Sailors attach thick ropes to the bow of the ship, the anchor's hoisted, and rowers take up the slack in the ropes, then row with all their might to pull Seeker from what was once a safe haven. Long minutes pass as slowly the longboats heave and tug, pulling Seeker out of her birth and into the sea swells. As the ship passes through the opening from caldera to sea, the north wall of the ancient volcano collapses under the weight of the storm, filling the little cove with broken lava blocks and basalt boulders.
These same boulders, instead of smashing the ship to splinters, create huge waves that shove the ship further out to sea, causing it to nearly run over the longboats that are towing it. Titanic forces, having vented their fury against the ancient volcano now subside, leaving blue skies and calm winds in their wake.
“Only magic creates such storms,” mutters Serinity as she releases the rail she’s been holding in a death grip. “There’s sorcery afoot Ashera. Sorcery mixed with coven magic, and that’s a combination I’d rather not have to face right now.”
Nodding to the black dot that is Ashera’s dragon friend Darganath, Serinity smiles. “It seems that your friend has the good sense to move when the world is ending.” Seeing her friend’s grin, Serinity continues, “I’d suggest you call your fire breather down, and get those letters delivered with all haste.”
When Ashera turns to leave, Serinity adds, “Oh, and tell my father that the elders of the southern continent have made their presence known.” Seeing the questioning look on Ashera’s face, Serinity smiles.
“Several years ago, while grandfather D’Darnif and I were exploring some ruins on the southern continent, we ran into a small coven of witches. They seemed a bit upset that we were ‘desecrating’ their ancestor's tombs. When peaceful negotiations failed, just before they were going to tie us to stakes and burn us, grandfather attacked the eldest of them, and killed her. Without a leader, the other witches were thrown into confusion, allowing us time to run away. Ever since then we’ve left off treasure hunting on the southern continent.” Pausing in her narrative, Serinity looks back at the still restless waves spilling out of the cove. “You know I studied magic before I met you, and part of that study was concerned with the different types of magic. I learned to tell one sort from another early in my studies. Later, I learned to tell when different sorts of magic are blended. Witches use their magic to bend nature as they please, creating great wetlands where deserts used to be, or making deserts where peaceful farmers once grew abundant crops. Only the covens could have called such weather from clear skies, and it took a lot more than a few covens to create that display of power.”
As she turns her attention to the soaring dragon, Serinity notices a small ship moving in their direction. Watching it come closer, she finishes her narrative. “Mixed into the power we’ve just seen is the stench of a sorcerer.” As she strokes the pommel of Ascension, Serinity mutters, “Perhaps one day I’ll have the intense pleasure of meeting that one.”
While they are stowing the longboats for the trip south, the ship’s captain leans on the railing next to Serinity and ponders the new troubles headed their way as the strange ship makes its way closer every minute. “When Pearim asked me to take the job of ship’s captain, he promised me I’d have ‘great adventure.’ He’s kept his promise.” Turning his attention to Serinity, he smiles a crooked smile and asks, “Orders M’lady?”
Serinity smiles at the captain. “I’d say we’d best prepare for visitors, good sir. That and I’d try to reassure my troops and your sailors that there wouldn’t be another magical attack in the near future. That last one must have cost the covens most of their energy.” As she turns away from the railing, Serinity gazes again at the oncoming ship. “Besides, if I read the wind right, it’ll be some time before that ship comes within hailing distance.”
Leaving the captain’s side, Serinity passes along the main deck speaking to the Orcs, both wounded and well, reassuring them that they might be in for another fight, but that magic wouldn’t play a part in it. All this while mentally crossing her fingers that the oncoming ship isn’t filled with witches bent on sinking Seeker. Faintly, hidden under the smell of the sea, she can detect the odor of magic, but she can’t tell of what sort.
Half an hour after the attack on Seeker, the strange ship heaves too and anchors next to Serinity’s ship. The sailors of both ships throw toss lines, then they haul towropes between ships, and they drop bumpers over the ship’s sides to absorb the impact of the two ships being maneuvered close together.
After the lines are secured, and a gangplank is laid between the two ships, Darkling stands on one end of the plank, while Serinity stands on the other. Ten feet of weathered oak spans the distance between them.
While the wizard Darkling fusses with his robes, from the corner of his eye he watches Serinity. Finally, he mutters, “No, you’re not the one that stole my dragon.”
“Lady Serinity, I presume?” Bowing deeply, and still watching those around the woman in front of him, Darkling straightens, and then smiles his most pleasant smile.
Behind Serinity, Ashera chuckles quietly. “She’s no lady, but then, the scale cuirass probably gave that away.”
Serinity neither frowns, nor does she turn around to silence her friend. Years of association with her sister have taught her that Ashera will speak her mind, no matter who is listening. Above her, she can hear the sounds of Elf archers moving to more comfortable positions in the rigging.
“What brings a Wizard so far from his keep?” After the sudden attack on her ship, Serinity is in no mood to play word games with strangers.
“Ah, right to the point. I’d expected no less from someone of your, uh, heritage.” Darkling had been about to say ‘breed’ instead of heritage, but reconsidered his wording when he noticed the hilt of a sword standing above Serinity’s shoulder. Those with daemon blood coursing through their veins, no matter how watered down with other race's blood; still have enough fire in them to be quick to take offense.
“I’m here for two reasons. First, I’ve come to reclaim my property.” Lifting his right arm, and pointing at Darganath, he continues, “That property being the dragon I’ve seen hovering around your ship.”
Returning his attention to Serinity, the wizard smiles. “The second reason for my being here is that you are going to need my help if you want to destroy Zarnar.” Dropping his arm to his side, Darkling waits for Serinity to respond.
Looking the pudgy wizard over, Serinity nods to herself, as if she’s made up her mind about him. Returning his smile, she nods to Ashera, who’s been standing slightly behind her, and a bit to her left. “You’ll have to ask Darganath’s rider about your ‘property’ being returned. I’m sure she’ll have something to say about that. I’m just as certain that you know the laws of dragon and rider as well as I do. Once a dragon has chosen a rider, no one else may claim them.” Reaching over her shoulder, Serinity lightly touches Ascension’s pommel. “You might also note that Ashera belongs to the Sisterhood, as do I. That being so, I’d take great offense if anyone attempts to harm her, in any way.”
Darkling chuckles, “Oh well, it was worth the chance if I could reclaim the dragon. Now, onto other things.” Shifting his attention to the wounded Orcs across the deck behind Serinity, Darkling sighs. “I see that you’ve learned the hard way about the toughness of Zarnar.” Staring at Serinity, he asks, “I presume you know the history of the being you’ve tangled with?”
Seeing Serinity nod, Darkling sighs. “It was, of course, my people who defeated the other Afridale. Doing so cost many elder wizards their souls, to say nothing of their magical powers. While I was all in favor of dispatching the threat of the Afridale race, I argued for a less costly method of doing so. Being voted down in congress is not nearly as embarrassing as being publicly humiliated by my peers.” Darkling frowns at the memory of his once friends calling him a coward, and then returns to his narrative. “So, in a bit of a huff, I refused to participate in the Wizard Wars. Now I’m glad that I was spared being sacrificed on the altar of the Afridale race. So dear lady, I’m here to offer my much needed knowledge, and services, in this new war with the last of them.”
Peering at the plump little wizard, Serinity does some mental math, and then stares at the wizard again. “That would make you . . . ”
“ . . . over three thousand years old. Yes. I’m a bit older than I look.” Darkling pats his paunch, and then grins impishly. “The next comment is, ‘You’re looking well preserved for your age.’”
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