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Chapter 8: The Dark upon the Sea

Breathe.

Havaktri’s telepathic voice echoed in Thyra’s mind as she sat with her legs crossed on Stormchaser’s deck. Her eyes were closed; though she could see nothing, she could feel the wood of the ship beneath her, the wind blowing through her hair, smell the salty waters of the ocean, hear the voices and footsteps of the crew as they went about their work. Then, slowly, she did as Havaktri had bidden, drawing in a deep, slow breath, holding it, and then gently letting it out.

Breathe, Havaktri said again. Focus on your breath, in and out. Let it become your whole world, one breath at a time. In… and out. Let it clear your mind, help you find discipline and focus. My people are both human and quori – we each have two natures in one body. If we let it, it can tear us apart. But we train to make sure that doesn’t happen. You, also, have two natures. You don’t have to let yours tear you apart either. Now breathe. In… and out.

Thyra did so once again, and then once more. She didn’t know how long they’d been sitting there, her breathing, counting her breaths, and attempting to meditate, while Havaktri’s soothing mental voice spoke instructions into her head. Maybe it had been hours, maybe only minutes; she seemed to be losing her grip on the world outside. All she was, was breathing, in… and out. Her thoughts were drifting now, she felt like she was sinking. In… and out…

Thyra found herself standing atop a mountain, looking down over a landscape that she recognized at once as Thrane. It was night, the twinkling light of the stars above reflected in the lights of a city below, which she knew was Flamekeep. A sudden homesickness took her as she watched, a yearning so profound that she almost ached from the pain of it.

The wind began, at first a cool breeze that built into a powerful blast of cold air; Thyra wrapped her arms tightly around herself, trying to ward it away. Looking up, she saw a vast shadow growing across the sky, like a cloud but far darker than any cloud she’d ever seen before. On it came, inexorable and irresistible, eating up the stars one by one and casting the land below into darkness. At last it had swallowed all the heavens, leaving the sky empty and blank; below, the lights of Flamekeep flickered and began to go out.

As she stood there, alone in that ultimate darkness, Thyra thought she heard mocking laughter ringing from the air. Dark shapes moved around her, like hole of deeper midnight in the shadows that now shrouded the world; she could make out the feline forms of rakshasas and other, stranger shapes that she knew must be quori. They laughed at her naivete, her foolish arrogance to believe that she could change things, that her paltry skills were any match for the Overlords or il-Lashtavar. Did she really think she could stop them from claiming dominion? That anyone could? They were eternal, and she was frail, and mortal, and alone.

“She is not alone!” a voice called, and suddenly Havaktri was there by Thyra’s side, taking the young woman’s hand in her own. Slowly, shaking, they raised their combined hands against the dark. “It is you who cannot stand.”

Fool, the rakshasas said. We were here before your races were born; we will still be here when your nations have fallen to dust. You think you can defeat us? Fool, the quori said. Our hand is vast and subtle, and both the dream world and the material world bend to our will. You think you can stand against us?

“You are the ones who can’t see your own doom!” called Havaktri. “Darkness must pass, as day follows night. Taratai knew this!”

“And darkness can’t rule when even one person would rather die than submit to it!” shouted Thyra. “Tira Miron knew this!”

The darkness shuddered for a moment, as if in doubt. “Darkness, by itself, is nothing,” Havaktri said. “It has no meaning, without light to define itself against. This is true of il-Lashtavar and is true of every other evil power in every plane. Il-Yannah stands!”

“And the Silver Flame stands!” said Thyra. “There may be a different darkness in every world, but there is a different manifestation of the light there to oppose it. Don’t you understand? We’re not alone!”

The clouds above the two young women parted, and a brilliant ray of light enveloped them. In the darkness, the rakshasas and quori screamed and fled. The light built steadily until it was blinding, and Thyra shielded her eyes… and then she was awake, sitting up on the deck of Stormchaser and blinking up at Havaktri’s concerned face.

“I think it fell asleep there,” she said weakly. “Sorry about that. I’ll try not to do it again.”

“I think that would be for the best,” Havaktri said; her tone was serious, but there was amusement in her dark eyes. “Your dreams are not so pleasant that I want to have to go fish you out of them very often, my friend.”

Thyra looked up at Havaktri for a long moment and then slowly, uncontrollably, she began to laugh. A moment later, the kalashtar joined her.

///

The voyage progressed largely uneventfully as Stormchaser crossed the Lhazaar sea and approached Sarlona. Thyra continued her practice and meditation with Havaktri, and the other mercenaries spent their time training or finding other ways to entertain themselves on the journey. Rinnean was fortunate to find that his seasickness had largely subsided, though he still kept to himself for the most part, prowling along the rail and staring out over the sea, or observing the crew at their work. He didn’t truly suspect any of them of having ulterior motives, but he still preferred to watch the people around him, familiarizing himself with their routines and personalities. House Thuranni dealt in secrets and hidden agendas, and its training was hard to shake, even now.

Nonetheless, the voyage was a peaceful one. Rinnean knew it couldn’t last.

He was standing at the railing late one afternoon when he heard footsteps beside him and turned to see Ghazaan approach. The hobgoblin took up a similar position at his side, and for a long moment the two of them were silent; finally, Ghazaan spoke. “Well,” he said, “based on d’Lyrandar’s charts and Havaktri’s guesses, we should be coming up on Adar before too long.”
“Probably,” Rinnean agreed. “I can’t begin to tell you how glad I’m going to be to finally be through with this accursed boat travel. Then again, neither Adar nor Riedra sound like my sort of place either. A country run by monks sounds dreadfully dull, and from the sound of things the Inspired like to think they’ve cornered the market on sneaking and deception and don’t take kindly to other people butting in on it.”

“Hey, if I can get around in a world full of you little stick-people, I think you can manage,” Ghazaan said. “But I’ve got to admit that solid ground beneath my feet is sounding pretty good to me, too, no matter where it is.”

“And they say elves and goblins never agree on anything,” Rinnean muttered, but he smiled faintly as he did so. It was hard not to like Ghazaan, he’d found – the hobgoblin was a refreshingly direct soul, one who never hid behind lies or deceptions, and that was something that was, in Rinnean’s experience, hard to come by.

Ghazaan shaded his eyes and looked out towards the eastern horizon. “You know what,” he said, “I think I can see something dark up ahead. We that close to land? My eyes aren’t as good as yours in full sunlight – what do you see?”

Rinnean stared intently in the direction the hobgoblin gestured. He could see faint grey shapes on the horizon, shapes that might be distant mountains, and in front of them… he shook his head and swore loudly.

“What?” Ghazaan asked, but before the elf could answer, one of the crew came racing across the deck and up to the helm, where the captain stood next to the steersman; a spyglass was clutched in his hand.

“Captain d’Lyrandar!” he called. “There’s a line of ships that just came into view, flying the Riedran flag! It looks like a blockade!”

“Dammit!” Meren swore, grabbing the glass and taking a look himself. After a moment, he swore again. “Well, maybe we should have expected that. I suppose Riedra doesn’t want anyone getting into or out of Adar by sea, and that’s not something I want to tangle with.”

“So what, you’re just going to turn around?” Len demanded, walking over to stand by his side, her face creased in anger. “Look, Captain, we paid you to get us to Sarlona – are you just going to walk out on that now?”

“Getting captured by the Riedran navy isn’t exactly what I had in mind,” Meren said as the other mercenaries came over to stand by Len’s side. “But I don’t think they’ve seen us; maybe we’ll be able to find a way around them, and to make port further up the coast where it’s less guarded-“

“I don’t think that will work, Captain!” Havaktri called suddenly. “Look!” she pointed a finger at the center of the deck just in front of them.

The air shimmered momentarily, and then the transparent image of a man appeared; several of the sailors swore and jumped backwards, though Meren himself remained unfazed, regarding the newcomer intently. He was a tall man of middle-age in a plain but obviously well-tailored uniform that was mostly black with some dark blue highlights, and he had the air of one who expected to be obeyed. He didn’t particularly resemble Havaktri, Rinnean thought – his skin was too pale, his hair even darker, and his eyes were a pale, metallic blue rather than brown – but there was some ineffable quality about him that gave him the same otherworldly air as the kalashtar.

He has the look of the Riedran ruling class, Havaktri’s telepathic voice whispered into Rinnean’s mind; he started for a moment, then realized she must not want to risk the apparition overhearing her. Whether Inspired or Empty Vessel I can’t tell, but I think that’s a captain’s uniform, so most likely the latter. I doubt they’d waste a quori on the commander of one ship.

“I am Captain Tulchasar of the Riedran Imperial Navy,” the apparition suddenly said, confirming Havaktri’s guess as to his rank; his accent was similar to hers but ever so slightly off, like a familiar style of music interspersed with discordant notes. “To the captain of the Khorvaire vessel, you are in violation of the sovereign waters of Riedra; you will approach slowly, and permit us to board you. Attempt to flee, and you will be pursued.”

“Can you hear me?” Meren said warily.

“I can,” Tulchasar replied. “I am using a psionic technique to project my words and images onto your ship, and to receive yours in turn. Speak, and I will be able to hear you and respond.”

“All right,” Meren said. “I just have one question – I’m bound for Adar, not Riedra. Last I looked, Adar was not part of your empire. By what authority do you obstruct our passage?”

“Adar is in a state of revolt against our sublime empire and its rulers, the holy Inspired, and is a haven for criminals and anarchists,” said Tulchasar; Havaktri looked outraged at that description, but managed to keep from saying anything out loud. “We cannot permit you to land there; it would be a hazard to both yourselves and to the security of the surrounding Riedran provinces. By the authority of His Excellency, the Lord General Inharanath, I am authorized to detain and search any vessel bound for Adar. However, the Inspired must protect their people, but they are not without mercy. If we search your vessel and find that you are not attempting to smuggle unlawful goods or persons into Adar, you will be permitted to return to Khorvaire unmolested. You may consult with your crew and passengers if you wish; I will give you one hour to determine if you are willing to surrender to our inspection. If you attempt to flee, it will go poorly for you.” The apparition flickered and vanished.

“Somehow I have a feeling he won’t be particularly inclined to let us go free, regardless of what he finds,” Meren said after a long silence.

“Sounded to me like a very polite way of seizing the ship,” Rinnean observed, crossing his arms. “I don’t trust government or military officials who keep insisting they mean you no harm. Talk like that, and they’ve probably got something to hide.”

“And you also have something to hide, Captain,” Havaktri said. “Me. Tulchasar mentioned unlawful persons as well as goods; I’m a kalashtar, and as far as the Inspired are concerned, that makes me a dangerous heretic by default. If they found you harboring me, it wouldn’t end well for you.”

“I’d say we fight,” said Ghazaan, “but that’s a whole bloody armada out there, and we’re just one ship. What can we do?”

“It’s Meren’s decision,” said Len. “His ship, his crew. That means he’s in charge, regardless of whether or not we like it, but it’d be a real shame if this was all for nothing.” She looked over at the half-elf. “Well? What’ll it be?”

Meren was silent for a long moment, then looked over at Havaktri. “If we can get through, will your people try to help us on the other side?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Most likely, yes. The kalashtar of Adar are insular and have little knowledge of Khorvaire, but they are committed foes of the Inspired. If we can get close enough to the coast, we may find help, or at least a place to hide.”

“Captain?” the sailor who’d first noticed the blockade asked. “What are your orders, sir?”

Meren was silent for a long moment, and then he looked up with a wolflike smile on his face. “Those Riedran tubs are good at transporting troops and taking damage,” he said, “but I think Stormchaser can dance circles around them any day. Everyone to your stations; I’ll take the helm. Len, get your people ready to fight if need be. We’re running the blockade.”

///

I wanted to show part of Thyra’s training with Havaktri here from a more direct perspective; I’d been envisioning this scene as Thyra letting her mind wander/her thoughts drift during the meditation, and slipping into a dream where some of her anxieties manifest in a direct form, then fighting it off with Havaktri’s psychic help. How much I succeeded in conveying that, I’m not sure. But I thought it would be a cool idea, and one that would help build on their friendship and training.

And of course, getting to Adar with no conflict at all would be too easy. Pirates are sort of the standby villain for ocean voyages, but as I’d already used some in one of my Avatar fics, I decided to just use the Riedran navy instead – let the heroes get their first taste of the Inspired before they even make land (not that Tulchasar is technically an Inspired, as Havaktri suspects). Buckle up, everyone. Trouble on the high seas is coming up fast…

-MasterGhandalf


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