God of Nothing, chapter 77
The trouble wasn't so much in getting to the ship. Granted there was a bit of an argument about the means of transporting Aphrael, whose state made it impossible for him to transport himself. And after such a debate, Siran held back the suggestion that they should retrieve Lord Valkire's body. But perhaps that was just as well, in the end.
But getting to the boat wasn't the tough part. It was the fact that the small craft sat perched atop a dangerous looking jut of stone that became the problem. A wrong move could rend the bottom of the boat and make the ship useless to them--and it was surprising that the boat had so far seemed to manage to remain unpunctured by the stone upon which it sat. It was an almost laughable situation, and the coincidence of the upheaval in the sea floor taking place at exactly the wrong place and time would have been remarkable--had it not been happening to them.
It was Namir who first came up with a possible solution. He dug briefly in the bowels of the small boat, and came back up to deck with a small, flute-like instrument. Had Aphrael been conscious he might have commented on the fact that the Nenian fife, used to acquire the now ruined chalice of Niu, was supposed to be back in its hiding place on the island of the Salt Cliffs. But Aphrael was in no position to point out such a fact, and it was probably to the advantage.
The Felan played a short tune on the fife--one that seemed almost familiar to Siran--and the Nenians' appearance was far more prompt than on Namir's previous attempt. Of course, that would have to be where the ease ended. It was one thing, of course, to call to the Nenians, but it was another all together to try to explain to them the trouble at hand. Perhaps the sea creatures truly didn't understand the words shouted at them from the ship, or maybe it was impossible to hear over the crashing waves, but they seemed unable to comprehend what was being asked of them.
It was Siran who, after the shock of seeing the Nenians rise from the depths and emerge bobbing in the waves--creatures she had always thought more myth than fact--eventually managed to convey the message. It took a ridiculous amount of gesturing and shouting to get the idea across to the creatures, and at the end of it all Siran had the sneaking suspicion that the Nenians had found the whole thing exceedingly amusing. It didn't really matter to her, so long as they managed to rescue the small ship from ruin.
And manage they did.
None on the ship was really sure how the Nenians managed to remove the boat from its precarious position atop the stones. All they knew was that a sickening groan of wood was quickly followed by a stomach-turning lurch that nearly threatened to upturn the craft. Then, more suddenly than might be believed, the small boat was once again free to ride the salty waves, and the creatures that had rescued them were gone.
Namir didn't bother to voice his suspicion that the creatures would have likely been more pleased had the ship actually sank and taken everyone down with it. After all, the Nenians did have some quirks that tended to be rather dangerous to those who couldn't breathe beneath the surface of the sea. But the ship seemed sailable, and Namir kept unusually quiet.
"I wish," Siran said into the quiet onboard, "that there was something more that we could do. I mean, somehow things don't quite seem finished, if you know what I mean."
Beside her, Jabari nodded almost absently. He leaned heavily on the boat railing, his gaze following the slow retreat of the island. In truth it was the boat that was retreating, and he knew that, but it was somehow more reassuring to think that the island itself was actually drawing back slowly, leaving, never to be seen again. He hadn't liked the island from the moment he laid eyes on it, and now after being on the scrap of land, he liked it even less. He only wished that it would disappear into the night more quickly.
"Ducky can finish the island," the girl's small voice spoke into Jabari's silent contemplations. She was crouched at the werewolf's heels--more on his heels, actually--and half clung to the rails and half to Jabari himself. She hadn't kept to herself her hatred of being on the water, but neither did she retreat from Jabari's side to the depths of the boat where she might be better able to ignore their place on the sea. If ever she was reluctant to be alone, it was now.
Siran looked down at the young Felan thoughtfully. "What do you mean, finish the island?"
The girl cast Siran a surprisingly chipper grin, her fear put aside in the moment of revelation. "Fyren taught Ducky a big spell. Ducky can do it! Ducky can make the island go boom!"
". . . Go . . . boom?"
Ducky continued to grin up at Siran's obvious surprise and disbelief, not even noticing the raised eyebrow that Jabari was now casting her. "Boom!" she reiterated, complete with a gesture that momentarily forced her to relinquish her hold on both Jabari and the ship's railing. "Ducky can do it! Ducky knows she can! Can Ducky do it? Please?" she begged, drawing out the word and adorning a favorite, pleading expression.
"I - I don't know. . . ." Siran responded uncertainly, giving Jabari a look that practically begged for intervention.
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," Jabari came to Siran's rescue. "After all, blowing up an island, that has to be some sort of crime, doesn't it?"
"Must be," Siran agreed hastily.
Namir, who had been more concerned with steering the ship than taking part in conversation, couldn't help but intervene in this one. "Oh, let the girl give it a try," he spoke up in Ducky's favor. "That island has done no one any good. I'm sure no one will notice the absence of a meaningless spit of rock."
Siran was about to speak up against the thought--how could one not notice the disappearance of a whole island?--but Ducky's exuberant cheer wiped the words from her thoughts. The girl had already climbed to her feet, her fear of the sea momentarily gone.
"Ducky's gonna blow up an island," she half sang into the darkness. "Bye-bye island." And without waiting for more thoughts on the subject, the girl began to chant.
As Ducky practically sang the words to her intended spell, Siran cast Jabari a look that clearly questioned whether or not this was such a good idea, and if the feat was even truly possible. Jabari, for his part, responded with an utterly clueless expression and a helpless shrug. And despite it all, Siran couldn't help but smile slightly. Her grin, however, quickly disappeared as a sound like nothing she had ever heard before seemed to rip through the air. That sound, so unlike anything previously experienced, was the sound of an island exploding like an over-filled balloon. For a frightening moment it seemed as though sharp stone was going to hurtle down on them from above, the vengeful remains of the isle, but any such danger fell short of their bobbing position atop the waves.
Siran's blank shock did nothing to quiet Ducky's squeal of delight at the explosion. "Yay!" the girl exclaimed, clapping her hands together joyfully. "Island go BOOM!"
Recovering somewhat more quickly than Siran, Jabari leaned toward the young woman with a small frown. "Do you think Fyren was still on that island?"
For a moment Siran's mouth moved wordlessly, but then a small, weak laugh escaped her. "If he was," she responded, "I don't think that explosion will have pleased him much." Siran groaned. It was late, she was tired, and an island had just exploded before her eyes by the words of a child . . . and that island just might have contained an already displeased demon. If things could get any worse, now would be the time.
"No use worrying about it now," Jabari responded, his tone surprisingly relaxed and thankfully reassuring. "Sometimes you just have to deal with things as they're handed to you, and not worry so much about what might happen, or what has happened. . . ."
Siran found it increasingly easy to smile, despite the circumstances. She blamed it fully on the werewolf. "Wise words," she retorted. "Why didn't you offer them much sooner?"
Jabari couldn't keep back a small grin of his own. "It's something I just learned myself." And as naturally as the sea, Siran and Jabari leaned toward one another. . . .
The two started as though caught in a sin, and Namir couldn't hold back the small grin of amusement that turned his lips. "Will one of you take the helm?" he posed before either could attempt to talk their way out of what he had just witnessed. "I'm going below."
"Ducky will steer!" the girl volunteered, energy still flowing from her big explosion.
Both Siran and Jabari mutely--and perhaps with less understanding than would be generally recommended—nodded their agreement, and again Namir grinned. He quickly took advantage of the agreement though, and disappeared below deck without a backwards glance. Ducky was quick to fill in the older Felan's vacated position at the helm, and seemed to have nearly forgotten her previous fear of the boat and the sea. For a brief moment Siran looked unsure about what had just happened--worried about having Ducky steering the ship--but Jabari's half reassuring, half helpless grin reminded her that there was no point in worrying. Namir obviously wasn't concerned; he was probably going below deck to catch a catnap.
It was true that Namir had none of the worries that might have assailed the others above deck. He knew well enough that the girl was smart enough to steer clear of the islands--shallow areas that might pose a threat--and so long as she stayed in the open water, there was little chance of the boat running afoul. And even if they got lost in the short time he planned on remaining below, it would be simple enough for him to re-find their bearings. And besides, the Felan already knew the futility of worrying.
For a moment Namir paused, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness below the deck of the ship. As his surroundings became clearer--a small cabin filled with more stuff than might be recommended--his gaze came briefly to rest on the still form of Aphrael.
The young man had been lain out on one of the crowded beds that took up the vast majority of the space. He had been placed there before the rough movement of the ship being removed from the rocks that had held it captive. Namir suspected that Aphrael might have been jostled about quite a bit by that movement, but none of them above deck had yet come down to check. Perhaps they had wanted to avoid the issue, but Namir wasn't much bothered; he had other things on his mind. He was caused a moment's pause, though, when he saw that the young man lay now on the bed with one arm draped over his eyes; it seemed a position that no amount of jostling would have created.
With a small grin, Namir posed into the darkness, "Headache?"
Despite the fact that Namir's descent into the bowels of the ship had been practically silent--as good as so when covered by the waves crashing against the boat--Aphrael seemed unsurprised by the Felan's presence. "Massive," he responded simply, his quiet tone suggesting that even speaking served to aggravate the pain.
Namir's grin grew slightly. "Pity," he said, though his almost cheerful tone suggested otherwise. The Felan, though, didn't bother with the young man any further. His interests lay with other things. He needed a few items--things that should be readily available aboard the boat--and he didn't intend to be long finding them.
It was Aphrael who spoke up--he never had been one for silence. "Thank-you," he stated easily into the quiet.
Namir frowned slightly, but didn't look away from his search through one of the cabin's many drawers. "For what?"
This time it was Aphrael whose lips turned up in a small grin. "You chose the destination for the transport circle," the young man pointed out. "You knew. Or you at least thought that there might be a chance that--"
"It was the only place I knew of that would be able to hold the god," Namir interrupted dryly. He had no use for thanks, or unwarranted gratitude.
For a moment Aphrael was silent. "You knew that the plane was one of few that blatantly refused to accept the presence of human souls," the young man said, as though he hadn't been interrupted at all. "I may not be all human, but you realized that there was a good chance that, despite the orders written into the transport circle, the plane wouldn't take me; it would take the god's soul, surely, but not mine. That's what saved my life. I know it, and so do you."
"Coincidence," Namir stated, and as he spoke he pulled from the drawer one of the items he sought--a dark marker intended for use on practically any surface. It would certainly be easier than carving out the spell.
Aphrael's grin didn't fade. "If you're looking for a mirror," he spoke up, "then there's likely one through there." He gestured easily with one hand toward a narrow door that stood in the rear of the room.
Namir followed the gesture with his gaze, and he realized that the young man was right. The Felan had been on enough boats to know that the room behind the door--if it was indeed the room that he suspected--would be small, but would also contain the bare toiletry essentials--and probably a few items that weren't quite so necessary. Like a mirror.
"I wouldn't bother though," Aphrael added as Namir stepped toward the door. "I can tell you that your doggish friend is going to be just fine, as soon as he recuperates. There's no need to scry for him."
Namir paused upon hearing the young man's words, but the hesitation lasted only a moment. "If it's all the same to you," he responded in a not completely unthankful tone, "I'd like to have a look for myself anyhow."
Aphrael nodded slightly, though Namir was already walking away.
Unexpectedly--even perhaps to himself--Namir paused with his hand on the narrow door and turned to look back at the young man. "You know," the Felan said thoughtfully, and perhaps with a bit of enjoyment, "I think your friends above deck are going to make a fine little family some day. I wonder, though, how you'll fit into it."
"I won't," Aphrael responded, his tone oddly pleasant despite his rather negative words. And Namir could swear that the young man's grin even grew as he continued, "I've never been very good at fitting in."