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That sinking feeling

Tane glanced at the altimeter, then looked at the map in hand. The boundaries drawn thereon weren’t that accurate, especially in this area of the Burnt Sea, really just a guesstimate. Looking ahead at 3, great wings pulling them steadily to safety, he hoped they would be out of danger before he tired.

He could feel The Null pricking him like a thousand small needles in his mind. It wasn’t overwhelming, more of a constant, low intensity irritation, eroding like the wind blowing over the dunes below. Tane knew it was always a risk to get from Nilfheim to the south port; you couldn’t avoid The Null if you wanted to make it in any reasonable amount of time.

Locking the great wind rudder below the ship into place by lashing the ship’s wheel with rope, he left Meandre to mind things. Ni fed the boiler and nodded as his captain passed by. At least we have wood now. He cringed at the memory of hacking his previous ship to pieces just to make port. The other crew members sat playing cards, having completed everything else. Distraction was practically the only way to get through the feeling of life draining from you.

Looking up at the slack sails, stitched together, he sighed, I hate waiting.

Negative energy

The suns would sink over the horizon soon. Tane looked down at the landscape below, now much nearer than when they started. The Null drained all forms of energy, whether physical or psychic. The levitron engines, even at full power, steadily lost efficiency over this accursed place. It was against the physical laws, but those didn’t apply here. If there was any hope of getting past it, an airship had to start as high as possible at the edge and then make its run, hoping to slide down to other side before the ship’s engine just gave out completely. If it landed in The Null…well.

He rolled down his sleeves, it was getting colder. On the left, his eyes looked up and followed that damned dragon still shadowing them, circling. Why didn’t it attack? They always attack.

Checking knots, making sure everything was stowed properly, Tane’s boots stepped on the second set of stairs leading down to his ship’s cargo hold. Eyes adjusting to the dim light as he stepped in, he stopped. Komae stood, knife in one hand, a piece of pitch wood in the other, the thick tarp next to her cut and peeled back.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she said with her teeth clenched, turning her head toward him. “Wood cutter!” She changed her curved knife’s position from out to downward like a single razor sharp claw.

This is not what it looks like

“Look Komae, I can explain,” Tane said quickly, backing away with his palms up, “This is not what it looks like.”

Taking a step toward him, the menace in the Forest Warden’s features was palpable.

Tane felt her at the threshold of his mind, like a windstorm buffeting a bolted door.

“I watched my forests burn!” she growled. “My friends burned alive in the flames, screaming in agony as they fell to their deaths. There wasn’t even enough left to bury!” Komae was yelling now, “You desecrate their memory by cutting wood from the very trees they died defending?!”

As a matter of survival, Tane quit resisting the Halan’s power and opened the door to his own mind fully.

Not expecting his move, Komae almost tumbled into his mind, hearing him declare, I won’t resist you.

Komae stopped her physical advance, her face bewildered. He felt her full power as the Halan violently tossed his mind, brutally searching for the truth. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his stomach cramping as she rampaged. It wasn’t quite mental rape, but he felt violated, manhandled by the mind talker’s mental strip search.

Suddenly she withdrew, leaving Tane feeling dizzy. He leaned against the wall, confused and barely able to stand. The tall Forest Warden backed up slowly and sheathed her knife, surprise overtaking her face as her backside bumped into the contraband.

Putting her hands to her head, she let out a muffled “arrgh!”, then turned, steadying herself on the pile of wood as she began to weep, shaking her head, stamping her legs and feet.

Now you know

Regaining some of his faculties, Tane said with compassion, “I’m sorry. Now you know.”

Komae quieted, dried her face with her sleeve and stood straight. She bent down, retrieving the piece of pitch-wood from the floor, replaced it gently onto the pile, then turned and walked toward Tane. Coming to within inches of his face, she declared, “I will tell no one.”

She disappeared out the hold door as the big man collapsed on the floor, body shaking from the adrenaline still coursing through his veins. He looked sideways up at the pile of wood, worth a fortune. Is this really worth it? he asked himself, realizing he’d almost been killed – again – for a pile of sticks. Heart beating slower and mind calming, Tane sat up. With great effort, he stood, walked over, and replaced the cut flap of tarp back over his cargo. Then he turned and walked out of the hold, shutting the door behind him. Have to replace the broken latch, he thought as he took the stairs one step at a time.

***

Out on deck he sat alone on a small barrel looking at his mostly empty deck. He’d confined everyone but the crew and Derek to their quarters below until they cleared The Null.

Meandre saw him and walked up, “What happened to you?” she asked, turning his face up toward her and brushing aside his damp hair.

Looking up at her, trying to judge what mental state his woman was in, Tane finally said, “I found Komae in the hold, she knows.”

“By Hades,” Meandre whispered. She stood up straight, her hand reaching for the knife on her chest belt. “Did she hurt you?”

Putting his big hand on hers, he said, “I’m okay.”

“God I hate the mind talkers, nothing’s safe from them,” Meandre more swore than said as she sat on another barrel next to him.

“I had no choice, she knows everything,” Tane explained.

Meandre sat quietly for a moment, lips pursed and eyes worried. “Do you think she’ll say anything?” she asked.

“No,” Tane replied, knowing Halans never lie.

***

They were both still sitting together when Derek walked up, spyglass in hand, “Captain, I sees somethin’,” he said.

Tane got up with Meandre in tow, and followed the big scout to the starboard side of his ship where Derek pointed down. Looking down in the direction he was pointing, Tane saw the dark tech sliding slowly over the barren ground, that telltale bulbous structure, protrusions cycling up.

“By Hades!” Tane ran headlong towards the prow, yelling, “3!”

It was too late. The sound of space being rent ripped through the atmosphere as a negative energy beam hit them like a thunderclap, shaking the ship. Tane looked around quickly to see where they’d been hit, but he couldn’t see any damage. He began to shout again for 3, running toward the front of the ship, looking out over the railing, but the anchor chain was nowhere to be seen. 3 was gone.

Tane ran to the side of the ship, grabbed the rail and looked over the side. The anchor chain hung straight down, the big angel flailing on its end.

Angel overboard!

“Everyone, come help!” Tane shouted, making for the capstan. Meandre and Derek pushed and pulled on the handles of the wench to draw the big chain up onto its drum. Once the others arrived, Tane moved back and looked over the railing. 3 was obviously hurt, struggling to hold on to the anchor chain with one hand.

“Derek! Help me!” Tane yelled, as he took a large rope in hand and wrapped another around him. Derek held the other end coiled around a mast, lowering Tane over the side. Slowly, he repelled down to 3 and tied his injured friend in. Then he shouted up for the others to take the slack up.

Just as he did, 3’s grip failed, his full weight snapping the rope taut like a plucked bow string. “Heave!” Tane shouted. With all their combined might, the crew and Derek barely managed to get the archangel up over the railing and into the ship.

3 groaned, barely conscious. Part of one wing seemed to be gone, but it was still able to be felt if touched.

“Damned dark energy!” Tane cursed.

A shriek pierced the sunset air. Tane turned and looked down toward the hideous sound. “By Hades!” he exclaimed, “That too?”

However, as the captain and crew looked on, the big dragon that approached did not attack them. Instead, the beast shot a stream of molten fire down upon the bulbous dark tech, causing it to explode as the creature banked up. The dragon turned and dove once more, again lighting up the wreckage with fire. After a few more blows to the machine, the fiery beast flew off into the distance.

Tane, scratched his head, raising his eyebrows, “Okay.”

Turning back to his crew, he saw 3 coming to, trying to prop up himself on one arm as others steadied him, his white wing jerking. He was obviously in a lot of pain.

Everyone from below was now coming up on deck, some looking on in concern. Some asked others what had happened. Tane just looked at them all, at a loss of what to do. This is a bad day for secrets, he thought, rushing to his quarters to retrieve the vials of the nectar of life.

Running back up past Brenzel who was approaching the gathering crowd, he offered a vial to 3, but the big angel waved it away, saying weakly, “Only a Seraph can heal me.”

Now, he was truly out of options. Tane’s shoulders sank in defeat.

Bring me Brenzel

Kneeling there, watching 3 in agony, Tane heard him trying to speak. Bending down closer he heard 3 say, “Brenzel. Bring me Brenzel.”

Standing, looking around, he found the tall blond and motioned her forward.

She walked over, knelt, and bent her ear low to 3’s lips. She argued a bit at first, shaking her head. Then she stilled, nodding. Brenzel’s face turned toward the missing part of 3’s wing as she laid both hands on it as green sparks flowed around her and through her hands. Everyone watched, scarcely breathing, wondering what was going on.

Tane saw the miracle along with everyone else and took a step back. A collective gasp ran through all onlookers as 3’s missing part gradually reappeared, the green light making his wing completely whole again. He stopped moaning, eyes opening, clearing of the pain. Brenzel stood up, looking bashful as everyone stared at her.

Out loud Tane exclaimed, what everyone was thinking, “You’re a Seraph?!”

SEOIB.