Thunder boomed and rolled across a sky licked with tongues of lightning. A low growl rose up from the depths of the ship as it collided with a wave; ocean water sprayed across the deck, salty and stinging, only to mix in with the rain pelting them from a sky cracked open. Shouts were drowned out by the snarl of thunder and crash of waves, but he still heard it when someone nearby screamed his name.
Sage turned just in time to see a monstrous wall of black water, taller than any he had ever seen. Swearing and cursing every deity he could think of, he scrambled across the slippery deck and launched at the mainmast. His fingers curled around the ropes and pressed into the wood just as the wave pummelled the ship and sent it rocking like a toy. Faraway, someone screeched and a dark shape shot past him, tumbling across the slick wooden planks.
Water washed over the edges and fell back to the churning sea, and the ship righted itself. Taking advantage of whatever time he had, Sage released the mainmast and staggered to the stern deck. Several of the crew ran past him, shouting orders and carrying ropes to hastily repair anything that had snapped or been washed away during the latest attack.
Wiping water from his eyes, Sage grabbed the side railing for support and climbed up the steps to the poop deck. “Kymbry!” he said, voice hoarse since the beginning of the storm. “Kymbry!”
The captain faced him, though her feet remained steady and her hands strong on the helm. Rain and waves had flattened her usually large curls to her head, and she looked small, like a rat thrown into a pond, save for the fierce look of determination set on her features. She was a sailor in heart and soul. “What?”
Sage’s head jerked back as the ship rolled again; he clung to the railing, desperate to keep from being flung into the relentless ocean. Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating the otherwise suffocating darkness. “How much longer can this possibly last?” he screamed, waving an arm at the deck below. Dark figures rushed to and fro, desperate to find a moment of respite.
Kymbry turned her face forward, facing the rain and storm. “It won’t be long now!” she called back, rather cryptically. Sage gawked at her, heart beating frantically in his chest. Was this how they were going to die? “Find Malachi and Stride! Make sure Briar is safe! Help secure anything that could be a hazard! Leave this to me!”
He nodded and half-walked, half-fell back to the deck. Rain thrashed him at all angles no matter where he went; shielding his eyes with a hand, he stumbled across the deck, fighting to keep his balance on the rocking ship as well as find his father. The deck heaved again and tossed him forward; he lurched over and slammed onto his chest. Pain wracked his body, but he gritted his teeth and climbed to his knees.
Something thumped his shoulder and hauled him to his feet. “Hold onto somethin’!” a hoarse voice hollered near his head. “Another wave is comin’!”
Sage scrambled forward and grabbed the nearby ratlines for support. “Malachi!”
The man who helped him stopped and slicked once-curly hair over his head. “What?”
“Have you seen—” But before he could finish speaking, another wave—the very one Malachi warned him about—rose over the side of the deck and splashed over them. Sage sputtered and felt his fingers burn as the weight of it nearly ripped him from the ratlines. It washed away, leaving him further soaked and exhausted. Malachi was beside him, having launched himself at the ropes to save himself. Sage spat water from his mouth and stared at the scoundrel. “Have you seen Briar?”
He shook his head, light green eyes bright with terror. “No! Siras was by the bow! I ain’t seen no one else!” He coughed and jumped off the ratlines. “Keep an eye on her, Sage! She could be gone and we’d blame the water!”
Panic shot through him. Briar was capable, and she knew to stay below decks during a storm; Stride was no sailor, but he was strong and eager to help. He didn’t have to worry about them.
But Siras, on the other hand…
With fear pulsing through him, he pushed off the ropes and hurried toward the bow of the ship. Dark shapes flickered in and out of his vision; sailors screamed and bumped past him. Shortly, he arrived at the forecastle and saw his prey just behind the bowsprit. She looked like she was hauling ropes and retying knots, but Sage doubted her integrity and grabbed her skinny wrist.
She whirled around, eyes blazing electric blue in the lightning. When she saw who it was, she relaxed somewhat, but still tried to wrench her arm from his grip.
“I need your help!” he shouted. A ruse—that was all he needed. A lie to keep her by his side.
Siras’ lip curled and she finally pulled free. “No!”
The pain was evident in her voice. Perpetual sorrow.
Sage didn’t want to play the bad guy, but he wasn’t about to lose his best friend. Before she could react, he grabbed her about the middle and hauled her away from the edge of the bowsprit. She shrieked and pummelled him with kicks and weak punches, and even resorted to biting his arm, but he held tight and padded toward the steps leading from the forecastle.
Another wave shook the ship; together they tumbled down the stairs and landed heavily on the main deck. Siras stopped struggling, if only for the moment, and Sage took advantage of it to leap back to his feet and bodily drag her toward the door that led to the cabins below deck.
“Sage! What are you doing?”
“Keep watch of her,” he said, nearly tripping down the final steps into the main hold. Stride was standing a few metres before him, soaked through but jovial even as he helped tie down loose barrels and crates with other seamen. They stood in near-total darkness, but there was just enough light from the flashes of the storm outside that he could see her scarred face, and the blood that trickled down her cheek. “Shit. She hit her head when we fell.”
Stride scoffed and took her from his son’s arms. “We’ll put her with Briar. She’ll know what to do. Get out there and help. One knows Malachi won’t be much use for Kymbry until this storm’s over.”
Sage nodded, and spared another worried glance at the limp body cradled by his father. “She says it’s nearly over.”
“I hope she’s right.”
By the time Sage returned to the main deck, the sailors and Kymbry had succeeded in steadying the ship so it was possible to walk without being ejected over the rail and into the seas. Exhausted and feeling as though his knees were made of rubber, he slicked his long blonde waves over his head and limped toward the stern, to ask Kymbry what else needed to be done.
The captain was expecting him. “Are they safe?”
“Siras looked ready to go overboard!” he called, rubbing his sore shin as he climbed the steps to the poop deck. “But she’s down with Stride now!”
“Good! See that?” Moving one hand from the helm, she pointed to the sky. It looked as though some mighty hand had split the black clouds in two, allowing a stream of pale light through. “Storm’s breaking! Give it ten minutes and we’ll be on calm seas once again!”
Sage grimaced. “Until then?”
A sly smile flitted across her pale lips. “Help me steer the ship!” she said, though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“I’ve never steered a ship before, Kymbry!”
“I’ll guide you! Come here!”
Sage obeyed and crossed the deck to reach the helm. When he neared her, he saw just how exhausted she was. Lines gouged deep in a white face that was normally pristine and smooth; her shoulders and back hunched in an effort to keep her body upright. Normally steadfast and strong, this trip was taking its toll on her.
He had been a student, mercenary, soldier, prophet, slave, gladiator, husband, father, and knight. Why not try helmsman this time?
Gritting his teeth, he shuffled in front of her and took hold of the helm. Kymbry reached around him and held his hands in the correct places. The wood shuddered beneath his touch as the sea battered the hull and rudder at all possible angles, trying to force it in every direction at once. His muscles strained with the effort of keeping it steady; within minutes of taking hold of the ship, he knew why Kymbry wanted help.
But she was a daughter of the water and nature; from what they knew of their destination, it was an archipelago of several hundred islands, and the major method of transportation was through the winding canals. Alone, she sailed from that land to Sage’s home country, the Nation, and survived. There was no reason to doubt her word if she thought the storm was coming to a close.
A quarter hour later, the raging seas calmed enough for Kymbry’s first mate to man the helm and give the captain much-needed reprieve. After a half hour, the rain ceased, albeit rather reluctantly, and a weak sun began to shine through mottled grey clouds. Ferocious winds still rushed to and fro, but Sage was assured that this was excellent—that they could unfurl the majority of the sails to gain maximum speed and be on their way.
Panting from the exertion pressed on them by the storm, Sage wiped his wrist across his forehead and slumped against the railing. “There has got to be a better way of getting to Skye,” he said, squinting up at the ghostly silver woman standing beside him.
Kymbry’s steel eyes hardened at his words. Standing stiff save to squeeze out the water from her thick platinum curls, she said, “Perhaps. But I haven’t travelled this route in thirteen years, and then and now I hadn’t a map. We’ll make do with what we have. Brynn! What’s the status on the cargo?” Apparently finished with him, she moved across the deck, limping only somewhat from her weariness.
Sage watched her go, then resumed a staring contest with the dreary grey sky.