Combatant, The Kacy Chronicles Book 3
By A.L. Knorr & Martha Carr
“There you are.”
Toth turned from where he stood at the ship’s railing. His face was pale, quite an accomplishment for a man who already had the complexion of a viking.
Jordan and Eohne stepped to either side of Toth and leaned their elbows on the wood. They gazed into the fog. The rough seas had calmed and the ship’s prow now sliced through smooth but murky water.
“Nice view.” Jordan’s tone was laced with sarcasm. There was no view. The horizon was shrouded, the filtered light was flat and dim. She glanced at Toth, noticing his waxy cast. “Did you lose your breakfast?”
“In three instalments,” the Nycht groused. “Thank heavens the storm has eased. Strix are not meant to sail.” He shot Eohne a glare. “I could have carried you to Trevilsom.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Eohne’s expression was mild. “But if you had you’d be so exhausted by the time we arrived that we’d have to abandon you on some rock and go on without you.”
Toth grunted and his gaze drifted back to the water sliding by below them.
“Did Firohne write about how long the Rakshaaks wait before they give up on a human?” Jordan asked.
Eohne shook her head. “I’d guess a week because he wrote that it took a week for other non-human species to deteriorate to the point of being a food source for them.”
Toth voiced the fear that was burgeoning in Jordan’s own mind. “They must have had humans on the island before. Why would they give him even a week’s worth of time?”
“Firohne seemed to think that the Rakshaaks don’t distinguish an Elf from a human, or a human from a dwarf. They don’t have much in the way of functional logic, they are more like radars for fear. If that’s true, then they would give every prisoner the allotted week before keeping or discarding them.”
“Any idea how long my father has been on the island for?”
“I don’t know for certain,” answered Eohne, “but I know that a ship left Vischer five days ago. It’s a two-day journey by ship from Vischer to Trevilsom.”
“So you think he’s been there for three days?”
Eohne nodded. “That’s my best guess.”
The ship began to slow as sailors yanked on ropes and the sails shifted.
“Look.” Eohne pointed to dark underwater shapes not far from the ship. “We can’t go much further. There are too many islands to navigate these waters safely.”
“Correction.” The voice made them turn. The Captain they’d bought passage from in Maticaw was there. “We can’t go any further.”
The sound of a heavy chain running along wood and the splash of the anchor backed the serious look on his face. “Best grab the railing.”
They did so.
The ship lurched to a halt. Sailors stumbled forward and Eohne slid into Toth who slid into Jordan. Only the Captain, who hadn’t been clutching anything, managed to keep his footing.
“There’s nothing here.” Jordan peered through the fog at the surrounding waters.
“There’s a small island just beyond the fog where we’ll leave you.” The Captain took off his hat. “That is if you still want to pursue this lunacy. It’s not too late to change your minds. I can drop you off at Skillen if you like?” The old Captain, his brow lined with concern, seemed hopeful that his suggestion would take root.
Toth shook his head. “Thank you, but we’ve got someone to rescue.”
The Captain nodded. “Good luck to you then.” He gave a signal, and a rowboat was lowered to the water. Toth, Eohne, and Jordan joined two oarsmen in the dingy and waved to the Captain as they were rowed into the fog. The ship was rapidly swallowed up by the mist.
In short order, the rowboat bumped against a small barren island. The threesome was helped from the boat. One of the oarsmen shook his head at them as they rowed away.
“Let’s not waste any time,” muttered Toth. “This place is eerie.”
“Godforsaken,” Jordan added. “Do your magic, Elf.”
“A few things to cover, just briefly,” said Eohne, raising a finger. “I know I’ve already said this, but I’d like to reiterate that we have to get Allan out of there as quickly as possible. I’ve made a compass that will lead us to him. The shields should protect us from the toxic magic up to a point, and it will make us undetectable to the Rakshaaks. But we have to be off the island by the time the magic wears off or-“
“We’ll never leave,” finished Toth. “Got it.” Toth peered into the murky water. “Caves.” He gave a visible shudder.
“You’re a Nycht,” Jordan thwacked him on the shoulder. “Don’t your kind live in caves?”
“Yes, high off the ground,” Toth protested, hands out. “Not underwater!”
“I have a basic formula for underwater wormholes which I invented as part of my early training.” Eohne was rifling through one of her satchels. “Sohne dropped a jewel into one of our deepest lakes and challenged me to retrieve it without getting wet. I’ll adapt that magic to send the wormhole not towards a precious gem, but towards a pocket of oxygen.”
Jordan’s fingers and toes were freezing and her pulse felt light and fast. She and Toth were going to be putting their lives into Eohne’s hands. If the Elf’s magic failed them they would die. Jordan felt the desire to point out the obvious but clamped her lips shut. The Elf didn’t need to be reminded.
“So, to sum up,” said Toth. “We wormhole our way to the cave system, climb out following your compass to Allan. Snatch his unconscious form out from under the noses of vampiric Rakshaak guards twice our size and then fly to Rodania?”
“You make it sound as though you don’t face hideous flying monstrosities on a daily basis.” Eohne retrieved a sack, untied it and peered inside. “I have seen what you can do to a full-grown harpy female.”
A muscle in Toth’s jaw flexed. “Harpies wield toxic claws but they don’t leak toxic magic. I am always in control of my mental faculties when I’m faced with one.”
“Well, you’re right except for the flying to Rodania part. While you were rescuing Jordan from certain death back in Maticaw, I made a deal with a sailor named Thom–
“How did you know I was facing certain death by the way?” Jordan interrupted.
“You know that compass Eohne is going to make to find your dad?”
“She made one leading to me?”
Jordan gave the Elf an adoring look. “You are brilliant and gorgeous.”
“Thanks. Can I go on now?”
Jordan nodded. “Sorry.”
“Thom runs a regular delivery of goods to the east side of Lower Rodania. It’s the closest civilized land mass to Trevilsom. He’ll pick us up on the west side of the prison island when we’re ready.” Eohne looked at Toth. “You’ll only have to carry Allan for a short distance. And you,” Eohne looked at Jordan, “if you can manage it, will have to carry me for a short distance as well. Think you can?”
“No problem.” It wouldn’t have mattered if Eohne had asked her to carry a Cadillac, she would do her level best if its what was needed to rescue her father.
Toth raked a hand through his hair, standing the spikes on end. “This is madness.”
“Yes,” replied Eohne, simply. “Now I need a moment’s quiet, please.”
Eohne produced an empty cup. She knelt and scooped up seawater with it, setting it on the rock beside her knee. Next, she retrieved a coil of string, which she stuffed into her mouth.
Toth and Jordan shared a bemused glance and crouched to watch with interest. Watching Eohne work was like watching a street magician.
Eohne held the string in her mouth for several seconds to ensure it received a good bath in her saliva. She pulled out a small box. From it, Eohne poured a gray crystalline powder into the palm of her hand. She deposited the wet string into the powder and mushed it around with her finger. The Elf then produced a small glass cylinder. Pressing her thumb against the bottom of the cylinder caused a flame to burst from the top. She held her palm flat and touched the flame to the string. The string flared to a bright yellow and a series of popping sounds made Jordan jump.
“Whoa,” Jordan breathed. The string didn’t burn, it only flashed brightly in the palm of Eohne’s hand and slowly began to fade, looking much as it had before.
Eohne put away her Elven lighter. Keeping hold of one end of the string, she threw the rest of it into the sea. Her body froze and her face turned upward, her eyes taking on a faint glow.
Jordan and Toth shared an uneasy glance. It appeared Eohne had fallen into a trance.
Toth pointed and they watched as the string moved in the water, away from their small island platform. It was behaving as though a fish was attempting to swim away with it. A light source appeared small and distant under the water. It drew closer, and Jordan realized it was the string, lighting up and creeping back toward Eohne’s fingers.
The underwater environment was illuminated by the blue glow. Fish darted by, several of them alarmingly large. Waving fronds of kelp swayed back and forth and the rock walls below them came into view. What seemed like shallow water on the surface, was revealed to be so deep there was no visible bottom. The islands were long fingers of stone stretching up from the depths to reach for the surface.
The blue glow traced the string all the way to Eohne’s fingers. The Elf took a deep and sudden breath and her eyes returned to normal, her chest rose and fell as though she was a little out of breath. She took her Elven lighter and touched the flame again to the end of the string.
There was a crack like the sound of thunder.
A hole appeared in the water where the string had been. Thunder echoed from the wormhole. It was loud but rapidly grew distant as the hole cleared a path, holding the water apart.
Jordan’s mouth went dry as she realized what they were about to do. This was their road, the tunnel that would lead them to the caves under Trevilsom. Jordan closed her eyes and whispered a prayer for strength as fear threatened to overwhelm her. She felt Toth’s hand squeeze her shoulder and the terror passed, leaving only tremors along her spine.
Eohne stood and reached for their hands. The three of them stood on the small island, the strange wide hole in the water just behind Eohne, hands clutched and squeezing. Jordan felt a burst of gratitude and strength come from the hands holding hers and she looked from one to the other and nodded.
Eohne released their hands, turned, and with a graceful leap, jumped into the wormhole. She became a blurred shadow as the wormhole curved away from the island, then passed out of view. It was like watching someone descend a transparent waterslide.
Toth gestured that Jordan should go next.
Jordan took a small torch from her satchel. Eohne had given them each a small Elflight torch which they needed only to blow on to light.
“For you, dad,” she whispered, and leapt.
The underwater world became a blur as she slid along a surprisingly hard surface. Darkness closed overhead as she took the first sharp descent. The angle soon shallowed and she was able to get to her feet and run. Her heart was pounding and she gasped at the sensation of being on the edge of out of control. Jordan braced her legs in an effort to slow her momentum, but found herself sliding as though on an invisible skateboard.
The wormhole soon flattened enough for her to slow and light her torch. Jordan blew and as the light illuminated the wormhole, she gasped at the world which lit up around her.
Schools of fish swam past and there was a flash of long tentacles as some squid or octopus-like creature disappeared into a crack in a vertical stone wall just beyond their tube. The wormhole wound its way between rough stone pillars, always descending. She looked back as Toth blew his torch alight. His bulky silhouette was a blur through the walls of the tube above and behind her. Eohne was somewhere ahead of her and out of sight.
The angle of the wormhole sharpened again and Jordan lost her footing and slid. The underwater world whizzed by at a frightening speed. If the wormhole broke, there was no way she could surface in time to survive. She tried not to think about how many feet below the water’s surface they now were. Her breath echoed against the walls and her hair slapped against her face.
The wormhole flattened out again and she got to her feet with trembling knees.
Toth slid up behind her, his legs braced like a snowboarder.
“Alright?” Toth’s voice echoed like they were in a drainpipe. Jordan felt his hand on her lower back and she took strength from his warm touch, took a breath and got to her feet.
“It gets very dark here.” Eohne’s voice echoed up the wormhole to them as a light appeared ahead.
Toth and Jordan made their way along the wormhole, which was now flat enough to walk. Rounding a bend revealed Eohne standing in the tube. Her skin appeared blue in the underwater light. Her brunette hair seemed inky black.
Jordan gasped as a monstrous form drifted by over Eohne’s head. Something with way too many tentacles spiraled around the tube and passed into shadow. The wormhole beyond Eohne was a yawning black hole.
“This is where we enter the caves.” Eohne walked along the wormhole, her footsteps echoing. An inky blackness closed around her. Jordan and Toth followed her into the yawning maw of the cave. Even with their torchlights, all they could make out was each other. Their speed slowed as Eohne felt her way forward in the pitch dark.
“The wormhole climbs here. This will be a bit tricky.” Eohne bent and reached a hand down to feel the way the floor of the wormhole ascended. She put her torch between her teeth and reached out with both hands. Bracing herself on either side of the wormhole, she looked like she was suspended in space.
Eohne spread her booted feet and braced them against the wall, inching her way up the wormhole. Jordan thought she’d never seen anything so strange as Eohne’s form monkeying its way up in the dark, her feet and hands bracing themselves against what looked like nothing.
The Elf reached eyeball-height and was able to move forward again. She looked back and down at her friends. “It flattens out again.”
As Jordan’s eyes adjusted, she could make out cracks in the stone they were passing through and sea vegetables as they swayed. She took a leap up the wormhole but slid back with a sound like the squeak of skin on glass. Her wings flexed and flustered, trying to help, and for a moment, the tunnel was filled with feathers.
Eohne reached a hand down to Jordan. “Let me help you.”
Toth put his arms around Jordan’s knees and lifted her to where Eohne could clasp her hand and pull her up. She joined Eohne where the wormhole flattened. The Elf and the Arpak held out their hands to Toth but he only said: “Back up a little.”
They backed along the wormhole to give Toth room and held their torches up to light the way.
Toth took a short run. His wings shot forward, snaked around his body and his dewclaws and wings caught against the curving surface of the wormhole, pulling him up. He landed in a crouch and his wings folded themselves away.
“That was cool. I wish I had dewclaws.” Jordan whispered.
“Why are you whispering?”
“They’re still far above us,” Eohne replied, already going on ahead.
They continued in this monkeying fashion for another hour as the wormhole snaked its way through the caves beneath Trevilsom. Only the sound of their breathing accompanied them, the wormholes were deathly silent. A chill entered Jordan’s bones in spite of her new jacket. The sound of her teeth chattering echoed around them from time to time.
After an hour of halting wormhole travel, Toth’s voice broke the silence. “Don’t suppose you have any magic for keeping Jordan warm, do you?”
“Sorry,” said Eohne over her shoulder.
“Y-you d-d-don’t s-seem c-c-cold,” chattered Jordan, her body tense and stiff from the chill. She felt she might shatter if someone flicked her hard enough.
“I’m chilly,” said Eohne, “but Elven bodies regulate better than Strix.”
“Maybe better than an Arpak,” countered Toth. “Nychts like the cold just fine. It’s the wet that we don’t like.”
“Shhh,” the Elf hushed them. “Listen.”
They froze, ears perked. The sound of droplets splashing into water echoed through the wormhole from somewhere up ahead.
They picked up speed, eager to escape the unfriendly pitch black of the underground.