Captain Ardocles sat that whole time with his mouth and eyes as open as they could be. He said nothing until they began moving rapidly against the prevailing winds. The he said, “Ten points to port if you are headed back to the Gulf of Astacus.”
“Ten points to port,” Lincoln echoed, nice and loud, and the men on the rudder followed orders. Tony, Boston, and Katie went below to check on the horses.
Pinto sat that whole time with his eyes shut tight, like a man who did not want to see what was happening. When Lockhart removed the gag, the man began to weep, and spoke like a man half-mad. “I didn’t know. You have silver and real gold. And horses worth the treasure of Midas himself. I should have known you were of the gods. I was blinded by my greed. Gods forgive me. I sent messengers on the morning tide while we waited the day. I didn’t know.”
Boston came up from down below, having heard the gist of the man’s confession. She removed her glamour to reveal her true elf self. Pinto saw her and screamed. He wet himself, as Katie scolded Boston.
Lockhart stepped up to Captain Ardocles and put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “We don’t normally get a full confession like that without persuasion.” Of course, the travelers would never deliberately hurt anyone other than in self-defense, and they certainly would never torture anyone, but Lockhart thought it safe to let Captain Ardocles think what he will.
The captain widened his eyes and pointed at his mate. “Pinto was in the nest and reported storm clouds in the gulf. I turned south toward Apamea for your own safety. I didn’t know he had pirates waiting.”
“It was his idea,” Pinto shrieked.
Captain Ardocles shook his head. “Poor fellow. Wanting to cast the blame rather than face up to his own misdeeds.”
“Maybe,” Lockhart said, but he let the captain go about the business of getting them safely to Nicomedia.
Nanette gave out first, so the bow of the ship splashed again into the water, but Alexis could not sustain the wind much longer. By then, they reached the mouth of the gulf and found a wind they could use, so Alexis let it go and imagined she would sleep well that night.
When they entered fully into the gulf, they found storm clouds had indeed settled over the water. “Very unusual for this time of year,” Captain Ardacles said. He looked up at the darkening sky and sounded sincere.
“It doesn’t feel natural,” Boston admitted. She turned her head to the side and tried to figure out what, exactly, it did feel like. Decker stayed with an exhausted Nanette. Lincoln stayed with Alexis. Tony kept watch on the rudder, while Lockhart and Katie kept the captain and his crew in sight. Father Flavius prayed for Deacon Galarius, who got seasick, again. Sukki stayed faithfully with Elder Stow who thought he might be at the point in his repairs where he could test the device.
That all left Boston free to fret about the storm overhead. The wind came from the north. The crew had to be careful to keep the ship from being pushed toward the southern shore. The captain said they would soon reach the place where the gulf narrowed, considerably. That would not give them much room to maneuver.
The storm started with the wind and the sea, as the waves grew, and the boat began to bounce along. It bounced. It did not cut through the waves. The sky began to drizzle, a wet to match the spray of the sea, when Boston caught sight of the shoreline, north and south. It looked like the woods, grasslands, and hills all moved closer, to hem the ship in. It began to rain in earnest, but as soon as it started, it stopped.
“Hey!” Boston shouted, before she noticed the rain did not stop. It simply shifted to outside the ship, while no rain at all fell on the ship. She overheard Elder Stow explaining to Lockhart and Katie.
“It is a Decker wall, which I have set as the default. Right now, I have it overhead where it can act as an umbrella for the ship.”
“Decker wall?” Tony asked, not remembering the term.
Elder Stow nodded. “It is set so things with sufficient mass and speed, like bullets, can go out through the screens, but nothing can come in.”
Tony nodded, even as a big stroke of lightning struck directly overhead. Elder Stow’s screens flashed a brilliant yellow light and went out.
“No, no,” Elder Stow shouted, and grabbed the screen device, and replaced the eyepiece with which he worked on the device. “No,” he said again, as the rain returned to pelt the ship.
“Lightning is a big electro-magnetic pulse,” Sukki said, and looked to the sky for fear of another strike.
Boston finally shouted and got everyone’s attention. “It is the wraith.”
A second lightning strike came, but it missed the ship by several yards and discharged harmlessly in the sea. The wind picked up and turned contrary to their motion. Alexis had to stand and fight back with a wind of her own, though she already felt exhausted.
Lockhart, Katie, and Decker all armed up, but they had little hope of shooting the wraith, unless she was foolish enough to manifest within range. They scanned the sky, as Nanette closed her eyes and stretched out her senses with her hand.
“I can’t seem to pinpoint the wraith’s location,” she said. “Maybe I’m not doing it right.”
“You are doing it just fine,” Decker said, without taking his eyes off the sky.
“I can’t get a fix on her location either,” Katie shouted through the rain.
“She is up there,” Boston said, and scanned the sky from horizon to horizon.
“The wraith won’t manifest,” Elder Stow said, and stopped his repair work to see what he could pick up on his scanner.
Sukki wanted to fly up there for a closer look, but Boston and Nanette kept the girl’s feet glued to the deck. Then the wraith showed herself in a place no one expected. The travelers and crew all looked north, where the storm came from, and where the cold, north wind came that tried to push the ship to crash on the southern shore. The wraith appeared over the southern shore and laughed loud enough to draw everyone’s attention. True, the travelers were not nearly as afraid as the crew, but the wraith seemed to relish the idea of the travelers dying so she could feast on their souls.
Decker fired first, though Katie came a close second. The target appeared pretty far away, but their military-style weapons would reach that far.
Boston took a second to grab her wand and grab Alexis by the shoulder so she could draw on Alexis’ wind magic. Boston sent a fireball in the wraith’s direction, but that was all Alexis had left in her. She collapsed to the deck. Lincoln caught her, and gave Boston a hard look, but Boston pretended not to notice.
With the fire-ball half-way across the sea, and blocking the Wraith’s view, Elder Stow pulled his weapon. He fired his energy weapon at the wraith, and Sukki followed with the heat-ray she had in her own hands.
The wraith shrieked, and vanished, but the travelers felt sure something struck home and wounded the creature. Like all spiritual beings, when they took on physical form, they become subject to physical things, like bullets and alien heat-rays. They certainly heard the wraith up in the rainclouds, screaming like one in pain.
Another stroke of lightning came down, but it missed the ship by a good bit. Lincoln had a thought which he shared. “I guess the wraith can trigger the lightning, but she can’t control it very well.” Another stroke came, but landed on the other side of the ship, even as Captain Ardacles said they were being pushed too close to the southern shore. He looked at Alexis for help, but Lincoln shook his head. “She is finished for the day.”
“I may help,” Father Flavius interrupted everyone. He pointed, as the ship appeared to enter a tunnel of favorable winds, calm seas, and no rain. The dark rain continued all around but stayed outside the tunnel. The lightning came again and again, like an expression of the wraith’s frustration. It did not enter the tunnel, but rather slid harmlessly off the roof of the tunnel and discharged harmlessly into the sea.
People looked at Elder Stow, but he shook his head, like he did not do it. They looked again at Father Flavius and noticed Deacon Galarius was not throwing up for a change. He seemed to be meditating, and Father Flavius explained.
“Deacon Galarius is a monk from Barke, where his order practices strange and unusual—some would say unnatural talents. There are a dozen monks in Nicomedia, awaiting our arrival. Once we got close enough, Deacon Galarius was able to reach out to his fellow monks, and together, they have made this safe way to port. The storm, and any demons that would hinder our progress will be held at bay until we arrive,” he whispered to Katie and Lockhart, and Boston heard with her elf ears. “Provided the connection with Galarius is not broken by sea sickness.”
“Alexis says, it is hard to concentrate on two things at once,” Nanette overheard and understood.
“Hard for Boston to focus on one thing at a time,” Lockhart teased.
“Boss!” Boston protested, but not too loud, as Lockhart and Katie both reached out and hugged the elf.