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Realm of Terra, the Soul Sea
After the goatfuck at Floodhaven, Bershad, Ashlyn, and Felgor sailed north to Papyria.
A good sailor with decent wind could have made the journey inside of a fortnight, but their wind was shit and the weather was all sharp rain and heaving gusts that blasted their sails to tatters. After twenty-seven days at sea, they’d barely made it to the Broken Peninsula, which was a stretch of small, rocky islands that marked the halfway point between Almira and Papyria.
But on the twenty-eighth day, the skies cleared and they finally started making good progress. For the first time in almost a moon’s turn, it seemed like luck was tipping over to their side of things.
Everyone on the ship relaxed. Bershad sat with Ashlyn at the stern of the frigate, watching the sky above, where a thinning line of dragons winged eastward. Blackjacks. Needle-Throated Verduns. Thundertails. Red Skulls. Greezels. There were even a few Gray-Winged Nomads, soaring at a much higher altitude than the other breeds. These were the final stragglers of the Great Migration. There was a victory in watching them and knowing they’d find a safe place on the far side of the Soul Sea. A place that he and Ashlyn had created for them.
So there Bershad was—basking in his achievements, sipping rice wine, and thinking about breakfast—when five Red Skulls broke off from the swarm and hurtled toward their ship in a hunting formation.
Bershad leapt up from his spot by Ashlyn’s side and started tearing through the gear on deck, looking for a weapon. The dragons encircled their lonesome ship, screeching aggressively and snapping their jaws in hungry anticipation.
“I need a spear.”
“None aboard,” growled the ship’s captain, Jaku. He and his crew had rescued Bershad and Ashlyn from the battle of Floodhaven. He waved at the pile of fishing tack. “Best I got is one o’ them orca harpoons over there.”
All around him, the crew was cursing in Papyrian and cranking their crossbows.
“Forget the crossbows, they’ll just piss the bastards off,” Bershad growled, sifting through the gear. He picked up a harpoon with shit balance, but a point that was sharp enough to cut glass.
“You going to kill five Red Skulls by yourself, Almiran?” Jaku asked.
“No,” Bershad said. “Not by myself.”
He turned to Ashlyn. She was already unwinding the dragon thread on her wrist. In the back of his head, there was an idiot-brained warden telling him to rush her belowdecks before the dragons attacked, but Ashlyn had toasted two armies with that scrap of Ghost Moth spinal tissue. She was going to be the main factor in their survival, not him.
“Silas and I will deal with the dragons,” she said. “Everyone else get belowdecks.”
The Papyrian sailors didn’t need to be asked twice. Even Jaku retreated down the hatch without a fuss. But Felgor, Hayden, and the rest of the Papyrian widows remained on deck. They were sworn to protect Ashlyn from any danger, dragons included.
“You can’t help,” Ashlyn said to Hayden. “But you can hurt by being in the way. Go.”
Hayden’s body tensed with uncertainty, but widows were nothing if not pragmatic, and Ashlyn had spoken the truth. Hayden gave a curt nod, then followed the sailors below, taking her sisters with her.
Felgor shrugged. “Well, fuck me if I’m gonna stick around trying to look brave when even the widows have run for shelter.” He scrambled over to the hatch. “Try not to die!”
Bershad scanned the sky. The Red Skulls were increasing speed and drawing closer with each rotation around the ship. It was a hunting pattern unique to their breed, and it always preceded the same behavior.
“Two of them are going to break off and attack together from opposite sides,” Bershad said.
“I know,” Ashlyn responded. “Which side do you want?”
“Whichever one comes with the smaller dragon, witch queen,” Bershad said.
“Don’t call me that,” Ashlyn said, then ripped her hand down the length of the thread, sparking a crackle of lightning that she cupped in her hand as if it was a perfectly sized river stone she was preparing to throw at an easy target.
Bershad took the final scrapings of Gods Moss that remained from Floodhaven and ate them. His stomach turned hot, and a familiar, unnatural strength coursed through his muscles.
Two of the dragons careened from the gyre. Both females. Both enormous.
“Perfect,” Bershad muttered, moving starboard. Ashlyn went in the opposite direction, raising her lightning-wreathed fist.
Bershad lined up with his Red Skull. She was twice the size of the one he’d killed outside of Argel—massive wingspan heaving, tail lashing through the air. Eyes burning down and focused on him. He focused right back. Gripped the harpoon tight. Waited until she was about a hundred strides away.
“Now!” he yelled.
Copyright © 2020 by Brian Naslund