Chapter 22 The most awesome powers are those not wielded.
–Enoch Giest, the First One * * * The journey to the center of the harbor ahead
appeared endless to the crew of the Slippery Eel. The Zjhon ships already in port were
secured for the storm, and they remained where they were anchored. It seemed no one noticed
the smaller pirate ship, and nothing barred their path. Even if they had seen her, it
would have taken hours for the large ships to pull up their many anchors and raise and
set their sails. The Zjhon ships following them into the harbor were so busy contending
with the storm that they had to concentrate on survival rather than pursuit.
Catrin, alone for a moment, let her mind turn to a myriad of thoughts and emotions that
she attempted to process. She didn’t know if her friends were safe, and she felt a pang
of loneliness and loss when she thought of them. When she thought of her father and her
uncle Jensen, her heart nearly broke. Her thoughts flashed to memories of the animals
on the farm: the horses, cats, and all her cherished companions. She hoped Salty and
the other horses were in green pastures, and that Millie and the other cats had found good
hunting. Tears slid down her cheeks, but she stifled her grieving, knowing she would need
to focus her energy on survival. She did not want to destroy the Zjhon or their
nation, but she could not allow them to continue their siege on the Godfist, and it was clear
they would take over her homeland even if she escaped. No words would deter them; they
would persist until forced to leave. She wanted to end the siege without the slaughter of
men she realized were only doing their duty. That thought struck Catrin like a hammer blow:
these men were not evil or her enemy; they were acting on orders. Archmaster Belegra
was not evil either. He truly believed that what he did was good and right and protected
his nation. Even if he was wrong, he was simply as fallible and flawed as any other person.
The actions of the Zjhon were precipitated by prophecies and religious beliefs that spanned
thousands of years. It was as if what they did was foreordained and inescapable.
The Zjhon believed the Herald of Istra would descend on them and attempt to destroy them.
When she tried to look at things from their perspective, Catrin realized they perceived
her as the embodiment of some ancient evil, as the reincarnation of a legendary adversary,
and that it was their duty to protect their families and their nation from imminent destruction.
She figured most of the Zjhon would seek high ground once they secured their ships. Rage
burned in her belly when she imagined soldiers waiting out the storm at her family’s farm.
She felt an intense sense of personal violation but pushed it aside. Such self-indulgence
would have to wait. In a universe filled with possibilities, she
knew some solution must exist. Battle with the Zjhon seemed inevitable, but she could
see no way to defeat such a superior force even with all the people of the Godfist. The
Zjhon ships provided them food and mobility, and those things would allow them to starve
out those trapped in the cold caves and the Masterhouse. The ships were the key; without
them, the Zjhon would be stranded and lucky to survive the winter.
Food was limited on the Godfist, the land barely supporting the current population,
and the fields were untended due to the siege. The Masterhouse and the cold caves each had
large stores of food and water, and though their food supplies were limited, they had
proportionally more than the Zjhon would if deprived of their ships.
Destroying a fleet was not something Catrin would have ever thought herself capable of,
but she had to consider the events that led to this moment: She thought of the explosion
that saved her from Peten’s staff and the storm that ravaged the greatoaks. She remembered
her actions on the plateau and the staggering effects of her power. Her abilities were undeniable.
The striking of the artesian well proved her ability to accomplish previously unthinkable
things when she used Istra’s power. The storm, bearing down on the harbor, drove
enormous swells toward land, and ships strained against their anchors. Catrin considered the
storm, which was the biggest threat and possibly her greatest source of power. Whenever she
reached for the comet, the energy seemed to form a spinning vortex, and she had the same
sense of spiraling energy from the massive storm.
Stepping back, she tried to look at her world objectively and to shed her preconceptions.
The comet and other heavenly bodies gave evidence of unimaginable size and distance. The shapes
in the sky had one common factor: they were all spherical. The Godsland was a sphere,
Catrin realized, and it, too, was spinning. She reveled in her intuitive realizations
as if shedding overly tight skin. The sphere, she realized, was the primal shape
of the universe. As she extended her senses toward the storm, she felt the atmosphere
spinning. It was a vertical column of air, sheared by the rotation of the planet itself,
just as her tendrils of energy had been sheared. Insight and understanding, albeit limited,
gave Catrin an added measure of confidence. She realized the mechanics of this universe
could be used to her advantage. Waves continued to batter the Slippery Eel,
the winds making it difficult for the crew to work. The motion of the ship became increasingly
violent, threatening to send Catrin over the railing. Nearly everyone else had gone belowdecks,
and they were taking turns cranking the bilge pumps. Massive swells forced the bow under
water, and the ship took on water as fast as the crew could pump it out.
Catrin had to stay on deck to carry out her plan, and she would need to remain standing.
Grabbing a coil of rope from near the helm, she looped it around herself and the mainmast,
creating a crude harness that she hoped would keep her in place.
Alarmed shouts from the crew interrupted her thoughts, those remaining on deck pointing
wildly out to sea. Catrin saw only a wall of water at first, but when they crested the
next wave, she saw two Zjhon ships headed straight for them. She guessed they were among
the ships that had been pursuing them, and they seemed intent on finishing the job they
had started. The two ships were dangerously close to one another, and Catrin was shocked
to realize they were actually chained together. Men leaped from one ship to the other; some
made the jump, but many fell to their deaths. Other men scrambled across the massive chain
that hung between the ships, but the chain would suddenly go slack then, just as suddenly,
snap taut again as the ships moved closer together and farther apart on the waves. Catrin
watched in horror as men were thrown into the air.
Their actions made no sense to her at first, but then she came to a harsh realization:
they were evacuating one ship because it was on a suicide mission. She guessed they would
leave a few men onboard to control it to make sure it rammed the Eel. A direct hit at their
current speed could very well sink both ships, but the Zjhon had ships to spare.
Activity on the deck of the Eel became intense as men scrambled to mobilize the ship. They
might not be able to evade the approaching ship, but they wanted to get the anchors raised
so the other ship might only push them out of the way.
No more men attempted to abandon the suicide ship, and the chain was released during a
brief slackening. The mostly unmanned ship continued to bear down on the Slippery Eel
while the other turned aside sharply. As the Eel’s crew hastily secured the anchors
and ran for cover, Catrin braced herself and reconsidered the wisdom of tying herself to
the mast, but there was no time left to escape. The Zjhon ship rode atop a huge wave, towering
above the Slippery Eel, and it appeared to Catrin as if the ship suddenly dropped from
the sky. The initial impact rocked the Eel, and Catrin’s head smacked against the mast,
leaving her stunned. Seemingly unstoppable, the Zjhon ship slammed
into the aft side of the deckhouse, easily pushing it out of the way. The supple wood
flexed and groaned, barely withstanding the incredible force. The Slippery Eel rolled
under the massive weight, and Catrin heard wood snapping just before she struck the frigid
water. Struggling against the ropes she herself had
tied, she grew frantic, having been under water for what seemed a very long time. The
ship rose suddenly and righted itself, tossed by another wave. Catrin hung limply against
the ropes and tried to get her breath. Above the sounds of the storm, she could clearly
hear Vertook praying as he worked the bilge pump like a man possessed.
Shrieking winds left no doubt that the massive storm had arrived and was engulfing the harbor.
Catrin knew she had missed her chance to act before the full force of the storm struck,
even as she knew she was drawing energy from it. Tied to the mast, she had to endure the
high winds and brutal, stinging rain. The crewmen were all focused on their tasks
of trying to drop the anchors again, but they were hampered by the buffeting wind and waves.
They looked as though they had suffered injuries–probably from the violent motions of the ship–and
they moved slowly and deliberately. Some were bleeding heavily and appeared to be in pain
but persisted in trying to do their jobs. The ship rose high into the wind, which pushed
a huge swell toward shore. The massive wall of water rushed on, inexorably, with an awful
roaring sound accompanied by deafening cracks and snaps. Many of the Zjhon ships were torn
from their moorings, and as Catrin watched, they began to float aimlessly, some crushed
against the rocks, others smashed to bits against other ships.
The anchors of the Slippery Eel dug into the harbor floor once again, and the ship groaned
as it faced the storm. The swells grew so massive that the ship was nearly pulled under
by the weight of her own anchors as she crested the tallest waves. A huge piece of sail and
rigging hit Catrin, and she couldn’t tell which ship it had come from. She was uninjured,
except for a gash across her forehead. Blood began to run into her eyes, clouding her vision,
and she used the tail of her shirt to wipe the blood away.
Hours passed, but the storm continued, unabated. Then the winds suddenly died and the sky cleared.
A surreal calm set in as the eye of the cyclone moved over the harbor. Catrin looked up into
the night sky and was astonished to see five comets amid the stars, three of which were
little more than small dots with tails, but the other two were large and bright.
The crewmen moved around the deck quietly, trying to take advantage of the brief respite.
They all knew the way these storms behaved and that the other side of the storm was yet
to come and would likely be worse. Using large hunks of rope, soaked in tar, they temporarily
patched the holes in the damaged hull. “Catrin, please come belowdecks. You could
be killed out here,” Kenward said as he passed her.
“I’ll be fine here. Are there any clean bandages?” she asked. Kenward retrieved one for her and
applied it to her wound. “How is the crew holding up?” she asked.
He sighed. “They’ve taken some pretty hard licks, but they have to keep working despite
their injuries. They are good, strong men, and they’ll heal quickly. Bryn’s awake and
complaining a lot, so I’d say he’ll be fine as well.”
“Thank you, Kenward. I have to tell you that what I am about to try will be risky, but
I must try to save us,” she said. “I have faith in you,” he said simply.
As she turned to face the harbor, she saw men scrambling to take advantage of the short
lull to try to prevent further damage to their ships. She drew a deep breath and opened herself
to the intense energy surrounding her. “Armies of the Zjhon nation, behold!” she
said in her most powerful voice, which was amplified by the power running through her.
“You bear witness to the Call of the Herald, and she calls you not to war, but to peace.”
She paused then continued. “You came here to defend yourselves against one who had no
intentions of destroying you, and by your very actions, you have brought about your
own fears. I bear no ill will toward any of you, but I cannot allow you to lay siege to
my homeland.” She paused again as her words hung in the air. “Without your ships, you
will have no food. You will have to choose between peace and death. You’ll not survive
a winter on the Godfist without the help of her inhabitants.
“I declare the armies of the Zjhon disbanded. All of you are now citizens of the Godfist,
whether you wish it or not, and I’ll not wage war with you,” she said, pausing again for
her final statement. “The Zjhon ships, however, are forfeited, and I will destroy them. If
you wish to see the dawn, abandon your ships now.” Her words hung in the air, echoing in
the distance. Without another word, she reached toward the
largest and brightest comet in the sky. The cyclone’s eye wall was rapidly approaching,
and she had to act. Power and pleasure washed over her as energy flowed through her tingling
body. Tendrils of energy reached toward the comet, the spinning of the planet causing
them to shear and spin. A massive vortex of energy and swirling colors formed in the air
above her. Wind thrashed and churned the water around
the ship, and Catrin expanded her vortex to envelop the ship and keep it within the relative
calm of the center. Her senses heightened, she could feel the immense energy pent up
in the storm. The clouds were highly charged and seemed to be searching for a place to
release their abundant energy. When she cast her senses over the ship, she perceived a
massive negative charge, and the result was as if the clouds and the ship reached toward
one another, seeking balance. She could almost see a strand of negative energy reaching from
the mast to the sky, and she shuddered as she realized one was also extending from her
own head. Casting about the harbor, she found a web
of negative filaments rising from the Zjhon ships as well. Targeting the closest one,
she reached out to its largest thread of negative energy, which rose from the mainmast. Her
connection to the ship created an almost visible link between them, a thread of gossamer stretching
into the night. She fed negative energy to the Zjhon ship, and the tendril grew more
distinct and extended higher into the sky. The clouds reached down with their positive
charge, yearning for ground. A bolt of lightning suddenly completed the
arc with a furious discharge. Up close, it resembled a plummeting fireball with a life
of its own, and it struck the Zjhon ship with a fury, engulfing it in flames. The lightning
was not spent, though, and it leaped along Catrin’s thread of energy, racing toward her.
She broke her link with the ship, and the lightning split apart, dissipating. Balls
of fire cast waves of intense heat over her, only to fizzle and disappear before they reached
her. All of this occurred within a fraction of an instant.
Her energy vortex raged on, unabated, and the eye wall was nearly on them. As the winds
pounded against her power, they were forced aside and sheared off, causing them to spin
wildly. The intense rotation spawned monstrous waterspouts that thrashed violently through
the harbor, tossing ships about like children’s toys. Several waterspouts became tornadoes
as they left the water and moved over dry land.
Catrin sought more Zjhon ships, but the high winds and rain had returned with the other
side of the cyclone’s wall and obscured her vision. Determined, she reached out to them
with her power alone, casting her energy over the water, feeling her way to the ships as
if her power were an extension of her fingers. When she sensed the wooden sides, she knew
she had found a target. Her energy cast about the ship and located
the mainmast. She attached a thread and fed it negative energy. Within a short time, lightning
pounded her target and illuminated the spectacle for all to see. She released the link more
quickly this time, but the bolt of lightning still came perilously close to reaching her,
daring her to try again. Massive hail fell from the skies, pounding the ships mercilessly,
and Catrin tried to target ships that were less damaged. Soon, the entire harbor appeared
to be afire, and despite the driving rain, the fires spread and intensified.
Catrin noticed a nearby ship, which was largely undamaged, and reached out to it, calling
the lightning to do her will. Too late she realized the Slippery Eel had also built up
a massive negative charge. Looking up she saw a fireball racing along a jagged course.
It slammed into the mainmast, and she was helpless to protect herself as it descended
on her. It struck with a force greater than anything she had ever imagined, and the ropes
securing her were vaporized, along with much of her hair and clothing. She fell to the
deck, stunned and smoking, her energy vortex collapsing. Darkness overwhelmed her. * * * When Catrin opened her eyes, she was lying
faceup on the heaving deck. Disoriented, she had difficulty focusing her thoughts. She
was about to pull herself back to the mast when a bizarre phenomenon occurred: hundreds
of fish, large and small, rained from the sky. It was a dangerous spectacle, and Catrin
was struck in the leg by an enormous jellyfish. The gelatinous creature exploded on impact,
and its stinging tentacles caused intense pain. Reaching the mast, she wrapped her arms
and legs around its base and held on. Flames danced amid the rigging, but the fire was
quickly extinguished. Exhaustion overcame Catrin, her mind and body
screamed for rest, but if she relented, she knew all aboard the Slippery Eel would surely
perish in the powerful storm. Forcing herself to concentrate, she worked to reestablish
her protective energy vortex. When she reached for the comet, though, the exertion was just
too much in her weakened state. Struggling to hang on to the mast and remain conscious,
she closed her eyes and squeezed herself tight around the mast.
The carved fish dug into her chest where it still hung on its leather thong. She had forgotten
about it, and it gave her enough hope to try again. She pulled the carving from her shirt
and lifted the thong over her head. Placing the small fish in her palm, she wrapped the
thong around her fingers. With the carving firmly secured, she tried again to create
a vortex. The carving grew warm in her hand as she drew
on it, and she reached into the night sky. Heavy water vapor in the air thrashed her
vortex wildly as it tried to form. Catrin poured herself into the vortex. Straining
with everything within her, she fed the vortex with every emotion she contained. Fear, anger,
resentment, joy, and love all went into the shimmering funnel. It fluctuated and wobbled
around her, liquid veins of color dancing across its surface, but it finally established
itself and became organized. As the vortex grew, chaos ensued throughout
the harbor as more waterspouts were spawned, and lightning picked its own targets. The
vortex provided some protection from the storm, but not all dangers would be so easily held
at bay. Catrin was nearly knocked loose from the mast when another ship crashed into them.
It had broken loose from its moorings and was now being tossed around the harbor. It
rammed against the Eel several times before finally breaking free, sent spinning toward
shore by the driving winds. The carved fish had grown hot in her hand,
but she continued to draw on the energy reserves it provided, determined to protect the ship
and its men from further damage. It was obvious the ship was wounded because she had begun
to list to one side, but Catrin could hear the crew still working the bilges, and she
prayed the Eel would remain afloat. The relentless storm pounded them for what
seemed an eternity, putting Catrin’s endurance to the test. She lost feeling in her limbs,
and her mind grew fuzzy; she could no longer remember why she needed the vortex so badly,
but some part of her held on tenaciously. Only when she felt a hand settle on her shoulder
did she become aware of her surroundings again. The dawn had come, the storm passed, and still
she held on to the dwindling vortex. Once fully convinced she no longer needed
it, she released the energy and slumped forward. Her body was leaden, and her heart seemed
weary of beating. The hand was still on her shoulder, and she looked up to find Nat looking
at her with extreme concern. He had risked himself by reaching through her vortex to
touch her. “Are you well?” he asked as he wrapped her
in a thick blanket. “I don’t think so.”
“What did this to you,” he asked. “Lightning,” she responded, unable to elaborate.
As her senses returned, she felt intense pain in her right hand, and she opened it slowly.
The leather thong was still twined around her fingers, but as her hand opened, the fish
carving crumbled into dust. Instinctively she knew she had lost something far more important
than a simple carving or even a mighty tool. She’d destroyed something precious and irreplaceable.
The flesh of her palm was covered with tiny blisters, and when she concentrated on it,
the pain was overwhelming. She would have collapsed on the spot, but she saw the rest
of the crew hurriedly preparing for their departure. The crew repaired what damage they
could, and the Slippery Eel soon began limping toward the open seas.
“I want to go back. I want to go home,” Catrin said.
“Do you think they will welcome you? Do you think peace can so easily be achieved?” Nat
asked, shaking his head. “I think not. Your countrymen have already declared you a witch
and were ready to turn you over to the Zjhon. And what of the Zjhon? You may have declared
them citizens of the Godfist, but you also sentenced them to a hard winter here. You
stole from them their only way home.” He placed his hand on her shoulder to soften the blow
of his words. “No, Catrin. You cannot go home now. I see
dark days ahead on the Godfist, and I fully expect there to be unrest, if not civil war.
But even if none of this were true, I would still urge you to seek out knowledge that
cannot be found here. I know little of your power, but I know one thing for certain: if
you do not find a way to better control your gifts, then they will be the instruments of
your destruction.” In the silence that followed, Kenward shifted
uncomfortably and waited for Catrin to respond, but she did not. “Do you want me to take you
home?” he asked, earning a glare from Nat. “I do,” she responded softly, her eyes downcast.
“But I cannot go back. Nat is right. I must go to the Greatland and seek out the Cathurans.
I must learn to control my power. It’s what Benjin wanted. It’s what my father would want.”
Kenward nodded and returned to his work. Nat put his hands on Catrin’s shoulders and turned
her to face him. “I know this is hard for you, and I know it’s not what you desire,
but you do what is right.” Catrin walked to the bow of the ship in silence.
She took one last look at her homeland, knowing she might never see it again. Only when the
Godfist had dwindled in the distance did she pull herself from the heart-wrenching sight
and shuffle to her cabin. Just as she was entering the deckhouse, one
of the crew shouted in alarm. In the distance, the Slippery Eel’s sister ship appeared on
the horizon. The Zjhon had captured the Stealthy Shark during the raid on the pirate’s cove,
and no doubt they now planned to use her to their advantage. The Shark appeared to have
less damage than the Eel and was moving swiftly toward them.
Catrin’s will and energy were spent. She climbed into the hammock and tried to think of a way
to evade the ship, but her muddled thoughts were indistinct, and she fell exhausted into
a deep sleep.