Authors: Keith Baker
“It’s not like that. I saw her in my … dream, I guess it was, when Lakashtai was in my mind. I think she’s the one responsible for what’s been happening to me.”
“Lakashtai,” Lei said distastefully. “I get tongue-tied just saying it. Can’t we call her ‘La’?”
Lakashtai opened her eyes, looking straight at Lei. Startled, Lei cried out and dropped the wand.
“It is the name of my soul,” Lakashtai said calmly, as if she
was talking over a cup of Tal and not lying on a blood-stained pier. “La is only a part of who I am. It is my bond to Kashtai that makes me complete.”
Lei snatched up her wand and glared at Daine. “Sure. It was only a suggestion.”
Lakashtai was on her feet before Daine could even hold out a hand to help her. “Where is Tashana?”
“She’s gone.” Daine showed her the bloody tip of his sword. “I landed a few blows, then Pierce hit her dead center with two arrows, and she just faded away.”
“If she was the one causing Daine’s problems, does that mean this is all over?” Lei asked.
Lakashtai studied the pier. “The arrows that struck her … they disappeared as well.”
“Then you did not destroy her. She can move through space in the blink of an eye—she must have teleported away. You did well to defeat her, but we must be gone from here. Others may soon arrive.”
Lei grabbed Lakashtai’s arm. “Wait. Others? When you invited us to come on your little trip, you said you could help Daine—you didn’t say anything about being hunted by shadowy killers.”
“Lei—” Daine began.
“Tashana came for Daine,” Lakashtai said. Her eyes burned with emerald fire, and Lei released her arm and took a step back. “She sought to kill me so I could not protect him.”
“Really?” Lei said, rubbing her hand. “Why’s she so interested in Daine, anyway?”
“This is not the time for this conversation. We must embark on our journey.”
As if on cue, Pierce appeared at the railing of the ship. “The crew appears to be alive but unconscious,” he called down to them. “There is no indication of any hostile presence on board.”
Lakashtai strode up the gangplank. Lei and Daine exchanged glances, and Daine shrugged. Lei picked up her fallen staff, and they followed her onto the ship.
The crew of the
were sleeping. A handful of sailors were sprawled across the deck. Lakashtai knelt beside a young man with a hint of elven blood in his fine features; he wore the uniform of a Lyrandar ship’s captain, a long black coat with blue and silver trim.
“Tashana’s work,” she said, touching his forehead. “Trapping their spirits in the world of dreams. We were lucky—she must have expended much of her energy to accomplish this.”
“So she’s usually even scarier? Great. That’s reassuring.”
Lakashtai closed her eyes for a moment, and the captain moaned. “Captain Helais. Return to us. Your dreaming is done.”
The man slowly sat up. “Lady … Lakashtai?” He looked across the deck. “What’s … What happened?”
“No harm has come to you or your crew, but we must leave swiftly, before the villain who did this returns. I shall see to the rest of your crew.”
“This one’s already waking up,” Lei said, kneeling next to a large, balding man with pockmarked skin. Lakashtai looked over, and Daine saw a trace of surprise pass across her usually serene features.
“That is … good. Let us check on the others.”
Daine helped the captain to his feet as Lei, Lakashtai, and Pierce disappeared below decks. “I’m Daine, and my companions are Pierce and Lei. We’re joining Lakashtai on this voyage—I hope that she made the necessary arrangements.”
The man nodded. “She’s bought the services of the entire boat, so she can bring whoever she wants, friend. I’m Helais Lyrandar.” He turned to the groggy crewman standing about. “Look alive, you lot! Check the sails, and stow the gangplank. Dulan, go see what happened to Fin.”
Sailors scattered across the decks, rubbing their heads and laughing. Daine followed the captain as he headed up to the wheel.
“Have you made this run before?” the captain asked Daine as he checked the wheel and studied the deck.
“No—my only time on the water was on the rivers.”
“Military transports, or merchant barges?”
“Military, during the war.”
“Who did you fight for?” The new voice was a loud rasp, a whetstone against granite—and a distinctly Brelish accent. It was the burly man woken by Lei; he wore a leather vest, and an iron-bound cudgel was hanging from his broad belt. One of his eyes was clouded over, and scars around the lid suggested violence was the cause. “I see Cyran markings on your warforged.” His hostility was unmistakable.
warforged,” Daine said. The recent treaty that officially put an end to the last war had declared the warforged to be free beings, with all the rights of other citizens of the Five Nations. “As for whom I fought for—” His sword was out in an instant, and the point flashed before the sailor’s eyes. Daine held it for a moment, then spun the blade and reversed the grip, revealing the eye-in-sun sigil of House Deneith on the pommel. “I went where my skills were most needed.”
the captain said. “I’ve told you before, if you’re going to serve on my ship, you leave your nation behind. This is a vessel of House Lyrandar, not Breland, not Cyre. Your war is over; let it lie.”
The giant nodded, his gaze still fixed on the Deneith emblem. Muttering an apology, he made his way back across the deck. Daine grinned and returned his blade to its sheath.
“I must apologize for my crew, Master Daine,” Helais said once Lon was out of earshot. “The markless are still bound by their petty national rivalries. It’s good to have a member of the Blademark aboard; piracy is a rare occurrence on the route I have planned, but there are always dangers on and below the seas.”
Daine nodded. It wasn’t entirely a lie—he was simply letting them draw their own conclusions. He had been born into House Deneith. The blade was his birthright, handed down from his grandfather. He had trained and served with the Blademark, and in the end, he had gone where his skills were most needed: the Queen’s Guard of Cyre. The mercenaries of House Deneith were forbidden to choose sides in a conflict. As Helais said, the houses were supposed to be above national rivalries. A soldier of the Blademark went where the gold
was—fighting for Cyre one day and Breland the next, but Daine had a fatal flaw: he cared about Cyre. He was born in that land, and the soldiers dying on the battlefield were his childhood friends. It had taken some time; as a young man, he’d been full of house pride, just as Helais was. While serving the house, he’d done things he wasn’t proud of—things that still haunted his memories—and in the end he’d come to see that he needed to believe that he was serving a cause greater than gold. But the heirs of Deneith had a well-earned reputation for skill in battle, and Daine wasn’t above using that to his advantage.
“Well, it’s been a long day, and I’m sure you don’t need me in your way,” Daine said. “Where do I bunk?”
“We’re a cargo ship, mainly,” Helais said. “We’ve only got one stateroom, so you’ll be sharing. Otherwise, we’ve got a few extra berths in the crew room.”
“It’s no problem for me,” Daine said. He and Lei had slept in ditches and trenches during the war—he assumed they could share a cabin.
“Good then. It’s just below decks, door on your left. We’ll ring the bell for dinner, and by then we’ll be on our way to the Thunder Sea.”
Daine nodded and turned away. He made his way below decks, hoping to find a warm bed and dreamless sleep.
aine lay on a hard bunk in the small cabin, his mind slowly drifting in and out of sleep. Vague images drifted through his mind. A memory of Jode passed across his thoughts, and he found himself following, seeking one more moment of conversation with his friend, even if it was only in his imagination. A vision slowly resolved around him. Night. The sounds of sword and steel in the distant background. A warforged corpse lay on the ground; Jode was kneeling next to the fallen foe, studying the shattered body. Krazhal stood over him, looking down.
“Captain?” the dwarf growled. “How long do we wait? You can hear the battle above, and here we stand studying—”
Daine silenced him with a glare and a sharp gesture. “What have you found, Jode?” he whispered.
“Well, Captain, I’m a healer, not a spectacularly gifted House Cannith artificer standing less than a mile away from our current location—”
The halfling smiled disarmingly. “I did manage to extract this from the arm of our little friend.” He held up a small platinum cylinder etched with arcane symbols. “I can’t decipher all of these signs, but I think it’s a key.”
Daine nodded, taking the cylinder. “Good work. Krazhal, keep that blast disk ready, but if the Flame is with us this day, we won’t need it.” He caught Kesht’s eye with a sharp gesture;
pointing to Kesht and Donal, he gave the signal for them to move deeper into the tunnel.
“And when has the Flame been with us?” Krazhal grumbled as he slowly began to follow in the path of the scouts.
“The Flame is always with us,” Daine said. “Look for the Light and listen for the Voice. We’ll see this through, old friend.”
The words were ritual, but they felt empty even to him. Two years ago he’d had confidence in the Silver Flame, in the force that brought strength to the righteous and defended the innocent. These days, that faith was harder and harder to find. Every massacred village, every tale of atrocity from across Khorvaire, even Thrane itself—when he went to sleep at night, it was becoming increasingly difficult to say his prayers without biting his tongue, but his troops needed his faith, even if it was failing him inside.
Indeed, the faintest smile crossed Krazhal’s lips, the first of the night. “Aye,” he said. “Aye, I do believe we will, sir.”
Blades drawn, Daine stepped into the tunnel, moving as quietly as he could. He could see the glint of Donal’s hammer in the darkness ahead, and slid along the wall in the scout’s wake.
There was a flash of brilliant white light, a sunburst spilling blinding radiance over the field. Daine’s last thought was that this was wrong … that this hadn’t happened.
“Fool!” Lakashtai was standing over him, her eyes burning like emerald coals. “After all you’ve faced today, you would give yourself to dreams so easily?”
The room slowly came into focus. Lakashtai stood by the bunk, and Daine could
her concern as if it was a physical force pressing against his thoughts. Pierce and Lei were standing to either side of her—Lei, worried and weary, Pierce as impassive as ever.
“Hnh—What?” he said, trying to make sense of her words.
“Your dreams are the path our enemies use to enter your mind. With Tashana in hiding—it is best that you do not dream for now.”
Lei snorted, and Daine pushed himself up into a sitting position. “Oh, is it?” he said. His thoughts were still muddy. “Just … stop, just like that?”
Lakashtai nodded, as if this was a perfectly ordinary request. “I must be present when you are going to sleep. I can divert your spirit, and keep the gateway closed. As long as I am here, I can shield you from this foe and protect you from the attacks you have been suffering … at least, for a time.”