“It doesn’t matter what you chivving well want.” Kai gripped the beam in the captain’s cabin, refusing to let his rage steal his footing, even as the ship lurched. “We’re going to run out of fresh water. We’re going to run out of food. We were only outfitted for a five-day journey!”
Petra Roo sat in the chair behind the captain’s desk, the chamb in her glass not spilling despite the storm tossing the ship. She lifted her glass, studying the bubbles, not responding to Kai.
“Sorcerer Roo.” Kai dared to venture a step closer. “The captain will not leave his post to come speak to you. Do you understand what that means?”
“That he’s chosen to send his second to beg me to allow the ship to return to port.” Sorcerer Roo sipped her chamb.
“That the ship is in so much danger, the captain needs to be on the deck,” Kai said.
The wood of the hull groaned, as though wanting to aid in Kai’s plea.
“The ship is in danger?” Sorcerer Roo said. “From this storm?”
“We’re in the southern storms.” Kai took another lurching step forward, planting his hands on the desk, looming over the second-in-command of the Sorcerers Guild. “More ships have been lost here than any other place the Ilbrean fleet has sailed.”
“And we’re still afloat.” Sorcerer Roo leaned back in her seat as though she hadn’t a care in the world. “The sail has held. The hull has held. Do you know why, Sailor Saso?”
“Because the gods aren’t chivving well done with us yet.” Kai spoke through gritted teeth.
“The gods mean nothing. They have done nothing to aid this ship. My magic holds up the sail. My magic keeps this ship afloat.”
“Your magic is not stronger than the sea!”
“You are in no position to judge me or the might of the Sorcerers Guild.”
A shout came from the deck.
Kai gripped the edge of the desk, willing himself not to wonder if another sailor had gone overboard. The fury of the storm wouldn’t allow rescue or recovery. Anyone who fell into the waves would be lost forever. No body. No hope of survival.
“You’re right,” Kai said. “I am in no place to judge the power you hold over this ship. I cannot hope to fully understand what the Sorcerers Guild is truly capable of. But I know the sea, Sorcerer Roo. There is a worse storm coming in from the east, I can feel it cutting through the waves that are already battering us. We need to head north now, before the new front arrives.
“We have to make for the ports of Pamerane. We need fresh water and food. We need to get out of the cycle of the southern storms before not even your power can hold this ship together. You’ve proven your point. The sail the sorcerers provided is stronger than anything made by non-magical means. The Lord Map Maker’s journey to the southern islands will be more likely to succeed with sorcerers on board the ship and controlling the sails.”
“I’ve been saying that for weeks.” Sorcerer Roo set down her chamb.
The ship lurched starboard. Sorcerer Roo’s glass still didn’t spill even as Kai stumbled and a fresh round of shouts came from the deck.
“Let us sail north,” Kai said.
“We can make it farther. We’re nearly to the southern islands. We’ll pick one and go ashore. Find an artifact, something to bring the King that will prove how useless the Sailors Guild is without the aid of magic.”
“This ship was not fitted to reach the islands. We have to go back.”
“The matter is not up for discussion. This ship will continue south.”
Kai tamped down his rage. “Have you ever been shipwrecked, Sorcerer Roo?”
“Of course not.” She stood without wavering, walking to the cabinets without letting the rocking of the ship affect her gait.
“I have. Having a ship break apart beneath your feet is a chivving awful feeling. Just remember to relax. When you hit the water, find up before you start swimming. Grab hold of whatever debris you can, and don’t even start counting time. If you know how long you’ve been adrift, you’re more likely to let go of the slim safety you’ve found and drown.”
“How very shocking.” She refilled her glass of chamb, frowning at the overabundance of bubbles coming out of the jostled bottle.
“You’re condemning good sailors to their deaths. You may not believe the gods control the sea, but know that whoever greets you after you drown will count the lives lost on this journey as murder.”
“Murder? I’ve hardly raised a hand to any of you.”
“Letting good men drown for your own chivving pride is just as bad as driving a knife into an innocent man’s back.” Kai headed toward the cabin door. “The gods know the truth of it even if you’re too foolish to see the depth of your own evil.”
Bowing his head against the rain, he shoved the door open and stepped out onto the deck.
The howling of the wind and groaning of the hull surrounded him as the rain pounded down, blurring his vision. He glanced back into the captain’s cabin, where Sorcerer Roo sat in her magically made domain of peace.
“Chivving slitch.” Kai spat the rain from his mouth and slammed the door shut. He bent into the wind, grabbing onto the railing to drag himself up to the poop deck.
The captain stood at the helm, bracing himself against the storm.
He should have been shouting orders to the crew or screaming at the gods.
But they’d been trapped in the storm for so long, there were no more orders to shout, and the one to blame for their fate sat in the cabin below the captain’s feet, sipping the captain’s chamb.
“Did we lose another?” Kai shouted in the captain’s ear.
“Who?” Kai scanned the men on the deck, searching through the rain-blurred figures, trying to spot who might be missing. Some of the sailors were below, resting as best they could before charging back into the battle against the storm. He couldn’t remember whose turn it had been to hide from the rain.
“We don’t know yet,” the captain said.
Kai swiped the rain from his eyes, searching through the shadows again.
There, near the bow, gripping the rail as though preparing to fight the storm singlehanded―
“What did the chivving sorcerer say?” The captain braced the wheel as a massive swell raced toward them.
Kai staggered as the ship took a hit from the sea as though the fist of a god had pummeled their hull.
“To keep heading south,” Kai shouted. “She wants to reach the islands, sir. She’s not going to let us change course.”
Lightning split the sky.
Kai looked up toward the sail, waiting for the sorcerers’ magic to falter and their pretty purple sail to catch fire and doom them all. But the lightning stayed away from the sail as though chivving Sorcerer Roo had given the sky a command.
“She’s sending us to our deaths, and she doesn’t even know it.” Kai hated to shout the words, but it was the only way to be heard over the storm.
“The sorcerers have damned us all.” The captain pounded his fist against the wheel. “We’ve no way out of this.”
“Turn the ship around, sir. If the sea is going to take us, I’d rather be lost following my captain’s commands than obeying any sorcerer. We are sailors, sir. We follow only the Sailors Guild. Let us die as free men.”
The captain shut his eyes for a moment, as though trying to block out the storm, or perhaps just to pretend he were anywhere else.
“Bring her around!” the captain bellowed. “All hands, bring her around. We’re heading north!”
A tired shout of something like hope came from the men on the deck.
“Thank you, sir.” Kai gripped the railing with both hands, fighting against the tilting of the ship as he hurried to join the other men on the line.
“Grab the line!” The shout carried through the darkness.
The sailors dashed through the rain with more vigor than they’d had in weeks.
“What’s happening?” Sorcerer Roo’s voice sliced through the storm.
The men froze under the sorcerer’s glare.
She stalked toward them, the rain not touching her, an eerie light glowing around her, allowing all of them to see the smile that curved her lips. “I thought I heard someone say to turn the ship north, but that can’t be. My orders are to continue south.”
“Do as your captain commands,” Kai shouted to the men as he backed away from them. “Sorcerer Roo, the captain has made the decision to change our course.”
“The captain has no right to make any decisions.” Sorcerer Roo followed Kai, the same awful smile still on her lips. “I think the men would agree.” She looked toward the sailors who fought desperately to manage the lines against the will of the wind.
“He’s protecting his men,” Kai shouted, pulling Sorcerer Roo’s gaze back to himself.
“They are the Guilds’ men. They are my men. Your captain is nothing but a nuisance. A boil to be burned away.” The air around Sorcerer Roo began to sizzle, turning the pounding rain to steam that surrounded her like a shroud.
“You can tell Lord Nevon that when we return to Ilara.” Kai backed toward the starboard rail. “But if we don’t turn north now, none of us will ever see land again.”
“You will see land again when I allow it. You are only alive because I have not yet chosen to kill you.” Her shroud of steam began to crackle and spark.
“Your magic is very impressive.” Kai grinned as though he were trying to lure a girl into a dance instead of a chivving monster away from the men fighting to save their ship. “It makes me wonder why Lady Gwell would send her second out on a sailing run. If she’s made you this determined to reach the southern islands, maybe she was hoping you wouldn’t make it back. Has the Lady Sorcerer decided to replace you? What did you do to earn her ire?”
“You’re trying to convince me to hurt you.” The sparks surrounding her merged together, forming a flame in her palm. “Do you think your death will convince me to sail north?”
“No, miss. Just counting on you not knowing how to change our course back to south once we’re heading north.”
“You arrogant rotta filth.” The flames in Sorcerer Roo’s hand grew. “Lord Karron should have left you―”
Kai froze, waiting for the deck to split beneath his feet.
Sorcerer Roo staggered sideways. The flames in her palm flickered.
She lurched forward, tumbling headfirst over the rail and plunging into the sea.
Drew stood in her place, panting, a board clutched in his hand.
“Drew, what did you do?” Kai stared into the sea, waiting for the sorcerer to fly back out of the depths and kill them all. “What did you do?”
“Did she hurt you?”
“No.” Kai couldn’t pull his gaze away from the fury of the waves. “We have to fish her out.”
“We have to help get the ship turned around. Kai.” Drew gripped Kai’s arm. “You don’t come back from going overboard in a storm like this. Not even magic can save a monster from the sea.”
Kai looked at Drew, searching his face for some sign of a spell sent to punish his friend.
“We’ve got to get on the line.” Drew pitched the board into the waves. “We’re getting out of this chivving storm.”
Kai followed Drew back to the pack of sailors battling the sea.
He fixed his mind on the ropes, the sail, the speed of the wind, the strength of waves. That battle, he had prepared for. Had spent his life training for.
“Winds worsening from the east!” The shout carried over the deck.
His dread of the sorcerer below the waves, of what one life might cost them all…that foe, he would face once they escaped the storm.
He let the line drag against his palms. The pain burned away all worries beyond the wind.