OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gilead Persia


37. Homeward

ilead convinces Captain Sable to join the crew of the Columbia. His prospects for a new captaincy of any worth are limited in Halfax. Rather than command a garbage barge or a fishing trawler, he agrees to try his fate in a new land. He is fortunate that Mystic Baccara releases him from her service. He is appointed third mate, taking duties under Maia or Yosemite. He is valuable in guiding the ship away from the Diamond City. He points out Breaker Rock, the traditional point at which ley lines to the city break. The crew is extra vigilant, lest they be taken by surprise by a ley line secretly laid upon any of them. No one acts strangely or suddenly remembers something, nor does anything go wrong with their vessel. They appear to have departed from the foreign city in peace.

For two days they travel the Lantic in relative safety. They spot unusual and exotic sea life, but nothing harmful. Then they see the leviathans. Two of them. Sable has warned them that these waters are host to the colossal sea serpents. Hundreds of meters long, they could sink the Columbia without noticing her. The two Leviathans begin to close upon one another, engaged in some unknown behavior. Possibly it is a mating ritual; possibly they are being territorial or looking for a fight. The mystery is never solved, though, for one of them spots the Columbia. Its former actions no forgotten, it arrows itself directly at the tiny ship. Its maw is large enough to crush the hull into toothpicks. The Columbia puts out her best speed, but the creature is faster. Her only chance is to make for the shallows and rocks at dangerous speed. The paddle boat's hull scrapes and bumps upon submerged rocks, but thanks to superb piloting, she remains whole. The leviathan writhes in frustration, unable to move its mass over the sharp rocks without impaling itself. Its gyrations alone are almost enough to swamp the Columbia. All the rest of the day and through the next the Tallonite ship is pinned by the ravenous thing. Finally, on the following morning, it abruptly decides that the ship is more trouble than it is worth and swims away.

The crew proceeds cautiously now, always remaining as close to shore as possible. They are more vigilant than ever about the waters around them. Twice more they spot the gigantic predators, but they escape each encounter without arousing notice. Everyone is grateful when the ship finally leaves the Lantic Ocean and enters the Brador Sea.

This is the area of ocean where most of them first met. Somewhere under the waters, its exact location a secret of the storms, lies the mysterious underwater court of Nemo's Deep. Crockett is recounting the story to Gilead when they both hear an odd noise, a strange keening, almost whale-like, but with words. It is yet another mystery of the waters beyond home.

Later, a storm springs up. The wind is whipping at those on deck and the waves begin to turn white. Gilead notices a cove on the map he made on the way out. He asks Crockett if the Rivermaster thinks they should steer for it and the adept agrees. Not long afterward, the Columbia is safely anchored in a sheltered cove. Windward cliffs protect them from the worst of the storm.

They are only there for a few hours when a terrific bumping is felt against the bottom of the ship. Something seems to be ramming them. Whatever it is gives up pretty quickly; the Columbia is solidly built with adept-enhanced construction. Soon they see the attacker. It is some kind of riven shark man with tentacles as well. They begin to wander. The Deep Riven held Nemo's Deep as taboo and blamed the Columbia for its re-emergence and submersion. Could they recognize the Tallon ship?

This appears to be the case, or they are merely murderously malicious, for soon reinforcements arrive. The cry they heard the previous day seems to have been the call of some kind of scout or sentry, for an actual fighting force of Deep Riven approaches. Now there is also a huge being comprised mostly of head and several strong tentacles. Swimming with him are a number of obscene-looking humanoid worms. Crockett orders the Columbia to spin in circles, trying to keep the paddles in motion so they cannot easily be compromised. Eventually this tactic has to be abandoned. There is no way they can control the spin in the small cove. They risk dashing themselves apart on the cliffs.

Soon, the worm folk are climbing up through the wheel housings and up the stern. Hank delivers some damage to one and is revolted to see that both halves continue to live. The gigantic riven below grabs a wheel and severely damages the paddles, hoping to capsize the ship. It is not large enough for the task, but it provides a distraction for more worm-folk to climb aboard. There is a terrific battle, during which two of the soldiers who had been to Tronto are killed. They are pitched from the deck by worm men and then slain by the shark-riven. Eventually, the Columbia manages to drive the things away or slay them. They waste no time. The storm is a far smaller danger than more riven. The paddle wheeler emerges from the cove and braves the open ocean.

For a full day the damaged ship battles the storm. Finally the waves subside and the winds die down. Crockett orders the Columbia away from these waters as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the damage to the paddle is too severe to repair with their limited resources. The ship limps along at half speed. It will take nearly a month to cover the second half of the voyage.

Somewhat after the indent, the party, along with the captain are approached by Lt. Oba of the Tallon soldiers. He has a problem. One of the soldiers had a possession he picked up in the wilds that Oba would just as soon throw overboard. It is an egg of unknown origin, about the size of a loaf of bread. The most any of the adepts can see is that the contents are vaguely reptilean. Beyond that, inhabitant is a mystery. Could it be a thunder lizard of the Saginaw? Gilead convinces Oba to let him have it. Oba agrees, but Crockett stipulates that it must be contained or watched at all times. he does not want some little monstrosity wandering about the ship unseen. Gilead puts it in a barrel and tells Talmuk, the Saginaw thrall to watch it.

The only other event of note is a brief attack by carnivorous flying lizards. The things are about four inches long, but deliver a nasty bite. The crew waits the attack out below decks rather than be savaged by the hundreds of little flying predators.

Finally, they see the familiar waters of home. The Columbia works her way up the Thelon Inlet until the great lighthouse looms up out of the morning mists. After nearly six months, they are home.