Chapter Thirty-five

An instant before the demon reached Pharaun, the spell activated, and an enormous glowing hand interposed itself between them. The hand slammed into the demon, smashing it down against the deck and dragging it across the bone-white boards away from Pharaun. Squeaking with fury, the demon tried to squirm free, but the magical hand was too strong for it.

As the uridezu struggled, unable to move, Pharaun cautiously approached and grasped the two ends of the broken chain. Holding them together, he cast a cantrip, glad that he had been forced to use that form of binding. A pentagram, once broken, had to be redrawn entirely, but a chain used in a binding spell could always be restored with a simple mending - assuming one had the magic to actually restrain the demon, first.

The instant the chain mended itself, Pharaun stepped back and dispelled the magic hand. The demon leaped to its feet, eyes slitted with fury. As it yanked, futilely, on the chain, Pharaun turned to look for Quenthel and Jeggred. He spotted them a moment later - they'd managed to escape from the whirlpool by levitating and were floating in the eye of the storm. Unable to reach the ship, they were rapidly being left behind. Quenthel shouted something at him, but Pharaun couldn't hear her over the crash of waves and the howl of the wind. Her message was plain enough, however, from the waving of her arms. She wanted Pharaun to use his magic to fetch them back to the ship.

Pharaun made a show of cupping his ear and shrugged theatri-cally. Then he turned away, chuckling. He stared at the demon, which once again had lapsed into surly submission.

"Now then, demon," he told it. "You said the mouth was in the ship's hold?"

The demon snarled and said, "Go see for yourself."

Pharaun took a step toward the open hatch, watching the demon out of the corner of his eye. When it tensed expectantly, he paused.

"I think not," he said.

Instead he pulled from his pocket the jar of ointment and rubbed a little of it on his eyelids. When he opened his eyes, he saw that his caution had been well founded. There was indeed a hatch on the deck, but it didn't open onto stairs and a darkened hold. The edges of the hatch were actually a wet pucker of flesh resembling lips. In-side, where the stairs had appeared to be, were rows of jagged teeth. Beyond those, the hold was filled with bones and skulls. Red light flickered around them, shining up through the eye sockets like the glow of angry coals.

The mouth was breathing, exhaling a rank smell that was a com-bination of burned flesh and charred bone, overlaid by the stench of rot - worse, even, than Jeggred's breath. Wincing, Pharaun pinched his nose shut and backed carefully away from it. He was glad that he'd had the good sense to have the demon open the hatch. He was certain that if he'd opened it himself, he would have been sucked into the mouth and consumed - utterly.

Too bad he hadn't instructed Quenthel to open the hatch, in-stead. That would not only have produced an amusing result - butalso a practical one. In order for the demon to sail the ship out of the storm, the mouth had to be fed something.

Pharaun paused. Or did it? For all he knew, a ship of chaos could sail for years on a single meal. Centuries, even. But could it sail from one plane to the next without feeding? That was something he'd have to find out. A bluff was in order.

He folded his arms against his chest and looked the demon in the eye.

"We've wasted enough time," he told it. "Get the ship under way. Set sail for Plane of Shadow."

The demon mirrored Pharaun's action, crossing its own arms.

"Stupid mortal," it said with a disdainful smirk. "You know noth-ing. We can not travel that far. Before the ship can enter the Shadow, it must feed. Permit me to gate in a worthless mane, and I will stoke its fires."

Pharaun returned the smile. The demon had unwittingly told him what he needed to know. He wasn't about to allow it to cast any spells -??it wouldn't be manes stepping through the gate, but another uridezu.

"The fires are stoked enough for the moment," Pharaun told it. "We'll sail out of this storm first and see about feeding the ship. Remember - the sooner you complete the task I've set for you and get us into the Abyss, the sooner you'll be free."

For a few heartbeats, the demon tried to stare Pharaun down. Then its whiskers twitched, and it looked away. It lifted its foot, in-dicating the thin length of chain that bound it to the deck.

"Someone must take the tiller," it said.

"I'll do it," the Master of Sorcere said. "Just get the ship moving." Then, noticing the sly took in the demon's eye, he added, "And no tricks. I want smooth sailing - or at least, as smooth as possible in this storm." He paused as spray from a breaking wave crashed over him, re-drenching his already sodden piwafwi.He pointed at his bare feet, still stuck firmly to the sloping deck, thanks to his spell. "As you can see, I don't wash overboard easily."

Pharaun turned and made his way against the wind and spray - one slow, sticky step at a time - to the stern of the ship. The tiller, hefound, was, like the test of the ship, made of bone. Not of powdered and compressed bone, like the boards that made up the deck, but of a single bone - an enormous radius, by the look of it, nearly ten paces long. It was slender and light enough that it must have been hollow, Pharaun decided, as he twisted it in its socket. It probably came from a dragon's wing. Gripping the handle, Pharaun glanced down over the stern and saw that the rudder was an enormous sickle blade.

"Get us under way," he shouted at the demon.

The uridezu snarled, then raised clawed hands above its head. As it swept its hands forward in the direction of the bow, the tattered skin sails above stopped luffing in the wind and belled out, strain-ing at their lines. The ship began to move more rapidly in its circuit around the inside of the whirlpool. The demon continued to move its hands, plucking at the air with its claws, and with each motion the lines that controlled the sails either tightened or loosened, trim-ming the sails.

Experimentally, Pharaun moved the tiller to the left. A lurch sent him rocking backward as the ship turned in the opposite direction. He clung to the tiller as the bow swung around until it was pointing straight up at the cavern ceiling. Sails straining and boards creaking, the ship began climbing the inside wall of the whirlpool. After a few moments the bow came level with the surface of the lake and began climbing into the waterspout itself.

The ship teetered, then pitched violently forward. For a few terrible moments Pharaun fought to hang on to the tiller as the wall of water smashed into him, but then the ship was free of the waterspout and floating, level at last, on the surface of the lake. Shaking his head to free his face of the sodden hood of hispiwafwi,Pharaun grinned at the demon, still fastened securely by its chain to the middle of the deck.

"Smooth sailing," the wizard said, chuckling as the ship glided across the choppy surface of the lake, away from the storm.

He flicked wet hair back out of his eyes, glanced up at the ledge where they'd first entered the cavern??- some distance away - and turned the ship in that direction. He'd collect Danifae and Valas first and retrieve Quenthel and Jeggred from the eye of the storm later.

Then the fun of deciding what - or who - to feed to the ship would begin.

Halisstra clung grimly to the reins as the horse galloped across the open plain. She could see little through the thickly falling snow, and prayed the animal would neither slip nor plunge its foot into a hole. It was apparent just looking at the beast how fragile the swift mounts of the World Above were compared to the riding lizards of the draw. Surely but one little twist could snap a leg, sending a rider tumbling to the ground.

Should that happen, at least Ryld would be protected from injury by his levitation spell. He clung to the hem of herpiwafwi,trailing behind her like a cloak as she rode.

Above them, the sky was getting lighter by the moment. Dawn had come and gone and the sun was rising steadily in the sky - a faint glow behind the sullen, flat gray clouds. It had grown light enough for her to see for some distance - at least in the rare moments when the snow lessened and anything could be seen at all. Which was hardly a wel-come thing. The fully risen sun marked the time that the spell Halisstra had cast on Ryld would end. Any moment the poison might rush back upon him full force, like a tide overcoming an already drowning man.

Halisstra stiffened. Was that dark line up ahead the forest? If so, they had reached the edge of the Cold Field at last.

Twisting in the saddle, she gave Ryld a reassuring grin - only to have that grin falter as she saw the look on his face. It was set in a grim mask of concentration, deep lines at the corners of eyes and mouth the only hints of the effort he must be making to push away his pain. Even so, he managed a grim smile in return.

"I can't - " he started to say, then he shuddered.

For a moment his body sagged in the air, but then with a visible effort he regained control and continued levitating. Alarmed, Halis-stra fumbled with the reins of the horse with near-frozen hands, try-ing desperately to slow it.

Ryld groaned aloud, then gasped, "Halisstra ... I..."

He released his grip on her cloak and fell to the ground. In that same instant, the horse turned back into swirling mist, becoming non-corporeal once more, and Halisstra found herself flying through the air. Snow-covered branches whipped at her face as she struck the trees ahead. She landed heavily, knocking the air from her lungs, and lay for a moment, too stunned to do anything but gasp. Then she realized they'd done it - they'd reached the forest.

Scrambling to her feet, she staggered out of the trees. She could no longer feel her feet - they were like lumps of ice, somewhere at the bottom of her legs - but somehow she managed to walk. She was relieved to see Ryld sitting up, apparently unharmed by the fall. She knelt beside him and draped one of his arms across her shoulder.

"Can you walk?" she asked.

He shook his head.

Looking more closely at him, Halisstra was alarmed by the gray-ish tinge of his skin. She hurriedly dropped his arm.

"Wait, then," she told him. "I'll pray."

"Pray . . . quickly," he gasped, then his eyes closed and he sank back into the snow.

Halisstra gasped in alarm. Was he dead?

No, Ryld's chest still rose and fell. Leaning forward, she placed a hand upon his chest, forcing her frozen fingers into the shape of a crescent moon.

Eilistraee,she prayed silently, unable to speak the words aloud because of the trembling of her lips.I beg of you. Help me. Send me the magic Ineed to drive the poison from his body. I could not sing your praises this morning as the sun rose, but I beg of you - let me do that now. Bestow your bounty upon your servant, and give me the blessings I need so that I can save the life of this male who serves. . .She paused then, and sobbed, then corrected herself.This man that I love.

That done, she began humming the morning prayer. Singing the words was impossible - she was shivering violently again, and her lips didn't seem to be working properly.

She paused. Was that the crackle of a breaking twig in the woods?

It didn't matter.

Continue the song, she told herself.

Teeth chattering, she resumed her humming, but it was difficult to concentrate. The fiery tingling had left her hands, leaving a com-forting numbness. All she wanted to do was lie down in the snow beside Ryld and sleep. . . .

Was that someone calling her name? No, she must have been hallucinating.

Keep humming, she told herself. Keep praying. Ryld's life de-pends on it.

But what song had she been humming? her teeth had at last stopped chattering, but with the shivering gone, Halisstra found her-self unable to remember the melody. Instead she sat, staring, at Ryld. Was he even alive?

None of it mattered. Not any more.

Her prayer unfinished, Halisstra sighed, then crumpled to the ground. Strangely the snow was warm, not cold, like a comforting blanket. She lay in it, watching the flakes drift down from the wide gray sky. Funny, she'd never dreamed she'd die with so much space above her. . . .

There. That dark patch. That was the ceiling of a cavern . . . wasn't it? Then why was it moving? Why was it bending down and taking her hand?

As if in a dream, Uluyara's face swam down toward hers. Frag-ments of a sentence drifted down into her ears, like falling snow.

"We . . . scrying . . . found you."

Halisstra felt hands lifting her and for a moment thought that Uluyara was shifting her body so she could remove the Crescent Blade and songsword from her backpack. Then she heard the melody of a prayer??- that was Feliane's voice; she must have been here, too - and she felt a tingle of warmth. Halisstra realized that her pack was being removed so Feliane could hold her, warm her with her body . . . and her magic. At first she was shocked - then she realized she was still thinking like a drow of the Underdark. Knowing that she was saved, she cried in relief, then she realized she was being selfish.

"Ryld. . . ," she whispered.

"Don't worry," Feliane said, her voice growing more intelligible as magic flowed into Halisstra, warming her and driving away the icy hand of death. "He's alive. Uluyara is driving the poison from his body even now."

Sighing, Halisstra allowed herself to relax, to drink in the warmth of Feliane's spell. She'd done it - she'd gotten Ryld to safety. And herself. She'd even managed to recover the Crescent Blade.

Now all she had to do was kill a goddess with it.

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