The Tale of Captain Johne

The Eve of the Summer Solstice

"Johne? Johne? Wake up."

Wearily, I opened my eyes. Faulina's eyes filled with relief in the light of her staff. "Thou wilt feel better in a moment. I managed to heal most of thine injuries."

"Sutek?" I whispered.

"He is alive, and resting," she said. She stroked my forehead. "Astarol is tending to him. Nosfentre is inspecting the ship."

"The others?"

She hesitated. "'Tis only us five. The others either escaped . . . or perished."

"We are still on the water. I can feel it." My voice sounded hollow and I thought I heard an echo. "Tell Nosfentre not to hoist the sails," I said with a weary smile. "There is no wind, and that ogre probably does not realize that we cannot sail without it."

Faulina smiled, but I could tell she was making an effort to conceal her anxiety. "I will tell him," she whispered. "Thou shouldst sleep, my love."

"Yes." I leaned back, glancing at the sky.

There were no stars. No clouds. Just emptiness.

I sprang to my feet, tossing aside bits of rigging that clung to me. My breath came in frantic gasps, and the taste of the air . . . stale, foul, and cool—like tasting a breeze that had swept through a cellar. Except there was no breeze. No motion of air at all.

"By the Virtues," I whispered.

"Johne, please," Faulina pleaded, standing up.

I ignored her and grabbed the oilskin pouch she carried on her belt. Withdrawing a black pearl and a pinch of sulfurous ash, I intoned words that I thought I had left behind me when I first took to the sea.

A flaming orb shrieked from my hand. Its light revealed nothing but a placid sea, and I watched with frustration as the missile descended. I expected it to be swallowed by the water without giving a hint as to where we rested, but then, quite suddenly, the missile exploded with a thunderous roar when it impacted on a sheer, rock wall. The explosion and the subsequent splash of debris plummeting into the sea echoed as if we stood in an immense cavern.

"Johne," Faulina whispered, her hand coming to rest on my shoulder. Astarol watched me with a grim frown.

"What is this place?" I demanded. I cringed when my voice hollered back.

"'Tis the Underworld." 'Twas Sutek who spoke, his eyes frosty glints beneath the bandage on his forehead. "And I curse the day when the Great Council and that fool British created it."

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