Chronicles of Arborell, Copyright Wayne Densley 2005 All Rights Reserved
Day Two hundred and three
It is now more than two weeks since we passed out of sight of the Midreach, and in this wide ocean I have seen little of note or circumstance that might be worthy of record in this journal. The weather has remained fine and we have been blessed with a variable wind from the east that has kept us moving steadily towards the New World. The routine of the ship continues, and with our reduced complement the difficulties of our voyage has eased considerably. No longer are we pressed for space and with the easing of that restriction we have all found our duties lightened.
On this two hundred and third day of our travels into the west I find myself with time to spare, my duties complete and an afternoon available that is mine to command. I have chosen to do nothing except sit upon the foredeck, and enjoy what may be one of the last of the few remaining warm days of our voyage. It has been noted by more than one of the denizens of this vessel that the days are becoming progressively shorter, and that with their truncation they have become cooler as well. Since our leaving of the Midreach the seasons have been sharp in their adjustment, the onset of the winter far more defined that might otherwise be expected at sea. Providence has, however, blessed us with fine skies and tinged the clear blue with the first hints of a cold season to come.
In preparation for the new season the crewmen aboard have been hard at work providing for themselves the extra clothing required. It is amazing to watch as they turn remnants of canvass, discarded clothing, and ordinary tar into new cold-weather gear. Although the passengers of this vessel will be able to retreat to the shelter that can be found below decks, the crew have no similar luxury, and they have been diligent in the provision of everything they will need to remain warm and dry.
The cold may be coming but there has been no lessening in our commitment to finding the new world. With the establishment of the settlement at Auren'dael the last of any hesitation has been left far behind as well. All now aboard are here because of their decision to continue and there remains no undercurrent of malcontent. We all have the one purpose and function the better for it.
And in that purpose we have made considerable progress. Since leaving the Midreach we have covered more than eight hundred leagues, without mishap or loss of ship as we are carried before the steady winds that now accompany us into the north-west. We have no knowledge of how far our destination might lay ahead of us, but we all know that the Sentinels of the Ashgard must be our first objective. Such is the uncertainty of what lies ahead that we do not even know what they might be, nor what we will confront when we do find them.
Although I have mentioned previously that the past seventeen days have been without incident worth recording, that is not altogether true. Now that I have the time to sit and write with more ease there are a few things that should be noted in this record. The first may not seem of much importance as it relates to the strength of the dwarvendim, but I must relate some indication of their capabilities now. The feeling is strong within me that we will come to rely on their strength very soon.
It is true that since the rescue of the dwarvendim I have noted on more than one occasion in this journal about the sturdy physical presence of these men and women. Whatever they may lack in physical height has been compensated for in the power that they can bring to any manual task asked of them. It is a strange paradox that can be found within their number. They hold a deep devotion to their customs and rituals, and exhibit all the signs of great intelligence, yet they have been imbued with a strength that equals the sum of three ordinary men. I have seen them carrying yard-arms and water barrels that would have taken two men to transport, and then take to the the rigging of the Dromannion with such a fine balance that you would think they had been doing it their whole lives. Such capabilities have been noted by the Captain, and because of this a number of volunteers from the ranks of the dwarvendim have been taken into service as crewmen.
The second item of note on this day is the emergence of a most strange phenomena that has become all the more frequent in the past days. Upon the surface of the ocean we have begun to see huge floating islands of vegetation, mostly seaweed and other sea-plants, that have come together in imposing rafts of dull greenery. Most are small, but a few we have passed in the last few days have been massive in their extent, and it is possible that if a ship was to hit one in the dark hours of the night it could do great damage. All night watches have been doubled in consequence of this, and I have been told that I will be returning as an extra hand to the dogwatch if it turns out that the seaweed islands do become a greater hazard.
The islands have proven to be a great curiosity however. Within an ocean of undulating water they are an unusual distraction. Some rise to more than twenty metres above the surface, and the largest that has been sighted extended for more than one hundred and fifty metres on its longest reach. Apart from the mass of vegetation these floating rafts have also been shown to be alive with bird and other animal life. In particular there is a large crab-like creature that inhabits the wet boundaries of the islands that seems to hold dominion over each small floating world. Quickly they have been named as "crawlers", and large numbers of these creatures seem to populate each of the larger islands. I cannot say if they are a danger, or simply a docile crustacean that has found a comfortable niche within the matted weeds, but some are as large as a metre in length, with pincers to match. I should not wish to be confronted by one of them.
On these strange islands the words of Caren'thal the Younger are silent. There is nothing in the records of the dwarvendim that make mention of these curiosities, and for the moment it has been decided that the Fleet should steer well clear of them all.
Day Two hundred and four
This morning has begun in uproar and mystery. Four men of the night watch have gone missing, and with the discovery of their absence the ship is being searched from steerage to forecastle. Patches of blood have been found upon the foredeck but there is no indication of the men's fate otherwise. I can record here that the Captain is furious, and has ordered that all persons aboard make account of their whereabouts over the night hours to the Master of the Watch. I believe in his mind he believes that no-one aboard is to blame, the fact of his men's disappearance cannot be ignored however. What makes the disappearance even more mysterious is that a good twenty men were on the weather-decks at the time, and none heard or saw anything.
With the fate of the men remaining unresolved, the Captain has changed the routine of the ship. All night watches have now been doubled, and this has meant that I must return to my position on the dogwatch. I can say that it will not be an onerous duty, I will enjoy the small piece of solitude that the crowsnest provides, but I cannot say yet if I will be required to watch the ocean at our four quarters, or instead keep an eye on the decks themselves. It is something that will no doubt be instructed before I take the long climb to the nest.
Apart from the uproar surrounding the missing men the remainder of the day has passed without event. The weather remains fine and a strengthening wind keeps us tracking westwards. My duties as a Healer's Assistant remain unchanged, and I have found that with the reduced complement aboard, that more time is now being applied to our training. To this end Faren has taken space within the second level of the foredeck to institute a library, one that holds all the books of the Haarn and his own personal trove of medical texts and literature. A collection has been taken from throughout the ship and further manuscripts and books have been accumulated. The Healer is well pleased with the outcome of his endeavours, and has given permission for all who wish to take advantage of the library. The Assistants are now required to spend some time each day in study and research and it has proven a valuable diversion from our normal duties.
As I write I can see the first signs of a storm gathering in the east, and the rotund form of the Master of the Watch coming towards me. It would seem that my time on the dogwatch is about to begin.
Day Two hundred and eight
Four days have now passed beneath overcast skies and the steady onslaught of rain and strong winds. Although the weather presents no danger to the Fleet, it has been a constant that has drained the resolve of our crews as they battle to keep the Dromannion on course. In the swell raised by the powerful easterlies the ship keeps to its westerly track, its bow biting deep into the waves as it forces its way forwards. Stinging spray and tides of cold water attack everyone who must remain above decks, and through the veils of rain there is little that can be seen. The Fleet remains only as vague shapes about us as we keep to our track and within the mists and rain all available eyes are ever watchful for hazards ahead. I have had little opportunity to emerge from below decks but the one time I was required has reminded me what a dismal experience such weather can be.
A ship in the midst of a drenching rain is a cold, uncomfortable world, one where even the most mundane of tasks can become a test of strength and agility. On this day that test came with a call for two Assistants to help with the removal below of an injured crewman. He had been swept from the foredeck and thrown into the middeck lifeboat davits. A broken arm and collar-bone were the costs of his misfortune and it fell to myself and Ahlek Norahm to retrieve him below.
Armed only with a stretcher and the need to move quickly we arose from the middeck galley hatch and made quickly for the injured man. Upon a heaving deck we soon found ourselves skidding across the slick surface of the decking before coming to rest in an ungainly jumble against a port ballista mounting. Our haste had almost sent us overboard but we could not make the mistake again. Carefully we found footing against the ship's bounding deck and worked our way carefully to where the injured man lay tended by a number of his fellow crew.
Upon our arrival those that had stayed with him returned to their duties. I was not a little surprised to see that the injured man was Michals, the sailor who had given me the blackroot upon my first watch in the crowsnest. He recognised me as well and smiled through the pain of his injury. Carefully we placed him aboard the stretcher and secured his body to its frame. There was no way that we might carry him so instead he was dragged across the deck towards the galley hatch. Quickly he was returned to warmer accommodation and the Healer went to work, resetting his bones and stabilising his pain. It was only after we had got Michals below that Ahlek noticed I had suffered an injury myself, a broken finger that had gone unnoticed as we struggled to get the man below decks. In the desperate cold I had not noticed that all my fingers had gone numb. I will have to be more careful.
Day Two hundred and nine
Today has turned to fine weather and a shift in the wind to the north. Against this change the ships of the Fleet now tack into the wind, their paths a criss-crossing ballet of vessels as they slowly make headway against the bluster. Aboard the Dromannion our lives continue to the well practiced constant of our routine, and I can report that the circumstances of my accommodation has improved as well. All those of our number who were removed to the Capstan Well on the last leg of our voyage have been relocated to more spacious accommodation within the second level of the foredeck. Faren has ensured that we have easy access to the library and far more space for living quarters. After the constrictions of the Well it has proven a great relief for all of us.
The improvement in our living conditions has highlighted the general benefit that has come from the establishment of the settlement at Auren'dael. At this time we have five hundred and sixty souls aboard, some sixty less than we started with on our flight from the Old World, and three hundred and eighty less than when we arrived at the Midreach. Such a reduction in complement has meant an easing on our workload, but has also brought forward the consideration that there are now too many assistants aboard the Dromannion. There are other ships in the Fleet that have none, and we have been told that there is a chance that at least four will be transferred to ships in the Kalborean fleet. It is a prospect I do not relish, but one that will have to be accepted if it proves to be my fate.
I can record here that the finger I had broken in the days past has healed completely. Although it is an injury that should have taken weeks to mend, the speed of its healing only underlines my suspicion that Shalengael's magic is still strong within me. At this time I do not wish to bring further attention to myself, it has been generally accepted that his power left me at the Well of Infinite Possibility and I see no reason to engender further curiosity just yet. The finger has been strapped and held immovable since its treatment and I have decided to give no indication of its healing. If indeed there lay obstacles ahead that require the use of the northerner's power, I will have it available when it is needed.
I should also note here that the voices have returned to my dreams. In the past week I have felt the energies of Shalengael's magic growing more insistent in the night hours. It has not yet manifested again as an ability to create the faint blue light but I believe that the power was exhausted by its use at the Well, and has begun to recover itself. I cannot say how it will next manifest but it is my hope that it will remain hidden until it is needed.
As I write it is the hour before sunset and I again find myself with a small amount of time for relaxation. The ocean extends to all the horizons and is unblemished, except for the wakes of our vessels and the infrequent passing of one of the seaweed islands. In the past days these floating rafts of weed have been only small and unremarkable in extent, however the watches have remained vigilant and we continue to give them a wide berth.
Before I go for a meal I should record also that news has reached us of two more men having disappeared, this time from the decks of the Castaal. There is no consideration that these losses are related to our own, for Captain Wilbrims it seems that an accident of some type must have happened in the night and they were lost to the sea. It does seem more than just coincidence but the Captains know their craft and I am happy to leave such worries to them.
Day Two hundred and eleven
Today has seen the return of a behemoth to the north of the Fleet. It was spotted at first light maintaining a parallel course to our ships and appeared only as a series of dark, undulating peaks within the waves. At its first sighting a new plan has been put into effect to ensure the safety of the Fleet. Rather than waiting for the beast to attack, it has been decided to maintain a more aggressive posture.
Two of the ships of our number, the Handou and the Calwey, have been fitted with specialised ballista that throw smaller versions of the charges that were used previously to such lethal effect against the behemoth. These ships are small and light before the wind, and have been given the charge of chasing off the monsters before they develop the inclination to cause harm amongst us. In this duty the two ships have been diligent.
I have watched as the morning progressed as the ships assailed the beast with their explosive charges, hurling them into the water and watching as great plumes of water erupted into the air. I believe that there is no intention to harm the behemoth, it seems unworthy to destroy such a beast if it is not necessary, but the attention of the ships has driven it off. Hopefully it will be the last we will see of it.
The remainder of the day has progressed without further events of note. The sea is rising in a deeper swell and there is a hint in the east of weather to come. We continue to make good progress however, only the more frequent passing of the weed islands a strange, yet benign distraction from the endless ocean before us.
Day Two hundred and twelve
This day has begun with the news that another five men have gone missing from the Fleet. All were somehow taken in the night watch, and there is evidence now that they were taken violently. To counter this unknown threat Captain Duschet has ordered extra navigation lights be installed and a constant watch from the crowsnest instituted to survey the decks during the night hours. There have been no more men taken from the Dromannion, but in the past night three have disappeared from the Equinox and one man each from the Allahard and the Calwey. There is something stalking the Fleet, and it moves in the night with a silence that has left it unseen and free to take what it wishes.
For my part I have been rostered from this night forward to a full watch at the crowsnest. Until this threat is identified the Captain has decided to leave a third of his men on deck at all times, fully armed and vigilant for any sign of what might be out there.
To complicate matters we are at the mercy of light winds that keep us moving to the north-west but are unreliable in their bluster. For the moment though all eyes are focused on the sea itself, watching for whatever malevolent forces might be congregating within her depths.
Day Two hundred and fourteen
This day has ended with a tale to record that in its tragedy and complexity is difficult to believe. As has been the case with previous days of conflict and death I will attempt to put to paper all that has transpired. It is a tale that is difficult to tell.
For the past two days we have sailed slowly westwards, our speed governed by sporadic winds and the gathering on the ocean of large numbers of the weed islands. Even though these matted agglomerations stood within our path we gave little heed to them. Most were small and with minor adjustments to our course were able to easily avoid them. It only became apparent that something was wrong when we found the ships of the Fleet coming to a halt ahead of us. Quickly Captain Duschet brought the Dromannion to rest and with the remainder of the Fleet looked out over a huge barrier of weed islands that had somehow accumulated in the waters before us.
At first it was not considered a danger, just a strange manifestation of currents that were unfamiliar, and with the way forward blocked our Captain looked instead to what we needed to do to retreat and find a clearer way. It was as he was in earnest conversation with his officers that the stern watch reported movement in the islands at our rear. To our amazement the islands behind us were moving, slowly but surely closing what remained of the only exit from what had become a tightening noose about the Fleet.
Realisation dawned quickly that we had sailed into a trap. The Captain was not about to wait and see what might happen next. With the Fleet being encircled there was no time to spare and quickly he ordered all the ballista crews to their stations. At the port side of the ship the ring of islands appeared at its weakest, and with a single command fired a salvo of bolts into the seaweed obstruction. In a huge explosion of rotting weed and seawater the bolts hit home, detonating against the island and breaking it into a floating morass of plant life. It was then that the true nature of these strange phenomena became fully known to us. They were not islands at all but nests, teeming with multitudes of the crustaceans we had come to know as crawlers.
In a swarming tide the crawlers emerged from their islands and came straight at us. Orders came fast from the wheeldeck and immediately the bolt-crews trained their weapons upon the nearest islands, unloading round after round into the teeming horde that now drew closer to the ships of the Fleet. Every ship that was armed took up the fight and in the calm of the midday a battle for survival began.
Those ships that were closest to the nests were the first to be surrounded. Like fortresses in a writhing sea the vessels were besieged, the crawlers attempting to gain a foothold as those aboard desperately fought to keep them off the decks. From all sides the crawlers advanced, their trap secure as they relentlessly closed upon us. It was only a matter of time before they reached the Dromannion.
In their multitudes the metre-long crustaceans fought to find a way on board but the steep sides of the ship's hull kept them floundering in the water as they struggled to find a purchase. From the gunwale the crew pushed the attackers off the sides of the ship with landing poles, but there were many of the them and it was impossible to keep them all at bay. The first of the crawlers made it over the bow of the ship and onto the foredeck before anyone could send it back into the sea. With pincers raised it charged at the nearest men, and more startled than anything else, they retreated from its attack. But it did not force its advantage, instead it scurried for the nearest gear mechanism that operated the forward port davits and released it. With a resounding crash the attached lifeboat fell into the waters below and begun to drag at the side of the ship.
It was the Captain that realised what was happening first. In a frantic shout he ordered the lifeboat's ropes to be cut but it was too late. As quickly as a man might run on level ground a swarm of the crawlers used the attached winching ropes to the lifeboat to gain access to the decks. Within a matter of a few heartbeats a dozen of the beasts were on the middeck, lashing out with their armoured pincers as they attempted to bring their fight to us.
I can say as I record these matters that I did not know what surprised me most; whether it was the speed with which they moved, or the intelligence they demonstrated in the tactics of their assault, but it was not the last of the surprises that these creatures were capable of. Most able bodied men were on decks by this time. Everybody else was below and the hatches locked, and in the melee that ensued it became quickly apparent that swords and wooden bludgeons were not effective against the hard armour of the crawlers. Whilst the ballista crews attempted to blow a passage through the island barrier the fight on decks became all the more desperate. Men were falling as the creatures unleashed a new attack upon us and it was one we had little defence against.
From the ends of long whip-like protuberances at their tails, the creatures were able to fling a tendril of sticky webbing with striking accuracy. A man caught by one of these lines could be pulled down and then hit a multitude of times by further strikes, rendering him immobile. Quickly we came to realise that this must have been what had happened to our missing crewmembers. But there was little time to ponder this revelation. More of the creatures were finding their way aboard and an even greater danger now loomed before us.
From the edges of the wide circle of surrounding islands smaller pieces were dislodging themselves and making for the ships of the Fleet. Like siege engines being pushed against fortress walls the small islands were moving towards the sides of our ships. If they were given the chance to make contact there would be no stopping the crawler's advance and the Dromannion would be swarmed. Again orders came from the wheeldeck and the ballista crews brought their weapons to bear upon the advancing islands. In muffled detonations some were blown apart, but the sea was alive with them and it seemed only a matter of time before the Fleet would be overwhelmed.
It was in this dark moment that two events took place, one tragic, the other provident. From the south a stiff wind began to bluster and within its gusts the Dromannion gained the ability to manoeuvre. Within the new wind the ship could make headway and used it to force a passage through the swarming crawlers towards the northern edge of the trap. I believe it was the Captain's intention to try and force a passage through the islands and create a gap through which the rest of the Fleet might escape. It was not what transpired.
Ahead lay a small ship called the Almane, and even through the frantic fighting on the decks I could see that it lay in deep distress. Almost engulfed in a seething mass of crawlers it had drifted into the edge of the weed barrier and had gone aground. Overwhelmed by the creatures there seemed little chance that anyone might have survived, and in desperation the Captain made a fateful decision. From the manifests of the Fleet he knew that more than twenty-five souls resided aboard the vessel. In all likelihood they were now dead, but the Almane was the one ship in the Fleet that no-one wished to travel upon, and because of it only held a scant crew. It was the Fleet's powder-ship and within its almost empty holds there still resided two tonnes of explosive black powder. In that instant the fate of the Almane was decided.
Orders were made and the Captain himself took control of one of the quarterdeck ballistas. It was an action that he wished no-one else to hold responsibility for, and without hesitation shot a single bolt into the stern of the ship. In a crushing detonation the wheeldeck was blown to splinters and a fire began to rage aboard. It took less than a minute for the growing conflagration to reach the powder-holds.
In a blinding explosion the Almane erupted, its store of powder igniting in a single blast that fractured the island upon which it was grounded, and sent a shockwave rippling through the Dromannion as it sped as a physical strike outwards through the Fleet. It had done the job however. A gaping hole now lay in the barrier ahead and the Dromannion made straight for it. Behind our ship the remainder of the Fleet struggled to follow, and to a vessel they were able to make use of the southerly bluster to force a passage out of the trap. It was not the end of the fight though, and it was the dwarvendim who turned the tide.
Stunned by the explosion the crawlers faltered in their attack, but only for a moment. Upon the decks of the Dromannion dozens of the creatures remained, and even as we put distance between ourselves and the teeming multitudes, these creatures fought on, their purpose seemingly to create as much havoc as possible. Against their number we had no answer, our weapons ineffectual against their armoured hides. It was then that a sickening crash against the middeck brought all eyes to the starboard gunwale.
In the midst of the fighting a number of the dwarvendim had gone below and returned with long metal bars. I recognised the bars as raw metal used by the blacksmith, and stored in the rough lengths for the purposes of his craft. With these weapons in hand the dwarvendim went to work against our attackers. One by one the dwarvendim advanced upon the crawlers, and with all the strength at their disposal brought the ends of the heavy metal bars down in long arcing blows upon the armoured shells of the creatures. In a horrendous splintering thud their armour broke and the crawlers fell. As one went down the next would be assaulted, and in a hail of blows would perish as a smashed mess upon the middeck. In this way the dwarvendim cleared the creatures from the middeck and forced them forward to the forecastle and then off the ship all together.
Quickly the Dromannion flagged the other vessels of the Fleet and all who could tested the crawlers with hard metal. By the late afternoon the battle was done, the creatures repulsed from the Fleet and the seaweed islands left far to our rear. In the failing light we have been left to count our losses.
Day Two hundred and fifteen
In the morning of this day the Fleet has come to a halt, our purpose the counting of our number and the determination of our losses from the previous day. We have had no further sighting of the crawlers, or of their floating nests, and with the security of a clear sea at our four quarters the Captains of the Fleet have begun their tallies.
It is known by all that the Fleet left the Midreach fifty-six ships strong, with a complement of over forty-six hundred souls aboard. In the battle one ship was lost, the Almane, but it is the number of missing people that must be quantified, and to that purpose we have lay at anchor as the manifests are determined. From what I have been able to gather from Faren the news has not been good.
By midday the tallies were complete, the numbers from each ship flagged to the Dromannion. Of our number two hundred and sixteen crew have been lost to the creatures, twenty-one from the Dromannion alone. Only providence kept most of our number safe below decks, the action of those above deck stopping any incursions by the creatures into the corridors of the ships.
It is a hard truth that we do not know why these creatures chose to attack us. In our journey into the west we have been at the mercy of many forces, whether it be bad weather or the lumbering attentions of the behemoths. Not since leaving the Old World however, have we been the subject of such ruthless and malevolent intelligence. It was a trap that was laid for us, and without the intervention of Providence it would have been our undoing. I can only assume that the depths of this great sea hold many dangers, the crawlers simply a manifestation that linger at its borders.
To adjust for the losses sustained from the past day the Captain has called for further volunteers from the ship's complement to train as crew. To this call he has had some surprising answers. A further ten passengers have come forward, and Captain Wilbrims of the Castaal has provided fifteen young men and women from the Kalborean ships as well. At the hour before dusk they came aboard and were greeted warmly into our number. To a man and women they were all tall and lean in appearance. Well suited, the Captain says, for work within the shrouds and sails of the Dromannion. They have been given quarters below the foredeck, and I have found that most will be my neighbours, having taken the rooms next to that of the Healer's Assistants.
This day has been long, filled with the sadness of that which has passed, and the uncertainty of a sea that seems to provide no end of surprises. As I write our Ships ride to the north-west, a heavy swell before us. In the gathering dark I must pause and wonder at the nature of the world we are forging towards. We have left the Old World, and put behind us the Age of Reason that once gave surety to our lives. Ahead of us waits something far different. I can feel the change in the air, and sense within the waters themselves that the fundamental energies of the New World are different, and becoming stronger with every day that we move closer. I do not know if it is Shalengael's magic or simply the effects of so much unforeseen malice, but the feeling grows within me that the New World will not be the same as that which we have left.
Day Two hundred and sixteen
A morning storm has left the Fleet dispersed widely upon the plunging waves. Against a strong wind and thrashing whitecaps the Dromannion rises and falls to the power of a growing swell, and we find ourselves once again focused to the tasks that will bring us to the New World. There has been no further sign of the crawlers, or their great nests, and the belief has firmed that we have passed beyond their dominion.
Below decks the day has been a busy one. Too many men were lost in the battle against the crawlers but many more were injured, and we have all been brought to the task of tending their needs. The most intractable of problems has proven to be the remains of the sticky tendrils used by the creatures to pull down their prey. Many of the injured were brought below with these tendrils hard against their skin and they have been very difficult to remove. By whatever means that they adhere, the effects have been a slow poisoning that does not improve until the substance is cut from the skin.
My day has been spent in the tending of these wounds. Faren has had to resort to a laborious surgery that slowly slices away the remaining tendrils until they are removed. It is not without pain or risk of infection, but thankfully we are fully stocked with the herbs and poultices required to treat the resulting wounds. At the time of writing this entry our Surgery is full and we have had to take additional space below the middeck to accommodate all those who now require treatment. Faren believes none of the afflicted crewman will be able enough for duty for at least ten days.
Although the treatment of these injured crew has been the focus of my day I must record two specific events that have occurred on the night past. The first relates to the return of the unknown creatures whose breathing I have written about previously. Just prior to retiring for the night, I spent a short time on the foredeck, watching the bow of the Dromannion cutting through the waves before the rising winds. Somewhere within the rush of the wind and the deep push of the ship, I heard the same inhalation and exhalations that so reminded me of a potter's bellows. Luckily the Officer of the Watch was close and I called him to listen also. Sure enough the bellows sounded clearly within the noises of our passage. Unfortunately we could see nothing that might give a clue to its origin, but the Officer said that he would indeed inform the Captain of what he had heard nonetheless. After our entrapment by the crawlers anything of note is to be passed on, no matter how incidental.
The second event was more personal in nature and underlines the growing potency of Shalengael's magic as it hides within me. After listening for a return of the bellows I spent a further time watching the waves and thinking on what lays ahead. Lost in my thoughts I did not realise that the power of Shalengael was working its magic on the waves beneath me. Only as I brought my focus to the water streaming beside the hull of the Dromannion did I see a line of disturbed water following the movement of my hand as I leant against the foredeck balustrade. At first I did not realise it for what it was until I deliberately moved my hand in an arc across the waters. It was as if I had my hand in the water, forcing it to part in a rapid wake that forked one way out into the swell, the other against the hull of the Dromannion. In that short period I found that I could extend my will to disturb the water in any way I saw fit, turning it one way or the other, or creating small eddies that swirled within the waves themselves. All this I did in solitude. Against the rising swell my efforts went unnoticed and then, as quietly as it encroached upon my thoughts, the power dissipated. It has not returned since.
There is little doubt now in my mind that the northerner's power is now growing within me. I cannot say for what purpose this might be so, however I shall continue to say nothing of it. Whether I can keep such a power secret for much longer is another question. The Maturi Hedj has been spending a lot of time within the Surgery, and I have noticed both himself and the Shadar Len keeping a discreet watch upon me. I know the Maturi understands far more than he lets on to, and I have realised over time that the dwarvendim never said exactly what the letter from Shalengael fully revealed. The need to use the Well of Infinite Possibility may have been only a part of the destiny foretold by the Gael, and it is in my mind that there may be much more that has been left unsaid. Indeed, it may be that I will find that I have no secrets, and that the Maturi knows far more than I do.
Day Two hundred and seventeen
On this Two hundred and seventeenth day of our voyage a strong wind continues from the south, our passage westwards a constant battle against the heaving power of the sea. It has been a hard day, overcast and mixed within grey veils of rain and mist. Beneath us the decks move with the constant rise and fall of the waves, and we have found no respite from the cold that now intensifies with every surge in the wind. Extra clothing has been distributed to all aboard and most of the ship below decks has been battened down to keep what warmth we have secure.
For myself and Ahlek today has been one of rest. The Captain has instituted a new roster of duties which allows every crewmember and passenger one day per fortnight for personal rest and recreation. It has been my fate that my first day without the burden of duties should be one such as this. The only consolation I have found has been the company of Ahlek, his dry humour more than a match for the encroaching cold. We have spent the day in idleness, the hours quickly lost in the telling of tall tales and the endless dissection of ship gossip. It has been altogether a fruitless day but one that I have enjoyed nonetheless.
Apart from my conversations with the young Assistant I have found some additional diversion in what can be seen from the only porthole in our quarters. Within the clouds of mist and rain there runs at our starboard the indistinct shape of the Faehlan, a Kalborean ship that must rate as one of the smallest amongst our number. Barely twenty meters in length, it rides the waves in what seems to be a state of constant peril, the turbulent rise and fall of the swell threatening at each surge of the sea to swallow the ship in its embrace.
From our small vantage on the Dromannion I have watched as the crew aboard the Faehlan battle the relentless seas. It has proved both fascinating and inspiring to be an observer as the men who crew her struggle to keep the ship afloat and in good order. How such a small vessel has endured the rigors of our voyage so far serves as a testament to their skill and their determination. It has proven a sobering reminder of how fortunate I am to be aboard the flagship of our Fleet.
Day Two hundred and eighteen
The bad weather has diminished, but still the winds blow strongly from the south. Within the confines of our wooden ships we look out at the ocean that surrounds us, and all that is to be seen is an overcast sky and the surging waters of the Grey Sea. At all quarters the horizon has disappeared in a hazy boundary that melds seamlessly in a great arc about us, and within this small existence the ships of the Fleet plough forward.
The routine of the Dromannion continues, and our duties remain as they have been. The care of the injured crewmen has become our main concern, and although we must still find time for our usual morning surgery hours, and afternoon excursions through the ship, we spend most time with them. The wounds left by the crawler's tendrils are difficult to treat and many have become infected. For two of the crew such infections have proven impossible to combat against. Both were buried at sea this morning. For the rest of the injured we have had better results but it will be many days yet before any of the afflicted will be fit to leave our care. I can report here also, that Michals is doing very well. He has left the Surgery but remains without duties. He still has at least three weeks before he will be fit to return to work.
At midday today a meeting was called regarding the well-being of the NomDruse. Since the disappearance of Shalengael they have retreated to their Cresh, and without the authority of his presence seem unwilling to leave the confines of their quarters. I believe there is more to this behaviour than Shalengael's ability to speak with them, and coax them out. They seem completely healthy but find it exceedingly difficult to leave the security of their sanctuary. Although it has been discounted by most of the other Healers it is in my mind that the children have suffered greatly, and as a result of the events at Corin'kraag have developed an affliction of the will that has drawn them inwards. The northerner was their only source of security and now he has gone. I am not sure how such an affliction might be treated.
I can say truthfully that the absence of Shalengael is being felt by more than the NomDruse alone. His power continues to grow within me and I am finding it difficult to ignore. In the quiet of the night the voices have returned and sleep has become elusive. As others rest my thoughts have become one with a host of voices that engage in endless conversation, in languages that I do not understand, and on subjects that seem to require endless discourse. When I do sleep there is no respite, and within an ocean of thought and memory I see things that leave me cold with terror. If this has been the lot of the Gaels, to find every moment of their lives woven with the memories of the past and the possibilities of the future, then it is a price too high to pay. I see it only as a precursor to madness.
Finding a good night's sleep is not my only pressing concern though. In the past days the Shadar Len has continued to keep a discreet watch upon me, and although I consider him a good friend it is becoming wearing. I have no doubt that he works at the behest of the Maturi Hedj, however I believe that they might find out more if they were but to ask me what they want to know. It is difficult indeed to go about one's duties when at every glance you find an earnest pair of eyes fixed stolidly upon you. If this behaviour continues much longer I feel I will have no recourse but to confront the Shadar and determine what it is the Maturi actually wants.
Day Two hundred and nineteen
Fine conditions have returned to the Fleet and with a light wind at our backs the Dromannion rides the waves under full sail. The duties of our day continue, however there have been a few notable happenings, not the least an approach from the Shadar Len for another meeting with the Maturi Hedj. It is a curious timing that sees the Maturi requesting a meeting on the day that I have decided to confront them regarding their constant surveillance. The Shadar Len was most polite in his request and a time has been set for tomorrow morning. It will be good to find out what is going on.
The voices have not left me, and I fear that they are now a permanent addition to my thoughts. Since their return I have found the melee of voices and languages a constant backdrop to the night, but I find now that I can narrow down the conversations I wish to listen to, and there is one in particular that commands attention. It concerns a lesson given by a man named Harriengael to a student whose name has not yet been mentioned, and seems to be a discourse on the nature of the powers harnessed by the Gaels. At first only one word was familiar, Hev'duil, and I recognise it from conversations I have had with Shalengael. As I have listened though the strange language has become more understandable, and the discussions between this Master and his Student have grown to take up all of my sleeping hours. From these two men I have learned much.
It remains a fact of the Old World that the Gaels were masters of the powers that could be garnered from the Hev'duil, known within their brotherhood as the Winds of Life. It was however a mastery that had its costs. The Hev'duil demanded much from those that wielded its power, but over time a balance was reached between the Gaels and the Winds of Life. Much was given and much was expected in return. For the Gaels it meant a life of servitude to the needs of Fate, many lifetimes spent as witnesses to the passing of great events, and in their own way moulding the destinies of others who would achieve great things. In the Old World the Gaels were the Hev'duil's agents of change, men who remained in the shadows whilst forming the destinies of nations. In return the Hev'duil unlocked the powers of the wind and gave the Gaels the foresight to use it.
From the conversations of Harriengael I have learned that there is more than one type of magic in the world. In the lands of the Old World the powers of the wind, focused within the Hev'duil reign supreme, but there are other types of magic that find their powers drawn from elsewhere. Although it is beyond the knowledge of Harriengael to answer, I wonder if the New World also possesses such elemental forces.
For all the interest I have found in the words of Harriengael, I can say that it has not helped me understand the nature of the power that grows within me, or answer what it must be used for. It is possible that to find such answers I will need to look closer to home. The Maturi Hedj may have what I need.
Day Two hundred and twenty
In the dark hours before dawn the Fleet was awakened to the emergence of a multitude of glimmering lights in the deep. As has been our experience before with these strange points of light, they arose from somewhere far below and spread out about the ship in a swirling dance that lasted more than an hour. Such was the commotion caused by their appearance that the entire complement of the Dromannion arose from their quarters to view the spectacle. With the decks crowded with both crew and refugees we watched as the spiralling lights rose from beneath us and then scattered across the wide sea.
By the time I had reached the decks from my quarters I could tell that something important was happening. Previously the lights had congregated in patches, providing a subtle convergence of flickering points that would swirl for a short period before disappearing once again into the depths. From my own experience I can say that they gave no clue to their nature or purpose, but in the total dark of the pre-dawn we were all about to become witness to an amazing choreography of movement and light.
From beneath the Dromannion the lights swarmed upwards, a great rush of emerging colour that quickly spread about the ship before dispersing into the ocean about the entire Fleet. For some time the lights arose from the deep, a rainbow wash of colour that turned in swirls and eddies as it spread outwards. At great speed the lights formed about every ship in the Fleet, creating whirlpools of bright colour in the dark that sent shimmering beams of diffuse light into the sails and shrouds of our vessels.
Against the quiet backdrop of the night sky the display continued, all the vessels of the Fleet remaining enmeshed until the rising moons brought their own light to the world. Upon the eastern horizon the first hint of Elanna sent the lights spiralling once again into the depths. It was strange but as the moon arose against the borders of the world I was sure I saw a line of behemoths breaching against the borders of our Fleet, too distant to be a danger but in numbers that left me cold. In the sudden light it was only a hint of movement, as thunderclouds illuminated in a momentary flash of lightning before disappearing into the dark. And I was not the only one who saw the vast creatures. A call came quickly from the forward watch, and in response the decks were cleared for action. Ballista crews ran for their weaponry, and with the rising moons edging the horizon the Dromannion sent off a red warning flare that rose high overhead before sputtering out against the stars. We waited for the attack to come, but there was no further calls of sightings or danger at hand. The behemoths had faded away as quietly as the lights, and in the cool night air those of us who could returned to our sleep.
I awoke this morning to find the Dromannion at rest, its relentless course into the north-west stalled for some reason. Still weary from the interruption to my sleep I threw on some clothes and made my way quickly onto the middeck. There I found a number of the passengers and some of the crew watching on as the ships of the Kalborean fleet clustered close to our starboard. From the Castaal I saw a small craft making its way quickly towards us. Captain Wilbrims and a few of his officers were in the water, making haste in our direction aboard a lifeboat. Captain Duschet was at the starboard gangway, seemingly impatient for the delay but waiting nonetheless for the arrival of his visitors. For those of us who were on deck it was a moment of distraction, watching as the boat struggled against the waves to make its way to our side. It proved to be a short journey made without mishap. When Captain Wilbrims and his number were safely aboard all made for the wheeldeck and then disappeared into the Officer's quarters. Although the Kalboreans looked particularly grim there were no words spoken, and for all of us left upon the weather-decks there was only speculation left in their wakes.
With no answers to the nature of our pause I returned to the duties of my day. After a morning meal I made my way to the surgery, and found Ahlek and the others about to start our morning rounds. All conversation quickly turned to the lights of the early morning and for some time we rumoured on what they were, and what their purpose might be. It is a truth to say that none of us had seen anything like it before and as such our theories could be nothing beyond speculation.
It was Faren who brought the first hard news on the nature of the sea-lights, and he came directly from the meeting with the Kalboreans to impart what he had learned. It is a story that has amazed us all.
Although we had been situated at the centre of the Fleet, and in our own position well placed to see the wondrous display, it was the Kalborean ships that had witnessed the purpose of the swirling eddies of light. In the early hours the first signs of the lights appeared in the north, just beyond the boundaries of the Kalborean Fleet. Of their number none had seen the lights before, and as a precaution the Captain called his vessels closer. Without the benefit of the moons to light their way the sea was a black reflection of the sky above, one that only enhanced the brilliant points of light that quickly rushed from the depths below. As we had seen the lights surrounded all of the Kalborean vessels, bathing everything in a shimmering veil of coloured light. But it was to the north, beyond the sight of ourselves that a great battle had begun, and it was between the lights and an old nemesis that had not yet finished with our Fleet.
From the north at least a dozen Behemoths had gathered in the dark, their vast forms surging towards the Fleet. Against such a number there would have been little chance that any of our ships could have survived, but in this assault it was not ourselves who put up the defence. It was the lights that moved to intercept the charging monsters, and in the deep waters a hard-fought battle began that saw the Behemoths attempting to charge the Fleet, but being turned back by some force that they could not overwhelm. As Captain Wilbrims described it, the lights formed a barrier beyond which the Behemoths could not pass, no matter how they tried to breach their way through it. In that short hour the lights kept the vast beasts at bay and then turned them back into the ocean to the north. It was a battle that had saved all our lives.
When Faren had finished we all looked at each other, wondering at the Providence that had delivered such an ally to our cause, but this was not all that the Healer had to tell. It was true that the Kalboreans had not seen the lights on their voyage out of the east, but it was not true that they did not know what they were. For the peoples of Cembria and Haldar, of whom most of the Kalboreans are numbered, there is a legend of a people known as the Amberdene. It is said that in a time long before the Age of Reason that Cembria fostered a treaty between themselves and a race of beings that lived in isolation beneath the wash of the Grey Sea. Such beings were known as Pathfinders, or Amberdene, and it was through them that the Cembrians found safe passage as they plied their trade routes up and down the coasts of the Northern Realms. In return the Cembrians supplied materials needed by the Amberdene and for many years the treaty remained in force, and to the benefit of both.
It is said that the Amberdene never let their true form be known. All that was ever seen was the flickering lights of their number guiding ships through dangerous waters, and fending the unwary from the ravages of those creatures of the deep that might wish them harm. It is said also that for reasons unknown the Amberdene disappeared, leaving the Cembrians to find their way alone, and in doing so passed from the knowledge of Men. For Captain Wilbrims the lights could mean nothing else. We had been saved by the Pathfinders.
The last piece of Faren's tale was the most intriguing however. As far as the knowledge of the Cembrians could ascertain the treaty between themselves and the Amberdene had never been broken. It is Captain Wilbrims' contention that as the Amberdene had saved us from the Behemoths, that we should reciprocate with a payment in kind. The nature of the payment that he has proposed has left much dispute amongst the Captains and to my mind does seems very extreme, but has been agreed to nonetheless. With nothing else to give the Kalboreans have resolved to sink one of their ships and consign it to the deep so that it may be gathered up by the Amberdene. The sinking is to be done tonight.
With this plan decided the remainder of the day has been one of organisation and additional duties. The ship that is to be scuttled is a coal Barque by the name of the Hallenbrook, a two masted vessel that has been home to more than one hundred and twenty-five souls. Most of her number have been moved to other ships in the Kalborean fleet, however a request from thirty dwarvendim that were also billeted aboard has seen a small increase in our own number.
The dwarvendim have been transferred to the Dromannion, and our day has been spent finding new accommodations for them, and the stowage of a large amount of supplies and provender that fill the Hallenbrook's holds. The process of unloading the Hallenbrook and distributing its goods through the remainder of the Fleet has been time consuming, the job only complete in the hour after sunset. It is easy to see in the faces of those involved in the transfer that most are not convinced that the Kalboreans are doing anything other than wasting a good ship. Captain Wilbrims has remained firm in his belief that such an offering will be well received, and that we may yet gain far more from the Amberdene as we journey westwards if it is done.
According to tradition the sinking of the Hallenbrook is to be done at midnight. The day has passed quickly and I have forgotten to keep my appointment with the Maturi Hedj. After the sinking of the Hallenbrook I will search him out and find out what he wants.
Day Two hundred and twenty-one
At midnight of the night past the Hallenbrook has been sunk, and in its demise the firm beliefs of the Kalboreans have been proven correct. It was fortunate for us all that the weather remained favourable as the final preparations were made. Although I had never really thought on it, the sinking of a ship so that it will remain in one piece is not as easy as one might suppose. To carefully scuttle a ship without explosion or act of violence requires consideration to the design of the vessel, and the different way that water might be introduced to flood its many cavities. A ship after all is designed to float, not to submerge easily.
To this end both Captain Duschet and Captain Wilbrims have worked together to determine how it might be done. The traditions of the Cembrians dictate that an offering to the Amberdene must be whole, and in good working order. If the Hallenbrook was to be offered as payment for our deliverance from the Behemoths then it must go down easily, and without harm. Such a way was found.
Whilst the Fleet organised the distribution of the Hallenbrook's cargo, the crew of that ship started to remove all the inner doors, hatchways and covers from within the interior of the ship. Where bulkheads would have halted the flooding of any part of the vessel, large ports were cut carefully into their solid wood to allow for an easy flow of water. By the hour before midnight the ship was ready, all that was required was a way to flood the ship and send it to the bottom. I can say that I had not enquired as to how the ship was to be flooded, but the answer came as a small lifeboat rowed out from the side of the Castaal, and from its number two men disappeared below decks. The ship was now abandoned, and except for the two men aboard, all the Fleet waited for what was to happen next.
For some minutes we waited, the Fleet at anchor watching for some sign of movement aboard the ship. In the light winds, the Hallenbrook swayed quietly upon the swell, and then a drumbeat began, one that vibrated through the Dromannion as its beats began to build in strength. Quickly the frequency of the beats grew, and I could feel the vibrations resonating through the wood of the ship as I held firm to the starboard balustrade.
Before us the Hallenbrook remained afloat, but as the drumming grew in strength I could see the curved hull of the ship begin to list slightly to port. At that moment the drumming stopped. I would learn later that the two men aboard the Hallenbrook were responsible for the reverberations, and that they had opened two small valves in the bowels of the ship that would normally have only been opened if the vessel was in dry dock. It was not enough to sink the ship alone, but it was the beginning of a process that would see the steerage decks of the ship flooded, and lower the ship to port sufficiently to expose the upper decks to the open sea.
In the dark the two men appeared again on deck and quickly returned to their lifeboat. As the men frantically rowed their craft away the ship listed further to port and then began to settle deeper in the water. From within the Hallenbrook there came a rushing sound of air being expelled under pressure, and very quickly there rose above it the unmistakable gurgle of water being sucked into the open spaces below decks. We all watched as the ship sank into its watery grave, but we were not the only ones.
As the ship's hull slowly settled into the sea the drumming began again. This time however, it was not the hands of men who beat out the rhythm. In the dark waters a single light appeared in the sea below the slowly sinking ship, and then as we watched others began to emerge from the depths. In a flurry of speeding light they all disappeared, only to appear a short time later in a vast multitude that welled up out of the black water, and grew quickly into a swirling mass of colour that completely surrounded the Hallenbrook. The Amberdene were taking their gift.
With the same energy that saw them hold back the Behemoths, the lights took hold of the Hallenbrook. Quickly it sank into the waves, and as its topmast finally disappeared beneath the sea, it was still visible as a silhouette against a cloud of roiling light that carried it off to the north-east. For whatever purpose, the Amberdene had excepted our offering and had taken it away with them.
When the Hallenbrook finally disappeared from sight, we were left once again to think on what we had seen in the darkness. The Kalboreans had been right, the offering had been taken and now the treaty between between ourselves and the Amberdene had been reaffirmed. As I made my way slowly back to my quarters I could only imagine what that might mean for our future.
The suns of morning have risen to find a change in the weather, and a stiff wind blowing out of the south. This day sees us one ship the less, and with the prospect of an ally on our journey into the north-west. With the wind hard upon our port the Fleet now forges ahead, the pause of the previous day now only a memory as we return to the duties of our routine. For myself this day must begin with the keeping of my appointment with the Maturi Hedj.
I had found the Shadar Len just after the morning meal, and gave my apologies for missing the appointment with his master on the previous day. Agrindel seemed much distracted himself as we spoke, but agreed that the meeting should be held straightaway. I followed the dwarvendim out of the middecks and up into the Maturi's quarters upon the wheeldeck. As we walked I asked him on his thoughts about the offering of the Hallenbrook to the Amberdene. I must say that he was evasive in his response. Why the ship was sacrificed, he said, was a matter for the Kalborean fleet. After a pause he added that the sight of the ship disappearing beneath the waves, and the thought of the Behemoths in the distance had brought back memories for the dwarvendim that none of them wished to discuss. I took his point and returned to a quiet reflection of the sea on our walk to the Maturi's quarters.
The Maturi Hedj was waiting at his doorway as the Shadar Len and myself made for his rooms. I apologised again for my tardiness but the Maturi did not seem concerned. Instead he ushered us both inside and then spent a small amount of time ensuring the doors to his quarters were securely locked. The Maturi is not a man who spends time in idle conservation, and after a short enquiry as to my health he began looking through a pile of papers that lay fastened together by string upon his desk. The Shadar Len motioned for me to sit, so as the dwarvendim worked away at his papers I found a chair and waited.
I can say that it is easy to spot the quarters of a studious mind. Both the Healer Faren and the Maturi Hedj hold a number of behaviours in common. The most noticeable being an ability to accumulate huge amounts of scrolls and documents, and then keep them in such a level of disarray that the finding of any particular item falls either to providence or luck. It seems that an organised and intellectual mind can function quite adequately in chaos, and certainly the Maturi's rooms fit the description.
As I waited the Maturi delved into his writings and finally emerged with a small blue envelope. I had expected that I might be assailed with questions left unanswered by the disappearance of Shalengael. Instead the Maturi handed me the small envelope but motioned for me not to open it just yet.
It was, he explained, part of a series of letters left by the northerner upon his leaving the Fleet. Most of the other letters were directions as to what to do whilst within the port of Auren'dael, but this letter was addressed to me specifically, with the intention that it should not be given until the Fleet was well beyond the Midreach. Apart from these facts the Maturi could say no more, he requested only that once I had read it that we might talk on what it said. I could see no reason to delay so I opened it up and read the short passage that was scrawled upon its light blue paper.
I have to admit that I expected more from the message that what it contained. For a moment I sat back and considered what it might mean before handing it to the Maturi. It was written in the common language of the Haarn, one that I had not previously known, but which has become very familiar to me over the course of the past weeks. It was the language of Harriengael.
The Maturi took the paper from me and read it aloud. "Listen to the voices, they will tell you what to do." The look on the man's face as he reread the message to himself said everything about what it meant. It was not hard to realise that my growing power could no longer remain a secret, at least not to the two dwarvendim who now looked at me with broad smiles and a thousand questions.
The remainder of my day was spent in the company of the Maturi and his Shadar. There was no point in keeping secrets any longer and instead we became conspirators in a larger game. I explained everything of the growing power within me, and gave account of the lessons and knowledge that come to me in the night hours. To all this the Maturi listened and then gave counsel. It was his opinion that it is best that the existence of my power not be made known just yet. There are still many amongst our number who distrust the magic of the Gaels, not the least being the peoples of the Kalborean Fleet. It is a fact of their history that they hunted down and destroyed the Gaels. The existence of their power still remaining in the world may not be accepted well.
On the matter of the voices, and the lessons of Harriengael, the Maturi offered only a small direction. Look, he said, for anything that might tell me how to use the power given by Shalengael. It has been offered as a resource to help us in a moment of need that will more than likely come upon us unexpectedly. I have the uncomfortable feeling that it will be left to me to overcome it.
My meeting with the Maturi concluded with a pact of secrecy. They would keep everything that had been said to themselves, and counselled that at least for the moment I should not tell anyone else. It would seem also that I am to be watched diligently by my own personal bodyguard. They will apparently remain at a discreet distance, but will be watching for any circumstances that might warrant help. On this matter I had no say. I am not sure that I will enjoy such close scrutiny.
I left the quarters of the Maturi at dusk and made my way to the Healer Faren's rooms. The earnest nature of my meeting with the dwarvendim had left me with a need to give apologies for not attending surgery hours, and to provide explanation for my absence. The Healer however, was aware that I had been taken for a meeting, and wished only to know if it had been fruitful. I could only say that I was little the wiser for it, and gave notice that it might not be the last. To that Faren shrugged his shoulders and said that if that was to be the case then he had better make good use of me whilst he could. Before I could say anything more I was shepherded into the Surgery to find a number of Shurdu players waiting in a forlorn state for attention. My day was not yet over.
Day Two hundred and twenty-two
Today has greeted us with a change in wind direction and a quicker passage into the west. Overnight the wind veered to the east, and with the strong bluster at our backs we have picked up speed and now race across the face of the wind into the north-west. The day is overcast though, the morning skies quickly covered with a thickening blanket of cloud that scuds before us as it is pushed westwards. Upon the ocean the Dromannion cuts deep into the swell, its bow finding clean water as it rises and falls against the waves. I can record here that there is a strong feeling of optimism in the air as well. Everyone aboard can sense that there is something important ahead, and we all hope that it will finally be the New World. First though, we must find the Sentinels of the Ashgard. I can say that in this regard it is the Amberdene who are showing the way.
As has been our practice since the beginning of our flight from the east, there has always been at least three scoutships in the vanguard of the Fleet. For most of our voyage they have been the Equinox, the Allahard and the Arboron. With the joining of the Kalboreans there has been a further two ships, the Janielle and the Graemor, that have been at the forefront of our voyage. For most of the journey so far these ships have been nothing but sails at the horizon, keeping a constant vigil for danger ahead, or shallow waters. Since our reintroduction to the Amberdene these ships have had need to change their duty. Now they follow the Amberdene as the mysterious creatures guide them through the waters. I have heard that a single band of light now travels ahead of the scoutships, providing a safe course for the Fleet as we progressively move into the north-west. In truth I do not know how the Amberdene know where our destination lies, but the Kalboreans are adamant that the Pathfinders will not let us down.
Since the sinking of the Hallenbrook we have seen nothing of the Amberdene from the decks of the Dromannion, however the effects of their presence has been felt through the whole of the Fleet. At all points of the compass there have been continuous sightings of Behemoths, their massive bodies continuing to breach against an invisible wall of protection that has been spread around us. It is both reassuring, and somewhat disconcerting as well, to see the huge beasts attempting to break the unseen cordon that has been thrown around us. In total seven of the monsters have been identified, and it would seem that but for the protection afforded to us by our new allies that we would have met a certain doom at their hands. I cannot say why the Behemoths have remained so solid in their intent to do us harm, and regardless of the effectiveness of the Amberdene's ability to hold them back the Captain has kept all the weapons of the Dromannion at the ready, just in case.
In the afternoon I was called to a meeting with Faren and have been informed that I am to have a change of duties. Somehow the fact that I can now understand the common tongue of the Haarn has reached the ears of the Healer, and as he is not one to let a resource go to waste has given me full responsibility for the care of the NomDruse. Although this would not be my choice of an assignment, I must go as I am directed and so from the morrow I will be in charge of their care. It would seem that they have remained firm in their wish to stay within their Cresh, and I have been given the task of easing them back into the wider world. I cannot say that I have any idea how this might be done, but I will attempt it nonetheless.
Day Two hundred and twenty-three
This Two hundred and twenty-third day of our journey has passed into sunset, and with the fall of the twin suns into the west I find myself once again looking for solitude upon the foredeck. My first day as Guardian of the NomDruse has passed also and I must record in truth that I am glad that it has ended. The children are a handful, their needs constant and the problems of having so many to tend grow with each passing hour. I am sure that I will make sense of it all but my hopes are thin. I am exhausted and tomorrow looms as surely as the suns will rise.
I have found some intriguing questions though, about the children themselves and why Shalengael spent so many hours with them. There is no doubt that they are very intelligent, and surprisingly they seem to have absolutely no knowledge that Shalengael held any power other than the ability to speak with them in their own tongue. To them he was a protective figure who ensured their isolation and allowed them to remain unseen below decks. I have not yet fathomed why this is so important to them, but I have resolved myself to finding out why.
It is fortunate that there are many hands to help with the tending of the children's needs. I find myself more of an organiser and this has allowed me to spend some time talking with the children. One in particular has caught my interest. The oldest girl has proven to be the defacto leader of the extended group and it is with her that I have found out most about the children, and their lives before the coming of the Enemy to the Haarn. Her name is Eylish and she stands out from the others as a natural leader, but she holds the same reticence to talk openly. It is almost as if the entire group holds a secret close and cannot afford to let it slip. It is most vexing.
Day Two hundred and twenty-four
This morning has brightened to find the Fleet at a standstill. Two ships have run aground and the rest of our number have been forced to furl sail as we consider what should be done. Soundings taken over the past days have shown the waters to be deep and the sudden grounding has proven a mystery worth the unravelling. The Amberdene are not to be found anywhere and I have been told that the vessels strayed north of the Fleet overnight, running at considerable speed onto the obstruction. It would seem that we have been lucky that none of the larger ships hit what lies just beneath the waves.
The ships, the Kalthalas and the Callenfrey, are struck fast upon a wide plateau of rock that sits submerged only a few metres beneath the ocean's surface. Needless to say the Captains of these vessels have been charged with a quick resolution of their problem, however the ships are stuck fast, and it will take more than just the resources of their crews to get them off.
I have found out from our Second Officer that the ships themselves are still sound, but they are held fast upon the wide shelf of rock mostly by their own weight, and the hands of wind and tide that both work to push them further aground. It is in his mind that the Captain is to order the lowering of lifeboats and try to haul the ships off the stone. It is a job that will need to be done quickly.
A huge storm now grows in the east. We have been fortunate in the past days that the weather has remained favourable, and have taken advantage of the strengthening wind to make great distance on our voyage. Now however, a line of dark cloud grows against the horizon, and with the prevailing wind will reach us before the end of the day. As the Callenfrey and the Kalthalas now stand they can withstand the light swell that runs past our Fleet without further damage. A full-blown storm will tear them to pieces.
With the storm approaching the Captains of the Fleet moved to quick action. There was no time to empty the ships so that they might be lighter for the towing, instead a large number of lifeboats were lowered from each of the surrounding ships and ordered in lines that ran from the grounded vessels. Long hawsers were extended from both of the ships, and with all available hands to the task the process of removing the Callenfrey and the Kalthalas from their encumberences began. Each are Kalborean vessels, and although lighter in design than the ships of Adoracia they are not small by any means. Twin-masted and displacing at least three hundred tonnes each I was at a loss to see how any number of lifeboats might have the power to pull them away from the rock-shelf. But in these matters I have little knowledge. I am not a man of the sea and it did indeed prove to be possible, if not laborious.
Each of the ships was joined by ropes to ten lifeboats, and each boat was manned by twelve crew that pulled at their oars, desperately attempting to haul the ships into deeper water. At first I could see no ground being made but each Officer aboard the lifeboats was working to a rhythm that allowed the maximum pull of their oars to coincide with the surge of the waves across the rock shelf. Slowly, inch by inch, the vessels came away from the shelf and by mid-afternoon both were once again in deep water.
With the ships now out of danger we have turned again to our voyage. At our backs the storm approaches, and as I write this entry to my journal I can see the arcing flashes of lightning buried deep in the clouds as they race towards us. The storm is going to be a powerful tempest, one that will not pass lightly. There is more of this day that I would like to record but the encroaching weather will not allow it. If I get the opportunity I will write more tomorrow.
Day Two hundred and twenty-six
Two days have passed and the storm continues unabated, a driving relentless tempest of gale-force winds and drenching rain that has assailed our Fleet and left us dispersed upon the heaving sea. It has been a time of great trial for all of us, but we have weathered such storms before, and in the blustering winds have been pushed far to the west. I have spent my time below decks, mostly attending to the inevitable injuries and maladies brought about by such weather, but as I am now Guardian to the NomDruse I have also been required to ensure their needs are met. It has been during this time that I have noticed something further about the children, and it leaves me wondering as to the reasons why they remain behind closed doors.
It has been my experience that no matter how many times the Fleet has been assailed by storms on our voyage, the unease and the fear generated by their power has not abated. It can be seen in the eyes of those below decks that each storm brings with it a renewed sense of how small we are on this vast ocean, and how powerful the forces are that are arrayed against us. Such fears I have not seen in the NomDruse. With the time to remain with them as the storm rages outside I see nothing of the anxiety that can be found throughout the ship. The children go about their normal routine oblivious to the sounds of the weather, and seem indifferent to each pounding resonation of wind and wave as they strike the Dromannion. Within their Cresh they appear completely at ease. It is a strange thing.
Although the children appear at ease with their circumstances I cannot say the same thing for myself. The power of Shalengael continues to grow and in times such as this it strengthens markedly. It is as if the storm magnifies the ability of the power to find new energy, and within the dark hours the voices have overtaken all attempts I have made for sleep. I find myself now laying in my hammock, taking in the words of Harriengael and searching his lessons for some clue as to how I must use the northerner's power. So far it has eluded me.
Day Two hundred and twenty-eight
The storm has eased and now the Fleet runs before a strong wind that blows unceasingly from the east. In the constant gales the Dromannion forges into the waves, its bow digging deep into the swell as we race towards our goal. At all sides the ships of our number surge forward, the wind pushing us further into the unknown waters of this western ocean. Ahead there is nothing but the sharp line of the horizon and the promise of a salvation that is yet to be realised. Somewhere out beyond that horizon stands the Sentinels of the Ashgard, and we all wait in anticipation to discover what they are, and how they will ensure our passage to the New World. There is something out there, of this I am sure. In my dreaming hours I listen to Harriengael and find the vision of vast stone pillars returning to my thoughts. Again these towers of stone have entered my dreams and I have no doubt that they are connected in some way to what is ahead.
On this Two hundred and twenty-eighth day of our journey I can report that the NomDruse remain stoic in their reluctance to leave their Cresh, and that a single Kreel has begun to follow the Fleet. It was noticed in the early hours of the morning and has maintained a station some distance behind the trailing vessels of our number. There seems to be no malevolent intent, the creature happy to ride the winds in the east and do little but call out every so often. For the Captain though, it has proven enough of a threat that he has kept two of the ballistas manned at all times.
Day Two hundred and forty-six
Eighteen days have passed since my last entry and the winds have not yet abated. We have encountered no new obstacles to our progress westwards, and I am grateful to report that there have been no new sightings of the Behemoths either. My duties remain as they have been. The NomDruse children provide me with little time for rest and although I will not yet confess it to Faren, I have given up on any further attempt at trying to coax them from their quarters.
These past weeks have shown me that it is not that the children do not wish to leave their Cresh, it is that they cannot. Something is holding them within, and the closer we move to the Sentinels the greater a hold it takes upon them. I have seen with my own eyes how relaxed and at ease the children are within their quarters, yet there is now no inclination shown by any of them to leave. It is as if the very idea of going above decks has been swept from their memory, and replaced with an overriding need to remain below. Of all the things I have seen on this voyage it is indeed the strangest.
We are travelling in strange waters these days. I do not know if there are others aboard who feel the same as myself, but there is something on the winds now that reeks of change. The gales have blown us at speed towards the western horizon and we have covered more than twelve hundred leagues since my last entry. The winds carry us onwards and with each league that passes beneath our bow I can feel something immense moving towards us. I cannot help but believe that it is the Sentinels, and the feeling grows that they are some type of barrier, a divider between the Old World and the New. The words of Harriengael are becoming clearer in my mind, and all the knowledge of his teachings tells me that we are nearing the outer border of the influence of the Hev'duil. I can only hope that we do not find the edge of the world when we reach it.
Day Two hundred and forty-seven
The morning has come to find the sky crowded with Kreel. The single beast that had been following our ships has now been joined by dozens of the huge lizard-creatures, and in their multitude they circle the Fleet like carrion-birds surveying a carcass. All the weapons that we have at our disposal have been manned and readied for any attack but as of yet they have only maintained a position outside the range of our ballistas. Neither the Maturi nor the Captain can guess at their purpose and we can do nothing except remain vigilant.
Day Two hundred and forty-eight
This day has passed with no diminishing of the wind. It is the general belief of the Officers of this ship that we have entered an airstream powered not by weather systems or climate, but by an unknown force that wishes to propel us with all speed to the Sentinels. The Amberdene have now disappeared from view completely. The scoutships report no sightings of their lights for the past six days and since we have become caught within these winds have seen them only infrequently. It would seem that we have been blown beyond their domain, and beyond the reach of their protection. We are once again alone in the deep ocean.
I must report that the numbers of the Kreel have increased considerably. Many now circle the Fleet but many more have flown off into the west, beyond the horizon and far from our sight. There is a purpose and a direction to their actions which leaves us all in fear of their intentions. With so many of the creatures now about us I cannot help but wonder if the dreams of the Kreel and the deadly pillars of rising stone were indeed prophecies of our doom. Logic and reason seem to have fled as we speed westwards and rumours infest the Dromannion of what we might find in the New World.
Day Two hundred and forty-nine
This morning has seen the wind weaken, and with its lessening the Kreel have begun to move in closer. Some shots have been fired, much to the protestation of the Maturi, but it could not be helped. The creatures seem intent on testing the range of our defences, and having drawn fire from a number of vessels have kept station just outside the reach of our ballistas. With many eyes focused on the Kreel there has been little activity aboard except for the routine of the crew as they keep the Dromannion on its course. We have seen nothing of the Amberdene except for a single sighting of a light in the north just after midnight. The Behemoths are gone as well and I wonder if we have had no further sign of the Pathfinders because there is nothing further they can do to protect the Fleet. It is in my mind that we are going to have to deal with the Kreel ourselves.
Day Two hundred and fifty
The Kreel continue to gather in a large flock beyond the range of our defences in the east. More of the creatures have flown into the west ahead of us, and there is a general belief growing that an attack is imminent. Why these monsters should find the need to assault us now, when we have been overlooked by them for most of our voyage, is a mystery that will probably remain unanswered. In this matter we can only maintain our vigilance and hope that their flight is simply a coincidence that will see them depart without harm.
I can note that our blacksmith has been hard at work on a new weapon. The appearance of the Kreel has given impetus to a new type of ballista bolt that I have seen fitted to a number of the Dromannion's weapons. What it does is unknown to me. It is my hope that we will never need to find out.
The Kreel are magnificent creatures though, and on this I have found some agreement amongst my fellow crewmen. For all the malevolence of their nature they are beasts of the air after all, and will no doubt act according to the imperatives of their instinct. I would hate to see any of them destroyed if we must defend ourselves, but we too must act according to our own instincts, and I am sure I will not hesitate to kill one if it is necessary.
I have had some time to spend watching the huge lizards wheeling their way at our stern and it has become clear that they truly have mastered the art of flight. On wide leathery wings the Kreel glide upon the upper winds, turning in wide circles as they keep their position at our backs. One of the Kreel is most interesting. Larger than the rest it remains separate from the flock, and does seem to dislike the company of its brethren. Unlike the others, which are in general coloured in a drab grey-green mottling, this creature has wide flashes of white and blue along its neck and wings. As it rides the air currents I have formed the impression that it is following us for reasons far different from the rest. It seems to be watching the Dromannion in particular.
Although the Kreel have been the focus of our attention I must record an important event in my attempts to master the powers of Shalengael. In the evening of the night past I was on the foredeck, seeking a few moments of quiet before making my way back to my quarters. As has become the usual circumstance I could feel at my back the gaze of four pairs of eyes diligently guarding my position. I must admit my dwarvendim guards are good at what they do. For most of the day I am unaware of their presence, and in the jostle of a normal day they remain discreet but attentive.
The shadows of the night had found me alone upon the foredeck, and in the gloom I settled upon the forecastle decking and watched the rise and fall of the ocean as the Dromannion ran before a light breeze. Overhead Elanna and Shabel shined down through an overcast of high cloud and scudding cumulus that moved quickly in front of the moons, leaving them surrounded by a halo of silver light. With this vista before me the words of Harriengael came into my thoughts and his words startled me. It was the first time that I had heard the voices in a time of wakefulness and to my further surprise the man was addressing me directly.
Into my mind came a flood of knowledge, of strange words and arcane rituals that seemed ancient and ambiguous. One part however, gave me pause to raise my hand and concentrate of the air just in front of my fingertips. In my mind there came a vision of a small spinning vortex of light, and immediately the same spiralling glow appeared before me. It was a revelation that provided the key to unleashing the power of the Gaels and I tested it immediately.
Before me the ocean ran as a dark waterscape of rising water and reflective whitecaps that sparkled silver under the light of the moons. In my mind I visualised a wide wave of air moving across the surface of the high cloud overhead, and sure enough the wispy overcast moved as smoke might if disturbed by a waving hand. It was a clumsy attempt but it had my pulse racing. In a moment of thoughtlessness I waved my hand across the face of the moons and found the cloud parting in a wide swathe that immediately brought a gasp of astonishment from one of the dwarvendim guards. Carefully I withdrew the power I had raised and returned to my quarters. I have no doubt that what the guards witnessed will be communicated quickly to the Maturi.
Day Two hundred and fifty-one
It is said in the lands of Cembria that dreams should never be ignored, to disregard their hidden truths is a folly that all men ultimately pay a price for. It can also be said that men of reason such as ourselves have learned much on our voyage, and we were in no danger of ignoring our dreams. It has come to pass on this day that we have found our worst nightmares in the waking world, and have fought a battle the better prepared for having taken notice.
In the hour after midnight of the night past, a warning flare rose high into the sky over our scoutships. It was an orange spark of colour that arched out to the north and quickly brought a response from our Captain. Our forward ballistas fired four flares into the night, their trails spluttering against the wind before exploding high above the leading ships. The sight that greeted us left all on deck wondering if we had just stepped into our worst fears.
Within the bright spheres of light we could see clearly ahead the six scoutships drawing close together. The lead vessel, the Janielle, was abutted against a huge pillar of dark stone, and even as we watched it burst into flames.
Above the rush of a strong wind those of us who had been roused from sleep could hear the distinct, terrifying sound of splintering wood, and of the cries of men as they fought the flames. But this was only a foretaste of the scene that opened before us. In the light of the descending flares, and the growing conflagration of the Janielle, it became clear that there lay before us a wide barrier of pillars and jagged outcrops of stone, thrusting from the waters like daggers and bludgeons.
The Janielle was sinking and as the orders were given to abandon ship the other scouts crowded in to pick up the survivors. It was then that a greater trap was unleashed. From out of the scudding cloud above there came a long screech that echoed out into the pillars ahead, which was then answered by a torrent of urgent responses. Out of the darkness there arose hundreds of Kreel, and as one they descended upon the Fleet.
I can say that in that instant of realisation everything became clear to me. The reasons why the creatures had been gathering, and the constant vigil of their number at our rear, had been for the sole purpose of our demise. But as I watched I sensed there was something else on the wind, a driving malevolence that we had hoped had been left behind in the rubble of Corin'kraag. Even as I gripped the handle of my axe I could feel the hatred of an all-controlling energy reaching across the great distances of the Grey Sea to bring destruction upon us. It was not the Kreel that were attacking us, it was the Enemy.
At that moment of impending catastrophe there was no order given, no word of command uttered. The Captain stood upon the wheeldeck aghast as the multitude of huge creatures erupted from the pillars and raced for the many ships that had come to a halt before the impassable barrier. It was a delay that could only last a moment. From the Captain there came the command for all hands to be armed, and then the order to fire. Instantly the forward ballistas opened up with their new bolts, and in the darkness I saw the sky itself erupt in flame. In long silent arcs the bolts flew out into the midst of the advancing Kreel before detonating in a ball of explosive debris. Even from the deck of the Dromannion I could hear the whistling flight of hundreds of small pieces of shrapnel as they cut through the air, and then tore into the bodies of the reptiles.
At our right and left the Avernell and the Castaal also unleashed this new weapon, and they were quickly followed by all the other ships within the Fleet that were armed. The detonation of this onslaught of bolts cut the air into a haze of flying metal and falling bodies. In the light of the battle I could see the Kreel falling from the sky, torn to pieces and dead, or spiralling down upon broken wings to hit the sea and drown. As I watched I could see the arcing bolts as they left their ships and the deafening blasts as the projectiles exploded in the air before us. But it was not enough to stop the Kreel.
From within the clouds of flying metal many of the creatures persisted in their onslaught upon the ships, angling down in steep descents as they strove to reach their targets. In desperation the ballista crews reloaded with normal bolts and began picking off the Kreel one by one, sickening explosions tearing the beasts to pieces as they disappeared within erupting balls of flame. But still they came, their numbers too great to withstand with the ballistas alone. Quickly the Captain realised he would have to defend his ship in close combat.
The first of the Kreel landed upon the Dromannion and immediately became tangled in the shroud-lines between the foremast and the midmast. Without a secure footing it thrashed viciously against its restraints and succeeded only in tearing down the rigging and falling onto the middeck, its thrashing form netted within a morass of rope and sail. The dwarvendim finished the beast off with axes and then found themselves immediately under attack by another of the creatures that landed clumsily upon the foredeck.
In truth I believed at this time that we had met our doom. After all the travail of our passage it was now that we were to meet an adversary that could not be overcome. How wrong I was. From all corners of the ship every man and women who could wield axe or cudgel descended upon the Kreel and hammered it into oblivion. Men were lost in that struggle but no time was given by our enemy to rejoice at this small victory. Even as we pushed the second Kreel's body over the side two more of the beasts landed upon our topmasts and began tearing at the sails. The crowsnest was thrown down, and with it came four men who were smashed upon the middeck. With shrouds and ratlines collapsing in heaps around us, the forward ballista crews loaded solid bolts and shot the creatures off the mastheads.
Immediately more of the Kreel made for the ship, and as we waited those few moments for their next attack I was able to look out over the Fleet and witness a scene of devastation. Almost every ship was under assault, the winged reptiles intent on tearing away our ability to continue. The Avernell continued to fire its ballistas, long arcs of sputtering fire exploding against beasts in the air, and everywhere there was fire, obscuring the battle within veils of smoke and darkness.
For the remainder of the night so did the battle continue, the Kreel assaulting both ship and crew, dealing out death and destruction but always we beat them off. It was only with the rising of the suns that the creatures relented and rose up to disappear into the east. What has been left behind is carnage.
The light of the morning sky has greeted us and we have survived, but the cost has been great. At all sides the Fleet closes upon the Dromannion and the damage caused by the Kreel is evident to all. There is not a ship that has not suffered damage, and six wallow in the swell, their passengers and crew abandoning them to the depths. I cannot say yet how many of our number have been lost, but only three of the scoutships have returned, the fate of the others is unknown to me.
Day Two hundred and fifty-two
A day has passed since we have beaten off the Kreel and thankfully they have not returned. There has been no sign of their number and for this we are most thankful. The Fleet cannot continue on until repairs are made, and our losses have been such that it will be many days yet before we will be able to return to our voyage. It is not going to be an easy task.
Ahead of us stand the pillars, their enormous forms thrusting from the water in a wide barrier to the north and south of where we now lay at anchor. The Fleet is gathered close and all ships that are armed now form a loose defensive ring about us. Providence has granted us a fine day without wind and in the calm we have begun to determine what we must now do.
It is hard to look upon the remains of our Fleet and not despair at the damage wrought by the Kreel. Nine ships have been lost, more than half the Fleet dismasted or damaged in some way. The sea remains a wreckage of broken wood, torn sails, and the carcasses of an unknown number of dead Kreel. Their bodies float amongst the hulls of our ships as an undeniable reminder of what we have endured, and it is to the numbering of our dead that we have spent the greater part of this day. Some four hundred of our number have perished and it is impossible to ascertain yet the full measure of those who are injured. We are in desperate straits, our ships broken, our resolve crumbling as the enormity of our losses are uncovered. If the Kreel attack again we will be finished.
Day Two hundred and fifty-three
Against the backdrop of the pillars we have begun to reconstitute our Fleet. Ten ships have been deemed unseaworthy and are to become the raw materials needed to repair the rest. Whether we can remain here has been a matter of some dispute. Providence has favoured us in that the winds have remained light and we have been able to remain at a distance from the pillars. What we have found within the jutting outcrops of stone has given pause to us all, and it has been decided that the Fleet will move further to the north to effect repairs.
With the return of the Equinox has come stories of a ships graveyard within the pillars. Beyond the remains of the Janielle, the Arboron and the Graemor there can be seen the splintered shells of dozens of vessels, all smoothed and weathered by long years of exposure. Captain Rendell has said that most are unrecognisable, being of ancient and unknown design, and it can only be assumed that there have been many explorers that have fallen victim to these stony teeth. How it is that they are not mentioned by Caren'thal the Younger can only mean that he missed them on his journey and therefore there must be a way around them. The Equinox has been sent this afternoon to find that way.
Day Two hundred and fifty-eight
Repairs to the Fleet continue, and we have seen nothing further of the Kreel. In an attempt to move as far as possible from the pillars we have slowly made our way northwards, taking those ships that cannot sail under tow, and now we wait for the return of the Equinox as we work upon the ships. The Dromannion remains heavily damaged, having lost its main masthead and a third of its sail and rigging. I have been told that repairs can be made but that they will take at least a week to affect. It is a delay that constrains most of the other damaged ships and for the moment there is little we can do but work the repairs and continue cannabalising rope, sail and timbers from those ships that are to be left behind.
The loss of so many vessels has seen a major shift in the numbers aboard the remaining ships. Gone are the quarters given with the leaving of the Midreach. All the Healer's Assistants must now find comfort in a single room below the foredeck. Gone is Faren's library as well, its contents packed and stored away for safekeeping. Even the NomDruse have been required to give up a part of their Cresh as space has been acquired for the accommodation of a further one hundred and fifty souls aboard. And there is no time for relaxation. I have found myself fully employed in the treatment of the injured, and all available hands have been laid to the task of making the ship seaworthy once again. In these endeavours time is against us. We cannot afford another storm whilst under repair and our food cannot last forever. By all accounts there is more than a month's food in storage but we do not yet know how much farther we must travel. Until the ships are repaired every passing day brings us closer to half-rations and then starvation.
Day Two hundred and fifty-nine
At midday we have seen the return of the Equinox. I have been told by Faren that there is indeed a passage to the north-west, one that will take us beyond these treacherous waters and out into the deep ocean. Captain Rendell has brought news also of a great rushing noise that resounds from the west. He cannot tell what it is, but he says it has the same distant roar that one might find near a great waterfall, although he cannot see how this might be. Most who have heard of this discovery have taken it as an omen of land ahead, and it has served to redouble our efforts. What has not been so openly talked about is the thin line of grey that extends across the entire western horizon. It apparently has the look of a great storm building, but as of yet has not moved in our direction.
The repairs progress well aboard ship. Much has been done to restore the damage caused by the Kreel, and the transfer of people and goods between ships has kept us all busy. Below decks the treatment of the injured has proven a daunting duty. Thirty-one crew and passengers were killed during the battle but almost one hundred were injured to some degree. I have been given responsibility for fourteen patients and their care has kept me below decks for most of the day. Apart from one crewman who has suffered a crushing injury to his arm the remainder are only lightly wounded, but all are in danger of infection and the cleaning of their wounds requires considerable diligence.
It is to my fortune that one of my patients is Lanja Narris. Although it is regrettable that she was injured it has given me the opportunity to provide care and attention to her in repayment for her efforts whilst I was injured at Auren'dael. I can report here however, that she has proven a most difficult patient, one who resists all attempts at care and treatment unless it is myself who administers them. Why it is that the dwarvendim might wish only my attention is just one more small mystery that I will need to uncover before this voyage has ended.
When I have the time I have also been returning to my duties with the NomDruse. Since the attack by the Kreel they have become even more withdrawn and now spend most of their day seated in small circles of eleven, murmuring to themselves in the tongues of the Haarn, and pausing only to take food and toilet themselves. None of them will say what is the purpose of their meditations, and in the gloom of their Cresh they remain transfixed upon one another, neither moving nor speaking in normal conversation. I believe now that their behaviour has become so aberrant that I may be forced to break up their number and remove them to different parts of the ship. I can see in their manner a process of reinforcement that sees each new level of withdrawal by one mirrored in the behaviour of all, and it is leading them inexorably to a place where none of us will be able to follow. Although I have developed a great affection for the children I fear that there is nobody within the Fleet who can help them. I have talked at length with Faren and he has nothing to offer. Something must be done but there is precious little time available to do it.
It is a great worry to me.
Day Two hundred and sixty-one
After an effort that has lasted day and night since the assault by the Kreel we have finally repaired all the vessels of the Fleet. None have remained undamaged by the battle but our ships have been repaired to a level that will allow us to continue on. Captain Duschet does not appear satisfied with the state of some of his ships but there can be no denial that we must now move onwards. The exploration by the Equinox has found our way into the west and there is nothing but the possibility of another attack by the Kreel if we remain to the east of the pillars. At midday the Fleet raised anchors and with a light southerly at our backs we have returned to our journey.
Day Two hundred and sixty-three
Two days have passed since our return to sail and we have successfully negotiated our way through a wide gap in the pillars of stone. How far they might extend to the north and south is unknown, but we have made a path along a passage smashed through the stone outcrops. It is beyond our knowledge as to what titanic force might have created the strait that we passed through but it left a beckoning split in the pillars wide enough to navigate safely.
It is on the morning of this day however, that our world has become all the stranger. To the west the horizon is an unbroken line of cloud that looms before us, and grows more formidable as we approach. The noise reported by the Equinox grows also, its roar an unending roil of sound that has become so loud that it overwhelms all the other sounds of the world. We move further westwards and with each league the grey line of the clouds ahead grow taller, the sky darkening at its edges as if it is soaking up the light of the heavens themselves. But this not all that now confronts us.
To the north and south of the Fleet a great multitude of sea-serpents now keep pace with our vessels. Vast in number the creatures slip through the waters at our sides, keeping parallel to our course but ensuring we do not deviate from a heading just north of west. The serpents are herding us to a point against the far horizon but have as yet shown no malicious intent. They do not travel close, instead they keep at a sufficient distance to allow us to navigate our way but close enough to keep us to the course they have chosen. We cannot turn back, and we cannot risk a collision with the huge creatures if we try and change our direction. They are taking us somewhere and we have no choice but to follow.
In the bluster of the wind the Dromannion keeps to its course and the Fleet follows in its wake. Only the Equinox remains in the vanguard, keeping station ahead of the Fleet as we approach the roaring bank of cloud ahead. It is difficult to tell how long it will be before we reach the Sentinels. I can only assume that the serpents are either taking us there, or leading us to our doom.
Although the world outside of the hull of the Dromannion grows stranger with each passing hour, I can record here that circumstances below decks have also become all the more unusual as well. The NomDruse have locked themselves within what remains of their Cresh and have resisted all attempts at entry. I have stood at their door and tried to negotiate for the door to be opened and have succeeded only in making the children more hardened in their resolve to let no one in. I can hear little through the door and have no idea what is going on within the Cresh. It makes a strange world all the more mysterious, and I have decided to leave the NomDruse to their own devices for the moment. Soon enough they will become hungry enough, and the door will open.
Before I close my journal on this day I must record one final note of importance. In the night past the voices have stopped. The words of Harriengael have faded from my mind, and with his departure I have found myself once again contending only with the solitude of my own inner voice. I do not know why but the lessons have ceased, and in the night hours have left me with the barest of understandings of how the power of Shalengael should be used. I feel unprepared for what must lay ahead and find myself unable to do anything but play with the clouds overhead. I can only trust that the Gael knew what he was doing.
Day Two hundred and sixty-four
Today has been spent under sail, a stiff wind at our backs pushing us closer to the roiling tempest that now blots out the entire horizon ahead, and which has now extended its swirling canopy completely across the western hemisphere of the sky. The great roar remains unabated, and the heavy smell of ash now hangs upon the air. It is a fume that has made all work above decks difficult, each laboured breath a task of its own that restricts everyone to the barest of duties. We are but a day's sail from the edge of this maelstrom and still we are being shepherded by the sea-serpents towards it. In the semi-darkness of our world it seems as if we are being drawn to the very edge of the world.
As strange as the days of our passage towards the gloom ahead may seem, I must record that some mysteries have not endured. In the quiet of the early morning the sea-serpents revealed to us their true identity. They are indeed the Amberdene, our saviours from the menace of the Behemoths, and our guides into the west of the world. Just before the rising of the suns this morning these vast creatures uncovered themselves, the sea at both sides of the Fleet erupting in long lines of light that blazoned a path in the sea towards the west. In the darkness of the pre-dawn the serpent's body began to shine in myriad points of light, their forms creating a clearly-defined path for the Fleet as we moved ever closer to the uncertainty ahead. All look to the torment before us and wonder at its purpose but we follow the Amberdene because there is nowhere else to go, and in this world they are the only allies we have. May Providence grant us the strength to survive whatever is to follow.
Day Two hundred and sixty-five
The night has passed without incident and the Fleet has awoken to find the Sentinels of the Ashgard directly ahead. In the distant smouldering fogs three immense statues of pure black obsidian stand immutable within the swirling vapours of the Ashgard. We stand no more than a few hours sail from the bases of these monstrous statues and they tower over us, reaching high into the tortured vapours that rise in plumes from beneath the ocean's surface. In this unnatural world I cannot decide which is the most impressive, the Sentinels that tower before us, or the vast barrier of gushing ash that stands as a complete barrier to any movement forward.
I have no doubt that we have reached the Ashgard. What we had thought from a distance was a wide bank of swirling cloud has proven to be a far more deadly barrier. From the edge of the horizon in the south to the farthest reaches of the north a huge wall of rising ash bars our way forward. It explodes from the surface of the ocean, boiling at the water's edge before racing upwards in solid plumes of tortured ash that spread out at altitude overhead. The violence of its energies are difficult to endure even at this distance and yet we must find a way through. That is if indeed there is any world on the other side to find.
The Sentinels are no less impressive. Each statue is a vast construction of pure black stone, shrouded within the rushing vapours of the Ashgard. Of the three it is the central figure that stands nearest. Against the backdrop of swirling ash it is a robed figure of a being with its arms extended outwards, facing the east and gesturing to those who might encounter it to halt. Its face is hooded and it stands as unidentifiable as any of the other great statues we have encountered on our journey. To the north and south of its form stands two further Sentinels, the southern pointing into the west, the northern pointing to the east. Between each of the Sentinels there lays a distance of no more than a third of a league and all stand engulfed within the raging plumes of ash. We have come to a dividing point in the world and I have no idea how we are to go beyond it.
In the spreading gloom the Fleet has come to a stop, all our ships gathering close as the Captains of all vessels come together to determine how we should answer this new challenge. I am not sure that any words will be sufficient to show how we might overcome such an unexpected maelstrom, but I have heard from Faren that the Maturi Hedj has something to say, something it is rumoured that will show us the way forward. As the day grows longer we must all wait to see what will be decided.
Day Two hundred and sixty-six
The night has passed and a vision has once again visited me in the dark hours. The voices of Harriengael and his brethren have long since left me, but this dream labours within my thoughts, a wide panorama of portent and action that I cannot ignore. In my dreams I have seen the way through the Ashgard.
It was the visage of the Maturi Hedj that first came to my sleeping hours. As a being robed in brilliant blue he stood before me, the words of Harriengael a flowing tide of knowledge and ritual that carefully filtered down to one single thought, "think it and it shall be". Again and again the thought reverberated through my unconscious mind until it overwhelmed me, and at that moment of subjugation a new vision rose up out of a pool of shining blue light.
I saw myself standing on the foredeck of the Dromannion, arms raised and the great roaring facade of the Ashgard being drawn aside as Shalengael's power fought to make a passage through. Beyond the rushing maelstrom lay clear skies and the promise of a new beginning for the remnants of the Free Nations. Clearly I could see what must be done. It is the power I have held close that must now be used to open the way ahead.
When I awoke from this revelation I found myself alone within our quarters. Out in the corridors I could hear the second mates rousing the next watch and I hurried to dress and get ready for the day. It was as I went to open the door to our room that I found the Maturi standing with his hand outstretched just about to knock. I can say it was a surprise but one compounded by his opening words. In the night he had experienced the same dream as I. It was time now to see the Captain and test whether the plans of Shalengael would see us through to the New World.
Without time to utter a word of caution or objection I was taken to the wheeldeck and presented to the Captain of the Fleet. To his credit Duschet listened to what the Maturi had to say, and then spent more than a few minutes looking out over the vast expanse of the Ashgard. It was a truth that he could not deny that none of his meetings with the other Captains had brought any solution to how they were to get through. He had no options and now the dwarvendim had brought one of his own Healer's Assistants as the answer. It was a stroke of Providence that he could not ignore, and in his own mind he knew that he had nothing to lose. It was decided without further discussion that there must be an attempt at breaching the Ashgard and that it should not be delayed any further than is necessary.
Within the hour I shall attempt to draw aside the rushing plumes of the Ashgard. Whether I have the strength for it is unknown to me. The Maturi is busy with his preparations for the attempt, and although I do not know what it is that he is doing it has given me an opportunity to sit and write these few words. I look at the great torment that extends across our horizon and I can only wonder at what it will take to breach it. Hopefully I shall survive to tell the tale.
Day Two hundred and seventy-one
There is much of what has happened in the past four days that remains a dark void within which I remember little. In these first waking hours since I lapsed into unconsciousness I have been trying to recollect my thoughts, and in that endeavour make some sense of the images and feelings that exist in my mind only as a tangle. The Ashgard has been breached and in the quiet of this morning I can sense that the Fleet sails once again into the west, a favourable breeze taking us closer to the New World. And close it is. I cannot explain fully what I feel but there has been a change in the forces of the world. No longer do I sense power on the wind. Now the power dwells far below the surface of the sea, lying as a tangible force in the bedrock of the world. In one matter I am absolutely certain, the Ashgard was indeed a barrier, a point of contact between two immense forces of nature that cannot coexist. Beyond the plumes of the Ashgard the Hev'duil no longer holds sway and in its place there is a new power here, one that is unknown to any of us. But all of this pales beside the discovery that I have made upon waking. Shalengael is alive.
At first the images that came to me as I awoke were nothing but scattered forms of light and dark, moving shadows that slowly became recognisable as my eyes adjusted to the gloom of a darkened surgery. I found the northerner standing at the foot of the bed, his forehead creased with concern, his voice hoarse as he spoke quietly with Lanja Narris at his side. I remember that I smiled at Lanja, who then moved quickly to my side but the sight of Shalengael standing there, frail but alive, and dressed in the simple robes of a Healer's Assistant had me searching for something to say. I must admit that I was in a state that did not allow clear thought, and it has only been with the help of others that I have been able to sit and take food.
It is amazing how the act of eating can focus the mind. As I sat and considered a small plate of bread and dried meat a tide of memories flooded back to me, and within that tide the breaching of the Ashgard became clear. At midday I had attended with the Maturi a meeting with the Captains of the Fleet. The plan as it was, entailed drawing the entire fleet into an extended line behind the Dromannion and then wait for the circumstances that would allow passage through. It was the opinion of the Maturi that we had been drawn to the Sentinels for a reason, and that it would be between their immense forms that we should attempt to push aside the Ashgard. This was to be our plan of action and it would be up to myself to provide the means.
In truth I cannot remember what I was thinking as I made my way to the foredeck. The Ashgard rose before us as a solid curtain of rushing ash and steaming water, and before such unrestrained power there could not be much that could be done. But I was going to try anyway. With the Maturi at my side I stood upon the rocking foredeck of the ship and began to feel the power of the Gaels building within me.
It is this that I remember most clearly. In my mind I reached out towards the Ashgard, tentatively testing the powers that confronted me and found them to be overwhelming. The first touch echoed through my thoughts as if I had been hit by the full force of a thundering waterfall and it threw me backwards onto the hard planking of the ship. The Maturi helped me back to my feet and he began to say something, but it was drowned by the roaring of the Ashgard. In that moment of failure I remembered something that Shalengael had said many months before. The power of the Gaels he had explained, could move a mountain as easily as lift a teacup from a table. Its strength was proportionate to the thing that was needed to be done. All I had to do was think it.
With the help of the Maturi I lashed myself to the foremast of the Dromannion and began to once again reach out to the Ashgard. This time however, I did not imagine my hand pulling aside the rushing plumes as one might a curtained window. This time the image that filled my thoughts was of a great arched passage opening between the two nearest Sentinels. It was the key needed by the power of the Gaels to unleash itself.
In a coruscation of blue light all the energy that had been building within me over the preceding months exploded outwards in a spinning vortex of colour that burrowed deep into the Ashgard, throwing its steaming plumes outwards and forming a deep cavity within the fuming barrier. I could feel the power leaving me, its energy focusing on the task of forcing a passage through the Ashgard. Even as it flooded from me I knew that it would not be enough though. The energies arrayed against the blue vortex were immense and I could feel it beginning to falter, its own energy dissipating as the strength of my own will began to weaken. Alone I was not able to do it. Then I felt a small hand touch my own.
Eylish was standing beside me and from somewhere deep within her the same blue light erupted outwards, coursing through her hand into mine, merging with the growing vortex and pushing ever deeper into the Ashgard. As close as I was I could not see the other children of the NomDruse standing behind her, hands interlocked as a vast power arose from them all, travelling along the chain of hands before finding its way into the vortex. In a growing conflagration of blue energy the vortex spun faster, spewing huge amounts of ash and water outwards into the surrounding sea.
It was a titanic battle between two forces and with the added power of the NomDruse it was the Hev'duil that won through. Within the maelstrom of the Ashgard a sliver of open sea grew, expanding outwards, forming a wide arch that split the fuming ash and forced a passage through to the other side. In that moment of triumph the order was given and the first of the Fleet made their way into the breach. First went the Equinox, followed then by the Avernell and the Kalborea. One by one the ships of the Fleet passed beyond the dominion of the Hev'duil, and with each passing the battle to keep the breach open became more difficult. Even as I forced my will to the task of keeping the roiling arch open I could feel powers building within the Ashgard. It was about to fight back.
From somewhere far beneath the waves an enormous surge of energy raced for the surface, an explosive detonation of unrestrained power that hammered at the fragile breach and threatened to close it. Within a new torrent of raging ash the archway held but it was at a cost. Quickly the energy that had grown within myself and the NomDruse was waning, and as it faltered the vortex drew upon the only source of power that remained to it. Me.
Only now, some four days after the event, can I piece together some idea of what happened in those last minutes that the breach remained open. I remember the last of the Fleet sailing into the arch, then the Dromannion also passing through. In those precious moments I could feel my life-force being dragged from my body, mingling with the swirling power of the vortex. So easily I could have been lost to it, but it was then that I sensed something else, another presence within the archway that took control of my consciousness and pulled me back onto the deck of the ship. Now I realise it was Shalengael, at the time I could only be grateful for the help.
Standing upon the deck of the Dromannion I felt the power of the Hev'duil falter. Quickly the combined energy of us all was drawing away, finding a new home within the vortex. It was then that I sensed the Maturi by my side. As the ship sailed through the great arch I heard him utter a few simple words into the tortured maelstrom. Above the roar of the Ashgard they rang out as clearly as a bell.
"ha'nabri shenum gallel"
For a moment I searched my thoughts. The words were familiar but old, as old as the world itself and I recognised them. "Life from nothingness." Immediately the breach in the Ashgard began to collapse behind us. The Fleet was through but the Dromannion still sailed within the passage and as I watched the Ashgard reasserted itself, overwhelming the vortex and once again rushing upwards, closing the breach and quickly advancing upon us. I did not understand the intent of the Maturi's words but the effect proved immediate. The power that had kept the breach open had been diverted to a new cause, one that now concentrated all the energy that remained to myself and the NomDruse on a tightly forming vortex hovering upon the middeck of the Dromannion. The shift in power from the breach to the ship tore at my concentration, sending me into a swirling vertigo that left me with nowhere to go but into oblivion. My last memories of that day are of being wrapped in darkness, falling like a stone into a bottomless well of unconsciousness.
Four days now lay between our passing through the Ashgard and my awakening. My mind has cleared and I can record here that I no longer have any sign of the power of the Gaels within me. We sail in a different world now, where the sea and sky are the same but the powers of the Gaels have no place. I have had only one opportunity to go above decks and in truth I see no difference in the world beyond the Ashgard, but I feel a great heaviness that draws my thoughts down into the ocean deeps beneath me. There is something dwelling within the foundations of this new world that is somehow familiar and yet alien. For the moment however, I can find no energy to spare on thinking about it. Later I will have to find Shalengael. He has much to explain, and I feel that I am owed an explanation.
Day Two hundred and seventy-three
On this two hundred and seventy-third day of our voyage I can report that I have been judged fit enough to return to my duties. The Fleet sails before a brisk easterly wind, and we now track just north of west on a heading that we hope will take us quickly to a landfall in the New World. I have been told that the currents have changed, turning from a warm westerly flow to a cooler southern stream. For myself this means little, but to the Captain it indicates that a substantial landmass must rest somewhere ahead of us. The flight of sea-birds into the west also brings hope that we are indeed on the right track and it seems that barring disaster we will achieve our voyage's end and find the sanctuary that we have so long sought.
I have found as I return to my duty as guardian of the NomDruse that these cannot be the same children I left within their Cresh before the breaching of the Ashgard. Early in the morning hours I went to their quarters to find it empty and only one flustered matron desperately trying to clear away their belongings. It would seem that a great weight has been lifted from the children, and with that impediment gone have become as boisterous, and as mischievous, as any child of Adoracia. Currently I do not know the whereabouts of half of them, and have been fielding a long litany of complaints, and complainants, regarding their activities aboard ship. It would seem that I have become custodian not of children gripped in the embrace of an unknown malady, but of urchins bereft of discipline and running amok aboard ship. I can only say that a new set of difficulties have replaced the old, and in this matter I am going to look to Shalengael for deliverance. I have no experience with children and although the responsibility is mine it will be to the northerner that I have to find guidance.
Of the northerner I have seen nothing. Since he stood at my bedside I have been unable to talk to him, but I have been informed that he resides in the custody of the Maturi at this time. I have found no useful information yet on his return to the Dromannion, and I have much to ask him on what he had done to myself, and even more importantly the NomDruse. The power that he instilled within me has gone but the knowledge of the Gaels, imparted by the words of Harriengael remains deeply etched into my memory. I have seen the extent of their knowledge and as an adult can accept gladly what has been given, but I worry for the NomDruse. It is my hope that he did not put them through the same intrusion for I fear that such knowledge could harm them.
Aboard the Dromannion life continues to a practised routine that has all hands busy and purposeful. The weather remains fine, the sky a vault of clear blue broken only by wisps of high cloud and a cool wind that blows out of the north-east. We have seen no sight of land yet, only the distant mirages of phantom peaks that appear against the horizon and then disappear in the haze of the day. The New World is close. I can feel it.
Day Two hundred and eighty-one
Eight days has seen us becalmed upon the Grey Sea, the steady winds out of the north-west having left us to favour some other part of the world. As has been the case before we find ourselves at the mercy of the current, and it flows fast into the south-west drawing us away from the landfall we know must lay to the north. It is a harrowing time, born of frustration and boredom as we wait for the wind, but as of yet it has not come.
Day Two hundred and eighty-two
For the first time I have been able to speak with Shalengael. In the early hours of another day without wind I was awoken by the Shadar Len and taken to the forecastle where I found the northerner sitting alone in the crew's galley. It was only as he stood that I was taken aback by his diminished state, his form frail and aged as he held the galley table for support. He saw my look of concern and waved it aside as if there was nothing to worry on. I was not convinced.
Carefully he returned to his seat and motioned for me to take another chair opposite him. He had the look of someone who had been drained to the point of collapse but his eyes shone just as they always had. When he saw that I was seated he asked me directly if I had any questions. For most of the morning I asked him of his purposes regarding the power he had placed within me and his use of the NomDruse children to breach the Ashgard. Quickly he dispelled any fears I had on having done harm to the NomDruse but his answer only begged further questioning.
The knowledge of the Gaels can only be given from one to whoever will take their place, and in this manner it was Shalengael's intention that upon his ultimate demise I should replace him as the only living Gael. With no power beyond the Ashgard it was a gift of knowledge only, and it was his hope that I would take it into the New World. Such knowledge was now also the property of the NomDruse and would be passed down to each of their descendants in turn. It was something that the northerner said could not be avoided. It was the cost that had to be paid in getting the entire Fleet beyond the Sentinels.
In truth the northerner had known of his fate long before he stood upon the foredeck of the Dromannion and bombarded the Straits of Shabel into oblivion. It was his duty to follow the dictates of the visions that pervaded every aspect of his waking life. He knew that the Fleet had to meet with the Kalboreans if it was to survive the attack by the Kreel. He knew that many of our number would settle in Auren'dael and that a reduced Fleet would be destroyed by the Behemoths if not for the Kalborean's knowledge of the Amberdene. Through all this he had found the path needed to make it thus far, but it was at the barrier of the Ashgard that his insight ended.
And it was the Ashgard that was his greatest fear. He knew that it would take all the power of the Hev'duil to force a passage through the raging barrier, yet the Ashgard was there for a purpose and that very purpose meant that no power of the Hev'duil could cross over into the New World. The Ashgard was indeed a barrier that separates one force of nature from the other. Nothing of either could cross over into the other's domain without shifting the balances of the entire world. Any attempt to do so could only end in catastrophe.
For many weeks he had thought on how to deliver the energy of the Hev'duil to the Ashgard and yet also extinguish it completely so that all the Fleet might pass beyond. In the end there was only one way. At the Straits of Shabel Shalengael consigned himself to oblivion, dispersing his energy into myself and the children of the NomDruse. No longer a physical presence in the world he could do nothing but wait for the Maturi to carry out his instructions, and trust that the voices would show myself and the NomDruse the way to breach the Ashgard. Only when the Fleet was through the barrier was the Maturi to then speak the words that would call the northerner back into the physical world. Such a task it seems takes far more power than sending someone into nothingness. All that remained of the magic of the Gaels would be consumed in the task of returning Shalengael to the world of the living, and the Dromannion could then pass through the Ashgard with the breach collapsing behind. It was a convoluted plan, but it had worked. I could not help feeling a little used though.
I talked with Shalengael for a time about the children and he promised that he would do what he could to temper their new-found energy. It is a curious thing but his return to the Dromannion has left him without power and much diminished in body. I asked him as to what he might now do and he just smiled and raised his hand. In it he had one of the white healer's robes. As soon as he has recovered from his weakness he is to return to our ranks as a simple Healer's Assistant. He does not appear to hold any regrets for the loss of his power. If anything it seems that it is a great weight that has been lifted from him, one that will have him living as an ordinary man once again.
At midday I left the northerner to his recuperation and returned to my own duties. The winds still elude us but a chill has come into the air once again. If there is any hope of our return to sail it now beckons against the eastern horizon as a dark line of cloud that moves slowly towards us. Perhaps we shall find within the encroaching storm the winds that will take us once again into the west.
Day Two hundred and eighty-three
The storm has come and we have found the winds needed to return to our voyage. In a crashing maelstrom of rain and scudding cloud the storm hit in the midnight hours and we have ran before its bluster, cutting a path once again into the west. The Fleet rides the storm as it moves westwards and even in the pitch and rise of the swell we are beginning to see sign of land close at hand. Plant matter and mats of torn seagrasses litter the rolling waves, the current now running swiftly to the south. Expectations now run high, we all feel the closeness of a landfall ahead. I can only hope that Providence will give us an end to our search for sanctuary.
Day Two hundred and eighty-four
In the night we have been revisited by the Fires of Ayari, and its portent as an omen of welcome news has been well received. It was to my fortune that I happened to be returning to my quarters after a late watch in the Surgery when the call came. Such apparitions are rare indeed, and with many others I made my way to the middeck to watch as the curious energies danced upon the rigging. For many minutes the blue and orange lights worked their way along wet shrouds and ratlines before dispersing in great arcs into the air overhead. Of all the natural phenomena I have seen whilst on this voyage, whether it be rainbow or stormy tempest, it is the Fires that I find most mysterious. Omens they may be, but how and why they appear is unknown to any of us. I can only hope that the old beliefs will prove correct, and that these strange conflagrations are indeed harbingers of good news.
This new day sees us riding the winds under a fair sky. With the coming of the Fires of Ayari all eyes now search the western horizon, the prospect of landfall a clear possibility. Since the early morning we have begun to see large numbers of birds on the wing, feeding in flocks to the north and east of our track. Most appear to be coastal birds and it is our hope that they have a nesting ground not too far ahead. Any high cliffs or outcrops favoured by such birds can only mean land close at hand.
We keep up our watch and await the call.
Day Two hundred and eighty-five
The call that we have waited for for so long has come, and in the late hours of this day land has been sighted in the north-west. Immediately we have changed course and now make for a long promontory of land that will provide shelter from the winds, and a landfall upon a long stretch of open beach and high dunes. Already we can see mountains beyond and a thick covering of forest that extends into their foothills. There is none amongst us who do not believe that this is the New World. Celebration has gripped all aboard, the excitement of our discovery a tonic that has infected us all with the anticipation of dry land and a new home. After two hundred and eighty-five days of voyage we have found the sanctuary we seek. May Providence give us the wisdom to treat this world kindly, and live in peace with whomever may already reside here.
Year Seven of settlement
Seven years have now passed since the Last Fleet of Men made landfall in the New World and there is one final entry that must be made if this journal is to be complete. It has been a time of great hardship and achievement but we have survived, and in this new land we have prospered. More than four thousand souls survived the voyage that took us beyond the reach of the Enemy, and now we have settled here, laying the foundations of a new civilisation far beyond the malevolence of the Enemy.
Only yesterday I was talking with my wife Lanja about the events of our passage and it put me to thinking on what I had done with this old journal. A good deal of searching found it stowed away, hidden within a small chest amongst a number of other items I had kept from the voyage. Wrapped within my old Healer's robes I found it safe but definitely the worse for wear. Worn and weathered it remained as familiar to me as the day I closed it for the last time, but as I read the last few pages I realised then that it was not complete. No journal of this type should simply end without a proper accounting of the fate of those whose lives were recorded within it. We made our crossing of the wide ocean and now, seven years from our landfall in the new world, it is time to put down a final entry on what has happened to those of us who made the journey.
In this seventh year of settlement the peoples of the Free Nations and the Haarn have made a life for themselves in the New World. Over four thousand souls arrived aboard the Fleet and at last count we now number five and a half thousand. Of the ships that made the voyage some sixteen are still in service, the remainder having no useful purpose for settlement being broken up for materials in the first year.
We have found for ourselves a wide virgin land but it has proven to be not exactly what we expected. The writings of Caren'thal the Younger recount a vast New World stretching from the highest latitudes of the north to the warm climes of the far south. In contrast to these writings our landfall was quickly discovered to be an island of some forty leagues breadth, situated to the south of a wide open land some two hundred leagues in extent. As is the custom of our peoples these new lands were named for those ships that first sighted them. The smaller island has been named Equinox, the larger Dromannion.
It is upon the wider lands of Dromannion that our efforts have focused for the past years. In the midst of its grass plains we have established farming communities, and a few important settlements that have the promise of becoming major towns in the future. All that we need has been found in this great land and I have no doubt that we shall prosper, but we have discovered much more here than open plains and high mountains. There are mysteries that lay buried within the deep earth of Dromannion, mysteries which are only now being uncovered. Such things are not for this journal however. They can be left for another time.
Of the peoples who have arrived in Dromannion it has been the Kalboreans who have proven most adventurous. Captain Wilbrims and the Castaal have been engaged in exploration of the coasts and have found Caren'thal's New World further to the west. The Captain has returned from his voyages with tales of a vast continent covered in deep forest, one that could shelter the entire civilisation of the Old World within its boundaries. In his reports I have read of ancient ruins, of strange creatures and verdant forests, and of a primitive people who call themselves the Oera'dim. This immense land has been named Arborell and for the moment remains an enigma that can wait to be uncovered. For many generations to come Dromannion shall prove more than enough of a challenge.
I can record here with some satisfaction that the Faeyen Guilds have been re-established and that as a Master Potter I have been instrumental in their formation. To facilitate the growth of commerce and the skills of our professions, the Administrators have allowed the building of a number of Trade Halls that have begun the education and training of young men and women as apprentices. I myself have three apprentices under my tutelage and am looking to indenture a fourth in the new year. It can be asked by those who may read this journal as to why it might be that I have returned to my old profession. Such are the vagaries of our existence that it proved very early that the number of Healers needed whilst at sea far exceeded that required once we had made landfall. As it was that I already had a Trade I chose to return to it and have not regretted the decision. The clays of Dromannion are a fine material for the making of quality pottery and I have found a good living in that pursuit. It is true that I still provide help to Ahlek Norahm in his Surgery in the town of Landfall, however his need for assistance has lessened as he has taken on younger Assistants of his own. Life does have a way of turning out unexpectedly.
Of the dwarvendim there is much that can be recorded. As a people they have a vigour and an enthusiasm that has put us many years ahead of where we might otherwise have been without them. As in the rebuilding of Auren'dael they quickly took control of construction first at the town of Landfall and then at Port Annihil. Their talents however, extent far beyond the construction of simple housing. In these seven years we have seen ports and seawalls, aqueducts and civic halls rise upon foundations of bare stone. The town of Landfall is a jewel of white buildings and carefully laid roads that rests against the very headland upon which we made our first grounding. The industry of the dwarvendim has seen new settlements arise all along the coast of Dromannion, and their roads and ports have given us the means to develop commerce and trade. For the past three years the dwarvendim have been at work on a home of their own which they have called First Hold, or in the language of the Haarn, Menion'hir. I am told that it is a great fortress that stands upon the grey cliffs of the mid coast, and that like Landfall it gleams white against the blue of sea and sky. It is my intention to take Lanja there in the spring so that she might visit with her family. To the dwarvendim there is much owed and much to be repaid.
At now you may ask, what of Shalengael, of the Healer Faren and Captain Duschet, or perhaps the Maturi Hedj and his Shadar? All live now within the confines of Dromannion and as far as I know are in good health. The Captain retired from his post after the decommissioning of the Dromannion and now resides at Port Annihil. I am told that he has opened a shipyard and now builds fast transport ships for the coastal trades. In this endeavour I believe he has had considerable success. Of the Healer Faren it can be recorded that he now administers the Hospital at Port Annihil, and makes regular trips to Landfall to oversee the practice of Ahlek Norahm. Such is the thoroughness of his visits that he has been a regular guest within my home as well.
For the Maturi and his Shadar the news is less certain. The building of First Hold has consumed the energies of the dwarvendim for the past few years and I have not seen the Maturi since the foundations of that great citadel were laid. I believe they remain well and have begun to rebuild their people into the proud nation they so rightly should be. Of Shalengael I can report more definite news.
Since our landing upon these shores the northerner has focused all his energies to the task of helping the NomDruse. The children were affected greatly by the harbouring of Shalengael's power within them and more so than expected by the Gael himself. To counter the confusion of the vast store of knowledge they have inherited he has established a high sanctuary within the hinterland of Equinox that I can proudly record is known as Nahr's Retreat. There he has begun an education regime so that the children may learn to live with their knowledge and use it in the wider world. I believe that our passage to this New World has come with many costs and the ill-ease of the NomDruse is one that will take time to recoup.
It is true to record here that the costs of our passage were great, and that some regrets must be endured as well. The souls we left behind in Auren'dael were not returned for. With no power to breach the Ashgard they are now lost to us, and we must accept that whatever future may wait for our brethren will be one they must face alone. In this world the Ashgard is now a barrier that cannot be crossed.
I must also record that we have had no sign of the Enemy. These years have passed and we have been left to live in peace. For this I am grateful.
These are the last words that I shall place within this journal. Our journey is complete and now there remains only the business of living, and the sure knowledge that hardship has not left us behind, it has simply allowed us the time to take a breath and prepare for whatever may lay ahead. For the moment life can be enjoyed and the rigors of our voyage can be left to return only as stories and legend. I do miss the strength and sureness of the Dromannion though. It was a ship that brought me safely to these shores and I still remember the whisper and hum of its shrouds before the strength of the wind. Of all that will stay with me it is the song of the Dromannion I will remember best. Now only the future awaits.
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