Posted on November 1, 2010


This story is Part 27 of the Fire and Water series. It follows Aftermath. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

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The light came from everywhere at once, false and cold. Findol’s head throbbed under its pressure. His hands and feet were numb, bound with thin, hard wire. If he struggled, if he tried to free himself, the wire only tightened, cutting painfully into his flesh, drawing blood. He had learned quickly to sit still.

Varala was next to him, and Coanh was on her other side. They all sat huddled together, bodies touching. Varala refused to accept the binding and writhed furiously. A small pool of her blood had gathered at their feet.

You must be still, Varala. You don’t want to give them the satisfaction. Please be still. We can’t have you bleed to death before we find out how to get home.

That was Coanh, speaking to them with his thoughts. They had discovered that they could communicate this way without the Nurain detecting it. Now Varala growled low in her throat in answer. One of the Nurain looked up at her and grinned, and she held still.

Coanh’s right, Findol thought. Your struggles entertain them. Hold your rage for later, when we’re free. Then you can unleash it on them as you will. For now, though, we just need to survive. Focus on that.

Varala hung her head. I didn’t even see it coming. I was singing a new story, inventing a tale of our victory in that battle. I was so caught up in it that the blinding light took me unaware. If I’d paid better attention, perhaps I could have stopped them. Perhaps I could have saved the three of us.

Now don’t go blaming yourself, Coanh told her. That wasn’t your fault by any means. I’ve a feeling they might have killed everyone in the battle, had they wished it. They didn’t intend to show their whole strength then, or even now.

Findol sighed. It was the grim truth.

We didn’t really know what we were facing, he agreed. We underestimated them. But once they had us, they all left Vael. So let’s say that our world is safe for the time being. Now we’re here on their ship. They must be taking us to Nur, for whatever reason. Let’s make this an opportunity to learn what we can about them, so that we can resist them better when the chance comes. Tell me what you see.

Varala raised her head.

There are three Nurain on this ship. Only three… If we weren’t bound, I could slaughter them… The ship seems large enough to hold at least ten. Therefore they must have lost a few shipmates in the battle.

Nothing on this ship is natural, Coanh observed. Everything is made from other materials. Even the light is a contrived thing. And these three Nurain– each one attends to… to… why, those are instruments that must control this vessel. Instead of oars, sails, and rudders, these ships navigate by those membrane things, and the lights blinking on them.

We’ll have to watch how they use them, and perhaps we can learn what they’re for, Findol suggested.

Varala eyed the patterns flashing on the membranes. Perhaps those signs and sigils blinking on them are the way they communicate with the other ships.

Like we speak to each other with our thoughts, Findol added. I wonder–

One of the Nurain spoke to his comrades in a harsh, brittle language. The words reminded Findol of the sound of Sulinor’s prison. He felt Varala cringe with disgust at the sound even as his own stomach clenched. Coanh shifted his weight uneasily.

Findol watched the other two Nurain as they obeyed the first’s command. One touched particular symbols on the membrane nearest him, and the hum of the ship deepened in tone. The second did the same to the membrane before him, and the ship rattled briefly and seemed to move more quickly. The first Nurain said something else, and Findol sensed his displeasure.

They’re not happy, Coanh told them. I can feel it.

The words are connected to the symbols on the membranes, Varala noted. I can almost hear what the words mean just from watching what they do. Perhaps if I try to hear the intent of the words as they speak, I can begin to understand their language.

Yes, I feel that, too, Findol agreed. It’s as if they’re saying the wind has filled the sails to capacity, but the water is too shallow. The ship longs to go faster, but they have no room to maneuver.

They had no trouble coming to Vael, Coanh thought. They made that journey in moments, but they’re working hard to return home. Why could that be?

Findol suppressed a grin. It’s because Sulinor and Zaghran and Griel are all free. The Nurain’s control over Vael’s magic isn’t as complete as it was. Our energy isn’t bleeding out of our world any longer– the current is only a trickle now. And Aubele’s shield must still be guarding their entrance to Vael. If they can’t adjust their vibration, they won’t make it back to Nur.

The Nurain commander turned to look at them and stood up. He spoke again, and his two comrades stood, too.

He says– he says they can attach us to those membranes, Varala translated. They mean to use our magic to power their fleet home.

Is that what they took us for? Coanh wondered.

Varala snarled in spite of herself as the Nurain approached them.

I sense there’s more to it than that. Her thought was almost a howl.

A Nurain bent over each of them and wound more of the thin wire around their heads.

I can see it right behind their eyes, Findol warned. When they get us to Nur, they want to–

An arc of searing white fire leapt from the wire into his brain, purging all thought and memory, even his own name. Then, adrift in the blank whiteness, the core of his energy turned toward the hum of the ship, and it filled him.