The end of the serial Fire and Water has come at last. It has been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following the story as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. I want to thank everyone who has read and commented, because your encouragement has kept me going and always means a great deal to me. Special thanks go to Joanie Rich and Icy Sedgwick, who’ve both visited most every week. You ladies are very kind, indeed.
But Fire and Water doesn’t end here. I’ll be expanding it into a novel now– my very first! Planning has already begun for said expansion, which will commence immediately. And then there will be Volumes Two and Three… Wish me luck!
The entire serial will still be available here until I finish the novel, so if you’d like to catch up or read it all at once, you have some time.
Once again, I greatly appreciate your support. Now on with the conclusion.
* * *
The finished ship gleamed like a translucent egg in the sunlight of the midsummer solstice. Everything was ready for the mission: the ship’s body was whole and sound, all the systems were responsive and sensitive, provisions were laid in the cargo holds. Now everyone who had contributed to its building gathered around it, whispering excitedly, waiting to see it wake, to bless it and send it out of Vael to another world.
Peldanir would captain the ship, as he knew it best. Erdan would go also, since the operating systems were his design. Maira volunteered to navigate, because she knew the door under the mountains as well as Aubele knew the door in the sea. Shaila Pearl, being a healer, insisted on going too, for no one could say what ills or injuries they might face. They stood fidgeting beside the ship’s entrance now, eager to set off.
Sulinor and Zaghran stood before the ship. Sulinor reached up and laid her hands on its glassy skin, and the people quieted.
“This is your time,” she said to the ship. “We welcome you as our youngest daughter, and name you Huril the Seeker. Awake now, and live.”
Waves of pearly color rippled down the ship’s great oval body. The timbers of her frame meshed together as though they were one living tree that had grown into the shape of the ship over generations, holding its roots within itself. Her skin ruffled into crystalline scales that cast the light around her like sparks, then smoothed into invisibility down her body. There was a soft gurgling sound like water flowing inside her as her operating systems clicked awake.
Zaghran blew a deep breath over Huril’s prow, scattering tiny stars down her entire length. She absorbed them and shuddered briefly. A clear note like a bell rang out from deep within her: Huril was alive and awake, calling a greeting to her family.
A cheer arose from the people gathered around her. The dragons all trumpeted at once, answering her. Sulinor lowered her arms, and Huril rose a few feet into the air, hovering quietly in their midst. Her note of greeting subsided into a purring, melodic hum.
The entrance slid silently open, and a ramp descended to the ground to wait for her crew to board her.
“She’s ready,” Peldanir said to Sulinor and Zaghran. He looked at Malen and Lourlan, at Crigh and Marlagh, at Varul. “And we are, too. By your leave, we’ll go get our people now.”
“Safe journey,” Sulinor said, “and all our blessings go with you.”
“You’ll all be in our every thought,” Lourlan said, and Malen nodded.
“Take care,” Zaghran added. “Return home whole and well, and as soon as may be.”
Peldanir, Erdan, Maira, and Shaila boarded Huril. She raised the ramp, and the entrance slid shut.
Peldanir and Erdan took the pilots’ seats and looked out of Huril’s windows at their friends. Maira plotted in their first course toward the mountains, and Shaila stood at Erdan’s shoulder.
“Here we go,” Peldanir said. “If anyone is thinking better of this journey, now would be the time to say so. Once we start, there won’t be any turning back.”
“We’ve already started,” Shaila said.
“Huril can see the way forward,” Maira said. “She’s waiting on us now.”
“Just give the command,” Erdan said, smiling. “Our nerves will settle once we’re moving.”
Peldanir nodded and chuckled. He touched a symbol on the command console, and Huril shot high into the air. She headed north toward the mountains, over the Central Forest.
“Look!” Shaila shouted, and they saw the dragons flanking them, keeping pace.
“They’re escorting us to the door,” Maira laughed. She waved at Griel, who snorted a burst of flame in answer.
“And look at the Forest,” Erdan said in wonder. “I never dreamed of seeing the world like this.”
Another voice, like wind blowing through reeds, filled the cabin. “I will remember this for you,” it said, and they realized Huril was speaking to them. “Whenever you long for a sight of home, I will show you this image.”
Peldanir and Erdan exchanged a look of surprise. Neither of them had built the capacity for speech into the ship. This was the gift of Sulinor and Zaghran.
“Thank you, Huril,” Peldanir said. “We’re delighted to hear your voice.”
“When you ask something of me, I will answer,” she replied. “We are approaching the Tilminel Mountains.”
Intuitively, without waiting for a command, Huril adjusted her speed and dropped to a lower altitude. Maira gave her the location of the cave in whose depths the door was hidden.
“Preparing to shift matter through the base of the mountain,” Huril informed them. “Neither the earth or you will be harmed, but our passage may be turbulent. I will adjust frequency and vibration to compensate.”
The daylight disappeared outside the ship as they descended into the earth. After an initial jolt, their motion became smooth as if they sailed through calm waters. Soon Huril drew to a stop, hovering in the middle of the vast cave. There before them, they saw the door between the worlds shimmering like mist. The dragons were still circling beside them. They had followed them even into the cave, accompanying them as far as they could.
“Well, Huril, I don’t know where to go from here, except through that door,” Peldanir said.
“You have Findol’s heritage stone,” Shaila said. “Can you use it to lead us to him?”
“I know Findol and Coanh and Varala,” Huril said. “I carry them in that stone, which is my heart. I will find them. I await your command.”
Peldanir looked at his crew, and then at the dragons waiting outside the ship. He lifted his hand in farewell, and the dragons roared their goodbyes.
“Well, then,” he said, “take us through, Huril.”
“As you wish. Adjusting vibration for outworld passage. I am engaged.”
An instant later, silence engulfed them. Huril’s gentle hum alone told them she was working. A faint silver light rippling around the ship was the only evidence that they were still moving. Beyond that light was the inky darkness of the road between the worlds.
The unknown loomed ahead, and they flew to meet it.