Ritual Ch. 03byJohnEvans©
Ritual will be the third book of this trilogy. Pervikar is the first and Rescue is the second. I wish to express my thanks to the readers who have sent me feedback and have voted for my stories. My special thanks go to sweetmirazh, who does my editing, and mack_the_knife.
Karina stood by the ship's rail looking out over the wide expanse of water. The ship had been out of sight of land for ten days and it had been twenty-one days since it had left the Capitol of the Overlord. Karina knew it would be another fifteen days before the ship reached Firehold, the main city on the Sharak Islands.
The god, Hades, had ordered her to go to the islands because the entrance to his realm was there. Karina was trying to get him to release a spirit from his plane of existence for the neccar ritual. During the long voyage, Karina had gotten her sea legs early on as had Lorilei. Genese, however, had been seasick every day and swore she was dying. Lorilei had amazed Karina by taking care of the girl until the worst of it had passed.
Karina was a little put out and concerned by her two companions. Hades had told her that she could not ask any of her friends to come along with her on this trip. She had snuck out of the inn where they had been staying to get on this ship alone. Unfortunately, Lorilei had spotted her and thought Karina was sneaking away with Helga, Karina's friend and Lorilei's apprentice witch. Helga was a major bone of contention between the two women.
Genese, a maid at the inn, saw Lorilei following Karina and tagged along after both of them. During the resulting confrontation in Karina's cabin on board, neither she nor Lorilei noticed that the ship had set sail until Genese told them so.
What irritated Karina the most was that Lorilei and Genese had both refused to return to the Capitol from any of the half a dozen ports the ship stopped in. She even offered to pay for their passage and they still refused. Karina could understand Genese's motives since Karina had refused her, her mother and her sister from an abusive, drunken step-father. What she could not fathom was why Lorilei did not want to leave.
As if the thought produced the person, Karina spotted Lorilei coming up the gangway. As the ship was traveling west-south-west into warmer climates, Karina had started wearing a white blouse and divided skirt. Lorilei had followed suit, but her skirt was a dark green, while Karina's was blue. Lorilei saw Karina and walked over to join her at the ship's rail.
"How is Genese?" asked Karina.
"Seeing to our dinner, dearie," replied Lorilei. "You know, I don't believe I've met a more subservient person. She's a perfect maid."
"The drunk her mother had the misfortune of marrying made her that way," said Karina. "You remember that Helga was once my maid."
"Helga has power," countered Lorilei. "She can move above where she started out. Genese has no power."
"What about her potential?" asked Karina. "If she has no power, then why did you help her when she was so seasick?"
"You should know that everyone has potential, dearie," said Lorilei. "It's just that almost no one ever uses it. You and Genese could swap positions. She would revert back to being a servant and you would rise above it. As for helping her, it was just to help her get back on her feet faster to wait on us."
"Is that all it is...master and servant?"
"Of course, dearie," replied Lorilei blithely. "What else is there in the world?...and it is masters and servant."
Karina ignored the barb and asked, "Why did you stay? You could have left the ship at any of the ports and gone back. I thought Helga's training was all important to you."
Lorilei grimaced and she said, "I could spin you a story about how I was tagging along to make your life miserable, but that is just a bonus. I cast an augury after the ship sailed from the Capitol. In my vision, I saw an old black pair of shears coming closer and closer to my thread of life if I left the ship. The shears backed off when I stayed with you."
"You mean the Fates would have snipped your life thread if you left?" asked Karina in astonishment.
"Oh, nothing quite as neat and tidy as that, dearie," said Lorilei with a chuckle. "And I'm still not safe going with you. Those shears hover over everyone's thread. I just don't want to cut my life short by staying where I'm not supposed to be."
"So I get you for a companion whether I want you or not?"
"That about sums it up," stated Lorilei. "I'm not fond of you, either."
"I'm willing to make a truce," said Karina. "Since it seems that we are going to be together for awhile."
"Agreed," said Lorilei. "We may not be allies, but, at least, not enemies." She smiled wickedly. "I also promise not to use your form anymore for sex."
"You want me to get my axe?" asked Karina jokingly.
Lorilei shuddered and took a step back in fright. "No, Karina, I don't. Please, don't even joke about something like that."
"I'm sorry. What is it about Remarg that upsets you? Tenan couldn't tell me much about it except that it is ancient and is always sharp."
"He was right about it being ancient," said Lorilei. "No one knows when it was made or who made it. Remarg has always been part of witch legends. It is the bane for us. It has been lost and found thousands of times."
"If it was only supposed to be a legend, how did you recognize it?"
"Well, dearie, it's been described to a 'T' in every story ever told about it. You show it to any of us...good, bad, woodwitch, seawitch...any of us and we would recognize it immediately."
"Why is it a bane to witches?" asked Karina. "What does it do?"
"I couldn't tell you. The stories tell of Remarg annihilating witch after witch. It is rumored that Remarg chooses its owner and its powers manifest based on the owner's needs. You also don't have to worry about me throwing it into the sea, dearie. I won't get within ten feet of it if at all possible and, even if I did throw it in, I'm sure it would come back thirsting for my blood."
Karina was suddenly and uncomfortably aware that her right wrist, which had a bracelet with a little axe charm on it, was right next to Lorilei. She hastily licked her lips and turned around so her body was between the charm and Lorilei. Karina was sure that Lorilei did not associate the charm with Remarg and she wanted to keep some distance between them.
"Good morning, ladies."
Karina and Lorilei both turned to see the captain approaching them. His rolling gait spoke of many years at sea and his unconscious ability to adjust to the moving deck he stood on.
"Good morning, captain," said Karina.
"I trust the trip has not been too hard for you," said the captain. "My men haven't bothered you, have they?"
"Not since the first one," stated Lorilei with a smile.
After being only a couple of days out from the Capitol, one of the seamen decided to try his luck with the sea-sick Genese. Between her nausea and delirium, she was in no shape to put up much resistance. Luckily, the first mate put a stop to the seaman's advances before anything happened and before Lorilei could get her hands on him. Extra duty cleaning the bilges and the loss of the seaman's rum rations taught the rest of the crew to be on their best behavior concerning the women. Of course, after the first time Karina came on deck in full armor and weapons, the crew became really respectful.
"Well, I hope you are enjoying the trip," said the captain. "We still have some distance to go before we reach the Sharak Islands. Boredom is the thing you have to watch out for on these long trips. Excuse me...Bosun, do you mind getting the men up in the sails back to work?"
The bosun, who was just walking by, and the two women all looked upwards. Five seamen were up in the yardarms just sitting there on the spars gazing down at Karina and Lorilei. They all smiled, but then scurried across the ropes and arms at a bellowed order from the bosun.
"My apologies for that," said the captain sincerely.
"That is not necessary," replied Karina. "We're the only women on this trip. You can't expect your men not to look at us."
The captain smiled and broke out in a laugh. "I have no desire for a mutiny, which is what would happen if I ordered the men to do that. There's an old adage...trite, but true. The sea is an unforgiving mistress. My crew can look at you and talk to you, but on their own time. Those men aloft had a job to do, which they were neglecting. They now know I do have eyes in the back of my head."
Karina and Lorilei both laughed.
"Sail ho! Off the port bow!"
Karina glanced up at the masthead lookout and then stared out over the water trying to spot the other ship. The captain had hauled himself halfway up the rigging to peer out over the left side of the ship. Karina followed his gaze and spotted a speck of a sail in the distance.
"Where is it, dearie?" asked Lorilei, looking this way and that.
"Over there," said Karina, pointing at the other sail.
"Deck ahoy!" yelled the lookout aloft. "She's changed direction towards us and put on more sail!"
"Damn!" cursed the captain as he swung down to the deck. "You ladies had better get below."
"Why? What's wrong?" asked Karina, alarmed by the captain's attitude.
"Any flags?" bellowed the captain to the lookout.
"No...none," yelled back the lookout.
"Come with me," ordered the captain as he hurried towards the quarterdeck. "Most ships signal when they want to parley. By laying on more sail, that ship means to catch up with us. No signal and more sail means bad news in my book."
"Pirates?" asked Lorilei.
"Possibly...probably," answered the captain. "You have to get below. I just hope that they don't have a damn spellcaster with them."
"I'm staying," replied Lorilei.
"I'll be back as soon as I have my armor on," stated Karina, heading to the gangway.
It took Karina only a short time to don on her armor and retrieve her shield. She felt the ship's movement change and guessed that the captain was putting on more sail. A pasty-faced Genese groaned in her bed at the movement and sat up with a belch.
"What is it, milady?" she gasped out.
"The captain doesn't like the look of another ship that was sighted," explained Karina. "I think he's trying to sail away from it. How are you feeling?"
"Better," said Genese. "I haven't thrown up all day, though I have come close. I'm sorry I haven't been much use so far."
"You've been sick," stated Karina. "I've got to go."
Karina walked up on deck. The other ship was now astern and much closer. It was a lean sloop with all sail set. She watched impressed by its majesty as it seemed to skim through the waves. Karina turned and went to stand beside Lorilei at the back rail. She noticed that the crew had mounted four small ballistas on the railing and each one was manned by two seamen.
"She's overtaking us," muttered the captain. "Aye, and she hasn't raised a flag yet. They're pirates and we're in for a fight."
"Where's the rest of the crew?" asked Karina.
"Armed and down below. Keeps them safe from any arrows or bolts that come our way," answered the captain.
Just then a cry rang out and Karina spun around to see one of the sailors, who had been manning a ballista, fall to the deck with an arrow stuck through his shoulder. As if in response, the two ballistas in the stern fired off their projectiles towards the sloop. The sailors quickly began to winch back the heavy bowstrings as Karina moved to haul the injured man out of the way.
Karina had stooped down to grasp the wounded man when the other sailor standing next to her cried out and toppled over on top of her. She was forced down to the deck and reached back to shove the sailor off of her. Glancing back, she saw an arrow transfixed into his chest.
"Get that damned archer before he gets the rest of us!" cursed the captain to the other crew.
The ballista bowstring thrummed and the large quarrel shot through the air at the other ship. It not only missed the archer, but the other ship entirely due to the crew's haste and nervousness. Karina, looking over the rail, saw the archer fit another arrow to his bow and take aim.
A series of short buzzing sounds, like vip-vip-vip-vip-vip, caused Karina to turn sharply. Standing at the back rail was Lorilei with her left arm raised, palm outward with small white shafts of light shooting out from it. Karina's head snapped back around, but could not follow the shafts. Instead, she saw the archer staggering back with bloody rents in the front of his leather armor. As Karina stared at the archer, another set of white shafts buzzed forth from Lorilei, striking the archer again. He fell out of sight to the sloop's deck.
At the same time that the second set of white shafts was striking the archer, a jagged, sparkling, blue ball of light flashed over from the sloop. It struck one of the brig's mainsails and, with a loud 'whump', blew the entire sail into tatters. Karina watched in horror as two sailors up in the rigging were knocked off. One fell screaming into the sea as the other crashed onto the deck with a thud. Blood immediately began to pool underneath his body.
Karina heard Lorilei's voice take on an angry tone as she began muttering incantations and weaving her fingers in intricate patterns. Spells and counter spells flew back and forth between the two ships...some Karina could see...others she could only sense.
"Stand by to repel boarders!" bellowed the captain.
Karina left the wounded sailor where he was and stood up. The sloop was now closing in fast to the brig. At least sixty men were lined up along the sloop's railing and several had grappling hooks in their hands.
Karina looked over at the quarterdeck of the sloop. An athletic man in his mid-thirties had jumped up onto the rail and was holding onto the rigging by one hand. He had dark hair and a trimmed goatee. He clothing was black pants and boots with a maroon-colored shirt. A rapier hung by his side.
"Surrender and I'll spare your crew!" he yelled.
"Passengers?" yelled back the captain.
The man made a face and an exaggerated shrug. "Ransomed if they're worth it."
"Go to hell," shouted the captain.
The pirate captain shrugged as if the answer was expected and inevitable. He pulled out his rapier to wave it over his head.
"Grapples away!" he commanded.
A dozen grapples flew from the sloop to the brig. One missed, but the other eleven thudded onto the deck. They were quickly pulled back to catch on the brig's rigging or railing. Karina quickly glanced at Lorilei, but saw that she was still engaged in her battle with the enemy magician. Karina felt the hard haft of Remarg in her hand and she stepped forward towards the nearest grapple.
The sloop's crew was hauling in on the heavy ropes attached to the grapples, drawing the two ships closer together. Karina flipped back her cloak, revealing her unique armor. She missed the look of astonishment on the pirate captain's face when he caught sight of her silvery, form-fitting armor. Karina ran down the quarterdeck rail swinging Remarg. Four thick ropes parted easily under the sharp axe blade.
Karina jumped down the steps to the main deck and cut four more ropes before she was hit from behind. She sprawled to the deck and rolled over a couple of times before she could look up to see what hit her.
"Sorry to knock you down, lass, but you were going to keep us from our prize," said the pirate captain, grinning at her and holding onto the line which he had used to swing over from the other ship.
The brig and the sloop were barely twenty feet apart when the brig's captain yelled for his crew to repel boarders. Karina swung at the pirate captain, who somersaulted backwards away from her whistling axe. Pandemonium broke out as the brig's crew boiled up from below and twenty pirates swung over from the sloop.
Karina and the pirate captain became separated as fighting flared all over the brig's deck. She clambered to her feet and managed to cut two more grappling ropes before she was brought up short by a boarding pike whizzing by her head. She turned to find herself facing a scruffy-looking pirate wielding a cutlass.
"Don' be doin' that, girl," he sneered. "If ye be as stacked as your armor, me mates will be wantin' to meet you. I bet you be as juicy as a lobster...once we shuck you outta that shell."
Karina swung at him and missed. She caught his counter-stroke on her shield. The pirate's complacent look turned to one of concentration as he tried to get through Karina's defenses. Karina quickly ended the fight when she cut him deep across the thigh. The pirate cried out in pain and dropped his cutlass to use both hand to staunch the flow of blood.
"I guess you forgot about the lobster's claws," said Karina as he hobbled back away from her.
Karina raced up to the foredeck to cut the two lines that were up there, but other grapples had been thrown to catch the brig. Karina turned around to cut those ropes, but was confronted by the pirate captain.
"Now, lass, I asked you not to be doing that," he said, blocking her way. "You're only delaying the inevitable."
Karina pondered for a second on how to get past him to the three ropes bringing the two ships together. She inhaled sharply as she felt Remarg reshape itself and its lanyard disappeared from around her wrist. Karina then received a firm suggestion for her to throw her axe. Without thinking, Karina swung back with it and let it fly.
Remarg had gone from being a single-edged battle axe to a double-bladed throwing axe. As it spun down the side of the ship, it cut through the three ropes and then, to everyone's surprise, circled up in an arc back towards Karina. Karina's eyes opened wide in horror as the spinning axe was coming back straight towards Lorilei. Karina took in a breath to yell a warning, but never shouted as the axe's flight veered slightly missing Lorilei by a scant inch. Karina barely had time to raise her hand to catch Remarg out of the air.
"By Loki's mischief!" swore the pirate captain softly. He then physically shook off his amazement. He yelled, "Back to the ship! Back to the ship!"
The pirates who had swung over to the brig backed away from their adversaries. The brig's crew also backed up creating a gap between the two forces. The pirates then swung back to their sloop or dived overboard to swim back. The pirate captain unhitched a line as he jumped up to the railing.
"Guess it wasn't so inevitable after all," he said to Karina. "I'll be seeing you, lass."
With that, he kicked back and swung over to his sloop. His crew had thrown out lines and fished the swimmers out of the ocean. The pirate captain turned, smiled and waved to Karina before bellowing out orders to set sail. The canvas sails on the sloop boomed as the ship changed its tack and headed west towards the horizon.
Lorilei walked over to where Karina was. Her hair was plastered to her forehead and her clothes were rent and torn in various places. Karina was again struck by how much Lorilei looked like her twin sister, Ivin, except for the smoldering anger in her eyes.
"What were you trying to do?" snapped Lorilei between clenched teeth. "Get me killed? Luckily, I had just finished off their magician or your little trick with that axe would have broken my concentration and would have gotten me fried."
"No, I don't want you killed," replied Karina, "but I think Remarg did."
"That...that was Remarg?" gasped Lorilei as her face went white as a ghost.
Karina jumped forward and caught Lorilei before she swooned to the deck. Remarg had shrunk back to its charm bracelet size. Karina lowered Lorilei to a sitting position with her back against the railing. Lorilei shuddered and shook as she placed her head in her hands.