I stood on the deck of the White Wave. Dawn had yet to break. In my spyglass, lanterns hanging in cabins and mounted on the mastheads of three hundred Zak’reth warships were the only light—starbursts among the mass of shadows that were converging on another indistinct shape. Isle Calinda. The Zak’reth did not care about stealth. They were bold and brazen, and the innocent people of Isle Calinda would know their merciless fire unless I stopped them.
The White Wave was lightless. As was the Firestar beside her, where Skye stood upon its quarterdeck. As were the other twenty or so Armada ships that had come on this dangerous mission.
“First light,” Skye had told me the night before. “We’re going to sail you close. As soon as the sun breaks the horizon, do it.”
I’d nodded grimly. “Yes, Commander. But…”
“What if I’m not strong enough?”
“Then we’re all dead,” Skye said.
Now, I stood on the main deck of the White Wave with Ilior beside me. My pale blonde hair whipped my face where it had been pulled from its tight braid by the wind. The Vai’Ensai—the dragonman to the crew—was to brace me as I cast the spell, and he would catch me as I fell into unconsciousness or died, such was the exhaustive power of Summoning.
The White Wave pulled away from the Firestar, drew nearer to the Zak’reth fleet that was only a league and a half in front of our nose. Skye’s plan relied on the fact the Zak’reth would not look back.
I thrust my chin out. I stood tall with shoulders thrown back. I was a Summoner. Not for a thousand years had there been one such as me. I was blessed by the god in a way no other living Aluren Paladin could imagine. I was a vessel into which the god could move the seas.
My bravado only barely concealed my fear.
I looked at the Zak’reth ships, thought of the men aboard. Forty men to a ship. Three hundred ships. Twelve thousand men were breathing their last breaths as I, their destroyer looked upon them. The number was too big, too staggering, even if it belonged to the enemy. Then I turned to the township that hugged the shore of Isle Calinda. Four hundred souls huddled in their homes, watching the Zak’reth approach, believing their last moments were at hand.
But no. I would save them. They and the countless others the Zak’reth would murder in their war. They had already laid waste to the Farendus Isles. I nodded to myself, even as my heart clanged against my chest and my limbs trembled. As the sun crested the eastern horizon, I looked to the other ship. To Skye. She raised her hand and brought it down again. My order was clear.
I raised my own arms and drew in a long, shaking breath.
I had never sought to call so much water. My training in the Moon Temple had been scarce; the Summoning drained me terribly. I wondered with a stab of fear if asking the ocean for so much would kill me. It might, I thought. Penance for taking so many Zak’reth lives. A sacrifice for the greater good. I left it to the god to decide.
I spoke the words.
The deck beneath my feet canted downwards and I felt Ilior grip the back of my belt to keep me on my feet. I heard the gasps of the sailors around me and then all sound was drowned out by the deafening surge. A wall of water rose up in front of the White Wave, blocking out the sight of the Zak’reth warships. Up, up, it rose, higher than I could have dreamed; and I exulted that the Two-Faced God loved me, loved the Aluren and the Alliance and the people of Isle Calinda. By its good graces, I was going to save them all.
I held my arms upward for another heartbeat and then thrust them forward. The wave ceased its upward surge and raced toward the Zak’reth armada.
I sank to my knees, watching as the water crashed over the ships, shattering them and sending bits of wood and bodies flying into the air as a churning whirlpool broiled beneath. Men screamed and drowned as their ships were smashed against one another and against the water that pummeled them like a fist of a mighty giant slamming down. The destruction was total. Three hundred warships gone, their sturdy hulls rendered into kindling, sails torn and floating like shrouds on the water; rigging tangled with red-armored men, dragging them down into the churning froth.
I rejoiced…until I saw that my wave had been stronger than even I could have dreamed. It smashed the Zak’reth ships but did not stop. With a silent scream of horror, I watched it crash against the shores of Isle Calinda. The water, like a giant’s hand, clawed the settlement and when it receded the shoreline was wiped clean. The settlement was gone. Four hundred people…gone, carried into the swirling aftermath of the wave and dying with the Zak’reth who would have killed them too. Gone. All gone.
My soul cried out as I couldn’t. I hadn’t the strength. The joy of my victory blackened and rotted at what I had done. The horror of it—not just the people of Calinda but the Zak’reth too; hundreds of people dead at my hand. It overwhelmed my senses. It seemed as if all the world had become one loud, long, anguished scream that only I could hear.
The god will be so angry with me, I thought.
And then it happened.
From the ether, or the sky, or the moon itself, some unseen missile flew at me and struck me in the chest, blasting me with a merciless, raw power that could only have come from a wrathful entity not of this world. I heard my own lungs make a horrifying sucking sound as they tried to draw in air. Agony bored into the core of me, into my heart that radiated deathly cold like a dead, black sun. The pain of thousands of people dying, drowning; the pain of thousands breathing cold water instead of air; that pain lived in me as a slab of ice as tall as the wave I made and as heavy as the world. I tried to scream, to lend my voice to that chorus and die, but that would be too merciful.
I clutched at my chest as Ilior above me cried out for help. It was then I found the mark. The hole. My hands trembled and I was falling away but I managed to open my tunic and peered down to see…
The blackness. It sucked me into its inky depths; a cold, black well bored into the center of me, in the shape of a crescent moon—the God’s Shadow face. The Eye.
“What have I done…?”
And then the moon-shaped hole in my chest breathed its first cold breath and I screamed and screamed…