Hildes 12, 5681---Tora’Sor stood on the deck of the ship with Sushala’Mol. The sun had almost set, but the blindfold and the dark clouds kept it dark enough for the woman from Eranithon not to suffer from exposure to light. Tora’Sor thought it might storm, but it was difficult to tell. The clouds were thick and heavy, but the wind was only a gentle breeze. Far off in the distance to the east, Tora’Sor could just make out the dim shoreline of the Kiremo Desert.
“I’ve been here earlier this year,” Tora’Sor told the woman standing beside her.
Sushala’Mol smiled. “I lost count of how many times you’ve said that in the past month or so. When I dare remove my blindfold, all I see is water and other ships surrounding us, and the flat, barren land in the distance.”
“I think the difference is the last time I sailed through these waters, I was with a more dynamic bunch of people,” Tora’Sor replied. “It was only one ship, but there were no soldiers, no court officials, and no one of influence from the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar. I did not have to be careful who I encountered on the ship since everyone was acquainted and friendly.”
“Is it so bad?” Sushala’Mol asked. “This is much easier than the last time I was on a ship. It is not nice to spend months tied to a board and covered by a stuffy blanket to keep out the light.”
“You won’t be going back to that,” Tora’Sor told her.
They stood in silence for several moments before Tora’Sor decided to go back inside since it was too dark for her to see anymore. “You can stay out here as long as you want,” she told Sushala’Mol. “I recommend taking off the blindfold and exercising your eyes.” Sushala’Mol nodded as Tora’Sor began walking toward the stern of the ship.
Before Tora’Sor could descend to the lower deck, she felt a tug at her cloak. She turned to see Rarla’Nun. The old woman had an empty look in her eyes, the byproduct of her blindness, but seemed intent on stopping Tora’Sor. “Let’s talk,” she said to Tora’Sor. It was more of an order than a request, so Tora’Sor gave in reluctantly.
“I don’t think she’ll ever be able to use her eyes during the day,” Tora’Sor said, knowing that Rarla’Nun wanted to discuss Sushala’Mol’s progress.
“At this rate, never,” Rarla’Nun agreed. “I don’t think you’ve made any progress with her since that first night you took her into the garden at Atalan.”
“Bright light seems to be the problem,” Tora’Sor replied. “Even dim light often has a bright source, so she can only look away from the light, never toward it.”
Rarla’Nun frowned. “I don’t think you’re pushing her hard enough.”
“You know I’ve done everything I can,” Tora’Sor asserted, growing frustrated. “I cannot control the speed at which her eyes adjust.”
“Perhaps she is the one slowing it down,” Rarla’Nun suggested.
Tora’Sor shook her head. “Sushala’Mol has improved much since I met her. She pushes her limits more than I would.”
“My assessment is different,” Rarla’Nun said. “I believe Sushala’Mol’s improvement consists only of her conversational skills.”
“Is that your assessment,” Tora’Sor asked angrily, “or is that the assessment of the Supreme Mistress?”
Rarla’Nun opened her mouth to reply, but was cut short. A bright flash of lightning lit up the sky as it reached from the clouds down to strike the highest mast of the ship leading the fleet. The clap of thunder followed almost immediately. Fire quickly spread down the mast and across several sails. They could hear shouts coming from the sailors aboard the ship. “That was unnatural,” Rarla’Nun finally announced.
“How do you mean?” Tora’Sor wondered.
“Lightning without a storm,” Rarla’Nun told her. “All I feel is a light breeze. There is none of the wind associated with such storms.” Another bolt of lightning struck a different ship. Fire spread as with the first ship.
“But who would attack us this far to sea?” Tora’Sor asked. “None of the...” She paused, and glanced toward Sushala’Mol, who was holding her hands over the blindfold to keep the light cast by the burning ships from reaching her eyes. “We’re not far out to sea,” she realized. “I may not be able to see the shore during the night, but I know someone who can.” Lightning struck a third ship.
Tora’Sor hurried back to Sushala’Mol. “I need you to take off the blindfold,” she urgently told the woman. “Look toward the coast, and tell me what you see.”
Sushala’Mol reluctantly obeyed, making sure to keep her eyes shielded. She looked toward the shore for a moment before answering. “It looks like several ships are on the shore, but I do not think anyone is on them.”
“Do they appear broken?” Tora’Sor asked her.
Sushala’Mol nodded. “At least some of the ships look like they sank into the ground, and some are not even upright. I think I see someone walking among them.” Lightning struck another ship, and then another.
Rarla’Nun stepped up beside Tora’Sor. “You sound as if you know what she’s seeing.”
“I do,” Tora’Sor replied gravely. Another bolt of lightning struck a ship. “Tell the Prince we’re under attack.”
“Sushala’Mol, get inside, warn the Prince, and find a dark place to stay,” Rarla’Nun ordered. “Things are about to get a bit bright for you out here.” She lifted her hand into the air as Tora’Sor helped the woman hurry to the ship’s cabin. There was a loud crack as a bolt of lightning shot from her hand into the sky. It was only a signal to the other ships in the fleet, but it was only seconds before every member of the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar throughout the fleet responded with their own bolts of lightning. They were ready to deflect any further attacks while Prince Nomolo assessed the situation with his commanders. No more attacks came from the shore.
Tora’Sor would have ducked inside with Sushala’Mol, but Rarla’Nun called her back. “You’re my eyes,” she said. “You can see and react to our surroundings faster than I can.”
“I will do what I can, High Mistress,” Tora’Sor replied. She stood beside Rarla’Nun at the gunwale, ready to ward off any lightning that might strike the ship.
“Now tell me what you know about the shipwrecks Sushala’Mol saw along the shore,” Rarla’Nun ordered. “I assume these are the same ones mentioned in Josloy’s journal.”
Tora’Sor nodded. “We counted at least fifteen wrecked ships, although everything of value and anything that could identify a ship was missing. The pirates we were with guessed that someone else discovered and looted the wrecks long before we arrived.”
“I am curious about the few items Josloy mentioned finding,” Rarla’Nun said. “I believe he mentioned finding several weapons, some teacups, and a piece of parchment.”
“There was writing on the parchment, but none of them could read the language,” Tora’Sor admitted. “I decided it best not to mention that I had learned the language during my captivity Underground.”
“What did it say?” Rarla’Nun asked.
“It was only a scrap of the parchment that remained,” Tora’Sor said, “but it mentioned someone named Vit Kumoz, and said something about keeping people out. There was more, but the rest was missing, so I couldn’t guess what it might be about.”
Rarla’Nun’s mouth tightened. “It is as I feared. We face a Dark Magician tasked with keeping us from gaining entrance to the Underground, although I cannot guess why he would be here instead of nearer to Eranithon. There are many questions, but that much is certain. What did you do with the parchment?”
“I burned it,” Tora’Sor answered. “Why do you believe the person mentioned on the parchment is a Dark Magician? There are many people in the Underground with similar names.”
“But the average person could not survive in the desert for so long,” Rarla’Nun argued, “nor could the average person attack us with lightning. That is no normal man standing on the shore.” Tora’Sor did not reply.
Prince Nomolo stepped onto the deck. “Turn to the shore,” he ordered the helmsman. “Signal the fleet. Send twenty ships to assist those burning. The others head to the shore. I want this fiend captured for questioning.”
As the ship began to turn, sailors rushed to signal the rest of the fleet. Prince Nomolo walked over to Rarla’Nun. “Do you have any idea why a Dark Magician would be here in the middle of the Kiremo Desert?”
“No, your highness,” she answered. “I am not usually privy to that kind of information, so you would need an audience with the Supreme Mistress to learn if anyone expected his presence. However, I would wager a Dark Magician could survive throughout the centuries in ways other people cannot, much as was theorized long ago. If the Dark Magician can become as stone, the touch of time is greatly reduced.”
“No one has seen such a thing,” Tora’Sor interrupted.
“Shush, woman,” Rarla’Nun ordered, glaring at Tora’Sor with her blind eyes. “Sight is not necessary for belief.” She glanced back toward the Prince. “Perhaps we can learn the truth with his capture.”
“Thank you for this information,” Prince Nomolo said. “We will capture the man. In the meantime, I advise the both of you to go inside, and calm Sushala’Mol. She interrupted a private meeting with Commander Toparez, and was in such a panic that it was difficult to make out her message. I assure you, this ship will be just as well protected without you on the deck.”
“Very well,” Tora’Sor reluctantly agreed. She did not want to be inside and unable to know what was happening, but she knew better than to argue with the Prince. It would probably be a long night for her.