The Frontier, Aboard the Sword of Dawn
Viveca stood at the bow of The Sword of Dawn, staring out into the expanse of ice and shelves before them. Her hands were clasped behind her back as she held a strong stance, gazing inquisitively forward. Ragnar had been stewing the whole day, she noticed, but his Aegis held up with incredible strength against the elements. It barely seemed to be wearing on him at all, as a matter of fact. A sense of foreboding overcame her in that moment, and she reached silently to the book at her right hip – she had used leather straps to affix it to the belt around her coat. It belonged to her; she could not leave it in her stateroom. It had too much power and she had too little understanding of it to risk another person finding it.
Dusk without the clouding of Varya’s Aegis was sublime, though, she noticed. The gold and orange hues of the sky stretched on endlessly, reflected in her eyes. The Narrow Gates before them were intimidating in their naturally awe-inspiring splendor. She despised the privilege that allowed Ilya to personally own such a fine craft, but even she had to admit that it was pure serendipity they could use it. Her thoughts drifted once more to Hassan’s sleuthing about Ilya’s chambers, and still she had not yet informed Father Galahad of it, but perhaps she should before they return, while Hassan could not interrupt or intervene. These thoughts, from Hassan to Ashe-rahn and the Azure Circle, had been plaguing her mind for a week now, and only Tatiana and Oren could share in her existential sorrow. She wanted to tell Galahad, truly, but he had so much work before him, she wanted more substantial information before adding it to his pile of responsibility.
Her eyes glazing over as she receded into her mind, Viveca did not notice the incoming projectile until Ziotea warned them all. Suddenly thrown back into the real world, she whipped around to see Ragnar, already prepared to stave off the attack. Banou’s alarm did not end there as the walls of ice came crumbling down around them. The Inquisitor, now returned to the moment, heeded the call and immediately gripped a nearby railing with both hands, holding her tongue in the back of her mouth so she wouldn’t bite it, and angling her body to maintain a firm stance as the ship reared up. Nearly losing her footing as the vessel heaved directly upward, Viveca engaged her arms and abdomen, twisting to now accommodate the shift of gravity and locking her feet against the railing as well. Where the hell did that come from?! She cursed silently as Banou expertly righted the racer.
Banou had joined them as the pilot upon their departure and Viveca knew almost nothing about the woman except that she was probably Omestrian, at least mostly, by blood, yet wholly devoted to the Ravenous Lord and eager to prove it. She was born to be a soldier, and her military bearing and resiliency were clear to Viveca. This was a woman who had seen much and, while not very expressive, had been entirely shaped by her own experiences, whatever they may be. Port, starboard, up down… the entire scouting party was left to hold themselves in place as this woman remained steadfast, dedicated to the helm.
And then it happened – as everybody gripped their respective braces and held themselves in place, Viveca watched Banou steer them resolutely, activating the seal as the hull was breached. The hole that had opened in the side of the vessel was no laughing matter, and as they lurched forward and down to dodge the incoming glacier from the sky, seal began to close over it. But one other thing went nearly unnoticed – Banou, silently as though in either shock or pure dedication, fell from her post forward, and right through the hull into the water with a splash. Her body whipped to the side as the racer passed her and a deluge of water was sucked inside, just in time to be closed off.
And that was it… Banou was just… gone. Nowhere to be seen, and Viveca thought she might be the only one who actually saw it happen.
“Hit the brakes!! Man overboard!” She cried as soon as she could get her footing, even on the wet floor. There was no hesitation as she bolted toward Oren, releasing the straps that held her tome at her side. Are you insane?! The pragmatic portion of her brain screamed, She’s already dead – hypothermia will kill her in moments! Viveca shook her head and began expending as much ether as she dared on her Brilliance – the warming glow of light she could produce and place on surfaces. She covered her vital areas, particularly her heart and head. Finally, she placed her hand on the book, whispering just loud enough for Oren, and perhaps Ziotea to hear her.
“Ashe-rahn, I know what you’ve done… and what you did to me, I beg you now… grant me the protection from the very cold you’ve once tried to use against me… As Mother Indira told me, deep within me, there is a flame, the same is true of you… help. Me.” She prayed quietly; her eyes closed. She hoped that would help… perhaps it would backfire, but she was already consigning herself to death – there were only moments before Banou would be left for dead in a lifeless sea, she had to act before Galahad could pull her away. She thrust the book into Oren’s arms, “Keep this safe… If I don’t return, you and Tatiana have to figure this out… Tell Galahad,” The woman requested, her golden eyes meeting his before she began to pull away. A hand closed around her wrist and jerked her back around, once again looking to Oren.
His eyes were searching, and filled with concern. “Viveca.”
Words unspoken passed between them. And seemingly convinced, the pale-haired man released his grip on her.
“Ragnar! I’m going to need help from your Aegis,” She called out. True, Viveca was no Galahad nor Ragnar for leadership, but she was a person of action. Just as she had called for this mission, the pilot assigned to them was as much her responsibility as theirs. If this mission was Banbou’s death, the return of her body would be Viveca’s.
“What the-” Was all Galahad managed to get out before his brain started kicking into overdrive. His eyes shot back and forth for a moment before they rested on Ragnar’s. He nodded to the shorter inquisitor. Despite their arguments, the two were always in tune enough that Ragnar didn’t need to hear him speak to know what he was saying.
Without another word Galahad made a sprint for the control cabin, boots slamming across the deck.
The woman grabbed and hefted the bar keeping the watertight door of the pressurized compartment between the inside of the ship and the outside and leapt inside, shutting it quickly behind her. The very same was true of the second door, but as soon as she opened it, she took a massive breath of air. Then, she was in the water… untethered by gravity or The Sword of Dawn; light penetrated the water from the setting sun, but reflected from the ice, too. The water was a shimmering, glittery blue of frozen temperatures. It was awesome and horrifying… and empty, all at the same time. She began swimming aft of the racer – hoping to spot Banou still just within Ragnar’s Aegis; that was her best hope for life.
Viveca focused her ether as cold began penetrating her body. It was shocking and immediate; if her lungs weren’t full of air, she would have gasped and inhaled the liquid. She had to strengthen her paling, she only had so much time, but her ether felt inaccessible. There had only ever been one time in her life that she felt so disconnected from that pool inside of her as cold crept along her extremities. She couldn’t move her arms as she was thrown out the side of the vessel, everything began to stiffen; the woman was already numb, and the peripherals of her limited vision were turning purple and black. She was going to die before she even spotted Banou’s body, wasn’t she?
Darkness filled her gaze all the way through. It was dense and inky, she felt more than cold poking and prodding her nerves. It felt like it was holding her ether at bay, fighting her spirit as well as her body. It was like her very soul was freezing solid. In the darkness of her vision, she saw one tiny light. As it began to grow, she saw that it was a mixture of red and orange, flickering. She felt it, deep within her, as the cold began to dissipate from around her. The inquisitor’s vision was returned to her, and she felt the warmth spread throughout her body, for just long enough to summon a paling. Was that him..? Does Ashe-rahn show mercy? She wondered silently, kicking her legs as she pushed the water before her back.
The paling helped to dry her and kept the cold from the water away, at least so far. But it was doing a lot of work, the faint shade of dark blue around her pulsed as inky black tendrils of powerful, accursed cold assaulted her shielding. The Sword of Dawn actually continued onward, she realized, as it’s momentum was taking too long to reverse. But she pushed on, even as she felt her paling begin to give way once out of Ragnar’s Aegis. Redoubling her efforts to push back with her paling, she felt her ether take a heavy hit fighting back the shock and cold.
And finally, after what felt like minutes of swimming, Viveca saw her – Banbou was drifting lazily downward, though she was only maybe ten feet from the surface still and did not seem to be sinking quickly. The woman reached out and grabbed the scouting party’s pilot, extending her paling to protect her from the cold, once again adding to the drain on her ether. As she turned around to pull her back to the ship, it was gone… It was too dark, or the vessel was too deep and far; she could not see it. No, no… No, no, no… Viveca whipped around, but the only direction she could see was up. They needed to get out of this water, first and foremost, so she began dragging up… and up… Her arms and legs screaming against the cold, even through her paling. He lungs began to ache in warning; they really had moments before both of them would be pulled into the depths, never to be seen again.
Since The Sword of Dawn had been submerged, the water’s surface had become unperturbed. That is, until Viveca’s head broke through it and she gasped for fresh air, her teeth held back from chattering only by the sheer layer of will she had remaining. Where could they go? There was so much broken ice… There! A shelf, only about a foot out of the water. She could make sure Banou was still alive and decide their next step from there. Dragging the woman alongside her, Viveca side-stroked all the way to the shelf she spotted before reaching up with one arm and heaving Banou’s unmoving body on it, sliding her until she was completely out of the water. After that, Viveca climbed out of the water herself and let her paling soften slightly, just to absorb the cold around them, but no longer needed to stave off the water too. She pulled her own jacket off, removing her falchion from the belt, and placed it over Banou, using some of her remaining ether to create a small area of gentle warm, significantly less powerful than an Aegis, around them.
As she was trained, Viveca began checking vitals and for signs of life, rubbing her own arms when the cold attempted to cut through her paling. I swear to Omestris if you’re dead, I’ll hunt down your soul and reap it myself for letting me throw my life away… They were outside Varya’s Aegis – this woman likely had no right to be alive, unless Viveca was faster than she thought. Based on the readings and teachings of Father Antonin, there was little chance of survival outside of the Aegis. Banou’s eyes appeared slightly sunken and Viveca noticed a certain firmness in the woman’s veins, but… based on everything she was taught, it hadn’t progressed as quickly as she had heard. Keeping one hand on the woman to cover her in paling, Viveca checked for injuries – bruises, to be sure, but… nothing mortal, thankfully. Upon touching Banou’s shoulder, the woman sharply inhaled, but still appeared to be fluttering in and out of consciousness. It had to be dislocated, based on what Viveca knew of first aid. This wasn’t going to be pretty…
“Hang in there, this is gonna hurt…” She muttered, though there was no telling if Banou would hear her as she braced herself and then, in one quick, powerful move, popped the socket back into place.