Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
A few days came and went, and with it a ton of packing, stockpiling, and gathering of luggage. Jade was going to come with us until Malia chased her off, and when I tried to ask her about it, all she said was, “She has her mines to attend to.” Hasda didn’t have time to be disappointed about Jade’s absence, however, because I had him in the sparring pit working on his swordplay every chance I got. He wasn’t bad, and he hadn’t left off his training quite as much as I’d thought, but he still wasn’t anywhere near the level he needed to be to face a thick-scaled, poison-spewing hydra.
With the maas around Ibitihia blocked, we decided to take the scenic route over the Great Sea. While the celestial ship we’d sail on would make the journey in a quarter of the time that a mortal vessel would, it’d still take nearly a week and a half to traverse the distance. Teleporting through the maas and exiting as close to the Ibithian forest as possible would have been faster, but it also would have been much harder to transport all our supplies. So, traversing the seas it was. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Malia would want to monitor the derketo’s aquatic movements, and I’d have ample time to get Hasda some practice in using his new water lungs.
Before we left, however, there was the matter of Synnefo’s ascension from disciple to master. Normally, there’d be a huge ceremony in which the previously Seated god would transfer their Office and spirit to their successor, imparting the remaining portion of their power to their apprentice. Since Zephyrus had vacated the premises and Synnefo had been the acting God of Weather for years now, however, it was entirely possible that Zephyrus had already done his transfer of power “under the table,” so to speak. And for Synnefo not to get the pomp and ceremony of a Seated god, well.
As far as I knew, Resef and Vrixia had taken direct control of the rainy season this year, and Synnefo hadn’t been involved in the weather patterns past the wind. Perhaps the Office was being split and Zephyrus’ former Seat removed. Seppo had taken Synnefo aside in his throne room, the pair had spent no more than an hour together, and then Synnefo had left for his maas while Seppo rejoined us at the celestial docks. He didn’t say anything, merely clunked his way across the gangplank and plunked his way to the bulkhead, where he stood gazing out to sea while he waited for us to depart.
To my surprise, Thane came along as well—without Azoria in tow. He didn’t look upset or like he’d been through any recent fights, though, so perhaps Azoria had business elsewhere. With a Trial about to begin and Malia’s collusion with her for the First Trial, her absence felt weird. A sideways glance at Malia didn’t reveal anything, either. My gorgon was leaning over the gunwale, wings catching the sunlight as she relaxed against the side of the ship.
Hasda came aboard with his light sack slung across his back, his sword at his side. Like me, he hadn’t packed much, maybe a few changes of clothes at most. His armor, including the corrupted chestplate, and other weapons had been stowed earlier, and I didn’t like how pale he looked without it. Ever since he’d bound the djinn to his armor, he hadn’t looked healthy when he wasn’t wearing it. I frowned at his back as he made his way below deck. If there was some kind of interdependency there, I’d need to figure out a way to nix it without crippling him. I could show more leniency to balance out Malia’s tight grip, but even I could only give so much with that strange, untrustworthy creature. Hasda could hold his own, but if that djinn had any ties to Tamiyat’s former mate, I’d rip it out of the very folds of the metal and shred it myself.
As the minotaur crew bellowed to their harpy shipmates, the dockside bulls tossed the mooring ropes onto the ship. Babask macaques, wiry monkeys with golden fur and an extra set of arms, scampered across the rigging in an elaborate dance with the airborne sailors as they unfurled and adjusted the sails. Unlike mortal triremes, ours had a third mast behind the main one, two supporting sails flanking each primary sail, and three tiers of oars that would sweep the air and the water. Not only was it an imposing sight, but it also made for quite the transition as it sailed through the portal from Nebesa to the Great Sea below.
With the final preparations complete, the boat glided away from the dock. The heavenly illusion of water glistened as sparks scattered across its surface. Three concentric rings of energy rippled out from the ship, growing towards the horizon until they almost disappeared from sight. When the third ring had caught up with the first two, the portal snapped open, swallowing the ship. Spirals of conflicting aura lined the tunnel we fell through like ribs, colors ranging from dull reds to vibrant greens and blues.
After a moment, three more rings, these ones golden, surged from the prow of the trireme, like the ringing of a gong made visible. Another portal unfolded in their wake, opening onto the churning gray water of the Great Sea. The sails whipped in the wind, the oars moaned in their joints, and then we landed on the mortal body of water. A massive plume of water heralded our arrival and rained down on us as it collapsed.
Cranky seagulls screamed at us as they wheeled away. Although we hadn’t flattened any mortal ships with our sudden arrival, I was fairly sure I saw a few fish flopping down in the spray. The air was heavy-laden with salt, not quite enough to make my nostril sting, but close. As the ship settled, I swayed my way across the deck, getting my sea legs under me as I made for the hatch. Hasda needed to practice using his new water lungs, and no better time to start than now.
Malia raised a brow in question, and I nodded. Laughing, she ran her palms over her wings to cover them with a water-resistant film. “Got some of your old impatience back, I see.”
I grunted. “He needs to get used to breathing underwater.”
“Indeed.” She smiled and leaned back. “Let me scan the area first.” And with that, she twisted and dove into the water.
I kicked at the hatch. “Hasda! Come on out. We’ve got some training to do.”
Barrels below deck clattered together as Hasda crawled out. I stopped him before he got all the way up the ladder.
“Leave the armor. It’ll only get in the way.”
I held up a hand. “Especially the chestplate.”
“Okay.” He frowned but descended to store the protection.
When he was finally ready—which took far too long, since he had no excuses with Jade absent—he joined me on the port side. Wearing nothing but plain, white shorts, he stood next to me, silent, moving out of the way of the tawny-furred minotaurs lumbering back and forth behind us. It was good to see he’d maintained his discipline and acclimated well to the ship.
“Did Zephyrus explain his gift?” I asked. The surface of the Great Sea flecked white in dozens of places as the waves shifted, as if peppered by sown seeds.
Hasda shook his head. “All he said was that I’d need this in the future.” He spread his hands over his chest and glanced down. “But he didn’t say what ‘this’ was, exactly.”
I nodded. “Does it still feel weird?”
“No.” He rubbed his ribs. “It only tingled while his hand was...doing whatever that was.”
“Good.” I pulled him up next to the railing and turned him to face me. “He changed your lungs so you could breathe underwater. Not breathe the water itself, mind you, but so long as there is air within the water itself you’ll survive.”
“So stagnant water could kill me?”
“Rather, you won’t be able to stay under as long. And black water” I paused as a burst of sea water splashed over the side of the ship. “Although black water is rarely black. Usually, the water is green or red, with a nasty, sticky film on the surface. Never try to breathe that water.”
“Understood.” He leaned over the gunwale. “Any other limitations I should know about?”
Good lad. I grinned. “You’ll need to learn to pace your breathing so you don’t knock yourself out from low air. While there’s a bit of magic in Zephyrus’ gift to help you get the most out of a little, it’s still not the same as breathing normal air. Exert yourself too much, and you’ll faint. And it doesn’t do anything to improve your underwater aerodynamics, so you won’t be outrunning any derketo. Try to avoid them at all costs, if you can.”
He nodded. “How does it work? Do I just breathe normally?”
“You’ll need to fill your lungs and nostrils with water to activate the gift.” My bond with Malia tugged slightly, giving the all-clear. “So today, you’ll work on overcoming your instincts not to drown. Ready?”
I couldn’t help myself. While I’d asked if he was prepared, I only gave him just enough time to process what I’d said before pushing him overboard. Malia was still circling beneath the ship, and with his water lungs he stood in no danger of drowning. He squawked a little and flailed his arms as he fell but recovered just in time not to slap the water.
After a bit of floundering, he forced his head under and blew out his surface air. It took him a couple tries before he finally got the hang of it, but eventually he was gulping down water and staying under on his own without jerking towards the surface. The occasional involuntary shudder betrayed his nerve, but Hasda was a good lad. He’d feel at ease beneath the waves by the end of our journey for sure.