Late in the evening as they approached the mists that surrounded the Ranier Islands, the crew set about arming themselves. Meanwhile Beddigan, Clottie, and a still reluctant William discussed the plan to rescue the Dragon-born. They knew that the Lynx sorcerers would be alerted immediately once they made landfall, just as they had been the last time that they had visited the Islands. At least this time they knew exactly where to find those in need of rescue, so that they could move swiftly and retreat with great haste. All they could to was hope that they could get to the Dragon-born fast enough to get them back to the ship and on their way before the Lynx attacked.
Beddigan was helping Clottie fix some padded leather armor over her tunic when he caught sight of Shianne and Ragnon approaching them. Ragnon’s eyes were fixed on the horizon where the great wall of green-grey miss rose in the distance.
“I was beginning to think I’d never see them.” The Wolf murmured, marvelled and entranced by the eerie beauty of the barrier that had kept the Islands shielded from the rest of the world for many turnings. Beddigan caught the Wolf’s gaze,
“Admire it now while you can. Soon it will be chaos and it won’t look nearly as beautiful as me make our escape.”
Despite having promised to do exactly this- rescue the Dragon-born from their veritable prison, he was not pleased with having to make this trip now; not pleased to be dragging his companions into what would likely be a very dangerous fight.
Shianne’s cloak caught in the wind and blew back to reveal a heavily armored chest, strapped with many daggers and a large collection of crystals; some of which Beddigan had never seen before. He cocked is eyebrow at her,
“You have chosen to join us?” he asked, incredulous. He saw the briefest hint of worry in her eyes before she scoffed and grinned,
“Like I would miss out on this kind of action!” Beddigan watched her closely as she moved about the crew, helping the Badgers armor up. What caused that change of heart, I wonder? He thought.
The movement of Ragnon strapping on similar armor to what Clottie had donned, drew his thoughts away from Shianne. He stared at the Wolf, mouth agape,
“You’re coming too?” he asked. The Wolf offered him a toothy grin.
“I can’t let you have all the fun now, can I?” Beddigan frowned, but before he could say anything Clottie rushed to Ragnon’s side.
“Ragnon, are you certain this is a good idea? I know you are feeling better, but you are not fully healed. Far from it, in fact!” his sister said, hands wringing nervously in front of her. Ragnon slung an arm around Clottie’s shoulder and chuckled,
“Oh, it probably isn’t the best idea, but the ones that are the most fun never are!” Beddigan’s gaze lingered on Ragnon’s arm clutching his baby sister’s shoulder. We’re going to have to have a talk about that, he thought, but now is not the time. Mouth pursed in annoyance, he beckoned for Ragnon to join him at William’s side.
“If you are coming along you best arm yourself. These Lynx sorcerers are not to be trifled with. I don’t know how effective any of our hand weapons will be against magic, but best to be armed as much as possible anyways.” He watched as William grumbled and reluctantly lead the Wolf over to a cluster of crates filled with miscellaneous weapons and armor; swords, gauntlets, daggers, throwing knives, flails, maces, and even a few bows with quivers of sharp, barbed arrows. Clottie moved to his side,
“Do you think he is strong enough to fight?” she asked him in a low voice watching as Ragnon picked through the weapons, testing the weight of a sword. Beddigan observed his companion as he moved, catching glimpses of pain on the Wolf’s face; stutters in his movement when something ached too much to fully hide the discomfort.
“I think it’s his choice if he wishes to help on this rescue mission. And we will need all of the help we can get.” Clottie wore a concerned face as Shianne, Ragnon, And William all approached where she and Beddigan stood.
“We are nearly there.” William said, his bulk but a shadow against the darkening sky. As if on cue, Captain Linley’s voice rang out from the stern of the ship,
“Places everyone, places! Everyone to their assigned location. Hop to it!” Beddigan tugged his sister close in a short but fierce hug.
“You heard the captain, everyone. It is about to begin.” William grumbled in response,
“I still think this is a terribly foolish idea. What good are swords and bows against sorcery?” Shianne sauntered past the bear with a grin and a subtle gesture to the crystals on her chest straps.
“They aren’t the only ones with magic.” She said fiercely, and then gesturing back at Clottie, she said, “And we have our own sorcerer.” Beddigan felt his sister tense, even as she nodded to them, a fierce look of determination on her face. They all moved to their assigned positions along the ship’s railing and watched as the ship moved ever closer to the wall of mist.
“Let the games begin.” Beddigan breathed into the night air.
The ship came to a sudden and grinding halt along the sandbar, the crew’s haste bringing the ship in too quickly. Everyone lurched forward as they met land. This time, being prepared for the intensity of the squeal when the ship broke through the mist, the majority of those aboard required little recovery time, though Ragnon and Clottie still looked a bit glassy-eyed.
In the interest of a speedy escape, no gangway was lowered and the rescue team was agreed to be on the smaller side, consisting of only Captain Linley, three of his sharpest crewmen, and the lot of Beddigan, Shianne, William, Ragnon, and Clottie.
Shianne was first to grip the rope and fling herself over and down off of the ship, landing gracefully on the sandbar.
“Come on, you lot! Time is wasting.” She called up to them. Beddigan instructed Clottie quickly on how to make the slide down, as Linley and his crew disappeared over the railing. William descended and then Ragnon, who tossed Clottie a quick wink before he hurled himself overboard.
“I’ll be down there to break your fall, should things go sideways, my lady.” Clottie stifled a giggle and Beddigan rolled his eyes as the Wolf disappeared from sight.
Beddigan had agreed to bring up the rear so that Clottie would have some support as she readied herself. Beddigan carefully looped the rope around her paws and gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze.
“You’ll be fine, little one.” He murmured as he hoisted her up onto the ship’s railing. “Don’t look down, just jump.” She gave him a small, nervous nod and leapt.
As Beddigan followed her down to the sandbar, he surveyed the group and noticed two missing. As he landed on the sand he addressed Captain Linley,
“Did Shianne and Ragnon scout ahead? Shouldn’t you or William have gone with them since they don’t know the way?” Captain Linley gave him an odd look,
“Not sure what happened to them. They were just here it seemed…” the little Badger trailed off evasively. Beddigan felt a growing sense of unease, but shoved it aside. He started jogging towards the break in the trees,
“Come along all, we haven’t much time!” He called back to the group. Soon they were moving together fluidly through the dark forest. He listened abstractly to the group’s collective wonder as they passed the peculiar bright green apple trees and hurried through the stand of trees with blue and white striped bark.
“A wonder.” Beddigan heard his sister marvel, with curiosity in her voice. As they approached the clearing lined with shrubs laden with oily-looking purple fruit, Beddigan felt his heart sink. No orange light flickered to announce to them the small tent-village of the Dragon-born. He held up a paw to stop the group and signalled for them to wait as he crept forward.
Stepping out of the bushes he felt grief wash over him at what remained of the Dragon-born’s camp: a few tattered tent cloths, torn and scorched on the ground; one of the long tables, broken and charred. The dead ring of earth where their bonfire had burned.
The crunch of underbrush behind Beddigan caused him to turn to see Captain Linley stepping out into the dead, quiet clearing. The little Badger made a sorrowful sound.
“We’re too late, it seems.”
The rest of the crew crept forward to survey what was left of the camp. Clottie made a choked sound as she surveyed the destruction. William growled softly, and moved past them, taking a closer look around the camp. Beddigan watched the Bear move purposefully around the clearing. He returned wearing a concerned face.
“There are no signs of struggle. No signs of anything at all, really. There are no tracks of any kind.” Beddigan’s brow furrowed as he cast his gaze around the clearing.
“They must have freed themselves! I know not how, but with the power they must have had…” Captain Linley said, traces of excitement lacing his voice. “Yes, yes this could all be staged!”
“Or maybe they were transferred to another island within the mists.” William said in a hard voice. “That is often what jailors do when they are concerned of rescue or escape attempts.” Beddigan listened to them both, staring at the burned circle in the centre of the clearing, and thinking about the looming shape of the Elder Dragon on the sandbar as they had made their escape last time.
“Or maybe… they were destroyed.” Clottie gulped, in a small voice. Beddigan winced at that thought.
“Well standing around here isn’t going to give us any answers.” Ragnon’s voice came as a surprise from the bushes as he stepped out into the clearing. Shianne followed him into the clearing, looking around briefly.
“Whatever happened to them, it is none of our concern now.” Both Beddigan and Clottie gave Shianne a hard look. She held up her paws in a plaintive gesture, “Now, I didn’t mean it like that. I only meant that we can’t rescue what isn’t here.” She said in an annoyed tone, “We can argue about my lack of tact later, but we best get moving before we are hip deep in Lynx sorcerers.” Beddigan nodded and turned to make his way back through the bushes.
They rushed back along the path towards the sandbar, and Beddigan felt the sense of unease grow in his belly until they burst out from the trees onto the sand and saw the ship… looking exactly as they had left it. The furrow in his brow deepened. He had been sure they would arrive to find it in flames, or the ship vanished, or at the very least, swarming with Lynx.
One by one the assembled group grasped the rope and were hauled up by the remaining ship’s crew, Linley and his men first, followed by Ragnon and Clottie. Standing on the sand with William and Shianne, Beddigan peered around at the dark water, lapping the shores, and the bulbous shadows of the Islands beside and behind them.
“How have the Lynx not been made aware of us?” He asked. He noticed that Shianne wore a tiny grin. He narrowed his eyes at her, “What did you do, Shianne?” She grinned then, and William growled. She tapped a flat, oval turquoise gem on her chest, and Beddigan gasped as little veins of black sparkled through it at her touch.
“I have been masking our presence since before we entered the mists.” William made a strangled sound,
“And you didn’t tell us of this because…?” Shianne shrugged and moved towards the rope, grinning at them.
“We all have to have our own little bits of fun, don’t we? Besides,” she said tapping the gem again, “This thing cost me more coin than you can imagine and it doesn’t have much juice left.” Beddigan frowned.
“You didn’t even want to come here. Why use something of your own, of such value, to aid us?” Shianne’s eyes sparkled as she tugged on the rope to signal to those aboard that she was ready to be pulled up.
“Maybe I’m just catching on to your altruism, Beddy.” And then she was ascending towards the ship’s deck. William growled,
“If she came to help with the rescue for altruism’s sake, I’ll eat my cloak.” Beddigan nodded as the Bear moved to the rope and tugged on it.
Standing alone on the sandbar, he turned back to face the woods, turning to eye the bulk of Island that rose up to the left. Glittering crystals growing up from the ground caught the starlight. Turning back to the ship, he fingered the ones hanging from his belt and thought about the collection of crystals that Shianne wore on the leather straps across her chest.
“Altruism indeed.” Beddigan murmured, as he tugged the rope and rose up into the night sky.
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