Seri’s head exploded in violent pain. Despite the control she worked so hard to maintain, she screamed and grabbed at her hair.
Beside her, someone else screamed. Dravid. He dropped his crutch and fell, clutching at his own head.
Seri had never experienced pain like this. It felt like someone had jammed a hot iron into her brain and stirred it around. At the same time, something happened inside her chest. Her heart felt pulled, pulled back toward the island of Zes Sivas. The pull became almost as unbearable as the pain in her head, and then…
Seri staggered and collapsed. The pain in her head seemed almost inconsequential now, compared to her chest. It felt like an iron ball slammed into her chest, then ricocheted around inside it. Surely all of her ribs had shattered. She heard a voice yelling at her, but couldn’t figure out the words. The pain overrode her hearing. She rolled back and forth.
Hands grabbed her shoulders. Strong hands that kept her in place. The voice yelling at her gradually became more distinct, though her pain did not lessen.
“…broken! You can get through this! My Lady! Can you hear me?”
Ixchel. Dimly, Seri recognized only Ixchel would have strong enough hands to hold her this way, and be willing to do so.
“Hold him! Hold him steady!” Ixchel said to someone else, her voice blurring. Then she was speaking at Seri again. “You must focus, my Lady! You are strong! You can do this!”
Do what? Seri didn’t even know what was happening. But it hurt. So. Much.
“You must listen to me. Listen! Master Hain is dead.”
Dead? Her mentor? He…
“You and Dravid were both Bonded to him. His death has broken the Bond. You are both…” Ixchel’s voice faded.
Seri’s head filled with memories of Master Hain, the powerful mage who had been training her for the last few months. Yet each memory appeared twisted, distorted in pain, with different, horrible outcomes. In her arrival at Zes Sivas, a tower collapsed on the Master. An assassin stabbed him in the back. An earthquake swallowed him. One of his fellow Masters blasted him apart with magic.
“No! No!” Her voice screamed her denials, but she had no conscious thought of doing so.
“Hailstones!” she heard Ixchel curse. “I can’t help them both. Not at the same time…”
The memories shattered apart in the all-consuming pain. And then Seri sensed the real threat. Something came toward her. Something deadly. From the East, in the direction of Zes Sivas, an avenging being strode across the waves toward her. She had no idea how she knew this, only that it came.
“What is that?” Dravid cried, and she knew he sensed it too.
In her mind’s eye, Seri saw the creature, a figure of flame and magic incarnate, coming for her. Inexorable. Unstoppable. It walked across the water, every step creating explosions of steam. Then, within her mind, Seri’s star-sight activated and she saw the being as it looked in the Otherworld.
If her first vision of the creature had been a flame, its appearance now made that look like a simple candle. It shattered the Otherworld’s darkness with a light so intense, it seemed as if… as if…
Seri’s brain could not pursue that train of thought any further. Her eyes snapped open to see Ixchel holding her head, her face almost touching her own. “Deny it!” Ixchel said, her face fiercer than Seri had ever seen, even when she fought Volraag’s assassin. “You are not to blame! You are innocent of the Master’s blood!”
Of course she was. She had done nothing wrong. Why should she suffer like this? What would that creature do to her if it reached her? What—?
“Say it!” Ixchel screamed, spittle hitting Seri’s own lips. “Declare your innocence!”
“I’m innocent!” Seri cried, the words a plea of desperation. “He was my Master! I… I loved him!”
In her mind’s eye, the being stopped and faded from view. It no longer came for her. The pain began to fade, as well, though her head and chest still ached with an unbelievable soreness that vibrated like her magic. Ixchel released her and she slumped back down to her hands and knees.
She looked down at rough wood. The ship’s deck. They were on the ship. She and Ixchel and Dravid…
“Dravid!” she exclaimed, her voice weak and hoarse.
He thrashed a few feet away. Two sailors held on to his arms, though both looked completely baffled. His face alternated between horror and pain. His eyes stared east, locked onto something only he could see. Seri blinked, trying to focus her vision and thoughts. Were Dravid’s eyes glowing?
Ixchel scrambled over to him and grabbed Dravid’s head as she had Seri’s. “Deny it!” she said, repeating her instructions. When Dravid did not respond, Ixchel looked back at Seri. “It may be too late for him!”
Seri staggered to her feet. No. She would not let Dravid fall to this, not after all he had been through already. She didn’t know what would happen if the shining creature reached Dravid, but she had sensed vengeance in her own contact with it. It did not intend anything good.
Seri closed her eyes. She had transported herself to the Otherworld fully in a moment of self-preservation, and had not been able to repeat that feat since. But she had also slipped over to it another time, or at least partially, when she saw a monster roaming the ruins of Zes Sivas. Perhaps that kind of transport was all she needed here. She opened her eyes, her star-sight fully activated. Multi-colored beams of pure magic shot around her. Nowhere near as many as she constantly saw on Zes Sivas, but this would have to be enough.
She grabbed as many beams as she could, heedless of their colors, and absorbed them into herself. She knew the danger. Too much magic might tear her apart. But Dravid’s life might depend on it. Desperately, she grabbed more and more. Her entire body began to vibrate.
“My Lady?” Ixchel’s voice seemed to come from far away.
Seri could not take the time to respond. She focused as much of the magic as she could into her left eye, her star-eye. The power pushed against her eyelid. She felt like the skin itself would explode.
Her eyes flew open. Whether she stood fully within the Otherworld or not, she did not know. The avenging creature filled her vision, consumed her senses. She stood between it and Dravid, and its presence dwarfed them all. They were gnats before a giant, chaff to be consumed by one touch of its outstretched hand.
In that moment, Seri’s mind made the connection she had sought earlier. The light appeared as intense as if… a star had come down to walk the earth.
“You can’t have him!” Seri screamed. “He is innocent too!”
Her words had no effect, as far as she could tell. It reached forward, drawing nearer and nearer.
Seri shrieked. She swept her arms in a wide circle outward, trying to gather even more magic. Then she swept her arms forward, channeling every iota of power she had forward at the creature. With her star-sight, she saw beam after beam after beam of colored light burst from her hands and strike the creature. She emptied herself, throwing everything into one desperate effort.
The creature paused. Seri knew that it perceived her now, turning from Dravid back to her. Its hand, if hand it could be called, came towards her. A single appendage of light, like a finger, came toward her face.
“No!” Seri screamed once more. The finger touched her left eye.
Seri fell backward, felt arms catching her, Ixchel’s strong arms, felt her head spinning in vertigo, felt the pain renewed in her head and chest. Yet none of that mattered, for she knew—she knew!—what the creature had done to her, the price it had exacted for her interference in its duty. Her consciousness faded away.
When she finally woke many hours later in her hammock, she blinked and blinked until tears coursed down her cheeks. Her fears were confirmed.
Her star-sight was gone.