Jyl didn’t have to wonder if her boss had gone insane. That was a given. The Lady Daelynne Akorli was renowned for many things but the general consensus did not view her as a particularly calm and stable entity. Most of the nobles Jyl encountered had nice things to say about the Queen’s Knight for example, but they preferred to say them from as far away from the slayer of nobles and royalty as they could get. Jyl knew this when she signed up for the Queen’s Guard and had envied the respect Lady Akorli had garnered through deeds rather than position. It wasn’t Dae’s sanity that Jyl questioned as she heard the plan for taking on the incoming sea dragons therefor.
It was her own.
“We’re going to do what?” she asked, hoping that her ears had filled with seawater and she’d misheard her captain.
“We’re going to subvert the Harbor Wyrms to our cause,” Dae said.
“They no more than a few minutes away,” May said. “How will we convince them to aid us in that time?”
“Before they get here? We won’t,” Dae said. “We’re going to have to befriend them the hard way.”
“And that would involve what?” Jyl asked.
Floating in a dark ocean under a cloud dimmed sky, Jyl felt like she’d fallen into another world, and she wasn’t sure it was one that she liked.
“To be begin with, showing them that we make for a very disagreeable snack,” Dae said.
“The Harbor Wyrms are not small,” May said. “And they are not without power and perils of their own. I do not know that we can fight them in their own domain so easily.”
“We don’t get stuck with doing the easy things,” Dae said. “I don’t blame you for being nervous either. I think we can do this, but that’s based on a lot of guesswork.”
Jyl was more than nervous. In a moment of honest self-reflection, she felt the tremors that still ran along her spine. The long walk at the bottom of the ocean had given her enough time and distance from the dragon flight that she wasn’t paralyzed with fear, but it felt like pieces of those memories were embedded in her nerves like shards of glass.
“I don’t know if I can,” Jyl said. “Just getting here used up all the power I had available. I was almost losing it before we got to the shallows. I don’t think I have enough left to transform again.”
“I can not fight either,” May said. Her voice was soft but it carried over the lap of the waves. “We are too close to our power. We drew too deeply on it and now we teeter at its brink. If we call on any more I will lose the part of us which is Mayleena. Maybe for a time, or maybe forever.”
“How many Harbor Wyrms are coming?” Dae asked. Her expression was unreadable to Jyl, which was in its own strange way comforting. If Dae had shown panic and fear, Jyl would have understood how alike they were. If Dae had shown anger or glee, Jyl would have appreciated that her boss was a monster, but one who was on their side. Instead Dae appeared neither calm nor panicked, neither angry, nor desperate. There was an intensity to the Queen’s Knight, a focused but relaxed energy that Jyl was familiar with from the best of her combat practice sessions. Jyl didn’t feel protected by that intensity, but rather inspired by it.
“Three,” May said. “They are no more than a minute away from us now. I am sorry, it is too late to lead them astray.”
“Don’t worry,” Dae said. “I’m not sacrificing either of you. We didn’t come here to die for Gallagrin. Now making other things die for Paxmer? That’s a different story.”
“Can you defeat all three of the wyrms alone?” May asked.
“Probably not,” Dae said. “I’ll need help with at least one of them, if my guesses are right.”
“We should have brought more troops,” Jyl said.
“You’re plenty,” Dae said. “The both of you are. Never, ever think otherwise.”
“I can’t transform though!” Jyl said.
“Maybe you can,” Dae said. “All you need is some extra magic to work with.”
“But if I call for any I’m going to lose control,” Jyl said.
“Then we just need to get you some magic without you having to call on your pact for it,” Dae said.
“That’s not possible,” Jyl said. “Is it?”
“May, you’re almost drowning in magic at the moment aren’t you?” Dae asked.
“We drew on too much, and if we use any of it, more rushes in to fill it’s place,” May said.
“What if you didn’t use it,” Dae said. “What if you passed it off to Jyl?”
“We could burn her to cinders if I passed too much,” May said.
“Wait, how would you give me magic?” Jyl asked. “I thought our magic came from our pact bonds?”
“That’s how we draw magic into this world,” Dae said. “But the pact bonds aren’t Gallagrin’s native magical gift. At its most fundamental level, our gift is the ability to shape and manipulate magic to change ourselves. The pact bonds safeguard us from changing the elements that define who we are or that we need to continuing existing, but as May has demonstrated its possible to live outside the limits of those safeguards.”
“Possible, but dangerous.” May said.
Jyl felt more tremors in her spine. Being terror-stricken by the dragons hurt enough that she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk anything like that ever again. If she accepted May’s help, she’d be plunged right back into the madness that had led to being helpless on the deck of the Fearless.
“Let’s try it,” she said, stomping on her thoughts and gritting her teeth. Jyl hated being afraid, she hated being weak, but most of all she hated giving up. Every time she gave up the same thing happened. Her sister won. In every race, in every test, in every competition, when Jyl faltered and gave up, her sister was right there, ready to take the prize from her.
Jyl knew it was her own personal brand of crazy that drove her since her sister was in no position to take anything away from her and there was no prize to be won beside survival, but she didn’t care. If life had taught her anything, it was that making your own personal brand of craziness work for you was often the only way to get what you wanted.
“Give me your hands,” Dae said and reached out to the other two women. “I’ll act as the buffer for Jyl.”
“We could burn you to cinders too then,” May said.
“You won’t,” Dae said. “I have a larger reservoir to hold your magic with, and I’ve spent more time doing stupid things with magic than either of you. I can handle this.”
Jyl’s elvish ears were just sharp enough to hear the “probably” that Dae whispered. Choosing to ignore that, Jyl took Dae’s left hand in her right and May’s right hand in her left.
For a moment nothing happened and Jyl was left to wonder how long they had before the Habor Wyrms showed up.
Then the magic started pouring into her.
When Jyl drew on her pact spirit’s magic, she had the image of drinking from a deep running stream. There was more power in her pact spirit than she could ever consume, and if she tried to take too much she’d easily drown. In walking across the ocean floor, she’d slowly drank the stream down to a point where to take more she’d have to lean out so far to drink from it that she’d tumble off the bank and be swept away by its current.
Taking in the power that Dae was funneling to her from Mayleena called for a different image though. Jyl was no longer drinking from a stream. Instead the ocean around her was trying to cram itself into her bones through every pore in her body.
Jyl had no idea what to do with that much power but fortunately her pact spirit did. Jyl had never worn Full Noble Regalia before, but she’d imagined it and her pact spirit drew on that to form a new set of armor around her.
She was soaring above the clouds before she came to her senses and felt the excess absorbed power burn off to the point where she could think clearly again. As it turned out, her heightened vantage point proved useful though.
From high in the sky, Jyl watched as the three incoming Harbor Wyrms caught sight of their quarry. They were magnificent creatures from a distance. Blue and green waves of light rippled down their enormous serpentine bodies, the faint glow illuminating the water around them and making the giant creatures stand out against the dark waves.
Jyl threw herself into a dive in order to join the impending fray, but checked her flight when she saw one of the three Wyrms turn tail and begin swimming at speed back to the docks.
“It saw May,” she whispered to herself, trying to work out the creature’s reasoning. “It’s going to warn the city.”
An alerted Windsmer meant a dozen dragons would be aware of their presence, and that wasn’t something Jyl couldn’t allow to happen so she sped after the fleeing Wyrm and prayed that Dae could handle the two other foes.
The fleeing Wyrm was easy to follow since it preferred to leap above the waves to make better speed than it seemed to be capable of while swimming through the water. With a body that seemed to be nothing but fluid muscle, it was almost able to outdistance Jyl as well.
Almost, but not quite.
When she hit the creature, Jyl fell on it like she’d been launched from a siege engine. Her force carried the wyrm to the floor of the ocean where she felt the beast twist around, seeking to grasp and crush the life from her.
They’d drawn close to Windsmer before Jyl was able to intercept the Harbor Wyrm and from the moment she hit her foe, Jyl’s mind was on the importance of not rousing the attention of the city watch, or more importantly the guardian dragons that were in place around the city. If the city was alerted then dragon fear would follow, and even the thought of that made her limbs tremble.
Dragon fear was not the primary danger she faced though. While Dae’s guess that the Harbor Wyrms were not the equals of the true Paxmer dragons was correct, the Wyrms were still formidable foes in their own right.
More formidable than Jyl found she could easily deal with in fact.
Each blow she threw hit for some effect, but not as much as she need them to if she was going to win the battle. She knew she was crippling herself with the fear of the dragons which lurked in the city above the waves, but even as the wyrm overwhelmed her defenses she couldn’t manage to push that fear aside.
“I can’t die here,” she said, reaching for anything that would get her past the sick feeling that was stealing her strength away. The power she’d borrowed from May rose inside her carrying with it the answer she sought. For an agonizing moment, Jyl wasn’t sure if she should accept the scalding flood of power that surged up, but looking into the electrified fangs of the Harbor Wyrm, she saw that she had no choice.
The next series of events were a blur to her. She felt anger sweep over her and directed it outwards. She was mad at her own weakness, but she was enraged by the creatures that had exploited it. The Harbor Wyrm was a lesser stand-in for a Paxmer dragon but as far as the madness was concerned it was an entirely acceptable target.
By the time Jyl was finished the Wyrm was a shattered wreck of its former self. The giant creature lay on ocean floor struggling to breathe and wimpering in pain. It was healing quickly, as magical creatures tended to do, but it still flinched away when Jyl advanced on it.
Exhausted, she nonetheless carried the great serpent back with her to where Dae and May were waiting for her.
The other two Harbor Wyrms were there as well, looking damaged though in better shape than the one Jyl had tangled with. With a glance at Dae for confirmation, Jyl allowed her former foe to drift over to its companions while she rejoined hers.
As Jyl settled into place beside her compatriots, Dae withdrew one of the chests of gold, a small one, from the backpack her Pact Knight armor had been conjured with.
Dae walked closer to the three wary Harbor Wyrms and placed the chest, lid open, before them.
The Harbor Wyrms weren’t dragons, but they’d been drawn from a similar template and had a similar appetite for treasure. The three exchanged glances among themselves and then spoke in tongues that sounded impossible and alien to Jyl’s ears.
After a short discussion, they reached some sort of agreement and held their position. Not retreating, not attacking, and not yet taking the proffered treasure.
Dae didn’t appear to be surprised by this. Instead she pointed to a nearby rock formation and said “Here, tomorrow, same time”. Her words were garbled by the water but the wyrms seemed to understand them well enough.
Without further discussion the three Queen’s Guards marched away, and allowed the Harbor Wyrms to decide if they were interested in obtaining more treasure. The bait had been placed, and in Jyl’s mind the only question was which side would be walking into the trap the next time they met.