A/N: So that storm scene on the way to the other continent? Yes. I'm not the first one to write about it, and probably not the last. For obvious reasons.
Storm Before the Calm
Damien Vryce had been dreaming of something pleasant. He couldn't quite remember what it was, afterwards, that he had been dreaming about, but he could recall that the first thing he had felt upon being jolted awake was an intense sense of regret and a desire to just go back to sleep. Pleasant things, even dreams – or perhaps especially dreams, all things considered – were a rare luxury in this mess his life had become.
The next thing to penetrate through into his consciousness – a thunderclap loud enough to almost make him believe the sky itself had cracked right open – was enough to dispel any lingering thoughts of sleep from his mind. As full awareness of the world around him crashed home, he heard the shouts of the crew outside. The ex-priest hauled himself out of bed with a muttered oath – and landed right back, colliding painfully with the wall as the ship pitched violently to one side. The second attempt was more successful and he managed to maintain his balance enough to pull a pair of pants of before heading up to the deck.
Once he was up there he almost wished he hadn't bothered. Golden Glory was being tossed about like a ragdoll that was being fought over by a pack of bloodhounds, and a quick assessment of the situation told him that they had around the same chance of survival as said ragdoll. The waves around the ship seemed tall as mountains and the clouds overhead gave little hope of the storm passing any time soon.
"Get below, rev!" a sailor yelled at him – even though the man was close, Damien could barely hear him over the howling wind. "Nothing you can do up here except get thrown overboard and a fat lot of good that'll do us!"
Damien couldn't argue against that – not that there was any point, because the sailor was already gone off fighting the battle against the elements along with the rest of the crew, securing ropes, doing what little any human could in the face of such a force as they were facing. And just as the crew of the Glory couldn't just sit back and let the storm take them down without a fight, Damien couldn't go back to his cabin. He had a brief moment to marvel at the human nature that made people keep fighting against impossible odds – and then all thought was driven from his head and he was clinging on to the rigging on pure animal instinct as the ship thrashed like a wounded wild animal.
They weren't going to live through the day.
No sooner had the realisation formed at the back of his mind than the door leading below deck opened again and was nearly ripped off its hinges by the force of the storm. Damien's heart leaped as he saw the tall figure of Gerald Tarrant emerge onto the deck. If anyone could save them... If anyone could, it was the Hunter.
The look on the undead sorcerer's face rivalled the storm in sheer ferocity. Tarrant wasn't ready to die in the middle of this ocean, not after everything he had done to survive for almost a millennium. He cast a quick look around, as if looking for something – until he spotted Damien. Their eyes met for a fraction of a second before the Adept braced himself, one hand gripping the rigging for support as he raised his eyes towards the heavens. And with his free hand he drew his sword.
The Working that shot up from the tip of the sword was brighter than any lightning Damien had ever seen, a cold blue light, blinding in its brilliance. There might have been a sound as it hit the heart of the storm – it was difficult to tell amidst the chaos that ensued. The air was suddenly freezing – it wasn't called coldfire for nothing, a hysterically detached part of Damien's mind noted wryly – and the next wave that crashed across the deck coated every surface with a sheen of ice.
But the storm seemed to lose some of its force. The waves no longer rose quite so high, and the wind no longer howled quite so loudly. And the clouds...
The clouds thinned just enough to let a trickle of sunlight through. It wasn't much, but it was enough.
The Hunter never made a sound as he fell. He had sheathed his sword – his last conscious act before the incapacitating pain hit him – and was still holding on to the rigging as if his life depended on it. Damien half-ran, half-slid across the icy deck and knelt beside him.
"God damn, Tarrant!" he muttered under his breath as he did his best to shield the Hunter from the dangerous light. "Come on, stay with me! Let go of the vulking rope!"
But the sorcerer was beyond comprehension. The beautiful face was twisted into a horrible mask of agony, and where exposed to the light, the perfect skin sizzled and burned. And yet he wouldn't let go of the rope. Eventually Damien was forced to cut a part of the rope – he'd deal with an angry captain later on; at least that was something he could deal with – before he was able to drag the Hunter below deck, away from the sunlight that was killing him.
He half-carried, half-dragged the sorcerer to the cargo hold, where a truly lightless place had been set up for him for the duration of the journey. The ex-priest's human eyes required light to see, but for the moment he was too exhausted to care and just sagged against the wall as soon as the door closed behind him. It took him a few moments to realise that he was still holding Tarrant's limp body. A few more moments passed until he realised that he wouldn't get any warmer as long as he was holding the undead sorcerer like that. He couldn't bring himself to care just yet; the aftermath of the adrenaline rush and the sheer disbelief at being alive had robbed him of his strength.
Damien had no idea how long he had sat there on the floor, staring into the darkness that was to his senses impenetrable, when the Hunter stirred. "...Vryce?"
"Right here," Damien said.
"I know that," came the icy reply. "In case my meaning was not clear, I was wondering if there was any particular reason you're here freezing yourself to death."
"You're right," Damien shot back, "it was not very clear. You said my name. I was supposed to hear all that?" He couldn't see, but he could imagine all too well the look the Hunter wore when he didn't appreciate the wit.
Tarrant made an impatient sound and gathered himself from the floor, not with quite his usual grace but made it to his feet anyway. Damien heard the floorboards creaking as the Hunter walked the few paces to the narrow bed and sat down heavily. Not quite recovered, then. Damien shivered, only now fully realising how cold he really was. And once he started, he couldn't stop shivering. He tried rubbing his upper arms vigorously, but as he was wearing clothes soaked with the freezing water, the effort had minimal effect.
"Getting pneumonia because you're too stupid or too stubborn to go get warmed up seems to me like a poor way to repay the risk I just took to save all your hides up there," Tarrant observed coolly. And it might have been just his imagination, but Damien thought he heard something else in the sorcerer's voice as well, something that was not quite concern, but semantically related. Distantly. Maybe something like third cousins, or... "I fail to see anything amusing about this."
It was then that Damien realised that he was laughing, a pitiful, wheezing sound that nevertheless refused to stop. Tarrant was right; it was high time he hauled his ass back to his cabin for a change of dry clothes. Getting up required a bit more of an effort than he was used to, but eventually he was on his feet again, peering through the darkness – futile – into the direction where he assumed the Hunter to be. "Will you be fine?"
"Me?" Tarrant's voice was equal parts exasperation and disbelief. "Eventually, yes. And as you should know, a lot of it depends on you, so run along now."
"All right, all right," the ex-priest said and turned – and missed the door. It took a bit of fumbling before he found it in the dark, but then he was on his way.
Back in his cabin he changed into dry clothes, had a few mouthfuls of rum to help warm himself up and then curled up under a blanket, still shivering.
He must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew the sea was still and the ship was quiet. He couldn't recall dreaming, and he was fairly sure he'd remember one of Tarrant's nightmares, if not in detail then at least the paralysing fear that the Hunter had a talent for inspiring. He wondered if this meant that the Hunter was still in a bad shape – he needed the nourishment to regain his strength, just like anyone, albeit that nourishment was not food as humans knew the concept. Mildly concerned, the ex-priest went out to the deck.
The sky was still cloudy, only a couple of stars were visible where the clouds parted for a bit. Damien lit a lantern and looked around. It didn't take him long to spot the familiar figure at the bow of the ship. Damien approached him quietly, but obviously the other man heard him. "Vryce."
"I slept well enough, thank you." He stopped next to the Hunter and set the lantern down by his feet and leaned casually on the railing.
Tarrant didn't turn to look at him. "You need your strength if you're to endure the nightmares." A moment of silence. "I'm sure you realise I can't afford to go easy on you for the next while. Perhaps not until we reach land again." And there will hopefully be other people to feed on.
Damien grimaced. "Oh, I do." He looked at the Hunter, trying to find any obvious signs that he was not fully recovered. There were none that mere eye could see, of course; the Neocount of Merentha was a vain creature and would go to great pains to maintain a flawless appearance. "Well, I guess I'll hit the sack again, then," he said when it became clear that the Hunter was in no mood for further conversation. "Just wanted to see you were..." He trailed off. He must still be half-asleep to be admitting out loud that he'd needed to see that the Hunter was out and about. Since when was it in any way reassuring to his peace of mind, anyway? He shook his head distractedly. "Enjoy."
The ex-priest turned and started off without waiting for a response. Against his expectations, he received one anyway. "I shall," Tarrant's voice said, quiet but distinctly amused. "Thank you."