Keeping the Lamp Lit - Part XVI

The silence was unnerving. Darkness slipped past them, as they rowed down the river, the shores drifting lazily by on either side. Charles got little sleep before nervous anticipation drove him over the edge of wakefulness yet again. Sitting in his little corner of the deck, he watched the men undercover of the darkness heave and pull on the massive shafts of wood, propelling them downstream. The night sky was beginning to clear, and stars were beginning to twinkle down from the heavens. The moon herself beckoned them onward, casting a pale aura on everything.

Matthias strained his ears to listen for sounds of pursuit, but only the faint sound of oars dipping into the water could be heard. Occasionally the wood of the schooner would creak or pop from the stress but otherwise, there was nothing. This far north the crickets had yet to come out, and no frog would dare sing its song for at least another month. And so the ship drifted along in silence. Many heads watched behind them, back towards Arabarb, but as always, the river was dark, and showed them nothing.

The sailors were tired, all of them. Charles could tell this from their slouching and occasional grunts. Ptomamus was driving them hard tonight. Once dawn came perhaps they would be able to rest, but just now they must take full advantage of the darkness. That the clouds were beginning to break up was certainly beginning to worry Matthias, as it revealed their ship. His rodent eyes were much better than human in the dark, but even still, he knew that a man might now notice them passing, and a Lutin certainly would.

Matthias also worried about the amulet itself. The reason for the mission was still sitting in Ptomamus's quarters. Who knew what sort of magic it radiated? He could only wonder how much longer it would take for Calephas to notice the amulet's disappearance. How long would it take for Nasoj to be notified? A day or two? That was as long as he was willing to guess. Certainly once it turned up missing, a chase would begin. According to Ptomamus, there was little chance that any local could run them down. Fleet ships were far faster than any rag-tag vessels that Calephas could have available for pursuit. Still, the situation worried the rat, who was not used to such things.

The coup-de-grace however had to be those strange lights that appeared in the sky shortly before morning. It was startling to suddenly see the black sky light up with purples and pinks and other ethereal colors in a shimmering curtain of incandescence. Apparently many of the sailors were familiar with these "Northern Lights" as they did not gawk at them the way Charles found himself doing. Ptomamus himself was more angry than awed, and made the first sound since they had departed Arabarb that any of them had heard.

"Aramaes, get me the clouds back," The Captain grumbled from the poop deck.

The mage had been rowing as well, but at the sound of his name, he stood aloft next to the mainmast. Uttering words beneath his breath, Charles watched the mage work, summoning forth the very elements themselves. A cracking came forth in the sky, and the sound of thunder could be heard rolling in from the west. Charles watched in amazement as large black clouds churned on the western horizon, rushing closer and closer, billowing larger and larger. In a matter of minutes, the brilliant lights were obscured, as were the stars and the moon. Darkness settled over the river valley once again. The "Arrow" sped forth in the darkness, while the skies above threatened rain and worse.

Even after the appointed hour of dawn, the riverbed was still shrouded in darkness. The shadows that fell upon them all were thick and ominous, but more pleasant than being captured by Nasoj and his ilk. Ptomamus struck one watch below, instituting shifts of his men. The port watch slept, while the starboard rowed. The river was still too narrow to allow any sailing. It would be another day before they could safely raise the sails.

Charles felt a bit tired himself after his nightly vigil, so he scampered back under the floorboards of Ptomamus's cabin. Like the night before, his sleep was short and unrestful. However it was not his nerves that disturbed him, but the sound of the Commander's voice calling his name. "Matthias!" The Captain whispered. "Are you here, Matthias?"

Charles sullenly dragged himself up from underneath the bookcase and stared up at the slightly nervous sailor. Ptomamus was quite relieved to see him, but he waved his hands a bit expectantly. "Can you, you know, become big again? I want to talk."

Charles complied quickly and was soon standing next to Ptomamus's belly. "What is it, Captain?"

"I just wanted to tell you what we've done. I had Aramaes examine the amulet. He couldn't hide it's power at all - it's simply too powerful for him - so he did the next best thing."

"And that would be?"

"He says he diffused it. What he means by that is, the power will shine for leagues in every direction. It will be impossible to pinpoint its exact location. So if Nasoj comes looking for it, he won't know where to start. It does give our general location away, but at least it gives us a fighting chance."

"Good. But couldn't another mage just dispel it?"

"Aramaes says that they'd have to dispel it at its source, which is the amulet itself. They'd have to find it first."

Matthias have a grave suspicion that something was wrong with that, but didn't pry, chalking it up to his paranoia. As if the weather was in agreement, a sudden cracking of thunder overhead sounded, causing Ptomamus to peer up at the planks overhead. The sudden omen was not lost on the Commander, who licked his lips a moment before remarking, "It seems that Aramaes was a bit too zealous in getting me clouds. It sounds like we're going to have a storm on our hands."

"Will that make it harder to go down river?"

"It will impede the steersman a bit, but it will also blind our pursuers, for surely they will be coming soon." Ptomamus was less sure of himself than he pretended to be. Matthias was not blind, he could see the agitation clearly in the Captain's mannerisms. His nose was beginning to grow red again, his appearance of health fading to reveal the allergies that lay beneath. In a few hours, he would be left to wracking coughs and running nose as he had been for most of the rest of the voyage. Charles knew it could not have come back at a worse time.

"Is there anything else that I need to know?"

"Not really. I'll be taking my meals on deck, so you'll have to scrounge something out of the galley or the hold. Otherwise, stay out of sight, and near here so I can find you if necessary."

Charles nodded, looking back towards the bookcase towards the place he had made his home. "All right. Good luck to you, Captain. I'm sure we'll be able to make it." Matthias wiggled his whiskers, hoping his optimism was more than just wishful thinking.

Ptomamus wished him well, but then let him alone in the cabin. Another peal of thunder sounded overhead, and Charles peered out the windows at the dark waters behind them. He could tell that the wind was picking up, as the waves were quite choppy and erratic. The sky had darkened even further, despite the fact that it was nearly dawn. It was certainly going to be a miserable trip down river with weather like the Captain predicted.

However, the thought of food quickly came to mind, as it had been a long day and night, and he was quite hungry. Shrinking back to his full rat size, he scampered across the cabin floor, down beneath the bookcase, and to his own playground, the galley. Poking his head out through the cabinets, he could see the cook sitting in a chair, wiping the sweat from his forehead. The stove was burning hot, and it was obvious that he had not gotten any sleep recently.

Charles scampered down to the pantry on the lower shelves, and found the last of the bread in the kitchen. It was hard, and it was obvious that other rats had made a meal of it too. There was enough left however for Matthias to partake. Unfortunately it was also the least appetizing part, and many times he had to tear out chunks with his claws that had molded over or had things infesting them. He did not want to imagine what they really were. Still, it was a meal, and he ate as much as he could stomach.

Unfortunately, he was interrupted by the cook before he could finish. When the cupboard had opened up, and the dim light from the furnace shining brightly in, Charles had frozen still in fright. "Filthy rat!" the cook exclaimed, wielding a large knife as he reached for him with one big fleshy hand. Charles scuttled back to the far end of the cupboard. The cook put his head inside, peering into the darkness after him, the knife with sharp edge still hunting for him.

Charles looked about for a way top get out, but the man's shirt was blocking the only hole that was available. Wouldn't that be ironic, having brazed the vaults of one of Nasoj's forts, he would be killed by a simple cook with a hatred for rats. Not today though. The thunder continued to roar overhead, cracking the sky with its detonations. While the cook was distracted by the sound, Charles jumped at the man's wrist. He quickly shimmied underneath his shirt, his tiny claws ragging him along the man's flesh and down his arm.

The cook let out a startled cry, and jumped backwards, but Charles continued over his arm and past his shoulder, absorbing the foul musk of the oily individual. As the cook danced about, trying to get the rat out of his clothes, Charles continued scaling down his back, around his belly, and then down his pants, out from his leg, and then across his foot to the floor. Taking a moment to consider the burly figure, Charles noted that he was still quite distracted and beating at his shirt with his fists. It would take him a moment to regain his composure.

Matthias, chuckling slightly to himself, managed to make good his escape, and was soon back up behind the walls, his stomach full - though the aftertaste left a lot to be desired - and fully awake. All in all, it was a pleasant jaunt through the ship while weightier matters continued to unfold above him. Clawing his way up on deck, he could see the strain and exhaustion in the crew's faces as they continued to row hour after hour. The lightning brightened the sky only for brief moments, the clouds continuing to churn and collect. In only a few moments, the first drops of rain could be felt. A few moments later, and it was an uncompromising torrent that swept over them all. Ptomamus had to shout out his orders to helmsman, and even then he was barely heard. Charles could not even see the end of the ship in the thick downpour. Truly, Aramaes had been overzealous.

However the rain let up after an hour or so, but it continued to drizzle throughout much of the day. Charles watched the affairs, noting each sailor that stood to return to the foícísle to get some sleep, and the ones that came up to replace them. After a time, his own eyes began to get droopy, and he returned to the blackness beneath Ptomamus's cabin to get some sleep.

And even that did not last too long. The sound of shouting made his rise with a start. Men's voices could be heard above, and the creaking of the wood made sure to register it's complaints. Matthias scrambled up into the Captain's cabin, and growing to his morph form, he peered out the back windows. Like demonic eyes, flames could be seen rocking back and forth behind them in the rain soaked afternoon. He could make a distinct outline of a ship, but nothing else. Suddenly, a bright flame rose up into the sky, arcing towards them, and then passing beyond his view. A sudden gurgling shout was heard, before it faded and was covered by the droning of the raindrops against the ship.

That first flaming arrow was quickly followed by others, and then some were sent back towards the enemy vessel that was following them down stream. Charles pulled himself away from the window, and saw the amulet lying on the table. Snatching it up, he draped it over his neck, and then shrank back down. With the necklace about him, he crawled through the beams till he got back to the main decking. Poking his head out, he could se several dead sailors lying at the oars, while their companions pulled with all their might, sending them headlong down the river.

Against the backdrop of the storm, he could hear Ptomamus's congested voice rising above the general chaos. "Keep pushing! Keep rowing! We need to get some more distance between us!" Charles decided that he had enough of just hearing the Commander's voice. He crawled out on the wind swept deck, leaving the amulet behind in the wood, and crawled up the steps. It was difficult, the rain making it slick, but he finally managed to stand on the poop deck staring at Ptomamus who stood that the wheel. Aramaes was by his side, a hand over his eyes to shield against the brightness of the oncoming arrows. They would not notice a single rat watching them in this chaos.

As their pursuers drew closer, he could make out more and more of the ship following them. It possessed a Lutin crew, that much he could tell, and they seemed more intent on catching them then on worrying about the safety of their own men. It was a smaller vessel than the "Arrow" as well, but it was very sleekly built, and obviously with enough Lutins at the oars could achieve great speeds. He wondered if there were other similar vessels not far behind the first.

Ptomamus seemed concerned with the very same question. "Aramaes!" he shouted. "Can you tell me if there are any other vessels following us?"

"I need to be in a meditative state to do, Captain. I can't do that right now, not in this sort of chaos."

Ptomamus grimaced, but stared ahead att he vague shorelines. He finally pointed at a cliff on the southern shore. "Do you see that cliff, notice how it overhangs the shoreline?"

Charles turned to see what Ptomamus was pointing at, and saw a massive stone precipice facing them on the left. Ptomamus continued. "The wind is coming in from the north, so we are going to be blown towards the cliff. Don't worry, wee are not going to get grounded on the rocks. But our pursuers are going to be going that way as well. Do you think you could dislodge enough of the rocks to sink their ship as they pass underneath it?"

Aramaes seemed a bit surprised at the request, but he stared at the colossal stone edifice that loomed just ahead of them. "I think so. I'll need to get some rest afterwards though. If anything else happens, I'm going to be any good to you. I won't be able to cast any real magic until I've had a good sleep. But I think I can do it."

Ptomamus nodded. "Fine, you just take care of that rock." He then raised his voice again, after a brief cough. "Keep rowing! They're still gaining on us!' Of course he didn't need to tell his men that. The rain of arrows was still coming there way. Due to the winds and the downpour, most of them missed, but all that struck seemed to incapacitate one of the sailors.

Holding his breath, Charles watched as the cliff slid by them on the left. The winds buffeted against the ship, sending them eerily close to the sharp rocks and perilous overhanging debris. The rain splattered against the deck, drenching him, and threatening to send him overboard. He held onto the railing tightly with his little claws. Unless the railing gave way, there was no chance of him slipping, not with his strength. But again, his arms grew tired during the interminable wait. He cringed every time one of the sailors screamed in the darkness. They were all dying for him, to ensure that he made it safely back to Metamor Keep. That thought did not comfort the rat.

The minutes dragged by so slowly as they continued on past the cliff. Aramaes stood out in the open, his eyes firmly set upon the pursuing craft. As it grew closer, Charles could make out individual faces. Each of the bowmen stood aloft on the deck, aiming their flaming arrows aloft into the dark night sky. The hate clearly played across the captain's face was sure and vengeful. After a moment's pause Charles realized that he recognized their pursuer. It was Sergeant Cajudy, the head of the guard. He seemed to take a sadistic delight at the sound of each scream that came from the "Arrow". That unruly figure, his own dirty hair wet against his face from the rain, burned into his mind as he watched it.

And then their pursuers began to fall into the shadow of that looming cliff. Aramaes raised his arms up, a crackling sound resonating across the ship. His face was strained with tension, the muscles in his neck nearly bursting from the skin. Suddenly a bright bolt of violent blue streaked from his finger tips, and struck the cliff face, shattering the rock there. Aramaes then fell, his legs buckling beneath him, the mage passing out from the exertion. The shrieks then came from the ship behind them, as the boulders fell, smashing through the woodworking, crushing Lutins, destroying everything. No more arrows were launched as their nemeses sunk into the river and out of sight on that cold miserable rainy night.

Charles breathed a sigh of relief at seeing them destroyed, as did everybody else on board the "Arrow". Ptomamus began shouting out further orders, taking care of the wounded and the few dead. Aramaes was carried to his room to rest, and the broken shafts were dumped overboard into the churning whitecaps. Matthias watched as the mess was cleaned up, and several stood up from the oars to assist their comrades. When turned to look back at the wheel, he saw Ptomamus staring whimsically at him. "Enjoy the view?" Ptomamus muttered just over the wind.

Wiggling his whiskers, Charles scampered back down from the deck, and disappeared back inside the ship. The current crisis past, he took the amulet back to the Captain's quarters, and then tried to get some more sleep. They still had a long journey ahead of them. However, now that their only mage was unconscious, it would be much more dangerous. Curling up, he tried to think of how happy Kimberly would be to see him, and he her when all this was over. He wondered how Phil was doing, and whether he had taken care of that manipulative Loriod.

His dreams were plagued by screaming sailors, and drowning innocents. There was a particular wail that caused his heart to turn cold, that of a child, a young boy. Its cry into the night was one of utter torture and debasement. There was nobody to rescue that young lad from the evils that were plaguing him. Charles could only listen to the shrieks, and yet he felt like he knew the boy intimately. It was very unsettling. Matthias wished he could just reach out and rescue the youth, but he didn't know where to look for it sounded like it was coming from everywhere.

However, despite that, he did get a good bit of sleep. When the rat finally woke again, it was early morning, and the rain had stopped. Once more the sky was a dull leaden gray, but it was a relief after the day and night of terrible rain. Charles found that Ptomamus was lying in bed getting a few hours sleep himself. The First Mate would be out steering in his absence.

Scavenging in the galley, he found bread even less wholesome than the day before, but it filled his stomach. The cook didn't chase him this time either. After the previous night's adventures, the whole crew seemed quite somber, almost reticent. There was little merriment, but much angst. Those that had died would not be forgotten. A crew was a team, each member vital for it's survival. They all felt their companions' absence.

When Ptomamus finally woke and relieved the First Mate att he wheel, it was mid morning. Charles watched the shores go by in his little hole on the deck. No other sighting of enemy ships had occurred since the first had gone down the night before. The air was quiet, and the fish weren't biting as one sailor put it. There could be no doubt in Charles's mind. Something was going to happen today.

Aramaes's return to the deck was a welcome sight, and it seemed to lift the Sailor's spirits some. A mage was a valuable asset, and to lose that was unthinkable. Of course it was only moments after his return that Ptomamus found a job for him. "Do you think you are up to scanning upstream now?"

Aramaes didn't sound very confidant. "I can try, I can't promise you anything, Commander, but I can try."

"Good, that is all I can ask. Don't strain yourself." Charles crawled back out of his hole, and climbed up onto the poopdeck, staying hidden in the mesh of railings. They couldn't see him from here, but he sure could see them. He'd wished he figured this out sooner, but he'd had to be extra careful before. Now it was just a matter of running.

Aramaes was sitting don upon the deck, his legs tucked beneath him, and his head resting against the wood. Ptomamus had put the First Mate back to steering, as he watched over his only mage. Charles saw the creases on the tall man's forehead as he bent over. They were all stressed right now, even the ship. It was still two days till the sea, by the Captain's estimate. Unless Aramaes was successful, they would never know where the enemy lay.

To their horror, Aramaes began to twitch after a few moments. His body jerked to the right and to the left, his arms convulsing, his head shaking. Ptomamus called out for help, and others joined him on the poopdeck to restrain the epileptic wizard. From the mage's throat came an unearthly scream as his whole body wrenched and spasmed as if in the most torturous agonies. The Mate gripped the wheel with both hands, his knuckles gone white as he maintained his focus on the river ahead. Charles gnawed att he railing incessantly, his anxieties only increasing as the moments wore on.

And then the mage went silent, and his body limp. Ptomamus looked down, his face white, his own hands shaking. "Aramaes?" he called att he body, his voice choked. "Aramaes!" He sneezed once again, his eyes blinking away as the allergies struck him again. He took a few deep breaths, and then gently shook his friend. "Aramaes! Wake up!"

Suddenly, the wizard stirred, and blinked. His breath was coming in gasps, as he pushed away both the Captain and the others that were hovering over him. He rose to his knees, and then fell back onto the deck, gasping and gagging on his own tongue. Aramaes rolled over onto his back, clutching at his throat, hacking and coughing up phlegm and blood. All stood away from the mage as he slowly came to, his breathing calming, and his shaking subsiding.

"Aramaes? Are you all right?" Ptomamus asked after a moment.

The mage waved one arm att hem, motioning them back. Charles continued gnawing without realizing it. Aramaes finally turned over and sat back down, his chest still heaving. He finally looked up at the others, and they all could see that his eyes were quite bloodshot. m In a raspy voice, he finally uttered, "They have mages. They found me and tried to follow me back here, but I fought them off. They don't know how close we are."

"Do you know how close they are?" Ptomamus asked once he saw that the mage would live.

"Yes. They are only a matter of hours behind us. They should catch up to us by the end of the day at the latest."

That news brought a sudden silence on the poopdeck, and Charles felt his heart sink. If there were mages, then they stood no chance, not with a weakened Aramaes. Ptomamus however wasn't finished. "How many ships were there? How many mages?"

"Three ships. Baron Calephas was in the vanguard. I counted at least five mages, but there could have been more."

"Any sign of Nasoj?"

"He wasn't there, but it seems like he is flying from his Dark Citadel. He won't be here for many more days yet."

"How big are the ships?"

"Two are about the size of the 'Arrow', but Calephas's is a full fledged warship. Even still, I think their wizards are magically propelling it downstream so that they can keep pace." Aramaes fell into another coughing spasm, but recovered quickly. "They have a full compliment of Lutin warriors."

"Do you think that they will try to find us they way you found them?" Ptomamus asked after a moment's pause.

"They can try, but they won't be able to see us past the amulet's magic. It's too powerful and too diffused."

"Amulet?" the First Mate asked, a bit confused.

"Don't worry about it," Ptomamus told him, before patting Aramaes on the shoulder, and looking at the crew att he oars. He sucked in his breath, his bright red nose sniffling as he did so. "Hoist the oars and set the sails!"

"But sir." the mate objected.

"It is the only way we can outrun them. And this river is wide enough. We should be safe." Ptomamus replied, even as the crew began drawing in the massive oaken oars, and climbing the riggings to release the sails. Charles watched as they billowed into the wind. In moments, they had caught the draft, and were suddenly propelled downstream, the water clipping by.

Charles, the excitement past, then retired below decks. He wished there was something he as a rat could do, but all that it amounted to was staying out of sight. Returning to the Captain's cabin, he discovered that Magnus was cleaning again, and so stayed below the beams. Before, the cox'n had been an affable fellow, always with a tune on his lips. Now he too went about his task in utter silence. Charles wished that he could get to know this man better, for he was truly loyal to the Captain, and seemed of good spirit. Yet Nasoj's curse kept them from ever knowing each other. And Matthias's presence here had put this young man's life in jeopardy. Yet if he hadn't come, the entire world could have been swept under by half-insect half-lutin monstrosities, all at Nasoj's command. Duty was a terrible burden sometimes, but the lamp had to stray bright against the darkness.

Once Magnus had left, Charles scampered back into the room, and climbed up on the table. The map of the known world was spread out in all its glorious detail. He could see various navigational scribblings marked along the side in Ptomamus's script. Shifting to a larger form, but not too large, Charles walked over the map, trying to see where they were, and what would the quickest possible route by land if they did not make it. Anyway he looked at it though, he was going to have to cross over the mountains. Judging from the distance to the Keep, he figured that from the mouth of the river Arabas to Metamor Keep was a two month hike, if he avoided the plains to the east of the mountains which were notoriously dangerous country. If he took a chance, he could get back in one month, but that was very iffy. Not even he could fight a whole army of Lutins by himself.

Climbing back off the table, Charles returned to full rat form, and scampered back into the dark places. There was nothing he could do, but he still had to wait so long. So he went about exploring the ship again, and setting off as many of the traps he could find. yet it produced in him no joy, it only bored him further. Finally, his thoughts came back to their natural resting place - the visage of Lady Kimberly. He could see her little nose, her whiskers, and her deep black eyes, and light tan fur. Her whole body was there before him, awaiting his touch. How he wished that he could be with her even now, sitting out beneath a tree reciting poetry, or just snuggling up underneath the stars. He lost himself in that face, not wanting to think of anything else or of anybody else until they were once again reunited.

Of course it wasn't till much later that he was disturbed. In fact it was much, much later. Charles had dozed off while contemplating her loveliness, and had slept most of the day away. It was that abrupt shacking that had aroused him. He scampered as quickly as he could up to the top decks, but not before another jolt rocked the ship to it's side. When he finally was able to see what was happening, he knew that it was well too late. Far astern, the three enemy vessels stood perched unharmed on the river's surface. Large balls of flame came hurtling towards the "Arrow", each striking their mark. The masts were a great conflagration, and most of the sailors were jumping overboard. Charles quickly made his way up to the poopdeck, and saw Ptomamus still att he wheel, turning the ship towards that large set of rocks on the distant shore. Charles saw only Aramaes left at his side. The rest had gone overboard already.

"How much longer?" Ptomamus called out, his voice straining under the pressure, the heat becoming almost unbearable.

"Give me at least a minute more," Aramaes replied as he sat focused, his eyes closed and his hands upraised.

At this point, Charles knew there was little harm in revealing himself. Rising up to his full height, he looked up the last two men on board the vessel. Only it's forward momentum was keeping it moving. "What are you two waiting for?" Charles asked then. He would need to get the amulet and get off, but he was not going to leave till he was sure that these two were off as well. Duty demanded that he get that amulet now, but if he could save these two men's lives as well, then he would.

Ptomamus turned and saw Charles there. He did not really look all that surprised either. "Calephas was driving his men faster than we realized. Aramaes is sending off a distress signal. Whales will send rescuers after us in short order." A fireball suddenly struck the cabins behind the Commander, sending burning ashes spraying over the three of them. Charles felt them sting against his fur, singing it in places. The brave captain did not waver or move from the wheel, but stayed steady, keeping the "Arrow" afloat. "It is our last chance to save these men's lives. We have to take it. You need to get out of here. Don't worry about us."

Charles shook his head. "I'm going to make sure you two get off this ship alive."

"If you don't get off alive, then none of us are going to survive! Get that amulet and get out of here!" Ptomamus shouted like any good commander. Much as the rat hated to admit it, but he was right. Charles grimaced, patted his friend on the shoulder, and then ran down the steps below decks before another fireball slammed into the side of the ship, rocking it back and forth again. Debris fell everywhere, cluttering everything with ashes and broken timbers. He saw that the Captain's door was locked, but he just ran through it, his shoulder splintering the wood as if it were a piece of parchment. The amulet was underneath the bookcase, but he didn't have time to shift. Balling up his fist, he punched a hole in the floor, and yanked that talisman out by the chain. Draping it once more over his neck, he clambered back up the stairs to the decks.

Ptomamus was still standing there, and Aramaes was shouting into the blazing night sky. suddenly, the words were cut off, and Aramaes nodded to his Captain. Charles watched both their faces calm in relief. "Okay, we're finished."

"Good." Charles replied, and then he grabbed the Captain by the waist, and tossed him overboard.

Aramaes stared at him dumbstruck, the fact that a Keeper was on the ship finally registering to the mage. "What?" He asked, in his stupor. Charles grabbed him and sent him flying into the water beyond. He was going to make sure they got off the ship after all. Taking one last look at the oncoming vessels, Charles tensed his muscles, his tail curling about his feet, and then jumped himself.

The water was frigid, and Charles buckled at its touch. However instinct kicked in after a moment, and he began swimming as fast as he could towards the southern shore. A dense forest awaited them only yards from the water. The ship behind him began to sway from side to side under the onslaught, and then it finally began to sink. Charles felt the terrible currents dragging him back underneath, but by his strength, he fought them and was able to keep moving onwards. Ptomamus and Aramaes did not seem to be so lucky, as they began to fall behind. The rat swam up next to them, and grabbed each by their collars, and kept kicking with his legs. The power of the Sondeck flowed freely, exuding from every single strand of fur on his flesh. Not even a sinking ship could stop him from gaining the shore.

Dropping the two men on the beach, he dragged himself free of the river's icy embrace, and shivered in the chill wind. He didn't have any time to waste though. Both the Captain and the mage looked to be recovering quickly, which was good. The three vessels still approached, bright lights shining on them all. They had to move fast before their enemies would be upon them.

"I have to go, can yo two make it?" Charles asked, his paws clutching at the amulet about his neck.

"We'll be fine, just get out of here, Matthias. Just get out of here! I know we will see each other again." Ptomamus gave him a brief smile, and then bent over to help Aramaes to his feet. Charles took one last look at the sailors, and then turned to face the dark gloomy forest before him. He began to run, brushing aside branches, and ignoring all obstructions. Even so, he tried his best to leave no trail for the Lutins to follow. This amulet had to get back to Metamor Keep. It was time to head for home.

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