But the fox was much, much too fast for the Firewitches—or anyone else. It crashed into the ship’s aft. Wood cracked, and as the ship tipped violently up, Safi tried to keep from plummeting into the sea.
Water exploded from the front of the ship. The second sea fox reared up, shrieking and hurtling close, ready to pluck man after man off the exposed deck—flaming flesh or no.
Safi looked at Iseult. Her Threadsister nodded. As before, the girls stopped fighting the vertical rise, and together, they barreled down the deck. Right for the sea fox’s mouth.
Safi hit the railing—it was almost parallel to the waves now—and straightened to her fullest height. Her knife slashed through furry jaw. Blood rained down.
Then Iseult was there, whirling low along the bulwark. Her cleaver bit deep into the monster’s neck. The sea fox jolted, head dropping.
More blood spurted as Iseult turned her cleaver high while Safi twirled in low, pushing all her strength into the perfect thrust of her knife.
The creature’s mouth fell wide. Safi let the knife loose. It flew straight and true, into the fox’s throat.
And Iseult’s cleaver thrust out. It sliced through the monster’s forehead.
The sea fox screamed—a raw, final sound—before it sank beneath the waves.
The first sea fox released its hold on the ship. Safi and Iseult had just enough time to latch on to the railing and not get catapulted into the sea when the warship dropped. Waves sprayed, men rolled and tumbled, but Safi and Iseult clung tight.
Until at last the ship’s heaving settled down. Until at last Safi could scrabble to Iseult and drag her Threadsister upright. “How are you? Where does it hurt?”
“Everywhere.” Iseult cracked a smile. “It’s not a strong Painstone.”
Before Safi could yell for Evrane’s help, Merik bellowed, “Don’t celebrate yet!” His feet pounded over the deck and a wind spiraled faster and faster around him. Evrane raced just behind.
“The thing’s still not dead.” Merik reached Safi. His wind grabbed her clothes, her hair. “It’ll be back.”
“And,” Evrane inserted, motioning at the horizon, “we still have a fleet of Marstoks coming our way.”
“Not to mention the second sea fox.” Iseult grabbed Safi by the sleeve and tugged her away from the rail. “It’s coming, fast. And for the front this time.”
“Brace yourselves,” Merik roared. “I’ll use the power to carry us—”
The sea fox hit. The ship rocketed skyward, and as Safi’s feet left the deck—as the world became glowing clouds and purple haze—Merik’s wind engulfed them. In a tumble of air, Merik flew the four of them to the Jana. They crashed to the forecastle with no grace and copious pain. But Safi didn’t have time to check for injury. When she searched for Iseult—and found her clutching her arm several paces away—Safi also caught sight of a fire.
No, four fires. The barrels of chum were aloft and aflame. Heat rolled off them—as did the stench of roasting fish, and nearby was Kullen. His breath came in punctuated gasps and his eyes bulged from his head. But he kept his hands out, the barrels aloft, and his magic true.
“Kullen,” Merik yelled, already on his feet and sprinting for the drum. “Get the first barrel in position!” He yanked up a mallet and then waited while the closest flaming barrel flipped and floated before the drum.
Merik pounded the mallet. Air punched out and grabbed hold of the barrel. It sped over the water, still burning bright. Then it splashed down, before the nearest Marstoki galleon.
“Next barrel!” Merik called, and moments later, the second one launched out. Then the third and the fourth. Each one splashed in front of the Marstoks.
“It’s leaving,” Iseult said. Her gaze followed under the ship and then beyond—toward the now-sunken chum. “It’s chasing the barrels.”
“They are creatures of carnage,” Evrane said, and Safi jumped. She’d forgotten all about the monk, who slouched wearily nearby. “They like the taste of charred flesh.”
Safi kept her eyes on the water, watching as two black shadows sped away from the boat, then erupted from the waves in the distance. They attacked the flaming barrels; tangled and fought for the chum.
All the while, the Marstoki galleons sailed closer—right for the sea foxes. For a brief second, Safi almost pitied the Marstoks, whom she doubted had chum to catapult away for distraction.
But the moment passed when she caught sight of Iseult, sweating and wincing. As Safi turned her attention to helping Iseult, a wind—a magicked wind—swept over the Jana and hauled into her sails.
With a resistant groan, the warship set off to the east.
Despite the tiny Painstone and Firewitch healer’s work, Iseult’s arm pulsed with a low, insistent pain, and she found it hard to remain stoic as the gray Jadansi and distant shore melted past. A magicked wind from the admiral and his first mate practically lifted the Jana off the sea in a race to carry her from the Marstoks.
Iseult and Safi sat on the forecastle, their lungs billowing for air, and Iseult kept glancing at Evrane beside them. She couldn’t help it. This woman had guided her—saved her, really—six and a half years ago. She was both everything Iseult remembered and nothing at all.
The Memory-Evrane had been so angelic. And taller. But Real-Evrane was scarred and toughened and textured—not to mention, a whole half a head shorter than Iseult.