The journey from Orincia across the sea to Cyronell, in the north, would take two weeks. Two weeks aboard a cramped ship crewed by a bunch of Elven soldiers that weren’t exactly the friendliest bunch. Two weeks surrounded by water without even the hint of land. Two long weeks.

The only positive that Cato could find is that they were over halfway through the journey. He’d taken to staying in the small bunk he and Kyros had been provided, keeping himself occupied by trying to figure out just where his life had gone so wrong. The obvious answer was a few weeks prior when he went to Oriona to help his brother get out of some mess. It had been one long series of insane events since then and Cato couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

He sighed and opened his eyes. Cato had already memorized every crack and dent in the ceiling above his bunk, but taking an inventory of that was far better use of his time than dwelling on the events that led him to this.

At least Kyros wasn’t around, which meant the room was more or less quiet. He was probably with Kieran, the both of them drinking and probably up to no good. They’d found a number of ways to annoy the soldiers in the last few days, to the point where Cato was amazed that his brother hadn’t simply been tossed overboard.

The room shifted sideways, causing Cato to unconsciously grip the sides of the bunk he was in. The sea had grown rough since the morning, another reason he hadn’t ventured out. Cato was having enough trouble coping with all of the movement while lying on his back. Anica had sworn to him that he’d get his sea legs within days, but Cato wasn’t having any of that. He was just ready to be on steady ground that didn’t try to throw him around.

The room moved again, this time enough to nearly send Cato rolling out of his bunk. The wood of the ship creaked loudly around him. That was a sound he hadn’t gotten used to, either. The ship always sounded like it was going to come apart at the seams. Solid ground didn’t do that. Not usually, at least. And if it did, people had the good sense to get away from that area. Apparently the people that built these ships didn’t have much of that.

For a third time, the room shifted. But this time, it was violent and tossed Cato into the opposite wall with enough force to knock the wind out of him. Before he could react, the sound of creaking returned, but this time louder and was quickly cut off by a loud crash from above. Yelling echoed down to him, as did the heavy sounds of movement all across the deck above.

As Cato clumsily got to his feet, he dove across the room for his sword. It was unlikely to do any good, as Cato assumed this was the result of hitting a storm or just excessively rough seas, but having the sword in hand made him feel better. Free hand on the wall to balance himself, Cato stumbled out of the room and into the uncomfortably cramped lower deck of the ship, trying to make his way up top.

A couple of Elven soldiers pressed by him, fully armored and swords drawn. They gave him a quick glance, but pushed past and headed for the way up without a word. The soldiers didn’t wear the armor that much, as far as Cato had been able to tell. That seemed a bad sign.

Cato did his best to follow the pair, stopping every few steps to regain his balance as the ship rocked in the water and attempted to throw him on his face. After a half minute of stumbling from one crate to another, Cato was instead thrown into something that didn’t brace him nearly as well: Anica.

Crushed between Cato and the opposite wall, Anica pushed him off as best she could, “This wouldn’t happen if you’d at least try to walk around more!”

Cato attempted to help her to her feet, but the ship rocked again, sending him stumbling the other way and pulling her along. They hit a pile of crates behind Cato, which caused his back to make a cracking sound far worse than anything he’d heard from the wooden planks of the ship, “Do you have any idea what’s happening?”

Anica steadied herself, this time without his failed help, and started to open her mouth to respond. But if she said anything, neither of them heard it. Instead, they heard something else that froze them both in place.

You. Will. Give. Us. The. Book!

Cato and Anica turned and exchanged a look that it would be best to leave any arguing for later. A second later, she grabbed his arm and pulled him onto his feet before sprinting for the way up onto the ship’s deck. Cato was right behind her, as best he could manage with the constant movement of the ship.

In a few moments, they were up on the deck, and it was somehow worse than Cato had expected. There was no storm. The sky was clear. Princess Maiera, Kieran, Kyros, and the soldiers all stood nearby, weapons of various kinds drawn and all facing different directions. One of the ship’s huge masts was snapped in half, the wreckage in tiny pieces scattered across the deck and the sea around them.

And surrounding all of them were six of the alien creatures. They had watched. They had waited. Cato wanted to kick himself for thinking they would not follow in some way.

One of them, near the bow of the ship, tilted it’s featureless head and seemed to glide forward rather than walk, raising a clawed hand.

There. Is. No. Escape. Now.

A second of the creatures began to move, this one on the other side of them.

The. Book. Will. Be. Ours.

The other four now began to close in on them, all in unison, their unspoken voices echoing in Cato’s head.

And. You. Will. All. Die.