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Feb 14th, 2017
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  1. Peleps Jessra stood up suddenly, back of her neck prickling. It felt... it felt like a storm, but not a storm. She threw open her door and dashed on-deck. It wasn't hard to find the source, with the entire crew staring in one direction. A distant pillar of silvery flames burned up from the horizon, tiny with distance. And intense. It cast shadows.
  3. "All hands on deck!"
  5. "Jess?" Three Falcons Hunting came up beside her, still shrugging on his boots. He rubbed sleep from his eyes. "What is it?"
  7. "It's..." She hesitated, not really wanting to explain. The flames drew her eyes – she could hardly look away. It was the stuff of her nightmares. That sliver light had devoured countless cousins. She’d heard monks denouncing it at every service since she’d been a child. But somehow... somehow it didn't feel dangerous, right now. Desperate, not dangerous. "We're investigating."
  9. "Jess?"
  11. She shook herself free of the dream's grip. "It'll be fine."
  13. He shook his head at the non-answer. and turned to help with the anchor.
  15. -----------
  17. The beacon lasted for half an hour before guttering out, but by that time Jessra had a good idea of its location. She knew they were getting close when they first sighted debris – shattered and burned wood, ash-blackened taters of rope.
  19. They slowed. Moving through the field of detritus, they first saw only splinters, then fragments of board, then bodies. Corpses floated face down, as burned and shattered as their vessel around them. The ship nosed aside a broken mast.
  21. Finally, sweeping a lantern beam across the water as they neared the center of the devastation, Falcon let out a cry and pointed. Amid the ocean of blackened soot and rent wood, a flash of white – a body, naked and seemingly unharmed. They drew it up with a net.
  23. A survivor. She coughed and shuddered as they lowered her on the deck, then lay still. A young woman – barely more than a girl – slender and pale-skinned, completely naked except for a metal collar and a manacles binding her wrists and ankles. The metal was twisted and warped, as though it had started dripping over her bare flesh.
  25. Jessra draped a blanket over her, reached down to feel her forehead. She flinched away from the touch, and Jessra withdrew her hand. Falcon reached down to pick her up, provoking a much more violent reaction. The girl moaned painfully, curled up into a ball beneath the blanket. She began to sob.
  27. Everyone waited uncertainly until Jessra shook her head and took charge again. "Get us out of here and back towards Wu-Jian. Falcon, I don't care if she shrieks, bring her to my cabin."
  29. The girl struggled feebly in Falcon's arms, sobbing horridly, but he did as ordered, grimacing at the sounds his touch provoked.
  31. -------
  33. Ledaal Jessra drew aside the blankets as Falcon lay the girl in her bed. Despite the girl's feeble protests, Jessra held her wrists and examined the manacles. They were meant to be bolted to a wall, and probably had been until... something. Though the steel had bubbled and dripped, the skin beneath wasn't even red. Jessra drew the blanket up over again, hiding her nakedness. She gestured, and the two of them stepped out on deck.
  35. "Did you see the bruises?" Jessra hated the inescapable conclusions.
  37. He nodded unhappily. "You know what that light was, Jessra."
  39. "Nothing we can do until morning. Back to Wu Jian, and we'll proceed as planned tomorrow." She ignored the second statement.
  41. "Jess..." he searched her face uncomfortably.
  43. Jessra bit her lip, and after a moment shook her head. "Maybe she’s a skin-shifting demon that will kill us all in the night. But what can we do, just leave her floating there?"
  45. "Of course not! I just... I can't..." he trailed off, glancing behind the ship, back into the heart of a vessel larger than the Lapis reduced to splinters. "You should keep watch over her. She's not as afraid of you as she is of me."
  47. "I will. I'd tell you to get some sleep, but I know it wouldn't work. I'll watch over her." She squeezed his shoulder with one hand. "May the dragons have mercy on my soul, I’ll watch over her."
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