The timing was off, not that anybody suspected. One more fisherman’s boat in Lion’s Jaw Bay was of no concern, not even when storm threatened at high tide. The rower pulled his hat down lower as the wind picked up, then tugged heavily on the oars. The boat rolled over the choppy waves, but the sultry air remained still. A few fishers shouted to the rower as they returned to shore, but he made no effort to discern their warnings from the distance and their thick accents. He kept his concentration on the large, leather-bound heap at his feet.
"Are you sure we’re going the right way?" he asked, his voice calm and clear despite the exertion.
"Nothing’s ever certain about these tales," the bound woman answered from between the folds of the sack. "The bards are the only ones to remember them, and bards have better things to do than die verifying details of a children’s horror story, even a true one."
"You didn’t think to tell her that before we came?" the rower asked, then snorted. "This is too important to leave to chance."
The port far behind him, the rower at last allowed himself to peer to the horizon. Fine white scales glistened faintly in the dimming light.
"Three islands," he noted out loud. "Lumps of rock, really. Two are close to each other, one large enough to build a lighthouse on, the other maybe a dock. Both barren. The third’s got trees."
"The big island," the woman answered.
"You sure? A good wave would douse those trees in saltwater, but they’re still healthy."
"The big island," the woman repeated. "You’re not just looking for magic, you’re looking for a place that nobody wants to draw attention to, much less visit. You said it yourself - it’s big enough for a lighthouse and a dock, so it’s big enough to need one."
"So whatever’s on the island is scary enough that it’s worth risking trade ships running aground and killing everyone aboard," the rower added, then changed course.
By the time the rower had reached the island and found an outcropping large and stable enough to moor the ship, the storm had arrived. Fat, heavy raindrops assailed him, dragging his hood down to expose his face and horns. He grimaced as he pulled the still-bound woman from the bag, her dress’ once-fine white satin now stained a dingy yellow by the water. Satisfied she was unharmed, he threw her to the rocky beach, then followed.
"Walk," he commanded.
"Can’t I at least..." she began. The rower grabbed at her head. Her long, matted hair fell away below his grip as he pulled her by one of her horns. She winced in pain.
"Walk," he again ordered, then released her.
The two stumblingly climbed the rocky outcropping, the woman in front, her wrists and arms still chained. She slipped twice, and twice he caught her before shoving her forward. At length, the man pulled a longsword from the depths of his cloak. "Wait," he warned her. "Be quiet."
"What?" she asked, glancing back at him. He grabbed her chains, and pushed her to the ground.
"We’re not alone," he whispered, his voice barely audible over the rain. "Stay here."
The man huddled over her, craning his head about to see through the blinding storm. Satisfied, he stepped over her, toward the crest of the nearest precipice. He flattened his back against it, then kicked himself away, jumping the corner. He lunged at the figure there, sword held high, as the figure drew a dagger to the man’s belly.
"What took you so long, Ilvion?" the other elf asked, smirking. "I was worried that you’d been captured by some divers."
Ilvion glared, then sheathed his sword. "Don’t, Sedwin. Let’s just get this done with. Did you find it?"
"The queen’s little bauble?" Sedwin’s smirk only deepened as he reached pulled his necklace from under his shirt. A red crystal pendant hung from its end, as long and as thick as Ilvion’s ring finger. The rain dripping from it took on a reddish cast, as if the stone itself was bleeding. "Netheryn didn’t know what they had. Did you bring it?"
Ilvion pretended not to notice that Sedwin still had his dagger at the ready. The two stepped out, and Ilvion pointed at the woman below. She strained her back to return their states, but her soaked red tresses could not have allowed her to see much. "She’s the one who told us what’s here."
"No witnesses?" Sedwin asked.
"No witnesses," Ilvion confirmed. "I’ll get her. Did you find the spot?"
"Just over the hill. Was just coming back when I saw you."
"Are you sure?" Ilvion asked. "The shoremen are probably suspicious enough as it is that I rowed out just as the storm came on, and the storm’s left the ocean too wild to try again if we’re on the wrong island."
"I’m sure," Sedwin answered, his smile suddenly absent. "There’s no mistaking it..."
The trio stood around a small, bricked pool, little larger than the boat Ilvion had arrived in. In the darkness, Ilvion worried that it was simply some deep, forgotten well. A flash of lightning corrected him. Over a hundred years of rainwater had not diluted the blood.
Sedwin gazed into the sky. "Ever notice how it’s always thundering during dark rituals? You’d think we’d wait until it’s nice and sunny, so we’d have less distraction.
"No." The woman, her head hung low, stepped back from the pool. "It is raining because we are here. The world weeps for what we do here today."
"Right. Enough purple prose," Sedwin spat, grabbing the woman by her throat. "What needs to be done?"
"Blood sacrifice," she whispered.
"Bad luck for you, then," Sedwin replied, then raised his dagger for the kill.
Ilvion grabbed Sedwin’s wrist, and yanked. Sedwin let go of the woman, raising his now-free hand to deal with Ilvion’s next attack, but Ilvion instead kicked low. Sedwin fell backwards, into the blood.
"What is this?!" Sedwin asked, flailing wildly. The blood splattered the pool’s edges, but trickled back to its soucre.
"Netheryn knows exactly what that necklace is, Sedwin." Ilvion cut the woman free of her bonds. "Wait here, Stephana." Ilvion met Sedwin’s glare with one of his own. "They wouldn’t have left protections feeble enough for you to best. You never went looking for Rowan, did you? You gave us up the first chance you had."
"You’re no wizard, Ilvion," Sedwin warned as he sank in to his shoulders. "You cannot complete the ritual without me."
"What ritual?" Stephana answered as she rubbed her wrists. "All we needed was the gem, and the sacrifice to Blood."
Sedwin’s struggles continued, but something pulled at his arms. Unperturbed by the elf’s panicked shouts or the hammering rain, blood from the pool flowed up his screaming face, first into his mouth and nose, then circling his eyes, before a final tug sucked him under. The gurgles quickly gave way to a slurping, chugging sound, and the pool of blood drained away.
Ilvion inched closer to the edge. The pool had been shallow after all, less than ten feet deep. At its bottom lay the huddled and gory form of Sedwin Elfhunter. The body stirred suddenly, and Sedwin lifted his head. His horns had elongated, and were now half a foot or more in length. A sudden gout of flame hefted Sedwin to Ilvion. The air hissed, and Ilvion backed away from the great heat.
"I live again," Sedwin hissed.
"Welcome, Lekar Osud," Stephana said. "We have need of you once again."