They stopped in a dark hall panting and trembling like hunted beasts.
“We have to keep moving,” she said.
“There unfortunately I must refuse,” Denen said with effort. Blood streamed from his side. He clutched at the wound, eyes misted with pain.
“Great Maker!” she gasped, reaching for him. He waved her aside.
“No. It's no good.”
“But we have to keep going. You have to keep going.”
“I can’t—“ Denen began.
“I’ll help you,” She snapped. "I've lost enough already. I'm not loosing you too."
Denen gave a grudging nod. Together they moved down the passages at a staggering walk, Denen leaning heavily on her as they went. Down the Long Stair they climbed, down, down through the bowels of floating fortress leaving behind a spattered, gleaming trial. She glanced back the way they'd come, knowing that they'd not lost what followed.
The stairs ended.
A stone doorway opened onto a small echoing landing. Two wide passages stretched away to the left and right. On the walls facing outward, the wind screamed through hundreds of arrow slits and murder holes. The spray of crashing waves spurted through the openings. Lightning blazed. Thunder shook the air.
She and Denen moved with what speed they could, following the left passage. The spray turned the stone floor treacherous and their robes to clinging, dripping weights that slowed their already weary pace. Over the noise of the waves and the splash of the spray she could hardly hear her own thoughts much less any signs of pursuit but somehow they reached a gate of black metal. On the other side lay a tiny landing and a black ladder made from the same stuff as the gate. It hung down almost the turbulent sea’s level.
“I’ll never make the climb. I'll fall," Denen said.
"No if I help you."
"If I slip I'll take you with me. You can't--"
She held up her hand, head cocked. "Quiet."
"Something," she said. "There!"
The sound of rushing feet upon the stair turned them both around. The assassins.
“Go!” Denen begged.
She spoke the password that opened the gate, and climbed partway down the ladder. Before she could turn to help Denen, the gate clanged closed. Denen looked down at her, his dark hair hanging limp with spray and rain.
“Go. Live, little sister.”
He slipped away. She scrambled up screaming after him. She reached the gate and tried to remember the password she’d spoken a moment before but it was lost in her panic. Helpless she watched Denen move to the middle of the passage. He stood as if frozen, huddling against the storm surge, arms crossed over his chest his head bowed. She could feel him drawing upon the old powers, summoning more and more and still more into himself.
"Denen, please! Please, don't leave me alone."
The assassins came cautiously forward, wary of the unmoving Druid before them. Rain and spray and wind hammered he as she pressed her face to the gate's black bars. Tears and salt-spray streamed down her face, running her long hair down into her eyes.
"No. No. No."
The air seemed to vibrate with the power massing within the Denen’s body. The assassins came almost within arm’s reach of him but still he did not stir. One cast a look towards the gate and instantly a great light erupted from within Denen. The light blasted out, consuming him. The hall exploded. The outer wall near shattered. The gate tore loose from its hinges and went flipping through the rain drenched fury. Clinging to the gate, she was flung away so she spun dizzily through the rain sodden air. Burning stone whipped past her, hissing as the rain and flames did battle.
She gasped as the waves rushed up and embraced her in their icy grip.