|Title||Peril on the Sea|
|Post Date (Visible)||November 2021|
~Peril on the Sea~
This play is entirely a work of fiction. Names, places, events, and incidents are either created from the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
Dedicated to Misericorde Coldwater for her unfailing love and support, without which my plays would not be possible, and to Lady Vaevaya, the Refulgent, for being a light of inspiration and encouragement in dark times.
(Played by Niralahi Coldwater)
Slender and exquisite, this female imperial merian carries herself with a shy, humble air, as if unconscious of her own beauty. Her skin is a soft azure, adorned with iridescent silvery scales spiralling in elegant filigree-like patterns along the sides of her face, neck, and limbs. Luminous and intensely expressive, her guileless crystal-blue eyes shine steadily within a perfect oval face set with fine-boned, delicate features. Rich sapphire-blue fins crest her head and cascade to the small of her back, while fanning ears flutter along either side of her head. On her left ring finger shines a pearl-and-coral wedding ring patterned with ocean waves and five-pointed stars.
(Played by Misericorde Coldwater)
Cutting a dashing figure with her erect military posture and twinkling, roguish smile, this tall imperial merian carries her broad-shouldered, athletic frame with the lightness and grace of a much smaller woman. Glistening fins shading from vibrant tangerine to soft coral-pink are gathered back into a shoulder-length ponytail, emphasising her prominent cheekbones and violet eyes. Contrasting vividly with her sunset-orange skin, a long navy-blue coat embellished with gold braid and burnished brass buttons sweeps to her knees, supplemented by baggy canvas pants, a white cotton shirt, and high black boots. On her left ring finger shines a coral-and-pearl wedding ring patterned with ocean waves and five-pointed stars.
(Played by Glacydra Coldwater)
Deeply tanned by years spent in the sun, this heavily muscled human man is comfortably clad in a ruffled linen shirt and loose canvas breeches, with a broad-brimmed hat to keep off the worst of the sun. A few streaks of grey run through his shoulder-length brown hair and a scar seams his right cheek. Shrewd steel-blue eyes gaze out amidst a web of wrinkles from a face so worn by the ravages of wind and waves that his features appear sculpted from weather-beaten, withered leather. His ears are pierced in several places and adorned with a number of gold and silver hoops, and a long gold chain hangs around his neck, decorated with polished seashells, coral beads, and a few ancient, salt-corroded coins.
(Played by Glacydra Coldwater)
Covered in a chitinous bronze-hued carapace, this female kephera is clad in a pristine white toga that drapes in elegant folds along her broad shoulders, slender thorax, and large, softly glowing abdomen. A golden brooch depicting the Star of Celest in blue coral and iridescent pearl is clasped over her heart as a symbol of her authority. Her compound eyes shine gently with compassion and wisdom, and her words are punctuated by the rhythmic clicking of her curving mandibles. Two long, thin antennae continually flex and shift this way and that atop her head, indicating her alertness and sensitivity to her surroundings.
Beach off the Harbour
Located a short distance from the busy New Celest harbour, this small beach forms a peaceful sanctuary from the noisy, hectic bustle of the city's docks. A fire pit rimmed with flame-blackened stones sits near the centre of the beach, where one can enjoy a spectacular, uninterrupted view of the Inner Sea. Frothy, crystal-clear waves ripple in a soothing, steady rhythm against the edges of the golden-brown sand, washing ashore a beautiful collection of seashells, driftwood, sea glass, and kelp fronds.
Merian Maritime Memorial Plaza
Located just north of the sandy beach and the Southern Voluta Diadema Tower is the merian maritime memorial plaza that overlooks the western edge of the Inner Sea. The otherwise flat, austere plaza is dominated by a single ten-foot-tall statue of an old merian sailor carved in pearlescent white stone. Raising with a sculpted lantern in one hand while the other hand shades his eyes, the statue forever gazes wistfully out to sea to beckon lost comrades home. A fresh salt breeze blows gently through the vicinity, laced with the more pungent odors of rotting seaweed and rust.
Statue in the Merian Maritime Memorial Plaza
Carved from white stone that gleams with pearlescent glints in theavailable light, this statue stands ten feet high in the centre of the merian maritime memorial plaza. Depicting a stout old merian sailor, the statue raises a stone lantern aloft in one hand and shades his eyes with the other as he looks toward the Inner Sea, beckoning lost comrades home. A long list of names of merian sailors who died at sea has been carved across the statue's surface in tiny lettering, while the words "In memory of those lost at sea" are etched deep upon the statue's base.
New Celest's Docks
Long wooden piers extend out from the Celestial harbors to the crystalline waters of the Inner Sea, with various boats and ships tied up to their moorings in tidy rows. Most of the vessels secured here are light sailing crafts, though a few large merchant vessels and oceangoing ships also populate the docks. At the end of the dock is moored a sleek, seafaring caravel whose sails are stitched with the Star of New Celest in deep blue.
Yinahi's Ship in the Inner Sea
Glittering expanses of clear, crystal-blue water surround this sleek, seafaring caravel, the waves rippling peacefully across the surface of Inner Sea. Sturdy oak makes up the hull, decks, sides, and structures of the caravel, from the three tall masts to the forecastle and bowsprit. Stitched with the Star of New Celest, huge triangular sails of white canvas billow from all three masts, which are festooned with intricate rope rigging and topped with a tiny crow's nest high overhead. Wooden sea chests and stacks of rope line the decks in orderly rows, along with both wood and rope ladders leading downward into the ship's belowdeck cabins and compartments. Several sailors bustle about the decks and rigging, all helping to keep the ship sailing smoothly and efficiently.
Yinahi's Ship in the Unknown Sea
A vast, seemingly endless expanse of stygian water surrounds this sleek, seafaring caravel, the waves moving at a different speed from the fickle, unpredictable winds that buffet the ship. Sturdy oak makes up the hull, decks, sides, and structures of the caravel, from the three tall masts to the forecastle and bowsprit. Stitched with the Star of New Celest, huge triangular sails of white canvas billow from all three masts, which are festooned with intricate rope rigging and topped with a tiny crow's nest high overhead. Wooden sea chests and stacks of rope line the decks in orderly rows, along with both wood and rope ladders leading downward into the ship's belowdeck cabins and compartments. Several sailors bustle about the decks and rigging, all helping to keep the ship sailing smoothly and efficiently.
Yinahi's Ship in the Storm
A vast, seemingly endless expanse of stygian water surrounds this sleek, seafaring caravel, shaking it from side to side upon choppy waves topped with wind-tossed whitecaps. The wooden hull, decks, sides, and structures of the caravel are terribly battered and dented, while the bowsprit has snapped off entirely. The stitched design of the Star of New Celest looks faded and threadbare upon huge, triangular sails of weather-stained canvas that swell and snap furiously in fickle, unpredictable winds, while the masts groan and sway ominously from side to side. Wooden sea chests and stacks of rope are scattered haphazardly along the decks, along with wood and rope ladders that sway wildly with every movement of the ship or gust of wind. What sailors are in view cling desperately to the railings and rigging, looking sodden and exhausted.
The Dream Ship
An empty ship floats here upon calm, clear waters whose surface is only faintly ruffled by the gentlest of lapping waves. All else is shrouded in a deep pall of sparkling mist, lending a sense of mystery and unreality to the landscape. Eerily enough, pale forms that resemble floating bodies or water-rotted corpses occasionally bob into view beneath the water, before quickly disappearing again.
Alethys and Yinahi's Bedroom in New Celest
Bright and airy, this pleasant bedroom features tall, arched windows that open out onto a small, lovely garden, letting in gentle breezes laced with the faint, sweet scents of herbs, lilies, and roses. Tapestries in celadon-green, sky-blue, and pearl-pink cover the walls, harmonizing prettily with the blue-and-white quilt and pillows covering the large, comfortable bed in the corner. A string of lanterns fashioned from seashells and mother-of-pearl hangs from the ceiling, and more seashells and other nautical adornments decorate the end tables beside the bed, as well as the moonhart bookshelves filled with leatherbound log books, navigational charts, books of scripture, and poetry volumes.
Street in New Celest
Planter boxes full of fragrant orange and pink flowers line each side of this city street passing through the heart of New Celest, the surface of which is patterned with a mosaic of seashells and gravel in pastel shades of yellow, rose, peach, and ivory. The massive, heavily reinforced city walls that surround New Celest can be seen in the distance, as well as the gatehouses and towers overlooking every city entrance. A shallow layer of crystal-clear blue water floods the surroundings, occasionally rippling or splashing past with pulses of cleansing aquamantic energy.
The Pool of Stars
In the centre of New Celest, this large, open plaza of marbled stone is dominated by an enormous circular pool in the centre, surrounded by a border of smooth, glittering white stones. The waters within the pool are as dark as the night sky, yet they sparkle continually as though their depths were filled with countless luminous stars. Any errant breeze or wind that ruffles the surface of the water sends small ripples across the pool, causing incandescent motes of glowing light to drift gently upward toward the sky. The sacred pool is attended night and day by Meleris, the Keeper of the Pool of Stars, as well as a full complement of archons, cavaliers, and Tahtetso kusalas.
The Survivors' Raft in the Unknown Sea
A vast, seemingly endless expanse of stygian water dominates the landscape, with turbulent, roiling waves and howling winds that would make any voyage feel uncertain and hazardous. Dark fins cut through the water's surface like knives and schools of strange, bioluminescent fish occasionally swim into view, adding to the eerie mystery of this strange sea. Floating uneasily atop the waves is a small, rough-hewn raft hastily lashed together from broken planks, stained rope, and a few empty barrels. A spindly mast with a single damp, patched length of sailcloth sways from the centre of the raft, and a couple of oars are tightly secured along the sides, providing some means of keeping the raft moving amidst the unpredictable, choppy waves.
The Rescue Ship
Smoothly cutting through the sparkling sapphire-blue waters of the Inner Sea, this ship is a beautiful seafaring galleon crafted from sturdy dark wood, with the name of the ship painted on one side in flowing golden calligraphy. Pristine white sails stitched with the Star of New Celest ripple high above on towering masts, their edges fluttering in the brisk salt breezes that occasionally toss droplets of sea spray through the air. Ladders, coils of rope, mooring chains, life buoys, and lifeboats are neatly organised and secured upon the decks, out of the way for everyday purposes but still accessible for any search-and-rescue operations. Sailors, divers, and medical personnel bustle back and forth across the decks constantly, hurrying from place to place with an air of dutiful diligence.
The curtains rise along the stage to reveal an empty beach swathed in the crepuscular gloom of predawn, the sky overhead still dark but the horizon softly luminous with the promise of sunrise.
A single bright spark flares up from the middle of the beach, throwing a sudden and startling illumination upon the figure of a slender merian woman with sapphire-blue fins. Kneeling beside a small fire pit rimmed with blackened stones, she hums a soft melody to herself as she coaxes more sparks to kindle into flame.
ALETHYS: (With a tender smile, the slender merian woman,) patiently feeds the flames one twig at a time and gently fans the air with a delicate hand, nurturing the small fire until it swells into a warming blaze.
As the flames continue to burn and the distant horizon grows brighter, a tall, athletic merian woman with sunset-orange skin strides into view, whistling a jaunty tune and carrying two steaming mugs richly redolent of kafe.
Breaking into a brilliant smile, the tall, athletic merian, YINAHI sweeps into a deep, grandiose bow and presents one mug with a flourish. "Your kawhe, my love, with milk and two cubes of sugar."
"Just the way I like it," ALETHYS murmurs, gratefully accepting the mug and taking a sip. "I'll never know how you can drink it like that," she adds, glancing askance in the direction of the second mug, which is filled with bubbling kawhe as black as pitch.
YINAHI chuckles and takes a hearty swig from her mug, letting out a loud sigh of appreciation. "Pfft, this is exactly the kind of drink you need inside you when a freezing-cold easterly is shrieking in, the waves are heaving, the barometric pressure has dropped like a stone, and you need to climb the rigging to furl the sails before disaster strikes."
A look of worry and concern flickers across ALETHYS' face as she reaches out to take Yinahi Nalane's free hand in hers. "I hope you won't have to do too much of that on this journey today, my love."
ALETHYS: Especially considering that you'll be sailing into uncharted waters with this...this new bay or sea they discovered neighboring the Inner Sea.
Lowering her eyes, ALETHYS says in a soft voice, "The more uneventful your voyage will be and the faster you return to my side, the happier I'll feel."
Her own expression sobering, YINAHI puts down her mug and settles down onto the sand next to Alethys, wrapping an arm comfortingly around her shoulders.
"It'll be a long few months, to be sure, while we explore the new uncharted sea," YINAHI admits. "But we've planned and provisioned for every possible emergency we could think of, and it'll be so worth it if we discover fascinating new islands or sea creatures unknown to science and lore."
YINAHI: Besides, I'll always come back to you, Alethys, I promise. As much as I love adventure on the high seas, the best part of every seafaring journey is returning home to see your smile and feel your arms around me again.
The two merian women smile tenderly at each other and lean in for a loving kiss, while the fire crackles beside them and the distant horizon slowly brightens with faint rays of shimmering rose-coloured light.
Pulling back for a moment, YINAHI gently strokes Alethys' cheek. "For now, my love, let's enjoy these last few moments together before I go. I love watching the sunrise with you and seeing your beautiful face glowing in the light of dawn. That's a memory I cherish every time I set out on a new voyage: the perfect moment with the perfect wife."
Curling up together beside the flickering fire, ALETHYS and Yinahi Nalane place their kawhe mugs beside the firepit and turn their faces skyward, wholeheartedly giving themselves over to the beauty of the sky and sea.
The horizon glows with burnished shades of coral and crimson surrounding the incandescent sphere of Father Sun, whose rays of light gently paint the clouds and the waters below with dazzling brushstrokes of orange and gold.
As the beach shimmers with a rosy glow, myriad seashells and bits of sea glass scattered across the sand reflect the sunlight with jewel-like brilliance. Seagulls mew overhead, and the flames crackle rhythmically in the fire pit. A new day is born.
After a long silence, ALETHYS lets out a happy sigh, heedless of the single tear spilling from a corner of her eye. "It's so beautiful, isn't it? So full of promise and possibilities that fill your heart with hope for the new day ahead."
YINAHI nods in agreement, her face growing somber as she looks first at her wife's face, then at their clasped hands, and finally toward the harbour and shipyards of New Celest, already beginning to buzz with activity. "My love, all good things must come to an end. It's time for me..."
"...to go," ALETHYS completes the sentence, wiping her eyes ruefully. "I know. Your crew will be waiting for you, and all of New Celest is looking forward to your report about the new, uncharted sea that you're to explore."
With a faint grumble, ALETHYS leans forward to give Yinahi Nalane a tight, convulsive embrace. "I love you," she whispers in her ear. "Learn as much as you can, enjoy the voyage, and come home safe to me."
"I will," YINAHI promises firmly, stroking her wife's cheek with a gentle touch and giving a wistful, tender smile. "I love you. I'll be back before you know it, just like always."
The two exchange a final kiss before breaking off from their embrace at the same moment. Flashing her a jaunty grin, YINAHI squeezes her wife's hand in a quick, wordless goodbye before turning away and hurrying off past the maritime memorial plaza toward the docks of New Celest.
At this hour, the flat, unadorned plaza located just off the city harbour has few visitors, although one or two sailors walk past and solemnly salute the ten-foot-tall statue of the merian sailor at the plaza's centre, sculpted in the act of wistfully gazing out to sea to beckon lost sailors home.
For a moment, whether by a trick of the glinting sunlight or a figment of imagination, the statue's face appears to glow as the merian captain passes directly below, its eyes almost seeming to shine with a golden warmth.
Heedless of this momentary trick of the light, YINAHI rushes past the statue and hurries through the bustling city streets, pushing through the crowds of devout seekers and Celestian kinsmen until she finally reaches the city docks, where her ship waits ready to embark.
As soon as she comes within view of her ship, a sleek seafaring caravel with white sails stitched with the Star of New Celest, YINAHI's face immediately breaks into an enormous grin.
YINAHI: (Pitching her voice to a captain's commanding tones) Ahoy there, crew! Who's ready to set sail?
From the rigging and the decks of the sailing ship, a dozen sailors burst into exuberant cheers in response, and a brown-haired, deeply-tanned human man jogs into view as he strides down the gangplank and throws a quick, respectful salute to Captain Yinahi Nalane.
"Oh Captain, my Captain!" the human man, BASTIEN exclaims in greeting, his weathered face beaming with pride. "Our preparations are done, and we're ready to leave on your command."
"Bastien, my bastion, you're the best lieutenant that any captain could ask for," responds YINAHI fondly, returning his salute and waving to her cheering sailors. "Let's get underway, then!"
Without breaking stride, YINAHI lopes up the gangplank beside Bastien Girard, unconsciously adopting the swaying swagger of a sailor accustomed to moving along wave-tossed decks. Shouts of "Captain on deck!" ring around her as she strides toward the ship's wheel, where she turns to face her crew and gives a piercing whistle.
YINAHI: Lads and ladies, I won't waste your time with a fanciful speech. I know there's not a faint heart among you, and I know you're all as excited as I am to explore the new sea that's just been discovered bordering our beloved Inner Sea. Who knows what adventures, what riches, and what new wonders might await us?
Pacing back and forth across the deck, YINAHI continues in a level, steady voice, "But we must be careful as well as bold, thoughtful as well as determined, if we plan to sail those uncharted waters and make it back home in one piece. Discipline and order will count just as much as courage."
YINAHI: (With a broad smile on her face) As always, quick's the word, sharp's the action, and trust always in the Light to shine on us and guide us through dark waters.
BASTIEN: (Clapping wildly) Huzzah! Huzzah! Three cheers for Captain Nalane!
Amidst resounding cheers, the crew spread out along the decks to make ready to sail. With a slithering of many ropes and a creak of her timbers, the sleek caravel gracefully pulls away from the docks and heads out to sea.
As the stage curtains slowly descend, the ship sails away from the harbor into the calm, clear waters of the Inner Sea, the sails swelling as the vessel runs steadily before the wind amidst the cawing of seagulls and the resounding, musical splashing of the waves.
The stage curtains rise again, revealing the decks of Yinahi Nalane's sailing ship with its huge sails billowing steadily in a crisp breeze. Ocean spray washes up as the ship cuts smoothly through the sparkling, crystal-clear waters of the Inner Sea.
Overhead, the sun shines brightly in a serene blue sky streaked occasionally with feathery cirrus clouds as white as the foam topping the gently rippling waves. The salt tang of the sea enlivens the air, the heady scent sharpening the senses with its briny freshness.
The urgent, rhythmic beat of a drum abruptly breaks the silence, followed by the swift pounding of many feet running across wooden decks or stairs. In a few moments, the decks are seemingly swarming with sailors that climb the riggings, hurry to their stations, and gather at the sides to gaze out to sea.
Someone shouts, "Captain on deck!", and dozens of sailors hastily clear a path as YINAHI strides into view with a mug of steaming black kawhe in hand and approaches the prow of the ship, followed closely by Bastien Girard.
Pausing at the prow, BASTIEN points a finger unerringly toward the distance. "Three points off the starboard bow, Captain. That wall of fog out there, you see it? It's moving against the wind, and you can't see any sparkle of water through it at all."
"Well spotted, Lieutenant! Your eyes are sharp as ever," YINAHI murmurs appreciatively, lifting a telescope to her eye and staring intently through it, while the brawny human sailor flushes and grins at the praise.
Perhaps a hundred leagues from the ship's prow, a dense bank of murky fog unexpectedly roils forebodingly above the otherwise peaceful sea. Very little can be glimpsed through the fog except the silhouette of rolling waves and an occasional furtive, darting movement.
YINAHI pulls out a gnomish communication device and mutters into the brass speaking tube on top, "Captain's log, date 3rd of Dioni. Weather continues clear, approaching a bank of fog at..." and she rattles off a series of numerical coordinates. "Today we head into the unknown sea. May the Light continue to bless our venture."
Turning and clearing her throat loudly, YINAHI raises her voice in a clear, clarion announcement. "All hands to stations, and be ready for anything! That fog bank is where we're headed, ladies and gentlemen! Beyond that lies the new sea that borders the Inner Sea, a whole new waterway in the Basin of Life."
"Remember, we're sailing out into entirely uncharted waters, where no maps or sea charts can guide us," YINAHI adds in a cautioning tone, turning a wary eye back toward the turbid fog. "Keep your wits about you, mates, and stay on your guard!"
A loud cheer from the crew answers her declaration, followed by whistles and whoops of excitement. A flurry of activity bursts across the decks as sailors spread the sails, while others wait in the rigging to hoist sail or tack into the wind if necessary. Others coil rope around pilings, clear the decks, and keep a sharp eye out for the unexpected.
Fearlessly and precisely, the Celestian ship sails directly into the heart of the ominous purplish fog. As soon as the ship enters the fog bank, the musical lapping of the waves is suddenly deadened into nothingness, abruptly engulfing the sailors in unnerving silence.
The winds begin to change directions unpredictably, tugging the sails this way and that, while unexpected cross-currents in the water begin to buffet the hull, causing the ship to begin lurching erratically from side to side and swaying unsteadily back and forth.
"Helmsman, keep a steady hand on the wheel," YINAHI cautions in a low but carrying voice, her face calm but her knuckles tense and white as she grips the quarterdeck railing and gazes out toward the unknown sea.
Beside her, BASTIEN looks around at the omnipresent fog surrounding the ship with consternation. "The Light grant us that we find our bearings soon. Otherwise, this could be a very difficult journey indeed, Captain."
The two fall silent as the ship continues sailing forth into the uncharted waters, with sailors attempting to steady the ship's course. Finally, after what seems like hours of lurching and faltering through the fog bank, the ship finally emerges out of the eerie purple miasma into a dim, moonless dusk.
Muted cheers break out across the decks at the familiar sight of the distant horizon, followed by startled exclamations as the sailors catch sight of mysterious lights pulsing beneath the dark waters, reminiscent of bioluminescent marine beings swimming in the deeps.
YINAHI: (Visibly brightening once the ship breaks free from the fog,) cups her hands about her mouth and shouts a string of rapid-fire orders. The sailors across the ship respond with practiced smoothness, spreading the sails and steering the ship carefully away from the ominous lights.
BASTIEN: lets out a long breath that he evidently had not realized he was holding, while overseeing the sailors' efforts with clear pride. "We could've done worse than this crew for such a journey, that's for sure. I'd bet on their discipline and experience against anything that this strange new sea can throw at us!"
No sooner than the words have left his mouth than the sky suddenly darkens overhead and powerful gusts of wind begin to blow from all directions. The sails belly out at wild angles, and the ship twists and staggers as the sea currents and blustering gales slap and buffet the ship from every side.
Vast grey clouds scud directly overhead to blot out the sky, moving far faster than the winds blowing across the surface. Like squid ink spreading through clear water, darkness uncoils and spreads its tendrils to cover the ship in shadows, while the raging winds grow even stronger and more unpredictable.
The sea swiftly goes berserk, the waves pitching and heaving to form foaming walls of water that crash downwards with the force of a thunderclap. Sailors curse and scramble desperately for footing on decks suddenly slippery with spray, while the wave-tossed ship seesaws violently from side to side.
"We're taking on water over the sides!" BASTIEN exclaims, shouting to be heard above the howling of the wind and the crash of the waves against the groaning wood of the ship. Peering over the rail, he adds apprehensively, "And we're taking on water down below too, unless I miss my guess. We won't be able to hold steady at this rate!"
"Damage control, now!" YINAHI shouts as she begins directing sailors aft, forward, or below, while the ship's hull audibly buckles in several places under the sea's furious onslaught, with holes forming in the planks and water gushing through. "Pump out the seawater and patch those gaps! And you and you, get up there and furl those sails!"
More screams ring out as the tempestuous, capricious wind strums the ship's rigging like a bard plucking the strings of a lute, throwing sailors off the ropes, braces, and yardarms to land with bone-breaking thuds against the decks or with resounding splashes into the water.
Thrown face-first to the deck, YINAHI raises her head dizzily and blinks the lids of her eyes several times. Her vision clears just in time to watch her sailors suffer grievous injuries as they plunge head-first into the deck or fall overboard into the churning, merciless waters.
"No!" YINAHI groans, her eyes widening in horror as she reaches her hands futilely toward her distant, doomed comrades. "Vilele, Khekira, Francois... Please, no! Gods have mercy, please, no..."
Where one hapless sailor falls into the choppy waves behind the ship's stern, the water there abruptly begins to bubble and swirl as if suddenly set to boiling. Within seconds, billows of red coil upward toward the surface, followed by hideously mangled chunks of flesh.
"What the Nil is it now?" BASTIEN breathes incredulously. Slipping and sliding across the wet, teetering decks, he stumbles to the stern's railing and stares downward into the patches of bright-red blood discolouring the waves. "Damn it! What took him?"
As if in answer, the shadowy silhouette of a sleek, streamlined shark emerges into sight, its curving dorsal fin breaking the foaming surface of the water to reveal the sheets of dark chitin plating that encases both sides in thin, rigid armor.
Another chitin-plated fin starts circling around the stern, and another, and yet another. As another terrified sailor falls into the water, the dark, shadowy sharks swarm around the body in a furious frenzy, leaving only gore and entrails to float slowly to the surface.
At the same time, the ship's timbers creak and groan and more frightened yells emanate from the other side of the ship's stern. Long, sinuous squid tentacles as thick as a human's waist uncurl from the depths to snatch a feasting shark and squeeze it in their powerful grasp, but not before whipping against the side of the ship and denting its oak planking.
The giant squid gathers itself, and an array of bone hooks unfurls from the ends of each tentacle. Meanwhile, the suckers on the squid's arms suddenly extrude a circle of wickedly curved, needle-sharp fangs, so that each writhing arm resembles nothing so much as a row of tooth-filled maws all stretching wide in ravenous unison.
Staring upward in horrified fascination, BASTIEN barely scrambles out of the way as another squid tentacle comes whistling toward the stern railing and cracks it in half, leaving a gaping hole in the deck. A hail of splinters leaves his hastily upflung arm bleeding in a dozen places. "Sweet Shakiniel protect us! How can all this be happening so fast?"
"Bastien! Are you all right?" shouts YINAHI as she hurries toward him. Shading her eyes with one hand, she gapes at the sight of the chitin-plated sharks and claw-armed squid starting to do battle in the water. "Are...are they fighting each other? And we're caught in the middle?"
As if in confirmation, the chitin-plated sharks veer around the stern and sides of the ship, before swerving about and streaking toward the cylindrical squid's body with frightening speed, butting it mercilessly with their armoured heads.
In response, the massive squid raises all eight of its arms and both its long tentacles into the air and slaps the water with a monumental impact, tossing sharks back into the air and sending the ship careening through the tempestuous waters in a wild, uncontrollable spin.
When the ship finally comes to a stop several dizzying minutes later, the masts have toppled and collapsed, and the decks are wet with both salt spray and blood. Meanwhile, the sea triumphantly gushes through countless holes and gashes in the hull and sides of the ship into the cabins below. With a deafening groan, the ship slowly but inexorably keels over to one side and begins sinking into the sea.
YINAHI and Bastien Girard are both still alive, clinging desperately to what remains of the railings and rope rigging. Watching the destruction of her ship, the Captain whispers a prayer as tears slide down her face. "Please, Gods, have mercy on those souls lost at sea and watch out for us who still remain..."
BASTIEN's voice, hoarse with shouting but soft with compassion, gently cuts through her reverie. "Captain," he sighs, adjusting his grip on the wooden plank that keeps him afloat. "The ship is sinking, and most of the crew is dead or lost. What do we do now?"
With a long, gasping sigh, YINAHI squares her shoulders and looks about herself in the churning water, trying to assess the situation as calmly as she can. "We...we need to look for survivors," she declares finally. "We'll...we'll rig something out of all this mess to get us home."
"Home," YINAHI breathes, shivering as she whispers the word reverently and forlornly. "We'll make it home, Bastien," she says, "right? Do you think we'll be able to make it? Will we ever be able to go home?"
Her words, quiet though they are, ring through the air as the sea and sky darken around them, the stage curtains descending across the desolate scene to leave only the echo of Yinahi Nalane's sorrowful voice lingering above the sound of rushing waves and howling wind.
The stage curtains rise again to reveal the sea once more, but this time strangely, almost supernaturally calm and tranquil in appearance, presenting a striking contrast to the storm-tossed, sea monster-ravaged shipwreck that had so recently dominated the stage.
Only the tiniest of waves ruffle the sea's serene surface, whispering softly as it laps against the hull of the large, empty ship floating peacefully atop the water. Beyond the ship, all else is shrouded in a deep pall of dense, sparkling mist, lending the landscape a haunting sense of nebulous unreality.
Slowly emerging from the all-enveloping mist, ALETHYS looks around herself with a bewildered expression as she walks forward along the ship's empty decks, her feet making no sound at all on the wooden planks.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" ALETHYS calls out hesitantly, her voice sharply breaking the pervasive silence that hangs over the landscape. Smoothing back her sapphire-blue fins and rubbing her hands over her face, she dares ask aloud, "Where am I? Is this a dream? Am I...dreaming?"
The veils of mist suddenly recede before her just enough to reveal the ship's bow. As Alethys Nalane steps toward it, the mist parts further to show a tall, athletic figure in a long navy-blue coat and sunset-orange fins, staring out to sea.
Drawing in her breath sharply and holding out her arms, Alethys Nalane breathes out, "My love? Is it you?" At once, the figure whirls around with a sound somewhere between a gasp and a sob and rushes toward Alethys, clearly displaying YINAHI's salt-stained, bedraggled figure and tear-streaked, careworn features.
YINAHI: ("Alethys! Alethys, I've missed you so much,") whispers, clasping her wife lovingly in her arms. The two embrace tightly for several long moments, murmuring endearments into each other's ears, before finally, with a long sigh, Yinahi Nalane manages to pull away.
YINAHI: (Holding her wife's face in her hands,) gazes intensely into Alethys Nalane's eyes, full of trust and hope. "Alethys, love, I need your help. I don't know how I'll make it home. And more than anything, I want to come home to you."
Just as Alethys Nalane opens her mouth to respond, the ship on which they both stand suddenly lurches to one side, as if a mighty gale or massive wave had slammed into it out of nowhere. Both women are thrown hard against the railing, the collision jarring them loose from each other and breaking their embrace.
Too quickly for either of them can react, YINAHI topples over the ship's side and plummets downward into the sea with agonising slowness. Her features frozen in a rictus of terror, she flails her arms futilely to find purchase or slow her fall. "Alethys, help me!" she screams, just before she disappears into the mysterious waters below.
"Yinahi, no!" ALETHYS cries out, reaching down in vain for her wife's outstretched hands, only to end up slack-jawed and empty-handed. Leaning over the side, she stares intently into the water as if hoping to see a trail of bubbles or other signs of life from her beloved wife. "No, please, you can't die," she whispers. "Don't leave me like this."
After a long moment of stillness, though, ALETHYS lets out a single sob and clenches her fists at her sides. Slowly but resolutely, she climbs over the side of the ship and prepares to leap headlong into the water herself. "Yinahi, wait for me! I'm co-"
In a blink of an eye, the mysterious misty ship flashes out of view, to be replaced instead with the orderly and ordinary sight of a quiet bedroom, where Alethys Nalane sits up in bed with a start, jerking upright from her pillows and reaching out reflexively with her arms.
"...ming for you," ALETHYS gasps breathlessly, finishing her sentence in a plaintive whisper. "Where...what...wait, I'm... Oh." Her wild-eyed expression slowly clears until clarity and understanding return to her gaze as she looks around the room and takes several deep breaths.
ALETHYS lets her arms fall to her sides with a sigh. "It was just a dream," she reassures herself, running a trembling hand across her face as if to brush away the lingering memories. "Just a very, very bad dream."
ALETHYS: But to dream of Yinahi drowning like that, especially when we haven't had word from her for days... Could it have been more than just a dream?
Squaring her shoulders, ALETHYS swings out of bed and quickly gets dressed. "It's been too long since we last heard from Yinahi's ship, and it's clearly starting to worry me, especially when I'm having nightmares like that..." She rubs her chin absently in thought. "Maybe I should ask Queen Imemokoura if we've heard any news..."
As the morning sun ascends higher in the sky, Alethys Nalane hurries out the door and walks briskly through the bustling city streets, pausing occasionally to greet a citizen or guide a pilgrim but continuing purposefully until she reaches the Pool of Stars.
At the Pool of Stars, only a few citizens have gathered around it this morning, basking in the illumination of the countless motes of incandescent light drifting from the Pool. One of them is the tall, regal kephera queen of New Celest, who acknowledges Alethys' speedy approach with a graceful, respectful bow.
Smiling warmly at Alethys Nalane, IMEMOKOURA steps forward to greet her, her antennae twitching alertly. "Good morning, Lady Nalane," she says in a rich contralto voice punctuated by the rhythmic clicking of her mandibles. "How may I be of service to you?"
ALETHYS returns the bow with a deep but visibly distracted curtsey, the gills on her neck flaring in agitation. "Greetings, my Queen," she replies, her expression troubled. "I was wondering... Have you heard any word from my wife Yinahi's ship recently?"
The glow of IMEMOKOURA's eyes and abdomen softens to a subdued golden-yellow as she slowly shakes her head. "I am sorry, but no. We haven't had any communications, telepathic or otherwise, from Captain Nalane's ship in more than two weeks."
Her shoulders slumping in disappointment, ALETHYS nods nevertheless in mournful acceptance. "I thought as much, though I was hoping otherwise." She hesitates for a moment, looking up at the kindly face of the kephera Queen, and then bursts out, "Majesty, I..."
ALETHYS: I don't mean to presume, but hasn't it been too long since we last heard from them? What if something terrible has happened to them and that's keeping them from reporting back? Shouldn't we be investigating the situation?
As Alethys Nalane trails off, IMEMOKOURA nods slowly in understanding, her mandibles pausing their rhythmic clicking to create a thoughtful silence. "I agree it is ominous," she says at length.
IMEMOKOURA: Particularly when Captain Nalane and her lieutenant are normally so prompt with their progress updates. Their last message mentioned passing through a wall of fog...and then nothing afterward. Nothing at all.
"But that is all that we know for sure," IMEMOKOURA concludes. She tilts her head to one side, regarding Alethys Nalane inquiringly. "What would you have us do, Lady Nalane? How do you think the city or I should proceed now?"
"Isn't it obvious, Queen Imemokoura?" ALETHYS exclaims almost at once. "We should go search for them! Rescue them!" The passion in her voice makes a few passersby look up in surprise before hurrying past.
IMEMOKOURA's glowing eyes widen in similar, if slightly more dignified startlement. "Rescue them, Lady Nalane? That is no minor endeavor to undertake, particularly in strange waters! What makes you so sure that they need it?"
ALETHYS: This will sound strange, my Queen, but I had a dream...
Slowly and hesitantly, ALETHYS begins to describe her recent dream to Queen Imemokoura, her gestures uncertain but her voice full of intensity and emotion. At the end, she adds, "I know it's easy to ascribe such dreams to ordinary feelings of fear for a spouse that's been gone, but...I've never had a dream like that before."
In the drifting tones of someone thinking aloud to themselves, ALETHYS adds musingly, "And before she left, Yinahi was taking a class on the theory of Dreamweaving at the Empyreal Academy, so..."
In the silence that falls between them, as both women appear lost in thought, the only sound that can be heard is the cry of a single seagull overhead, its squawking voice sounding somehow forlorn and wistful in the thoughtful hush.
ALETHYS clasps her hands at her chest and gazes down toward the wedding ring on her left hand. "In the dream, I felt as though she was trying to reach out to me. To tell me what was happening to her. She needed my help. Our help."
Meeting Queen Imemokoura's gaze directly and fervently, ALETHYS holds out her hands in a gesture of supplication. "Please, my Queen, let me beg this favour in return for both Yinahi's and my years of service to New Celest."
ALETHYS: Would you let me take one of the city's search-and-rescue ships to the last coordinates that Yinahi reported? Just to see if there's any sign of her ship or if anything looks wrong?
Looking taken aback by her words, IMEMOKOURA exhales a long breath but does not immediately shake her head or otherwise demur. "What you ask is no minor matter, Lady Nalane," she says at last. "To spare one of the city's ships and crews on such a vague and ill-defined mission is no small favor to ask, especially on the strength of one bad dream."
"And yet," IMEMOKOURA continues. "Captain Nalane and her crew are valuable and important members of this city, and they do appear to be missing in action, which is a serious matter indeed. Especially considering her mission to explore the uncharted new sea, which...as you pointed out...is full of dangers we cannot even predict."
To the accompaniment of her rapidly clicking mandibles, IMEMOKOURA reasons aloud, "Weeks of complete silence is certainly unusual, especially from a captain whose progress reports arrived as regularly as dawn and dusk. Though it's not exactly a distress call, the sudden lapse of communication does suggest something strange happened to them."
The glow in IMEMOKOURA's eyes and abdomen softens again as she continues, "And perhaps it is possible that the dream you had was some sort of...psionic emanation, maybe, based on the emotional connection you share with your wife. Possibly."
ALETHYS's expression brightens with hope and gratitude as she listens attentively to the kephera Queen's considerations, looking at times as if she would like to interject or blurt something out, but visibly holding herself back with an effort.
Holding up one hand, IMEMOKOURA finally declares, "Very well. I shall order one of the city's search-and-rescue ships to investigate the last known coordinates of Captain Yinahi Nalane's ship and find out whether it is possible that they ran afoul of some sort of trouble. However..."
"Under no circumstances will I permit you to lead this investigation, Lady Nalane,") IMEMOKOURA continues, causing Alethys' face to fall. "You are neither a sailor nor an experienced leader, which, combined with your emotional involvement in this situation, would only hinder the mission's objectives and jeopardise its success."
IMEMOKOURA: You may, however, accompany the search-and-rescue crew as the ship's physician, a position for which you are quite well-qualified. In that capacity, I authorise you to assist the rescuers and, if necessary, any crew from Captain Nalane's ship. Does this meet with your satisfaction, Lady Nalane?
With a long, appreciative sigh of relief, ALETHYS reaches out impulsively to take one of the kephera Queen's hands in her own. "Thank you! Thank you, my Queen," she exclaims. "When do we set sail? I'm absolutely ready to go at once."
Letting out a faint, forbearing sigh, IMEMOKOURA shakes her head firmly. "I understand and commend your eagerness, Lady Nalane, but tomorrow is the absolute earliest that one of our rescue ships can be launched and ready to go. Until then, I suggest that you make your preparations to get underway. You may report to the docks at dawn tomorrow."
"I'll be there!" ALETHYS exclaims readily, nodding gratefully despite the lingering disappointment evident in the slump of her shoulders. "Thank you again, Queen Imemokoura. I will be ready."
Sweeping a hasty curtsey to the kephera Queen, ALETHYS whirls away in a flurry of robes and hurries back through the streets, looking at once weighed down with worry, yet buoyed by hope and optimism as she goes about the rest of her day before returning home.
At the door to her home, ALETHYS pauses at the threshold and gazes outward toward the Inner Sea, her eyes misty with emotion. "Yinahi, my love, I am coming for you, and I will bring you home, one way or another," she murmurs, pressing her hands over her heart as if to affirm the solemnity of her vow.
As the sun sets on the city of New Celest, the stage slowly darkens until the only remaining spotlight shines on the coral and pearl wedding ring on Alethys Nalane's finger, setting the marine gems aglow, before finally winking out into darkness.
Slowly, the stage brightens again to reveal the choppy, churning waters of the unknown sea, upon which floats a large, rough-hewn raft lashed together from salvaged wooden planks, torn rigging, ripped sailcloth, and buoyant barrels into a makeshift vessel just large enough to fit the four sailors huddled atop it.
As dawn gradually breaks over the landscape, the sky overhead glows in sanguine shades of orange and red, while fiery rays of morning light pierce the eyelids of the raft's occupants, causing them to groan or toss fitfully in response.
Seated with his back against the single spindly mast constructed in the centre of the raft is the battered and exhausted-looking figure of BASTIEN with dark circles under his eyes and blood-stained bandages wrapped around both arms.
Beside him lie the prone forms of YINAHI and two other sailors in various states of restless slumber. While the former has evidently drifted off to sleep over an improvised oar made from a table leg, the latter two are curled into fetal positions along the back of the raft, looking pale and emaciated after their recent ordeals.
When a particularly rough wave jostles the raft, YINAHI jolts awake with a sudden start and looks about uncomprehendingly for a second, before her eyes focus on Bastien Girard. With a groan, she rubs her shoulders and tiredly admonishes Bastien, "Lieutenant, you shouldn't have let me fall asleep. I was still on second watch."
Giving a shrug, BASTIEN responds equally tiredly, "I relieved you from watch duty when it was time. Besides, you needed the rest, Captain," he adds in a gentler tone. "Anyway, nothing much to report. We're still drifting back toward the fog bank where we first entered this accursed sea, but I saw little else of note."
"What of the others? YINAHI asks, gesturing toward the two sailors curled on the other side of the raft. "Any change in their status?"
BASTIEN shakes his head. "Still comatose. They drank a little water but still won't wake up."
YINAHI nods wearily. "Are the sharks still circling?"
"Still circling but keeping their distance," BASTIEN confirms, pointing to the occasional chitin-plated fin cutting through the foaming waves.
Letting out a groan at the sight of the restless sharks, YINAHI asks, "Any sign of the gnomish communication device? I really wish I could even remember when it fell out of my pocket! At least then, we could have reported our dilemma to New Celest."
BASTIEN again shakes his head and answers, "No sign of it anywhere." Looking at Yinahi Nalane's disconsolate face, he says sympathetically, "Don't blame yourself, Captain. With everything happening with the storm, and the sharks and squid, and the ship breaking up, it's no wonder you lost track of the communication device."
BASTIEN: It's certainly not the only thing we lost that day, after all...
"And no, don't even think about diving underwater again on another search!" BASTIEN warns her, half-heartedly wagging a finger. "These sharks would be the death of you, Captain. Besides, we've drifted so far away from the shipwreck by now that your chances of recovering it are tenuous at best."
"Especially since I know you're in no better shape than I am," BASTIEN adds in a lower register. "We're both wounded, starving, and worn out. There'd be no sense in taxing yourself further on a hopeless dive for something we'll probably never see again, Captain."
A solemn silence falls between them as they contemplate the vast, empty stretches of water around them, broken only by the circling forms of the sharks nearby and the wavering glow of bioluminescent benthic creatures far below.
Absently poling the raft through the lapping waves with her improvised oar, YINAHI lets out a weary sigh. "You're right, I know. I just wish that we had some hope of finding help. Some certainty of making it out of this terrible place and back into the waters that we know."
Giving herself a quick shake, as if to snap herself out of her downhearted mood, YINAHI pulls a battered-looking canteen from her belt and holds it out to Bastien Girard. "Speaking of water, you should drink," she says firmly. "That's an order, Lieutenant."
"But isn't that the last of yo..." BASTIEN starts to blurt out, before trailing off under Yinahi Nalane's unrelenting stare. "Uh, yes, Captain," he falters, taking the canteen and drinking thirstily despite himself.
YINAHI nods approvingly as he swallows the water. "It will help you sleep better," she tells him in a gentler tone. "And now I relieve you of your watch, Lieutenant. Get some rest."
With a ghost of a smile curving his lips, BASTIEN touches his forefinger to his brow in salute. "Aye aye, Captain. I stand relieved. Stay safe, and do your best to keep us on course."
As Bastien Girard obediently lies down on the far side of the raft, YINAHI carefully secures her oar and clambers to the middle of the raft with slow, awkward motions, where she makes some adjustments to the sorry-looking mast and threadbare sail so that the sailcloth catches more of the light wind blowing across the sea.
Shading her eyes against the rising sun, YINAHI plops down on the raft with only a slight wince of pain. "Ah, Gods," she sighs gustily under her breath, the words coming out as a long, shuddering exhalation of breath, "what would I give to be watching this sunrise on the beach instead of here, with a mug of kawhe and Alethys beside me?"
YINAHI lets out a dry, retching sob, her chest heaving painfully before she manages to get control of herself. Resolutely, she squares her shoulders and turns her face toward the faraway fog bank on the edge of the sea, separating them from the familiar waters of the Inner Sea.
YINAHI: Let me make it home, just let me make it home...
The perspective upon the stage shifts to follow Yinahi Nalane's gaze toward the ominous purple fog bank, before traversing forward through the miles and miles of choppy, dark water and plunging into the fog itself, immersing the surroundings in a nebulous miasma.
Finally, the perspective moves past the strange, stationary fog bank and arrives back into the familiar, crystal-clear waters of the Inner Sea, where a large Celestian sailing ship scuds purposefully before a brisk salt breeze, its sails fluttering and its decks loaded with lifeboats, life buoys, ladders, and coils of rope.
Amidst the bustling furor of hardworking sailors and labourers across the ship's deck and along its rigging and masts, only one figure stands stock-still in the hubbub: a merian woman with blue fins and scales, leaning forward against the bow as if she were willing the ship to move even faster.
As the ship sails closer into view, the merian woman is revealed to be ALETHYS at the bow, her delicate features rigidly set in an unwonted expression of almost ferocious determination. Gripping the railing with white-knuckled hands, she visibly fidgets and twitches with impatience as she stares into the distance.
"Are we there yet? We must be almost there now," ALETHYS frets anxiously, almost bobbing up and down with tension. "I have such a bad feeling about this. I wish we could go faster somehow and get there sooner, even though I know we're doing all we can."
Around her, the bustle of the sailors and rescue workers grows more purposeful and intensive as the rescue ship draws closer to the boundary set by the fog bank, with more watchers coming up to the railings and sides of the ship to join Alethys Nalane in watching out for any signs of misadventure or distress.
"We have reached the bearings last reported by Captain Nalane's ship!" shouts the lookout from the crow's nest. A loud splash breaks the water as the ship's anchor is dropped, causing ALETHYS to sweep her gaze about her surroundings with renewed intensity.
Reflecting her excitement, the sounds of activity across the ship dwindle to an expectant, nervous hush punctuated by the lapping of the waves and an occasional seagull's cry, as everyone who can be spared from other duties peers across the water or stares into the fog to look for Yinahi Nalane's missing ship.
For a long stretch of time, the sailors and rescue workers wait and watch, alert for even the smallest clue or inkling. But the moments drag on as the ship moves slowly forward toward the fog bank, and nothing new is seen, heard, or sensed.
Slowly, heads begin shaking and turning away all along the railing as the silence stretches on as emptily as the sea itself, devoid of any signs of wreckage or struggle, let alone any indication of stragglers or survivors.
Even as the other sailors begin turning away and returning to their work, ALETHYS remains steadfastly at her place by the bow, craning her head forward and squinting her eyes. "Please, Yinahi," she whispers, clasping her hands prayerfully, "please be all right. Please, Gods, please let us find her."
Over the next few hours, the anchor is pulled up, and the rescue ship cautiously ventures back and forth along the boundary of the murky fog bank, the sailors on board growing increasingly restless and curious about the unknown sea beyond the fog.
Suddenly, a loud whoop breaks out from the crow's nest again: "There's something there! Just beyond the fog, two points off the port bow! I can see a shape moving closer!" Hearing this announcement, ALETHYS nearly bursts out into tears of relief and catharsis.
When the call goes out for a small contingent of volunteers to investigate the moving shape using a lifeboat chained to the rescue ship, ALETHYS is the first to raise her hand and join the impromptu expedition. Though the lifeboat is cramped and unsteady, she makes no complaint as the small vessel is lowered into the water and casts off.
Moving forward through the water in slow, jerky motions, the small wooden boat is laboriously rowed into the dense, clinging fog, which is no small feat when everyone on board, including Alethys Nalane, appears to be holding their breath apprehensively.
Finally, the lifeboat clears the other side of the fog bank, where it is immediately jolted and twisted about by the eternally turbulent, tempestuous waves of the unknown sea. Nearly everyone in the boat cries out in shock and holds on for dear life as the lifeboat struggles forward, the oars whirling madly in the tumult.
Grasping the side of the boat with both hands, ALETHYS looks around with wild eyes, openly unnerved by the sudden change in the sea. Even so, she is the first to lift a shaking finger to her left and raise her trembling voice in a shout. "There! Do you see it? A raft!"
As everyone's gaze swings to follow her finger, the rickety, makeshift raft assembled from the broken timbers and sails of Yinahi Nalane's ship drifts into view with aimless, excruciating slowness as the waves toss it to and fro.
"My love," ALETHYS breathes softly, her eyes shining with gratitude and hope, even as her brow remains furrowed with worry. "My love, I've finally found you. I knew that dream was true!"
Atop the raft lie four supine bodies, all of them looking pale and gaunt in ragged, bloodstained clothing. Quickly recognising the enervated bodies even from a distance as Yinahi Nalane, Bastien Girard, and two of their sailors, the rescue workers in the lifeboat scramble to row the lifeboat toward the raft.
Certainly not last among them, ALETHYS clambers over the edge of the lifeboard as soon as the boat is within arm's reach of the raft and lands atop one corner, where she immediately veers toward the prone form of her wife, who has fallen over onto her side next to the ragged mast.
While ALETHYS feels desperately for a pulse on Yinahi Nalane's neck, one of the other rescue workers turns over the body of Bastien Girard and also checks for signs of life. After a moment, they give a sorrowful shake of their head. "I'm afraid it's too late for him. He's dead."
"This one has died as well," says another worker looking at one of the sailors on the back of the raft. "And this one too," sighs a fourth, checking the last sailor. Hearing these words, ALETHYS bends frantically over her wife's body, urgently searching for signs of life.
ALETHYS: (Holding back a sob) Please, no, no, not you too, my love...
As Alethys Nalane gathers her wife's body into her arms, YINAHI's eyelids give a brief flutter and her lips fall open to draw a breath. Seeing this, Alethys lets out a gasp and hugs her tightly, causing Yinahi's eyes to open wider with a faint grunt of protest.
"Al...Alethys? Is that you?" YINAHI asks in a hoarse whisper. "I was dreaming of you... Am I dreaming still?"
Letting out a breathless sob, ALETHYS strokes her wife's cheek and shakes her head. "I'm here, Yinahi. I'm real. I'll always be here for you."
YINAHI's eyes flutter closed again, her lips curving into a weak but contented smile. "Ah, Alethys. I always...did say, the best part of every journey...is returning home to your arms...at the end."
Lying in her wife's arms, YINAHI falls completely still, her limbs going slack and her chest sinking into motionless tranquillity with a terrible finality, with the soft smile still lingering on her lips.
As she realises what has happened, tears begin pouring from ALETHYS's eyes as she runs her hands over Yinahi Nalane's lifeless face, hovering over her with the light of hope dying in her reddened, bloodshot eyes. Her wife gives no response, even as Alethys' hot tears stream down onto Yinahi's cold face unnoticed.
ALETHYS's body shakes convulsively with the force of her grief as she weeps silently over the body of her wife, still resting in her arms as serenely as though merely asleep.
ALETHYS: (Her voice racked with pain) Yinahi, I can't lose you. I can't! Please stay with me. Open your eyes. Please, my love. Please...
The rhythm of her sobs harmonises strangely but symphoniously with the crashing of the foam-topped waves around the raft, seemingly surrounding the tableau of Alethys Nalane cradling her wife's corpse in her arms with a musical, melancholy oceanic requiem.
As her weeping finally starts to slow, ALETHYS climbs deliberately to her feet, her arms still wrapped around the limp body of Yinahi Nalane. Tears still stream down her face as she looks quietly around herself at the roiling water, the dilapidated raft, and the lifeboat swarming with rescue workers and equipment.
"No, I'm not strong enough. I'm not like you, my love," ALETHYS whispers, looking down at her wife's immobile face. "I can't go on without you. I know I won't be able to. Time won't heal me. I won't be able to move past the loss of you."
ALETHYS: I love you, Yinahi. I'm coming with you. Let's...let's...
ALETHYS: Let's go together, my love.
Before anyone even notices, let alone can reach out to stop her, ALETHYS crosses the distance to the waves in a single stride and lets herself fall into the sea, the weight of her wife's corpse swiftly and inexorably dragging her beneath the waves with hardly a splash.
After an incredulous, appalled few seconds, a chorus of shocked voices rises in the wake of Alethys Nalane's choice as the rescue workers struggle to come to terms with what just occurred.
"She...she's gone!" "Can we save her?" "Even if we could get to Alethys, would there be anything left to save, with those sharks circling?" "Why did she do that? What was she thinking?"
Over and over again, the sailors ask, "How do we tell Queen Imemokoura what happened?"
Finally, the rescue leader says, "We'll tell the Queen how dangerous this new sea is, and how much tragedy and loss it has caused. We'll teach anyone who tries to explore it further about its dangers, and we will do our best to ensure such a misfortune never again comes to pass. On our maps we'll name these waters the Sea of Sorrows, and we'll always remember those who died exploring it."
The sailors and rescue workers in the lifeboat slowly nod in acceptance. Many of them quietly wipe tears of grief and regret from their eyes as they bow their heads in respect for the dead, while the more stoic among them clench a fist to their hearts as if to seal their solemn vow.
In the silence, one sailor wistfully murmurs, "But still, I don't understand. Why did Lady Nalane choose to perish the way she did? She had so much to live for, surely, even if her wife was gone..."
One of the rescue workers answers, "Even for a skilled healer such as she, perhaps the heartache of her wife's death was a wound that she knew would never mend. Wherever they are now, let us hope that they are at least together again forever."
Those last words echo hauntingly above the sighing of the waves and the lamenting howl of the wind as the stage curtain slowly drops across the scene of the lifeboat, resolutely rowing back toward the fog bank across the treacherous waters of the newly named Sea of Sorrows.