Fear struck Ai’Lorc like a blow to his middle, leaving him on his knees, shaking and crying. Yet, while his flesh seemed to come apart one moment, then swell and bloat, ready to explode in the next, he knew it was all a lie. Though sickened to the depths of his being by the sea of vile fluids and stench through which the boat seemed to sail, he knew this nightmare was only a contrivance. That the Dalthin were manipulating him so caused a far stronger emotion to well through the revulsion and horror. Ai’Lorc was furious these creatures would so dispassionately inflict such pain and terror. As he sat, immobilized and overwhelmed by it all, indignity and frustration began to override the other feelings. He located the crossbow and took it, ignoring the swarm of wriggling, biting creatures upon it. Then, after making sure he carried enough bolts, he grabbed the rail and pulled himself erect. Though trembling and weak, he made his way aft and the tears that coursed down his cheeks angered him all the more.

I am not a toy! he protested.

As he made his way toward the stern, the intensity of the illusion grew and his vision tunneled. With great effort, he focused on his goal and strained to hold all other thoughts at bay. Although he stumbled unseeing past Pedreth, he paused and knelt over Leovar’s rocking, trembling form and placed a hand on his arm. He tried to reassure him, but his emotions welled in his throat and it was all he could do to stifle a sob. Rising again, he made his way past the helm and braced himself against the railing, freeing his hands. Placing a foot in the crossbow’s stirrup, he drew back the bowstring and fitted a bolt into the groove. His knees threatened to buckle and the world began to spin. He leaned against a backstay, bracing his knees against the railing and lifted the weapon to take sight on his target. Drawing a breath, he faced his pursuers.

The small boat had nearly overtaken the ketch. As he focused on its bow, Ai’Lorc found himself looking into the eyes of two madmen. One of the pair was whirling something overhead. Suddenly he threw the object and Ai’Lorc saw, almost too late, the hook. He ducked as the claw flew past and fell clattering onto the deck. As its talons dug in, Ai’Lorc returned to his task.

He might have considered either man on the forepeak his target, but he was loath to shoot anyone the Dalthin controlled. While these poor souls were probably his most immediate threat, his eyes sought only Dalthin hides. One was visible over the cabin, so he fixed his sight upon it. Slowing his breath to steady his hand, he tried to calculate what he must do. Following his target with the bow would send the bolt to where the creature had been at the time he fired. He would have to anticipate the craft’s rise and fall and allow not only for its progress, but for the force of the wind. Thankfully, the wind blew steadily. Were it not for the two vessels’ proximity, he would have considered his task futile, especially in view of his condition. The small, writhing creatures that hung from his hair and reached for his eyes had become minor distractions.

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