The Tempest Gate was visible on the horizon long before Gabriel sailed into it — a black vortex of roiling clouds, pulsing and veined with lightning, churning over the sea like newly erupted volcanic ash. For five hundred years sailors had been changing course at the very sight of that unholy deluge, but Gabriel, Holy Knight of the Church of Dunrabian, headed straight for its very heart. He had come to destroy the demon Elezear sleeping within its elemental walls, and he would complete his quest or die trying.
The roar of the Gate enveloped him as he drew near. Sheets of rain cascaded from the sky and pounded into the sea with a thunderous din like thousands of warhorses charging over a battlefield. The sound rattled his teeth and sent a bolt of panic running through his spine. Biting down hard against his fear, the young man held steady to his course.
He had no right to cowardice. His mission was to rid the world of the evil that was Elezear, and that task was more important than his own life. Victory over the demon would require absolute conviction. There was no room for hesitation or doubt. Sneering with disdain at both the Gate and his own weakness, he trimmed his ship’s lone sail and sped headlong into the wall of storm.
The first winds splintered his mast and sent the sail fluttering into the water like a ruined kite. Stinging rain lashed across his face like needles. Darkness enveloped him so completely it was as if he had been struck blind, able to make out the raging, insane seascape around him only in periodic flashes and bursts of lightning. Waves crashed and exploded against each other, splitting the air with the blasts of their impact. Gabriel picked up the oars from the hull of the boat and rowed.
Whipped back and forth, spun around and several times nearly capsized, the knight quickly lost sense of what direction he was headed in. He was simply fighting to stay afloat, balancing the little vessel against the ocean’s malevolent will.
Gabriel laughed. All of his twenty-five years of life had been building towards that moment. Countless hours of training, sacrifice, and prayer had all been spent in preparation for the battle that lie ahead. He shouted at the sky, “It will take more than a warm breeze and some mist to turn me back.”
As if in response to his impudence, the winds raged harder, the rain turned to hail, and a towering form rose in the distance, its silhouette impressed upon the curtains of precipitation in a lightning burst of illumination. Gabriel at first thought a mountain had come within view, but then the lightning cracked again and revealed the black shape in its entirety. It was no mountain. It was a wave, and it was moving his way. The knight pulled the oars inside the boat, gripped the sides, and held on.
The impact smashed the ship to splinters and sent him flying into the ocean. He recovered from the shock to find himself sinking like a stone into the soundless, underwater darkness, his body growing numb and unresponsive in the frigid cold. Unable to discern direction in the lightless depths, he swam against the sinking feeling, hoping he moved upwards.
He kicked off his boots and shed his tunic to rid himself of their weight. The sword sheathed in his belt was heaviest of all, of course, but he would drown before he gave that up, and if it became lost, he would die chasing it into the depths. It was the Sword of Dunrabian, and he was nothing if not its Arm.
The breath he’d taken was quickly used up. His diaphragm strained and heaved. Hypoxia lights floated before his eyes as he clawed at the water like a falling climber grasping for a handhold, lungs ready to explode as he fought his body’s reflexive attempts to take a fatal breath of air that was not there. Gagging on nothing. Mind fuzzy and spinning. He did not know if he was moving closer to the surface or farther away, but there was no other choice.
Don’t let me fail now, Dunrabian, he prayed. Not when I’m so close to fulfilling the purpose you created me for.
It seemed that his prayer would go unanswered and he would drown alone in the frigid darkness, but just before he lost control of his lungs, he broke through the ocean’s surface. It took three full breaths to clear his mind enough to grasp the fact that he was no longer submerged. His relief was fleeting, for he quickly realized that his situation wasn’t much improved. Waves pummeled him on every side. Torrents of rain splashed off the ocean’s roiling surface so that he choked on water every time he breathed. His muscles were fatiguing, and the numbness created by the cold continued to spread. He could not swim forever.
A flash of lightning illuminated something bobbing in the water. Lunging for the object, Gabriel thrashed about in the darkness trying to find it. To his amazement, he found himself grasping hold of a section of his ship’s shattered mast-pole. Clutching the spar close to his chest, he rested his head upon it. “Thank you, Dunrabian,” he whispered. “Thank you.”
Floating atop his makeshift raft, the knight scanned the horizon for some indication of the direction he needed to head towards. There was no room for error in the next move he made. His energy was almost entirely spent. Exhaustion and cold would soon overtake him. If he made a mistake, there would not be an opportunity for another.
A glimpse of light appeared in the distance. It was there only for a moment, and then disappeared just as quickly behind the rollicking waves. It was gone so fast that Gabriel was not certain he had seen it at all, but with no other choices left to him, he headed in the direction of the illumination.
He did not know how long he swam. There was no sun to mark time, and no landscape features to gauge distance. He only knew that after what felt like a very, very long time, he still had not located either light or land. His legs began to fail him. He willed them into motion, but they did not move him far. Eventually, they did not move him at all. Pedaling uselessly in place while waves tossed him about like driftwood, Gabriel howled in defiance.
He did not fear death. He only feared failure in his quest. If he had to die, he prayed that it was not there in the water, but in battle with Elezear.
The ocean swelled beneath him. A wave swept him up and sent him surging through the hail, rain, and darkness. It grew higher and higher as it went, towering over the sea. At the moment of the wave’s apex, Gabriel saw light in the distance again. It seemed closer than before, though how close, he could not be sure. The wave broke. Holding the spar close to him, the knight prepared for impact.
The force of the crashing wave sent him shooting and spinning into the cold depths. He reached out to catch the spar as it was ripped from his arms, but was not quick enough. As he watched the wood disappear into the nebulous deep, it occurred to him that he could see again.
He stopped swimming and looked about in mute wonder. No longer cast in darkness, a faint light now permeated the water all around him. Not the flashing radiance of lightning, but instead a persistent glow. He searched around for the source of the light when a powerful current caught him, twisted him about, and smashed his head against something hard. There was a crunching sound, a brilliant explosion of pain, and then he fell into a different kind of darkness altogether.