"Beware! Above!" shouted Barda.
Lief looked, and his stomach heaved. The air high above them was teeming with flying leeches, streaming in thick, whirring clouds down from the darkness.
Wildly he waved the torch above his head. Dozens of slimy, winged bodies sizzled in the flames. But still many of the leeches swerved around the fiery barrier to settle on his hands and arms, to feed and swell.
And these were only the forerunners. Thousands upon thousands were following, spiralling downward.
"Jasmine, Barda! Get down!" Lief shouted. Recklessly, he cast his torch into the water, then tore off his cloak and threw it across the boat to make a canopy.
In moments the companions were lying face down beneath the cloak, holding it awkwardly in place. A pattering sound began as the first cloud of leeches rained down on their shelter, sensing the warm bodies beneath it. The pattering increased, became a relentless pounding. The cloak began to sag.
Lief's arms and hands were trembling with the effort of holding the cloak in place. The leeches that had been clinging to him before he took shelter, and the few that had found a way to creep under the cloak since then, were hanging like bloated sausages from his wrists and the backs of his hands. He gritted his teeth, forcing down the wild, urgent need to pluck them off.
The loaded cloak began pulling away from the boat's edge. Panic-stricken, Lief heaved at the fabric, trying to tug it back into place. But already leeches were pouring through the tiny gap, fastening onto his hands, slithering into his sleeve.
The cloak bulged and slipped again. The gap at the side of the boat opened further. Leeches poured through in a whirring mass.
We are finished, Lief thought suddenly. After all we have been through, we are lost defeated by the smallest creatures we have ever faced.
It would have been almost funny, if it had not been so vile.
Even as his hands struggled hopelessly to close the gap, his mind flew to Del. He would never return. Marilen's worst fears had come to pass.
Yet I regret nothing, Lief thought. I did what I had to do.
A strange peace flowed through him. And with that peace came the music of the Pirran Pipe, piercing him with its exquisite sweetness.
At last, Lief surrendered himself to it. He let himself drift in the tides of the sound. His eyes closed.
And so it was that he did not notice that emerald light was suddenly shining through the fabric above his head. He did not notice that the drumming, pounding sound had ceased. He did not hear the soft splash of water as the boat skimmed lightly across a rippling green sea, drawn safely and surely to land.