Read past episodes and catch up on the story here. *** Our hero is stranded in a storm-tossed sea. I broke the surface of the water and thrashed about,
Read past episodes and catch up on the story here.
Our hero is stranded in a storm-tossed sea.
I broke the surface of the water and thrashed about, hoping to see that Aeliana made it to the surface. I wiped away the water sheeting down my helmet visor. Eude, still insensible, buoyed up beside me.
The sky was a vault the color of slate, the sea a sheet of iron peppered with whitecaps. Hazy gray curtains of rain fell from a massive anvil of a storm cloud that loomed over the Celadon. I nearly missed Aeliana among the white crests, but caught her waving at me.
Eude had already drifted some distance, so I swam hard, closed the gap, and got a hold of him. I didn’t care about the traitor’s life, but we needed the information he possessed.
As luck would have it, our suits were pressurized, so floating wasn’t an issue. But if that storm reached us, we could be driven under by the waves.
It took me another panicked moment to spot Aeliana again. I hooked a tether to one of the drag handles of Eude’s suit and dove toward her through the water.
The distance never seemed to close between us as the storm came on. I thought my limbs must’ve turned to lead. Finally, she grasped my arm. In her other hand, she held a handset hooked to her glove by a lanyard. She used it to tap her helmet, which had a built-in headset for our suit radio, along with controls we could use with our chin.
I flipped the switch, and her voice came through with a hiss and crackle. “Can you hear me?”
There was relief in her voice, but I didn’t dwell on it. “Barely. How well will our suits radios work in this storm?”
“I can’t be sure, they have a limited range. But that’s not important right now.” She shook the handset again. “The rest of the emergency kit is gone, but I saved the radio and navigation set.”
She couldn’t see my smile, but I suspected she could hear the relief in my voice. “Which way is the navigation telling us to go?”
She pointed into the distance. “That way, and then west once we reach land, based on what you said about Clovis’s last communique.”
Hard as I tried, I saw nothing through the haze. Rain already speckled my helmet. “Then let’s get swimming. We’ve already wasted time.”
“Will you make it with that dead weight?” Her tone was flat.
I knew she meant Eude. “I’ll be fine.” I waited a beat. “Do you want me to cut him loose?”
Her pause was long. “No…no.”
I thought I knew what she was thinking. These people had lived with war for untold generations. Their nobles were warriors, not a relic of some bygone era. That side of her struggled with the woman who’s heart was kinder than she could show.
It was easy enough to top the small cresting waves, but they just kept coming. I was numb with exhaustion, but kept pulling strength from somewhere. I would pay the price for it later.
We were desperate to outrun the storm but as it grew in the sky our strokes seemed to become feeble. The waves got higher, came faster, and tossed us about. The distance grew between Aeliana and me. Then a wall of a wave came down like an avalanche.
I don’t know how long I was under the water, roiled, churned, and buffeted by currents.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on a rocky shore and so weak I couldn’t lift myself.
I shook from the cold seawater sloshing around in my suit and fumbled with numb fingers to get my helmet off. It was useless with its cracked visor. The cold damp air smelled of brine, stone, and fish.
Freed of my headgear, I saw the loose flap of suit fabric and felt cold stone against my bare skin. I traced back the lengthwise tear, right to the anchor point of the tether, which was missing.
Eude was gone. Was he dead?
I was able to lurch up onto an elbow to get a better view of my surroundings. There were foothills behind me, the same color stone as the shore. Some of it was wooded, but a good deal was covered with scrub. The land around the foothills was salt marsh. The whole area was dreary and godforsaken.
Aeliana was also missing. I wanted to get to my feet and go looking for her, but my first attempt was more of a turtle-roll because of how weak my arms were. Then I remembered the radio and realized my helmet wasn’t so useless.
The headset’s connection was integral to the collar of the suit, so there weren’t any cables to worry about. I hit the switch, and the radio came to life with a crackle. The seawater hadn’t shorted it out.
Unfortunately, all I heard was static.
I laid back, let out a breath, and darkness took me.
When I opened my eyes, I saw stars overhead. I had a memory of my father and me camping, how he’d taught me the constellations and how to navigate by the heavens. I realized that, however different this world was, the star formations were the same.
And I could navigate by the stars.
That was the good news. The bad news was that the blinking light in my helmet told me its internal battery was dead. The other bad news was that I didn’t know whether Aeliana was dead or alive. The other other bad news was that I didn’t know which way it was to Lord Cyprianus and his troops, assuming they weren’t dead.
Then I caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye.
My instincts and adrenaline had me up on my feet faster than I thought possible, though at the cost of nearly passing out. Still, my feet had me moving toward the silhouette of a mound visible in the moonlight, what I remembered as a rock outcropping.
I slid behind it, crouched, and listened.
There was the sound of feet on shifting rocks, but it was hard to identify over the roar of waves. I peeked over the boulder.
Flashlight beams crawled over the ground and, in their glare, I caught black uniforms I recognized. Hypogeans.
“I told you, he was here. He couldn’t have gone far.”
It was Eude’s voice.
To be continued…