Hannah lifted hand over her head and sniffed an armpit.
“Hell, I can’t even tell any more.”
Leki dove naked off the side into the clear depths, a brown dart under the water until he resurfaced, shaking black hair out of his face.
“Jentosh says you stink,” Trich told Hannah, walking up and laying a hand on her shoulder, which was about the same level as his chin. Actually he had threatened to throw her overboard on this very occasion so he could sleep. Jentosh’s hammock was next to Cosag’s. Trich watched the swimmers down below, scrubbing and laughing, treading water in the bright midday.
“Everyone here smells.”
“Sure, but you smell a little nasty.”
“You sleep in a nasty-ass puddle in the bilge for a few months without access to basic sanitation and see how you smell,” she told him.
Trich watched her watch Ridiath strip out of tunic, belt, and pants, and push them all in a pile with her foot. Ridiath stepped up onto the railing, straight and slim, hardly any woman on her, and dropped straight over the side. Glancing down Hannah’s back, in his mind’s eye Trich interpreted the shape of her body under cloth into flesh, enjoying the imagining.
“Trich, you’ve done a lot for me in the pee-arr department, but if you use this as an excuse to feel me up, I will elbow you in the face. And push you overboard.”
“I bet you bite, too,” he agreed cheerfully.
“You don’t want to know that answer to that, man. Dude, can I at least get my shorts and tee-shirt back?” she said plaintively.
“My clothes. The clothes that I came with.”
“Why d’you need clothes to wash?”
“Ugh. Look!” She pointed a straining finger into the crowd of swimmers below. “World war two poster is wearing clothes.” He had no idea what she was saying, and sometimes there was no profit in trying. Trich stepped back, pulling his tunic over his head, jerking the knot out of the drawstring of his pants and letting them drop to his ankles. The long trail of the braid at the base of his neck tickled his back, light and wind on unprotected skin. Hannah made a face, tried to keep her eyes above shoulder level, dropped them to his chest a little too long, then determinedly focused higher. He grinned at her.
“Fuck you,” she said, climbed carefully onto the railing, and jumped into emptyness in all her clothes, arms wrapped around her knees.
“So what are we waiting for?”
Hannah sat with her back against the railing, legs stuck out, hands laced in her lap. She kind of wanted a sweatshirt. It wasn’t that cool, but it would have felt nice. Her clothes were dry, stiff with salt. There were a fuck-ton of stars here. Maybe because there weren’t any lights to wash them out.
“Kydele’s due,” Trich said. “My bet’s it comes tonight.”
Ky-duh-lay. She’d heard that somewhere.
Now that she was out of the basement, that meant she was on everybody else’s schedule: Half the day, and half the night, switch. For a few seconds she was thinking about how this was the first time she’d been outside at night since she’d been here, then she remembered all the nights to get to Ashur and Kim, and all the nights back. She guessed it had been cloudy then. Context made you remember things differently.
She’d sort of zoned out when she heard a loud voice, not-English in the night.
“Acha-a, lulimio re.”
“Fircf mebcjaena,” someone else called.
“Yandlem coreem cau.”
Trich suddenly straightened, bumped Hannah’s shoulder with his and pointed with two fingers across the deck.
Something had already caught her attention in the corner of her eye, a star that seemed suddenly to be moving. Then it wasn’t a star, but shining white streak, a million-dollar special effect playing on the big screen right before her eyes, like God himself took a giant, sparkling fountain pen and started doodling across the sky. Abruptly the strand of light ended three quarters of the way across the night, leaving a brilliant, wavering wall of white reaching for outer space. She couldn’t even guess how big it must be up close.
Trich turned to her, his face suddenly a little more visible, rugged, square lines, and maybe he couldn’t see that her eyes were a little too wide.
“What do you do when Kydele comes, where you’re from?”
She had nothing to answer that.
The boat rocked suddenly, like a huge wave had come up, and passed by, just a murmur on the ocean.
Pulling her knees up Hannah crossed her arms and pressed her forehead into them.
The hammock was like sleeping in something between a cradle and a swing. It was dry, didn’t give her a backache, and only her feet hung off the edge. It was better than sex.
It felt very real. The weave and texture of it, the same home-made, top-dollar feel as the whole boat. Hannah didn’t think she could make up that kind of detail if she’d tried. Which made her wonder where it all came from. The distinctive, somehow not unpleasant smell of twenty people who lived without soap, the random squeaks and creaks and sloshes of the boat, the image of Blondie and a black guy spooned naked together in a hammock in that particular quality of light from an oil lamp, that one board that kept tripping her up whenever she navigated to the hammock she was pretty sure was hers.
The rabid D&D fans had been one theory. It had been the better theory, really. More comforting, easier to swallow.
Exhibit A: Teenager who turns into carnivorous megafauna.
Exhibit B: Other teenager who coldbloodedly murders three guys.
Exhibit C: Fabulously spectacular white aurora that everyone seems to know about.
As for Exhibit C, a lot of spectacular shit happened in the world, just not necessarily in your part of the world. But you’d think National Geographic would have covered something like that. And Exhibit B, that could just be a sign of someone else’s crazy shit. But then there was Exhibit A.
She’d gotten a good look at him when they’d met him on the prairie. He was the realest thing she’d ever seen, down to every last hair. She’d smelled his breath when he growled at her. She’d watched the slits of his pupils dilate. She’d stood not ten feet away as he turned into a blurry blob of smoke, and reformed as a naked, angsting kid.
She’d been thinking about it the whole way back, after Ridiath had shanked the guards. Ashur and Kim had been genuinely fucked up, like medieval torture fucked up. They had walked for days and they had crossed not one single strand of barbed wire. Not a single fence, a single two-track road, a single cow. Not the drone of a single cropduster or jet. Just a a bunch of giant deer in a herd of Old West buffalo proportions, followed around by a bunch of white people living more like she would picture in Africa. And really, where was the motivation for the alleged rabid D&D fans to somehow drug her, kidnap her, and take her on a high seas adventure all the way from cow-town Colorado?
She had been planting morning glories around the mailbox. She’d finally done it, just to get Judy off her back. That was the last thing she remembered.
She just wasn’t creative enough to make this shit up.
But it was time to stop being in denial.
She was in another hospital, with another needle stuck in her arm. And this was either a very elaborate hallucination courtesy of whatever tranquilizers they had her on, or this was her four minutes of brain death because she had finally, finally done something Lindsey couldn’t fix.
So what? You’re insane. Life goes on.
Hannah crowed, fists thrown in the air.
“My mother and my aunt, stop that, it’s not that good of a play.”
“But I did it on my own.”
Kashen, Hannah was discovering, was a killjoy. He’d been the one who early on had told her she was sweeping wrong, which pretty much summed up his personality. She wondered what part of her psyche he was supposed to symbolize. Really, analyzing it was just a short trip to madness, and since the point was that she was probably already crazy, it seemed like overkill.
It was raining again, and it was actually a little brisk outside. Wet and forty was, in some ways, worse than dry and negative ten. Last night she’d jumped awake as the ship tossed in the storm, arms and legs thrown out to keep her from rolling into the bilge puddle, only to find she was in a hammock and had just knocked her neighbor in the head.
Other than Kashen, who she’d labelled personality type Triple-A, there was Tony, the guy who always hung out with the Twerp. He was kind of fat and looked like he was probably naturally brow instead of tanned. Yesterday Hannah had watched him stand there while the Twerp had torn him a new one for about ten minutes straight. Tony hadn’t said a thing, just stood there and took it calmly. When the Twerp had finished, a little out of breath, Tony had said something that made him storm off to the cabin.
There had been some drama instigated by the Twerp when they got back from the rescue mission, specifically when he had scaled the hull like El Capitan while about ten people yelled at him to stop. No one seemed to like him after that, and if they didn’t like him Hannah wasn’t sure why they put up with him.
She had finally figured out that the last cabin on the left when you went in was where he stayed, the one that always had the door closed. Which explained why she’d always been warned off cleaning it. Why he rated a private room when Ashur and Blondie got to sleep with the grunts she didn’t know. Maybe because no one else could stand him. His name was Efeddre, which just made her think of ‘Ephedrine.’
Tony was sitting next to Kashen, who considered himself cursed to be sitting next to Hannah. Ridiath sat almost directly across from her. Studying her, Hannah tried to decide what she symbolized, and decided that hit a little too close to home.
To Ridiath’s right was Gerril, built like a brick shithouse, who said, “Kashen, your name shoulda been ‘Kesheg’,” which didn’t really make sense. He was the one who had locked her up one time when Ashur was pissed, and he had a face that seemed like it belonged somewhere in medieval Europe. He seemed like the only other guy on board besides Naal who had a beard, but his wasn’t as bushy.
“Least I wasn’t named after my mama’s last fuck,” Kashen shot back.
Naal wasn’t there because he had the other shift, but someone else had another deck, not as nice. Instead the dealer was some guy named Jentosh, one of the taller black guys who she didn’t really know. Maybe she’d played with him before, she couldn’t remember.
“You have the prissiest name,” the hot black guy with nice dreads, Felghaim, said. Hannah glanced around, found him looking at Ridiath.
“What, ‘Ridiath’?” Hannah said. It wasn’t that prissy. No one answered her, Felghaim just gave Ridiath this understated, meaningful look. Hannah looked between them.
Ridiath just shrugged, not even looking at her, as if she hadn’t said anything.
“I didn’t choose it.”
It was the guy to Ridiath’s left’s turn, and Hannah didn’t know his name. He had a dark tan, slim muscles, long black hair and a little bit of a hook to his nose. He stretched out to lay one of his skinny wooden cards in the ring in the middle, not seeming to pay attention to the conversation. There was something about the way he was sitting, one leg drawn up, weight more on one hip than the other, elbow propped on his knee with one arm dangling that was attractive, and she found herself studying him.
He looked up, and seemed surprised to find her looking at him. Hannah’s eyes nearly skipped away, the way you do when you get caught looking at someone and act like you weren’t, but they stayed for a second. He was the one to look away, paying attention to Ridiath as she made her play.
Whatever ground Hannah had gained with her last play she lost the next round, and didn’t feel too miffed. Tony neatly cancelled out the set Gerril laid down, to everyone else’s hilarity. It seemed Gerril was supposed to be the better player. He practically spluttered. The guy she had been checking out laughed, not joining in the communal ragging, and just shook his head, and suddenly they found themselves looking at each other again. This time it lasted more than a second, more than two.
He wasn’t even really good looking and she wasn’t into long hair on men, but there was just something there, a little spark and pleasant pressure between her legs that she wasn’t used to feeling anymore.
And really, why the hell not?
She lifted an eyebrow, and tilted her head toward the door. Everyone else was so engrossed in giving Gerril shit that she didn’t think they noticed. He seemed to get the drift and his eyes widened a little in surprise, but then he gave her a long, considering look.
At the end of the next round, he folded.
“Uym. Nefasap,” was all he said, and casually left the room.
“Gina reltic,” Tony said, climbing to his feet like he’d been in one position too long. Hannah stood after him, fake-stretching as he walked past her out the door, about to noncholantly follow him out.
“Fatycamab ului dus piae mabim,” Jentosh said in not-English, then to her, “Crazy, you’re out.”
Perfect. “Fine, whatever.”
In the hall the sound of rain was suddenly clear through the hatch outside, the smell of it changing the feel of everything.
The guy was hanging out against the farthest doorframe on the right side of the hall, and he jerked his chin inside the way people here did instead of pointing. Hannah followed him in, and he slid the door shut behind them, leaving them in the dark except for a strip of grey dim on one side.
In the dark it didn’t really matter if she thought he was good-looking or not. He had a nice body, and it felt good as he suddenly pushed himself against her, pulling her hips to his. She froze a little at first before she could slip her hands under his shirt, smooth her thumbs over a flat, muscled stomach. She could feel the stiff shape of his dick pressing into her hip through his pants.
The kiss was weird. She’d never kissed anyone shorter than she was before, and it made her chemistry stumble a little. He was running his hands up her chest over her shirt, pressing his palms against her breasts in a way that felt surprisingly good instead of annoying, the way most guys just grabbed and kneaded like bread dough. He made a sound as he kissed her, holding the sides of her face, excitement, the slide of wet lips.
Grabbing her back and crushing their bodies together, he finally urged her shirt up, off, which was kind of expected. Never really sure what to do with her hands, Hannah rubbed his shoulders, just taking in the shape of him, then after a hesitation dropped her hand to palm his dick. He gave a little thrust against her hand, gave a breath like a moan. She kept rubbing him until something damp soaked through the cloth, and he was breathing hard into her shoulder.
There was a blanket that he somehow found in the dark. He shook it out, and she figured it was time and sat down. The blanket didn’t cushion the floor at all, but at least it was splinter-safe. He followed her, still in his pants and pulling hers down. She had to lean back on her hands just to avoid cracking their heads together. It seemed kind of fast, but she didn’t know how to say anything. But by the time he stripped them off her ankles he went straight for the oral, which was impressive, really.
She made an unflattering noise as his mouth closed over her clit, just from the shock of it. He went at it like he loved it, and his enthusiasm was kind of weird, too. Hannah knew she should be enjoying it. About one guy in five was actually willing to do it, and one guy in ten who was actually good at it, and he seemed like he had practice. Creeping in on the edges of the statistics was that they’d gone this far and they didn’t have a condom, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do about it.
There are no STDs in hallucinations.
There is no accidental pregnancy in hallucinations.
It felt good, on one level, but it was almost like after the initial surge her clit had called it a day. She was half-waiting for him to get tired of it, urge her legs farther open, get on top of her. She couldn’t blame him for not making an effort. She stared at the black ceiling, listening to him eat her out. Maybe it had been too long. Maybe she should tell him he could stop, and they could get on with it. Maybe if he kept going she would feel something.
There was just, nothing. Nothing, and a suffocating pressure eating its way up from her chest to her throat.
She should just— No words came out of her mouth, she wasn’t even sure which words they would be. He was still going at it, shifting to hook one arm under her thigh. She opened her mouth again, had to fight past some invisible wall to get her voice out.
“Hey, I need to stop.”
She almost wasn’t sure she said the words, if they were real.
She half-expected him to just put it in her. His tongue stopped moving, and he propped himself up on his elbows, and she saw the silhouette of him looking up at her.
“There somethin’ else you want?” He had an accent. Little detail she’d just noticed, and he’d been going down on her for the past ten minutes.
She sat up, legs briefly tangled with his head and arms until they both extricated themselves. He sat up too, silent, and it lasted so long she felt like she had to say something.
“I don’t, feel much, not since Colombia. Something with PTSD. There’s like, nothing there. I thought—” Another long silence, almost like he was listening, but she didn’t have anything to say. “Sorry,” she said, and it was stupid to apologize to your hallucinations, but somehow he didn’t feel imaginary. “Blue balls. Hear it’s hell.”
He gave something like shaky laugh under his breath, like he was trying to shift his hormonal gears, scraping his hair back.
“I’ll survive,” he said, like he wanted it, wanted it bad, but he was going to accept it. Wow, Hannah, you pick a good one and you can’t even get the parts working. “Don’t get every pearl you dive for.”
“He ever show up?”
“Nope,” she said, adopting Toney’s style of Donse.
“‘Nope,‘” Oraun corrected from her right, a minute difference in the emphasis on the vowel. “You sound like a merchant’s third daughter trying to slum on the docks.” There had been a time she would have stiffened at that, and now she just accepted it with silence.
To be honest, I can’t even hear the difference, Demhlei said, one of those times when their taskless waking time bled together. If she concentrated she could feel the brisker, drier night on his skin, feel the flicker of torchlight beyond her closed eyelids, even though here, now, her eyes were open. But Demhlei was meditating at the shrine, and his physical and mental solitude provided less distracting stimulation than her conversation.
Toney didn’t say anything to her response, hip propped against the railing as they stared out over the water. Efeddre had told her to meet him for a story the night before he left, when the Fork was above the horizon. He hadn’t come.
Toney had found her waiting well before the rest of her shift had left their hammocks. She’d considered approaching Efeddre in his cabin, then decided that if he wasn’t going to keep his own appointment then the consequences were his responsibility.
They had dropped Efeddre on the forested coast yesterday afternoon, wet and cooling as the storm season wrestled with the cold season. A dark, blurred line on the horizon was the only remaining suggestion of land in the red stain of the rising sun reaching across the ocean from the landless west.
Toney hadn’t gone with Efeddre this time, and he hadn’t said why. She felt Demhlei’s heightened curiosity as her thoughts drifted that way, not memories but impressions from stories of the camps, the hearth fires, the interplay of the the lridrisy and limdri in the methala.
“Ashur might just leave the salt-peddling runt this time,” Oraun said, nothing if not blunt. Toney didn’t say anything. He’d lived nearly nine of a dozen years with Ashur for harle. Ridiath thought it was possible, though she couldn’t decide how likely. Ashur despising someone and Ashur leaving someone drowning were two different things. Scratching his jaw, Oraun said thoughtfully, “You think he’ll even come back? Maybe he won’t show up.” It was almost a pass until the rendezvous.
Toney covered his face with his hands.
“Don’t give me nightmares.”
“I yanked him outta that hole,” Oraun said to the fire-tinted dark, “an’ I went back to Laschdarvi with him, and sometimes I still wonder what we got ourselves into.”
“S’funny to hear you talking about Ashur leaving Efeddre behind, after that blood-betting scrabble you had with Kimfen,” Ridiath drawled, refusing to let Oraun’s criticism stop her. “I thought he was gonna toss both of you overboard.” She could almost feel Oraun’s face sour, and she fought her smile down. Mostly. Demhlei sent her a question in the shape of a raised eyebrow.
They share a blanket most of the time, she explained briefly. And they fight like two baited spur-sows in the ring.
Maybe they’re doing it wrong.
I wouldn’t know.
Oraun’s voice was irritated. “Ashur’s just sunburn-touchy because his back still itches like a herdbeast with mange.”
“Surprised it still does,” said Toney. “Kimfen said his feet don’t ache anymore.”
Oraun, in the tone of a shrug, “Juele did more for them, they were broke up so bad.”
“The foot massages, though,” Ridiath told him, the words rolling too smoothly to stop, “that was really touching.” She felt Demhlei’s amusement thicken her own as Oraun tilted his head back, a dimly featured silhouette with spiky hair against the breaking dawn, and heard him take a breath.
“Ridiath, if you were not you…”
“I bet you you wouldn’t do a thing different,” she challenged, grinning, and it wasn’t so much about if it were true but if her attitude could stand up to his.
Oraun made a disgusted noise.
As the full light of morning spread across the ocean, Ridiath caught sight of Megars across the deck, fiddling with the lines of the halyard block before helping Taighaut raise the mainsail to catch the strengthening wind. She helped Oraun raise the jib as they picked up speed, studying as he made minute adjustments to keep it from luffing, then scanned the deck again, finding Megars unoccupied. He caught her eyes, and she looked at him long enough that when she walked into the cabin, he came in after her a few breaths later.
Pull back, she told Demhlei, an idea rather than a phrase. His presence had drifted away, but he was still connected by a strand of hair. The suggestion piqued his interest, and her sense of him strengthened, and she knew he was seeing what she was seeing. Megars gave her a sidelong look as he paused in the frame of the hatch, one leg lifted to pick a splinter from his foot. A humorous flavor, not quite the rhythm of a laugh.
Maybe I’ll meet him some day. His curiosity was intense, playful.
Shoo, she said.
Demhlei peeled his consciousness away from hers like two oiled skins stuck together, leaving her alone in herself, suddenly lighter, only her own senses, perceptions, thoughts. Stepping into the first empty cabin behind Megars, she slid the door shut behind them.
In the faint morning light filtering through the porthole, he waited for her to touch him before he gently grasped her hips, their stomachs pressed together. He waited until her hands pushed up the furred curve of his belly to his chest before lightly cupping her breasts, breathing in deep when she pressed the side of her face against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. His hands played with her hair but didn’t take it down; he liked her hair loose, but she didn’t like the mess of it around her face, having to comb it and tie it back in place.
She stretched her arms toward the ceiling and laughed when he took the hem of her tunic and peeled it up her body, like peeling the skin of a sisel fruit. Then the laugh caught as he lightly kissed the hollow of between her neck and shoulder.
They played a long time before either of them tried to orgasm, and when she finally pushed his shoulders, Megars licked his way down to kiss between her legs. It seemed to go on forever, her skin flushed, breathing harsh, and she couldn’t quite peak herself. And so like she did whenever the release wouldn’t come to her, she closed her eyes and cast herself back in her memory, to someone else on top of her, a different shape of body, longer, lighter hair.
It rose and hit her faster than she would have thought after the frustrating plateau, turning her body rigid, fists clenching, all the sensation radiating from that one swollen point. Megars kept tonguing her through the aftershocks and she clenched her hips in silence until the last echoes were gone. Her eyelids were suddenly weighted, her entire body heavy, like it would sink through the planks, through the deck blow, through the keel and sink to the bottom of the ocean. Megars pushed himself up, wiping her off his mouth, sucking his fingers clean.
Ridiath couldn’t tell if he guessed she had been somewhere else behind her eyelids as he pulled himself up beside her, breathless. He scooted closer, molding his hand around one of her breasts as she slipped her fingers into his hair, pulling his head to her chest.
The span of Ashur’s attention bottlenecked to only his eyes and ears and nose and taste and touch, leaving behind the the cloud of krill and feasting saildarters leagues distant.
Lips pursed into a smile, Egreall held the chunk of fish under his nose. Ashur accepted it automatically, blankly, found the skin sizzling hot. He popped a chunk into his mouth, his tongue better able to handle the heat than his fingers, salt and oily flesh. He picked the bones from his teeth, stretched his hand up to flick them over the railing.
“It about to go bad?” Ashur asked, sucking the bones out of another chunk.
“Mehth says he refuses to even try to dry it.” Arrina was too oily. It was delicious.
“You been staring out half the morning,” Egreall informed him. Ashur lifted a shoulder, let it drop.
“And you’re in a freakishly good mood.”
“I’m always like this after a good fuck,” Egreall said lazily, leaning back on his hands. One baggy leg of his ragged pants rode up around his dark thigh, revealing the scar. The season was cooling, sporadic clouds blocking out patches of sun, but no one had brought out warmer clothes yet.
Ashur’s back was whole, scarless thanks to Alan, except for one white line across the small of his back where he had scratched the scab and flaking skin off over and over. He drifted back out past the ship, carried by the dappled waves, the ship skimming over the larger pattern of the ocean, following the pattern of the winds, caught between two worlds. There were tiny lives floating across the crystal skin of the water, feeding on the light. Their lives were simple, complete, their conversations vastly complex. He didn’t try to understand, just let himself be immersed in it.
Something moved across the far-flung edges of his perception, skating abruptly back out of range, then darting just within his boundaries.
Ashur frowned, losing focus on the ship and sails and men around him.
The presence was drawing nearer, not moving with the patterns of the currents and waves, but plowing through them. A noise filtered through his concentration, a voice.
“Hey, someone get Aramyys.”
Instinct told him to call an alert, but he didn’t know against what. He wanted to find out more, tried to reach and touch it, but it slipped away from him like a cunning fish from beneath his careful fingers. It was hard to find it again, distinguish it from the ocean. Words pulled him back again, the drone of conversation.
“What in eight storms…”
“You ever seen a bird like that?”
Tilting his head back to the cloud-dotted sky, Ashur followed the three or four gazes and saw a bird cut out of the blue, a long neck and blunt wings. Aramyys was staring up at it, eyes shaded by his hand. The shape was wrong, not an long-flier. Not a turn, or a shemeyye, or a broja. More like a hawk, but the proportions were off.
Ashur stood up, staring as the bird swung west, then north in a lazy spiral, brow creased.
The bird became a dark dash to his eyes, then disappeared. The presence encroached on his boundaries without him having to reach, coming from the west, and his eyes scanned the horizon, searching for some sign that his eyes could read. Ashur jumped to his feet, leaving Egreall behind, and ran up the stair to the sterndeck where Clisand stood at the wheel.
“Take us landward,” he said. Eyeing him, Clisand gave the call, not questioning. As the rudder flexed and the ship wore around, the sails shifted around the masts, trimmed to maximize speed in their new direction. Ashur turned to keep facing the slippery otherness of it, until it faded, falling behind as they flew east.
Then it darted back in, seeming to swerve, pick up speed.
It was following them.
Pattering down the stairs, he called across the deck, signing the commands above his head, “Wake everyone up! Tell them not to crowd skyside, but be ready. Things are about to go uncanny.” There wasn’t a sign for uncanny, so he used unknown. Solme darted down the hatch, and suddenly the slumbering lives beneath his feet started waking up, sparking momentum, energy. He watched the water, feeling the presence spread out like the fan of a flood, rushing toward them.
“‘Uncanny?’” Ibleton called out to him, standing ready by the mainsail with Werser. “What does ‘uncanny’ mean?”
“We’re about to find out.”
The knot of Alan’s power came up beside him, fresh from sleep, alert. There was a certain tension in the pattern of him, the lines and worls snarling tight.
“Did it wake you up?”
“You make my bones throb. This makes me feel like I have the ague.”
Catching sight of a long shape held by his side, Ashur flicked his eyes down to Alan’s lhir.
“That’s not going to help you.” Alan didn’t respond to that.
“Do you know what it is?”
“It’s big. It’s, like kydele, like a hurricane, like the herd. That big.”
“Look!” Aramyys called. “Dozen lengths out.” Judging the distance, Ashur finally had an image to connect the sensation to, an unnaturally long span of rippling water contracting toward them in a great spiral.
His head jerked back as the clouds suddenly ripped back at spectacular speeds, the sun abruptly full and bright, the air warmer, faces staring upward in terrified awe.
Ashur had to restrain himself from backing up as the force of it surrounded them, coming from all sides, his mind knowing as his body did not that there was nowhere to run. The water changed colors, the deep green-blue replaced flooded with pale, crystaline blue. The hull groaned, the gut-wrenching sound of wood taxed to shattering. Then the ship rolled, tilting into a hard heel as the wind kept flowing into the sails.
“Drop the sails!” Ashur screamed, then the deck was more than half way to vertical. He dropped to the planks, fingers and toes latching onto the texture of the wood. He heard the shouts, a yell from inside the hold, saw Shenele disappear over the railing. Solme tumbled past him, slamming into the railing below. Ibleton dangled from a mast stay as Werser was wrestling with the halyard block, and he caught sight of Fis crouched on the radical angle of the mainmast, slashing at the rope suspending the yard.
One line cut, two, and the yard plummeted, hitting the slant of the deck and dragging sail and tangled lines behind it as it made a deadly slide straight for Rher, clutching the low side of the railing. Ashur’s hand shot out, made a grabbing motion in the air even as he began to slip, and his eyes shot wide as the yard stopped, a physical weight in his empty hand.
In the space of that heartbeat the mizzenmast snapped, and the ship lurched upright again, sending Fis crashing to the deck. The point of the naked mainmast traced dizzying shapes in the sky as the ship rocked back and forth, nothing but a child’s coracle in a stream.
The world suddenly righted, Ashur looked around wildly, found Dhomlar clutching the hilt of his knife sunk into one of the seams in the deck, Alan pushing himself up onto all fours, lhir gone.
“Shenele!” Naal shouted overboard. Ashur couldn’t hear an answer. Solme wasn’t moving, a tangled ball of limbs, Rher crawling over to him.
Someone else was shouting, “Clisand!”
“Tsunami are—” Ibleton spat, staring over the edge. Ashur scrambled to the railing and looked, and found the hull disappearing into the water.
“We’re sinking!” Eana shouted, the edge of panic in his voice. They weren’t sinking, and as Ashur stared, he couldn’t fault Eana for his panic.
“We’re not sinking,” Rher called, voice sharp. “Th’water’s rising.”
“What?” Egreall demanded.
Ashur couldn’t pay attention to them, had to stop it before the ship was crushed. With will and self he pressed down, like palms against the steady resistance of flesh, pressure sizzling along his skin. The water slowed for a few long breaths, until he saw wetness seeping toward them, fingers and ripples of it, like a skin of water flowing down a wall, but up.
Heart thundering he tried to sink into it, become a part of its pattern, and found himself peremptorily rebuffed by its own sense of self.
Tell me what you want. He threw the thought into the world in desperation, to land wherever it might. Tell me what you want and I’ll find another way to give it to you.
You have what I’ve been looking for.
His eyes widened as he watched the clarity of the water continue to rise up the hull. He had never been answered that way before, never been answered by anything that perceived itself as a singular entity.
The water reached the railing, spilled over in a slim torrent, men lurching back, watching it flow across the deck, leaked down the crevices toward the bilge. It was like the ship was a depression in the ocean, impossibly still whole, glassy blue impossibly touchable, reaching away from them.
Someone was whimpering, “Mina ormiet, mina ormiet, mina ormiet…”
“Mama auntie mama auntie—” Ibleton was chanting under his breath.
Ashur backed rapidly away, bumping into Ibleton, feeling the warmth of the water seep between his toes, the dry space on the deck rapidly disappearing, nowhere to run.
You’re going to destroy us-drown us-kill us-snuff us out. You can’t—
Behind him, someone started screaming.
Ashur whirled to the bewildering image of Alan falling to his knees and slapping the wet deck with all his might, over and over, screaming with every breath he possessed.
Werser was backing away from the frenzy, into the veil of water darkening the boards. Instinct took him, snatched his concentration away from the rising water, and Ashur dashed over, scraping his knees as he dropped beside him.
Alan’s face lifted, framed by a veil of unkempt yellow hair, and the rings of his eyes flickered and shifted like a breeze over coals. One last tendril of water slithered across his face to curl inside his ear, disappearing, leaving his skin dry.
Ashur felt himself freeze for an instant, before he grabbed Alan’s face, reaching beyond the boundaries of his skin. There was no time to think of a path, only be guided by sensation. He plunged his bodiless self into Alan, gathering himself around the water’s living essence to wrench it from his flesh.
Alan’s mouth moved, a flash of blood-stained teeth.
The air crystalized around them to hot, iridescent shards. A tone sounded, like an immense horn beneath the weight of the water. The sound was almost too low for his ears to hear, but he could hear it in his organs, in the tissue connecting his muscles and bones as the air began to split. The burning eyes were locked into his, pain shuddering behind the rigid muscles of his face, and then Alan grabbed the back of his head and slammed it into the deck.
The world snapped back into place like it had never left. He had been the one to leave.
The air stopped dying. The iridescence faded, and all the shards of air began melding back together. It could only have been a few breaths. Alan was still on all fours beside him, staring through the deck.
He heard dimly, “You deal with him.”
A man’s voice, soft, “Juele?”
Hands on him, steadying him as he struggled upright. The deck was dry. He recognized Litin’s touch before he saw his face.
“I’m fine,” he said, irritated, trying to focus his eyes. “Get off. I need to.” He couldn’t remember what he needed.
“Get me the bag.” Black hair brown skin deft fingers in the corner of his eye as he stared through the orderly rows of planks. Litin’s fingers probed around his skull, a finger slipping into his ear. He pulled his hand back, stared at something Ashur couldn’t see. “Mina ormiet.”
Ashur tried to push himself up, slapping at Werser’s huge, fat hands.
“Get me to Alan,” he said, trying to make his legs work, and Litin said something behind him. Then a hand wrapped around his mouth from behind, pressing a damp cloth over his face. He sucked in something sickly sweet, and left the world again.