Chapter 1: Razed
The sun rolled up red out of a glass green sea. Came over the round edge of the world the color of blood, of storm warning. A sun the red of the Merrow’s cap, the stealing of which had spawned the pursuit the sun’s level rays lit. The cutlass shapes of tall masts and the birdwing shapes of sails caught the red rays, throwing shadows behind two ships, shadows that thrust and parried across the glowing dawn sea. The dark ship ahead was a wooden-hulled, two masted, square tops’l schooner, the Roane, named for the shapeshifting seal-folk of Irish legend. Her own shape was that of a Baltimore Clipper, the swift and agile privateers that had nipped at the heels of the British Navy in the War of 1812. Though she had been built nearly two centuries after those “sharp-built schooners” had faded into legend, she had all of the qualities that made them legend. She was flying on the wind, the way her ancestors had; her immense engines had been stilled the night before by one Brannan Hrafenson, Ravenkin.
He hadn’t meant to do it. He’d meant to pirate...or, privateer... an item stolen by those on the Roane; the sea-cap belonging to Morgan the Merrow. Things had gone differently than he’d planned. Or not planned. Plan was generally not a word used much in his vocabulary.
But that’s another tale.
On to this one.
The ship in chase was the Lady Niamh, named after the daughter of Manannan, who ruled the sea. She also wore the shape of a Baltimore Clipper, though her rig carried more square sails than Roane, making her a schooner brig. Unlike her somber, black-hulled relatives, she wore the blues and greys and greens of the sea. A landlubber would have seen that she was smaller than the Roane. A nautical eye would have seen her lean, low sea-hugging hull and her tall rig with its vast cloud of sail as a more extreme design; faster, more agile, but demanding great skill to sail her. To one who looked closely, and her crew never allowed any to look too closely, there was something about her lean as a racing dolphin hull. Something about her raked masts and lighter than osprey feather sails.
As uncanny as her crew. They had sailed circles around British warships in the American Revolution, in the Napoleonic Wars. They had stopped slavers and pirates (the kind with cannons and cutlasses). They had ridden that wild interface between two volatile fluids; air and water, for millennia before cannons and cutlasses. But the battles of humans were not their real concern; their concern was the wind and tide and the sea itself, the creatures in it, upon it. This crew that moved with the grace of a tern in flight, with the surety of a blue whale wheeling across the ceiling of its world were, in the twenty-first century, part of an organization devoted to wild things and wild places; the Earth Life Foundation. If anyone paid attention to their acronym, ELF, they might have learned a great deal more about who these folk actually were.
But few remembered the legends. Fewer believed in them.
The Lady Niamh flew on the dawn wind, her hull knifing the waves with swordfish speed, heeled under the wind till the cannon muzzles tasted the sea. The wind blew broad on her port bow; halfway between directly ahead, and directly abeam. She flew close-hauled, swallowing that wind and converting it to pure speed. The miles wide gap between the Lady and the Roane was narrowing.
Two boys on the starboard rail peered ahead, one with binoculars, one with eyes unfazed by distance or the slanting rays of the rising sun. At their feet swayed an enormous black and white dog, a Newfoundland named Surf. Amidships were lashed two brightly colored kayaks, the vessels the boys and the dog had arrived on last night.
“Zan, can you make sense of what’s going on?” Jason asked. He lurched on the rail like a walrus on a rollercoaster.
Zan perched like a tern in the ratlines above Jason’s head; a lean, lithe boy with hair several shades redder than a fox. “From what our crew is saying, Niamh’s a leaner, faster design. And the Roane hasn’t got enough crew to sail her tight enough to outrun us.”
“Crap.” Jason said, disappointed, “We’ll be back by lunch.”
“Still, they’ve been outrunning us pretty well.”
“Not forever.” Jason said, “You know what would be cool? You should do an illusion, another ship...no, no, a BIG butt-kicking battleship. A whole fleet. No, wait...cooler yet. Do a starship, blasting out of the sky, raking them with laser fire.”
Zan grinned and his hands blocked out the scene, “Sharkman hulks over the controls, steely eyed. ‘Arm main torpedoes, Shadowfox.’ ‘Aye, armed.’ Shadowfox’s fingers fly over the touch screen, ‘target acquired’.” Between Zan’s flying hands the air shimmered, coalesced. Images floated there; Sharkman hunched over the control panel, his sidekick glaring at the computer, “...this will take some tricky flying. Carefully timed teamwork. Sharkman twitches the controls to port, dives...” A starship replaced Sharkman and Shadowfox, laying out a line of green laser fire.
“Whoa!” Jason said, “That’s exactly how I pictured it.”
Zan grinned, “I know.”
Jason’s look of astonishment morphed to annoyance, “You were reading my mind again.”
Zan looked abashed, “I didn’t mean to, not that way anyway. It’s just....you know. Look, as soon as we get back I’ll teach you to shield. Then nobody can read your mind.”
“Not even my dad?”
“Especially not your dad.”
“I still think you should throw a ship at them or something.” Jason said, peering ahead at the Roane.
“It’s kind of hard to do a whole ship. And all I got to work with here is water. Water isn’t my best element.”
“What do you mean?”
“It helps if there’s...” Zan frowned as if he couldn’t translate the images in his head into words Jason would understand, “something already there.”
“What about the thirty foot Great White that leaped out of two feet of water back in the bay?”
“The shark wasn’t as big as a ship.” Zan said. “And it was moving fast. If you’d looked really close, it would have looked a little...uh, fuzzy. Like bad game animation.”
“Oh.” Jason said, disappointed.
Zan looked away to the Roane, his own expression a bit crestfallen.
“It was really cool, though.” Jason said brightly. “I never noticed anything rough about it.” He frowned at the speck on the horizon, “Howcome we’re not headed directly for it? I mean, we’re kind of headed away from the Roane.”
“Where’s the wind?” came a voice behind Jason’s shoulder.
He turned to see Rhea, the first crewperson he and Zan had encountered last night. Jason frowned, spit on his finger, held it up. Not like he really needed any spit, the wind was pretty noticeable. “There?”
“If you were in a car, you would just point your bow that way,” Rhea pointed toward the speck that was the Roane, “and go. What are we missing here?”
Rhea nodded, held out two hands, “This is the Roane.” She waggled her left hand, “This is us. There’s the wind.” She nodded the direction the wind was whipping spray from. “We can’t simply turn into the wind, we’d be clapped in irons. Brought to a dead stop. But if we set our course the same,” her hands played out the scenario, “and tack whenever the Roane is perpendicular to either beam,” her hands zigged and zagged, “we will eventually meet them. No matter which way they turn.”
“Can’t we just lob magic missiles at them or something?” Jason said.
Rhea grinned, “That’s only in your fantasy games.” Her expression darkened slightly, “And in your modern wars, where you sit back and fire at each other from miles away. We must close with our enemy, meet them face to face.” She turned and headed forward, her bare feet making no sound on the deck.
Jason looked perplexed.
“Cannons.” Zan said, “All we’ve got is cannons.”
Jason peered at the distant speck that was the Roane, “Wonder what they’ve got?”
‘What they’ve got’, the Niamh’s crew was unsure. It had been a brief message the ship’s griffin brought from the ELF crew ashore, a message containing an outline of the events surrounding the rescue of Bri, the Merrow’s Cap, and the taking of the Roane. Bran and Tas had seen the Roane’s nav room, but they didn’t have Earla’s skill with technology, or the ability to interpret it. And they were concerned with other things; Ian, and his healing, in particular.
So the message had said nothing of the Roane’s odd technology. As far as the Niamh’s crew knew, they were chasing a modern reproduction of a swift Baltimore Clipper, equipped with engines and computers, (now useless thanks to a certain Ravenkin), and saluting cannons which fired powder and flour.
Niamh’s crew was still as a windless day; a lookout high in the rigging, the helmsman tweaking the rope reins controlling the rudder, the others leaned at crazy angles on the deck, tilted like a ski slope. All quiet, waiting.
Slowly the speck ahead fell back till it was broad abeam.
The crew erupted into mad action. The big grey tiller was hauled hard aport, cocking the rudder the opposite way, the long grey bowsprit swung like a unicorn’s horn to starboard. Sails were shifted, lines swiftly loosed, heaved, hauled and belayed again. Zan leapt in, adding his small strength to that of the crew. Jason hesitated, sure he’d slow them down or heave when he should be hoeing.
“Come on.” Rhea called, “grab here.” She placed Jason’s hand on a line, “With us now.” And she began a chant. The five other crew on the line heaved together, throwing their entire bodies into the effort. Overhead spars creaked, a square tops’l turned, caught the wind like birdwings.
Tack, turn, turn again. Niamh flew a zigzag course and the speck on the horizon grew larger. Tack, turn, heave haul. Closer.
Several of the crew ran aloft now, armed with bows and long, antique looking rifles.
Jason leaned back, staring up at them with his mouth ajar.
“Marines.” Rhea said, trotting by, lightfooted, a bow slung over her back.
“They don’t look anything like those ads for ‘a few good men’, Zan observed.
“Depends how you define ‘men’”, Jason said. “If you mean human...”
“Where do you think your marines came from?” Rhea said, and swung aloft.
Around Jason and Zan, the crew was in motion, swift and cat-footed. along the Niamh’s sides, gun doors were lifted. Bronze cannons, half the length of a man, squatted on deck on their wooden carriages. The carriages, harnessed with heavy rope, were heaved into position. A girl in soft felt shoes came up from below, carrying powder. A pyramid of cannonballs sat by each gun, waiting.
“Cannons?” Jason said, his eyes traveled back to the sharpshooters aloft, “And Elves with bows and Pennsylvania longrifles?” It looked just like a scene out of a pirate movie, or a Sharkman adventure.
Only Jason was in the middle of it. And in very real danger of being in the path of an object moving at a high and destructive speed. “Holy crap! Can’t we just pull out a bullhorn and yell at them to pull over or something?”
The speck that had been Roane was a speck no longer. Jason could count the lines in her shrouds. See the frantic movement of her remnant crew on deck.
“Hey,” Zan said, “they’re doing something with their cannons.”
He didn’t have time to contemplate what it was they were doing, a crewman caught Zan’s shoulder, “You’re better at channeling energy than many your age. Come. The captain needs you.”
Zan scanned the faces of people who had evaded and faced down battleships in a dozen wars. Who had freed slave ships and battled pirates; the kind with eyepatches and wooden legs. “Ahhhh, what do you want me to do?” His voice came out a lot smaller and less heroic than he would have liked.
“Here.” The tall crewman placed him along the rail, a few feet from one of the cannons. Two others stood there, besides the cannon crew. “As we come alongside, we will raise a shield.”
“Against what? Her cannons are just for show, right?”
Zan took his place with the others, glancing back down the deck to Jason, or where he had been.
“Come,” Jason heard a soft voice behind him, “we’ll need all the hands we have, and yours are strong.” He found himself swept along to a knot of people standing by one of the multitude of lines snaking down from aloft. “Just pull with us.” The speaker was a woman the color of a seal. She held a hand at the ready on a line. Jason followed it up, up up, but couldn’t make out what it was attached to.
Niamh swept in on the wind, two cannons on the port side roared a warning to the Roane. If she understood the language of cannonfire, she ignored it.
Then she answered it with some of her own.
“Ready...” The tall crewman next to Zan called out. He raised his hands, and the two beside him mirrored him.
Shields, yeah, shields were easy. Zan had done that a thousand zillion times.
Now there was nothing in the whole circle of the world except seething sea and sunlight. The nearest land was a hundred feet below. And thirty miles to the west.
He had never been so far from it before.
Zan chewed on his lip and reached out with senses humans rarely developed. The land far below the rolling deck of the Lady would help, a little. What would be more help was the sun, burning higher and hotter as it swam up the blue ocean of the sky. Fire. That was his real element. Fire and light. He called on it, felt the warm dawn glow on his face, on the light wool sweater a crewman had given him last night, on the dark diveskin beneath it. He let it sink into him, into his center, he could feel the glow, the power waiting to be released.
The little knot of crew by Jason waited, still as a leopard poised to leap. “What are we doing?” Jason asked, but the only answer was a hand, raised in a quick gesture of silence.
There was nothing silent about the Roane’s cannons or their aftermath.
Something whistled, then thumped, rumbled and splashed into the sea. The sea itself responded like a spooked horse, leaping, thrashing, fleeing away. The Lady reared, charged back down on course.
Jason opened his eyes, not remembering that he’d shut them in panic. Something like a transparent bubble, with blue lightnings dancing across it, stretched out along the length of the Lady’s side.
“Whoa!” Jason said softly. Cooler than anything in any of his video games. And a lot bigger.
Now the Lady’s cannon spoke. Something on the Roane snapped with a sound like a shot.
They were broadside to broadside, but the Lady was still flying.
“What?” Jason started to say, then someone was calling out an order over the noise, and the knot of crew around Jason were hauling on the line like madmen.
Zan breathed the energy from his hands. It sputtered like a candle flame in seawind. Around him, the others stretched out their hands, and the shield danced with lightnings. His own bit of the shield felt like a trickle of a creek flowing into a maelstrom. He could see the Roane’s cannons, just like ships would have had two hundred years ago. The kind modern tall ships had as part of their historical trappings.
The kind generally reserved for saluting ports of call, with naught but harmless powder.
Three muzzles flashed. Zan could see no projectile, only a disturbance in the air itself. The kind of wrinkle in the mundane energy fields that he made channeling energy into his illusions.
Only bigger. Much bigger.
“Crap!” Zan said in a very small voice, and tried to pour more energy into the wavering shield.
He saw the leading edge of the Lady’s shield warp like the head of a pounded drum. It bulged like a pufferfish, and the sea to starboard erupted in a great spume of spray.
The Lady bucked, leapt, Zan riding her deck as easily as he had a galloping horse, bareback. The ship heaved, rolled and righted herself. She shook off the attack and plowed ahead.
But Zan was keenly aware, with the rest of his companions, of the great gash torn in the sea. Of the other things, large and small that the missile had killed. Of the stunning echo of that blast, heard for miles undersea. Of the scream, inaudible to humans, like a thousand horses neighing.
The leopard pounced. Jason found himself in the midst of a maelstrom of action; six people hauling frantically on a line. He reached as far as he could, grabbed a bit of empty line and hauled, trying to stay in rhythm. The last few cranks felt like they’d lassoed an elephant. They stepped back, reached for another line.
Above them, sails caught one last puff of wind.
“No way...” Zan didn’t have time to finish the thought. He felt like he could reach out and touch the Roane’s cannons. He could see the expressions on her crew. Watched one of them running forward.
The Lady swung hard aport, like a good cutting horse sending a cow back to the herd. She sliced across the Roane’s path. The sails luffed, the air fell out of them. The Lady’s wings became huge canvas air brakes.
Zan saw the incredulous look on one of the Roane’s crew. On the face of the woman shouting commands.
Then the Roane’s bowsprit stabbed through the Lady’s foreshrouds and stuck there.
The Lady rocked hard, then righted herself.
The Roane remained firmly lodged.
On the Lady, crew lined up the cannons, fired down the length of the Roane’s hundred foot hull.
Green lightnings danced over her deck, her masts, rigging. A sound like snowcones in a frying pan reached the ears of Jason and Zan.
“Whoo-OOO!” Jason shouted.
Zan yee-hahed back at him from his place just under the Roane’s bowsprit. Then he saw again the crewman he’d noticed running forward. His hands were on one of the little swivel guns on the Roane’s bow; cannons, the size of a big man’s arm, that could be swiveled in any direction. “Hey.” Zan said, grabbing the arm of the crewman nearest him. He pointed.
Above, one of the sharpshooters took aim.
Not fast enough.
The sea exploded like a bucking bronc. The Lady blew back, away from the Roane as if she’d been punched. Her deck heeled over, a slanting wall not a floor. Jason grabbed at a bit of neatly coiled rope. It snaked out of its coil, sending him sliding down toward the sea. Somewhere above him, the Sandtiger and Finrod came loose. The yellow kayak ricocheted off a skylight and Jason heard the sound of shattering glass. Finrod slid into the sea, the Sandtiger bouncing after it. Just below Jason, Surf sprawled against the rail.
The deck wavered for a few breaths, as if deciding between vertical and horizontal. It began to sink back toward horizontal.
FOOOOMP! The sea exploded again. No answering lion roar of the Lady’s cannon this time. And if the force field crew was still at work, Jason couldn’t see.
He was too busy trying to stay out of the sea.
The Lady groaned like a whale taking a direct hit. She lurched, staggered, nearly regained her feet.
Then the starboard rail sank below the waves.
Jason hit the water. A few yards away a black shape bobbed to the surface, swimming madly.
Surf. Jason thrashed out toward him, and the big Newf turned toward Jason. Behind him the Lady groaned again, something snapped. A line, then another, lashed the water like whips. Someone was shouting. Something hit the water to Jason’s left, graceful as a diving tern. One of the crew, diving from the sinking rigging, he realized. There were other swimmers in the water. And the broad wings of the sails, and lines like giant squid tentacles, reaching for him.
Surf paddled past, Jason grabbed the thick fur just below the water’s surface and hung on, kicking hard with his own legs.
Beside Surf and Jason, one of the masts came down like a forest giant in slow motion, and with it, a vine-tangle of stays and shrouds and sheets. A line snagged around Jason’s leg, he struggled, one handed, to move it and finally tossed it aside. A loose sail floated in their path, like a wayward pool cover. He remembered tales of children being swallowed by pool covers. “Left! Left.” Jason shouted to Surf. Oh crap, maybe he doesn’t know left. Maybe it’s port and starboard. Or sled dog commands. “Port! Haw!” Jason shouted over the confusion around him, but the Newf was already swimming around the obstacle. Behind them, more shouts. Sounds of splashing. The great deep moan of the Lady sinking.
In a moment the sea was still again. The sun shone golden, higher and hotter now. Jason turned to see swimmers, a couple of boats from the ship, random deck debris floating. The tip of a mast, poking incongruously out of a calm sea.
And the Roane dwindling into the golden horizon.
“Zan, where’s Zan?” Jason said to Surf, as if the dog would know. Zan could talk to the dog, understand what Surf was thinking. Not Jason. “Yeah. Lassie, go for help.” Surf kept swimming. Ahead of Jason bobbed a familiar shape, Finrod’s bright yellow hull. Jason flailed out and caught one of the grablines, heaved himself aboard. Surf followed. Jason picked up the paddle, lashed under the deck bungees. He searched the water frantically for a splash of red hair.
Around Jason the chaos of floating debris and swimmers and boats was congealing into something like an organized fleet. Someone shouted to him. Jason held up his hand in the diver’s “ok” sign, then patted the top of his head in the ok sign used for longer distances; like when you were floating in the water off the boat.
Except now there was no boat. Just the little ones; the wooden lifeboats bobbing in the water, along with Finrod. Jason could see the bright splash of color that was the Sandtiger in the midst of the Lady’s boats.
But he saw no flash of red hair. “Zan!” Jason yelled to the crewman who had called to him, “Where’s Zan.”
A girl’s head bobbed to the surface, looked around. Someone leaned out of a boat and spoke to her. She nodded and dove with the grace of a sea lion. Another head surfaced, and dived again. Two more.
“Freedivers.” Jason said to Surf. “They don’t need scuba.” There were human freedivers Jason had heard of who could reach three hundred feet. On one breath. These were Elves. If Zan was down there, they would find him, “Right?” He said to Surf.
Surf hunched soggily on Finrod’s bow, looking worried. “Roooo rrph rrrph,” he complained.
Below Jason the sea was all bubbles and silt and blobs of air burping out of the sunken ship. Visibility inside the mask. They would never find anybody in all that.
He had never felt so stupid and useless in all his life.
Zan leapt like a panicked dolphin. Behind him the ship twisted and moaned, lines snapped. He heard the groan of falling timbers, the ice sound of shattering glass.
Jason! Where the hell is Jason? And Surf.
Zan hit the water like a rock. The PFD yanked him to a halt and threw him back up onto the churning surface. Then the water that was swallowing the ship began to swallow him too, drawing him under in the Lady’s wake. He held his breath, searching the patterns of the currents, drawing on what energy he had left. Thrash, kick, it was like paddling a kayak upriver, if you knew how to read the water, which way to point your bow, where to thrust your paddle.
But this was a dangerously strong river, the current sucking him back toward the dying Lady. He panicked, struggling against it, using up the last of his air.
Something brushed past his hand. A stray line from the ship. No. Something like the wisp of strong hair in a horse’s tail.
Random debris, piece of sail or baggywrinkle. And it was going up and out. He grabbed at it and it surged ahead, like a spooked horse. He clung to it...
...and surfaced, gasping, riding the backside of a wave, away from the sinking ship.
Waves? The sea was flat, except where it had been disturbed by the Lady’s death, and there it was ripples and swells. For a moment the wavecrest flew like a white horse’s mane, then it sank into the still dawn sea.
“Jason!” Zan shouted. And saw him swimming with Surf a few yards from Finrod. He was looking away, and didn’t hear Zan.
A dark head bobbed up beside Zan, took a great draught of air. One of the crew women met his eyes, “Can you dive well? Come, I need you!” She breathed three more times, like a sealion diving, and vanished below.
Zan stared after her, what? Not the time to ask. Or to try to guess how far and how long he really could hold his breath. He wriggled out of the PFD, and the sweater. Under it all he still had on the diveskin he’d been wearing since yesterday morning. He had left his light neoprene dive boots under Finrod’s deck bungees; just as well, he could swim better in bare feet. Zan yanked the knife off the PFD, took three deep breaths, blowing all the stale air from his lungs, oxygenating his blood.
It was all murk and silt and air boiling out of the ship. Snapped lines snaked past him like reaching tentacles. Then he understood; someone had been snared by one of those tentacles.
Where are you?
Here. Came the faint voice in his head. He veered left, his hand contacted a piece of wood the size of a young tree. He caught it, used it to pull himself deeper...easier, faster than swimming.
She materialized out of the gloom, a faint dark ghost clad in pale underthings. Another ghost hung limp just beyond her busy hands. One of the crew, caught in the shrouds.
How deep am I? It was dark and green as evening shadow under thick trees. Zan’s eyes could tell a laughing gull from a tern ten miles away, but here everything was a nearsighted blur. How far to the surface? Fear trickled in around his edges, like water around the hatch of a deep sea sub.
The girl slashed at a thick line, sawing with quick, sure strokes.
There was a lot of line.
Zan hauled on the crewman’s body, found another line holding it in place. Found something else; his spirit had not yet fled.
The knife from Zan’s PFD was small, not as long as his hand, meant for cutting fishing line. For opening clams. It was also Dwarf-made, sharper than shark’s teeth. He slashed at the line, then another.
He needed to breathe. The dark water and the drowned ship closed in on him.
Surface! Surface now! The creeping edge of panic flowed in on him like icewater.
He kept cutting. One more line. Tug, tug. Another line.
The girl had sunk below him, sawing at yet another line with all the coolness of a seal on a Sunday dive. Zan tugged once more on the crewman. Hurry! He thought ferociously at the girl below him. She did not answer, saving her energy for cutting, for staying down. Zan sank, saw the cable the girl was working on, slashed at it with his Dwarf-knife.
It parted, the pieces floating off like dream smoke. Zan shoved off the sunken tree-like spar, grabbed the crewman on the way by and pulled hard for the surface.
“I don’t see anything, Surf.” Jason said.
The dog leaned, nose reaching, reading the faint scents drifting up from below.
Jason picked up the paddle and gave it a few strokes. Debris from the ship bounced off Finrod’s bow, loose lines snaked around the paddle blade. Jason yanked it loose and watched Surf’s nose, swinging like a compass. “Where’s Zan? You gotta clue?” He had seen it on the news before; dogs who could find dead bodies underwater.
Jason didn’t want to think too hard about dead bodies right now. “Where is he?”
The big Newf crouched on the edge of the broad-beamed kayak, peering down into the green dark, nose wrinkling, loose lips tasting the air.
Jason paddled, following the Newf nose compass. “Maaaan, I really wish I spoke dog.”
“Erp!” Surf’s saggy lips and twitchy eyebrows made him look like someone’s very worried Grandma. His nose fell from horizontal to vertical; pointing straight down. He leaned farther over the gunnels, and Finrod tilted, the port side lurching out of the water.
Then the dog was over the side.
“Oh great. We find a boat and you leave it again.”
Surf swam, turned to starboard and made a circle. He ducked his head under, then his whole body followed.
Jason stared in disbelief at the vanishing black bulk. Then he yanked off his PFD and followed.
How far is up?
Zan could see light on the surface, like a gate to the spirit world. Light, life.
Blackness was beginning to creep in around the edges of his dark underworld. The one he was hauling was twice his size, weightless in the water, but dragging on Zan like a sea anchor.
Where was the girl? I could let him go. He’d float here. I’d get a breath, or the girl would catch him as she passes me.
What if she was caught? If she went deeper for someone else?
Zan kicked, hauled with one free hand.
The circle of light above his head shrank, began to close. Was blotted out.
Something dark, with teeth, clamped onto his arm and hauled him skyward.
Diving in a mask and fins made you a whale, a dolphin. You could see, you could travel with the flick of a fin. Jason lumped to Finrod’s aft end, the yellow boat bucking under his weight. There, in the pile of gear stowed under the aft bungees.
The mask and fins he’d been using in the backwaters of Chincoteague about a lifetime ago. He hauled them on, wishing he was Sharkman. He was instead, Jason the Land Whale.
It’s okkkkkkay, rrrrreally. I gottttta nattttturrral blubbbber layerrrrr.
He dived. It was the one thing he hadn’t hated in gym class; swimming, snorkeling, diving. The one thing he hadn’t looked absototally freaking stupid at. Even in the mask, Jason couldn’t see anything but green murk, and the black and white blob that was Surf vanishing below him.
A diving dog?
Jason dragged himself down with kicking fins and reaching hands. Something brushed past his arm, his ankle. Great, I left the knife on the PFD!
Green green green gloom. Lines snaking out of the depths.
What if Zan’s caught in a line? I better go back for the knife.
A dark disturbance, thrashing by him on the left. Then a ghost rising out of the underworld right under him. Jason’s instinct was to panic, to shoot for the surface.
Sharkman would never panic. He would stay cool. He would meet this ghost face to...uh...skull, and deal with it.
Jason reached, grabbed what felt like a loose shirt.
A shirt attached to a body.
Panic panic panic.
No, wait, one of the crew. Don’t lose him now.
Anyway, underwater, no one can hear you scream. Jason latched onto the shirt and kicked butt for the surface.
For about three seconds Jason considered how creepy it was to haul a dead body into Finrod, especially one that should have continued living for a few hundred...or thousand, or something...more years. The big yellow boat bobbed placidly pretty much where Jason had left it, moored in a maze of flotsam and floating lines from the ship below. Jason floundered on the surface, kicking toward Finrod. Great! No PFD, and a whopping big sea anchor. He’s an Elf, shouldn’t he weigh, like, nothing? They don’t even leave footprints in snow, right? Jason gasped in a big breath and stuck his face under again; easier to swim this way. He thrust a hand out and caught Finrod’s grab line. “Now what?”
A splash on the other side of the boat and a gasp.
“Jason?” A familiar voice.
A light form leaping onto Finrod, barely rocking it. Then Zan was hauling and Jason was shoving and the crewman slithered over Finrod’s gunnels.
“Come on, stretch him out.” Zan said.
Jason found himself in the bow seat with the dead guy’s head in his lap. Zan stood amidships, feet on the gunnels, staring down at him. Surf climbed up and huddled on the stern, looking worried.
“Uh,” Jason said, definitely creeped out, “Should we try CPR or something?” The guy looked beyond CPR; pale and blue. Tentatively he reached for the guy’s neck, where you should be able to find a pulse. He didn’t seem to have one. He definitely wasn’t breathing. “I never took a course or anything, well, I saw it on TV...” His voice trailed off into uselessness.
“I know CPR,” Zan said, “But it won’t help.”
Jason’s hand on the gunnels was suddenly covered by a cold, wet hand. “Gaaaaah!”
Zan, kneeling over the crewman now, saw a girl, hair and skin the color of a sealion, floating alongside Finrod, her arm around another still form. “Stay with that one, I’ll return.” She swam off with her burden, easily as a seal, toward the cluster of boats from the Lady.
“Who?” Jason began.
“I helped her free this one. She must have gone deeper for another.”
“Great, she leaves us with the dead guy.” Jason said in a voice the size of a minnow.
Zan looked down at the crewman again, ran a light hand along his face, down his chest. “He’s not dead, Jim.” Zan said matter of factly.
“Is this any time to be quoting Star Trek?” Jason said.
Zan gave him a patient look, “If it was that easy to kill an Elf, we would have vanished in the Mesozoic.”
“There weren’t any humans in the Mesozoic...I think.” Jason said uncertainly.
“Right.” Zan said.
“Shouldn’t we be doing something now?” Jason asked. “Like paddling over to the other boats.”
“He’s shut down, in hibernation mode.” Zan looked toward the other boats where more crew were being tended to. “He can wait awhile.”
“He can?” Jason eyed the ice-pale face, definitely creepy and dead looking. He focused on Surf’s warm fuzzy head. “Surf found you.”
“Good thing. I almost didn’t make it to the surface. Surf grabbed me, hauled me up.”
“Surf dives.” Jason said in amazement, “I saw him go down. Weird, you sure he’s just a dog?”
“Newfs can retrieve stuff underwater, but Surf goes deeper than most, ’cause he’s Shaughnessy’s dog.”
“Oh yeah. A guy who can turn into a whale should have a diving dog.”
Jason glanced at the sun, then away from it to the far west where land lay, somewhere below the horizon. “How are we going to get back? Rope a whale or something?”
Zan made a face, “We left the only whale on land.” Zan made a wry face, “And we left the only person who can rope anything on land, too.”
“Yeah, Cait.” Jason said.
“Probably having steamed crabs and Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream for breakfast.” Zan said. “With double fudge topping. And whipped cream.”
“Don’t remind me.” Jason nearly wailed. “I’m starving.”
A ripple of water and the dark girl was floating alongside Finrod. Zan bailed over the side and the girl took his place amidships. She ran a light hand over the crewman’s face, over his chest. Began singing something softly, like surf and gulls in the distance.
Jason stared at the guy’s face. He and Zan had only known this crew since last night. In the dark they were lean and quick and otherwise unremarkable. By dawn they had been chasing the Roane, and Jason hadn’t spent much time looking at faces. Now his artist’s eye was measuring this one, whether he wanted to or not. It wasn’t quite the weird, uncanny, otherwordly look he’d thought of as elf when playing D&D, or reading a fantasy novel. It sure wasn’t the Hunk of the Month from the latest teengirl magazine. It was the kind of ...yeah, beauty... you saw in a gull wing, in a dolphin leap, in a perfect, sharp-edged seashell. His face showed not even a shadow of beard, though he had no doubt been up all night flying the ship, like all the others. The rest of his skin showed only the faintest trace of hair, and his ears were in the shape of a new leaf.
The girl went on singing.
Jason frowned down at the Elf sprawled on Finrod’s deck. Then he heard a faint gasp, saw his chest rise, and fall. “He’s breathing! Is he gonna be ok?”
“He held his breath as long as he could,” the girl said, “not long, only five minutes or so, he’s one of our newest crew members. He’s a landlubber,” she smiled, “hasn’t yet learned to freedive well.”
“Hibernation mode.” Jason said. “Zan told me.”
“I called him back.” Her eyes turned to Zan, “But Zan freed him, brought him up. I knew there was another below.”
“I didn’t quite make it,” Zan said, “Surf had to haul my butt outta the water.”
The girl’s eyes turned to Jason. “But you trusted to follow the dog. And aided both.” She touched the one sprawled on Finrod’s deck, and Zan’s red hair.
Zan looked down, embarrassed.
The crewman blinked, opened sea grey eyes.
“Sorry we couldn’t find you a bigger boat.” Jason said. He looked up to see one of the ship’s boats drifting just alongside. Two of the crew reached over and rafted the two boats together with their hands, and their missing crewman was hauled gently aboard.