Chapter 19: Submerged
I bob to the surface. A swell surges into the chasm and dashes me against the wall. I flail, fingernails scraping for purchase on the slick stone. Alecto crouches on the ledge from which I fell, bow string tensed, a glint of obsidian poised and pointed at the thrashing surf.
She relaxes when she spots me and lowers her bow. Reaches for a loop of rope on her hip. Tosses me a line with her free hand. It slaps the water right in front of me and splashes my face.
Do I want to be rescued by her? Before I can react, an undertow sucks me down and plunges me deep. A torrent shunted down by the chasm wall pins me against the rocky bed as if I am under Niagara.
I can’t budge. The odd thing is, the sad thing: I don’t care. I’ve been through this already. This ocean is no threat, it is my womb.
For many long seconds I hug the sea floor, sand blasted with swirling grit, until the current breaks and shifts. Back flow from the chasm rips me off the rocks and into the open sea.
I rocket to the surface and skim over an outgoing wave, wind milling my arms frantically, fighting to stay on top of the surf. My buoyancy is negligible. I have swallowed lots of water and feel it heavy in my lungs. It has been minutes since I had taken a breath, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Physiology seems optional in this place.
The chasm has emptied. The entire water line has receded from the cliffs and re-exposed the narrow beaches that the tsunami-like surge had submerged when Sabonis and I traversed the cliff face, almost as if the sea were sentient and had reached out a mighty pseudopod to get us.
I walk the strand, but find no sign of Sabonis. Alecto is gone. To my left towers a dark pillar of stone almost human in shape—hooded and caped like a pitying monk or an angel of death. I kick out and swim for it, fighting against a current that consumes most of my progress. I inch closer until a swell thrusts me against the pillar.
I dig my fingers into stone pocked like Swiss cheese, clinging like a crab as the sea pries at my grip and tries to peel me off. I jam my fist into a crack and twist, securing an unbreakable hold.
I wonder why I fight, why I don’t just let the sea take me where it wants to take me. And I know it’s because I still want to control my fate. I always had, until the moment of my death. Why should things change?
I can’t remove my fist or the sea will take me. I shut my eyes and try to think of nice, calm things: cricket song and iced tea on a summer night, watching videos and cuddling with Gina on the couch—anything but those terrible waves barreling into me.
I take advantage of any respite, however brief, to reposition my hand in the crevice. I creep up the pillar, with less and less of my body exposed to the full force of the swells. And the sea continues to recede until I can climb unimpeded. I move around the pillar to where a natural bridge connects it to the bluff. I scan the heights for Alecto and her companions. I see nothing but scraggly shrubs bending with the wind.
I haul myself onto the bridge and cross to a series of ledges that descend the shoulder of the bluff like giant steps. I walk in the direction Sabonis had intended us to go, but have no idea why I bother. His sodden, shredded coat clings to me like wet fur on a cat. My head hangs as I become acutely aware of my utter solitude. I have little motivation to continue. I look back over my shoulder at Mt. Abdiel and consider returning to the place that Bianca had brought me.
Somehow, I continue on, unwilling to face my defeat. I plod along the stepped ledges, descending to a wider strip of beach of black sand backed with grass-anchored dunes, all of it soaked by the now receded tsunami, which has left lagoons behind in every low spot. I wobble to the tallest dune I can find, and drop onto the sand and lie down flat.
The wind has already begun to dry the peaks of the ripples in the sand. I roll my head to one side and water trickles out of my lungs. Long minutes I lay still, my head empty of all but my most basic senses. When I finally lift my head, I am struck by a disturbing sense of déjà vu as if I am back on that other beach again.
But this beach is far different. Thinner. Backed by sheer cliffs, not a mountainside. And completely vacant.
Or is it?
I spy a body sprawled in the smooth, glistening sand at the limits of the lapping surf, a limp, still form that looks quite dead.Sabonis.