Saturday, January 19, 2019

Pierwalker Log: January 19, 2019

Writing start: 11:01 A.M.
Finish: 4:07 P.M.
Total new words (est.): 0
Edited (est.): 15200 + 6 poems + 2 blurbs
Tasks

1. Failure: Fifth primary edit of chapter twenty-three
Notes: Kye will get it Monday! An excellent chapter.

2. Book Three Melody: Off

3. Ant Story: Read-through of chapter five

4. Fractalverse V5: Fourth secondary edit of the fifth set of six poems; edited the blurb

5. Cheapery St. Heroes: BII: Stage two edit of chapter four; edited the book blurb

6. Rapscallion: Off till 1/26

7. Gilligan: Sixth primary edit of chapter four
Notes: Kye's got it!

8. T-Bag: Read-through of chapter three

Special Projects: I started a perma-post about Amazon and why authors should consider not publishing with them anymore. I'll be writing it slowly, over the course of days.

Extra notes: Nothing extensive today. Got lots of work to do (see directly above). Ham and bean soup tonight. Homemade. No ucky spice packets. It's cooking now.



~~*~~

Enjoy Chapter Four of Gilligan's Island: The Real Story!








Chapter Four
Sailing to the Lagoon
~~*~~



He, of course, hadn’t told her the full truth—that he had been hired by August Howell, Thurston Howell’s brother, as a spy. He had used his contacts in the Navy and several shadier ones he’d made while on tour in Southeast Asia to acquire the necessary chops to get on a luxury tub like the Minnow. August Howell’s ambitions knew no bounds, and neither, he soon discovered, did his envy and hatred for his big brother.

   He’d had advanced weapons and martial arts training that went well beyond even what SEALs normally received, and they had saved his life. But the biggest help most times turned out to be something that came quite naturally: the naive, easy, and open smile of his. Years of military training, and then several years as a highly paid merc, didn’t dampen or remove it. People often mistook him as a buffoon, and his somewhat lanky build seemed impossible considering his training, which often bulked his compatriots into looking like weightlifting champions or superheroes. That hadn’t happened with him.

   Oh, he built hard muscle, to be sure. But the uncompromising training had supercharged his stamina even more while loosening his ligaments to the point that during any endurance exercise, he almost always finished first. He wasn’t the fastest runner, but over any long-distance stretch, eighty-five pounds of equipment and weapons bouncing on his back and mud up to his goddamned knees, he was unbeatable.

   His martial training was excellent as well, a surprising combination of Japanese aikido and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Both complimented his physical stature (he stood just a shade over six feet); together they made him one wiry, tough son of a bitch. Mennon saw the lack of bulk and thought him easy prey.

   Mennon, like the fruit fly, was now shark chum.

   Did August Howell decide to destroy the Minnow and kill her passengers and crew in a fit of pique? He was world-famous for them. In financial circles he was known as “Turn On a Dime” Howell for his sudden about-faces. Gilligan was a total nobody to him. Killing him wouldn’t even make a tiny dent on his conscience, given of course that he had one. Or a soul for that matter.

   The Minnow had sunk in flames in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which would make salvaging virtually impossible. It would, at least potentially, be the perfect crime. Who else could possibly be responsible than Thurston Howell’s petulant, temperamental, turn-on-a-dime brother?






Mary Ann had kept the radio on after Gilligan, just as the dark made it impossible to work any more without a flashlight, discovered a small cardboard box heavy with what turned out to be brand-new Eveready double-Ds.

   Try as either of them might, they could pick up no other stations. She made them dinner—ham and cheese sandwiches (two each) washing them down with sweetened iced tea as they listened in silence.

   “It must be an oldies station,” she said as she started on the second sandwich.

   That’s all that it played—oldies. But just ones from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. Its repertoire seemed limited to just that ten-year period.

   “We should use it only on a schedule,” she suggested. “We only have a finite number of batteries.”

   “Yeah,” he said in the middle of “Love Me Do.” “Let’s turn it off. We need to save those batteries for the flashlight too.”

   They finished the meal in silence, washed the dishes, and sat back down. The day’s heat was finally lifting, so he turned the AC off as well. She watched him as he sat. “We really need to do something about getting you some clothes. You’ve only got those pants? That’s it?”

   He glanced down at them. Considering that they had endured sixty-five days of brute jungle survival (and no, he thought angrily, he hadn’t fucking hallucinated them, they fucking happened, he wasn’t going crazy!), they were in pretty decent shape. The cuffs at the bottom were a bit frayed, and there was a six-inch tear near the left knee, one he’d noticed when he first woke in the lagoon, and a small hole near the crotch. The black of the fabric had faded from repeated lava stone washings.

   “Yeah. This is it.”

   She brushed debris off his shoulder. “It’s amazing you aren’t a charred cinder.”

   Her touch was almost too much for him. He tried not to stare. “I guess it helps that I’m mulatto.”

   She scowled. “Isn’t that term a bit ...”

   “Racist?”

   “Well ... yeah.”

   He wanted her to touch him again. But it seemed clear she had no intentions of doing so.

   “I’ve never thought so. I’m not Caucasian, and I’m not African. I’m both. I don’t have a problem with it.”

   “Well, whatever you are, we need to get you more clothes. Those pants aren’t going to last much longer, and you running around in your underwear won’t do.”

   “If I were wearing any,” he chuckled. He saw the momentary look of alarm cross her face and chuckled harder. “But wouldn’t you say these pants are pretty good evidence that I’m telling you the truth—that I’ve been here longer than two days or five days? More like sixty-five days?”

   She sighed. “Yes. They do.”






He slept in the entertainment room, but hadn’t bothered switching on the large flat-screen TV or seeing if the Playstation was working. There was a wet bar and another fridge, this one small and tucked into the far left cabinet; to the right were three rows of books and a laptop computer, which he turned on. It quickly booted up but reported “No Internet Access Available.” Frustrated, he turned it off and made for the sofa in the back, which turned out to be a fold-away bed. He stripped off his pants after making it, crawled under the sheets, and fell asleep. He heard water running just before he dropped off; it must’ve been Mary Ann in the shower.

   “Ah, imagery,” he mumbled, smiling. “Imagery.”






Next to the iceboxes were a stacked washer-drier set. Mary Ann had already pulled the cabinet doors open, revealing them, as he stumbled out of the room. Once again he had slept like a baby. “Well, good morning, sunshine,” she said with a grin. “Here—”

   She tossed him a white ball of clothing—a robe. A woman’s bathrobe. Silky, with light-pink flowers on it. “Put that on and give me your pants. The shower is next to the bedroom. Go on, now!”

   He glanced down. “I take it these smell?”

   She gave him a sheepish shrug. “Not just those ...”

   “I’ll leave the pants on the bed,” he replied, turning back towards the bedroom. “It’ll be safe when you hear me get into the shower.”

   “Not too long. There is only so much fresh water ...”

   “Oh, we’ve got mega-gallons of it, don’t worry,” he interrupted at the door. “There are freshwater streams all over the island, and even a waterfall in the lagoon. We’re set. I’ll make breakfast when I get out. How’s that sound?”

   She smiled. “You’ve got a deal.”






In the late morning, his pants dry and airy-warm from the drier, they hoisted the sheets and began sailing around the island to the lagoon, which, he informed her, “is always calm. The boat will be much safer there; and besides, the water is nice and shallow for a good ways. It’ll make for easy access. The island is loaded with fruit and plenty of wild meat. Since this tub is solar-powered, we can keep the food fresh!”

   Mary Ann, though unfamiliar with the workings of a sail boat, was a quick study, and made for a fine first mate.

   “I don’t suppose you get many opportunities to sail the high seas in Kansas,” he chuckled. “Unless of course it’s seas of corn.”

   She shot him a playful scowl and went back to trying to figure out why she couldn’t get the GPS or other electronic gear to work. He was manning the wheel. Since she couldn’t get the GPS or the rest to work, he kept a careful eye out for shoals and rocks. The Lanie was their way off this island and back to civilization—that is, once they figured out where they and civilization were.

   Certainly nowhere near where the Minnow was when it sank. There were maps under the captain’s chair, which he had pulled out and taken a long look at. She finally joined him, radio in her left hand, compass in her right. She put both on the dash and looked at the map he currently had open.

   “Here’s approximately where we were,” he said, pointing at an open map of the Pacific Ocean west of the United States and Mexico. “There are no islands anywhere near there. Someone moved us.”

   “What I don’t get is why,” she said, grimacing. “Why would anyone move us?”

   He shrugged. “We’re definitely in the tropics; my guess is no more than a thousand miles north or south of the equator. But that’s really not helpful.”

   He looked up and pointed. “See those rocks up ahead, just to the right of those palm trees sticking way out into the water?”

   She glanced out. “Yeah?”

   “Just past those is the lagoon. We should be there in an hour or two.”

   “Should we turn the radio on, you think, once we get there?”

   “Might as well. It seems to be our only link to the outside world.”






Mary Ann’s practical-but-ever-cheery disposition was catching, he thought as she oohed and aahed over the lush scenery as he turned the Lanie hard to port once past the thin, rocky cape. The lagoon was naturally sheltered by sea stacks initially on the right, and heavy tropical forest to the left, and also by its ever-narrowing passage, which wound back and forth gradually, was gorge-deep, and calmed the sea completely. Nearer to the end, with jungle looming closer and closer on both sides, it narrowed just wide enough for the catamaran to get safely through before opening into a two-hundred-yard-wide teardrop ending at a wide band of settled, golden sand.

   “This is so beautiful,” she murmured for something like the fifth or sixth time.

   “Let’s drop the sheets, and then the anchor. It should be no more than ten feet deep here.”

   The lagoon’s bottom was clear as glass, even to a depth of what he estimated to be at least a hundred feet. Schools of brightly colored fish zig-zagged beneath them.

   “This is where you woke up? Here? On the sand?”

   “Yeah. Half in and half out of the water. Getting pecked at by vultures.”

   “There’s no way the current just dragged you in here,” she said. “Someone put you here.”

   “Just like someone put you on this boat. We’re shallow enough. Let’s drop anchor.”

   “Aye-aye, Captain,” she said with that ever-present cheer, and hurried down to the stern.






She didn’t mind having to jump into the water to swim to shore. She was already wearing a yellow and blue bikini top and denim shorts that covered her (hot) ass. As usual, it was difficult for him not to stare or say anything. She jumped in ahead of him and began freestyling for the shore.

   She had good form. She told him earlier that she had competed on the swimming team in high school, “and even lettered my junior and senior year.”

   He dove in and followed her. Once on shore, water glistening on her skin and dripping from her hair, she gazed around again. “I cannot believe how beautiful this island is! It’s like paradise!”

   “Yeah,” he grunted, “a paradise with fifty-foot snakes and six-foot spiders and stinging insects the size of your fist and big fangy cats looking for an easy meal.”

   That wiped the smile off her face. She had wanted to see the tree where he had made sixty-four marks; he glanced down at her bare feet and said, “Just stay on the trail and you’ll be okay,” and walked ahead of her into the jungle.

   At the tree fifteen minutes later, she stopped and gawked, then ran her hand over the marks. “I didn’t want to believe you,” she murmured. “I just don’t get how any of this can be true! Sixty-four days for you, two for me, but the radio says five days! Which one is real?






The size of the Lanie made it impractical to beach her, as was common practice with regular-sized catamarans. Getting her back into the water would be impossible, for one, and he wasn’t sure the pontoons could handle the stress differential between the sand and the water. She looked like a sturdy boat, but he didn’t want to chance it. At low tide there was still a good six feet of water between her and the lagoon’s bottom. That was shallow enough.

   A pair of goggles hung from a hook in the bedroom closet; he put them on and swam under the boat looking for signs of damage and wear and tear while Mary Ann, back aboard, put sandals and other wearables into a plastic bin for transport to the shore. “So I don’t have to walk around bare-footed or with water sloshing around my feet in soggy shoes!”

   The sun was just an hour from going down, and they were both famished, so he swam back to the beach in search of fresh fruit while she busied herself with cleaning the rest of the blood spatters left behind by the fruit fly.

   “Out here!” she heard him call an hour later. She went up to the deck and peered over the starboard edge.

   The plastic bin he’d taken with him was full of bananas, mangos, and guava, and floating just ahead of him. She descended the short steps to the pontoon and helped him lift it aboard. “Ooh!” she exclaimed. “These look tasty!”

   He hauled himself aboard. “I’ll make dinner tonight.”

   “You’ve got a deal,” she replied with a smile.






There were cans and cans of vegetables—mostly beans. He made vegetarian burritos and covered them with jarred salsa, and slices of fruit. In agreement with her plan to save meat supplies, he had thought ahead while fruit hunting and decided Mexican food sounded best. They ate as they normally had to this point: voraciously, and mostly in silence.

   “Delicious!” she said when she finished. “Shall we turn on the radio while we do the dishes?”

   As he cleared away the dishes, she glanced down once more at his pants. “I sure do wish we could find you a hidden chest full of clothes!”

   He’d gotten used to living like this, and had trouble imagining what wearing a shirt all day would feel like, or underwear, or socks, or (he sighed inwardly) shoes. Shoes!

   At the moment the radio, which had been playing “I Put a Spell On You,” cut off abruptly, and the radio announcer, who had been utterly absent since the first time they turned the radio on more than a day ago, said:

   “This just in: Vicious Mexican drug cartel mobster Pancho Garcia de Perez has escaped Hawaiian law enforcement in a dramatic shoot-out with authorities in Hilo, where he boarded a private submarine and submerged before being apprehended. Six officers lost their lives in the gunfight on the dock. Interpol has launched an all-points bulletin for all coastal cities in the Pacific Rim. Now back to the music.”

   Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” came on.

   Gilligan chuckled. “Mexican food ... Mexican gangsters.”

   Mary Ann, however, wasn’t so amused. “The poor families of those officers.... I’m sure glad right now that wherever we are, we are nowhere near Hilo! Can you imagine running into that monster out here?

   “Yeah, that would definitely suck,” replied Gilligan, who turned on the hot water and began washing the dishes with her help.


~~*~~
Chapter five will be coming soon!

Enjoy Chapter Five of Sole Survivor: The Story of Kaza of Theseus!

Download it here!


5.
~~*~~


TREMENDOUS WARSHIPS rose on both sides of him like featureless black walls. He listened intently for sounds of alarm, of outrage, certain he’d be spotted—there was no way he wouldn’t be! But all he heard was the steadily diminishing background roar of fire, its receding wall of flame shimmering off the dark bay waters, and the gentle sloshing of waves as the Arilyceum cut through them. He had caught a steady breeze and was navigating it expertly, making his way closer, ever closer, to open ocean. Out there he’d be almost impossible to spot—especially at night. If he could just make it! If he could just …
A demonic shriek pierced the night air, directly above him. He didn’t think: he let go of the captain’s wheel and dropped flat on his belly, his heart pounding madly. He came shakily to his knees after angrily cursing at himself to get up!—get up!—GET UP! He grasped the wheel again, sightless for what he was sailing towards, as another shriek, then another, sounded out. Then: distant voices—human. One spoke Thesean. “Where?” it demanded. “Point it out to me, you incompetent buffoon!” A few frozen seconds … “I see nothing … Wait. What is that? A singleship?”
Another bone-chilling shriek. A wake of demonic air blew into his bare, blistered back as the monster cleared the mainmast. He stood to get a quick read on his bearings, then crouched again. He felt nauseous with fear.
He’d been discovered.
What a fool he’d been, thinking he could escape, that he actually stood a chance!
Shrieks sounded out all around him now. Multiple flashes from the tops of those huge ships, and from smaller ones just in front. They were coming to get him. He had seconds to live.
And then, that feeling: that sense of easy finality and acceptance. It clashed violently with his cascading panic. You are the prompt, it seemed to say. Prompt the Ari.
Prompt—the Arilyceum? Prompt an inanimate object? Surely he was going mad! He held up, indecision and the sense of rapidly closing doom flooding through him. His body trembled; he redoubled his grasp on the captain’s wheel to keep from simply pitching himself overboard.
A flash just behind him. The stern of the boat suddenly dipped, as though a huge weight had been dropped there. He stood, turned.
The demon grinned at him, its sword already drawn. It growled something in a foreign language and advanced on him.
He didn’t know how he did what he did next. Instead of jumping overboard, he closed his eyes and, ludicrously, sought for that calm acceptance, as though he had more than a split second to live. He found it. He forced his consciousness through its gates and yelled, “PROTECT ME! PLEASE PROTECT ME!”
It all happened in slow motion. He opened his eyes to see the demon bringing its sword down, the thin edge of the blade like fire-tinted lightning aiming for the crown of his skull. He ducked left, and the blade struck a hand’s width away on the captain’s wheel. The blade sparked as it bounced off the wood—
—wood that should have cleaved cleanly in two with such force. The sound was so sharply loud that his head felt like it had been punched. He moved again—straight through the Mephastophian’s legs and to the stern, where he stood, crouching low, ready to move again, ready to launch himself overboard. The monster turned to face him. There were more overhead, screeching, waiting their turn.
That sense of ease flooded through him again, slowed his pounding heart, filled his straining lungs. It infuriated him because this wasn’t the time to feel settled and calm, but fight or flee! Without really thinking, he focused again and said, “ARI, PROTECT YOURSELF!”
The Mephastophian growled then lunged—
But Kaza didn’t have to move this time. The thrusting broadsword missed him entirely. The demon dropped the weapon and shrieked. It raised its great horned head to the dark sky and bellowed something—again in a foreign language—and then, as he watched, astonished, started melting right there, its clawed feet bubbling, then its huge legs, then up. The stench was overpowering. It cried out, writhing in place, sinking into its own armor, reaching for him, reaching for anything at all. It squealed so loudly Kaza thought his eardrums would explode.
With nothing but its trunk and head still intact, the monster pitched forward into the large puddle of disgusting black bubbling goo that had once been its feet and legs and hips, and, splashing down with a wet thud, burbled its last into the melting flesh of its form. The dissolving goo evaporated completely away, leaving only its armor behind. Kaza had backed up to the very stern of the boat and then onto its edge, his feet raised to keep from touching the stuff; he stared down now at the pristine deck in amazement—
—and was suddenly snatched up from behind and into the air. The demon that had him cried out in victory. It lifted over the mainmast as he yelled: the monster's talons dug deeply into his raw flesh. He cursed at it as that feeling of acceptance stole once more through him; he cried, “ATTACK EACH OTHER, NOT ME! LET—ME—GO!
The demon released him—from a dangerous height. The fall seemed to take forever. When he hit the water the force of the impact completely knocked the wind out of him. He came up sputtering, fighting to stay conscious and gasping for air, the wounds from the talons stinging fiercely from the saltwater rushing into them. The water was ice cold. He cast desperately about for the Ari. But she had sailed on, pilotless, into the darkness. He called out: “Don’t leave me, Ari! Protect yourself! I’ll find you!” He snorted and then vomited: a nasty mix of salty sea water and burning stomach acid: a reaction, surely, to the nonstop terror of the night and the burns and the blisters and the wounds the demon had inflicted on him (were its talons poisonous?). It was difficult to keep his head above water as he gagged. When the convulsions abated he swam in the direction he thought the Arilyceum was.
It was ridiculous to think that the singleship was some sort of conscious aecxal entity—wasn’t it? Yes. It was. Far more likely that the Infinitum had in fact granted his last wish before disintegrating into nothingness.
The Ari could protect herself! And she could protect him!
For now. But how long would the Infinitum’s power last?
The screeching of demons had increased a hundredfold; it sounded like an entire legion of them was just overhead. None of them bothered swooping down on him, even though he had to be plainly visible.
The talon wounds were sapping his will to swim on, twinging fiercely with every stroke; so too the coldness of the water and the fact that he couldn’t see the Ari anywhere. It was too dark! He wondered if he was bleeding to death. His spine ached; his entire left side, which impacted the water first, felt like one enormous, stinging bruise over dozens of oozing blisters. He fought the urge to puke again, worried that if the wounds didn’t kill him the poison they possibly carried would.
Suddenly, a massive broadside of cannonfire—
BOOOOM! BOOM! BOOOM!BOOM!BOOM! BOOOOOOOOOOOOM!
—from the warship closest to him!
At him? No, he wouldn’t be here wondering! Then— at whom?
He got his answer when the warship just across the way, closest to this one and of the same size and shape, responded, sixty or more of its cannons flaring orange for a split second:
BOOOM!BOOOM!BOOOM! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!
The cannonfire ZOOOOOOOOOOOOMED! overhead and into the great black hull of the closest warship. Flaming chunks of wood flew off it, splashed down threateningly around him. He ducked under, then came up and sprinted full-on in the direction the Ari had sailed.
And now the smaller ships were getting in on the attack!
Thump! Thump! Thumpthumpthump! BOOOOOOOM!
The Gyssians were attacking each other! Each other!
And then—all at once—all-out war. It sounded like a titanic battle fought in the lightless lake of hell itself. The broadsides were coming so often it wasn’t possible to tell when one ended and another began. The warships were all raising sails and attempting to navigate around one another while sending manic fire at each other. At any moment there must have been hundreds of tons of lead flying over him. The sky above the firefight was alight with strobe flashes of Gyssian soldiers and demons as they met in mid-air to do battle.
KA-BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!
A frigate just ahead exploded.
Kaza had to duck under again; he came up sputtering. Flaming debris—and now bodies—floated all around him. But the orange-white mushroom bloom of the explosion had revealed the small triangular silhouette of the Ari, he was sure of it. She was just ahead and to the right, maybe ten minutes’ swim time—and in the direct line of fire. He doubled the stroking of his arms, crying out against the pain, as the barrage continued, as burning rubble dropped all around him and shrieking demons and crying seagulls and pelicans and terns and cormorants winged angrily overhead. They all ignored him.
He swam furiously for the singleship, hoping he could overcome its speed with his own, refusing to consider the lunacy of such a notion. He had to keep his head above water in order to keep from running into the flotsam. The strain made his shoulders burn and his spine send sharp shooting pains to his fingertips and toes. The wounds in his back and sides throbbed incoherently, and the nausea still threatened. But everything had been dunked under the current of hope that he could still somehow escape.
From the water the Arilyceum looked, miraculously, untouched. The singleship had slowed to a standstill as though it had been waiting for him to swim to her. He approached from behind, climbed aboard using the stern ladder, and fell exhausted and shivering to the deck next to the empty, huge Gyssian armor of an annihilated demon. The sky immediately above was a lined, glowing orange sheet of cannonfire. The noise was so intense he felt his head would split open any moment. Its thunder layered over its own echoes, raising its volume by the second, renting the air with its fury. Hands over his ears, he raised himself and glanced down on his body.
He was bleeding freely from at least four open puncture wounds, three of which were on his back. He couldn’t see those, but a gentle swipe with his hand over all of them yielded, in turn, rich red blood, which dripped thickly off his palm. The wound he could see, just below his rib cage on his right side, hurt the most. The talon had gone through a blister as wide as his fist, adding to the agony. He stared at the gory hole, horrified, unsure what to do.
He came to his feet and grasped the captain’s wheel. “Onward, girl!” he yelled, barely able to hear himself. “Onward!”
The gust of gunpowder-rich air that filled the Ari’s sails next moment made him whoop out in victory. It worked! It was as though Nature Herself was trying to help him escape!
Under the back-and-forth of furious cannonfire he sailed. Gyssians warred upon each other with unconstrained violence.
And Kaza knew that he had somehow started it.
But—how much longer would that wish last? He refused to think about it.
Hunks of flaming wood and burning ash fell onto the singleship like Hell's own rain. But they’d disappear instantly on impact, leaving behind nothing but rising smoke, which trailed behind the Ari, protecting her even more from sight. He navigated her as best he could away from the worst of it, zig-zagging his route ever closer to the open Senecum Ocean. At times he had to sail directly between two warships firing round after round of broadsides at one another; he’d hit the deck at such times—the ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! of the cannonballs so close overhead he was sure that if he stood on his tip-toes he’d be struck headless. He was sure the singleship was in fact being struck, but the only evidence of such was very brief, dull gray flashes along the mainmast and, occasionally, along the hull itself, which sent up high sprays of water that rained back down on him. Once or twice the flashes would happen on the deck itself, mere inches from him.
Was he invulnerable as well? He glanced down at the one bloody talon wound he could see.
Silly question.
He tried not to think about how close death was from him such times; he tried not to think at all. The striking iron seemed as harmless and insubstantial as angels’ wings. Or perhaps the Ari, having been transformed by the Infinitum (only temporarily?), was now far more substantial than ordinary matter, so much so that minor things like huge flying cannonballs couldn’t affect her.
The breeze filling the Arilyceum's sails was entirely selective and utterly magical. It was also unrelentingly cold. Kaza, wearing only his soaking, filthy breeches, shivered uncontrollably. He felt like one massive, freezing sting.
The wound he could see was leaking blood at a frightful rate. Once as a child he’d hammered a nail straight through the palm of his hand while helping his father put up a fence. The gushing blood had made him as scared as the sickening image of a thin silver metal spike sticking out of his flesh. The blood loss from the talon rivaled that wound. Multiplied by four wounds total, it probably meant he was slowly bleeding to death.
He grasped the captain’s wheel like it was his last lifeline to freedom and did battle against the singular hopeless terror that, for all his efforts, he was dying. He couldn’t let go of the wheel: not yet. The Infinitum may have granted the Ari remarkable properties, but it most certainly did not make her self-guiding. That was his duty.
Ships passed by; sometimes they abruptly altered course and came straight at him. Always their great cannons blazed. Once he sailed too close to a mid-sized destroyer and the Arilyceum’s starboard side ground up against it as he desperately spun the captain’s wheel to get out of the way. Looking back, he saw a long, thin, deep gouge on the warship's hull. He worried that the Ari was damaged. He let go of the wheel just long enough to go and check.
The singleship was untouched.
He pumped his fists into the air in victory, then bent over double, clutching at himself, dropping weakly to his knees. That … hurt. When he thought he could hobble over to the wheel without passing out, he came unsteadily to his feet and, still crouching, eased himself back to it.
Just ahead was … blackness.
The Senecum Ocean.
Freedom.
He gazed over his shoulder at the still-raging battle, at the now-distant orange flames blooming like evil flowers over Puowbalpom.
He was going to make it!
But as he turned to look ahead, a horrible cold gripped him, a cold that didn’t bluster into his bare back from the steady breeze, but seemed to come from somewhere deep inside his very soul. It was so cold, so stifling, that he couldn’t help but let go of the wheel and clutch once more at himself. And then a horrible voice sounded out in his mind, one that contained multitudes, like an entire angry village speaking the same thing at the same time:
Fools! Cease fighting! A Mathematician has escaped—a Dreamcatcher has sensed his presence! He sails from Theseus! From the bay! Find him! Kill him!
All at once, the great firefight stopped.
The silence that descended was far more terrifying than the battle's deafening roar.
He huddled in himself, shaking so hard from cold that he couldn’t bring himself to stand. His breath left his lungs in a deathly fog. The breeze filling the Ari’s sails had died. The singleship floated still in the water.
Kaza was sure of it. The nightmare Normalas said was responsible for the invasion of all of Aquanus had just spoken.
The nightmare responsible for the extermination of his entire country and all its inhabitants, his family and his sister and Uncle Hawk. All save him.
The nightmare who just ordered the whole of his Thesean invasion force to find him and kill him.
The nightmare—the Mathematician—who somehow thought he, Kaza, was a Mathematician. He, Kaza, who couldn’t even Transform without the help of a priceless piece of now-extinct Infinitum. He, Kaza, who was slowly bleeding to death. He, Kaza—a Mathematician.
He chuckled. The sound was like the mutated, unwanted child of a whimper and his earlier retching.
Freedom? He was farther away from it than ever before.

~~*~~
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More Real Than Real


More Real Than Real

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