The Skybound Sea

Page 34

And he felt her as she caught him. He felt the shudder of her breath against his chest. He felt the chill of her shadows slithering over him.

“I’m tired,” he whispered. “I am . . . very tired.”

And she could feel it. She felt the groan of muscles that struggled to keep him on his feet. She felt the murmur of a heart in his chest flowing warm and weary in his chest.

“You need to rest,” she whispered.

“I need . . .”

She could hear his voice. She could hear a quaver that wasn’t there anymore. She could hear a sigh that was on every breath.

“I need . . .”

She could hear his body. She heard the slide of flesh as his arm wrapped around her. She heard the desperation in his grip as his hand pressed against the naked small of her back. She heard the crunch of cloth as he pressed her belly against his.

“I . . .”

No more voices.

No more language.

He leaned into her to keep from falling, pressed his lips against hers to keep from being carried away.

Nothing was left to hear.

She felt him now.

She could taste the desperation in his lips, the urgency that dripped off his tongue and onto hers. She could feel him, every part of him, everything that was left of him. In the grasp of his hand around her wrist, in the tension of muscle and the coarseness of his tunic against her belly, in the low, urgent growl that slid from his mouth into hers.

And as he poured everything he had left into her, he fell. His knees gave way beneath him and he clung to her as he slid to the sands, arms wrapped about her waist, face pressed against her skin. He clung as though there was not enough of him left to keep him on the dirt and keep him from drifting away on a tidal sky.

She said something. Something to herself, something to him, something hateful, something teary. Maybe. Maybe she said nothing. Maybe he should say something. If he had a voice anymore, he might have. If she had one, she might have.

All her language now was in her body. The protest of fine hairs standing on end in the wake of his tongue, the whisper of muscle in her stomach as it yielded to his lips, the howl in her fingers as he felt them tangle into his hair and pull.

She had no voice to make a sound. No more words. No more curses. Not so much as a moan. The slightest escape of air between lips barely parted. The world above was too far away to hear. The world below was silent as the darkness it held. There was no sound. There were no voices.

Lenk liked that.

His fingers found themselves trembling over her belt buckle. It was too complex for him now. He pulled on it, tore it free, let the leather hang limply about her waist. His fingers found the space between her skin and breeches and he pulled.

She slid out of them, watched them pool about her ankles. Maybe it was them that caused her to fall, to feel the grit of sand upon the skin of her buttocks. Maybe it was him. No use for words. She had none left.

He pulled himself on top of her, felt her hands at his belt, felt his trousers sliding from his legs. He felt her beneath his hips. He felt her thighs pressing against his. He felt her nails sinking past his tunic, into the skin of his shoulders.

He made not a sound.

She barely even breathed.

No words.

No voices.

No people.

Nothing but a shifting of shadow and stars above as he leaned into her.

She felt the breath inside her, the sudden rush of air as her mouth fell open. She saw the flash of her teeth in his eyes as he stared at her. She felt her ears flatten themselves against her head, bury themselves in the locks of her hair, pressing so hard, trembling so fiercely they hurt.

He felt the shudder of her body against his hips, the hairs on her skin stand up and reach out to the ones on his. He felt the clench of his jaw as he strove to keep back a word that had no place down here. He felt himself close his eyes and felt the shadows washing over him.

She felt the blood blossom beneath her nails.

He felt the sand rub beneath her buttocks.

She felt the agony inside him, the muscle of his abdomen contracting so hard it hurt to have it pressed against her.

He felt the scream inside her, the snarl broiling behind her lips as she leaned up and caught his in her teeth, the blood beneath her canines.

She felt the hardness of his stare as he opened his eyes and met hers.

He felt the ferocity of her embrace as she pulled him closer onto her, wrapped her thighs about him, pressed the soft flesh of her neck into the sloping curve of his shoulder.

Her gasp.

His breath.

Her hair.

His blood.

Everything they had.

With no more voices.

With no more people.

There was only shadow.

And the world moving beneath them.







“Are you asleep?”

“Yes,” Lenk replied.

“Are you dreaming?”


“About what?”

“Nothing,” he said through a yawn. “Nothing at all.”

“That doesn’t sound very good.”

“No, it’s nice. I can’t see any fire. I can’t hear any voices.”

“Should I let you sleep, then?”

“I think I’d prefer being awake.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

He opened his eyes at that. Kataria lay next to him, her arm coiled protectively around his neck. Her eyes were closed, her body rose and fell with quiet breaths, growling in a dream as he moved beneath her. Unstirring. Unwaking.

The starlight was gone. The dim glow of the kelp had become dimmer, leaving only a vague imagination of what light was supposed to be like. Lenk stared into the shadows of the chasm. Out of the corner of his eye, something slithered away, retreating into the darkness.

“Go back to sleep,” something whispered, somewhere down there.

He blinked. Tears stung at his eyes. The air was thick and lay across his bare chest like a blanket. Even if he could convince himself that this was simply part of a dream, the sensation of gritty sand clawing its way between the flesh of his buttocks was distinctly waking.

For a moment, he wondered if he ought not to just go back to sleep. He wondered if he should lay there, with her body pressed against him, with her scent still cloying his nostrils, and cling to it as though it were a dream.

He was still wondering that as he rose to his feet, but only until he found his trousers. After that moment, even though he wondered why exactly he felt compelled to follow the voice into the darkness, he knew that he would feel better if he went into the unknown wearing pants.

Shadows consumed everything as he descended. Sound went first, so that even the crunching of his feet on the sand was inaudible. Light was next, the purple glow eaten alive. And then he, too, felt as though he were dis appearing into the darkness as it ate everything.

Or almost everything.

Somewhere, incredibly distant and far too close, there was the noise of something sliding across the sand. In glimpses, he caught the reflections of light that wasn’t there against something slick and glistening.

Something was down here with him.

He wondered if that weren’t a good enough reason to turn around.

He didn’t. He had to keep going. To protect Kataria, to find a way out of the chasm. He had a whole slew of reasons he didn’t believe. Perhaps it was just primitive, mothlike stupidity that drew him toward the light.

That light. That tiny little blue pinprick at the very end of his vision that grew steadily brighter as he approached it. He felt compelled to follow it.

After all, it was talking to him.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” it said from somewhere far away.

“It’s fine.”

“It’s harder to hear you. You were loud before, but now . . . sorry. Could you hear me? Up there?”

It was no more than a whisper, faint like a fish’s breath. And because it was so faint, he knew it. He had heard it before. The light grew bigger, not brighter, as he drew closer.

“Yeah,” he said. “Clearly. You tried to warn me.”

“You seemed afraid. I thought I should try to warn you. Did she kill you? Are you dead right now?”

“I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

“That doesn’t tell me anything. We always talk, even when we’re dead. And when we’re dead, we do nothing but talk.”

“Oh,” he replied. “Then, no. I’m alive.”

“That’s good.”

A great fragment of rock was all that stood between him and the light, something immense and jagged that had been of something even more immense and less jagged. The glow spilled out around it, a blue light that bloomed expectantly.

He had occasionally had cause to doubt the interest of the Gods in the affairs of men before. Here was proof, this single opportunity that Khetashe gave him to turn around from the disembodied voice in the darkness and return to a warm, naked body in the sand.

He had only himself to blame, he knew, as he rounded the stone and beheld the girl.

A girl.

A very young girl.

Despite the gray of her hair and the sword in her hand, she couldn’t have been more than fifteen years. At least not past the age where people stop being a mess of angles and acne and crooked grins that they think look good and start being humans. She had such a grin, a big, bright one full of teeth situated directly between big, blue eyes and a big, black line opening up her throat.

It was the grin that unnerved him. More than the spear jutting through her chest and pinning her to the black shape behind her, more than the sheet of ice that encased her like a luminescent coffin, the fact that she was still smiling as though she might ask him to go pick flowers at any moment made him want to look away.

He still wasn’t sure why he didn’t.

“Don’t stare,” she chided. “It’s rude.”

“Sorry,” he said.

Her smile didn’t diminish. Her eyes didn’t waver, the blue glow from them remained steady. She didn’t even look at him. Yet there was something, a crackle in the ice, a strain at the edge of her grin, that made him turn away.

“Do you have a name?” he asked.


“Oh. Well, I’m—”

“I know.”

He was aware that he was staring again. As it happened, not staring at a talking dead girl was somewhat more difficult than he anticipated. He cleared his throat, forcing his eyes away again.

“Sorry, I just thought you’d be older.”

“I am very old,” she replied.

“Less dead, then.”

Though, there was little reason why he should expect her to be that. The last one he met was even more dead than this one.

The image flashed into his mind. A man encased in ice in a cold, dark place, corpses entombed with him, arrows jutting from his body, eyes wide, mouth open and screaming. He thought of it for only a moment, the thought too unnerving for anything more.

“I remember him,” the girl said before he could.

He cringed. Not that it was all that surprising that she could see what was happening in his head, but having people in his mind was something he had vowed to never get used to. She noticed this . . . or he assumed she did. It was hard to tell with her face frozen in that grin.

“He talks to me,” she said.

“The man in the ice?”

“Him, too. We all talk to each other, through him. We could hear you through him, but faintly. You keep yelling at him. He doesn’t like that.”

He didn’t ask. He didn’t want to. But he knew all the same. The voice was gone, the chill that came with it was gone, but their absence left a place dark and cold inside him. He could feel her voice in there, and between the echoes, he could hear—

He tried not to think about it. Tried not to think at all. It was harder than it sounded with all the silence.

“Ask me.”

Her voice jarred him from his internal stupor. He stared up into her broad grin. She stared through him.

“Ask me,” she repeated.

“I don’t want to,” he said.

“I know. Ask me, anyway.”

A voice telling him what to do would have been simpler, he thought. He could just say he had no choice, had to do what it said. But it was him that stared at her, the dead girl that talked, him that sighed, him that spoke.

“What are you?”



“That’s the wrong question. Ask the right one,” she urged.

“What do you want?”

She looked unsettled at that. He wasn’t quite sure how he could tell that, what with her grin unchanging and eyes unblinking. But the silence was too deep, lasted too long.

“I wanted you to come visit me,” she said softly. “I wanted you to survive.”

“And that’s why you’ve been screaming in my head? All of you?” Ire crept into his voice. “You were screaming so loud I wanted to smash my head open.”

“I know. I heard that part.”

“Then why didn’t you stop?”

“We . . . it’s hard to hear down here. Everything is muffled. It’s so dark. There’s nothing but dark down here and I . . .” There was pain in her voice, pain older than she was. “We can’t hear each other. We can speak, but we can’t hear. But you . . . I could . . . we could hear you. We wanted you to be safe. We wanted to talk to you.”

“So you’ve been slowly driving me insane with whispering so we could have a conversation? That’s insane!”


Her voice cracked the ice, sent veins of white webbing across the face of her tomb. Her grin remained frozen, but the voice echoing from inside her mouth didn’t belong in a human being, let alone a girl.

But she was neither.

“Don’t call us that! Don’t say that!” she howled in a voice not her own. “They looked at us that way! They called us that for being what we are! Better than they are! BETTER! They betrayed us! We fought back and they called us insane and they killed us for it! We never wanted this! NEVER!”

He hadn’t ever said the words, not those words, not as she had spoken them. But they were known to him. The anger behind them was his, the hurt bleeding from them was his, the fury, the hatred, the cold . . .

That voice had spoken in him. It had coursed through his mind as surely as it coursed through her mouth, with all its cold anger.

He didn’t have to ask what she was now. He knew by that voice. She was like him, like the man in the ice had been, like the voices in his head. He knew. He didn’t want to know.

It had been the wrong question.

The cracks in the ice receded suddenly, solidifying into a solid, translucent coffin once more. Her grin was unchanged.

“Sorry,” she whimpered. “He gets loud sometimes. I can’t stop him from doing . . . that.”

“Neither could I. It’s all right.”

“It’s not all right. He’s angry with you. He’s worried about you. He thinks you’re going to kill yourself.”

“I’m not.”

“You are. I know why you’re here. I know what you’re after. He told me. We came here to find her, just like you did.”


The girl’s eyes widened a hair’s breadth. The light beaming from her stare grew, chasing away the darkness and bathing the chasm in a soft blue illumination. Lenk’s eyes widened, too, without light, without glow, without anything beyond horror dawning on his face.

The walls of the chasm were glistening.

The walls were moving.

The walls were alive.

They writhed, twisting over each other, bunching up as if shy and recoiling from him before deigning to twist about and display an under-side covered in quivering, circular suckers blowing mucus-slick kisses at him.

Tentacles. In many different sizes. Dozens of them, reaching around the wall and coiling about each other like some slick, rubbery bouquet of flowers. They reached, they groped, they searched, they sought.

Not for him. They seemed to take no notice of him at all, slithering blindly about the stone, slapping the sand, some as big as trees. Something caught his eye, a flash of pale ivory amidst the coils. Stupid as he knew it to be, he leaned forward, squinting, trying to make out what he thought to be a tiny spot of something pale, white, soft . . .


He raised a hand out of instinct, not at all intending to actually touch it. But as his fingers drifted just a bit closer, the tentacles shifted, split apart and with a slick sucking sound, something lashed out and seized him by the wrist.

It came with such gentleness that the thought to pull back didn’t even occur to him. Pale fingers groped blindly down his wrist to find his fingers. An arm, perfectly pale, perfectly slender, blossomed from the tentacles, reaching for him with tender desperation.

It sought him, searched his flesh, taking each of his digits between two slender fingers and feeling each of his knucklebones in turn, sliding up and down between white fingertips. It was as though this was something it had never felt before, this touch of a human.

“She is reaching out,” the girl said from behind him. “Her children are calling to her. She claws against that dark place where we put her, trying to escape. But she can’t escape, not yet. She can’t see. She can only barely hear. So she reaches, and she searches for something to touch.”

He knew. Not by touch, but by the warmth behind her fingertips. The warmth he felt on his brow, in his mind, in his body. The warmth that had engulfed him, told him that he deserved happiness, that gave him his life.

He knew her touch.

He knew Ulbecetonth.

And she knew him. How, he wasn’t sure, but her hand tightened. Her nails dug into the skin of his wrist, clenched him as though she sought to pull him into whatever moist hell she reached from.

As the shadow fell over him, he realized her goal wasn’t to pull him in, but merely to hold him. All the better for the giant tentacle swaying overhead to crush him.

He leapt backward, leaving his skin and blood staining her nails. The tentacle came smashing down, shaking the walls and sending its fellows writhing angrily. More reached out, wrapped around his ankles, tried to pull him back. He beat wildly at them, seizing a sharp fragment of coral and jamming it into the soft flesh of the tentacle. It didn’t so much as quiver. Only with great pain did he pull his leg free and scramble away from the tentacle.

He stalked back toward the girl, rubbing his wrist as Ulbecetonth’s slender arm slipped back between the mass of flesh, disappearing.

“And why . . . is she here?” he asked.

“Right question,” the girl said. “This is not an island. This is a prison.”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.