The Seventh Hour(5)By: Tracey Ward
The parties ended two days ago. It felt weird. Normally the souk crew is back from the city in time for the last days but they never showed. We all assumed they were waiting for the Eventide to show up and sell their overpriced goods but if they’re just sailing by now it’s going to be cutting it close. Easton and the others might be trekking home in the dark. They’ll either have to take the tunnels or face the animals gathering food for hibernation. The bears will be prowling the wild in droves in the next few days. The wolves too. All of them eager to get what they need and go to ground before the vishers wake up.
No one wants to be on land when that happens.
Lightning strikes in the west behind the ships. The storms are closing in on each other, moving inland and carving a path right over the top of the Eventide. From our vantage point on the ridge I spot other Gaian’s lighting torches, signaling to the fishing crews to get inside. They’re abandoning the beach, running inland. Thunder rumbles, distant and angry, and I absently take Karina’s hand in mine.
“We better get inside,” I tell her, watching the clouds. “The storm is about to start.”
She nods in silent understanding as she follows me down the hill. We hurry together, our hands loosely clasped, and it’s not until we’re halfway down the mountain that I’m aware of it. My stomach clenches for a third time, painfully bloated with joy and a weird sense of hope.
It doesn’t last.
A strong hand grabs onto me, the grip like an iron shackle around my wrist. I instinctively wrap my hand around the arm attached to it to sturdy our connection. My body stops falling and begins swinging instead, my face heading straight for the hull at the bow of the ship. I don’t fight it.
I curl into a ball as much as I can, taking the brunt of the hit with my shoulder. My body makes a hard thunk! as it connects with the wood. I shriek in pain, closing my eyes so hard it hurts.
Gav holds onto me as I swing slowly, waiting for my sideways momentum to die out. I feel cold, salty wisps of sea spray peppering my bare skin, reminding me of how close I came to falling into its deadly grasp. Even if I could swim I’d be dead. They wouldn’t come back for me. We never go back for anyone. And no one can swim forever.
When I’ve stilled Gav starts to pull me up. He grunts and grumbles above me with each hard, decisive yank. My hair flies around my eyes, giving me shattered glimpses of his strained face and the corded muscles under his brown skin. The dark lines of the tattoo on the inside of his forearm. Mine stands out even darker, fresher. Smaller but no less important.
I use my other arm to grab onto whatever I can to help him hoist me up until finally I’m flopping over the railing, gasping like a fish out of water. Gav stands hunched over me, his hands on his knees as he breathes harshly through his nose, but I barely see him. Instead I stare up at the sky, my sight going fuzzy around the edges as adrenaline spikes my heart rate far too high. My shoulder aches, my pride is destroyed, and my gut is clenched by the darkness of the sky. I know it’s not possible at this hour but I swear I can see stars poking out through the perfect dusky blue.
It’s a terrifying thought.
My mother’s face appears over mine, blocking out the sky with her blond curls and tense gray eyes.
“What were you thinking?!” she hisses loudly.
I close my eyes. “I wasn’t.”
“Is this a cry for attention? Because I promise you, you’ll get it, but it won’t be the kind you’re hoping for.”
“I wasn’t hoping for anything. I just…”
“You just what, Livandra?”
I flinch at the use of my full name. At the weight of it and everything it carries.
“I just wanted to be alone,” I admit, opening my eyes reluctantly.
Mother stands up straight, looking down her nose at me. “Your father won’t be happy about you making a scene like this. People are always watching.”
“I wish I could believe that.”
“He’s on the third Dasher,” Gav reminds her, offering me his hand to help me up. His voice has taken on that charming cadence he has that’s like a balm to our mother’s overactive nerves. “He didn’t see her. More than likely only one or two of the crew did. We can contain this.”