Chapter 6: Ursa

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Longspear drifted in and out of consciousness.  It had been almost four days since the Picei had sunk their small boat.  Thankfully the sea monsters hadn’t seen fit to further pursue them past the ambush.  But the small party of adventurers had more pressing matters to concern them.  And the greatest of those concerns was the water.  And how its cold cradled them twenty-four hours a day, sapping their strength and sucking the water from their flesh with its salt.

Already they were down to only one water skin.  Built to keep water in, not out, Salina’s water skin was the first to become corrupted by the sea salt.  And they quickly learned that vomiting followed drinking the briny fluid, which served to weaken them further.  The other two water skins found places on top of the raft in makeshift safety.  Rationing the water allowed them to conserve enough to go four days on Longspear’s water skin.

Unfortunately they had no such protection for the food.  Soaked all day and all night in seawater, it quickly became inedible and was dumped to save strength.  That, too, took its toll.  Salina fell unconscious sometime in the middle of the second day.  She now clung to life, her skin pale and clammy, her breath shallow and her body chilled.

Van Joss was no help.  He never regained consciousness since slumping without warning after he had finished tying the raft together.  He too barely clung to life, his body even colder than Salina’s, and his breathing almost imperceptible.

And now Longspear was finally succumbing to the water’s relentless attack.  Drained of strength and almost out of water, she drifted along the edge of awareness, hallucinations dancing before her half opened eyes.

Thus plagued by half seen monsters and demons that flitted away as soon as she tried to focus on them, Longspear at first dismissed the dark shape that loomed out of the early morning mist that clung to the water’s surface like a lover.  It was only another hallucination, an illusion cast by her dying mind.  It was only as it swung close and a heavy rope was thrown into the water beside her that she began to realize that it was real.  They were being pulled towards a ship!  But, piloted by whom??

Thickset creatures could be seen through the mist, peering over the high gunwales down at them.  But their features were blurred by the mist.  Then, as the expertly thrown rope caught her and jerked her off the raft, Longspear’s body finally succumbed and she watched the world dissolve in a wash of black.

It was van Joss that returned to the land of the living first, groaning as he slowly rolled over in the narrow bunk he lay in.  As his hand brushed against the wood of the bunk’s frame, his eyes fluttered open.  ‘Where did the ocean go?’ he wondered, his eyes struggling to focus in the dim light. 

When they finally cleared several heartbeats later the lean operative found himself alone in a small wooden cabin, illuminated by a single lamp hanging from the low ceiling.  It swayed with the rolling motion of the ship.  ‘At least we’re still out on the water,’ he noted by the ship’s side-to-side motion.  ‘The question is: whose ship are we on?  And where are Longspear and Salina?’

He was just beginning to gather his strength when the small door that opened into the cabin swung abruptly open.  The space beyond was completely filled by the creature that leaned its massive head into the cramped space.  It began to speak, a low guttural language that resembled nothing that van Joss had heard before.

The human grimaced.  How were they going to communicate...?  The tingling began as he stared at the big creature, wondering how they were going to talk.  It quickly raced through his mind, sending fire through every part of his body.  And when it cleared, the creature’s words abruptly made sense.

“... pulled you and your companions from the water!  Huss, we thought all three of you were goners.”

Van Joss concentrated for a moment on the sound of the words coming out of the creature’s mouth.  With the right intonation, he should be able to...

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