Chapter Thirty-One

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"Goddamnit!" Guin bent close to Lorn's ashen face and pulled aside his wet, tangled hair. After a brief struggle, she got the gag off his mouth and threw it away.

His chest was still. Guin couldn't feel any breath from his mouth or nose. She swore again, and pressed her fingers to his neck, feeling for a pulse.

There was one, but very faint.

"He has a pulse!" she cried. "He's not bloody breathing but he has a pulse!"

"Move over, girl." Zolga climbed down three steps and knelt by Lorn. They'd lain him awkwardly across one of the wide stone steps, but his legs were crooked at an odd angle and rested on the stair bellow him.

Guin shuffled out of the way and stood against the wall, watching as Zolga pressed her own fingers to his neck. "He's got water in his mouth. Help me tip 'im," she ordered.

Kip, crouched on the step above, reached down and helped his aunt roll Lorn onto his side. A stream of water poured from his lips. He still wasn't moving.

Guin wanted to scream, to grab the idiot and shake him back to life, but she forced herself to stay still against the wall and watch.

They got him on his back again. Then Zolga bent, pinched Lorn's nose shut and pressed her mouth over his.

Guin leaned forward, chewing her lip. Zolga filled Lorn's lungs with a series of controlled breaths. His chest rose and fell, rose and fell. Zolga continued breathing, pausing every few seconds to refill her own lungs, then blowing again.

The others looked on in silence. Talon had even stopped swearing.

Guin tore her eyes away for a moment to glance down the stairwell, and saw the water still rising. It would reach them soon. They had to get out before it filled the stairwell up entirely.

She looked back at Lorn, at his sharp, palid face. He looked gray, and limp--he looked dead.

The fingers of both Guin's hands knotted together into a single fist. She'd chewed her lip raw, and tasted blood. Wake up. Wake up you stupid, stupid idiot.

Zolga raised her head, took a breath, bent and puffed. His chest rose and fell.

The water continued to climb the stairs.

Then, with a strangled gasp, Lorn jerked forward and spewed dark, gunky water all over Zolga's legs.

Guin had never been so happy to see someone vomit in her entire life.

Panting and gagging, Lorn rolled onto his side and retched more water. "Guh--" he wheezed. "Gu--guh--"

"She's right here, lad," Zolga said, her voice surprisingly gentle. She wiped her mouth with one hand, and rubbed his heaving back with the other. "She's fine."

Lorn's bleary eyes swiveled to her face, then wandered up past her shoulder until they lit on Guin. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but only choked up more water.

If she hadn't been stuck pressed against a stone wall on a cramped stairwell with six other people and an ocean inching up to get them, Guin thought she might have hugged him, vomit or no vomit.

Instead, she said, "We need to move." She gestured at the rising water. "We have to get him somewhere--somewhere flat, and, and get bandages--"

"No time." Zolga ran her hand under Lorn's knee. Her fingers came away bloody. "We need to stop this bleeding, or there'll be no saving him. It may be too late already."

She glanced at Talon, then Droom. "Mr. Ironsong, get that contraption of o' the captain and give it to me. Quick now."

Droom gave her a slightly dazed look, then seemed to shake himself and turned to Talon. He motioned for her to bend down until he could reach her shoulders, then set to work fiddling with buckles, snaps and straps. His fingers moved quickly, and in a few seconds had freed her from the harness.

Talon let out a moan and flexed her shoulder blades and neck. There were red marks on her skin where the leather had bitten deep.

Droom passed the harness to Zolga, who took it, removed a length of strap with a buckle at one end, and threw the rest of it into the swiftly approaching water.

"Someone lift his leg," she said.

Guin climbed down a step and moved forward to take hold of his calf.

"Not there, up here," Zolga said, pointing to Lorn's thigh. Guin obeyed, grasped his thigh and lifted as gently as she could. Even so, he winced.

Zolga stretched the leather strap taut and looped it around Lorn's upper thigh, near his groin. Then she pulled it tight, threaded the plain end through the buckle and cinched it. That made him wince harder and groan.

"If we're lucky, this will slow the bleedin'," Zolga said. "Kip, give me your shirt. It's cleaner than his."

Kip hesitated for a second and glanced quickly at Guin. Then, careful not to jostle his injured forearm, he pulled off his sodden shirt and passed it to Zogla. Without the shirt he looked even smaller and younger than he was. He sat back and cradled his bad arm against his skinny chest, freckled shoulders shaking slightly as he shivered.

Zolga took the shirt, gripped it in both hands and tore along a seam until she had a strip of fabric.

"Is it okay that it's wet?" Guin asked nervously, watching her wind the piece of torn shirt round and round the wound. Lorn continued to wince and groan.

"Better a wet dressing than none," Zolga replied shortly. She tied off the makeshift bandage and stood. "That'll do. Now, let's get a move on before we all end up drowned, shall we?"

She wasn't exaggerating. The waterline was lapping at Guin's ankles, and rising fast.

The group nodded in agreement. Talon stooped to take hold of Lorn's limp arms while Guin and Zolga grabbed his torso and legs.

With awkward, stilted lurches, they began hurrying up the stairs.

It was then that they heard the screaming begin.

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