Act I - Chapter 2: The Christened Golden Cleats of Argille

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A cough of water leapt through my intestines and up into my throat. It shot my eyes open and immediately threw me to a sitting position. Retching and shivering, I turned onto my knees, clutching the ground as what remained of the ocean burned in my gut, then found its way to the dirt: I vomited water until I dry heaved. I dry heaved until I lost the strength to do so. I fell to the ground.

Once the shivering subsided, I rolled onto my back. I tried to focus on the feeling of the sponge—like, saturated ground beneath me, rather than the dry burning pain outlining my innards.

My vision coalesced into a single image—I'd been suffering too much to realize I wasn't seeing clearly until the clarity actually came. I was in a cavern.

A blue light pulsated from a sizeable lake bubbling to my left. That must have been how I got in, shot through the water. This light illuminated the glittering traces of sea shells lodged in the ceiling above. It warmly caressed the shimmering walls of the cave. Just noticing the calm of the surroundings began to soothe my pain pain.

"Yeah. Success!"

That was that Ali Alhaven. His shadow danced on the wall to my right—in fact, he had four shadows in the room, each refracted to a different wall. All four converged on my position as he stepped into view, dripping wet with that same lively smile and glittering enthusiasm I had attempted to escape.

"Did you follow me to the afterlife?" I asked, slowly sitting upright, the ocean rolling in my ears.

Ali let out a laugh.

"Nope," he said, spreading his arms out to the shimmering cavern, his voice reverberating off of every wall. "Assassin Man, you have just made the pilgrimage to Aitnil. We are hundreds of miles beneath the the Ether Ocean. All those of great faith who dare leap from the Wishing Well Waterfall will find themselves whisked into a magic current that leads them to these enchanted caverns." He emulated the motions of the currents with his hands, as if he was conscious for the duration of our ride. "Nobody ever dies from jumping off the Wishing Well Waterfall."

I nodded, then gently lay my head on the the ground. Hands on my stomach, I gazed to the ceiling again. My pain equally in focus with my thoughts.

"So the sacrifices the Vuri threw over the Wishing Well Waterfall never died," I said.

"Well, at least not from the falls," he said, scratching his head. He caught a glimpse of something and then shuffled out of sight behind a pillar. He reappeared with my hat in his hand. "Maybe the sacrifices couldn't find their way out of these caves."

Ali tossed my hat to me.

"Think you'll be able to?" I asked.

It landed next to me. I plucked it off the ground and pressed it on my head, stirring the moat of disappointment in my mind. Given that I was still living, the threat of my 'assassination' still loomed over me, a specter with a scythe drenched in Ya'Yic Artin's blood—this Ali Alhaven animal and his magic cavern, destroying my theatrical attempted offing, enchanting me where I wanted darkness—I burped a sigh of seawater.

"Anyway, we're off," said Ali. "We've got a treasure to find."

He marched to the dark tunnel at the end of the illuminated cave, but slowly drew to a stop at the entry. He turned back to see me sitting in the same position.

"Following you out of this cave doesn't happen to be part of my plan to die," I said.

He just stared. Wide-eyed, paused—I couldn't tell if this was disbelief, or him just waiting for me to fold. There was something absurd and uncompromising in it, something I absolutely could not understand.

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