CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: LURK (3/4)

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"That was some good lying you did back there, Sam Battle," said Anyel.

Sol smiled. "Almost didn't work."

"Almost... but it did."

They were back inside the Great Snake and speeding west once again. Anyel was swimming at a furious pace to regain some of the time they'd lost—and to get out of the Ailuan Ocean as fast as possible.

Fortunately, they faced no other challenges for several hours and the water gradually became much warmer as the Snake took them north, signalling their arrival in the Merisian Ocean. The day was late when at last Anyel slowed and took in the surrounding waters.

"The current is much slower here," she said. "This would be a good place to take to the open water."

"Sounds good to me," Sol said, "but only if you're sure."

"I'm not sure of anything, I just don't want to risk shooting past the Kharkalis and then having to chase after it. We should still be ahead of it; I'd like to keep it that way."

Anyel waited until the current was at its slowest before taking them both out into the sea. The water they emerged into was much warmer than it had been within the Snake, so much so that Sol felt almost like he was getting into a bath.

"The day is almost over," said Anyel, looking up at the surface. "Let's go and see if we can spot land."

They started to ascend, but Anyel came to a stop just before they broke through. "I just thought; you will not be able to breathe above the surface."

"Why not?" Sol said.

"Well, you can, but you will need to empty your lungs of water first—and then I'm not sure you will be able to come back down. These waters do not have the same minerals as the Sacred Springs. Your lungs might retain them, but it isn't worth the risk to find out."

"Great. So I can only surface once."

"You can still surface, but you will need to hold your breath just like you would when you go underwater. Don't try and breathe the air or your lungs will start coughing up water."

"Don't breathe. Sounds easy enough."

With that small matter understood, Sol took a deep breath of water and Anyel pulled him up to the surface.

As Anyel had already surmised, the day was late and the sun was halfway set, colouring the sky with streaks of orange and purple clouds. While Sol still wasn't a comfortable swimmer, he was surprised to find he could tread water and keep his head and shoulders above the surface quite easily. He even managed to turn around to take in the scenery, but all he could see in every direction was water.

"I see land!" said Anyel. Sol followed her line of sight to the setting sun, but if there was land there, he could not see it. "Yes, it's the Island of Gaul! Oh, how perfect!"

Sol squinted as he strained to see, but to him, the line between the sun and sea was flat and featureless. Anyel said nothing more before ducking below the water, so Sol took one last lingering look at the sunset and did the same.

It was a strange relief to let out his watery breath and take in a fresh one.

"You sure you saw land?" he said. "I couldn't see anything."

"That's because your eyesight is not as good as mine," said Anyel.

"My eyesight is perfect, thank you."

"Oh, I didn't mean it like that. My eyesight is much better than most surface-dwellers'. It's the same for all Merfolk. Anyway, yes, I saw the Island of Gaul."

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