Shayris bolted upright. She’d been scratching doodles into the bedposts with her knife and fallen asleep. What had woken her?
An outlandish device bolted to the nearest corner of the room shouted phrases in Ulmish. No, Shayris realized: the same phrase over and over again. The wheel-operated door was closed, and Shayris saw that there was no wheel on this side. Most of those doors had thick glass. Why was this one windowless?
Why am I worried about that when they’ve locked me in? Shayris tumbled out of bed and scrambled to the door. She held up her dagger to… what? Work the lock? There was no damned lock! She slammed her fist against it. It hurt, certainly, but so did any number of sudden hard impacts that might befall a sailor on the Happenstance.
“You fu–” Shayris began, then restarted. Start polite, escalate as needed. “Excuse me! Excuse me, if you wouldn’t mind opening the door, I’d be very grateful.” Silence. She slammed her fist against it and snarled.
A distant moan from the slits at the top of the walls suddenly became a frothing roar. It sounded much like surf against a shore, Shayris thought.
“Oh, you bastards!” she shouted, pounding at the door. “I don’t end here, you filthy fuckers!” Water blasted from the wall slits, soaking the room’s fine furnishings. A quaint little guest chamber–and if the guests turned out to be troublesome, the Ulmish would let the sea take care of them. That was why this door had no wheel on this side, and no window!
“Oh, so you’ll drown a stranger but can’t bear to watch, eh?” Shayris shouted, still pummeling the door. “Open this fucking thing and shiv me if you’re so rough! You think you can just drown me and walk off? Have some tea while you’re at it, I suppose? I’ll be back, you whore-squelching fishmonger inbreds! I’ll haunt this fucking place until time dies, you hear me?!” She changed to slamming her palm against the door; her left hand was shaking and going numb. She struck away and suddenly couldn’t find the energy to keep screaming.
She felt only the chill seawater pooling around her knees. Her next blow against the door was more a polite rapping, and the last no more than a pat. Shayris thought of herself as a brave woman, but death was death. And of course she’d never been religious, so she didn’t have the usual answer. Shayris splashed her way to the satin-covered bed and slumped down.
The water was at her knees, and would swamp the mattress in a few seconds.
Shayris believed in the gods, assuredly; only an idiot could do otherwise when they were so vocal and conferred such power on their Servants. That wasn’t her problem. Shayris just didn’t believe they deserved worship. Why should she give more of her frail life to praising beings who claimed omnipotence and omniscience but did nothing to improve the world?
Yes, yes, there was a Pact to stop them from reshaping the world constantly to suit their own whims, to stop them fighting each other so life could find its own path. Why should she respect so-called gods who must shackle themselves to stop feuding like brats? Why should she offer them thanks for the coin she earned with blistered hands and aching muscles? What did any of them do but sit around and demand to be praised like the most human of all petty tyrants? It seemed they had power to do anything except face their own insecurities.
The water lapped at her chest now. Shayris held up the knife in front of her. Time to force the issue, maybe? She knew that in the some parts of the Shards, disgraced warriors waded into the sea and opened their mouths. But drowning was slow, she knew, and more painful than most people thought.
Have you ever been stabbed, Shayris? It’s more painful than drowning, I promise you that. The voice had that force of presence she knew instantly meant “god,” but sounded like none of the ones who tried to recruit her in the past. It was a medium-high Tenor, and just slightly nasal. The human subconscious fights against hurting its body. That’s why suicide takes practice.
“What would you know about any of that?” she snorted. “Which one are you, anyway?”
The one who doesn’t want to be worshiped, the deity answered.
“Good,” Shayris said. The water settled around her neck, and little waves throughout the room slapped her in the face. She felt herself rising slowly from the bed. “I’ve always hated the ones who do.”
The god didn’t say that he knew that already; Shayris would’ve been more impressed if he weren’t omniscient. How could anyone be stupid enough to trust something that knew exactly what to say to gain your trust?
I prefer your skepticism, honestly, the voice said. It’s familiar to me. A word of advice, Shayris? Tie the knife to your hand. You don’t want to lose it when you start going numb. She did, with a strip of cloth torn from her left pants leg.
“Why are you here?” she asked, treading water and staring at the oncoming ceiling. “To watch me die?”
Possibly, the god said. Nothing has been decided yet. Shayris felt the pause physically, a shift in attention that left the waters colder and louder around her.
Just as quickly, the attention returned. And there we are, the god said.
“Then you can leave,” Shayris said, “since you know what’s going to happen.”
The trouble with being everywhere at once is that I can neither arrive nor leave, the god said, only stop paying attention. And on that count, I refuse.
“Why?” Shayris demanded.
Because, while some people certainly deserve to die alone, you are never one of them.
And then the ceiling pressed on her scalp, and the waters closed in over her mouth.