Shayris held her breath–what else was there to do? The roiling waters had her numb to the shoulders already, with the rest of her soon to follow. Shayris had gone overboard once or twice, but then she had lifelines lashed to the Happenstance and strong hands upon the deck to bring her in. As much as dramas liked to show it otherwise, she’d never known the crew to lose any time hauling their own back. A boat where you could lose someone that easily was a boat where you could be lost that easily.
She’d never actually drowned.
The best I can say for it is that it ends, the god rejoined.
You’re a god, Shayris thought, forcing her mouth closed against the frigid currents pressing her lips. There was such a burning in her lungs already. The mage-lamps throughout the room still burned, casting soothing orange light into the calming waters. This was the wrong way to drown, Shayris thought, in clear motionless water with such clean light illuminating her. The aching became throbbing, pounding and rushing inside her skull even while the seawater filling her tomb lost the last of its foam.
Present tense implies a past, Shayris.
For some gods, perhaps, she thought. Call me idiot or scholar, I know there’s only one god of all Canno who doesn’t want worship. You’re Van. Dumb animal instinct yowled for open lips and full lungs, and that way was death. If the Coral Lady wants me, she’ll have to settle for my corpse. I’ll suffocate in the middle of all her waters, that’ll show her!
The sea is still causing… never mind. Are you implying I should’ve told you? You’re aware of the Pact, Shayris. The Overgod seemed disappointed in a way.
And you’re aware how I feel about it! she snapped. She felt so faint now. There was something glinting atop the mess of bindings around her right hand… oh, this aching in her lungs…
As a gesture of good will, Van said, You are either about to go unconscious and die, or Morkui Bano will wrench that door open in short order.
How… is… that good will? Shayris thought back. She couldn’t muster the energy to be irritated. She felt so sluggish… the throbbing in her head felt like some other being wriggling through her veins, not so much hammering her skull as pressing it with a vise and releasing it again only to press harder the next time, and the next…
Telling you the future is generally considered cheating the Pact, Van said. The irony here is that since you lack any semblance of agency, the normal rules don’t apply.
Shayris lost her comeback to the slow-crushing headache. Cold, everything so cold, all these spots and wrong colors filling her vision. And still, somehow, it hurt so badly.
Knife, she thought, still have the knife…
Er, Shayris? If you have the presence of mind to do something for yourself, could you cover your left ear? Shayris dimly felt a fuzzy length of pressure and moving water and fading warmth curve up to clasp her. You’re welcome, Van said.
Shrieking writhing metallic agony lanced the water. It didn’t pierce Shayris’ right ear–it tore it clean open. The pain jolted some lingering shred of energy from her depths and she screamed into the indifferent water. She saw the wheel-operated door bent and mangled with a tall, black-robed figure in it. The sea moaned against a pure-air sphere that shoved further and further into the room, an expanding convex wall of bubbles that swarmed Shayris, and then she sank slowly through pure air to the floor.
She alternated between gasps and agonized groans while Inquisitor-Adept Morkui Bano finished clearing the room. On his face was a new emotion: naked fury. Some men became ridiculous when they were angry, frothing and flushed and spittling everywhere like newborn babes. Morkui reminded her of nothing so much as a great, dour shark, face taut, eyes widening much the way a spearpoint seemed to grow if you watched it thrusting for your neck.
At the top of the room, the ocean-water finally splashed back into the vents. With a brisk double-flick of his right hand, Morkui folded the vents in on themselves–the steel squalls shredded Shayris’ right ear, and with returning breath made her realize her left fared little better–then there was a white-blue flash, twin clongings like a smith’s hammer the size of a dinghy, and the water-vents were melted shut by misshapen, solid masses.
An Ulmish guard in the improbable blue armor stepped up behind Morkui. From a golden braid and the cap he wore instead of a kettle-helm, he must be an officer. He said something to Morkui, seeming angry.
The Inquisitor turned so slowly, so deliberately, first his head, then his shoulders. In the same motion, he flicked his winged spear far into the room to keep it clear of the doorframe, then collected it to his side. He didn’t quite point its head at the officer; he didn’t need to.
“Let us hope your regulations have not lost me my opportunity,” Morkui said in shieldtongue. “Come.” And like that, he was gone. The Ulmish guards followed on.
Hm. So this is a timeline where he doesn’t fix your ears yet, Van said. I like that man, but he gets too focused on his mission. Shayris muttered a half-agreement and staggered to her feet. She left the dripping bedroom, and came face to face with the ridiculously pale redhead in the white shirt and black-trimmed gold pants. The woman’s eyes flicked to the knife bundled into Shayris’ hand.
“I didn’t want to lose it,” Shayris snapped.
The redhead gave her a flat stare, a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, and plunged her right arm into her own belly.
Failure of lateral thinking, Van observed. Shayris, run. Shayris tensed. She’s a vampire, Shayris. Even Ulmish women aren’t naturally that pale. Run!
Shayris ran without thinking further. Behind her she heard something in Ulmish that she knew was a curse, and a sudden crash.
Good news! She’s malnourished, which makes her uncoordinated, Van said. Actually, she hasn’t fed in three days. If she catches you on a straightaway, well… Shayris felt Van shrug. You can figure that one out for yourself.