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The wooden deck creaked under the flames. The water could not tame them, the boat would not hold. Krylic looked back, trying to see her, no sign. The old man’s ravings continued, “I told you this voyage was a horrible idea. Cursed these seas are. Cursed I tell you.” He had been carrying on like that the entire of the trip. He spoke nonsense.
“Quiet,” The captain sang. He had faced these waters many times before, and he’d faced a burning boat before, “We need order on my vessel. We can make it out of here alive.”
Krylic had searched everywhere, but he could not find his ward. He had one last place to look, below deck. This upper deck and hull had held for long, it was waxed to protect from fire, but the lower deck was not as protected, and was seized by the flames. There was a pause in Krylic’s gait. He was instructed to protect her, and that if the occasion should arise, he was not to risk his own life to simply determine her fate. Krylic’s valor won in the end he leapt through the hatch leading to the lower deck. The boards groaned under his weight, but if he had used the stairs he would have fallen through. Krylic knew he would die, but he would die knowing he did everything he could.
The orange tongues licked the beams and walls of the Paraghal’s hull. Krylic crept carefully across the deck. What fire had not consumed had been made brittle by the heat. A crash drew Krylic’s attention. A fallen beam lay across a body. Krylic raced to the figure. He threw the rotten beam aside. There she was, wearing a blue-green nightgown. She had long, dark blond-brown hair. Fire caught a beam behind her. Krylic swept her up removed her from the path of the sword of flame.
Krylic was revitalized. She was actually alive, weak, but alive. Her lungs were filled with smoke, Krylic needed to get her out of there. Krylic turned toward the opening, but fire swept across the hatch through which he had entered. In the moment, Krylic had an idea, a reckless idea. He began to stomp the deck, the boards cracked, Krylic stepped back, and, carrying his ward in his arms, he leapt at the area he had weakened. The floor broke through under him, he had sunk the boat, but that is what he planned.
She was fading fast, and needed oxygen. Krylic covered her lips with his, and breathed into her lungs. He hoped he could sustain her, but he needed to hold his breath as well. As the situation, set over him, Krylic realized she could not hold her own breath. Unconscious, water would fill her lungs. Krylic covered her nose and mouth to slow the intake of water.
Krylic swam out from under the boat, but it took most of his strength. He had to fight his way to the surface. The water burned his eyes, it was hard to tell which way was up. Krylic drove toward the brightest part of the sea, trying to escape the suction of the sinking ship. He could feel his ward slipping from life, she was dead weight, but Krylic would die before she did. A hard current swept across Krylic, he could not hold to her any longer, and she slipped from his grasp.
Krylic twisted awkwardly in the water. He saw the beautiful face of his ward sink lower and lower. Krylic did not have the strength to fallow. He used the current to shoot to the surface. He gasped for air, took one last gulp. “If I can beat death once…” Krylic thought. Wishing he had something to push off of, he dove into the sea. He could barely make out her form. He swam as hard as he could toward her; at least he thought he was heading toward her. He began to close the gap, but he was out of breath. Krylic strained against his body and pushed on. She was there. Krylic reached out his hand to grab her, but he missed. The water distorted his vision; she was lost. Krylic’s lungs beat against his chest. He let go and allowed himself to drift down.
Her image appeared in his mind. She was argumentative and stubborn. But he had grown to like those qualities. She was also confident to a fault. Krylic would even miss her one-liners. His eyes opened and he drove on final time toward her. He reached out and seized her gown. He had her. Krylic pulled her into his arms, trying not to remove the nightgown, for that was all he had a hold of and he would not lose her again. He felt the faint beat of her heart, and his own lungs burned. Naturally, they floated up a bit. But Krylic’s unconscious ward weighed him down. He kicked as hard as he could but he was weak.
He needed another miracle. But it was time for Krylic to face that he was out of time and energy. Then he felt a push against his back. He looked over his shoulder to see the old, raving man behind him. The look on his face said, “I told you so, but you won’t die today.” Krylic silently thanked him. The pressure left his back, and it was all he could do to keep conscious. Krylic held on to his ward with a vice grip.
He needed to reach that current. He pumped his legs but didn’t get far, some deity must have favored Krylic, for a broken board rose in front of him. Krylic grabbed a hold of it, and then readjusted his grip on his ward. He swam for as long as he could, then his body gave way to exhaustion. Fortunately, Krylic had risen enough to drift into the current, that which had once swept him away from the surface would now carry him upward. It would not take them to the surface but it would carry him higher than he was. The current nearly took the board from his grip, but he put all his energy into holding on. When he had an ounce of strength built up, he shoved toward the surface. Krylic’s lungs hated him and his muscles mutinied. The board that had saved his life slipped from his grasp and he drove toward the surface. He needed to breathe.
Krylic broke the surface. He gasped, and sucked precious air into his lungs. He became aware of the state of his ward again. She was not breathing, and her heartbeat could not be detected. Krylic wrapped his arms around her and tried to dislodge the water from her lungs. He was successful but she still didn’t breath. It was, as he feared, she was gone.
Krylic pulled her close and cried. He breathed into her lungs again. “No, I have not come all this way to…” He was weak, and he needed to save his energy. He couldn’t float while holding her, but he would not leave her.
“So…” a soft voice croaked, “the old man was right. Once more your infinite wisdom has failed you my loyal guard.”
Krylic could not believe it; he burst into tears. His ward’s voice was weak. “Now, don’t get all teary just because you were wrong.” She smiled.
“Don’t you ever do that again. I was worried to death about you,” Krylic said.
“Well, next time a boat attacks us I tell them they can’t, ‘cause it will worry my overprotective guard. Now how do you propose we find land?”
“Well, first you need to rest. You are weak, as am I. Try to float on your back, it will preserve your energy.”
Krylic shifted into a back float, as did his ward. She laughed, “No lecture, I’m surprised.”
“You shouldn’t be. I’m just not in the mood Korea. I’m tired, and I just went through a great ordeal, trying to save you at the cost of my own life.”
“Krylic, you know you weren’t supposed to go that far.”
“Your Lord may have not required the effort, but I did.”
“Your valor drives you so much that you’d die for the girl who carries out Lord Reavath’s will? You would die for one so easily replaced?”
“Yes I am so bound to try. But, to do so to the extent that I did, my motives must have gone beyond honor. To what however, I do not know.”
“Krylic, why do you care? I have not earned this from you.”
Krylic smiled. “You show more quality of character than you think. I set out on this journey—” Korea’s float broke; Krylic began to tread water and hold Korea aloft. He looked into her amber eyes and was amazed by the appreciation he found in her gaze. “I began this journey knowing for certain that I would get fed up with you. But now I have grown to enjoy your company.”
Korea tried to lighten the mood. This was getting to emotional for her. “Not that you had a choice.”
“Don’t think you’ve escaped that lecture.”
Krylic looked around. No land in sight, and the waves gave no indication as to which direction it would be. They were lost at sea. Korea looked troubled. Krylic pulled her in close; he held her head and began to stroke her hair. “We are going to be fine. We’ve come far. We will go farther.”
“This isn’t worth it,” Korea breathed, “going to some far off land to find a husband for Lord Reavath’s daughter is not worth this.”
“Greece isn’t that far from home.”
“The next lordship is too far for me.”
“Well it’s a good thing I’m bringing you home then.”
“No, we are not going to Corinth after what happened; your Lord will just have to understand.” Krylic kissed her head and Korea buried her face in his shoulder. She was tired and deserved the rest, but Krylic couldn’t tread water forever. He was soothed, though, by the rhythm of Korea’s heartbeat. He had no right to make her suffer through the rest of their journey and neither did Lord Reavath.
The sun was setting. Few things were as beautiful as an ocean sunset. Krylic was tired, so he nudged Korea to wake her up. She would be strong enough to swim for herself now, and Krylic wanted her to see the view. Korea raised her head and looked at Krylic, “You know your eyes are two different colors.”
Krylic smiled, “It’s the lighting. I want you to see something.” Krylic pointed her to the sunset and could feel the warm smile come across her face.
“This is just your excuse for waking me up because you are tired.”
“Deny it all you want.” Korea began to tread water. Krylic was thankful for the lightened load and relaxed, until water stung his eyes. “Hey!” He yelled, Korea had splashed water at him.
“What? It was just the waves.” Korea donned her usual mischievous smile. A furious battle started between the two. It was good for them to lighten the mood. They splashed back and forth for a while. They eventually tired themselves out. It had become dark and cold and Krylic held Korea for warmth, though it was little help. They had been in the water so long that their clothes would never dry out, their skin was wrinkled, and the fear of hypothermia settled in the back of Krylic’s mind.
“Do you think we’ll be found?” Korea whispered.
“Ya, we will. Someone will have to come by, some time. Don’t worry.”
“Have I told you that words rarely comfort me?”
“And actions only prove that you’re showing off.”
“Well you’re no exception.”
“What does comfort you?”
“I’ve never found anything that does.” Korea sighed. She had several friends, but no one was really close to her. She had never felt secure. There was something about Krylic, though, something that made her feel safe.
Krylic pulled her closer. He had been assigned to escort her wherever her Lord sent her, but she wasn’t just a job. No one could be a job after having gone through what they had. “I hope I can change that,” He whispered. Korea looked into his eyes, they were both blue now, and his dark hair had been slicked back by the water. She reached out and brushed aside a few stray hairs. Krylic ran his hand through her hair. “Korea—”
A wave came over his head and crashed down on them. Korea laughed a little but stopped. The waters had been growing rough for a while but now, they were fierce. Krylic tightened his grip on her desperate not to repeat his earlier adventure, but his hands were slick and the waves won. Korea and Krylic were thrown apart; they screamed each other’s names. Krylic tried to fight against the waves, trying to spot Korea; she was fighting to stay above water.
The wind was howling and lightning flashed. Korea shrieked, she was terrified of storms, as Krylic learned earlier on their voyage. The sea tossed them about. Krylic would see Korea at one moment, and in the next, she’d be torn from his sight. By chance, a wave put Krylic’s ward nearer to him. Korea was frozen mentally warring against herself, part of her fighting to stay above the waves, the other inundated with fear. Krylic swam as hard as he could, his mind remembered his earlier plight, and he too began to fear. Korea’s cry won Krylic’s mind and he forced his way to her. They embraced and Krylic rejoiced, “I won’t let you go. I’ll never let you go again.”
Korea was sobbing, though through the storm it was imposable to tell. “Krylic,” she cried, “Krylic, I can’t, I can’t hold…” Lightning flashed. “Ahhhh…”
Krylic tightened his grip. Hopefully the storm had passed its height. “I’ve got you. Shhh… Calm down, I got you.” That eased her pain, the storm was calmer, but still the monster raged. Another shout of thunder broke Korea’s spirit.
“Stop! Krylic, make it stop,” she wept, “I can’t ta... Krylic, I just can’t, I can’t”
Krylic heard yelling a little ways off. Maybe it was a ship. Maybe they were saved, but the sound subsided and the storm persisted. It was bearable now, for Krylic, but Korea remained Fear’s slave.
“Korea,” Krylic shouted, “Korea, It’ll be okay, I got you.”
“Don’t let me go, Krylic, don’t le—” A wave crashed over top of them.
Krylic took Korea’s head in his hands. “Listen to me! Korea, listen to me! You are going to be fine. I will never leave you, never. I will always—” Krylic saw something; he couldn’t believe it, land. Land! He began to swim as hard as he could, harder than when they escaped boat, if that was possible. He rode the waves to the shore and brought Korea to some rock cover a short ways from the water line, he could go no further. The storm was angered by their escape and it displayed a force to match.
“No, no make it stop!” Korea held her ears and shrunk back from Krylic.
Krylic seized her, looked into her frightened eyes, and said, “I am here, Korea. I am here for you. Not for Lord Reavath, not for the job, not for honor. I am here for you, Korea. I’ve fought the sea twice for you and will do it again.”
“Krylic, I’m scared. And there is nothing—”
He refused to let her think that anymore. Krylic tried to pull Korea to him, but she fought him. She was too afraid to let anyone in, but Krylic won, and held her to him. “You are safe here.” He whispered, “you are not alone.” Krylic wiped tears from her face and pushed back her hair. He rubbed her back, the way a parent might to sooth their crying child.
Korea continued to sob, and the storm to rage. Krylic looked back and saw light on the horizon. He stroked Korea’s hair and whispered, “Korea, I—” He couldn’t finish. She looked up at him in such fear, such agony that Krylic too began to cry. He held her head and kissed her brow, then, she burrowed her face into his damp shirt.
The storm was calming. Thunder stilled cracked, screaming insults and taunts at the two who bested it. The lightning continued to slash the air, refusing to admit defeat. But the waves were subdued, and the light of dawn prevailed. Still early, the sun had not arrived, but clouds no longer ruled the sky.
“Krylic tha—” But Krylic still would not let her have a word. He lifted Korea’s head from his shoulder and kissed her. He had never felt so sure of his actions than then. He may be reprimanded later for interrupting her, but that would be a small sacrifice.
“I love you, Korea. I saved you from that boat because I …”
Korea giggled, “I don’t need a soppy speech, just kiss me again.” Krylic did, and he no longer had a mind to find a way home or even to wonder where they were. He thought no more of the fate of the mad old man who saved them, nor of the rest of the crew. Such things mattered little in such a moment. Even the boat that, damaged by the storm and in need of a place for the crew to rest, was heading toward their shore could not command their attention. That could wait.