Light on Shattered Water


          She lay propped in the juncture of two crates, watching with frightened eyes as I threw the guard into the box she'd had so recently occupied.  The hooded figure tumbled into the reeking straw and lay motionless.  I'd done it the only favor I felt like granting: not checking to see if it was still alive.  At the least the confusion might buy us some extra time, if only a couple of seconds.
          I crouched beside Chihirae.  "All right.  We go now."
          "A," she said in a tiny voice and didn't immediately take my offered hand.
          She could barely walk.  That was hardly surprising: she didn't know exactly how long she'd been in that cage.  Her legs must've cramped up terribly.  Bruises and scratches covered her, especially where the straps had chafed and cut into her: wrists, ankles, angry sores across her muzzle.  It hurt me just to see her suffer as I helped her stand, but we had to go.  She choked back a mewl of pain when I took her arm over my shoulder.
          I froze, not moving while she panted like a scared animal.  "I'm sorry," I whispered.
          "No," she gasped.  "Just go.  Please, let's get out of here."
          I patted her arm and started moving again.  She limped along, sagging into the support of my arm and obviously biting back the pain with every step.  It took a while to get out into the corridor, and when we did she looked around: "You're alone?"
          "Sort of."
          She made a small, frightened noise.  "How can you... Sai, Mikah, you've got a plan."
          And it was then that a Rris came up the stairs at the end of the hall.  It didn't see us at first, not until it turned our way and yelped in shock.  I started to raise the shotgun with my free hand and the Rris just blurred back with the sound of claws scrabbling on wood and was gone down the stairs, cries of alarm floating back up.
          "He saw us," Chihirae panted.
          "You think?" I asked and she actually chittered a bit.  I felt my face twitch in a smile and I touched her cheek; just gently.  "Don't worry.  We'll get you out of here."
          "A," she panted.  I could feel her heart pounding, thumping against her ribs.  And when she forgot her claws I just grimaced and bore it.  At least those jabs couldn't have been causing me a tenth of the discomfort she was feeling as I hurried her down the hall.  From the sounds coming up from below, heading downstairs wasn't an option, so we took the only other one.  With every step upwards her claws clenched but she didn't utter a squeak.
          Shouts sounded from behind us, then an ominous silence.  Chihirae tensed, trembling violently.  "They're coming!"
          Of course.  I wasn't expecting anything else.  I had the shotgun, so we might've been able to hole up in a room and hold our pursuers off until help arrived.  But I didn't know how long that would be, or even if they would.  So I had to get her out of there.  No way we'd be able to back out the way I'd come in: in her condition she'd never make it across that obstacle course.  I'd lied when she asked if I had a plan.  I'd just wanted to get us out any way I could.  Now, that plan hadn't changed, but the way I was going to accomplish it had.  Only problem was I didn't have a clue how I was going to go about it.
          "Mikah?  We're in trouble?" Perhaps she smelled my nervousness.
          "You'll be fine," I said and hoped the future wouldn't make a liar of me.  I needed a rope to get her down, so that left only...
          I carried Chihirae into the first room and shouldered the door closed.  There was no lock or latch, so I set her on an unmade bed with its unwashed and reeking sheets while I dragged a couple of the other five pallets over in front of the door.  Neither the barricade nor the door would hold against a serious assault, but they'd slow things down a bit.  It was the corner room, one with a window in the wall opposite the door, another in the perpendicular wall.  The first window overlooked the roof I'd clambered across getting up here, the other opened right out over the street.  I burst the shutters open and looked down at the snow-covered cobbles three floors down.
          Chihirae sagged back on the bed, breathing hard and watching with glazed eyes as I started grabbing blankets and tying them together.  White membranes flickered from the corners of her eyes.  She didn't look good and in a flash of fear I wondered about internal injuries as well.  "How're you doing?" I asked as I worked.
          "Hurts," she said, and something made me feel like that reply wasn't addressed at me.  I gave a tight smile and tried to work faster.
          The door rattled and bumped.
          Shit.  I picked up my makeshift rope in one hand and the shotgun in the other.  Chihirae gasped as I tucked the loop under her arms and snugged it.  "Listen," I said urgently as I helped her over to the window.  "Find soldiers.  They should be coming.  Ask for Chaeitch.  Tell him who you are, he'll understand.  He'll help you.  Chaeitch.  You got that?"
          "Chaeitch," she muttered, then saw the street three floors below.  "Mikah?"
          "You'll be fine," I said as I swung her legs over the sill.  She grabbed first for the windowframe, then the linen with both hands.  Her eyes went wide as I let her go and all her weight was on the line.
          It held.  I braced myself against the windowframe, straining to lower her slowly and grimacing as deep weals in my back made their presence felt again.  Friction heated my hands as I played it out as fast as I dared, the figure clutching the rope below slowly descending, occasionally bumping against the building.  Rris on the street were stopping to stare at the spectacle.
          The door thumped and shook again, then again.  Louder and harder this time as more weight was thrown against it.  The beds propped against it started sliding across the floor.  I clamped the rope with my left arm, swinging the shotgun up with the other.  The blast of smoke and sparks and a scream from beyond the door, the room filled with a choking cloud of acrid grayness which slowly dissipated.  My hand tingled and there was a chunk of wood the size of my fist missing from the door.  I flipped the gun to catch the forestock and pumped it one-handed - sending a brass cartridge clattering across the floor - then flipped it back and kept it trained.  The rattling had stopped.
          Chihirae... I tried to split my attention between her and watching the door.  Almost there now.  I let the rope slide faster, another awkward knot bumping through my hands.  And down below there were spectators approaching her and I wanted to scream: any of them could have been affiliated with her kidnappers and I'd simply be handing her straight back to them.  I could start pulling her back...
          And more Rris spilling out from a side street, a tight group decked in armor that glittered in the cold light.  Guards.  At last, the guards.  They spread out, snarling orders and moving the civilians back, rushing toward the limp form of Chihirae.  I gasped in relief and yelled, "Help her!" The Rris words rasping in my throat and echoing in the street.
          I saw a musket raised toward me, then knocked aside as officers pushed through and barked something.  Armored guards reached up catch Chihirae and the rope went slack.
          Movement through the hole in the door.  I fired wildly, a blast of smoke and sparks that hung in the freezing air and faded to reveal another hole.  A snarl from beyond the door and the wall suddenly erupted in splinters as guns on the far side volleyed, holes punching through and rounds ricocheting through the room.  I dove for cover, fired back at targets I couldn't see and there was another volley, this time from the room next door.  Splinters and shattered wood filled the air, dust spilling from the ceiling.  Then the door exploded.
          The blast hit like a physical blow, an overpressure that knocked me back against a wall and set my ears ringing.  Through a stunned daze and clouds of chokingly thick smoke I saw blurs moving through the gray.  A Rris face bared in a snarl as it saw me and my finger squeezed on the trigger.  I didn't hear the shot that took half its face off in a spray of pink and I pumped and fired again and the next Rris flipped facefirst as its abdomen was eviscerated.  Again and I don't know if I hit anything as clawed hands ripped the gun out of my grasp and something hard came around in a vicious arc that terminated in the side of my head.
          Voices snarled beside my ears: loud.  That was the first sensation to permeate the grey wool wrapped around my awareness.  Next was the pain as my hair was yanked back to raise my head.  There was a brilliant light, a glare that blurred and sharpened and resolved into colors and shapes: sky, rooftops, a dizzying drop down to the street where figures stood looking up.  Clawed hands clamped on my shoulders and a furry body was pressed close, reeking of musk and gunpowder.  A circle of cold metal was jammed against my jaw, a contrast to the warm tickling down the side of my face.  I tried to move: claws dug deeper, my hands twisted behind my back.
          "... something!" a voice snarled in my ear.  "You know we mean it!"
          I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on the street, at the troops surrounding the building with muskets trained: troopers taking cover around corners and in other buildings.  A dark droplet dripped from my chin and fell away, seeming to take a long time before it splashed into dirty snow below.  Then I winced as a claw dug into my neck and the voice hissed again: "Say something!"
          I grinned through blood.  "Shoot!  Shoot the motherhuhnn..."
          They didn't want to hear my contribution to the world of Rris obscenities.  Pain spiked as claws dug in and the Rris dragged me away to slam me facedown on the floor.  The whole room reeked of sulfur and powder and scorched wood, underlying that was the organic coppery reek of blood and a methane stench from lacerated bowels.  Somewhere a Rris was keening in mindless agony, elsewhere I could hear a voice shouting: "It's still alive and still in one piece.  That can be changed.  You'll keep your distance, give us passage when we require it.  You try anything and the ape will be the first casualty."
          There were shouted responses.  I didn't catch them, concentrating on trying to breathe under the weight of the Rris atop me.  An attempt at slight movement and claws dug a little deeper while a snarl like tearing cloth sounded at my ear.  All I could do was lie motionless with my face pressed against grimy floorboards while Rris voices shouted in the background.
          She was away.  She was safe.  That was all that mattered to me.  But I still felt fear as the shouting voice yowled in fury and then my left arm was just about dislocated as they forced it back, stood on my fingers to splay them immobile against the floor.
          I knew what was coming but it was so quick: a sudden freezing pressure across the tip of my little finger.  A crunch and thump as razored metal cut through something softer into wood.  It didn't hurt, not for a split second...
          They held me while I spasmed and strangled on the scream and purple floaters spun in front of my eyes.  It hurt.  It hurtithurtithurt...
          Over at the window bright sunlight flared around a Rris throwing something out and my hand was an excruciating throbbing that felt as big as the universe.  Oh, christ.  I moaned and clenched a slippery fist around the pain and gore.  A distant shout, then the sunlight was gone as the shutters slammed shut.
          A few subdued exchanges, then a moment's pause before a pair of Rris feet stalked into my view.  The Rris squatted, a familiar Rris cocking his head and turning a horribly serene gaze on me.  "So, Mikah," my old torturer rumbled.  "You're turning into a real thorn."
          And I wasn't afraid.  I was in horrible pain, but the fear just wasn't there, only a dull resignation.  "I... try," I croaked.
          He favored me with a slow grin and displayed a hand stained with blood.  Mine.  "I'd be interested in hearing just how you ended up here and what happened to my associates."
          My head was spinning, from pain and perhaps blood loss.  But I was able to return the grin.  "They annoyed me," I whispered.
          "Huhnn?" he looked amused.  "Actually, I think you're simply luckier than you have any right to be.  Still, that's moot now.  You've slashed our current agenda to shreds and caused us more than a little inconvenience so I think that it's more than fair that you help us out of here."
          "Get bent," I closed my eyes and tried to curl around my pain.
          There was a rattle of metal, then a mechanical sound.  I looked up into the muzzle of the shotgun.  Behind the stock my torturer grinned again and his finger toyed around the trigger.  "Fancy toy.  You bleat about your peace-loving ways, then you build things like this.  Very nice."
          His finger squeezed and there was a clack as the gun struck empty.  He blinked at me, perhaps wondering why I hadn't even flinched, then swung it around into both hands and looked it up and down, a pink tongue coming out to lick around his jowls.  "A, very nice.  Tear a Rris' insides out, drape them over her feet and still let her live.  What a spectacular civilization your kind must have."
          I almost managed to laugh.  "We've got assholes like you too."
          There was a low growl, then I heard him giving orders: "Stop that bleeding and get it downstairs.  We don't have much time."
          Claws tore me again as they hauled me to my feet.

          Sunlight glared into my eyes as the wagon rattled out of the shadow of the building's main gate and into the street.  I squinted but couldn't turn my head away: the gun barrel digging in behind my jaw prevented that.
          They'd torn my shirt off and used rags of that to staunch the blood trickling from the remaining stump of my little finger where it'd been severed at the last joint.  That hurt, a helluva lot, and the throbbing only started to die after they tied my hands behind my back.  In fact, I lost all feeling in that digit.  Then the bastard had grinned at me while they strapped the muzzle of a musket to the back of my neck, the circle of cold metal pressing in behind my jaw.
          "You might want to be careful," the Rris had hissed through bared teeth.  "The trigger's a bit sensitive, and we wouldn't want to loose you.  Not yet."
          The smart-ass reply I was going to make was choked off when the Rris behind me yanked on the musket to haul me to my feet.  I coughed for breath while Rris hands clenched tight around my arms to hold me still, rows of needles digging in and my torturer reached up to hook a claw under my chin.  "Learning to keep your mouth shut, are you?" he grinned.
          I smiled back through blood and brought my knee up, hard and fast.
          It connected and I swear I heard something go crack.  His eyes went shock-wide and his jaw dropped before a small sound like leaking steam escaped him and he folded.  It was a small satisfaction I didn't have long to savor before I was slammed face first up against a wall.  From behind came the sounds of consternation and serious personal pain.  It brought me a bit of time, but it didn't seem like long before claws grabbed my shoulder.  "You..." a choked voice snarled.  "You [something] freak.  I should cut your maleness out."
          I just smiled quietly.  "You need me alive."
          "Huhn, you would still be alive.  Believe me, you would still be alive," he rumbled and snapped a sharp gesture.  I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye just before a blow to the side of my head sent a spike of white light that washed away the world.  I staggered, nauseous and disorientated, blinking the world back into focus.  Clawed hands were supporting and when I dazedly tried to touch the burning lines on my face they shook me hard enough to rattle my teeth, hustling me out into the battle-scarred hallway.
          At least the bastard was walking with a pronounced limp.
          Armed Rris surrounded me; a half dozen ahead of me and at least that many behind.  The cold metal of the musket digging into my neck was mingled with the throbbing burning of the headwounds that dribbled blood down onto my bare shoulders.  I was starting to shiver: cold or fear or shock, I couldn't tell.  And every time my guards laid hands on me I got more scratches and cuts.
          Hastened down stairs that creaked under our combined weight.  I could smell smoke from somewhere: a faint haze was seeping into the first floor hallway outside the room where Chihirae had been held.  Down to the ground floor where the smoke was thicker, crawling among old rafters and stained timbers of storerooms filled with merchandise of all descriptions: crates and barrels and bales and flasks and chests.  Stacks of them, more crates waiting on a loading dock where wagons and harnessed bison waited.  The animals were restless, disturbed by the smell of fire permeating the building.  Heavy doors leading outside were closed and barred tight, a few pins of sunlight seeping in through chinks.  Dozens of Rris with mismatched armor and a variety of firearms bustled around, their ears back and an air of apprehension setting hackles on end.  I saw a familiar face: a Rris with a greenstone bracelet and a pair of pistols in a baldric.  He met my gaze and took a couple of steps toward me, a hand moving toward the hilt of a flintlock.  The gun in the back of my neck jabbed, getting me moving again.  The Rris growled softly as I was hustled past.
          "We're taking it?!" I heard.
          "Only as far as we need."
          Into the back of a wagon.  Kneeling, my hands tied behind my back, the muzzle of a gun in the back of my neck and the weapons of four other Rris trained on me.  The doors were unbarred, opened and sunlight flooded into the gloom.
          Now... wisps of steam rose from bisons' coats and mixed with their breath; their hooves clumped against the ice and cobbles; wagon wheels rattling as we left the darkness of the entry archway and turned toward the wharves.  A freezing breeze hit me like a physical force and now the shivering was uncontrollable.  Glaring sunlight made me squint, seeing an achingly blue sky spread beyond tiled rooftops, blank plaster facades with the dark slits of small windows turned to the world, a street lined with soldiers.
          Armed and armored, with metal accouterments glittering in the sunlight.  Polished armor of royal guard, the more prosaic quilted leather of garrison troops, even a few mediators in their the black leather coats standing and watching impassively.  None of them moved.  A hundred eyes watching as the small procession passed by on the way to the docks, a hundred eyes watching me: a battered hostage with half a dozen guns pointed my way.
          Further along.  A familiar figure behind a cordon of soldiers: Chaeitch, staring with an expression that was horror no matter what the species.  He mouthed something, I had no idea what it was, but I offered a small smile.  It was all I could do before he was gone from sight.  My torturer glanced that way from where he was sitting watching me and favored me with a glistening grin.
          The docks were cleared.  What had been a bustling waterfront that morning was now a deserted strip of littered cobblestone.  If it wasn't for the distant cordon of troops sealing the dock area off there wouldn't have been a Rris visible anywhere.  The wagons lurched to a halt at the wharf where the Kingfisher was moored and my leash handler half strangled me again when he yanked me to my feet.  "Move," my torturer growled and gave me a hard shove in the back with claws extruded.  I nearly fell out of the back of the wagon.
          Not easy to walk over uneven cobbles and planking when your knees are rubber and you can't look down, but they pushed me along double time, cursing at me when I stumbled and nearly fell again on the gangplank.  Ironically it was the strap around my neck that kept me from going over the side.
          On board crew were working with feverish haste.  Rris stripped down to light tunics hauled a few last crates aboard while others prepared sails and lines, only casting furtive glances my way as I was hustled along with the muzzle jammed up into my neck rubbing my skin raw.  Armed Rris were taking stations along the railings, ears and tails twitching as they watched the surrounding ships.  Nets were being strung up to prevent easy boarding and I saw several small swivel cannons being slotted into place on the rails.  Larger cannonades were being assembled and primed.  They looked ready to fight a small war.
          Claws caught my arm: my torturer.  "You'll stand up here," he said as he led me forward, toward the prow.  "I want you where the world can see you."
          "How far is this going to go?" another voice growled.  "Rot it, this thing's too hot.  Even if we lose these troops, there's not a government that'll rest while he's at large.  You want twelve kingdoms snapping at your tail?"
          My torturer looked annoyed.  "My people can handle those problems.  They're good at making things disappear."
          "Your people!  And it's never occurred to you that 'your people' might've been compromised?!  The rotted Bluebetter authorities know you!  This thing was bait, they wanted you to snatch that thing and everything was a play to lure you in!  How do you think this thing got loose?  Rot it, they pulled it out and took your people at the same time.  By now they'll have followed the trail back to the heart.  I wouldn't pay you dirt for your peoples' chances."
          A low growl.  "It's occurred to me.  It occurred to a lot of people.  There are contingencies against such an eventuality." A distant shout sounded: someone hailing the ship.  I heard another snarl.  "Right now, we've got more immediate concerns."
          A hand shoved me forward, causing me to choke again before the guard with the musket started moving.  If he had his finger on the trigger... I was right at the bow, a captive figurehead looking out over the cold surface of the breakwater harbor.  The little pilot boat had rounded a jetty and was chugging toward the Kingfisher: the meager crew stripped bare as they tended the clattering engine.  "You wait there," my torturer said.  "Let them get a good look at you.  They try anything and they can see how well your remains float."
          The tug drew up off the bow.  The crew stared at me, black lips fleered back from teeth.  I heard a mirthless chitter from my torturer.  Lines were tossed out and secured and the little engine started up, slowly drawing the Kingfisher out of dock and toward the wider channel where she could unfurl sails.
          And once there, it was over for me.
          "You think you're going to get away with this?" I rasped.
          My guard jerked the musket and I choked.
          "That a yes or a..."
          Another jerk on the musket and this time I choked and kept choking.  Strangling and coughing and feeling the pressure building behind my eyes as I collapsed to my knees and the cord pulled even tighter.  I rasped horribly for breath, facedown on cold decking as I convulsed against the straps and heard Rris voices.  "Red tie you!  Not so hard."
          "I didn't, sir!  He..."
          "Get him up!"
          Claws raked my skin as they turned me and I saw my torturer standing over me, the guard with the musket pushed aside and I kicked up again, right between his legs.
          This time he screeched as he doubled over and I scrambled back, the musket falling and twisting the straps around my neck, cutting off my air for real as I kicked out again, knocking the Rris back into the way of the others and turning.  Someone howled and a clawed hand grabbed for me but my skin tore and I hit the railing with my stomach, flipped over it and the musket cartwheeled over my head, the weight of it turning it into a lever that nearly broke my neck as the pair of us became a two-body equation tumbling toward the water.
          An impression of blue and grey spinning end over end.
          Freezing water.  Crusts of thin ice.
          It was like... I don't know what it was like.  Try sticking your hand into a pitcher of ice water.  It was like that, only over my entire body instantaneously.  The shock was a frigid electrical jolt to my system; a physical blow to my entire body; ten thousand icicles being stabbed into every square centimeter of skin at the same instant.  An agony that threatened to suck the breath from my lungs and it took sheer desperation to hold on.
          A confusion of bubbles and freezing murk, the weight around my neck turning me upside down and my hands were still tied.  I'd tried to plan out my movements beforehand, but actually doing it while the light faded and freezing water tried to force itself up my nose was something else.  I managed, somehow... pulling my legs up and sliding my arms down, feeling ropes cutting through the numbness and almost dislocating my shoulder, but then my bonds were past my butt and pulling my legs through was easy.
          The light was up, follow the bubbles.  I righted myself, my lungs bursting as I kicked for the surface and fought against the strangling weight of the gun that tried to drag me back.  The cords were wet and something kept catching, stopping me from pulling the damn thing loose.  It was only with a final desperate yank that the weight came away and I let it tumble back down into the murk while I struggled upward.
          Broke the surface with a floundering splash and hoarse gasp of precious air.  Above me was a howl.  "There!"
          I ducked under again and the water around me erupted: dozens of foam trails punching down from above and only penetrating a few inches before their velocity was killed.  Something bounced off my shoulder: a small distorted lead sphere bound for the depths.  I struck out away from the hull of the Kingfisher, swimming underwater with bound hands as well as pants and boots.  The freezing water seemed to be seeping into my bones, tying my muscles in knots and leeching at my last reserves while the pain in my finger was back again.  Only a few meters before I had to risk another screaming breath and a fresh volley rang out.  This time as I dove something large hit the water nearby with a terrific crash and waterspout.  A damned cannonball.  I changed direction, trying to jink.  If they'd had explosive shells I'd have been dead.
          Next breath there were more eruptions of water around me, then a jolt that tumbled me and I broke surface just as a scattershot was fired: something raked a burning line across and through a bicep.
          The Kingfisher was coming about, after me.  Even in the harbor they were raising sails that caught a favorable wind.  The lines to the tug were slackening as it gained momentum and I knew there was no way I could make shore before they either overran me or hit me with gunfire.
          Dive and dodge.  Again while gunfire pattered and thumped even over the sound of my heartbeat that was growing louder and seeming to fill the underwater world.  No, not my heartbeat I realised, but it was a sound I knew.
          And saw the source the next time I surfaced.  The mastless silhouette of the Ironheart emerging from the cover of the VIP wharves, smoke streaming from both funnels as the engines were opened and the underwater heartbeat turned to an angry hammering.
          The Kingfisher swung about, nose pointing toward the breakwater mouth and broadside to the Ironheart.
          I tried to scream to the Ironheart to break off.  The bastards had cannons and the Ironheart was never built to stand against that.  And as if in response clouds of smoke billowed along the Kingfisher's rail, black blurs arching through the sky toward the Ironheart and one struck.  A cloud of splinters spun away from a bite taken out of the forward deck.
          "No!" I tried to scream again, taking in a mouthful of freezing water.  They couldn't.  They'd just get themselves killed.
          The Ironheart altered course, turning toward me.  They were trying to put themselves between myself and the Kingfisher, but they'd only get themselves blown out of the water.  Were they going to ram?  They only had personal firearms...
          Except for the assembly on the forecastle.  A cannon, I thought at first.  They'd taken a cannon and mounted it on the ship.  But I knew it couldn't match the battery that blasted another cloud of grey smoke from the Kingfisher and raised more fountains around the Ironheart, tearing out part of the wheelhouse roof.
          The Ironheart responded.
          A sound like a giant sheet of tearing linoleum ripped across the harbor for long seconds.  A gout of grey smoke rose from the Ironheart's forecastle and the Kingfisher's deck seemed to erupt.  A storm of splinters and fragments of wood spun into the air, ropes and masts torn and split apart, sails shredding and billowing.  The hull was peppered, hundreds, thousands of holes punching and tearing until planks split and gave away.  A devastation that swept from stem to stern and back again.  On deck...
          Figures seemed to dance like marionettes before flying apart.  Screams were cut off, others continued after the snarl of the weapon had died leaving a slowly listing vessel bleeding smoke into the sky.
          A shadow fell over me.  The wall of planks and caulking that was the Ironheart's hull filled the world and the Kingfisher's corpse was lost from sight.
          There were voices calling down to me and a rope splashed into the water beside me.  I caught after it with clumsy, bound hands and managed to catch hold, clutching at it with everything I had left and it was just enough to keep my head above water.  My hands didn't want to work, my fingers utterly senseless, and when someone started to haul the line in the wet hemp simply started slipping through my fingers.  I just held on with hands that couldn't feel anything while water slapped around my face and voices shouted at me.
          A splash sent a choking wave across me and I panicked, thinking cannonball again and trying to kick away but my legs didn't seem to be there.  Then hands caught me and what must've been arms wrapped around me.  Wet fur was pressed against my skin and there was a voice in my ear as something tightened under my arms and the freezing water fell away.
          I could feel the pressure but nothing else as hands caught me and pulled and I was lying on hard wood.  Rris were gathered about me and I remember wondering why Chaeitch was dripping wet and looking so distraught.
          "Hi," I mumbled vaguely and tried to focus on him.  "What... happened?"
          "Huhnn..." flying water sparkled as he raked wet fur back from his face then reached down to pat my arm.  "You're all right now.  You hear me?  Shave me... get him below.  Now!  Warmth, get..."
          I faded out for a while.  Next I remember I was slung between a couple of Rris being manhandled down the companionway.  Another break in memories, then my soaked and freezing clothes and the bindings around my wrists were gone and I was being toweled down then laid into a bunk and I still couldn't feel anything.  Blankets were piled on.  More urgent voices in the background and I opened my eyes to a Rris reaching for my face.
          "No..." My scream was loud in the tiny cabin but almost immediately Chaeitch was leaning past.  "Mikah, just lie still.  He's a doctor.  Just be still."
          "Chihirae," I tried to say.  "Chihirae..."
          "She's safe, Mikah.  She's safe.  Just lie quiet."
          They tended to my wounds while Chaeitch stayed and reassured me.  I sank under with his calming voice a hissing susurrus over the throb of a heartbeat.  I woke once, vaguely surprised when I was face-to-face with a Rris in the narrow bunk with me.  Two actually, I think, hugging me between them.  And the worry on that face might have been funny but I was starting to shiver violently and my hand was aching abominably and the warmth they provided was almost too painful.  I nestled closer to soft heat and just gave in.

End Light on Shattered Water 35