Into the Dark: Eleven

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


Amieta heard the *click* as Jorion Roth armed the grenade and time seemed to slow down. Not the artificial deliberation imposed by implants - those had been running since she had entered the tunnels - this was something else. Something older. The gift of enough time to consider, to analyze, to rail against irreversible fate as the trap door drops away on the gallows, or the last handhold at the edge of the precipice crumbles away. A sudden all too human clarity, an age between heartbeats to feel every contour of the cold metal surface pressed into her neck, to see every detail of Roth's snarl as he killed them both.

Then that eternal split-second was past, and she did the only thing she could. She headbutted Roth in the face.

She felt his nose break against her forehead, felt the spatter of something warmer than the water around them. Spirits, I seem to be making a habit of this.

Amieta could see he was stunned, but he held on doggedly. It was enough though. She was able to reach her knife. Amieta could hear Camille yelling in the background as she yanked it from its sheath and drove it into his gut with as much force as she could manage, pulled up viciously, felt the tip skitter along vertebrae. Bastard won't let go.

Then Cia was there, prying at his fingers, trying to pull away the grenade. Amieta saw Roth deal her a brutal backhanded blow, but he was too late. As Cia sank from sight, dazed or unconscious, she held the grenade in one hand.


Amieta desperately twisted the knife and shoved, finally freeing herself of Roth. She pulled away and tossed the knife out across the water as he floated backward. She queried her internal clock as she flipped and dove down after Cia, shocked to find it had been less than five seconds since that sinister *click*. She had barely gone under when she was buffeted by a shock wave in the water. Thrashing, tossed around like a leaf in rapids, she struggled to regain the surface. Ancestors shelter her. Hang on, Cia.

As she broke through, back into the air, she gasped, struggled to regain her orientation, then dove again. She saw Cia, some current holding her to the wall, teasing thin streamers of blood from her to disappear between the bones that lined the entire interior of the cavern. Amieta felt despair as she saw the open, staring eyes. The only wound she could see was on an out-flung arm. Maybe it's not too late. The shock wave - if the wall isn't hiding -

She cut off the thought and took hold of Cia's arm, tugging her free of the current and kicking toward the surface. Cia was limp, lifeless, in her grip, her head lolling -

It took her a moment to realize what she was seeing. What she wasn't seeing. No podder implants. This isn't Cia, not the real Cia.


Amieta pushed the dead body - Roth's madness made real - away from her as she surfaced. With a breath she dived back down again, searching with decreasing hope for any sign of Cia. Surely there would be something left? Even just... pieces?

She looked until her lungs felt like they were trying to claw their way out and surfaced again. About to dive back down, she was startled to see Cia - the real Cia - treading water not twenty feet away. Near her father. Thank you ancestors, I owe you a visit. But what is the girl doing?

Roth said something, too low for Amieta to hear. She drew breath to shout a warning, but it died in her throat as she heard Cia’s reply:

"Oui, Papa. Je suis ici."

The words were strangely calm, even tender.

Then Cia dragged the dying man under, both of them disappearing into the water, leaving only a welter of ripples. Amieta hesitated, then plunged down, following. By the time she could see the two figures in the water again, it was plainly over. Cia was holding Roth to the bottom, but Roth's eyes were empty, lifeless. Just like that other 'Cia' Amieta thought with a shudder.

Amieta put her hand on Cia's shoulder, shaking her when she failed to respond. Cia finally looked over her shoulder, and Amieta jabbed a finger toward the surface. Time to fucking go.

To Amieta's relief, Cia released the body and they swam to the surface together.

"Ami, are you alright?" Cia asked a little distantly.

"I'm fine, are you ok? The grenade...." Amieta glanced up at the roof, which was still getting slowly closer

"I dropped it," Cia said slowly. "That was the right thing to do, wasn't it?"

"Second best thing to do with a live grenade." Amieta managed a smile. "Since you were under water, I guess it was the best thing to do. Now we need to find that way out."

"The water has to be going out somehow." Cia eyed the ceiling. "Or Fortune on the Water would flood every time."

"I think there must be a blocked up hole or something, where Jorion had Camille when we came in."

Cia swam wearily toward the wall, "Follow Fortune's bones, that was the rhyme. It's all bones in here."

"Cia, can we go home now?" Camille said as Cia and Amieta reached the wall. "I'm tired."

"Soon, cherie. Soon," Cia said, "Fortune's bones, does that mean anything to you?"

Camille nodded. "It's the song. We skip to it. You taught me, remember?"

"How did it go?"

"I don't remember." Camille's voice was tired, frayed.

"Try, cherie. Please. It's important."

"Soldier and sailor, merchant and tailor, Fortune's pretty bones all." Camille leaned her head against the tibia she was clinging to. "Cia, I'm tired."

"Just a little while longer, cherie." Amieta saw Cia looking around, "Soldier and sailor... Did you see anything like that? Before the water?"

Camille nodded, "The skull had a sword. Where Papa was."

"Wait here, cherie, with Sarakai, okay?" Cia said.

Camille's assent was only a tired whisper, too faint for Amieta to make out.

"That's the exit right?" Amieta said. "It is down there?"

"Soldier and sailor, merchant and tailor." Cia looked puzzled, "Camille said there's a skull with a sword. Maybe there's one with, I don't know, an anchor. Fortune's pretty bones."

They dived again, down to where Roth had been standing. Cia pointed to a skull with a sword sticking from one of its eye sockets, and Amieta nodded, began searching. Skull after skull in the murky water, most of them featureless except for the marks of time, but they found three more: chain, needle, and anchor. Cia pushed one and gestured to Amieta.

Like the stones in Fortune's skirt.

With each of them pushing two skulls, a section of wall swung back, and suddenly the mild current became a monstrous force, pulling at both of them. Amieta grabbed the wall, and reached out to grab Cia, a hand snapping around her wrist before Cia could be pulled away by the rushing water.

Cia was gesturing toward the surface, a bit wildly, as Amieta tried to get her out of the main current. They had been down too long already, Amieta could feel it too. She curled her arms inward, pulling Cia closer to herself, and herself closer to the wall, until Cia could grab on and begin climbing up. Then Amieta pulled herself sideways, out of the tumultuous water in and around the exit itself, and flung herself up, scrabbling along the wall for handholds to speed her to the surface.

As she surfaced, she looked around, and was relieved to see Cia bobbing not far away, safely hanging onto the wall.

"We have - to - hurry," Cia gasped. "I don't know - how long - those tunnels - are." She turned to Camille. "We have to - swim - cherie, okay? Hold your breath. Hold my hand."

Amieta watched as the other three disappeared beneath the water.

She hesitated a moment.

Spirits, it had to be more tunnels. Tunnels under water.

"I don't know how long those tunnels are."

They could just go on. We might not get out, under all this rock, no air and the walls all around and-

You'll die anyway if you don't go, marine.

Amieta set her jaw and dived down, feeling the current whisk her into the tunnel's narrow mouth. The tunnel went on, and on, and Amieta could feel the walls getting closer the entire time. She reminded herself it was only rock. Not metal, not slick with - not slick, just rock. Concentrating on swimming forward. Always forward. Even as the tunnel narrowed enough that she couldn't fully extend her strokes, and she knew it wasn't just in her own mind that the murky walls constricted around her. She tried to ignore her arms scraping against it, the feeling of being trapped. It has to end ... there has to be an end ... It has to end

But relief, when it came, was paltry at best. A pocket of air, barely enough room to float on their backs and raise their faces inches from the water. Amieta felt her breath, fast and harsh, concentrated on it, closed her eyes, and tried to forget the rough stone her face was almost touching. Tried to picture herself in the middle of a vast sea under an open sky. Tried to convince herself the breath swirling back at her, made cold by the touch of the indifferent mass above her, was just a breeze.

It was a shock when Cia spoke. "We have to keep going."

Amieta swallowed, but nodded her agreement, not knowing or caring if Cia could see her. She heard the others take their breaths and go on. She steeled herself to follow.

Just a little further. You can do this, just like you've been doing. Fear is a thing to be faced.

The panic still welled up as she dived, but she shoved it down, she was here and now and it was just a hole in the rocks. Just another obstacle to be overcome. Camille can do it, so can I. She could feel desperation in her thoughts, feel the terror trying to rise, to choke her, to put her back in that place and finish the job. The current was still swift, a sharp turn ahead, the rock walls ragged and fissured. She saw the others make the turn, and kicked off the wall behind them, trying to follow. She felt a tug on her boot, realized she had stopped.


She felt something break loose inside her, felt the terror rise up, overwhelming everything else. She thrashed, tried to get free, felt the tips of her fingers slip and grind and chip away the edges of the rock. Her vision filled with red, and she realized it wasn't water she was drowning in. Too thick and so, so sickly warm. She needed to breathe, needed to scream, but there was no air. She clawed at walls gone smooth, metallic, and red as rust as the weight at her foot dragged her. She could feel herself being pulled down, deeper, always deeper. She could taste it, salt and copper, even though she could hardly see it around her as blackness crept in, edging out the red. As motes began appearing in her vision, she realized she was back, that she had never left, never escaped the close, dark, metal. Everything else must have been a dream while the nightmare never ended. Then someone else was there. Cia? No no no no... Amieta found new reserves, felt her fingers scoring the walls. They can't have you, you were a dream, you can't be here, I can't get you out. Can’t get anyone out. Can't even get me out. She fought with all her failing strength, but it was no use. It was never any use.

She felt herself being pulled back into the dark.

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