Into the Dark: Twelve

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


Ciarente surfaced with a gasp, pulling Camille up with her.

"You okay, Cami?" she asked.

"Yes!" Camille said, dog-paddling to keep her head above water.

Ciarente raised her arm to let the wrist-light shine on the tunnel around them. The steep upward slope was limiting the rise of the water, and she guessed that cracks in the rocks below were letting some of the floodwater seep away, slowing its advance. A few strokes brought her to standing depth, a few more to where Camille could put her feet down.

Sarakai bobbed up behind them, closing the distance quickly.

Ciarente looked back, then looked at Sarakai. "Ami?"

Sarakai looked back as well as Camille coughed and then threw up water.

Ciarente waited, counting. One, two, three ... seven, eight ...

Too long.

"Camille, stay with Sarakai," she ordered. She glanced at Sarakai, and gestured to the roof. "Keep moving. There's no waterline. The water ... will keep coming."

As Sarakai and Camille splashed off down the tunnel, Ciarente took a couple of rapid breaths. Not too many. You don't want to pass out.

It was a million years since water rescue classes with M'ser Kirau. At sixteen she'd thought she knew exactly how her life was going to go, had known with absolute certainty that the most difficult thing she'd ever have to do was fulfill her obligations under the Local Emergency Services draft and learn how to pull people from the river. She could remember with piercing clarity sitting on the edge of the pool, the sun on her back and glaring off the water into her eyes, M'ser Kirau explaining to his fifteen students the difference between swimming down and swimming across the water, the girls next to her giggling to each other about their shared crush on him.

"M'selle Roth, you go first."

The dummy at the bottom of the pool weighted to imitate an unconscious body, the fight to remain calm as her lungs ached for air ...

"Well done, M'selle. Wait after class. I'd like to talk to you about a volunteering as a rescue swimmer."

A million years ago. And as far as she'd gone and as strange as her life had become - as strange as she had become - here she was in the flood waters of Debreth ...

Ciarente took one more breath, and dived.

The current pushed against her as she went deeper and she pulled herself along the jagged rock wall. The tunnel didn't branch, did it? She can't have gotten lost!

There. Movement below her, at the limit of the light. Ciarente swam towards it, Amieta coming into view. She was thrashing, tearing at the wall, movements uncontrolled and almost jerky, bits of the sedimentary rock chipping away, but she wasn't moving up the tunnel. Pinned by the current?

Ciarente reached her and tried to grab one of her flailing arms to pull her towards the surface. Amieta didn't make it easy, struggling wildly, as if Ciarente wasn't even there. And when Ciarente finally got her hands around Amieta's wrist and pulled, the other woman didn't move towards her.

She must be caught on something.

Ciarente's lungs were beginning to ache, and for a moment she considered whether it might not be wisest to resurface, take another breath, and try again. But how long has she been down here?

No. She can't have much air left, and she's burning oxygen thrashing about like that. There isn't time.

She pulled herself down Amieta's body, trying to dodge her lashing arms. She felt a glancing blow to her temple and for a moment she lost her grip, the water pushing her away. Frantically, she grabbed, got a handful of shirt, felt the material tear and got a firmer hold on Amieta's holster.

She hauled herself downwards, trying to see what held Amieta fast. Amieta was kicking at the wall with her left foot as frantically as she beat it with her hands but her right foot was immobile. Trapped, the boot wedged between an outcrop of rock and a crevice. Ciarente tried to pull it free, tried to get Amieta to turn enough for her foot to slip loose, but Amieta didn't seem to understand. Hold still, Ami, hold still and turn...

Colours were playing in front of her vision Time to go. Stay past the limit of your air and they'll recover two bodies, that was what M'ser Kirau had said in their class.

Desperately, she began to pick at the laces of Amieta's boot. Swollen with water, they resisted. Ciarente tugged and picked, snapped a fingernail then another, lungs screaming at her now with the need to breathe, need to breathe now. She ground her teeth together, fought the panic, pulled again at the stubborn cord and felt it finally give.

The boot loosened and Amieta's foot slipped out. She kicked out wildly, narrowly missing Ciarente's head, and swam upwards.

Ciarente pushed off from the wall and followed. It seemed far further to the surface than it had on the way down and as her ears roared and sparks of colour trailed across her sight she was visited by the terrifying conviction that the water had risen so much further that there was no air to reach, only an endless tunnel filled with water to the roof.

And then she was up.

For a moment all she could do was float, legs moving feebly, sucking air. Ahead of her Amieta had reached shallower water and staggered up the slope. Ciarente followed as Amieta tottered forward and then folded over, retching and gasping.

Ciarente pushed herself to her feet and stumbled over to her. She tried to speak, didn't have enough air, and put her hand on Amieta's back instead.

Amieta spun. Ciarente had a half-instant impression of a metal hand held stiffly flat, stabbing towards her at killing speed, of Amieta's eyes blank and mindless. Empty. Before she could even flinch Amieta jerked sideways. The blow whistled past her and Amieta overbalanced and fell backwards into the shallow water.

Ciarente dropped to her knees beside her. "Ami?"

Amieta blinked and shook her head, gasping.

"Ami?" Ciarente reached out tentatively, cautious in case Amieta swung at her again, or worse, flinched. "It's okay. You're okay."

Amieta turned blindly toward her as Ciarente touched her shoulder, shuddering with sobs. "I was there!" Ciarente could barely make the words out. "And they had me, and there was so much blood and...and...and ..."

"Ami, it's okay, it's okay." Ciarente drew Amieta closer, holding her as tightly as flesh-and-bone arms could. They had me. So much blood. "It's not there." Don't like small places much .... "We're not there."

Amieta subsided against her, her ragged breathing steadying a little as she clung to Ciarente.

Ciarente rubbed her back, as if she were Camille waking from a nightmare. "You're not there. It's over. You're - " Safe, she would have said, but the word died on her lips. "You're okay."

"I'm sorry, I just ..." A choked half-sob cut short Amieta's words.

"It's okay," Ciarente soothed. "Shhhh. It's okay."

"I'm... it's okay..." Amieta said, the tremor in her voice giving the lie to her words. "I'm... I'm okay. I'm better."

"Ami," Ciarente said, hating herself for saying it, but feeling the water creeping higher around them. "We have to go. I'm sorry, we have to. Can you get up?"

Amieta gulped air. "Yeah," she said, loosening her grip, and then letting Ciarente go entirely. "Yeah."

Ciarente got her her feet, drawing Amieta up with her, steadying her. "Come on," she said, taking Amieta's hand. "It can't be much further." As if I know.

Amieta took another deep breath and then her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, spirits, I almost ..." she said with horror. "I'm sorry, Cia, I didn't mean it, I didn't ... see you."

"I know." Ciarente squeezed her fingers. "I know, Ami. Of course I know."

They started down the tunnel together, Amieta making good time despite her missing boot.

Camille and Sarakai were waiting for them where the tunnel dipped downward again. Ciarente let go of Amieta's hand to gather Camille up in a hug.

"Sara, can I borrow your sticker?" Amieta asked, and despite her breath still being a bit ragged her voice was nearly normal, the tone self-possessed. Sarakai handed her a knife, and Amieta cut the laces on her remaining boot and kicked it off.

"Cia, I want to go home, I'm tired!" Camille complained.

"Soon," Ciarente promised. "Soon, cherie. It isn't far. Can you hear the river?"

"So it goes under again," Amieta said grimly, eying the tunnel ahead.

"We must be close," Ciarente said. "When we get to the river ..."She took a deep breath. "If the rhyme, if Fortune's mouth, means fifth bridge ..."

No one comes alive from Fortune's Mouth.

"We'll be under water," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "The river goes higher than the channel. And it's fast. Very fast." The current has her in an unbreakable grip, dragging her toward the bridge at breakneck speed. The man in her arms has stopped struggling at last, but his panic has cost them too much time. The hovercraft lifts away, and Ciarente takes a desperate breath and dives, dives for the narrow channel that is her only chance, that is the only chance for the foolish tourist whose misadventure brought her here ...

"There are pylons," she tried to explain. "The walls ..." The water hurls her towards the unforgiving stone, churning, tumbling her down, and she kicks, blind, feels the impact and feels something break in her side ... "The current, it's ..." There weren't words to describe it, a force no human strength could oppose.

"Well, we'll be careful then," Amieta said. "Should I tell my people up there to do anything?"

"Alert the LES - the local emergency services," Ciarente said. "They have rescue 'craft to pull people out."

Amieta nodded. "Done." She managed a shaky smile. "Shall we go? Wouldn't do to be any later to the festival."

Ciarente took Camille hand, squeezing her cold fingers, feeling a feeble pressure in reply. "Do you want us to go first?"

"That might be better, in case..." Amieta said. "It would be better."

Ciarente saw Sarakai frown slightly.

I was there. And they had me ...

"Sarakai," Ciarente said, "Can you take Camille? I'm ... I'm tired. I might need Amieta's help."

Sarakai glanced at Amieta, who nodded, and said "Of course."

Camille looked at Ciarente reluctantly, but held out her hand to Sarakai. "It looked like fun when Cia did it that time," she said dully. "I wish my head didn't hurt. Then I'd enjoy it properly."

"Well, we can get you some medicine for that once we're out of here," Sarakai said.

Camille sighed. "Okay," she murmured.

Ciarente watched as Sarakai and Camille went forward, diving under the water where it met the roof, then turned to Amieta. "Ready?"

"No," Amieta said. "But you have to do what you have to do, don't you?"

She stared at the tunnel ahead. Ciarente could hear the hiss of her breath between her gritted teeth.

And she doesn't even know what's waiting for us... The churn of the current, the rocks ... waiting to break bones, skulls ... it was so easy to imagine, the impact, the weight of the water, the light fading ...

She tried to think of something to say. It'll be okay was a lie she couldn't get past her lips. I won't leave you here was an extravagant promise she had no idea if she'd have the courage to keep.

And Ciarente knew all too well how hollow reassurances sounded when they came from those who couldn't see past the shadows to the dark.

She touched Amieta's arm gently, and settled for saying something that she meant, even if fell far short of the comfort she wished she could give. "Thank you for coming for me, Ami."

Amieta turned, startled enough to be distracted from the prospect of the tunnel in front of her. "You're my sister. You don't abandon family."

"No," Ciarente said. Real family. The ones who know you, not what they they think you should be. The ones who come to pull you out of the dark. "No, you don't."

She waited, trying to ignore the water rising past her waist.

Amieta started forward, hyperventilating slightly. She glanced back, face set, but fear in her eyes, then squared her shoulders and dived into the dark.

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