Trying something new: Posting stuff that didn't make 'final' cuts in Chest of Souls.
Set up: This is what Iskar was up to after Talon left Utak. I didn't put it in the book, because it was such a short piece and it pulled the story too far from where I was going. In hindsight, I probably could have put it in, if only to show Soline's unforgiving nature.
Iskar Goes Swimming....
At long last, after suffering fields of blisters that felt the size of Mt. Benamii, Iskar felt liberated.
Because of his invention, the Burang, which was used to kill the flame-throwing Ybarra herds, he was something of a hero in the city of Lander. Life had never been sweeter.
He no longer needed someone to introduce him to the Utakian girls. They all knew his name. Several came to him with hero-worship in their eyes and told him tales of the difference he had made in the lives of their families. Their compliments were ambrosia and he was in an almost constant state of euphoria.
Respect was something he had earned in Utak and it was hard won. Without Talon present, the tanners and skinners listened to him as they planned how to eradicate the Ybarra herds. Best of all, he didn't have to share the glory. Rube was in Rykett and Talon, well, Talon was somewhere with General Monus. Being with Talon wasn't safe and it wasn't fun.
He could be himself! All he had to do to remain safe was stay out of the water. It made him nervous to see water in any greater amounts than a glass. He stared out at the ocean from a safe distance.
With the half-moon casting her reflection onto the surf, it appeared haunted. Iskar didn't think it was, he knew it was. The entire ocean was the playground of the Keeper of the Waves and he was on her list of people to kill; likely first on the list. She thought of him as a betrayer and he didn't know why.
After she attacked Talon, he'd thrown a burang at her, which she caught and threw back at him, slicing Iskar's arm open. Later, he had gone to the water to wash away the blood and her voice had come to his mind, "You will never be safe in the water, Betrayer. Every Raykah in the world knows the taste of your blood. It will sing to them and they will come."
When he first heard about the enormous kite-shaped fish that inhabited the Ammon Islands, he'd wanted to ride one like Talon had. It sounded adventurous. The blue-haired Sea Witch had changed those plans. Since then, he made it a point to stay well away from the edge of the water, even if it meant the other young men poked fun at him. None of them had been threatened by a living legend as he had.
He settled his blankets on the sandy rise above the beach, listening to his co-workers and sometimes-friends tease each other. They were splashing in the water after a hot afternoon working with the tanners and skinners.
"Hey, Iskar! Come join us!" the self-proclaimed 'leader' of the group ordered. It was just that - an order. He knew the tone. He also knew that none of them would have made a fuss about Iskar staying dry if Talon had been there.
"Afraid of the water?" taunted one.
"Can't you swim?" asked another.
Irritated, he hollered back, "Yes, you dung-eating Pursha, but I don't want to!" Not ever.
"That's what we thought," came a voice behind him.
Four sets of arms grabbed, lifted, and carried him down to the sea. When he realized what they were going to do, he began to fight as he'd never fought anyone before. Panic raced through his system.
"Let me go!" he demanded, twisting, jerking, kicking, pulling anything and everything he could reach. "LET ME GO!"
"No chance," the leader scoffed. "That foot in my face just cost you a dunking."
"The Keeper will come!" he promised, trying to claw free. These boys were all farm workers and strong as oxen.
"I didn't know you listened to fairy tales!"
"She's going to kill me!" he warned them, twisting like a wild animal. They kept a firm grip on him.
"There's no such thing!" sneered the one he'd kicked in the face.
"DON'T DO THIS!" he begged, terrified to the very center of his soul. He ripped one of his arms out of their grasp, loosening their hold, feeling his skin tearing away in the effort he was making to gain his freedom - his life. Two more came to help their companions.
"Ready to get wet?" he was asked as they carried him out into the surf.
"NOOOOOO!" he screamed as they flung him out into the deeper water. Part of his mind told him he was a dead man. He was bleeding and the carnivorous Raykah knew the taste of his blood.
They would come.
The Keeper had promised him they would.
Water surrounded him and he knew he only had moments to break free of the tide. Raykah were fast swimmers and their mistress was faster. His head popped out of the water and he took a breath of air. With every ounce of strength he had, he plowed through the water, heedless of the current, his threatening-to-burst-lungs, and the stitch in his side. Fear fed his speed and he was sure he'd never swam faster in his life . His heart roared in his ears.
He wanted to sob when he reached the shore, but knew he didn't dare stop.
His 'friends' had deserted him. The last one was racing up the small pathway, looking as terrified as he felt. Now that he was on shore, he dared glance back. Fifty feet from shore were large wakes and behind them, Soline herself! She raised her arms and threw her hands forward. A large wave rose and he knew that if he didn't find something to hang on to, he would be dragged to the sea and eaten or worse: Soline would handle things herself.
He had always hated the Hydra tree when he was out in the fields. It started as a small choking vine. It's roots, Rube had once joked, went to the center of the world. You had to pull every speck of it up or it would grow back - with two vines, getting thicker each time if you didn't eradicate it. Finally, if left alone, it became a tree you had to plow around.
It looked like heaven. He jumped, grabbed the lowest limb, and swung himself up just as the wave Soline had created hit. He was under water and hanging on for all he was worth. The water seemed to get deeper for a moment. He worried it was deep enough for a Raykah to reach him. Thank All, the water receded and he was finally able to get a breath.
He looked the direction of the water and saw she wasn't finished. He slipped to the other side of the Hydra and climbed higher, keeping the Sea Witch in his sight. She pushed her hands forward and the next wave was higher.
A small yellow Raykah rode the crest of it. She had to know it wouldn't make it back, so it was a sacrifice she was willing to make - to kill him.
The rubbery-looking fish would have one chance and he wasn't going to stand aside and let it take a chunk out of his hide! He remembered Talon telling him Raykah had two pair of eyes, one on top and the second underneath the first set. He pulled his burang out and when it got close enough, he shook it open and, with every muscle he had, brought it down on the creature at an angle, slicing through the front part of its head. It stopped moving. He had killed it! He triumphantly looked out at the water. The wakes had disappeared, and Soline was no longer riding a water spout, she was hovering in the shallows!
He was a dead man.
In a clear voice, she said, "You will die a thousand deaths in the time you have remaining on this land for the crimes you've committed and those you will commit. Remember, when your time comes, that I offered you a way to die with honor, Betrayer. Justice will be served, sooner than you think."