This is the first chapter of another story I wrote. It’s kind of fun to read on its own. Or maybe I’m just a narcissist reading my own stories like sniffing my own underwear–which I don’t do. Seriously. You sniff your own underwear.
Before Beasts, There Were Storms
Contrary to popular belief, Russia wasn’t a land of perpetual winter. Summer came just as it did elsewhere, bright and emerald green. At least back in Moscow the heat was dry, not the muggy, monsoon hell it often was in Japan and southern China. Not that the Abbey had allowed them to appreciate it much. Training didn’t stop just because the snow cone venders were out.
But before the Abbey, right on the edge of his memory, Kai laid out on an uncut lawn somewhere, staring out at the warmed sky as he tried to feel the Earth’s rotation. If he held his breath, he thought he could feel himself moving, spinning with the rest of space. Even before the Abbey he had been a strange one.
Mother had been there. Father wasn’t. He didn’t know what his father had been up to or why, but he remembered his mother, pale, gray haired, but soft featured. That is, he remembered the impression of softness. He could never remember her face in detail. But as we often remember the oddest, most unimportant details, he remembered the pop of the grass as she pulled it from the ground. They hadn’t talked, nor would he have been able to recall what they had said if they had. But he remembered her, that she was soft enough to let him imagine he could feel the world turning, and that was enough.
He always recalled that faint memory whenever he stretched himself out in the grass under a hot sun. He’d then close his eyes and try to catch the Earth turning him through space.
He woke up trying to catch that gentle momentum, and instead was thrown into a wall.
Nearby he heard someone retch.
Then the world tipped violently again and he started sliding away. A pair of thin arms caught hold of him. He clung to them weakly, gasping for air. The only light was a green glow from a dashboard, but he could see the outline of pale wings.
“Wha–?” He could smell vomit. Had that been her?
“Hold on! I need to get the captain!” she cried, even as she pulled him towards something. As his hands found what could have been the back of a chair, but in the complete wrong direction being underneath him, the world started to tip back again like a giant seesaw.
He heard a man groan and somehow knew it had been him who had been sick. He didn’t feel too well himself. His chest ached as though he had been stomped on by a crowd of elephants. It made it difficult to breathe.
“What’s going on?” He couldn’t find the force to speak it loud enough.
But she heard anyways, God bless those sensitive ears of hers. “Dragoon knocked all those men overboard and ransacked the ship, but when he returned to Tyson this huge storm came out of nowhere. Tyson sort of–ack!” She slipped and hit the wall hard, along with the thump of another body. “Eww.” Well, he knew what she had slipped in. Though the floor tipping back and forth didn’t help.
He managed to curl himself around the bolted bottom of the stool/chair, pinning him between the underside of the dashboard and the chair. It kept him from falling, as he didn’t quite trust his arms.
“Tyson?” he asked.
“He’s–he’s–augh! I’m so stupid.” She sounded near to tears. “He’s enshelled in the typhoon. The change–I swear, if I had known his element was storms I wouldn’t have sung to Dragoon on a ship in the middle of the ocean!”
Swerve–the beam of the stool dug into his guts. The floor tipped so violently he almost hung there, legs and arms dangling beneath him. The ship around him groaned and creaked. The ever present hush of the ocean waters had grown to a roar that broke out in thunderous crashes.
Lightning flashed, illuminating the control cabin Ayah had brought him to. Kai managed to make her out, crouched besides an elderly man in some kind of military navy jacket in the corner, her tail feathers spread out for balance and her wings out. The boom of thunder rattled the dashboard above him.
“How long will he be in there?” Kai asked.
“I don’t know.” She was definitely crying now. “My brother took three days, but the Captain says it depends on the element.”
A bellowing crash sounded somewhere beneath them as something broke loose. As Kai fell back against the foot of the dashboard once more, he felt his stomach heave and his head fuzz. Just as he started to realize he had to find somewhere to vomit where it wouldn’t fly in his face, the Captain threw up again.
“Where’s Tyson?” he asked, a sudden image of a man-size silver egg rolling off the side of the deck and into the ocean.
“I already told you, he’s in the typhoon.”
“Like in the sky?”
“I think so–”
He didn’t catch what she said next. He had never thought himself a loud puker, but as his stomach didn’t have much to work with and his chest muscles didn’t have much strength to muffle anything, it was loud. Luckily the ship started tilting away from him.
He swore. This had gone past ordinary motion/sea sickness.
“I’m getting out,” he gasped, squinting through the green glow for the door he thought he had seen before. Like hell was he going to stick around in a room of vomit while he waited for his impending death. “If Tyson is the source of the typhoon, maybe we drift out of here.”
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do for the past day,” said Ayah’s frail voice. “Why do you think we’re in here?”
A whole day? Hey, they’ve been keeping alive for a whole day, that’s something. Though why he’d wake up in a control room and not, like, a bedroom or something, but, then, if everything had been rocking around like it was now, he couldn’t expect little her to carry him somewhere more appropriate.
He let himself half crawl, half slide to the door and opened it just as the floor tipped back. He braced himself against the wall on the other side and the door swung close, plunging him in darkness. He felt out a light switch, but no light responded. Of course. The power must have gone out. It wasn’t like Ayah and whatever last survivor she totted as the Captain would enjoy sliding around in the dark.
Eventually, with much back and forths that made his stomach clench unpleasantly, he found the edges of what must have been a bed for the co-pilot to take quick powernaps in and flung himself onto it. The pillows and blankets definitely made great cushions against the wall, and the cloth wasn’t as easy to slide on as the polished floor. Once he made it to his back he let out a tentative, weary snuff from his nose. A brief little poof of ensuing fire showed a map on one wall and a bolted trunk at the foot of the bed. He pawed his way towards it, unlatched the lid, and managed to find an electric lantern inside.
Only moments after he’d found the switch and filled the tiny cabin with its flashlight glow, the door swung open again and Ayah stumbled inside, her face so pale it matched her hair and wings. The dark circles under her eyes looked like bruises, and her mouth and skin had the stretched, dry look of dehydration. He had been taught to know the signs well, as they can occur in a snowy tundra just as easily as they can occur in the desert, and realizing that she must have been made sick from the horrid tossing to and thro sent alarm bells ringing. If they didn’t sink, they could very well die from not being able to keep anything down.
She didn’t need to reach for him, as he lunged out and pulled her two him just as the room rolled the door shut once more. He wound his arms around her torso, tucking his face against her clammy neck. Her own arms wrapped around him as well.
The rolling ship gave a sudden lunge, throwing the electric lamp to the ceiling. The light went out, plunging them into pitch darkness.
“I’m sorry,” she rasped against his ear. “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. Since the day you met me I’ve only made your life hell. I’m so, so sorry.” Though he felt no tears where his neck brushed her face, he could hear the sobs in her voice. Yet another symptom of dehydration.
“It’s the rebirth of an entire race,” he managed. “I don’t know what you were thinking, but most births that I know of are messy, horrible things.”
“That isn’t funny.”
“I didn’t mean it to be funny. Your apologies do nothing for the situation.”
“Then what can I do? I caused this mess, there has to be something I can do to fix it.”
“Well, if you think of something, by all means–” a wall rattling boom of thunder cut him off. The boat’s metal body squalled in protest.
“I didn’t want to kill you all!” she cried, and since her mouth was next to his ear, he winced.
“Got any more obvious things you want to say?”
She jerked past him to grab a part of the bedframe as the room gave a rather steep tilt. When it felt as though they were falling, or at least, settling back up the other side of whatever wave they were heading down, she let go and clung to him all the harder.
“I’m sorry, I’m irritating you.”
“Most things irritate me. But yes, your pointless pity party is annoying. What’s done is done, move on.”
In answer she shot away from him and retched off the side of the bed. Fortunately, she must have emptied her stomach hours before, because nothing foul rose to his nose. He rubbed her back the best he could while using that same hand to keep her from sliding off the bed with the boat.
“Perhaps it’s best if we keep our mouths closed.”