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A voyage

   A glimmer shone in the depths of the water. A fog of dew was the air I breathed. My eyes could wander no further than twice the length of the boat, in its slow treading through the reeds. Big reeds, tall, magnificent grassy leaves that towered like trees in a forest. But all were withered, like their standing was merely the greyish orange gravestones of their former beauty.
   No horizon could be seen in the mist that hung over everywhere, from the frozen wisps on the surface to the offwhite abyss in the sky. Dread condensed on my face and dribbled down my nose.
   The river had become a marsh. And we were in it, lost, with no change in environment for leagues in every direction. It was in everyone’s mind. How long could we go on for? Days? Weeks? Until the provisions in our hands had become no more than memory, of a forgotten taste, that we may toss away and leave to pollute this shallow sea while we rot?
   And the reeds were getting thicker. There would come a point where we would have to jump out and wade. How deep was the fluid? Crystal clear in one’s hands, if they dared to touch it, but nothing but blackness could be seen in its depths.
   The words were still echoing around my head. Do not drink the water. What could possibly be in it that would make one rather shrivel and die than take a drop or two from this vast lake?

   We sailed on for three more days. I would not doubt that we crossed our own paths multiple times, if it weren’t for the flow. It was always there, for we were being dragged along, into the wind, not with it, as if an unknown force was drawing us closer, deeper into the lake until escape was impossible. Our only hope was to follow it, and reach the open rivers that lay on the other side of the world.
   But our lips were dry. All the supplies were gone. Every second was another moment of torture. To succumb to thirst in a dessert was inevitable, but to starve here was ludicrous, where every breath was choked on the moist air. More and more came the urge to jump into the water, to gulp down its delicious bed or even just take a sip, a sip from the side where one could dabble their hand on its surface.
   I touched the surface. The silence amplified the ripple, spreading, waning, tearing the solid glass that was before. Its deathly cold heart stabbed at me like white icicles, jabbing by arm and I drew back. A single drop remained on the tip of my finger.
   Surely no harm would be done to lick at it? Such a tiny globule that no one would know of – and here, where the air was so thick that it teased and burned your throat like fire – surely, a single quench would not matter?
   Gingerly I lifted it towards my mouth. Closer and closer I felt it, it mustered what little strength I had back into me, to just place the tiny droplet on my tongue, and feel its cool refreshment surge through my body like I had not drunk in years – and then it happened.
   Warmth greeted me and shook me about, then greed took hold and I could only spasm in agony as I gasped for more. I stumbled, I scrambled as fast as I could to the edge again, which seemed now so far away. My pulse was awakened. Adrenalin darted through me and warmth again engulfed me, and all that mattered was that I got one more sip, one more of the beautiful liquid I craved so much. I needed it. I depended on it. I could not live without a gulp, a drink, to drown I needed, to jump in and absorb it all, to dive as deep as possible was all I wanted. I slipped, I grabbed, I hurled myself over into the dark, dark film of the water.

   I never hit the water. Suspended I was held, inches away so that my protruding tongue was merely a hair’s breadth away. I felt the coarse grab of my companions pulling me back onboard, them who I hated at once. I came so close to bliss and was drawn back into this hell.
   But it was no long before I was shaken back to my senses. A new danger had been woken. A bubble. In all the time we had been floating around, we had not seen even the tiniest of bubbles – but there it rose, and waited for a moment all alone not too far from our wooden island, and with a seemingly tremendous sound, it popped.
   And then another rose, floated, and popped. And then more. And as we all stood in awe, this little patch of bubbles began to grow, and grow, until a vast area was boiling and the perfect surface of the water was shattered in waves and splashes. The boat shook and everyone drew their swords. Splashes and explosions of liquid cast everywhere and the water gave way to blackness.

   Up, up out of the lake came a huge, huge arm, taller and wider than any tree, with dark skin wrapped in a million scars and bruises, ending in what was little more than a stump. Supported by bones or seaweed I could not tell, but it only remained in the air for a split second, before it came crashing down far away from us creating a tremendous wave. Our boat was hurled up and down, but remained upright.
   And then the rest of the creature rose. Its black head shot up, shaking the huge amounts of water off. And beneath it, a neck, and maybe shoulders wider than a house. We all stood trembling as its facial features came into view: small eyes surrounded in oily flesh, rope-like tentacles and antennae dangling and useless. But what really stood out was its mouth – it opened to reveal titanic teeth, sharp, mouldy, green, hiding a split, snake-like tongue. It screamed.
   I collapsed to the deck in pain. I had never heard anything so loud. It penetrated my skull, ripped at my limbs until I fell onto the hard wet platform and felt the whole deck vibrate in terror. It caused the wood to buzz, the metal to ring and the water of the lake to jump up and down in fury.
   Had anyone believed it was over, they were a fool. We could feel the coarse intake of breath as the air rushed to the beast at its command. It raised again its huge paw, and threw it down again, with a scream, down straight into us.

   Only darkness could you feel at the sight of it, moments before death, the disgusting flesh lined with the marks of a thousand battles, hurtling down towards you in slow motion. The sound did not matter, all of my senses were dead, I simply ran. I stumbled and fumbled and clawed at the deck, gasping, begging for more speed. I rushed, I slipped, I rolled and I climbed to reach the end of the boat. The hand missed me, but took down the entire vessel in one stroke. Our only possession creaked and snapped under its immense blow, and I was catapulted upwards as the shrapnel followed the hand down under. For a moment I flew, and then hurtled down into the water with it.
   The broken boat, the revolting hand, and everything in the vicinity got dragged with it. We were sucked down into water where light would never reach, deep, deeper than the roots of the reeds dared go, until the pressure was so great that I had to scream, and water entered my mouth. I felt something huge and slimy collide with me. Death was inevitable.

   No. I had not come this far just to be drowned by a monster of the deep. I could move my arms. I could move my legs. I could still feel the direction of the surface. I swam.
   A current caught me and drew me up faster than I wanted. Again I was out of control. Light greeted me for a moment, then cast me back into the deep, but this time I surfaced. I choked for a moment and looked round. I had been thrown quite far away from the demon where the wave had weakened somewhat.
   But it leapt towards me in a single stride and swiped its arm once more. This time I would not fall so easily. I leaped and grabbed onto it.
   It was moving much faster than I had ever imagined, and I was pressed against the repulsive ooze on its flesh as the arm swung round. I still had my sword. I drew it once more from its sheath. As the creature’s arm was raised yet again, high in the air where the fog prevented me from even glimpsing the surface, I took my chance and jumped.
   Free fall. Piercing wind pelted against my soaked robes but I managed to position myself in time – I swung my sword and plunged it into the beast’s head.

   It screamed louder and longer than ever before. The blade had pierced its soft skull and stung whatever was inside. It lividly revolved its arms, shaking and then attempting blindly to scratch me away. Clinging to its leafy, seaweedy hair I drew out the blade and slid down its neck before the tremendous paw reached me. Its shoulder was lumpy with old cuts and scars as I ran along it, only to be greeted by the other hand, which I stabbed.
   Again the metal delved deep into its soft mushy body and it drew back quickly in pain. I had hit a tendon or something, dark green blood was spewing over the water, and the whole beast raged violently. I was thrown to the sky once more.
   Its back was lined with scales, massive scales of silver and grey as big as tables. They deflected my sword. I tried to grab hold but they were sharp and slippery, and my own blood splattered about from my hands. To the water I fell in agony and felt the ripples drag me under. My hands stung even more, but I held the hilt of my weapon with all my might. The beast spun.
   Its chest was smooth and lighter. Drawing my dagger too, I gripped a blade in each hand and jabbed both into it, and began to climb. It writhed and turned, it slapped me but I stabbed it back. Its blood was cast on me but I kept on until its paw dragged itself down the beast’s chest, wiping me away with it. I held on.
   In mid air I fought with the paw and the paw alone. It threw me about as I stabbed and I stabbed until the blade was lodged deeply inside a joint, where every movement caused a jolt and a spasm of its webbed fingers. Its final swing threw me off, leaving my blades behind, to descend uncontrollably again.
   And kick the earlier wound on which I landed. The crusty scab had already formed on its head, but my boot went straight through it. No pain so great had the beast ever felt, and as spiky steel met soft inner tissue it had no choice but to return to the water. To drag me deep down and drown me away. My stomach turned as wind rushed past, and the surface of the water drew nearer. I flexed my hands, took grip and clenched.

   And immediately all was silently cold. Bubbles gurgled past and freezing waves engulfed me. A rush of debris or dead roots of reeds caught my clothes and ripped them as we passed through the layer of matted waste that floated just under the surface – plants and old vessels with no where to sink to. Following that was the genuinely cold water, free of objects, too dense and deep for even light to reach. Everything pounded against me, but I knew if I let go there would be no hope whatsoever. Deeper we plunged, and I kicked the wound again.

   And deeper we went. Faster, darker, colder, until every sense was blind. I couldn’t feel my hands clenching the beast’s slime, or my lungs guttering for more breath, or my eyes blinded by miles of water. There was nothing to hear, all the bubbles were dead. There was only the knowledge that we were plummeting, swiftly, to whatever lay beneath.

   Light. I did not think my eyes were open but I saw it. A glimmer. Deep beyond imagination, something had shone. And then again. Definitely – something was shining. It wasn’t hope, I felt, but wonder – the wonder one feels staring death in the face and feeling guilty. An image of a sun, an underground sun, was beneath me. But not to illuminate me - to silhouette what was truly before me.
   Shadows. Shadows so dark they made the rest of the water glow. The beast I tugged at was not alone.
   I was at the gates of a city.

   And again I kicked the wound.

   If light was the shadow of hope, this was the city of darkness. Despair was its hub, loneliness its boundaries and pain beyond drowning its pulsating blood. No one would make it this far. No one could survive this deep – but I had. If ever someone held tight to the sickly warmth of the creature this far, here would be its end. Here was the threshold to another world, a world where men of air were dead – where men of air were pray.
   Here were the gates of death, but I was still alive.

   A jolt plummeted through my heart as I chugged on freezing fluid that burnt my lungs. My moment of wonder ceased, my terrified tempo became rigid. I let go.
   Struck by the harshness of the speed I’d been flying, there was a moment of silence in the underwater wind. Carefully, precisely, I raised my arms in perfect motion with the water. Blind, deaf, and drowning, my body glided backwards.
   A thudder was my landing on its paw. My blade was protruding. As the last of my bubbles washed from my face I reached, focused, onto the handle.

   Hack. I was in control. Hack again.

   A screech accompanied the incredible submersed seizure, a response to every stab. The beast was losing. Hastily yet frightfully slow, it rippled, reluctantly, upwards. Pitch black had stolen orientation, but I could feel it. Adrenalin could support me to the surface. It had to. Starved of oxygen, I lodged myself against its mushy flesh, and held tight.

   And water was rushing faster than before, faster than gravity, faster than the wind. Up, up we twirled and twinged and rolled and swayed and faster yet faster we climbed. My blindness was broken by free rays of light, but the intoxicating pain of suffocation drowned it out. Water flowed through my lungs freely. My knuckles burnt lacking heat or blood. If I could just hold on one moment longer...
   And like striking a stone wall, it was over.

   Waves bigger than thunder exploded all round. What was once a vast lake was now a cloud. With a desperate, frantic choke, I met air. Drunkenness clasped me as I took my first breath of delicious, delirious air.
   I opened my eyes, and we were still moving. Below us, a hundred, two hundred feet, were the ripples. And carried with the momentum of our incredible speed, we were flying. It may have taken a split second to clear my head, it may have taken a generation. What mattered was that blood had returned to my hand, and it clenched around the hilt of my sword.
   The zenith of the flight arrived, and perfectly aligned, perfectly balanced, I stood on its two front teeth. The defenceless beast hung limp, and blindly accepted my blade between its eyes. Its fishy gape turned and took one, almost pitiful glare at me, and here, on the top of the world, it died.

   The fall began. And suddenly I realised I was in the dead beast’s mouth. Headfirst we dived though the sky, headfirst at the water where I would be crushed as the corpse sunk like a stone. I had to get out. Its jaws had locked. There wasn’t enough room for me to squeeze out in time. If I survived the impact, I would be drowned in a cage of hideous yellow teeth. The last ever use of my sword was making a gash in the pliable flesh of its cheek, to momentarily escape and glide into the last ever wave on the surface of the lake.

   It may have been a few hours before the chaos was all over. My mind was numb from the cold and the starvation. There were no more glimmers in the depths of the water, the thick fog had lost its edge. It took a while to realise that I was sitting, floating on a barge of debris in the centre of silence. Alone but alive, I continued my voyage on the surface of a dead sea.

Author: mitxela
This page was uploaded on 26/01/08

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