Chapter 22


She heard Brand’s voice calling from a great distance. How far? She wondered dizzily.

Each atom of her being pulsated with pain. She could no longer sense either ground or sea. She was numb to everything but agony.

“Aveny!” she heard Brand calling again. She had to reach him. She had to let him know she was still alive, at least a little.

She tried to move, to respond, but it was impossible. The distance was far too great for him to hear her anyway, weak as she was. She felt air enter her lungs. It burned and she knew – wherever she was – she was no longer submerged.

Slowly, painstakingly, she slid open her eyes and tried to focus them on the dancing forms around her. But they made no sense – random circles and shades, colors and blank space. Aveny closed her eyes again and tried to breathe. Brand was still calling but it sounded like he was getting father away.

She opened her eyes again and felt texture shift beneath her as she struggled to move. It felt odd and gristly. Little pings of static dotted her body with their icy sensation. A wave of nausea rolled over her and she vomited seawater out the side of her mouth. And then there was a new sensation – a strange flurry of motion.

Her eyes came into focus and she realized with a strange leap of wild recognition – it was Brand. His face, which had been nothing but shapes and hues took on a vague, dark form. He hovered over her just inches from her face, saying something.


His words came in hot bursts as he moved back and forth – shaking her? No, not shaking. Rubbing her like a newborn foal.

It’s ok, I’m ok, she tried to say, but nothing came out. She weakly cleared her throat and tried to speak again, but it was futile. 

At least she could hear Brand now. “Aveny? Is that you?” he was saying.

What was he talking about? Of course it was her.

She tried to answer, but managed only a strange gurgling.

“Can you give me a sign?” he said. “Nod your head if it’s you.”

How many women did he think washed up on this beach? Unless … was she maimed beyond recognition? What had happened down there?

Bits and pieces fluttered back into her memory and she knew – in that moment – that she never should have trusted the woman, and that she might not live to regret it.

An adrenaline-fueled surge of anger poured through her and she vomited again, spilling hot, salty liquid down the side of her face.

“Aveny – I need to know if it’s you,” Brand was saying. “Nod your head if it’s you.”

Aveny jerkily shifted her neck in approximation of a nod. The pain was excruciating. It felt as if her vertebrate had fused and were breaking loose for the very first time. The movement threatened to bisect her spinal cord and send her into oblivion.

And then Brand was gone and the shadowy form of someone else was leaning over her. “Just breathe. Don’t try to move or speak. Just breathe.”

The voice was familiar yet strange without its usual alarming tone. This time, it was soft, comforting. Aveny wanted to crawl inside its gentle cadence and sleep for a very, very long time. You were right, she thought, sinking into oblivion. I shouldn’t have trusted her.

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