S1| Ep04: The Bones of the Sea (下)
January 19, 2011
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Blow, winds, blow. Still, winds, still.
From beyond the shadow echoes a voice.
A woman’s hoarse monotone.
Ahead, the faint hiss-crackle of dancing flame. Above, the darkness curving high. Outside, the howling storm drowns out the distant echo of gunfire.
Are you a ghost?
The woman leans forward in response, firelight illuminating the lower half of her pale, gaunt face. Her blue lips move, but make no sound.
One step. Another, across the slippery rock. The woman shoves forward a ragged blanket. Dark stains scatter across the damp wool. It is warm. Safe.
A blinding light shines from the entrance of the cave. The woman tenses, grabs her blade. Her sleeves are the blue-gray of a winter morning.
Branches whip past, snagging at hair and clothes. Faster, faster. Mud and rock. The ground whirls close, rolling past the sky.
A glint of metal against the horizon.
And everything shatters in a shower of glittering stars.
* * *
Intan bolted upright.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized that she was in what seemed to be a cave of some sort. She looked down, checking for injuries. Her robes were drenched and torn, and her skin was covered in scratches, but when she flexed her arm experimentally, nothing seemed broken.
“Oh, wonderful. You’re awake.”
Kikue’s voice. Intan tried to locate her.
“You don’t sound too happy about it,” she remarked, amused.
“Happy? Our Dolls are wrecked and we’re trapped here in a stupid cave who-knows-where, and you expect me to be happy?” Her voice rose a pitch. “And you! You’re the one who got us in this mess in the first place, and that’s all you have to say about it? I can’t believe you. I –”
Intan sighed, and decided not to point out that if Kikue hadn’t deliberately crashed into her earlier, they wouldn’t have gotten separated from the others to begin with. Instead, as she reached up and squeezed the water out of her hair, she said cheerfully, “Come on, isn’t it exciting? It’s like a real adventure!”
Kikue spluttered. “Why — you –”
“Do you have a light?”
“Obviously not, or I would have left you behind a long time ago –”
“I wasn’t out that long, was I?” said Intan, not really expecting an answer. She rummaged through her pockets for a while before finally closing her numb fingers around her lighter. A quick inspection confirmed that it had thankfully remained relatively dry, but she took it apart by touch anyway to blow out any excess water. After a few tries, she managed to get a spark going. She looked around. They were indeed in the upper levels of a sea cave — Kikue’s Doll lay collapsed at the entrance of the cavern, blocking their only immediately visible way out, leaving only a dark passage leading further in to the cave.
Intan thought of her earlier dream. How many years ago now had it been?
“How’d we end up in here anyway?”
Kikue, looking rather like a drowned kitten, said huffily, “We would have died — if we stayed out there any longer — so when my Doll started responding again, I — but then it — the stupid thing –”
Intan tilted her head, piecing together a basic outline of the rest of the story. “I see. You must have saved me, then. Thank you!”
The other girl muttered something about having no other choice, but Intan grinned. “Hmm, wonder if there’s anything dry enough around here to use as a torch…”
“I highly doubt it,” Kikue declared with a sniff, but Intan could hear the underlying relief in her words.
Eventually, after some scrabbling, they managed to gather a decent pile of driftwood that was only mildly damp from deeper inside the cave. Intan had lost her knife, but Kikue had, despite all her complaining, managed to salvage her emergency supply pack from the wreckage of her Doll. Under Intan’s instruction, she whittled away the wettest bits, and several burnt fingers later, they finally had a semblance of a torch in hand, assembled from bundled together pieces of half-dried wood.
They shared a glance, and ventured into the dark passageway together.
For some time there was nothing but the sound of their footsteps and their breathing and water dripping from the ceiling and the occasional hiss of flame. As they walked on, Intan listened for the ebb and flow of the waves behind them. The storm outside seemed to have abated, though perhaps by now they were too deeply ensconced in the cavern to hear it.
About twenty minutes passed before they reached their first juncture.
“It’s Ghost Day,” Kikue said abruptly. “That’s why the spirits are uneasy.”
Intan, who had lost track of the days, simply shrugged. “Left or right?”
“I’ve always hated this month.”
“Let’s try left!”
Kikue eyed her suspiciously, but did not protest.
Another twenty minutes or so later, they emerged into another large chamber. Kikue gasped.
Scattered across the floor were the skeletal remains of what had clearly once been a Doll. Two broken red pillars served as a marker for its grave.
“Did — one of the others –”
“I don’t think so,” said Intan. “This looks like it’s been around for a long time.”
And it did. Lichens carpeted the Doll’s body, which leaned against the cavern wall, legs immersed in the water, like a giant guardian in the shadows. Half of its face had been crushed by rock; its remaining eyes stared balefully into the darkness. It looked like no model Intan had ever seen. One of the earlier, experimental prototypes, perhaps. Victim to some other, long ago storm.
“What is this place?” whispered Kikue.
But Intan had no answer for the other girl. Instead, she brought her palms together, offering a prayer. After a moment, Kikue lowered her head and mimicked her in silence.
* * *
They retraced their steps in silence, and this time took the path leading right. As it turned out, there was another, smaller entrance not far off from the juncture. Kikue and Intan dove down and squirmed through the hole and into broad daylight and clear skies above. Intan scrambled up the little cliff. Kikue’s Doll lay on the opposite end of the stretch of land they were on, while her own Doll had crashed by some tall, rounded rocks a little distance away. The sun’s position now indicated mid-afternoon, and it seemed they had not landed too far from their original destination.
“Now what?” said Kikue, scrambling up after her.
Their signal flares had been damaged in the crash. Intan shrugged. “Wait, I guess?”
Almost immediately, the buzzing whir of a medic transport drew close.
“… Or not.”
This time Intan was not at all surprised to see who leaped out from the transport.
“You again,” said an out-of-uniform Eguzki Kaneshiro, sounding more resigned than irritated.
Intan beamed at him. “Hello again! Nice timing!”
Eguzki opened his mouth as if to respond, then seemed to think better of it. “Just get on.”
Kikue, who seemed to think it beneath her to even acknowledge him, climbed on with a toss of her head. (The effect was somewhat ruined due to the tangled state of her hair.)
“Did the instructors send you?” asked Intan, for no reason other than it seemed like a good idea to keep some conversation going. And she was, admittedly, curious as to why he was still around despite the summer vacation.
Eguzki glared at her. “What part of ‘just get on’ did you not understand?”
She hopped aboard, laughing. The H-bird dipped down with her weight, and both Kikue and Eguzki swore. (Perhaps they would get along better than Intan had assumed!) Kikue, however, seemed to recall herself then, and clammed up again immediately.
“Where are you taking us?” Intan asked next.
“Back to camp.”
“What about our Dolls?”
“Someone else will be over to pick them up.”
“I hope they weren’t hurt too badly!”
“Then maybe,” he said through gritted teeth, “next time the two of you will remember to follow orders instead of goofing around like a pair of hairy rot-brained monkeys.”
“I am not a monkey, and I am certainly not –” said Kikue, but she was unable to finish whatever she had been about to say when the crash of distant thunder interrupted her, and for a moment Intan thought the storm had somehow returned.
Then she saw the smoke ballooning on the horizon.
In the direction of the main island.
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