Prepared for Sacrifice

by Radioactive Toast

May 30, 703 CR

The ship’s heavy lurch hurtled Zyn’s bowl into his chest as he struggled in vain to try and keep it steady, spilling its sloppy contents all over his shirt and pants. Zyn stared at the soggy mess that were his clothes and uttered a profanity before setting the bowl aside and trying to wipe it all off. Of course, this failed miserably, for as much as the “soup” was gunky bland slop instead of actual soup, it seemed to soak his clothes just as well as if it were water. Zyn let out a belated, exasperated sigh, sat sulking for a moment, then chucked the bowl across the room.

Damn amateurs! He knew that the sailors he and Lorian had decided to seek passage back north with were sloppy. He knew that they were captained by a third rate reject who spent his time picking his nose rather than doing useful things like, perhaps, not running headlong into storm fronts that’d toss them deeper and deeper into the middle of the ocean!

Cursing, Zyn stood up and headed to the deck to find Lorian. Perhaps it was to say “I told you so” or something along those lines, maybe it was to just grumble about the food, maybe to complain about how Eli had decided he hated them all! On the dark, storm swept deck, he saw a short round man whom he had earlier learned was a mage standing by the starboard edge, presumably hurling his guts into the ocean. Zyn tried as he might but couldn’t remember the mage’s name, who leaned over and held his head out, but as he did so as the whole ship tilted right, dipping him down and seeming to threaten to toss him overboard. This was averted when another lurch of the ship accompanied by a massive wave of water knocked them both back sending Zyn sprawling to the deck. Now, this trip had just, in addition to all other inequities, forced him to sacrifice his dignity. Just how much more of this was he expected to take?

“You told me so,” a boisterous baritone voice chimed in behind him above the roar of the sea, echoing his own thoughts before he could speak them. Snapping around he saw a bearded one armed man holding onto to the ship with his good arm, and he had the gall to smile. To smile!

“You said that this trip was going to be no problem!” Zyn shot irately.

“Calm down lad,” his mentor Lorian said, still keeping up his good natured smile, “I said that I’ve been with worse crews than this and survived. Besides, it’s just a little storm, that’s all.”

“Are you kidding me!?” Zyn shouted so loud his voice threatened to go hoarse, “This ain’t no coastal shower, this is a damn typhoon! I told you—”

“Yes, Zyn, you told me and you’ve just about told everyone else on this ship as well.” Lorian’s face didn’t lose the good natured look, but he did raise the bar by letting a little iron into it. “Now come on, quit acting so over the top.”

“I’m not acting over the top!” Zyn shrieked hysterically, “I’m pointing out the blazing obvious fact that we can just about kiss our asses goodbye at this point!”

At this point even old Lorian’s patience showed its limits and he let out a sigh, though Zyn could only tell by seeing it rather than hearing as the din of the ferocious maelstrom that had engulfed them drowned out all but the loudest of screaming. “Zyn,” Lorian began, but was stopped when the boat once again heaved heavily and they all had to grip something lest they be tossed to and fro. “Anyways Zyn, this is probably the sixth time that you’ve come up and complained to me about this.”

“Fifth!” Zyn shouted trying to be heard above the tempest, “I’ve only come up to you five times; the time you came down to me in the hold doesn’t count.”

Lorian brushed this aside with a dismissive wave of his stubbed right arm. “Bah, details; you’re just getting combative about pointless stuff again because you’re upset.”

At this Zyn couldn’t help but sneer at the man even though he was his mentor. “No, I’m the pinnacle definition of calm and collected. Here, do you want me to share my calm tranquil inner peace with you so the whole world can be enveloped in warm ooie-gooie blissful happiness?”

Any other man talked that way by someone he was mentoring as Lorian was Zyn would have likely slapped him or beat him fiercely. However, that was not what Lorian’s way, and that was probably why he picked up Zyn from the streets all those years before in the first place. Where other men would stammer or boil with indignation, Lorian just shook his head with those knowing eyes.

In all likelihood, Zyn might still be just another wandering homeless reject who aspired to greater things but never had the education or training to amount to anything, wandering the streets of Korazin waiting for the impossible, or worse. Or maybe not, maybe he would have found a life past that, but such was not to be as Lorian had found him first. The grizzled one-armed fresco painter already had quite a name for himself, but instead of picking someone to carry on his work and legacy he had picked up Zyn, not as an apprentice, but simply to “show him the world,” among other things.

Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a sudden diming of the available light. In the near pitch black, storm thrashed night, the only illumination other than instantaneous and sporadic lightning strikes was a crudely concocted witchlight, seeing that somehow this incompetent crew had already lost all its deck lanterns during the storm and didn’t have enough replacements. It was this witchlight that began dangerously fizzing out in a heavily stuttered fashion like a fat drunk sailor, threatening to cast the deck into utter darkness.

This fortunately was at least noticed by the incompetent crew in question, and Zyn could hear who he believed to be the quartermaster, Grumiah, shouting something in a heavy Southlander accent. “You! Mage!” he pointed at the slightly plump mage that Zyn had seen hurling earlier, who now perked his head up. “Get over hear and recharge this witchlight of yours!”

Zyn couldn’t see much because of the ever decreasing light and the storm’s fury, but it seemed that the mage in question was quite exasperated by the request even as he hurried over. “Thi-this really is not my specialty,” he tried to say in a voice dripping with aristocratic accent.

“Don’t really care, just make it so we don’t have to grope around in the dark or this storm will get really bad up here,” Grumiah said.

Looking out past the deck, Zyn could see that it was just so. Beyond the pitiful light on the boat it was pure inky blackness, dark enough it seemed to swallow them all up like a floating ember and snuff them out. Staring out into what for all intents and purposes was an eternal void, he couldn’t help but wonder… wonder how such a small thing as he could exist in the midst of a colossal force of nature as this maelstrom. It didn’t make any sense; how such insignificance and such significance coexist?

The light on deck momentarily increased before sputtering and then resuming its previous intensity. The quartermaster looked over the witchlight that was held fast to the deck by some kind of magical placeholder and nodded his head and then spun around to do whatever it was quartermasters did in such a storm.

“You know, for such a buffoon captain that we’ve got that guy seems remarkably competent,” Zyn said, pointing at the fading form of the quartermaster as he distanced himself from the pathetic glow of the light.

Lorian shrugged. “In my experience such positions as his are filled by the sort that usually knows what they’re doing.”

Zyn could only snort in response. “How the pagan hells do people like our esteemed captain get into their positions then, the most senior position, the one that should be the hardest to get?” he asked derisively. “Guy probably got in through some family connections or some other crap rather than anything he deserved.” Zyn’s negative assessment wasn’t helped by the fact that he had seen their esteemed captain flagrantly ignore the advice of just about anyone who talked to him, including Grumiah who as ship’s quartermaster should have had much more influence on the ship’s heading.

“Probably,” was all that Lorian said in reply. A long period of silence followed, excepting the constant din of the storm of course. Zyn eyed his mentor, noting the one armed man’s calm demeanor that stood in blatant contrast to the surrounding squall.

“Damnit old man, how can you do that?” Zyn asked with a small heaping of irritation.

“What?” Lorian asked nonchalantly.

“That! It’s storming like the end of the world and you’re just standing there like... like... you’re just standing there!”

The graying painter probably would have stroked his beard if he hadn’t already been using his own hand to still himself against the constant rocking. Of course, he didn’t say anything, as Zyn figured he wouldn’t but it stoked his temper nonetheless. “I don’t see a reason to get all worked up about all of it?”

“Well just why not?” Zyn demanded.

Lorian gave another of his damnable shrugs. “Because I’m just used to it, I guess. Sacrificing a bit of my peace of mind really isn’t that tall an order in the grand scheme of things.”

The younger man gave an incredulous look that was impossible to mistake even in the meager light and battering constant rain. “You can’t possibly tell me you’re not at all unfazed by... this,” he said, pointing at the storm around them.

“Eh, a little bit, but peace of mind is an easy thing to give up once you’re used to it.” Lorian smiled, “Unlike, say, that little incident at the docks two weeks ago.”

Zyn had no patience or desire to revisit that incident in the slightest. “Hey, that was your fault; I made it clear I didn’t want to go anywhere near that guy and his ‘collection.’ You were—”

“Making a point that I’m able to make again now,” Lorian interrupted. “And that’s the difference between your reaction then and my reaction now; it’s a difference of how much peace of mind either of us is willing to give up. Your problem, much as it seems otherwise at times, is not that you complain too much but that you think too much. Quit dwelling on why something happened and how and all that; your problem is you wear yourself into a hole. So what that we’re on the middle of the ocean? We’re here, and there’s not really anything that’s going to change that.”

Flabbergasted and frustrated with this pointless argument that was going nowhere, Zyn spun around and walked away, cursing again as he nearly lost his footing thanks to the heaving deck. Again, his gaze was drawn off by the tumultuous ocean that surrounded them on all sides, leaving them likely thousands of miles from another human being. He couldn’t help but ask himself why he was out here. He nominally knew the answer, though that still didn’t account for where they were at this particular moment. If all had gone according to plan they would have be much farther north at this point, somewhere near the coast of the Desert of Dreaming or Ainador. But no, thanks to that fat puss bag of a captain and his dimwitted crew of jack offs, they were Eli knew where in the middle of the freaking ocean!

Zyn was about to complain again to Lorian when a burst of lightning briefly illuminated the frothing sea around them, and in that brief instant Zyn thought he saw something. Squinting his eyes, he tried to catch it even though it was pitch black again. However, his scanning was rewarded when another burst of lightning showed a mountainous wave coming right at them.

“...Oh hell no.”

“What?” Lorian asked, undoubtedly convinced it was something trivial.

“That!” he shouted, pointing into the darkness, “there’s a huge wave coming right for us!”

His voice was loud enough that it caught the attention of much of the crew on deck. “Are you sure?” one of them, Bresan if Zyn remembered his name right, asked.

“What, you gonna doubt me or are you gonna get ready for wave the size of a mountain to hit us?” Zyn demanded.

The plump mage had been drawn over by Zyn’s exclamations and tried to get a good look himself. “I don’t see any...” he began. In that moment, however, another flash of lightning clearly lit up the oncoming wall of water that was rapidly approaching from the port side.


Panic grabbed hold of everyone present as they all ran screaming and yelling off in separate directions. Zyn’s breath quickened and his heart raced as he tried to think quickly about one thing: survival. But such thoughts didn’t get far when the entire vessel was slammed and Zyn was bashed and immersed by the wall of seawater, casting everything into darkness.

It was the same; it always was.

It was a cosmic battle that was no cosmic battle, but carried itself on as one, with the blatant exception of refusing to define itself. No matter how hard Zyn tried, he could never catch what was going on.

To his left, a knife; to his right, darkness. Or sometimes the darkness was to his left and the knife was to his right. Occasionally one was above and the other below or even in front and behind. The one thing that remained consistent was that they were on opposite sides.

Were they coming at him? Squinting, he tried to discern the vagueness of motion that should not have been there, but then it seemed to stop. Wait, was he heading towards it? Zyn looked down at his feet only to realize he wasn’t standing on solid ground. That certainly wasn’t normal, but oddly enough it didn’t seem terribly relevant either. Instead, his pondering was left to focus on the two choices before him.

They were choices, right? That was what this was, right? This wasn’t the first time he had seen this, and it was unlikely to be the last, so what was he supposed to do?

What are any of us supposed to do?

Zyn snapped around, but as he figured, nothing was to be seen. Just... grey, indistinct grey in all directions. He didn’t know how, but he knew that he wouldn’t find the source of the sudden interjection.

He had been here before.

But what was he supposed to do? In this surreal netherworld it pretty much happened the way it decided it was going to happen. If this were reality, he could truly ponder the significance of it, analyze it, figure it out.

But of course this was a dream, and as soon as he realized this, it all vanished.

Day 2, May 31st 703 CR

The ocean was big.

Of course this was a gross understatement and painfully obvious. Duh, the ocean was big, Zyn knew what it was; he had traveled by or on it his fair share of times, but never quite this close, not with just a solitary plank of wood keeping him afloat in an ocean full of nothing. Really, nothing; squat. There was a blue sky with some clouds and blue water and literally nothing else. Nothing except Zyn himself of course and his piece of wood.

In the darkness after the wave hit, Zyn had been tossed and thrown clear of any reference point. Lost confused, and under what must have been yards of water, he hadn’t even been able to tell which way was up, so battered and disoriented were his body and mind. It was only by some miracle that he had chosen the right direction and had found himself breaching the surface after exhausting, frantic struggling. But the storm had drowned out everything and nothing could be heard above the maelstrom, and aside from random lightning strikes all was pitch black. He could not see if he had been simply tossed clear of the ship or if it had been broken up itself, though a chance encounter with a wooden plank that had bumped into his backside suggested the latter.

He had tried calling out, to see if there were others, but he could hear nothing, just crashing waves, driving wind, and unending crackles of thunder. Gripping the plank, he had held on for what he could have sworn were days, though through some strange quirk he managed to keep his grip midst the frothing waves long enough for tempest to subside and the penetrating rays of dawn to appear unmarred by tumultuous clouds. Zyn had never seen such a beautiful sunrise in his life, cascading in brilliant shades of first purple then red and orange. Then the colors had gradually given way to their natural blue, and the waters at last became pacific leaving tiny Zyn floating along, alone.

The montage floated past seamlessly, in such dreamlike manner that Zyn found himself wondering if he was dreaming or not, or if he was already dead. Then his headaches came back. The headaches were a regular part of his life; he’d had them for almost as long as he could remember. That and the regular occurrence of other body parts in chronic pain from the various illnesses he had suffered in childhood meant hardly a day passed without something hurting. But in this case it clearly told him that he was not dead or dreaming; he was very much alive.

Fortunately the water was warm, so even though he was hanging on to the plank more than sitting atop it, he wasn’t in danger of hypothermia or anything. Come nightfall, though, he hoped it wouldn’t get too cold. He hoped it wouldn’t, and didn’t think it would; these were tropical waters after all. Weren’t they?

The plank, though, didn’t provide the most comfortable of grips and he felt as though he was in a slow war of attrition, holding out as long as he could against fatigue, because the plank was his absolute last lifeline. He’d heard of people staying afloat and buoyant by themselves on the open sea; he’d even met a few people that could do it, but he wasn’t one of them; he’d sink like a rock and drown in less than ten minutes. But even with the plank, it was a thin margin of life; his grip on that piece of wood was all that was keeping him alive.

There was nothing else besides that. Even with his clinging to the plank there was nothing standing between him and a slow death of exposure. The sun beat down relentlessly upon his battered body, slowly singeing his skin even as the salty sea constantly lapped waves upon him.

The water was probably the worst part, even worse than the complete lack of food. Every instinct that Zyn had learned growing up was mystified by ocean water; he had grown up in Ainador by the Galean Sea. To him, water was something you should be able to just scoop up and drink, as both the Galean Sea and the Yurdon River that flowed out of it were freshwater. The concept of water that you simply couldn’t drink tore up Zyn’s mind and sent it all flying messed up and scratched. How the hell could you have water that you couldn’t drink? Unfortunately he’d already gotten a taste of it, as his recent brush with death had seen him nearly swallow gobs of saltwater in his panicked swim; he know knew fully well how horrible and disgusting it was to the tongue, but part of his brain simply could not accept this.

As such he stared down at the obstinate water that steadfastly refused to be drinkable wave up and down all around him. The damn stuff mocked him as he drifted across its surface; he was wet from head to toe but it seemed that he was doomed to die from dehydration! In the middle of the most expansive body of water he had ever seen in his life!

The thought of his death was one he didn’t think about much; it was something he had never given a great deal of thought to. Oh, he had thought of what Heaven would be like after hearing the priests describe it, of its grand eternal qualities, but never before he had he been confronted with, or rather examined, the line that divides this world with that one. Never before had he truly contemplated the end of his physical existence.

Of course, this oversight on his part infuriated him.

Death had been with him his whole life, he had known its touch from his birth, what was more it was a boundary that everyone faced; no one was exempt, everyone would someday die. So why had he never prepared himself for it? For in the next few days, possibly next few hours if he fell asleep and let go of the plank, he was certain to die. And he didn’t even know how he was supposed to feel.

What was the difference between here and there, between his plank and the unfathomable depths below? It stood as barrier, something he could never know, something he could never test himself against, because to do so would be to die. How could he ever possibly test himself against something like death? How could he ever know his limits against something that inherently meant his end? How could he tell if he was strong enough to stand against it, how could he ever know if this was something he would not falter upon crossing?

Zyn let out a long frustrated sigh. Was this what he was condemned to in his last hours of life, pondering such things back and forth as his body whittled away from exposure? But the question was right in front of him and he had very little room to edge away from it. How would he handle death?

Slowly, Zyn edged his face into the water and held it there. Here, at this precarious moment, all that separated him from the other side was the simple reflex of breathing in one breath; that was it and he’d be on his way. Tension wrecked his chest at the damnable knowledge that it was this far and no further; if he were to take such a step he wouldn’t be able to talk about it with anyone, he couldn’t learn from the experience and make himself into a wiser person. There was no wisdom to be learned from dying, yet he could never truly know the limits of his own soul without crossing that last barrier. Why did Eli have to make this so difficult!?

Shaking his head, but still holding his breath, knowing that he was likely to die soon anyways but not able to partake of his own destruction so… willingly, he opened his eyes, hoping to peer down into the blue blackness below. But the sudden burning sensation in his eyes from the salt water caused him to snap his head back above the surface, coughing up a trickle of seawater that had managed to make its way into the back of his mouth. Panting from the momentary shock, Zyn rested his head against the plank, which was uncomfortable given its small size and the fact that he was already taking up room holding onto it with his arms, but for the moment he was content to just rest it despite that.

The sun rose higher until it reached what Zyn guessed was now midday, leading him to wonder just how far along his descent into exposure was. Every now and then he would scan the horizon, looking for some pathetic glimmer of something other than the bleary monotony of the blue waters that surrounded him in every direction. It was different from the hills he had known in his youth in northern Ainador, this was just pure blue in every direction, water and sky broken only by occasional clouds. It was novel at first but now it was becoming a bit tedious and bland to the eye and only reinforced Zyn’s hopeless situation.

Was he scared? Was he frightened? Was he angry? Zyn didn’t know, mostly because he kept incessantly wondering what he should be feeling, and finding no concrete answer his frustration was the only feeling he could detect.

Drifting in and out of his musings and distractions, Zyn didn’t notice the anomaly in the distance until he kept his eyes in its direction for a good solid five minutes. There was just the bland monotony of the ocean and... Zyn squinted his eyes? Was that something that was not ocean ahead of him? As he watched for what crawled by like hours the tiny dot seemed to grow bigger, though it did seem to be passing to his left.

The whole time he watched it somewhat dumbfounded, like a cow aimlessly looking out over a field, until he thought he spied movement. Then, the impossible happened.

The dot apparently had a voice that was shouting something. He couldn’t discern at all what it was, but it was a human voice! What would anyone be doing out here in something so small? There must have been other survivors!

“Hey!” Zyn shouted, even though his throat felt weak and parched. In all likelihood he couldn’t be heard, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to try. Weak as he was he added a lot of random splashing into the mix, trying to stir up any concoction of noise and movement that might help whoever it was catch notice of him.

Zyn kept his yelling until he wore himself hoarse, and watched with a level of dismay he didn’t think possible to feel as the object continued off to his left. What if whoever it was just passed him by without him ever noticing? His doomsday thoughts were interrupted when he could hear more shouting, shouting that he swore had to be coming from more than one person. In addition, he could barely make out what appeared to be flailing of arms and limbs. Were they trying to get his attention too?

Zyn wasn’t going to just passively wait around to see what would happen and began paddling his way over to who might as well have been Yahshua himself. With just his small plank it wasn’t really much of an extra effort, but his body was so weak with exhaustion that he might as well have been trying to push the entire ship that he had just been traveling on yesterday. His muscles screamed and bent with every kick of his legs, and his lungs protested fiercely, but he pushed on nonetheless.

“Hey! Hey!” Zyn could finally make out from his fellow adrift companions, and he confirmed that there were several men aboard a fairly large hunk of wood, likely from the side of the ship’s hull. At first he thought that two or three were onboard, but as he edged closer he could make out what had to be five or six all cluttered together on the broken piece of hull.

His own paddling seemed to be matched by the others who were doing their own pushing against the waters, and quickly they were both inching towards each other despite the random ocean currents. It seemed like hours, and probably took that long in retrospect, for the two makeshift lifeboats to converge together.

“Having fun?” One of the men asked as soon as soon as Zyn got close enough to for them to comfortably communicate without screaming their lungs out. Zyn would have replied, but his fatigue made it all but impossible for him do anything more than the excruciating pushing against the water that he was doing now. He almost didn’t recognize a certain one armed man until he noticed a familiar sly grin on his face. He said nothing to him, exhausted as he was; instead he just widened his eyes and smiled at the irony.

“You look like crap,” Lorian greeted him as they closed to within about fifty feet of each other. At this point one of the men, apparently seeing Zyn’s fatigue, jumped into the water and swam out to him. Belatedly he recognized the man as Grumiah, the ship’s quartermaster, as Zyn recalled one of the few competent people on board. Thank Eli for small graces. The quartermaster came up alongside him, grabbing him and helping him swim to the raft. One man who Zyn recognized as Bresan helped and pulled him onto the raft which was a good ten or eleven feet across, though with what Zyn now counted as no less than seven passengers (himself included), it looked to be quite crowded from now on.

The first thing that Zyn did was relax. This had been his first opportunity to rest on something solid since the previous night, and immediately he seized it, regardless that he only had a few feet to himself. “You don’t mind, I’ll try and catch a few winks now,” Lorian smiled with that usual damnable knowing smile and patted him on the shoulder, and the others seemed content to let him rest as he hadn’t had a real opportunity the whole time since the ship was torn apart lest he drown. If they had anything to say to him he didn’t hear as within seconds he was fast asleep.

The sun was low in the sky which was cast in deep oranges and reds when Zyn came to again, though looking around he couldn’t tell if it was dawn or dusk. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and groaning at the excessive aches he had from hunching over that pathetic plank of his for nearly a day, he gave a belated examination of his situation. Seven men, trapped on a raft that was in reality a piece of the side of their ship’s hull, stuck in the middle of the ocean, off course and far from land to begin with, with virtually no supplies to speak of. Thinking about it, he wasn’t any better of than he had been floating in the ocean by himself!

Sighing at his momentary wave of frustration, Zyn looked up to look over his companions. Grumiah, the quartermaster, he knew, though he had never spoken to him personally; he had however appraised him as a generally competent and grizzled sort that knew what he was doing. Of course then there was Lorian, his one armed mentor, who was at the moment sitting looking across the waters next to a particularly spaced out Bresan. Zyn didn’t know much about him, just that he was one of the sailors on board that he had bumped into on the first day. On the other end of the raft scrunched up next to Zyn due to the limited space available were two other sailors whom he didn’t know in the slightest besides vague recollections of seeing their faces a few times.

Lastly was the boyish faced mage whom Grumiah had forced to keep the witchlight lit the night of the storm. Zyn had never gotten a chance to learn his name, but observed that he rigorously avoided eye contact and seemed easily overwhelmed and distressed. He wasn’t very talkative, and when he did speak he did so with a voice soaked with timidity and deference. What his business happened to be was anyone’s guess, the fact that he was apparently traveling alone seemed curious to Zyn, especially given how out of his element the mage seemed. Even more so now, considering their current situation, at least that’s what Zyn figured given that the mage was fast asleep at the moment.

Yawning and shaking himself from his musings, Zyn turned to Lorian. “Dawn or dusk?” he asked.

Lorian snapped his head, mildly surprised that Zyn was awake, before sighing. “Dusk,” he replied. His tone of voice was neutral, though he only sighed like that when things looked really sour.

“Sleep enough Zyn?” one of the other sailors asked. Zyn blinked in response.

“I went ahead and told them your name while you were zonked out the whole day,” Lorian explained.

Shrugging in response, Zyn looked back at the sailor who was one of the two that he didn’t know. “So you mind telling me your names then?” he said, pointing to them both.

“Oh, right,” the bearded one on the left said, “Lum’s the name, and this midget here is Pols.”

The “midget” in question snapped his head and glared at his companion. “I ain’t a midget.” Though the fact that he wasn’t standing didn’t help with an accurate assessment of his height, Pols did look a little on the short side.

“What?” Lum asked feigning a hurt look, “it’s completely true you know.”

This statement resulted in a violent shove that was clearly intended to push Lum off the side of the raft, though Lum stood his ground and shoved back which sent Pols tumbling over into the ocean with a great big resounding splash.

Lum had a good laugh at this as Pols sputtered back the surface and spewed seawater from his mouth, but didn’t get much more time to enjoy it as Bresan came up behind him and sent him to join his midget companion.

Grumiah let out a disgruntled sigh. “Can it you three. Last thing we need is more people getting cold and wet tonight.”

“Hey, we’re just having a bit of fun,” Lum said, in as chipper mood as ever though he was giving Bresan somewhat of an evil eye. Pols, disgruntled and now drenched and taken off guard, was now fuming and tried to push Lum’s head under the water. Zyn watched the two of them somewhat confused and concerned, though when Lum just laughed again, broke free and pushed Pols’ head under, he ventured that this was probably typical behavior for these two.

Grumiah gave another shout of warning and amazingly the two of them stopped quarreling like little boys and let Bresan help them out of the water.

In the commotion Zyn almost didn’t notice that it had awakened the round mage from his slumber. “Wha?...” he began bleary eyed.

“Just a couple ruffian scuffles,” Lorian said, “Our sailor buddies seem to want to blow off some steam by dunking themselves in the ocean,” he indicated at the soggy pair who were now back on board but drenched and dripping from head to toe.

“...Um, ok...” the mage said warily.

Zyn nodded slowly; this guy practically screamed that he was out of his element, except Zyn got the impression that this guy wouldn’t scream or do pretty much anything assertive around other people, ever. “So, what’s your name then?”

“My... name?”

“You have one I presume?”

“Uh, Par-Parnsus, Parnsus Scolastin.”

Lum waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t bother with that big name of his; we’re just all calling him Parn.”

“But... but my name’s Parns—”

“Look kid,” Zyn interrupted, “this isn’t something you’re going to win, especially with this batch. Just let this one go.” Zyn called him “kid,” though in truth he wasn’t sure what his age was; he looked like he was seventeen but the fact that he was a mage and traveled by himself pointed at someone who was older.

All the while, one thought was occupying itself in the back of Zyn’s mind; were these six men the people he was going to die with?

Day 3, June 1st, 703 CR

The night was uneventful and silent, with even the sailors not saying much, at least for the portion that Zyn deigned to stay awake. He stayed up until what he thought was midnight, though he could not be certain with no concrete frame of reference. He awoke sometime not long after dawn, next to a snoring Lorian.

By this point the thirst was becoming unbearable, and all of them began eyeing the water like madmen, knowing that they could not even take a single satisfying drink. All would have been hopeless, had they not had a mage of course.

“I still truly have no idea what I am undertaking,” he complained in his thick aristocratic accent.

“Just shut up and use those pyro spells of yours,” Pols shot, “We’re thirsty for a drink, damnit!”

“But I am not even trained in any of this” Parn protested, “I study in enchantments, not—”

“Shut up!” Bresan, Lum and Pols all shouted at once.

“But this has not worked in all the previous attempts,” Parn complained.

Grumiah smiled ever so slightly. “Practice makes perfect, boy.”

Sighing dejectedly, Parn set his mind back on what they had all been repeatedly egging him to do, boil water. The hope was that if they could get some water boiled they could separate the water from the salt.

All fine in theory; but theories in Zyn’s experience tended to be treacherous things that could at any moment fall to pieces. For the most obvious problem, they were trying to capture steam, not just liquid water. The steam was the good stuff that didn’t have any salt in it, and if they could capture it and let it cool they’d have nice pure water.

They had tried this before many times the previous day, both before and after they had found Zyn. Apparently Parn had divulged (or had been brusquely forced to admit) that he knew rudimentary fire and ice spells, though he kept insisting that they were “not his specialty.” After (roughly) getting a flame spell down, he’d try to freeze the steam as it came back up, but even with training it would have been hard to do anything with it. Multiple attempts yielded a whole lot of nothing, just rising steam that wafted away into the air. There was one exception, though this happened when Parn misdirected his spell causing it to hit Bresan dead in the chest. Fortunately he hadn’t received any serious injury, though it had made everyone quit for the night, despite their growing thirst.

Today, they were trying it differently. They decided to forgo entirely the use of Parn’s lackluster freezing spells and tried to physically capture the rising steam. How they did this would require an odd request.

“Take off my clothes?” Parn gasped.

“Just your shirt kid,” Lum said, “We’ve gotta get something for the water to condense on, you said it yourself! We’re all chipping in. What’s wrong with it, we’re all men aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” Pols jumped in, “Let’s see them chest hairs!”

Much to everyone’s surprise, in contrast to his bare chubby child face, Parn’s chest was hairy as a bear. “Damn,” Bresan said.

“Aww, seems he ain’t a little boy after all,” Pols said sadly. “Looks like you won’t be able to fulfill your preferences this trip, Lum!”

“Yeah, such a shame for you, isn’t it, midget?”

“Enough!” Grumiah bellowed.

Once they were all naked on the top, they tied the shirts together to for a large solid surface that they could hold up and catch the rising steam. Or at least they attempted to tie it together.

“You’re doing it wrong!” Pols yelled.

“My knots are just fine, you’re the one who’s going under when you should be going over!” Bresan shot back.

Great Eli, stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of sailors who couldn’t tie knots? Zyn’s mind immediately recalled the Three Sailors of Whales, an old song about three drunks who tried to sail a galleon all by themselves and ended up lost at sea, with the three buffoons in front of him acting the parts to a tee.

“No, no, no, no! Look at this, this whole thing is wrong. This isn’t supposed to be a rope, it’s supposed to be spread out like a blanket over a big area. This thing sucks!”

“Your mother sucks,” Pols retorted.

“Eli damnit!” Zyn shouted before the inevitable shoving match occurred. “Are you people all incompetent or something!? How hard can it be to tie a bunch of shirts together? Just let me do it.”

A minute later, Zyn held up three shirts that were all tied neatly together. “There, see?” Lorian reached over with his one arm, grabbed one of the sleeves, and pulled, unraveling the whole thing.

Pols slapped Zyn upside the head. “That didn’t work either genius!”

“It’s not supposed to be a rope, you stupid ass; it’s supposed to be held over the water, not hold two things together!” Zyn shouted back.

“That still won’t hold very well,” Lorian calmly assessed.

“What, you want to do better?”

In response, Lorian reached over and grabbed the whole mess from Zyn and the others and with his one good arm, his stub of a right arm and his teeth, Lorian started putting together their sweat stenched water collector. Zyn sat incredulously as Lorian held up his final product and told Grumiah to pull on it, which didn’t unravel it in the slightest.

Zyn grunted, flustered. “Ok, you know what, screw you!” Lorian didn’t even flinch.

Next came the dilemma of how to hold the whole contraption over the water. After berating and interrogating Parn for a good five minutes trying to squeeze a levitation spell out of him with no results, they all argued over how to hold the thing up. Finally it was agreed that someone had to rest on the wooden plank that Zyn had floated on and hold their home-made water condenser in place. After much deliberation it came down to a game of Rock, Paper, Shears, which technically Bresan lost, but since Pols saw fit to cheat by claiming his paper was actually shears after the fact, he was unanimously chosen to be the one to get wet. Grumbling about cursed fates and some other crap, Pols climbed into the water and balanced himself awkwardly on the plank. Precariously balanced, he almost dropped the blanket of shirts when it was handed to him, causing Zyn to wince; if the thing got soaked they’d have to wait several hours for it to dry out, if even then with all the salt.

Problems immediately surfaced when Parn’s fire chanting caused intense heat to break out not in the seawater before them but on the raft at their feet. Zyn spotted the flames first, and immediately the six men onboard disintegrated into a chaotic mess of limbs and panic until someone belatedly realized they were surrounded by water. After drenching the would be conflagration, and screaming at a sheepish and horrified Parn to watch where he directed his spells, they tried again.

This time Parn’s spell was right on the mark, but Pols’ balance was not as he tipped over and splashed into the sea, taking the shirt blanket with him. Lum berated Pols’ for his clumsiness and Pols screamed back, saying that the stupid waves had knocked him off balance. The shirt blanket was absolutely soaked with salt water and in any case would take hours to dry. Rather than wait for that, the decision was made to strip off their pants and make a condenser out of them instead (Pols was excluded of course as he and his pants were already wet). This time they just gave everything to Lorian to tie up for them, who gave them a pants blanket “condenser” in short order.

Setting up their second attempt, everything seemed to be going fine until Pols started squirming when Parn started his chanting. A moment later Pols started twitching and they all quickly guessed what was going wrong. “Parn!” a collective shout went out that made Parn practically jump out of his undergarments, which had the bonus of stopping his spell and consequently stopping Pols from becoming crispy.

After giving poor Parn another berating, which he couldn’t seem to apologize enough for, they tried again. Not wishing to jinx anything, no one moved, even Pols who was still perched oddly; as things ended up he was literally hanging from the blanket of pants, his back on the plank and him pulling backwards to be balanced by the others on the raft. Zyn still couldn’t believe that the relatively diminutive sailor could keep his balance on that tiny plank while holding the end blanket up with both hands, leading Zyn to comment that maybe Pols would have been more suited for a traveling troupe than a sailing career.

Finally, after several arduous hours of standing around and Parn’s ceaseless nervous chanting and boiling of water, they examined the cloth, which was quite moist to the touch. Carefully reining it and Pols in, they gingerly collected it before they all started sucking on it. Disgusting, yes, especially considering all the sweat and grim that was caught in these pants, but the threat of dehydration could do extreme things. Yes, thinking about it, Zyn thought it tasted like crap, but it was water, and more importantly not seawater, so it might as well have come from the purest forest spring.

The amount of water they gleaned from their desperate attempt was meager and barely assuaged their monstrous thirst, but the work required to get that much water had been quite draining and tedious, especially on Parn who had slumped on his side resting as soon as there was no more water to drink. They didn’t try again for a long while, though they did put their shirts and pants back on to cut back sun exposure which was already singeing their skin. Parn began to look like he was permanently blushing, and Zyn wasn’t looking that great either when he examined himself. He also noticed his facial hair growing out from his last shave, leaving his face a mess of dark stubble. Scowling, Zyn grumbled for a bit then laid down flat on his back.

Everyone just wound down after that, even Lum and Pols. That much work to get a few sips of water? The collective despair on the raft thickened to the point where one could cut it with a knife, its heavy shroud stifling all conversation. There was no way any of this was sustainable; no food, and that meager amount of water was not going to satisfy the thirst of seven grown men.

The only thing that changed in the following hours was that the sun accelerated its trek down, giving them respite at least from its scorching rays. As the sky changed from blue to yellow to orange, the silence remained. Zyn felt as though he was going to choke on the hopelessness of their situation. Ironically, alone he might have been able to deal with it, but with the misery and gloom magnified by six others it was immeasurably amplified and continually grinded down his spirit. As laughter was contagious and jokes funnier when there were others to laugh with, so too despair seemed to thrive in their collective midst. The sun’s setting did little to alleviate the mood, and indeed only seemed to herald the coming of darkness.

As the sun made contact with the horizon in the west, Lorian suddenly moved. Looking up at his mentor, somewhat perturbed by being disrupted just as he was falling asleep, Zyn turned to see Lorian squinting in the distance. Following his gaze, Zyn scanned the horizon. The old man gave him a reserved but wry smile, the kind he usually gave when he just noticed a potentially promising looking bet. Zyn looked again, straining his eyes to see... a speck.

“Is that...” Zyn began.

“Let’s wait and see,” Lorian said.

Minutes past by at and agonizingly slow pace, crawling along like a drunk quadruple amputee across the floor, dragging a boulder for good measure. But as that time agonizingly crept on, dismal hope grew voicelessly, as neither of them seemed to want to jinx it by speaking beforehand. The dismal hope grew into cautious hope, and when the others noticed and all watched like a group of children anxiously sitting before an adult telling a story of exotic far off lands, it blossomed into what none of them would have believed was actually before them: a fighting chance.

They were looking at an island. And it was getting closer.

“Come on you ladies, paddle! PADDLE!” Pols shouted, caught up in the rabid euphoria of the moment and dreaming of dry land like the rest of them. Zyn almost didn’t believe that it was even possible; part of him thought that all this was an elaborate hallucination. Perhaps they were still just drifting aimlessly and seeing things in the distance, or maybe he was still alone with his wooden plank left to live his few remaining hours in endless cycles of fruitless thinking of the past.

Faster than he could have dreamed, the island stood before them; it might as well have been Heaven itself the way it’s lone peek thrust up magnificently against the dismal flat featureless horizon of endless ocean amid the backdrop of twinkling stars in the sky.

It had to have been hours, and the sun was well set and a full moon reflecting upon the seas by the time that they noticed the odd way the waves were coming in. In the excitement no one noticed or didn’t bother to give a second notice; Zyn saw the way they seemed to be breaking early but given that he knew little about the ways of islands, shores, and seas he didn’t think much upon it anyway. Though he should have.

The raft lurched violently as a trough carried them against something, something solid. “Shit, coral!” Grumiah shouted. Pols shouted a longwinded series of explicatives as the wave crest came upon them again only to be followed by another trough, which sure enough sent them crashing into the edge of a coral reef.

Zyn didn’t know much about coral reefs. He only knew they were something that made certain stretches of coast in tropical areas impassible to ships as they were liable to break them apart. What he saw now was some kind of oddly colorful rocky growth that seemed to carpet everything that was made briefly visible by the wave trough. What he felt was the violent crash of wood against this coral; a shearing which saw the wood give way and the raft break apart into pieces; Grumiah, Lum and Pols lost their grips and the waves swept them off almost immediately.

Another wave crest lifted them up, mocking them with its height before it cast them back down into the sheering, bloodthirsty coral, shearing the grip of everyone except, ironically, Lorian, who had only one arm to hold on with. Zyn had scant moments to consider the paradox of that before being thrust under the waves, tumbling about in the frothing mess. He bumped into someone else, who exactly was beyond what his disoriented senses could divine, but was then smacked across the left arm by a sharp serrated edge that was probably coral. Screaming underwater, Zyn fought to keep from inhaling as the rush of his heart and veins exploded at the searing pain that the saltwater only magnified. He had heard old expressions of pouring salt into wounds, but growing up with no great wealth salt was something that he would never have wasted on testing such an adage; now he could attest to its basis in reality as the salt in the seawater burned against his newly torn open flesh as it oozed out blood that appeared quite black in the darkness under the waves, like a light sucking fog.

Struggling against the screaming pain in his wounded arm and in the chest for the urgent need for air, Zyn kicked and fought his way to the surface, taking a breath like he had just been born into the world. Working his way out of his shock, he attempted to collect himself as he surveyed his surroundings. They were now within spitting distance of the soft sandy shore that they had been so arduously trying to reach, and unlike when he came up from the depths when the ship broke apart in the storm, this time he was not alone. Parn was just ahead flailing in the water next to a still cursing Pols who repeatedly kept coughing up seawater as he did so. Far to his left amidst the moonlight he could see a couple pieces of the now shattered raft drifting in, one of which was still ferrying Lorian as he literally coasted onto shore.

Coughing up water from his throat, Zyn turned around to see if he could spot the other three, which miraculously he did in short order; Grumiah, Bresan and Lum all swimming close together. However, looking at them something seemed distinctly odd; he instantly saw that Bresan was barely moving on his own, ferried forth only by his fellow sailors. “Come on, help get him to shore!” Grumiah shouted commandingly. Zyn blinked for a moment, fully catching his breath before he kicked off and swam over to the three sailors, swimming mostly with his right arm as the throbbing in his left made it exceedingly uncomfortable to use.

Bresan was indeed not moving, and when they finally piled onto shore it was apparent why. Where the coral had given Zyn and nasty and still bleeding cut on his arm, it had given Bresan a deep, piercing laceration across the abdomen, exposing his inner organs which even now threatened to spill out onto the sand. Zyn stared in shock at this for a moment; he had seen splayed open animals but never had he glimpsed the inner guts of a human being before, and certainly not one who was still living.

This state of affairs did not last long. With nothing they could possibly do, they watched as the life quickly bled out of Bresan along with his blood. His mouth fumbled, trying to form his dying words, but death reached out and snatched him before any such thing could be uttered. So he died, his lips eternally silent.

Perhaps, under more normal circumstances, there would have been a moment of mourning, of grieving, especially among the sailors. But the heavy fatigue of being tossed to and fro to the edge of the Earth on the verge of death had had the same effect on them as it had on Zyn. Breathing heavily, Zyn plopped down on the soft sandy beach and felt the sublime touch of solid ground beneath him. That, at least, was one thing that he did not have to be weary of, but with the weight of mortality having just moments ago finally lifted from him, he meandered up the beach to the vegetation line and fell into slumber.

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