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Happy birthday to me,

Happy birthday to me,

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And this song doesn’t rhyme!

Chapter Thirty Five

The sound of gently lapping waves lured Toke out his deep slumber, and he was greeted by a decidedly not-gentle wave of pain.  He gasped out loud, and then immediately started hacking and coughing violently.


He was lying on his stomach, on top of something that was both soft and hard at the same time, but that was all he was able to process while coughing his lungs up.  He coughed for over a minute, and it wasn't until he was blue in the face that it turned into retching.  Thick, cloudy water that tasted of stomach acid fell from his mouth.  Then, finally finished, he gasped again and laid his head down right in his own watery vomit.  It smelled terrible, but he didn't care.


The world was spinning hard enough to almost make him throw up again, and he desperately dug his fingers into the soft, pliable surface he was lying on to keep himself from being flung back into the lake.  The dizzy spell lasted for several minutes, but when it passed he was finally able to summon the strength to sit up and open his eyes.


Sand.  He was sitting on sand.  For a second he dared to hope that he had washed up onto a beach somewhere, but a slow turn of his head, careful not to make himself dizzy again, told him he wasn't that lucky.  He was on some kind of island.  No, island wasn't the right word for it.  This was far too small.  Only about four feet wide, and a little bit more than twice as long as he was tall.  It only rose a couple of inches out of the water, so low that the sand never dried.  A tiny island, barely twice the size of two of the Seventh Swordfish's cabins put together.


“How did I get here?” His ragged throat made the words sound like they were being asked by a frog.


He knew the answer to that, of course.  He and Zashiel had had a fight, and he'd thrown a tantrum and flown away.  His arm had failed him—it throbbed with pain just at the thought—and he had fallen out of the sky and crashed into the lake.


“I must have drifted here while I was unconscious,” he concluded.  That only raised more questions, though.  First and foremost among them being, what now?


He looked up at the sky, deceptively bright and cheerfully blue, with a few clouds trailing across it.  Daytime. So, he'd slept through the entire night, and... judging by the position of the sun, it was late morning.  His heart sank into his stomach.


That means I've been here all night and almost all morning too, he thought. And nobody's come to rescue me yet.


Part of him laughed at that.  He was the Juryokine.  It wasn't like he was marooned here, especially not since he had his winged jacket.  The more realistic side of him snapped at that voice to shut up.  Flying had gotten him into this mess.  His arm was clearly too injured to handle the stress his wings put on it.  And besides that, his arm wasn't the only part of him that was injured anymore.  He was lucky to have survived that fall, but he wasn't walking away unscathed.  Or walking anywhere, for that matter...


Grunting in pain, he managed to sit up entirely.  He raised his hand, gritted his teeth, and gingerly began to feel himself.  A series of grunts and moans came from his mouth, and a few minutes later he collapsed onto his back again, the world spinning chaotically around him.  From what he could tell, he must have performed a world record belly flop into the lake, because the entire front of his torso was either red and raw, or purple with bruises.  He didn't think any of his ribs were broken, but they were likely cracked.  Same with his left leg—sprained, but he didn't think it was broken.


Broken or not, he had to admit, I'm not flying anywhere like this.


He stopped and looked at the water lapping at the edge of the island, considering, and then shook his head.


And I'm not swimming anywhere either.


So... what option did that leave him?  As much as he hated to admit it, all he could do was sit here and hope that somebody came to rescue him.


“I'm doomed,” he croaked.


Though his head was still fuzzy, more and more of the previous night's events were coming back to him.  Those words... they couldn't have been his, could they?  They were though, as galling as it was to think about.  Just like Zashiel had taught him to take down his enemies with a weapon, he had turned around and attacked her with words.  Could he even call himself her friend after that?  He doubted it.  


Toke had told her that he would rather drown than spend one more day with her.  Zashiel must have known what would happen if he flew too far from the ship, but she had let him leave.  That, more than anything, felt like the final thread of their friendship being cut.  She'd let him go, and now he was trapped on a strip of sand with nothing but dozens, if not hundreds, of miles of water all around him.  He was going to die out here.  Alone.


And the worst part was, he knew it was exactly what he deserved.


“What have I done?” he whispered, putting his head in his hands.  Things had been going perfectly.  Not just in terms of what a fugitive could expect—his life had really begun to feel like it was worth living again.  He'd been given a good job, his friends and family were in a safe environment, and...  Inaska.  A ragged sob escaped between his clenched teeth.  Smite it, he had left Inaska behind!  He hadn't just abandoned Zashiel last night, he'd abandoned his bride-to-be, Wayli and Boam, and his own parents too!  What must Inaska be thinking right now?  Not one day after declaring that he loved her and wanted to marry her, he took off in a fit of rage, never to be seen again.  She had to be devastated.


“Smite it,” he whispered.  He wanted to stand up and roar his curse to the heavens, kick the water and punch the sand, but he couldn't work up the energy.  What was the point?  Tantrum or no tantrum, he was going to starve to death on this forgotten tiny strip of land, with only the memories of the people he'd betrayed to keep him company.  Better to just settle down and wait.


And that was exactly what he did, hugging his legs and putting his head in between his knees so that all he could see was the dark, wet sand he was sitting on.


You are alone.


Curled up and hunched over, he almost felt like a chick waiting to hatch from its egg.  Only it wasn't life that waited for him on the other side of that shell, but the end of it.


The hours drifted by unnoticed.  He neither knew nor cared how long he spent like that, but when he finally looked up, it was dark again.  His stomach growled with hunger, and his throat felt dryer than ever.  The moon was more than halfway across the sky, but Toke had a vague recollection of seeing more than one sunset.  He had sat like that for an entire day.  He didn't care.


He breathed through his mouth, but the dryness of his throat got him coughing again.  The world spun around him.  Not from his wounds, this time.  Just simple dehydration.  He turned his head to look at the lake, lapping gently at the edge of the island not three feet away.


Don't even think about it, he told himself, shaking his head and hunching over again.  If you're going to die... well, then dying of thirst would be better than starving to death.


A morbid thought, but he was feeling rather morbid.


Even so, the calm, rhythmic splashes of the water called to him.  Drink… drink, it seemed to say.  He was thirsty, and there was more fresh water than he could ever consume right there in front of him.  His head spun again, demanding to know why he was doing this to himself.  He managed to hold out for another five minutes, before struggling to his feet, cursing, and hobbling down into the water.


His ribs flashed with pain as he stood up, and his leg complained with every step he took.  Toke let the pain have its way with him.  He had earned these injuries, and deserved every piece of... with a groan, he toppled face first into the water.  His nose slammed hard into the sandy floor, and lights flashed behind his eyelids.  For a moment he was worried he would pass out again and he would drown.  Would that really be so bad?  Then he put his hands underneath him and lifted himself out of the water.  A few drops of blood fell from his nose, turning into swirling clouds of red when they hit the water, and he gasped for breath.


No.  Not like that.  He was going to die on this smiting island, but he still had enough pride not to drown in three inches of water.


Putting one hand over his nose to keep from bleeding into the water beneath him, he bent down, put his lips to the surface, and sucked it in.  His entire body immediately rippled with pleasure, and the pain in his throat faded noticeably.


Don't thank me, he thought to it sullenly. I'm only keeping you alive so you can die more slowly.


He took two more long drinks, quenching his thirst—just as a splash came from further out in the lake.


“Who's there?” Toke demanded, immediately leaping to his feet.  The movement surprised him.  Resigned to death or not, Zashiel's training was still just as effective.


He looked out at the calm, nearly motionless surface of the lake, but couldn't see anything except for the reflection of the moon.  His right hand inched its way behind him, to where his axes still hung from the back of his jacket.  When his fingers brushed their cold steel, though, he paused.


An easy way out.  One quick slash of his wrists, or maybe his throat, and his long, agonizing death sentence would be cut short.  It was the coward's way out, and he knew Zashiel would never forgive him for that... but she would never forgive him for the things he'd said on the ship either, would she?  His fist tightened around the handle, and—SPLASH!


This one came from behind him.


“I know you're out there!” Toke yelled, spinning, but there was nothing to see but endless miles of waves and black water.


Toke's heart began to beat harder, and he finally took his axes out.  Closing his eyes, he reached out with his powers, feeling everything around him. The water dampened the effect somewhat, but he could still sense something in front of him... something big...  A rock?  It was roughly the size and shape of a boulder, though he had no idea how one would come to be in a place like this.


It shifted.  Yelping, Toke drew his hand back and flung his axe in that general direction.  His wrist flared with pain, but the axe flew straight and true regardless, splashing into the water and still continuing on its course.  Toke felt rather than saw it strike the large whatever-it-was.  It moved again, going further away from the island.  For a moment, Toke felt a glimmer of satisfaction—before he realized it was carrying his axe away!


“Smite it!” he cursed, dashing across the island, ignoring the pain in his leg.  When he reached the other side, he lashed out again with his powers, anchoring himself back to weapon.  He expected it to come flying back to his hand the way it always did, but instead he was yanked forward off his feet.  He landed face first in the water again, but quickly scrambled upright.  His anchor pulled him even further out into water.  Already, it was up past his knees.  What was going on?


Whatever that thing is, he thought as the lake rose up to swallow his waist, my axe must have gotten stuck in it.  And it's smiting strong!


Grunting, Toke increased his weight—and then released it when his injured leg threatened to buckle underneath him.  He was in too deep.  If he fell, his head would go right under.


So what?  Drowning would be a lot better than starving to death.


He wouldn't give in, though.  Not for his own sake, but for his axes.  Zashiel had given them to him.  His best friend, the one he had betrayed.  They were like a part of her, in a way.  Even if he never saw her again, he wouldn't let those precious weapons out of his sight for a second until the minute he died.  And he certainly wouldn't let this thing have them!


His leg was out of commission.  That meant he would have to improvise.  Think, he urged himself.  Think!  The water was up around his neck now, and the thing in the water didn't seem to be tiring.  Toke had seconds, if that, to figure out what to do...


The water touched his chin, and, having no other choice, Toke bent his knees, and jumped with the aid of weakened gravity.  Even injured as his leg was, the jump propelled him a good seven feet out of the water.  Unfortunately, that only made escape easier for the thing below, and Toke was jerked roughly back downwards as it picked up speed.  Concentrating, he reached out behind him and made a second anchor, this one to the island itself.  He instantly froze in midair, caught in the pull of two polar opposite anchors, and then he increased his weight again.  The thing in the water halted, and Toke slowly began to float back toward the island.  It resisted, and his journey slowed.  It was like he was a fishing line, and the twin pulls of gravity were the hook and the rod.  He just had to apply the right amount of force to pull the thing back toward him.  Then he could retrieve his axe and they could both go on their merry way.


That is, of course, unless the line broke first.


He groaned.  That thing... it had to weigh over five hundred pounds!  What on Fissura was he doing trying to pull it out of the water with him?  It still had Zashiel's axe, though, so he couldn't just let it go.  He increased his weight yet again, and the creature's resistance weakened.  Inch by inch, he drew closer to the island, feeling like his stomach was about to be yanked out through his back.  His feet alighted on the sand, and he spun around—


Just in time to see a massive lump rise out of the water!


“What the smite?” he whispered as he got his first view of his enemy.


A crab.  A massive, monstrous crab.




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