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part four.


It takes Aura several attempts to open her eyes before she realises, with a hint of humility, that they’re already open; the blackness around her is so complete that it’s as if light never existed here. She’s lying in what seems to be a somewhat shallow pool of water, and the current is causing her head to bump gently against something smooth, cold and solid, which is probably what brought her back to full consciousness. Pushing her hands against the rocky floor, Aura rises to her feet and stumbles backwards against the object she’d hit her head on which, it transpires, is a wall of vertical metal bars. The movement sends a sharp burst of pain through her chest and makes her head spin, so she has to lean against the bars for a moment. Her breathing comes in short, sharp spurts; she has to force herself to slow it right down to prevent panic.

Light. She needs light. Think. Think, think, think.

Bars. Since the destruction of the Core’s prison, there’s only one place in Shaman with artificial bars: the cell at the back of the Shrine where Mallos had held her, Juniper and Lisette for a week. That must be where she is right now... but why hasn’t it been flooded? The water is only about ankle-deep. Frowning, Aura tries to visualise the room – the memories come all too easily, and as well as the general layout she’s able to recall where, at the back of the room, she and the other two girls had kept a wooden box with candles and matches inside. Utterly blind and keeping one hand against the bars, Aura cautiously follows the wall around. Her mental imagery isn’t perfect and she accidentally trips over the box (which she’d judged to be further along the wall), adding a bruise on her leg to the variety of injuries she seems to be collecting today. Rubbing her knee with one hand, Aura opens the box and starts to fumble with the matches, praying silent thanks to the box for keeping them dry. After a few moments of blind striking, she finally manages to light one.

The consequential glow is dim, but sufficient. She’s in the cell alright. The cell is located in a sort of alcove from one of the main tunnels at the back of the Shrine, so it has only one exit, and the mystery of why the water is so shallow is instantly answered: the tunnel is blocked. The cave is full of large rocks and boulders which must have been pushed down by the incredibly strong current when the wave first struck; now they have almost entirely sealed up the hole, apart from a small gap right at the top. Aura stares at it calculatingly for a few moments, before judging that it’s just large enough for a very small fairy to fit through.

Unfortunately, not she nor anyone else will be getting through it any time soon. The tunnel on the other side must be completely flooded, because a powerful stream of water is being forced through the gap, making it completely impossible for anything else to squeeze its way in or out.
The blonde deity’s hopes glimmer with the candle. When the water in the cell is at the same level as the water in the tunnel, the pressure will be released and she’ll be able to get through the gap and out. Unfortunately, she will have to push her way through the gap and navigate her way out of the Shrine in pitch blackness underwater. Aura has no doubt in her ability to find her way back to the cave entrance blindfold – this is her home, after all, and she knows it as well as the back of her hand – but the prospect of doing so underwater when she doesn’t know how to swim and while her movements are restricted by at least one broken rib doesn’t do a lot to boost her confidence.

Taking as deep a breath as her agonised chest will allow, Aura blows out the candle and drops it in the water before she has a chance to change her mind. Don’t think, just do it. Running one hand along the wall to keep her bearing, she splashes over to the blockage and leans against it, shivering with cold. The wait isn’t too long; thanks to the gap, the cell is filling up fast, and it only takes about twenty minutes before it’s past her waist. Time to get some practice in.

Nervously, Aura inhales and lifts her feet off the ground, forcing herself not to panic as her head instantly ducks under the sheet of icy water. As she’d suspected, the air in her lungs causes her to quickly bob back up to the surface. Good old physics. Keeping one hand on the boulder, she experimentally kicks out with her legs and is surprised at how far forward she moves – her nose almost connects with the rock wall, and she has to push back quickly to prevent another injury. Movement with her arms is extremely restricted and painful so she uses them mainly to help herself float and practices moving around with her legs. After ten minutes or so she leans back against the blockage and attempts to put her feet down, but finds that her feet can no longer touch the rock floor and almost succumbs to hysteria then and there. The water is rising faster than she thought – partially good because it means that she won’t die of exhaustion waiting for it to rise quick enough, but partially bad because it reduces her practice time and, in turn, her confidence.

She thinks of Anneliese. Briefly imagining the phoenix’s facial expression if she were trapped down here with her helps to relax her somewhat, and she even giggles anxiously; the quiet sound bounces strangely off the walls which magnify it tenfold, and she stops. Thinking about Anneliese for too long is too painful, anyway.

Her head scrapes against the ceiling. How long has she been in here? An hour? Two hours? It doesn’t seem like that long. She can’t even feel the cold anymore. Scrabbling against the rock with numb fingers, Aura locates the gap and stays near it, being sure to keep out of the way of the current which is too strong to swim against. There’s no longer enough room for her head – she has to turn her face upwards and float in order to breathe. Did someone once tell her that taking several deep breaths expands the lungs, enabling her to hold her breath for longer? She tries, but the resulting agony from her ribs causes her to choke and splutter and she gives up. An overwhelming sense of despair washes over her. What does it matter, anyway? This plan is madness; she can’t swim. She’s going to drown down here, alone and consumed by darkness and pain. She’s going to die again.

Her lips bump the ceiling. No more thinking. No more time. Taking what could be her last breath, Aura ducks her head under the water and drags herself towards the thin gap, feeling with unfeeling fingers. It’s tighter than she had originally thought and for a moment she’s afraid that she’s stuck, but a quick wriggle releases her and she manages to force herself all the way through. That’s the easy part over.

With her lungs full of air, it’s easy to stay near the ceiling. Pushing with her legs against the blockage, Aura shoots off in the direction she hopes will lead her back to the entrance of the Shrine, kicking out with her legs and pulling herself upside-down across the ceiling with her hands. She’s unaware of the cold sapping the strength from her limbs – her body has long since numbed itself against the chill of the salt water. She does, however, feel the debris as it bumps against her – the larger pieces occasionally knocking her back a peg or two. Where is she? She’s lost her bearing. She’d been wrong; navigating the Shrine in total darkness is impossible. Her lungs are burning and, too late, she realises she’s been going too slow – if she’d ever had any chance of getting out she’d needed to make full use of her limbs. Releasing the ceiling and spinning around onto her front, Aura pushes forward forcefully with arms and legs, ignoring the pain in her torso. Cupping her hands seems to make her move faster, and she scolds herself for not thinking of it sooner. Why hadn’t she practiced different speed techniques back in the cell? It doesn’t matter. It’s too late now.

Suddenly her head is released, and she looks up to see a glimmering light far above her head. She’s done it! She’s out of the Shrine.
Or, at least, almost done it. The entirety of the Silver Cove is flooded and, judging by how far away the surface of the water is, probably most of the Old Ruins too. She’s not safe until she gets to the surface. Pushing herself away from the rocky edge of the cave, Aura swims with renewed determination towards the light.

Unfortunately, determination isn’t enough. Although she’s swimming, the light doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer, and her limbs are getting heavier. Several precious bubbles of air escape from the corners of her lips and, against her will, she starts to slow. Every movement feels like the dagger which tore through her heart. Surely death is easier than this?

Several more air bubbles escape. Aura looks up towards the light, only to find that it’s being blocked by a... incredibly, by a face. A small, furry face with a long nose and beady black eyes. When the face grins at her, wriggles the body its attached to and bolts towards the surface, she wonders if hallucinations are a common part of dying. She doesn’t remember hallucinating when she died the first time.

A memory stirs in the back of her brain. Seven curses, seven rats. With her last ounce of strength, Aura makes the final push and, seconds later, is rewarded with her head breaking the surface of the seawater. The first gulp of air feels like her first breath. Again.

The rat is floating next to her. “Wet, huh?” He winks cheerily.


    • part three. -
    • part two. -
    • part one. -

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