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part five.


“Lots of wet, cold, yup yup. Him breaking promises, yup yup. Us guys wanting warm place – us guys wanting to curl up, snug and cosy, full bellies, yup yup. Food, huh? Bed, huh? Huh?” The rat twitches his nose and looks at a rather stunned Aura thoughtfully. “One Ear. You, huh?”

It takes her a minute to realise that he means her name, and another minute to recall the name Right Paw Missing Two Toes had given her. “White Fur.”

One Ear twitches his nose again, looking amused, and Aura takes the moment to look around. As she’d suspected, the Old Ruins is completely flooded – to her despair there’s no sign of land anywhere. Even the tallest boulders and the tops of the highest trees have been swallowed by the mass of water, and she’s faced with an unbroken expanse of sea in every direction. There’s no telling in which direction the rest of Shaman is – she could swim forever and never find her way back to land. That’s if she doesn’t drown or die of exhaustion or cold first.

Something touches her arm and she jumps, but it’s only a piece of debris. It kills her to call it that, because not all that long ago that ‘debris’ was a young child’s cherished doll; its carefully painted, affectionate face smiles up at her warmly. Unable to look at it, she turns back to One Ear, who is watching her closely.

“Us guys swimming, huh?” He suggests, “us guys finding land, place to stand, lie, curl up, warm and dry and cosy and snug. Us guys finding food. Us guys eating and sleeping.”

Before she can reply, he turns and starts swimming with confidence. Aura has no idea how he knows where he’s going but she’s in no position to argue, so she slowly and painfully follows him, trying to use her arms as little as possible. It hurts to breathe and it hurts to move. The only consolation she has at the moment to her slim chances of survival are the incredible stories of people who have managed to walk for miles on broken legs – if they could do that, why can’t she swim for miles with a broken rib?
Because you’re not strong like they are, mutters the little voice in the back of her mind. Aura doesn’t even bother to try and block it out – it’s right, and she knows it.

“No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no,” the rat scolds her, and she realises that he’s been watching her swimming. “White Fur bad. Bad bad bad. One Ear showing you, yup yup.” He demonstrates how to swim, parading up and down in front of her a few times. “See? Kick kick kick. Kick kick kick, kick kick kick kick. Now you.”

He continuously nips her arm (not that it makes much difference; she’s too numb with the cold to feel any more external wounds) until he’s satisfied with her swimming technique and returns to leading her across the ocean. Although she’d never admit it, it is easier (and slightly less painful) to swim using this technique, and she quickly falls into a mindless rhythm. To keep herself occupied and to prevent herself from thinking discomfiting thoughts, Aura constructs mathematical problems with increasing difficulty levels in her mind and duly solves them. When she tires of maths, she counts the number of debris particles floating about (1,623) and mentally organises them into different categories based on size and usage. Anything to stop herself from thinking about what might happen if they don’t find land soon, or wondering how long they’ve been swimming for.

The sun is about a quarter of the way across the sky (perhaps nine o’clock in the morning) by the time she finally sees the rugged outline of some shapes on the horizon. It takes another twenty minutes of swimming for her to recognise what it must be, and another hour on top of that before they finally reach it: Mahogany Forest. Like the Old Ruins, the forest is completely flooded, but some of the taller ‘emergence’ trees are high enough that some of their upper branches just jut out over the surface of the water. Wearily, Aura follows One Ear to the nearest tree and climbs up onto the lowest, semi-submerged branch, grateful for the feeling of something solid beneath her feet. Her vision blurs and, finally, she gives way to unconsciousness.


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

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