Chapter 6 – All at Sea
Claude and I were both refreshed and ready for action the next day. After a hearty breakfast, the resistance bid us farewell and we popped to the nearest portal. Claudine came with us and was very perturbed by my tears as we said goodbye. Neither Claude nor I had the heart, or maybe the big brass ones, to tell her that she’d been killed in our universe. I held onto her for the longest hug I’d ever given before she popped away and left me and Claude to our travels.
This time when Claude trained his magic on the portal it was with a renewed hope and purpose. We had a way home – the Cluviel Dor. All we had to do was, somehow, end up in a universe where it existed and was in my possession. I closed my eyes and waited for the portal to mutate and suck me inside its swirling vortex. It didn’t take long, and by this point I was quite the expert in judging how close I was to being spat out by the speed of the spinning.
But something was different this time. It felt like it was raining inside the portal. I opened my eyes long enough to see a circle of foaming white water and took a deep, deep breath. Sure enough, when we were thrown out of the portal we were under water. My backpack made things harder but I kicked and kicked, moving my arms wildly to try and get to the surface.
Claude, being a Fairy, was stronger than me on a usual day. But he had just spent himself with his magic. When my head breached the water I gasped, trying to get as much fresh air into my lungs as possible. I couldn’t see Claude’s head anywhere. The water was clear and the sky was bright, I took another breath and ducked back down to try and find my cousin.
He was fighting to get to the surface but just didn’t have the strength to make it with the heavy bag strapped to him. I grabbed his arm, glad of the water’s buoyancy, and pulled him back up with me. Once we had regulated our breathing, we took a good look around. I could see some rocks jutting out of the water and pointed to them. Claude nodded and we slowly swam over to them, it was a struggle to climb out of the water but we did it.
Panting, we lay in the sun. It was scorching and our clothes were already starting to dry in a matter of minutes. My skin prickled in a way it never did when I was usually tanning, I frowned when I noticed my arms turning a nasty shade of pink. This level of heat from the sun wasn’t what I was used to. In fact, it was unbearable.
“We need to cover up.” I told Claude as I opened my bag and pulled out a long sleeved shirt to cover my arms and a t-shirt to cover my head.
He nodded and copied my actions, taking the vial of Claudine’s elixir from the side pocket of his bag and letting himself have a small sip. You could see the effect the potion had immediately, his skin glowed with a luminescence that the sun wouldn’t give a person. He stored the vial back in his bag and took out the portal map.
“There are no portals under water on this map, I’ve never heard of a portal beneath the sea. I have no idea where we are.”
“Yep.” I extracted a bottle of Gatorade from my bag and drank some. “That seems to be a common theme whenever we jump.”
“I feel strong. I can pop us … but I have no idea which direction to pop in.”
“We need to find shelter before we fry like a fat man’s breakfast.” I sighed and stood up, trying to see as far as I could, but the heat just created a haze on the horizon.
There were some more rocks and lots of sea; I thought I could see treetops in the distance, which was odd. We agreed the best course of action was to head for the trees, so we popped from rock to rock, trying to get a closer look at the landscape beyond the expanse of water. The heat from the sun was weakening us both, even with the refreshments we had. Claude was exhausted and I could barely stand up straight. My head was starting to pound and my stomach rolled. I could hear ringing in my ears and shook my head, trying to clear the way for straight thinking.
“Sookie, can you hear bells?”
“Oh thank the Lord! I thought my brain was melting!” I managed to huff out a slightly amused sounding sigh.
“Where are they coming from?”
I scanned the horizon and noted a grey area over to our left. I pointed to it and Claude nodded. It could have been a boat; it could have been a giant man-eating shark. Maybe the bells were signifying it was dinner time. I panicked, for the briefest moment imagining that we’d wound up in a universe where sharks were at the top of the food chain. The sound of an engine in the distance squashed those thoughts for a little while and then I started wondering how easily a giant man-eating shark could learn how to drive a speedboat. The heat was making me delirious.
Claude and I huddled on the rock, waiting for our fate. Our track record for the first person to find us being friendly was sitting at zero out of two. There were a couple of things in our favour. The first was that it was daytime, so it wouldn’t be a hungry Vampire looking for a tasty Fae snack. The second was that, whoever was coming wasn’t coming in a helicopter – so that reduced the chance of armed forces involvement. My vision was getting blurry from the intensity of the sunshine, so when the boat eventually got close to us – I could barely make the face of the man piloting it.
“How in the heck did ya get all the way out here? You kids are damn lucky I keep an eye on these waters!”
My brain struggled to come up with something adequate to say. I blinked as he moved to the stern of the boat and threw a red and white life saver toward us.
“We got lost.”
“Sure as shit you did.” I heard him suck a breath through his teeth. “Well, are ya gonna grab on ta that or what?”
Claude and I both eased ourselves back into the water and grabbed the life saver as the boatman pulled us toward him. Once we were in the shade, I noticed that the whole boat was covered and the windows of the bridge were tinted like a pair of sunglasses. The relief of being under the black canopy and feeling the breeze as the boat moved through the water was small but welcome. I slumped against the side of the cabin, sipping at my drink carefully and waiting for my vision and head to clear. A wave of dizziness came over me and then it felt like I was in a deep, deep sleep.
I was in a dimly lit room when I woke up, my head felt cooler than the rest of my body and when I reached up to touch it, I discovered a cold, wet cloth on my forehead. I removed it and looked around, immediately noticing Claude lying next to me with a cloth on his head. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see that it was still day time but that the windows were covered with black fabric. The only thing I could think of was that we’d both suffered heat stroke, unless the sea water was poisoned somehow and I ingested some of it. Claude moaned and winced in his unconscious state.
“Need to get the Vampires away from the portal.”
He muttered and I clamped my hand over his mouth. We had no idea if the man who had taken us on his boat was friend or foe, or Supe or human. My head still really hurt, so I was aware of other minds in the vicinity, but couldn’t concentrate to get a clear reading on anyone or even get a clear idea of how many there were and I didn’t have the energy to tune them out or lower the volume on the static.
I stood up and swayed on my feet before having to find something to empty my stomach contents into. Fortunately there was a waste paper bucket not too far away from the bed. Someone must have heard the retching and I heard a door open and close as I hugged the bucket to my chest.
“Yeah, you two got it pretty bad. It ain’t good to be outside for any length of time. Makes me wonder where you’re from, that you wouldn’t know that already.”
I looked up at him, it was the same man who pulled us on to the boat – I could tell from his voice. “Where are we?”
“Dade lookout post. Where are you from?”
“Uh-huh.” I felt the mattress sink as he sat next to me. “Y’know, people say things are complicated when they want to keep secrets. Now, you can try to keep the fact you ended up in the middle of the ocean but weren’t there long enough to die of sun exposure a secret as much as you like. But it’s a mystery to me, and mysteries bug the shit out of me. I keep plugging until I solve it.”
He stood up and left the room again, leaving me even more confused about the world we’d jumped into than I was before. I looked around for our bags and, sure enough, they were at the bottom of the bed. The portal map was haphazardly folded and stuffed into Claude’s bag so I took it out and tried to smooth out the creases. No matter how many times I checked and double checked – there weren’t any portals under water.
Because creating a portal at the bottom of the ocean would be completely stupid.
I remembered the first universe we jumped in to. Mr Cataliades said we’d created a portal where there wasn’t one before. That meant there was a big chance that the portals would be in different places in different universes. I held in a scream of frustration and tossed the map back on top of the bags. It hurt to think too much, and that was something I wasn’t used to, not being able to think was dangerous. But going back to sleep in a strange place, with a man who seemed determined to figure out what our secrets were, was pretty dangerous too. I laid back down and put the cloth back on my head, it felt heavenly. I decided that the boatman hadn’t killed us while we were both passed out before, so there was no reason to think he would do it now.
The next time I woke up I was still very woozy, but Claude was also awake and poring over the map that had frustrated me earlier. When I moved around, I felt nauseous, but there wasn’t anything left in my stomach to throw up. This made vomiting even more traumatic than it should have been. I felt Claude tapping me on the shoulder and looked at him. He handed me the vial that Claudine had given him.
“A tiny sip will have you back on your feet.”
I nodded and held the small bottle to my lips. When the potion dripped on to my tongue, it tingled pleasantly. The same tingling spread through my body as I swallowed. Seconds later, I felt refreshed, revitalised and, thankfully, headache free. In fact, my head felt clearer than it ever had. I tucked that information away and wondered if Claude knew how to make the same potion. I thanked him and handed the elixir back.
“Have you managed to make head or tail of the map yet?”
He shook his head. “No, none of it makes sense.”
I lowered my voice and moved closer to him. “The man who picked us up with his boat, he said we were at Dade lookout post.”
Our conversation was cut short by the door opening again. I could see who it was clearly this time. He looked middle aged, rugged, with weathered skin and thinning mousy brown hair.
“Well, you two look much better.” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you earlier for rescuing us. We would have died out there if you hadn’t come for us.” I nudged Claude.
“Yes, we’re very lucky you came when you did. Thank you.”
It turned out; these weren’t the right kind of things to say to him.
“Okay, I’ve had about enough of all the questions you two make pop into my brain. I want to know who you are, where you’re from and how the hell you two both recovered from grade 3 sunstroke in a single afternoon.”
Claude and I looked at each other. Even though I couldn’t hear Claude’s thoughts, I knew he was thinking exactly the same thing as I was.
How are we going to get out of this situation?