I know it’s only been a day, but it feels like a long time has passed since I said or wrote anything. I’m not sure how much to cover, how far back to go, but I’m guessing it was sometime around the escape.
We had to get to the Healing Center. That’s where Jonah had been kept this whole time, and where Liz went after her condition worsened. The thought of all they must have done to Jonah still chafed. I imaged them sticking red worms onto his skin. I imagined spidercrabs clamped onto his little jaw. The things that had once been horrifying for me would certainly have been worse for my little boy.
They had to pay.
And who knew what shape Liz would be in once I found her? Every time I saw her, her skin looked more and more like drying school glue. The space around her eyes was two parts black to every one part red.
Iara and I slipped in and out of several pools, slowly making our way toward the Center. Heqet had intensified her efforts at locating Lithe and me ever since my little run-in with Nixie and the crustacean guards. It wasn’t just the guards we had to be wary of, either. Atlantis was one step away from having our faces plastered onto milk cartons and embedded in advertisements for Saturday morning cartoons. We had been identified as a threat by the entire city, which made me wonder, how could Lithe possibly challenge Heqet for control of Zebulon? He had been cast as a terrorist, a kidnapper, a child-abuser, and a traitor. It made no sense to me that the undersea world would suddenly decide to turn over their government to Bin Laden.
Dagan was there waiting for us at the end of one of the combs. I pulled up, but Iara reassured me, and Dagan took us out a back door.
To a dead end.
Iara gasped, but Derkato emerged from the hovel behind us, shushed her and tightly wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She twisted and kneed him in the groin, but he just grunted and held her more firmly. Dagan pulled a short spear from behind his waist and an iron off his back. I didn’t wait for what had to be coming, but charged him while he was still getting set to pounce. The iron got caught behind his back but the spear slid in under my arm, cutting my ribs. The cut wasn’t deep, but it stung and caused me to falter. Derkato stepped in to help, but Dagan was already lashing out with the iron—a sideways swipe—and cut his friend across the face.
I knew there was a reason I didn’t like these guys. The feeling, obviously, was mutual. They picked a crappy time to settle our sibling rivalry, though.
I brought my shoulder into Dagan’s side, linebacker style, while he was checking to see if Derkato was okay. I drove him against the dead end of the tunnel and stayed in close where his iron and his short spear couldn’t do any good. I held his head in between my forearms and kept kneeing him in the balls, bashing his head back and forth against the rock. He dropped his iron, but somehow managed to get both hands on the spear behind my back, trapping me, squeezing me. I clapped my hands on the side of his head, like Elijah giving the full measure of righteous wrath against the prophets of Baal. His grip relaxed on the spear and I twisted, relieving him of the spear and pulling back to skewer him like the stupid fishy pig I’d always taken him to be.
Just as I was about to run him through, I heard a voice behind me and a grip like iron clamped down on my wrist. “No!” said Lithe. His black-veined forearm yanked me around sideways and I was left staring into his wild eyes. “No,” he repeated.
“bc?” Iara asked him.
“No,” was all he said once again, to us, anyway. He saved a more vehement tirade for Dagan and Derkato. They were both badly hurt, but Dagan had gotten the worst of it. Lithe made Derkato carry his fallen comrade. Dagan would be all right, but he wouldn’t be fighting anyone else tonight, which, again, made me super-lightning mad that he would have chosen to waste his aggression on me when we were in the middle of a revolution.
What is it about rebels that keeps them from following the basic rules of human courtesy?
Maybe he thought I would be easy-pickings. Maybe he thought he could dispose of me quickly and get back to being Lithe’s right-hand man. But, I realized suddenly, I wasn’t the same flabby academic I had been when I first arrived. I had dropped a lot of my extra weight. I was moving better, more actively. I was certainly more aggressive. And why not? After countless episodes with the saurians and spinefish, after the elephantfish and the Atar’Atah, I had come by my bravery honestly. And it felt good.
Lithe led us darting and weaving through the streets. They were almost entirely deserted. Heqet had the Knuami out in force, and the city was under something like the Atlantean equivalent of martial law. Once we ran into a patrol, but as soon as they saw Lithe, they flashed the three-fingered bow and let us on our way. We were not without reinforcements, apparently.
We kept moving through the street until we got to Liz’s house.
Lithe placed Dagan in one of the shallow healing pools and gave instructions to Derkato to look after him. Then he disappeared for a moment. When he reappeared, he had armor and weapons for us, including kickboards.
I took a second to get suited up, as did Derkato and Lithe, and then we ducked right out of the house and into trouble. A hunting party was waiting for us, and they—politely, I should point out—demanded that Lithe turn me over to them. We drew our weapons and readied ourselves for what was to come.
Eight against four—Lithe, Iara, myself, and Derkato. The bad guys collapsed on us, hoping to mob us in one quick second. They didn’t. Iara performed some strange acrobatic maneuver and ended up on a very thin ledge atop the entrance to the house, having first propped herself up with one foot on the stone wall and then pushed off onto the roof. She stabbed straight down onto the exposed neck of one of the hunters, looking unsuitably sad.
Lithe was different. He feigned forward and then danced back a step, causing them to hesitate. In this split-second he flung his iron at one of the hunters and caught him in the belly. His spear slipped to the end of his grip and he twirled it around like a long banner, catching another of the guards across the front side of both ankles, bringing the man down like a broken boxer.
For my part, I kind of fell backwards into the house while all this was happening, forgetting about the earlier skirmish and screaming for help. Two of the hunters came in after me, single file. I tried to jam them up in the door to keep from having to fight them both at once, and for a while it worked. They bulldozed their way in just as Iara slinked down from the roof and clubbed the rearmost across the back of the skull with the blunt of her iron. But the foremost was on me.
His momentum carried him right through and we both went down tumbling. He tossed me all over the house like a rag doll, crashing into things and sending Derkato screaming like a little girl who got a short-haired Barbie for Christmas. The blunt bully was twice my size. He slammed me down onto the floor and threw his bulk on my chest. He wrestled my arms, trying to get my hands behind my back. I screamed for Iara, even for Derkato. But it was obvious no one was coming for me. I gave it everything I had left, trying to roll to one side, but I didn’t even move.
My body went limp. The brute beat my arms against the rock floor, and I wanted to die. He took his cement fist and bashed in my nose as he rolled one of my arms behind my back. I spat at him, and a spray of blood shot in his face like a balloon of burgundy custard. He reared back but kept hold of my arm; still, this was my shot and I took it. Feeling my arm come loose from the socket, I rolled back the other way and rammed the heel of my right palm under his nose. Now blood came out of his face and landed onto mine, as he rocked back onto his heels and struggled to get his bearings. I rolled over backwards out of the way as he came forward, then popped up to my feet. I met his face with a full frontal kick and the big goon flopped down. He was out.
I couldn’t see Iara, but I could hear Lithe still fighting outside. I had to get back there to help, but I knew I had to fix my shoulder first. I’d never dislocated anything before, but I’d seen Mel Gibson do it in about ten different movies, so I figured fixing it couldn’t be that hard. I slammed my shoulder frontways into an outcropping from the wall, and the next thing I remembered was Iara slapping me across the face, waking me up.
“What has happened?” she asked.
“My shoulder,” I said, wincing.
“No,” she said. “Like this.”
And then I passed out again.
When I came to, Derkato and Iara were still leaning over me. “How long was I out?” I asked. It felt like hours.
Iara’s response made me moan. “You weren’t.”
We made our way back outside and saw Lithe still fighting the two remaining hunters. The rest were still breathing, but incapacitated. One had a broken leg, and two more were bleeding badly. Lithe, an ethical combatant, refused to take life, but he gave exceptional beatings.
More hunters were coming, though, and Lithe waved us off. He didn’t have a scratch on him.
We took the time he afforded us and made for one of the middle pools. We had to skip the first two pools we went to, as hunting parties arrived just as we did, but in both cases Lithe came flying out of nowhere to buy us a little more time. Deus ex Atlantis.
The second time he did this, though, he looked a little worse for wear. His movements were slower and he had a foot-long cut along his back which was bleeding profusely. He had lost his spear, but was now wielding two irons and had some way of making them spin.
Pincoy showed up then with a small contingent of Zebulani hunters. Hadad and Nixie were with him. I dropped into a defensive crouch, but before I could do anything, Pincoy motioned and the new unit jumped in to help Lithe.
“Pincoy,” I began. “You’ve brought reinforcements.”
“I’m glad you’re all right, David Mann.” The little man smiled, giving the three-fingered bow. “I have convinced some of the Queen’s guards that their responsibility is not only to her but to her family. Iareshti–Nixie, you call her–was concerned to hear about the Mollai. She believes, as do I, that the Water has spoken in favor of Glaucus. She will help.”
“What about Monkey? And the crustacean guard?” I asked.
“Sanharit and her Knumai were not convinced. There will be more.” More what? I could only guess. But having some allies was better than none. “You and Iara must go to the Healing Center to find Jonah. I will go to the palace. I’m sure that is where Heqet has taken Elizabeth. Possibly Jonah as well, but we must make sure.”
Pincoy gestured for me to watch while Lithe cleaned up the mess. It was over mercifully quickly. The Prince then conferred with Nixie for a moment before coming to stand in front of Pincoy.
The little man had a staff in his hand. I recognized it as the rod of the scribe—the sopher shebet–the staff Heqet often held while administering her monarchial duties.
“You pick up a souvenir, Pink?” I asked.
He ignored me, turning instead to Lithe. “Glaucus,” he intoned in English. “You are the true heir of Zebulon. The waters have chosen you. Chayot has selected you. We, the people, appoint you to restore what has been corrupted.” With the scepter Pincoy touched both of Lithe’s shoulders, but before hitting him the second time, the Prince popped up and embraced Pincoy.
“Thank you,” said Lithe. He was obviously beginning to pick up the basics of English, despite pronouncing it tankyoos.
There was no applause to celebrate the giving of the rod. The rod itself was enough. Thy rod and they staff, they comfort me. Lithe held it up for all to see. There was some small crowd there now, perhaps twenty of us, and everyone responded simultaneously with the three-fingered bow. Thou preparest a place for me in the presence of mine enemies.
And then Lithe was off, with Nixie and her crustacean guard in tow.
Pincoy moved off with two crabmen for an escort. As he walked, several others began to accumulate. His position as Consort carried some weight. He had been recruiting. It wasn’t much of a resistance cell, but I had a feeling it was merely a representation of Pincoy’s influence.
Iara and I made our way in the opposite direction, slipping in and out of pools toward the Center.