The pain was unimaginable. She dragged herself along the ground with her one working arm, at turns scrabbling at tree roots or shrubs and at others digging her hand as deep into the earth as she could manage before hauling her broken body as far as possible. In the past hour, she had moved approximately fifteen feet.
She knew she was going to die. The horrors that had been visited upon her were so atrocious that she couldn’t even think of them now. It was as though a black haze coated her memory.
But her attackers had left her in sight of a platform that could get her to Central. They had no way of knowing it because, being Mercesti, they were unable to see the heavily enchanted travel system. The platform glimmered to her like a taunting beacon, however, bouncing lightly on the waves. If she’d had the required energy left, she would have extended her wings and flown to it.
Animal-like sounds left her throat as she struggled for the strength to move. If she could somehow get to the platform, perhaps someone at Central could help her. And if she was very fortunate, kyria Amber or archigos Gabriel might even be in attendance. They could heal her.
Once more, she stretched her right arm in front of her. The ground onto which she was emerging from the forest was sandy and open. If any of her attackers remained nearby, they would see her. While that thought terrified her, she couldn’t fight the instinct to survive. She knew she had to try. So she pressed her hand into the blazing hot sand until she had enough of a grip to pull herself. Then she strained her already aching bicep and heaved herself forward as much as she could.
She didn’t even move a foot.
Although she thought her attackers had wrought all of the tears from her, she realized now that wasn’t the case. They tracked down her bruised and broken face, joining with her sweat and plopping into the sand beneath her head. Heat radiated from the unforgiving surface beneath her, burning her already punished skin.
A sound to her right had her stiffening in fear. She made a whimpering sound as distinct footfalls grew nearer.
Her enemies must have returned to finish what they started. The tears continued unchecked as she carefully removed her hand from the sand in hopes she could do at least a little damage to the next male who hurt her. She would fight until she couldn’t.
But the being approaching her stopped on her left side. She tried to move her head toward her left and couldn’t. Another pained sound escaped her.
The presence knelt. He said, “Ah, Luvania. What have you gotten yourself into?”
She couldn’t turn her head and her vision was blurred by tears and exhaustion, but recognition was immediate. Although she hadn’t heard that voice in over fifty years, she could identify it. He still managed to sound both impatient with the world and infinitely bored by it. And at the moment, there was a gentleness beneath his tone she would never have expected.
“I am afraid your injuries are beyond my ability to repair,” he said. “I have seen others emerge from the water where you appear to be trying to reach. I can get you to the platform with your assistance.”
She couldn’t find the energy to speak, so made another sound in her throat and moved her head in a form of a nod.
“This will hurt.”
He lifted her. Pain screamed through her body. She squeezed her eyes shut against it. When she again opened her eyes, she realized they were in the water. She must have passed out.
“Thought I might have lost you there,” he said. “Are you ready for placement on the platform?”
Why would he not get on it with her? The thought floated through her head and then faded as insignificant. They had only a couple feet more to go. Extending her right arm toward the platform, she indicated she was ready. He obligingly moved forward. When her hand came into contact with the platform, more tears welled in her eyes. He settled her on it and stepped away.
“Good fortune to you, Luvania,” he said.
She once again thought to ask why he wasn’t accompanying her, but by then she was lifting into the sky.
The trip took an eternity. She lost consciousness more than once. Each time, she saw her rescuer’s face in her mind, though she hadn’t actually glimpsed him during their encounter. Thoughts of him from the past as well as what he had just done for her kept her focused, overriding the brutality she had endured.
She wanted to thank him. Wanted to praise him for giving her hope merely moments after she had given up and decided she was going to die. She wanted to help him as he had helped her. Surely he needed her help if he was living on the mainland and had removed himself from existence for over five decades.
Her delirium grew. Thinking became difficult. But at long last, through vision that was slowly fading to gray, she saw the outline of Central approaching.
She had made it.
The platform eased its way into Central’s loading bay. The darkness of the underground cavern had her blinking to try and focus. It did her no good.
Her brain registered the sounds around her, but couldn’t interpret them. The pain had leeched from her body. She understood then that it had all been for nothing. Her efforts. His efforts. For nothing.
“Holy light!” she heard.
There were other sounds. Other exclamations. People touching her. But she no longer felt anything. She registered only one lingering image.
“Luvania, can you hear me?”
Something flickered in her mind at the echoing voice. Caoilinn.
“Luvania, can you tell us who did this to you?” the Lekwuesti commander asked, her words filled with urgency.
She wanted to tell them. They needed to know. Others would be at risk as she had been. There were dangers beyond any Estilorian’s knowledge lurking on the mainland.
So she struggled to work her strained vocal chords as darkness clouded her mind. There was something important she had to tell them. Wasn’t there?
Then she remembered. The image she had carried with her on the ride to Central. Someone she needed to help.
And with her last breath, she told them.