Chapter 6 (Cora)

This was bad. Really bad.

Everin had appeared to struggle as he swam towards the center of the pool. He’d splashed loudly, and Cora had seen him gasping for breath as he paddled through the water.

“He knows how to swim, right?” Ford asked.

Cora nodded. There was a small stream that ran past Greenshadow Village. She and Everin had both swum in its waters as children, so Cora knew that Everin was a capable swimmer. It must have been the sickness they were all experiencing. Cora hadn’t voiced her concerns, but it had felt like the gut-writhing nausea had increased a notch when they entered the large chamber.

Cora and Ford watched Everin closely from the lip of the pool. His strokes had been jerky and uncoordinated. The rate at which he moved through the water had continued to decrease until he was about twenty yards away from them. That was when Cora saw Everin begin to twist his head frantically, as if he’d lost his bearings. He stopped moving horizontally and began thrashing furiously, fighting to stay afloat.

“Everin, are you alright?” She called out, but he didn’t appear to hear her. Instead, he kept choking and gasping for air. Suddenly, his head snapped back, and his body went limp. The boy began slowly sinking beneath the surface.

“Everin!” Cora screamed. Without a second thought, she tensed her knees and prepared to jump.

“Wait! It looks dangerous!” Ford called out, but it was too late. Cora leapt forward, knifing into the water with a graceful dive. Ford sighed and jumped in after her.

The moment her body hit the water, Cora began to understand what had happened to Everin. The liquid felt wrong, almost like it burned her skin the longer she stayed submerged in it. Determined to reach her sinking friend, she did her best to ignore the pain from the water. She’d always been a better swimmer than Everin, and she reached him with several powerful strokes.

His body had already drifted several feet below the surface by the time she arrived. Cora steadied herself, filled her lungs with the biggest breath that she could manage, and plunged beneath the surface. Cora’s eyes stung fiercely as she struggled to keep them open underwater. In the faint light that shone through the building’s windows and onto the pool’s surface, she could make out the faint outline of Everin’s body.

Cora reached out her arms and scrabbled blindly where she saw his outline. Finally, miraculously, her hand made contact with flesh. She gripped Everin’s arm and kicked furiously to pull him upward. Everin’s body hung like a dead weight. Cora’s lungs were on fire, both from a lack of oxygen and from the effects of the pool. Her progress to the surface was painfully slow, but she would rather let her lungs burst than let go of Everin.

Just when Cora thought she was going to black out, her face broke the surface of the water. She inhaled greedy breaths and tried to pull Everin up beside her. The boy’s body was too heavy to push above the surface. Cora paddled furiously but couldn’t keep both herself and Everin above the water. She began to cough as she inhaled drops of water from her panicked splashing.

Suddenly, Everin’s body became much lighter. His head bobbed above the water, and Cora found that she was able to relax her flailing limbs, keeping afloat with a steady treading of the water. She looked and saw Ford on the other side of Everin, supporting the rest of his weight.

“We need to get him out of the water!” Cora called.

Ford nodded, and they worked to carry the boy’s limp body back to the edge of the pool. They moved as fast as they could, both for fear of Everin’s health, and because Cora suspected that the water would drain their own strength if they stayed in it for too long.

They reached the lip of the pool, and Cora entrusted Everin’s full weight to Ford while she climbed out of the water. Once she was on solid ground, Cora knelt before the pool. Ford pushed Everin’s body up towards her. She hooked her arms underneath her friend’s armpits and groaned with the effort as she pulled him out of the water. She laid his body on the hard ground as Ford climbed out of the pool to join her.

“What are you going to do?” Ford asked.

“Gamah, the village healer – she once showed me a technique for situations like this,” Cora said. She looked over Everin’s unresponsive body. She really hoped that this would work.

Cora knelt down beside Everin’s head. She lowered her ear over his mouth and nose. No breathing. She gently pressed her finger against his neck. It was faint, but there was a weak pulse. Cora used one hand to pinch Everin’s nose and the other to open his mouth. She took deep breath, pressed her lips against his, and blew hard. The air forced its way into Everin’s lungs and inflated his chest. Cora let the air escape, and Everin’s chest fell again. She repeated the process again and again, constantly checking for breathing. Suddenly, she felt it. A gentle flow of air drifting in and out of Everin’s nose.

“He’s breathing!” she cried.

Ford jumped from where he’d been kneeling on the other side of Everin’s body. Cora slowly back away. Suddenly, Everin’s body sprung to life. Spasms racked his entire frame and he violently spluttered. He rolled over and coughed lungfuls of water onto the hard ground beneath him before sucking in violent breaths of sweet oxygen.

“Everin, how are you feeling?” Cora asked.

“So much pain…” Everin moaned quietly upon hearing her voice.

“What? Everin? Are you okay?”

Everin turned to look at her, and an expression of shock plastered itself across his face.

“Cora! You’re glowing!” he cried.

Alarmed, Cora looked down at her body. As far as she could tell, there wasn’t any light emanating from her being.

“Ford! You’re green! You’re both afraid!” Everin was shouting now.

“What’s going on?” Ford shouted to Cora over Everin’s terrified exclamations.

“You’re glowing with fear! I can see it! I can feel it!” he shouted.

Cora didn’t know what to do. Everin was working himself into a frenzy. His eyes weren’t in focus anymore. He didn’t appear to be aware of his surroundings.

“It’s too much! I feel all of it!” Everin was spasming on the floor now. Cora felt fear coursing through her body. The more Everin lost control, the more she dreaded that the water had done something terrible to him.

Suddenly, Everin’s back arched in a violent jerk. He screamed, long and painfully. The noise echoed around the cavernous chamber. Once all the breath had escaped from his lungs, Everin fell silent and collapsed on the floor, unresponsive. Cora ran to his limp figure.

“What happened to him?” Ford asked.

Cora checked Everin’s body again. “I don’t know, but he’s still breathing. We need to get him to a healer.”

“How are we going to do that?” Ford demanded.

Cora looked from Everin’s body to Ford and back again, desperation in her eyes. “I guess we’ll have to take him back to the soldiers and hope that they know what to do. There isn’t a village for miles around here.”

“Okay. I can carry him,” Ford volunteered.

Core nodded gratefully, and he knelt down to pick up the boy. Ford was tall, and years of working in his parents’ forge had left him with plenty of lean muscle across his body. He picked Everin up and draped the boy over his powerful shoulders. Together, Cora and Ford hurried to retrace their steps out of the building and back through the forest trail.

Cora lead, holding her knife tightly in one hand, not that it would been very useful if another three-eyed wolf chose to attack. The two figures stumbled through the trail as quickly as Ford could move with Everin’s weight slowing him down. He had to crouch at times to prevent low-hanging branches from swiping at Everin’s body. Periodically, Cora would stop and check to make sure that Everin was still breathing.

Eventually, the trail led then back to the edge of the forest. They burst out of a cluster of trees into a small clearing where the three soldiers sat. At the appearance of Cora and Ford, they sprang to their feet.

“Back already?” the lead soldier asked.

“We don’t have your rod,” Cora said. “Everin went into the pool to get it, and it nearly killed him. He needs a healer.”

The soldier grinned. “That’s alright. The point wasn’t for Everin to fetch the rod. All that he needed to do was get in the water,” she said.

“Why? What did the water do to him?” Cora demanded.

The woman shrugged. “Those were just the instructions I was given. Now, let’s see what’s next.” She unfolded a piece of paper and quickly scanned over it. She nodded to herself and looked over at the two soldiers at her side. She pointed two fingers at Cora and Ford. “Kill those two. We only need the boy.”

Cora felt her breath catch in her lungs. Ford carefully set Everin down and stood protectively in front of him, knife drawn. The two soldiers carefully approached Cora and Ford. They both had shiny alumin armor protecting their chests, arms, and legs. They unsheathed the swords at their hips, and Cora felt her stomach drop. There was no way that she and Ford could take these guys in a fight. They had no armor, only their sopping wet clothes. And their skimpy knives were no match for the soldiers’ swords.

Cora tried to calm her wildly beating heart. She tried to clear the racing thoughts in her head, but to no avail. She began hyperventilating. Pure terror gripped her body and held her in place. She couldn’t even take a step backwards as the two soldiers continued to approach. They were in a balanced stance, swords extended, approaching their prey with expressionless faces. When the soldiers were just a few paces away, Cora heard a rusting come from the ground behind her. Everin’s eyes snapped open. The soldiers paused as he jumped to his feet.

“No!” he shouted.

His face was locked in a grimace, as if he were in a great pain. Everin raised his hands.

“No, no, no! Stay away!” He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his outstretched hands into tight fists. Cora gasped as she saw green sparks begin to appear. They danced around his fists and grew bigger and brighter. Everin cried out in pain, but he let the energy continue to gather.

Cora and Ford carefully backed away from Everin. Cora wasn’t sure what was happening, but she was afraid to get too close. She noticed; however, that her fear of the soldiers had faded. The soldiers backed away as well. Even the lead soldier was in shock. Apparently, her instructions had not prepared her for what she was witnessing.

Everin shouted. It wasn’t an angry battle cry, but instead sounded like a fearful howl of a wounded animal. He opened his hands, and arcs of green lightning leapt from them. They streaked across the clearing. Some stabbed into trees, biting chips of bark off the trunks. Others buried themselves in the ground. A few fingers of lightning struck the three soldiers. The energy sank into their metal armor and spread across their bodies.

The three soldiers were knocked off their feet. They convulsed on the ground across the clearing where they lay for a few moments before becoming still. Cora turned to look back at Everin just in time to see his eyes roll into the back of his head. He sank to his knees, and Cora rushed to catch him before he fell forward onto the grass.

“Everin, what’s happening?” she whispered.

The unconscious boy gave no response.

Next chapter:

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