Flash Fiction: In the Dark (1364 words)

Brance once told Ineli that it didn’t matter how large a ship was, it was always too small to keep secrets. The masts might have stood far apart, but the lines and canvas tied them neatly together and the decks were stacked neatly together, with just enough space to walk between them. The open sky seemed wide, but the water stayed close to the hull, better walls to echo words back than anything man had built. Her brother smiled down at her as he spoke, rustled her hair, lying in his usual friendly.

There were more doors than Ineli cared to count onboard The Wave Crest, and they had a habit of swinging shut when she walked by.

Ineli paused, sliding her gaze along the straight panels of the Captain’s door. Her father had been locked inside the cabin for hours now. That wasn’t usual, but she would have to have been deaf and blind not to notice the flurry of people that came and went on his orders, and the quick way they open and shut the door.

“Are you ready?” Donnemey asked. He touched her elbow, gently retaking her attention, then let his hand drop. He was almost a foot taller than her, and she rocked back a step to put the sun behind his head so she could meet his eye. His hair was combed back from his face, cheeks freshly shaven. The high collar of his sleeveless keimon’s coat was buttoned tight, while his shirt cuffs had been loosened and rolled back from his hands. Clearly, he was ready to go.

Ineli rubbed her thumb across her palm, slow.  “I don’t know how I could be,” she murmured.

He smiled. “It’s just a Jump, my lady.”

“It’s a long Jump,” she said. She returned his smile, but it was more apology than shared amusement. “All the way from here to home.”

“You can do it,” Donnemey said. “You know you can. I know you can. It’s time you proved us both right.”

“Now?” she asked.

“Now,” Donnemey said.

He took a step forward, continuing to lead her toward the bow of the ship and the small collection of luggage waiting for them. Ineli hesitated where she was, then eased into her first step, watching the back of his head.

“Donnemey,” she said quietly.

He stopped and turned back to her curiously, head bent to catch her next question.

“Why are they sending me home?” she asked. She watched him pause, watched him watch her while he took a breath and let it out. He read her calm expression, the openness of her eyes, then flicked a look at the Captain’s cabin as he took one step back toward.

“I think,” he murmured, meeting her eyes again with a sliding gaze. “They’re getting antsy about the fact that your brother has been home all alone for the last two weeks. You know the trouble he can get into.”

Ineli laughed, almost silent.

“They don’t want to come home to the palace turned inside out with windows for doors and doors for floors,” Donnemey continued smoothly. “You’ve always been able to keep him in line.”

And that was all a happy lie, too.

Ineli let him turn away again. He led the way, and she followed. Stepping carefully across the deck, they wove their way between the crewmen as they rolled through another canvas shift to match the fresh turn of the wind as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Across the water, bobbing along the same line of waves, The Zealot was calling out her changes too, her watch commanders’ voices clapping across the empty water. Ineli turned, following the way the other ship’s sails belled in the wind as it was loosened. The wind caught it, held it and pulled, helping to the move the sails into their new positions even as the sailors crawled in the line and yanked hard to keep them from going too far. It was a smooth motion, echoed over her head, though it was hard to see so close. She only heard the snap, felt the deck tilt under her feet, and listened to the calls slowly subside.

Her older sister, Kadelyn eased back onto the flats of her feet, letting go of one of the lines just ahead of Donnemey and Ineli. Nodding to the men behind her, she pushed loose pieces of her dark hair back toward the pretty knot at the back of her head. She stretched her spine, pushed her shoulders back, taking a deep breath.

“My lady,” Donnemey said, slowing as they passed her.

Kadelyn accepted his short bow with a polite nod. “Take your time coming back,” she told him.

“If Lady Ineli can take us all the way, I won’t have any need to rest,” he told her. “I’ll be back inside an hour.”

“Take your time,” she repeated. Her tone lowered, just a little, keeping its ease and its lilt. “We need you whole.”

Donnemey ducked his head in another bow. “Yes, my lady.”

Kadelyn turned to Ineli, her mouth turning up into a smile immediately. “Good luck,” she said. “Father says that the first time is always the wildest. Don’t let it frighten you.”

Ineli nodded, grateful. “You’re staying here?”

“I have work to do,” Kadelyn said. She twisted, looking over her shoulder at The Zealot.

“Kadie?” Ineli asked when she didn’t turn back for a moment.

Kadelyn faced her with a deeper smile. “Don’t worry,” she told her. “I’ll see you soon.” Catching Ineli’s hand, Kadelyn squeezed it, a little too tight. Then she let go, and strode evenly back toward the rear of the ship. Ineli watched her go, tightening her own fingers around themselves.

“Ready?” Donnemey asked again.

Ineli nodded this time. They crossed the last few yards to the narrow triangle of the bow. The wind rolled up over the figure-head in a steady line, pulling Ineli’s hair out of her face, and pushing her jacket and skirt close to her body. She slid one foot to the side, turning it to help brace against the push. Donnemey collected her bags off the deck, looping two of them across his shoulders and handing her the third. She settled the strap low on her chest and held the bag tight to her side.

Donnemey turned slowly, setting his back politely to hers. They needed to be close, to keep this easy on her.

“Take a breath,” Donnemey said. “And start when you’re ready. Just like we practiced.”

Ineli dropped her hands to her sides. Two steady breaths, and ice started to bite deep into her skin, starting at her shoulder blades and spreading out to wrap around the joints and sink into her arms. It fell to her wrists, to the inside of her palms, and blue-white light gathered at her hands. The It snaked away from her fingers like smoke as the wind took a hold of it. She only let the wind carry it so far. Yanking back on it, she forced it up, and it belled at her touch, sweeping to either side. It bent, turned, slid as far as she would let it, and wrapped back around on itself. After a few minutes, it was a glowing sheet around her, and when it closed over her head, it dulled every sound outside it.

A door, shut.

Ineli took another breath. The cold had started to ache, but the heat on the air was wearing it away slowly. She held still, fingers still spread, pushing a little more energy into the air. The shell thickened, until she was sure if she reached out, it would stop her fingers.

“Very good,” Donnemey murmured behind her. “Almost there.”

Another breath, another moment, another layer of energy pressed into the inside face of the globe around her.

Then she raised her hands and pushed. It wasn’t up or down, right or left, in or out. It was just motion. Away. A secret of space that, tucked soundless and sightless beneath the rest of the world.

And she dropped into an air that wasn’t air, speeding willingly through the dark, holding her breath.

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