This is kind of a long chapter. Also: Cliffhanger, yo!
“Look over there,” said Ika, through a mouthful of her sour fruit. “Over there” was a small lump on the horizon.
They had been rowing for three days since Vru’s apology, and were happy to see another island, even if this one did look rather small. Vru turned the boat and rowed toward it.
When they got there, Ika looked astonished. “Look at the size of these flowers!” she exclaimed. “We never had anything like this on Poru.”
“Nor on Mala’hek, either,” said Vru. “It’s odd how such a small island can have such large plants growing on it.”
“I don’t see any houses,” said Ika.
“That makes me wary,” said Vru, “because the Ersians didn’t have houses, either. At least, not out in the open.”
“I don’t think anything as horrible as the Ersians could live on such a tiny island,” Ika mused. “Wait—what was that?”
“What was what?”
“I saw something,” said Ika, “out of the corner of my eye. It was orange—There it is again!”
“Are you sure you’re seeing something?” inquired Vru. “Because I don’t see anyth”—He stopped, and whipped his head to the left. “No, wait,” he said, shaking his head. “I thought I saw…”
“I saw something orange too. But only for a split second, out of the corner of my eye.”
“I told you.” Ika looked slightly smug.
“Do you think it could be people?”
“Only one way to find out,” said Ika. Louder, she called out “If anyone lives on this island, come out!”
The island was completely silent for several minutes. Ika was beginning to think that the flashes of orange had been their imagination, probably due to spending too much time on the ocean, when a tiny orange man crept out of the foliage ahead of them.
He stood in front of Vru and Ika and looked at them with his head cocked to one side. Then he began speaking very rapidly and in a high-pitched, squeaky voice.
“What is he saying?” said Ika, who was totally confused.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Vru.
The little orange man, meanwhile, was pointing at Vru and saying something that Vru thought sounded familiar, over and over again.
“Emyll, Emyll, Emyll.”
“Is he saying ‘Emyll’?” Ika looked worried.
“It… it sounds like it,” said Vru, who was turning pale. “She… she can’t have escaped. It’s impossible. It must be a word in their language, or something.”
But the little orange man kept repeating “Emyll” over and over again, and pointing at Vru while he did so. Neither Vru nor Ika knew what to make of it. Had Emyll escaped somehow? And if she had, had she been on this island?
“I don’t think he knows either of our languages,” said Ika after a bit. “I certainly can’t understand what he’s saying, besides that one word. He’s talking too fast.”
Vru was trying to get the little orange man’s attention. The tiny creature was jumping up and down on his short little legs, and he had added another word to his cryptic chant.
“Emyll here. Emyll here.”
Ika didn’t think Vru could have turned any paler, but he did.
“Is… is he saying Emyll was here?” Vru asked Ika. “Or is he only saying it because I asked if she was here?”
“He could be saying she’s here now,” Ika ventured to say.
“I… I don’t think so. This looks like a very small island, and I’m sure we would have seen her. Or she us,” Vru said, trying to sound casual. “I still don’t believe she could have escaped, though. It must be a word in his language. There’s no other explanation. Even if she did get out of the Dalahn prison, there’s no way she could have come back to this planet. The only way to get back is by chanting a magical phrase…”
“Do you think she could have learned it somehow?” Ika offered the only solution she could think of. She had no way of knowing, of course, that she was not too far off the mark.
“Who would have taught it to her? Not the Dalahns, that’s for sure,” said Vru. “Anyway, this conversation is pointless. Emyll can’t be back, it’s impossible. And there doesn’t look like there’s anything else of interest on this island, so we’d better be going”—
He stopped suddenly. The little orange man was looking at Vru and still repeating “Emyll here,” and suddenly he said “Vru,” which was what had made Vru stop talking.
“How do you know my name?” he said, forgetting that the tiny orange man didn’t know his language—or not much of it, anyway.
“Emyll here. Vru,” said the little man. He had a note of impatience in his voice. Clearly he was trying to get them to understand.
There seemed to be no denying it now. Vru looked at Ika and they both knew the impossible had happened. However she had done it, Emyll had escaped Dalah. And she was back on this planet.
“The only consolation,” said Vru after a bit, “is that before she was banished to Dalah, she had her wings torn off. So I have an advantage over her if I ever meet her again.”
“Why were her wings torn off?” said Ika, who didn’t have any wings to begin with.
“It’s the ultimate punishment on Mala’hek,” said Vru. “For truly reprehensible crimes.” Ika already knew what Emyll had done, as Vru had told her, so she didn’t ask any more questions.
“I think we have to go back to Mala’hek,” he continued, “But I don’t know which direction we should go.”
“I’d like to go back to Poru, if only for a few days,” Ika requested. “I haven’t seen or spoken to my sister or Kin-lat in months, and I think they must be worried about me.”
“If we go back to Poru, we can ask Kin-lat which direction we go to get back to Mala’hek,” Vru said. “He’s been there before. I hope he hasn’t forgotten.”
“Kin-lat has a very good memory,” said Ika proudly. “We Poruns usually do.”
“So let’s see,” said Vru. “We need to go back west until we see Iirs, then head south until we see Ersia—stopping there along the way of course”—Ika glared at him and he cleared his throat, feeling immediately guilty for his little joke. “Sorry,” he apologized. “If we head further south from Ersia we should reach Poru in a few days after that. How are we on rations?”
“I still have some of my fruit,” Ika said, looking into the bag. She handed it to Vru, who also looked inside. “I think we have enough to last us a while,” he said. “We should stop back at Iirs and get some more food, though. No gorfum though, that’s where I draw the line.”
Several minutes later they were back out on the ocean, which was eerily calm. Ika didn’t like it, as it had been calm like this right before the storm had hit after they’d left Poru. But nothing happened, and her tension abated, at least for the first few hours.
It was only when the sun got very low in the sky that she noticed something might be wrong. She pointed out to Vru that they hadn’t seen any islands at all; and Vru looked up and got a look in his eyes that meant he’d realized something terrible—“Oh, dammit, I’d had the setting sun behind us the whole time—we should have been going towards it.”
“So we’re lost?” Ika inquired, although it was plainly obvious that they were.
“I suppose we are,” said Vru. “I don’t know where we are.”
“Couldn’t you take some of that flying powder and raise the boat to a higher vantage point?” suggested Ika. “At the very least, we could probably see another island, even if it isn’t Mala’hek or Poru. Or Iirs.”
Vru reached for the small leather pouch of flying dust and reached in his hand, fully intending to take out a handful, but brought it back out again empty, and said: “There’s none left.”
“How could there be none left? We didn’t use very much,” Ika said.
“Yes, but I used some before coming to Poru, and there wasn’t very much in there to begin with,” Vru explained. “I suppose we’ll just have to keep rowing.”
“Well, I hope we find some land soon,” said Ika worriedly, “because I don’t like the look of those clouds over there.” They were huge and black, much fiercer-looking than the storm clouds they’d seen previously. Vru hadn’t forgotten Ika’s aversion to thunderstorms, nor his stomach troubles when in rough seas, and he hoped there were a few fulru fruits in the ration bag.
The clouds moved closer, blocking out what was left of the sun, and the wind started to pick up, and then to blow very hard; the waves rose in huge swells, tens of feet high. It was technically still daytime, but the clouds were so dark that it may as well have been the middle of the night. Ika was so petrified that she could barely move, and cowered down in the boat. She apologized shakily once again for her fear, but she really didn’t need to—this storm was the worst either of them had seen in a long time. It didn’t seem to want to let up anytime soon, either. The sun set, and the darkness became almost tangible; the wind and rain were driving, and it was starting to hail—huge chunks of ice came battering down on Vru and Ika and the boat. Ika shrieked and tried to cover her head with her hands to protect herself from the pummeling ice, but they didn’t make a very good shield. Vru tried to protect her as well, but the hail still hit her. The sound of it, combined with the rain and wind, was so loud that neither of them could hear the other. And then, quite unexpectedly, a huge swell came up from behind and turned the boat over.
Vru, whose wings were naturally buoyant, bobbed to the surface immediately, and searched frantically for Ika. He didn’t see her, and was panicking, when he saw her yellowish-white hair several feet away from him. His wings were waterlogged, so he couldn’t fly, but he swam toward her as quickly as he could, and then he saw her head slip under the black water.