The wicked heroine, p.72
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.72

           Jasmine Giacomo


  Sanych held her palm up to a shaft of sunlight that filtered steadily through the waving palm fronds far above her head, and bent to examine the crystalline bits of sand that stuck to her perspiring skin, which had lost most of its yellow tint over the last two weeks. Most of the flecks were white, clear, or faintly pink, and made of coral. The gently-sloping beach on which she found repose was covered in white sand, after all. But occasionally she found a brown-striped fleck or a pure black one, and amused herself by guessing what sort of rock they might consist of.

  “Miss elTiera?” a voice called, interrupting her scrutiny. She looked up to see one of the ship’s officers standing a few feet away. “Are you ready, miss?” he asked her politely, and she nodded wordlessly and stood, brushing the sand off against the rough fabric of her salt-stained cream pants.

  She took the lead along a nearly invisible trail into the jungle, stepping carefully over quicksand patches and avoiding anthills, leading the way unerringly to the one source of fresh water anyone had found since they had landed here. Three dozen sailors, carrying empty water jugs suspended between bamboo poles carried over the shoulders of two men each, trailed after her.

  When they reached the basalt cliff with the cool, sparkling pool of spring water at its base, the men quickly went to work filling their jugs. Sanych moved out of their way and began examining the tiny plants that grew from the cliff’s damp face. She had already mentally catalogued the large ferns and the trees here at the spring, on previous visits; it was time for a new category.

  There was more variety among the tiny plants than she had expected, and she had not finished studying them all before the last water jug was full. She took a moment to note exactly where she’d memorized the last plant, then turned and led the group back along the winding trail.

  The panorama of the beach opened up before them, and the water carriers headed for their filling station, just inside the tree line. The ship’s officer gave her a grateful nod, which she returned. The man had no idea how much she appreciated the distraction of navigating through the jungle.

  She climbed up on one of her favorite perches, a coconut palm at the edge of the sand. It leaned so far over toward the sea that it was nearly horizontal for ten paces’ worth of trunk. From here, at the edge of camp, she had a good view of everything her world now contained.

  The damaged Kazhak was anchored offshore a couple hundred paces, where its short makeshift rudder would not touch bottom. It bobbed gently in the small swells of the protected bay they’d managed to sail into two weeks ago. Sailors took shifts aboard her, manning the bilge pumps day and night. But they would not need to do that for much longer, if all went according to Galanishav’s plan.

  Sanych turned her eyes toward the beach itself. The slope of this beach was minimal, so there was a large swath of creamy white sand between the gentle waves and the actual edge of the jungle, which housed the bulk of the beach camp. Palm fronds, seaweed and various small dead creatures washed up every night, and self-appointed beachcombers collected everything that might be of use.

  Captain Galanishav had insisted that everyone move off the Kazhak, and so nearly fifteen hundred people had spread themselves throughout the nearby jungle. Mattresses and hammocks, blankets, tarps and even Geret’s quest tents from the cargo hold were transported to shore and distributed among the marooned. The few remaining quest members, mostly cooks and servants, had proven their worth by helping the camp to organize more quickly, under the expert direction of Count Runcan.

  As for the docking project, it was left in the hands of the sailors, under Galanishav’s direction. They had begun dredging a channel below the tide line on the second day, and it was nearly finished. Some future part of the plan included use of the ballast stones on the flattened seafloor, but Sanych hadn’t been let in on the details and could only guess at their purpose. However they were used, the Kazhak was going to be brought up onto the shore for proper repairs. Some of the sailors and passengers, including Geret, had taken the ship’s axes into the jungle and had felled trees to use in the repairs; quite a large stack of felled hardwoods rested in a clearing near the jungle’s edge. The heat of summer was intense here in the tropics, and the middle of the day was nearly unbearable. Everyone left their work and took to the shade for several hours during that time.

  Sanych didn’t like this spot because of the view of camp, though; she liked it because she could see a wide swath of ocean. The bay was shaped like a flattened horseshoe, facing northeast. And somewhere out there, she had to believe, was Meena. She hoped to see her come in from the ocean, every time she looked.

  Virtually unkillable, the Shanallar had called herself. Sanych had thought long and hard, through sleepless, tear-filled nights, about the encounter with the Deep Ones, and she had come to the logical conclusion that Meena’s actions that night had been a calculated risk, and that she’d fully expected to survive.

  Unless something had gone wrong with the plan.

  Had she really meant for the creature to eat her? Maybe she was just getting close enough to drop the barrel, and had planned to heal from the explosion, while the monster dropped into the sea without her in its gullet.

  Irritated with the repetitive nature of her thoughts, Sanych thumped the sturdy tree trunk with the heel of her hand and looked back out to sea. Meena had been eaten by the cephalopod, which had in turn been eaten by the garrim, but that didn’t preclude her survival. Until she had proof of Meena’s death–and she doubted she ever would–she decided to put her faith in Meena and wait for her return.

  No matter how long it took.

  Which brought Sanych to her other recurring, uncomfortable thought: Meena had the key to the Dire Tome’s prison. Despite her claim that she intended to take Sanych to Shanal with her, she hadn’t even hinted that the Archivist might have a role in the actual destruction of the Dire Tome. What if Meena just changed her mind about Sanych and headed for Shanal without even looking back?

  That thought always made Sanych feel lonely. She could barely remember her parents, and most of her relationships at the Temple were with colleagues. Meena had stolen into her heart and filled a gap she didn’t know existed. And now she was gone. Would she ever see the Shanallar again?

  It was nearly time to hide in the shade; midmorning had come while they had been at the spring, and the heat was bearing down as the sun approached midday. Sanych waded into the warm sea and sat down for a minute, soaking her thin clothing, then let the breeze cool her as she headed for her tent under the waving palms.

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