Originally written September 19, 2012.
The sea swelled, carrying Arialynn upwards as she lay limp in the water. The ocean, as large and indomitable as it was, shuddered, reeling from the latest blow in the chaotic wars by man, and those savage like him.
She felt, saw, heard nothing. Drifting and listless, her body was one of many that churned in the waves. A pale fog hung overhead, shrouding survivor and wreckage alike, making each appear one in the same even at the closest distance.
At sea, time passed, the minutes left unnoted by the drifters in the sea. Ashore, the Horde passed, its soldiers left unchecked by the scattered defenders of Theramore.
Moments passed, the lady knight stirred, her consciousness tugged along like the current, yet her mind remained distant. She did not see the ocean that surrounded her, the isle in the distance, or the wreckage of floating ships nearby. Just as her eyes opened wide enough to gaze upon the glowing wound that was Theramore, the ocean lost the strength to carry her armored weight and she slipped into the depths.
Limp, she relented. Water clamped over her ears; it hushed the deafening sound of silence that fell over the isle when an explosion sealed its fate. The sea rushed between her parted lips, filled her nostrils, and chilled her limbs. Like a vice, the ocean clenched, wrapping her tightly in death's eager embrace, tugging her into the deep.
Dimly, as her body silently began the ritual of death, her mind recalled its most recent moments: of battle and blood, despair and hope. She recalled flight, then all came to a sudden stop with a blinding flash. The sea then rose to meet her, its waves as harsh as a stone wall, then there was nothing.
Now slowly, despite awakening from unconsciousness, that nothing threatened to overtake her again.
Could I? She managed to wonder. Could I have avoided this? Was this supposed to be?
Her mind dutifully continued its ritual, rescinding recent memory in favor of days past. Wars replayed themselves, the losses as fresh as they originally were, each moment of despair as hopeless as it originally was. All the while, above her, the light of day faded as she descended further. Her plate armor, an asset in battle, became nothing more than a dangerous weight. It anchored her to the deep.
What did I miss? What went wrong? She asked herself as her eyes closed. Who is alive?
What just happened?
Who did I fail?
When her fingers chilled, she did nothing. When her legs ceased to feel, she did not move. When her eyes closed, her lids did not bother to flutter.
The world seemed to flip, the surface was below her, the depths above her, darkness around her. The comforts of reality, its guarantees such as air, breath, and warmth, were simply absent. It was as if a thief took them all before the bearer knew they existed, and now that they were lost, it was as if a vast fortune simply vanished. Confused, she tried to take in the water as air, then choked as its salt burned her throat and lungs. She instinctively seized, then grew still.
Her stomach kicked, such a weak, but fitful flutter. But it was a kick that was felt, nonetheless.
Arialynn’s eyes shot open.
It was fitful, fleeting, pleading, yet the flutter was like the final blow after a relentless barrage: that desperate, breathless blow that shatters a wall weakened by a thousand others wrecked upon it. Though weak, it stirred her, jolting her mind and body awake.
Light, what is this? What am I doing? This is not where I should be going!
She kicked, her bloodless legs slowly propelling her through the water. Chilled fingers worked at her armor plates, loosening the buckles, tearing the leather ties. The overwhelming need for air helped and hindered her, quickening her fingers and making them clumsy. Her lungs all the while burned, heaving for air, choking on the sea that poured in. She allowed one final cough, then pressed her lips tightly shut, fighting against every urge to seize and retch. Her instincts dueled: her fighting mind screamed to hold onto what air she had left, her dying body spasmed against her mind’s wish.
Gauntlets, pauldrons, greaves, breastplate, and helm came free. The metal her body so often wore sunk to the depths, only the soft cloth of her underarmor remained. As the last piece fell away, she craned her head back and located the surface.
The surface came to greet her. She moved, but her breath was no better for it. As her hands cupped and caught the water, her legs kicked. All her limbs still felt heavy, impossibly so. Yet for all their dead weight, the surface came closer.
Closer, the churn of sea foam on the surface became visible. Closer, a violet light cast a quivering sheen over the surface. Closer, her lungs set fire and screamed. No longer to be denied, they gasped once more, not caring whether water or air filled them.
Air! It was air. She broke through the surface, drinking in the sweet, salt air that hurt but gave life with every breath. As she breathed again and again, the violet light from the west briefly caught her stare. She found her gaze compelled to it, even as its unnatural glow stung her eyes and scattered her focus.
Then, as sudden as her burst of determination came, it was spent. No longer urged by the need to survive, her mind dulled, the earlier confusion and haze returned. Her energy departed as sand through a sieve. Lightened from the lack of armor, the lady knight again was left adrift, but she fought the urge to slip into unconsciousness. She succeeded – barely, but succeeded. The black was at bay, her gaze clung to the violet light in the distance. Though the unnatural light muddled her thoughts, it was her sole point of reference, something to fasten on to as she floated free. As her mind drifted, a fractured but persistent thought rose through the grey.
The light… the direction. Is that…?
Hands grabbed at her. With a forceful tug, she was ripped from the sea’s embrace, her back pressed against wood. As she clung to consciousness, voices echoed around her:
“Another one! She’s got no tags, but still breathing. She’s – Light be – this one needs a medic, now!”
Medic? Arialynn’s broken thought cut through the din. The sound of Common voices, the sight of presumed allies, both were soothing. A robed man, pale and breathless, dropped on his knees beside her. Moments later, she felt a welcomed warmth.
“No… no need,” she told him, her voice a throaty rasp. Her hand raised to halt the man’s spell. “Just need a moment for air.”