Children of Nergul, Volume IX
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In the long run, devotion is fickle. Well…from his long-lived perspective, it was.

Such was the wisdom Ebizu reflected on as he stood behind the ship's wheel, dawn twilight on the horizon. A rich family's pleasure ship, small but well-appointed, built from fine timber no doubt paid for by the labor of the patriarch's slaves. Easy to steal in the dead of night if nobody's guarding the dock.

Nikke was sitting in the cabin, head in her hands. It was her idea to try running, reasoning through the surreptitious messages they painstakingly shared while they were in house arrest. He wasn't in favor at first. It was through cooperating with the Assorian government that they were imprisoned in relatively cushy apartments instead of being thrown in some horrible facility deep in the desert. If they were caught…

He tried to push that out of his mind. They still had a fair distance to go before they reached the north shore of the arrogantly named "Assorian Sea", and the Evernian lands there. The Evernii were under attack by the Assorian military, always thirsty for more blood and land, but if they were lucky they'd be able to land ashore and go in the opposite direction of the fighting. Or turn themselves over to the Evernii. Surely they'd be eager for defectors, especially if they weren't ordinary men. All they had to do was not run into any Assorian warships.

Or Assorian warbirds. They learned how to soar into the heavens’ domain, and the first thing they did was strap killing gas bombs on their flying machines. No…for all the ages he stood by while they conquered more and more, he could no longer abide such things. For all their rituals, they were the children of only Nergul now.

“Judging from where we took the boat, and the position of the sun, I’d say we’re…here.” Ebizu pointed to a spot on the map spread before them on the cabin’s table. Almost to the straits between conquered Imhezig land and the Assorian island to the northeast. By the other maps they had perused, there was no easier way to foreign lands. “We gave Maleth a wide berth, but for this passage we may only have luck on our side.”

Nikke bit her lip and gave voice to their unspoken worry. “If they find us, I don't know if we can fight back.”

“I’m not sure how we’d fare, but it’s that or the bottom of the sea.” Ebizu said.

The map had been printed from before the latest war, so naturally it didn’t show the latest conquests. Ebizu was a little surprised at its quality; most people were privileged to own a map to begin with.

“I hope…I don’t know if I can breathe underwater. It’s been so long.” Nikke hugged herself. Ebizu wondered if believing in yourself was enough now. The power others gave you would be helpful in a time like this, but Assoria’s priests had written and rewritten enough over the ages that they really didn’t have that anymore.

“We may never have believers again.” Ebizu said, exhaling. Nikke said nothing, merely rocking back and forth slightly, arms curled around her front. “Maybe that would be a good thing,” he added softly. In the long run, maybe it would. Here and now, it only made things harder.

Ebizu got up and headed out to the wheel. The clear, sunny sky would be nicer under most circumstances, and while he would have preferred a visibility-obscuring mist, he was rather grateful for the northerly wind. To the left, over the horizon, a sea cliff of the former Imhezig tributary lands was barely visible. Last he knew, the Assorians had marched there first, with the rest of the Imhezig empire presumably next. And that likely meant warships and warbirds.

Well, the sea period meant warships and warbirds. Especially in a time of war, and with two high-value prisoners having just escaped. They were very lucky to remain undetected, with the lapping of the waves, the flapping of the sails, and the intermittent buzzing in his ear for company.

Buzzing. Or…no, was that…there was something else.

He turned to his right, scanning the distant sky, sinking feeling in his stomach developing – or getting worse, he supposed. The buzzing persisted, a maddeningly imprecise sound. He turned back to the left, and promptly cursed.

The warbird was coming around for another pass, perhaps its final one judging by how the boat was listing. That grey ship in the distance was almost assuredly an Assorian battleship coming for them. And Nikke wasn’t budging from the cabin.

“Come on…” Ebizu said, tugging on her. She was curled up in a shivering ball.


“If we don’t move they’ll capture us again!” Ebizu said, stating the obvious out of desperation. He knew there were things she wouldn’t talk about from when she had tried running by herself, long ago. As much as he sympathized, this was really not helping.

The warbird sounded like it was getting closer. Ebizu silently cursed and started dragging Nikke’s body towards the cabin entrance. They made it about a third of the way before Ebizu had to hit the deck to avoid the bullets that had suddenly began perforating the cabin. The boat groaned. He barely noticed the gouge in his arm as he got up, threw Nikke over his shoulder and made for the deck.

“Nikke, we’ll have to go in the water. Can you do that?”

She slipped off his shoulder, standing uneasily on the tilted deck. Water was lapping over the stern. The warbird was circling around yet again, and-

Distant flashes and booming echoed from the east. The battleship was firing on them, as if they weren’t already the luckiest two sailors alive.

“Come on!” Ebizu led her in a half jog to the rear of the yacht, now definitely underwater. The warplane was bearing down on them yet again, bullets thundering into the water around them. He watched in horror as one of them passed through her shoulder, screaming her name as she fell into the ocean. A terrific blast from the battleship's shell maybe 50 cubits away sent a spray of water up, rocking the vessel; another one passed through the sail, tearing it from the mast and sending him into the sea as well.

Despite his worries, and in fact probably because of his sharp intakes of breath, it turned out they could still breathe underwater. Ebizu watched the stolen boat sink beneath the surface, then turned to Nikke. Blood flowed freely from her wound, contrasting the beauty of her hair and robe flowing in the water. Wordlessly, he swam over and held her, getting her to swim alongside him somewhere, anywhere safer. Shells continued to impact the ocean surface, waves of pressure from the blasts washing over them.

It would be a while before the hull of the battleship, soundlessly gliding above them as they found a hiding place on the sea floor, would depart the area. Watching it pass by, Ebizu wondered how many of his kind were left.

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