Water blurred her vision, just as sand stung her eyes. For Rayna, all that was evident under water was the outline of a deeply rooted island. It jutted high above sea level. She knew from memory that the earth was cracking there, threatening to plunge into the sea. It didn't seem to worry the lax fishermen who inhabited it.
She wriggled her body, and jerked her head back in attempt to loosen her binds. She arched her back. Her head met with the barrier she was tied to; a heavy iron stake, about the size and width of a tree, rooted deep in the sandbar. She repeated this motion until she realized the only thing she was loosening was her seashell hairpin. She squeezed her eyes shut and envisioned herself rotting away; her corpse hugging the stake for eternity. The thought made her lungs ache even more.
Air, she needed it soon.
She opened her eyes to try studying the knot at her feet. Her hands should have been tied in a similar fashion. In her frustration, she twisted her body, and kicked her heels against the stake. In all of her twelve years, she had never been tested so hard. She knew the signal. All she had to do was turn the knob on her brass wrist band, and it would release an array of color. Then, it would shoot out of the water and turn into to a visibly thick vapor cloud. She'd been over the drill countless times.
The needle on her compass watch was growing impatient, and slamming against its glass cage to get her attention. North, it urged. In conspiracy with the compass, was an amber pendant around her neck that kept floating upwards. The chain inched its way around her mouth; gently tickling her lips.
She dared one more glance to the surface as her fingers tested the center of the knot at her wrists once more. It was impenetrable. A knot she hadn't mastered yet. With her lungs about to explode, she was forced to open her mouth. Water overcame her airways. She coughed, trying to force it out.Eventually the sea won the struggle. Her vision became completely stark, and her body grew limp.
When she opened her eyes next, she was encompassed in a brilliant light. A soft blue hue shined in the distance, but quickly became bolder, more tangible, until she could reach out and touch it. And as she did her body was seized in a violent tremor. She was quickly on her knees, desperately seeking the stability of the ground, that would make her world stop spinning. She dug her fingers into the earth and her stomach churned. Up came the salty water that had been lingering in her lungs. She felt even worse, once she was done throwing it up.
"Easy Child." A familiar voice said. He clasped her on the shoulder. "That was a close one."
Rayna nodded and carefully stood with her uncle's assistance. They were on the outskirts of the island, close to the water's edge. “Was the signal cuff broken?”
She shook her head.
- “Then why the hell didn't you use it?”
Rayna sighed. "I thought I had the situation under control. I was trying to figure out the knot-”
“You should know your limits, know when to call for help!" He clenched his jaw. “Vitskertr.”
Rayna wasn't sure what the word meant, but she knew Lawson. Once he started talking in his native tongue it meant he was livid. She reached out and affectionately patted his arm. Her hand covered a small marking. Intricate knots intertwined in the magnificent body of a winged dragon; a symbolical tattoo she had always known him to have. "I'm sorry. I wanted to figure it out! I wanted you to be proud.”
“And your wants nearly cost you your life.”
Rayna lowered her gaze.
Lawson sighed. “I am always proud, min kjaere. But you should have signaled if you couldn’t work the hair pin!”
Rayna blinked. “The hairpin?” She reached back to unclasp the seashell barrette from her hair.“This?
Lawson nodded. “Yes, That!”He reached over for the hairpin. "Just watch!" He demonstrated its significance by running his finger under the thick clasp, and applying pressure on the end. A microscopic knife jutted out from the clasp. "Its tiny, but strong. Do you remember me showing you this a week ago, asking you to wear it during drills?”
Rayna shook her head. “I don't. Perhaps it was the concussion last week that fogged my memory?”
Lawson rubbed his temples and grumbled some more in that incoherent language of his. “You have to keep a clear mind. You have to ask the right questions. You have to know the answers like second nature, especially if you expect me to make a fighter out of you, Erikdotter! Our enemies out number us three to one! Remember your focus. Remember what drives you. Reck Orkson, killed your parents in cold blood, then he sold his own crew to the Tyrant King Yechtson, and rebuilt his own mutant crew from the bones of the fallen. Do you really think you can afford to forget something important enough to save your life? Do ya?" He paused to catch his breath. "If not, let me know now and I'll marry you off to the first bloke who so much as looks at you. Even if it be sloppy Henrickson down at the pigsties!"
Rayna wrinkled her nose. “No. Oh, God no! I want to fight. More than anything.” Her hands curled into fists. “Lets run the drill again!”
Lawson raised an eyebrow. “Do ya need a moment to recover?”
She swallowed. “Did Orkson ask my parents that during the fight at Blue Tiger?”
Lawson shook his head. “No, but what happened at Blue Tiger-”
“Then, I wont rest either!” Rayna interrupted with a steely gaze. “If I don’t nearly die in my training, then I'll surely die in the hands of my enemy.”