The Illumination of Karen
They swam for a bit longer before making their way back up on the ledge. This was far more difficult than either of them had anticipated, due to their frozen limbs. In the end they had to help each other one by one. They lay for a short while in their soaked clothes, shivering slightly, but almost too numb to do even that. Acutely aware of their danger, Karen soon spoke as firmly as she could: “We will never get warm if we lie here, and those people might be after us already. We must get up and start moving again.” Standing up and hugging her companions, she tried to generate some warmth for them all. The situation was too stressful for her to manage an energy-transference, as she had previously with Chetna. So, eschewing such sophisticated methods, she merely made herself as warm as she could. This too, was difficult. Karen had never had to use her skills in a crisis situation before, and concentration was hard to achieve. But she managed it after about a minute or so, making Thisha and Aadesh hug her from either side to distribute the heat evenly. They stood like that until they started feeling warm again, which didn’t take long, then they set off.
So far, there had been no sign of pursuit. Karen hoped that the children had not seen them, and if they had, that their parents wouldn’t take them seriously. Not more than ten minutes had elapsed since they emerged from the water, so it was too early to tell if they had gotten away safely or not. They moved with relative ease now that they were warmer, but Karen felt very weak. She had used much of her remaining energy to imbue them with some warmth, and now she was near complete exhaustion. Thisha and Aadesh helped her as much as was possible on the narrow ledge.
Maybe half an hour or so had passed when they were met by a new sensation. Slight gusts of cool air and a faint smell of ocean. It gave them new strength to think that they were actually close to an exit after all their hardship. Soon they also became aware of a faint light ahead of them and had just shared a laugh of relief, when horror struck anew. There were voices behind them, voices all too familiar by this point.
They ran as best they could, at least light and freedom were close at hand, maybe even help, if only they could get out in time. Their flight carried them around the last bend in the river, leading out into a large, natural cavern. At their feet, the river went over the edge of a cliff to fall fifteen metres into a deep, dark green pool. Through an opening on the opposite side, they saw daylight glittering on billowing waves. The entire chamber was filled with water that rocked back and forth lazily as wave after wave came through the aperture from the sea beyond. Calls from dozens of birds mingled with the splashing of water against rock in a cacophonous symphony that rang ceaselessly in their ears.
They looked around hurriedly, trying to find a safe way down. Aadesh then gave an exclamation, pointing down and to their left. There, far away along the cave wall, were the remnants of a flight of stairs. The rest of that avenue must have crumbled at the never-ending assault of the sea, ages before. A furious roar from behind made them all turn as one and freeze with terror. From around the bend in the corridor welled at least a dozen huge warriors with scowling faces. Fangs bristling, and weapons raised high.
The oncoming horde was still several paces away. But Karen felt as though already overwhelmed, helpless as if cut down by hacking sabres, or pushed down into the river and drowned by giant hands. The feeling lasted only a couple of seconds, but then the monsters were almost upon them. Aadesh, who was closest to the attackers, stepped in front of Karen. She in turn backed up, covering Thisha. She tried to yell “jump”, but through her fear-clenched throat came only a weak squeal. Finally, she managed to force her weary and paralyzed limbs into action. She pushed at Thisha and reached out to pull on Aadesh. Alas, in that same moment, she saw a massive figure swing his sword, cutting the boy down instantly. Thisha had remained inactive with fear, as a blockade behind her, but now she acted too. While their friend was cruelly trampled underwater by heavy feet, she clung to Karen and pulled frantically backwards. Just as they were about to go over the edge, another sword came hurtling through the air. Karen lifted her hands instinctively, and felt the blade slam into her right arm. Then they fell.
Tensing up in anticipation of the impact, she was surprised by a continued, plunging sensation. She felt Thisha’s grip loosen, and then the hands of her friend pushed her resolutely away, only a split-second before hitting the water. Karen had dived before, on a few rare occasions in her childhood, and a handful of times on vacation. But never from higher than a metre or so above water. The surface of the pool felt like a stone wall against her side, and yet it seemed to take forever before she came to a stop underwater. Dazed and confused, it took several moments for her to get her bearings and start swimming back up. She had only taken a few strokes however, before a strong hand gripped her tunic collar, and started pulling her down again. Turning around, she tried feebly to dislodge her captor, but she was too weak. Then she realized that she could see the outline of that person against a bright backdrop. It was Thisha, pulling her towards the surface. As they came up again, Thisha turned her on her back and started swimming towards the ocean. Karen tried to protest and swim for herself, not wanting to burden her companion, but there was almost no power left in her limbs at all. Lying there, face up, she could see their enemies standing at the top of the waterfall, looking back down. They were still near, but seemed very reluctant to jump after them. A few thrown clubs bruised them, but none of those were a direct hit, and didn’t impede them much. Thus, slowly, slowly, Thisha managed to drag her out of the cave.The sea was not rough that day, but even so, it was a tremendous task for the young girl, being so worn and harried already. Happily, the waters off the coast of Arcaport are absolutely brimming with boats of every type and size, almost every day. On a calm, sunny day like the one in question, they are out by the thousands. As they emerged from the gloomy recess, Thisha saw several boats within hailing range and started to call for attention. Shortly thereafter, they were picked up by a puzzled couple, out diving for clam near the cliffs. No sooner had they been pulled into the little boat than the both of them passed out.