Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Part 18


        
Part 18 

A terrible sense of foreboding…A bang woke Tom. He jumped up wildly, looking around for the source of the noise, until he realized his water cup had fallen off the shelf. What time was it? He didn’t even remember falling asleep.

     Tom shook off sleepiness, hunger gnawing at his stomach. It must be close to dinner, then. Hopefully safe to exit the room. Tom hoped Nathan was alright. That old man had seemed so cruel.

  As Tom made his way down the hall, he was struck again by a strange dread, and suddenly his throat felt tight. An image flashed in his mind, an open flame in a room, or a book. He reached for the image, or maybe a memory, but it passed quickly. When it vanished, however, he felt even more weighted down. Maybe he needed more sleep.  

Nathan wasn’t at the mess, and Tom picked at the day’s meal, hoping he would show up. He didn’t have much appetite, and when he sat down he realized his chest felt tight. He tried to relax and force himself to eat.

            The food tasted awful, the fish crumbly in his mouth. Across from his table, a baby was crying, its mother trying to shush it.

       Tom put down his food, his stomach flipping. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The air felt strange, and he took a deep breath, his heart pounding. Something…something was very wrong.

            Then the ship shuddered with a tremendous impact. The tables jumped, chairs flipping, and Tom stumbled. Panic filled him. Something terrible was happening, and he had no control. The ship shuddered again, and suddenly he was sliding sideways, his feet slipping on the wood.

    “Mom!” someone screamed. Others were screaming too, and then he heard “The ship is burning!”

      It suddenly all made sense. He had felt it… the gathering of power. A fire mage had attacked their ship!

      Another blast rocked their ship, and Tom whipped his head around. Where was it safe? He let his instincts guide him, running from the mess where people were huddling, terrified.

    He didn’t know how he knew, but he could tell when the ship would rock from the impact of…what, a fireball? The ship would pitch, but Tom wouldn’t fall, able to ride out the waves created from the ship rocking back and forth. No storm could move a ship this huge like this. He half wanted to go to the deck and see the attack for himself, but he knew that would be suicide. A sense guided him away from the danger, lower into the bowels of the ship, past his room and near steerage.

    He smelled burning wood, and planks above him gave way, falling into the hall and spreading the flames. He jumped back, and terror filled him at the sight of the leaping fire. Smoke burned his eyes and throat, and he couldn’t breathe. He turned and ran the other way, close to panic.

   Another impact hit, but this time the ship didn’t right itself. As he ran, Tom’s foot fell through soaked planks. He screamed as the whole floor gave way. He swam now, in rising water, with flames above him. Planks from the ceiling fell around him, and he had no choice but to dive.

    It was darker down here, the only light from the fire above, and he couldn’t hear anything but muffled splashes and hissing as burning wood fell into the water. He swam away, faster than he though he could swim. He heard a tremendous splash, and suddenly everything became pitch black. The ceiling had collapsed.

   Panic filled him, and his lungs burned. He needed to breathe! He didn’t want to die down here! He swam up, but he had no sense of direction, so for all he knew he only succeeded in swimming deeper.

   He banged on the ceiling, or perhaps the floor, he couldn’t tell. His vision blurred, his muscles burning from lack of oxygen. His lungs hurt, and finally he gave up, breathing deeply. He expected to cough and drown.

      Instead, energy filled him. His lungs filled with water, he knew that, but it didn’t choke him.

He could breathe.

     Tom stayed motionless and breathed, shock freezing him in place.

Then something else hit the water, sending adrenalin through his veins. He had to get to safety. There must be a hole, he thought, that lead to another part of the ship. And in the water, he would be safe from the flames.

     He kicked his legs, and it was amazingly easy to swim now that he wasn’t panicking about breathing. He could barely see, but he sensed the slight movement of the water. He followed the weak current, and found a good sized hole in the side of the room he was trapped in. He squeezed through, and suddenly things grew much brighter.

    He was in a water filled hallway now, probably on one of the lower floors. He could still sense the fire, but the impacts of the fireballs themselves seemed to have stopped.

    He swam through the hallway, dodging planks of fallen wood. He knew he could probably surface somewhere, but he didn’t want to. He felt stronger here, and safe, and he could at least think without panicking.

            It must have been Auros, or one of his fire mages. The co-celebration must have been a ruse. He remembered the rich man on Auros’s ship, and the fear that he had felt. That man must have been a fire mage, if not a lesser fire lord.  

    A tremendous crash up ahead interrupted his thoughts, and he saw bubbles rise from the settling wood. How odd. As he swam closer, the sight chilled him. Someone was trapped underneath the planks. He rushed to the wood, and saw a wisp of short blond hair.

His blood ran cold. 

Nathan!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 17

Chapter 17

     Nathan scoffed when Tom didn’t answer immediately. “Fine. I can make it on my own.” He got to his feet, and Tom could not help but notice Nathan’s shakiness. He leaned on the wall for support, his head down as though he fought off dizziness. Tom immediately felt bad for delaying.

    “Okay, let me help. I’m…sorry.” He didn’t quite know what he was apologizing for, but he knew Nathan needed help. Tom wished Nathan would tell him what was going on. Maybe if Tom helped, he would tell.

     Nathan grunted, and let Tom support him. It was not quite as difficult as before, when Tom had helped him down the hall. Nathan had gotten stronger since then, at least, and could support more of his own weight. Once he was securely on his feet, though, Nathan pushed Tom away.

   “I don’t need to constantly lean on you. Just…be there if I fall, okay?” He tried to make it commanding, but his tone failed due to his weakness. It sounded pathetic, almost pleading, and the blonde sensed this. He looked away from Tom as if ashamed.

   Tom didn’t know what had Nathan so weak and upset, but he didn’t care if Nathan sounded pathetic or not. He would help him, and then maybe later Nathan would help him if he needed it. Nathan had been the one who carried him to the doctors, hadn’t he? Tom brushed that thought away as soon as it surfaced. It embarrassed him to think about it, for some reason.

    Tom followed as they passed by some other people, and Nathan tried to straighten up and look stronger than he obviously felt. Tom felt a pang of empathy at that. Didn’t he, too, want to look competent all the time?

It didn’t last, and as they walked Nathan began to lean on Tom slightly for support. Tom began to worry. What exactly was wrong with his friend? He helped him to edge of the deck, and then suddenly panicked. How could Nathan get across the bridge? Where was the official for this side?

      “Let me rest for a second…I can make it.” Nathan sat down near the railing, catching his breath. Tom waited nervously, eyeing the bridge. He hoped Nathan made it without trouble. They couldn’t go two at a time.

      “You go first. Don’t fall, okay?” Nathan grinned sardonically at him, and Tom felt a little better. If Nathan could make jokes about it, he couldn’t be that badly off, could he?

      Tom wandered over to it, eyeing it once more. He glanced back at Nathan one more time, who almost appeared asleep, before hopping onto the bridge. He took a deep breath and ran across, not letting himself get psyched out by the height. Before he knew it, he was back home, and the navigator was smiling at him.

     “Good job. You didn’t get scared this time.” Tom just smiled back and stood at the railing, waiting for Nathan.

     He didn’t wait long before he saw Nathan step up onto the bridge from the other side. He took his time, though, not running like Tom had, and Tom grew nervous until Nathan made it safely back on Ruthen’s deck.

    “C’mon, back to my room.” Nathan spoke up, breathing hard, and Tom silently acquiesced. He hoped Nathan felt better soon.

     Tom followed Nathan again, who didn’t appear quite so willing to lean on him now that they were back home. They made it down to the lower deck where their rooms were before they were suddenly stopped.

      “Hm. Well, I figured you were up to something.” Tom looked up and saw the same scary old man that he had run into in the hall. Archibald?

       Tom’s reaction was nothing compared to Nathan’s. His eyes widened, and his knees suddenly shook. “Mas…Archibald, I’m sorry”-

      “You’re right. You will be sorry.” Archibald spoke. Nathan suddenly pushed Tom roughly away and took the old man’s slap full force across the face. Tom jumped back, terrified. Nathan fell down from the hit, his hand to his face. He was crying now, his eyes tearing soundlessly.

      Tom looked up at the man. What did he want with Nathan? Archibald saw him looking, and sneered at him. “This is none of your business, boy. When you have subordinates, you keep them under better control than him.” He pointed contemptuously at Nathan, who lay on the ground trying to control his tears. “Now get out of here!” He raised his hand again, and Tom split, racing down the hall as fast he could. He heard Nathan cry out again, but didn’t look back until he reached his room, locking the door.

      Something was wrong here. Nathan was obviously terrified of Archibald, but why would Archibald have control over him? Nathan was his subordinate, but why? What had Nathan done? Gotten into a fight? Tom felt terrible. Nathan had been crying…Tom never witnessed him cry before. Tom brought his knees to his chest, fighting the urge to cry himself. 

Life wasn’t fair sometimes. He had been looking forward to this day, to exploring, and all this had happened. He would stay in his room until dinner, he decided. He didn’t want to leave again. What if Archibald came after him? He felt like a terrible coward.

Nothing had gone right today. Hopefully it would be over soon.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 16



 Part 16 

 It hurt a little to leave Nathan, but he wouldn’t go too far. Or at least he didn’t plan to. Tom took twists and turns on deck, soon enough ending up where the captain’s quarters would be if he were on Ruthen’s ship. Here, though, there appeared to be numerous quarters, perhaps where the wealthy stayed. The areas between them resembled streets. Tom wondered why his ship didn’t have such an interesting feature. He would love to live above deck, rivaling the houses of the ship lords on land!

    Shouting startled him, and he jumped, hiding behind the corner of the house he was near. He was doing a lot of hiding today…

     “That won’t work! He’s a master fire lord! And he has numerous family ties. It’s a stupid plan! You don’t know if they’ll have support!” Tom cocked his head. Were they talking about Ruthen? He was a fire lord. Or Auros? And what plan?

      “Trust me, I would know. They have none on that ship. And we’re reinforced if they have some untrained potentials.” Tom heard someone laugh, and then footsteps. He scooted further behind the corner, and managed to slip, falling with a thud on the wooden planks.

       “Shush!” Then “Who’s there!?”

      Tom knew running was out of the question, so he stayed put. He looked up as a shadow fell over him, and stared into the face of an elderly man who wore three earrings in his left ear. They glinted in the sunlight, and Tom thought it rather funny. This man must be rich, he thought.

      “What are you doing here, boy? Where are you from?” It had been the first speaker. The man had a rough tone, but it was not hostile. Tom felt at ease. They had probably just been talking about meeting someone on Ruthen’s ship.

      Before Tom could answer, another man walked up behind the first. Tom backed up against the wall, suddenly terrified. He couldn’t explain it, but this one had an aura of dangerousness. Tom didn’t want to be near him, and he flattened his back against the wall of the house.

     “What have we here?” The man had brown hair and eyes, very plain, but he was not dressed so. He wore what Tom could only think was fur around his neck, and he had gloves on. No one wore gloves. He had on a cloak that was trimmed in shiny material. He cast another shadow over Tom, eclipsing the older man, who looked up in what could be a silent request for orders.

     “What are you doing here? Speak up.” His tone was commanding, but Tom could not find the voice to speak. His fear choked him. He had no idea why, but he wanted to get as far away from this man as possible.

    The man’s eyes narrowed, and he looked frightened for a moment. “You look…” He reached for Tom, but with a squeak Tom darted away, racing down the makeshift street of the ship. He did not stop until he reached the deck on the other side. He had traveled the width of the ship, and he sat down to rest, his paralyzing fear suddenly gone. The man had not followed.

     Tom sighed, trying to figure out what had happened. The first man hadn’t been scary, despite his weird earrings, but the second…there had been something odd about him, more than just his rich clothes. Tom decided he didn’t much like wealthy people. That must have been it, he reasoned. He wasn’t used to seeing such wealth. It sounded weak to him, but he didn’t dwell on it. Besides, there was much more of the ship to explore, though he would avoid the area where he had seen that man.

    Tom started exploring again, this time much more cautiously. Auros’s ship was full of weird people, apparently. He stayed on the deck, but well away from the center. He would circle around, and see if he could find anything interesting.

He walked the length of the deck slowly. On this side, he could barely Ruthen’s ship across the lines of the houses that took up the center. Auros’s ship was different from Ruthen’s structurally, but there were many similarities, as well. Both served the same purpose, to support thousands of people on the ocean. Tom wondered if Auros was very different from Ruthen at all. They were both fire mages, weren’t they? He wondered how they had originally designed the ships, or how old the ships were. Maybe Auros’s ship was newer. The wood was certainly nicer. Or perhaps instead of age being the factor, Auros had different kinds of wood on his island. They were trees, right? Depending on climate, they differed, or at least he was pretty sure they did. He had slept through that lesson too, probably.

     Auros’s deck was huge, more expansive than Ruthen’s. Most likely it was to support the houses he had seen before. And the personal decks, on the room he had seen with Nathan, were a very nice touch. Auros’s ship had a lot of wood, or at least it was really reinforced.

   Tom neared the end of the deck, and he saw that it tapered off to a point at the prow before going around again on the other side of the ship. He found Nathan again, sitting just where he had left him.

            “Hey, are you asleep?” Tom asked.
             
     “No…not exactly.” He didn’t elaborate, and Tom wondered how you “didn’t exactly” fall asleep.

     “So…do you want to keep exploring?” Tom asked. “The upper decks look neat.”

      “Look, I don’t want to…?” Nathan trailed off, his voice weak. “I just…can you help me back to Ruthen’s ship? I don’t feel well.”

      Tom frowned. He had been excited about seeing another ship, but the whole day had been kind of disappointing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Waterlord Prequel, part 15

Part 15



    “Leave him, he’ll be out for a while.” Footsteps thudded on the wood, and Tom’s heart pounded. “Damn, we should be able to find him!”

Tom huddled by the door. He considered running again, and then wondered if he should climb over the deck. Swimming didn’t scare him. But then, there was Nathan…

     “The deck!” the boy shouted, and Tom froze. He should have run while he had the chance. He backed up, and the doors burst open. He faced the girl, the same one that had pinned Nathan effortlessly. She stared at him with a wicked grin on her face.

   That broke him. Tom ran, trying to reach the door to the hallway where he knew he should be able to outdistance this behemoth, but the girl caught him, and like Nathan, forced his hands behind his back. Tom screamed, kicking, but with him the girl also had a height advantage. She dragged him into the room, where Nathan still lay slumped on the floor. What had they done to him?

Tom saw the boy come toward him, and he closed his eyes as the boy put his hand on his chest. Tom expected to feel terrible pain, that kind that had so hurt Nathan. Nothing happened.

   He opened his eyes to the boy’s confused face. Instinct took over and Tom kicked out, catching the boy in the stomach. He wrenched free of the girl and on all fours scrambled toward the closed door, flattening himself against it like a mouse.

   The boy turned to the girl and whispered something, and she shrugged her shoulders, though she did not take her eyes off him for a second. “Why were you here?” she asked, the first time he had heard her speak without yelling.

   Tom figured he had better answer. “I was just exploring with…my friend, and he wanted to see people’s rooms…I don’t know, honest, I was just looking at the deck! We weren’t stealing anything!”

 The girl sneered. “Take your friend and go. I don’t know what the lying idiot told you, but you’re not allowed to just walk into anyone’s room.” Tom didn’t want to say anything else and possibly incur the girl’s wrath, so he walked over to where Nathan lay. How badly was he hurt? He looked over again at the two of them, but they offered no answers.

   “C’mon, man, we have to go.” Tom poked him, and Nathan stirred, groaning. Tom sighed, but was more afraid that annoyed. “C’mon, please? Don’t be lazy.” Tom tried lifting him, but it wasn’t working.

   “I’m not lazy.” Nathan pushed himself up to all fours, and Tom jumped back. The taller boy staggered to his feet, and managed not to waver once he stood up. He glared at the two who had felled him, and Tom thought they looked rather shocked. He didn’t have time to wonder about it, though, as Nathan grabbed him and dragged him out of the room. Tom knew by now to open the door for him, and once outside, he closed the door with more force than likely necessary, as if to shut the two others inside. Tom wished that their parents had come home, and not them. Adults wouldn’t have beaten up kids like that.

    As soon as the door clicked shut, Nathan staggered. Apparently his strength had only been bravado, and Tom barely caught him before he fell. Nathan sustained some of his own weight, but was incredibly weak, and gasped for breath. Tom shook under the strain of supporting him. He was really frightened now. What if they had broken Nathan’s ribs? He didn’t know what to do, and wondered if he should get a doctor.

   “Nathan?” Tom’s voice wavered.

    “Ssh!” Nathan hissed. “Just…let me get outside. I’ll be fine.” He started walking, and Tom was forced to follow, being Nathan’s major support. It seemed to take forever to get back to the stairs, and Tom had to open the door to the hall while Nathan leaned on him. Nathan was entirely unwilling to lean on the wall.

    Tom had no clue how to get Nathan up the stairs. They were too narrow to walk double, and he doubted he would be strong enough anyway. Fortunately, Nathan started up without him, and though his legs shook, he seemed to be alright. Tom followed behind in case Nathan fell, silently dreading that possibility. If Nathan did fall, they would both be tumbling.

   Thankfully, Nathan made it, and collapsed next to the deck rail once he was up, sitting with his head bowed and eyes closed. Tom sat down beside him, studying him for sings of injury. He couldn’t really see any, but Nathan clearly wasn’t fine.

    Tom sat silently for a moment before speaking. “What happened? It didn’t look like you were hit that hard…” The thing those kids had done hadn’t hurt him, and then he had been let go. They couldn’t possibly know Nathan to dislike him, so why had he been hurt so badly? Why did they insult him?

     Nathan breathed heavily before responding, as if trying to summon energy to yell. “It’s nothing, Tom.” It came out breathy, and not convincing. “Don’t worry. Just go explore. I’ll be fine.”

     Yeah, right. Who had helped Nathan out of the room, and through the hall?

     Nathan closed his eyes again and leaned his head against the rail, as if exhausted. “Go on, Tom. I really…I just need to rest. You don’t need to help. I don’t even know what’s up with you. You’re so…” Nathan trailed off, and apparently seemed to be falling asleep.

    Tom sighed, wondering if he should nudge Nathan awake with his foot. If he hadn’t made him go into that room, then things would have been fine.

 He would explore the ship without Nathan, Tom decided. Nathan seemed fine here. Maybe he would find someone his age on Auros’s ship, and hang out with them instead.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 14



    
Part 14 

 “Shut up, I’m fine. A…splinter.” Nathan looked at his finger for a moment before returning his hands to his pockets. He glared at Tom again as if daring him to say anything, and when the younger boy didn’t, he turned back down the hall. “C’mon, we’re almost at the end of this place. I think there’s a door up ahead.”

Nathan resumed walking, faster this time. Tom kept his hands away from the wall as he followed. How had Nathan gotten a splinter in the short time he had touched the wall? The wood was too smooth for that. He decided, though, that he would make an effort to be less annoying. Nathan seemed unhappy down here, which was odd considering it had been his idea to come down. Sure, the makeup of the ship was a little strange, but it was nothing menacing.

    Soon enough, Tom spied a door ahead, and Nathan almost ran to it before suddenly slowing. He peered at the wood and the handle for a moment before turning to Tom. “You open it.” It was a weird command, but Tom shrugged and put a hand on it.   

    It was almost cold beneath his hand. “Wow! Look, Nathan-its metal! On a door handle!” His hand glided over it, impossibly smooth.

 Nathan just rolled his eyes and walked through the door. On the other side, rows of doors stretched down a long hallway. Tom figured they must be where people lived.

   “Think they’ll be unlocked?” Nathan asked, grinning mischievously.

   Tom had an idea of what Nathan wanted, but hoped he was wrong, turning to him with wide eyes. “You’re not going to steal, are you!?” He had not thought his sometimes aggressive friend was capable of that. And from a different lord’s ship…

     “Of course not.” Nathan snapped. “I just wanna look around; see how people’s houses here differ from ours.” Tom figured that made sense, and then wondered if he had left his door unlocked back on Ruthen’s ship. Were people from this ship looking through his room? He hoped not, and then wondered if they were even allowed.

     Nathan crept down the hall and tried a few doors, and the click of one opening startled Tom from his thoughts. Nathan grinned at him and then disappeared inside. Tom’s stomach turned as he followed.

  Nathan had vanished somewhere into the other connected living areas, but Tom was struck by the differences he found. The room was huge, dwarfing Tom’s. Numerous shelves lined the wall, and small wooden carvings sat on a table that shone with the same glossy wood as the wooden floors outside. Fresh air flowed in from a door leading out onto a personal deck. Tom stepped through it, feeling less like an intruder once he left the room. He hoped Nathan wasn’t messing stuff up.

  Once outside, he felt much calmer. These small personal decks were much lower than the main ones, and attributed to the ribbed appearance of Auros’s ship. Tom could hear the waves lapping against the ship much louder on this small deck than he ever could on Ruthen’s. It was very nice here. Tom wished that his small, cramped room had something like this attached to it. The waves lulled him, and he imagined he could sense them without looking at or hearing them.

    Something banged from inside, and Tom jumped. What was Nathan doing? He poked his head back inside the doors, only to see that the door leading into the room from the hall of the ship had been thrown open. A girl had walked inside, followed by a shorter boy. Both had brown hair and mean looking eyes, the girl rather stocky looking. Tom immediately knew he should not have come in here, and tried to hide behind the deck door.

 “Who’s here!?” the girl yelled. Tom hoped Nathan had hid. The girl wasn’t tall, but she looked big and strong.

    No such luck, apparently. He heard Nathan’s sandaled feet, and Tom could imagine his swagger, even in a place where by all rights he should not be. “Hey, your door was unlocked, so I just figured we could explore the room.” Tom’s heart dropped into his chest. Why had he said we!? He heard another boom as something fell, and figured that one of the two had probably started looking for him.

   “You think we’ll believe that?” Tom frowned, risking a peek from behind the door. Nathan stood alone by the entrance to one of the halls, his hands in his pockets once again. His usual smirk was gone. The girl had her hands in fists, the other boy at her back, and Tom knew that something bad was going to happen.

 Nathan took his hands out of his pockets, but before he could so much as make a fist the girl tackled him. Nathan was quite a bit taller, but the girl obviously weighed more, and Nathan staggered. She had his arms behind his back in a moment, and then the other boy jumped in.

   Tom had no idea what happened, but the girl forced Nathan to stand up straight as the boy put his palm on Nathan’s chest. He didn’t see what the boy did, exactly, but Nathan shuddered at the contact, and as the girl let him go he collapsed to the floor, retching. Tom hid again behind the door, shaking with fear. He knew he should run, but he couldn’t, and who knew what they do to Nathan now? He didn’t want to leave him here if he was so hurt, even if there was nothing Tom could do to help.

   “Where’s the other one?!” The boy shouted, talking for the first time. Nathan groaned.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Cover!

Check out the cover for The Storm Lords, coming out August 8th!

The heat took everything from Rowen: his parents, his voice when the local cure for heat stroke poisoned him, and the trust of his fellow villagers, who branded him a water thief. It would have claimed his life when he was deemed unworthy of precious resources and left in the sun to die, had not a strange man named Kristoff ridden in on the wind and told Rowen he had power.

Rowen works hard to become a Storm Lord, one of a secret magical group who bring storms to break the heat waves overtaking their world. But Rowen is starting his training at a disadvantage since he cannot speak and is much older than the other novices. The desire to please Kristoff inspires him to persevere even more than the threat of being sent back to his village to die should he fail. Still, he cannot gather rain, and when his abilities manifest, they are unlike anything known to the Storm Lords. Unless Kristoff can help him control his deadly powers, the entire world will be in danger.

Kristoff might be among the mightiest of the Storm Lords, but he’s never been a mentor before. For a chance to be with Rowen, he’s willing to risk everything.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord part 13

Part 13
     
“Good job crossing, Tom.” Tom smiled at the navigator. It felt nice to have someone he knew officiating in a strange place, even if it wasn’t his favorite person in the world.

      “Yeah, not bad for freezing up. I thought you’d delay me.” Tom turned to see Nathan hopping off the bridge after him, having crossed it quickly. The navigator snorted derisively, but Nathan ignored her. “C’mon, we have a lot of exploring to do.” He set off onto the deck, and Tom began to trail after him. He thought it odd that Nathan was so disrespectful to a teacher, but decided it wasn't worth fretting over.

     Tom looked around to see if he knew anyone. He knew that he and Nathan couldn’t be the only ones exploring the foreign ship, and knowing where other people were that he could meet up with would be comforting. Nathan walked too fast, though, and Tom had to abandon his search to keep up. What was he in such a rush for?

     “Hey, wait up!” Tom ran to catch up to the blond.

 Nathan turned in exasperation. “Hurry up, then! We have a lot to see!”

Tom frowned. How could they see anything when they didn’t even stop to look?

 Tom hadn’t known until now the difference longer legs could make when walking the length of a deck. It was just another thing that irritated him about Nathan sometimes, even though it wasn’t truthfully Nathan’s fault.

     “Where are we going!?” Tom yelled ahead.

 Nathan didn’t slow, but yelled casually over his shoulder. “How should I know? I’m just looking for something interesting.” Tom could sense Nathan’s grin.

He had to admit it was strange, though. Nathan seemed as if he knew where he was going, despite his denial. How could he, if he had never visited the ship before? Did someone describe it to him?

    While Tom pondered this, Nathan came to a dead stop, Tom almost running into him. He had stopped by a staircase that led straight down to an area below decks, an architectural feature that Ruthen’s ship did not share. Tom craned his neck to try and look down. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to below just yet; he hadn’t seen everything on deck. More accurately, he hadn’t seen anything on deck, due to Nathan’s impatience.

    Typically, though, Nathan didn’t give him a chance to voice his displeasure. “C’mon, let’s go.” He practically shoved Tom down the narrow stairs, following after him to almost force him to walk down.  Tom did so, though not without a bit of resentment. He vowed to explore the ship on his own later on, when Nathan wasn’t around to be annoying. Why did Nathan want Tom to come with him anyway? Nathan could be nice if he wanted to, but sometimes Tom felt weird around him. Nathan was such a jerk sometimes, and when he wasn’t he was…confusing.

     Tom was so focused on his thoughts that he didn’t notice the two missing steps at the bottom of the stair case. “Watch it!” He heard Nathan yell at the last second, but too late, and Tom fell. He managed to keep himself from face planting, but he hit his knees painfully on the wood of the floor. He stared at the planks for a moment, his eyes tearing. It was glossy and well finished, but it didn’t seem fire forged. He could barely see the grains it was made of. How odd…

     “Are you okay?” Nathan grabbed his arm and hauled him up, interrupting his study of the floor. “You didn’t hit your head, stop looking moronic.”

 Tom forgot about the odd floor, pulling away from the older boy. “I’m not moronic! Why did you shove me down the stairs anyway?!”

     Nathan looked at the wooden ceiling above them and sighed. “I didn’t shove you. You fell. Now let’s go, as long as you can keep from falling on your face again.” With that, he walked off down the dimly lit hall. The oil lamps weren’t as strong as on Ruthen’s ship.

    “I didn’t fall on my face!” Tom shouted, running after him.

      Nathan didn’t respond. The interior of the ship was very different from Ruthen’s. Tom ran his hand along the wall as he walked, and was surprised at the smoothness. If he had done the same on Ruthen’s ship, he likely would have ended up with nasty splinters.

     Nathan walked ahead in a slouch, his hands in his pockets. If Tom didn’t know any better, he would say Nathan was nervous. About what, though? Tom smiled and ran up to him. It served Nathan right for trying to control everything.

     “What’s wrong? It was your idea to come down here.” As he ran to Nathan’s side, Tom’s flimsy sandals clacked on the floor. Another odd effect of the wood, he guessed.

     “Nothing’s wrong!” Nathan snapped, straightening. “Don’t be idiotic!” He walked faster, ahead of Tom, who shrugged his shoulders and followed. Nathan was definitely uneasy, but Tom had no idea why. He continued running his hand along the wood, and tried to dig his nails into it. It didn’t work, it was too slippery. Tom decided that whatever wood Auros used to design his ships was cool. Dragging his nails along the wood made a funny scratchy noise, and Tom grinned at the sound, his sore knees forgotten.

     “Would you STOP THAT!?” Nathan whirled around to face Tom, his yell echoing down the lengthy corridor. Tom jumped and backed up against the wall, and Nathan advanced on him angrily. “Do you have any idea how annoying-DAMNIT!” Nathan had put his hand on the wall in an attempt to force Tom to back up, and now he pulled it back as if burned. He shook it, cursing, and Tom darted out of the way. Nathan looked like he wanted to punch somebody.

    “Um…are you okay?” How could Nathan possibly hurt his hand leaning on a wall for a half second?”