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.