Island of the Kahts 22
I was drifting off to sleep, exhausted, when the noise of a prowler came from behind me somewhere. My eyes flew open and tried to focus on the dim outlines of the darkened camp. There were a few guards milling about, but the camp was otherwise still.
“Wulv?” I whispered. “Bart?” Both appeared to be asleep. My one hand was still free and, as a second sound came from the jungle, my fingers scrabbled in the dirt for anything I could use as a weapon. I discarded three smooth pebbles before digging up a rock that had one sharp end. It wasn't a weapon, exactly, but it was better than nothing.
The Kurrm’anairis soldiers were started to get agitated. Several were running back and forth, carrying messages and taking out weapons.
“Wulv!” I hissed, louder.
“Hhumm, what?” He woke.
“The Kahts,” I whispered. I jabbed my thumb in the direction of the jungle. “They're out there.”
“Tory,” It was Bart, he'd woken up too. “Tory, can you get free?”
During the daylight, with everyone watching, I had set aside that possibility. Now, under darkness and with the activity of the Kahts serving as a distraction, I thought I could. “Maybe.”
“Try. And if you can, get Wulv out of here. There are weapons in the second tent to the left at the edge of the clearing—see it?”
I marked the tent in a mental map of the camp. “Yes.”
“Make your way and arm yourselves, then get out of here. The Kahts will be distracted, you might be able to escape and make it back to your friends.”
“We might be able to escape, you mean.” I said, sawing at my binding with the rock, since the knots were too tight for my fingers to undo.
“Don't kid yourself, Tory. I'm not going anywhere.”
I ignored him and kept working at the rope. “Wulv, keep an eye on things. If those Kahts break in here, we're the easiest target and—” I broke off and glanced down at Bart. He was watching me.
“You've got to get out of here.” he said. “The Kahts will instinctively go after whoever they see as the weakest prey, and if you try to carry me, that'll be you.”
“And if I leave you lying here on the ground?” I challenged. I felt the fibers in the rope begin to give.
“Tory, what do you think that will accomplish? Even if, by some miracle, you managed to get us all out, what would your companions say? They wouldn't be exactly welcoming.”
“They'd forgive you. I'd explain everything.” Although, I wasn't entirely sure they'd be understanding.
Bart sighed. “Sometimes people are better remembered after they're dead.”
I was done arguing. “Well, you're not going to be that lucky.”
A soft growl came from the trees.
“Get me a sword from the tent.” Bart said. “But there's nothing else you can do. Both of the ships are in the bay a mile to the south of where you found me. There'll only be a skeleton crew on board your ship—and your crew is being held in the hold. You can disable the Sea Gate, take the Waveblade and sail away.”
With a last tug, the rope snapped, and I crawled over to Wulv. His knots were loose and I was able to untie them quickly. Then I turned to Bart, made short work of his bonds, and helped him sit up. I could feel his body tense against my shoulder, pained by his nasty sword bite. “Tory,” he said through clenched teeth. “I can't make it, you idiot. Get out of here!”
The Kahts began to scream.
“You shut up,” I ordered--both to them and to the stubborn archer. “You're coming with me whether you want to or not.” I pulled him to his feet and slung his arm over my shoulder. Wulv came up on the other side and between the two of us, we dragged the captain to the tent he had indicated.
A flash of movement and a glint of eyes in torchlight from the jungle set me on edge, but they disappeared just as soon as I glimpsed them.
By now, the camp was preparing for battle. The soldiers had already armed themselves and the tent was empty as we ducked inside. Wulv watched at the opening while Bart rested and I hunted for weapons for the three of us. I found a small crossbow and manged to load it, handing it off to Bart. He was in no condition to heft a longbow.
“You'll only have one shot,” I said, tossing him a short sword as well.
There were no axes to be found, so another sword would have to do. Once we were all armed, we huddled at the front of the tent. The jungle, the Kahts, and freedom lay just one tent over.
“Ready?” I asked.
Bart had resigned himself to the fact that I was dragging him along with us. He checked the crossbow for soundness and held it ready. Wulv nodded.
It would be a short break to the jungle, a quick run into nothing but monster-invested blackness. But hey, I was getting used to it.
We dashed into the opening when the soldiers were preoccupied on another side of the camp. Before the first shout of “the prisoners!” broke across the clearing, we had made it to the jungle.
Just as I had begun to hope we might make it, a shape erupted from the undergrowth and I found myself staring at the black and white face of the tuxedo Kaht.
Wulv screamed and I rolled forward as the Kaht arced in a leap above my head. The mass of it's muscular black body came down as I shoved my short sword up into the air.
With a single yowl, the Kaht rolled off me and darted away. A patch of fur clung to the edge of my blade, but the Kaht was hardly wounded. It circled around, baring its fangs.
“You know,” I said to it. “I'm beginning to get tired of you.”
The Kaht flicked an ear and twisted its lips as if in mutual conclusion.
The first droplets of rain pattered down through the thick canopy, rolling off leaves and splattering on us and the ground. Distant thunder rolled, mingling with the commotion from the camp. Bart was leaning against a tree behind me, his finger stretching around the trigger of the crossbow, but he was saving his shot. Wulv was to one side, ready to swing his sword.
The Kaht blinked at us. Even in the dark, I could see the intelligence in its eyes. I could see the thoughts and instinctive calculations rolling through its brain, mirrored as they were in those clever, unblinking orbs.
And suddenly, I didn't want to kill it anymore.
I hesitated and the Kaht could have jumped then. Maybe it was the rain, or maybe it thought itself too outnumbered for a fight to be worth it, but it just sat there watching us. Its tail swished and the muscles in its legs twitched, but it held. It stared at me and I stared back at it as if we were the only two creatures in the universe. “Go on then, if you're going to.” I told it.
The tuxedo Kaht blinked once more, its face wrinkled, and it growled a last time before it turned and sprinted off into the trees.
I didn't take the time to stop and think about what might have just happened, what I had risked because of a sudden impulse of mercy for a monster. I turned and helped Bart again and, with Wulv guarding our retreat, we took off in the opposite direction of the camp.
We arrived at the bay where the ship rested just as the sun rose. That morning, it seemed as if I had always been on that island and had always watched the sunrise like that, coming out of the blue waves to turn the sky orange and the ocean green.
In truth, I'd not seen many ocean sunrises, not even on our first adventure. There were a lot of mornings on the beach in those good old days, but the beach was cold and wet and the sky was gray and we were usually swarmed by insects. So there hadn't been much enjoyment going on. As for the sun itself, it only decided to show its face when it was good and ready—like right when we had almost succeeded in sneaking up on the pirates, shining through a break in the clouds just so and catching the polished metal of our weapons. Even though we had been several days without sunlight, living in a constant drudgery of a gray and misting sky, not one of us had been happy to see it come out. If not for the sun's stupid timing, I never would have had that unfortunate incident with the eels—or the incident with the poisonous swamp squirrels, for that matter.
“How do we get to the ship?” I asked, eyeing the Waveblade from our hiding place in the treeline. I tilted my head, frowning as a new thought occurred to me. “And how do we sail it?” Not that I was planning on leaving without Craigin and the others but it seemed logical, if we were going to take a ship, that we should know how to use it.
“If you can rescue your crew, they'll take care of that for you.” Bart answered.
We sat there in the shade, trying to figure out our next mood. I tore strips of cloth from the cleanest part of my shirt I could find to make almost-clean bandages for Bart's wound. I wasn't a doctor, but I could see that the wound wasn't infected, so at least that was good.
Another plus: the trees around us were filled with starfruit, so we weren't lacking a food source.
But I soon grew bored.
An attack in the daylight didn't seem wise, but then, neither did waiting all day. Han would surely think we'd come this way and send reinforcements to the ships—of course, I could always hope the Kahts had taken care of him.
And then there was the fact of my missing companions. Were they back by the camp, or a few miles down the beach? Were they looking for us? Could I signal them? Still, once we had the ship—if we had the ship—it would be a simple thing to locate them then. And then all we had to do was take care of Han and his gang...oh, and we should probably do something about King Greythan.
“We need a distraction,” Wulv said suddenly.
I frowned at him over my shoulder. “Sorry, what?”
He gave me a look like I was stupid. I would like to take this time to point out that I'm not. “To get on the ship.” Wulv elaborated. “I figure we don't stand much of a chance taking the ship, even with only a few soldiers on board. Not us—one soldier, a kid adventurer, and a half dead captain.”
“Thanks.” said Bart and I together.
“So we have someone sneak in and get the crew out. There's enough of them to outnumber the soldiers left on guard, once they're free. While that's going, we pose a distraction to keep them occupied and away from the escapees.”
I blinked. “That...is surprisingly a good plan.”
“There's a chance” Bart added. “That they don't know what's been going on recently. They might not even know that Han and I had a falling out and even if they do, their once-commanding officer showing up out of the blue should prove confusing enough.” He grinned at the both of us. “I'll be your distraction.”
I wanted to argue with him—maybe because I didn't like the thought of him being alone and in danger after everything we'd been through, or maybe because I just liked arguing–but I realized what he wasn't saying: He was in no shape to be capering about the ship in a rescue attempt.
“When?” I asked instead.
We all looked toward the ship as Bart said “Sunset.”