Mei felt like everything was working against her to drag her down. Her long hair, the manacles, her clothes. It was all so heavy in the water and face kept falling under the surface, salt water filling her nose and mouth, making her choke and sputter. She fought up again each time, a burst of kicking and one-armed swimming that got her to air again. Only for her to be dragged under again.
The burning ship brightened the whole area. The low, dark shape of land in front of her was still a shadow in the night, except for the beach, a glimmer of waves on sand.
She couldn’t keep this up. So she tried changing tactics. She rolled over onto her back. Clutching the box and manacles to her chest with one hand, she kicked with both legs and tried to maintain some stability with one arm. It was slow going, but somewhat easier to keep her mouth above water.
She kicked and kicked, her already abused body growing weaker. Her mind slowed and drifted. She stared at the fire, the ship falling to pieces, the flaming wreckage floating behind her. But she could not think. She could only kick, focusing all her energy on motion. On survival. Because if she stopped, she’d drown.
It therefore came as some surprise when a wave lifted her up and then cast her down and her head bumped into sand.
Startled, she broke rhythm and sank, and her bum touched sand. Letting the box and manacles go, she sat up, dead tired, panting. Her mouth tasted of brine. Her body was so heavy. But she was alive. She’d made it.
A wave crashed into her, making her sputter. Grabbing her things, she dragged herself higher, up to the tide line. Then she collapsed. Her muscles and her lungs burned. The sand felt warm on her cheek. Red seaweed and seashells had piled up a few handspan from her face and stunk with the smell of decomposition so many of us associate with the ocean, but she didn’t care. She was safe.
For the moment.
She gave herself several minutes to recover herself. But with a deep feeling of resentment, she knew she couldn’t stay here. This island was an English base. Someone would see those flames and come running. Or sailing. Or rowing. Whatever. She needed to get into hiding.
She put one palm on the sand and pushed, giving it everything she had to lift herself up and get in motion again. Then she was on all fours. She rested. Then she stood. So much effort. She wobbled in place for a few seconds. Steadying, she breathed deep, ignoring the pain. Preparing to head inland where she might seek cover, she took one last look over her shoulder at the disaster she’d caused.
And saw them. In the water. Three men slowly followed the same path she had. One was already nearing the beach.
She cursed, long and hard. She glanced inland again. Should she just run? Hope she could lose them in the night? How big was the island? Would they hunt her down?
To her surprise, the beach did not end in a wall of thick jungle. Actually, the land was low and there were only a few rolling hills nearby. They were covered in bushes and tall grasses, marred by the occassional rocky outcrop. Trees sporadically dotted the area, but not so much that would qualify as a forest. There seemed little place to hide.
The men were closing in to shore. The one nearest her looked weary. His HP bar was only a third full. He must have taken damage in the blast.
Mei bent down and grabbed the manacles from the sand. She tightened her grip on one end and marched towards the water.
The sailor saw her coming. He tried to change course, but he, too, was at his limits. So he was unable to avoid her as she plowed into the shallows towards him.
She raised the manacles and brought them down on the man’s head.
The blow made a wet thunk. The sailor’s head cracked open and plunged into the water. HP immediately went to zero. One down, two to go.
The next sailor had seen Mei take his crew mate out. He, too, tried to change course. But there was only so far that he could go. He tried to push himself, to make a break for it.
Mei charged through the shallows. Her first swing missed completely. The second only hit water.
He flung himself away and scrambled, but found no purchase and fell forward in less than a meter of water.
She gave him to time to stand. She whipped him with the heavy chain, the weighted end pounding his back, his shoulder, then his neck. Then, when he managed to rise a little, it smacked him right in the face.
He fell backwards into the water.
She moved forward and held him under by kneeling on him with one leg. The HP bar trickled down, then flattened and disappeared. Two down. She got up off of him and turned.
The last survivor reached the shallows about twenty meters away. And from his clothing, it was easy enough to make out his identity: Captain Fowler.
Mei despaired. No. Not him. After all that, after all she’d done. She was so close to escape and to survival. This wasn’t fair. A sob shook her.
The captain crawled out of the waves. He turned his head and glared at her, the orange light of the ship on fire illuminating the hatred on his face.
Another explosion, a small one, briefly lit the night afresh.
She wanted to give up. She wanted to collapse right there and sleep for a week. She wanted to go home, her real home in the real world. She wanted anything but this.
No. Don’t give up, she scolded herself. That’s just your tiredness talking. Keep fighting. Because that’s what you are, a fighter.
She put one foot forward.
Yes. A fighter. You’ve always been a fighter.
She put another foot forward, then another.
Never give up. No retreat, baby. No surrender.
She moved forward faster. She closed in on him. She swung at his head.
He ducked and rolled out of reach.
She kept going and raised the manacles overhead. She brought them down, wanting to hurt him, to destroy him and all he and his kind were a part of.
His arm moved and the manacles coiled around a blade.
She blinked. He had his sword.
Captain Flower growled. He pushed her backwards and rose to his feet. He lunged at her.
The manacles were still wrapped around the blade. She tugged the sword sideways and pulled him off balance. Grabbing the manacles with both hands, she fought back and they wrestled over the sword.
He had a free hand though and used it, punching her in the face, staggering her.
Yet she didn’t lose her grip. She couldn’t or she’d die. Another punch snapped her head back. She couldn’t think or see clearly. She threw her whole body forward in desperation and tripped him. They fell together into the water. She felt the sword slice into her shoulder and cried out, only to get a mouth full of seawater.
He struggled beneath her, but he, too had been hurt when the ship had exploded, and exhausted by the swim. So his superior strength did little to help him. But then he let go of the sword and wrapped his arms around her head and neck and then rolled sideways, bringing her into the water alongside of him.
Mei put her hands on his chest and tried to pull out of his grip but he was too strong. She tried to hold her breath, lungs aching, but knew she couldn’t for more than a few seconds. She was too far gone already.
The manacles and sword tumbled through the water between their bodies.
Letting him have her head, she reached down and felt around the sand. The blade sliced her hand, the water stinging the open wound. She found the hilt. Grasping it, she battled to get the sword into position, then dug the sword into his belly.
He lurched from the pain and squeezed her head tighter, whipping his whole body back and forth like an alligator trying to kill its prey. Trying to dislodge the sword.
But she put everything she could behind it. The blade penetrated clothing and skin and sank into his belly. The fine, thin steel slid into his guts.
The arms around her head loosened.
She pushed herself out of the water and gasped for air. Shaking her head to clear the water from her eyes, she lunged forward, pushing the sword as far as she could.
He snarled at her. “I’ll hunt you down, bitch. And you will suffer.” Then his eyes hazed over. He exhaled his last breath.
Weapon Acquired: Gilded Rapier
Weapon Class: Sword
Skill Level: None
Huffing and puffing, she stumbled up the sand and fell to her knees in a mass of red seaweed. It was over. She’d done it. A few bubbles of laughter welled up and burst forth. Her against a man. Against many men. Her against an entire ship. And the system. And she’d beat it. She grinned.
Looking down at her hand, she took stock of her new weapon. A gilded rapier, huh? It looked pretty fine. She glanced back at the captain’s corpse, then up at the ship. Looking down the beach, she saw that she was at one end of the island. It looked like the ship had been about to go around that point. Their destination was probably around the bend somewhere. And that’s where help would come from. Or these guys. Shit, they would probably respawn in the closest port. How long would that take? Minutes? Hours? She had no idea. But the captain might have already revived and be sending troops towards her even now.
She had to keep going. And she had to be smart. Returning to the body, she felt through Captain Fowler’s pockets. She came up with a brass pocket watch that might come in handy but nothing else. Looking down at his clothes, then at herself, she figured a change of attire might be a good idea. She began unbuttoning his jacket.
The jacket was navy (of course) blue with silver thread and silver buttons. It was the kind that draped open, revealing the vest and pants beneath, both of which were white and of much finer quality than the cheap things Mei was wearing. It all looked uncomfortably warm for this climate, but no doubt it would be more durable. And add some defence. There were holes where the sword had gone in, and blood around the holes, but it had taken a little more effort to get through than her own rags would have.
Mei shook her head. She was looting a corpse. Not just that, but stripping it of its clothes. Well, not the underwear. That was kind of gross. She’d continue to go without. But this was just one more shock. How could she actually be going through all of this right now? It was surreal.
Dressing in the captain’s pants, vest and jacket, she left him with his shirt and underthings. Unfortunately, he hadn’t carried the scabbard with him, so the sword was on its own. She pocketed the watch and took up the sword. On second thought, she scrounged under the water for the manacles as well. They’d been very handy and might be again. The box she’d brought ashore was where she’d left it. She tucked it under her arm. Weapon in each hand, she wearily trudged through the firm, wet sand at the edge of the waves, away from the ship and away from where she thought reinforcements would arrive.
The ship continued to burn away behind her. But the farther she got, the darker it became. Not that it was as dark as she would have imagined. She was a city girl, born and raised in a mega-city with over 20 million people. She’d spent very little time in the country. So it was with no small wonder that she gazed up above her and saw the moon bright in the sky. And around the horizon: stars. Millions of stars. The beach and the breaking waves glowed with silver light. It was soothing and beautiful.
A pity that mankind had built cities of artificial light and that we rarely ventured out of them. Because nature was humbling and awe inspiring.
Looking ahead, the beach went on for what must be several kilometres. More but it was too dark to tell. As far as she could recall, Barbados wasn’t a very big island. The soldiers would likely search the beach for her. She’d need to hide. But this island was not made for such things. Where was the jungle? Why was there so much open scrubland here? After walking for a half hour or more, despairing of finding any forest, she turned inland anyway and found a small depression full of long grass. And then stopped.
She looked back. Her footprints along the beach were rather obvious. And they stretched all the way as far back as she could see. Because the tide was going out, not coming in. Damn.