I landed in swamp water. I rolled across the ground, getting thoroughly coated in muck. I stood slowly, shaking off all the goop I could. It didn’t smell as bad as I would have expected. I was grateful for that. The air had a sharp, salty tang. It was incredibly humid, so much so I felt as though I could drink the air.
I glanced upward. Blue sky above, not a cloud in sight. A small rock formation stood behind me covered in fluttering, green vines that waved cheerfully in a light breeze. A large cave dominated most of the closest rock, which was also the biggest. I’d fallen out of it, I realized. Gravity must have shifted somehow when I’d neared the exit.
Move, I told myself.
I stepped to the side just in time. Ink came tumbling out, followed shortly by Gareth and Ophelia. For a moment I half expected to see Rainsong too, but he never appeared. It was just the four of us now.
A samurai, a robot, a fallen queen, and a lost boy.
“That was a long fall,” Ink said. “Was that Pit longer than the last?”
“It seemed long,” I agreed.
“They vary in length,” Ophelia told us.
“What now?” I asked Ophelia. Swampland stretched in every direction, a wild jumble of bogs and short, green trees. Waving vines seemed to wreathe every available surface.
“This way,” she said, taking the lead. A slender path twined through the swamp; a little ribbon of dry dirt mere inches taller than the surrounding landscape.
I turned to follow Ophelia, then stopped. I glanced back at the cave. Stupid. Rainsong isn’t coming. Why did I miss him anyway? Maybe I wanted safety in numbers; the protection and comfort of a bigger group. I’d never felt such fear before; it was like electricity in my veins, making my palms sweat and my heart race.
I didn’t even know what planet I was on. My hands were shaking again. I balled them into fists and forced myself to start walking. I had to hurry to catch up. A drop of water splashed against the back of my hand as jogged after my friends.
“The next Pit is less than a mile away,” Ophelia was saying to Ink.
“How long did you live on this world?” I asked.
Ophelia hesitated. “Not long.” It was the briefest pause, but it set me on edge. She knew things we didn’t. What did she know about this world?
A bigger glob of water smacked against the back of my head. Ice cold water slid down my neck and dripped onto my shoulders. I glanced up at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. Deep blue sky and nothing more. I stared upward as I walked. I could have almost sworn I saw the sky . . . no, I told myself. That’s ridiculous.
But I thought I saw the sky move.
Gareth seemed to notice my interest in the sky. He turned his eyes up as I brought mine back down to the ground.
“Why did you move on?” I asked, trying not to think about what could make the heavens wrinkle like waves on an ocean surface.
“We didn’t think staying too close to Frostbane was wise,” she replied. “Things didn’t end well with Hondo. We tried to leave him here.”
“Okay you can’t just say things like that and not tell us the whole story,” I said.
“I would like to hear more as well,” Ink added.
“I believe the sky is attacking us,” Gareth said suddenly. He still had his head tilted back, electronic eyes aimed upward.
I tilted my own head up to study the sky again. I saw that same strange flutter, like waves moving on an ocean surface.
No. Not like waves.
Actual waves. Somehow there was an ocean above us, and it was coming down.
Gareth drew his sword and waved it at the heavens.
“There’s an ocean in the sky!” I cried. “And it’s falling!”
“What?” Ink asked. He glanced upward himself.
“We need to get to the next Pit,” Ophelia said. “It’s not far. You can see the Pit from here.” She waved a hand in the direction we’d been walking. The ground sloped gently downward, and I could see what looked like a big, black disc maybe half a mile away.
“How is there an ocean in the sky?” I asked.
“Shut up, and RUN,” Ophelia replied.
She’d already taken off. Ink and I moved to follow. Gareth was still brandishing his weapon. Without stopping, I turned to yell at him. “Gareth, you can’t fight an ocean, you crazy robot! Come on!”
“Duly noted, sir,” the robot replied, turning to run with us. He caught up in a few long strides. My ankle still throbbed with pain, but I gritted my teeth and forced myself to keep going.
I risked a glance upward, trying not to slow down as I studied the sky. Already the ocean looked much closer. A thousand feet above us at most. The brief glance made me dizzy. It seemed as though I was flying high above the ocean even though my feet were on the ground.
“Did you know this was going to happen?” I called out to Ophelia. More water was splashing down here and there, droplets the size of fists thunking wetly against the ground. The former queen pretended not to hear me.
I knew almost immediately that we weren’t going to get there in time. The Pit was too far; the ocean descending too fast.
“We’re not going to make it,” I said.
“THEN RUN FASTER,” Ophelia shouted.
I hurtled myself along the skinny path as hard as I could. More water kept falling on me. It didn’t feel like rain. The drops were huge. They were scattered at first but increasing as the ocean grew closer. By the time the Pit was in sight, I was soaked through, the water a mere hundred yards above our heads.
Ophelia stopped with her hands on her knees, breathing hard. “We’re not going to make it,” she said.
“I said that,” I told her, unable to resist. “And it’s falling faster! Isn’t it going to hurt when it lands?”
“I have a shield,” Ophelia replied. “We should be fine.”
“Should, noble friend?” Ink asked.
“If everything goes according to plan,” she mumbled.
“So this right here is according to plan?” I cried, waving a hand at the ocean falling on us.
“It’s a work in progress! Get close to me! The shield has a radius of four feet.”
We did as we’d been instructed. All three of us.
“Where’s Gareth?” I asked as a protective bubble of orange light appeared around us.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ophelia growled.“He’s half the reason I’m here!”
“What?” I asked, just as the water finished its descent, crashing down on us. Water hit like rain on a metal roof, drumming loudly for several seconds as the ocean settled back onto the seafloor. The sound of it hitting the shield drowned out whatever Ophelia said next. Water kept falling until the water rose far above our heads. In just a few seconds the world had transformed from a swamp that wasn’t even knee-deep into a mighty ocean.
The shield flickered a few times, but it held. We stared upward. I couldn’t see the sun, but that was no change from before. The water was murky. I couldn’t tell how far the surface was, but judging from how dark it was under the sea, getting up there would be no easy swim.
“How much water is above us, noble friend?” Ink asked.
“How should I know?” I replied.
“I was talking to Ophelia,” the salamander replied.
“Oh,” I answered.
“It’s kind of confusing when you don’t use our names,” Ophelia said. The shield flickered again, and a few droplets of water splashed us in the face. “Oh crud.”
“Crud?” I asked.
Before she could say anything more, the shield flickered out and water crashed in. I took as deep a breath as I could before I was swept into the ocean. Salty water stung at my eyes. Plants waved all around us. I tried to get my bearings. Which way was the Pit? I pictured it emptying this sudden sea like a bathtub drain, but if that was happening, it wasn’t going fast enough.
I kicked desperately for the surface, hoping I would make it in time. I knew how to swim, but I couldn’t hold my breath for very long. I could only hope Ophelia and Ink would be okay. I hadn’t seen them anywhere nearby.
After several seconds of swimming, I decided I wasn’t going to make it. As if I hadn’t failed enough on the last planet, this one was going to kill me in the first hour. Lost boy.
There was at least ten feet of ocean left to go when I ran out of air. The light had grown brighter. I could see the sunlight waiting for me. I merely needed to go a little further, but my chest burned with a terrible fire. Spots danced before my eyes. My brain screamed at me to inhale NOW even though it would only mean a lungful of water.
My arm broke the surface. My vision went black around the edges; a black that grew like an oncoming tunnel. The cold air of a sea breeze blew across my fingertips. The tunnel vision grew tighter and tighter as if I were falling into a Pit. My other arm broke the surface, but it was too late.
My vision went black.
Death. You’re about to die.
A slick, slimy hand grabbed my wrist as another hand wrapped around my chest forcing me up and into the cold air. I gasped a deep, reflexive breath, filling my starved and empty lungs. After a few dazed moments trying to tread water, I turned to look my rescuer in the eye.
A pair of bulging, white orbs stared back.
Love what you read then
Prepare to enter...
A mysterious world is discovered with a massive, miles-wide pit torn through one continent. The planet is strewn with the remains of a fallen civilization. What happened to the locals, and what were they digging for so desperately? A young intern assigned to the first expedition into the Pit will be among the first to find out...
J.L. Ender was born on planet Earth, third planet in the Sol system, which is located in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Ender enjoys coffee, Mexican food, and devastating robot apocalypses. He has tamed a member of the local wildlife, a thing called a dog. In a fit of confusion he named it Bear and often finds himself walking the creature.