A/N: Oh, yes, she's baaaa-aaack! And better than ever, too! I think I got inspiration for my birthday. :D Anyways, I've been playing Phantom Hourglass a lot in the past week or two, and this came out of it. Hope it's not too terribly weird, makes some sense, and, as always, is enjoyable!
In the brief illumination from a flash of lightning, a badly-listing ship was visible in the trough of the waves, seawater pouring from its decks in torrents. The dark figure of the drenched captain staggered to his feet, shedding rivulets of rain as he struggled across the sloping surface towards the wheel.
The scene was plunged into darkness again.
When the next flash came, the ship was in the shadow of an enormous wave. The captain had given up on getting to the wheel and was holding on tightly to the railing, so as not to be swept away.
The ship was low in the water, and the waves were only getting higher.
The next streak of light revealed the jagged rocks rising out of the water, their tops visible through the waves.
Before the flash, there was a crashing noise, louder than the waves, forming a discordant harmony with the scream of wood being torn apart.
The lightning came after the thunder, and there was no ship left.
A form lay, crumpled and soaked, on the sand on a beach on an island with the stormy gray sea all around it, and a faint rosy light of dawn coming through the clouds on the horizon.
He stirred and opened his eyes. A moan forced its way from his throat. He rolled over and got up onto all fours, then coughed up seawater, choking and retching into the sand.
When he could catch his breath, he staggered to his feet and stood, swaying, looking around with gray eyes that wouldn't quite focus. A stream was the only thing he really wanted to find, a clear, cool, freshwater stream; his mouth was dry and tasted foul from being sick. He couldn't see anything—fog wreathed the island. His head was spinning, aching, his pulse too loud in his ears. He reached up, wincing, to touch the center of the pain. His fingers came away red with blood. Ow.
What had happened?
He'd been sailing, and then...
It hit him like a massive wave, and his meager strength failed him. His legs gave out beneath him, and he crumpled sideways into the sand. The hopelessness of the situation washed over him, through him, and left him drained and miserable.
So. No ship. No way off the island. If that wasn't a bitter pill to swallow, he didn't know what was. His life centered around the sea, always had, or at least as long as he could remember. He'd grown up on the sea, on the jagged cliffs of an island outside the borders of the Ocean King's protection, and he'd first gone out on his father's ships when he was, what, seven? Eight? He'd been ten when he'd been taught to steer a ship; he'd eagerly, easily learned everything there was to know about any kind of ship on the sea before he was eleven.
He'd been fifteen when he'd stolen his father's smallest ship and left home forever.
And now that ship was gone, smashed to piece on the rocks in a storm somewhere far off out to sea, and he was on an unfamiliar island beyond the borders, imprisoned there as surely as if bars, not water, formed its edges.
He found the strength to stand and stared out at the sea, gray-blue as slate and more endless than time, and sighed.
There was a crunching from behind him, and he turned, alarmed. But the only thing that emerged from the mist was a young woman, her head down so that her dark hair hid her face.
"Did the storm last night wash you up here?" she asked, her voice very quiet. He frowned at her. Did he know her?
"Yes," he replied warily. "Where am I?"
She shrugged. "It's just an island."
Another shrug. "It doesn't have a name. It's just an island. But it's home."
"Home." He laughed a little, humorlessly. "I haven't called any place on land home for a long time."
"Bit of a wanderer?"
"More than that." He laughed again, and it sounded forced and hollow. "I've been on the ocean as long as I can remember. Left my family in a stolen ship when I was a kid." He frowned at the sea. "I guess I just never really felt right on land. Never felt at home anywhere but out there."
"Out there," she echoed. He heard a sigh and turned to look at her. She had raised her head and was gazing out across the water, a mournful, longing look on her face. "I'd like to leave this island," she said softly. "See other places...meet other people..."
"Are you all alone here?"
She nodded. He examined her face, wishing he knew why he knew her. She looked at him after a moment. "Come on. You can stay at my house, until you make your own."
"Make a house?"
"Yes." As far as he could tell, she was looking at him like he was crazy.
"But that'll be hard!"
She shook her head, turned, and walked into the heavy fog. He watched her for long enough that he had to jog to catch up.
Under the shadow of pine trees, he caught up with her. "So you don't have any friends or anything?"
She shook her head.
"Don't talk much, do you?"
She shook her head.
He shut up. The fog seemed to muffled his words, eat up the sound, and it felt awkward to talk into the silence with no reply. Even he knew when to be quiet.
After a few minutes, he asked, "Um...is there something moving out there?"
"It's just the trees, though...right?"
This time, there was a pause before she answered in the affirmative.
His blood went cold. "It's...not just the trees. Is it?"
She hesitated, then shook her head.
"Not much farther," she said quietly.
Yeah, because that was such a big comfort. "It won't come in the house, will it?"
She shook her head.
He wished she would walk a little faster.
Suddenly, her head came up. "Run," she said.
"Don't turn around! Just run!"
He froze, already about to look back, whirled, and sprinted after the island's lone inhabitant. He could hear a rushing, like a strong wind, behind them.
A small lump of stone became a small house, and the young lady charged at the door. She shoved it open. He didn't care at that point whether he ran right into her or not; he sprinted in the doorway and heard it slam behind him as he fell flat on his face.
He pushed himself up with his hands. The girl reached down to help him. He grabbed her wrist and she pulled him up. She was strong, stronger than she looked. Impressive. She might almost be as good as him in combat. Not, of course, that he would fight her. It wouldn't be polite to fight someone who was obviously not as good as he was.
"Are you alright?" she asked him quietly.
He nodded, even though he was trembling and terrified and barely standing on his own feet and clearly not alright. He stumbled over to the table and sat down, exhausted.
"Do you want anything?" she asked. "Water? Tea? Coffee?"
He would have preferred choice D, but he said something intelligent, like, "Ermmm, well, water, I guess..."
He looked out the window as she hurried around the kitchen. The mist was clearing a bit, and he could see where they were. Bluffs dropped away behind the house, down to—he couldn't tell whether it was more of the island or the ocean yet.
"It'll be clearer as the sun rises higher," she commented, "and as the clouds start to clear away. Here." She thrust a glass of water into his hand, and he took a sip of it. It was as cold as ice and perfectly clear, and probably the best thing he'd ever tasted. He had to force himself not to drink it all in a single swallow. That was a mistake he only needed to make once.
"So that—thing," he said, as casually as he could. "What is it?"
"It's the mist monster."
"So once the mist clears, we'll be safe?"
"Relatively. It never clears entirely, but once it's mostly gone, if you don't leave the path you'll probably be fine."
She didn't answer that question.
"So what's your name?" she asked.
"Linebeck," he said. "Yours?"
She shrugged and poured herself a cup of tea.
"You mean you don't know your own name?"
"I don't have a name."
"How can you not have a name?"
She glared at him and sipped her tea in cold silence. He wished he could erase the words from the air. Open mouth, insert foot. He turned to stare out the window.
Now he could see that there was another beach, sloping away from the cliffs. A small, sheltered cove harbored--
He wouldn't have been able to make out the shape of it if he hadn't grown up seeing them in all shapes and sizes on the harbor back on the island he used to call home. But his eyes were trained to recognize the form of a ship, and despite the fog he could form a clear picture of it in his head. It was a sailing ship, and a good-sized one at that, with three masts, clearly visible even with the mist.
He looked at it for nearly five minutes before he noticed the sign on the mainsail.
In a second, he was on his feet, his nose pressed to the glass, trying to see better. He must have been mistaken, because he couldn't believe it, couldn't even process the information his eyes were giving him. Her? Here? It couldn't be!
He turned around to ask the nameless girl about the ship—and bit back a shout. She had pushed her short hair back, as if to put it into a ponytail, and in that instant, he knew her.