When the sun came up, Hano was the only one still awake, though his eyes felt gritty with exhaustion. He lifted his chin from his chest to look around once the sky brightened enough to be able to see, glancing first at the preacher’s son—curled up in a tight ball—then to Shaia. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not to see that Shaia was still breathing, the wound in his shoulder clotted over so at least the bleeding had stopped. Hano shifted over a little, careful not to rock their makeshift raft, and rested the inside of his wrist against Shaia’s forehead, frowning at the heat he felt against his skin. He looked up again, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand, and squinted at a haze in the distance, trying to decide if it was an island or just early-morning fog that would soon be burned off.
He watched until his eyes burned as they drifted closer, and relief swept through him when he saw it was land, big enough that he almost wondered if they’d somehow reached one of the continents. After a careful look at the water all around them, he reached over and shook Gabe roughly awake, snapping his fingers until Gabe focused on him. There was a dullness in Gabe’s green-brown eyes, but he turned to look when Hano pointed out the island, blinking slowly.
“We can probably push the raft over there,” Hano said, glancing at the water again. “I don’t see any drakes.”
“I can’t swim.” Gabe’s voice was as dull as his eyes and he stretched out on the raft’s surface again. “Let me sleep.”
“No.” Hano grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back up. “You don’t have to swim, you just have to kick. Come on, preacher boy, don’t make me regret saving you.”
Something flickered in Gabe’s eyes. “Why did you save me?”
“Seemed like the thing to do.” Hano shrugged. “You showed us some kindness.”
“And you repaid that by destroying everything.” Gabe slid off the raft, awkwardly settling his chest and arms on its surface.
Hano didn’t bother to reply, just joined Gabe in the water, hoping he wouldn’t feel the brush of scales against his toes just before a seadrake took his legs off. They kicked together, churning up the water behind them enough to make Hano wince and look again for drakes—and for the telltale sign of sharks, a less likely but still dangerous threat—but the raft slowly began to move towards the crescent of white sand that marked the closest beach. As they got closer, the chunk of land became clearly an island, if a big one, easily twice the size of the island where Hano had grown up. The beach led to thick jungle that Hano didn’t think had ever been touched by human hands, and beyond that he could see the tip of a mountain range, white with snow on its highest slopes.
They reached the island quicker than he’d expected, helped along by a current, but it was still all he could do to help drag the raft up onto the beach. Gabe went down in the water, sprawling out on his side half in the shallows and half on the sand, his chest rising and falling rapidly with his breath. Hano went on unsteady legs to help him, nearly dragging him out of the water and leaving him there to go back to Shaia. As he pressed two fingers to Shaia’s throat, taking his pulse, Shaia opened his eyes, squinting in the sunlight. He got to his feet with Hano’s help and stumbled over to where Gabe was lying before his knees gave out. Hano tried to catch him but he went down again, rolling over onto his back and waving a dismissive hand when Hano leaned over him, even as his eyes fluttered shut again.
Straightening up, Hano made his way to the edge where the jungle met the beach, his feet dragging in the sand, and found a couple of sturdy broken branches to bring back to where Gabe and Shaia were lying. He coaxed Gabe into waking up enough to take off his shirt, stripped Shaia himself, and added his own shirt to create a makeshift lean-to that at least offered some shade in the growing heat. His head spun with exhaustion when he was done and he squeezed in under the lean-to, resting his head on his arms and letting his eyes slide closed. His last memory before deep sleep claimed him was the sun hot on his legs where they stuck out from under the shelter.
He woke again with his mouth dry and sticky, his head pounding in the heat. Beside him Gabe had curled into a ball again, the ridges of his spine standing out in the back of his neck, under the fall of his dark hair. Shaia still lay on his back, one arm across his stomach and the other flung wide, his breathing harsh and ragged. Knowing they needed fresh water soon if any of them were to survive, Hano reluctantly shoved himself to his feet and stumbled out from under the lean-to, looking around with eyes that felt like they were as full of sand as the beach around them. He made his way towards the jungle, pausing at the edge to listen for any noise, then stepped carefully into the green shade, glad he still had his boots on.
Something bright flitted through the air at the edge of his vision, drawing his gaze up. He thought the creatures were birds at first, until one landed on a nearby tree and he saw it was a small lizard coloured in reds and golds. Delicate, membranous wings as big as the lizard’s entire body swept back from its shoulders, and after studying Hano for a moment with beady eyes, it leaped into the air and soared up towards the higher branches. Hano watched the flock swoop among the branches for a few moments, then followed in the direction they were going, hoping they would lead him to water.
He heard water before he saw it, identifying it as a waterfall before he broke through the cover of the trees to see the small pool, surrounded by rocks. The waterfall was at the furthest end from where he’d come out of the trees, only a few feet taller than he was, and more jungle surrounded it. He made his way down to the calmer water of the pool and knelt to drink, cupping the water in his hands and using it to wash his face once his thirst was slaked. The cool water felt good against his sweaty skin and he was tempted to just stay there for a while, before a sense of responsibility dragged him back to his feet. He looked around for something to carry the water in and finally settled on a large rounded leaf pulled down from a nearby squat palm and folded into a careful container.
Carrying the water back to the beach without spilling most of it was a test of his patience, especially when one of the little flying lizards divebombed him. He hunched his shoulder up to protect his neck and the side of his face, and concentrated on not tripping over the roots that littered the ground. When he got out onto the beach, he found Gabe and Shaia where he’d left them, still asleep underneath the lean-to. He woke Gabe first and let him drink, then told him to get up and come help bring back more water for Shaia. Gabe stared at him almost without comprehension before heaving himself to his feet in an ungainly lunge, following docilely as Hano led the way back to the waterfall.
“You okay, preacher boy?” Hano asked as they walked.
Gabe seemed to think it over, then shrugged. “I think so.”
“You don’t seem okay. You don’t actually seem like you’re completely aware of anything that’s going on.” Hano flicked a hand at a bug that buzzed by his face, not sure if he was more concerned or annoyed. “Do you... I’m no preacher or anything, but you can talk to me. If you want.”
“I’m fine.” The smile Gabe flashed showed his teeth but no emotion. “I’ve forgiven you.”
“I didn’t ask for your forgiveness,” Hano said, but Gabe only nodded like he’d heard something else entirely. Fighting down the urge to smack him, just to snap him out of whatever numb haze had its grip on him, Hano turned his attention back to the jungle.
One of the flying lizards swooped down as they approached the waterfall, hovering in front of Gabe’s face with quick beats of its bright wings. Gabe stared at it, half-lifting a hand as though to offer his arm as a perch, then the emotion that had just barely started to form on his face vanished. He ducked past the lizard and kept walking towards the waterfall, his shoulders so stiff that Hano thought if he did trip, he’d end up breaking something.
They brought back as much water as they could carry and with Gabe’s help, Hano managed to get Shaia to sit up enough to drink some. Despite the shade he’d been lying under, Shaia burned with fever, his eyes glittering with it when he managed to open them. The bullet wound in his shoulder had started to scab over into an ugly-looking mix of dried blood and sand, its edges an angry red.
“This needs to be taken care of,” Hano said, lightly touching the scab. “Do you know anything about medicine, Gabe?”
Gabe looked a little startled, as though surprised to hear his real name, then nodded. “Some. But I don’t have any tools. I don’t even have fire to help sterilize anything, like this water. Nothing to help him heal either.”
“I know what plants are good,” Hano said. “I grew up on an island like this.”
“The Maakala islands,” Gabe said with the ghost of a smile. “We went there once, for a few weeks. It was nice.”
Hano glanced towards the ocean, shading his eyes to study the shimmering horizon. “I think there’s still... parts of the ship out there. Maybe I can go take a look. I think it needs to be cleaned first, though.”
“I still need fire.”
“I’ve got fire,” Shaia said in a rasping voice. “Get wood.”
“Don’t strain yourself,” Hano said, but he got to his feet and went to the edge of the jungle to gather wood, grabbing as many dry branches as he could fit into his arms. He brought them back over to the lean-to and arranged them in a shallow divot dug into the sand, a good few feet away from where Shaia was lying; experience gave him a good idea of what Shaia planned to do to create fire.
When he was done, he moved away from the wood and helped Shaia struggle to a sitting position, offering his shoulder to lean on. Shaia closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, then he lifted a hand towards the clear blue sky. The hairs on the back of Hano’s neck rose and he saw Gabe flinch back, just before a bolt of lightning came down from the sky and struck the wood, setting it on fire. The flames guttered for a moment in a gust of wind then began to creep down into the rest of the wood, until they had a good fire crackling away in the sand.
“I’ll need something to hold water and heat it,” Gabe said, showing animation for almost the first time since they’d landed on the island. “Maybe a shell or something? Stronger than a leaf, anyway. Then some sort of cloth and maybe something sharp.” He studied Shaia, chewing on his bottom lip. “I hope the bullet isn’t still in there. It’ll be difficult to remove.”
“I’ll see what I can find.” Hano left them to go down to the shallows, walking carefully along the wet sand until he saw what he was looking for: a gleaming silver-white spiralled shell big enough for him to fit a fist inside. He checked to make sure it wasn’t still inhabited, then tucked it under his arm and took it to the waterfall pool to rinse it out and fill it with clean water.
Shaia was still sitting upright when Hano returned, but his chin had sunk onto his chest and his eyes were only half-open, showing little more than the glitter of fever. Setting the shell in the coals of the fire, Hano used a sharp rock he’d found near the pool to help tear a ragged chunk of cloth off one of the shirts he’d used to build the lean-to. Gabe took the cloth when it was offered, folding it into a square with neat, precise movements of his fingers, his eyes distant. He soaked it in the water inside the shell for a few moments once it was hot, then shifted over to Shaia and started cleaning the bullet wound, frowning in concentration.
“It went through, I think,” he said, swiping at the fresh blood that trickled down Shaia’s skin. “He’s lucky. I don’t think I could’ve done anything if it had lodged in there somewhere. Not out here.” He leaned in again and started to scrub at the wound in earnest.
Shaia grunted and twitched away, making an obvious effort to open his eyes fully. “Hurts.”
“If you can feel pain, you’re still alive,” Hano said, sitting down on Shaia’s other side so he couldn’t move away from Gabe’s hands. “Preacher boy knows some medicine. He’ll fix you up.”
Shaia didn’t answer, but Gabe looked up briefly to ask, “Do you two know each other? From before, I mean. Before you were arrested.”
“Not before, no, but we were arrested around the same time and ended up in the same cell in Barrow Bay, before we were loaded on to the ship.” Hano stretched his legs out, letting his shoulders relax; shipwrecked or not, it felt good to sit under the sun again, without bars around him or chains on his wrists.
“You just seem friendly.”
“I’d rather be friendly with my cellmate than enemies. We’ve spent a lot of time in close quarters. We can live with each other.”
“What did you do to get arrested?”
Hano snorted. “I’m a thief. You know what Shaia is.”
“I know.” Gabe frowned over the wound, where he’d scrubbed most of the dried blood and sand loose, and leaned over to rinse out the cloth.
“What about you, preacher boy?”
“I’ve never been arrested in my life.”
“I mean, what were you doing on the ship?”
Gabe looked up briefly. “Travelling.” He picked up the shell, using the cloth to keep his fingers from touching the outside of it. “I need fresh water.”
“Yessir.” Hano licked his fingers before taking the shell, carrying it back through the jungle to get more water.
The sun was high in the sky by the time Gabe had finished scrubbing the wound clean, and Shaia had long since passed out again, his breath rasping in his chest. Hano helped mash down the plants he’d found in the jungle—similar to his home island in the Maakala chain, though they were bigger here than he’d ever seen before—and apply the result to Shaia’s shoulder, front and back. They used Gabe’s shirt to rig up a makeshift bandage and moved Shaia back under what little shade was left when they were finished.
Hano stood and stretched, placing both hands in the small of his back and arching until something cracked. “I’m going to try and take our raft back out to the ship. See what I can find.”
“Is that a good idea?” Gabe asked, looking up from his neutral contemplation of Shaia. “What about the seadrakes?”
“I’ll just have to take my chances. Hope I don’t get eaten, preacher boy, or you’ll never survive on your own.” Hano meant it to be teasing, but the look Gabe gave him was only contemplative, as though Gabe didn’t care much if he did survive. “Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”
Gabe waved a dismissive hand at him. “I’ll just sit here. Keep watch.”
“Here.” Hano dropped the sharp rock in Gabe’s lap. “Just in case something comes looking for an easy meal. I’ll be as quick as I can.”
He paused a moment to let Gabe reply, but Gabe only nodded, dropping his gaze back to the sand he was sitting on. Rolling his eyes, Hano gathered up the long stick he’d taken from the jungle and headed for the raft, taking a careful look at the water before pushing the raft back out into it and climbing on board. It was awkward using the pole to push the raft out into the open ocean but he muscled it past the breakers and paddled towards what he could see of the ship, which had run aground on a shallow sandbar. He worried a little that he would see bodies, but there was nothing human in the water and he assumed that the seadrakes had eaten any bodies that hadn’t been dragged down in the rest of the wreckage.
He let the raft bump up onto the sandbar to ground it and stepped off into the shallow water surrounding the bar, glancing around for any sign of movement. A minute ticked by with little more than the lazy movement of birds overhead, and he let himself relax enough to start picking through what bits of the ship had managed to wash up. Little of it was salvageable but he managed to find a bag of sodden clothing caught on the ragged edge of a board and a handful of gold and silver coins in the shallow water on one side of the bar. He dropped the coins in the bag and tossed it on the raft, then piled as much wood as he could in neat, balanced stacks, leaving himself just enough room to step back onto the wooden surface.
A lean, scaly head longer than his forearm broke the surface when he was only halfway back to the beach. He froze, gripping his pole with both hands, but the seadrake only rolled a lazy eye towards him before swimming away, its movement barely causing a ripple. Hano turned to watch it and spotted a cove tucked into the side of the island, half-hidden by a spike of land that jutted out into the ocean. He turned the raft towards it and was pleased to find a current that took him right into the mouth of the cove; with luck, the waves would wash more of the ship into the cove and he could go diving for it. Satisfied that more options seemed to have opened up for them, he turned around and paddled the raft back towards the beach so he could tell Gabe and Shaia what he’d found.