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Submerged: Chapter Five

Hey y’all! This will be my last chapter share from Submerged because today is its release day! I hope you’ve enjoyed these chapters 🙂 Don’t forget to get your copy of Submerged, wherever books are sold.

Traveling on the road was somehow worse than their trek through the desert. The only time they saw anyone was when the group passed unnoticed by a nomadic family traveling home to Shrivo with their tiny herd of goats. The road was long and empty with only the sparse collection of trees and wild brush to break up the monotony. It was early morning by the time they arrived on the outskirts of the Golden City, sparkling and glowing in the distance with the rising sun.

            Amira is here. Jura hoped she would be able to find her friend in time to put an end to the madness taking place in the Republic. She took comfort in the fact that in order for there to be an alttaw’am Amira had to be alive. Jura only needed to find her. She still had to come up with a plan. She couldn’t very well barge into the city, banging on doors and searching houses. It was a shame she hadn’t nurtured a better relationship with the Shadow Dancers. Surely they could help gain intel on Amira’s capture? She shoved the thought aside, no sense on thinking of things that would never happen. Jura had a previous arrangement with the Prince of Shadows, but neither had held up their end of the deal. Jura wondered where that left things. Tylak seemed to think it meant she was a walking target.

            He was probably right. If her last night in the Republic proved anything, it was that there were a number of people who wanted her dead.

            “Well, do we go in now or sneak in this evening?” Tylak nudged her shoulder and snapped her back to the present.

            “Now? This evening?” Her eyes widened at the thought.

            “You’re nervous.”

            “Of course I am. There’s so much at stake.”

            “We can make camp, go in at dawn after a full night’s sleep?”

            Jura battled with the idea. On the one hand she didn’t want to waste any more time. She needed to find Amira and contact the Sea King as soon as possible. But on the other she still had no plan.

            “I think…we make camp?” The words crawled out of her mouth, she was unsure if she was issuing an order or asking a question.

            “It’s time for prayer,” Jiro announced.

            Tylak rolled his eyes but Jura stopped his protest with a glare. It was settled then. The Samur would pray and she would read, and at dawn tomorrow they would enter the Golden City. She had barely a day to come up with a plan.

            Tylak grumbled as he sat square legged beside Peppik, who had taken to meditating alongside the Samur. If his body winking in and out of existence wasn’t indication enough, the lines of concentration across his forehead told Jura that Tylak was practicing his invisibility barrier again. He was fairly capable of holding it around the group, although they were forced to huddle together tightly. After that first day of close travel, Jura had asked if he had ever tried to extend his powers. He’d scowled at her and had mumbled that she should try it, but he’d started practicing then and every night after.

The lack of sleep from the previous night’s sandstorm followed by their hours of travel already had Jura holding back a tired yawn. She was glad they had stopped. She needed time to rest and to think. She forced her gaze back down to her open book and began reading.

            Tylak tapped her on the shoulder and she awoke with a start. He looked worried. She must have fallen asleep reading. She shoved the book into her pack and sprang to her feet, ignoring the crick in her neck.

            “Are you…” He cut off her whispered question with a quick nod. He was bending the light around them. They were invisible.

            “Where is everyone?” she mouthed the words.

            Tylak shook his head.

             He didn’t know or he didn’t want to say? Jura gripped the holster of her whip. She’d manage to get the weapon into a steady snap and her accuracy was improving, but only marginally. She only hit the target a third of the time, and figured at that rate she should be fairly decent with it by the time they got Amira back home. Thinking of home caused a familiar wrench in her gut. Rescuing Amira from Kitoi was only the first task for getting her old life back.

            Tylak’s grip on her elbow tightened and she squinted into the desert around them. The road was empty and not even a breeze disturbed the sands. Her heartbeat quickened and her stomach rolled.

            A muffled grunt sounded off to her right. She whipped her head toward the sound, her knuckles white around the hilt of her whip. Tylak unsheathed his dagger. She pressed the palm of her left hand into her hammering chest and tried to take a deep breath.

            The masked man appeared in front of them. Tylak shoved her to the side, tackling the man to the ground. The men wrestled, rolling over one another until Tylak stopped the man with a swift crack from his elbow into the man’s face.

            “Is he…” Jura took a step forward but stopped, trembling.

            “No, just unconscious. I’ll want to—behind you!” Tylak slowly rose to his feet.

            Jura’s heart skipped a beat.

            She whirled around. Another Shadow Dancer stood directly behind her, knife raised in his right hand. He stood straight and still. Jura’s grabbed her whip and it flew from its holster, poised in her hand. The masked man raised his foot and leaned forward. He seemed to move with such infinitesimal slowness that Jura wondered if he was even moving at all. She didn’t want to waste her opportunity so she took careful aim and snapped the whip toward his knife. The tail of her whip caught the blade and she had snatched it out of his hand before he completed his next step. His gaze slowly dropped into a register of surprise.

Jura discarded the knife into the ground and brought the whip forward with another snap of her wrist. She dropped low when the man began to topple toward her and she flicked her weapon forward, wrapping it around the man’s feet. She jumped to her own and pulled the slack from the whip sharply toward her, tightening the weapon’s grip around her captive. She heard Tylak’s approach seconds later and she blinked up at him in surprise.

            She dropped the whip and stepped back, shaking her head. Tylak lunged for the discarded tail of the weapon and placed a boot on the man’s chest to prevent him from escaping.

            “Jura, are you okay?”
            She shook her head.

            “It happened again, didn’t it?”

            “You were taking so long to get up,” she whispered. “I knew it then, but I…” She trailed off, staring at her hands. “What’s happening to me?” This had happened once before. Time had slowed down around her, and Jura had dispatched and killed men. She shuddered at the memory.

            “I don’t know. But I intend to get some answers now.” Tylak glared down at the Shadow Dancer.

            “Why would I share anything with you, Tylak? You’re a traitor.”

            Tylak grinned. His scar glowed white in the late morning sun. He reminded Jura of how he looked that first day she met him. Dangerous.

            “Did you hear that, Jura? I’m famous.” Tylak leaned back, his boot remained planted on the Shadow Dancer’s chest. “Now what does the old Prince want wi–”

            “How dare you speak his name. We do not speak of the deceased.”

            Tylak stiffened. “When.”

            “The same day you and your little First disappeared. I won’t fall for your lies.” The Dancer squirmed beneath him. “Release me and face your death with honor.”

            “Honor? You were trying to murder me in my sleep.” Jura snorted. She eyed the unconscious Dancer before stepping closer to Tylak and the Shadow Dancer beneath his boot.

            “Actually, Greatness, the new orders are to leave you alive.”

            “New orders from who?” Jura narrowed her eyes.

            “Release me and I’ll tell you more.”

            Ichiro and Jiro appeared in the horizon, picking their way through the sand.

            “We’ve been attacked,” Jiro called.

            Tylak rolled his eyes. “Get behind me, Jura.”

            “Why?” the Shadow Dancer asked as he stood up. “I don’t want to kill her.”

             His mask had fallen down and though his eyes glittered dangerously, his tanned features appeared almost bored. Jura recognized the look as the same one Tylak had on the day she’d sentenced him to be executed. It must be something all Shadow Dancers learned. She knew little of Tylak’s past. She didn’t like to push people into sharing, but she knew the man had been a member of the secret guild at one time.

            “It’s okay, Jura. He’s unarmed and outnumbered.” Tylak jerked his head at the arrival of the Samur.

            “Jura.” The Dancer elongated the syllables, the name stretching from his mouth and echoing across the sand sea. “So, we’re on a first name basis. Perhaps you will be useful alive. I propose an Exchange.”

            Tylak grunted. “I accept.”

            “Why did you kill our Prince?” The Shadow Dancer crossed his arms over his chest.

             “I wish I could take credit for that. I only learned of his death now. When did your orders for Jura change?”

            The Dancer smiled, revealing a row of neat white teeth. “Just this morning.” His eyes slanted down toward his companion who was now stirring into consciousness. “When he arrived with the missive. What is your business in Kitoi?”

            “A rescue mission. Whose orders do you follow?”

            “My Queen’s, of course. How do you want to die?”

            “Fifty years from now asleep in a warm bed with a belly full of food and water. What does sh—”

            “What sort of interrogation is this?” Jura’s question caught the attention of both men.

            “It isn’t an interrogation,” the Shadow Dancer said.

            “It’s an Exchange of Information,” Tylak mumbled.

            Jiro and Ichiro held the other Shadow Dancer between them. He swayed on his feet during their approach.

            “Would you like us to dispatch him?” Jiro sounded bored.

            “That won’t be necessary. Will it?” Jura looked from one Shadow Dancer to the other. She turned to Tylak, who raised his eyebrows in question. Right, she called the shots. She squared her shoulders and turned toward the Dancer. “I would like to enter this Exchange of Information.”

            “It isn’t done.” The Shadow Dancer shook his head. He tied his mask back into place.

            Tylak chuckled. “It’s better not to argue with her. Go ahead, Jura. Be prepared for what he’ll ask. It’s an Exchange of Information. You’re honor bound to tell the truth.”

            The Shadow Dancer sneered at Tylak’s words but he turned to Jura. “Ask your questions.”

            “Did you come out here to kill Tylak?”

            “Interesting. You and Tylak both chose to use your first question in regard to each other. And to your question, I did not. What or who are you rescuing in Kitoi?”

            Jura swallowed. “My friend. If you didn’t come to kill Tylak or to kill me, then why did you come?”

            “I said that I did not come out here to kill Tylak. I came out to assassinate you. But those orders changed. Tylak was just a bonus. Who is so important that you would leave the Republic and your father in danger?”

            “Amira.” Jura pictured her friend’s beautiful face. If she didn’t fight for her, who would? She ignored the nagging guilt that spiked in reaction to his question. “How did you find us?”

            “The Third. So, you are on a rescue mission for the very person who provided me with the tool for which to find you. Things are not as they seem,” the Shadow Dancer said.

            “Was that a question?”

            He smiled. “No. But that was. Is the Third responsible for your father’s blood chain?”

            “Yes. What tool are you talking about?”

            “A blood seeker. Is the Third alttaw’am?”

            Jura swallowed. He knew of the creature. “Yes. What is a blood seeker?”

            The Shadow Dancer reached into his pocket.

            Tylak growled low in his throat. “Watch your hands.”

            The Dancer ignored him and pulled out a small gold object. He held it out toward Jura. She squinted at the familiar gold wiring.

            “My lorgnette! Amira gave it to me…” She trailed off, remembering the moment. The tiny gold wiring had pricked her finger and drawn blood. Was he saying her blood on the lorgnette had somehow brought him directly to her? She’d never known such magic existed.

            “Why does the Queen want you alive?” The Dancer stared at her with a hard expression.

            “I could ask you the same question.”

            “Then we have completed our Exchange.”

            “Not quite.” Tylak held out his hand, palm upward. “We’ll take that back now.”

            The Shadow Dancer chuckled but he handed the lorgnette over to him without protest.

            “Sleep with one eye open, Tylak. Just because the missive has reached me that she is to be unharmed, I cannot guarantee word has reached all of my brethren.” He bowed low but made a mockery of the motion with an exaggerated wink at Jura. “Greatness, it was a pleasure.”

            “They are free now?” Ichiro frowned at the departing figures.

            Tylak nodded. “We’re safe. For now, anyway. There’s always a day’s truce after an Exchange.”

            Jura sat down in the sand and buried her face in her hands.

            “Don’t worry.” Tylak sat beside her, patting her on the back.

            “How can I not? I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t feel like myself anymore. And Amira, the real Amira…I just want her to be okay. She has to be, right? We know she’s alive, but what does that mean, really? What have they been doing to her?”

            “We’ll find her.” It was a promise he’d repeated often over the last week and a half.

            “I still can’t believe I didn’t know she was in trouble. This entire time, she’s been captured and enduring only the Everflame knows what…her entire family is gone. What will that do to her? She has no one.”

            “She has you.” Tylak reached for her hand, interlacing her fingers with his own.

            This was new. His thumb trace a path where her wrist met her hand. Jura swallowed hard in an effort to calm her racing heart and leaned toward him. “Thanks again for helping me with all this. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re a good friend.”

            Tylak pulled his hand free from hers to wipe it down the length of his face.

            He must be exhausted. She tried not to feel slighted by the sudden departure of his hand.

            “You probably have some reading to do or something. Let me know what you need me to do for your plan.” He stood up abruptly, mumbling something about his pack under his breath as he walked away.

            Jura watched him leave in silence. She wanted to call after him and demand an explanation, but he was right, she should be coming up with a plan.

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