Swimming’s easy, Jinsen had said. Piece of cake. He’d wring Jinsen’s scrawny little neck when he got out of the sea.

If he got out.

Sinking down into the dark, he fought with the pull of the water. The light was dwindling, and a current dragged him the gods knew where. What a way to go, in this dark, cold grave, so unlike the fires that had burned through his city — when? Flames and heat.

He thought he saw a face floating before him. Maybe he was already dead, but he felt sad, and the dead didn’t feel, did they?

His chest burned. His mouth opened in a scream and he inhaled water. His whole body spasmed, convulsing. The face faded, the current pulling him faster, reeling him like a fish on a hook, and he writhed, swallowing the sea, the salt scorching his airways.

Another convulsion and he burst to the surface. Trying to breathe and cough at the same time, kicking and waving his arms to keep afloat, he barely felt it when he bumped against something. He made a desperate grab for it, and found the pole, slippery and overgrown with seaweed. He clung to it, hacking, his lungs burning. He glanced up.

Above loomed a dark bulk that stretched into the gloom. It took him a few confused moments to realized what he was seeing. A pier! He’d reached the shore.

Heart pounding, he freed one hand and groped blindly overhead until he found the surface. He dug his fingers in a crack, threw the other hand over as well, and heaved his trembling body higher. With a groan, he pulled himself up.

He flopped onto the pier and coughed until he thought he’d spit his lungs out, and then just lay there, wrung out and empty. His body felt like one giant bruise. Sweet hells, had be made it out alive?

The sky was still dark when he sat up and glanced around. A glance around showed him no boats. Small wonder. The Gultur kept their boats mostly in enclosed marinas where nobody would steal them.

Shit, why did his arms hurt so much? And what should he do now?

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