Chapter no 4


Koy was waiting in the boat when I stepped onto the beach.

The wind pushed his dark hair back from his face as he looked out at the chop on the water. The first time I ever saw Koy, he was swimming toward me from the shore so he could kick me off the sandbar I was fishing on. He hadn’t taken his eyes off me since.

“Where are the others?” I asked, flicking a copper into the air and throwing my belt into the skiff.

He caught it, dropping it into the purse hanging from the mast. “Still working the traders.”

We climbed into the skiff, and it drifted out of the shallows as Koy loosed the lines.

The wind caught the sail hard as soon as it opened, making the boat heel before it shot forward, away from the shore. I fastened my belt as Koy glanced back at me over his shoulder and his eyes dropped to my tools. He’d stolen from me before, though I’d never caught him. I’d had to change my hiding places several times, but someone always seemed to find them. The dredgers were rough and hard-edged but they weren’t stupid, least of all Koy. And he had more mouths to feed than most everyone else.

His grandmother and two siblings were dependent upon him, and that made him more dangerous than almost anyone on the island. Being responsible for someone else was the greatest curse on Jeval, out on the sea, even in the Narrows. The only safety that existed was in being completely alone. That was one of the very first things Saint taught me.

Out at the barrier islands, the Marigold still sat before the dark backdrop of another storm brewing in the distance. This one looked worse than the

first, but judging from the wind and the clouds, it would mostly play out before it hit us. Still, the Marigold and the other ships would probably stay docked until morning to be safe.

“What are you going to do with all of that copper, Fable?” Koy asked, tying off the line.

I watched the rope pull around the callused skin that covered his hand. “What copper?”

He looked amused, a sliver of teeth showing between his lips. “I know you’re trading all that pyre you’re finding. But I can’t figure out what you’re planning to do with the coin. Buy a boat? Start an operation with the traders?”

“I haven’t been finding much pyre.” I shrugged, twirling a piece of my hair around my finger. The strands were the color of tarnished copper in the sunlight. “No more than usual.”

He grinned, leaning back into the bow so his elbow hung over the side of the boat. “You know why I’ve never liked you?”

I smiled back at him. “Why?”

“It’s not that you’re a liar. Everyone on this island is a liar. The problem with you, Fable, is that you’re a good one.”

“Well, I’ve always liked you, Koy.”

He laughed as he pulled the sail and the boat slowed. “See? I almost believed you.”

I stepped onto the side of the boat and dove in, crashing into the cold water and letting myself float back up to the top. When I broke the surface again, Koy was already leaving a wake behind him, headed toward the south reef. When he didn’t look back, I swam in the opposite direction at a slow pace, trying to save my strength. My muscles and bones were still stiff and weak, but rest wasn’t going to come anytime soon. Not with the dredgers paying me so much attention. The only thing I could do now was get the last of the copper I needed as fast as I could to leave this place behind.

I spotted the yellow sea fan and tightened my belt before I started working my lungs, inhaling and exhaling in a rhythm I had memorized. When the sharp tinge ignited between my ribs, I dove down, kicking toward

the seafloor and sending the fish into a twist of glittering scales above me. I didn’t waste any time lowering myself to the breach. The quiet hum of the pyre danced on my skin as I pulled the tools from my belt and got to work, hitting the mallet as hard as I could and working down a new line of rock. Most of it was just coral and basalt, but the smooth surface of a piece of pyre broke through about two feet down. It wasn’t a big piece, so it would free more easily, but finding more could take me the entire afternoon. I pulled my arm back and braced myself on the reef as I brought the mallet back up. I hit the chisel squarely and the ping sounded underwater as a small chip broke off.

My hand slipped, slamming into the sharp edge as a shadow moved overhead, draping me in the dark. I jolted, dropping the mallet, and my heart kicked up, the air in my lungs waning. I whirled, pressing myself under the overhang of rock and gripping the chisel in my cold hand. A group of whale sharks were swimming over the ridge, weaving through the beams of sunlight casting down from the surface. I let out a stream of bubbles in a relieved laugh, the painful clench in my chest easing just a little. But I needed air.

I pushed off the rock, coming up between two of them and reached out to run my hand along the length of their smooth, spotted skin. Their tails flicked past me, and I smiled, kicking toward the puddle of sunlight wavering above.

But just as I reached the surface, something caught hold of my arm, dragging me back down before I’d even taken a breath. I yelped underwater, letting the last of my air escape as I thrashed to turn.

In the cloud of pivoting fish below, Koy’s face was looking up at me, his hands clamped tightly around my wrist. I kicked, catching him in the shoulder with the heel of my foot and his fingers slipped from me. I swam as fast as I could toward the light, feeling the darkness creeping over my mind, and when I finally broke through to the air, I choked, my lungs twisting violently in my chest. The skiff was floating just down the reef, past a crest of rock so that I couldn’t see it from below.

He’d followed me.

Koy came up in the next breath, launching in my direction. I tried to swim from his reach, but he took hold of my hair and wrenched me back to him.

“Where is it?” he shouted, his fist tightening. “Tell me where it is!”

I twisted, rearing my elbow back with a snap, and it caught him in the face. His fingers untangled from my hair, and I swam for the boat. Koy followed, cutting through the water faster than I could. By the time I reached the hull, he had ahold of my foot. I caught the lip of the stern and pulled against his weight, trying to get in. He yanked harder, a growl tearing from his throat, and I slipped, hitting the side with my face so hard that the light exploded in my head. I found the edge with my fingers again before I pulled myself back up and reached inside, my hand frantically looking for the scull. When I had it, I threw my arm back, hitting Koy in the head with the flat end.

He stilled suddenly, falling back into the water, and I hoisted myself into the hull, coughing. Koy’s eyes rolled back into his head as he sank, a stream of red inklike blood spilling from his forehead. I let the lines down with clumsy hands, but as I reached for the sail, I froze, my breath catching.

I could still see him, sinking into the dark blue, just below the surface. “You bastard,” I groaned, dropping the scull and diving back in.

I hooked my hands under his arms when I reached him, hauling him back. I fought with his weight, almost tipping the boat as I lifted his limp body. Once I had his top half inside, I pulled his legs over one at a time and he rolled into the hull.

Every muscle twisted tight, the last of my strength wrung from my bones, and I retched, sending the saltwater I’d swallowed up my burning throat. I stood over Koy, my hands shaking. He was still losing a steady stream of blood, and I hoped he wasn’t breathing. I hoped he was dead.

But I’d never been that lucky.

I kicked him hard, screaming, before I fell back onto the deck beside him, trying to catch my breath. I spit a mouthful of blood from my busted mouth into the water, looking back toward the island. My lip was cut open and my cheek was swelling, but I was alive. That was really all I could ask for.

I should have left him. Should have let him drown in the darkness. Why hadn’t I?

You weren’t made for this world, Fable.

I cursed, pinching my eyes closed as Saint’s words echoed in my aching head. He’d said the same thing about my mother.

I snatched the scull from where it floated in the water and stood, pulling the sail in with weak arms. The line was heavy in my hands as I yanked, and when the wind caught the canvas, a single hot tear rolled down my cheek.

I didn’t have three weeks. I didn’t even have three days.

Beyond the crooked rise of the barrier islands, the Marigold’s sails were still rolled up against the storm gale blowing in.

If I made it to sundown alive, I had one chance to get off Jeval. And I was going to take it.

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