It seemed to take all her concentration to get those words out, and it was with an edge of frustration that her fingers laced around the stiletto once more.
She shoved the blade deeper into Aeduan’s heart.
Against his most desperate, frantic desire—against every instinct that screamed at him to stay alert—his eyelids fell shut for half an agonizing breath. A moan slipped over his tongue.
In that moment, the weight on his body vanished. Footsteps slapped through the water away from him.
When his eyes finally opened again, he saw no sign of the girl—not that he could have turned his head to look.
Then a wave washed over him, and Aeduan sank beneath the sea foam.
The wind roared in Safi’s ears as she flew. Her eyes streamed, her skirts tossed, and she quickly gave up shouting at Prince Merik to go back. He couldn’t hear her.
The ocean blurred beneath Safi, lucent and trembling, and Safi thought vaguely that she should enjoy this—she was flying after all.
But she didn’t enjoy it. All she cared about was Iseult, left behind. With the Bloodwitch.
In the back of her mind, other urgent thoughts snarled—like why Prince Merik was stealing Safi from the lighthouse. How he’d gotten there at such a perfect time.
Then Safi was hurtling much too fast toward a sharp-bowed Nubrevnan warship—and that engulfed all her other concerns.
Oars spun, sailors in blue scurried about, and a booming drumbeat hit Safi’s ears. Right as she thought she would crash onto the main deck and break all her bones, her pace slackened. She drifted gently down.
In two breaths, Safi had her balance and was on her feet. One more breath, and she had a lock on Prince Merik. He was almost to the quarterdeck by the time she grabbed his shirt and ripped him about. “Take me back!”
He didn’t resist but rather pointed toward shore. “My first mate has your friend.”
Safi followed his finger. Sure enough, she found the tall blond man with his attention on a figure flying this way.
But Safi’s Threadsister was limp. As Safi bolted for the first mate, she roared for a healer or surgeon or someone to help.
The first mate eased Iseult onto the quarterdeck with his magic, and Safi was instantly beside her. She tugged Iseult’s head onto her lap and pressed fingers to her throat, praying for a pulse … Yes, yes. Faint, but there.
Although, in the glaring moonlight, there was no missing the growing smear of red on Iseult’s arm or the dead Painstone around her neck.
Movement flickered in the corners of Safi’s vision. The prince, the first mate, other sailors closing in. Then came a flash of white and a woman’s voice. “Get my kit!”
Safi yanked around to find a Carawen monk striding toward her from the ladder belowdecks.
“Get away from that girl,” the woman ordered.
But Safi didn’t move. After being hunted by Carawens, she wasn’t about to let another one get close. If those four monks had been working with the Bloodwitch, then this one probably was too.
The woman had silver white hair, yet the way the moon glided over her skin, she couldn’t have been any older than Mathew or Habim—and she was freeing her blade with the poise of an equally skilled swordswoman. “Step back, girl.”
“So you can finish what the other monks started? No thank you.” In a rush of movement, Safi yanked a cutlass from the first mate’s scabbard, and spiraled at the Carawen monk … who deftly ducked beneath Safi’s next attack—and then slapped the flat of her blade against Safi’s knee.
“Someone stop her,” the monk yelled.
And just like that, Safi’s air choked off.
She tried to billow her lungs, to clench her stomach, to do anything that would draw in breath, but there was nothing.
With an easy swat, the monk knocked away Safi’s blade. The cutlass clattered across the wood, and Safi clutched at her throat. Stars blinked across her vision. The first mate was a full-blown Airwitch—and he was collapsing Safi’s lungs.
It was at that moment, as Safi’s knees buckled and the world swirled into darkness, that Merik stepped over her, his expression hard but not cruel. “Evrane means your friend no harm. She’s a healer monk, Domna. A Waterwitch healer.”
Safi clutched at her throat, unable to speak. To breathe.
“If you promise to behave,” he continued, “then Kullen will return your air. Can you promise that?”
Safi nodded desperately, but she was too late. Her body was too starved of breath, and darkness overtook her.
* * *
Safi awoke with her tongue fat and sticky. Footsteps thumped above, water sloshed against creaking wood, and the smell of salt and tar was thick in her nostrils. For several moments, all she could make out was a dark room with a weak beam of sunlight filtering through a window at her left. Then the room oriented, and Safi saw Iseult sprawled across a single, bolted-down pallet in the opposite corner. Iseult’s eyes were closed, her breath rasping.
Safi lurched to her feet, stumbling off a second pallet and almost sprawling flat from the blood roaring across her vision.
“Iseult?” She dropped to the floor beside her Threadsister. Sweat dripped down Iseult’s face, her skin even more ashen than usual, and when Safi pressed a gentle hand to Iseult’s brow, the skin was boiling.
Only once had Safi seen Iseult this badly hurt—after she’d broken her shinbone—but this injury was worse. There was no Mathew or Habim to help them now. Safi and Iseult were alone. Completely alone on a foreign ship with no one on their side.