Granpulpo’s sharp, snapping beak was eager to rip them in half. Being eaten was the original plan, but the eating wasn’t supposed to lead to crushing death from tentacles with the power to pulverize ships. Granpulpo’s massive mouth was big enough to swallow food whole, but it preferred its food dead, Drake imagined, especially when it was in the habit of consuming man-eating fish that could do some real damage chomping around inside.
Lungs burning, Drake jammed an elbow into the squishy tentacle pinning him and forced it back just long enough to jab a knife into the crushing arm. The annoyance to Granpulpo was no more than being stabbed with a toothpick, but it did change its grip and shove Drake and Rosaliy all at once toward its mouth. Drake kicked back reflexively at the massive beak when it brushed his leg, just as Rosaliy managed to get a grip on the ball activating the dome.
She dropped to her knees and gasped in air while the beak and tentacles in range of the protective bubble slid through harmlessly. Confused by its disappearing prey, the octopus sent more tentacles to assist, finding the hard shell of the bubble.
Powerful arms grabbed for the dome, the impact knocking Drake off his feet and sending him crashing into Rosaliy. She grabbed hold of him as the beast buffeted them one way and another, shoving them repeatedly to its beak in a vain attempt to pry open the hard shell of its confusing prey. This animal was accustomed to crushing ships like they were sand, but, thankfully, the protective enchantment proved too strong for it.
With one last monstrous effort, the octopus wedged the dome firmly in its hard, grasping maw, each side of its beak straining against the sides of the dome while Rosaliy and Drake watched—paralyzed in some mix of wonder and terror. If the dome gave out, they would be crushed. If Granpulpo spat them out, they would be stranded at sea.
Then the straining stopped. There was a rush of water implying a flurry of movement. The octopus must have been able to resist the pull of the stone inside Quita no more, at least Drake could hope. With Rosaliy and Drake still wedged in its beak, it gathered up its tentacles and shot through the dark water.
Rosaliy relinquished her hold on Drake, although the dome was now tipped sideways, creating a mass of angled sides forcing them both to a single spot. “Did we—?” She finally broke the silence. “Are we—? Are you alive? Am I alive?”
Drake patted his arms and legs. All intact.
Rosaliy shifted to wrap her arms around her body. “Any chance we’re headed to Flifary Island?”
Drake had no compass stashed on him, and he doubted such a tool would give him a clue, since no one knew where the island was in the first place.
“Right,” she said, like he had voiced any of those thoughts. “I guess when Granpulpo stops moving, we’ll be…somewhere.”
That seemed like a helpful attitude. “If it’s any consolation,” he offered, “that went better than I was expecting.”
She chuckled next to him in the dark. “I’d ask what you were expecting, but I don’t want the answer to that question.”
They lapsed into an eerie silence. No matter how either of them adjusted, they both slid back into each other down the smooth, curved side of the dome, so they gave up and huddled smashed together in the dark. While transferring a knife to the other side of his body so it would not jab Rosaliy, Drake ran into the jar in his pocket.
“Why were you stealing healing potion from the pirates?” he asked.
Rosaliy groaned, pressing her forehead to his shoulder. “You’ll laugh,” came the muffled reply.
“I’d be very interested in a tale of pirate robbery that ends up being funny.”
“You’ll laugh at me,” she clarified.
He doubted that.
She explained her arrival in Bayselle, running into Cliff and the Crocs.
“Useless piranhas,” he seethed. They had put Cliff in danger to get to him. Looked like he could cause trouble without even being nearby.
“I wasn’t very fond of them,” Rosaliy agreed, pausing. “It was really clever, what you did, trading the pirates’ own healing draught back to them.”
“What?” He was still stewing over the Crocs having the nerve to threaten Cliff.
“Clever,” she repeated. “To give them what they wanted without giving them what they wanted.”
He had no response to that. It had just been necessary.
“How’s the Senira?” he asked.
“Pretty terrifying, actually. She seemed fond of you.”
“She’s on a short list, then.”
“It’s not so short,” Rosaliy objected. “Be nicer to yourself.” She rested her cheek on his shoulder and sighed. “I shouldn’t even talk anymore. I’ll just complain.”
“Complain away,” he offered. “About what?”
“About what!” she exclaimed. “I’m tired of being wet and running and completely out of control. And I’m tired of this trip.”
She was describing his entire life. “You have a better place to be?” he mused. Near death aside, being adrift in a dome underwater was a welcome change of pace.
She cocked her head up at him like he was crazy, maybe to gauge if he was joking. “Just about anywhere,” she answered.
This was a hiccup in her life, an interruption from living. She was normally the director of the chaos in her life, not its victim. “Where would you be right now if you weren’t here?” he asked.
She considered. “Assuming I actually made it there on time this season, I’d be visiting my parents in Kianne—milking cows, arguing with my mother about my life choices.”
“Then you have something to look forward to—after.”
“If there is an after.”
“If there’s not, I don’t suppose you’ll know the difference,” he pointed out.
“I can’t decide if that’s horrible or comforting.”
That was pretty much where all his attempts at consolation wound up. “Why decide?”
He felt her shake with silent laughter. “I’m glad you’re back to yourself,” she said, the amusement still in her voice.
“As opposed to?”
“Madly in love with me Drake,” she replied. “I mean, the enchanted one, not that I would mind if— Obviously, now is not the time for any of that anyway. I’m so sorry about that whole love spell incident,” she said in a rush. “You’re not still under its effects, are you?”
He thought that over. That seemed like a lifetime ago and his recollection was fuzzy. “How would I know?”
She sighed. “Assuming we survive, I have batches of neutralizing potions back at Crystal Palace—the girls are always dousing themselves with the most bizarre of enchantments. Until then, I suppose you may have to endure a few more fake relationships with me.”
“You are hands down the best fake relationship I’ve ever had,” he promised.
“Do you have many other fake relationships to use as basis of comparison?”
“More than I’d like to admit to,” he mused. “I believe you met Esmona.”
“I thought you were trying to avoid talking about her,” Rosaliy teased.
“Why?” he asked. Out of all the horrible things he had done, tricking Esmona into giving him access to Bayselle Castle seemed low on his list of crimes.
“You are not going to convince me being with her was fake,” Rosaliy exclaimed. “She’s stunning. I mean, isn’t she pretty much every man’s type?”
“She thinks so.”
“So you were never together?” asked Rosaliy, a tinge of suspicion in her voice.
“Well,” he dragged out the l’s, “I can’t exactly claim we were never together. She certainly had reason to think we were.”
“Oh, so you’re still together?”
He hemmed a tone of disapproval at the idea. “Basically, Es wanted me to join up with the Ingobernables and I said no, by disappearing instead of answering.”
“Poor Esmona,” clucked Rosaliy.
“She deserves none of your pity,” objected Drake.
“She does,” Rosaliy insisted. “You would be hard to forget.”
“Please,” he scoffed, “the rest of my life says otherwise.”
The wake of near death and the murky darkness of water at night made talking easier, although he remained wary she would ask the one question that led to disappointment and disgust. There had to be one.
“Where would you be?” she asked. “If you weren’t here.”
“Honestly, I have no idea.” He had no strong desire to be anywhere else. “I suppose keeping Cliff out of trouble.”
“That is a job,” she agreed. “How has he survived so long?”
“I ask myself this question every day.”
“You know, you should probably talk to Cliff about—” She stopped abruptly. “No, never mind.”
That time, he knew exactly what she was talking about, probably because he was trying so hard not to think about it.
“I know,” he mumbled.
She pulled the wet scarf from her hair and fluffed out her ocean-drenched hair. She liked to be busy. “I’m not qualified to live your life,” she said.
“Maybe you’d do a better job of it.”
“I’m having a hard enough time with my own,” she disagreed. “Besides, I was you for a day and I wound up here.”
“Funny,” he said. “So did I.”
“That is a little funny,” she admitted. By now, the scarf had been tied back around her rearranged hair. “Can you handle a real question?”
No. “You claim to have a bunch saved up.”
There was a long pause. “What happened to your family—your parents?”
That was unexpected. He could talk about his parents, though he did not see why she would want to. “My father was Meena’s son. He was generally shiftless, managed to get himself killed robbing a caravan. Left my mother pregnant with a baby who turned out to be me.”
“That’s awful!” exclaimed Rosaliy.
“Well, the death part.”
“I never met him, so it’s hard to say.” When he was younger, he liked to take comfort in blaming his father for whatever he could, but Drake had to admit the man would likely have had a stronger negative impact on him alive. Maybe dying was the best thing he could have done. “My mother married a man with two kids who managed an orchard—lemons mostly. I loved that place. I remember the orchard more than I remember him.”
“What happened?” Rosaliy asked. He heard wariness in her voice. He really was terrible with stories.
“Life,” he answered. “She got pregnant, sick, and died.”
Rosaliy put a hand on his arm. “I’m so sorry.”
That one made some sense. His mother seemed like a good person, although Drake had inherited from her his tendency to make poor choices. “I barely remember her.” Granted, in some ways that made things worse, but in others easier. “My stepfather took her death hard, though. He never recovered. Things fell into disrepair and he vanished. His own son and daughter went to live with his sister a town away, but three children at once—one of whom barely five and not related by blood—that was too much to ask. Off to Meena I went, my closest blood relation.”
“That’s all so sad,” Rosaliy murmured.
“There’s a reason I don’t tell stories.”
“I’d like to hear them anyway,” Rosaliy said softly, “but you’ve earned a break for now.”
He heard her yawn. “Sleep,” he insisted. “Your body is exhausted.”
“You need sleep as much as I do, and somebody needs to make sure we get out of this octopus. Somehow. How are we going to do that?”
“As far as getting off this odd seacraft, I’m not looking forward. Regarding sleep, I can go a few hours without.”
“Are you sure?” she asked through another giant yawn. “Are you just trying to get me to be quiet?”
Actually, he was going to miss her. Now and when this was all over.
“Mmm hmm,” he agreed. “Plus, if you sleep, I’ll come up with a plan to get out of this octopus that doesn’t end in death.”
“Deal.” She shifted so her cheek was just propped on his shoulder and soon her breathing was deep and steady. Drake remembered sleeping off a healed broken arm for most of three days. Even Rosaliy was bound to succumb to a few hours.