“Get back here, you brat!” Grabbing the halfling by the ponytail, Kipler dragged Raphael back towards him.
“LET ME GO, YOU BASTARD!” Raphael swore, digging his heels into the earth. One of Kipler’s men tried to grab his legs, but Raphael lashed out with a scissor kick. He hit the oaf square in the throat. The large man staggered back, clutching his neck and gagging. Raphael let himself be momentarily disappointed that he had not crushed the windpipe, as was his intention. His lapse in attention was a mistake as the castle guard caught him unawares by pulling him into the air. Unable to free his arms, Raphael kicked at the man’s chest, but Kipler did not even flinch. He was like a brick wall, a solid mass of muscle. A skinny twelve-year-old could not do much damage.
Kipler slapped Raphael across the face so hard that the young boy swung sideways in his grasp. “Tsk, tsk, little whelp,” Kipler clucked his tongue while shaking his head. “I would have thought that scrounging after the Rakells for your entire life would have taught you some manners.” In response, Raphael spat in his face, a mess of saliva and blood. Without pausing to wipe himself clean, the head guard used his free fist to punch Raphael in the stomach. Raphael doubled over in the air, wheezing. The two lesser guards stood behind Kipler, leering at the sight before them. “You like that, boys?” Kipler laughed, glancing over his shoulder to make sure his men were watching their captain. “Watch this.” Still holding his squirming captive, he waltzed over to the large metal box that had been left by the shore earlier that day.
Raphael slammed against the opposite wall of the iron safe when Kipler threw him in. His temple collided with the surface with a sickening smack. “Poor thing, thinking that you can win. You weren’t meant to be in this world, let alone be thriving in it.” Blood trickled down the side of Raphael’s face as he craned his neck to peer at the three men through blurred vision. He could do little more than twist his torso, as the tight confides of the box allowed for little movement. Kipler slammed the door of the safe shut just as Raphael opened his mouth to shout at the men, plunging the halfling into darkness. Raphael’s cries could barely be heard through the thick metal walls.
Kipler thudded a heavy fist on the safe. “What was that? I can’t quite make out what you are saying.” Easily picking up his words with his sharp ears, Raphael’s voice rose in volume. A grotesque smile spread over Kipler’s face as he listened to the furious jumble of noise. He slipped an iron key out of his breast pocket and bent to secure the heavy lock that held the door shut tight. A solid slap on the door earned an even louder burst from its inhabitant. Sliding the key back into his pocket, Kipler jerked his chin towards the safe, gesturing for his men to each take a side.
Together, the two men hoisted the safe up, their muscles straining under the weight. A yelp emitted from the box, followed immediately by a thud as Raphael slammed against the side, thrown off balance by the unexpected movement. He wedged his body the best he could into a corner of the box, trying to stabilize himself against the sides. Burrowing his face in his shoulder that was pressed into the safe’s seam, he tried to slow his rapid breathing. Hot pants escaped his mouth, ripping their way in and out of his body and warming the cool atmosphere. The inky dark was penetrated only by the light that desperately tried to enter through the tiny cracks surrounding the door’s edges. They did little to brighten his prison and were far too narrow for him to see out of.
Because of his careful positioning, Raphael was no longer thrown about as the men carried the safe towards the lake’s edge. Making no move to help, Kipler instead directed his subordinates towards a place that was preselected that morning. Here, the land dropped off suddenly near the shore, reaching a depth of nine feet. Holding up his hand to stop his men, Kipler sauntered up to the safe and leaned in. Raphael held his breath at the sound of movement, tensing in his corner and listening.
“Sleep tight, little puppy,” Kipler cooed. Raphael’s eyes widened at the sickeningly sweet words and he opened his mouth to cry out once more. With no further ceremony, Kipler nodded at the men, and with a grunt, they hefted the safe into the brackish lake with a mighty splash. They watched as the chunk of metal sunk below the surface. Kipler clapped his hands together, as if dusting them off after completing a dirty job. As if he was the one who did the hard work. “Let’s go, boys. We just made the world a better place.”
His heart in his throat, Raphael screamed as his head hit the ceiling upon the safe’s impact with the water. The sudden jolt caused him to clamp down on his tongue, drawing blood. He could feel the safe sinking rapidly. The gentle rocking of the waves did nothing to slow his downward descent. What miniscule amount of light that had crept into the box before had been eradicated as soon as the prison had plunged beneath the depths. What replaced it now was a steady stream of water, surging in through the seams of the door. “No, no, no, no,” Raphael whimpered, straining to get away from the sloshing cold.
Panic threatened to overtake him completely as his breathing grew faster and faster. No. Stop. Breathe. Raphael forced himself to take a deep breath. Must conserve the air. Choosing to ignore the thought of how precious little oxygen he had left, Raphael spat out a mouthful of coppery blood. He squirmed, trying to maneuver his body so that his feet faced the door. His hands, bound tightly behind him, stretched his shoulders uncomfortably backwards and made the process painful and alarmingly slow in the cramped space. The safe was just big enough to hold him, hunched in a ball as he was. The ceiling was barely tall enough to clear the top of his head. His knees were bent as he could not extend his legs fully. His pants began soaking up the water as it rose above his ankles and steadily climbed up his calves.
Finally, in the right position, Raphael fought the urge to rest. The simple act of repositioning himself was already taking its toll on him, and the rough blow to his head was making his thoughts sluggish. He blinked blood out of his eyes. They had adjusted enough to the dark for him to barely make out the water level, not that he needed to see it in order to know where it reached. The precious time he had spent moving around had allowed the water enough time to reach his stomach in his seated form.
Raphael drew up his knees as close to his chest as he could and kicked out, solidly pounding on the door. It did nothing except send a jarring pain up his entire body. With all the strength he could muster, he did so again. And again. “Come on.” Thud “Come on!” Thud “C’MON!” he screamed. The safe remained unaffected. Screwing his eyes shut, Raphael kicked at the door.
“He needs me! I can’t leave him!” Exhaustion spurred a spike of desperation and fury, and his kicks accelerated. He slammed against the door. The door did not even shudder at the pommeling. The adrenaline quickly drained as the water rose and caused resistance to his assailments. Every blow was slower and weaker than the last. Tears leaked out of the corner of his eyes to join the water that now stood shoulder high. “Please,” Raphael cried, feebly giving the door one last kick before giving up. “I can’t leave him.”
Chest heaving, he tilted his head back to rest it on the back wall. The tip of his nose pressed against the roof of the safe. He opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling that he could not see. The freezing water sloshed at his neck and licked at his chin with hungry laps. He sucked in a breath, the cold squeezing his chest and making inhaling painful. The water continued to climb, not stopping and not caring. The water crawled into the corners of his mouth. His lips quivered as he struggled to form words.
“Please help me,” he pleaded to the figure before him, wanting desperately to reach out to him. Closing his eyes, he sucked in one last lungful of air through his nose before the water completely swallowed him.
Raphael floated slightly in his prison. Focusing on keeping the prized air trapped within his lungs, he withdrew into himself. Not thinking, not remembering, nothing. His chest grew tighter and tighter, but the pain was the only thing he could feel right now. The rest of his senses had been eaten away by the chill long ago.
The need for air clanged loudly in Raphael’s head; his entire being screaming for oxygen. Body jerking uncontrollably, he struggled to overcome the warning bells. I am so sorry no no no noNONONONONO, water, stop, stop, make it stop, you left him, cold, wet, terror, you broke your vow, can’t breathe, breathe, save me, inhale, yes, NO, drown, die, live for him, do it, take a breath, fight, diediehelpmedieBREATHE! At last, his body rebelled, and before he could stop himself, Raphael took in a deep, spastic breath.
Water gushed down his throat, creating a searing pain as it settled in his lungs. This hurt. Far more than the lack of air had. But that was fine. Now it was time to sleep. Raphael’s form stopped thrashing and he grew limp. His mind cleared and erased all sensation as his head lulled back. Darkness crept along the corners of his mind, devouring every part of his being and consciousness. His hair floated delicately in the water as he slept.
In a dream, one that seemed so far away, a voice shouted Raphael’s name. The voice was shrill, begging, pleading, calling out the same thing over and over. How annoying. A piercing pain spiked through his chest again and again, feeling as though someone was hammering against it, trying to break through his ribs and impale his heart. Before he could protest, it stopped. Suddenly air rushed through his lungs, forcing itself into every fiber and strand of his body. The air chased out the water that had invaded him, violently eradicating the foul substance.
Raphael made a strangled noise and turned to his side. He vomited up mouthful after mouthful of water and blood, interrupted only by harsh coughing in between each breath. A tight grip on his upper arm held him steady as he retched and gasped for air, almost choking on the gulps. Shivers racked his body, and his teeth chattered. His legs were drawn up to his chest, trying to conserve the body warmth that did not exist. The act of breathing caused his whole body to heave with the motion, so desperate and greedy as he was to swallow as much air as possible.
It was only then that he turned his head to the side and opened his eyes. Black mist blocked the edges of his vision, but he could make out the soaking, auburn hair that framed startling, blue pinpoints, glistening with tears.
“Grif-fon?”Raphael broke out, his voice husky and raw. The grip on his arm tightened, and Griffon hunched over, resting his forehead on Raphael’s skin in between his two clenched fists.
“I wasn’t too late,” he whispered. Raphael stared up at him, Griffon’s words not quite reaching him. Yet he was too tired to press. They stayed like that for a while, the younger boy hunched over his friend and clinging desperately to him, as if letting go would make Raphael disappear. After a moment or two, Griffon stirred. He took his knife out of his pack and sawed away the rope that bound Raphael’s wrists. Still taking in deep breathes, Raphael watched his friend through hooded eyes, finding it difficult to concentrate on Griffon, who seemed physically exhausted. Taking the cut cord, Griffon flung the bindings into the massive bonfire behind him. Raphael blinked slowly, having just now noticed the roaring inferno.
“You made a fire?” Raphael choked out. Unconsciously, he shifted towards the heat, his body craving warmth. Griffon quickly glanced towards the fire, as if he had too just noticed it. Raphael saw the look flash across Griffon’s face, one mixed with sadness, fear, and loathing, but it did not register with him.
“Yeah. Come on, you are going to get really sick with these on.” Raphael was too weak to either fight or help Griffon as he stripped the soaking wet clothes off the trembling blonde. Griffon carefully took Raphael under the arms and dragged him as close to the fire as possible. After making sure that Raphael was comfortable, Griffon then sighed and sank down next to Raphael’s prone form. He gently leaned against Raphael, first making sure that the slight pressure was not bothering the halfling.
Raphael sorted through his foggy thoughts, slowly realizing that Griffon was still completely clothed. A puddle was pooling around the boy, as rivulets of water streamed down his cheeks from his hair. “You…too,” Raphael croaked. Griffon nodded wordlessly and tugged off his drenched clothes. Satisfied, Raphael nodded, the warmth of the fire already bringing some feeling back into his numb limbs. Silently, the boys stared into the flames as they waited for their clothes to dry. Griffon began to absentmindedly snap his fingers, causing tiny flames to flare up and sending embers skyward.
“Thank you, Griff,” Raphael murmured, his eyes growing heavy.
Quickly shaking his hand to extinguish the sparks, Griffon attempted to smile. “You would have done the same for me, Raph.” He leaned over and brushed the back of his hand on Raphael’s forehead. Worry clouded his eyes. “We need to get you to the infirmary soon. But I don’t think you should be moved right now.” Raphael made a noise in the back of his throat, too tired to respond. As his eyelids began to close, his mind sleepily noted the three forms that lay in the center of the blaze. Then he fell into a natural slumber.