Paradise Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Rescue
She gasped, coughing, pain ripping through her lungs. A man above her, clearing moss out of her throat—his hands glowing with dark lightning—
Fear stabbed through her and she tried to scramble away but her limbs wouldn't work. They felt limp, completely numb—
All but a subtle ring of fire around her ankle and waist.
Char. He laid his cold hand on her chest. "It's all right. Just rest."
"Where—" she struggled to speak, struggled to see—"where's Ember?"
"Sky!" Ember knelt beside her.
"Careful—she's still recovering."
Ember pressed his hand to her cheek. "Are you all right?"
"I…think so. You saved me."
He shook his head, regret in his eyes. "It wasn't me. Char dove in and—and pulled you out."
"I had to cut one of that thing's limbs to do it," said Char. "It had its barbs into you pretty good."
"What was it?" she asked.
"It's a carnivorous plant. Good thing it likes to paralyze its prey rather than kill it like the thorns."
"Th-thank you for getting me out."
"Don't mention it." The hint of a pleased smile tugged at his mouth. "The shuttlecar is up ahead. It may be sunk into the bog. Don't worry, I'll be able to get it out."
"If it's sunk, it might not work," said Ember.
"I can probably fix it." Dark lightning danced across his hands. He looked down at Sky. "I can fix you too, if you're willing."
"What do you mean?"
"Here." He lowered his hands to her waist. She tried to flinch away, but she couldn't move. He pressed his palms against her lower stomach, lightning crackling out from his fingertips.
"Don't touch her," said Ember. He grabbed Char's arm, blue sparks zapping into him, excess power glowing across his body.
Char didn't move, his expression impassive as he looked down at Sky. "I can heal her. Do you really want to stop me from doing that?"
"How do I know you're not hurting her?"
"Haven't I demonstrated my good will by leading you to your shuttlecar?"
"You've only led us to this place where she got hurt."
"You're going to have to trust me. Unless you want her to be paralyzed for hours and then in horrible pain." He let lightning flow over her waist, tingling into the wound beneath her dress. It felt good, soothing. Then the intensity increased, and it felt like fire was being poured into the wound—she cried out—
Ember lashed lightning into Char, slashing against his back and face, spidery veins of light spreading over his cheek. Char's lips lifted into a twisted smile, and with a casual wave of his hand, a dart of dark lightning, he tossed Ember into the air. He continued working over Sky, Ember hanging there, powerless, pain in his golden eyes.
The fire weakened to a mild burning, then a gentle tingle. Char ran his hand down her leg, caressing her ankle with gentle fingers. It felt a little too sensuous for her taste. She moved experimentally. Her upper body was not paralyzed anymore, so she sat up, her hand resting on the moss, feeling better but desperately weak. "What are you doing to him?"
"Don't worry, it's just temporary. I'm keeping him out of the way while I do what must be done. Lie back. I'm sorry if it hurts; it's hard for me to gauge the right amount of power to heal a wound like this."
She lay back. Let him pour his lightning into her, heal her. She tried not to think about his hands on her, and whether he had anything else in mind than healing….Though he'd done good things so far….except spying on them and hurting Ember. But he wasn't human. He didn't do things the way they did. Power was natural to him and perhaps he didn't know another way.
It hurt even more this time, but she struggled to keep a brave face so Ember wouldn't worry. Finally Char withdrew, only some residual tingles left. Char took her hand. She couldn't bear his coldness, but forced herself to touch him in order to show her gratitude. She stood, a little wobbly—he held her tight. She had to lean on him a bit in order to keep from falling over. He put his arm around her, nearly smothering her in his great dark cloak.
She pushed away weakly, hoping he'd respond. He let her go, and she forced herself to stand, planting her feet wide in order to balance. "Thank you," she said.
He smiled down at her, a spark in his dark eyes. "Don't mention it."
She looked up at Ember, still hanging in the air as if caught in a spider web. "Can you let him down please?"
"I don't know; I like him like this."
"Very well. If you insist." He gave another casual wave, and Ember dropped to the moss, collapsing in a heap. Sky walked over to him. Knelt beside him. Touched his chin, lifted it.
"Are you okay?" she said.
He nodded. "I am now. He helped you—but I had no way to trust him. I still don't—I didn't like him touching you. But—it doesn't matter. If he wanted to do something, I wouldn't be able to stop him."
"He's been fine so far."
"It looks like he might live up to his word. I just—I hate not being able to protect you. My lightning had no effect on him whatsoever. At least you're safe. We have to get out of here."
She grasped his hand, still elated that she could move. "When we get home, could we go to another world? One that we know about?"
"There are lots of beautiful worlds out there. I just thought…from the preliminary scans, this world seemed to be mostly flowers, nothing dangerous. It's almost like this swamp sprang up overnight. Like something poisoned this world, accelerated its decay. And we didn't detect any animal life, much less anything human-like. Perhaps this man just arrived…like he said, time is relative to him. Anyway, as soon as we find the shuttle, we can leave him behind and go to a resort—a beach—any one of a thousand places."
"And then we can…pick up where we left off."
Ember smiled. He cupped her jaw in his hand, his thumb pressing gently against her cheek. His eyes flickered to Char, then shot back to her, burning into hers as if nothing else mattered. His lips pressed to hers, and she leaned into the kiss, grasping his shoulder, euphoria sweeping over her at being close to him again after the danger, and their separation—too long. She reveled in the feel of his lips and tongue, his jaw sandpapery beneath her palm, his hair brushing her cheek, his chest pressing against her breasts—desire built in her but she knew they had to pull away, though the reason was fuzzy at the moment….
She pulled away, reluctantly, aching for him. But she felt nearly recovered now. Everything would be all right. She was by his side. They'd soon reach the shuttlecar and zoom away from this place. Find another world and let their fire consume them—
Sky stood a little unsteadily, and smoothed her hair, readjusted her dress.
Char stood a little distance away, his huge dark form cut against the white of the mist.
"Only a little ways now," he said, turning to head through the bog.
She walked behind Ember. She still felt a little shaky from the ordeal, and a little jumpy, because she didn't know if another tentacled plant might grab her or Ember, drag them into the murky depths.
Lights danced around them, closer this time. Glowing orbs, faintly humming. A high, pure note, singing just at the edge of her range of hearing, made it feel like every hair on her body was standing on end—
"Stop," said Char. "Don't let them touch you. These things are dangerous even to me."
"What do they do?" asked Sky.
"They put you into a deep sleep. Seduce you with dreams. You never wake up."
"But you woke up," said Ember.
"Did I say I let them touch me? I can sense their nature. Don't even look at them. That attracts them."
They walked cautiously forward. She tried not to look at them, but the singing drew her. She closed her eyes, just peeking through her eyelashes, keeping Ember in view. But the lights crowded around them as if curious. The thrumming became almost unbearable.
"Maybe we should run," said Char. "The car's very close. Sky's still recovering; I can take her and we can go faster."
"If we run, won't it be harder to avoid them?"
"They're slow. They won't be able to catch up."
Char swerved around Ember and in a flash scooped Sky up in his arms.
"I—I don't need you to do this—" she said.
"I can carry her," said Ember.
"I'm the strongest, fastest. I've already saved her once. Now, as soon as we get a little ahead of them—run."
Char enveloped her in his dark cloak. His arms beneath the soft, gauzy fabric were hard as marble. He smelled like a storm after rain….
She tried to see Ember but Char almost eclipsed him completely. The brilliant clustering orbs receded a little.
"Run!" said Char, and he leaped forward. She could almost believe he was flying. A Winged, rescuing her from danger.
She only wished he could have carried Ember too. Hoped he was safe—the shuttle, so close—
Char stopped, his chest heaving with sharp breaths. "I'm not much used to running, I'm afraid."
She looked up from the cradle of his arms. A large, sleek form gleamed against the darkness. The shuttlecar! She struggled to get down and Char set her gently onto the earth. The turf was green here, not yellowish-brown, and the ground was raised a little, like an island in the mist. A lone flower stood, half-heartedly holding onto life, a few vermillion petals clinging to its golden center. Giant petals, curling, blackening, lay on the ground near the shuttlecar.
She turned to Char. "Thank you. You found it."
She turned to meet Ember. Her heart dropped.
He wasn't there.
"He's probably just behind me."
"What if one of those things got him?"
"I doubt it. He'll be here any second."
Char leaned against the car, looking maddeningly unconcerned. He picked up one of the petals, twirling it.
She walked down to the edge of the island, her feet in the white mist like dense clouds.
The thud of her heart against her chest measured achingly long moments as she waited for him. In vain.
"I have to go back for him," she said.
"No, I will. I rescued you; I can rescue your lover. Stay here. This island is relatively safe. Go inside the car if you want to be safer." He walked up beside her. Laid a hand on her shoulder. Then he disappeared into the mist.
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