Lae leaned over the side of the ship, inspecting something with a narrowed gaze. Kyla joined her, peering over to see what it was Lae was looking at.
"We're taking in more water than we should be," Lae explained after several minutes of silence. "I think the leak is somewhere down there."
"More water than we should be?" Kyla repeated. "As in, we normally take in water? Isn't a boat supposed to float? You know, water on the outside and air on the inside?"
Lae gave her a brief smile. "Yes, but some water will always come in. Ships are only so good at keeping it out. A little bit of water won't hurt anyone. But that storm did some damage, so we'll have to fix it before we can go on. I think I need to see what's going on, though."
And without another word, Lae leapt over the side of the ship and vanished into the water without so much as a plop. Kyla blinked. She blinked again when Lae's head failed to appear. Where had she gone? Visions of lapnas swam menacingly through Kyla's memory. She gripped the wooden rail of the ship and peered nervously into the water. Minutes crawled by.
The ginger-headed man named Ori wandered past with a coil of rope draped over one shoulder. He whistled tunelessly as he scanned the deck, apparently looking for something.
"Have you seen…"
"Lae's gone!" Kyla blurted out.
Ori's red brows went up. "What do you mean, gone?"
"She went into the water and she hasn't come back out."
Ori looked confused, then smiled. "Well, she does that sometimes. She is a Meryd after all."
"A what?" The word sounded vaguely familiar, but there had been too many new words in the last day. Kyla couldn't keep them all straight.
"Lae can hold her breath for a good fifteen minutes if she's rested. She's probably inspecting the ship's belly to make sure all's well. We're taking in water. Probably some damage down there."
"That's what she was saying… I just… fifteen minutes? What about lapnas?"
Ori laughed. "Don't worry about them. They don't come in this close to shore. And Lae could take care of them if she needed to. Lapnas know better than to mess with a Meryd."
Kyla watched him saunter away, whistling again, and then looked back down at the water. Wherever Lae was, she was clearly too busy to bother with silly things like breathing. She didn't resurface for another five minutes at least.
"Well, there certainly is a leak. I don't know what breached the hull so badly, but we're going to have to repair it before we can go anywhere."
Kyla realized that Lae wasn't talking to her when a shadow passed over head and Caele dropped low over the water, his wings moving in a broad, sweeping motions as he hovered over Lae's head.
"Well's Island should have what we need," Caele said. "And we could do with a rest, anyway. We'll stay until tomorrow."
"Less than a day," came a voice from behind Kyla. She turned and saw Jace. "That's a marvelous rest!"
"Jace, you don't do anything on this ship, anyway," Lae retorted. "Half the time, I don't even know where you are."
"That's because I'm working so hard," Jace retorted. He suddenly leaped up onto the lowest crossbeam of the mainmast. "Stop distracting me!"
Lae laughed and went below.
Kyla watched Caele circle the ship, easily dodging and weaving around the masts and unfurled sails as he took in his ship. She felt a sudden twinge of envy. Her wings felt like weights attached to her shoulders, burdens that pulled her down. Caele's wings drew him up. She couldn't imagine being able to fly. It didn't seem possible. Maybe it wasn't possible for her. After all, the first thing she'd ever done in this place was plunge out of the sky all the way down to the sea. If the instinct to fly had been there, wouldn't she have figured out how to do it?
"Do you want to come ashore?" Caele asked.
She jumped. He was right beside her, his wings slipping behind him to become that barely visible shadow.
"I wouldn't mind feeling the ground beneath my feet," Kyla admitted and suddenly realized how true that was. She had tumbled out of the sky, into the sea, and then ended up on a boat. She had almost forgotten what it was like to have something solid to stand on, something she could trust. Something that didn't have toothy monsters lurking somewhere below…
"Well, come on, then. I have to scout out some good lumber to fix this old thing before she sinks beneath our feet."
Kyla went a little pale.
Caele smiled. "It was a joke. The ship won't sink."
"Good to know. But it's not that. It's the whole… well, the flying thing. Remember how I just grew these things, like, this morning?"
"Yes, you did, didn't you? It seems like you ought to know how to use them. Very well. We'll take a boat to shore and then we can work on getting you up in the air."
Before Kyla could protest that she didn't want to fly (which wasn't entirely true, anyway), she found herself being guided by the arm to a small boat attached to the side of the ship. Ori climbed in ahead of her and helped her in. Caele lowered them into the water and then launched himself into the air to lead the way to shore. He was there long before they were and Kyla was again treated to the sight of his effortless flight. It was beautiful to see. She was more convinced than ever that if she tried it, she was just going to look ridiculous. Like an overzealous chicken.
Then they were ashore and Ori led the way onto the rough, sandy beach. Kyla breathed a deep sigh of contentment as she felt the sand under her feet. Nice, firm sand. With more sand underneath it! She resisted the urge to do that thing that shipwreck survivors did in movies and collapse and roll around on the beach. It was really tempting though.
Caele and Ori spent nearly an hour just within the nearby treeline. The trees on the island were pretty scraggly, but some looked strong and tall. Kyla found a broad, flat rock and stretched out on it, trying to encourage her clothes to dry off. They felt clammy. Her wings formed a fluffy cradle that was both pleasant and very, very weird. At least the feathers were already dry. The sky was now more blue than gray and she could feel the sun's warmth seeping into her skin. She felt drowsy, relaxed, safe…
"Ready to fly?"
Kyla jerked up, blinked, and rubbed at her eyes. A blurry figure with an amused aquamarine gaze was perched on the rock beside her. She groaned.
"No. I'd just like to nap if that's alright with you."
"It's not," Caele said. He was less of a blur now and Kyla found herself presented with that lovely sculpted chest again. It was hard to say no to that chest. Or those eyes. He was just really, really attractive.
"You have to learn to use those wings or else you'll end up like you did in that storm, caught up by the wind and unable to control yourself. If I hadn't seen you… you'd probably be dead, Kyla."
She swallowed. "That seems to be a regular occurrence for me these days."
"It doesn't have to be. If you knew how to use your wings, you would be safer. And I think you'd be a little more comfortable with them, as well."
She struggled to fold them a little less awkwardly, feeling very self-conscious. Awkward fail-chicken. That's what she was. And there he sat, sleek and hawk-like with those powerful black wings resting so easily behind him. They were a part of him and he used them in everything he did, every move he made. He was offering to help her achieve the same thing. But… fly?
"Fine. Show me how to make the wings work," she finally allowed with a grudging sigh.
He smiled and held out a hand.