Jon found that it didn’t hurt so much any longer about the same time he discovered he could breathe again. The second was very startling, as he was still underwater. His sight was clearer now, too, and the first thing he saw was the bright glass sea bond on its cord descending over his head and down around his neck. The Professor’s hand trailed light along his left arm. Jon turned and saw him pushing down, following Kalani deeper under. Jon grabbed after him and followed at once, kicking hard at the water, not wanting to be separated again. He had to share the sea bond, he was sure. Last time they’d survived by all holding it. If they could both get to Kalani, she could be helped.
He stretched his hand to grasp the Professor’s and reached it at last, lacing his fingers through the Professor’s and holding tight. At once, something odd happened. He’d grabbed the Professor with the hand that held his artifact, and the lines flowed out in bright silver filigree, up Jon’s arm and over his shoulder. The light mingled with the filtered sun and made the sea glow all around them. In the new light, Kalani came visible, suspended in red clouds. No bubbles streamed from her lips, and her wide eyes didn’t seem to see anything.
Jon kicked harder, trying to propel himself and the Professor down closer to her. The Professor wasn’t helping. He was limp in the water, too, lost in the Corta again, and maybe in newly remembered pain. Jon swung him round and down with all his strength, a big arc to send him bumping into Kalani, trying to make two wrong things right by the collision. He succeeded mostly into swinging himself deeper under. The Professor brushed past Kalani and then further down, pulling Jon down after him. Jon grabbed at Kalani’s skirt and brought her with them, finally pulling her in close on one side and the Professor on the other, and trying to work out how to get them all touching the sea bond. As he finally did so, the sea spoke.
“I need your help, but you are all very broken,” it observed, one voice and many, the one very beautiful, and a lady’s. She was young and old, grave and bubbling, the most alien and yet mostly warmly familiar thing Jon had ever sensed. She didn’t so much use words as images that rose like bright bubbles in his mind, translating into words only on breaking.
“I’m trying to fix us,” Jon thought at the sea.
“Your guardian healer has been cursed and enchanted,” the sea told him, showing him the Professor.
“I don’t know how to fix that,” Jon told her, them.
Water curled around him, with shapes inside it, living currents, flowing hair, a face. It seemed to examine the Professor. “He’s been used as a sacrifice, innocent blood. The demons taught someone how to do this. Perhaps that twisted little shaper, Vashiel. He did something like this before, to make a weapon. I told the ravens to hide it. The Vessel lived on as a child again with my help.” Jon’s inner eye saw an older, greener world, and a child with dark chin-length sheets of hair, and ears like the Professor’s. A huge, shadowy, awful thing that seemed familiar was pulled from the child’s chest and he changed, grew younger, and screamed. Jon shivered. Huge ravens with bright intelligent eyes spread wings over the pulsing thing of nothingness.
It felt like a very old story Jon already knew. Half her words were right out of Shandorian fairy tales. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Your folk and names. I had many when I was of Land. Now I am the Sea, and Not-Alone. And I need your help. The Island is destroying many things in its grief. You can protect the lives of creatures that will otherwise be lost this day. Will you help me save them?”
She was an old fairy tale, too, a real one, names floating about her like bubbles. One-Alone. The Keeper. Jon knew what you did if the Keeper appeared on a hillside and asked a favor of you. “I will help you if I can. Can you save my friends?”
“I can’t fix everything, but I can give them both a new chance.”
“Show me what to do, Ma’am.”
They had settled now on the ocean floor, amid the spars of a shipwreck, which lit and glowed at the touch of the Professor’s bare feet, reforming and rising all round them as the sea danced in a flurry of silvery bubbles.
Jon saw that Kalani wasn’t surrounded in red any longer. Her eyes were closed, and she floated quietly, hair whirling up, breathing water as if it were air. All the bits of wood were pushing out and away from her, and from him. Jon felt cold tingles, but no more pain. The Professor, though, was shuddering and struggling like he had when he’d first taken Corta, but the spasms seemed to shake the very shape of his body this time, and he writhed with silent screams. Jon couldn’t keep hold of him.
“The poison is deep in his body and must be removed so that his body can renovate as his lost gift will let it,” the sea explained. Dark shards were erupting from places all over the Professor’s body. Little slivers like crystal pushed out from hands, arms, chest, legs, back. He was like the child from the story, it seemed, for the more dark slivers that broke loose, the smaller he grew.
“His power and your shield, combined with my ability, may guard many of the sea’s children as the world is re-made. I’ll teach you,” the sea said. Jon’s eyes saw glowing timbers forming on the ocean’s bed, the Professor’s spilling power pulling a vessel into being around them, while in his mind the sea showed him a new, or very old world.
He saw a girl who wasn’t just a girl, followed by floating stones, moss, and wind-songs. She stood looking down at the ruins of a white city in a canyon so green and luminous it could have been drawn with Tuwa’s colors. She picked up something silver from the ground, and it was an interesting little puzzle to her. She made it part of her a moment and understood its complex workings, the sounds and thoughts and directions of mind that unlocked it into a thousand things meant as tools to defend and ward. She dropped it then, knowing it to be a pretty trifle, and unimportant to her work. Something huge, indescribable, and beautiful flew overhead, all feathers and scales and coils. It shrieked what sounded like a chord that filled the mind as well as the ears and shook the mountains underfoot, and the sound was heartbreak. The girl felt another mountain moving, about to burst forth in fire and the Land’s blood, and so she took to the sky, too, turning to mist and air and light.
Jon gasped as the vision went away abruptly.
“Do you understand?”
“I mean the tool, the shield you hold.”
“Yes.” The memories were still in his mind, so different from how he usually saw or carried memory. Every smell and odd heartbeat was clear and immediate in his mind.
“We must work at once.”
Jon could feel, as the memory girl had, that the world was re-shaping beneath him. He held the Professor tight with his shield hand, and with his the other hand he held Kalani’s. The ocean swirled about all of them. Kalani was blinking now, and staring around in confusion and wonder. Jon squeezed her hand in reassurance and, following the strange directions of the sea, he asked his seal to spread and join, to shield all that was loved. The ocean loved many things, it seemed. Silver light and tracery spilled across the ocean floor, covering coral, fish, and the hulls of two ships far above. All the plants and sea animals Jon could see with the Sea Bond’s help were covered over with silvery bubbles of shielding light. No sooner had the bubbles formed than dark cracks appeared in the sea bed, venting jets of steam that boiled the water. Protected by a silver shell of old magic, Jon watched the sea boil and churn, watched fragile things rise, protected, on new spires of rock, watched the world change shape as some of the burning rocks jetted upward, and others fell into new, deep canyons.
Not-Alone, still with them, and yet over there, and there too, danced with the steam, rode the jets up high, and tumbled down in bubbles, whirling and playing, younger and older than anything.
In each protected bubble, things were changing. Coral grew, tiny creatures unfurled their limbs, and the scarring on a shark encased in silver faded away, leaving only sleek, leathery hide. Everything was healing and thriving, inches from where land and ocean burned. Kalani looked dazed. Her lips moved as if she were speaking, but Jon didn’t know to what.
The Professor’s hand felt strange in his, and Jon turned to look at him. The Professor was barely a grown-up any longer. He gasped water as naturally as air, still shedding painful shards, and holding on hard to Jon’s hand as power flowed out from him, leaving him smaller and emptier than ever. Jon, alarmed, hugged him close, pulling Kalani closer too. “Hold on.”