Below the falling form of her sister, Gale came rising out of the water. Unlike her sister, she was not wet, which was because she was not solid anymore. It was as if she had become a ghost, able to move through other objects. Also, like her sister, Gale had no idea how she was accomplishing the trick that had allowed her to escape from the sea-witch, Voda's, underwater jail. Still, her diminutive form rose and settled on the top of the water, a stone's throw away from the edge of the island, just as her sister began to fall.
On the island, Ahmed and Mr. Bristle, who had been arguing about what do, both went slack-jawed. But they didn't have time to do more than gaze in wonder before the same watery hand that had pulled the girls down before erupted from the ocean. In the case of Gale, it did nothing but pass through her, but the icy water wrapped its fingers around Samantha. This had the practical effect of saving her from falling to her death while simultaneously trying to drown the life out of her.
Gale, however, was already up and running, across the water, to help her sister. She'd only gone a few steps before more hands erupted from the water and descended on Ahmed and Mr. Bristle. Both of them tried to get out of the way, but the water moved faster than a striking cobra, and they were soon both caught in their watery grip.
“Voda, you ugly witch! Stop it!" Gale screamed, but she got no response. Suddenly she remember that the witch could not talk to anyone above the water, so she dived down, and there, less than three feet below the surface, she came face to face with the source of her current misery. The witch, who had a torso and head that looked like a cross between a shark and orca with jellyfish tentacles making up her hair, leered at her. "Stop this now." Gale yelled at her, and then quickly stuck her head above the water so she could get more air. Holding her breath, she put her head back down below the surface.
"Why should I?"
"You want something. Tell me what it is, and I'll help you get it," Gale said then popped back up for air. As she did, Voda considered what the creature was saying. She decided quickly and released her three captives.
When Gale put her head below water again, the witch said, “get to the island and then all of you put your heads below the water. I will tell you what I want, and if you can't provide it, I will kill you all."
"We'll see about that," Gale said, and then before the witch could retort, she hurried to the island, where she found the waterlogged forms of Ahmed, Mr. Bristle, and her sister all gasping for air.
Ahmed was the first to recover, and as his kindly eyes took in the fury on Gale's face, he said, "I take it that we have a problem."
"A big, ugly problem," Gale said, and then added before she could be interrupted, "Now we all need to stick our heads under the water, and then I'm quite sure you will hear for yourself exactly how bad it is."
"There is no way I'm going near that water," the diminutive and waterlogged form of Mr. Bristle said. "I've had enough of all this."
"Peace," Ahmed rumbled. "There is no use in complaining about the situation. Right now we have no other choice, and so we must do as we are told, but that does not mean we have to be defeated."
"No. No, it doesn't. It just means we will die faster than if we starve to death on this rock."
"We are not going to die," Samantha said. "I'm getting home. Gale is getting home, and you are going to help us. Now, shut up and put your head in the water."
Mr. Bristle's quills stood straight up, and remained perfectly ridged, but he slowly began moving towards the water. Ahmed and the rest watched him for a moment and then moved to follow. They all inhaled in unison and then plunged their heads into the water.
"About time," Voda snapped as their heads appeared. "What kept you?"
"Me," Mr. Bristle said, and then stuck his head back up for air.
"Well see that it does not happen again," Voda said as both girls went up for air. "Now," the witch continued as the girls reappeared. "What I want is quite simple. I want to be free."
All of Voda's audience said something, which was lost in the bubbles and splashing. They all quickly went up for more air and then came back down, and as soon as they were all present, Ahmed said, "What does that mean? Free from what?"
“Why, the ocean of course. I once had free reign to go where I please, but I got tricked. I was a sorceress before I came to this ocean, and I heard there was a being of great power that lived in these waters. It's true. There must be a master of this ocean, but the curse of being that master is that you can never leave it. I sensed great magic on your train and I thought that one of you might have been like me. A magician seeking power. None of you are magic. It is only the talismans you wear that give you power."
Voda had to wait as her listeners began going up for air again. It took a few moments— Gale had to breathe for a few moments on the surface before she could bring herself to dip her head back below.
"This bring me to you four. You see, it is true, I do sink a lot of ships. Mostly I've been looking for someone. Anyone with power, who I might be able to tempt. Oddly, none of the magicians seem to be able to breathe underwater anymore. It's as if magic itself has faded from the world and I'm some kind of relic. After a while I began trying to talk some of the drowning into taking my power. Unfortunately, panic does not lend itself to being able to make a deal with anyone." Voda quit speaking and waited until everyone had taken more air, then continued. "I have also captured several sailors in the air bubbles as I did the two of you, but the thing about my curse is that in order to break it the other party must be fully aware of what they are agreeing to, and so far nobody wants to replace me."
"Shocking," Mr. Bristle retorted.
Voda ignored the hedgehog and kept talking. "That brings me to my bargain. If one of you agrees to take my place, and live under the endless ocean for the rest of time or until you get someone to take your place, I will let the rest of you go."
"A moment," Ahmed said and motioned for everyone to raise above the water. No sooner had he done so, then Mr. Bristle, Samantha, and Gale retreated back to the dry land.
Ahmed moved to follow, but Voda interjected, "Don't take too long talking it over." The great rhino blew a stream of bubbles out of his nostrils, but otherwise did not reply, and then he took his head out of the water.
"We can't trust her," Gale said as soon as Ahmed was in earshot.
"Obviously," agreed, Mr. Bristle, “but forget for a moment that she can kill us quickly. If we don't get off of this island soon, we will all starve, so I don't know that we have much choice but to consider her offer.”
"What I want to know," Ahmed said in a deep rumble, "Is if she was so interested in the magic the girls posses to start, why did she not demand we hand over the necklaces."
"I don't think she can use them," Samantha said. “Scheherazade gave them to Gale and I for a reason, and I don't think that they will help that witch escape, and I think that is all she really wants.”
"But if one of us agrees, then how do we get off the island? It does not seem that helping her would get us to land proper,” Mr. Bristle observed.
Suddenly Ahmed began turning his massive head and began looking around. "Where is Gale?"
Samantha and Mr. Bristle began to look around, but none of them spotted the gold hair of Gale. Samantha began crying out, and there was real panic in her voice, "Gale. Gale, where are you?"
For a moment, nothing happened, but then Gale stepped through a rock that was about ten feet away. "I'm trying to figure out how this works," Gale said as she fingered the ivory shape on her necklace. "Think about it. I can pass through solid rocks with this. If I can share the power with you, then it doesn't matter what she does to us. All her attacks will pass through us like we were made of air.”
"Perhaps," Ahmed said, "but we do not know how long that will last or if it can be shared."
"No we don't, but why don't one of you come here and we can try and find out."'
Samantha began walking towards he sister, "Listen to what Ahmed is saying. We don't have time for this right now."
"I'm not stupid." Gale said.
"I didn't say you were," Samantha shot back.
"No. You didn't, but you don't think you need to listen to me because I'm younger than you. But I'm not stupid. If we can share this power, and she can't hurt us, then we can figure out how to get off this rock before we starve."
"But you can't share the power." Samantha said.
"How do you know?" Gale practically shouted and then glared at her sister.
Samantha was going to say something when Ahmed cut across her. "Peace. Peace. We do not have the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves, and even if we did, it is unbecoming of sisters to fight one another. Now Gale, I agree. If we can use you power, it would be quite useful, but we are short on time. I can give you three tries to share your power, and if it does not work, then we shall have to think of a different idea. Samantha," Ahmed said turning to face the older of the sisters, while at the same time touching the spear embedded in his horn, "why don't you try and figure out how your power works and if you can share it with Mr. Bristle."
Samantha looked for a moment like she was going to say something, but then thought better of it, and walked back towards Mr. Bristle, who still had his quills standing straight out.
Ahmed turned back to Gale who was waiting for him expectantly. Once he was level with her he said, “What do you wish me to do?”
“Can you carry me on your shoulders?” Gale asked. In response, Ahmed scooped her up as if she weighed no more than a feather and placed her on one of his shoulders. Her frame was narrow enough that she fit with just a bit of room to spare. “Great! Now try and walk through that rock, but go slow. I don’t want you to break your toe or something.”
Ahmed nodded and turned to face the rock that Gale had just come through. It was a little taller than she was, but just came up to his mid-thigh He approached the stone slowly and then, carefully he picked up his foot and swung it towards the rock. His foot thudded against the stone.
Meanwhile Samantha told Mr. Bristle “Listen, give me a moment. I’m not sure I know how this works just yet, so best I figure that out first.” Mr. Bristle just nodded and took a few steps back. Encouraged, Samantha tried to think about what it felt like to blast out of the water. She tried to feel the sensation of her stomach dropping into her feet, then bent her knees and jumped into the air. She got about two feet off the ground before she plummeted back to the onyx colored island.
Taking the necklace out, she looked at the bird. In spite of the fact that it was made of metal, the bird looked alive, and in the eyes she thought she saw something of Wind Rawth’s cunning. Thinking of the giant owl, who’s onyx feather would have blended in almost perfectly with the rocks of the island, Samantha smiled. Then unbidden she though of how Wind Rawth and Shadow Stalker had gone out of their way to make sure she had Mr. Bristle there with her, and suddenly she felt much more grateful towards her grumpy companion than she had a moment before.
“Well, you certainly figured that out fast!” Br. Bristle yelled up at Samantha, who suddenly realized that she had risen several feet off the ground. Of course, as soon as she realized she was flying she looked down. The sight of the ground below her, just waiting to splinter her bones should she fall, made the happy thought leave her head, and she began to plummet out of the air again.
Samantha screamed and tried to think about the owls again, but she was too slow and landed on the rocky ground hard enough that she felt as if she vibrated the filling in her teeth lose.
About the time that Samantha was picking herself up, Gale was saying, “Maybe it only works if you are the one wearing the necklace, but I can’t think of anyway to get it over both of our heads. Suddenly she took the necklace off and said, “Here, put this around your horn for a moment. Then see if it will work for you.”
Ahmed took the necklace and carefully dropped it so that it fell down around his horn. “Now what?” he rumbled.
“You have to think of a really happy thought. At least I think that is the way it works when I ware it. If I think of something really happy and start to feel good, I can use the necklace, but then I start thinking about how I’m actually walking through something and suddenly I get thrown out of whatever I’m walking through. It’s like it only works when you are not actually trying to make it work.”
Ahmed nodded and tried to think of something that would make him happy. The birth of his child filled his mind, and a warmth seeped through him that seemed to cause all the worry to vanish like water evaporating off a hot rock in the middle of summer. He closed his eyes so he would not be distracted and focused on that feeling and then stepped forward again. Again, he foot thudded into the rock.
“Are you thinking of something happy?” Gale asked.
“The happiest thought. Child.” Ahmed said.
“Okay. I guess that means it only works for me,” Gale said.
“That may be true.” Ahmed said. “From what I know of magic, it is something that cannot be passed around. It must be given or earned; however, it was still worth a try.” Then as carefully as he could, Ahmed took the necklace from around his horn. “Here. Put this back on,” he said, as he passed the charm back to Gale.”
Meanwhile, Samantha had picked herself up from the ground and was looking at her hands, which here cut and bleeding. “Are you all right?” Mr. Bristle asked, as he hurried forward to look at the cuts.
“Fine. I’m just not sure what happened.”
“To put it simply, you looked down,” the hedgehog said, although not unkindly.
“Right. Well, remind me not to do that until I get used to the idea of being in the air.”
“A bit easer said than done, I should think.”
“I think you are right. Still, I was in the air.”
Suddenly the water hands that had taken both Samantha and Gale below water the first time erupted from the ocean. As if by reflex both Samantha and Gale thought of things that made them smile, which meant the hand passed harmlessly through Gale, and Samantha rocketed off the island—her eyes firmly closed so she did not look down—causing the hand to pass harmlessly below her.
Undeterred, the watery hands whipped about and closed over both Ahmed and Mr. Bristle, and before either of the girls could do anything they were both hauled into Voda’s domain.
Both Gale and Samantha screamed. Then Samantha let go of her thought and dived towards the water, while Gale tried to keep hers, but ran into the water and tried to sink down. However, neither of the girls could see either of their friends, for the sea-witch had dragged them more than a mile down. As with the girls, she imprisoned them in air bubbles and took a moment to collect herself.
Voda had decided. She was either going to get what she wanted or both her captives would both die. The only question was where to start. The larger of the two had a calm about him that she did not like. He would not give in to her threats, particularly as she could not longer hold the girls over his head, and he knew it. “Better than the small one,” Voda said to nobody. “He’s the weakest,” she added and then made her way to extract her freedom or the bones from Mr. Bristle’s body.