Batman nightwalker, p.25
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.25
 

           Marie Lu
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  Stop. But she couldn’t. Not when that high human cry still rang in her ears.

  Diana felt the cold water beyond the boundary engulf her fully. The sea had her now, and it was not friendly. The current seized her legs, dragging her down, a massive, rolling force, the barest shrug of a god. You have to fight it, she realized, demanding that her muscles correct her course. She’d never had to work against the ocean.

  She bobbed for a moment on the surface, trying to get her bearings as the waves crested around her. The water was full of debris, shards of wood, broken fiberglass, orange life jackets that the crew must not have had time to don. It was nearly impossible to see through the falling rain and the mists that shrouded the island.

  What am I doing out here? she asked herself. Ships come and go. Human lives are lost. She dove again, peered through the rushing gray waters, but saw no one.

  Diana surfaced, her own stupidity carving a growing ache in her gut. She’d sacrificed the race. This was supposed to be the moment her sisters saw her truly, the chance to make her mother proud. Instead, she’d thrown away her lead, and for what? There was nothing here but destruction.

  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white, a big chunk of what might have been the ship’s hull. It rose on a wave, vanished, rose again, and as it did, Diana glimpsed a slender brown arm holding tight to the side, fingers spread, knuckles bent. Then it was gone.

  Another wave rose, a great gray mountain. Diana dove beneath it, kicking hard, then surfaced, searching, bits of lumber and fiberglass everywhere, impossible to sort one piece of flotsam from another.

  There it was again—an arm, two arms, a body, bowed head and hunched shoulders, lemon-colored shirt, a tangle of dark hair. A girl—she lifted her head, gasped for breath, dark eyes wild with fear. A wave crashed over her in a spray of white water. The chunk of hull surfaced. The girl was gone.

  Down again. Diana aimed for the place she’d seen the girl go under. She glimpsed a flash of yellow and lunged for it, seizing the fabric and using it to reel her in. A ghost’s face loomed out at her from the cloudy water—golden hair, blue gaze wide and lifeless. She’d never seen a corpse up close before. She’d never seen a boy up close before. She recoiled, hand releasing his shirt, but even as she watched him disappear, she marked the differences—hard jaw, broad brow, just like the pictures in books.

  She resurfaced, but she’d lost all sense of direction now—the waves, the wreck, the bare shadow of the island in the mists. If she drifted out much farther, she might not be able to find her way back.

  Diana could not stop seeing the image of that slender arm, the ferocity in those fingers, clinging hard to life. Once more, she told herself. She dove, the chill of the water fastening tight around her bones now, burrowing deeper.

  One moment the world was gray current and cloudy sea, and the next the girl was there in her lemon-colored shirt, facedown, arms and legs outstretched like a star. Her eyes were closed.

  Diana grabbed her around the waist and launched them toward the surface. For a terrifying second, she could not find the shape of the island, and then the mists parted. She kicked forward, wrapping the girl awkwardly against her chest with one arm, fingers questing for a pulse with the other. There—beneath the jaw, thready, indistinct, but there. Though the girl wasn’t breathing, her heart still beat.

  Diana hesitated. She could see the outlines of Filos and Ecthros, the rocks that marked the rough beginnings of the boundary. The rules were clear. You could not stop the mortal tide of life and death, and the island must never be touched by it. There were no exceptions. No human could be brought to Themyscira, even if it meant saving a life. Breaking that rule meant only one thing: exile.

  Exile. The word was a stone, unwanted ballast, the weight unbearable. It was one thing to breach the boundary, but what she did next might untether her from the island, her sisters, her mother forever. The world seemed too large, the sea too deep. Let go. It was that simple. Let this girl slip from her grasp and it would be as if Diana had never leapt from those cliffs. She would be light again, free of this burden.

  Diana thought of the girl’s hand, the ferocious grip of her knuckles, the steel-blade determination in her eyes before the wave took her under. She felt the ragged rhythm of the girl’s pulse, a distant drum, the sound of an army marching—one that had fought well but could not fight on much longer.

  She swam for shore.

  As she passed through the boundary with the girl clutched to her, the mists dissolved and the rain abated. Warmth flooded her body. The calm water felt oddly lifeless after the thrashing of the sea, but Diana wasn’t about to complain.

  When her feet touched the sandy bottom, she shoved up, shifting her grip to carry the girl from the shallows. She was eerily light, almost insubstantial. It was like holding a sparrow’s body between her cupped hands. No wonder the sea had made such easy sport of this creature and her crewmates; she felt temporary, an artist’s cast of a body rendered in plaster.

  Diana laid her gently on the sand and checked her pulse again. No heartbeat now. She knew she needed to get the girl’s heart going, get the water out of her lungs, but her memory on just how to do that was a bit hazy. Diana had studied the basics of reviving a drowning victim, but she hadn’t ever had to put it into practice outside the classroom. It was also possible she hadn’t paid close attention at the time. How likely was it that an Amazon was going to drown, especially in the calm waters off Themyscira? And now her daydreaming might cost this girl her life.

  Do something, she told herself, trying to think past her panic. Why did you drag her out of the water if you’re only going to sit staring at her like a frightened rabbit?

  Diana placed two fingers on the girl’s sternum, then tracked lower to what she hoped was the right spot. She locked her hands together and pressed. The girl’s bones bent beneath her palms. Hurriedly, Diana drew back. What was this girl made of, anyway? Balsa wood? She felt about as solid as the little models of world monuments Diana had been forced to build for class. Gently, she pressed down again, then again. She shut the girl’s nose with her fingers, closed her mouth over cooling mortal lips, and breathed.

  The gust drove into the girl’s chest, and Diana saw it rise, but this time the extra force seemed to be a good thing. Suddenly, the girl was coughing, her body convulsing as she spat up salt water. Diana sat back on her knees and released a short laugh. She’d done it. The girl was alive.

  The reality of what she’d just dared struck her. All the hounds of Hades: She’d done it. The girl was alive.

  And trying to sit up.

  “Here,” Diana said, bracing the girl’s back with her arm. She couldn’t simply kneel there, watching her flop around on the sand like a fish, and it wasn’t as if she could put her back in the ocean. Could she? No. Mortals were clearly too good at drowning.

  The girl clutched her chest, taking huge, sputtering gulps of air. “The others,” she gasped. Her eyes were so wide Diana could see white ringing her irises all the way around. She was trembling, but Diana wasn’t sure if it was because she was cold or going into shock. “We have to help them—”

  Diana shook her head. If there had been any other signs of life in the wreck, she hadn’t seen them. Besides, time passed more quickly in the mortal world. Even if she swam back out, the storm would have long since had its way with any bodies or debris.

  “They’re gone,” said Diana, then wished she’d chosen her words more carefully. The girl’s mouth opened, closed. Her body was shaking so hard Diana thought it might break apart. That couldn’t actually happen, could it?

  Diana scanned the cliffs above the beach. Someone might have seen her swim out. She felt confident no other runner had chosen this course, but anyone could have seen the explosion and come to investigate.

  “I need to get you off the beach. Can you walk?” The girl nodded, but her teeth were chattering, and she made no move to st
and. Diana’s eyes scoured the cliffs again. “Seriously, I need you to get up.”

  “I’m trying.”

  She didn’t look like she was trying. Diana searched her memory for everything she’d been told about mortals, the soft stuff—eating habits, body temperature, cultural norms. Unfortunately, her mother and her tutors were more focused on what Diana referred to as the Dire Warnings: War. Torture. Genocide. Pollution. Bad Grammar.

  The girl shivering before her on the sand didn’t seem to qualify for inclusion in the Dire Warnings category. She looked about the same age as Diana, brown-skinned, her hair a tangle of long, tiny braids covered in sand. She was clearly too weak to hurt anyone but herself. Even so, she could be plenty dangerous to Diana. Exile dangerous. Banished-forever dangerous. Better not to think about that. Instead, she thought back to her classes with Teuta. Make a plan. Battles are often lost because people don’t know which war they’re fighting. All right. The girl couldn’t walk any great distance in her condition. Maybe that was a good thing, given that Diana had nowhere to take her.

  She rested what she hoped was a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Listen, I know you’re feeling weak, but we should try to get off the beach.”

  “Why?”

  Diana hesitated, then opted for an answer that was technically true if not wholly accurate. “High tide.”

  It seemed to do the trick, because the girl nodded. Diana stood and offered her a hand.

  “I’m fine,” the girl said, shoving to her knees and then pushing up to her feet.

  “You’re stubborn,” Diana said with some measure of respect. The girl had almost drowned and seemed to be about as solid as driftwood and down, but she wasn’t eager to accept help—and she definitely wasn’t going to like what Diana suggested next. “I need you to climb on my back.”

  A crease appeared between the girl’s brows. “Why?”

  “Because I don’t think you can make it up the cliffs.”

  “Is there a path?”

  “No,” said Diana. That was definitely a lie. Instead of arguing, Diana turned her back. A minute later, she felt a pair of arms around her neck. The girl hopped on, and Diana reached back to take hold of her thighs and hitch her into position. “Hold on tight.”

  The girl’s arms clamped around her windpipe. “Not that tight!” Diana choked out.

  “Sorry!” She loosened her hold.

  Diana took off at a jog.

  The girl groaned. “Slow down. I think I’m going to vomit.”

  “Vomit?” Diana scanned her knowledge of mortal bodily functions and immediately smoothed her gait. “Do not do that.”

  “Just don’t drop me.”

  “You weigh about as much as a heavy pair of boots.” Diana picked her way through the big boulders wedged against the base of the cliff. “I need my arms to climb, so you’re going to have to hold on with your legs, too.”

  “Climb?”

  “The cliff.”

  “You’re taking me up the side of the cliff ? Are you out of your mind?”

  “Just hold on and try not to strangle me.” Diana dug her fingers into the rock and started putting distance between them and the ground before the girl could think too much more about it.

  She moved quickly. This was familiar territory. Diana had scaled these cliffs countless times since she’d started visiting the north shore, and when she was twelve, she’d discovered the cave where they were headed. There were other caves, lower on the cliff face, but they filled when the tide came in. Besides, they were too easy to crawl out of if someone got curious.

  The girl groaned again.

  “Almost there,” Diana said encouragingly.

  “I’m not opening my eyes.”

  “Probably for the best. Just don’t…you know.”

  “Puke all over you?”

  “Yes,” said Diana. “That.” Amazons didn’t get sick, but vomiting appeared in any number of novels and featured in a particularly vivid description from her anatomy book. Blessedly, there were no illustrations.

  At last, Diana hauled them up into the divot in the rock that marked the cave’s entrance. The girl rolled off and heaved a long breath. The cave was tall, narrow, and surprisingly deep, as if someone had taken a cleaver to the center of the cliff. Its gleaming black rock sides were perpetually damp with sea spray. When she was younger, Diana had liked to pretend that if she kept walking, the cave would lead straight through the cliff and open onto some other land entirely. It didn’t. It was just a cave, and remained a cave no matter how hard she wished.

  Diana waited for her eyes to adjust, then shuffled farther inside. The old horse blanket was still there—wrapped in oilcloth and mostly dry, if a bit musty—as well as her tin box of supplies.

  She wrapped the blanket around the girl’s shoulders.

  “We aren’t going to the top?” asked the girl.

  “Not yet.” Diana had to get back to the arena. The race must be close to over by now, and she didn’t want people wondering where she’d gotten to. “Are you hungry?”

  The girl shook her head. “We need to call the police, search and rescue.”

  “That isn’t possible.”

  “I don’t know what happened,” the girl said, starting to shake again. “Jasmine and Ray were arguing with Dr. Ellis and then—”

  “There was an explosion. I saw it from shore.”

  “It’s my fault,” the girl said as tears spilled over her cheeks. “They’re dead and it’s my fault.”

  “Don’t,” Diana said gently, feeling a surge of panic. “It was the storm.” She laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “What’s your name?”

  “Alia,” the girl said, burying her head in her arms.

  “Alia, I need to go, but—”

  “No!” Alia said sharply. “Don’t leave me here.”

  “I have to. I…need to get help.” What Diana needed was to get back to Ephesus and figure out how to get this girl off the island before anyone found out about her.

  Alia grabbed hold of her arm, and again Diana remembered the way she’d clung to that piece of hull. “Please,” Alia said. “Hurry. Maybe they can send a helicopter. There could be survivors.”

  “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Diana promised. She slid the tin box toward the girl. “There are dried peaches and pili seeds and a little fresh water inside. Don’t drink it all at once.”

  Alia’s eyelids stuttered. “All at once? How long will you be gone?”

  “Maybe a few hours. I’ll be back as fast as I can. Just stay warm and rest.” Diana rose. “And don’t leave the cave.”

  Alia looked up at her. Her eyes were deep brown and heavily lashed, her gaze fearful but steady. For the first time since Diana had pulled her from the water, Alia seemed to be truly seeing her. “Where are we?” she asked. “What is this place?”

  Diana wasn’t quite sure how to answer, so all she said was “This is my home.”

  She hooked her hands back into the rock and ducked out of the cave before Alia could ask anything else.

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  Marie Lu, Batman: Nightwalker

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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