Amidst all the other scent threads, he again caught a teasing hint of Carrow's. Then he scented ghouls. Below them? He gazed down over the ledge.
And lost his breath.
The first step was terrifying, the plummet even worse. Falling ... falling...
When Carrow plunged into the water, the freezing temperature ripped the breath from her lungs. Desperately swimming from the depths, she burst up to the surface, sucking in air, exhaling with a scream.
The wave that had cushioned her fall now seized her, hurling her away from land.
Had she heard Malkom's bellow?
Live, Carrow! The words replayed in her mind. Ruby needs you. She began weakly paddling, doing no more than keeping herself afloat. Salt water stung her ragged fingertips before her skin grew numb with cold. Her teeth chattered, her muscles becoming sluggish. The force of the current couldn't be fought.
Would she be cast out to sea? If the island compound was truly a thousand miles away from land, would she drift for days before someone found her? Months?
As an immortal, she wouldn't die from exposure. Sharks were another matter. Don't let those rumors be true.
She heard movement from just behind her. Ah, gods, no! The ghouls had jumped as well and now were caught in the same current.
As they were all swept along parallel to the shore, those fiends clumsily paddled and thrashed about, wailing.
Then they caught sight of her again. They were so stupid, so aggressive, without even the sense to get to safety before attacking her.
As the rain and waves boiled all around her, the ghouls somehow neared. The largest slashed its claws out at her.
She kicked back just in time. Live, Carrow! Another swipe, another near miss -
A fin glided past her. A second joined it. The rumors were ... true?
Soon sharks swarmed them. The largest ghoul disappeared before her eyes, yanked down into the depths. Was a shark beneath Carrow even now, eyeing her legs?
Floating with her face barely above the surface, she forced herself to remain motionless. When a shark bumped her, Carrow stifled a scream, somehow holding herself still.
Her strategy worked; she bobbed "uietly, while behind her, one frenetic ghoul after another was snatched down. Though the shore was still in sight, she couldn't risk swimming to it.
Even as rain pelted her upraised face and danger surrounded her, the bitter chill made her eyelids feel so heavy. Floating ... numb.
In time, she was no longer cold, just so sleepy. Hypothermia. She lost the battle to keep her eyes open.
Close them just for a moment.
* * *
Malkom had watched her jump from the cliff, had seen the water flinging her body like a giant fist. His heart had dropped when the ghouls followed.
And Malkom couldn't follow, not with her child.
Holding the girl tight to his side, he sprinted along a more solid-looking trail that wound down to the water.
Reaching the sloping ground beside the waves, he set the child down and ran along the edge, peering out.
The great water crashed against the edge of land in deafening bursts, swirling and swelling like angry wraiths. He couldn't see her.
"She's there! Just past the waves." The girl pointed. "Swim for her, Malkom!"
Can't swim. But when he caught sight of Carrow, motionless in the water, he charged into the freezing depths -
The bottom disappeared. Heart racing, he kicked to stay above the surface, gulping breaths, swallowing stinging water. Can't breathe...
Dizziness washed over him, and his vision wavered. He shook his head hard. Then it happened again. Yet somehow he'd maneuvered closer to Carrow.
He felt the ends of her hair just as he saw a ghostly fin break the surface. He snagged the witch, trying to hold her while flailing his free arm and kicking frantically to keep them above the water. How to return to the land?
Another fin rose and dipped. Creatures were circling them, which meant predators. Which meant fangs or claws, or both.
He shook her. "Carrow, wake!" She wasn't breathing? "Witch?"
One of those things came from beneath them, knocking into him with the force of a Gotoh. Another driving hit nearly pried Carrow loose from Malkom's arms before he gripped her against his body.
The next strike shoved them below the surface. Malkom's feet briefly scraped the bottom. Going against all his instincts, he let himself sink among the creatures. Once his feet connected to the bottom again, he kicked with all his strength, surging out of the depths into shallower waters. Through the frothing waves he hauled her away from those things.
Back on land, he dropped to his knees with her, lowering his head to her chest. "Carrow!" She still wasn't breathing. No heartbeat. "No, no!" She couldn't die like this.
She is already dead. He knew this, could see - could sense she was gone.
But Carrow was an immortal, so she would revive. Right? And what do I know of witches? He couldn't say that her kind could come back.
"Carrow, wake up!" Her parted lips were blue, her face ashen. His bite mark was stark against her neck. "Wake now, witch!" I cannot lose her again.
Grabbing her by the shoulders, he shook her until her head lolled. "Breathe!" he roared. Water trickled from her mouth. "Come back, ara!" Collecting her into his arms, he cupped her head to his chest, smoothing her hair from her face. "Carrow, I plead to you ..."
The girl was hitting his arm, screaming at him. "Blow air in her mouth, Malkom!"
Had he heard her right? Desperate, he put his lips to her cold ones, exhaling.
Blackness receded in a rush as air filled her lungs, pushing the heavy water up. Lungs too full, strangling -
She opened her eyes. Malkom's mouth was pressed to hers? She knocked him out of the way, hunching over to hack up the seawater.
As he rubbed her back with his big hand, she wheezed on the stone-laden beach. Sand gritted in her eyes, her teeth chattered around rattling breaths, but she was alive. "R-ruby? Wh-where is she?"
Ruby rushed into Carrow's arms. The girl was conscious, safe.
"Are you okay, Crow?"
Carrow held her tight, shuddering with relief. Over the girl's shoulder, Carrow met Malkom's gaze. "Malkom, you kept her s-safe." She mouthed, "Thank you."
He gazed away, looking uncomfortable with her gratitude. Then he tensed, his eyes going black and fangs lengthening.
The surviving ghouls had begun loping ashore.
Malkom rose to his full height, roaring at them until her ears hurt.
Amazingly, they cowered, scuttling back into the waves. She remembered that the ghouls in Oblivion had been afraid of him, too. Never in her life had she met an immortal who could frighten them.