In Hot Water

by Kristina Totten

They looked down over the expanse of dark water, surrounded by sharply peaked mountains from the top floor of what had to be the highest tower either member of the investigation team had ever been inside. In all honesty neither had considered what would happen if they were to get stuck there. The tower was located in the middle of a lake accessible only by boat and as an archaic landmark it was not a place that people often visited any more. It was only as they ascended the staircase within the tower that they realized the staircase was the only way in or out of the tower. If they got trapped anywhere in it, that was it, they would be stuck and possibly done for.

Macey scowled out at the landscape, or more at the thought of how she would get back to the outside world from their current position within the highest room of the tower. On the other hand, Roque looked out serenely at the landscape flooded with moonlight and appreciated its beauty, even as he noted the sounds of rowing in the water below. Tonight was the night he would finally answer the question that had been plaguing him for the last decade or so of his life. He almost didn’t care at this point what the answer to it was, as long as he had it by the time he walked out.

“You better have a plan to get us out,” she threatened.

“I do. Just do your part of the job and I’ll get us out of here.”

Truth be told he hadn’t planned on getting caught in the middle of the lake. He hadn’t accounted for their only way out being a boat tied to the same dock that had just begun teeming with guards or some other group bent on what he didn’t know. In any case, it didn’t matter. They needed to be out of the tower before whoever it was came up to ‘greet’ them. Greet is, of course, used here as a euphemism for general unpleasantness of the variety that would either lead to their being arrested and incarcerated or being killed flat out.

“Roque, I swear…” she began as she started to weave yarn through her fingers in an intricate pattern.

He knew from working with her in the past that this was how she focused her spellwork. He just hoped the practice would keep her calm enough to work the spell they had agreed on her performing that evening. In spite of her focus on the task at hand, she heard the shouts of those on the dock below as they began to take note of the boat that she and Roque had left at the docks. She heard them calling for a full search of the tower for intruders.

He noticed her hands begin to shake at the pronouncement, but wasn’t about to speak up to try and encourage her in the middle of a spell. Interrupting a spellcaster in the middle of their work was liable to be as dangerous to them as whoever was searching the tower was bound to be.

Breathlessly he watched her place the final knots into her weaving pattern and light exploded around them. He was dazed for a moment in the sudden brightness, but the room around them came into much clearer focus in the light. Now there were other people, or the memories of them, held from time immemorial by the space within the room. These people were not flesh and blood like he and Macey were, they glowed and glittered with their own light and passed through and around them as if neither of them existed.

He carefully watched the people, lost in time, play out what had happened in the space of the tower throughout the years. Silently he hoped they’d get to the part they needed to before whoever was downstairs made it up to them. All he needed was one piece of information to steal and he could go back to figuring out how to get them both out of this situation alive.

Macey was just as preoccupied as he was with watching time play out around them. Her work here was essentially done, her spell knotted into her yarn, all she had to do was concentrate on the images brought up by her spell to keep it going. She had no idea what it was that he was looking for so she kept a watchful eye on everything going on around her, knowing that something she was about to see would be important. She knew that if she caught it too, she could leverage that information for something from someone. If Roque wanted it, there had to be others that would want it too. She was sensible like that in matters of business. The only thing she had promised him was that he would have first rights to tell his client what they’d found. She hadn’t promised anything else after.

Roque had stopped paying attention to Macey by that point. He had stopped caring where her eyes fell on the action around them. He was waiting for a familiar face in the fray of glittering images.  It was hard to believe that the moment he’d waited so long to witness was coming, or he hoped it would be.

Ah, there it is, he thought, leaning closer to a glittering figure as she whispered the name of the figure holding a sword over her head, as if about to strike her down. That was it, that was what he needed: the name ‘Cornwallis.’ Though even as he heard it he didn’t quite believe it. He moved around the figures, to see the face of the man with the sword, half hoping he hadn’t heard the name correctly.

As he passed behind the ghosted image of his mother his heart fell. He recognized the man with the sword, though at that point he wished he didn’t. Cornwallis, he thought, why would he do such a thing? Why would the man assigned to protect Roque throughout his childhood kill his mother? He couldn’t even imagine the man who had treated him with such kindness throughout his youth and even to this day being capable of this. He felt a strong feeling of revulsion at the fact that he had been on friendly terms with the man who killed his mother for all this time, though he couldn’t bring himself to anger at it. Sadness and betrayal were all he could muster, it appeared. He hoped the anger would come, that would make what he knew he had to do next much easier.

Roque knew that he might lose Macey’s partnership over this debacle, not just for the lack of escape route, but for the lack of honesty about why they were there. She didn’t know that he couldn’t pay her the fee he had promised her to get this information. She didn’t know this was a personal quest for him. She didn’t know that they were about to witness the afterimage of his mother’s murder. She didn’t know that his mother had been murdered by someone he’d called a friend for all his life. To be fair, he hadn’t known that last part either.

The sounds outside the room were becoming harder and harder to ignore. Apparently the troops below had searched every other room on the way up and theirs was the only one remaining. The images began to waver as Macey lost concentration. To his surprise, the yarn she had so carefully woven through her fingers had begun to disintegrate. Just as the glittering figure brought his sword down into the glittering woman the images around them disappeared entirely into darkness once more. It was a darkness split only by the sliver of moonlight let in by the window they’d been standing by. Her spell had ended and she just shook her head, “I hope you got what you needed.”

“I did.”

“Then get us out of here.”

“Well. I know one way out. I’m not sure if you’re going to like it though,” he deadpanned, gazing back out the open window.

He said it so seriously that she knew he wasn’t joking. Her anger flared at the fact that his backup plan was jumping out of the highest window in the tower, “we wouldn’t need a way out if your way in wouldn’t have been so flashy.”

“It was a nice boat,” he defended.

“It was also covered in a bioluminescent something or other and glowing bright blue,” she whispered dangerously.

“It was?”

“You couldn’t see it?” She asked, incredulous.

“No, I honestly had no idea,” he answered, scratching his head pensively.

“Unbelievable,” she muttered, shaking her head in exasperation.

Taking a deep breath and steeling himself for whatever the end result of his actions would be, he put a hand on her shoulder, squeezed it lightly in what he hoped would be a comforting gesture, and shoved her out the window.

“Sorry,” he whispered into the now empty air beside him.

His stomach began to knot up when she let out an increasingly creative string of curses.  It seemed to him like anyone and everything she could think of had become worthy of cursing in that moment. Though given the sudden weightlessness she was experiencing and the feeling of her stomach being caught in her throat that she was likely currently dealing with, it was hardly surprising. A small smile played across his features as she cursed him for what had to be the tenth time in an incredibly short span of time, before he too stepped off the windowsill and into thin air behind her.

She was even more infuriated when she watched him, ever-so-calmly, step off the windowsill he had just shoved her out of. If they survived she would have very strong words for him. Words she vowed would include the end of their working partnership. She was so done with getting stuck in situations like this… even if a small part of her had enjoyed the excitement of every life threatening situation they’d encountered- at least until now. It was that anger she tried to hold onto as her fall came to a sudden icy drop into the lake water below. She did her best to hold her breath, knowing that if she survived the impact she would need every bit of air she had to make it back to the water’s surface.

He heard her impact with the water before his own. His feeling of calm slipping into panic as he hoped beyond reason that she would still be intact after it. His own splash into the water felt like a thousand icy needles had found their way under his skin, but he recognized that any sensation he was feeling, pleasant or not, was a sign that he was still alive, so he would take it.

Her lungs burned as her descent into the water finally slowed and she began to force her way back up through it and towards the light of the moon, towards the air that her lungs so desperately needed.

As he surfaced he began thrashing around in the water, looking for her, waiting with his  heart in his throat to see where she surfaced; if she surfaced. Seconds strung out without movement in the water around him and his panic rose. Then he saw a surge in the water and Macey surfaced with a massive gasp for air. Her breathing was labored, but she looked, at least from the shoulders up, as if she were okay.

With what she hoped would be the final push upwards, she broke the surface of the water. At which point she could only cough and splutter out the water she had accidentally inhaled on her final ascent out of the depths of the lake. As soon as her breathing had settled she looked around her for Roque and it was with relief that her eyes landed on him.

“Thank the stars you’re alright,” he said, swimming over to her.

“I wouldn’t go right to alright, but I’ll survive,” she said begrudgingly.

To her surprise, he got close enough to lean in and kiss her as they both continued to tread water. As far as first kisses go, it was an awkward endeavor, though she readily returned the gesture. Neuter was sure if said kiss was the result of the heat of the moment or a long history of spending a great deal of time in each other’s company on other investigations. At that moment it didn’t matter and they didn’t care.

When the kiss came to a natural end Macey tried to play it off casually by changing the subject, not wanting him to know how much she had enjoyed it, “So,” she began, “what next?”

“We steal a boat.”

“And then?”

“If you’re up for another adventure, it’s time to find Cornwallis and throw him out the nearest window.”

“Preferably one that isn’t handily located in the middle of a lake?” She asked.

“Preferably one located over some sort of rocky cliff, but we’ll see what’s available when we get to that point.”

“Cornwallis was the one who stabbed the woman in my vision?”

He nodded.

“Who were they to you?” She asked, with the inkling that this had been more of a personal quest for him than a job.

He sighed, “Let’s get out of here first and then we’ll talk about it.”

“Swear it,” she ordered.

Rolling his eyes, he agreed, “I swear.”

They made their way back to what he realized now was the faintly blue glowing boat that they had docked at the base of the tower earlier. Macey had been right about that, he thought, but at least she wasn’t rubbing his nose in it yet. Together they rowed their way out of danger, but not before they had capsized all of the other available boats so no one could give chase. They were onto their next adventure, even if Macey had sworn that their adventures together were at their end not ten minutes before.

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