The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 82


“She’s going to drown,” Roden cried. “Look below you. She’s in the water now.”

Ignoring Wilta’s pleas for help, I lifted the rock higher. “Give me room to escape, or I will drop this and whatever is inside will be lost forever. Also, your daughter will get really wet.”

“Make the trade!” Wilta yelled from below. “He has the lens, you fools!”

I lifted one finger from the rock. “Wilta is running out of time, and this is getting heavy.”

Strick’s hands were in fists, but she said, “Prozarians, stand aside for Jaron. Let him go.” She glared at me. “With an infected leg, you won’t get far before we find you again.”

With Roden’s and Tobias’s help, I swung back onto solid ground, then gave Roden the rock and set off at a sprint along the former riverbed, which was half a stone’s throw wide and a knee length lower than the rest of the ground.

Only seconds later, I heard the captain scream, “This is just a rock — get him!”

I reached the rock barrier that held back the pool from the waterfall. Directly in front of the barrier was the same tree I’d rested against yesterday. Lump was halfway to me with a host of other vigils by the time I swung into the tree’s lower branches. I leaned over the branch, ready to throw my weight downward against the barrier. Before I did, I shouted to all the people still assembled there, “This barrier will break. Get as far from the overlook as you can!”

Most of the crowd who had assembled began hurrying away down the paths, clearing the area faster than I would have believed possible. Lump urged the vigils to continue forward, while he turned on one heel and began racing back toward Strick, crying, “Get her out of the cave! Hurry!”

As promised, I used my full weight to swing down into the pool, kicking hard against the rocks. I reared up again, doing the same until I felt the first rock shift.

The Prozarians who had remained behind began climbing the wall, though they were helping me more than they realized. Every shift of their weight weakened the wall further.

Finally, I rose up again and said to them, “I’d run if I were you.”

Then I slammed back down into the water, thrusting my legs forward so hard that the vibrations echoed through my entire body. The rock gave way, and immediately, water burst forth, creating a mighty flood beyond anything I had expected. In an hour or two, this might settle, but for now, the violence was terrible, the water pulling rocks and layers of mud away from the hills and toward the cave opening, carrying with it everything in its path.

For several seconds, I was overcome by the flow of icy water that forced the air from my lungs. I couldn’t breathe, nor could I orient myself. The branch I’d been holding so tightly finally gave way against the rush of water, propelling me into the river. I might have been carried all the way down into the cave opening, except that the branch became lodged against a rock, allowing me to crawl to the water’s edge. My injured leg throbbed from hip to toe and was no doubt bleeding again. I rolled southward and collapsed onto the grass, exhausted.

Nearer to the cave opening and on the north side of the restored river, Wilta had been pulled to safety, though the half-cut rope was still tied around her chest. When she saw me, almost directly across from her, she forgot about the rope and instead screamed out my name, adding, “You will not get away with this!”

Ignoring the pleas from the captain that she should rest, Wilta grabbed the sword from Roden’s sheath and began running toward the branch, the only bridge from her side of the river to mine.

“Wilta, stop!” Roden ran after her, but her focus was so intent upon me, if she heard him, she didn’t care.

I had a different angle and knew how precariously the branch was positioned against the rock. It was not nearly as secure as it looked.

I sat up, waving her away. “Go back, Wilta! It isn’t safe.”

But Wilta stepped on the branch anyway, taking a moment to check her balance, then walking forward. She wasn’t even halfway across before the branch rolled, carrying her into the river and back toward the cave opening.

I ran along the side of the river and dove into the water just in time to catch the rope as she went over the edge. With my other hand, I grabbed a root that had become exposed by the water, but the rope burned my palm as it continued to pull through my hands.

From his side of the river, Roden dove in as well, braced by Lump and a few other vigils, allowing Roden to grab the rope with both hands.

With his help, we began to pull Wilta back toward the surface, but a second branch swept down the river, knocking Roden away from the other Prozarians. He lost his hold on the rope, which pulled me deeper into the river. The branch lodged against the arch and entangled the rope. Half-buried in so much cold, I tugged, but my strength was sapped, and the rope would not give.

“Jaron, pull me up,” she begged.

“I can’t!”

“You must. I’ll do anything you ask.”

“Wilta, I can’t pull you up!”

“Please do not let go of that rope.”

From behind me, Tobias shouted, “We’re here, Jaron. We’re back. I brought help.”

I turned long enough to see Darius wade into the water, grabbing the rope with one hand and me with the other. On the opposite side of the river, Roden had been working to dislodge the branch, and slowly, we began dragging Wilta up from the cave again.


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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