Houston, We Have a Problem

The trip was going well, considering the storm that raged outside. Then, there was a bang and Peter looked over at Alaric and then back at Robin. “What was that?” he said.

Shaking her head, Robin stood and moved to the door of their cabin. She was just reaching for the handle, when the door opened. The young captain looked up at her and then looked over at Alaric.

“I regret, my lord,” he said, “to tell you that we have been struck by lightning. We need to evacuate the ship.”

Alaric stood and nodded. “Very well,” he said. He snatched his cloak off of a hook near the door and then, he – along with Peter and Robin – joined the other passengers as they moved towards the emergency exits.

The evacuation was going smoothly, until they reached the last pod that had been set aside for the passengers to use. The crewman looked at the earl and his companions and the young man that remained. He grimaced.

“They’re not meant to take four, but… I don’t think it will be a problem,” he said, after only a moment’s hesitation. He waved at them all to enter.

Robin nestled close to Peter, giving the other two men room to get settled. The hatched closed and there was a hiss as the door sealed tightly. After a moment, Robin felt a jolt as they were ejected from the sinking airship.

Peter gasped when the pod jolted and rolled to a stop. Then, they could feel a steady rocking movement. “We’ve landed in water,” he announced.

Robin nodded and pointed out a small window in the hatch. As she did, they could see water cover over the hatch. “We’re sinking,” she said, her voice soft.

Alaric sighed and looked at the instructions that were written on a nearby panel. “It says that, once they are ejected, the pods emit a pulse,” he said. “The Southmaid Fleet will be along to pick us up.”

“In this storm,” Peter said, shaking his head. “It’ll take time before they reach us.”

As he spoke the words, they heard the sound of static followed by a voice. “This is Carl Southmaid,” the voice said. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” Robin said, blinking. “We’re all just fine.”

“Glad to hear it,” Southmaid said. There was a pause and then he continued. “We’re on our way out to retrieve your pod,” he said. “We should be arriving in twelve hours.”

“Thank you,” Alaric said. The radio crackled again and then, they were alone. Alaric glanced at the panel beside him and then, he looked around. He shook his head. “The air would keep three people for that long,” he said, his voice soft. “There are four of us.”

Robin’s eyes widened. “That’s not good,” she said, her voice soft. She shook her head. “What do you suggest, my lord?”

Alaric smirked faintly and looked from Peter to the young man and back again. “If there are four of us, we’ll all die,” he said. “If there are only three of us…”

Peter blinked. “Are you suggesting that one of us needs to… stop breathing, my lord?” he said, his voice faint.

Nodding, Alaric said, “Not Master Westerberg, of course.”

“You’re a lord,” the young man said, his voice faint. “Can’t be you either.”

Peter paled and Robin took his hand. “Draw lots?” she suggested. Her voice was so soft that it was barely audible. However, Alaric nodded.

He drew out a coin and said, “Call it.”

“Heads,” the young man said. Peter nodded silently. Robin didn’t know whether to pray that it was tails or just hope that Alaric would change his mind.

Alaric flipped the coin and then, as it settled between his feet, he looked at it. “Tails,” he said, his voice soft. He turned to the young man seated beside him. “I’m sorry, but there’s just not enough air in here for everyone,” he said, his tone gentle. “I’ll tell them you were a hero.”

The young man tensed and looked pleadingly at Robin and then at Peter. Finally, he turned to Alaric. “I – I don’t want to die,” he breathed, “but… I don’t want to be the cause of your deaths, either.”

Alaric nodded. He drew the young man into his arms and set a hand on his chest. “Just close your eyes and relax,” Alaric said, his voice faint. For a moment, the young man squirmed. Then, he sighed and relaxed into Alaric’s embrace. His eyes fluttered and closed. Slowly, the color drained from his face. Then, he faded from view completely, leaving only his clothing behind.

“What did you do to him?” Peter breathed.

Alaric blinked. “I sent him into a different world,” he said. He shrugged. “It’s a spell that was once generally used to rid nobles of unwanted heirs. It’s completely painless.”

“So, he’s not dead,” Robin said, her voice soft.

Shaking his head, Alaric said, “He’ll awaken in the world to which I’ve sent him, naked and with no memory of being here. The beings there will… care for him.”

“What sort of beings?” Peter whispered.

Alaric smiled weakly. “Fae,” he said, his voice soft. They were silent, then. For the next twelve hours, no one spoke. As the air began to grow thinner, Robin curled up beside Peter and they fell asleep.

Only Alaric was still awake when the rescue team arrived. He looked up as the pod was raised. As the hatch broke the surface, he saw clear blue skies overhead. A part of him hoped that the young man – whatever his name was – was well and safe in the Otherworld. That part would never forget the fear in the boy’s eyes or the way he’d shivered as Alaric had cast the spell. Another part of him wanted to pretend that the boy had never existed.

As the pod opened, air rushed in to fill the void. A red-haired man peered inside and gave them a relieved smile. “Sorry it took so long to reach you,” he breathed. “That was some storm.” His brows furrowed when he saw the pile of clothing at Alaric’s feet.

“I’m very sorry,” he said, his voice softer.

Alaric nodded. “I… don’t even know his name,” he said. Somehow, though, Alaric knew he’d never forget the boy.

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