The storm hit at dawn.
The first towering wave tossed every man on the Airlea out of his bunk, with the second sending them to the floor. The waves grew three, then four feet higher than the rails and crashed across the deck. With each passing second, the slippery boards became more dangerous. One misstep and they'd be meeting Shinnah sooner rather than later.
Still, it only took minutes for the sailors to find their rhythm.
The thick muscled Saul and Ancus were set double checking the cargo ropes, the more sure-footed Kreon ordered to the wheel, and the four nimblest crewmembers sent scrambling for the sails. As if moving to the sound of an unseen metronome, they scaled the rigging in sync and took their places on either side of the main mast. The youngest, Iliana and Kain, instinctively settled next to each other.
"Got my first knot! How's yours?"
At the shout from her partner, Iliana gritted her teeth. The sail in question had been ripped from her scarred fingers by a particularly harsh gust of wind. It took everything she had to pull the fabric back into place and tighten a rope around it.
"Got ours!" a voice called.
Realizing the announcement meant the other side of the mast was secured, Iliana redoubled her efforts as she moved onto the second rope they'd been assigned.
"Ilias? Kain?" their captain demanded.
A wave slammed into the bow. Iliana tangled her hands in the rigging to keep from plunging overboard. Kain laughed, prompting her to lock her jaw.
"Still got some sleep in your eyes, Ilias?" he teased.
She nearly snapped a response, but the captain's call to strike the next set of sails had both of them scrambling to ensure the current ones were set, before following the new orders. They knew better than to hesitate--a second was the difference between life or death on the sea.
A handful of close calls and several minutes later found the duo tucked behind the mast, fingers twisted into the ropes. Iliana's forehead rested against the old burn scars that covered the back of her hands. If they started down, the captain might call for the next sails to be struck before their feet touched the deck. While dangerous, the smarter move was to stay aloft.
"That's one way to start the day!" Kain shouted.
Iliana snorted and lifted her head so she could regard him with a furrowed brow. The sting from flying saltwater combined with the unending downpour made seeing Kain difficult. Despite this, Iliana caught his dark eyes and grinned.
"It is," she agreed, pitching her voice to be heard above the roaring winds. "Always a good morning when I get to see you look like a drowned rat."
"Thanks," he retorted.
It was true enough. The knitted grey cap that blocked all view of Kain's locks had been turned near black by the rain. When combined with Kain's half-dressed state--the storm had sprung too quickly for him to bother with a shirt--and the way his dark brown skin glistened in the moonlight, he looked quite younger than his twenty years.
A few more playful insults might have been thrown into the mix, but orders to drop down came within seconds. The two exchanged glances. They hadn't imagined the storm light enough for navigation to be solved by only striking half the sails, but orders were orders. Tucking their own thoughts on the matter away, they climbed down with care.
"Go down below," their captain ordered. "I want you to double check the cargo and bail out water if we've got leaks. The six of us have things up here. I'd hate to lose a hundred 'cause Umae decided to be an ass."
"Don't think you're supposed to call a god an ass," Kain joked.
"I'll call him whatever I damn well please! Now, get to it!"
Not about to argue given the situation, the two of them started for the hatch.
Just as Iliana grabbed the handle, a hard wave crashed against the ship. The impact nearly capsized the Airlea, and for a single heartbeat, she could see the ocean beneath them. Her breath caught in her throat, green eyes widening, as the sudden lurch of the ship sent Kain stumbling towards the rails.
Her instincts screamed, sending her lunging forward to seize his wrist.
The ship righted itself within the minute and she released him. Kain offered her a grateful smile. Iliana nodded back, before tugging open the hatch and starting below deck.
"That's one me, zero you," she said, shooting him a grin over her shoulder.
Kain rolled his eyes as he trailed behind her on the stairs.
"That's just today's score," he retorted. "Besides, I should get points for remembering to call you Ilias."
Iliana snorted."That's the only thing you should call me."
The second they reached the lower level, Iliana turned for the next hatch. This was always the worst part of a storm for her. She hated climbing around in the cargo hold. The lower levels were always too dark to see. Any potentially sustained damage would have to be felt out by hand and instinct alone. At least on this level there was a lit torch on the wall to illuminate one's steps.
"But Iliana is pretty," Kain teased.
"If you say so."
She braced the door against the wall, but didn't jump down right away. Instead, she ran her fingers through her tangled, brunette locks. Her hands paused where the strands ended at her chin, palms resting against the skin.
She scoffed. "Of course not. Come on. Let's get to work."
Iliana dropped down following the words. Her bare feet landed roughly on the weathered barrels beneath the hatch. The metal charms on her anklet jingled as the impact clinked them together. Despite the screaming wind outside, something about the noise seemed to echo through the air. She paused, then shook her head in dismissal. There were more important things at hand than her imagination.
"Yes, ma'am," Kain quipped.
She made sure he didn't close the door. Iliana wasn't afraid, but she'd be damned if she was staying down there with no light.