To Sleep in Flames

“Well, I suppose this is a great way to die,” Matt muttered.

“Shut up. It’s a terrible way to die.” Talon darted around the deck, scanning each of the neighboring ships.

Each boat that surrounded them danced with flames. Timbers tumbled into the endless black below. Somehow they’d found a small island in the heat, a boat that had some space around it. The fires had not leaped across the void to these masts quite yet.

Matt sat down on the deck. “It’s getting hard to breathe.”

Talon nodded. “Yeah. Fires do that.” He sprinted across the deck again, scanning every neighboring vessel. “Come on. The flames can’t have cut us off that quickly.”

“Even if they didn’t, you think the captain kept the ship nearby for us? Really? As soon as she saw the flames coming, she shoved off. She’s going to protect her crew as best she can. And we were never crew; just passengers.”

“Crazy passengers,” the young thief interjected.

“Well, not many people want to sail off the edge of the world. And not many captains are stupid enough to take the money.” matt shrugged.

Talon wiped his forehead with a cloth from his pocket. He pointed. “There. That one. Look, the decking hasn’t caught yet; we could get across.”

Matt half turned. “No. Neither of us could make the jump, and even if we could, the heat would kill us.”

“That one then.”

“Only if you want to die by falling instead of by flames.”

Talon shook his head. “I won’t die by flames.”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “They scare you?”

“Not by flames.” Talon considered the mast. “Think we can chop that down? We could use it to shove off another boat. Maybe shove our way through the burners until we find clearer waters.”

“Boy, my blades are strong, but not that strong. These masts are built to hold up on the high seas. We can’t knock them over.”

“Stop knocking down my ideas!”

“Stop trying to kill us.”

“I’m not trying to kill us! I’m trying to live!”

Matt regarded the younger man.

“Why aren’t you scared?” Talon asked.

Matt shrugged. “Maybe Alathea finally got to me.”

“You’re finding religion?”

“When you’re about to die seems the right time.” Matt chuckled. “Her joy? It was a better way to live than my caution. And if what she says is true… well, no flames wait for me.”

Talon viewed the field of flames that surrounded them. “It is getting hard to breathe, isn’t it?”

Matt nodded.

“I guess I don’t have to be afraid of burning to death then.” He wiped his face with the cloth again.

Timbers crackled over the sound of the Graveyard’s clatter. Heat evaporated the falling drops of water.

Talon shook his head. “I can’t steal my way out of this one.”

“And my blades can’t slay fire.”

“You know this is our own stupid fault.”

“Yours maybe. If we’d taken my route back to the boat we’d have gotten there in plenty of time.”

“Like hell!”

They watched the burning Graveyard. Talon lay on the deck first. He closed his eyes. A boat aft of theirs spat sparks. Burning flakes landed on the deck, on Talon’s clothes. Matt patted out the flames before they could catch.

He closed his eyes.

No!

He would’t let Talon burn. No sleep until it was too late for the boy. No sleep!

Their ship trembled as a burning boat tumbled through the void to collide with theirs. The flames leaped the decks.

Matt’s lungs burned. He reached down and tried to pick Talon up. Nope. Matt’s muscles wouldn’t listen to him. He grabbed one of Talon’s arms. He dragged the boy to the edge of the deck.

“You won’t burn, boy,’ he huffed.

They fell into the void.

Thus continues Alathea’s tale, The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

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