Saku flew in the angel's arms again. They swept south and east, but in zig-zagging patterns that made his stomach flutter if he opened his eyes. The trees streaked below, smeared into green swaths that never stopped moving.
Every second pass or so, the humming of another of Angel's people would join them. The air above the jungles filled with the drone of the hive, and the search continued. The Wisps searched for their enemy, and their people, people like Saku now, were carried below in case they were needed.
He understood it all now. The honor of his position was unmatched. He and his like would carry the Truth to the rest of the villages. They would bring more people, build higher walls, gather more food, and fight the enemy when the time was right.
Today the hive had discovered one of their foe had awoken. Tonight, they searched for the first battle, and Saku felt Angel's desire to be there through the vibration of her claws against his skin. He felt the anticipation and her longing to prove herself. He also felt her frustration with the weight that he presented, with her inability to maneuver as freely as those unburdened by a person.
He was holding her back.
The thought nagged at him as the trees blew past. It twisted in his head when two more Wisps passed the and shot, humming in tandem far ahead. He was the problem. He weighed too much. She should just drop him, could come back for him later.
For the first ten feet, he felt only relief. Angel's thoughts, projecting still though their physical contact had broken. When he hit the river, his own ideas returned. The ice of frigid water pushed his separate identity to the surface. She'd abandoned him. She'd dropped him from the sky and left him behind.
He sank beneath the rapids, tumbled end over end and ricocheted off the rocky bottom. That last, the hard reality of stone against his knees, reminded him to fight. He flailed and thrashed, pushed with his toes and bobbed to the churning surface long enough to suck in a breath that was half water.
The river closed over him again. Saku rolled with the current, banged into more rock, and pushed harder this time. He filled his lungs when his head broke the surface. His arms clawed to the sides, slipped off wet stone and peeled back some of his fingernails. The water was stronger. The river carried him away.
And the falls roared in his ears.
He kept his head up, and he could breathe now, but he could also hear that echo ahead, the empty space that meant a drop coming. From the sound of it, a long drop. The end of the world, perhaps. What did it matter? Angel was done with him. After all the trouble she'd gone through to fetch him, to share the Truth with him, she'd tossed him aside to die.
Saku stopped kicking. He pulled his arms in and curved his back just enough to keep his head above the current. His body floated, bobbed like drifting wood at the mercy of the waves. He watched the skies above, now dark and pricked with starlight.
He would have liked to spread Angel's truth, to walk back into his village with his head held high. They thought he was dead, no doubt. His shame was probably still on the hunters' lips. Except he hadn't failed, he hadn't died yet, and he would have liked very much to prove it to them.
The falling water filled his ears, louder now than the hive had been. It pounded behind his eyes, drove away his thoughts and dared him to fight the current, to struggle for his life now, at the very brink of it. Angel had thought of returning for him. He'd felt the flicker of that, just before she'd released him. Maybe she'd put him here on purpose. The water had broken his fall. Maybe the drop ahead was not as big as he feared.
He might survive it yet.
Did he trust the Wisp to have planned for that? Saku closed his eyes and let the water take him closer to the answer. She'd decided quickly, and she hadn't maneuvered much. Yet there was a deliberate intention to everything Angel did. She calculated, and she acted, and there was very little reaction time between the two.
He'd die for her, if that was her desire. Saku sighed and understood that even behind the sting of her abandonment. She'd left him so that she might succeed. The enemy had come too fast, too soon upon them. They hadn't had time to finish his training.
Now he could only float and trust her. His Angel would succeed, if any of them did. She'd find the enemy and slay it, and then...if he was fortunate, she might return to find him. The water sang in his mind, louder than his own heart. He could survive, and she could find him again.
Saku smiled and relaxed, and let the water carry him into the abyss.