Authors: A. P. Jensen
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy
Clutch of the
A. P. Jensen
Copyright © 2014 A. P. Jensen
All rights reserved.
Cara walked along the Cliffs of Moher. The sound of waves crashing below echoed around her as she trudged through a fog so thick she couldn't see more than a foot in front of her. She held an old compass up to her nose so she could see the tiny dials on the ancient face. She peered at the arrow and then looked ahead, trying to see a break in the fog, but there was only swirling white.
She couldn't remember the last time she slept. Exhaustion weighed heavily on her, but stubbornness and guilt pushed her on. When the compass arrow swiveled abruptly towards the edge of the cliff, Cara's heart sank. The moment she realized the location of her quest, she dreaded scaling the cliff. Cautiously, she approached the edge. The fog cleared enough for her to see a rocky decline. She pocketed the compass, tightened the backpack straps and with her arms spread out for balance, started down a path that would lead her to the bottom of the cliffs.
The path was barely discernible and probably tread by only the most seasoned hikers and determined surfers. White mist encased her from head to foot. A bone chilling cold filled her lungs with every intake of breath. She plastered herself against the sheer rock face and shuffled sideways. She knew no one in their right mind would attempt to walk down a path you couldn't see, much less a cliff that was notorious for claiming lives of the depressed or careless. The roar of the sea and the caw of birds filled her ears. When her feet slipped on the path, she felt her body teeter backwards. Cara pitched her weight forward and sagged against the cold stone when she regained her balance. Cara tried to move, but her body was on lockdown. The looming threat of falling from a seven hundred foot cliff left her paralyzed.
Cara took deep breaths and conjured the last image of her mother, Dawn. They faced one another in a hospital corridor, the first time she'd seen her mother in years. Her mother's face had been pale and ravaged by grief.
"There's nothing you can do, Cara," Dawn said.
Cara clenched shaking hands into fists. "No, I can change this."
"The doctors say there's no cure for this disease. I know this is hard for you to accept. We both love her, but there's nothing either of us can do." Tears slid down Dawn's cheeks before she took a breath to compose herself. "She doesn't have much time left, Cara. Stay with me."
Cara leaned forward and rested her forehead against her mother's. Dawn's tears dripped onto Cara's cheeks and she felt her mom quake as she suppressed the need to sob. Cara struggled to remain strong for both of them and drew in her mother's familiar scent, violets and chamomile. It had been years since she'd seen her mother and this meeting shred what was left of her heart. She tried to protect her family by keeping her distance, but Luc didn't care that they were innocent. He knew the most effective way to punish her would be to watch her loved ones suffer.
"I have to try," Cara whispered.
Dawn shook her head. "It's fate, Cara. You can't fight this."
"I won't let her die."
Dawn recited the serenity prayer, a habit she began when Cara was eight. Despite the years that had passed, Cara's expression was just as stubborn, determined and fevered with purpose as it had been when she was a child.
"You need to know when to give up, Cara," Dawn said fiercely.
Cara shook her head. She could change this. There was no such thing as fate. As long as she had breath, she would try. Luc couldn't win. Cara hugged her mother tight. Tears pricked her eyes, but she refused to let them drop. The bastard was probably watching and she wouldn't shed a tear. Not yet.
"I can change this," Cara whispered into her mom's ear.
Dawn's fingers dug into her jacket. "Stay with me."
Her voice was choked with fear and Cara swallowed hard. She extracted herself from her mom's desperate grasp and walked away. Her mother's sobs echoed down the hallway after her.
Cara shook her head to clear away the memories. She was standing on the edge of a cliff. It wasn't the best place to reminisce. One wrong step and she had a first class ticket to a watery grave. Chest tight with anxiety, Cara lurched into motion again. She made her way down the narrow zigzagging path and hugged the cliff like a barnacle. The trail become more perilous the further down she traveled.
Cara wasn't sure how long she shuffled down the path, but she gauged her progress by how loud the ocean was. She clambered over rocks as big as cars and never let her hands leave the cliff. She wasn't sure whether the fog was a detriment or an aid. She'd never been afraid of heights, but then again, she'd never stood on the edge of a seven hundred foot cliff and put her courage to the test. The height would make anybody's insides turn to ice. She figured not being able to see saved her from going ape shit crazy. Several times she slipped and the fog muffled her screams. Forcing herself back into motion after each close call took every ounce of nerve she possessed. When she felt the first tap of rain, she moved faster, knowing it would only soften and slick an already unstable path. She was lightheaded with fear and fought the urge to turn back. She'd come too far to stop now and was now so close that the taste of sea and salt permeated her mouth.
The sound of the ocean crashing against the cliffs drowned out all other sound. The squawk of birds sounded menacing. Her feet were caked with mud. With each step, her boots sank into the moist earth. The path ended at the top of a muddy hill. Through the fog, she caught a glimpse of a rocky beach below. It was too steep to walk down so she sat and scooted down the hillside, which was slick from the rain. She crashed onto the beach and lay there for several seconds, stunned. Her muscles quivered from the strain she had put them through. She had no concept of time and the fog concealed the sun. She figured at least an hour had passed since she started down the path since it seemed darker, but that could be due to the cliffs that towered overhead.
The sound of the birds was deafening and she ducked as one swooped out of the mist at her and disappeared. She pulled out the compass to get her bearings. Even though she expected it, her stomach plummeted when the arrow pointed into the ocean. Waves crashed on shore several feet away. The water appeared oily, black and completely unappealing, but she didn't hesitate. She stripped and pulled on the full body wetsuit she had packed. She tugged on the thick, waterproof fabric with hands stiff from the cold and shouldered the backpack, which contained a pair of boots, passport and one change of clothes. They were the only items she had brought on her suicide mission.
Cara took a deep breath while her toes curled over wet stones. She was a strong swimmer, but didn't like the thought of jumping into unknown waters. She didn't know the currents or what creatures lay in wait beneath the surface. She covered the backpack in waterproof spells and clutched the compass in one hand. After climbing onto the rocks, she tried to gauge the depth of the water in the dim light. She timed her dive so she wouldn't get caught by the never-ending waves. When she dove in, the cold took her breath away. Mind blank with shock, she desperately clawed for the surface. She spluttered and took two rattling breaths before a wave shoved her down. She ducked beneath the underbelly of the wave and came up for air again. She peered at the compass and was glad the needle wasn't pointing out to open sea, but directing her to a path that paralleled the cliffs.
The ocean churned around her. Keeping her head above the water was a feat that her tired body wasn't going to win for long, so she pressed onward. She swam alongside the cliffs and kept far enough away that the waves couldn't sweep her into the rocks. Just when she thought she couldn't swim another stroke, the arrow twitched and spun down. Cara shook the compass, but the arrow stayed in position, quivering. Treading water, she looked around. The fog was heavy and the rocky beach was gone from sight.
Cara took a deep breath, called on her magic and sank beneath the surface. Her hands sparked with light to illuminate the compass. When the arrow pointed toward the cliffs, she kicked in that direction, coasting beneath the waves. When she was less than two feet from the cliffs, imaginary weights began to tug her down. She sank first five and then ten feet. The pressure threatened to crush her skull. A spell banished that and when her lungs burned, she used another spell to replenish her lungs with air. Her magic, tied to her life force, began to wane. The compass arrow didn't waver in her glowing hand. Just when she thought she wouldn't be able to last much longer, the arrow shifted and the weight pulling Cara down vanished.
There was a rectangular passage carved into the cliff. The tunnel was so deep that the light embedded in her hands didn't penetrate the darkness. She was running out of air and didn't have time to evaluate her next move. Cara paddled into the opening and held her hand aloft so she could see where she was going. The dark was so dense that her meager light made no difference. The cave was so narrow that with each kick, her naked feet hit the top and bottom of the rocky tomb. Cara didn't have the energy for another spell. Fear of drowning caused her fingers to dig into the rock and propel herself forward.
Her chest burned and her eyes strained to see something up ahead, but there was only darkness and stone. Desperation and terror made her movements jerky and bubbles exploded from her mouth. Her lungs screamed for air. Clawed hands hit a wall of stone and she went rigid with horror. A dead end. The light faded from her hands and Cara took a panicked breath. Water filled her mouth. She wriggled like a fish on a hook while her hands feverishly ran along the stone, praying for an opening, but there was none. She was trapped in an underwater tunnel beneath thousands of feet of rock. She splayed her hands on the floor of the cave and jerked her head up in reflex. She expected to feel pain as her head collided with rock. Instead, her head broke through a small pool.
Cara retched, took greedy breaths and braced her hands on smooth sandstone. She was standing waist deep in a tiny pool, eyes blurry from being underwater so long. She was too exhausted to look around just yet. She collapsed forward with her bottom half still submerged in water and set her cheek on dry stone.
When her fear of drowning began to wane, Cara raised the compass still clasped in her bloody hand and stared at it. The arrow spun in a dizzying circle. She let her hand drop to her side and shuddered. She was here, wherever that was.
Cara wasn't sure if hours or seconds passed, but the heated stone beneath her cheek contrasted unpleasantly with the icy water that her legs were submerged in. Using the last of her strength, she clawed her way out of the pool and flopped on her back. She was in a cave as large as a cathedral. Dim light shimmered beneath the stone. She turned her head to the side and saw a tunnel that led out of the cave and curved out of sight.
Cara couldn't move. She lay there with her eyes closed and willed her strength to return so she could explore the cave. Minutes passed and even though she mentally screamed at her body to shift, it didn't accommodate her.
The ground began to tremble. Was it an earthquake? She should move before the cave collapsed and buried her alive, but she lay there like a lifeless fish as the ground shifted her from side to side. A roar blasted through the cave and it was so chilling, it felt as if the blood stopped flowing through her veins. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a monstrous shape loom out of the passageway. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out.