Posted Sep 7, 2021, 2:20:41 AM UTC

Topper stretched and leaned back in his seat. The wagons were pulled into a queue now to ford the shallow part of the stream. The bridge - if you could call it that - was little little more than some debris and planks to even out the footing from one bank to the other. Luckily the river was none too deep. The real danger was getting the wagon wheels stuck in the mud.

Ahead of him was Leto, the elven driver. He had left his wagon and was picking his way unsteadily across the passage, the reins of his white mare were firmly grasped in his hand. They jerked to the side as he lost his footing on a slick rock, eliciting an irritated whiny. Topper smirked. The horses could do a better job on their own, he figured.

Topper was staring up into the blue sky, reins drooping gently in his hands when he herd it - a sound like distant thunder. He looked around. There had been nothing that day to hint at rain. The blue sky was broken by only a few fluffy white clouds creeping across it. He looked down - his fellow wagoneers were also glancing around, in a similar state of confusion. And then came the shout. The river. The silver ribbon of the Pirion stretching into the distance convulsed; its body shook, like a cord that had been firmly shaken at one end. A massive wall of water was rushing down that channel straight toward them!

"Leto! Look out!" Topper shouted, jumping down from his wagon. Leto looked up, startled and gasped at the surge of water rushing toward him. He took a step back and stumbled, falling backward into the shallow water around him. Topper grit his teeth and growled. He leapt forward, bounds carrying him toward his comrades' the prone figure.

The water in the stream came up to Topper's knees. "Leto, you have to get out of here, now!" He grabbed the elf by the arm, pulling him upright onto his feet. Leto spit some water from his mouth and drew a sharp breath; he was being pulled by the wolfman onto the grassy bank. Leto fell to his knees coughing. His long hair had come undone and was soaked thorugh. It clung to his face and he pulled it back over his shoulder. Topper was bending forwards to lend a hand when a loud whinny reached both of their ears.

Topper stared directly at Leto. "Run!" he growled. "I'll get the horse." Topper spun on his heel and sprinted back to where the white mare was still tethered to the wagon, splashing anxiously in the stream. 

"Topper! Wait!" shouted Leto.

"Go!" Topper shouted back over his shoulder. "I can outrun the water - you can't!" 

In three bounds, Topper was at the horse and fumbling with the harness. As fleet as his was, his large clumsy hands made it difficult to undo the straps. He cursed under his breath as his fingers slipped on one buckle after another. He doubled his his efforts and then winced in pain as one of his claws twisted under an iron latch. "There's more than one way to do this", he thought to himself. His teeth were sharp. The harness was leather. He slipped his jaws around a harness strap and began to saw it with his jagged molars.

One. Two. Three. Four. He was on his fifth strap when the scent of misty water water reached his nostrils. As he glanced up, the first droplets of water had already landed on his whiskers. As the implication dawned on him, the wave was already upon him, sweeping horse and wolf back under the deluge. The violence of the wave snapped the strap that was taut against his jaw. The wave grabbed him like the fist of a cyclops, threw him to the bottom of the stream and dragged him along its rock strewn surface. For the first seconds, he was too shocked to even realize he was under water. And then he did. He wanted to draw breath, but he knew just how deadly that would be.

The current dragged Topper further downstream, the sharp stones tearing his shirt to ragged strips. He reached out his clawed hands; his fingers raked furrows of pebbles and small stones that ran right through them. He grasped again and this time something solid came into the palm of his hand. It was a corner - the tip of a much larger stone buried in the muck of the stream. It was something he could hold on to. It was something to give him purchase against the current.

Topper pressed his other hand into the bed of the stream. Down. This was down. And that meant the opposite direction must be up. Along with the sky, the water had swept away all sense of direction, but as long as he knew were down was, Topper knew in what direction safely lay. And yet there was little he could do but hold on. The fast flowing water pinned him to the bottom of the stream as surely as a heavy stone. His lungs labored to take a breath, but his mind told them no. But for how much longer?

Any yet, despite the torrent that hammered his body, Topper felt a sense of calm. In his mind he formed a shape - a sphere. He could see it there, in front of him. He reached out to it with his free hand. He could move it, he found. As he pulled his hand from side to side, like someone shooing away meadow flies, he found stretch and pull the imaginary space, enlarging it. He was curious; fascinated; puzzled. And as space continued to grow, the water itself gave way. A void opened up in the midst of the torrent.

The void grew. Topper constructed a space around himself. He stood. Above him the sunlight shone brightly through the ceiling of this pocket of space. With one more wave of his hand, Topper breached the top of this liquid chamber, reuniting himself with the sky above. His chest heaved. He gulped air that had never tasted sweeter before in his life.

When the rest of the wagoneers found him, Topper had collapsed in a copse of alders about fifteen yards from the stream. Exhausted and soaked, it was all he could do to mumble some thanks to his rescuers before collapsing into a deep sleep. In the days following, Topper turned the events of that day over and over again in his head. How much of that had been real? Had he really created some sort of void in the water to protect himself? Or was that an illusion a mind pushed to its breaking point?

Topper shook his head and shook the reins in his hands. Today he was driving the wagon with the white mare. She had managed to come ashore about half mile down the stream. When the wagoneers found her, she was contentedly eating the flowers from the garden of a very agitated villager. The news in town was that the King's dam had burst about four miles up stream and issued forth wave of destruction that swept all the way down to Rowan. "Gid'dup", said Topper to the mare, emphasizing it with a click of his mouth and squinting into the setting sun. Whatever the truth was, it was a good say to be alive.

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