"We're safe here," Jason said, standing at the mouth of a small cave. Estelle, further inside, eyed him over the few pieces of fruit they'd collected on their mad dash.
"So you say," Kui replied. "How can you be sure?"
"This isn't my first time," Jason told him. The big man turned back to the pair, and he settled cross-legged on the cave floor. "Not even close. I have experience."
"Do you?" Estelle asked. She rested her hand on her bow, staring levelly into those green eyes. "Who are you?"
"I told you, my name is-"
"Who are you?" Estelle repeated. Her grip tightened and she contemplated grabbing an arrow.
"Please, don't," Jason urged. "It would only be nasty for everyone involved. Haven't I proven that I'm a friend, after what happened earlier?"
"You've proven you didn't want those...people to catch us," Kui said before Estelle had a chance. "That's not the same thing."
"No, it isn't." Jason tilted his head to the side. "Why should I volunteer anything to you? I know little enough about the two of you - little more than you know about me."
"You know who I am," Estelle challenged. Jason's lack of reaction iron-plated her certainty. "That's quite a lot more than I know about you."
"I only know in the broadest sense," Jason hedged. "You cannot completely disappear, Estelle."
"Who said I was trying to?" she asked.
"I'm well aware you weren't washed up on these shores by choice," Jason replied, "but to tell me you want to return home now would be a frightful lie."
"Proving my point," Estelle said. "You know far more about me than I know about you. Fix that."
Jason snorted. He leaned back just a little. "I am merely a hand of the Messiah. I serve the Guiding Light."
"What are those?" Kui asked. "A person and his little personality cult, certainly, but what are they?"
"Personality cult?" Jason blinked. "The Guiding Light is an order whose origins date back thousands of years. It was founded on the principle its name embodies: to be a Guiding Light for all mankind. To lead them forward and out of darkness."
"Cute." Estelle frowned. "I don't believe you're that simple and pure."
"Our agents have been responsible for preventing terrible atrocities and deeds," Jason said. "We protect the weak. We're the line in the sand separating the innocent from the predatory."
"And your Messiah?" Kui pressed.
"A legend," Jason replied. "You'll see him with your own eyes when you come to the monastery with me."
"No one said we were going any such place," Estelle warned. "And certainly not that we would go with you."
"You will be safe there," Jason said, voice very calm. "You can find your purpose in this life in a safe place, and unravel the truths of who you are."
"Is that what you did?" Estelle asked.
"Yes," Jason replied, without hesitation. "Before the Messiah found me, I was lost. Much like you, I was cast adrift in life and had to learn to survive and thrive on my own. But after he took me in, I discovered who and what I was meant to be: a warrior for the light. He saved me from my own demons."
"And who said I had my own demons that I needed saving from?" Estelle asked. Jason just laughed.
"You've spent almost three years on this island, learning to hunt and to live on next to nothing, throwing aside everything and everyone you once knew and were. You rescued Ku'uaki from his captors and in the process more or less started a feud with them. And you still carry your companion's knife." He nodded to Estelle's blade. "You are commendably resilient and viciously talented, but whatever your skills, you have a path forward beyond simply that of subsistence. And only we can illuminate it for you."
"What makes you certain I'm meant for anything but this?" Estelle inquired. "No one else seems to think so." She winced a moment later. That wasn't entirely true.
Jason was silent for a moment. "Faith." He regarded her. "How were you cast away?"
"Don't you already know?" Estelle glanced uncomfortably at Kui. The tattooed man regarded her very intently, and somehow she was certain she would have to tell someone something. So much for an unspoken understanding.
"I know some, but not all," Jason said. "How long were you adrift after the storm?"
"Ten days." Estelle folded her arms. "Happy?"
"You're remarkable for surviving that long," Jason said. "How did you do it?"
"I had help."
"Really?" It was Kui this time, and he snorted. "You expect me to believe you let someone else take care of you? A go-getter like you?"
"I was a different person," Estelle said shortly. "Besides, I never said he took care of me, flat-out. But he told me what needed doing, and he was experienced at fishing and survival."
"Tell me," Jason urged. Estelle met his eyes, and he leaned forward intently. "Tell me your story, Estelle. How did you survive alone in the ocean?"
The soft lapping of the waves was the only sound. The sun Maximus beat down from overhead without pity, and Estelle knew her tattered dress couldn't protect her from burning in its harsh light. She was miserable.
But she had patience and will. Two qualities that kept her eyes fixed on the dorsal fin protruding from the ocean surface and circling her little, battered lifeboat.
The shark was curious. It wove its way closer and closer, until it was practically next to the boat. Like lightning, it lunged, and it wrapped its jaws around the fish by the boat's side.
That's when the hook inside the fish dug into the shark's mouth. Patience and will.
Estelle's arm flashed, and she drove a five-foot spar straight down through the surface and into the back of the little shark's head with all her strength. Blood exploded in the water and the creature thrashed. It took everything the slim young lady had to keep her hold on the spar, and she more than once cried out as splinters peeled off and dug into her palms.
It took hours...or, at least, it felt like it. Finally, the manic struggles faded to mere twitching, and Estelle could breathe. Not for long, though: there was blood in the water, and she knew what that meant.
"Come on," she whispered, reaching down into the sea and wrapping her arms around the dead predatory fish. "Sorry about that. You are rather magnificent in your own way."
She hauled the body aboard. Her arms ached from the exertion, but it didn't matter. For all her tiredness, she was elated as she plucked a long dagger from where it lay in Maximus' sunlight and drove it again and again into the shark's brain, just in case.
"I'm not going to die," she told herself in a low voice, heedless of the spattering blood that just days ago would have made her vomit. "I'm not going to die."
She bled the shark and dissected it as quickly as she could, dizzy and hurting as she was. Blood coated her chipped fingernails, and what little of her once-perfect polish remained found itself disappearing rapidly. She'd never fished before, or prepared a catch, but Estelle had patience, and will...and a small book she consulted frequently. The liver became bait for her next lines, and all the rest she either set aside for her meal now, or salted from a pile that had once been ocean water in the hot sun, then set out to dry.
Finally, she laid the bloody knife down. Estelle sank to a seat, barely able to breathe, and clutched the shark's meat with white knuckles.
For the first time in three days, Estelle ate.
It rained that night. Estelle used the remains of her once-elegant coat as a makeshift bag, and she caught as much rainwater as she could. She lay on her back in her little boat's bottom, mouth open as she tried to catch the rain in her mouth. Every so often, she had to get up and bail using a military helmet that she clutched while she lay.
Once, her grip on the helmet slipped, and it nearly fell into the ocean. Estelle let out a manic cry and barely caught it in time. She quivered in the rain, thinking about what had almost happened.
Eventually, the rain subsided, and Estelle took down her meager winnings of water. She had no other container to put it in, so regretfully, she used the helmet as a bowl of sorts.
As she drifted on through the night, Estelle curled up and shivered her way to sleep in the damp stern of her little boat, afraid, lonely and dispirited, but held together by patience, will, and one thought that she drove back and forth through her head like a band saw on a log.
I'm not going to die.