His eyes opened to the forbidding gray of an overcast sky, the burn of salt and dehydration on his lips. Gentle winds caressed his matted hair. As he began to come to, he realized he was adrift on open waters, rough-hewn wood pressed against his back. He did not know who he was or how he had gotten there.
Heaving himself onto his side, he realized he was in some makeshift boat. There was a small cloth bag in the corner with a waterskin inside it. He reached for it hastily, before remembering that this was likely his only source of drinking water. Hesitantly, he took two sips and replaced it.
Other memories began to return, too. Light laughter under sparkling chandeliers, the tinkling of wine glasses and china plates. The churning in his stomach as the ship rocked on rough waves. The feeling of Emily's skin under his hands as she fell into him, unsteady on her stilettoes. "I must not have gotten my sea legs yet." She had grinned up at him, eyes alight with mischief.
The warmth of the memories slightly alleviated the chill he was beginning to feel. His coat had been thoroughly soaked and offered little comfort. Without any instruments, he had no means of telling where he was. Not that a compass or sextant would have done him much good. He had been a banker, not a sailor. Another gust of wind came, its cold fingers reaching through to his bones.
Another remembrance assailed him, then. A bitter wind, carrying smoke and screams as passengers scrambled for the lifeboats. Emily, her hair whipped into a loose frenzy as she was bundled away with a few of the others. His own cold hand, clenched around a drawstring bag as he was lowered into the swirling black void of the sea.
The chill that rocked him now had nothing to do with the winds. There had been five people to a boat. Where had all the others gone?
A particularly fierce wave set his boat rocking, and he grabbed the sides for support. His flailing foot struck a single oar. He scrabbled for it, atrophied muscles aching. A slight throbbing began to make itself known, a persistent rhythm pounding against the inside of his skull.
He could hardly see through the thick sheets of rain that came hurtling down. The oilskin could only hold out for so long, and he had cast it off to begin bailing water from his boat. But he could swear that the shadowy mass had not been there before.
Something bumped against the underside of his boat and he let out a croak, too parched to scream. Something beat wetly against the hull. Again it struck, this time harder. Whether he was feeling nauseous from fear or seasickness he did not know.
The horror that had settled like a dark cloud over his mind escalated into a full-on panic when a pair of tentacles flopped over the edge, their pustulant flesh covered in wickedly curved black barbs that left pale gashes on the sides of the boat. Another two came over the other side, effectively securing the wooden vessel in place.
If he had been rational, he would have no doubt realized that his pitiful oar stood little chance against some horrific monstrosity whose limbs were longer than his entire boat. As it was, the terror had overtaken all capacity for rational thought and he lashed out, striking the tentacles with wet, leathery slaps. The tentacles seemed to recoil for a moment, one of them slipping below the dark waters again. With renewed adrenaline coursing through his veins, he began beating back the other with vigor.
His frenzied exertions were halted when six more barbed limbs came shooting out of the water and snatched away the oar. In a matter of seconds, all that remained of his one weapon was a handful of splinters adrift on the open sea.
His eyes were wet, salt crystals lashed on his face. There was no hope, no way out. He opened his arms and succumbed to the dark void opening over his head. There was a flash of lightning, and then the waters were still.
Nothing remained but a few broken planks, adrift on open and unforgiving seas.