The sound of David's chains broke the silence.
The two brothers pulled David up the steep hill. The early morning sun was already hot, few people were out to notice the strangers.
“Why couldn't we use handcuffs?” asked Derek.
Earnhardt spoke in his heavy German accent, “I don't trust flimsy, modern handcuffs. Chains are better.”
Earnhardt chained David to a tree at the top of the hill, overlooking a vast expanse of ocean. David didn't resist. His back to the tree, facing the sea, he felt the weight of the heavy chains. The burden of the necklace they made him wear was worse. The cold, evil charm chaffed against his skin.
David looked out to the Indian Ocean, marveling at the expanse of blue on blue. He forced his attention to the danger. I will never help them, he thought. At least she's safe. He caught his own thought and buried it deep. Even stray thoughts were dangerous now.
“Will it be high enough? Can we get out in time?” said Derek, combing fingers through his short blond hair. “So hot already. I think I'm sweating out my breakfast.”
“I've told you to stop eating meat, it's bad for you,” said Ehrhardt, wiping his sweaty hands on a handkerchief. He surveyed the area, “Yes, this will be high enough.”
Derek rattled the chains, “You ready for this, Davy?”
David winced at the nickname, as though we're friends, he thought. David said, “You can hold me prisoner, but you can't make me help you.”
Ehrhardt said, “Wrong. You will help us. You forced this day by your defiance.”
David leaned back harder against the tree, having no idea what would happen next. The tree offered little shade from the sun as David squinted his eyes at the spectacular view.
Derek's slender chest was still breathing heavily. He looked to his older brother, “How old is that body of yours this time? 35? How do you keep fit with just curry and rice?”
Ehrhardt shook his head. “How old is your body? 23? You are panting like a dog because you don't take care of yourself, meat eater.”
“I'm a carnivore, I won't apologize.” said Derek.
“Barbarian.” spat his older brother.
“Vegetarian!” Derek fired back.
Ehrhardt went to the edge of the hill, scanning for the prime spot to begin.
Derek came close to his brother, and whispered, “You sure you're up to this brother? There are other ways to punish him. This is going to put you in bed for a week. There are less extreme ways.”
“This will solve several problems, brother,” said Ehrhardt. He called to David, “Last chance.”
David refused to meet his gaze. Ehrhardt shook his head, then peered out at the expanse. Directly in front of them was the wide Indian Ocean, to their left was the Sri Lankan coast. It was early, and only a few fishing boats were out on the water.
Along the coast there was a mix of huts and luxury buildings. The modern was a backdrop to the past; crude, shanty structures stood at the foot of tall hotels and resorts. An elevated train track snaked along the coastline.
David tried to ignore them, but Derek kept talking, “I'll never get used to the new name Sri Lanka. I liked when they called it Ceylon. It had a pleasant flow on the tongue. They don't even spell the name of their own country right. It should be spelled with an s-h sound. Shri Lanka, not Sri Lanka. What does it mean anyway?”
Ehrhardt said, “It's complicated, but 'venerable island' is about the closest…”
“I really didn't want to know that.” Derek shook his head. “How can you not get the hang of rhetorical questions by now? Hey, didn't you have a battle here once?”
“Yes. A few lifetimes ago. In the 1840s I battled an ancient in a sapphire mine. That Viking. I'm sure you remember him.”
“Oh, yes.” Derek changed the subject back to the matter at hand, “This will be hard on you.”
Ehrhardt was resolute. “I'll pay the price. He must know the extent of what we can do. He's the best finder we've ever had. He will obey us.”
Derek nodded. They looked at David chained to the tree. He was watching the waves.
Ehrhardt shouted. “I'm taking away your name. From now on we call you the Witness.”
“Oooooh. Witness. I like that.” Derek said, “I think you may be growing an imagination after all these lifetimes, brother.”
The Witness kept looking out, no emotion, his face a mask. But cold sweat ran down his back.
Ehrhardt went to the edge of the hill, dropped to his knees and dug his hands into the grassy earth at his feet. He said some words that David didn't understand, perhaps a mix of several languages. Ehrhardt kept repeating the same words over and over again, digging his fingers deeper into the warm earth.
They all felt something. It seemed to come from all around, but the feeling hit David in the pit of his stomach. It was like they were on a train, used to the vibration on the tracks, then violently lurched to a stop. To compliment the feeling, an image of a train flashed into his mind. David shifted his body to look at the elevated train track.
Ehrhardt repeated himself, getting louder with each word. David looked out to sea, then back to land, but nothing seemed different. Only a moment had passed since the first lurching sensation began. Then the feeling came again. David realized this was no hollow threat. Something terrible was coming.
It was quiet. Deafeningly quiet. Ehrhardt had stopped speaking. He was holding his head as he sat on the ground.
David looked at the brothers, then saw the fish. There were fish everywhere, jumping out of the water by the shore. As David stared, he realized they were not jumping out of the sea. Instead, the water had left them. The ocean had receded back into itself hundreds of feet, leaving the fish flopping, dying.
Derek went to David and grabbed the back of his neck. He forced him to look. “You've earned this, Witness.”
David watched the excited children running for the fish, laughing and cheering. But adults were running for the children, yelling at them, clearly terrified. Derek snapped David's head back toward the ocean. It was returning.