- June 4, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 45)
“There are some people who you don’t hide the truth around. They’re your people, but they don’t always know that.”
Henry Lockley, the Bard of the Song, 437 A.C.A.
There was safety in the shallow waters around the Icy Pearl Isles. Even if you were dead, you should feel the rush of an incoming shark mermaid miles away.
When the rest of the Isles were closing in, the water was safe. When her heart could only beat harder and harder in her chest, the sound of the tumbling waters made the world seem so big when she needed it to.
When your ears lie under the water, you hear the unending rumble and tumble of the currents. You think it’s the water moving around you. Sometimes this is true, and other times not.
Lucy had spent most of her life on the ocean, and she learned a thing or two about what she was truly listening to.
Everything made a sound. From the water against the rocks, the fish against the currents, and currents of water against each other. Everything in the ocean was constantly colliding at random and by purpose, coming together into the rumbling and tumbling in Lucy’s ear.
It was the ocean’s voice, the water’s mirth, and the deafening void.
But sometimes when you’re not paying attention, you’re only listening to the water, and those times you’re not safe. Sometimes, while you’re in your inner peace, zen, and mystery, the water pulls you out into the deep end of the sea.
It lets you dream of worlds you once knew.
Lucy could dream of Endica and the memories of the place she was born in. The mountains and their hanging vines touched from top to bottom. Caverns that seemed to go so deep, they could reach Hedone.
The Hanging Forges of Krera, black balls of steel where smiths could create the purest obsidian blades for the firemasters to wield.
But it can’t be real. It can only be my imagination. How could I possibly remember so much about a place, when I can’t even remember my own house?
But the smiths had to be real because Father had the sword his own father used.
‘A jagged obsidian blade that could cut through steel. Don’t let the jagged edges fool you, there is nothing on Gronin’s earth that could withstand a slash.’
Her father’s words and his voice filled her head. His voice fought to overcome the sound of the ocean and the voices of the others.
The one who took her arm, and the one who covered her in his filth. The one who made her row, and the one who stuffed her into a barrel.
A scream he didn’t make filled Lucy’s head. His mouth was open and his lungs were rippling, but he didn’t make a sound. It was a slow whistle that she heard, that slowly grew louder and louder. Only, the world was burning this time, and it wasn’t rubble crushing him. It was the dark depths, and the shadowy hands pulling him down that silenced him.
As she watched him be pulled under, through the shadows of her mind, he reached out, and she hesitated.
Lucy’s arms twitched for him, but it was too late. Then he let out a scream she wouldn’t soon forget.
“Huh!” she gasped as she started flailing her arms about, dunking her head under the water without meaning to.
It was one of those moments where her brain knew where she was, in the water, off the Icy Pearl Isles, getting a much-needed bath, but logic could not accept it. Her arms flailed until they grew tired, and her self-induced exhaustion brought her body calm.
But not her mind.
Her eyes looked around her as she was able to float upon the water’s surface. Rather than turn to see the sandbar close by, she was floating over the edge of the Secan Sea, just past her boat.
Lucy dipped her ears below the water to listen for them, but…
… it was already too late.
Lucy made a single sound as she felt hands grab her ankles and her arms to start pulling her down. Her octopus gills began to take shape, but drowning was not the worry. The worry was the teeth.
Even under the surface of such dark waters, the sharp yellow teeth of the shark mermaid were not to be missed.
What a stupid way to die, she lamented, as she found herself alone, outnumbered, unarmed, and thoroughly unmotivated. The sense of defeat was so numbing that the mermaid taking a bite into her calf barely made her scream.
This is what I deserve, isn’t it? Why not fight a death befitting a pirate like me?
For her sake, someone disagreed.
The sound of the water being broken made Lucy open up her arms and see a man swimming towards her.
Hope is a powerful thing that can make anyone stand up for something without much cause. She had no weapons, and her powers were immobilized. Clearly, luck was not on her side if she was stuck in her situation, but knowing someone was coming for her gave her hope, and that made her arms dangerous.
It also returned her strength, letting her wrench her arm free of one, and leg free of another. The one who bit her did not get off easy, as she soon took Lucy’s untrimmed toenail to the eye.
Blood and water may both be liquids, but they did not feel the same. While the water was cold, the blood from the mermaid’s eye more than heated her up and helped her last long enough for her massive savior to help.
The sound of a massive body swimming through the water was the inversion of itself when you heard it from the surface. Water moving against the air is sharp, but when water moves against itself it sounds like a rock moving against dirt.
Underwater, the shadows were darker, and there was a large shadow cast over Lucy and the mermaids grabbing at her.
Where Krera failed, the Tani will take me, Lucy thought as hands of darkness and shadow reached towards her head.
Her body grew tense when she wanted to be lax, to go quietly into the hands of a god, but what brain truly wants to die so young? The water pried open her eyes as something rushed past her.
She opened them to see a hand lung past her head, grip the wrist of a shark mermaid, and break it.
The sound of bone breaking was far less unpleasant underwater. Lucy didn’t know if the sound still rang out as it did on the surface because the mermaid was too busy screaming.
When the second hand reached around her waist and pulled her close, she was face-to-face with her rather undivine savor.
“Quint,” she tried to say, muffled by the water.
She felt her other hand go free, narrowly missing Quintus stomping a mermaid’s nose in, one of the beasts holding her down.
Then he pulled her with strength that defied the way of the water, out of the last shark mermaid’s grip. Its claws cut into her leg, but Lucy could stand the pain.
Quintus pushed Lucy so far up the surface that it was like she leaped off a rock and into a current. She looked down at him expecting him to follow but saw nothing of the sort. Quickly, the shark mermaids that attacked her were swarming him, and she could count four, each grabbing at him and trying to pull him down.
His legs were only propelling him so far with simple kicks. He managed to defy them, but he was falling short. He was a man, and they were of the sea, and soon he would be deprived of air.
But Lucy wouldn’t be.
Lucy swam towards the surface as fast as she could and towards the closest of her ships. She couldn’t name which one it was if she tried at the moment. Fear propelled her kicking feet, and her kicking feet alone sent her shooting out of the water. Her jump let her fly halfway up the ship, and let her grab hold.
There she stayed. Her ears could not hear the struggle beneath the surface, only her sobs and her hushed breaths. Blood still ran down her leg and around her toe and its broken toenail. Had they dragged her down, it would have been worse, they would have been able to gather their brothers and sisters, and tear into her with their teeth. They still could…
… if she went back in.
Lucy looked back down, waiting for him, expecting him to not need her, to fight them off himself. She waited seconds that felt like hours, and her vision began to blur at its edges the longer his head didn’t pop up.
Then came the bubbles. Then came the flashes.
Drowning in water and being smothered by smoke are two terrible ways to die for incredibly different reasons, but they both include you losing your ability to breathe.
Lucy couldn’t breathe despite being above water, with the air around her. It was like the smoke was filling her lungs again, and someone was reaching out, someone who needed her… who needed her more.
Lucy squeezed the sides of the boat so hard the wood cracked.
Again, she looked back, and the nothing before her was a harder punch to the gut than the flames.
Not him, not him.
Lucy leaped up towards the top of the ship. Rather than pull herself up and in, one arm was shifting and one was pulling her up. It took a moment for her eyes to scan the ship’s deck and find what she needed. Her octopus arm whipped out across the deck, gripped the sword, and pulled back to her.
She leaped back down into the water before her octopus limb was back to her. Her arm was human enough just before she dived into the water, with one big breath.
She couldn’t see them and dived down further, her limbs becoming more beast to propel her faster. When she couldn’t see, her skin turned to rubber and grayed in color. When human eyes would fail, the senses of the octopus would not.
With a pulse, the world brightened in a way that didn’t necessitate the need for much light. It wasn’t echolocation, so much as she was seeing through the opsins growing over her body. The frail light that reached the depths she was reaching for became visible. The world wasn’t brighter but she could make out everything, including Quintus.
She shot straight down as he continued to fight off mermaids, even still.
His lungs must be on fire.
They had offset him, and began pulling him down with his back towards the depths, their teeth biting his flesh, but… unable to tear the chunks off of him that they should.
But their strength held him down, he was stuck in their claws. His body began to tense, and panic as he remained unable to move his arms and legs. They had made him into prey.
He could not see her coming until the frail light around him reflected off her cutlass. It came shooting down, propelled by the tentacle of an octopus.
The fish never saw it coming.
The blade plunged deep into the chest of the mermaid that held his left arm. It thoroughly skewered her, and the way Lucy’s tentacle twisted as it pulled out sent the mermaid’s corpse spinning toward the deep.
Despite it all — the water, the blood, and the mermaids — Quintus smiled.
Then he socked the other mermaid biting into his shoulder. He nearly knocked her off him with one punch. As he reeled back for another, Lucy went into a tornado spin, and gave herself the momentum she would need for a slash.
When Quintus punched the other mermaid again, he sent her flying back through the water. Lucy was there, just as her spin ended, to make a clean cut across the mermaid’s neck, nearly severing her head.
Lucy took control of her momentum as she pulled back her sword ready to stab again, to help Quintus, but she stopped in her tracks by what she saw.
Quintus, for as long as she had known, had been human. He was strong, he was fierce, he was tough, one of the best, capable of feats she had seen no other man do.
But he was still just a man.
Then he did what a man should not be able to do.
After being underwater for minutes on end, fighting for his life, beating off creatures with greater strength than he should have… he kept fighting.
As one mermaid cut his losses, the last one went for Quintus’s neck. He was too close to Quintus for her to risk her elongated stab. Her heart stopped as her failure began to shape itself in his blood.
Then Quintus caught the mermaid by the neck in one hand, with a loud THAP that echoed through the water. It was followed by a second THAP as Quintus grabbed the mermaid’s head. Then it was over.
The beast’s neck was broken, Quintus was barely bleeding, and he seemed none the worse for wear underwater. But Lucy could find no delight, for his eyes were all she could look at. His pulsing, glowing, blood-red eyes.
Eyes that left as soon as they came.
Then they were brown again, the same eyes she had always known, and they called to her.
Quintus reached out for her hand, and she couldn’t fathom what it was. She kicked back from him on reflex alone, but thankfully for him, she was watching even closer.
Finally, he lacked the strength to kick his legs and to move his arms, but worst of all, the last of the bubbles came from his throat.
Not him, was her only thought and then she was there.
There wasn’t much thought to what she did, she had read about the technique in books and had been told about it in stories. Sailors have said that mermaids had saved them in such a way, but no one should ever have believed them. But Lucy was doing it, she had to try.
Her lips pressed against his, and she gave him all the air she didn’t need. Clearly, he didn’t need as much as anyone else, as his limbs began to move again.
But as they did, her lips closed on his, no longer blowing air but sucking him in. Her tongue came, to run itself across his lips with its tip, and then his hands found her shoulders.
They pulled away from each other, immediately, staring at each other as the head tentacles that were her hair began to shift black to her long dark brown strands. They stared for longer than they should have, him lost in her transformation from sea creature to woman, and her lost in the changing color of his eyes.
They would have stared longer if not for Quintus’s lungs.
He started kicking, but as fast a swimmer as he was, he would never reach the surface in time. So Lucy swam around him to wrap her arms around his back and let new tentacles spring from her back.
Before, she flew through the water and the air the way a knife would. Now she rose as volanic geiser erupts.
With Quintus in front of her, she couldn’t see where she was going, so the cool air of the surface didn’t hit her until she realized she wasn’t swimming.
Her lungs barely registered the sudden influx of air, because it left as soon as she realized she was falling. She let go of Quintus for a brief second and saw that she had shot them several stories into the sky, and it was the beach they were aiming for.
It’s strange. No matter what height you’re at, when you scream at the top of your lungs, it never sounds fun.
Just as they were halfway through their fall, Quintus grabbed onto her, to pull her close so she could land on him. It never occurred to him that his body would be harder than sand.
Quintus sank into the sand, but Lucy bounced off his chest and landed in the sand head first. She didn’t know how long she was sitting there, head in the sand, ass up, but when she pulled her head out blood from her nose was smeared all over her.
Her mutation was healing her, but a broken nose still bleeds as the mutation mended it. That was plenty of time to cover her mouth and chest in blood, and for it to mix in with sand that blanketed her face.
I’m a disgusting wretch.
As she sat up, Lucy looked over at Quintus rubbing his head, and smacking it to get either water or sand out of his ear. Likely both.
She watched him act like this was all just a mild inconvenience. The mermaids attacking him, being dragged underwater, sinking to the dark depths, flying through the air, and falling several stories onto his back… it was all nothing.
He sat up like he had just slipped and fallen.
Quintus turned towards her, and he had that look of concern that she knew so well, but it meant nothing now. How could she trust it? He had outed himself to her several times over; everything about what had happened, had made the truth painfully clear, but still, he showed no signs of caring.
It was like he had no idea of the gravity of what he had done, and that’s all Lucy could think about as he spoke his unheard words and cleaned the blood from her nose.
Quintus isn’t human.