Authors: Meaghan Rauscher
Stepping into the room, the Lathmorian merman came first, his blades flashing in the moonlight from the small window high on the wall. His dark hair was cropped short and his eyes flashed around the room quickly, once he had cleared the corners, his shoulders relaxed, but only slightly.
You can’t see me
, he thought while looking at the Lathmorian soldier.
It was something he knew about himself, his eye sight was better than the other mermen, his hearing too. His trainers were hard pressed to keep up with his speed, before too long it would be easy to beat the Hyven soldiers who dared to duel him. He idly wondered what would be the best way to attack this Lathmorian. He could take him by surprise and cut him down before he ever saw him coming.
. Or he could challenge him to a fight in the dark.
. And there was a chance he could present this merman to his master as a gift.
Remain hidden. Remain hidden
He closed his eyes, well aware of the pain shooting through his shoulder as though a fire made of shards of ice pierced into his flesh to stoke the flames curling in his limbs. He couldn’t attack, he must do his master’s bidding and stand in the darkness as though he didn’t belong. The fury and frustration threatened to overpower him when a new sight caught his attention. The mermaid had stepped into the room.
Standing before him in the darkness, was something he hadn’t expected, he had conjured an image of a brute woman in his mind and before him stood the complete opposite. She was anything but strong, her frame was delicate and though she was clad in dark clothing there was something about her that made him wonder if she was actually a mermaid. Her light golden hair floated when she moved, but her stance was uncertain, as though she knew she shouldn’t be here. In her hand she carried a dagger, and he wondered why she would hold the weapon when she had ten blades of her own to use. Her blue-green eyes flickered from the table to the hearth and back. Whatever she was searching for she didn’t find, and her shoulders slumped in defeat.
“He’s not here,” she said and it sounded as though she was about to cry. The Lathmorian soldier nodded beside her, and without another word strode to the door to leave. The soldier disappeared from sight and still the girl remained. She bowed her head and stepped into the patch of light on the stone floor and he caught his breath as she raised her head.
She was beautiful, her skin a smooth porcelain tinged with red from exertion. Despair pulled at the corners of her mouth and her eyes filled with tears, but she bit her lip and held them back. Her shoulders trembled and she placed a hand over her mouth and closed her eyes in concentration, the lines across her forehead creased with worry.
The golden creature opened her eyes again and moved out of the light. She paused once more, near the door and he inhaled sharply when her eyes roved right over the spot where he stood. His breath caught in his throat and he waited for her to look away but she only peered deeper into the darkness. He felt the power of her gaze upon him and shifted slightly, but it was enough.
Her eyes widened and she pointed the dagger directly at him, “Who’s there?” she said and the Lathmorian soldier called to her.
“Lissie?” the soldier said.
, he thought as the soldier reappeared beside the girl. “Who’s there?” the merman repeated his partner’s words.
. The command rang through his mind once more, but he pushed it back. His eyes focused on the girl’s face and he took a step forward, pleased to see she noted it. He took three more, making sure to keep his shoulders as straight as possible and hide his limp.
“Take one more step and your dead,” the Lathmorian soldier said. A laugh passed through his lips. This soldier had no idea how much he wanted to fight him.
“Of course,” he replied and didn’t move an inch closer. The girl’s eyes widened as she realized just what could happen, and she turned her eyes on her partner.
“Stop,” she hissed and when she looked at him again, he questioned what she was thinking. Her mouth puckered for a moment and he wondered if she knew she was still biting her lip. She continued to hold the dagger out in front of her, as though it would offer some protection.
“Where is Patrick?” she asked, her voice breaking on the name, he remained silent. “The human prisoner?” she added.
The command rang in his head once more, but he pushed it aside and spoke, “There is no one here by that name.”
The girl’s shoulders slumped a little more, but she fought it back and spoke quickly, “He was here a month ago. He was a prisoner and I escaped and now I have to—” she broke off as her hand started to tremble on the dagger.
She knows this place
, he thought.
She was once a prisoner, or she was a traitor.
His blood boiled.
After a moment of silence, where the girl’s hand continued to shake, the Lathmorian soldier raised his head and gazed into the darkness.
“Go stand outside,” the merman commanded and the girl’s head lifted a little higher, his tone clear. He was going to get the fight he so ardently desired.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I said so,” the soldier rebutted, but the girl remained beside him.
She looked back and forth between him and the soldier and shook her head, the golden strands of her hair falling gently around her shoulders. “No,” she said, “I’m not leaving unless you come with me.”
Her jaw was set in a determined angle and he suddenly realized she was trying to protect him. It was her companion who needed protection, not him.
The Lathmorian soldier shifted his stance, and in response he moved as well. It didn’t matter if his master had bid him to stay hidden, he would kill this merman before he could leave.
“You would rather he alerted the entire castle?” the soldier asked. He had to agree with him, this girl was foolish to think they could get out of Hyvar alive if he woke the castle to their presence.
“There isn’t a point anymore,” the girl said, shocking both him and the soldier. “He’s not here, that was the reason for us coming. He isn’t here, and he never will be. Don’t you see that? We came here for him, not for murder.”
The soldier’s eyebrows rose, but he made no attempt to fight her and tore his gaze away from the shadows. “I hope you’re right,” he said and left the room.
Still hidden in the darkness, his heart pounded heavily in his chest when the girl’s eyes turned back to him. He met her with a gaze of his own, and he wondered how much she could see.
Confusion passed across her face and without a word, she lowered the dagger and stepped toward the door. Just as she was about to disappear, he called out to her, the words scratched against his throat. His voice had yet to fully return.
“I don’t know who Patrick is,” he said. “I arrived two weeks ago and there was no human.”
The girl didn’t respond, and yet he felt as though he had hit her. Her face fell, all traces of light removed and before he could think of anything else to say, she was gone as though she had never existed.
The next moments passed in a blur and as the cries of the castle resounded within the stone walls, he found himself complacent and stilled in the darkness. For what seemed like hours, he remained in the shadows beside the rarely-used bed.
Before his eyes floated the image of her face, and upon the break of the next morning, he realized it was the first night he had ever passed without having to be sedated.
It was warmer along the shores near her hometown. The air was all encompassing, a slight breeze drifting across the water carrying with it the tangy mix of salt and fish. The warmth was anything but comforting. It only made the waiting seem longer.
Each day it grew more difficult to stay away from her, and though it was for her safety, he had often considered surprising her. He imagined what her reaction would be and how she would look at him with those sea-green eyes of hers. Just thinking of them set his heart into a disjointed rhythm.
She had an effect on him which he couldn’t quite comprehend. Ever since he had first seen her, she had been his beacon for controlling the anger inside. She was the help he needed to throw off Lord Morven’s power over him and leave Hyvar. It had been two weeks, and still he had remained hidden from the merfolk, neither side could find him.
There she is
. Her golden hair glinted in the dim lights from inside the restaurant as she waded through the tables carrying a tray in her one good arm. Her left hung at her side as though useless. He had seen her use it every now and again over the past few days, but she always grimaced when it rose above her shoulder.
He felt the guilt tighten in his stomach, knowing he should have been there to protect her when it was injured. What Bolrock had done to her should have happened to him. He would never forget the sight of her small frame crumpled on the ground, blood covering her left arm.
For an instant, the memories of that dreadful night came rushing over him once more. He remembered waking to the sound of her screams, her voice crying out in the darkness for the one man she truly loved.
, he tasted the name in his mouth with a bitterness which surprised him. He had thought he was over his anger toward her first love, but it appeared he was wrong.
Another flash of her light-golden head reached his eyes and the sight warmed him. Her hair was pulled up in a bun, every strand tucked away carefully, as not to attract attention. He wished she would wear it loose and remembered the way her hair had moved when they were at the waterfall. Each strand taking on a life of its own as the water swirled where they remained suspended and entwined in one another’s arms. It was a memory he treasured, and he knew she did too.
He had caught her several times pulling out her dagger to look at the carving he had engraved along the handle. The sight of it always made her smile, and he wished more than anything he could hold her in his arms again. And yet, he couldn’t get any closer.
It was for her safety he remained at a distance. His days were spent avoiding capture by either Hyven or Lathmorian soldiers, but every now and then, he got a chance to stop by and see her face.
A horn from an offshore ship echoed through the warm night air and he sighed. It was time to leave, and he didn’t know when he would be coming back. It was getting harder and harder to make it on shore without suspicion, and the last time he had had to fight his way out.
She didn’t know it, but he was watching as best he could. Doing what he did best and avoiding capture from all sides, only to find his way back to her. He knew he would speak to her again, but he didn’t know when.
Until then, he would hold onto her.
“Again,” Derek said and I shook my head back and forth trying to push away the exhaustion. Every time we did this I ended up a worn out mess, all to the enjoyment of my two identical brothers, who were staring at me now.
“Come on, Lissie,” Sean urged me to continue. We had been at this for an hour and the cloudiness in my mind was beginning to take over. It wouldn’t be too much longer before I fainted, but I knew the twins would catch me before I hit the linoleum floor in the kitchen of their apartment.
“I’m trying,” I said through gritted teeth and pulled my face together in concentration, ignoring their looks of delight. It was easier if I closed my eyes while I practiced, but recently I had been trying to do it with my eyes open. If I was going to use my voice to persuade others, then I would need to have my eyes open in order to see if they were obeying.
Slowly, my voice began to fill the room, but it was soft and only a murmur in the silence of the empty apartment. The hum of my voice reached out as if in a cloud, which I sent in Sean’s direction, and I waited to see the confusion fill his eyes. Putting my desire at the forefront of my mind, I let my voice carry his way until he lifted his gaze to mine, thus submitting more easily to my will. Gaining confidence, I smiled at him and concentrated my thoughts on one simple action.
Like a ripple along a still pond, my thought moved into wordless music and though he tried to blink and look away, I held his gaze captive. Slowly, almost unintentionally, the cup in his hand began to rise. I wanted to rejoice, but had to stay focused on what was at stake.
The cup reached eye level and continued to move upward, I smiled, encouraging him and he smiled back dazed. For a moment his eyes hardened, but I called out stronger and the resistance faded. He reached up, his hand beginning to shake on the cup, and with the last of my strength, I urged him to do my will.
With a sudden splash, the water rained down upon his pale, blonde head and the moment shattered like the fragments of a fallen vase.
Breathing heavily, I grasped onto the counter for support and laughed as Sean cursed the water dripping down his back.
“Why?” He said, doing a little dance. “Tell me why we decided to use water, again?”
I laughed, “Because I said so.” One of my eyebrows rose, and Derek snickered.
“You did better that time,” he noted and waited for Sean’s exclamations to stop. “He was definitely hooked on what you were telling him.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” I denied even though it was the best result I’d had this week. “But it was better. Were you actually trying? It looked like it, but I was able to bend your will to mine so much easier.”
Sean glanced up, holding the wet t-shirt away from his body, “Yeah. I was trying to force it back this time even though I let you in at first.”
“I knew that,” I said. It had been all too easy to get him to look me in the eye. We had found an open and unsuspecting mind was the easiest to manipulate, however when someone tried to fight back, I usually had trouble. But today had proven I might be able to manage it.
Practices such as these had been taking place ever since I had returned to Coveside, at King Oberon’s bidding. At that point in time I had done everything on my own, but it wasn’t enough. After Morven’s visit, I’d decided it was time to really learn the power both the king and the merman, who transformed me, thought I had.
Flashes of the conversation with the king both haunted and excited me. I was still weeks away from my birthday, and therefore without the ten blades which would eventually retract from my fingers. Until that time, all I had as a weapon of protection was the dagger, which was always strapped against my left wrist. It never left my person during the day and rested beneath my pillow at night. It was all I had to protect myself, so if there was some way to use my voice to keep others at bay, then I would learn how to do it.
But it wasn’t the real reason the king had wanted me to practice. His thought was to take what Morven had given me and use it against him. Ever since I had been changed, Morven had been waiting patiently for me to turn eighteen and gain my full abilities as a mermaid. Not only would I have retractable blades, but I would have improved sight and hearing. However, his main concern was solely focused on the mythical creatures called sirens. He believed I could be one, and his judgment was right, after what I had proven today. It was possible for me to persuade and control someone into doing my bidding by using my voice.
It was a shock to me when I realized mere weeks ago just how intricate Morven’s plans were. What had seemed like a seed planted by his mother, turned into a dangerous and deadly plot threatening the lives of all merfolk. Nerissa, Morven’s mother, was at the core of all that had happened. She began a scheme in which she would transform humans, with particular qualities, into merfolk and then use them to overthrow King Oberon and his now departed wife, Cordelia. Her design had been to create two ultimate weapons:
One to enslave, the other to maintain
and Morven had followed through on the first.
His work on Patrick had been proven to me time and time again when his warrior didn’t remember who I was. He now went by the name Zale, and although his body was the same, his mind was different and he had no memory of who we used to be together. It was this mindless control Morven anticipated for me as well. The name Marina haunted me from the minute I woke until I finally fell asleep at night, and even then my dreams were sometimes haunted by the thought of her.
Morven planned to turn me into a mindless and controllable siren, with the ability to enslave those around her with her voice. My only hope was to take what power he suspected I had and learn how to control it in such a way that I could use it against him. It was a farfetched shot, but the only one I had left to play. I would do everything within my power and strength to resist what Morven had planned because I had seen what he could do. Although Zale had left Morven’s side, he was still so unlike the person he used to be, and I was frightened of who I might become.
“Do you want to try again?” Derek asked, pulling me from my reverie. I was still leaning against the counter for support, but my head was clearer than after previous attempts.
“It’s your turn this time,” Sean interjected, as he walked to the sink to fill up the cup with water. “I’m worn out.”
I had found it fascinating the first time they had told me the mind control was exhausting on them as well. They said it left them feeling lethargic, as though they had gone for a long run, had a hot shower and didn’t want to move for the rest of the day. It was only by their insistence I continued. I felt terrible for wearing them out, when they still had work to do for Dad on the boats.
“Okay,” I said and braced myself once more as I began to concentrate on what I wanted Derek to do.
The music began in my throat and matched the same pitch as before, barely audible, but strong. It reached out to encircle Derek and coax him into complying with my will. He was fighting me, I could feel it. He was going to make this difficult.
I gathered my strength and tried not to grit my teeth. Reaching deeper, I let my voice grow to a higher pitch and slowly his head began to lift. His eyes averted mine at first, only to give into my prodding moments later. Once his eyes met mine, the tension released slightly; he would do my bidding.
Now move your hand
, I called and it began to lift toward his head, the cup strong and steady within his grasp.
I murmured wordlessly and it halted.
I gave him a smile and he returned it. The cloudiness in his gaze was almost unsettling, but the realization of what I could do was also intoxicating. A thought entered my mind and I tried not to laugh as I voiced the solemn command.
With a flick of his wrist to the right, the water splashed from the cup and all over Sean’s unsuspecting face. The moment shattered, as a loud curse passed through Sean’s lips and he spit out the remains of the water left in his mouth. I broke into exhausted laughter.
“Lissie!” Sean said and shook the water from his head, while his twin chuckled under his breath. He was trying to hide his exhaustion, but I could see it in the lines of his eyes.
“Sorry,” I laughed and ducked my head. “I thought it would be funny.”
“Well, it wasn’t,” Sean said while attempting to wipe his face with the bottom of his shirt. He was annoyed, but I knew I was already forgiven. The three of us had never been able to stay angry at each other for long.
“And I’m not,” he pointed at the floor, “cleaning that up.”
“Or so you think,” I threatened and raised an eyebrow, but grabbed one of the towels hanging on the oven door handle and began to wipe up the mess. It probably wasn’t necessary to put so much water into the cup when we practiced.
Just then the doorbell rang and Derek left to get it, while mumbling Reese’s name, his former ex who was once again his girlfriend. Sean and I liked to roll our eyes when they were together, but to be honest, I liked her and wished there was someone similar for Sean.
I was just about finished cleaning up the mess when I heard the two of them enter the kitchen.
“Hey guys,” Reese said and I looked up from the floor at her short, tiny frame. She had brown hair with a tint of copper in it that made her eyes seem darker somehow. Derek stood about a foot taller than her and I noticed their hands were intertwined.
“Hey, how are you?” I called back to her as I wiped up the remains of the water and stood to throw the now dripping towel in the sink. Reese’s eyes flitted over Sean and his wet appearance, but she didn’t comment.
“Fine, thanks,” she said and shifted her weight from foot to foot. It wasn’t always this awkward with her around, but sometimes like today, she interrupted one of our moments when the three of us were alone together. There is something about a bond between siblings that no outsider can understand, no matter what they do they will never be as completely involved. But Reese tried, and for that she was accepted.
“So where are you guys going tonight?” Sean asked and I tried not to laugh as he behaved as though it were perfectly normal to stand in the kitchen with a drenched head and soaked shirt dripping on the floor.
“Not sure, this one is up to Derek,” Reese squeezed my brother’s hand and looked up at him. He smiled back.
“Probably just a movie,” he said.
Of course it would be a movie, it was Friday night, and there was nothing else for couples to do in Coveside on a weekend. It was why I often worked on weekends, but tonight they didn’t need me at Darrow’s Catch.
Ever since I had returned home, I had been working as a substitute waitress and tonight there was nowhere for me to help out, it had been the reason for my coming over to the twin’s apartment. At least here I could be more like myself and keep my mind off of Zale at the same time. It had been too long since I had last heard from him, and most of the time I tried not to think about where he was and how much I missed him.
No news is good news
I had repeated the thought in my head day after day until it became a mantra. Not knowing what was going on with him or the war was beginning to have a strain on my nerves and I needed a way of seeing it positively. My only little haven was to see my brothers and work on bettering myself for a future fight I hoped would never come.
“Well,” Derek gave Reese’s hand a little tug, “we’d better get going.”
“Okay,” she said and smiled up at him. They left the apartment and her laughter was audible just before the front door shut. Sean let out a heavy sigh.
“That was dramatic,” I said.
The side of his mouth curled into a smile. “It was meant to be that way,” he winked at me as he left the kitchen to go change his shirt.
It wasn’t the first time I had caught him looking somber after Derek and Reese were around. There were moments like these which dragged me back into the real world, into the world I used to belong to and should still belong to if it wasn’t for that fateful night. To see it from the outside, sometimes left me breathless and uncertain of what to say or do.
In all the time I had been gone, life had continued here. My brothers were getting older, moving on, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I saw it in their continuing maturity much in the same way my other siblings continued to grow in height. All of them were little reminders of what I was no longer a part of; little splinters poking into my side, pricking me when I realized it would be many years before I aged one merfolk year.
Kryssa had told me a long time ago of how humans lived close to fifty years in comparison to each year merfolk aged. When I thought about how my family wouldn’t see me past twenty, it forced me to face the reality of what Morven had done.
Sean came back into the kitchen with a dry shirt and I caught myself staring at his head. I was so used to hair which dried immediately, it was neat to see it still wet. It would be dry soon, but the half-turned light locks had a depth to them I could no longer touch. No matter how hard I tried, I could never be fully human again, and once my birthday rolled around I would be even less human than I was now.