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There was no such thing as beauty. If there was, she would of seen it outside of the glimmering tides of the murky sound. Yes, there were the seashells that lined the beach and gleamed an ivory tone, or the sun that radiated onto her face when the clouds dissolved on sweaty summer days. The moonlight that struck the sea foam at the zenith of the night. Pretty, she would often think to herself, yet not beautiful.
Poem-worthy as they were, they didn’t appeal to her eyes, the eyes of a beast that had seen too much ugliness. Those same eyes wore that exact unattractive quality, but she wasn’t sure which was more monstrous. The soul behind from her pupils or the the light reflected into them.
She did know, though, what pleased her snake-like, hazel eyes. Surrounding her, illuminating the translucent depths with the light bouncing off of their silver scales, were fish. They were long, slender, and assumed they held mutual safety within their schools from her claws. Nobody, not even naive creatures, could escape the predatory instincts of a mer-beast.
That’s exactly what Nem was. Mer-beast. A water-breathing woman that had more in common with a dragon or a shark than a lovely, tempting siren.
Her tail was covered in chipping, brown, angler-fish scales. At one point on her chest, the scales fused into skin and lay directly beneath the gills on Nem’s collarbone. Nem’s skin was tanned and dark naturally, but she had never known the color of her hair. All of it was wound into thick strings coated in Halite; the salt of her ocean home had crystallized her locks from a young age.
However, the most petrifying feature of any mer-beast was not the often scars lacing their skin from picking fights, nor the asymmetric face, but the cruel smile they often displayed. The sharp canines, her sharp canines, were meant for hunting and killing. Of course, those were front and center when she grinned.
Those teeth would be instrumental in her current mission. Her eyes darted from side to side as she crouched behind an emerald-toned kelp. The sparkling skin of the fish was pretty, but she knew what would be almost beautiful. A meal for dinner. A stomach that didn’t rumble.
Swimming close to one another around an invisible axis, the force of the fishes’ movement was enough for Nem to feel a current from here. It didn’t scare her, but it enthralled her for the chase. Or rather, to set up her trap. Around her neck was a string of threaded fish bones, but it wasn’t meant as jewelry. Quickly, Nem removed it and used the pointy end of the sharpened bone to saw off one piece of her hair, coated in salt crystals. The light glimmered in it, and that’s when a pitiful, yet boastful smile spread across Nem’s lips. The poor, dumb things would chase anything that moved and shined, and wouldn’t know what hit them.
Nem felt joy at her own cleverness, her own intelligence. The fact she had outsmarted the fish of her own volition. And of course, in consuming her catch. She didn’t smile at the fact she was about to strike and destroy, but nonetheless the truth remained bare as the bones on her necklace. Nem was born to be a predator.
When she waved her lure and some of them drew near, she moved as fast as a bullet and then watched the red spill from her prey. Then, the mer-beast slipped the bone necklace down over her head and darted far away. A shark would most likely soon be on her trail, smelling blood on the ocean’s breath.
Fittingly, her full name was Anemone, an invertebrate that possessed deadly capabilities, but hid the moment something was remotely threatening. Nem was a boastful coward, and her scars from resistance were few. Most were from failing previous attempts to collect food. She pondered this after her quick escape, assessing her own weakness as she dined on the fish.
Nem could be dangerous, to fish, but she didn’t stand a chance against sharks or rays. Often, her pride derived only from her hunting. Being young and having not yet developed much experience or muscle didn’t work for her, and neither did her face. Lopsided, odd, but strangely beautiful, it scared all away from Nem. Never had she asked to be the weak one. Never had she asked to be ugly or a monster. Anemones didn’t ask for anything at all.
She stared down at her necklace of bones. Despite her namesake, Nem wasn’t an anemone or a killing machine. Lonely. Maybe that was the term for people like her. It got tiring, the kind of life she lead, each day another bone. Could it be that she would someday have something to keep near her heart that wasn’t a remnant or a memory?
Nem doubted it. After all, what chance did the mer-beast, the killer, the ugly girl have? Drilling a hole into her former prey’s rib, but leaving it on the rock where she perched, she sighed. Another bone for her necklace.
Darkness had fallen across the sea like a blanket, providing both a feeling of warmth and a bizarre sense of claustrophobia, and Nem remembered the stories she’d heard once.
Thousands of years of myths warned sailors of the dangers of sirens, but more often, the ferocious mer-beasts. The myths didn’t say they liked to see the stars.
Nem rose from the depths and felt the ocean breeze on her skin, treading the water. All around her was the dark liquid, embracing her and yet also suffocating, covered in the pattern of the stars above. She was so close to touching the brilliant sky lights, as they surrounded her, but yet so far. It was only a reflection.
The moon rose high in the sky, and Nem figured it was nearly midnight. Midnight meant no humans on the shore, and no danger for her. Nem swam closer and closer to the beach, but not to the shallows. When she reached her destination, she could see land covered in thick, swaying pines, tall birches and overgrown sword ferns. The area the tide gently caressed was not covered in golden sand, but a colorful mix of quartzes and basalts, which often appeared as large and jagged stones alongside finer grains.
Nem rested her arms on a porous rock, ink black and covered in moss and little white barnacles. The wind continued to blow and cause the trees up ahead to sway, and she watched with tired eyes, lulled into calmness by the soft song of the waves and branches. Vocalizing a melody to the percussion of nature, Nem nearly lost herself and her thoughts in the harmony of it all. She was no singing siren, but she could make a tune.
It wasn’t for long, though. The foliage in the distance began to rustle off rhythm, and moved unnaturally in a direction not shared by the wind. Crouching down behind her rock, she continued to keep her eyes open out of curiosity, tilting her head to the side as to view the scene.
Out came a yellow glow, transforming the deep greens of the plants into tones of lime. The lighting served also to reveal its carrier, a human girl. Nem couldn’t tell her exact features, but she appeared to have long hair and a heavier build than she did, and she carried a lantern.
A human. Of all things, a human. Nem’s heart pounded, racing and beating in a startlingly high tempo.
“Hello?” The girl’s voice wasn’t much unlike Nem’s.
Go back in the water. Go back. No matter how Nem attempted to coax herself, she was frozen in fear and could not move. As much as mer-beasts had a nasty habit for killing humans, which she had never done personally, it wasn’t uncommon for humans to do the same to her kind. One of the perks of looking like a monster.
“Hello?” Again the human girl called. Nem quivered in terror.
“I heard you singing.”
Now that was very strange. It was barely singing, more like humming. Apparently, she’d been louder than she’d intended to be.
“I liked that song.”
It’s a trap, it must be a trap! Nem would not fall prey to this human’s games of flattery.
The moment the thought erupted into her mind, the other girl began to wade in the water, leaving her lantern back on land. Nem could see her now, and the kindness that seemed to flow from her very being. Wavy hair fell to her back, and she was clothed in a blue dress.
That was when Nem relaxed, if only slightly. She remembered her necklace of bones, with its beads of loneliness. Her loneliness.
Nem slowly resumed her previous position before the girl came, fear shining through her pupils. I won’t be a coward this time. Or perhaps it was stupidity, not bravery.
She stared the human straight in the eyes, waiting. For a second, the two were suspended in each other’s gazes.
From the depths of her lungs, Nem sang the soft low notes of her song, only to be joined by the girl. She didn’t cower in fear, but saw Nem’s appearance as only curious.
“Hello,” Nem whispered.