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The Ocean's Call
Author's note: I began this the day after I returned from Africa, and in less than a year, my book was signed.
Marlie looked over at the fish piled one on top of the other in a large wooden cart. She was puzzled at why they were out of the water. If they would not have water flowing past their gills they would not be able to breath.
She tugged on her mother’s hand that she held so tightly, within the crowds of people, and said, “Mama, why are the fish in that wooded cart. They cannot breath and their scales do not shine.”
Laxwana picked her small daughter up and took her over to the fish. Her heart pricked that Marlie could not understand that the fish were dead.
The two of them stood over the fish and Marlie leaned down to stroke the top fish’s cold side.
“Do not worry. You will be in the sea soon,” she said in a little voice. The man that owned the cart laughed at her words and she looked at him as if he was the one being unusual.
Laxwana whispered to her daughter, “Marlie, these fish will not go back to the sea and their scales will not shine again. They are for eating.”
Marlie took her hand away from the fish and looked into its cold dead eyes. They were lifeless and hollow. Marlie jerked her hand away and clung to her mother’s chest. Her nostrils flared and large steady streams flowed from her eyes despite her best efforts to stop it.
Laxwana took her child away from the fish cart and decided it was not best for her to be in the market. Marlie shook from her crying as her mother carried her back to their house on the cliff that looked over the sea.
Appon arriving at the house, James came running to the door, his dark brown hair flopping around his face as he bounced. He smiled at their return but stopped at the sight of his younger sister. He took her hand and led her into the house with his mother where their father found them.
Corax took Marlie into his arms and she nestled next to him. She felt comfortable in his arms. She was so small and he was, to her, so big that she felt protected.
“What happened?” asked James who put a hand on her arm since his father was bent down to their level.
Marlie’s eyes were red lined though she had stopped crying. “There were fish in wooden carts that were being sold for food,” she said.
James looked at both his parents wondering if this was true. They nodded at him and he looked down at his pants pocket. He touched it and stuck his hand down in it and pulled out a string of twine with a shell on it. The shell was pink at the rim and a swirling design was etched into the top of the shell.
“Papa taught me how to carve the family crest onto a shell. I thought you might like it,” he said handing the necklace to his sister.
She took it and jumped out of her father’s arms. Marlie gave James a hug with her little arms and he with his.
Marlie stood on the beach. Her knee length dress flowed around her legs. It was a deep aqua and had seahorses stitched into the bodice. It was laced in the back with a white ribbon.
She held her shoes in her hand by the laces of her slippers. The ocean lapped over her bare feet and left sand between her toes.
Marlie’s long, wavy black hair flowed freely down her back. The wind from the sea lifted it and blew if off her face. She could feel the slight brush of stray strands slither across her cheek and nose.
The sun crept behind the great expanse of ocean. Just a sliver of warm sun lit up the whole beach. Iridescent clouds floated above, giving off glows of pink and gold. The sea sparkled like thousands of tiny Sapphires.
As the sun dove behind the horizon, light bugs came out of there secret homes and flew around the beaches foliage. She buzzed around Marlie and one ventured to land on her shoulder. She held out her finger for it the climb on. It crawled on obligingly and rested on the joint of her index finger. He soon became tired and flew away to discover a new home.
The stars began to become visible and the twilight crept over the beach. With the twilight came a new presence. It was James. He came running toward her without his shoes.
He wore a white shirt and a brown waist coat. His trousers were cut at mid-calf and his brown hair was unsliced and fluttered around his face. He smiled at her and she returned it was a laugh.
He stopped in front of her and said, “You’re out here late.”
“I know. I wanted to see the stars on the beach,” she said gazing up at the thousands of minute specks of light.
“The full moon isn’t until a week from now,” said James.
She put her hands on her hips and gave him a scowl. “Is it wrong for someone to come and gaze at the stars?”
“I suppose not, but we need to go up to the house. I was sent to retrieve you,” he laughed.
They began to run back up to the house. The wind wiped their hair and cloths. The two of them felt free and smiled at the sun on their faces.
Laxwana stroked one of the lion fishes she had found in the street market, as she sat on the floor of the kitchen. They had not been put in salt water and were malnourished. She stroked its side as it bobbed in the bucket she had put it in. As she stroked it, the fish began to swim around in its bucket. It was the last to be healed and was eager to join the rest.
Once it was fully well, Laxwana lifted the fish and placed it down in the bigger tub of salt water. It turned and nuzzled her hand. More fish came and did the same. Their sharp fins left small cuts on her hand. Blood seeped through her skin while the fish kissed the wounds. They cleaned the cuts as she healed herself. The poison from the fish was harmless to Mer.
Corax came up behind her and put his hands of her shoulders. He leaned down and kissed the side of her face. “How are they?” he asked.
“Well, they are much happier that they were. I think they are ready for us to take them back to the sea. What do you think?” she asked, looking up at him.
He walked over to the door and poked his head out the door. He motioned to someone and walked back to where his wife sat. James peaked his head in and his father said, “Get the other side of the tub.”
James grabbed the opposite handle of his father and they lifted it together. They Laxwana walked out the kitchen door first and found Marlie. They walked over to the large front doors and opened them. James and Corax took the tub of fish along a path that led down to the beach. They tried to keep the tub as still as possible.
“We should get them in the sea before high tide. They would have no chance against the rocks,” said James as they sat the tub on the sand.
Marlie walked over to the tub and dipped her hand into the water. She picked up a fish and cupped it in her hands. She walked over to the water and knelt down on the sand. She was still wearing her knee length dress. Marlie lowered the fish into the water and it swam away.
The others joined her and they released all the fish into the sea. They swam happily off into the reef. Their bright colors died among the deep blue waters.
Marlie stood and looked down at her hands. They had been cut by the fish. Her mother walked over to her and cupped Marlie’s hands and pressed them together. The lacerations were sucked back into her skin. The blood was also sucked back into her body.
“Thank you,” she said as Laxwana patted her face.
Laxwana had the power to heal. All Mer had some type of gift. Some could talk telepathically with one another. There were even schools Mer that had more dangerous powers.
When Corax was a small Mer boy he had been sent off to a school for his powers. He was very wise and his parents wanted him to learn how to use it.
Laxwana had inherited her healing powers from her grandmother and she had been taught by her. She had learned what typed of coral and kelp to use on wounds.
The four of them stared out at the ocean together. It was always soothing for them to watch the waves lap up on the sand and leave foam on the rocks and stray shells.
Corax wrapped an arm around Marlie and his wife. James took his mother’s arm and she held his hand in hers.
Marlie felt a small tingle behind her eyes. She rubbed her temples. The tingle became a prickle and then a pain. It moved up into her eyes and a ringing sounded in her ears. She felt her legs give way out from under her. She fell to the sand.
At once, she realized she was receiving one of the starfish’s visions. They were telepaths and they knew the past present and future. Marlie was born as one who could talk to them. It would only happen once every one thousand years. Her gift was an extraordinary one, but it came with complications. Only one person could make contact with her while the starfish were talking to her. It would have to be the first person to shed blood from her while she was in the vision.
When Marlie was about three she had received at vision while she and James were playing on the beach. He had received many cuts from her tinny finger nails.
James came to her immediately and grabbed her shoulders. He asked her what she saw. This vision was different from all the others. It was of a man. He had eyes like the sea and hair of the sun. His face was gentile but firm. He looked down at Marlie as if she were there in front of him.
Corax held his wife by the arms. Neither of them could talk nor touch Marlie while she was having one of her visions. James was the only one who could since he had been the first one to be around her during a vision.
“What do you see?” he asked rapidity.
“Eyes like the sea. Hair like the sun,” she stammered.
Marlie stopped jerking and her eyes cleared from the image. She stood while holding a steady grip on James who nodded to his mother and Father. They both came to Marlie’s side and walked her back up to the house.
Laxwana’s dark aqua tail flicked at some water. She sat on the sand near the edge of the water. She was in the small cove under the cliff their house. She rubbed her scaled with a thick jelly made from a type of kelp and washed it off with a wet sea sponge.
She was wearing a brown canvas poncho over her white cotton skirt. It was bunched around her waist so she could scrub her tail.
Corax walked up to her and sat down next to her. He let the water wash over his legs and let his tail form. His was a deep red. He leaned back on the warm sand and let the evening sun warm his body.
“What are you doing down here?” she asked.
“I came to find you,” he said with his eyes still closed.
“Why?” she laughed.
He opened his eyes and rolled on his side. “Is a man permitted to admire his wife?” he said and cupped her face.
“I guess,” she said and smiled. Corax laughed and sat up to kiss her forehead.
The sun made her hair look like fire and her eyes like a blue rain.
“Corax, do you think Marlie’s visions are becoming more frequent? We used to wonder if she was the one whom the starfish chose and we were excited when they first started, but now,” she stopped and bit her lip.
“They worry you that we may miss something in the interpretation,” he finished.
“Exactly. We all knew how important this was, but the visions don’t seem that significant right now. How do we know that she is interpreting them right?” she said.
“We need to trust her and the starfish. They are not sending her messages just to say hello,” he replied and tipped his head down.
“I know. I just feel like we’ve missed something,” she said and slumped her shoulders.
Laxwana laid her head back on the sand and her hair spread out over the ground. She closed her eyes and took in the sounds of the sea. Corax did the same. He took her hand in his and squeezed it.
“Everything will be fine,” he said.
She opened her eyes and looked at him and said, ”As long as we are together.”
The water lapped up on James and Marlie’s feet. It left tiny foam bubbles on their feet. The two of them were picking up kelp that had washed up on the shore. Most humans would just as soon burn of through the kelp away, but the Mer prized kelp. It was a main part of a Mer’s diet. Kelp was full of salts and nutrients that they couldn’t get from other fruits and plants.
Marlie pulled strand after strand into her basket. She was carrying it so she could keep the more delicate plants away from the tougher ones in the large metal tub. The kelp was long and thin. She could smell the sweet juice of the small bulges. She tore off a strand of kelp and shoved in into her mouth before James could see her, but it was too late.
“I saw that,” he said walking over to her and dumping a wide variety of kelps in the tub of kelp near the rocks.
She wiped her mouth and said, “Saw what?”
He laughed and took her already full basket of marine fruits. “We need to head into the water to get the other kelp.”
“How far in do you think the good kelp is?” she asked.
“Not deep,” said James as he slipped into the water.
Marlie turned her back and put the basket down while James turned into his Mer form. He gave into the yearning and let the deep blue scales grow down his legs.
Marlie turned and dove into the sea. She immediately gave in and her bright seafoam tail shimmered in the morning sun.
Mer felt a strong need to change their legs to a tail when they came in contact with water. With months of practice a Mer could control the yearning and change at will but only in water.
Marlie and James swam among the low growing kelps and their roots. They took sharp pieces of coral and were cutting some of the more nutritious plants that grew farther off the shore.
Their cloths flowed around them and puffed around their limbs.
After a while James noticed that the water smelled slightly off and that it had a slight orange tint. Mers’ vision is highly sensitive to color. James stuck his tong out and tasted the water. His eyes went wide as he saw a small yellow fish trying to keep water flowing past its gills. He swam down to it and felt of its skin. It was warm and he could feel the blood beginning to slow in its veins.
Marlie swam down to him and lifted the fish to look her in the eyes. The fish went limp and she felt its tiny heart beat stop. She looked back at James and said, “It’s red tide isn’t it?”
James nodded and took the fish from her. He laid it on the ocean floor and covered it with a hand full of sand.
“Mama will have to purify the kelp,” said Marlie. Mer had an immunity to red tide.
James flicked his tail and he glided up to the surface. Marlie took one last glance at the place where the fish was hidden beneath the sand and headed up to the surface.
Marlie stormed into the drawing room and said to her mother who was reading, “Red tide is back.”
Laxwana looked up from her book with wide eyes. The last time red tide came through, over a hundred people died from poisoning.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
“Not very. The fish are just now becoming affected by it. We still might be able to help,” said James as he walked in. His hair was still wet from the sea water.
“We need to go down to the cove and start the purification,” said Laxwana as she stood from her chair. She exited the room with her son and daughter on her heels and called Corax from the front door. They told him the situation and the four of them went down the cove.
Appon arriving, Laxwana entered the water up to her thighs and touched her finger tips to the top of the water. She swirled her fingers in the water, sending tiny ripples across the surface. As she did, streams of scarlet ribbon connected to her fingers. The red tide was sucked into her body. She killed off the poison in her blood with the healing powers she had been given.
After a few minutes she turned and said, “It’s gone.”
They all took a breath of relief. This had not been the only time that the tide had come in this way. It was caused an algal bloom that poisoned the fish and people. Children would play in the surf and not know that the water was poisoned. Fishermen sometimes would bring infected fish into the markets and sell them with the others. People would by, serve, and then eat them. Within a few hours they would be sick form the poison.
The thought of the fish market made Marlie shiver. She had only been there once when she was little and it had not been a good experience. The memory came flooding back into her mind.
A small tear rolled down her face and James put arm on her shoulders. She leaned into his body. Laxwana walked out of the water and to the side of her husband.
The four of them walked back up to the house together. They entered the house and all walked into the kitchen. James lifted the tub of kelp and set it on the table while Marlie and her father pulled down large glass jars to be filled with kelp. Laxwana sat a large pot of water on the stove and lit the fire within the stove. James took the basket and handed it to his mother. She took the bulbs from the kelp and put them a smaller pot of sugar water. Corax and Marlie opened all the jars and set them next to the larger pot. James took all the kelp and dumped it in the pot of not boiling water. Laxwana added multiple spices and salts to the pot and stirred the contents.
Marlie left the jars and walked over to the basket of smaller more fragile kelps. She took a hand full of them and started breaking them into hand sized pieces. She took a bowl of salt and pepper mixed together and dipped each piece in the powder. She then laid them flat on a mad made from dried grasses. The mat was about the size of half the table. She quickly covered the mat with the kelps. She turned to look at what her mother was doing. Laxwana was pouring the mix of kelps into all the jars. Corax put the lids on the jars and stored the closed ones in a far cupboard. James took the tub outside and Marlie followed him with the mat of kelp. They took the tub and mat out to the back porch. James set the tub on the corner of the patio and Marlie set the mat on the grass in the direct sun light. The kelp would be dried within a few hours and they would have a light kelp crisp.
Nathan Sholes looked out over the sea from his house near the beach. It was still some length away from the sea but close enough to watch the waves lap up on the beach. He breathed in the moist ocean air. He saw the sea as something more than just a barrier between continents or source of food, but as a home to many creatures known and unknown. He saw it as something beautiful and full of magic. It He had often wondered what secrets laid in its blue depths and undersea canyons. His mind swam with ideas of hidden worlds of coral and fish. His heart yearned for the life that sprung form the waves. He heard the sea calling softly to him as he watched the water swirl with life.
Marlie stood in front of her full length mirror waiting for Susan to bring her things for her to put on. Susan, who had come to the house to help her, sat down the pile of cloths on the small stool.
Susan adjusted Marlie’s under cloths and fastened her corset to its tightest. Marlie had gotten used to the feeling of it after a month of constant wearing. Susan draped the many layers of crinolines over Marlie’s head and pulled them down over the hoop skirt. She finished and went to fetch the girl’s dress.
While she was gone Marlie thought about the coming event. It would be wonderful with the entire glittering splendor of a room full of decorated people. As a family this would be the first function they had attended. Her mother and father had attended many functions and James had been to one young girl’s coming out party. Marlie on the other hand, had never been to any sort of party.
Susan returned with a glittering dress. It was light sea foam green that matched her eyes. The lace trim looked like waves swirling around her. The bodice was beaded with pearls stitched into the layers. It had a large bustle in the back and fanned out to cover her large hoop. It rustled and swayed and he turned to gain a full view.
She couldn’t help but smile. Her pearl necklace wrapped around her neck tightly once and then fell down beyond the beginning of her bodice. A medium sized star fish hung close to her neck and her ear rings were made of small oyster shells. They dangled lightly on her ears. All the jewelry she and her mother were wearing came from her home in the sea.
Her black curls were pulled back into a lose bun and a few strands of hair lay at the side of her face. A pearl string with a star fish attached on each side hung elegantly against her hair.
She turned to look in the mirror and found she was pleased. Even her faint freckles looked at home sitting across her nose and cheeks.
“You look stunning,” said Susan.
Marlie turned to look at her and said, “Thank you. I’m so nervous.”
“You will be fine. Every eye will be turned to you at your arrival,” she said reassuringly.
Marlie nodded. She still was nervous. What if someone asked her to dance? She might fall. Marlie had only been on land for a short time. Her mother was exactly the opposite. She was known for her beauty and grace. He father was not far off either. He could lead any dance and look positively professional. But they had been in Seahope for much longer than her and James.
Marlie walked over to her dresser and added the finishing touches to herself and slipped on her shoes. She grabbed her white silk fan and headed for the door. When she opened the door she found James waiting for her. They were to enter onto the balcony together.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“You bet your tail”, she said.
They turned to one another and laughed. James and Marlie began their decent down the long marble staircase. They were met by their parents at the foot of the staircase.
Laxwana was dressed in a shimmering aqua dress similar to Marlie’s. She wore the house crest on a tinny string of pearls. It hung delicately around her neck.
Corax looked so dignified with his head held high. Everyone in Seahope respected him. They all saw him as one of the town elders. He was also respected among the Mer as well.
The family headed for the double doors in front of them and waited for the ushers to open the doors. As they did, Marlie could hear the man outside announcing their entrance. He said her name last and put just a hint of emphasis on it.
The balcony was hushed. Not one person stirred or said a word. All that made noise was the gentle rush of the waves over the rocks and stairs leading strait into the sea.
Corax and Laxwana stepped off to the side and entered the crowd. James led Marlie by the hand out into the center of the balcony. She could feel her heart pounding. Susan had been right. All eyes were turned to her.
The crowd dissipated and she began to be surrounded by people waiting to meet her. After a while the low music started to play and every one cleared the floor for those brave enough to dance. A few coupes ventured in and were followed by others.
Marlie stood looking out at the sea from the far corner of the balcony. She had been missing it since they had left five months ago. She had lost track of how long she had been standing there when James came and leaned against the marble pillar next to her.
“I miss it to,” he said.
She turned to look at him. He was sullen. He too had been very home sick. Almost right before they had left he had fallen in love with a mermaid. Marlie could tell her missed her.
“Mama told me we will go visit soon,” Marlie said comfortingly while stroking his arm.
Just as he was about to reply a man with hair the color of oak wood walked over. James shook his hand.
“Ah, Nathan. Good to see you,” said James.
“And you,” the man said.
“Marlie, this is a good friend of mine. You should remember Nathan,” introduced James.
Nathan took a step closer to Marlie and held out his hand to her.
“May I dance with you?” he asked.
Marlie was stunned. This was the man from her vision a week earlier. She just reached out her hand to take his. He led her out to the floor as if he was walking through water.
He reached out to take her waist and held her hand in his. She placed her hands in the positions she had been taught. He began with the music and she followed.
Marlie’s mother and father watched with eager eyes as their daughter danced for the first time. Soon they joined them and began the fluidic motions.
While dancing, Marlie never looked away from his deep blue eyes. His features were just as they were in the vision. She could see the sea swirling in them. She knew he had to be one of them. No one could have eyes like that and not be Mer. But he didn’t give her his real name. He must know about her and her family.
For half the evening they danced in harmonious duet while all watched with wide and curious eyes.
Laxwana stood facing the sea in the warm glow of the rising sun. It had been long since she had swum through the kelp. Her tail had grown dry and needed attention which was had to give on land.
Corax stood next to her. He too was missing the sea. He often sat and watched the animals and their behavior. He could remember when Marlie would sit with him for hours and listen to his teachings. She was always curious about the sea and its life. He could also remember how star fish would flock to her. He believed she could talk to them and they could talk to her.
He had never really thought about it, as much as she still loved to do those sorts of things, she was becoming a young woman. After watching her dance and laugh with Mr. Sholes he really felt the years slipping away.
His wife could sense his emotions and knew he was in deep thought. They had been married long enough to know what the other was thinking.
“What’s on your mind,” she asked.
He looked at her and said, “Marlie. It doesn’t seem like she should be this old. I watched her last night and I think I really saw her as a young woman.”
“I’ve seen it much more that you have, but yes, she is a young woman now,” said Laxwana.
Corax side, “Next thing I know she’ll be giving her oath.”
“You don’t know that. Remember the young man we thought would give her the oath. She turned him down. I was sure she would have said yes,” she said.
He nodded because he knew she was right. Marlie had been the most unpredictable between her and her brother. In their own way they were both very particular about whom they loved.
Corax reached for his wife’s hand and they held each other’s hand tight as if they would slip away.
Marlie sat at her piano playing a song from the sea. Her father had taught it to her when she was very young. She could remember sitting next to her father watching him play the song with such passion. Some times when her mother would sit and listen to him this song would move her to tiers.
The song finished and she looked up from the keys of the piano. James sat over in the far corner. He had his nose buried in a book he was most intent on finishing it today.
“James, how well do you know Mr. Sholes?” she said.
He looked up from his book. He closed it and said, “Not that well. We’ve met a couple of times. He did tell me that he enjoyed dancing with you.”
Marlie had gotten nowhere. She still knew nothing of him or if he had been sent from the sea.
They all sat around the dinner table enjoying their final course. Fruit had become a usual food item for them since it was not a meat and it was high in nutrition. Often they added salt to it but most of the time it was satisfying.
Salt also became a mandatory item on the menu. Mer had to have a constantly high salt level in their bodies.
Corax looked up from his fruit and said, “We are going to have a visitor this week.”
They all looked up with surprise.
“What kind?” asked James.
“Your mother and I have invited Nathan Sholes to come and stay with us. We have suspicions that he could be part of a faction that is said to be bounty hunters for Mer who live in secret on land,” he answered.
James and Marlie were both shocked to hear this. They had always known that the factions were always watching but, the thought of someone from a Faction in their house was disturbing.
Marlie knew her wasn’t but, she also knew her parents knew what they were doing. She could trust them to keep her and James safe.
They all sat there for a long while in silence. James felt the same way but would never act on it. Marlie on the other hand was quite the opposite.
“Why would we take such a great risk?” she asked.
This time her mother spoke. “We have to be sure. If he is from the factions then we may have to relocate,” she said.
Marlie nodded then they all sat in silence.
The next few days were hard and stressful. The house had to be prepared for their guest.
Marlie would miss all the freedoms her family would lose when Nathan would arrive. She would have to become accustomed to wearing a corset on a regular basis. Usually she did not wear one unless she was going to be around someone other than the regular household.
It was the day he was to arrive and things were running smoothly. They were all lined up in front of the stair case. They all waited with anticipation. For all they knew they could be bringing in a trained Mer assassin into their own home.
The front, double doors opened and Nathan walked in. His hair was sleeked back and his coat was buttoned tight around his mid-section. He looked fresh and clean cut. His small tuft of facial hair gave him a grown and superior look.
The first person he made eye contact with was Marlie. She quickly adverted her eyes down to the floor. She could feel her face turning scarlet.
Corax reached out his hand for him to shake and said, “Mr. Sholes, welcome to our home.”
Nathan shook his hand in return.
“It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the generous invitation,” he replied.
“We hope you will make yourself at home. You may rome the house as you please,” said Laxwana gently.
He nodded and said, “Thank you.”
He lifted his bags and followed Marlie up the stair case. As he followed her he was able to see a small glimpse of the house. The stairs were made of solid marble. Paintings of anything to do with the sea lined the walls. A large coral formation rested against the wall at the top of the stairs.
She led him to a room secluded from all the rest. The room was on the far side of the house. It faced the sea and the setting sun.
Marlie opened the door and walked in to show him the room. It had a wood desk that sat under a window looking out at the ocean.
“I hope the room is large enough,” said Marlie.
Nathan turned to face her and said, “It’s perfect. Thank you.”
They paused. The silence was long and awkward. Marlie finally broke it.
“I’ll leave you to unpack. Dinner is at six,” she said.
She started to leave but he stopped her.
“Marlie, would it be possible if I could get a full tour of the house?” he asked sheepishly.
She smile and said, “Of course.”
They smiled at one another one last time and she exited closing the door behind her.
Nathan began his unpacking while admiring the room.
All the linens were light blue. The floor was pure white granite. Long translucent curtains hung on every window, adding to the glow of the sun. All the furniture was painted white and had wave like carvings on the sides. A large painting of a mermaid hung above the bed.
The mermaid sat on a rock letting the splashing sea wash over her body. Her hair was black and set off her tail which matched the rest of the room. Her eyes were closed as if she was waiting for the sea to take her. The painting was by far Nathan’s favorite part of the room.
Nathan was brought down to dinner by James and was seated on Corax’s left side.
They didn’t speak for over half the meal. Finally Nathan had the courage to inquire about the painting.
“I noticed the painting in my room. I found it very,” he paused, “captivating.”
Laxwana looked up from her fruit, which to Nathan had been heavily salted down, and said, “Marlie created it and four others. She has a talent for creating such things. Almost all the paintings we have someone in this house did.”
“I see. I would very much like to see the other four mermaids. Do you all have the talent for art?” he asked.
Corax stepped into the conversation. “Yes, just some more than others.”
“Do you play the piano?” asked Marlie directing the question at Nathan.
“I do, but I doubt you would have heard what I play. I write my own music,” he confessed.
“Then you must play one for us. I’m sure we would be impressed,” said Laxwana joyfully.
After they finished their dinner they all retreated to the music room. It had a grand piano along with a harp and violin. The walls and floor were all made of wood painted white. The trimming resembled fish jumping from water. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling. It had sea turtles and dolphins entwined on its metal frame.
Nathan was shown to the piano and instructed to play his favorite piece of music her had created.
He sat and placed his fingers lightly on the keys. He stretched them to their fullest extent and began to play. A song flowed from the piano that swam through the air.
Marlie could feel the magic in his song. She could tell the rest of her family could sense the same thing. This was a song of the ocean. She could tell by the way the notes rippled together.
The song ended and she looked up to see Nathan out of breath. He too had put such passion into his song. He must have had some magic in him.
“That was very impressive,” said Corax.
“Thank you sir,” replied Nathan.
Laxwana looked at Marlie with fear concealed behind her comforting gaze.
“Would you humorous with one more song please,” implored Laxwana. Her eyes were longing to hear more. She was the fondest of music in the family.
Nathan nodded and began again. This song was very different. It was dark and haunting.
Marlie closed her eyes to be greeted by a sharp pain in her head. It throbbed so that she pulled her hands up to her head. It moved all the way from the back of her head to her eyes.
James was soon at her side holding her up. Nathan stopped playing and rushed to assess the situation. Corax quickly grabbed him and pulled him away from her.
“You have to go upstairs now,” demanded Corax, his voice sharp and firm.
Nathan did as he was instructed. He hurried up the stairs quickly and shut the door hard behind him. He was worried for Marlie. Did she have some exotic disease that they didn’t want him know about?
“Marlie, wake up. Tell me what you saw,” said James urgently.
Corax held Laxwana away from her daughter. Right now James was the only one who could talk to her. If anyone touched her or spoke to her she would convulse and thrash at the person.
Laxwana had obtained long gashes down her arms from standing to close to Marlie.
Marlie was a telepath to the starfish. She could talk to them. This was one of those times they had tried to talk to her. They would only do this if something was important. Marlie began to jump out of the connection. Her speaking was fast and loud.
“Dead, dear, door, blood,” was what she kept repeating.
James had the phenomenal talent of decoding her messages from the starfish when she put them into oral form. Most of the time they were only images like the one she had just received.
James quickly ran with Marlie to the large front doors of the house. With the help of Corax and Laxwana they opened the doors.
A large dead dear with vines wrapped around its neck hung from the lamp just under the large carriage way. Blood dripped from the corpse. Marlie began to cry violently at the sight of it. Her vision must have been about this. It was indeed something to worry about. James looked at both his parents. Their faces were horror stricken. This was an offence from the Tera people. This was a sign of war.
“James, take Marlie up to Nathan. I don’t trust her by herself. Tell him nothing,” said Corax.
James nodded and guided his sister up the stairs. While on the way to Nathan’s room he told her to say nothing of what has happened. She agreed.
He knocked the door. Nathan opened it cautiously. When he saw it was James with Marlie he welcomed them in.
“What happened? Are you alright?” he asked urgently.
“I’m fine. I just need to stay here with you for a while,” she said warily. It never really took her long to recover from one of her conversations with the starfish.
“That’s fine. Is there anything ells I can do to help?” he offered.
“No, just watch her please,” said James and he walked out the room.
Nathan took Marlie over to the bed and sat her on the bench at the foot of his bead. He hastily walked over to the desk and poured a glass of water for her. She took it obligingly.
He could see her holding back tears. She let one run down her soft face and into her water glass. It sparkled as it hit the water. Nathan stared at the glass for a moment.
“Did you see that? Your tear, when it hit the water it sparkled,” he said with astonishment.
She didn’t say anything. She just looked at the glass.
Nathan and Marlie walked along the beach together. It was two days after the event. He had still not gotten any answers about what had happened to her that night and why.
Marlie stopped and bent down. She began to take off her shoes. It wasn’t until then that moment when he saw her bare foot that he realized she never wore stockings. To him she was just getting stranger by the moment.
“What are you doing?” he asked, confused by her behavior.
“I can’t stand to walk on the beach unless I’m doing it barefooted,” she said happily.
They both laughed and kept walking.
After a moment she turned to him and said, “Would you like to run?”
He looked at her with utter bemusement. He could also tell she was bursting with energy.
“You are the strangest woman I have ever met. You walk barefooted on the beach, never attend formal occasions and you don’t concern yourself with fashions and vanities. You are the most unique creature,” he said laughing.
“I take that as a great compliment,” she said laughing with him.
She stopped again. Her eyes were turned to the sea. She looked out at it with great longing. She wished she could run and jump in the ocean and have no cares in the world.
Nathan stood next to her and looked with her. She had tears welling in her eyes. He touched her arm to try and comfort her.
“Is everything all right?” he asked.
She smiled slightly and said, “No, but it will be.”
James led Nathan through the house showing him the three remaining paintings of the mermaids. The one they looked at was in Laxwana and Coaxes’ bed room. It was of a merman and a mermaid.
The mermaid was climbing the rock that the merman was sitting on. The man sat with a large trident in one hand. His tail was deep red and set off his short blond hair. It gave him an image of power. Net was wrapped around his upper body. The mermaid’s tail was bright aqua. The tail was smooth and slender. Her hair was brown and curly. It flowed around her green bodice. Waves splashed behind the rocks and the sun was high in the sky unlike the other one.
“This is the most recent of the four,” said James.
“It’s amazing,” said Nathan.
James moved on to the next one. It was in his own room. The painting was of a merman sitting on a tall cliff looking off the edge. He had a tong muscular tail. It was silver. His hair was jet black. He was very melancholy. His facial expression was drear as if he had lost someone who meant a great deal to him.
James was silent on that one. He must have had some emotional connection to the way this one felt.
The last one was in Marlie’s bedroom. A mermaid lay flat on the beach. Her bright red hair was spread out on the warm sand. She was letting the water wash up on her tail. Her tail was lemon yellow and a purple poncho hung from her shoulders. This last one was the most impressive of the four. Nathan was taken by the talent put into the paintings.
“Your sister has a very unique talent,” commented Nathan
“She does, though she does not like to admit it,” laughed James.
They both walked out of the room and into the long hallway leading to Nathan’s apartment.
“I am curious about the one in your room. He is very different that the rest. His colors are very solemn,” said Nathan.
James lowered his head. His face became expressionless.
“He is different yes. Each painting has a story. His ends with suicide,” said James in a warning tone.
They had reached the door to Nathan’s room. James opened it and Nathan walked in. He nodded to James who did nothing. James walked swiftly down the hall and into his room.
Nathan closed the door and sat on his bed thinking how a painting could affect someone so strongly.
“We can’t wait any more. We have to find out if he is from one of the factions,” said Laxwana as she walked back and forth in the art room.
Corax sat adjacent to her. His hand was brought up to his mouth and positioned so he rested his head on his hand.
“He hasn’t exhibited any hostile behavior toward us,” argued Corax.
James leaned against a table that Marlie sat working with some shells.
“He is starting to ask question. After what happened to Marlie, he knows something is different,” commented James.
“Exactly, we need to see if he has the mark. James could do it easily,” said Laxwana enthusiastically.
“For now just try to keep the cover,” Corax said as he got up from his chair.
Laxwana followed him and said to James, “Find it.”
Once they had left James let out a large sigh. He dropped his shoulders and drooped his head. He was now placed with the task of basically searching Nathans body. He would not relish it.
“How on earth are you going to do this?” asked Marlie looking up from her work.
“I don’t know,” he said frustrated.
“Well you don’t have to worry about searching him from the waist down,” she said with a smile on her face.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Mama told me that all Faction members have them on their left arm,” she said still smiling.
“Well that narrows the field down,” he said.
“We can think of something,” she said putting a hand on him reassuringly.
“From here I guess we just hope for the best,” James said still felling unsure about his assignment.
He just couldn’t walk up to Nathan and demand that he take his shirt off. He would think James had gone mad or something. He had to get him to show his left shoulder discreetly and in a way, on accident.
Corax sat in the drawing room with his wife. She paced the floor rapidly. He just sat comfortably in his chair admiring her as she paced.
“It he is one of the Faction members then what will we do with him? He most definitely can’t stay here,” she said.
“We will do what we have done in the past. We will perform the enclosure,” said Corax.
“I suppose. I just hate throwing him away like that. He has so much power in him,” said Laxwana as she massaged her temples.
Corax rose from his chair and crossed the room to her. He wrapped his arms around her comfortingly and said, “This will all come to pass. If the Air sends a threat, then there will be cause for panic.”
She side against him, ”If the war does come, I will send Marlie and James to the deep. It will be safer if they go there.”
“You know they will not go. Even if you ordered them they would want to fight,” he said with a skeptical eye.
She slumped and said, “Well, we can cross that bridge when it comes. For now let’s worry about the situation at hand.”
He nodded and stepped away from her to retrieve Nathan.
Nathan had just been asked some very peculiar questions. Corax had questioned him about his background and especially his family.
As he left the drawing room he walked past the front stairs and saw a trail of water leading up them. He knelt down and touched a small pool of the trail. He smelled the drop on his finger and dabbed the droplet on his tong. It tasted of sea water.
He then stood and followed the trail of sea water up the stairs. It led him to a door which he figured was the bath room. As he reached the door he could make out the sound of faint voices.
James sat on a stool next to the large copper tub. Marlie sat partially immersed in the warm water inside the tub. Her sea foam fin drooped off the edge of the tub rim. Her upper body was wrapped in a thick white material that went up to her neck. Her black hair swirled in the steaming salt water.
“Marlie we have to tell him,” said James.
She looked up and said, “You know we can’t. What if he is part of a faction?”
“He’s not,” he exclaimed.
“How do you know,” she asked.
James looked down at his feet. He really didn’t know. He just wanted to believe that Nathan was on their side if a war did break out.
For a long time they sat together in silence. It was broken by the sound of someone knocking on the door. They both jumped.
“Who’s there,” asked James.
“Nathan,” he said.
Marlie and James began to panic. She pushed her fin into the tub and curled into a tight ball so she could not be seen from the door.
“You can come in,” said James.
Nathan peeked inside the door and then stood fully in the door way.
“I saw the trail of water leading up here. I was just curious. Sorry for the disturbance,” Nathan apologized.
“It’s no problem. I was just about to take a bath,” lied James. He was sweating. He never liked having to cover up the fact they were really Mer.
He nodded and began to back out the door when he paused to say something and leaned against the door.
“How many have sought after Marlie’s affection,” asked Nathan.
James began to take his vest and said, “I don’t know. I know there was one whom my parents encouraged her to marry.”
James continued to act like he was preparing for a bath. Nathan nodded and closed the door behind him and as he did Marlie shot up out of the water.
“Did he see my tail,” she asked.
“No,” he said.
He began to put back on his vest and walked out of the room without saying another word.
“The Tera are planning something,” said Corax to his wife.
They sat together in the drawing room. Nathan had just left and now they alone to discuss the situation.
Nathan stood over the large stove in the kitchen of the house. He stirred a thick, red soup. It lightly bubbled in the medium sized pot. Its pungent aroma filled the whole kitchen.
Marlie’s nose tingled at the tomatoes and spices in the soup. Her stomach began to feel empty.
James eyed what Nathan was doing to the thick substance. He took note of all the spices and their amount.
“I never thought of making a soup of tomatoes,” said Marlie.
James was sitting at the table with a tall glass of salt water. He had let his salt levels lower beyond his normal level. He had been week for the last few days.
“James, this will bring you back to your normal health in time,” said Nathan taking the soup off the stove.
Marlie took three bowls on the table with three spoons as well. She placed them on the table and Nathan came behind her filing them with a hot steaming soup. It swirled and steamed in the shallow, glass bowl. The bowls had shells engraved into the rims.
Marlie refreshed James’s glass of water and placed it in front of him and said, “Keep drinking. You need more or you’ll get worse than you already are.”
James gave her a side smirk and muttered under his breath, “Yes, mother octopus.”
Nathan looked at him puzzled. “Mother octopus?” he asked.
“An octopus devotes her life to her young. She dies caring for them,” explained James. Nathan laughed.
Nathan sat next to James, who was at the head of the small kitchen table. Marlie sat adjacent to Nathan. They picked up their spoons and began to sip steaming soup.
It tingled on Marlie’s tong. It had a thick pungent taste. It was full of salt and creamy.
James showed instant approval to the new dish that had been prepared. Marlie did as well.
“This is exceptional,” said James said with a smile on his face.
Nathan nodded with thanks.
Marlie began to say something as well but stopped when she looked over Nathan’s shoulder. Flames rose from the stove top. She jumped up to turn it off, but Nathan was faster. He reached the stove before she did. Nathan held her back with one arm while trying to turn the stove off with the other. It sputtered flames and sparks.
One stray ember flew from the eye of the stove and caught Nathans sleeve. It spread up and down his arm. Yet he kept going, trying to turn the eye off. Once he did he began to attempt to smother the flame. It did not work. Marlie grabbed the sleeve of his shirt and pulled it off. She threw it into the sink and pumped some water out into the metal sink. Steam floated up from the burnt piece of cloth. Marlie turned to Nathan who lifted her hands to his eyes. His arm was burnt in some places. Nathan was examining her hands.
“Are your hands burnt?” he asked.
“No, they’re fine, but your arm is not. Let me tend to it,” she said turning him to get a better look at his upper arm and shoulder.
Nathan sat at the table while Marlie walked to a cupboard and pulled a bowl of salts from its shelves. She brought that and a clean cloth to the table and sat facing Nathan’s arm. James brought her a boll of water. She began tending to his burns by cleaning it with the damp cloth.
“The salts will sting for a moment,” she said.
“I’ll be fine,” he said reassuringly.
She took some salts on her hand and applied it to the wound. Nathan winced in pain.
“I’m sorry but you have to keep still,” said Marlie.
Nathan nodded and Marlie applied the rest of the salts. Once she had finished applying them she wrapped his arm in a bandage. She motioned that she was finished and he rose. He nodded as a sign of thanks and exited.
James slouched in his chair. Marlie leaned over and held her hands in her face. Sweat dampened her face and neck. She wiped it away and looked at James with great relief. Nathan was not part of the factions.
Nathan sat in a white iron chair looking across at Marlie. She held a drawing board in her lap along with a pencil. She sketched Nathan onto the peace of white paper. She was almost done and was just adding the final details to the drawing.
Nathan was praying for conversation. Since the previous day Marlie had been extremely quiet around him.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” he said apologetically.
She looked up from her work. “There is nothing to be sorry about. It was an accident,” she said with a smile. He could almost detect a laugh in her voice.
“Then why have you been so upset?” he said with a smirk on his face.
She paused. “Yesterday just worried me,” she said, shrugging.
He leaned back in his chair and remained quiet.
After a while she looked up and smiled at him. “I’m finished.”
He got up and walked around to the back of the chair where she was sitting. He looked over her shoulder. The sketch was detailed and well proportioned.
“That looks,” he paused, “fantastic.”
She held it out to admire it and said, “Thank you. It’s not often I get to sketch someone new.”
He walked back to his chair and sat back down.
“How often do people come and visit?” he asked.
“Not often. If people do come they stay for long periods of time,” she explained while putting the drawing in a book of other sketches.
“May I see some of the others?” he said, pointing at the book.
“Of course,” she said handing it to him.
He took it and opened it. The first was his. He turned the page over and was greeted by pictures of shells and fish. Others were of the beach and water and rocks. As he continued he found ones of people. Some were of James and her parents. The back of the book was dedicated to a group of sketches. They were of a man about the age of twenty. His expressions were soft and happy. He seemed to always be smiling in his drawings. In some he was looking out at the sea or just sitting, reading a book in a chair.
Nathan took one out and held it in front of Marlie. “Who is this?” he asked.
She swallowed and said, “That’s Sam Thorp. He was a good friend of ours. We were like his second family and He would come and stay for months. It was only him and his father ,who wasn’t even their to take care of him half the time.”
He thought back to what James had told him that day in the bathroom.
“Was he the man you parents wanted you to marry?” he asked as he put the picture back into its place.
She became solemn at his question. She nodded though. He could tell that she was bothered by the mentioned of their almost relationship.
“What happened?” he asked.
She slumped against the back of the chair. “He was my best friend. We used to do everything together and would always end the day laughing like children over the oddest things,” she paused in between giggles, ” My parents thought we were right for each other and said we should marry.”
“Why didn’t you?” he asked.
She looked up at him with a hint of anger behind her eye.
“Because he betrayed me and my family. We took him into our confidence and he threw it all away,” she said with moist eyes.
“When was the last time you saw him,” he questioned.
“It was about a year ago. The last thing I told him was that I loved him. He threw it back in my face,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could say.
She looked up and said, “Don’t be. It was a long time ago.”
Nathan stood and walked across the room to the door. He was half way out when he asked, “Did you really love Sam?”
“Yes, very much,” she said.
He gave her a sympathetic smile and walked out the door.
Marlie walked into the drawing room where her father sat at the piano, playing an old tune he once thought her. He looked up, never seising his playing, and smiled at his daughter. He walked over to him and sat down next him on the piano bench. He finished the song and laid a reassuring hand on Marlie’s shoulder.
James lay in the sand watching a mother sea turtle lay her eggs. It was dark and he had a small candle to light his view. The turtle would strain and an ivory colored egg would plop into the two foot deep nest.
James cold lay on the beach and watch turtles all day. He had been since he was young and would watch a nest until it hatched. When he was little he used to name the nests.
One nest he grew attracted to was named Conteris. It had contained fifty-six eggs. He had counted them all one night with his mother. They had laid out on the sand till sun rise watching this mother turtle. After six years he now watched on of the turtles from that clutch lay her first eggs.
He gently stroked her shell. He could because Mer gave off a sent that was familiar to turtles. Sea animals had no fear of Mer. They had always lived in harmony with one another.
James felt a presence behind him. He turned and saw his mother sitting down in the sand next to him. She leaned forward to look into the nest. It was looking full with all the small, white orbs.
“They look healthy and firm,” she said.
“I think this will be a good clutch,” he replied.
Laxwana stroked the mother’s flipper and spoke a few comforting words in the Mer language.
“I thought you couldn’t come,” said James.
“Some things are more important,” she said.
James look at her with an approving smile and said, ”I’m glad you came.”
“I am too. How far along is she?” asked Laxwana.
“Almost done,” he answered.
They watched for a long while until the turtle began to cover her eggs with the sand she had scooped from the hole. She packed it with her back flippers as if she were sealing a preasous package.
The sun began to peak over the horizon and cast its golden rays across the beach. The water and sand gleamed like scales on a fish.
The turtle hauled herself to the sea. Water lapped up on her face and across her shell. She moved farther into the water and it became easier for her to move.
“There she goes,” said Laxwana. She waved to the turtle as she dove beneath the water.
Marlie sat at the long breakfast room table, next to James. He was looking out toward the far window. It was a dark and cloudy day and he was itching to get outside. They had heard no thunder though.
The morning was a fairly quit one. She and her family always got extra quiet when it rained. They were all waiting for the thunder.
Just as Marlie thought it would never thunder, it did. Loud and clear. Rain reared on the roof and beat against the windows.
They all looked up and smiled at each other. Nathan, on the other hand, was clueless. It almost startled him to see them all jump up from the table. They got up without a word and disappeared out the door to the entry way.
“Where are you going?” he asked after wiping his mouth.
All but Marlie had left. She walked over to him, grabbed his arm, and said, ”horseback riding.”
He looked puzzled. “Are you mad?”
“Yes, now we need to hurry before it stops raining,” she said an pulled him out of his chair.
He followed her out of the room and said, “Why do we have to go when it’s raining?”
“We just do. Hurry and get changed,” she said and ran up the stirs with him right on her tail.
They all rode through the rain. Lighting flashed around them as they rode. Their cloths clung to them like and octopus would its prey. Laxwana and Marlie’s hair stuck to their heads and they often had to wipe their faces of the wet mess of hair.
Nathan watched them as they glided through the air. He had never really noticed how Laxwana and Marlie never really wore their hair in more popular styles. They both wore it down only to let it flow down their backs.
After a while of ridding on the beach, Marlie began to feel the slight tingling behind her eyes. Her visions came so suddenly that she had to let go of the rains to hold her head. Then she slipped form the horse. She fell and sand filled her mouth, nose, and eyes.
James dismounted and ran to her. He pulled her up to face him and began to question her about the vision.
“What did you see, Marlie?” he asked firmly.
“Air-on-beach,” she stuttered again and again. Her breath was fast and shallow.
Corax and Laxwana dismounted their horses and looked in the same general direction. Whit their Mer yes they could see a cove. Three Air people looked back with cold eyes. Their wings unfolded from behind their backs. They all jumped into the air and soared toward them.
They landed with a mighty thud. Wind whirled around them. Corax held his hands out to block the oncoming blast. He brought one hand to his side and out stretched his still raised hand. He flexed his fingers and jets of water flew from his fingertips. They soared toward the Air people. Some splashed against their wings while others were repelled by the air stream.
The Air people began to shake from the water. One dropped to the ground while the others covered their faces with their hands. Corax finally stopped. As soon as he did, they all took off. They formed themselves into a circle and flew around the party. A funnel formed around them and threw sand into their faces.
Nathan knelt over Marlie with James. James quickly got up and left the two of them. As soon as he was gone Nathan could make no sign of him. When he turned back to Marlie, he saw one of the Air people kneeling over her. He was petrified at the sight of it.
It’s skin was a pale white and its eyes were dark as night. Its wings were made of gray feathers and sheltered its back. The air person grabbed Marlie by the arm and pulled her close to him. She tried to kick away from him but he was just too strong. He ran a spike that was on his elbow down her lower arm, tearing the soft flesh.
She screamed in pain at the long gash that ran down her arm. Crimson blood oozed from her skin.
When it finished, the Air person stepped back and opened its mouth to speak. His teeth were sharp and jagged. Instead of words he made a screeching noise. Nathan quickly covers his ears in pain and his eyes were tightly shut.
When he opened his eyes the air people were gone and so were Laxwana and Corax. James stood over Marlie. As Nathan searched with his eyes further, he realized they were gone.
“Where are you parents?” asked Nathan, Panic was written all over his face.
Not looking up from the torn flesh on Marlie’s arm, James replied, “Cemparus, the Air kingdom. It’s where they took them to be hostages for the Air people.”
James didn’t mention that it the Mer took too long in responding to their threat, Laxwana and Corax would be eaten. Air people will eat anything accept their own kind.
Nathan opened his mouth to ask more questions but James cut him off. “I’ll answer everything later. Right now we need to her home. The venom in the spike spreads slowly, so we might be able to get it all out of her system,” he said.
James lifted Marlie in his arms and began to walk quickly back to the house. Nathan followed next to him, processing the things he had just seen.
James looked down at his little sister. They had final gotten her fully dry. Her leg hung out of the cool sheets. The long gash ran down the lower half of her arm. It was beginning to gain purple vanes under the skin caused by the poison.
Nathan walked in the room and stood next to James. They both wore only their shirts, pants, and waist coats.
“What do we need to do?” asked Nathan.
“The poison needs to be sucked out. It’s the only way to heel the wound, but first we need to clean the cut so they can get into the wound. Can you do that while I do a few things,” answered James.
Nathan was still in shock from the events that still had not been fully explained. He nodded though and followed James’s orders.
James left leaving Nathan alone. He fetched the salts from the kitchen and some linen he also found in the bathroom. He also took out his knife from his things. He cleaned it with some steaming water James had brought up and dried it. He then went back to Marlie’s room and went to work. He first removed all the debris and tried to clean some of the developing puss. He also neatened the wound by taking severed skin and disconnecting it from the main body. He put all this in a tin bowl.
After a while James returned and placed a hand on Nathan and told him to stop. He then handed Nathan two star fish.
“What are these for?” he asked.
“To suck the rest of the poison out. They can do it ten times better that you or I could. They can extract the venom and put the clean blood back in,” replied James.
Nathan took the first star fish and placed it on the wound. It immediately began to suck. The other one soon joined it and they worked together to extract the toxin. When James removed the star fish he placed them in a bucket of salt water.
“Now what needs to be done?” asked Nathan.
“She needs to soak in salt water. It is vital if she is to heal properly. I have a tub of water waiting for her,” he said as he began to lift her out of the bed. Nathan got the door for him and followed him to the dimly lit room with the tub full of salt water.
Once in the room James turned to Nathan and said, “You might be a bit surprised at what you are about to see,” warned James.
James began to lower Marlie into the water. Almost instantly scales began to grow up her legs from her toes. Within just a few seconds she was completely immersed and a full tail had formed. It glistened in the dim lighting and water.
Nathan stepped back. He had turned white at the sight of her sea green tail replacing her legs. All he could do was just gape at the mermaid that lay helpless in the tub in front of him.
Eventually he said to James, “Your family members are mermaids?”
James shrugged and said, “Sort of. You see we are called the mer. Not ‘mermaids’.”
“So how many are there. I mean, how many ‘Mer’ are there?” asked Nathan.
“They inhabit forty percent of the ocean,” answered James.
Nathan kept asking questions and James kept answering. Nathan had to know everything at this point. He had been seen by the air people and would now be seen as part of the Mer.
As the night progressed James told him of how the air and earth were set out to concur the sea and its inhabitants. He also told him the purpose for their being here.
Hours passed and Marlie didn’t even stir. She had been soaking in salt water. The wound was healing but slowly. James had said that it would heal slowly but if done right she would only have a very faint scar.
Nathan sat next to her bed keeping her cool. James came and went checking to see if he needed anything. When he wasn’t there he was sending and receiving messages from Ocean City. Warning them of the threat and that his parents had been taken by the air people.
James had told Nathan about Ocean City and how it was a great canyon formed from a dead current. The Mer had lived in the city for over a millennia and the council had been meeting there for even longer.
The cave that they supposedly held it in was aid to have a rare crystal imbedded in the ceiling, illuminating the whole cavern. James had said he and Marlie had never seen the crystal and they had only been to Ocean City once. They both were born on the outskirts of the city and had visited there before they had left for land.
Marlie had not opened her eyes since they had brought her back to the house. She had just satin in her salt water tub. Her wound had healed but she still would not wake up. James and Nathan never left her unattended so that someone would be there when she woke.
After a few days they could tell she was beginning to lose her nutrition. Her skin was pale and her tail lost its shine. It began to feel dull and flaky. Her hair turned a light gray and became tin.
Both men stood over her tub. They were planning to move her to her own bed. There was nothing they could do for her at this point. She was dying.
James nodded he lifted her out of the tub. Nathan covered her with towels to dry the salt water. James cried her into her room. As he lowered her into her bed he kissed her forehead.
Nathan looked at him. James’s eyes were sunken in and had dark circles under them. His skin was pale and clammy. He did not know when James had gotten a good night’s sleep.
“I’ll stay with her. You go get some rest,” suggested Nathan. He could see the gratitude in his eyes.
James just nodded and left.
Nathan sat himself down next to her bed and reached for her hand. It was cold and sticky.
He began to talk to her. “Marlie, you need to listen to me. You have to keep fighting. You can’t die,” he said.
He pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed it. It was salty and wet.
“I won’t let you. I love you too much to let you let go like this. So please, keep fighting,” he said with his eyes beginning to fill with tiers.
Over the days sitting next to her he had begun to feel things that he never thought he would about her. In reality he should have been repulsed by what she was, but it only enhanced his attraction to her.
He felt a tier roll down his face and fall on her hand. Nathan closed his eyes and pulled her close to him, tiers falling on her.
He felt a hand around his neck and realized it was Marlie. Her eyes were open and looking at him. He pulled away to look at her.
She was week but had enough strength to cup his face in her hand and mutter, “I heard every word.”
Nathan smiled. He kissed her on the forehead and brought her to his chest. He could feel her breathing. It was deep and shallow, but steady. He cradled her, thinking that she would fall back into eternal sleep if her let her go.
Over a period of a week Marlie regained her strength. Her hair became its usual bright red and her skin became a lovely tan from all the extra time she spent in the sun.
James became himself and regained his playful spirit and the few pounds he lost. They were almost normal except for the reminder that their parents were missing and the three powers were on the brink of war.
One morning they all sat at the table solemnly.
“Marlie, you and I have to go to Ocean City. The elders have called us,” he said grimly.
They all looked up.
“What about Nathan? He can’t stay here. It won’t be safe now that mama and papa are gone,” she protested.
“I know. I’ve made arrangements for Remus to come and stay with him,” James stated.
“Who is Remus?” asked Nathan.
“He’s a close friend. He’s a protector for the Mer that live on land. He has helped us more times that we like to count,” replied James.
“So he will be protecting me?” asked Nathan confused.
“Yes, he will stay here with you while we go to Ocean City,” answered James.
“Why exactly do I need protecting?” asked Nathan after a long silence.
“Because the our enemies now see you as a valuable tulle against us. They will come for you sooner or later,” explained James.
“When will we be leaving for Ocean City?” asked Marlie.
“Two days. Remus will be here later today,” said James.
At that Marlie nodded and got up from her seat and James did the same. Nathan followed them. As they walked James spoke to Nathan.
“Nathan, you must, under any circumstances, obey anything that Remus tells you,” said James.
“Understood,” replied Nathan.
Marlie knelt down below the house. The room she was in was carved from the cliff the house sat on. It had been hollowed out by Mer when they began living in this house. The cavern’s walls were carved to look cathedral like. On the far wall a large statue that had been carved from the stone sat in the center of the room. Surrounding it was a pool of water that was still like glass. The statue was of a man clutching the face of a mermaid. She held to his lower arms and looked up at him with a great longing. He looked down at her with the same passion and feeling. The Mer’s tail was half way in the water and the man was perched on a large rock. Marlie could faintly see the steak of tears on the mermaid’s face.
This was something she had been fascinated with since she was a child. It had always brought her down to the cavern to sit and wonder who the Mer and man were. Now she knew. Her heart was telling her that this was part of her destiny.
She gently dipped her fingers in the cool water. It rippled to the statue and back. As it did, the features of the sculpture changed to fit hers. The man’s became a featureless face. If it was true, Nathan would touch the water and their faces would look back at each other until they died. It was a life bond statue.
When two Mer bond they stay bonded. They will always love one another. Nothing ever changes between them. They are eternally linked to each other. If one dies the other does as well.
Marlie remembered the time she came down here with Sam.
Marlie and Nathan were linked by a common love. Marlie knew this. She could fell the magic swelling inside her. They bond was becoming stronger between them. This was why she was here. His tiers of love had touched her skin and that was more magic that anyone could even begin to imagine
James opened the door and smiled at the familiar faces that looked back at him. Remus stood in the open door way. Remus rushed up to James and pulled him into a massive hug.
“You look to old to be your age, boy,” he said letting him go to look at him.
Marlie and Nathan came out of the eating room together. Marlie broke into a run and jumped into Remus’s arms. He twirled her around in his arms as if she were no lighter than a peace of dry kelp. He set her down and squinted his eyes at her.
“You are getting more beautiful by the year. I don’t like it,” he said with a smirk on his face.
“You look just like you grandmother,” said a woman coming around the door frame carrying a trunk.
It was Remus’s human companion Elise. She was a small woman and the trunk was over powering her. She dropped it at Remus’s feet with a thud.
“You get to carry that up the stairs,” she said pointing to the trunk.
She walked around and held her arms out to Marlie. They embraced one another.
“Marlie Nadell you are the prettiest little thing,” she said and continued, “Now Introduce me to the man we will be watching.”
Marlie had almost forgotten about him with all the excitement of seeing Remus and Elise. He walked to them and held out his hand to Remus. He did nothing. He withdrew it and brought it down to his side.
Elise eyed him up and down then circled him like a shark does its prey. Nathan mimicked her and took in Elise and Remus’s appearance.
Elise wore a purple dress that came to her ankles. A white corset imprisoned her torso. He could tell she was finding it uncomfortable. Her hands were small and dainty as were her feet. She had cloth rapped around her palms and intertwined between her fingers. Her hair was the color of sunlight and her eyes were like fields of green grass. They raged with energy and power.
Remus wore a pair of tan trousers and a white shirt. He had rolled his sleeves up to his elbows and left the top two buttons undone. He also wore a light blue waist coat which he also left open. He had a pocket watch that had a crab molded into the metallic casing. It hung heavily on his waist coat. He too also had bear feet.
Remus smiled and held out his hand. Nathan took it. He was greeted by a sudden shock. It ran up his arm and into his neck. Nathan jumped back with a yelp. He looked at Remus with a bewildered look.
They all began to laugh at his reaction. James bent over with laughter while Marlie wiped tears away from her eyes. Elise walked up to Nathan and rapped her arm around his.
“Nathan, that is a normal effect of touching Remus. You see Remus has a high electric current running through his body. So in other words he is an electric eel with legs,” laughed Elise.
Nathan looked at Remus who just grinned and shrugged. Nathan walked up to him and touched him again. He shot his hand back and looked at it. He had felt nothing. He looked up with bewilderment.
“It only happens once,” laughed Remus.
Nathan shook his head and smiled.
“Remus, why don’t you and James take all the trunks upstairs,” said Elise as she led Nathan and Marlie into the kitchen.
James began to walk with Remus, but was picked up from under his arms, wrinkling his waist coat. Remus set him down on the floor with his back facing the door. He turned on his heels and chased Remus out the door. They both ran through the entry way laughing and playing like young dolphins.
Once they were in the kitchen Elise sat Marlie and Nathan down and said, “Alright, tell me everything I need to know.”
Nathan and Marlie walked on the beach once more and both admired the sunset. Marlie was bare foot and left soft prints in the moist sand. The hem of her skirt trailed the ground and penciled intermittent swirls in the sand. Nathan wore his brown ankle boots. He left sharp heal imprints in the sand.
“Are you over whelmed?” she asked afraid he would lash out at her.
He chuckled, “I’m still processing, if that answers your question.”
“I’m sorry you had to get involved in this. We didn’t mean for the war to begin while you were with us,” she explained.
He stopped walking and turned to look at her. “Marlie, you couldn’t control that. It’s not your fault that someone got a little trigger happy.”
She looked at him confused.
“I know what you are trying to say, but I do not understand the phrase ‘trigger happy’,” she said.
He waved that off and laughed, “Old saying.”
They began walking again and came to a large group of rocks. Water pooled in the crevices of the rocks.
“Would you like to climb those,” asked Nathan.
She looked up at him with a smile from one ear to another. She nodded vigorously.
They began to walk toward them when Nathan stooped. He bent down and untied his shoes. He slipped them off and laid them in the sad with his knitted socks.
Marlie laughed at him.
“I wanted to see what it felt like,” he said giving her a mischievous grin.
They approached one that was up the Marlie’s shoulders. Nathan jumped up to the top with ease. He turned to inspect the rock and confirmed it was safe. He knelt down and held out his hand for Marlie. She took them obligingly and put her foot on a small ledge. She used Nathan’s hands for a steady and pushed up. She temporarily lost her balance when he let go of her but regained it when he grabbed her by the waist. He led her around to the front of him and kept one hand on her.
They walked out to the farthest edge of the rocks. They watched as the sun dipped behind the never ending sea.
After a moment, Marlie spoke. “My mother and father used to watch the sun set every evening since they first bonded,” she said.
“How long have they been ‘bonded’? Is that your equivalent of marriage?” he asked.
She nodded and said, “Almost forty years.”
“That is most impressive,” he said.
“Not really,” she said scrunching her nose.
Nathan looked at her bemused.
“Mer can live for over six-hundred years. The longest recorded bondage was six-hundred and seventy years long,” she said smiling up at him.
He laughed. “I can tell your parents love one another. I think they could beat that record if-“he stopped.
Marlie looked down at her feet and bit her lip. She took a deep breath to try and hold back the tears. It didn’t work and she began to walk back to the entry point on the rocks.
Nathan followed her and grabbed her by the upper arm. She stopped. He put both hands on her arms and turned her to face him. “Look, I’m sorry,” he said.
Marlie leaned into his chest and wrapped her arms around his body. She buried her face in his waist coat and shirt. He was taken aback by her behavior but comforted her. He cradled her like a child.
“I’m just so tired. Tired of living in fear. Wandering if friends are going to go missing like so many of the others. I want to be able to go home to Ocean City and watch the children play among the weed groves without worrying if someone is in the plants waiting to take them. I want to live like I used to before all this started,” she said sobbing.
“How did you live,” he asked curiously.
“We were free. We did things that the local humans would never think of doing. Now because of this threat we had to become more human than Mer. James couldn’t practice his powers because it would lead people right to us. We couldn’t go swimming at night anymore, and papa and I couldn’t talk to sea animals any longer,” she paused to laugh, “I had never worn a corset until a few week before I met you.”
Nathan was slightly embarrassed by that mention. “Why didn’t you just go back to Ocean City?” he wondered.
“The council chose my father to watch the humans for the Mer. We have to stay until James becomes the next elder,” she replied.
Nathan stroked her arm. She took his hand and said with a smile, “We need to go. Remus arranged something for our last night here.”
She led him down the rocks and they ran along the beach. Nathan stopped and turned back toward the direction they came.
“What are you doing?” she laughed.
“We forgot our shoes,” he said.
She laughed and grabbed his arm again. She pulled him on. He laughed at her and continued to run with her.
They finally met Remus. He was just throwing some dry drift wood into a large fire on the sand. It gave off a bright ember glow.
“What’s this?” asked Nathan.
“What does it look like? It’s a party,” joked Remus.
Elise walked up with James. They were also shoeless. Elise walked up to Nathan and patted him on the back. “Welcome to your first night swim ,Nathan,” she said.
Nathan’s eyes got huge.
“Don’t worry. This is just something Mer do, and it is the festival of the stars,” said Nathan.
“What is that?” he asked.
“It’s the only night we can see all the stars at zenith,” said Marlie.
Nathan raised his eyebrows.
Remus and James took off their vests and walked toward the water. They stopped at the edge, and looked back at the rest of them. Elise pointed at Nathan’s vest and said, “It will only way you down in the water.”
He removed it and set it down next to the other vests. Marlie and Elise beckoned for him to go on with Remus and Nathan. He did and they took off their outer dresses.
Nathan felt the cool water ripple across his toes. It receded and left sand on his feet. Marlie stepped next to him. She was wearing a blue bodice with a white skirt. He was glad that it was dark to mask his embarrassment.
Elise held Nathan’s arm as all the Mer walked into the sea. They dove into the water and breached the water. Glistening tails flicked water into the air. The stars lit up their scales like gems. Nathan was in awe by the Mer half of them.
Nathan and Elise began to walk slowly into the water. “Nathan, when you swim, put your feet together and stroke them together,” she said.
She motioned that she was ready to begin swimming. She jumped and dove like the Mer into the water. She slid beneath the water. Nathan copied her and dove beneath the water.
Coral thrived under the water. The stars lit up a whole new world under the water. He could see fish and all sorts of sea life swimming about the reef.
Elise tugged on his arm and he surfaced with her. Marlie, Remus, and James popped up next to them and they all gazed up at the stars. Above them was a blanket of light that shined down on the observers.
Marlie touched Nathan’s shoulder and pointed further out to sea. He could see heads bobbing in the water. “What are they?” he asked.
“More Mer,” she said.
Nathan’s heart began to race. “Can we go to them?” he asked. He wanted to see more of them.
“You bet we can,” said Remus and he hurled himself over the four other people. He dove and began to swim toward them.
James grabbed Nathan and put his hands on his own back.
“Hold on tight,” said James and he dove with Nathan on his back. He swished his tail and with one powerful flick, he sent them flying through the water.
Within seconds they were popping up next to the Mer. They all looked at each other and smiled. It was a reunion for all of them. They were all hugging and talking. Nathan for a moment felt lost in the crowd.
He looked over and saw James and Marlie talking to a Mer woman. James’s head was low and he looked grim. Marlie had a single tear running down her face. They left her and swam over to Nathan.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“Clorfa’s sister,” said Marlie.
“Who is that?” asked Nathan.
“She was a Mer I loved,” said James as he dove beneath the water.
Nathan was confused. He looked at Marlie for an explanation.
“She was killed by a group of air people. They eat all that they capture,” she said letting another tear fall down her face.
Nathan’s face fell. He had been told about the brutality of the air people.
Marlie looked back up at the stars. Nathan did the same.
The crowd grew silent, but it was interrupted by a chant coming from the crowd. It was a harmonious song. One by one all the Mer chimed into the song. Marlie started to sing. Her voice was like cool liquid flowing from her mouth.
Marlie took Nathan’s hand and a Mer floating next to her. Within a few moments all the Mer were connected to one another by hand. They created a harmonious cluster of creatures.
Once the song was over, Nathan turned to find Marlie gone. He scanned the water for her, but only saw Mer dipping under the water and leaving. Others were still looking up at the stars.
Nathan looked under the water and spotted Marlie floating on her stomach, looking at a single purple starfish. He swam down to her, flicking his legs like Elise had showed him. He pulled up next to her and she smiled at him. He smiled back. Bubbles floated out of his mouth and to the surface, causing her to laugh.
Nathan’s lungs began to feel tight and he was forced to return to the surface. When he breached the water, he almost bumped into a very muscular Mer man. He stood his ground and did not move at Nathan’s breach.
“You are the human that is with Corax’s family,” he said. His red hair floated around his shoulders.
“Yes,” replied Nathan.
The man sniffed and swam down the where Marlie was. He spoke to her in what appeared to be a plea.
Remus came up behind Nathan and swam around his legs, causing him to kick him. Remus surfaced rubbing his ribs.
“You would make a fierce water ball player,” winced Remus.
“What’s water ball?” asked Nathan.
“It’s where you have two teams and fish net. The goal is to hit the ball over the net and not drop it. It you do the other team gets a point. I think we are about the get a game going,” said Remus as he beckoned for Nathan to follow him.
They made their way over to a group of Mer that were in a collective circle. They began to section off into two teams. Nathan and Remus joined one group. More and more Mer joined. Marlie and James joined the opposite team. Elise floated nearby to watch.
James served the ball made of kelp and a form of Mer putty from the back center of the water field. Some Mer in front of Nathan hit the ball over the net two Mer women held. This went on for a while before Nathan got a chance to hit it.
His first shot didn’t go so well. He did manage to keep it in the air but had trouble getting his body out of the water enough. He watched how James and Remus lifted themselves out of the water. Their tails swished franticly. One woman on Nathan’s team could push up enough so that the water came below her waist.
Nathan tried to propel himself out of the water and was successful the second time. He thrust his legs so hard that he went higher that the woman. The ball landed despite the team’s attempt to lift it back into the air.
This went on for a while until someone called out,”The sun is breaching!”
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked out toward the horizon. A faint purple was peaking up from the ocean. Some Mer dove under immediately. Others made wide spread farewells and left. James found Nathan and the original group formed. They said goodbye to them and dove. Soon all the Mer were gone. The group began the swim back to the beach. They were hastier to return that coming out.
Once they had reached the beach, they all gathered their things and walked back up to the house. On the way Nathan decided to question Marlie about the man who had spoken to him.
“His name is Dorsm. He is opposed to all human interaction. He thinks they are harmful to our world,” she said.
“He’s a real idiot if you ask me,” threw in Remus. They were just entering the house. It was warm and the lights were turned dim.
“No one asked you. Come on. You can help me with breakfast,” said Elise. She was pulling on his arm.
“Can’t I go and change first,” he griped.
“I guess,” she said laughing and pushing him up the stairs.
James followed them up. His face was still solemn and dark.
“How is James?” asked Nathan.
Marlie sighed. “He will be fine,” she said heading up the stairs.
Nathan followed her.
“You did excellent in water ball. I’ve never seen anyone do that well on their first try,” said Marlie.
“I don’t know. It just came natural. I always have had a athletic side to me,” he laughed.
Marlie laughed and pushed him toward his own room. “Go get changed.” She walked into her room and set her dress out to dry. She changed into a plain aqua dress. Fish were embroidered along the hem of the skirt. She had also changed her under dress, forgoing the corset and stockings.
Elise tapped on the door and entered. “What did Dorsm want?” she asked. She had also changed. She was wearing a pink dress with coral stitched on the bodice.
“He said it was unwise for James and me to get involved with another human,” she said letting out a long breath of air.
Elise leaned on the bed post and said, “Did you tell him to mind his own worthless business?”
“No, but I did tell him papa decided to bring him in the house,” said Marlie.
“What did he say?” asked Elise.
“He said papa should chose mates such as his son for me and not more humans,” she laughed.
“Come on, hun. Let’s get some food for these lion fish,” said Elise and they walked down the kitchen.
Marlie looked ahead of her to see the growing waves crashing on the rocks. Nathan's eyes were diverted in the same direction. He too knew something was spurring in those waves.
For some distance they walked in silence together. Finally Nathan broke the tension.
“When will it all be over?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered.
“When will we see each other again?” he questioned.
She stopped and turned to him saying, “Nathan, nothing is certain. I may go into those waves and not come out.”
She paused and saw the sorrow in his eyes.
“Your love is binding. Nothing can keep us apart not even war,” she said.
“I know,” he replied.
At that point he pulled her close and they embraced one another .He could feel the large starfish wrapped around her upper body under her robe. He loosened his grip and their foreheads touched.
Marlie had tears in her eyes. She was hurting at the thought of leaving him. Things were so new and tender, and she didn’t want to do anything to hurt it now.
Together they walked the rest of the way to the cove hand in hand. When they reached it James was in the water ready for Marlie to enter the sea with him.
Marlie left Nathan with one last embrace and stepped into the water. Once she had transformed she removed her robe reveling her Mer star fish top. He tail sparkled in the water as the sun hit her green scales.
The ocean swallowed her leaving only her foot prints behind. James was taken with her and they both swam together to the ocean city leaving Nathan standing on the rocks watching for the clear waters and sky.
The trip was short but harsh. Waves made it harder for their strong tails to keep their balance. Often they were thrown into rocks and sand banks.
Time soon passed and they had found themselves among Mer traveling to the city as well. All Mer would congregate to the city for preparation for battle. I was to be the greatest joining of Mer since the fall of Neptune City.
They were greeted by a long Mer man in an imperial uniform. He said nothing but motioned for them to follow him. They did and he led them down a dark and winding path through the kelp. Floating lanterns were tied to random pieces of kelp.
She occasionally saw movement in the corner of her eye. She could only catch a swish of a tail.
They were afraid. The earth and air had been terrorizing them for over a year. That’s why she and her family left. It was tricky but with special diet they were all able to walk on land. They were some of the few that were brave enough.
Eventually the reached a hallow place in the kelp that created the beginning of the city. They could see the rising structures coming out of the walls of a great canyon. It had taken almost a century to finish the large buildings that created the city. Twirling designs of the houses and other buildings resembled their love of the ocean.
Lights swam upward to the surface in a dancing display. Sharks and other creatures swam from edge to edge serving in simple tasks.
They turned and found themselves swimming down a slope leading to the heart of the canyon. It pulsed blue light through the city create the appearance of an underwater sun. To the Mer, this was almost as precious.
They soon found themselves in the imperial building. It was the largest and most impressive structure the Mer had ever created. It was lit as if life came in and out on a regular basis, but now it was disserted. The people were living in fear.
The building was carved form the canyon. The walls had carvings of Mer people swimming among reefs and kelps. Ten large statues were carved above head. They represented the families of Mer. Each Mer was one of ten families. Marlie and James were of the house Tresa.
Her statue was the one to the far left. Her tail hung down elegantly from her torso. Her long hair flowed down her back and around her face. A crown of coral perched on the top of her head. Her top was made of a clam shell. Her hands were held out to the Mer people on the walls below.
Off in one of the extensions of the room, Marlie could hear voices chanting. They sang the song of the Mer. It spoke of their history and love for the sea. The song echoed off the walls and filled the half the imperial building.
They continued and were led to a room with a dome of pure crystal. The room had with fife thrones for the five elders.
Marlie’s father was one of them. But he was missing. They would have to choose a new elder to replace him until he could be found. They would appoint James or chose his brother.
His brother, Farem, had been working to manage Corax’s affairs while he was on land. He had been good to them for years and he may now have to replace her father.
For as long as Marlie and James could remember their father was always one of the five elders. He would always leave for a month to attend the council meeting. He would come back and give them the news if anything had changed drastically.
They were shown to the center of the council chamber. One of the five elders rose and addresses them.
“Welcome to Ocean City, son of the wise and daughter of the stars,” he said in a friendly booming voice.
James spoke for them both.
“We are honored by being here,” he said.
They were shown to seats that were discreetly placed in the back of the room. As they sat in silence, the elders argued about what who was to become the next elder.
Farem surprisingly, argued that James be appointed the elder until Corax could be returned. Others said he was too young and had not enough experience.
James and Marlie were being led to their own separates apartments. They passed many other homes full of families of Mer. Children played among the pillars, hiding from one another.
One child ran up to Marlie and wrapped her arms around her tail. She looked up at her and said, “Farmis.”
It meant big sister.
Marlie bent down and cupped the girls face in her hands. Her blond hair flowed around her head lightly. She had to have been about three. Her tail was just now beginning to gain its full color. It was a faint pink. The girl’s necklace was made of pearls.
“What is your name?” asked Marlie.
“Kasha. What’s yours?” she said.
“Marlie. Your name is true,” she said.
The girl smile and swam off with her friends into a house. Her mother greeted her. Kasha mouthed something to her mother and pointed to Marlie and James. Her mother diverted her eyes to them and smiled.
They eventually reached the apartment. They were met by a middle aged mermaid. Her tail was a bright lime green. Her long black hair swirled around her head and shoulders like silk.
“Welcome to your apartment. My name is Meira. I am your house keeper,” she said.
“Thank you,” said James politely.
Meira nodded and said, “I will show you to your own rooms.”
She turned and swam up toward a hole in the ceiling. They followed her and entered the second floor of the apartment. It was highly furnished with tables and places to sit. A large yellow coral mound hung from the ceiling. Tinny glowing specks hung from the branches.
“I will leave you two to get comfortable,” said Meira and left.
Marlie and James went into their own rooms. Both rooms were similarly lit as the family room outside the bed rooms. Sea sponges were placed in the center of the room. They were covered by soft reeds. A smaller sponge was at the head of the bed. It was also covered by soft kelp.
She softly laid herself down on the bed and closed her eyes. She soon drifted off to sleep, dreaming of Nathan.
Nathan watched Remus and Elise duel with their light weight Mer swords. They swung at each other and blocked what could be a devastating blow.
He couldn’t believe how they both were not dead. They both hacked at one another with such energy that if you blinked you could miss five moves.
Sweat doted the sand on the beach where they fought. It was overcast and mist filled the air and moistened the cloths they all wore. They clung to the legs and arms of the fighters hindering them from being as flexible as they could.
Remus brought a blow down and nocked Elise’s sword out of her hand. She ducked and oncoming blow but wasn’t able to dodge a kick to her legs she fell but was stopped by Remus. He had dropped his sword and slid his arms under hers. He pulled her up and stood her up on her feet.
They walked back to where Nathan sat laughing.
“That was incredible. The way you move with the weapon it remarkable,” said Nathan.
“It’s not really that hard. You just have to rain yourself to think as if the sword is part of you,” replied Elise.
“How long have you been practicing together?” asked Nathan.
“About nine years,” answered Remus.
Elise motioned for Nathan to follow her. He did and found himself in the sparing field. He raised his hand and began to back up.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said.
Remus came up behind him and pushed him back to his place. He reached down and lifted a sword into Nathan’s hands.
It was light and cold in Nathans hands. He could hold it above his head without feeling a tremendous strain.
Elise gripped her sword and held it out. She tipped it downward and straightened her back. Nathan gripped it with both hands and they walked toward each other. Nathan made the first move. He swung his sword at her neck trusting that she would block with her own weapon. She did more than that. She dropped into a full split, driving her foot into his ankle. He fell to his side. Elise was quick to get back up. She stood and dropped her sword to Nathan’s neck.
He was breathing heavily. Elise was hardly putting in effort. She had brought him to the ground with little effort.
Remus stood at a distance laughing. He clapped his hands on his knees.
“I haven’t seen a defeat that fast in years. Tell me, Nathan how did you manage that?” asked Remus.
Elise removed his sword from his throat and held out her hand. He took it obligingly. She helped him to his feet and said, “Nathan, I hope you won’t take part in any duels until we teach you a few things.”
He smiled. “I think your right. I just don’t understand how you beat me. I spent five years studying the art of the sword,” he said.
“Mer fighting style is very different from human. It is by far more efficient,” said Remus.
“I can see that,” said Nathan.
“The biggest thing about being fast is being flexible. Bending can be a helpful short cut for some moves,” commented Elise.
Nathan couldn’t help be impressed at the split Elise had done. She had gone down so smoothly and controlled.
“How do you get so limber?” he asked.
Remus and Elise looked at each other and smiled. Remus walked behind him and Elise took a step toward him.
“It’s simple. You do it once and that’s it,” said Elise.
As soon as she finished Remus put his hands on Nathans hips and pushed down. He did a half split into the sand. Nathan scrunched his face in pain.
“What are you doing?” he said in pain.
“Lesson one, getting limber,” said Elise as she put her hands on her shoulders.
She pushed down. Nathan did a full split in the sand. An electric pain ran down his legs and into his back. He yelped in pain and grabbed onto Elise’s wrists. She pushed harder.
After three of four minutes the let go of him. He no longer felt the pain in his legs and lower back. He got up and rubbed down the front of his legs.
He looked up at the two of them who were smiling at him.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
They just smiled and began walking back to the house.
The next morning was busy and hurried. Marlie and James were hurried to the council of elders to hear the prophecy of the council. It would be told by one of the city’s oldest women. She was five-hundred and six years old.
Once they arrived they were placed on a shelf looking place on the sides of the thrones. They sat and waited while the elders talked amongst themselves in the center of the cavern.
James leaned over to Marlie and asked, “Do you thing one of us will become the next elder?”
She bit her lip and replied, “I don’t know. If any of us it would be you. By law you should be the next elder.”
“I know that and they know that. They just think that I’m too young to be part of the counsel,” he said.
“Do you want-“she was cut off by the elders entering the council chamber.
Her uncle, Farem, said in a booming voice, “The council shall begin.”
After a long time of talking among the elders, Marlie became more and more anxious. They all gave positive and negative aspects of James becoming part of the elders.
“James, take your place in the center of the chamber,” said one of the burliest of the elders.
He did as he was told and swam to the center of the room. He swished his tail in circular motions to keep himself in the same place. He also folded his hands behind his back.
They began to ask James all sorts of questions like if he was ready for life dedication incase his father could not be found. He answered all truth fully and told them that he was prepared to take the responsibilities of the position.
One of the elders leaned forward in his large stone chair and asked him in a firm tone, “Are you prepared to be joined to someone?”
This question made Marlie’s jaw drop. James stayed firm though. He looked down at the floor and swallowed a lump deep in his throat. He straightened and peered up at his uncle.
“I am prepared to serve this council in whatever ways I must,” he said with his head high.
All the elders looked around at each other with a medley of expressions.
The oldest lifted his head and said to him, “You will take you sister and return when you are summoned.”
Without a word, Marlie and James met and the door and swam out. As they did, an old woman was led in by an escort of two guards. She was wrapped in a mossy fish net with shells hanging from strands of net.
James stopped and watched her go in. As soon as the door was closed he took a deep breath.
“What now?” she asked.
“We wait,” he said looking at the large stone doors that he longed to be on the other side of.
Nathan sat at the piano in the music room. He ran his fingers across the ivory and black keys, creating ripples of music in the air. He closed his eyes and let his hands flow with the song and began to let his whole body flow with the rhythm.
Elise crept up behind him and waited till he was finished till she made her presence known. When he did finish, he got up and was startled by her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt your playing. Marlie didn’t tell me you played, especially so beautifully,” said Elise.
“I don’t express it that much,” he said turning a faint pink.
She walked over to him and asked, “May I teach you something Remus taught me?”
He nodded and she motioned for him to sit back down on the stool. Once he was seated she stood next to him and said, “This is how he taught me how to fight. Think about the place you feel most at home. Don’t tell me, just picture it in your mind,” she paused then continued. “Now reach out and tough it. Feel its rhythms and beats. Now play to that rhythm.”
He closed his eyes again and pictured the sea in his mind. He let it swallow him. He let his finger play to the sounds of the sea and flowed as it did.
He lost track of time a he continued to play. Finally, Elise shook him violently on the shoulder.
“Nathan, come out of it,” she said I a worried tone.
He stopped playing and felt as if the sea was retreating into low tide, leaving him washed on the shore. He tore his hands away from the piano and clutched his chest. It was constricted into what felt like a huge knot in his chest. His lungs were on fire and he could not take a deep enough breath to subside it.
“Are you all right?” asked Elise.
“What happened?” he gasped.
Elise took a breath of relief. “You just sat there playing the most beautiful song and then you began to glow a light blue. I’ve never seen something like it in all my years with the Mer and their magic.”
Nathan sat staring at the piano. He felt exhausted and fatigued.
“I think I’m going to bed,” he announced as he got up from the stool and walked out the door.
Elise grabbed him by the arm and said looking into his face, “Nathan, the magic you just felt is powerful magic. It is still misused and misunderstood by even some of the most trained humans. If you are going to dive into this you need to know how dangerous it could be.”
He turned to face her. “I don’t understand how I could have any kind of power. I’m not Mer of whatever ells there is,” he said confused.
“The power you and I have is different from the kind Remus and Marlie have. They have magic that is local to the sea. Our powers come from in here,” she put her finger on her chest, indicating where her heart would be. “It’s fueled by our strong emotions. You put so much emotion into that song that you had a magical side effect.”
He looked down at his feet. He was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the information he had been presented with. The magic he now had, the war, Marlie and James leaving. It was a lot to process in just a few short days.
“I just need some rest. I’ll be better in the morning,” he said and walked up the stairs to his bed room leaving Elise standing in the large entry room.
She turned and headed for the kitchen. She could smell Remus cooking something full of herbs and spices. She entered the kitchen and saw him hovering above the stove. He stirred a hot broth with a wooden spoon.
Elise walked up behind him and ran her arms under his and clasped her hands across his torso. She stood on her tip toes and wedged her face next to his.
“Nathan knows about the magic. He found it while he was playing the piano,” she said.
Remus side and said, “I know. Marlie told me he had something in him. I knew this would bring it out of him.”
“I taught him what you taught me when I was learning how to fight. He didn’t take as long to figure it out. He did it on the first try. He has some strong emotions about something,” she said.
Remus nodded. “It’s about Marlie. She told me that the statue had changed since he had arrived,” he said still stirring the broth.
“Do you think he is the one from the dreams she used to have?” she asked.
Remus side and said, “I don’t know.”
Nathan woke with a start. Remus was shaking his vigorously.
“Get up, Nathan. We got to go, and now,” he said.
Nathan shot out of bed and began to dress himself. He paused realizing he didn’t know why it was so urgent that he got up. He looked at Remus puzzled.
“We don’t have time for questions. Just get dressed,” demanded Remus. He set down the lantern he was holding and ran to the painting of the mermaid on the wall. He took it down and ripped the frame off. He took the canvas and rolled the painting up and shoved it into his belt.
Nathan threw his pants and a random shirt on. As he did the house a thunderous noise came from down stairs. Remus ran over to the door and opened it. He motioned for Nathan to go out and He did.
They were met the bottom of the stairs by Elise who carried a carried a medium sized bag on her back.
“We need to hurry. They’ve surrounded the house,” she said.
Remus nodded and walked over to the side of the staircase and searched the wall for something. Elise and Nathan followed. Elise walked over to the wall and slapped a shell on the wall.
“You always forget,” she sighed.
As she slapped it, a rumbling sound came from the stairs. It began to grind together. The stairs started to sink below the floor and inverted their downward direction. They led to a long cavern that led down to the hidden bowls of the house.
They all ran down the stairs into the dark cave. Once they were all in the stairs took their original place, closing the little bit of light out of the cavern.
It was an eerie silence that crept over the floor of the deep cave. It sent shivers up Nathans spine. He thought that at any moment something would jump on him and he would fall into an even deeper darkness.
As he began to call out to Remus and Elise, a light came from the ceiling. It was large blue crystals that were imbedded into the rock. They ran all the way to the end of the highly extensive cave. Openings lined the walls of the cave and opened into rooms that also led deeper into the cliff the house sat on.
Remus was over by a large crack in the wall and called to him. Elise poked her head out of the crack.
“We need to hurry,” she called.
Nathan ran to them with wonder. He had never seen such crystals as these. He reached the crevice and entered it following Elise. It was a tight fit, but he managed to turn his body just right so that he could walk between the walls without brushing up against them.
A line of white crystals lit the way along the walls of the tunnel. Remus followed close behind Nathan. They walked until they reached the point where the two walls met.
Nathan looked back and forth from both of them.
Remus nodded and Elise and asked, “You still have it, or do I have to bite you again?”
She looked at him with a slight grin and pulled a knife from the underside of her outer corset she wore. She unwrapped it from its cotton wraps. It was simple knife with a mother of pearl handle. The blade was thin and long.
Elise untied the blue bonds of her left hand and tied the around her neck. Her hand had multiple scars from previous cuts that had healed. She stretched out her hand and sliced along one of her old scars. She made no flinch of sign of pain.
Once she had finished her cut, she handed the slightly bloodied knife to Nathan to hold. He took it with no hesitation.
Elise squeezed on her hand till a few drops of the crimson fluid fell from her hand. She held up her hand to one of the largest of the white crystals. She smothered it with her hand and the blood. As she did, all the others began to turn a bright red. The place where the two walls met separated and opened into a circular room. It was full of supplies and food. Things were stored in shelves that were carved from the walls. Two cots were placed against the walls of the cave. The three of them walked into the room.
On the shelves sat jars of food that looked something like a leafy vegetables. Others were full of what were shark eggs. The Mer famed them like humans farmed chicken eggs.
“What is this place?” asked Nathan in wonder.
Remus took the bag Elise had on her back and sat it on one of the cots. “What used to be a sanctuary for the Mer who lived on land. It could house a hundred Mer at once,” he said.
“Now it’s a ghost town. No one’s lived down here for over three years,” said Elise.
“So what’s going on and why did we come down here?” asked Nathan realizing he had been ripped from his sleep.
Remus sat on one of the cots and folded his hands across his chest. “I guess James told you about the Faction rebels right?” he asked.
Nathan nodded and Remus continued. “They are looking for you and they found you. They’ve surrounded the house and will do anything to get in. We had to bring you here because it is the one safe place we could keep you.”
“Why would they want me?” asked Nathan, confused.
“Because they know you have magic,” answered Remus.
“Just tell him, Remus,” Elise sighed.
Remus looked at her with fire in his eyes and his face went pale.
“What? He has to know some time,” she exclaimed.
“You might as well now,” Nathan argued.
Remus let out a long breath and began. “There is a foretelling of a human who shall possess powers to bring the factions to their knees. We think this may refer to you,” said Remus.
“Corax and his family came here to hide and to look for this person. They thought they had found him when they met Sam Thorp, but he went to the Factions once they had told him everything,” Elise explained.
Nathan stared at them. He was still processing what happened last night. He started to talk but was interrupted by the celling shaking. Dust fell on them and the cots.
Remus stood and walked out of the room and into the larger cavern. He came running back in. His eyes were filled with terror.
“They’re in the house. We need to-“he was interrupted by a large explosion from the other room. Dust and rock shot past the entrance of the secret room.
Elise took out the swords and threw two of them to Remus. He caught them and twirled them. She also handed Nathan one and said, “You may not be ready, but it’s better that nothing.”
Nathan gripped it tight and swished the blade once.
They exited the corridor and entered the large cavern. It was full of dust that clouded their way. They could just make out the defined shape of people entering the cave. The strangers stopped as the saw Remus, Elise, and Nathan.
It was silent and still. No one moved or spoke. But it was shattered by the sound of blade against stone. Sparks flew from the floor as the intruders ran toward the group of three.
Nathan braced himself and held his sword at bay. The first blow sent him stumbling back.
He could see Remus and Elise struggling with three people each. They were taking them one by one. It was slow but effective.
Nathan lunged at one of them and slashed his sword across his back and lower legs. The man fell to the ground. Nathan could finally get a good look at them. The man on the floor had a swirled tattoo on his shoulder as did the rest. They all wore black leather garments and had no hair. Nathan realized they were what James had told him about. These were the faction members.
Marlie’s armor was heavy but strong. She could feel the large metal plate weighing down her fin.
She hovered above the sandy floor next to her brother. His deep blue tail swished with anticipation. He was nervous. They both never thought that the Air and Tera would come to war with the sea.
James nudged her in the side and leaned over to her.
He whispered in her ear, “Do you think we will make it out of this?”
She looked at him with sorry eyes and said, “I hope so.”
They both turned to the waiting field of battle. It was clear and untouched. Soon lifeless bodies would litter the sand. But until then, they all waited, but only for a short time.
All the Mer began a steady walk up the sandy bank onto the beach. As soon as Marlie’s head was above the water she could see a massive wall of Tera rising from the earth. Their strong horse legs made them look proud and strong. Above head were Air hovering with their wings out spread above, waiting to dive and strike.
A Tera man walked forward. His long legs made him tower over all the mer. Along with the Tera man came a man from the Air. He dove like a dart aiming to spear its target. He landed with a heavy thud on the sand. James as well went forward. He summoned a wave to carry him to the
circle. His wave made him level with the Tera man.
Marlie had always thought that James was impressive in his Mer form. His tail was a good foot longer than hers. His was a bright electric blue. It was very muscular and flexible.
“You bring a woman to battle?” asked the Tera man, looking her up and down.
“She will be a great trophy for the victors,” hissed the Air man.
“She has come to fight. Her strength is great and her guidance is most valued,” said James defensively.
“So be it. We shall create an equal battle field,” said the Tera. He was going to have equality no matter what.
All three withdrew and it began. The water rose and created a solid U shaped opening in the sea. Tera and Air converged. Mer lined the U and Tera filled it all the way to the edge. Air still hovered above waiting.
A human stood on a rock in the distance with a knife in his hand. He brought it to his other hand and brought it across his outspread palm. Drops of human blood dripped on the rock. The war began.
After four hours of Mer pulling Tera and Air into the sea and vice versa all three sides were showing signs of wear. People were getting tired and numbers were diminishing.
For the Mer it was treacherous. When they were pulled into the air there was some hope of falling back into the water. If they were pulled into the Tera ground it was almost impossible to get out. The Tera would swarm and trample the unlucky Mer that were pulled in. Air could not fly back out if they were pulled under the water. Their wet wings would lock up and sink them to the bottom of the sea. Tera could at least swim out unless a Mer attacked them.
Time after time she watched Mer get pulled from the sea and ether slaughtered of injured. Clouds of crimson blood tinted the water in certain places often hindering their sight.
Marlie often swam to the edge of the water to stick her upper bod out and reach to pull Tara people in.
After a while she began to feel a prickle in the back of her head. She realized that the starfish were trying to reach her. She had to ignore it and continue fighting. The pain got worse. It moved around to the sides of her head and up into her forehead.
It moved into her eyes making her freeze in place. She brought her hands up to her face. She dropped her sword and sank to the sea floor along with it. James became instantly aware of her situation and raced to help her. He pulled her up right and brought her hands away from her eyes. They rolled back in her scull so the look purely white.
Marlie saw large numbers of people filling the battle grounds. They were the factions. They shot arrows into the air and fought the Tara people. As she kept watching she saw her house. She saw Nathan being taken by more faction rebels. Remus was bent over on his knees. A faction member held a sword and brought it down upon his neck. His head fell from his body and hit the floor leaving a pool of blood where it fell.
She relayed the message to James. He immediately took action ordering the Mer soldiers to watch for Faction members. They did and sure enough, the Factions came.
They consumed the battle grounds. Tara had to burrow into the earth while the Air retreated into the clouds. The Mer stood their ground. James told them to line the border of the water and prepare for the collapse of the ocean wall. It came like a great thundering storm. Water foamed about the faction members. It swallowed them like a killer whale consumes a seal. They whirled about in the water clumsily with no control of their bodies. The Mer rotated their bodies to aim to swim with the back wave. They would travel to Ocean City and report the mass of Factions.
Marlie and James turned and began to swim back. Marlie flicked her fin once and felt a large weight on her tail. She could feel something wrapped around her fluke. She turned and looked down her tail. A hand firmly gripped her upper fin and lower tail. She followed up the tail and looked straight into a familiar face. Sam grinned back at her.
Marlie gasped as she stared at him with wonder. She had not seen him in years. Why now had he decided to return to the factions?
James spun around and shot over above Sam. He wrapped his tail around his upper torso and pulled him deeper into the water. His hands slipped off Marlie’s tail. She flipped around and followed them down to the sea floor.
James pinned him to the sandy bottom. Sam was human and couldn’t hold his breath forever and James knew that. Sam began to struggle but was too week for James. He let out yells that were only streams of bubbles.
He began to fade. His air was running out. His eyes darted between Marlie and James as if he couldn’t believe they would actually kill him. His eyes began to flutter and James could feel his limbs going limp.
Marlie put a hand on James’s shoulder. He looked up at her and she shook her head at him. He let go of Sam.
Sam floated to the top and was followed by Marlie. She breached with him. She held her hand over his nose to see if he was breathing. He was. It was shaky but steady. Marlie drug him back to the beach and beached him on the sand. She sat next to him just looking at him.
He stirred and opened his eyes once the sun had set. All the other faction rebels had left when the water barrier collapsed. He sat up and looked around. He met Marlie’s eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment.
“So,” was all he said.
She just nodded.
“Last time we talked you told me you loved me,” he said not looking at her.
“That was two years ago. Things have changed,” she said.
They paused for a long moment.
Sam finally broke the silence. “I missed you and James. Your parents as well,” he said.
“We do to. My mother talked of you for weeks after you left,” she said smiling. They smiled at each other for a moment.
Marlie told him everything up till this point in time. She told him how her parents had been taken and how the war had started. He was shocked at the way the Mer were being terrorized.
“Why did you leave?” she asked.
He leaned back and said, “The fact that I had do basically die to become a Mer was not a pleasant thought. I didn’t really want to be a fish.”
“You wouldn’t have to, Sam. And you would only be asleep. It takes about an hour for the sea to finally let you go. We would still be able to turn you,” she said.
A human had to drown to become a Mer. Then a Mer would breathe life back into the body of the human and that would cause the biology of the human to change to Mer. It was a dangerous and painful process to become Mer, but all who had done it said they were never happier.
He tilted his head toward her. “Marlie, you know it would happen. We wouldn’t be able to have a healthy marriage if I wasn’t Mer,” he said.
She looked down and nodded. They were interrupted by lights from the far end of the beach.
“I need to go. They might see me. If you’re seen with me you could be killed,” she said in a hushed tone.
He helped her get back into the sea and held her shoulders for a second.
As she was about the leave she asked, “Sam, I need to get to the place where they hold the prisoners. Where can I find it?”
He bit his lip and looked down. He would be betraying the Factions it he told her, but would be doing the same to her if he didn’t help her.
“The caves of Traph. I was there once. It is where they keep all the humans being prepared for Faction work.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
Marlie began to dive again, but he stopped her.
“I’m sorry. If you see James and your parents tell them that. Please,” he pleaded with her.
She nodded and cupped his face in her hands. Then she dipped under the water. Once she did she felt hands grab her shoulders. They pulled her back toward open Ocean. She turned her head and saw James dragging her away from the coast. She brushed him off.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
He looked her up and down to make sure she had all her appendages and was unharmed.
“I was worried sick about you. He could ha-“he was cut off.
“He said he was sorry,” she said angry at how James was treating Sam.
She look down and swam around him. She could just see the lights from the city behind him.
He turned to look at her and swam to catch up with her. They became level and he began to ask her questions and she explained all that Sam had said to her.
“Do you think he’s really changed?” asked James as they swam.
She bit her lip again. “I’m not sure, but I want to trust him so badly,” she said.
He nodded and said, “I do too.”
“I know he still cares for us,” she said.
“How do you know?” he asked skeptically.
“He told me where we can find Nathan.”
“NO!” yield Farem,” We will not send our people into the hands of those rebels.”
Marlie was growing impatient. “Then what will we do?” she demanded.
“Nothing. We will do nothing in this matter,” he shot back.
Her uncle and many others had almost been persuaded to go into Faction territory, but had been blinded by fear.
Marlie controlled her anger and said in a moderate tone, “You shall regret the words you speak.”
She swam out of the council chamber and was greeted by James.
“Well?” he asked.
“You and I leave for the Caves of Traph,” she replied.
He smiled because he realized she had been rejected by the elders and was defying their wishes. He was pleased.
“When do we leave?” he asked.
Marlie and James swam hard and fast through the kelp forest. James had two swords strapped to his back and a knife on his hip. He also had one strapped onto his ribs, under his shirt. Marlie had a hilted sword strapped to her waist and two knives tucked under her bodice. She swam with her skirt on and James carried his pants under his arm.
After a while of swimming, they surfaced and James raised his arms to the sky. Clouds began to form and steady drops of rain began to fall. Thunder rolled far off and echoed into the distance.
Marlie and James kept swimming. Soon they were walking up the beach where the caves resided. As they neared, Marlie’s heart began to beat hard. She was sure that James could hear it.
Their cloths stuck to their legs and shoulders.
“Are you ready,” asked James.
She nodded and they began the walk up the beach. It was dark and rainy. They cave loomed tall and deep. As they entered, a light appeared at the far end of the cave. A man came running with a large knife at the ready. He stopped in front of him and looked them up and down.
“State you reason for entering Faction territory,” he said gruffly. He was tall and had stubble all over his face. His head was bald like all faction members.
James took one step forward and said “I am James. This is my sister Sara. We wish to be part of the Factions.”
They had chosen to change Marlie’s name do to the fact that it was purely Mer. James was Mer in origin but had been adopted my humans.
“Come with me,” he said and led them down the long tunnel.
Water dripped off rocks and trickled down into the belly of the cavern. The tunnel opened up into a large underground cavity in the earth. On the cave floor, people spared with wooded swords and others with their own hands.
“Welcome to the Caves of Traph,” said the man as he led them down onto the floor of the cave. Every sound echoed off the stone.
As they walked through the sparing fields, all stopped to stare. All of them were staring at Marlie. Her face turned a bright pink at the unwanted attention.
“Stop in your idleness. Get back to work,” demanded a voice from the top of a stair case. A tall man stood and looked down on the floor. He was freshly shaven. His dark green cloths were pressed and neat.
“Forgive them. We have not had the pleasure of training a woman for many months,” he said, descending the stairs.
James stepped in front of Marlie. The man now stood face to face with James. He looked down at him as if her were a boy.
“They are brother and sister. They say they want to be part of the Factions,” said the man who had brought them down into the cavern.
The second man smiled and said to Marlie, “What would a gentile thing like you want with the Factions. The last woman we trained died from training wounds.”
“I am stronger than you may think,” she said plainly.
The man paused. “Take the boy to the suiting. I will take the girl with me.”
The first man grabbed James by the arm and led him off into a side room. The second man grabbed Marlie’s hand and slipped it on his arm. He began to lead her up the stairs he had come.
“So tell me your name,” he said.
Marlie had to think for a moment before she answered. “Sara. That was my brother James.”
After walking down a long hallway of doors, they entered a room that was dimly lit but glowed the color of amber. In the center of the room there was a low bed. The sheets were white and the blankets were gold with dark green embroidery. All the earth tones of the room made Marlie sick. She longed for the flow of the sea.
The man turned to her and said, “Sara, you are the first woman we have had here for the longest time. Let us show you the tenderness that the Factions have. All we ask is that my pamper you and in return you will make us smile in your own way.”
Marlie thought. She didn’t like the way all this sounded. But it would be good if she had privileges that otherwise would be impossible to get. Then she thought of James. He would be in living conditions not fit for animals.
“I would still like to serve the Factions,” she said. It almost made her heave saying that.
“Oh, you would. You are an invaluable weapon to us,” said the man in return.
“Alright. I will do as you request,” she said.
The man smiled. “Wonderful,” he said. His lips curled, showing his white teeth.
“I will be up to fetch you later, for our evening meal. I suggest that you change into something more flattering. You may find a number of things in that chest,” he pointed to a large box at the foot of the bed and walked out.
Marlie let out a sigh of relief. She was glad he was gone. Being this close to Faction members made her nervous.
She walked over to the chest and lifted the lid. Dresses of all colors created its contents. She took out all of them and put the sea colored dresses on the top. She placed the earth toned ones on the very bottom of the trunk. She could not where something of those colors. The room was bad enough.
James was shoved into a room with a bloodied man shriveled on the floor. He fell on the floor and slammed against the wall. His spine vibrated down into his legs.
The man looked up in acknowledgement of the new comer to his sell. James looked at him with pity. He wondered what they had done to make him bleed so freely. The man mumbled something that James could not understand and asked if he was talking to him.
“You must have just gotten here, “the man said again, more clearly.
“I did about an hour ago. My sister and I came together,” said James.
“Your sister will not survive the training. Only the strongest will make it,” the man said and coughed.
“How long have you been here?” asked James.
“A few weeks, maybe. I haven’t been out of this cave since I got here,” said the man. He still had his back turned to James.
Just then, a guard came and took the bloodied man from the sell and said, “We have a woman to tend to your wounds.”
James knew he meant Marlie. The head man had said they had not seen a woman for many months.
The man tried to keep his legs straight but they were just too week. The guard took him by the arm and led him into the larger training area, leaving James alone.
Marlie sat at the great table with all the head Faction trainers. They laughed and talked among themselves. Even though they were rebels and killers, they were gentile with her. One whom she did not know, helped her into the chair, and another held the door for her when she entered the room. When she spoke they all grew silent and listened. They were never harsh of rude. It was as if they were afraid she would disappear if they mistreated her.
Once or twice, she found herself smiling at something one of the men had said.
Halfway through the meal, the back, side door opened and a guard dragged a bloodied man into the room. His feet could no longer support him and he could only grasp the arms of the guard and lift his head.
His hair was a dark blond and drooped over his eyes. The way his hands held to the guard, reminded Marlie of Nathan. She thought of how close she was to him.
“Not now, David. We have a woman among us,” said the head man. His eyes were full of happiness when he said “woman.”
The guard began to haul the man back outside when the man jumped to his feet. He was looking at Marlie with a new energy that had not been in him for weeks. He brushed the hair out of his face and stared at her, sitting at the table.
Her hair was pulled back from her face and she wore a deep blue and silver dress. Her seafoam eyes were dark and sad looking.
The man rubbed a bruise next to his eye as if it might take the sight of her away. It obviously didn’t because he began to run toward her. He held his arms out toward her and mumbled something.
Marlie stood to catch him if he fell and he collapsed into her arms. He embraced her with such velocity that her pushed her into the table and she had to grab the shoulder of the man sitting next to her to catch herself. She was suppressed by him and was not sure what to do. She tried to pry him off her and was able to see his face.
It was covered with bruises and cuts. Some were opened and bled while others were scabbed over.
The biggest thing was his eyes, to Marlie. They were the color of the sea and were as wild as it. She clasped his face in her hands and gazed at him. She knew those eyes that she would know anywhere. It was Nathan.
Three of the men pulled Nathan off her and dragged him back out of the room. He never took his eyes off her until he was out the door. Marlie was filled with a new excitement that turned her stomach.
The head man stood next to her and asked, “Are you alright?”
Marlie nodded and looked down. Blood covered her hands. Some had smeared on her face and dress. Some drink had been spilled on her skirt and was stained. She could feel her under dress sticking to her legs from the drink.
The man took her arm and led her back to her room. “I’m sorry for this mishap. Since you will not undergo the training the others have to endure, we have decided that you can serve as a nurse to the injured. Is that acceptable?” he asked.
“That’s wonderful. I am happy to serve people of the Factions,” she said.
She entered her room and left the man outside. She closed the door and walked over to her truck. She took out a new dress and laid it on the bed. It was purple with more silver stitching around the bodice. She put it on and walked to the door. She paused and turned to the cloths she had come to the caves in. They sat next to her bed. Marlie walked to them and took one of the knives and strapped it to her stomach, under her bodice. She tied it low enough that she could grab the hilt and pull it out if she needed it.
She once again walked to the door and turned the knob. She had been given free reign of the caves except for the exit tunnel. Marlie decided the stairs and walked through the training area. All of the men stopped to make room for her. Two men that were sparing, didn’t notice her and continued sparing. They moved right in her path and almost hit her. A member ran up to Marlie and grabbed her by the waist and swung her out of the way. He held onto her until the men had stopped sparing. Marlie pried the hands that wrapped around her waist away from her. The man let her slip out of his grip.
Marlie tuned to look at him. He smiled at her. She smiled and nodded at her. She continued walking and found her way to the barracks. They were empty except for one. A man had just walked into the room. He ran over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. His head had been shaved and he had a cloth wrapped around his mouth and chin. He removed it and Marlie gasped. It was James.
“Are you alright? Have they hurt you or done anything wrong?” he questioned.
Marlie smiled and nodded. “I’m fine. Are you alright?” she said.
“Besides being bruised and sore, I’m fine. The training it the brutal,” he said and looked her up and down.
“They must like you,” he said smiling.
“They do. They are so gentile with me, I almost forget who they are. They treat me as if I would break at the slightest flick,” she laughed.
“I’m glad. Have you seen Nathan?” he asked eagerly.
Marlie told him the whole story. He was over joyed that she had found him so fast. They had only been in the caves for thirty-six hours.
“How are we going to get out with him?” asked James.
“I don’t know. Just give me a few days. I think I can get us out.”
Nathan sat in a chair and waited for the guard to shave his head. He had been integrated into the Factions and was being prepared for the banquet. The man brought the blade over with a bowl of hot water. The man took the blade and ran it along Nathan’s head. It left a clean streak of bare skin on his bare head. The blade rubbed along his scalp. He felt the cool air on his skin. Once the man had finished he washed Nathan’s head with hot water. It stung the flesh on his skull.
“That’s a fine head you got. Hope you don’t lose it,” said the man.
Nathan ran his hand along his scalp and looked at it in the bowl of water. He was surprised at how different he looked.
It had been a few weeks since he had seen Marlie that one night. He was still heavily protected by the guards. They still didn’t fully trust him. Nathan wondered if they would let him visit Marlie and if so she would recognize him. His nose had been broken and a scar ran down the side of his neck. He still had slight bruising around his left eye and his right index finger was bandaged.
“Come on, we need to take you to have that finger checked out by our new nurse. She’s a pretty little thing. Hair the color of night,” said the guard.
Nathan jumped out of the chair. His heard jumped at the mention of the nurse. He had heard of her from the other men but never seen her. He suspected it was Marlie.
The guard led him down the long tunnel and into a room with shelves neatly stacked with linens. Jars also lined the shelved and cupboard carved out of the cave wall. Stools lined the back wall with tables in between them. On the tables were vials of pure water and other instruments.
“Wait here,” the guard said and walked out.
Nathan stood there staring at the arrangement of the room. He walked over to one of the shelves and examined its contents. He could smell a thick harsh chemical on the stone. He felt of the soft linens. They were warm and comforting.
Nathan hear a scuffling noise from the back. He turned and saw Marlie standing there. Her eyes got wide when he turned to look at her. He smiled at her and she walked to him. She stopped in front of him and wrapped her arms around him. He did the same. She pulled away and looked at his head. She examined the scar on his neck and the bruise on his face.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” he said, hushed.
“You look so different,” she said still looking at him. Her eyes were concentrated on his newly shaven head.
“Is that a bad thing?” he asked.
“No, I don’t care what you look like. All I care about is this,” she pointed to his heart.
He smiled. “You better look at my finger,” he said holding it up.
She nodded and sat him on one of the stools. He held it out and she unwrapped it. The finger was purple and swollen. He tried to flex it, it hurt him too much. He flinched when she touched it.
“Sorry. It’s broken,” she said as she dapped in with the same strong smelling stuff.
He ground his teeth together in pain. He tried on to yank in out of her hands and lash out at her. She was trying to be so gentile with it. The guards had wrapped it too tightly and had squeezed it. Even the slightest touch sent a splinter up his hand. Marlie wrapped it in a soft gauze and tied it around his thumb. She had tied it tight enough but still where he could move it if he could. He stretched his hand and grimaced.
“How long till I can move it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Come see me in two weeks if it there isn’t any improvement,” she said as she threw the old gauze into the fire.
He got down off the stool and walked over to her. He cupped her face in his hands. She was so small. He could close his hand around her hand and he could probably touch his fingers together around her waist. He had not had the courage to try.
“I’ll see you soon,” he said and leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. He walked out and returned to the barracks.
He wanted to tell her what had happened to Remus so badly but he was afraid someone would hear and become suspicious. Everything was so delicate and had to be handled with great care.
Sam walked down the long corridor toward the Faction leader’s office. He had never been there and was unsure why he had been summoned by the leader.
He walked silently in his leather shoes, along the stone floor. It was a long hallway heading toward the office door. On the stone walls were etchings of great Faction battles.
When Sam reached to door, he was greeted by a small scrawny man. He only bore a knife at his side. His voice was soft and sounded like he was trying to deepen it.
“State your purpose,” said the man.
Sam stiffened and replied, “I have been summoned for a council with the head.”
The man turned and opened the door leading into the office. Sam walked into the office and looked around for the head. He was standing near a window that looked out over the sparing grounds. He stood proudly over his work. The head turned to look at Sam. His nose had been broken, along with his jaw. A large scar ran down his neck.
“Come over here Mr. Thorp, and see the work we strive to perfect,” said the head.
Sam did as he was told and looked down at them. He watched at men fought on the stone floor.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” said the man. He smiled and continued. “What do you know of our purpose here?”
“I know we are here to suppress the elemental people,” Sam answered.
The man walked away from the window and over to his desk. He sat down in the large chair behind the bureau.
“You are partly correct. We are here to exterminate them,” the head said proudly.
Sam’s mouth grew dry at this. “You mean to tell me we are here to commit genocide?” he said.
“You are correct. Now, I know you spent some time with the Mer. What can you tell me about them,” said the man as he leaned forward into the desk.
Sam looked down at the floor. He had been torn between the Mer and the Factions since he had seen Marlie. He wanted to help her but his life depended on his devotion to the Factions.
“Sir, I cannot participate in such and act,” said Sam, knowing the consequences of his words.
“I will give you one more chance. Tell me what you know,” said the leader as he stood. He held and blade in his left hand.
“I refuse,” said Sam.
The Faction leader walked over to face him. His nose was at Sam’s forehead level. He smiled.
Sam closed his eyes and took one final breath and in his mind focused on Marlie. He thought of her seafoam eyes and black wavy hair. He whispered to Nathan, in his mind, “Take care of her for me.”
Corax looked across at the blue flames that sat at the center of the room. The fire had no source but the black liquid in a small pool. All the Air people stood around the fire chanting in deep echoing voices.
Laxwana stood next Corax. They both were in line behind all the people and were chained to a large pillar of to the side of the room. It went from celling to floor. Burn marks covered the white stone.
The Air people stopped their chanting and turned to face the two Mer fastened to the pillar. An Air woman walked over to the fire and stuck her hand into it. She pulled out a blue flame and held it in her hand. Another woman poured the thick black liquid in a circle around Corax and Laxwana. When she finished she took some of the substance and rubbed it on the hands of Laxwana and Corax. The woman with the flame came close to them and knelt down on her knees. She took the flame in both her hands and dropped it in the black fluid. The flames surrounded the pillar and the Air people took to the air. They shrieked created a great uproar at the circle of blue flames.
Corax felt the flame touch his hands and ignite the oil on them. He reached for his wife and she turned her head with the little strength she had left. They held each other’s hands while fire danced in their palms and around their feet.
Laxwana looked around at the Air people and saw a small dejected girl. Her wings were drooped and her skin was very pale compared to the others. Her eyes were sunken and tears ran down her dirty face. Laxwana was sure she had seen this girl before, but knew there was no way she could have.
The flames danced closer to them and they began to feel the heat resonating from them. Sparks sputtered as them came in contact with Mer flesh. The fire was cold at first but soon became a sweltering blaze against their skin.
As Corax drew his final breath he opened his eyes and saw the same Air girl looking him in the eyes. He knew who she was by the way her hair fell around her face and shoulders. It was Clorfa. She had been taken by the Air almost a year ago and had been presumed dead. Now she stood right in front of Laxwana and Corax, looking into their dying eyes.