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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.10
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.10

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  I brought the bottle to my lips again and took a smaller sip so I could figure out what kind of juice it was. Closing my eyes, I tried to pinpoint the ingredients. Instead of sensing hints of fruits and vegetables, a surge of happiness rushed through me. I giggled uncontrollably with no idea why. After taking another sip it happened again. Maybe it was some kind of amazing alcohol that instantly got me giggly drunk. Sip after sip, I stood in Rownan's kitchen, laughing hysterically and hanging onto the counter to stay upright.

  When the bottle was empty, I headed back outside to tell Rownan that I must be drunk. I paused in the doorway. Much to my surprise, I could walk straight and I felt fine—better than I had in a long time.

  Rownan hadn't moved a muscle. One arm was still clasped behind his head while the other dangled off the mattress, holding a burnt out seagarette. He looked so innocent sleeping there under the moon.

  I was there when my mother died, but he had watched dozens die. I couldn't imagine that kind of horror. All those people racing for their lives, screaming underwater. How did he and Treygan survive it? Why didn't they turn to stone?

  Gazing up at the moon, I wondered how much more there was to this otherworldly magical existence. I covered Rownan with his coat and left.

  A kiss goodbye didn't cross my mind until I was walking down the street. I had never left Rownan without kissing him, but my urges and feelings were changing rapidly. I didn't know whether to fight the changes or embrace them.

  A white heron perched atop a streetlight spread its wings above me. It let out a deep, guttural groan and craned its neck. The street seemed creepy with no trace of anyone but me and the bird.

  I looked over my shoulder a few times, but never saw anything other than shadows. When I heard a faint laugh coming from an alleyway I took off running to the ocean, eager to get away from something—or someone—I felt watching me.

  The feeling of being followed stayed with me until I reached the water. Still wearing my dress, I dove in. Before the bubbles even settled Koraline appeared in front of me. Of course. She had probably been watching me all night.

  Her green pigtails floated on either side of her head.

  Hello, Yara.

  Hi.

  We've wasted too much time, she thought sternly. We're returning to Solis.

  Okay.

  She looked startled. Maybe she expected me to put up a fight, but I wanted to go back. I wanted answers. I wanted to understand what I was, and what it would mean for my future. And to tell Treygan I was sorry for what he went though.

  Koraline and I swam side by side while I marveled at my ability to see. As a human I had been swimming at night plenty of times. Back then, even in the shallow parts of the ocean, I couldn't see anything. Now I could see clearly. Things were a tad darker and colors had a neon hue to them like an arcade game. But I could see in the middle of nowhere with no sunlight.

  Exhaustion crept over me and my speed decreased. Koraline drifted ahead, then turned back when I stopped swimming.

  Are you okay? she asked.

  Can we rest for a minute?

  She looked around. We aren't in the best resting place. This is a high-risk zone for predators.

  Predators? I scanned the area, expecting to see a giant squid. I figured we would be safe in the water because— Well, crap. Why would I assume that? Why would I assume anything about this way of life?

  Because? she prompted.

  Because I'm an idiot and don't know anything about being a mermaid, or what I should be afraid of.

  I would like to change that if you would stay put and let me educate you.

  I nodded in agreement. I wanted to ask her some questions right then, but she broke eye contact, squinting at something behind me. Her head turned from side-to-side, pigtails gliding against her cheeks with each swing. Then her eyes met mine and her usual confidence changed to alarm.

  Yara, are you bleeding anywhere?

  Bleeding? No. Why?

  She grabbed my forearm, dragging me beside her much faster than we had been swimming earlier. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but she stayed focused ahead. Why would she ask if I was bleeding? Did I look injured?

  Something big moved in my peripheral vision. I tried to catch a glimpse of it, but we were swimming too fast. Then another big something loomed in front of us. Koraline dove deeper, pulling me with her. This time I saw it. I wished I hadn't.

  Inches separated us from the white belly of a shark. I swallowed a mouthful of water, gasping with fear.

  Predators. Bleeding. Sharks. Oh, God.

  I pumped my tale with all my strength, trying to help us swim faster. Koraline looked over her shoulder. I followed her gaze. Another shark swam just yards behind us.

  This isn't normal, she mentally shouted. Even with terror consuming me, I noticed her skin had taken on a purplish hue. They don't stalk like this unless they smell blood.

  What do we do?

  Her eyes were wide. A stream of unintelligible chatter poured out of her. It was like listening to a cassette tape on fast forward. She yanked me upward and the tip of my fins brushed against a shark's head. He flailed his tail and snapped his teeth at me.

  Keeping a death-grip on my arm, Koraline grabbed my chin with her other hand. We have to fight, she insisted.

  What!

  We're crazy strong underwater. Hit them on the snout and all around their eyes. As hard as you can. Destroy their receptors. Hit them over and over and keep swimming away after you do. You'll know when they can't detect you anymore.

  No! I can't. I'm too scared.

  You have to, Yara.

  My eyes bulged at the massive bull shark swimming up behind her. Its razor-sharp teeth looked like a splintered picket fence. Koraline let go of me and spun around to face it. I watched, paralyzed, as she raised her purple arms above her head and smashed them down in front of her.

  She flipped herself over like she was about to ride on the shark's back. She kept swinging, punch after punch, while he thrashed in every direction. How was she moving so fast? I couldn't do it. I couldn't fight like her. I was so scared I couldn't move.

  Something butted against my back, shoving me forward. I turned to face a giant, creepy eye belonging to a tiger shark. I thought the other sharks were big. I was wrong. This shark was huge.

  This is it. I'm going to be eaten alive by sharks.

  Koraline rushed toward me, but so did the shark's rows of teeth. I swung at the tiger, nailing him in the side of his head.

  Good girl! Koraline cheered in the seconds our eyes met. Keep hitting!

  Adrenaline made me brave. I cocked my arm back and hit him again while Koraline grabbed the snout of the bull coming up behind her.

  My arms moved so fast. I couldn't believe I was holding my own against a shark. We've got this, I thought, smashing my fist into his face non-stop.

  I felt a tearing pain and a faint cloud of red flowed past me.

  No. Please no.

  The tiger had nicked me in the shoulder. I still swung violently, but more sharks swam toward us. I swam away, dipping and weaving. The trail of blood following me was causing a feeding frenzy.

  Koraline dove down to the reef below us. She returned with a long piece of coral in her hand. She lunged at the nearest shark, stabbing his side. Blood burst into the water as she ripped the gash open. She shoved the bleeding bull at the approaching crowd of sharks.

  Now look who's for dinner, she thought while smiling at me.

  We turned to see another shark coming at us. Koraline swung at him, but I swam up and away. Sharks collided with each other, snapping and flailing their tails, tearing apart the one Koraline wounded.

  Another shark swam up behind Koraline, but she was busy fighting the first one. She couldn't see the second one coming. I tried racing down to her, but everything happened so fast. He opened his mouth, baring his teeth. I screamed out loud, trying to warn her, but she turned the wrong way. She turned to look at me.

  Red exploded
through the water around her. A wall of bubbles rushed up in front of me.

  I saw a blur of familiar blue.

  More red.

  Then all the sharks were gone.

  And so was I.

  The first two shattered into pieces.

  At times, no matter how much I practice, I can't control the gorgon side of me. Seeing Koraline in the jaws of a shark was one of those times. It was also one of the few times in my life that I was grateful for being able to turn living things to stone. The rest of the sharks were sinking statues within seconds. At least I didn't blow up all of them.

  Koraline was unconscious, but she had a pulse. I lifted her tail, wincing at the sight of it. Her fins were gone. The tattered end of her tail hung in ragged, bleeding strips.

  I took a calming breath. My focus needed to be pinpoint accurate to seal the wounds without making them worse. My serpent hallmark stopped burning against my back. Icy calm took over.

  Hairlines, Treygan. I told myself. Thin as a strand of hair. I sealed off each wound with painstaking precision, careful not to make the stone too deep, wide, or heavier than necessary, creating stone stitches that could be removed later by a Violet. She stopped bleeding. At least there was that.

  Pango and Merrick would be here any minute. Her brother shouldn't see her like this, but there was no avoiding it. I held her tight, monitoring her slow heartbeat as I sped through the water.

  Pango's eyes didn't meet mine. They didn't need to. When he saw Koraline he let out a bloodcurdling scream that would be heard through the ocean for miles. Merrick and I didn't try to stop him or assure him it would be okay. We couldn't. We knew how bad it was.

  Pango gently took his sister from my arms. His loud, low, heartbreaking cries echoed through the water. A severely scarred manatee circled us, sympathizing with Pango's pain. Any underwater creature within hearing range would understand the sorrow in his voice. It was a universal language down here, more powerful than human words could ever be.

  Merrick tore his eyes away from Pango to look at me. Treygan, thank you. We would have been too late. I'm sorry you had to use your—

  I still may have been too late, I interrupted. Take her to Indrea and Caspian. Go!

  Merrick took Pango's face in his hands. Koraline hung limp in her brother's arms between them. Then in a cloud of bubbles they were gone, swimming as fast as they could to Paragon Castle.

  The second explosion of red had been the wrong shade for blood. I recognized the blur of ruby wings. Nixie had dived in and swiped Yara away like a bird catching a fish. Yara might have been saved from the sharks, but what would the sirens do with her?

  I swam off in the other direction, to Sybarites Nest, praying Nixie had gotten to Yara in time. And that I could get to Yara before Otabia and Mariza did.

  The climb up the sirens' cliffs didn't bother me. I would rather make the rigorous trek than give one of them the satisfaction of carrying me. The problem was, once I reached the top of the cliffs, their nest sat atop trees which were impossible to climb.

  "Nixie!" I shouted up into the dark.

  A chorus of moans came from the elaborate tree house above me, followed by a loud fluttering of wings. Otabia flew out of a window and joined me on the ground.

  "Treygannn," she hissed, running her curled, black fingernails across my chest, and down my back as she circled me. She kept her ebony wings extended, forming a wall of black silk that blocked the moonlight. She was the showiest of the sisters, but the most sensible—as sirens go.

  "Evening, Otabia."

  She ran her tongue from the base of my spine to the nape of my neck. Why sirens bothered with me was a mystery. I never reacted to their advances. "Delectable. Your serpent mark tastes of fury and death." With one smooth leap into the air she repositioned herself in front of me. Her jet-black bangs framed her piercing eyes as her pupils enlarged and shrunk repeatedly.

  "Otabia, you have a new hairstyle. It suits you."

  She licked her lips with typical siren thirst. "You killed recently. I can smell it on you. Who did you kill, Treygan? You reek of it, and it's driving me insane with passion."

  "Sharks. Not exciting in the least." I wanted to ask about Yara, but I had to wait. Angering a siren is never a good idea, so I let her continue leading the conversation. Asking a siren about another woman never ended well.

  "Sharks. Bleh." She stuck her dark tongue out and waved her hands between our faces. "You are here to see Nixie?"

  This was why Otabia was easy to deal with. She never took long to get down to business. She was the oldest of the sisters, therefore she didn't get quite as consumed by lust. She flirted, and we both knew what she wanted, but she could multi-task.

  "I saw Nixie swimming where the sharks attacked. She wasn't harmed was she?" Yara was my concern, but I had to give the impression that a siren's wellbeing took first priority.

  "Nixie is fine. Come." She wrapped her arms around my waist. "We've been expecting you." We soared upward into the nest.

  Otabia sat me down at the edge of their sunken living room. Burning torches embedded in the tree branches throughout the room created an almost romantic glow. Sirens have an affinity with fire, so the mild flames meant the sisters were calm—for the moment.

  The smell of beer, lust and blood hovered in the air. I could only imagine the things that took place in their nest on a regular basis.

  A human man was curled up in the fetal position, trembling in a dim corner. Black feathers lingered in his hair. One clung to his forehead above his bulging, terrified eyes. Otabia's latest catch. If sirens don't kill their victims, they remove the memory of their encounter before returning them. That extraction of the last hours from a human's soul was like dessert after the meal for a siren. Otabia hadn't had dessert yet, and the man watched all of us like we were a scene from a horror movie.

  Mariza and Nixie lay in a heap of velvet blankets and pillows covering the floor. Yara was passed out between them. Nixie stopped licking Yara's shoulder when I arrived, but Mariza continued sucking at the wound, trying to extract every possible drop of blood. Nixie might be younger, but she had more control than her older sister. Mariza never knew when to stop.

  I wanted to jump in and snatch Yara away from them, but that would cause a scene and make Mariza want her even more. It might make all of them thirst for her. Sirens want what they can't have, and they love a good fight.

  "Riza, the girl is dry and unconscious. Stop looking desperate in front of our company," Otabia ordered.

  Mariza lifted her chocolate-colored lips and grinned. "Welcome, Trey-Trey." Her brown eyes glazed over when she looked at Yara again. "Just a little more. She tastes divine."

  Nixie shoved Mariza backward into a pile of pillows. "You're a lush! You finished off three islanders during the hurricane. All by yourself! Leave some for the rest of us."

  Stray brown feathers floated through the air as Mariza crawled toward me. She flipped onto her back, letting her wavy hair spread over my feet. "How could I resist?" she moaned. "Those men were flaunting their songs in my face. Swaying to and fro, acting like morons while liquor flooded their veins. One deep-rooted fear after another poured out of them, begging to be consumed."

  "You killed them, Riza," Otabia scolded. "Sucked the life out of them. You have no self-control."

  When I was a child my grandmother used to say, "B for brunette and baneful. Stay away from the brunette." The man in the corner cried as he watched Mariza—the most dangerous of the sisters—rub her cheek along the top of my foot.

  "Part of me knew I should stop, but I couldn't," Mariza elaborated. "They were so delicious. Such horror in their souls. You wouldn't believe the heinous things they had done in their short lives, some of the crimes they performed as a team. I've never tasted anything so dark and rich, blending together so sinfully. I should have drained them slower. Drawn it out."

  "Get off of Treygan," Nixie demanded.

  The jealousy in Nixie's voice caused Mariza's eyes t
o light up. The torches around the room burned brighter in response. Mariza threw her arms behind my knees and I fell to the floor in front of her.

  "Trey-Trey, you should repay my red-headed twit of a sister for rescuing that bland creature over there. Let Nixie have her way with you. I promise you will enjoy it."

  Pulling away from the grasp of a siren is next to impossible, so I chose a different tactic. Smoothing Mariza's hair from her face, I sweetly replied, "We both know how dangerous it would be if Nixie got involved with me."

  Mariza flew backward, tousling her hair. "Pathetic excuse, merman! You never live! Don't you want to devour someone?" Her wings burst to her sides, creating shadows that stretched to the edges of the room. The human pressed himself against the wall, crying louder. Mariza twitched furiously—a sure sign of over-excitement. "Take him, Nixie! Otabia and I will hold him down."

  Nixie leapt through the air. Her wings rustled as she crouched in front of me, facing her sister. "Flighty fool! He could kill us all."

  "He cannot!" Mariza shrieked, charging at Nixie to get to me.

  Nixie's wings flew open, wrapping back and around me protectively. She pushed Mariza away. "He can! Have you forgotten petrification works on anyone in this realm? We may be immune to his blood, but his gaze could still turn us to stone! When he spirals into uncontrolled rapture, will it be worth it? Would you enjoy becoming a statue for the rest of eternity?"

  Her words stung. I couldn't forget or change what I was, but hearing it spoken out loud never ceased to bring back the shame.

  "He is adamant about not using his gorgon sight," Mariza hissed. "He will control himself."

  Otabia shrieked from behind me, outside the cocoon of Nixie's wings. "He used his power minutes ago to kill numerous sharks. Petrified at least five, from what I tasted. His soul is battling itself. Part of him would love to continue the killing streak."

  "Now do you wish to seduce him?" Nixie clicked her tongue several times. Her wings resumed their natural position. The torches returned to a slow, steady burn.

 
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