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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.27
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.27

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  "Then send me back. Give me a chance to do something great. In the name of love."

  "I do not have that power."

  I looked at the sky where the celestial form of Treygan once shined. Nothing but black sky was visible. The waterfall had disappeared. We floated alone in an infinite sea of darkness. Medusa glowed brighter than the sun, but she couldn't give me my life back.

  According to Uncle Lloyd and Liora, Medusa should have agreed to the deal by now. But I couldn't give up. I refused to take no for an answer. I had to be overlooking something important.

  A momentary sparkle of light caught my attention. In the hollow of Medusa's throat, a tiny sphere was embedded in her luminous skin.

  "My pearl," I gasped.

  She lowered her head and rested her fingers over it. "No, my pearl."

  Treygan had said Poseidon gave an agape pearl to Medusa. It represented eternal love—just like mine and Treygan's. I had a revelation and prayed that I was right. None of this would have been possible without Treygan. I would have never been turned, never learned to love all the merfolk, never found my soul mate. Treygan was my Poseidon. He said I made him stronger, but he gave me strength and love I never imagined possible. Together, we could do anything.

  "Fortunately, you know someone who does have the power to send me back." I stepped toward Medusa. "I want to talk to Poseidon … please."

  She batted her star-filled eyes. Beams of colored light shot out of the crystal pearl at her neck and blew me backward.

  A huge man three times the size of Pango appeared at Medusa's side. He was translucent, ethereal. He spoke in a voice so deep it shook the rainbow-colored sky and water around us. "Yes, my love."

  Medusa leaned against his broad shoulder and stroked his beard. The flowers in her hair bloomed again. "Poseidon, this child wants to achieve greatness and help our worlds. Will you help me send her back?"

  To say he was intimidating would be an understatement. He studied me with ominous, silver eyes. White-capped waves churned across them each time he blinked. "Why would you want to return to such a tumultuous place? Those worlds have become tragic stories."

  My voice trembled. "I want to help write a better version."

  He and Medusa glanced at each other and she smiled. Poseidon raised his glowing trident above my head, but I threw my hands up.

  "Wait!" I shouted. "If you are sending me back, I would like to make a few requests."

  My teeth ached from being clenched so tightly.

  I failed to keep Yara safe. I failed as a guardian. I failed my people.

  Rownan swam away, holding his broken wrist. How could I face the others? How could I face them? How could I tell them we were never going home? Let Rownan tell them. I had nothing left to say. Nothing left to give.

  I might as well have turned to stone too. All I could do was cling to Yara, hoping it was all a nightmare. Her vapid, rocky eyes stared back at me. My jaw trembled uncontrollably as my stony tears sank in the water around us. I wrote out the words, I love you, across her stone chest. Each breath I took tore the hole in my heart wider.

  My own father had done this. Yara had been right, we shouldn't have trusted him. Why did I believe in him? Why did I let him and Rownan through the door of that house? I stayed away from them for years. I should have never let them back into my life. I should have run away with Yara. I should have done a million things differently.

  I should have been the one to sacrifice myself.

  I leaned down and rested my forehead against hers. The first crack was so quiet I thought I had imagined it.

  A second crack zigzagged down her forehead, splitting down the middle of her nose like a porcelain mask. I stopped breathing when I saw flesh inside the seam.

  Her hands crackled, bits of rock shooting up into the water. I started tearing away layers of stone from her face, not believing my own eyes. Her skin. More and more of her skin appeared as I picked away crumbling handfuls of rock.

  I was sure I was dreaming or hallucinating until her eyelids opened. I carefully brushed away the debris in her eyelashes, revealing long, amber sunbeams. Yara?

  She smiled. I scrambled to my knees and tore away the rock from her chest and stomach. My heart pounded like a jackhammer as she tried moving her limbs. Every crackle and pop made it more real. She wasn't dead. I didn't know how, but she was alive.

  She sat up, watching me break apart the hard shell over her tail.

  Are you okay? I asked.

  Um, she glanced around, lifting her arms, trying to brush the white and gray residue off of her. I think so.

  I stared at her. Do you remember what happened? Do you know who you are?

  Her lips slowly lifted into a smile. I am Medusa, and I have returned to destroy the Earth.

  I have no idea what face I must have made—shock, horror, disbelief. But Yara laughed and threw a chunk of stone at me. Of course I remember, Treygan. I'm your Yamabuki, and we need to open the gate.

  I tackled her like a dog happy to see its best friend. She floated backward, clinging tightly to me. Wait, I said. You just lied. How is that possible?

  Can you stop asking so many questions?

  I squeezed her so hard the remaining rock on her back shattered. I thought I lost you.

  The ground started quaking, churning the water in the Catacombs. The current grew stronger, pushing us backward along the ocean floor and stirring up sand. Weeds blew off the tombs, swirling past us.

  A thin line of white light appeared, like massive elevator doors struggling to open. Then it expanded, fast and wide. The gateway home was finally open. It was so bright that Yara and I shielded our eyes from the glare. The Catacombs had been such a dreary place for the last eighteen years that I had almost forgotten how sublime it was with the gate open.

  One of the gorgons, Talus, swam toward us. His serpent tail propelled him faster than even I could swim. Dozens of snakes slithered and hissed around his head. His fiery eyes never met mine, he only looked at Yara.

  "No!" I shouted positioning myself between them. My shout was muffled by the water. I tightened my grip on Yara. She reached up and turned my face to hers.

  Treygan, it's okay, she said. You have to let me go.

  I kept one arm locked around her, staying between her and Talus, pushing him away. Take me! I will take Medusa's place.

  Talus flashed his jagged fangs, his snakes snapped at my face. Release her. She belongs to the sisters.

  Merfolk and selkies were rushing past us, passing through the bright light of the gate and returning home. Several stopped and hovered around us, watching the scene we were making, or maybe shocked by the sight of Talus. None of us had seen a gorgon for eighteen years. I sensed the Violets swim up behind me as I argued with Talus. Yara pulled away from me, trying to wiggle out of my arms.

  I kept my focus on Talus's flaming eyes, pleading my case. I'm monster and human. I know more than her. I'm stronger. Take me instead!

  Caspian turned my chin toward him. Treygan, let her go. What's done is done.

  My emotions calmed. I glared at Indrea, struggling to stay angry. NO! I screamed.

  Talus ripped Yara away from me, dragging her behind him, swimming so fast through the gate I didn't have time to see her face one last time. I lurched forward, trying to go after them, but Caspian and Sixel had a firm grip on my arms.

  I have to talk to her! He can't just steal her away for eternity.

  Indrea cradled my face in her hands. This was her destiny, Treygan. It was decided before she was born. You have to accept that now.

  My jaw quivered again. My hands felt cold and empty. They had just been holding her, holding onto my miracle, the only girl brave enough to love me. The only girl I ever loved. How did I let something so precious slip through my fingers?

  I didn't even get to say goodbye, I said to Indrea.

  She gently smoothed my hair back. Goodbye would have made it much harder.

  Day 20

  I had memorized
every crack, line, curve and color variation in the rock wall before me. Thirty eight hours sitting in front of the entrance to the gorgons' grotto left me a lot of time to study rocks.

  I had never imagined returning to our realm. For over a decade I had planned to take Yara's place inside the grotto after the Triple Eighteen—or die trying. I tried finding an entrance numerous times—underwater and on land—but found nothing. I screamed for Stheno and Euryale until my throat was raw. I begged the gorgon kin to ask the sisters to let me in. Nothing worked.

  Delmar popped through the water at the edge of the rocky slope. He didn't say anything, just hoisted himself onto the flat ground and sat with his back to me—exactly like he had done yesterday. I walked over and stood above him, looking out at the divided ocean. The selkies' half was dark and cold, ours so light and warm; both shimmering and filled with life.

  "How long do you plan on staying here?" Delmar asked.

  "As long as it takes. I'm still her guardian."

  He swung his indigo tail side-to-side through the water. "She's taken her place. There's nothing left to guard."

  I watched sprites dance across the top of the water like the fireflies of Earth.

  Delmar let out a deep sigh. "You've refused higher rank for years, Treygan. The Violets are insisting you become an Indigo. They've arranged a celebration in your honor."

  "My honor? Tell them to honor Yara, or Lloyd, or even Rownan if they want. I didn't do anything except stand by while Yara was sentenced to an eternity of cold, secluded darkness."

  Delmar stood and faced me. "You kept us all alive. Without C-weed we would have died within weeks of the gate closing."

  "Great. And now what's my purpose? For years it's been harvesting the crops, protecting Yara, making sure everyone I cared about was healthy and safe. We don't need weed anymore. Everyone is back in our realm. I failed to protect Yara, so what purpose do I serve?

  "How about your friends? Do we mean nothing to you?"

  "Del, don't you get it? As crowded as the worlds are, my entire life I have felt alone. I accepted I would never be able to have a relationship like you and Kimber. I knew I could never have a girlfriend, or a wife, or share myself with someone in the way you say is so amazing. I accepted my fate. Then Yara changed everything. She loved me—even the evil, scary parts of me. I want that back. Is that so greedy? To know she's in there," I pointed at the grotto, "and to want to be in there with her, is that so much to ask?"

  Delmar's eyes widened. "You would choose a life in the grotto over freedom?"

  "To be with Yara, yes."

  "You're crazy."

  He turned away, but I grabbed his arm. "What if it was Kimber in there? Would you flit around out here, going on with your life, acting like it's okay that she's been banished from sunlight, beauty and freedom?"

  His eyes narrowed. He glanced at the towering boulders of the grotto. "No, I would probably dynamite the place until I broke through."

  "Exactly. And don't think I haven't thought of that already."

  He put his hand on my shoulder. "But she's one of them now. She wouldn't be the Yara you fell in love with. She's probably a viperous monster."

  I gave an exasperated laugh. "I have always been a viperous monster, but she loved me anyway."

  He bowed his head, his long hair curtaining his face. "You're my best friend. I support you in whatever insane choice you make. But if they do let you in, I will miss the hell out of you."

  I nodded and he dove into the water, resurfacing quickly. "I'll come back every day to see if you need anything. Maybe one day you won't be here anymore. For whichever reason."

  "Wouldn't that be nice," I said.

  I watched him swim away, a blur of indigo beneath the water. I sat down, leaned against a rock, and stared up at the three suns in the merfolk sky, counting the multi-colored stars around them.

  A faint but steady whirring sound grew louder. I looked down to see something tiny roll against the side of my foot. It sparkled in the sunlight. My breath caught in my throat. I picked it up and squeezed my eyes shut. Please don't let me be dreaming. Please.

  I opened my eyes. The agape pearl was still there, twinkling in the palm of my hand. I held my breath and looked at the grotto.

  Yara.

  I got up slowly, afraid if I made any sudden moves she would disappear like a mirage. I walked toward her, afraid to blink. The closer I came to her, the more changes I noticed. Her hair was white and diamond-like. Her irises were dark with glints of silver in them.

  For a few precious minutes we just stood there, staring at each other. I took her face in my hands, thanking the gods I could see her, touch her and still smell apple blossoms wafting over me.

  "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked. Her voice still sounded like harp music.

  "You're—you've changed."

  She nodded. "I'm a motley monster."

  "You're beautiful," I whispered. "You put Medusa to shame."

  "Shhh, Stheno and Euryale are very protective of their sister."

  She lifted a section of her shimmering hair and a silver snake coiled out from behind her neck, flicking its tongue. She raised her eyes and sighed. "It's the only one, but I'm mad at myself for not specifying no snakes in my hair during our negotiations."

  "Negotiations?"

  "Yeah, with Medusa and Poseidon."

  My eyes bugged. "Beg your pardon?"

  She waved her hand dismissively. "Long story. I'll explain later."

  "You talked to—and negotiated with—the creators of this realm, and you're brushing it off like it's not a big deal."

  Large, pearly wings exploded behind her.

  "Holy Poseidon," I gasped. "You have wings too. What happened in there?"

  She glanced over her shoulder at the grotto. "They said they couldn't change who I was. My blood is a mixture of human, mer, selk, siren, and gorgon. I have to live and adjust accordingly."

  I circled around her, examining all of her changes. She had some new hallmarks, and her original ones had changed somewhat. Flowers grew on her twisting vines. A pale blue moon had formed at the base of her spine, opposite her rainbow-colored sun. She had a serpent hallmark almost identical to mine running between them. Her real snake appeared to be sleeping on her shoulder. She hadn't retracted her wings, but sirens could any time they wanted. I wondered if her new pet snake worked the same way.

  My smile was uncontrollable. "You're no longer a Yamabuki. You're the triumphant water dragon who conquered the Eternal Falls, just like in the legend."

  "Oddly enough, there was a waterfall, but I resisted the urge to jump into the mist, so you can still call me Yamabuki."

  "I don't know." I wrapped my arms around her waist. "Depends what color your tail is."

  Her eyes lit up. "Wait until you see it!"

  We walked to the water's edge. She dove in and lifted her tail above the water. Diamond-like scales matched her hair, glimmering with every color of our realm's rainbow.

  "We might need to think of a new nickname for you," I teased.

  She changed her tail to legs and climbed out of the water.

  I took her hands and pulled her close to me.

  She smiled when I started swaying back and forth."What are you doing?"

  "You were a horrible dancer before. Let's hope you inherited some new moves as your selkie ability."

  Sadness flashed in her eyes, but her voice sounded hopeful. "Rownan. Did he—?"

  I rested my forehead against hers. "One of the first through the gate. He and Vienna are probably making up for lost time as we speak."

  She squeezed me tighter. "Good. What about Koraline?"

  "She woke up a few hours after they carried her through the gate. She's recovering with her family."

  Yara let out a relieved sigh. I could almost see the guilt dripping off her shoulders. "And where is your father?"

  "Who gives a damn?"

  Her eyebrows arched high. "Treygan, we're both alive an
d together because of him. I demanded to take your place with the gorgons. He told me your plan wouldn't work, that he's been preparing me my whole life for what I needed to do. He swore Medusa was reasonable and would compromise, but I had to die to see her and make a deal. He swore she would send me back if I didn't take no for an answer."

  It seemed impossible to believe, but everything about the past few days—weeks—felt that way. My father had protected me and Yara at any cost. "I guess I need to pay him a serious thank-you visit."

  "Definitely. Do you know how hard it was to believe him when he told me death didn't have to mean the end?"

  I tucked a white strand of hair behind her ear. "He was right. I wouldn't have believed it. I'm still afraid I'm dreaming right now."

  "Mermen don't dream," she said mockingly.

  "Touché." The grotto towered ominously behind her. "How long do we have?" I asked. "I want to ask Stheno and Euryale if I can live in there with you."

  She cocked her head to the side. "Aww, how cruel of me. I haven't told you yet."

  "Told me what?"

  "I'm not sentenced to the grotto like them. It's part of the deal. We still have some ground rules to iron out, but I get to roam freely—come and go between the worlds as often as I want."

  My hallmarks swirled joyfully. I was filled with so much hope and happiness I couldn't speak.

  Yara laughed. "Treygan, your skin is so bright it's almost blinding."

  "We can be together? Here? Beyond the grotto?"

  "Yes, we can be together. No restrictions." The glow of her smile made me dizzy, but something mischievous lingered behind it.

  "No restrictions?" I asked. "You don't mean—"

  She flapped her wings once before curling them around us. She lifted her chin, leaning closer to me. "I'm part gorgon now. Your petrifying power is useless against me."

  For the first time ever I didn't suppress the passion I felt for her. I didn't pull away, or try to change my train of thought. I caressed her face, pausing for a few moments so she could have the calm before the storm that she enjoyed so much. I waited for her shaky inhalation and pressed my mouth to hers. My lips found heaven.

 
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