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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.7
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.7

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  Yara's fingers tugged at the bottom of my shirt. "You held my face in your hands, your eyes turned silver and …."

  Somehow I found the courage to turn around. She had gone pale. Her legs wobbled, so I held onto her. "Yara, you're getting too weak. We need to get you back underwater."

  "You were inside my head. My veins felt like they were filling with ice, and then you … oh, my God." She barely got her last words out before fainting in my arms.

  "Forgive me," I whispered into her hair, carrying her limp body down the steps and into the water—to her new home.

  The Violets had educated me on what needed to be done, but never once had they advised me on what to do if she passed out and didn't wake up once we were in the water. I had waited too long. I should have known better. Why hadn't I insisted we go back sooner?

  Regardless of how fast I swam to Paragon Castle, it felt like an eternity. Yara's eyes weren't opening. Her pulse was weak. What if she never woke up? I would never forgive myself. I had vowed to keep her safe. Everything we worked so hard for, gone because of my carelessness.

  The guards saw me approaching and moved to the side. My tail couldn't propel me forward fast enough. Each turn and climb through the sea-glass corridors felt longer than ever before. Turning at full speed into the gathering hall, a rush of water blew past me as I halted in front of the Violets.

  I bowed my head and extended my sight so they could both hear me. She fainted on land. She was out of the water for over twelve hours. A memory I froze ten years ago returned to her and—

  Treygan, Caspian interrupted calmly. Indrea smiled and laid her hand on top of his.

  Yes, elders?

  Caspian swam toward me, placed his hand on Yara's forehead and closed his eyes. When he opened them I heard the faint murmur of his secondary thoughts being pushed away. She will be fine. A bit more rest is all she requires.

  I nodded with relief.

  We will have another guardian take Yara to Koraline's, Indrea said. She needs to be in a resting pool.

  I can take her.

  Caspian gingerly took her from my arms. You have other essential matters to attend to. Go harvest the Catacombs.

  It's daytime, I argued.

  You will have to ask for an exception. Many are in desperate need of C-weed.

  I stared at Yara, unconscious in Caspian's arms, then closed my eyes so they couldn't hear my thoughts. The pain in my chest, the tingling in my wrists when she touched me, they were warning signs. I could not become emotionally involved with Yara. More importantly, she couldn't grow fond of me. That would be a catastrophe.

  Caspian touched my shoulder. Do not worry yourself with Yara's health.

  I beg your pardon, Caspian, but Yara's wellbeing is my responsibility.

  Indrea's eyes flashed purple as she sent tranquil waves over me. For the first time in days, my muscles relaxed. You've done well, Treygan, she said. Let the rest of us do what we can to help ease the burden placed upon you. You are only one merman—and a fine one at that. Do as Caspian said. Return when the weed supply is back in balance.

  As you wish, Indrea. Thank you, Caspian.

  They both nodded.

  I glanced at Yara one more time before swimming out of the hall. She was in the hands of merfolk who would take exceptional care of her. No matter how badly I wanted to stay, I had to leave her. My unexpected feelings for her meant I needed to stay away from her until the Triple Eighteen.

  In the Catacombs, almost no life existed. A few plants grew out of concrete statues. That was it. No fish or sea creatures swam through the labyrinth, no coral flourished, not one snail crept across the ocean floor. Nada.

  For the first few years, the eerie tombs and lack of color creeped me out. I had the same reoccurring nightmare about being trapped in a deserted blue and gray void. Massive concrete eyes stared at me, never blinking. Their screams and cries for help made the ocean boil until my skin and tail fur melted off. Several times I woke up screaming. Back then the fear of dying—or worse, being alone forever—overwhelmed me.

  Maybe it still did.

  Picking weed from the tombs gave me too much time to think. I hated it. Hated the job, hated the Catacombs, hated that I'd known and loved most of the souls entombed in the cold stone. Swimming around statues of dead friends and family while picking weeds, had to be the worst job in the worlds. But it was my job, and it wasn't like I could up and quit. Treygan and I were the only two souls who could swim into the Catacombs, and he sure as hell wouldn't give my kind the plants they needed.

  When the water around me began to vibrate, I knew it was him. Treygan never entered the Catacombs during my shift. In all the years we had been harvesting, neither of us had ever reneged on our agreement.

  He swam around my mother's tomb, biceps flexed and shoulders hunched, guarded and vigilant. The uptight bastard would never change. I floated behind a selkie statue, keeping my claws out of sight behind the stone wall of what had been her flowing hair. Treygan and I had no reason to fight—yet—but better to be safe than snapped in half.

  Treygan, we've been avoiding each other for over a decade. Seeing you two days in a row is making me nauseous.

  Those ugly, blue eyes of his narrowed, but he kept calm. I need to harvest our crops.

  It's daytime. This place is off limits to you.

  He glided closer. I'm requesting an exception. Our supply is running dangerously low. Yesterday I couldn't work because I granted Yara time to stay on land so she could see you.

  He still had an eerie way of not moving whatsoever. Under water everyone bobbed or floated back and forth a bit, even when we tried to keep still. Not Treygan. When he was intent on something, no part of him—with the exception of his hair—swayed even an inch.

  No one asked you to do that, I said.

  She asked me to do that. He spiraled sideways, circling one of his people's tombs and examining the plant growth. You were her first concern when she awoke. You've done a good job of convincing her you care about her.

  She's important to me.

  She's not important in the way you've made her believe.

  My flippers tensed with the urge to propel myself forward. My claws extended. In one swipe I could tear through his skin and rip his heart out so he'd never speak to Yara again. But that swipe would never reach him. He was faster than any merman in history. I can't help how she interprets our relationship.

  The charade is over, Rownan. She's immune to being mysted. You can't control her thoughts or feelings anymore.

  That's my concern, not yours.

  Treygan squared his shoulders and his fists curled tight. She's one of us now. Stay away from her.

  I swam forward, floating face-to-face with him. Just because you turned her doesn't mean she'll side with you. She has free will to choose, and we'll make sure she chooses to side with us selkies.

  His hand was around my throat in an instant. Are you asking for a war?

  I grasped his forearm, sinking my claws into his skin. Small clouds of blood floated between us, dissipating into the water. I wanted to tear through his muscles and tendons just to prove I could, but I held back. I knew what Treygan was and wasn't capable of. Merfolk wouldn't survive a war with us.

  He squeezed my throat tighter. Things have changed. We will fight for her.

  You're forgetting selkies are darker by nature. We'll go to extremes your kind never would. You might play dirty, but your people won't. Thank the gods for not needing air to breathe, because Treygan's grip was crushing my windpipe. It hurt like hell, but I refused to show it.

  The stakes have never been this high. We'll do whatever it takes. He looked so determined. I had almost forgotten that side of my brother.

  I will say, that was a sneaky move turning Yara first. How did you know today wasn't her real birthday?

  He let go of me, glancing away for a second before he answered. Inside source.

  Mother or father?

  None of your business, he re
plied.

  With one quick arch backward I maneuvered away from him, putting more water between us. How did you do it? We all believed her birthday was today. Hell, she believes it's today. You must've planned this ages ago.

  I don't take the future of my people lightly. I did what needed to be done.

  I tried not to sneer, but failed. You really believe she'll think your numbskull method of opening the gate is the right one? She's not a pushover. She has her mother's fiery spirit—when her mother still had one. Yara won't just do what you tell her to.

  Treygan advanced on me. We will make her see it's the right thing to do.

  We floated eye to eye again, both stiff and unwavering. The outstretched stone hand of a mermaid covered with swaying weeds was the only thing between us. I assure you, Treygan, when Yara arrives at the gateway it will be with me, and the right thing will be done.

  Don't bet your life on it, brother.

  At the reminder of the blood we shared, I retracted my claws, but it didn't calm my agitation. I will bet all of our lives on it. And don't call me brother.

  That's another difference between us, Rownan. I would never bet the lives of my people.

  Jack and I had a meeting scheduled, and all this chitchat with Mr. Shit-for-Brains made my craving for a drink unbearable. Pick your plants. I'm done here.

  I swam past him, brushing my fingers along my mother's tomb and making sure her water lily was secure in its place. Even though her eyes were coarse, lifeless rock, I knew her spirit watched over me. Rest in peace, Mom. I promise to win this one in your honor.

  Day 3

  Again, I woke up underwater with no clue where I was.

  When I was a kid, I would lie in the bathtub and try to open my eyes underwater. Everything looked blurry and sounds were muffled. Now I could see wooden ceiling beams above me with crystal clarity and hear every word of What a Wonderful World being sung by a female voice in the distance. I sat up and glanced around at the shallow water. My golden tail flopped down in front of me, making a splash. An indoor pool?

  The room was small with bamboo walls. Skylights let in plenty of sunlight. Wild flowers grew everywhere: up the walls, around the ceiling beams, in huge seashells acting as planters. How had I ended up here? And who was singing in the next room?

  "Hello?" I called out.

  The singing stopped and footsteps approached the open French doors. A round face framed by bright green pigtails peeked around the doorway. "You're awake!"

  "Uh, who are you, and how did I get here?"

  She stepped into full view and my mouth dropped open. She wore a tank top and denim skirt, but the rest of her skin—with the exception of her shiny face—was covered with hallmarks. Beneath the intricate artwork her skin had a satin sheen to it. I knew she was a mermaid. Not by her looks, but by the internal sensory system Treygan mentioned.

  She licked a spoon clean and stuck it in the yogurt container she was holding. "I'm Koraline, and you're in my resting pool, in my house."

  "But you're a mermaid, and not in the water, so how—?"

  She flashed a grin of obnoxiously white teeth. "This place is harbored, meaning I can be on land and retain my mer traits. Except the tail, of course. It wouldn't be much fun to drag myself around from room to room."

  Where was Treygan? Why had he left me here with a stranger? He still needed to explain himself. I rubbed my arms like I was cold, even though the temperature was comfortable. "Could I maybe borrow some clothes so I can get out of here?"

  "Sure."

  She disappeared from the doorway and I examined my skin. The plant motif hallmarks were back, and I looked like I had applied way too much glistening bronzer. Reaching into the water, I ran my fingers over my tail and cringed at the rough, scaly texture. "Gross."

  "What's gross?" Green-haired gal asked, walking into the room with a towel and clothes.

  I tried to say "nothing," but the words wouldn't come out. This unable to lie stuff was no joke. "Just talking to myself."

  She held out the towel, but I had no idea how to get out of a pool without my legs. "How do I get out of here?"

  "Pull yourself onto the ledge and swing your tail up."

  It was so bizarre to hear someone say that and accept it as reality, but I scooted to the edge of the pool and did what she said. Just like at the dock, my tail instantly changed into legs—hallmark covered legs—when I pulled them out of the water. I stuck my feet back in and they were pale yellow fins. I pulled them out again and I had ten toes, shimmery and covered with vine artwork. I lowered them in and yanked them out as fast as I could, trying to see if my fins would appear out of the water. But the transformation happened quicker than I could move.

  Koraline giggled above me. "Neat, huh?"

  Neat wasn't the word I would use, but it was sort of fascinating. I glanced up at her and back at my legs before taking the towel from her and standing up. While wrapping the towel around me, I looked down and noticed my locket was missing.

  "What happened to my necklace?"

  "What necklace?"

  It had felt so heavy thumping against my chest as I ran from Uncle Lloyd's back to Treygan, but I couldn't remember if it had been around my neck when I reached him. Had I lost it already? Great. That gift lasted a long time. "Never mind. Where is Treygan?"

  "He went to work."

  "You mean to sell weed?"

  "Sell it? Sweetums, you have so much to learn about how things work in our world."

  Sweetums? Was she serious? "I don't want to know how things work. As soon as possible, I'm going home and pretending this mermaid thing never happened."

  "But being mer is so much better than human life. Some people would give anything to be one of us."

  "Yeah, well, I'm not one of them."

  "Delmar mentioned you weren't keen on the idea. I couldn't believe that was possible, but here you are, dissing a beautiful existence you know nothing about."

  "Beautiful? Having a tail one second and legs the next? Skin and tattoos that look like something out of a science fiction novel? None of that is my idea of beautiful."

  She shoveled more yogurt into her mouth and tapped the spoon against her bottom lip. "'Never did an eye see the sun unless it had first become sun-like, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful.'"

  "What?"

  "Plotinus," she said. I stared at her blankly. "Great ancient philosopher. Don't tell me you've never heard of him."

  "No."

  "Looks like I'll have to teach you the basics. Come on, I'll show you around first."

  Before I could argue she walked into the other room, leaving me with no choice but to follow.

  The rest of the house looked normal: living room, kitchen, even a regular bathroom. The entire place had a pastel, nautical theme, and every shelf was filled with books.

  "What do you think?" she asked.

  "Nice, but where are we?"

  She headed for the front door. "Sorry, I almost forgot the best part." She swung open the peach-colored door and we stepped onto a small porch made of rope and wood.

  My breath caught in my throat. I had never seen anything like it. Her house was one of many thatch-roofed cottages scattered on rolling green hills. All the homes looked like they were made from natural materials that blended into the surrounding tropical foliage. Some were connected by streams. Gushing waterfalls, flowing waterways and chirping birds created a surreal soundtrack for the lush stage surrounding us.

  "Welcome to our 'hood'," she said. "You're looking at the harbored island of Solis. Home to about a hundred merfolk, it's inaccessible to humans, undetectable on any radar or satellite, and invisible to the naked eye."

  "How is that possible?" I marveled. The twinkling, emerald mountains made the sky's cerulean blue look dull in comparison.

  "After we realized we'd be stuck here for a long time, the Violets cast a protective spell over the island. If humans discovered this place we would become th
eir next big experimental study. Merfolk are supposed to be a myth, ya know?"

  I wished they were a myth. "What do you mean by stuck here?"

  "The gateway between our realm and this one was sealed years ago. We had no way of getting back home, so we were forced to adjust."

  "This world isn't your home?"

  "Gosh, no. This place is so lackluster compared to Rathe. Our people visited here so they could interact with humans, visit the cities and experience new things. This world was like a playground to us, but we never stayed more than a few days at a time. Then the gate was sealed, and we've been trapped here ever since."

  "Rathe? That's an awful name. It sounds sinister."

  "You couldn't be more wrong. Rathe means a place of blooming and ripening." She ran her pale hands over the porch railing. "We miss our realm—especially our loved ones there. It's awful not knowing if they're okay."

  "Can't you call or send a letter or something?"

  She didn't laugh at what in hindsight sounded like a ridiculous question. "No. We have no way of communicating with them."

  "Will the gate ever open again?"

  She bit her lip. Her white teeth against the lime green reminded me of a Granny Smith apple slice. "We really, really hope so."

  In a weird way, I felt like I could relate. Many times I wondered if my parents were okay on the other side—a side I had no access to. It was a lonely feeling. "Why is the gate sealed?"

  "The simple answer is that a promise to the gorgons wasn't kept, so they concocted a dreadful curse and sealed off the gateway until we could figure out a way to repay them."

  Answers only led to more questions. "Gorgons are real?"

  "Ever heard of Medusa?"

  "Sure. One of the three daughters of Phorcys and Ceto. Breathtakingly beautiful, but turned into a monster." She was one of the prized wood panels that hung in my uncle's house.

  "Nice. At least you know more than 'she had snakes for hair.' Medusa was horribly misunderstood, but if it weren't for her, none of us would exist. She played a major part in the creation of most other sea creatures. Did you know that?"

 
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