CHAPTER ONE - DESTINY
Spencer Long waited for his destiny to emerge from the waves.
The stars wheeled overhead and the waves crashed against the snow white sands of Ocean Side. Under the moonlight, the sand glowed like diamond dust In moments, merman, Lord Aemrys Liseas, would surface out of that jet black, night-gilded sea and bring with him all the answers that Spencer so desperately needed to know about himself and his ancestry.
Spencer was convinced that Aemrys would know who his father was. Aemrys would be able to confirm that his mother was not crazy when she had told him again and that his father had come from the sea. And maybe, just maybe, Aemrys would know if both of his parents were actually still alive under the waves.
“Your father came from the sea, Spencer,” his mother had said, her voice whispery and low when he was twelve-years-old. Her dark blue eyes, the color of that same sea she spoke of, darted around, checking to see if any of the nurses or doctors could overhear what she was telling him. They discouraged her from talking about her delusion that Spencer’s father was a merman at Wintervale Sanitorium. But she was telling him all the same even as his own discomfort rose.
“Mom, let’s talk about something else,” he pleaded. “I got an A in English and --”
“Spencer, we have to talk about this now,” she said, her voice feather light, but insistent.
Her hold on his upper right arm increased so that it was almost painful. Though his mother was terribly thin, down to skin and bones since she was institutionalized as opposed to the athletic California girl she’d once been, her grip was like steel. He gritted his teeth but didn’t say or do anything that would let her know that she was hurting him. Whenever she realized that she’d caused him pain she would always look so stricken and he knew that she would start cutting herself again as punishment. So he stayed silent and simply gritted his teeth.
“Why, Mom? What’s so important that we talk about him now?” Spencer tried not to let his aggravation leech into his voice.
Talking about his father, a man who had left his mother before he was even born, held no interest for him. His mother’s fantastical tales about the man -- that he wasn’t actually a man but a Mer and a royal Mer at that! -- were so ridiculous that it was hard for him to keep a straight face. Actually, talking about his father made him angry, because he was pretty sure that his real father was a bad guy, someone who had taken advantage of his mother’s mental illness. Part of him feared that maybe she had been raped and he was the result. He loved her so dearly and his heart ached whenever he thought of anyone hurting her. He believed that his very existence probably hurt her, which was why she made up this elaborate fiction about his father.
But she didn’t appear hurt at the moment. She seemed invigorated, more alert and aware than he had seen her in months. She licked her lips almost frantically before she said in the lowest of whispers, “Because he’s coming.”
Alarm raced on tiny insect legs up his spine. The gleam in her eyes was unsettling. The drugs that they had her on normally dulled her manic moments, but not this time. It was as if this latest mania was so strong that it had simply bypassed the medication.
“What? Who is coming?” he asked.
Spencer was already shaking his head. He cast a look around for one of his mother’s doctors. She’d claimed his father was coming ashore for them once before. It was what had gotten her institutionalized. She had nearly drowned them both in an attempt to swim out to where his supposed merman father was waiting for them in the sea.
Spencer’s voice was as firm as he could make it even as his heart was racing as he said, “Mom … no … he’s --”
“Coming to get us.” She gave him a stern look like the ones she used to when he claimed to have done his homework when really he’d gone to the beach to surf for those two hours after school and before dinner. “He’s coming to shore tonight and we have to meet him. Midnight tonight he’ll swim up to the shell beach. You know the one? It’s where we used to go every Friday afternoon and have bonfires and picnics.”
Nausea born of dealing with his mother’s delusions all his life rose up in him. That she would use the one place where he had happy memories with her to fill in her delusion actually hurt. “I don’t think that’s … that’s going to happen, Mom.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean you don’t think it’s going to happen? It will, Spencer, but I need you to help me get out of here so that we can meet him together.”
There was no way he could get her out of the locked grounds of the Wintervale Sanitarium even if he wanted to, but if he said that she would just keep on at him so he made up a few excuses why he couldn’t spring her and then go hang out at the beach at midnight, “It’s not a good idea to be out on the beach at night. It’s dangerous. Plus there’s school tomorrow and --”
“But don’t you understand, honey, that we’ll be living with him? Under the waves in a huge city. You’ll go to school there with the other Mers.” She looked into his eyes with a tremulous smile on her lips, willing him to believe that this was a wonderful, glorious thing. Why didn’t he see it? her gaze seemed to say. Why wasn’t he thrilled? her trembling lower lip asked.
“Mom, have you been,” he paused and swallowed, already knowing this was going to lead to a fight, but pressing on anyways, “taking your meds?”
She went rigid and that bright shine in her eyes became tears. He had hurt her so badly saying that. “I’m not crazy, Spencer.”
“No, I know you aren’t,” he lied.
“Your father is coming tonight to get us. You have to be there. He’s been waiting to meet you for oh, so very long,” she said. “You won’t disappoint him. We’re going to leave this place and never come back. He’s told me how bad the land is. How awful humans are and he’s right! We need to -- where are you going?”
Spencer had taken a step back from her. She tried to tighten that vise like grip on his upper arm, but he used a burst of his own strength to shake her off. He had never done that before and he saw a flash of shock and hurt that he’d done it. Even though he was just twelve, his body was all muscle from his constant hours of surfing.
“Mom, stop.” He held up a hand as if he could physically stop her from talking about her delusion.
“But, honey, your father --”
“Is not a merman!” he shouted, a dam suddenly bursting inside of him. His voice echoed in that white, sterile room where they kept the shades drawn and sunlight could only filter in around the edges. “He’s just some dude who left us!”
He felt the doctors and nurses all turn towards the two of them. The other patients in the room went still. Everyone was listening. Maybe that should have given him pause, should have made him reconsider what he was going to say next. But it didn’t. Now that he had popped the cork off of his emotions he simply could not stop.
“He’s not coming back, Mom! He’s not going to be on the beach! He’s gone! Don’t you get that? He’s fucking gone! He doesn’t want us! He doesn’t love us! Don’t you get it? Don’t you fucking get it?” Fighting back angry tears, Spencer spun away from her and run from the room.
That was the last time he had ever seen her.
That night she had somehow escaped Wintervale. The police had found a witness that had seen her wading into the surf at midnight just off of the shell beach. Her body was never found.
After that, Spencer had dreamed of her. He had dreamed of her swimming in forests of kelp beneath the waves, fish darting around her, coral beneath her fluttering feet as she smiled and gestured for him to swim out to her. These dreams were so vivid and real that often his sleeping body would rise from his bed and he’d awake on the beach, curled on the sand, one hand stretched out to the water. The doctors had told him it was misplaced guilt that made him sleepwalk. His last encounter with her had been so traumatic that it made sense he would dream of her and try to get to her. And he had believed them.
Until three months ago when he had unexpectedly been asked to join a special project at Miskatonic University led by Dr. Rebecca Cleave. During their first meeting, the brilliant geneticist had told him that mermen really did exist.
“No way,” he’d responded. His chest had been tight with almost panic. Memories of his mother’s madness had bubbled up in his chest. He had left that all behind. It could not come back here! “That’s not possible. Mers do not exist.”
They were having this insane conversation in the middle of Dr. Cleave’s laboratory at the university. The lab was a hive of activity with students and professors working ceaselessly to discover the secrets of the human genome and how to fix that same genome when things went wrong. This lab enshrined logic and reason. There was no place here for fantasy!
“They do exist, Spencer,” Dr. Cleave responded with a knowing smile. She obviously was used to his reaction. “Not only did Dr. Marstand meet several of those purely Mer, but one of them who was also human, but then --”
“Also human?” He stared hard at her.
Dr. Cleave adjusted her black-rimmed glasses and fussed with her dark brown hair almost nervously. A few strands fell out of the messy bun. While very pretty, Dr. Cleave clearly did not care much for her appearance. He knew that all of her focus had been, at least, on searching for a cure for vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a terrible genetic disease that caused a person’s organs and blood vessels to be fragile and prone to rupturing. Her husband Ezra Cleave had been diagnosed with it. Most people developed life threatening complications by age 40. At age 44, Ezra had already beat the odds, but it did not look like he would live to see 45 as his health was failing now.
So beyond the absurdity of the serious and brilliant geneticist telling him that mermen existed, Spencer couldn’t believe she would be distracted from looking for a cure for her husband’s illness to be a part of this project put together by Dr. Marstand on mermen!
“A young man, Gabriel Braven, had Mer ancestors in his family tree,” Dr. Cleave explained.
“Mer ancestors …” Spencer repeated faintly.
She nodded, another few strands of dark brown hair unfurling and sliding over her shoulders. “Yes. Evidently, there are Mer-human hybrids among us. Gabriel had received a genetic treasure trove of Mer DNA from both of his parents, which somehow triggered the ability to transition from a life on land to one in the water.”
“He became a merman? That’s what you’re saying, right? That he changed into a merman?” Spencer clarified.
“Yes, in layperson’s terms.”
“Okay, that’s … that’s incredible.” He swallowed. “Not that I can quite believe it. But what does that have to do with me? I’m not in the genetics program. My graduate studies are in underwater archeology, which I’m sure you know. I have nothing to do with -- ah Mers. Unless you need my scuba diving experience.”
But he didn’t think his diving experience was at all what was interesting her. His heart felt like it was clamped in a vise, because he had this terrible thought about why he had been invited to join this project. Did Miskatonic know about his mother’s delusions? There were rumors that the university actually sought out students who had a history of mental illness in their families, which had always sounded absurd to Spencer. Why would the university want to do such a thing? What value was there in mental instability? But if Mers were real then his mother was not mad. And maybe those other students’ families hadn’t been mad either. At that moment he was certain that the university did know about his mother and that it had brought him here to this place at this time.
Dr. Cleave wouldn’t meet his eyes at first. She held her tablet against her chest. In her lab coat, t-shirt and blue jeans with her messy hair and distracted manner she looked more like a teenager rather than a forty-year-old distinguished professor.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said finally. “I mean how does one tell another person that everything they thought about themselves is not true?”
Spencer felt all the blood drain from his face. “What’s not true about me?”
“Spencer, we’ve asked you to be a part of this project not because of your diving abilities -- though your skills in the water will be very useful -- but because of what your father is,” she said.
Not who, but what. What your father is.
A sense of unreality swept through him. He swore that he heard his mother’s voice whispering in his ear, Your father came from the sea. He held himself very still as he asked, “What is my father?”
Dr. Cleave’s head lifted and she met his gaze evenly as she answered him, “Your father is a merman, Spencer, but I think you already know that.”
That was three months ago. Three months of his walls of denial being knocked down. Three months of mourning the fact that he had not believed his mother. Three months of guilt that he had dismissed her as insane. Three months to accept the truth.
His father was a merman and his mother was not crazy. A wild hope had sprung up in his chest that since her mother’s body hadn’t been found that maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t drowned, but that his father had truly been there that night to greet her and that the two of them had gone to some incredible city beneath the sea to live forever.
He still had that hope though everything he had learned about Mers since that first meeting with Dr. Cleave indicated that they had no way to change a pure human into a Mer. They had no magic or science that would allow a human to breathe water and live in their underwater cities. Only Mer-human hybrids who transitioned could do that. But so far it appeared that his mother had been human with no Mer blood in her veins at all. Unlike him. He was just teeming with it though so far he had no sprouted gills as Gabriel Braven had done. But he was not the only Mer-human hybrid who wasn’t transitioning.
“The university has lists of people who may have Mer ancestry. Like you they haven’t transitioned, but we believe that this can be changed,” Dr. Cleave had said to him in that initial meeting. She threaded her stylus through her hair. “In fact, I think I am on the verge of a gene therapy, which will trigger the transition.”
“Trigger … you mean I could be turned into a Mer?” he asked, eyes wide, heart thumping heavily in his chest. The thought of being able to breathe underwater without the heavy tanks and other equipment thrilled him and frightened him at the same time.
She nodded. “Yes, you are the best hope we have of testing my hypothesis. You’re the only one that will be contacted and told the truth right now unless you don’t agree to be a part of the project.”
“I don’t understand why I’m the best hope.” His head was spinning with the revelation of his parentage, but this made even less sense to him.
“Because the others, unlike you, have Mer ancestry far back in their family tree, but you are half Mer, Spencer,” she explained. “If this therapy is to work on anyone it would work on you.”
“I see.” He sank against a nearby lab table. He stared at nothing in particular as his mind whirled.
“So will you join the project, Spencer?” she asked after long moments.
He stirred himself and focused on her. “Why are you involved in this project, Dr Cleave?”
“You don’t think the existence of Mers is enough to inspire me? To look at another species’ DNA?” She tilted her head to the side with an inviting smile on her face.
“All things being equal, sure, I can see that, but I know about … about your husband,” he said carefully.
A look of love mixed with grief flashed through her eyes. “You’re right. I’m determined to cure Ezra. Turning Mer-human hybrids into full Mer is not my passion. It is the price.”
“For the Mer to help us.” Passion had her standing up, leaning towards him, her face alight with a zealot’s belief. “Mer DNA could be used to treat countless human diseases like Ezra’s illness! Mer are immortal, Spencer. Think on that. Their DNA could change everything. But they won’t exactly share it with us. Not unless we give them something very valuable in return.”
“And you think I would be valuable to them? I don’t know how that could possibly be true,” Spencer admitted with a pained shrug. “My father abandoned my mother and I. Why would other Mers have any interest in me?”
“Obviously, I cannot speak to your situation with him, Spencer, but I can assure you that the Mers that Dr. Marstand are dealing with are determined to bring back to Emralis every single Mer-human hybrid they can,” she said. “They want you, Spencer. They’re willing to do anything to get you. They’re actually going to send someone, a Lord Aemrys Liseas, to Miskatonic to convince you to undergo the transition and keep you safe.”
“They’re sending a lord to convince me to become a merman?” Spencer blinked at her in shock.
She touched his shoulder. “Yes, that’s exactly what is happening. So will you join us, Spencer? Will you give Lord Aemrys Liseas a chance to convince you that the Mer want you with them? That the life of a merman is the life for you?”
And his affirmative answer was what brought him to this beach three months later awaiting a real live merman to emerge from the surf.
“Corey, how far away is Aemrys?” Grace Braven asked Corey Rudman.
Grace Braven was an elegant looking woman with white bobbed hair and a slender figure. Her hands were pressed together up near her mouth as she scanned the sea. Aemrys was her ancestor and Gabriel was her grandson. Several generations back he had had an affair with Tabatha Braven and she had bore him a son. That son had not transitioned but had stayed on land, had married, and had children by the sea. Grace was one of those descendants.
It had been too dangerous for Aemrys to come to shore at Arkham’s busy sea port where Miskatonic University was located so the sleepy seaside town of Ocean Side had been chosen instead. Considering that this was the place where Aemrys had come ashore long ago and met his beloved Tabatha it had seemed fitting to all around.
Spencer’s attention switched from Grace to Corey Rudman as both of them awaited Corey’s answer. In some ways, Corey was Grace’s direct opposite. Where she was slim, he was round. Where her hair was white, his was a wild mane of red Where she wore a tasteful pair of linen pants and shirt, Corey had on a lime green pair of boardshorts and a polka-dotted purple and yellow t-shirt topped off with orange flip flops.
Corey was just twenty-two years old and a newly transferred student to Miskatonic University, but already he was a member of the Next Society and was deeply involved in the Mer project. Spencer couldn’t have been more grateful for both of those things. Beyond anyone other than Gabriel Braven himself, Corey understood what transitioning meant and what the Mer were like. He was the one person that Spencer told all his hopes and fears to. And not only did Corey give him the best advice he could, he kept their conversations completely confidential. Tell Corey a secret and it would be kept secret. Not even Dr. Cleave would hear one syllable of what they talked about.
“Half a mile out, Grandma G,” Corey said after a long pause.
The pause was because he had needed to relay the question to his best friend and newly transitioned Mer, Gabriel, who now lived in the Mer capital city of Emralis far beneath the sea. Gabriel had to then relay the question to Aemrys and then the process had to be reversed. Gabriel was a being known as a Caller and had the unique ability of being able to send messages long distance telepathically and between species. Normally, in order for Mers to communicate with humans there had to be physically contact to establish the connection and then it could only be maintained if the Mer and human stayed in very close proximity.
“I can’t wait to see Aemrys again. I know it’s only been three months, Corey, but it feels like ages,” Grace said. “If only dearest Gabriel and Casillus could be coming with him.”
“Gabe feels the same way, Grandma G,” Corey said, his own normally cheerful expression dimming considerably.
“Casillus is Gabriel’s fiance, right? And the Prince of the Mers?” Spencer asked.
“Right on both accounts, Spence,” Corey told him with a nod.
“Gabriel can’t come ashore, because he just transitioned? That’s why he and Casillus aren’t here, too?” Spencer asked as his eyes continued to search the waves for a head.
“Yeah, if you decide to transition the same thing will be true for you,” Corey answered. “You’ll need a bunch of time in Emralis before you can come ashore again. Not sure how much time, but Gabriel thinks it’s more than a single human life.”
“What is a single human life to a Mer though?” Grace asked, her voice was tense. “Mer live forever after all.”
Corey put a pudgy arm around her shoulders. “Gabe still thinks about time like a human does, Grandma G. He hasn’t forgotten about us and he’s well aware that time is passing. He wants to find a way to come back sooner.”
“I know he does,” Grace sighed.
“But why don’t you go to him?” Spencer asked her. “If Dr. Cleave’s gene therapy is successful than you can become a Mer, too, and go to Emralis.”
Her gaze was filled with a mixture of desire and fear. “There’s no telling whether the therapy would work on me. I hardly have as much Mer DNA as you or Gabriel and … I’m quite a bit older than you both. There’s no telling if I could survive the transition.”
“Dr. Cleave is pretty awesome, Grandma G. I’m betting that she will find a way for you to take to the water if you want,” Corey piped in. “You should be thinking about if that’s what you want.”
Grace opened her mouth to answer him when Ash, Spencer’s Dalmatian, darted past them towards the sea. Ash had been sleeping happily on Grace’s back porch, but something had drawn her attention.
“Ash! Ash, don’t get wet! It’s almost time to get in the car!” Spencer laughed as he raced after his beloved dog.
Ash though had already bounded into the sea. Her happy barks and rapidly wagging tail were not dimmed as a wave soaked her. It was only when Spencer reached her that he realized what had brought her bounding out here.
A beautiful, brooding man was standing in the surf.
No, not a man. A Mer.
Lord Aemrys Liseas had arrived.