CHAPTER TWO - GIFTS
Earlier in the Palace of the King and Queen of Emralis, Mer Capital, far beneath the sea…
“We task you with the greatest of responsibilities, Lord Aemrys Liseas,” Queen Sentria intoned from her place on the dais in the Mer palace. This private audience with her and the king of Mers was not rare as he was the Mer Spymaster, but the topic was among the most important of all their meetings. “To bring our lost children home. You must do everything in your power to accomplish this goal.”
“The humans claim to have a list of people descended from our matings that happened not just on the North American continent but the rest of the world and stretching back over a thousand years,” King Exaltis said. One of his hands linked with his wife’s. They floated ten feet away from Aemrys.
Aemrys frowned. “Not even our own lists are that extensive!”
“And we have lost track of most of our descendants on the land in any event,” Exaltis added with a sad shake of his head. “Plus, there was other matings that were not sanctioned and never acknowledged openly. The humans have those as well it would seem.”
“This Miskatonic University is a powerful force,”Aemrys said neutrally even as he itched to get his hands on all the information that this place of learning had.
“But for good or evil, we do not know,” Sentria said almost wearily. “Humans are so … unpredictable. They are far more powerful now than they ever were.”
“We have a Caller again, my dear.” Exaltis touched her cheek. “We need not fear them.”
“While that is true, I do not think Gabriel would be eager to ask for Cthulhu’s assistance against the humans,” Aemrys reminded them dryly.
“But he would Call Cthulhu to keep us safe. He is Mer now. His attachment to the land and humanity will fade,” Exaltis said with a touch of sharpness in his tone. He tossed his long dark hair and it floated like a halo around his head.
Aemrys repressed a sigh. He loved his king and queen and thought them wise on many matters, but in this they believed what they wished to be true, not what actually was.
Sentria soothed her husband with a kiss on his cheek. “Gabriel has brought such joy to us on many levels and his abilities as a Caller make our position that much safer than before. But he raises such possibilities about who else could be out there”
“Only if they can take to the water and access Mer powers,” Aemrys pointed out. “We stopped tracking them, because as the blood was diluted it seemed highly unlikely that they would ever transition, let alone be powerful Mers.”
“Until Gabriel. He has changed everything, Lord Aemrys. You, of all people, know this,” Sentria said with a knowing look. “Gabriel being a Caller and of House Liseas has raised your House’s profiles even more than it has been before. The other Houses hunger not only for more members, but they believe that these children might be as extraordinary as he is.”
“I think they will starve then,” Aemrys remarked dryly. “House Liseas has always been the House of Callers. To have another Mer-human hybrid to transition after all this time would be … nearly impossible. To have one emerge with great powers? That is beyond impossible.”
Exaltis spoke then, “The humans claim that they have found a way to help these people transition to the water.”
Aemrys went very still. This had just been a rumor a month ago. A faint possibility after Gabriel had just joined them. Aemrys had thought if anything were to come of it hundreds of years would have to pass. Gabriel had warned him that humanity moved far more quickly than Mer. That the humans had possibly found a way to return their children to the water in three months was unbelievable. He hid his amazement as best he could. As Spymaster, he needed to reassess his understanding of humanity very very quickly.
“What do the humans want in return for this gift?” Aemrys lifted his chin up as he said this, knowing that humanity would be fools to not ask for something.
Sentria and Exaltis exchanged a look and likely a private thought between them. Finally, both looked back at him.
Sentria’s expression was rather torn. “When we think of our precious Gabriel -- a young man who is already a son to us in our hearts and soon, we hope, to be more officially so -- we cannot help but think of those other lost children out there. They should be with us. Before that was an impossibility. Even if they are the most common of Mers it makes no difference. Each and every one is precious to us. The humans can return them. What wouldn’t we give?”
“What do they want in return?” Aemrys repeated gently. He knew it had to be something huge. The king and queen were trying to convince him that it was worth giving.
“They wish to establish formal relations with us,” Exaltis said.
“And?” Aemrys prompted.
“They are interested in our technology, our magic,” Exaltis added.
“And?” One more prompt.
It was Sentria who answered. Her tone was grim. “They want our blood.”
The present …
“Aemrys, Grace and Corey want to know how far out from land you are,” Gabriel’s voice interrupted Aemrys’ memories of his meeting with the royalty of the Mer.
“I am half a mile from shore,” he answered as he swam through the night shrouded water. “How are you, Gabriel?”
His descendant’s mind evidenced surprise and consternation that Aemrys had read into his question more than he intended. “Why would I be anything but great? I mean I’m in Emralis and you’re going back home -- I mean Ocean Side to see my best friend and my grandmother? While I’m still in Emralis. Did I mention that?”
“Yes, you did. Would you like to mention it again?” Aemrys smiled sadly.
“Maybe. Do you think it would make me feel better?” Gabriel laughed.
“I do not think so.” Aemrys sliced through the water. Even as he moved physically from Gabriel, the connection between them remained as strong as ever. “I can imagine how hard this is for you, Gabriel. I know how much you miss Grace and Corey.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Emralis, and Casillus is the absolute best, but not to even have the option of going back and seeing Corey and my grandmother really sucks,” Gabriel said and Aemrys knew that his descendant had crossed his arms over his chest and was scowling.
“I know you do and I feel your pain.” It was like a red web covering all of Gabriel's thoughts. Aemrys hated that it was there. This pain would be something that would be part of dealing with the Mer-human hybrids, too.
“Literally, you do feel my pain,” Gabriel sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to put this burden on you. I know that you’re not exactly keen to be going to Miskatonic. I mean you’ll be living in a tank and I can’t imagine that’s exactly awesome.”
“No, it is not awesome, but did they not tell you that it is a very nice tank?”
Gabriel let out a laugh. “I love it when you use modern human vernacular. And yes, it’s supposed to be a great fish tank.”
“Do I normally not speak as one of your generation?”
“No, you don’t. You normally sound like a college professor or a lord or something,” Gabriel informed him.
“Well, I am a lord so that I should speak like one is accurate,” Aemrys reminded him.
“What you are is someone I am very lucky to know and be cared for,” Gabriel said quietly. “You’re trying to distract me from what can’t be changed. I have to be in Emralis. Corey and Grace have to be on land. I will get over this.”
“As to Corey, there is no chance that he can join us, but Grace is not so limited. If Dr. Cleave has truly found a way for Mer-human hybrids to transition then Grace could join us in Emralis,” Aemrys reminded him.
Gabriel went silent, but his emotions pulsed across their telepathic connection saying more than words ever could. His descendant tried to tamp down on what his heart immediately wanted, but he couldn’t hide it from Aemrys. Gabriel wanted Grace to be with him desperately, but Gabriel was trying not to let Aemrys know that.
“Why do you not wish to acknowledge wanting her with us?” Aemrys asked.
There was a startled silence. Gabriel was still not used to there being few secrets between Mer, especially not between family. Finally, Gabriel answered, “Because she might not want to come and that will be agony.”
“If she chooses to remain on land, it would not be because she does not love you.” Fish skimmed along Aemrys’ sides, tickling him. He was nearing land and life teemed.
“I know. It would be for lots of very good reasons, but it would still mean that she wasn’t with us and that those reasons were greater than … than her love for me.”
Aemrys imagined Gabriel hugging himself, curling slightly in a ball and drifting in the current from his emotional state.
“I will do my best to convince her. She is my family, too, and has become dear to me in such a short time,” Aemrys assured him. He would have to work on any reservations Grace had. Gabriel needed her. And as much as Gabriel was Casillus’ to protect, he was Aemrys’ too.
“I know you will,” Gabriel responded with warmth. “If you need me let me know. I’m going to split my attention between you and Corey. I’m here for you, Aemrys.”
“I love you as well, Gabriel.”
He felt Gabriel winnow down the bond between them so that his descendant’s thoughts were a small buzz in the background.
At that moment, he passed over a sandbar and knew that he was within a one-hundred feet from shore. A mixture of excitement and unease filled him. So much depended on his handling of the humans and the one Mer-human they had identified and brought into the project. Spencer Long.
Aemrys knew little of this twenty-five year old graduate student. Spencer’s father had been a Mer. Supposedly, his mother had encountered this Mer on the Pacific Coast of the United States of America. No Mer was supposed to have mated with humans on that coast or any coast - at least not officially for over one hundred years. That area of the ocean had been abandoned for over a thousand years after the war with House Aer. So Spencer’s heritage was a mystery.
Once he saw the young man he might have some inkling what Mer House he belonged to. He would then ferret out who had gone off the reservation and who had then abandoned a child. There would be consequences for that individual and his House. If Spencer could transition he might not be placed in his father’s house, but instead adopted into a worthy one.
These were Aemrys’ thoughts as he made his way to shore and stood up in the surf. Then a four-legged creature came bouncing and barking up to him. It was wagging its tail and had a rather sweet face.
Dog. This is a dog, Aemrys realized as he mined Gabriel’s memories to understand what he was seeing. A pet. Humans keep these animals as pets in their homes.
“Ash! Ash, don’t get wet! It’s almost time to get in the car!” a buoyant male voice said that immediately had Aemrys’ lifting his head.
The young man was striking. Beautiful. That Aemrys took in right away. Spencer had sun-bleached, wavy, chin-length hair. His skin was a light gold and freckles dotted an aristocratic nose. He had high cheekbones and a chiseled jaw. The pair of frayed cargo pants and brilliant white t-shirt could not hide a muscular yet lean body that could undoubtedly cut through the water like a scythe. But it was his eyes that arrested Aemrys for a very long moment.
They were this crystalline blue, which reminded him of Caribbean seas where the sun was like liquid gold. They were soulful. For one so young, Spencer’s eyes were actually old. Tragedy had clearly struck him early. That was written large in them. Like Gabriel, he had been left to the dangers of the land and the isolation of humanity.
You should not have been abandoned, Aemrys thought. Whoever left you was unworthy. But do not worry. You will find a family with us. Safety and security will be yours.
And Spencer straightenedup and his eyes widened.
There was a beat and Aemrys realized that Spencer may have heard him. Spencer? Can you hear me, Spencer?
“Did you … did you say something?” Spencer asked. His head tilted to the side. “Did you …”
Reach for me, Spencer. Your mind to mine.
The young man took a step into the surf towards him. His right hand raised to Aemrys’ left side. Towards his gills. A physical reach. But then the dog -- Ash -- suddenly was thrusting itself between them, licking Aemrys’ right hand with abandon.
“Ash!” Spencer chastised the animal. He gently reached and grabbed the red collar around the dog’s neck and pulled her out of the surf and away from Aemrys. “I’m sorry. She’s just really … friendly.”
The moment of connection was lost.
Only for now.
Aemrys looked down at it - no, her -- and from Gabriel’s mind knew how to pet her. He kneeled down in the surf and stroked the dog’s wet fur. She came surging back into the surf and eagerly licked his face. Spencer kneeled down as well, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was getting soaked. They both were petting Ash and she was yipping her pleasure. Aemrys met Spencer’s gaze.
You are one of us. You are special. Those twin thoughts were immediate and definite. This brought about the following revelation, So the humans really do have a list of our descendants. I know that is now true.
“You’re Aemrys, right? Lord Liseas, I mean. I’m not sure what you like to go by.” Spencer actually winced as he clearly realized he was babbling.
You may call me Aemrys, he sent.
Spencer blinked and those brilliant blue eyes went unfocused. He could have touched the young man’s temples and established a connection like he would with a human, but he wanted Spencer to try and reach out to him first.
“I feel like I’m almost hearing you,” Spencer said. “Is that crazy? I mean Corey told me that you had to touch me to -- to make that happen --”
Because Corey is human, but you are not, Spencer.
“Because … because … human … you said something about humans,” Spencer murmured.
You’re getting it, Spencer. Come on. Reach to me.
But then Grace and Corey were coming towards them, calling out his name. Both he and Spencer stood up. Ash gave out an annoyed bark that she was being ignored. Spencer reluctantly drew Ash out of the waves and away from Aemrys. He was withdrawing, allowing Corey and Grace to meet with him. Allowing them privacy.
He thinks he must stay separate and away. He is smiling, but he is just observing. Watching from the outside.
“Aemrys!” Grace put her hands on his cheeks and he focused in on her. Immediately the connection between them was strong. It snapped into place like it had always been there.
He cupped her face as well. Grace, how I have missed you.
He leaned in and kissed her forehead. He felt a rush of happiness between them. A connection. He realized that she was hungry for it.
Yes, I have been, she sent to him. I didn’t know this kind of communication was possible until three months ago and now I can’t seem to bear not having it.Gabriel and I talk often, but I miss your mind.
He pressed his lips against her forehead for a longer time. Her hold on him tightened. When he pulled back tears were running down cheeks. Tears of happiness. Corey was doing his shifting dance right had the edge of the surf, which had Aemrys smiling broadly. For a young man that had to carry such secrets, Corey appeared to hide nothing of his emotions.
“Corey is so anxious to greet you. Go to him. I’m fine,” Grace urged him. “We will have plenty of time together now.”
He stroked a hand down her cheek. She grasped it and kissed it. Aemrys stepped away from her and towards Corey who immediately hugged him in a powerful bear embrace.
“Crushed by love, my man, Aemrys!” Corey wooted.
Aemrys narrowed his eyes before he picked Corey up and gave the round form a firm embrace. Corey let out a oomph and then a tee hee. Aemrys put Corey back on his feet.
“You are one strong Mer!” Corey laughed as he straightened his vibrant shirt.
I try, Aemrys sent to him. Just the hug had been enough to re-establish the direct connection with Corey. You are the same vibrant man as always.
Corey did a little turn to show the entirety of his outfit. “Isn’t it great? I glow at night.”
No one could miss you, Corey. Not even from the deepest seas or the cold of outer space.
“And what about you?” Corey pointed to the shimmering green shift around his waist. “I thought that House Liseas’ colors were purple with silver stars.”
I am not here just representing House Liseas, Corey. I represent all of the Mer, and especially the king and queen of our people. Green is the color for such occasions, he explained.
“Well, it’s a bitching shift!” Corey chortled. “It’s so good to see you, man!”
And you, Corey. His gaze though shifted over to Spencer who had found a towel somewhere and was drying off Ash.
Spencer’s really cool, Corey switched to telepathy.
Is he? Cool as in a trustworthy, likeable individual and not in terms of temperature? Aemrys smiled at him.
Exactly. Corey’s dark brown eyes darted to Spencer. Some really messed up stuff happened to him though, Aemrys. I thought Gabriel had a tough time losing his folks to the water, but Spencer’s dad was just never around and his mom … well, his mom … It was bad. That’s all.
He watched as Spencer kissed the tip of Ash’s nose and the dog licked his chin. Spencer laughed and hugged Ash to him.
Does he want to transition, Corey? Aemrys asked.
I think he wants to know who he really is, Aemrys. Like where he comes from and where he could go, Corey answered. Show him he has a place with you and I think you’ll win him over.
Grace came over at that moment. She saw what the direction of their gazes were. He’s a sweet boy, Aemrys. I can only imagine what he’s going through. She wrapped her arms around her chest. To find out that you’re not completely human. To find out there’s a chance to become - to become not human at all.
He turned towards her and touched her chin. Does that matter so much? Being human?
It’s how I’ve defined myself. But knowing I’m not … well, it’s like one of the core tenets of what I’ve always believed is upended, Grace explained. Not that being a Mer is a bad thing. It is a wondrous thing. But you must understand that there is uncertainty, too. To leave your entire life behind and embrace another? She shook her head and said nothing more.
Spencer seemed to notice that all of them were staring at him at that moment. He looked up and blinked in confusion. He glanced around him as if there was someone else there that could have drawn their attention. He stood up, leaving the towel around Ash’s head like a hood. The dog turned her head towards them, saw Aemrys regarding her, and her tongue lolled out in happiness. He saw her tail thumping against the sand and he couldn’t help but smile.
“Is everything okay, guys?” Spencer asked.
“It’s totally cool,” Corey called back, but then he was frowing. “But where’s Miller? He should have been here ages ago with the truck.”
Truck? Aemrys asked Corey and Grace.
“A big semi with a water tank inside of it made of clear glass. It’s too long a drive to Miskatonic for you to be out of water so we wanted to give you a nice, clean, well-lit place to make the journey and … what the hell is that?” Corey broke off and let out some swears.
The redhead was staring over his shoulder towards the highway. They had picked Ocean Side for him to arrive because there would be little to no chance of him being seen. But now the ground was shaking and two lights speared the darkness. These lights were attached to a huge tanker truck. He had to search Corey and Grace’s mind for an explanation for what this grim looking vehicle was.
“What is that, Corey?” Spencer jogged over to them.
The tanker truck had pulled into Grace’s driveway. The lights abruptly turned off as did the hum of the engine ground to a halt and a young man with a shaved head leaned out of the cab’s window. He frantically waved a hand in the air.
“Hey, guys!” he called.
“Miller?!” Spencer strode over to her. He gestured to the tanker truck. “What is this? What happened to the semi?”
Miller scratched his head. “Uhm, yeah, about that … well, the semi broke down about halfway here and I had to make an executive decision.”
“What decision was that, Miller?” Corey asked as he strode over as well.
Aemrys drew closer to the vehicle and the young man. Miller looked to be the same age as Corey and Spencer. He swung himself out of the vehicle. He wore a tank top and dirty, ripped jeans. The tank that the truck was carrying had a shiny silver finish. There was a ladder leading up to the top of the tank where there was a single hatch.
“We just needed something to carry the dude in, right?” Miller asked with a shrug. “So here we go!”
“Put Aemrys in that tank?” Grace sounded horrified. “There’s no air or light in there!”
Of course, he drew air from the water, but he saw in her mind a pitch black enclosed space and it seemed suffocating to her. She did not want him in there. And neither did Spencer. The young man had his hands on his hips and was staring daggers at Miller.
“I can’t believe you would even think this was acceptable, Miller! He’s not a goddamned goldfish that you put in a bowl,” Spencer hissed.
Miller’s expression went flat. “I wasn’t aware that the tank needed to be fancy. Just water tight, right?”
“He’s not an animal, Miller,” Spencer’s voice raised.
“Miller, this really isn’t cool, but I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it, but this is a hit and a miss,” Corey tried to soothe matters over.
But Spencer’s anger lit the air like fireworks. Aemrys felt power building within the young man. This was not normal. This was dangerous.
“Miller, we are not putting Aemrys into a goddamn tanker truck,” Spencer hissed.
“Don’t lecture me, surfer boy! This is --”
There was suddenly a cracking sound and then an explosion
Aemrys grabbed Spencer and shielded the young man’s body from the sudden spray of glass. He felt a few slice the flesh of his back. They were minor wounds that would heal in moments. Finally, there was no more glass or pain. Spencer though was still curled tight against him. The young man’s breathing was ragged. Tremors were running through him.
I did that, Spencer said, but not out loud. He had reached for Aemrys’ mind. I did that. I did that. Oh, God, I did that.
Calm, Spencer, Aemrys said even though he did not feel calm himself. If Spencer had done this … no, it meant nothing. It was just a gift. Not a sign that he was … Aemrys sent these thoughts from his mind. Instead, he send calming thoughts to Spencer, You must be calm if you did do that. We cannot have any more flying glass.
Spencer twisted around to look up at him through shocked blue eyes. Mers can do that?
Some Mers. That was all he would say. Could say.
Aemrys turned back to the vehicle. He saw that Corey had covered Grace with his form so she was all right. Miller was already crouched in front of the truck.
“Whoa, I don’t know how this happened,” he said.
“What happened?” Corey asked.
“The headlights exploded,” he said and stood up. He stared at Spencer and Aemrys with narrowed eyes. “Never saw anything like that before.”
“Yeah, well, we clearly aren’t meant to use the tanker truck,” Corey said.
Tell them it is fine, Spencer. I have no problem being in this vehicle, Aemrys sent. I wish to get to Miskatonic as fast as possible.
He started moving towards the tank’s ladder. He needed to time to think. He needed time to figure out if what had just happened meant what he thought it did. But Spencer had a hold of his arm. Stopping him. He looked back at the young man with the brilliant blue eyes that reminded him of something from the past. Of things long past and best forgotten.
“I’m going with you. If you’re riding in that damned tanker so am I,” Spencer said and began to strip.