CHAPTER ONE - LIFEGUARD DUTY
Pacific Ocean off the Coast of Huntingbelle Island, California, USA, in the near future...
The human male thrashed in the waves. His head would lift above the ocean’s surface, and he would try to take a gulp of air, but then the next wave would hit him and he would swallow water instead. The waves also pushed him under. His body sank far below the clear blue sky above. His fingers raked through the water as if he were doing battle with it, or maybe trying simply to climb it to life giving oxygen. The human’s eyes bugged out of his head like momo seeds about to pop as wave after wave held him underwater.
But the only question on Mer Lord Elaric Silvyr’s mind was whether the human was drowning or simply swimming badly. It was so very hard to tell. When the human’s movements started to slow and a glazed look appeared in those buggy eyes, Elaric sighed. Drowning, evidently, was the answer to his question.
With a powerful kick of his feet he shot through the water and grabbed the human around the waist before swimming him rapidly towards the surface. The moment they broke through the tops of the waves the human vomited water onto Elaric’s left shoulder. Elaric grimaced and clenched his jaw.
This is my punishment after all. What do I deserve other than to have humans vomit on me?
With the coughing, retching--though now breathing again, too--human in his arms, Elaric swam to shore. He was forced to do this, because unlike most shorelines, there was not even a Coast Guard vessel to assist him at Huntingbelle Island. To be fair, there were few of these near-drownings around the island, far fewer than on the coast of the nearby continent. He was the only Mer assigned here. But the moment he thought this, his chest clenched. This was another part of his punishment. No one expected there to be anyone or anything important on Huntingbelle.
I am exiled because I failed! I should be facing off against the creatures in the Sundering Deep, but instead I play lifeguard to foolish mortals!
The sand soon came up to meet his feet as he neared shore. He slung the human over his shoulder with ease, though the human was as tall as he was, and walked onto the sandy shore. Before he had stepped foot on dry land, however, the humans had already begun to point and gesticulate in other ways at him.
“It’s a Mer!” Several awe-filled voices called out almost in unison.
“Look at his gills on his sides! Those are so cool!” Others cried.
“Shouldn’t they be on his neck? I mean how do they actually pump water when they are by his ribs?” Someone asked with suspicion in their voice, as if Mer physiology was wrong in some way.
“Wow, he’s hot!” Someone giggled.
“Triple hot! He looks like a prince or something? Do you think he’s a prince?” Another asked. “Aren’t they all like princes?”
Elaric was not a prince. The humans though had been exposed to mostly Mer royalty on their televisions and other communication devices so it made sense that they wondered if every Mer was royal. They had seen the powerful and beautiful King Cetus and his Consort Zed, most ancient of Callers, meet with the leaders of the human world. They had heard the romantic tale of how the Caller Gabriel and his mate Prince Casillus Nerion met and fell in love. Gabriel was a hybrid and only through Casillus’ discovery of him had he found his true nature.
King Cetus’ own son, Prince Lir, was often on the airwaves, connecting humans and Mers with his experiences in both worlds. Lir had actually lived amongst the humans his whole life, but with the help of Steward Aemrys Aer Liseas, he seemed able to ease the primitive human minds’ fear of the Mers.
But Elaric was not quite at that elevated level. He was the son of the ruling lord and lady of House Silvyr. But he had always believed that being the scion of House Silvyr was far more important than simply having royal blood. For House Silvyr was the House that protected the whole of the world from the creatures from the Sundering Deep. And they did it alone, or at least they did it alone now since House Bexys destruction over a quarter century ago.
We do not need House Bexys or anyone’s help! he thought savagely. If only King Cetus still had faith in us! My parents do not understand that we must take action! Quick, decisive action! To keep our place in Mer society!
But his present circumstances reminded him that such action could get one exiled if it didn’t succeed. The hot sand clung to the soles of his feet. As they dried, the thin membranes that extended from the tips of his toes disappeared. His gills still fluttered at his sides as water sluiced down his skin, but they, too, would retreat if he stayed on dry land for too long. Not that he intended to stay here any longer than absolutely necessary.
Elaric laid the still-coughing human male down on a striped piece of cloth. It was called a beach towel, if he remembered his training correctly. Just as he set the human male down, a human female raced to the male human’s side and sank to her knees beside him. Her hair was wet and there was a splash of freckles on her nose that the sun had brought out.
“Ned! Ned! Are you all right?” she cried as she touched the human male’s--Ned’s--sunburnt shoulders. “What happened to you? You were right with me and then--then you were gone!”
“C-Cathy?” Ned squinted up her and then over at Elaric through eyes that were red-rimmed from exposure to the salt. “He--he saved me! The Mer saved me! I was drowning!”
Drowning? Not fifty feet from shore? To be able to drown at all in the life giving ocean is so very pathetic. It shows how unnatural humans truly are.
There were oohs and aahs all around Elaric though and more pointing. He might have little respect for humanity, but they rightfully did for Mers. They brought out these hard rectangles that fit into their hands--cell phones, his training reminded him--and began to film him and take pictures.
He did not smile. He did not react to those that called out to him to “look this way please” or “can I get a selfie?” Instead, he stood there stoically, rather like a statue, as they took their “selfies” and whatever else they were doing. His training required him to stay and allow them to do this, though not forever. Elaric had determined that he would remain for no more than 50 waves hitting the beach at the utmost before he would turn and leave this horrible dry place.
Elaric put his hands on his hips and stared ahead at no one in particular. The beach stretched out all around him, but he could see dark-leafed trees behind a line of their vehicles about 100 yards away. Vehicles which spewed poison into the air. He could already taste the pollution on his tongue. It left an acrid, burning taste in the back of his throat. To educate the humans to stop destroying the environment was one of the many reasons that King Cetus had determined to make contact with them. Elaric thought that sending Cthulhu to destroy humanity would do a far better job of it. Then the oceans would heal themselves and the Mers would be left alone.
He was only at wave 25 as the photographing continued and he wondered if he could break the 50 wave rule and simple leave now. An adult male human grabbed the wrist of a teenaged female human as she took his picture.
“What are you doing? He’s practically naked!” the adult male human cried.
“Dad, that’s what they always wear! Don’t embarrass me!” the teenaged girl hissed and went back to photographing him.
He wore only the traditional shift around his hips. It represented House Silvyr’s colors, which were aquamarine on top that darkened to a jade green at the bottom. It did not hide his sex nor much else. It was not meant to. Humans thought naked bodies were--what was the word his training had told him? Sinful--because the sight of them was arousing and arousal led to sex and somehow sex was sinful too. How could sex be bad unless it was done to hurt?
Again, this human view of the world was so strange and backwards. Though he had no concern over being naked, he did wish he had his armor and trident, but they were not with him. Such things were not allowed near the humans. It might be misconstrued as aggressive.
As a young human male jumped over to him and put an unsolicited arm around his waist before snapping a picture with a wide, goofy grin, Elaric wished the humans would think him aggressive and back off. But no such luck. The photos and videos continued unabated. He was at wave 35.
He was of two minds about the human’s fascination with Mers. On the one hand, Mers were glorious and beautiful and beyond human comprehension. So the fact that humans wanted images of Mers was understandable in that sense. But he also wondered where the human’s dignity was? Did they not see how this behavior demeaned them as they made strange exaggerated grins, popped up their thumbs or made “peace” signs?
“What happened that the Mer had to save you?” Cathy asked Ned.
That was the question. Was Ned yet another human who believed if they drowned in the sea that they would become a Mer? There were so many who did that now since King Cetus had revealed their existence and the existence of hybrids--children or descendants of Mer-Human procreation. It had become such a problem that Mers were forced to patrol the coastlines, along with human military personnel in their ships, to save those who decided the genetic test that told them they were lowly humans was incorrect.
The test was not foolproof, which was only spurring these people on. There had been a young woman not two weeks ago who had “drowned” only to survive and for it to be realized she was a hybrid. Much to her delight. But she was a rare case, yet that didn’t stop hope springing eternal in mortal minds evidently. Yet in his month of patrolling Huntingbelle Island’s shores, he had not found one person who tried to die as a human and be reborn as a Mer. Was this Ned the first?
“I got caught in a rip tide,” Ned got out, still hacking and bringing up mucus from his mouth and nose. “Swallowed water and the waves kept coming.”
Elaric could not imagine being so limited in the water. To die from letting liquid fill one’s lungs? Ridiculous! How did humans live even as long as the pitiful years allotted to them when they could perish so easily? But, at least, Ned was not the start of humans running like lemmings into the sea. There were too many of them and only one of him after all.
Cathy rose up from Ned’s side and turned towards Elaric. She took a halting step towards him. He read fear and awe in her brown eyes. She tentatively reached for his left hand, taking it in both of hers. She looked up at him meaningfully.
“Thank you so much,” Cathy said. “Truly, thank you for saving Ned.”
There were murmurs of thanks all around, but somehow, instead of simply accepting her words without emotion, as they were true and accurate, Elaric’s heart clenched in his chest and his eyes stung suddenly. He pulled his hand from hers with a grimace. What was the saving of one measly, mortal life when he could not save the members of his own House?
For one moment, the memory of his cousin Amatheia’s, face--wide green eyes, long blonde hair, trident clutched in her left hand--appeared before his mind’s eye. The blood--her blood--had swirled up in the water between them as the gutchild’s razor sharp tentacles had sliced open her throat.
Amatheia’s eyes had been huge, beseeching Elaric to do something--anything--but with another squeeze and yank, the gutchild had sliced off her head. Elaric remembered her head floating upwards while her body fell downwards, blood forming pinwheels in the water between the separated parts. He had speared the gutchild’s long sinuous form with his trident, but it was too late for his cousin.
Amatheia had joined his secret raiding party, because she had trusted and believed in him when he had said that they had to meet the creatures from the Sundering Deep where they lived--in that case, near the ruins of House Bexys’ city of Invale--and not fight defensively. They needed to show those monsters that they should fear the Mer! That though House Bexys was gone, it did not matter. House Silvyr would make them bleed.
Only it had not worked out that way. Amatheia had bled. She had been the only one to die, but only half of the 24 members of his squadron had come back to Osarith without serious injuries. They were broken, beaten, bleeding and bruised.
His mother, the Lady Naia Silvyr, had struck him across the face the moment he had entered the Council Chambers. That had been the first time she had ever raised a hand to him. She had then folded him into her arms and hugged him fiercely.
“My son, you have no idea what you’ve done!” she’d cried.
He had stiffened in her embrace and then broke from it, swimming a dozen feet away. Her arms were still outstretched towards him, but he ignored them. He kept replacing his mother’s blue-eyes with Amatheia’s green.
“I did what we needed to do!” he shouted at her, even as his heart was struck in twain over Amatheia’s death.
His father, Lord Maris Silvyr, swam to his mother’s side. His father had long blond hair braided in elaborate plaits that floated around his head like a crown. His father put an arm around his mother’s heaving shoulders.
“Need?” his father’s voice was filled with anger and disdain.
Elaric pointed to the far wall of glowing stone. “I overheard your conversation with king! I know what he said, Father!”
His parents paled. A portal had been opened between the Mer capital city of Emralis and Osarith. The Caller Zed had opened it seemingly as easily as Elaric swam. It was an opening that connected two cities separated by thousands of miles. It was not something lightly done. The warning--or perhaps threat--that King Cetus had given his parents had struck Elaric to the bone.
“You eavesdropped on a conversation that you had no right to be a part of! And one that you clearly did not understand!” His mother’s blue eyes sparked with alarm.
“It was quite clear to me what the meaning of it was. King Cetus said that if we did not start turning the tide against the creatures from the Sundering Deep that we should lose Osarith and all our standing! That if he had to act, we should lose everything! Sitting back and picking off those few creatures that come to Osarith or the shipping lanes is no longer an option! House Silvyr’s very existence is at stake!”
His parents exchanged looks and he knew they were speaking to each other, but not allowing him to hear their passing thoughts. His teeth ground together. They continued to treat him as a child even though he had weathered 525 years and proven himself again and again against the creatures.
Finally, his father spoke to him, “Elaric, House Silvyr has always had assistance in keeping the creatures at bay. House Bexys--”
“Are gone! They went and got themselves killed by the very creatures we need to fight!” Elaric beat a hand against his chest.
“They may not all be gone,” his mother said carefully.
Elaric frowned. All of House Bexys had been slaughtered over a quarter century ago by the creatures. Every single one of them. They were a clannish group, more clannish than the already very clannish Mers overall. He had only met briefly a few that came to Osarith for meetings with his parents.
They never married into other Houses, but instead, only brought others into their House, and once a Mer joined House Bexys, they never returned to their own House. They rarely even left Invale to travel to other parts of the Mer empire. So there were none left in other cities to rely upon. They were all gone. Murdered in a single night. Which was yet another reason to go after the creatures. Elaric had demanded then that they attack the Sundering Deep, but his parents hadn’t allowed it. That was why he hadn’t sought their permission this time after hearing King Cetus’ warning.
“Even if there are a handful of House Bexys' Mers left somewhere,” Elaric said with a wave of his hand, “what does it matter? We, in House Silvyr, have the numbers to--”
“They did not fight the creatures with brute strength, but some kind of--of magic,” his father interrupted him.
Elaric blinked. He had never heard of this before. In fact, part of his disdain for House Bexys and confusion about his parents’ respect for them had been the fact that he had never seen them fight alongside House Silvyr. Not that they’d had to do too much fighting. The creatures had stayed mostly in the Sundering Deep. Those that had ventured too far had been cut down by House Silvyr tridents.
“What kind of magic?” he asked.
“We do not know. No one knows, but the Bexys themselves,” his mother answered. “But it is powerful indeed since it kept the peace for millennia.”
“Then it is lost with them!” Elaric cried with a shake of his head. “Mother! Father! Give me more warriors! If I’d had more warriors with me, I would have--”
“Lost more of our people than just Amatheia!” his father roared, his cheeks going red with anger and grief. “You say that we in House Silvyr have the numbers to win a war against the Sundering Deep, but you know not what you say! There are countless creatures in the Deep. Amatheia’s death would be just the first of all of us to perish if we went to war against them.”
“As it is, my son, the creatures will take revenge for what you have done,” his mother’s voice went dark with anger. “It will be a miracle if Amatheia is the only loss we suffer!”
“It is not enough to protect caravans and our borders!” Elaric stared between his parents. His raised a clenched fist that was scarred and still bleeding from the earlier fight. Fanged abyssstrikes had closed their mouths over his hand as he had thrust his trident through their fellows’ guts. “You heard our king! You’ve seen the destruction that they do every year growing and growing! If we do nothing--”
“We are not doing nothing!” his father’s voice rang in his mind, causing Elaric to flinch. “But fighting them like you did today is not the way we will win!” His father sliced a hand through the water. “If you do not understand that after the loss you suffered today then… then we have taught you nothing and perhaps you are not capable of learning!”
His shoulders curled inwards at his father’s words. He had lost Amatheia. They’d had to retreat before getting as far as Invale’s front doors. But he told himself it was because they had been under prepared. There were too few of them. If he’d only had more people--
“...sending you to Huntingbelle,” his mother’s words suddenly made it through his thoughts.
He lifted his head in confusion. “What?”
His father, one massive, muscled arm curled around his mother’s shoulders said, “You are going to Huntingbelle Island to protect the humans who seek to join us.”
Elaric could not quite comprehend what they were saying. They couldn’t be saying what he thought they were. Only the lowliest of the Houses performed such menial tasks as saving the humans from themselves. His duty was to protect people from the creatures of the Deep! His parents though swam to a map and pointed to a relatively nearby human island.
“This is where you will go,” his mother said as she tapped the small speck.
“No! I have to remain here to fight--”
“This is an order!” His father roared. “You will go to Huntingbelle. You will patrol the seas there alone. And if you find any Mers there--”
“You mean hybrids?” Elaric could not completely hide the horror in his voice at the thought of the half-human, half-Mer offspring. Even though they were said to be more powerful than most normal Mer, he did not believe it, and he did not care. It was distasteful to think of mixing their blood with mortals!
His parents once more exchanged looks and spoke to one another without him being able to hear their thoughts. His mother’s beautiful face turned towards his. Her blue eyes were dark with some emotion he could not read.
“If you find any Mers, hybrid or… or otherwise, you will immediately report to us,” his mother said.
“Do not approach them. Do not let them see you. Just watch and report,” his father added.
He tried to ask “why” and “what for” and “did they not understand that he needed to remain here and fight” but his parents would not hear his arguments.
“You will go now, and not return unless or until you find any Mers or we recall you,” his mother said.
And they had embraced, their thoughts locked to him, their love locked away from him. So he had swum out of the Council Chamber, away from Osarith, and to Huntingbelle.
When Cathy looked up at him with wide eyes full of gratefulness, Elaric could only withdraw from her. He had saved a mortal life, but what did it matter? It hardly warranted thanks when his own people were likely dying from creature attacks right then and there!
Before the fiftieth wave hit the beach, Elaric turned and dashed into the water. As he dove beneath the waves, he thought bitterly that his parents had truly found the cruelest way to punish him with this snipe hunt. There were no hybrids, let alone full-blooded Mers, on Huntingbelle Island.
He would have found them by now for he wanted nothing more than to escape this place and finding Mers was his own way home.