ASSAN’S LOWER HALF IS still in the water, and he keeps his gaze on mine. His multi-colored irises gleam with mischief. The words he just spoke repeat over in my mind, like a melody I can’t escape.
It’s my mating time, I muse, wanting to understand their meaning. Quickly, I part my lips to speak and ask, “What do you mean, mating time?” As I sit here, staring at Assan, a part of me wants to understand the undersea world. Even though I know it’s best to forget, to leave, I find my curiosity grows the more Assan tells me.
Assan swims back a bit, putting a small distance between us. However, he doesn’t move any further. It is clear he is staying close to me. At a moment’s notice, he could grab me, or worse, use his control over the water to subdue me.
He quickly crosses his arms over his chest, not taking his eyes off me. It’s like he is watching me, making sure I make no sudden movements. Assan has already proven himself in combat, so it’s no surprise I am like his prey.
Assan stays quiet for a moment and then closes his eyes. Before I can even move, he opens them again. I can tell he is thinking.
“Have you already forgotten what I told you before you? When we first met,” Assan questions me, as he furrows his brows.
Again, it’s like Assan is testing me. I part my lips and answer, “You said…” my voice is hesitance, shaking. Images of the first time I met Assan flash in my mind, reminding me of the past. I lower my gaze to the water swirling around my legs. I want to avoid Assan’s sight – he doesn’t need to see the mixture of emotions burning within me.
“Mers do not mate the same way as humans, Elena,” Assan’s deep voice snaps me from my thoughts. To his words, I widen my eyes, thinking, wondering, Does Assan not have the same…”
Do not be foolish, Elena, in my human form, I can assure you every inch of me is a man,” he snarls in my mind, “humph, but in my mer form, I have so much more, he taunts me, in a teasing voice. I lift my sight to the merman before me, watching his lips twist into a playful smirk.
I swallow the gulp in my throat, as I think: So much more…
There are still many things I don’t know, and even if I ask Assan, he won’t tell me. I avoid his sight and clench my now moist dress. Within myself, it feels like a storm is brewing, a storm that is longing to be free. As I tighten my grip on the dress, I hear the rush of liquid from the waterfall echoing around me. I want to know the truth from Assan and to tell him the truth. Memories from before come to mind: the time Assan started to tell me what is truly happening.
I part my lips to speak. “Before…you told me you needed an heir,” I speak softly, while keeping my eyes on the dark water brushing against my legs. At this moment, the chill from the liquid does not bother me. My thoughts are only consumed with pleading with Assan to let me go – to permanently forget about me.
“Those words are true, Elena.” I hear the harshness in Assan’s voice. It’s clear he doesn’t like me questioning him.
With my eyes focused on the cool liquid, I feel tears streaming down my face and taste salt on my lips. Everything that I am and will ever be is dependent on Assan freeing me from the undersea world, forever.
I exhale an anxious breath, and attempt to hold back my cries. However, I feel the anger boiling inside me, like a kettle about to burst. My first night to gain money for my family ruined, and now this night, ruined. Suddenly, I hear movement in the water, and I am sure Assan is swimming back towards me.
“Why do you need an heir so badly?” I ask through clenched teeth, unable to hold back the rage any longer. “You can find another girl, Assan, why do you keep coming back to me?!” I yell out, as I quickly lift my gaze to meet his. He is before me now, watching me with a stoic expression. “You are a prince of the sea. And one day you will be…” The thought of Assan being a king stops me in my tracks.
Despite my feelings, his expression is the same. It’s like he letting me get my anger out, just waiting for me to finish. Like before, his face lacks emotion. I tear my gaze from his, and look at the rocks to my side that is jutting off the edge of land. I part my lips to speak and say, “I am not worthy of you Assan, I am not worthy to-anyone…”
My eyes sting and the tears I tried to hide flow like water pouring from a drain. Next, I can tell Assan the truth, about me, about Joe, about the life I am met to live.
Slowly I open my lips, but before sounds escape me, I feel a gentle touch caress my chin. Assan raises my face to meet his gaze. His eyes bore into mine, and for a moment, I see softness in his mismatched irises. Quickly I try to avoid his sight, but Assan won’t let me. His expression tells me to look at him, to let him see into my eyes.
Assan has knocked my boat off its current, and I need steer it back.
Assan cuts me off. “I almost did…find someone else,” he pauses, as he keeps staring right at me, “I told you before, Elena, I could not leave you there. The thought of…” he stops and removes his hand from my face. For a moment, he avoids my gaze and then looks towards me. “You are stronger than you think you are, Elena. You have survived a Berserker and the Belua. Most humans cannot handle the things you have seen,” he says, monotonously.
For a moment, I think about what Assan said: You are stronger than you think are…
“I am not strong,” I say, barely audible.
I turn away from him, but deft fingers cup my cheek, touching me with the coolness of the water. He maneuvers my head back to look at him, and then says, “You are, Elena. And let me decide who is worthy of me.” His gaze lingers on mine, and under the moonlight, his multi-colored eyes shimmer amongst the darkness.
I want to speak, to tell Assan everything. As I open my mouth, Assan’s lips capture my own, deepening the kiss. My heart thumps in my chest. I want to resist him, to stop his actions on my body, but I can’t disregard the feeling growing within me. I am drowning, and with every kiss, I wonder will I ever be able to surface.
I feel his deft fingers stroke my arm, running down to my waist. With his lips still on mine, he slowly lifts me up, bringing me into the icy water. Even though the chill liquid splashes against me, I do not mind; my thoughts are on the merman touching me. He slowly pushes me against the edge of the pool, pressing my body against the rocky wall behind me. The sound of rushing water reverberates around us, mixing in with the animal cries from the forest. I feel my soaked hair clinging to my face and neck, along with soft scales rubbing up against my thigh.
Are you enjoying it, Elena? Assan moans, kissing me from my lips, to my chin, to my neck. His touch prickles my flesh, causing a cold chill to run up my spine. I arch my back; he grips my torso under the water and then hikes me up against the wall. Our sounds, the voices of desire mix together.
Assan…why do you make me feel this way? I say in my mind. These feelings, these emotions, with Assan, I don’t understand them, but still, they take over me. I slowly open my eyes. The beams from the moon shine down on us, illuminating our dark forms.
“I want you, Elena” he growls out, breaking the touch on my cold skin. He drinks in my form, looking at me intensely; locking his eyes with mine. Slowly, he circles my lips with his thumb and says, “Tell me you want me.” His voice is demanding and in control. His lips twist into a smirk. I know he wants me – to have intercourse with me – and heat burns within me, warming my core.
Images of Joe, of my life on land, come to mind – I can’t do this. I know nothing of love, and that’s how it must stay.
I place my fingers on Assan’s chest, feeling his firm muscles. He arches an eyebrow at me, curling his hand around my wrist.
“Assan…I can’t,” I say. My voice is wry, and I cannot hide the emotions I feel. I stare at Assan, keeping my gaze on his. I see a slight sadness in his eyes, but still, he stays unwavering. “There is something I need to tell you…”
Assan parts his lips, but I will not let him retort me. I must confess who I really am.
“I have a little a brother that needs me,” I quickly say, not letting him get a word in; the truth of my life, my position, overwhelms me. Even to myself, I sound weak, desperate for him to forget about me. “I am whore” – the tears flow from my eyes – “I do not have anything to my name, so please; let me go…I need to go,” I choke out. My vision is hazy, like a blur; floodgates of tears will not stop. This is who I am, black, ugly, and a disgrace to those in power.
I see Assan staring at me; his eyes show confusion, like for once he doesn’t have a response.
“Elena…” he starts to say – the shock showing in his eyes – but quickly he spins around in the water. Soon, silence passes over us – eerily quiet. Assan grabs my wrist, pulling me to him.
“Be quiet,” he says in a harsh tone. His intense eyes narrow to slits as he looks at the water in the distance. Suddenly, the water splashes around us – we are not alone. “Mermaids,” he growls out, baring teeth.
Mermaids! I flicker my gaze from Assan and follow his eyes to the point in the water. Bubbles pop on the surface, and my mouth goes agape. Emerging from the water is a head of brunette hair, and slowly, a full form drenched in liquid arises. The mini seashell covered breasts – with shells of various colors and shapes – shows it is a female; the woman from before, with blue-golden pupils, stares at Assan and me. Now since she is closer, I see one eye is darker than the other, but both have a slight amber tint.
Around her waist, I see shimmering green scales reflecting off the beams of light, and wet tresses dangle around her face, not sticking to her skin. Even though she looks ageless, her eyes show a depth I have not seen from a mer before.
Quickly Assan swims in front of me and maneuvers me behind him.
Do not move, Assan orders me in my mind; however, I am in awe of seeing another mermaid.
“Nephew, I see you brought the human back. Are you still following your father’s plan?” the woman asks. She smiles at Assan, and then flickers her gaze to me, watching me.
My heart leaps in my throat. Plan? What is she talking about?
Assan filches in front of me – he must have heard my thoughts. The water before Assan starts moving, swooshing in small ripples.
“Nerina, how did you find me?” Assan asks, and I can hear the deadly tone in his voice. Adrenaline rushes through me. Terza told me the mermaids wanted me dead, is this why she is here? And what is this plan she speaks of? My muscles tense at the sight of the mermaid; I become dizzy, again getting lost in this new world surrounding me.
Nerina keeps her sight on Assan, frozen in her spot. “That is not important,” she pauses and swims closer to us, “I told your mother she was foolish for not bringing you with her. Come with me, Assan,” she pleads with him, inching ever closer to us.
Assan half smiles, raising his hand above the water. “And why would I do that?” He taunts her, his voice dripping with venom. The water surrounding Assan starts to whip around us, flowing in all directions. As the water rises into the air, Assan groans, and then touches his chest. He clenches his jaw and slumps over, barely holding himself up.
The droplets rain back into the water in front of us, and I hear Nerina breathe a sigh.
“Assan!” I reach out to him, but he knocks my hand away; his face darkens, causing fear to pump through me. He grimaces at me – with hatred or disgust, I do not even know. As I look at his piercing gaze, regret floods me. I try to think, but my mind is blank, caught in a whirlwind of disbeliefs.
Do not move! He seethes.
He darts his gaze back to Nerina. She smiles sweetly, reminding me of my mother’s grins. “Time is short, Assan. Come home, and you can have any mer maiden you desire,” she urges him, swimming ever closer.
Mer maiden? Swiftly I glance at Assan, pondering what his answer will be.
His pants, inhaling and exhaling, but he doesn’t falter. His moist, black locks dangle from his head, forming a curtain over his face. His sharp glare stops Nerina in her tracks; she halts in the water, staying in her spot. The tension between the two mers oozes in the air. There is always more to the undersea world than I will ever know. As I listen and watch the exchange between the two mercreatures before me, my head is overrun with confusion.
If this is Assan’s aunt – the one Terza talked about – then she is the queen’s sister. The royal family of the sea is in shambles, but why? Questions swirl around me, and a throbbing pain begins to hit my head.
I want to talk, but Assan told me not to move. Despite his order, I want to act, to help him like I did before. I begin to swim around Assan, until I hear a melody. It is a beautiful sound – the humming noises of soft voices singing together, soothing me.
Come to us, Elena
The music, the voices in my head call to me, wheedling me to them. Wasting no time, I whip around and start swimming away from Assan.
We are waiting
It grows louder – I need to find the source of the music, the ones who are looking for me. As I hear the sound echo in my ears, I want more, to be bathed in the wondrous tune that feels me with such pleasure. At this moment, nothing matters, not Joe, not Seidon, not mother, not Assan, only the sounds.
“Elena!” A deep voice cuts through my thoughts, but I dive underwater, propelling my legs as fast as I can. The voices, I must go to them.