THE MERMEN ARE STARING at me, wide-eyed, and I stay still in Assan’s arms, trying not to move or even flinch. Quickly I sweep my eyes around the area; the mermen are above, below, to the right, left, and I do not doubt there are others behind us. Adorning the mermen’s features are expressions of shock and surprise. Their reactions match my own.
Their upper bodies remind me of human men, but like Assan, their lower half’s are the tails of fish. Some stay frozen in their spots, while others slowly swim towards us. I don’t want to show my fear, but I am afraid. I twist in Assan’s arms, but he keeps holding me close, never taking his gaze off the surrounding merman.
I will not allow them to hurt you, and remember, I don’t lie I hear Assan’s reassuring voice in my head, but it doesn’t ease my fears. What if these mermen are also like Assan? Will they use me? Toy with me? Use my body-
I hear the sound of a snarl in my mind, No, Elena, only I will touch you. Assan says through our strange connection, and I feel foolish for forgetting Assan can hear my thoughts.
Toy is an unsophisticated word, Elena, but I’m curious to know more of what you think of me. Assan says, with an amusement in his voice.
I sigh inwardly. You wouldn’t like it, I quickly think to myself, before realizing what I’ve done. Assan quickly glances at me, narrowing his eyes, and then returns his sight to the merman.
In front of us, a merman with short brunette hair, a scrawny build and green tail starts swimming over to Assan; he reminds me of Lucas. My heart thumps in my chest, and I try to hide my fear. As the brown haired merman gets closer, I see a smile gracing his lips – I wasn’t expecting that. He stops before Assan, and the other merman stay in their spots. Not wanting Assan to know my thoughts, I try not to think.
“I’m surprised to see you back so soon.” His voice is smooth and calm, like velvet.
Even though he looks thin and lean, his facial features are that of a young nobleman. Up close, his eyes are also multi-colored; his right eye is a sky blue and the other is silver. Despite his young appearance, his pupils give off an aura of age that I cannot understand. As I keep staring into his eyes, I am drawn to him. It’s the same feeling when I first looked into Assan’s eyes, all over again.
He then glances at me, perplexed, and says, “Oh, it’s not like you to bring your prosti-”
A low growl rumbles from Assan’s throat, snapping me out of my daze. Quickly I glance at Assan, looking at his sharp, narrow eyes.The brunette merman laughs heartedly, with a bright smile adoring his lips.
Assan growls again, “You talk too much,” he seethes at the brown haired merman. Unaffected by Assan’s attitude, the silver and blue eyed merman keeps smiling, and then flickers his gaze back to me.
“She is indeed a unique looking human . . . not your typical type, Assan.” He pauses, giving me a warm, comforting smile. Looking at him, I am thrown off guard by his treatment of me. His eyes meet mine and he says, “I am sure Assan has been his usual harsh self. He has probably been showing off again,” he laughs.
I open my mouth slightly and then close it again before water enters my throat. Unlike them, it seems I can’t speak underwater. The other mermen stay still in their spots, gluing their eyes on Assan and me.
“Hass, if you are going to just bad mouth me, then why don’t you take her,” Assan hisses, releasing me from his arms. Kicking my legs, I try to swim in place.
Hass shakes his head – his short brown tresses float around his face – and he swims towards me.
“Shall we?.” His voice is welcoming, and the same warm grin stays on his lips. In closer view, the green scales on his fin are mixed with slight white, shimmering in the light coming from the direction of the rocky looking palace.
Afraid to think, I try to keep my mind blank. I swim back from Hass, not trusting him. Out of all the male eyes on me, the only one I can semi find comfort with is Assan’s. Hass swims closer towards me, when I retreat back from him.
Go with him, Elena. He will not hurt you, I won’t allow it. Assan’s stern voice stirs in my mind, and then I glance at him, when he nods. I suppress my thoughts, not wanting Assan to know that I don’t trust him, but he should understand that by now.
Hass holds out his pale hand to me and before I take it, I look around again. With so many mermen about, I know escape is futile. My last chance to escape was at the cave, with the brunette women, but the cave is gone now – I am in Assan’s world. I hesitate, shaking slightly in the water.
“I won’t hurt you, but I would like to know your name, unique looking one.” Hass smiles kindly at me. I stare into his silver and blue eyes, deciding internally if I can trust him. For a second, I feel Assan’s sight on me, and I glance at him. He growls in disgust, starting to swim away when another merman makes its way over to Assan.
Assan stops in his path next to the merman.
“My lord, you’re alright.” The merman says quickly, with relief showing in his eyes. Hass swims to the side of me, leaving me a full view of the merman talking to Assan. As I look at the merman, I’m taken captive by his long, flowing white hair. Unlike Assan and Hass, his face looks rough, like that of a solider. His build is muscular, and his biceps remind me of a strong man. Most notably, unlike the others, his eyes have natural slits. For a second I remember more of Lucas’s books, and the different races of people I have read about. The people have narrow slit eyes, pale skin, and jet black hair. This merman was different though, with long silver hair and one cobalt eye and one coral pink eye. His tail is like Assan’s – dark blue, with shimmering scales. Around his chest is the shape of a silver necklace, with an emblem rock hanging down in the center. From this distance, I can’t see the image of the emblem. He gives me a side-way glance – with a blank expression – and then shifts his sight back to Assan.
“We sensed a berserker earlier ar-”
Assan cut him off, “I disposed of it,” he says in a cocky tone, with his lips forming into a demonic smirk.
“I would expect no less from you, but there are matters that need your attention. He has been looking for you,” the silver-haired merman says, his expression and voice serious.
Assan groans irritably, running a hand through his floating black locks. “I am sure he has; his control over me is almost never ending. Let’s go,” Assan urges, as he begins to swim past the silver-haired merman. I keep staring at Assan, until I feel the air leaving my lungs. The power Assan shared with me has dissipated, and now I’m struggling to breath. We are too deep in the depth of the water for me to reach the surface.
I am gagging on sea water, and fighting for air. Assan turns his gaze to me; my eyes catch a glimpse of him. His face is horrid, and he starts swimming towards me.
Elena… I hear my name being called in my mind.
Hass quickly presses his firm hand against my chest, and his digits glow with a shimmering green light. Suddenly, I can breathe underwater again. My eyes maintain their clarity, and a feeling in my throat feels different.
Hass sighs in relief. “There, is that better?” He grins warmly at me.
“I…yes,” I squeak out. I widen my eyes and press my hand to my throat.
I can speak underwater! Shocked, I stare Hass, but he simply keeps smiling at me. I shift my gaze to Assan, but he gives me a blank stare and then continues swimming away with the silver-haired merman. Can Assan not hear my thoughts anymore? I question myself, as I keep watching Assan swim away.
Many of the surrounding mermen are still staring at me, while others follow Assan’s path with their eyes. Looking into the distance, Assan fades from my view as he swims towards the rocky castle.
Under the mermens’ gazes, I feel self-conscious. Some start talking amongst themselves, with worried expressions on their faces. In the distance, I see other mermen with silver chains around their chest conversing with the mermen who are staring at me. It seems as though they are trying to ease their fears.
Schools of different color miniature fish swim past me, along with dolphins and jellyfish. The dolphins are at peace, swimming in a group as a family. Though, the jellyfish are scattered about, going in different directions throughout the area. Colors, various shapes, and sizes of coral line the seas rocky walls – the view takes my breath away. I am lost in the beauty of the sea, when Hass’s voice catches me off guard.
“Beautiful, is it not?” His voice is calm, caring.
“Yes, very,” I answer, as I stare at a piece of coral swaying in the water. As I keep looking at this scene before me, I start wishing my friends were here to share it with me. Even Joe would be in disbelief at all that I am seeing. Within myself, I want to believe this is all a dream. A dream that is a nightmare, but also contains so much beauty and wonder. My world has been shaken, and the longer I am here, the more I feel I will never see my friends or Joe ever again. I lower my gaze and see more dark water below me. The water is even deeper than this.
I feel a gentle hand touch my shoulder. I look to Hass; he seems so kind.
“Tell me, what is your name? I will not deny I am curious about your origins,” he laughs.
I stay quiet for a moment. Assan left me with Hass, and he promised no one will hurt me. Assan still has use for me, for now.
I part my lips and answer, “Elena…”
His smile stays on his lips. “Elena,” he repeats after me,” Well Elena, why don’t I show you around?” He moves a few inches away.
“Follow me.” He turns his back to me and starts swimming off. His green fin moves fluidly through the water. Every stroke he makes pushes him along.
Kicking out my legs and putting my arms to the side, I follow behind Hass. We swim towards the castle, passing the many mermen who were staring at me. Some of the mermen keep looking at me, while others swim away. On each side of the path are holes in the rocky undersea walls. I see mermen swimming in and out of the holes. Some of them must live in there. Like their home.
As we swim past them, some gawk at me and eye me intensely. I don’t know what to think of all these eyes on me. The more I stare at the various mermen, I notice how average some of their faces are. I suppose not all mermen have the same handsome features like Assan and Hass.
Lowering my gaze below me, I see seaweed and green coral sway in the water, with fish swimming around them. The vibrant colors of this undersea world line the path Hass and I are swimming. Green, pink, orange and yellow are all around me. I look straight ahead again, seeing giant seashells and more schools of fish swimming in the water.
Hass is ahead of me and I struggle to match his pace. I then lower my sight to the ocean floor, hoping to take a short break from swimming. I see crabs and lobsters crawling below me, slowly bumping into one another. I need to catch up, but I can’t match his speed.
Looking back into the distance, I look for Hass, but I can’t see him. Did he leave me behind? I start to panic, ranking my eyes through the area until I feel a touch on my arm.
“I guess I swim too fast for you. Here.” He takes my hand. “Now you won’t fall behind.”
Hass smiles at me, taking my hand in his and we start swimming along. Even though I’m swimming as well, it feels like Hass is in control. As we get ever closer to the rocky palace, I can feel the calm stillness of the water. The rumbling of water rings in my ears, and the new image before me leaves me in awe. We continue towards the palace; swimming past the huge, wide entrance way. Various mermen enter and exit the castle, staring at me with a flicker of curiosity in their eyes. Some start swimming over to us, but Hass waves them away, and they immediately obey.
Lights from plants attached to the walls illuminate the watery passageway. I stare at the plants, when fear courses through me. A cryptid! Scared, I stop in the water, and Hass stares at me with concern.
He follows my eyes and looks at the cryptid.
He laughs with amusement, “I see. I take it you had a run in with a wild cryptid?” He asks.
I nod my head.
“Do not be scared, these cryptid will not hurt you.” He reassures me.
Even though he is trying to comfort me, I remain still.
“They tried to eat me. I was surrounded by them until Assan…” I think back to the first time Assan saved my life. We kissed then, but it didn’t mean anything. For a second, I feel a tingle on my lips, remembering Assan’s mouth pressed against mine. I shake off the thoughts. There is nothing between us, I am only being used for my body – I must remember that.
Hass looks at me and says, “Ah, I understand your fear now, but do not be alarmed. These cryptid will not harm you.” He shifts his gaze to the cryptid aligning the wall. Their bright light glows in the darkness of the water, causing the tails of the merman to shimmer around us.
I follow Hass’s eyes, noticing the merman swimming past the cryptid with no fear. Curiosity eats away at me and I keep staring at it. Before these plants tried to kill me and eat me, but now they seem calm, relaxed in their environment.
“These cryptids were grown and raised by us. They do not arm or eat those who pass by them. Wild cryptids, well, those are different.” He shrugs.
“They are alive?” I question in a curious tone.
“Yes, and they have minds like us. They even feel pain and experience emotion, but for us, they provide light for our home. Their bodies produce a natural glow in their center,” Hass explains with a smile tugging at his lips.
I think back to Assan killing the plants to save me. He knew they were alive, feeling pain, and yet he still fought for me. I should not be thinking this; he only wants to use me, nothing more.
“Shall we go now?” Hass asks me and I nod in response. With his hand still on mine, we keep swimming. Where are we going? I think to myself, as we keep stroking forward.
Throughout the walls are carvings of merman and mermaids. Some of the carvings are painted, while others aren’t. I see a portrait of a family. An adult male merman is wearing a grown and is next to what I assume is his queen. Below them is a child – a male merman.
As we keep swimming, I realize that I haven’t heard Hass’s voice in my head.
I start to wonder, when I part my lips and ask, “I haven’t heard you…” I pause and Hass looks at me curiously.
“What is it?”
Hesitantly, I ask, “Can…you hear my…thoughts?” I question him, stumbling out my words.
He looks at me with his blue and grey eyes; a smile adorning his lips. “No, I can’t hear your thoughts.”
His reply surprises me. When he shared his power with me, I thought he could hear my thoughts.
“But I thought…”
“Let me guess, Assan listened to your thoughts, didn’t he?”
I twist in the water nervously. “Uhh…yes,” I answer, as I lower my gaze to the rocky floor. “It was when I was attacked by the creature.”
“Creature?” He questioned.
I shift my sight back to him. “I don’t know what it’s called, but it had many eyes, tentacles, and it tried to eat me.” Just thinking about the creature sent fear through me. I hope I won’t see another one.
As I look Hass, I see the smile drop from his lips, replaced by a frown.
“That was the berserker…” he trails off, looking into the distance.
“I suppose,” I answer, thinking back to conversation I heard Assan had with the silver-haired merman. The creatures are called berserkers…
“Come, let’s keep swimming.” Hass pulls me along and maneuvers upward, swimming towards the surface. The surrounding mermen keep staring at me, like the oddity that I am.
Cryptid align the walls, providing us with light to the surface. Multiple openings to different rooms are on each side of me, but Hass keeps swimming upwards.
“Elena,” Hass calls me.
“Yes…” I answer.
“You mentioned your thoughts, and that Assan could hear them during the battle with the berserker.”
I stay quiet for a moment. “Yes, he did…I was just wondering… you shared your power with me, and yet you didn’t respond to what I was thinking.”
“Ah, I have no reason to hear your thoughts. I believe ones thoughts should remain private, but do not fault Assan for what he did,” Hass says in Assan’s defense.
I start at Hass confused. If he thinks one’s thoughts should be private, why would he defend him?
“If what you say is true, then it was the best option Assan had.”
I look at Hass in confusion, trying to comprehend what he is saying.
“When you were attacked, the berserker wanted you. It was easier for Assan to hear your thoughts than speak to you directly in the water. If you strayed from him, he would be able to read your thoughts from miles away. In combat, it’s like a locator. He could protect you, and still monitor where you were. Speaking in the water is weakness while in battle with berserkers,” Hass explains and I am stunned.
With my mouth open agape, salt water enters my throat and I quickly close it. “I . . .” At this moment, I did not know what to think. Assan is becoming more of a mystery to me, and yet, I wish things would remain simple – he is using me, that is all. Hass and I keep swimming towards the surface. Above me, I see light and a rim of rocks in the distance. When I think we are about to surface, Hass shift directions, swimming into a small passageway. We swim for what seems like a few miles, and then I see more light in the distance.
Hass grips my hand tightly, and then we surface above the water.
“We are here,” he says, smiling at me.
My wet black hair hangs on my shoulders, and I look around the area. It is another cave, but this time it’s different. Various holes in the ceiling rocks let rays of sunshine in. Sitting in the cave is what looks like a bed, covered with sheets along with a basin for bathing and a dresser.
What kind of place is this? Does someone live here? I keep looking around until Hass pulls me towards the edge of the water.
“You’ll be staying here, for now. On the bed is a gown for you. I am sure you would like to change clothes.” He smiles.
I remain wordless, not sure of what to say or think. “Thank you,” I mutter, and I swim to the edge of the water.
Hass helps me out of the blue liquid, and I see the simple white gown sprawled out on the bed.
“Another merman will come back to check on you. If you need anything, I’ll to my best to suite your needs,” Hass says, giving me a reassuring smile.
Thinking of Hass’s words, I could not help but what to ask him about Assan; about why am I here? Why does he need a child? Will I really be killed? I do not trust Assan, or Hass, but in my recent years, only one other person has ever treated me such kindness like Hass has. Seidon. . . My thoughts drift to Seidon, and Hass starts to swim away. Before he does, I run to the edge of the pool.
“Hass,” I call to him, and he swims back around.
“Yes,” he smiles brightly at me, causing my thoughts to retreat to Sai.
I purse my lips together. I know whatever I ask; it will get back to Assan, but… I need to know.
“Can you tell me why Assan took me?” I ask quickly.
Hass stays quiet in the water, looking at me with his mismatched eyes.
He sighs softly and says, “I am sorry, Elena. I don’t know what Assan has told you -”
I cut him off, “He told me he needs a child, and that he . . . he is going to bed me. Can you please tell me why he needs a child so badly?” I ask quickly, feeling the tears pooling at the base of my eyes. “Is this really worth my life?” My voice stumbles out, wondering if whatever Assan has planned for me, whatever his reasons are is worth me dying over. Must I always live a life of sorrow?
Hass is speechless. His expression darkens, and as I stare at him, I do not see the merman that was smiling at me before.
“Elena.” Only for the third time has he used my name. I stare at him, meeting his gaze. “I can’t speak for Assan, or tell you what his reasons are. All the information you need to know he’ll tell you.” His voice is cold and to the point.
Arguing will get me nowhere. I am in their world; they are in control – just like how my mother was. From his words, tears escape from my eyes, running down my tan cheeks like rain water against glass.
I lower my gaze to the pebble ground. “Will he. . .” The words choke in my throat, “force himself on me?” I ask softly, wrapping my arms around my body. I prepared for this one day, I shouldn’t be crying. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt Assan’s protective touch on my skin, his lips against mine, and seen his home. Sleeping with a nobleman who cares nothing about me is easier when I don’t know him. I am staring to know Assan, and I want, no I need to hate him.
The cave is quiet. “It is up to Assan’s discretion what he will do to you. I can’t reassure you.” His voice is honest.
“Is that all you can tell me?” My voice is anger, and yet I know he won’t tell me more. Hass does not speak, and I sniffle. “. . . Thank you,” I speak softly, turning my back to Hass. Even if he won’t tell me the truth, I can think him for his kindness.
“Get some rest, Elena. Your body is tired, and if you push yourself to much, you will be too weak to conceive a child,” he says and then pauses. I hear the rustling of water from behind me. “Another merman will check on you later, if you need anyt-”
“I’ll be fine!” I yell out, as I clench my hands into a fist. The rustling of water returns and Hass remains quiet. When I don’t hear anything more, I spin around – Hass is gone.
I let out an exhausted sigh, resigning myself to just rest. Walking to the bed, I look around the cave. It is smaller than the one before, but it is more homely, like a room that must belong to a female. Maybe merman and mermaids live in caves. Once I’m upon the bed, I look down at the simple, white, long gown. It reminds me of the dresses I used to wear around the house, when I watched Joe during the night. Mother would go work at the brothels when the sun went down, leaving Joe and me alone. Some nights she would return before dawn, tired and exhausted. Other nights she wouldn’t return at all. And when she did come home the next day, she always had a new garment, oil or cosmetic to wear.
We are poor, and yet, my mother always found money to indulge herself. Maybe if I did sell myself a few nights ago, I would know what those luxuries are like. Instead I have to give away my body for free, and be forced into death.
I sigh again, tracing my finger down the stitch of the gown. I better change. Quickly I look behind me, making sure no one is there. Once I see it’s clear, I pick up the dress, feeling a bit of dust on it. That’s strange.
I quickly remove my tattered old white dress and put on the new one. It’s not a perfect fit, but it will do. The gown slightly hangs off my shoulders, and is too wide around the waist, but there is nothing else to wear.
The sound of rumbling water echoes off the cave walls, making me feel relaxed. My stomach growls, longing for food but I don’t want to eat. Instead, I lay on top of the bed sheets, curling my body into a ball. Will Assan bed me here. . . will he force himself inside me?
I cringe at the thought of Assan on top of me, holding me down with his strength. Pressing my knees to my chest, I hold back my tears. A cool draft blows through the cave, chilling me a bit. I shut my eyes, ignoring my body’s need for hunger.
Slowly I drift to sleep, thinking of Sai, Lucas, and Mika. I wonder if they are still looking for me.I wish I could see them, at least from a distance, one last time before I die…
THE SOUND OF ROCKS rumbling above me jerk awake. That sound, I’ve heard it before. I jump out of the bed and look around the cave. The ceiling is shaking, and droplets of rock rain from the skies.
“What is going on?” I say to myself. Loud sounds of rumbling water come from the pool leading to the castle. I run to the edge of the rocks, seeing the water bubbling before me. To the side of me, I see a plate of what looks to be cooked fish.
Someone visited me while I was sleep.
The cave shakes again, and I’m left in utter confusion on what is happening.
Fear pumps through my veins; images of the berserker flash in mind. Where is Assan? Is he alright? Why do I care anyway?
I am left in the dark, where they want me, where Assan wants to keep me. If I want to learn the truth, I have to find out for myself.
A/N: I hope you liked chapter 8 and let me know what you think! Did anyone see the foreshadowing in this chapter? There is a lot J I hope you are enjoying this story so far, and if you are, please comment. I know readers hate authors who ask for comments, but comments really do help us figure out if a story is doing well and we like seeing what our readers think.
To all of those who comment every chapter, thank you! It’s because of you all this story is still alive. If you are a silent reader, speak your mind about the story. I don’t bite, and maybe we can even become friends^^