Ice crypt mermaids of er.., p.1

Ice Crypt (Mermaids of Eriana Kwai Book 2), page 1

 

Ice Crypt (Mermaids of Eriana Kwai Book 2)
 



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Ice Crypt (Mermaids of Eriana Kwai Book 2)


  Mermaids of Eriana Kwai

  Book Two

  Rogue Cannon Publishing

  Canada

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the prior permission of the publisher.

  First published in Canada in 2016

  Rogue Cannon Publishing, Abbotsford, BC

  Copyright © 2016 Tiana Warner

  Cover design by Slobodan Cedic

  Sketch page by Stephanie Warner

  tianawarner.com

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Warner, Tiana, 1988-, author

  Ice crypt / Tiana Warner.

  (Mermaids of Eriana Kwai ; 2)

  Issued in print, electronic and CD-ROM formats.

  ISBN 978-0-9880039-7-2 (paperback).--ISBN 978-0-9880039-8-9

  (pdf).--ISBN 978-0-9880039-9-6 (html).--ISBN 978-0-9950967-0-7

  (cd-rom)

  I. Title.

  PS8645.A7655I22 2016 jC813'.6 C2016-902642-6

  C2016-902643-4

  C2016-902644-2

  Discover

  Book One in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai series

  http://tianawarner.com/novels/ice-massacre/

  ★ “… thought provoking and intelligent … fresh and thoroughly entertaining … Warner does a fantastic job creating a tight plot and masterfully creates a sense of atmosphere through subtle yet potent descriptions … Ice Massacre is a truly exceptional book.”

  – Foreword Clarion Reviews, 5-star review

  ★ “Fascinating, unique, scary and written with a beautiful economy of words…”

  – 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

  #1 Amazon Kindle Best Seller

  First Place Winner: Dante Rossetti Awards 2014

  Foreword 10 Best Indie YA novels of 2014

  Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Finalist

  CHAPTER ONE

  The Massacre Committee

  Hanging from the crooked branch of a maple tree wasn’t that glamorous—not what my people would expect from an honoured Massacre survivor. Legs swinging to try and get a foothold, strands of hair clinging to my face, I heaved myself onto the next branch.

  This would have been easier if I’d had the use of both hands.

  Out of breath and halfway up, I paused, deciding how best to continue. The tree had forked and my legs were splayed, one foot against each trunk. In my fist, the owlet gave a feeble hoot.

  I glared at him. He could hardly be called cute, with his sparse white fluff and oversized feet.

  “Your family reunion better be worth all of this,” I said.

  I pushed off one trunk and wrapped my limbs around the other, then shimmied higher until I was level with the nest.

  Two owlets peered back at me, identical to the one in my fist.

  “Gaawhist,” I said. Home, sweet home.

  I placed my rescue next to his siblings, where he toppled sideways and blinked a few times. I poked him to make sure I hadn’t squeezed him too tightly. He ruffled himself and settled in.

  Maybe I couldn’t help everyone survive, but I could, at least, save this one life.

  I just hoped the mother would return soon.

  I leaned against the trunk and caught my breath, my thoughts turning back to what I’d come here for. I inhaled slowly, letting the sweet scent of maple buds calm me.

  From this height, the wooden, mossy cabin below seemed less imposing. I could see how these grounds might have once been used for camping—back when seaside camping was not a life-threatening activity. Now, this cabin was one of many classrooms at the Safe Training Base. Once a place to connect with wilderness, now a place to learn the best way to slaughter a sea demon.

  The Massacre trainees had all gone home for dinner. The woods settled peacefully when not filled with the buzz of girls discussing battle tactics. Leaves whispered in the summer breeze, insects chirred in my ears, and a thrush somewhere near enjoyed an endless conversation with one several trees away.

  Then voices cut through the forest, and the thrush fell silent.

  A small group approached the cabin. I stayed still, hidden partly by leaves and partly because they wouldn’t bother looking up here.

  My father led the group, conversing in a low voice with Anyo, the training master. A tough, solemn man, Anyo bore a scar where a mermaid had once torn half his scalp off. His eyes stayed downcast, hiding any indication of whether or not he was in a good mood. He was my key target. He was the one who made the ultimate decisions concerning the Massacres.

  Hassun followed—a tall, muscled man in his late twenties who had also survived the Massacre, back when we were naive enough to send men. In fact, Hassun was the last ever man to survive it. It was shortly afterwards that the Massacre Committee decided to switch to female warriors.

  After him came Mujihi, the thick, severe-looking father of my least favourite human being on the island.

  A thirty-something woman trailed behind. I was fairly sure she was the lead seamstress for the Massacre uniforms and the widow of a former warrior.

  The group entered the cabin and shut the door.

  I turned back to my owlets. They blinked at me.

  “Stay in your nest as long as you can,” I said. “Trust me.”

  I shimmied down the trunk.

  For the millionth time, I reviewed what I would say. Annith and I had rehearsed so I wouldn’t come across as an eighteen-year-old girl trying to act like an adult, but rather an enlightened warrior. It was an ongoing struggle.

  I was part way down the tree when footsteps crunched nearby and Annith strode into view. She stopped outside the cabin door, glancing around.

  I landed lightly in front of her on the spongy forest floor. She didn’t flinch. After a lifetime of friendship, it was as though she’d expected me to arrive via tree.

  We stared at each other, my anxiety reflected on her shiny, freckled face.

  “You won’t have to say anything,” I said.

  “I’ll jump in if you need help.”

  Leaving the soft glow of the forest, we entered the dimly lit room and the collective stare of half the Massacre Committee. Where were the rest of them?

  We sat at the far side of the long table. The hard wooden seat and musty cabin smell brought back memories of my years in the training program.

  I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and squared my shoulders.

  To my left sat Hassun, rocking his chair back on two creaky legs and gazing out the window like he had better things to do. Beside him was the training master, and then the widow. An empty chair remained across from me. Mujihi stood behind everyone else, squinting down at us. Then there was my father, drumming his knuckles on the table, avoiding my eye.

  No one spoke.

  I swallowed, a nervous gulp that was far too loud.

  “Thank you, everyone, for agreeing to meet with us.”

  … finally, I thought bitterly.

  I kept my eyes on my father and Anyo. Neither of them looked at me.

  “We were approached by the mermaids’ king,” I said, my words strong. “He offered a bargain.”

  There. Now, they were looking at me.

  “Which brings me here with my fellow Massacre warrior, Annith, to propose a new strategy for freedom from the sea demons. After decades of war, it’s clear the Massacres are not working.”

  This was met with raised eyebrows, crossed arms, and unconvinced frowns. My father’s face was unreadable. He had already shown infuriating hesitation at home. But he, of all people, should have been eager to listen to a plan that might end the Massacre
s. He’d experienced the horrors first-hand at my age. He’d lost his son—my older brother—to one. He’d nearly lost me two weeks prior.

  “We’re still starving,” I said, “we can’t go near the water, and we risk the lives of twenty warriors per mission each spring. Annith and I have a plan but we need help. According to the king, there is a lost legend about Eriana Kwai. If we can uncover it, we can use its power to bring peace—”

  Hassun raised a hand. “You’re telling me the demons’ king just swam up to you and told you about this legend?”

  I glanced to Annith. “Not exactly.”

  What was I supposed to say? My secret, treacherous friendship with a mermaid led to this? My people would sooner throw me out to sea with a rock tied to my ankles than accept that I’d befriended a sea demon.

  “He swam up to you and you didn’t shoot him?” said the widow.

  “I didn’t have my crossbow.”

  “You were unarmed?” said Hassun.

  “No. The mermaids pulled me into the water to speak to him.”

  “What—?”

  “Let me finish,” I said.

  Why were they being so difficult? Anyo, especially, might have been interested in a new strategy that didn’t involve all his students dying. His own daughter had started training. I tried to catch his eye without success.

  Hassun gave a lazy flick of his hand.

  Before I could continue, the door creaked open. Everyone turned.

  A tall, thin girl with a high ponytail entered. She stepped into the dim light and shut the door, lips quirked as though amused by something. She would have been better groomed than I’d seen her since the Massacre, except her hands, arms, and shirt were splattered in bright, wet blood.

  “Sorry I’m late,” she said, not sounding sorry at all.

  The front legs of Hassun’s chair hit the floor.

  “Dani,” said Mujihi, clapping his daughter on the shoulder. “Please, come in.”

  The widow squeaked. “What happened?”

  “Oh, this?” said Dani, lifting a red hand as though inspecting a manicure.

  “Dani’s been out hunting,” said Mujihi. “Caught a healthy doe this morning. Real beauty. Took a bit of time to clean her up, eh kiddo?”

  “Mm,” said Dani.

  I clenched my teeth. My father had mentioned Dani’s recent involvement in the Massacre Committee. Here I’d been waiting for a trial, for any sort of punishment for her crimes—but two weeks had gone by, and still she walked around freely like a war hero.

  Dani swaggered to the table, brushing a hand across Anyo’s shoulders and leaving a smear of blood. She waved to Hassun, who perched forwards in his chair, suddenly more interested in the meeting. Barf.

  She pulled out the empty chair across from me and plunked down. Her smile went out like a snuffed flame as she fixed me with her gaze.

  “Hope I didn’t miss anything exciting.”

  She purred every word, low and sinister. It brought to mind a mountain lion I’d once seen purring as it devoured a large and bloody carcass.

  “Nothing you’d be able to add value to,” I said.

  Annith cleared her throat. “We were getting to the bargain offered to Meela by the sea demons’ king.”

  “Oh,” said Dani, speaking to the room, “so they’ve already mentioned their little plot to stop the Massacres?”

  This was answered by grunts. Hassun rocked his chair back again with a creak that filled the small cabin.

  So this was it. That was why nobody had been surprised when I announced that the plan involved stopping the Massacres: Dani had already told them. But what, exactly, had she told them? The frowns around me left no doubt that it had been a twisted version of events.

  “It’s not a plot,” I said shortly. “It’s a plan to stop our warriors from being killed.”

  Dani fixed her pale eyes on me. “Noble intent as always, Metlaa Gaela.”

  I turned to the others, ignoring Dani. “King Adaro is looking for the Host of Eriana, a lost legend and an important part of our people’s history. Has anyone heard of it?”

  I scanned their faces for signs of recognition. My insides seemed to deflate as I met more frowns. I’d been hoping for some hint, even a tiny shred of information to work from.

  Nothing.

  I pushed on.

  “Adaro has been trying to drive us away from the island so he can find it. His bargain is that he’ll call off the attacks if we hand it over. It must be a powerful weapon. We think it’s something he can use to control the seas, and if we can use it—”

  Hassun barked out a laugh. “That’s not how sea demons work, girls. They’re attacking because they feed on human flesh, not because they’re commanded to.”

  “See, that’s where we’ve been wrong,” I said, leaning forwards. “They have battle plans, formations, human-like thoughts and behaviours.”

  “Meela,” said the widow. “It’s all right to be scared. The Massacre is a high-stress battle that would leave anyone paranoid.”

  “I’m not paranoid. This is fact. Mermaids are intelligent. Why do you think they’re targeting us? Adaro wants something from our island. He’s not attacking the rest of the world like he is us.”

  “The demons are an invasive species,” said Hassun. “We need to drive them out of the Pacific if we want our freedom back.”

  “No, we don’t. The king is the problem. We can make peace.”

  Why didn’t any of them understand this?

  Surely Dani understood, having made elaborate plans against the mermaids on our Massacre. She’d talked like they were intelligent. Yet here she remained silent, picking at her blood-encrusted nails.

  Annith must have sensed my discomposure, because she continued. “Of course, Adaro’s promise to stop attacking our beaches can hardly be called a peace treaty. So instead of making an alliance with a sea demon, Meela and I plan to find this weapon—the Host—and use it against him.”

  “If we kill Adaro, we stop the attacks,” I said.

  Their faces read solemn and unimpressed. The widow’s mouth gaped open. My father looked away. Anyo stared at the wall behind Annith, which incensed me because the training master’s opinion mattered most.

  Dani sighed and leaned back. “That is a well rehearsed story if I ever heard one.”

  Hassun smirked.

  Dani glanced around pointedly before turning back to me.

  “Why on the Gaela’s earth would a sea rat know an ancient legend about Eriana Kwai? One that its own people aren’t familiar with?”

  “We think the legend has been lost over time,” said Annith, “but we’re willing to put in the work to find it. In the meantime, we’re hoping to stop the Massacres so we avoid—”

  “And you’re telling me,” said Dani, as though Annith hadn’t spoken, “that Meela just happened to be singled out by the king to hear this bargain?”

  Annith raised her eyebrows at me in a “maybe you should tell them the whole story” sort of way. I returned an almost imperceptible shake of my head. I couldn’t say anything more without revealing that Adaro had sought me out specifically—that he’d pulled me into the water because he knew about my relationship with one of his warriors. The other half was that he’d return Lysi to me if I found the Host.

  “This mermaid king, Ada-what’s-his-name,” said Hassun. “You say he came to your ship while you were slaughtering demons, and he told you about this Host of Eriana?”

  “Yes.”

  “How did you communicate?”

  “He speaks Eriana,” I said.

  “He speaks Eriana.”

  “Yes. And English and Spanish, I think.”

  They exchanged glances, and I realised I shouldn’t have said that last part.

  The widow spoke up. “If this Adderall merman—”

  “Adaro.”

  “Yes. If he came to your ship as you claim, what makes you think he was telling the truth? You’re prepared to trust the word of a sea
demon who can speak Eriana?”

  “Well, we know Meela’s always been quick to trust a nice mermaid who can speak her language, hasn’t she?” said Dani.

  My father’s head snapped up. Annith sucked in a breath.

  I held Dani’s gaze as her lips pulled into a sneer.

  “So you have mentioned,” said Mujihi.

  No, I thought desperately.

  The room seemed to cool as everyone stared. They knew.

  “This plan does conveniently stop the demons from getting slaughtered, too,” said Hassun.

  Sweat prickled beneath my skin. Dani must have found out from one of the girls who’d seen Lysi. Was it Texas? But how much did Texas know? Did she realise how much history Lysi and I had?

  No, she wouldn’t. As far as the girls on the Massacre knew, Lysi and I had spoken once, and then she’d saved my life. My crew didn’t understand why, or for how long we’d known each other.

  I had to keep it that way. My people couldn’t know about Lysi. Not ever. They would hate me for it—worse, those I cared about would be disappointed in me. No one would love a girl who loved a mermaid. Eriana Kwai was my family, my history, and I could never alienate myself like that.

  But Dani and Texas had obviously mentioned Lysi. And now my people would never trust me enough to support my plan.

  Dani flashed her most charming smile around the room.

  I narrowed my eyes. If she wanted to get nasty, fine. I wasn’t the only one with a black smudge of betrayal in my past.

  Mirroring her venomous tone, I said, “Tell me, Dani, why weren’t you around when Adaro came to the ship?”

  Annith’s head snapped from Dani to me.

  “You were a little isolated at the time, were you not?” I said.

  Dani’s face went hard as stone.

  Mujihi stepped forwards. “Enough. Dani has a point. This young lady”—he pointed a thick, calloused finger at me—“is keen to stop the Massacres. It sounds like she has enlisted her friend here to help pitch this tale.”

 
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