Ice Massacre, page 1
Rogue Cannon Publishing
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 2014
Rogue Cannon Publishing, Abbotsford, BC
Copyright © 2014 Tiana Warner
Cover design by Slobodan Cedic copyright © 2014
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Warner, Tiana, 1988-, author
Ice massacre / Tiana Warner.
Issued in print, electronic and CD-ROM formats.
ISBN 978-0-9880039-3-4 (pbk.).--ISBN 978-0-9880039-4-1 (html).--
ISBN 978-0-9880039-5-8 (pdf).--ISBN 978-0-9880039-6-5 (CD-ROM)
PS8645.A7655I24 2014 jC813'.6 C2014-905108-5
Praise for 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
“I instantly fell in love with the story …”
- Readers Favorite, 5-star review
“A bold, haunting tale of friendship, treachery and courage.”
- T. Rae Mitchell, author of Fate’s Fables
“… Warner is a gifted writer and crafts a gripping story …”
- Wendy Dewar Hughes, author of Picking up the Pieces
“… non-stop action fuelled by sea lore, conflicted motivation, heart-to-head-to-hand combat, and kick-ass females. A page-turning, blood-pulsing ride that will leave you catching your breath as you await the sequel.”
- Claudia Osmond, author of Smudge’s Mark
“Fast paced and gripping …”
- P.A. Wilson, author of the Quinn Larson Quests
To Dad, whose knowledge about obscure geography and weather and hunting weapons proved to be not so useless, after all.
To Mom, for so many positive words of encouragement I actually don’t know what to do with all of them.
To Steph, my #1 source of feedback and the Lucy to my Ethel.
My deepest, most heartfelt gratitude to all the wonderful people in my life who’ve supported my lofty ambition.
Somewhere on the Pacific Ocean
The young man aimed his crossbow at the water, ready to fire a bolt of solid iron at the first glimpse of flesh beneath the surface.
“Sir,” he said, “shouldn’t we have seen one by now?”
The captain turned his back to the salty wind, jaw tight. “They know we’re here.”
“So what are they doing?”
He followed the captain’s gaze. Blackness merged with the empty grey horizon in every direction. A long silence passed, filled only by gentle swells lapping against the ship.
The captain drew his own crossbow.
“Forming a plan.”
All twenty men aboard the ship readied their weapons, reacting in a chain until the last man at the stern took steady aim at the waves.
“Make ready your iron, men,” shouted the captain. “We have ripples approaching off the port side.”
A handful of places in the water puckered, as if something lingered just below the surface. The sea was too black to tell.
Then it happened. Fifty, maybe sixty sea demons burst from the water and slammed against the ship. The men wasted no time. They reacted with trained speed and agility as the demons thrust stones and jagged shells into the wood, both to break holes in the ship and to scale the sides. The men picked them off with bolts of iron and watched them fall one by one back into the sea.
But they were outnumbered. Soon the demons were upon the ship, pulling themselves across the deck with bony arms.
The young man had already shot a dozen and the water reddened with each passing second.
Slow scraping sounds threatened him from behind. He whirled around, crossbow ready. Burning eyes met his, and sharp teeth, bared to rip into his flesh. He gripped the trigger, felt the bow tighten—
And the demon was gone. The young man stared into the wide gaze of a girl his own age. With a startled cry, he jerked his aim so the bolt barely missed her.
She held a black shell in her hand, sharp at the edges and ready to use as a club. But she didn’t raise it. She just looked at him.
He lowered his crossbow.
Her blonde hair fell heavily over her shoulders, dripping beads of water down her naked chest and stomach, pooling where her torso joined her tail.
He blinked, but made no other motion—where her torso joined her tail. Scales faded into flesh like some sort of beautiful, green and tan sunset.
She pulled herself closer.
“Stay back,” said the young man, unsure what prompted him to hesitate.
He looked into her eyes—emeralds surrounded by pearl white—where moments ago they had burned red. Her sharp teeth had retracted behind rosy lips. The seaweed-coloured flesh of her upper body was now olive and raised with goose bumps from the icy wind.
“Hanu aii,” she whispered. Do not fear. She spoke his language.
He loosened his grip on the crossbow, studying her. She lifted a frail arm and pushed the hair from her eyes, then motioned him forwards.
His pulse quickened as he stared at the beautiful girl.
“Hanu aii,” she said again, her voice resonating sweetly, as if she sang without singing.
Suddenly, he was kneeling in front of her, level with her luminous eyes. The sounds around him faded but for the soft purr in the base of her throat.
She reached up and held an icy hand to his cheek, not for a moment breaking eye contact. The hand slid behind his head and pulled his face towards hers, slowly but firmly. He inhaled her sweet breath.
He flinched. He turned to see the captain racing towards them, aiming his crossbow at the maiden.
The young man grasped the scene around him. The ship was empty. A few stray weapons and barrels bobbed serenely in the water. Blood soaked the deck in places, and even the main mast had a splatter across the bottom.
The captain fired wide. Before he could reload and aim again, the sea demon put a hand on the young man’s chin and pulled his gaze back to hers.
Her eyes blazed red. Her skin rippled into the rotten colour of seaweed. Her ears grew pointed and long like sprouting coral. She opened her mouth to reveal a row of deadly teeth.
The young man screamed.
The demon pulled him against her with more strength than three men combined, and they dove headfirst off the side of the ship.
They disappeared into the blood-red water.
A mermaid hunter must be aggressive, bold, and, more importantly, nimble on her feet—because her feet are the only advantage she has over a mermaid.
That, and her iron crossbow.
“Again,” I said, wiping an arm across my sweaty forehead. I cranked the lever, dropped an iron bolt against the shaft, and hitched the crossbow up to my shoulder with practiced speed.
Annith braced herself against her knees, her frizzy hair plastered to her face. “Can we catch our breath for a second?”
I gritted my teeth. No, we could not catch our breath. Not when at this time the next day I could be taking my last one, sprawled on the red-stained deck of our ship and watching a demon eat my insides.
Annith must have read my expression, because she straightened up for another roun
Five years had passed since my training began. Along with nineteen other girls, they’d pulled me from my education before I had a chance to go to high school. I spent every day of those five years—days that should’ve consisted of math, science, and literature—learning to sail, survive, and murder.
For those five years, we’d mourned our losses as twenty men were sent out each spring and never came back. Now it was my turn. And things were going to be different.
It was our final day of the training program and I ran drills with Annith on The Enticer, a warship that’d been rotting in the forest for longer than anyone could remember. It was the most famous landmark on the island, if you could call any part of Eriana Kwai famous. Whoever built it put painstaking effort into the carvings on the helm, and it had obviously been a beautiful ship in its time. When the Massacres had begun nearly thirty years ago, they’d patched up the decaying parts and used the ship as a place dubbed the Safe Training Base.
Only fifth-year warriors, those who were eighteen, got to use The Enticer. The younger years trained on the rest of the old campground, which had been built around the landmark ship. Cabins had been converted to classrooms for first aid, survival skills, and sailing and combat theory. The dining hall had been cleared for hand-to-hand combat. A glade once used for campfires and games had been systematically destroyed for fitness drills. The archery pit proved convenient for dagger and crossbow practice. The pool was meant for swimming lessons, though that was optimistic, since if anyone was in the water she was probably about to become lunch.
Annith hurled beanbags at me as I shot the mermaid-shaped slats of wood erected across the deck. I hit five in the heart and dodged just as many beanbags when Anyo, the training master, called my name.
“Your report card, Meela.”
I heard Annith’s sigh of relief.
“You’re totally ready,” she said between breaths. “Don’t tire yourself out before tomorrow.”
My strained nerves wouldn’t let me agree as we hopped off the deck—a short drop to the spongy forest floor. I shook loose my sweaty ponytail, attempting to comb out the chocolate-brown mats before piling it back atop my head.
Anyo handed us each a flimsy piece of paper. The first year we’d gotten them, I thought they must have been a sick joke. How could they give us report cards? Wasn’t it enough to send us out to sea, knowing that if we failed to learn, we would fail to survive?
I skimmed the page. I’d achieved an A in nearly everything. My only B was in First Aid. B, for Barely Ready. Every time we talked about lacerations or broken bones, the thought of so much blood made me squeamish and light-headed.
“We’ll make a good team,” said Annith, peering at my report card. “I got an A in First Aid, but only a C in Rigging.”
C, for Clinging to Survival.
I glanced at the bottom of my card and saw an A+ next to Rigging. What did that tell me? I could work the ship, but so help me if I sliced myself open in the process.
A loud voice cut across the glade. “I got a hundred percent in Combat!”
I had no doubt Dani spoke extra loudly to ensure everyone heard. She flipped her sleek mane of hair over her shoulder and stood taller, as if ready to pose for a photo of her shining moment.
“Paper proof that you’re terrifying with sharp objects,” I said under my breath.
Annith turned away from Dani. “I’m so not surprised she got that mark. I hated being her partner. I thought she was going to finish me off for real.”
“Bet she would’ve if Anyo wasn’t watching.”
“What’d you get, Meela?” yelled Dani, fixing me with narrowed eyes. “For your parents’ sake, I hope you at least passed everything. I’d hate for them to lose another one.”
I shot her a glare. “Eat—”
“Meela!” said Annith. “Ignore her.”
“Does she not realise I’m holding a crossbow?” I looked down and noticed my knuckles had whitened over the grip.
Dani set her pouty lips, looking satisfied. She turned back to Shaena, Texas, and Akirra—the handful of toadies she liked to call friends—and gushed about how she couldn’t wait to apply combat to ‘real prey’.
Texas—nicknamed because her father tended the island cattle, and she was the only girl on the island who could rope a cow from the back of a horse—asked Dani if she’d practiced with the iron daggers.
“You have to stab forwards like this,” said Dani loudly, jabbing towards Shaena’s stomach. “My father taught me this years ago. He says if you can get it right into their gut . . .” She mimicked gripping the invisible dagger in Shaena’s stomach with two fists. “. . . and twist it, it’ll split them right open.”
She rotated her hands as though grinding an actual dagger through bone, her teeth gritted. Annith and I exchanged looks of repulsion as Shaena tried the same thing on Texas.
“All right, girls,” said Anyo, breaking up the invisible carnage. “Line up for your badges.”
I was about to hang up my training crossbow for the last time when something caught my eye. A fat rabbit emerged from the bushes, sniffing the ground.
“Move,” I whispered to Annith.
I notched a bolt and raised the crossbow. The bow steadied as I exhaled. I squeezed the trigger slightly, but not enough to plunge the iron bolt into the rabbit’s furry ribcage.
Turn it off, I ordered myself, just as the training master had been telling me since I was thirteen.
I imagined black tar melting over my heart to seal in any emotion.
Jaw clenched, I pulled the trigger. The rabbit didn’t have time to spring forwards before it fell over dead, a bolt thick as its front leg buried in its side.
Lowering my crossbow, I turned to Annith and smiled. “Dinner.”
“Well done, Meela!” said Anyo, no doubt delighted with the girl who couldn’t so much as squish a spider five years prior.
Eyrin, a frail girl who hadn’t said more than a few words in all the years I’d known her, was standing in front of Anyo and looked like she couldn’t decide whether to be appalled or impressed by my kill.
The correct response would have been to feel excited and inspired. Turning my face away from the group, I picked the rabbit up by its back feet. I couldn’t look directly at it. The black tar over my heart started to drip away.
“Does your family need some?” I said to Annith, holding up the rabbit.
“No. My father caught a deer like, three days ago, so we’re good for a while.”
“Oh,” I said, impressed and slightly jealous. I much preferred deer meat to rabbit.
I hung my crossbow on the rack, hovering for a moment. I wondered how the brand new weapons would feel in comparison. I wondered, too, how it would feel to battle on the wooden slats of a new ship, rather than on the familiar but uneven model beached on the ancient forest floor.
We lined up to get our badges.
“I’ve never had this much confidence in a group of warriors,” said the training master. “I thank the gods every day for the privilege of training you.”
I knew the committee wanted to sack him after the strategy he’d tried a few years prior. But his stubbornness was the reason he survived his own Massacre, and he refused to back down.
“As women, you have an edge the opposition won’t expect,” he said. “Without the power of allure, a mermaid’s prowess is limited to her skill in combat. And from what you’ve shown me, your skill falls nothing short of remarkable.”
“Do you think they’ll send their men when they realise we’re girls?” said Annith.
Texas scoffed. “Obviously not. Demons don’t train their men for battle.”
Anyo nodded. “As far as we know, that’s correct. Mermen don’t possess the same allure—or the drive to hunt.”
“They’re like lions,” said Shaena. “The girls do all the work. All the guys do is eat and make babies.”
A wave of laughter passed over us.
“Then it’s time to spill some mermaid guts!” said Shaena.
I took a deep breath, my nerves and excitement in a full-blown fistfight in my stomach. I wanted to believe this Massacre would be different. Maybe twenty skinny teenage girls did stand a better chance than the men we’d sent out every year in recent history.
I scanned the warriors around me, the girls who’d become my family over the last five years. We were as ready as we’d ever be.
Maybe because of us, Eriana Kwai would finally taste freedom again. We’d be able to go fishing, maybe even catch enough to export some for a profit, like we did before I’d been born. We’d be a self-sufficient nation again, not a pathetic mass of rock relying on the dry and canned donations of the few Canadians and Americans who remembered we existed.
First in line, Dani pinned her badge to her jacket before whirling around to beam at Texas. She glanced down at the rabbit in my fist and wrinkled her nose. I expected a snarky comment, but she said nothing. I wondered what her family would be eating for dinner that night.
The training master presented me with a copper badge. I studied the handcrafted engraving of the northern saw-whet owl. My people had put so much time, effort, and faith into me. Too much. My throat tightened, like the butterflies in my stomach had tried to fly out and gotten lodged.
Anyo’s hand squeezed my shoulder and I lifted my gaze. His dark eyes were serious, and the lines on his face stood out in the dim light peeking through the trees. It made him look wise, and tough. Up close, I could follow the line on his scalp and ear where a mermaid had once torn his skin clean off.
“Remember to turn off your emotions and you’ll be unbeatable,” he said, voice low for my ears only. “I shouldn’t say this, but your skill surpasses your brother’s. Nilus would have been proud.”