Ice massacre, p.12

Ice Massacre, page 12

 

Ice Massacre
 


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  Our compasses proved essential by the following afternoon. The rain poured hard, the sky so dense with clouds that we couldn’t follow the sun’s path. We took turns huddling below deck, having become soaked instantly from rain and ocean spray.

  The downpour didn’t let up until the following morning, when we awoke to overcast skies and a frost in the air. We all pulled on our thick parkas.

  I meditated over the empty waves all morning, dread gnawing at my stomach.

  How close were we to the Aleutian Arc? Did the sea demons know we were coming by now?

  I turned my back to the water and scrutinised the crew. Annith sat by the cabin door with Fern, but I didn’t feel like talking to them. Shaena bounced up and down at the helm, looking inattentive while Texas chattered beside her. Dani checked the foresail and tightened the lines as she saw fit—though I could tell from where I stood that everything was in order. In the centre of the main deck, the normally silent Eyrin was talking to Blondie and a few of her friends. Eyrin held a fistful of iron bolts, tossing them on the deck at varying intervals.

  A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. She’d invented a game. Eager for distraction, I went over to see how it worked.

  “She has to stay behind, um . . . behind this line when she throws it,” said Eyrin, flush-faced.

  They turned when they saw me coming.

  “We’ve called it Morbles,” said Holly, “because it’s kind of like marbles, only morbid.”

  She held up an iron bolt, showcasing the deadly piece of ammo against the cloudy sky.

  “The objective is, um . . . is to hit the other team’s bolts,” said Eyrin, tossing one to take her turn, “but . . . but you aren’t allowed to step beyond the closest bolt on your own side.”

  “There has to be a better punishment for missing,” said Kade. “Every time you miss, you have to throw the next one from further back.”

  “How about,” said Nati, “every time you miss, you have to throw the next one from a more awkward position?”

  She turned around, bent over, and fired the next one through her legs. We erupted in laughter. I joined the game, realising I didn’t need to wait until a new game started since there was no apparent structure. Annith and Fern joined us soon after that.

  Eventually, we added so many rules that we kept forgetting them, and Holly ended up in a giggling fit over one rule that had her leap-frogging over the other team’s bolts. I took a turn lying down and tossing a bolt with my feet, and then Eyrin had to close her eyes while we spun her in a circle for thirty seconds.

  Maybe we’d been playing for too long and gotten carried away, because we let Eyrin go with too much enthusiasm, and she threw her bolt with such force it sent every other one flying—something we found hysterical until several of them careened towards the edge of the deck.

  Nati and I reacted first: we gasped, lunging for the scattered bolts. But they were too far away. Five of them plunged off the side of the ship.

  We gaped at each other. The girls behind us stopped laughing abruptly.

  A roar from Shaena cut through the silence, and she left her post at the helm to storm over to us.

  “I knew you were going to do something stupid!” she yelled. “I should’ve stopped you ages ago!”

  “It was an accident, Shae,” said Holly. “We obviously didn’t mean to chuck weapons into the water.”

  “Well you have to be pretty dumb to play a game that risks losing our ammo! Where’s Mannoh?”

  She looked around wildly, eyes bulging.

  “Relax!” I said, working hard to keep from shouting back. “We have an entire hull full of ammo. We have bigger issues if five bolts is going to make or break us.”

  “It could!”

  “Well we can’t get ’em back now,” said Fern, shooting a nasty glare at Shaena. “So simmer down a bit.”

  “I . . . I’m so sorry,” said Eyrin, her voice high. I thought I could see her eyes brimming with tears.

  “It’s not your fault,” I said, gripping her shoulder. “It was all of us. Don’t worry about it.”

  Shaena glanced around, and I knew she was hoping Dani would come help yell at us. But Dani was on dinner duty. So Shaena inclined her head, then whirled around and strode back to the helm.

  I checked the position of the sun. We’d been playing all afternoon.

  The game had been bittersweet, and the first time I’d been able to forget the sense of impending doom hanging over us like a blanket of chain armour.

  My anxiety returned like a tidal wave as the sun approached the horizon.

  After dinner, I found Linoya on her back with her feet in the air, heels resting on the main mast. She examined an herb closely, like each tiny flower held the answer to a secret.

  I wasn’t sure if she knew I’d approached, but then she said slowly, “Shouldn’t we have seen a mermaid by now?”

  She popped the herb in her mouth.

  I sat beside her. “Maybe. I’m not sure how close we are to the Arc.”

  “But they live everywhere.”

  “Right.”

  She held out a hand to me, offering me some herbs.

  “No, thanks,” I said. “I’m not seasick.”

  “Neither am I.”

  She spoke in a drawl, eyes abnormally narrow. “Texas was right,” she said. “I’m useless. I should be standing by, ready to kill demons. Just trying to chill the nerves.”

  “Take them if you need them,” I said. “I don’t care.”

  We sat in silence, Linoya popping herbs in her mouth at regular intervals.

  “I don’t like that they’re waiting until we brush their nest,” she said. She was surprisingly coherent, considering how dim she looked. “They’re smarter than Anyo gives ‘em credit for.”

  My stomach churned. I dropped my eyes to the sleek crossbow laid across my lap.

  “But we have better weapons.”

  She gave me a lopsided smile. “What d’you think will matter in the end? Weapons or numbers?”

  “Weapons,” I said, trying to put a victorious edge to my voice.

  Linoya just squinted at me and laughed, short and deep.

  A shout came from the helm, and I turned to see Shaena jumping up and down. Dani stood beside her, a smug look on her pointed face.

  “The Arc!” said Shaena, flapping her arms. “I see it!”

  I leapt to my feet. In the distance, a mountainous chunk of land was just visible through a coating of fog. I knew I wasn’t imagining the clouds billowing from the islands: Anyo had told us the Aleutian mountain range was full of active volcanoes.

  My breath halted in my throat, and I caught Annith’s eye across the deck. She’d thrown her hands over her mouth.

  I made my way to the ship’s nose. I hadn’t noticed until that moment, but the days spent in the empty, endless sea had been pulling at my nerves. The snow-covered hills and billowing peaks evoked a sense of comfort that solid ground was near. At the same time, terror bubbled in my stomach. We were officially within range of the demons’ nest.

  The silence grew as heavy as the fog cocooning the islands.

  “Think anyone still lives there?” said Blacktail. She leaned against the railing beside me.

  “I was wondering the same.”

  “Bet they fled to mainland Alaska.”

  I shook my head. “I wouldn’t leave Eriana Kwai. Would you?”

  She squinted ahead. “No. Guess not.”

  “The demons are a lot closer to them,” I said. “Do you think they Massacre too?”

  “I doubt it. If they did, the rest of Alaska would help. And if they were helping, we’d know it. We’d be better off.”

  The waves lapped against the ship, and I peeled my eyes away from the ghostly volcanoes to watch them. Maybe if we were more important on Eriana Kwai—if we were officially a part of North America, or if we had something more valuable to trade than fish—we’d be getting outside help.

  “Maybe the Aleut people d
ied,” said Blacktail hesitantly. “Because of the mermaids.”

  “Nah.” I thought of what the US would do if hundreds of their own people died because of the sea demons. “I think we’d know it if they’d all died, too.”

  “True.”

  I dropped my hands from the railing and turned to her. The wind swept my sticky hair into my eyes. “What, then? They live on the islands, still, but don’t need to Massacre?”

  Our gazes locked. I couldn’t help but feel like we were missing something.

  “Hop to it, ladies,” shouted Dani, making me jump. I turned. Shaena, Texas, and Akirra were already patrolling the starboard railing, scanning the water as if hoping to be the first to shoot a mermaid in the head.

  Mannoh scowled at Dani, then told everyone with even more volume that we should take our positions and be on careful guard.

  I ran my hand along my crossbow, the iron smooth beneath my palm. “I’ll take the port side.” I started towards the main deck.

  “Meela.”

  I kept moving. “I know I’m supposed to take the starboard, but Dani’s toadies are over there and no one’s—”

  “Meela,” said Blacktail again, and this time I caught the desperation in her voice.

  I stopped and turned around.

  Her eyes were the widest I’d ever seen them. Her mouth was open, lips strained tight with horror.

  I whirled around, muscles reacting before I had time to think.

  A long-fingered hand worked its way up the railing beside me like an oversized spider; the black hair of a young woman followed. Her eyes were large and bright, emerald green, and curiously scanning their surroundings.

  Beads of seawater dripped from her sleek hair and down her chest. Her other hand came up to rest playfully beneath her chin.

  She smiled.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  Blood and Flesh-eaters

  I stood rooted to the deck, mere steps away from her, unable to do anything except stare.

  Her bottom half wasn’t visible. If we didn’t know any better, we could have mistaken her for a young woman. But we did know better. We knew from the waist down she was mutated—a demon.

  “Hanu aii,” she said. Her high voice rolled as smoothly as the waves.

  The overlarge eyes found mine, unnaturally vivid, a flare I couldn’t look away from. She motioned me forwards with long, white fingers. A soft noise came from the base of her throat, almost like purring.

  I stepped back. She was trying to hypnotise me.

  She dropped her hand, seeming to realise her seduction wasn’t working. Her eyes hardened, and she looked around as though suddenly aware of the rest of the crew.

  Nobody said anything; we only stared at this benign creature. She was just a girl our age, and vastly more beautiful than any of us. But from the waist down . . .

  Dani stepped forwards, shoulders squared.

  “Stay back!” she yelled to the mermaid, aiming her crossbow.

  The mermaid scrutinised Dani, and though her smile fell, not a trace of fear showed in her enormous green eyes.

  Dani tightened her grip but didn’t fire. The crew seemed to hold its breath. Something felt amiss about sending a bullet through this teenage girl. Was this really what we’d come here to kill?

  But then the mermaid’s lips curled back, and before my eyes, her teeth changed. They lengthened into points. A gust of wind swept her hair forwards so the jet-black locks billowed around her, and the beautiful young girl looked suddenly feral. She screeched, a high-pitched wail that echoed across the water.

  The instant I realised how immobile we’d become, she launched herself over the railing and landed on the deck with a thud I felt in my legs. Movement erupted around us; dozens of hands and faces appeared between the railings on all sides.

  I had to admire Dani’s reactions: before my muscles even responded, she shot the black-haired mermaid through the heart. The mermaid choked to a halt, crimson blood splattering from her chest. But we’d all been transfixed for too long—were we hypnotised?—and at least fifty mermaids scaled the Bloodhound on all sides.

  I stared at Dani’s victim. Head bowed, she tried to hold herself up with trembling arms.

  An earthquake rumbled the deck. Around me, the mermaids descended on the ship with a dexterity I’d never seen.

  But the girl! I turned back to her. She was dead. Her glistening corpse lay face down in a spreading pool of blood.

  She isn’t a girl.

  The proof lay in front of me. I could see the demon’s tail.

  A smell met my nose, infusing me with panic, bringing forth a memory I’d buried for so long—rotting fish, smoke, seaweed—the smell of a mermaid freshly defiled by iron.

  Blacktail reacted beside me. She fired at a mermaid and ran for the main deck, already loading another bolt.

  My hand tightened around my crossbow. Did I just witness a murder, or a step towards freedom? That didn’t matter now. I forced my eyes away from the pool of blood, cranking the lever and notching a bolt with numb fingers. The other mermaids advanced, and they moved more quickly than I imagined.

  One of them thundered onto the deck across from me. I stepped back, hoisting my crossbow to my shoulder. Her eyes locked on me—on my throat. Time slowed. The girl’s smooth body transformed before my eyes . . .

  And more than ever, without a mask of darkness, I understood why they were called sea demons.

  Her eyes were red the whole way through, deeper than blood, without a pupil or the surrounding whites. Her heavy auburn hair fell over her face and shoulders but never covered her diabolic eyes. Her skin was rotten, the colour of seaweed, and even the shape of her ears reminded me of the slimy algae that often washed up on the beach.

  She moved across the deck with a jarring stiffness; if I hadn’t known she was a mermaid, I would’ve thought I was witnessing a girl possessed by the devil. She used her arms to drag herself forwards, rigidly shifting her weight, locking her elbows to keep her body upright. With each shift, her bony shoulders seemed to pop out of place. One of her hands clawed the deck—the hand of a fish, webbed with clear skin between the fingers from grooves to knuckles. Her other hand gripped a weapon, a conch shell, and she smashed it into the deck as though the planks of wood were just as much her enemy. The way she advanced was a practiced technique, swift enough to catch a fleeing human.

  My lungs contracted frantically; my limbs numbed of all feeling. This was no human. This was the furthest thing from a human.

  Shoot it, Meela!

  The sound of whizzing bolts, thundering feet, screaming girls, and screeching mermaids pounded in my ears. I leaned my head down to aim. My frozen muscles finally responded as the demon drew near enough to attack. I aligned my sight with her chest, and pulled the trigger.

  The bolt shot wide of her heart and pierced her shoulder—enough to fatally wound, but not to instantly kill. Still, she advanced.

  Cursing, I pulled another bolt from my quiver. My hands must have been shaking.

  Without warning, the demon threw her conch shell at my face with the strength of a cannon fire. I ducked, but felt the tip slice across my scalp. Pain exploded and warmth oozed from the wound. My knees weakened at the feel of my own blood.

  Anger shot through me—mostly at myself for wasting so much time. I straightened, jammed the bolt against the shaft, and paused for a millisecond to aim.

  Before I even finished pulling the trigger, I knew I had her. The bolt hit her dead in the throat. Her mouth opened like she was trying to scream, but no sound came out. I gasped, turning away as the blood spilled from her like a geyser.

  My muscles had awoken, vibrating with adrenaline. Blood pulsed into my limbs and forced away the queasiness that had taken hold.

  Another demon lunged at me from the side. I spun and fired without hesitating. It hit her in the heart and she collapsed. But already the next demon was upon me, nearly wrapping her slimy fingers around my ankle. I shot her through the top of the head.
Blood splattered into my eyes.

  Blinded, I stumbled backwards, reaching into my quiver for another bolt. But no other mermaids came. Screams and hissing crossbows filled the air. I wiped my face on my sleeve and scanned the corpse-laden deck.

  Dani was at the fore mast in the thick of the action. She stood on the boom, firing downwards, battling four mermaids at once. Rocks and blow darts peppered her. Some knocked her off-balance and darts stuck into her arms, but she was quick. She reloaded smoothly and without pause, firing at each of her attackers in turn. She pulled darts from her skin only to launch them back at the mermaids.

  More approached but three other girls took them out in sequence. Beside them, Linoya roared at the demons, swinging her crossbow and egging them to come get her. Beside her, Nora shot them down with lightning-fast reactions.

  At the edge of the deck, Eyrin had dropped her crossbow. A brown-haired mermaid swung a jagged spear—once a harpoon, perhaps, but ravaged by the sea and covered in sharp barnacles. Twice, the spear caught Eyrin in the arm, and bloody gashes spilled open.

  I ran forwards, but before I could raise my weapon something whizzed past my nose and I turned in time to see a demon rushing towards me with a fistful of short spears. She hurled another with blinding speed. I ducked, keeping my sight aligned, and pulled the trigger. The bolt hit her in the stomach before she could throw another spear. She made a wet coughing sound and buckled over.

  I turned back to Eyrin. Her assailant raised an arm to strike again. I didn’t have time to get there. I rooted my feet on the swaying deck. My bow steadied as I exhaled. I fired.

  The bolt buried in the mermaid’s ribcage. She fell to the side, dead instantly. Eyrin scrambled backwards.

  Another mermaid had been waiting. She launched herself at Eyrin with a barnacle-covered rock in her hand and knocked them both to the deck. I slammed another bolt against the shaft. Eyrin shrieked. She tried to push the mermaid off but the mermaid had her pinned.

  I aimed—but the mermaid’s arm was a blur. She smashed the rock into Eyrin’s temple. I screamed and let the bolt loose too soon. It shot wide, skimming the mermaid’s tangled mess of hair. She flinched but didn’t look.

 
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