Ice massacre, p.17

Ice Massacre, page 17

 

Ice Massacre
 


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  The waves lapped serenely against the ship. Motionless, I stared at Lysi through the darkness. “Did she believe you?”

  I knew the answer. The mermaid had told me that my friendship with Lysi wasn’t real. Had Lysi just told her this to protect me?

  “Yes,” said Lysi. “She was horrible. She loved the idea of making a game out of your life. But she must have kept a watch, and when she saw my burn she grabbed me again. She told me to kill you and prove I had no attachment. I wouldn’t do it. So she said she’d do it herself, because you were a danger to all of us.

  “I tried to fight her. I really did. She was so much stronger than me.”

  “So,” I said, “you set up the rock tower and let her come attack me.”

  “I didn’t know Panopea caught onto our pattern with the rock towers! I only set it up so I could see you. Then she told my parents about you, and they wouldn’t let me out of their sight no matter what I said or did. And I knew the rock tower was still set up, and I hoped and wished you wouldn’t see it.”

  “But I did.”

  I squinted at the black deck beneath my legs. All the things Panopea had said could’ve been her repeating a lie meant to protect me.

  “You still don’t trust me,” said Lysi after I’d been quiet for a while.

  “How do I know you’re not making this up?”

  “Do you really think I’d be here if I wasn’t desperate to make you understand?”

  After another minute, I said sceptically, “But you taught her to speak Eriana.”

  “I didn’t think I had a choice.”

  “Why not?”

  “She threatened to tell my parents about you, Mee! I knew they’d kill me if they found out!”

  “But they did find out, in the end. Panopea told them anyway.”

  “I know. I should have just dealt with my punishment and gotten it over with. I didn’t know everything would get so out of hand. I didn’t know she would . . .”

  I studied her face in the moonlight. No matter how furious I was, something about looking her in the eyes made me soften.

  “But why did she want to learn it?”

  “She wanted to teach it to . . . to King Adaro.”

  I raised my eyebrows, remembering her talking about him when we were kids. “Why would Adaro want to learn Eriana?”

  “He wants to learn all human languages. I think he’s fluent in Spanish and Japanese so far.”

  “And now Eriana, thanks to Panopea.”

  “No.”

  “Why n—”

  “Don’t,” said Lysi. “Just leave it.”

  I stared at her. “She never got the chance?”

  Lysi buried her face in her hands and made a muffled sound.

  “I . . . I killed her? With the iron?”

  She shook her head. After a long hesitation she said, “She killed herself. She couldn’t bear to live with the scars on her face.”

  “She killed herself because of me?” I said breathlessly. “I was a murderer at ten years old?”

  “You didn’t kill her, Mee. Mermaids are vain . . . she didn’t need to end her life because of that. You were only defending yourself.”

  “I guess so.” My voice sounded detached.

  “I didn’t teach anyone but her.”

  I dropped my eyes again to the deck.

  “Tell me why mermaids are attacking Eriana Kwai,” I demanded. I wanted all of the truth from her now, and if she really was being honest, and she really did want me to believe her, she’d give it to me.

  “Adaro wants control of the seas,” she said. “He wants humans out of the water so he can build—”

  “Utopia,” I said.

  “Right.” She paused. I felt her eyes on me.

  “Of course I remember.”

  She gave a half-smile.

  “But why Eriana Kwai?” I said.

  “Well, he wants to rule everywhere. He’s working on an underwater domination too. He’s got the Pacific, but no one lived here before him, so that was his from the moment he crossed over the Ice Channel. He’s fighting merpeople colonies at the other end to take the—um—I don’t know what you call that other big ocean.”

  “The Atlantic?”

  “No, the other one.”

  “The Southern?”

  “No.”

  “Black Sea.”

  “No, it’s really warm.”

  “Mediterranean.”

  “Which one is—”

  “Hudson Bay!”

  “No, that’s not even wa—”

  “Arctic!”

  “Mee! I said it’s warm!”

  We burst out laughing, Lysi’s perfect smile and overlarge eyes glistening in the moonlight.

  “What about the Indian Ocean?” I said. “That one’s huge. I think it’s the warmest.”

  “Maybe that’s it. Anyway, that’s where all our men are right now. Fighting those colonies of merpeople to the death for it.”

  “So he trains mermen to fight below-surface and the mermaids to fight above-surface?”

  She shrugged. “It worked until you girls showed up.”

  I grimaced. “So what’s next? After he takes those oceans?”

  “He takes the Atlantic.”

  “That’s where your family came from—where the Atlantic Queen rules.”

  “Right. That’s Medusa’s ocean,” she said, her voice bitter, “and I’m sure Adaro is going to have a hard time—”

  “Medusa?” I said, astounded. “Turn-you-to-stone Medusa still lives in the Atlantic?”

  Lysi laughed again, leaning her head against a railing in mock exasperation.

  “Not the original Medusa! Honestly!”

  “Oh.”

  “Queen Medusa is a descendant of the original, though.”

  “Does she—”

  “Have snakes for hair? No. Sorry to disappoint.”

  We fell silent, holding each other’s gaze. I bit my tongue, feeling a twinge of guilt for letting her talk to me for so long. The sky was lightening. Lysi’s eyes seemed to shine—and I felt a long-forgotten comfort staring into them.

  I looked away.

  Despite the part of me that wanted to trust her, Lysithea was still a mermaid, and I a human. Last time I let myself trust her, I’d nearly been killed.

  Besides, it didn’t make sense that Adaro was sending his warriors to attack Eriana Kwai when the people of the Aleutian Islands had no apparent struggles. Why us?

  “I should get back,” said Lysi, her voice sounding odd, like she knew what I’d been thinking.

  “Right.” I dropped my hands, realising I’d been rubbing my forehead.

  I still didn’t look at her as I stood. Hearing her story only left me agitated and confused.

  “Goodbye, Lysi.”

  “Bye, Mee.”

  She let herself fall into the sea with a gentle splash. I turned around and took my post at the helm, not glancing back.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  Annith’s Allegiance

  I rubbed my hands down my face and wiped them on my pants, clearing off the warm blood that’d splattered across my front. The mermaid fell forwards, so close that her golden hair landed on my foot. I leapt back, wrinkling my nose.

  We’d stood in our defensive circle again after breakfast, and sometime around noon found ourselves surrounded by mermaids.

  We were well-armed and prepared, our reactions sharp, our iron finding its way easily into the flesh of every mermaid who threw herself at us.

  At least thirty demons lay immobile on the deck, and no more attempted to climb aboard.

  Shaena whooped, thrusting her crossbow in the air. “No demon can beat us!”

  I reached into my coat and pulled out a clean corner of my shirt before the blood dripped into my eyes.

  Beside me, Sage extracted two iron bolts from a mermaid’s ribcage. I looked away when she rolled the mermaid over—exposing the blank, lifeless face—and dumped the body into the water.

&
nbsp; “What’d I tell you?” said Dani to nobody in particular. “‘We should be prepared today!’ Didn’t I?”

  I rolled my eyes and began refilling my quiver, keeping my gaze averted from the mermaid corpses. Dani had been relentless in her quest to prove she had some sort of psychic mermaid-reading powers.

  As I stuffed my belt full of iron, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering whether that golden-haired mermaid was related to Lysi, or whether any of the mermaids we’d just killed were friends or family of hers.

  I felt Annith watching me, but I avoided her eyes.

  We began alternating in two-hour shifts, standing guard in the circle. This gave us a chance to rest our legs, escape the icy slush falling from the sky, and grab a drink of water while the other half of the crew kept watch.

  By late afternoon I found myself standing by the railing anyway, even though it was my turn to rest. We floated as close as we’d ever get to the Aleutian Islands, and I watched one of the volcanoes billow smoke into the patchy sky.

  Part of me wondered about Lysi, and what’d happened in her life since we were kids. Was she trained to kill, like I was? Did Adaro conscript her into his army?

  I wanted to know more about this merman king and his quest to take over the oceans. My old curiosity about life underwater prodded at my subconscious, and I wanted Lysi to come back so she could tell me about it.

  You just want to talk to her, said a voice in my head, like when you were kids and you were weak and naïve.

  Back when just being with her made me feel better.

  Could I trust her? Was she as pure and honest as I once thought?

  The mainsail flapped noisily above me. I squinted at it, deciding it needed tightening. I grabbed the thick, salt-encrusted rope and leaned against it until I was out of breath, and when I was satisfied it was taught, I wrapped it securely around the cleat.

  That was when I noticed Annith standing at the helm behind Shaena, facing the water. She gripped her crossbow tightly, as though ready to aim and fire any second.

  I coiled the excess rope slowly, watching her. She resembled a soldier standing guard, but it wasn’t her turn to be on duty.

  I walked towards her, glancing around in confusion. “Why are you standing like that?”

  She kept her gaze forwards, her features stony.

  “I’m on helm watch with Shaena.”

  “What’s helm—”

  Realisation hit me like a tidal wave. “Oh, Annith, don’t tell me you joined her.”

  “Some people might find her impossible to get along with,” said Annith, “but her captaining skills—”

  “She sleeps with her crossbow!”

  “She’s prepared!”

  My mouth hung open. At the other side of the deck, Dani sat against the wall by the entrance to the galley. It was the most secure place on the ship if someone wanted to make sure no one was going to sneak up on her. Dani’s crossbow rested on her lap while she ran her iron dagger rhythmically along a sharpening stone. The rest of her body was a statue as she stared straight ahead at the horizon.

  “I know Linoya’s down right now,” I said calmly, peeling my eyes back to Annith, “but let me talk to her. You’re making a mistake letting Dani be your leader.”

  “She knows what she’s doing, Meela.”

  “Who else joined? Who did you talk to?”

  “Nora.”

  I ran through a mental list of everyone Dani had managed to recruit. Besides Dani’s original toadies, Shaena and Texas, she now had Annith, Nora, Blondie, Holly, and Kade in her cult.

  Shaena whistled a tune and made a point of shifting her eyes everywhere except at Annith and me. I ignored her.

  “You all trust Dani?” I said.

  “I trust she knows how to fight,” said Annith, “and I trust she wants to get out of this alive.”

  “We all want to get out of this alive,” I said through gritted teeth.

  “This ship needs a plan for survival, and Dani’s the only captain who’s been able to give us one.”

  “I wouldn’t say Mannoh or Linoya had much of a chance!”

  Annith opened her mouth to argue, seemed to realise I was right, and closed it again.

  There was no way our crew would ever mutually agree upon a captain. That was why Anyo had assigned an order.

  “I’m going to talk to Linoya,” I said. “If she steps down, that makes me captain.”

  Shaena stopped whistling and turned, a charming smile fixed to her face. “Captain to whom, exactly?”

  I bit my tongue. Why was nobody following the protocol that’d been drilled into us for five years?

  Annith opened her mouth, glanced sideways at Shaena, then looked back at the water without a word.

  Stealing Annith back from Dani would be declaring open warfare. Team Dani gets the port side of the Bloodhound; Team Meela, the starboard. But Annith was giving me no reason to think she’d choose me over Dani. What quality did Dani have that Annith admired so much? Was she that willing to sever our friendship?

  I stomped away, trying to ignore a pang of betrayal.

  Besides, weren’t any of them concerned that Dani cared more about herself than anyone else? I couldn’t have been the only one to notice that bloodthirsty gleam in her eyes.

  In the cabin, I stopped short at what I saw: a thin frame in the darkness, bending over Linoya’s bed.

  “Dani?”

  She straightened, but my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dim light and I couldn’t read her expression.

  “What are you doing?” I said.

  “Just checking on your captain. Making sure she’s comfortable.”

  I walked forwards. Something about her smooth voice curdled in my stomach. “Let her rest.”

  “Don’t worry, I am,” said Dani. “She’s out cold.”

  I stepped into the narrow gap between her and Linoya. Dani’s face became visible. I returned the sneer.

  “Get away from her.”

  She stepped back, raising a hand in salute. “Aye aye.”

  I glanced beside Linoya’s head, where her closed trunk had been upturned to create a makeshift nightstand. The top was littered with random contents from her tool belt—water flask, vial of kohl, lip balm—and some herbs.

  “Later,” said Dani, in a tone dripping with false camaraderie.

  She strode from the room with a bounce in her step that made me want to hurl the water flask at her head. I waited until the door slammed at the top of the stairs before sitting.

  “Linoya,” I said, unable to hide the urgency in my voice.

  She didn’t stir.

  “Linoya.” I touched her shoulder this time, shaking her gently. When she still didn’t move, I leaned over and let my ear graze her mouth and nose. Her breath tickled my cheek.

  Relieved, I looked back to the trunk and hesitantly reached for the water flask. I sniffed its contents, even dumped a little in my hand, but it was only water.

  “What did she do to you?” I whispered, pushing a greasy lock of hair from her eyelid.

  For the next hour, I stayed with Linoya in the empty cabin, shaking her every few minutes. But the rightful captain of the Bloodhound did not wake.

  The demons attacked in an ongoing swarm over the next few days. We had little time to eat, rest, or think, but conditions were in our favour and we killed more mermaids than any of us could count.

  Anyone but Texas.

  “Seven hundred! I swear that was our seven-hundredth!” she yelled as the sun set on the fourth day. “Let’s see them hit us with a whale now we’re over their nest. Whales will be steering far and wide of this place.”

  We stood guard for an hour longer before deciding the demons must have been regrouping. I massaged my upper arm, permanently sore from holding up my crossbow and cranking the lever to notch bolts.

  Shaena skipped from her place in the circle and paraded around the ship, thrusting her weapon in the air like she was leading a marching band.

 
Who owns this ocean?” she yelled.

  Around me, Dani’s crew bellowed. “We own this ocean!”

  “Who’s getting slaughtered?”

  “They’re getting slaughtered!”

  “We won’t back down, we’ll beat them down!”

  “In their own blood they will drown!”

  Only Fern, Blacktail, Zarra, Sage, and I remained in the outskirts of Dani’s crew. Everyone else, including Annith, roared the words like a bunch of feral hunters.

  With a final cry, Shaena kicked a dead mermaid hard in the face, then stood on top of her like an explorer claiming new territory. The gesture was met with raucous cheers.

  Annith’s small face twisted into an ugly expression. I turned away, unable to recognise her.

  I took the next shift standing guard in the circle, watching Annith as she left to help Shaena and Blondie with something at the bow of the ship. They pulled around heavy barrels and pointed out past the bowsprit, making angles with their arms.

  At the stern, Texas and Kade were also in mumbled conversation. They had wrapped fishing nets around more barrels on both sides of the deck. I shifted on my feet, uncomfortable with having the crew so disunited.

  “Has anyone been able to talk to Linoya?” whispered Zarra beside me.

  “Fat difference it’ll make now,” said Fern, who stood on Zarra’s other side. “Dani’s got too many lackeys. The original structure’s demolished.”

  I think Dani is keeping her sedated, I wanted to say, but even in my head it sounded ridiculous. We didn’t even have sedatives.

  I glanced at Holly, who stood to my other side, and lowered my voice. “We can’t just let Dani take over the ship.”

  I didn’t want to be the one to bring up the idea of taking over Linoya’s position, but the thought of letting everyone fall under Dani’s control was worse.

  “Would either of you object if I took over as captain?” I said.

  They fell quiet for a minute, then Fern said, “No. I’d be in your crew.”

  “Me, too,” said Zarra.

  Beside me, Holly repositioned her crossbow, but her eyes were cast towards the water when I chanced a look. I leaned closer to the other girls. “Then a crew we’ll be. I . . . I’ll talk to Linoya the next chance I get.”

 
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