Ice Massacre, page 21
Fern was snoring, Scarf the cat wrapped safely in her arms again. I sat on my bed and stared across the empty room, coming to the grim conclusion that the members of Dani’s crew were losing their minds.
If we really had killed over seven hundred mermaids, surely their attacks must have been close to subsiding, and we could soon go home. Until then, if we physically survived the demons, I could only hope we’d mentally survive Dani.
Above, the stomping grew louder. I scanned the cabin for something to do. In the front bunks, Linoya still lay there, the same as she’d done day after day. I feared to think how her muscles were deteriorating. Not that it mattered. No one said it aloud, but I was sure she’d broken her spine. If we did make it home, she would be in a wheelchair.
“Meela,” she said.
I started. “You’re awake!”
“Are they ten-pin bowling up there?” There was a note of bewilderment in her slow, drugged voice.
“It’s Dani’s crew,” I said, making my way over.
Linoya cursed under her breath. “She still thinks she’s captain?”
I couldn’t see her well in the darkness, but the outline of her face looked pale, sunken, her hair sweat-soaked and matted.
“Guess I’ve been a deadbeat captain down here.”
I took one of her cold, clammy hands in mine. “Don’t say that. You haven’t even . . . It’s not your . . .”
Would she know if my suspicions were true—that Dani had been sedating her?
“You’ve been comatose,” I said. “I’ve tried to wake you.”
She dropped her gaze.
“Linoya, you can trust me. Is there anything you want to tell me?”
She waved a hand at the trunk. “It’s just the herbs. I’ve been taking a lot of them. Maybe too many.”
I picked one up and studied it closely.
“Wanna hand me some?” she said. “My back’s killing me.”
I passed her a fistful and watched her eat them. It didn’t make sense. The herbs weren’t powerful enough to sedate her so deeply.
“But I guess I don’t need to feel bad about taking these anymore,” she said. “Now that I really do need them. If I wasn’t useless enough already . . .”
“You’re not useless, Linoya.”
She picked at a dried flower. “Sometimes I only pretend to be asleep, just so no one will talk to me.”
I smirked. “I’d probably do the same.”
“I overhear things.”
When I raised my eyebrows, she said, “Oh, it’s mostly boring. A lot of talk about being scared.”
“Dying . . . suffering before dying . . . death coming too quickly . . . being drowned . . . being impaled. Blah, blah.”
“I’d want it to happen fast, so I wouldn’t know it was coming,” I said, and even as the words came out I surprised myself, because I hadn’t realised I’d made a decision on the matter.
Linoya grunted. “You wouldn’t want the chance to come to terms with it?”
I thought about that for a moment. “If I could come to terms with it, I guess that would be nice. But I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”
“I’ve come to terms with it,” said Linoya. Her tone was so casual, it took me a moment to absorb what she’d said.
I looked at her sharply. “You’ve come to terms with dying?”
“I’m aware I might not make it back, Meela.”
I squeezed her hand in what I hoped was a reassuring way. “We’ve killed more mermaids than any of the past Massacres. They’re bound to slow down soon, and then we’ll head home. You’ll make it.”
She paused. And then: “I heard you’ve taken over my duties.”
I bit my lip. So she knew I’d replaced her as captain. Was that disapproval in her voice?
“I meant to tell you,” I said. “I just—”
“It’s fine. I don’t care. Just be careful, okay?”
“Dani. She’s not right, that kid.”
“That’s pretty obvious.”
“I’ve heard you two going at it a few times.”
Her tone seemed accusatory, so I said, “Well, she pisses me off.”
“Meela, some girls are saying they want out of her crew. They’re scared of her.”
She lolled her head to the side so she stared at the dark wall. “Don’t know if I should say.”
“What about Annith?”
She looked back at me, eyebrows pinched on her sallow face. “It must be hard to have your best friend volunteer as one of Dani’s servants.”
“She just wants some guidance,” I said, trying to convince myself. “She must be scared. Dani’s easy to follow.”
“Annith never badmouths you. She’s doing it ‘cause she wants to stay alive. For some dude named Rik.”
I smiled. “She’s in love.”
“She and Nora both,” said Linoya, sounding exasperated. “The two of them won’t shut up about their soul mates.”
She made a gagging sound. I laughed.
“It’s good they have something to live for,” I said. “We all need that. Someone to fight for.”
The door burst open at the top of the stairs, making me jump. Linoya was too drugged to have any reaction.
Holly thumped down the stairs, dripping water from her clothes and hair, leaving a small river behind her that began to pool at the base of the steps. Her face was ghostly pale beneath the soaking locks. I could hear her teeth chattering from across the room.
I jumped up and hopped clumsily over the clothes and open trunks littering the floor.
Fern had woken up, and her jaw dropped as she scrambled out of bed. “What the hell happened?”
“Dani’s crew dunked her over the side of the boat,” I said, helping Holly remove her icy clothes. She stood trembling with her knees bent and her arms crossed, like she’d been frozen in that position.
“Help me get her out of these,” I said to Fern, who jumped into action.
“She should rinse the salt off,” she said.
Our shower was lukewarm at best, but it would probably feel hot to someone who’d just been dunked in the Pacific Ocean near freezing point.
Fern and I helped Holly shower and change into dry clothes.
“I th-think I liked it b-better when she ignored m-me,” said Holly through chattering teeth, pulling on a thick sweater. Her face had returned to colour a little, but she still shivered violently.
“I bet you’re not the only one,” I said, turning her around and running a comb through her brittle, salt-faded hair.
“A-all I know is I’m staying c-clear out of her w-way tomorrow.”
“Why?” said Fern. “What’s tomorrow?”
“She’s g-got some big plan to k-kill a bunch of m-mermaids.”
Fern and I exchanged a glance.
“What is it?” I said, abandoning pretence.
Holly shrugged. “S-something to do with the fishing nets. T-Texas and Shaena know more than the rest of us.”
Fern sighed loudly. “Dani can shove these secret plans up . . . I mean, someone’s going to get hurt, don’t you think? She can’t stay so mysterious all the time.”
Out of the darkness, Linoya spoke in her sleepy drawl. “She just wants all the glory for herself.”
We fell silent, then Holly said in barely a whisper, “Yeah.”
My mind jumped to Lysi. I wished she’d listened to me when I told her to stay away from the battles. Should I try to warn her? I owed this knowledge to her after what she’d told me about the whales. She could take that knowledge back with her, and . . .
And possibly ruin Dani’s plan of killing a bunch of mermaids, giving the mermaids an advantage and a chance at killing my crew and me.
Did I really owe Lysi this warning against Dani’s fishing nets? Or was it better to keep myself safe?
I finished braiding Holly’s ha
“I think you make a b-better captain,” she whispered.
“Thanks,” I said, unable to return her smile.
Holly glanced uncomfortably at the foot of the stairs. “D-don’t tell her I said that. For both your sake and mine.”
Misery washed over us with the frigid rain and dribbled down our backs. A torrential downpour blocked our view of the mountain range, so our compasses were the only indication of which direction we faced. The temperature must have been below freezing because the deck had an icy glaze that made it difficult to walk without slipping.
Texas, Nora, and Blondie were setting up a fishing net at the bow, clearly not for the purpose of catching fish. They pulled it taut between the railing and the fore mast, nowhere near the water.
“There’s the big plan,” I said to Fern, speaking loudly to get past the pounding rain. I frowned, watching them crank a rope tighter until it was straining and ready to pop closed over someone.
“They’ve used up all our fishing nets,” said Fern, scowling at them as we trimmed the mainsail.
“Want to try telling that to Dani?”
She jerked the line she was holding with a little too much force, saying nothing.
Around the main mast, six girls stood in a circle facing the water. I wasn’t sure they should even bother. The ice rain fell so hard it was difficult to see from one end of the ship to the other, never mind oncoming attackers.
A grim feeling pounded into the slippery deck with each heavy raindrop. These conditions that impeded our vision and sent us sliding across the deck would be ideal for a mermaid.
So when Sage screamed, a noise partially drowned by the clamour of the rain, it felt more inevitable than surprising. I only had time for a fleeting glance at Sage—she plucked something long and sharp from her thigh—before I had to dive out of the way of a small boulder hurling through the air. I heard it crater the deck behind me.
Countless blurry outlines of mermaids flung themselves aboard, and I forced that black tar to melt over my heart. I would not hesitate. There was no Lysi on the Massacre—only my life and the lives of my crewmates.
I set my jaw and fired, sending a demon keeling backwards into the water. The demons throwing themselves at me became mere targets. I fired at one after the other, keeping my arms and legs moving.
The mermaids must have been waiting for a downpour like this. They glided through the deluge swirling around our feet, using the icy streams for momentum while we stumbled and slipped as we tried to aim.
Blacktail was rooted at the fore mast, leaning against it for support while she massacred an endless swarm of demons. I slid my way to her and backed into the mast on the other side.
“All right?” she yelled. I heard a demon collapse at her feet.
Her response was drowned in a loud surge as we crested a wave. A heavy spray crashed over us. I opened my eyes to a golden-haired mermaid skidding towards me with a fistful of darts. I ducked barely in time. A dart whistled past my ear, pinning a chunk of my hair to the mast.
I pulled the trigger, and my iron bolt pierced straight through her. She collapsed—but another demon had been waiting behind her, and she lunged at me before I had time to think.
Her cold hand closed around my throat and brought me to my knees. She wrenched me away from the mast, sharp teeth bared. I thought she was about to rip into my flesh when a loud snap rang through the air and a net enveloped the mermaid, yanking her up and away from me. She shrieked, but still held on, dragging me with her. I clutched her wrist with both my hands, trying to stop myself from being strangled.
An eternity later she seemed to decide I wasn’t worth it and let out a wail, clawing frantically at the ropes around her face and neck.
Gasping, I turned to see who’d let the trap loose—but nobody was there. It must have activated on its own when the mermaid crossed a threshold. Still on my knees, I raised my crossbow to finish her off before she could tear through the ropes.
In the time I’d taken to check over my shoulder, the mermaid’s skin had faded to olive. She looked at me with her human face, emerald eyes wide with unmistakable pleading . . .
Before the tar could melt from my heart, I pulled the trigger. At her last, strangled breath, I turned away.
The ice rain pounded into the deck with such force, I thought it might leave permanent grooves in the wood. I could barely see. The cries of girls and mermaids battering each other rose over the deafening rainfall.
Amid the chaos, a piercing shriek struck the air that went straight up my spine. I’d heard it before, years ago, when a bolt had shot from my father’s crossbow.
I jumped to my feet and sprinted towards the stern without thinking. Searching frantically, I blew past Zarra, who fended off three mermaids at once. I ducked to avoid a flying spear, but didn’t allow myself time to fire at the mermaid who’d thrown it.
Then I saw her, caught in the trap net on the starboard side.
Annith jumped out from behind the helm, her crossbow aimed at the tangled mess of skin and rope.
“Annith!” I screamed. “Stop!”
She wavered, looking over her shoulder at me, her savage expression clouding with confusion.
I slid towards her through a river of water and blood, not hiding my desperation as I extended my hand.
“Not her,” I said, my voice muffled by the rain. “Please, not her.”
She opened her mouth but seemed at a loss for words. Her gaze darted between Lysi and me. For a moment she stared at me with a knitted brow, but there was nothing I could say. Seconds of agonizing silence passed between us, and then, the best friend that she was, she lowered her crossbow.
“I’ll explain later,” I said. “I . . . Zarra needs help by the main mast.”
Annith nodded once, the whites of her eyes popping against her tar-smudged skin. She turned and ran across the deck. I lost sight of her in seconds.
I bolted to Lysi and helped her untangle herself. My heart was in my throat. All I could think was that Lysi needed to get off the ship as fast as possible.
“I told you, you should’ve stayed away!” I said, pulling a steel dagger from my belt with trembling hands. “You could have been—”
“Stop it, Meela! It’s not that simple!” She yelled to get past the thundering rain, which, if possible, had grown worse in the last few minutes. Her hair was a mess around her face, full of seaweed and pushed flat by the netting, and her eyes still flamed red.
I glanced over my shoulder, but the rain poured so thickly I could barely see beyond it. All my plans to massacre, all my intentions to forget any feelings about Lysi, washed away. Desperation all but drowned me as I severed the ropes.
The second Lysi was free, she grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me out of sight behind the helm. Her pupils drained to blue as we held each other’s gaze. Beads of water rolled down her smooth face and neck.
“I don’t know what to do,” I whispered. The words were lost in the rain, but she knew what I’d said.
When I looked into Lysi’s eyes, I knew exactly what I wanted: to turn the Bloodhound eastwards and go home. I wanted to stop the Massacres, and stop dreading the moment when one of my crew put a bolt through Lysi’s chest. Was going home an option? Could I convince the rest of the crew?
Lysi touched a soft, icy hand to my cheek.
“We need to make peace,” she said. “This isn’t the right war.”
I felt my forehead crease as I stared at her. “What do you mean?”
She opened her mouth, but hesitated. “I’ll explain later, if you’ll meet me. We can stop all of this.”
I nodded, placing my hand over hers. Her icy skin was soothing against my own, which felt hot and sticky from the battle.
My pulse quickened as I looked into
I glanced down at her lips. The way to do it was there in front of me. I could get off this ship right now if I wanted to.
She leaned forwards almost imperceptibly. My breath hitched, but I remained still.
The noise of the rain dimmed around us, though I couldn’t be sure if it was really the clouds easing off.
Then someone screamed, scattering my thoughts, and I realised how long I’d been sitting motionless.
I jumped up. “What are you doing?”
She recoiled. “What?”
“You’re . . .” I turned away from her, trying to compose myself by scanning the deck for oncoming attackers. “That mermaid hypnosis. I don’t want you using it on me.”
She was quiet for a long time, and eventually I had to look at her again. Was that what it felt like to have a mermaid lure you in? Some kind of strange, all-encompassing pull?
“Mee,” she said, “you know it doesn’t—”
“Just stop it, all right?”
Lysi stared at me for a moment, then leaned over and narrowed her eyes at something beyond my shoulder.
“I have to go,” she said.
Before I could respond, she dove headfirst off the deck. I jumped forwards to watch her disappear, but by the time I looked over the edge I only saw thrashing waves and the rings from the falling raindrops.
I swiped a wet arm across my forehead, trying to process what just happened. Was Lysi hypnotizing me without knowing it—or was I being naïve, and whatever that was had been intentional?
Someone roared beside me and I flinched, drawing my crossbow before realising it wasn’t directed at me. Dani landed hard on her back. I couldn’t see her crossbow anywhere. She scurried backwards on her hands, but even as she did so, a mermaid with wild brunette hair climbed on top of her with a conch shell in her fist. She clubbed Dani repeatedly with it, which Dani tried to block with her meagre arms.
“Drop the net, Shaena!” Even through the hammering rain, her shriek was deafening.
Behind them, Shaena aimed a trembling crossbow at the mermaid’s back. “It’ll trap both of you! I need to kill her!”