Ice massacre, p.22

Ice Massacre, page 22

 

Ice Massacre
 


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  “Shaena,” yelled Dani, her voice hoarse, “drop the net now!”

  “She’ll kill you!”

  “Shaena!”

  But Shaena didn’t drop the net. She shot a bolt through the mermaid’s spine as she was about to deliver a blow to Dani’s head. The mermaid lurched and collapsed on top of her prey.

  Behind Shaena, two more mermaids rapidly approached, but she hadn’t seen them. I fired without thinking about it, then dove to avoid a barnacled rock. Shaena cried out and shot the last one. She met my eyes, her mouth a gaping oval.

  Dani grunted as she pushed the dead mermaid off herself. Her face was red and blotchy, her teeth bared, her entire body trembling. She looked deranged with fury. Shaena turned on her heel and stomped away, leaving Dani to help herself off the deck.

  The scene around us quieted. The rain slowed and the screams subsided. I searched the deck, crossbow raised, but not a single demon met my eyes as we crossed the deck. Their ability to appear and disappear so rapidly was eerie, and although every one of us was shivering and covered in goose bumps, we waited a few more silent minutes before declaring them gone.

  We filed down to the cabin quickly to change out of our sopping wet clothes—many of which were hardening into ice.

  Feeling the cold seep into my bones, I peeled my shirt off before reaching the bottom step and threw it to the floor. I tossed clothing from my trunk until I found the warmest thing I owned—a thick woollen sweater, several sizes too large.

  “So what was all that about?”

  As my head popped out the top of my sweater, my eyes came to rest on Annith. Her eyebrows were raised and her arms crossed. She was half-dressed in thick sweatpants.

  I glanced around meaningfully at the other girls, hoping Annith would get the idea that I didn’t want to talk about it right now.

  Footsteps thundered down the stairs, anyway, and I heard Dani shouting.

  “You ruined the plan, Shaena!”

  Shaena spun around, yanking a dry sweater over her head. “That mermaid was going to kill you!”

  “I had her!”

  “You did not have her—you didn’t even have your crossbow! You were unarmed!”

  Dani looked more enraged than ever. “How dare you speak ill of your captain,” she said, spitting each word.

  “I’m not speaking ill of you,” yelled Shaena. “I’m just telling you that you would’ve died if I’d followed the plan.”

  Dani parted everyone in the cabin as she stomped to her bunk across from Shaena’s. The rest of us watched in silence.

  Dani threw her crossbow on her bed. “We would’ve killed all the rats at once if you’d carried out—”

  “We killed them all, anyway!”

  Dani pulled her ice-encrusted shirt over her head while Shaena stood facing her, fists and teeth clenched in fury.

  “If you’d just have a sliver of flexibility—”

  Dani rounded on her with a glare so intense that Shaena stepped back. “Stop - arguing - with - me!”

  Without darkness or a jacket to cover her shoulders, I realised how emaciated Dani had become. Her hipbones and shoulder blades protruded. I could count the vertebrae in her spine. Her waist was thin as plywood when she turned sideways. Barely-healed scratches covered her arms, shoulders, and stomach, and new bruises were already forming.

  “Dani,” said Texas, taking a confident step towards her. “You need to calm down, all right?”

  Dani snapped her rabid eyes onto Texas. “You don’t get to tell me what to do!”

  Her lips parted to reveal clenched teeth. A vein in her temple throbbed.

  “None of you get to tell me what to do!”

  She seized her crossbow.

  I put my hands out. A few girls stepped back.

  “I just think you need to—”

  “I don’t need to do anything!” she yelled, swinging the weapon so anyone near her jumped back several feet.

  “Put the crossbow down,” said Shaena firmly, stepping forwards again. The volume of her voice had lowered significantly. “This whole captain thing is clearly putting you in a wrong place.”

  Dani screeched, her voice filling the cabin. “Shut up, Shaena!”

  “No! Dani, the crew is over. We want out.”

  “You can’t get out! I say when you can get out!”

  Shaena reached for Dani’s crossbow but Dani jumped back, notching a bolt and pointing it to the room at large.

  All of us screamed at Dani, yelling at her to calm down, to relax, to put down the crossbow. Holly and Nora jumped into the stairwell as if to flee the room.

  “No, Dani,” yelled Shaena. “You aren’t captain anymore!”

  “Shut up! Shut up, Shaena!”

  She yelled the words with such vigour, her voice broke.

  “Dani—”

  “I’m your captain!”

  Her eyes bulged, and without hesitating, without pausing to aim properly, she pulled the trigger. She shot an iron bolt straight into Shaena’s chest.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  Anarchy

  Not until the thick, crimson bubble of blood popped in Shaena’s gaping mouth did Dani seem to realise what she’d done.

  The only muscles in her body that moved were in her fingers. She dropped the crossbow. Her expression contorted into a mirror of Shaena’s: mouth gaping, eyes bulging, a mixture of fear and pain.

  Shaena made an odd whimpering sound. A trickle of blood rolled down her chin.

  The rest of us had scrambled backwards, but then reality dawned and Texas dove to catch Shaena before she fell.

  Dani’s pupils were enormous. Her hands clenched and unclenched a few times as she stared at Shaena. Nobody approached her.

  She turned abruptly and ran up the stairs two at a time.

  Several long seconds passed before I realised what I’d just witnessed. I didn’t even flinch when it’d happened. After everything I’d experienced in the last three weeks, a kill was just another kill.

  Then a cold sweat broke over me, and I could do nothing but stand paralyzed as Annith fumbled for the first aid kit, and as she and Texas screamed at each other to remove the bolt and leave it be and hold her up and lay her flat and . . . Holly pushed past me with a damp rag to wipe the blood from Shaena’s chin.

  Texas and Annith abruptly stopped yelling, Annith’s hands still working feverishly.

  Shaena’s breathing slowed. It sounded wet and gargly. She had no hope of surviving.

  Texas, Annith, and Holly bent over her, murmuring, trying to get her to say something. They swam in my vision, the world melting around me.

  I couldn’t understand what the girls were saying. But then Texas leaned forwards and her body heaved with sobs as she hugged Shaena. The tangles of Shaena’s chestnut hair spread across the floor like a fishing net washed ashore.

  My breathing became panicked. This was one death too many. I couldn’t watch another crewmate go—especially not at the hands of her best friend. I turned and climbed the stairs, swallowing the sobs that threatened to escape.

  I hurried past the blurred figures of three other girls who hovered outside. They shouted something at me but I took no notice as I made for the helm. I crumpled behind it, trembling all over.

  I stared out at the grey horizon, breathing deeply. A panicked whimper escaped my lips. Was the warrior mindset so deeply ingrained in Dani that she didn’t even think before killing? Was her finger permanently over her trigger, ready to massacre anything in her path?

  Some time later, Annith joined me. She placed my crossbow in front of me, which I’d forgotten below deck. Then she sat down and rested her head on my shoulder. She sniffled thickly.

  “Did you see the way she killed her?” I said, unable to control the pitch of my voice. “It wasn’t even different! It was no different than killing a mermaid!”

  “I know,” whispered Annith.

  “It wasn’t different, Annith,” I said again. I leaned forwards to rest my head in my
hands. My eyes burned.

  Neither of us said anything for a long time. We sat with our heads resting on each other, leaning against the abandoned helm, and watched the thick raindrops fall until the sky began to darken. Behind the dense mess of clouds, the sun must have been crossing the horizon.

  I spun the tarnished ring on Annith’s skinny finger. It looked so old, so fragile.

  “We need to go home,” I said in barely a whisper. “We’re done. The Massacre is over.”

  She made a small noise that I took to mean she agreed.

  “We’ll turn home as soon as we deal with Dani,” I said, “but only after we figure out what to do about her. We don’t know if she’ll snap again, and who might be in the way if she does.”

  Annith looked down, hesitating for a long time before she met my eyes. “Then let’s lock her up until we get home.”

  “Like in a brig?”

  She nodded once.

  “But we don’t have a brig.”

  “We’ll use the hull, where we keep the ammo,” she said. “The bars are already in place. We’ll move the ammo and put a bed in there or whatever . . . it won’t be so bad.”

  I nodded slowly. The idea of keeping Dani separate from us was reassuring.

  Annith set her jaw as she glared at the horizon. Clouds blocked our view of the Aleutian Islands, leaving us to feel, once again, the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean.

  “We’ll need to talk to the rest of your crew,” I said. “They need to be okay with the plan, and they should probably be willing to help.”

  “After what they just witnessed, I doubt they’ll be—”

  “We need to know for sure. They can’t interfere.”

  To my surprise, she stood. “Okay. I’ll go talk to them.”

  “Right now?”

  “Yes. I need to let a couple of them know it’s going to be all right. Holly . . . and Nora. They’ll be a total mess.”

  “Do you want me to come?”

  “No. It’s better if . . . if it comes from within her crew. I should do it.”

  We stared at each other. The word ‘mutiny’ came to mind. It made me uneasy. Annith nodded once, then turned away.

  A childlike impulse overcame me to make her stay. The idea of being alone was unsettling. I needed the comfort of my friends inside the cabin, not the sight of the endless ocean to remind me of the infinity of death.

  I shivered. The waves I stared at might as well have been fog rolling through a graveyard.

  But I couldn’t bring myself to go in the cabin. Where had they placed Shaena’s body? Where was everyone else?

  Between me and the infinite horizon, a blonde head popped up.

  “I thought she’d never leave!”

  I gasped and stumbled to my feet. “No! You can’t be here.”

  Lysi’s already-large eyes widened, and she looked past me in confusion.

  “Get lost!” I said, holding out my crossbow like a shield.

  “What’s the matter with you?”

  I hadn’t had much time to think about Lysi since she disappeared from the tangled net earlier. But subconsciously, I must have been thinking about her, because I felt inexplicably leery of her too-gentle smile, and her too-sweet scent, and her too-pretty face.

  “I’ve seen enough delusional friendships today,” I said, still holding out my crossbow like I was trying to shield myself. “It’s not going to happen to me. I don’t need your manipulation.”

  “Manipulation! What are you talking about?”

  I took a breath. I wasn’t making sense. Lysi wasn’t going to murder me. She cared about me. But did I care about her only because I was a victim of her mermaid allure?

  “You tried to hypnotise me,” I said. “I won’t live in a delusion. If nothing I feel is even real . . .”

  I rubbed a hand across my aching neck.

  “Mee!” Her voice dropped, and her eyes pleaded with mine. “It doesn’t work on females. Think about it. Has any other mermaid been able to hypnotise you?”

  I opened my mouth to retort, but no words came. I felt the sensation that a block of ice had dropped into my stomach. She was right.

  “Then why am I . . .” I didn’t know what to say. Why was I what? What was I feeling?

  I tried again. “When you come close to me, or when I look at you . . . I wonder if that’s the feeling they warn you about. When a mermaid is about to lure you in.”

  I risked glancing up at her. Her expression was unreadable.

  “What kind of feeling is it?” she said.

  I squinted at my bare feet, which had grown numb with the cold. But a long time passed, and I found I couldn’t put the feeling into words I wanted to say aloud.

  “Mee, anything you’re feeling is real. I promise.”

  I looked at her. First it was easy to be angry, to glare at her accusingly, like she’d set out to trick me. But the longer I held her gaze, the harder it became to pretend I hated her.

  “I don’t want you to be mad at me,” she said, her voice thick with restrained tears, “because you’re the only thing keeping me going, and I don’t want to be out here fighting and killing people, and I don’t want one of my family members to murder you. I can’t lose you because of this. This whole war isn’t right. It shouldn’t be happening.”

  “No,” I said, my voice softening. “It’s going to be all right, Lysi. We’re going home. We’ll all be safe in a few days.”

  Two thick tears oozed from Lysi’s eyes, and she covered her face.

  I dropped my crossbow with a hollow clunk and stepped closer. “What’s wrong?”

  She had trouble getting the words out. “Adaro says you girls shouldn’t have made it this far, and he wants you dead. Letting your ship return home isn’t an option. He’s so angry, I . . . I don’t think his army has much left. He’s pulling in more troops—he’s even graduating the trainees early.”

  I froze, my hands on her shoulders. Such a range of emotions passed through me, I didn’t know what to think. It was good for my people that we’d made it this far and killed so many mermaids. But Lysi—we’d murdered a horrific number of her friends and family members. Adaro was angry. What did that mean? Did we have cause to be even more afraid for our lives, or was Adaro’s threat as empty as his presence in the battles?

  “When will they get here?”

  “A few days, maybe.”

  “We could be home by then. They might not get here in time.”

  She lifted one shoulder in a feeble shrug, looking unconvinced.

  “I’m not afraid of him,” I said. It was hard to be afraid of Adaro when I had never seen him. As far as I was concerned, he was a coward who never showed his face on the battlefront.

  She stared at me, pulling her hands away from her face. The whites of her eyes and pale skin were distinct against the darkening sky. I sat down, still holding her shoulders.

  “Look,” I said. “I’ve been scared every moment of every day since we left. Really, I’ve been scared since the day I found out I was going into training. But that fear has become a part of me now. You and I have both made it this far, haven’t we?”

  She nodded once, still teary.

  “This whole Massacre—everything—it’s all out of hand. We’re going to try and lock Dani up until we can get home. She . . . she killed someone.”

  “One of your own?” said Lysi, breathless.

  I felt my face contort all over again. “I knew she was . . . but I didn’t think . . . even she wouldn’t . . .”

  “Are you . . .” she said, then stalled. “Of course you aren’t okay.”

  “No,” I said. But somehow, I always felt better in Lysi’s presence.

  I became conscious of my hands resting on her shoulders and quickly dropped them, flushing. But Lysi reached out and slid a hand around the back of my neck. A shiver ran down my spine that might not have been related to the falling temperature.

  “When I’m home, we can meet on the beach,” I whispered, “
like when we were kids.”

  The thought of home, of the beach, of a careless afternoon with Lysi, all seemed so distant. I might as well have been describing a fairy tale.

  Lysi’s gaze flickered to my lips. “Come with me.”

  I stared at her sapphire eyes. My brain stalled as I processed what she meant.

  “Let’s leave this behind,” she said. “I can change you—we can live together. Maybe escape to a better place.”

  “I can’t, Lysi. I can’t abandon them all. I need to stay with my crew and keep them safe.”

  I thought of Annith, Blacktail, Fern, Holly, Sage . . . and Tanuu, and my parents back home. It pained me how much I missed them. Fleeing was never an option. I needed to fight for them.

  Lysi bit her lip and rested her forehead against mine, agony in her eyes. I opened my mouth to speak but couldn’t get the words out.

  She put her other hand around the back of my neck, holding me in place. “What?”

  I ran my hand up her waist, feeling her smooth, icy skin beneath my warm palm. “Lysi, I don’t want to lose you again.”

  “So don’t.”

  I wouldn’t. I realised then how much I needed her. She kept me sane amid so much fear. I had to keep her in my life.

  “Explain what you meant,” I said, pulling back to study her expression. “This isn’t the right war.”

  She hesitated, and when she spoke her voice sounded strange, like she was trying to stop it from shaking. “I mean we shouldn’t be fighting each other. Humans and merpeople shouldn’t be enemies.”

  “Right,” I said. But she already knew I agreed on that front.

  “The thing is, coexisting was never a problem before. Mermaids have always lived in the Atlantic, and we always kept to ourselves, except for the odd time when a ship came too close to a city.”

  “So you’re saying the problem only started when you migrated to the Pacific.”

  She nodded. “Haven’t you wondered why?”

  “You explained it to me,” I said. “It’s because Adaro wants control of . . .”

  Her eyes widened, like she wanted me to understand something she couldn’t say aloud.

  “Adaro,” I said. “He’s the only reason for the attacks.”

  Her eyebrows pulled down at the corners, but she remained silent. I thought for a moment, listening to the creaking ship and the swishing waves.

 
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