Ice massacre, p.24

Ice Massacre, page 24

 

Ice Massacre
 


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  She must have been hurting herself as much as the rest of us. My face stung mercilessly and moist cuts oozed across it, and every few seconds her knee cracked into my face or ribs.

  Her thrashing became so violent it must have taken us a full minute to get her through the narrow door of the brig, by which time we were all struggling for breath and glistening with sweat.

  “We - won’t be able to - put her down - and - get out of here,” said Annith, fighting to keep Dani from sliding through her grip.

  “What do - we do?” said Blacktail.

  I gaped at the space around us. Annith was right. In the second I spent hesitating, Dani thrashed wildly, and all four of us gasped as she slipped through our arms and crashed to the floor.

  She thrashed again and her foot pounded against my stomach. I fell back. Blacktail was the only one who still had a hold of her. She grabbed Dani’s shoulders and kept her from rolling over as I threw myself on top of her. But then Dani’s fist seized my ponytail. Fleetingly, I saw her grab onto Blacktail’s hair too before my head was wrenched to the floor. Spots erupted in my vision as my skull hit the floorboards. Blacktail moaned beside me.

  A second later, Dani screamed in pain as Annith’s nails dug into her bony wrists, prying her grip away from our hair.

  Thumping sounded behind us and Nora leapt down the stairs, a vial of kohl clenched in her fist. “Give her this!”

  “How?” I said, the word coming out as a grunt as I wrapped my arms around Dani’s waist. My head felt like it’d been pushed into a blender, my vision blurry with tears.

  Nora jumped in the middle of our scrap. She unceremoniously grabbed Dani by the jaw and squeezed until it forced her teeth open. The scream Dani let loose must have carried all the way to the Aleutian Islands.

  Nora dumped the entire contents of the vial on Dani’s face.

  Texas swore. “You’ll kill her, you idiot!”

  “She isn’t going to swallow all of it!” Nora yelled back.

  Sure enough, all of it ended up on the floor or in a wad of spit that Dani gracelessly ejected from her mouth.

  Only a pinch was needed, though. We held on for several agonizing seconds while the Ravendust and Dani’s adrenaline seemed to be contending. Her struggles weakened. Her screams faded to panicked sobs.

  I blinked a few times to soak up the tears that’d sprung when my head hit the floor.

  Dani shuddered. Her eyelids flickered. And with one last raspy cough, she passed out.

  None of us moved. For several seconds, we stared at her immobile body.

  With a trembling hand, Annith brushed the sweaty nest of hair from Dani’s eyes and opened one of the lids to check if she’d really lost consciousness.

  “Looks real,” she said after a moment.

  We slowly relaxed our hold, keeping our eyes on Dani’s unconscious face. Even comatose, she made me uneasy. Her features were skeletal, like she’d been wasting away, and her skin—once perfect, smooth, and youthful—was chapped and scratched everywhere.

  “Still,” I said, wiping an arm across my sweaty forehead, “don’t turn your back on her as we’re leaving.”

  Blacktail pointed to the tool belt around Dani’s hips. “The daggers should go.”

  I winced. “Right.”

  We removed the tool belt—iron dagger still morbidly stained with the blood of an infant mermaid—and ran our hands along her coat and pants to check for more weapons. We found a knife in the inside pocket of her coat, an expensive one made in Switzerland that she’d clearly brought from home. Her father had probably given it to her.

  “Keep it somewhere safe for her,” said Texas, watching Dani with an expression of pity.

  I narrowed my eyes, irritated at Texas’ stupidity. “She murdered—”

  “I know!” She shot me her nastiest glare before bending down to pick up Dani’s limp body. She placed her on the bed we’d set up in the corner and laid the blanket across her. “She’ll be cold. Dani’s still a human being.”

  I found it difficult to accept the words “Dani” and “human being” in the same sentence, but I kept my mouth shut.

  “Can we go, then?” I said.

  Texas nodded once. We backed out of the brig, locking it behind us with its thin iron key.

  We’d been victorious, but somehow we couldn’t bring ourselves to smile at each other. I stared at the unconscious Dani, lying crumpled on the bed. It was hard to believe what that frail, tiny figure was capable of.

  “She’ll be sore when she wakes up,” said Texas. “That bed’s so hard.”

  “We’ll all be sore,” said Blacktail.

  As far as I was concerned, Dani could get up and make herself comfortable when she woke up. I wasn’t about to go in there and fluff her pillows.

  “She’ll be fine for a few hours,” said Annith.

  We stared at the unconscious form for a moment longer. For anyone else on the planet, I might have felt pity. But for Dani, I only felt relief that she was locked up on the other side of the bars.

  We all turned away at the same time, like the sight became too unsettling for us to contemplate any longer.

  “All right,” said Texas. “Now that’s done with . . .”

  I took a single step towards the stairs before she pushed a hand into my chest and stopped me.

  I looked down at her hand, raising my eyebrows.

  “It’s time to address the other danger to this crew,” she said, her expression darkening.

  I stepped back, too shocked to say anything.

  “You’ve been in a secret alliance, Meela, have you not?”

  “I . . . what?” I said, and though I sounded defiant, my insides flipped over.

  “Drop the innocent act. You’re plotting with the enemy and we all know it.”

  I turned my gaze to Annith, whose eyes had widened and sprung with tears. She was the only one who knew anything existed between Lysi and me. She’d been the only one there when I stopped her from shooting Lysi in that fishing net.

  “Prove it,” I said, not taking my eyes off Annith.

  Texas said nothing. I turned my gaze to her and said in a low voice, “You’re going on nothing but a morsel of gossip, no doubt planted by a girl who’s eager to prove some kind of pathetic loyalty.”

  She stepped closer, reminding me of her tremendous height.

  “If you want to talk about pathetic loyalty,” she said, her hand still on my chest, “we can bring it up next time you visit with the sea rats.”

  “You’ve got nothing on me,” I said. My voice was steady and confident. “So until you gain a better sense of who is and is not a traitor, I suggest you avoid pinning false accusations on your crewmates.”

  She opened her mouth to argue, but I cut her off. “Dani’s crew is officially dispersed, Texas. So yes—we are crewmates.”

  I wanted to leave, but somehow that would feel like fleeing—like I was being weak, and admitting Texas was right. So I stayed put.

  “If her loyalty wasn’t with us,” said Blacktail, “we’d know it. We’re nearly home and Meela’s still fighting, isn’t she?”

  Texas looked at Blacktail as though she’d never noticed her before.

  “We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?” said Nora, crossing her arms.

  Texas spun on her heel and marched up the stairs. With a final warning glare at me, Nora turned and followed.

  “Thanks, Blacktail,” I said in a low voice, but I didn’t pause before pushing by Annith to climb the stairs.

  Annith just watched me pass. Her silence was the worst part. She would’ve defended me if she wasn’t also suspicious—or if she hadn’t been the one to rat me out. What did she hope to gain, anyway? Was approval from the crew more important than our friendship?

  “What happened, Meela?” said Fern as I stalked past. She looked clammy and distraught, and I imagined it must have been alarming to see the lot of us drag a screeching Dani past them minutes ago.

  “She’s out cold
,” I said, not stopping on my way to the cabin. “So’s Holly. Someone should go check on her.”

  I had a feeling she was also asking why Texas and Nora had just stomped by angrily, but I didn’t want to explain. The two of them stood at the helm, their eyes following me across the deck.

  I ran down the stairs, not wanting to talk to or see anyone. When I reached the bottom, I grabbed my hair in my fists and breathed deeply. The quiet, empty room did little to ease my racing pulse.

  The girls would never understand if I tried to tell them Lysi could be trusted. Maybe that was why I’d found it so easy to defend myself; I could truthfully say I was not plotting with the enemy, because Lysi was not our enemy. More than ever, I understood who our real enemy was.

  But the girls would never believe that. I had to be careful. I didn’t know what they’d do if they saw me with Lysi—shoot her? Capture and torture her? I didn’t want to find out.

  My face still burned from Dani’s nails, and I crossed to our grimy bathroom mirror to examine my wounds. Long cuts stretched from my forehead to my throat. I bent over the sink, palming water over my face to clear the blood.

  Sail home as fast as you can, I thought, remembering Lysi’s words. Well, we were on our way. I hoped the Bloodhound was fast enough.

  Beneath Annith’s bed, the first aid kit was alarmingly bare. It was as big as a drink cooler and stocked full when we started, and since then we’d used up almost everything inside. What were we supposed to dress wounds with? I couldn’t remember—probably because I’d spent most of that class trying to distract myself from puking. I dug around for something that might be labelled ‘for cuts’.

  “I brought your crossbow,” said a voice from behind me.

  I tensed, Annith’s voice sending boiling anger through my chest.

  “Do you want help?” she said.

  “No,” I said through gritted teeth.

  “Is it for your face?”

  “I said I don’t need help!”

  My fuse had reached its end with her, and I couldn’t even reason with myself to keep my anger down. She’d betrayed our friendship and turned the entire crew on me. How could she even look at me after that?

  “What’s your problem?” she said.

  I rounded on her, fists clenched. I glanced at the stairwell to make sure no one was listening, and it took all my effort to keep my voice at a whisper. “You told them, Annith! I trusted you!”

  She stared at me like I’d sprouted an extra head. “I didn’t say anything!”

  “Where did they get the idea, then? What made them think I was about to betray everyone?”

  “Maybe they noticed you disappearing all the time! The ship’s not that big. It’s easy to spy on people.”

  “You’re telling me nobody tipped them off? Nobody happened to mention I stopped you from killing—”

  “You won’t explain to me what happened, Meela! All I know is you didn’t want me to kill one of the demons or whatever. I don’t know why, or what it means, or what you’ve been doing!”

  “So you automatically assume I must be plotting something?”

  “What are we supposed to think when one of our crew suddenly shows compassion for the thing we were sent here to kill?”

  “Annith, even if I tried to explain, no one would understand—”

  I broke off, listening to something happening above us. Annith looked up, too. There was an abnormal amount of thumping on the deck. Then came a hailstorm of smashing sounds from outside the hull. Someone screamed.

  The mermaids were back. And only half of our crew was left to fight.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  Into the Deep

  Annith cursed and snatched up her crossbow. We started up the stairs two at a time, but then I stopped, the balls of my feet balancing on the edges of two steps.

  “You keep going,” I said, and leapt back down.

  “What—”

  “Go!”

  She hesitated for a moment longer before I heard the door crash open. The sounds of battle flooded down the stairwell, and I heard the hiss of a bolt leaving her crossbow. The door slammed.

  I dashed to the end of the hull, where Linoya lay in her bed.

  She was awake, sitting up. The whites of her eyes glinted in the dim light. I dropped my crossbow onto her lap. “You might need this.”

  Not that I intended to freak her out, but we were direly short on warriors and might not be able to keep demons from getting below deck.

  “Don’t go out there unarmed!” she said, thrusting it back at me.

  I pulled my iron dagger from my tool belt. “I have this. I’ll sprint across to grab a new crossbow. It’ll be fine.”

  Before she could say anything more, I threw myself up the stairs and burst through the door. Annith was still near the entrance. She fired and took out a mermaid that had Sage pinned to the deck. My eyes locked onto another mermaid just beyond that. The body she hunched over was bloodied and limp.

  “No,” I said, but before I could identify the victim, something crashed into me, throwing me backwards into the cabin.

  My shoulders and head hit the stairs and my feet came up. I lost all sense of direction, knowing only pain as I toppled down the steps, crashing into the walls on either side. After what felt like an eternity, I lay sprawled on the floor, empty-handed, gasping and coughing violently as I tried to suck air back into my lungs.

  Dizzy, I raised myself on my hands as something wet dripped into my eyes. My head was bleeding.

  Something thumped down the steps after me.

  Still coughing, too faint to stand, I scurried backwards on my hands, trying to put distance between myself and the stairs. My dagger was nowhere to be seen.

  The mermaid hit the bottom. Two more followed close behind.

  Above our heads, the stampede still ran, punctuated by screams and yelps of pain. The hailstorm crashed around me; it sounded like the mermaids were breaking holes in the hull.

  They can’t be, I thought, my head whirling. The hull is flecked with iron. It would be suicide.

  The first mermaid dragged herself towards me, glistening eyes fixed to my throat and a slimy harpoon in her teeth. Her shoulders popped as she moved.

  Iron. I needed iron. My back collided with the wall, and the mermaid reached up to take her weapon in a web-fingered fist.

  I was about to scream when a bolt sliced through her neck from the side and sent her toppling. Her eyes drained in an instant, and I stared at the empty brown irises of an olive-skinned girl.

  I turned to see Linoya sitting up with my crossbow braced on her shoulder. But her move was fatal.

  In one motion, the other two mermaids turned and hurled their spears at her. A sickening noise met my ears as the spears made contact. Linoya let out an agonised, gargling scream, and the crossbow clattered to the floor. The mermaids turned back to face me.

  I pulled myself to my feet, preparing to lunge for the fallen crossbow. One of the demons snatched the harpoon from her fallen comrade and swiped it at me. I leapt to avoid it, but she swung it again and the shaft caught my shins. I cried out at the impact. My feet swung out from under me and I landed hard on my shoulder. The harpoon shattered into a dozen pieces.

  I rolled onto my hands and knees and scrambled for the crossbow. Not a sound came from Linoya’s bed. I moaned, knowing I could do nothing to help her.

  One of the mermaids grabbed me by the ankle and pulled me backwards before I could grab the weapon. The disturbing coolness of her hand seeped through my pant leg. I swung a fist around to attack her, but my arms were like jelly against her inhuman strength. She watched me, her lips curling.

  If I could just get a hold of a weapon . . . anything made of iron. I tried to locate the dead mermaid who still had a bolt in her neck. The other mermaid pulled herself over to the spears they’d cast at Linoya.

  As the demon dragged me back, my eyes landed on a dark shape on the floor next to us. With a gasp, I flung a hand over the ir
on dagger and twisted around.

  The blade sliced across the mermaid’s chest and she let out a deafening scream. I jumped clumsily to my feet, brandishing the dagger. Blood poured from the gash but I barely spared a glance as I leapt for the staircase.

  I almost crawled up the steps in my haste, catching myself with my hands. A spear whizzed past my head and struck the stairwell, and a second later the remaining mermaid grabbed my leg before I could make it out of the cabin. I fell forwards, smashing my chin into the deck.

  My attempt to swing the dagger at her was easily blocked, now that she knew I had it. She grabbed onto my wrist and smashed my arm down. The dagger clattered out of my fingers. I thrashed and screamed with everything I had, trying to kick and punch and bite her, but she seized me by the ankle and dragged me across the deck.

  Realising where we were headed, I clawed at the wood, screaming, still kicking ferociously.

  The unyielding certainty in the mermaid’s stone grip, in the way she dragged me like a doll towards the icy black ocean, made me realise I’d never get out of this on my own. I took a deep breath—nails digging into the wooden planks, legs thrashing against the mermaid’s grip—and shrieked for help. My heartbeat was so quick and every part of me so frantic, I swore I heard the sound echo off the empty water.

  “Help! Please, someone!”

  Faster the mermaid dragged me, and soon I was at the edge of the deck, the icy depths behind us. I screamed again.

  The deck was a blur of moving feet and thrashing tails. Loose weapons rolled and slid across the planks. Bright red blood splattered the wood in places. But there were fewer mermaids in combat than usual, because at least two dozen scaled the masts, slashing holes in our sails. Cracks still echoed from outside the hull. They were breaking the wood, despite the chunks of iron that burst out and seared them raw with each gash.

  This was a suicide attack. Adaro must have ordered them to destroy our ship no matter what the cost. Were they trying to sink us, or slow us down to give the rest of his troops time to get here?

 
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