Ice massacre, p.26
Ice Massacre, page 26
She hadn’t made it any further than the door when she smacked into Fern, who’d come running down the stairs with Sage and Holly, startled looks on their faces. Dani flew backwards into the brig and landed on the floor with a splash.
Shrieking, Holly and Sage jumped into the fray between Texas, Annith, and now Blacktail, and all I saw was a scuffle of arms and legs and soaking wet clothes.
As much as I kicked and flailed, Nora and Blondie didn’t let me go. They dropped me on a bed while Fern shoved Dani back onto hers at the opposite end, each of them panting and yelling at the other. After a moment, Dani fell back, and Fern took the opportunity to flee.
I jumped from my bed and limped towards the door, but Fern leapt out and slammed it shut, sealing me inside with Dani.
I grabbed the bars, pulling as though the lock would shake open if I rattled it hard enough.
“You can’t leave me in here,” I shouted. Beads of sweat and water dripped down my face.
On the other side of the bars, the scrap on the floor had broken up, the girls holding Annith and Texas apart. Everyone was panting and dripping in grimy water, but the shouting had stopped.
“You’re outnumbered, Annith,” said Texas. “Nobody else wants that traitor sleeping in the cabin with us.”
Annith struggled against Blondie and Nora, who held her in place. “You’re being such a—”
“We’re almost home,” said Blacktail, watching Annith with her eyebrows pulled down. “She’ll be okay.”
Annith looked between Blacktail and Texas, then to the rest of the girls, and deflated. She seemed to realise at the same time I did that nobody else trusted me. They really did think I was in allegiance with the enemy.
“She doesn’t have any weapons, right?” said Holly, barely audible. “Dani, I mean. She can’t hurt Meela.”
“Of course not,” said Nora, face puckered like she’d just swallowed sour milk. “We don’t want her dead. We just want her away from us—and away from the ocean.”
I dropped my gaze to the bed they’d placed me on, and it came to my attention that they’d already set this up for me. When did this happen? How long ago did they decide they’d shove me in here?
The girls pulled Annith and Texas up the stairs. Nobody looked back.
The last one up, Sage shot a quick, terrified glance at Dani, who stared back with the type of unblinking, passive expression generally seen on dolls. The door banged closed behind them.
In the silence, I kept my eyes on the staircase, holding myself up on my elbows. Dani didn’t say a word. The ship creaked around us and the water sloshed across the bottom of the hull.
I struggled to peel off my wet clothes, unwilling to let myself fester in murky seawater.
The mermaids had done serious damage in their last attack. The Bloodhound felt sluggish. How long had I been unconscious? Had the others managed to patch up all the holes?
My mind jumped to Lysi. Was she being punished? Did the other mermaids take her to Adaro? I dreaded what he might do to her.
Adaro’s troops were sure to catch up to us now. And I was in a cage.
“So, what are you in for?” said Dani, breaking up my thoughts.
I glanced at her. Her cracked lips turned upwards. She hadn’t moved from where Fern shoved her back on the bed. The only light in the room, a dim, flickering wall fixture, cast a yellow glow over her face.
I ignored her, staring out the window at the patchy clouds.
“Come on,” she said. “If we’re going to be prison mates—”
“Oh, shut up.”
Holding my tongue was never my strength, and I hated listening to that fake, pouty voice of hers.
“I knew you could talk,” she said. “So, why are you down here?”
I rolled my eyes. “Please. Like you don’t know.”
“I don’t. I’ve been a little incommunicado, if you didn’t notice.”
“Nobody talked to you about it before we shoved you in here?”
Her jaw tightened. I wondered if Dani’s crew was less trusting of her than I’d assumed.
“I . . . tried to take over your crew as captain,” I said.
Dani might have been locked safely away from weapons for now, but we’d be home eventually, and she would be free again, and I didn’t want to consider what would happen to me if she knew the truth. I thought of Holly, and the way she’d come trembling down the stairs after being accused of hesitating. But that was merely Dani’s idea of punishment. I wondered how the people of Eriana Kwai would feel if they knew the warrior they’d invested years of time, money, and hope into decided she wanted to help the mermaids rather than kill them.
Dani let out a short laugh. “You’re a bad liar, Metlaa Gaela.”
I stared at her, trying to match the way she didn’t blink. But my eyes got tired and I turned my head so she couldn’t see them watering.
“Look what I found,” she said, standing up and pulling something from under her pillow.
“I’m sincerely hoping it’s your humanity.”
She held up a tube about the length of my finger. A blow dart.
“It was wedged between my cot and the wall,” she said airily, studying it from all angles. “I figure one of the demons dropped it and it rolled away. Still has something inside.”
I automatically tensed up, but restrained myself from pulling further away from her.
“Put it down, Dani,” I said, trying to sound exasperated.
She smiled wryly and looked at my fists, which had clenched around my sheets. I let go and crossed my arms.
“I think we should try it out,” she said.
“Sure! Maybe you should try inhaling it.”
I stole a glance at the floor behind me. Despite the pain it was sure to cause, I considered launching myself off the bed and hiding behind it.
“Or maybe I’ll wait,” said Dani, still sneering. “I’ll do it when you’re asleep. More peaceful that way, don’t you think?”
Unable to stop myself, I grabbed my pillow and held it between us like a shield. “Would you just put it down?”
She laughed, a high, disconnected sound that made me queasy. “You’re fun.”
“You think this is fun, you psycho bitch? You like tormenting other people?”
“It’s been boring down here.”
“Don’t blame it on the cage,” I said. “You’ve always taken joy in others’ misery.”
“If that’s what it looks like to you.”
Still holding my pillow, I eyed her white-knuckled fist, gripped tight around the blow dart.
Dani began pacing. I followed her with my eyes, hardly allowing myself to blink as she moved in and out of the dim glow of the light fixture. Her clothes hung off her body like rags, partly because they were so dirty and worn, and partly because she was little more than a skin-draped skeleton.
She paced for a long time, all the while playing with the blow dart in her skinny fingers. I listened to her feet slosh rhythmically through the giant puddle. Her lips moved, like she was arguing with herself.
Not wanting to bring her attention back to me, I kept as motionless as I could. I still wasn’t wearing any clothes, and I’d started to shiver, but I was hesitant to wriggle around to get my blanket over me. I didn’t want to distract her from her trance. After what must have been an hour, I even wondered if she forgot about me.
By that time, my skin was like ice, and I couldn’t bear it any longer. I reached behind me and cautiously pulled the blanket over my trembling shoulders.
Dani stopped and turned towards me, hands on her hips.
“You must have done something really terrible.”
When I didn’t say anything, she grinned.
“You’re predictable, Meela. You’ve always been predictable.”
“Don’t pretend you know me,” I said, disgusted at the idea of Dani understanding me.
“You think you’ve got it so figured out,” she said, “what’s right and what’s wrong.
I looped her words in my mind, trying to make sense of them. She licked her cracked lips.
“Paired with your sympathy for those undeserving savages . . . you’re reckless.”
“What’s your point?”
“I heard you yelling up there. You want to stop the Massacres. You want to make peace with the demons rather than annihilate them.”
Something in my expression made her lips turn upwards.
“You could’ve been the best, Meela. You’re a born warrior. You shoot like me—your hand, the way you move it over the trigger, feeling its curves. Like it has a pulse, like you need to pull it while its heart beats strongest. Your shot could be dead-on, every time.”
The acid in my empty stomach curdled at the way Dani caressed an invisible crossbow.
“So why am I not the best?” I said. “If I’m such a natural killer, according to you.”
“Because you chose not to be. You chose to be weak, to let your soft conscience get in the way.”
She raised a fist and stared at something invisible hanging from it, as though reminiscing about the tiny form she’d slaughtered days ago.
“Don’t talk to me about conscience, Dani.”
She dropped her fist. “Why? Because you’re too pig-headed to admit I’m the best? I’m the model warrior, Meela. I know what comes first—what my purpose is—and I won’t let weakness get in the way.”
“Model warrior? You’re out of control! You shot an iron bolt through—”
With a speed I’d only seen in mermaids, Dani spun to face me and lifted the blow dart to her lips. I gasped and ducked behind my pillow. But Dani only gave a low, cold laugh.
“Don’t piss me off, Meela.”
I didn’t say anything else, and Dani lowered the blow dart.
“You pitied one of the demons, didn’t you? That’s why you’re down here. She was dying in front of your idealistic eyes. And rather than shoot her in the face . . .” She pointed the blow dart at the wall, closing a bloodshot eye as though aiming at an invisible target. “You saved her.”
No, that wasn’t why I’d been stuffed in the brig. So why did my blood feel cold all of a sudden? Why did it feel like she’d struck another bull’s-eye in the middle of my chest?
“Why are you so trusting?” she said, eyeing me like she could smell my dread. “You’ll bleed yourself out for anyone. And now you’ve bled yourself out for a sea rat.”
“You don’t know anything about mermaids,” I said. “You can’t hope to understand them because you’d sooner stab someone in the back than trust them.”
“So you admit it, then?”
“I admit to being more human than you. I admit I’ll never be your sick version of a warrior.”
“Whatever noble qualities you think you have, I’d sooner die than become anything like you. An admirable warrior doesn’t murder her—”
“Stop it!” she shouted, making me jump. She stepped forwards so her clammy face became more visible in the dim light. “I didn’t mean to do it! I didn’t mean to kill her!”
I opened and closed my mouth, tightening my grip on the pillow.
“Well, you did,” I said, feeling as reckless as she had accused me of being. “Shaena’s dead, and it’s because of your determination to be a model warrior. When you ditched all compassion at the bottom of the ocean, you lost with it the ability to tell the difference between your targets.”
Her face contorted, reminding me of the day she’d murdered Shaena. She looked like someone had run her stomach through with a dagger, and yet her brow furrowed, as if offended I’d brought up the subject.
“You don’t think I regret killing my best friend?”
“Was she your best friend, Dani? Or just another of your followers?”
“She meant something to me!”
“If she meant something to you, you would’ve fought to the death for her, not shot a bolt through her heart!”
“I said stop!”
She clapped her hands over her ears, still holding the blow dart between her fingers.
Her chest heaved, and she stood for a long time with her skull locked in a vice between her hands.
“You really think the path you chose is something we should all strive for?” I said, certain she could hear me when her eyes found mine.
She dropped her hands, fists clenched. “Shaena’s accident was a nasty side effect of the ultimate goal. In the end it’s all going to be worth it. Once I get home, and my father knows how many demons—”
She squinted at her submerged feet, then abruptly resumed pacing through the water, as though our conversation had never happened.
I said nothing more. She was a lost cause if she thought Shaena’s death was an accident—a sacrifice, even, for the overall Massacre.
If being the perfect warrior meant ridding myself of all compassion, and not caring who or what I harmed, then I decided I didn’t care if I was the worst warrior in the world.
After what felt like an hour, Dani sat on her cot and leaned against the wall, staring blankly across the darkening hull. I stayed facing her, perfectly still and painfully uncomfortable, flashes of pain shooting through my leg.
The night passed slowly and we didn’t say another word to each other. Dani’s bony fingers looked like they’d need to be shattered with a chisel in order to pry them away from the blow dart. Her expression never changed. I wondered if she’d fallen asleep with her eyes open.
I watched the waves roll by through the small window over her head, vaguely surprised when the sky began to lighten. I’d stayed awake all night.
When the door at the top of the stairs opened, Dani abruptly shoved the blow dart under her pillow and folded her hands in her lap, feigning innocence like a misbehaved child.
Holly descended carrying two plates. Keeping an arm’s length away from the brig, she held one out to Dani, whose unblinking gaze made the plate rattle in Holly’s hand.
When my turn came, she took a hesitant step forwards, offering me the plate with downcast eyes.
I wanted to scream, “Don’t leave me!” and hold her by the pant leg so she’d stay in the hull with me. Should I tell her about the weapon under Dani’s pillow? Would she care?
“Holly, can you get Annith—” I said, but she mumbled something unintelligible about fish bones and before I could say, “Wait!” she had fled back up the stairs.
After a minute of staring after her, I looked down at my plate. Cabbage. There was no steam coming off of it, which led me to believe it’d been dumped straight from a jar and unheated.
I wasn’t hungry, anyway.
Dani was eerily silent. I glanced over. She’d fallen asleep, finally, slumped over on the bed, plate tipping sideways off her lap. I supposed even insane people had to get shut-eye, eventually.
Annith came down the stairs shortly thereafter carrying some clothes, an enormous stack of gauze, and a tensor bandage. She opened the brig quietly, keeping her eyes on Dani, and stuck her arm through the bars to lock it behind her. She sat at the foot of my bed.
“I should replace the bandage you have on,” she said, keeping her eyes on the covers. Her cheek was almost black with bruising, a bloody patch of gauze taped across the whole left side of her neck.
“We slipped some Ravendust in her breakfast,” she said, still not lifting her eyes. “She won’t be able to bother you. We’re almost home, anyway.”
I looked at Dani, and suddenly it made sense. My heart swelled for the frail, battle-worn girl sitting in front of me. And the other girls . . . maybe a glimmer of trust was still there.
“Annith,” I said again. “I’m really sorry. I thought you—”
“I would never have told the others about that mermaid. Even if I don’t understand what happened, or why
“But why didn’t you defend me? When Texas accused me the first time?”
“I didn’t know what to say! I . . . I was afraid I’d say the wrong thing if I tried to defend you. Make it worse.”
I kept my eyes averted from my leg as she gingerly laid fresh gauze over it.
“You’re my best friend, Meela. I’d never want to hurt you.” Her whole body shook as she broke into tears. “W-we’re almost home,” she said, hardly understandable beneath her trembling voice. “We’re s-so close. They w-won’t have enough time to attack us again. You’ll be in proper hospital c-care soon.”
I reached out and squeezed her hand, which she somehow kept steady as she worked.
“This isn’t r-right. I’m s-sorry you’re down here.”
She inhaled deeply and held in the next sob.
“You’re my best friend too, Annith. I’m sorry for getting mad at you for joining Dani’s crew. You—”
“But you were right about her!” she said squeakily. “You tried to tell me and I totally—”
“Listen,” I said. “We’re all scared. You joined her crew like everyone else because you wanted guidance. I understand. Let’s forget it now, all right?”
She nodded once and sniffled loudly. We were quiet as she finished wrapping my leg and helped me get dressed.
Her promise that we’d be home soon did nothing to calm me. In fact, it made me more nervous, because nobody but me realised Adaro’s entire army was on its way. We were close to home, but we weren’t finished yet.
“Annith, I need to tell you—”
“We can’t forget this,” she said. She plucked the copper badge off my dirty clothes. The saw-whet owl glowered up at me, blue-green in colour after weeks of being sprayed by salt water.
She leaned forwards and pinned it to my chest.
“The other girls will come around. You’re brave, Meela. You deserve to wear this proudly.”
“You don’t think I’m a traitor?” I whispered, studying her freckled face.
“Not a traitor. A warrior who stands up for what she believes in.” She held out her crossbow. “Hide it. It’s best if you have one, just in case.”
by Tiana Warner have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes