Ice Massacre, page 29
Lysi seemed tormented that she couldn’t keep me warm. She rubbed my forearms, which was useless for warmth but made me feel better knowing she was there.
“You’re blue, Mee,” she said a few times, sounding panicked. “Keep moving your legs. Keep moving. You’re blue.”
I heard her strained breathing as she tightened her grip on my arms, holding me against her back.
“This is my fault,” she said. “If he didn’t know about us, he’d never have come looking for you, and he wouldn’t be making you do this.”
“N-no,” I said. “I n-need to do this. For my people. For you. We c-can . . .”
I couldn’t speak anymore. It was as though my lungs had frozen, making it too painful.
She pushed forwards harder, panting, and somehow she kept talking the entire time—telling me to kick my legs, to move my fingers and toes, to keep my eyes open. But I could no longer feel my legs, and my teeth chattered so fiercely I could barely hear her voice.
My eyelids drooped heavily. I wanted to fall asleep. The cold was like a bed of nails wrapping my body. My veins felt swollen.
Rain began to fall, and the droplets felt mild—warm, even—compared to the sea.
The clouds moved quickly overhead. Lysi’s voice became a soothing hum. Sleep would come soon, and I was all right with it.
“We’re here,” said a distant voice.
Though I couldn’t feel, I knew my knees touched something, and I tried to balance them on whatever it was. My legs wouldn’t cooperate. Somehow, Lysi dragged me onto the Bloodhound, and I could hear her panting hard.
“Keep your eyes open, Mee,” she said, over and over. I focused on her voice so I wouldn’t succumb to the cold.
I rolled my head to the side and my eyes focused on Lysi. She was crying. One of her hands brushed my face.
“Look at me,” she said. “Keep your eyes open. Move your fingers, Mee.”
I could vaguely feel her hand, but the numbness had all but engulfed me.
“He won’t let me stay,” she said, her voice thick. “But someone’s coming.”
They were. I could hear them. Footsteps pounded up from the cabin. How many? Who had survived?
Lysi pressed her lips to my cheek.
“This isn’t goodbye,” she whispered. “I won’t let him keep me away. Whatever it takes.”
Something grazed my ankle.
“No!” shouted Lysi, and she hugged me tighter as something pulled her away from me.
Our hands locked together. We held on desperately as she slid further away, screaming.
I couldn’t lose her. Not when I finally had her back. Not when I finally understood everything.
Three mermaids closed their webbed hands around Lysi’s tail. They pulled her through the railing.
I wanted to scream at them, to dive after them with a crossbow, to hurl an iron dagger through their chests. Anything to make them stop. But my muscles failed.
“Mee,” said Lysi.
I sealed the image of her sapphire eyes in my mind, determined to never forget them.
“We can’t let him win.”
“No,” I said, and the sound was barely audible through my frozen lips. “I’m not losing you again.”
She disappeared. The hollow wind and crashing waves left no evidence that she had been there.
The rain washed over me—a warm shower—and I let myself lie there like a corpse drifted ashore.
A high voice shouted right in front of me. “Meela!”
More footsteps thundered up, and someone draped a blanket over me. A hand closed around mine, searing hot.
I pried my gaze away from where Lysi had vanished, and a pair of hazel eyes bloomed into my vision.
The eyes flitted towards the ocean, then back to me. Her mouth gaped, like she was struggling not to ask a million questions at once.
Despite everything, my lips cracked into a smile.
I stood with Annith at the bow of the Bloodhound, watching the cliffs and shores of Eriana Kwai bloom into existence before us. The fog had thinned, and a rare glimpse of sun reflected brightly off the water.
Above our heads, we’d strung the Homecoming light to the main mast, and it flashed with bold rhythm.
One, two, one-two-three.
Did the lighthouse see us coming? Would our people be at the docks, awaiting our return?
The Bloodhound bobbed through the waves with less ferocity than when we’d left an eternity ago. The hull was flooded, the bottom bunks and all our belongings submerged. Given another day at sea, our loyal ship would have sunk.
Dani had regained consciousness—though her eyelids drooped and she looked ready to vomit—and she stood at the helm with both hands tied to the wheel. Blacktail and Fern flanked her, ensuring she stayed on her feet and fulfilled her captain’s duties until the last second of the Massacre. Fern’s stuffed tabby was zipped safely inside her jacket, his dirty face poking out like a baby in a carrier. Every so often, Fern or Blacktail would jab Dani in the back to make sure she stayed alert.
Nora and Sage had been the bodies. Seven warriors had survived. Seven, out of twenty girls who’d been sent to fight for Eriana Kwai. Annith, Blacktail, Fern, Texas, Blondie, Dani, and me.
“I never realised the sea demons were so much like people,” said Annith. She’d been staring at me with a dazed expression since I finished telling her about Lysi.
I pressed my lips together in a half-smile, feeling a surge of gratitude that Annith had listened with such understanding. Not once did she question why I’d befriended Lysi in the first place, or why I’d let her come back.
I pulled my blanket tighter around my shoulders, dropping my gaze to the railing in front of me. A spider ran across it, surely flooded out of a cozy home it’d found in someone’s bunk. I fleetingly wondered how it managed to survive everything.
“Unbelievable,” said Annith. “So you really think this King Adaro came here just to make a bargain with you?”
“This war is bigger than we know,” I said. “He’s building an army and looking for weapons.”
“Is he trying to conquer below water too?”
“Everywhere. Once his army’s big enough, I have no doubt he’ll keep expanding.”
Annith exhaled slowly, squinting at the approaching shore.
“Our Massacre was more successful than ever,” she said. “We can totally stop him if we keep training girls—”
I shook my head. “We don’t know how fast his army’s growing. Besides, we need to protect the future girls of Eriana Kwai. We can’t send them out to face this.”
She bit her lip. “You’re right.”
“The Massacre isn’t just about us. It’s never been that small. We have to stop the problem at its root.”
Annith turned and leaned against the railing. Her salt-encrusted hair thrashed across her freckled face.
“Meela, I don’t like what Adaro wants you to do. You don’t know what Eriana’s Host is, or what it’s capable of. Setting it loose could leave us worse-off.”
“He wouldn’t want the Host freed if it couldn’t be controlled,” I said.
“You think you can control it?”
“I’m going to find out how.”
A seagull flew over our heads, greeting us with its cries. The land was close enough now that we could see the abandoned beachfront homes. I thought I could smell the familiar earth—but perhaps I imagined it.
“The way Adaro talked about it, it was like he needed some kind of power,” I said. “He needs a native of Eriana Kwai to free it—which means I’m going to have control before he does.”
“But if Adaro wants the Host, it’s obviously a deadly weapon!”
“You think Adaro will stop trying to get it? If I refuse to do this, do you really think he’ll give up?”
Annith opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She gave a feeble shrug.
And the Massacres would live on, and our people would continue to starve, and children would continue to get snatched off the beach, and . . .
“The Aleut people,” I said abruptly, facing her.
“This is why they still live in the Arc. This is why they never had to flee. Annith, this is why Adaro targeted our people—why mermaids have been attacking us on land. He wanted us off the island.”
Her eyes widened. “You think the Host was his target from the beginning?”
“I’m sure of it. Adaro knew he’d never be able to find it if our people were waiting there to shoot him. So he decided to kill all of us, or scare us off the island.”
“Until a better option came along.”
“Right. He’s making one of the people of Eriana Kwai do it for him.”
Annith slumped. “So to stop him from attacking us, our only choice is to hand over the Host.”
I turned back to the water, feeling my lips curl into a snarl. “You’re missing the point. I said I’d free her, but I never said I’d hand her over.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’ll find and free Eriana’s Host. But it’s mine.”
I wouldn’t let Adaro win. To give him the Host of Eriana would be to hand over a part of my people’s history. To betray them.
I clenched my fists around the battered railing. “I’ll free the Host, and wait for Adaro to show up with Lysi. And then I’m going to kill him.”
The waves glistened as we approached Eriana Kwai. Beyond the water, I could see every tree, every rock, the windows in the lighthouse, the roots sprouting from the cliffs overlooking the sea.
Gaawhist, I thought. Home, sweet home.
“You’ll help me?” I said, not taking my eyes away from the beautiful island before us.
Annith put an arm around my shoulders.
“For Eriana Kwai,” she said. “We’ll make sure this Massacre was the last.”
“For Eriana Kwai.”
And for Lysi, I thought.
I ran my hand along the chipped railing, as though saying thanks to the ruined ship beneath us.
I would see Lysi again soon. It was my only option. I refused to let Adaro take her from me forever.
My people came into view. The enormous crowd had gathered near the shore, and more still flocked to the spectator’s hill. Tears sprung into my eyes. My parents would be in there waiting for me.
The toll of the Homecoming bell carried across the water, signalling our return.
My legs moved, though my brain didn’t control them. The world felt distant and blurry. I barely noticed the men jump onto the dock to help us moor, and the gangplank extend to form a bridge between my crew and my people.
I didn’t use the gangplank. I leapt over the railing and landed easily on the wooden dock. Nothing mattered but the two faces at the shoreline—vacant, shocked, as though not believing who sprinted towards them with tears spilling down her face.
My mother wept as I threw myself against her, and my father had to hold us so I didn’t knock her backwards.
“I’m home,” I said, over and over.
My body trembled; the steady ground left me nauseated and unbalanced.
My father’s strong arms wrapped around both of us, and for the first time in weeks, I felt warm. I inhaled the smell of the earth, of maple and bannock, of wood shavings, and my heart ached with a whole month of homesickness.
I opened my eyes to tears streaking my father’s cheeks—and a smile pulling at his lips.
Past his shoulder, a dark face stared at me, stark white teeth jumping out in something between a gawk and a grin.
“Tanuu,” I said, choking on the word.
My parents let me go and I threw my arms around Tanuu. I’d survived the Massacre, like he said I would.
The Homecoming bell stopped tolling, the sound giving way to the murmuring crowd around us.
Our return was bittersweet, and I kept my eyes away from the other families. Our Massacre would be called a success, but we’d lost too many lives. Too many warriors had been taken, too many mermaids slaughtered. Our approach was wrong. I needed to stop the future Massacres from happening.
I’d always been right to trust Lysi. And she was right that I didn’t have to choose between her and Eriana Kwai. I knew it as much as I felt it: together, we could make peace between humans and merpeople.
I closed my eyes, and Lysi’s face swam into my vision. The longer I stayed there in Tanuu’s arms, the stronger the image became of Lysi’s long, coppery hair, her glistening skin, and her sapphire eyes. I could still feel her cold lips on my cheek.
An unmistakable rush swelled in my chest. I hadn’t felt it since I was ten years old on the beach.
Even if freeing Eriana’s Host didn’t grant freedom for my people—even if it only guaranteed Lysi’s return to me—I’d do it anyway. I’d do whatever it took to be with Lysi again.
But why? I thought. Why would you risk everything? Why not leave her to her fate?
Adaro had known before I could admit it to myself, and that was why he took her from me. But my heart felt swollen, and I finally just knew. It was as obvious as if I’d known it my whole life.
I was in love with a mermaid.
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Tiana Warner was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada. She spends her free time riding her horse, Bailey, and is an active supporter of animal welfare.
Tiana Warner, Ice Massacre