Chapter 4: Luna
I couldn’t help but laugh at Octavius as he tried to stop me from completing Calypso’s mission. The little octopus, my chaperone, did his level best to follow me, but there was no way he could keep up. Not when I was swimming at full speed. Of course, I’d pay the price for this when I got back home because, sure as the tides, he would tell my brother, the oh-so-noble Prince Draven, my father’s favorite, that I had run off without him again.
I certainly wasn’t going to let my barnacle-brained brother dictate my life. If I wanted to go help some human or even, heavens forbid, to visit the human world, then that’s exactly what I was going to do. Had Calypso known how desperate I was to spend time on land, she probably wouldn’t have sent me to help her human. Then again, she sounded so desperate when she asked me, the young sea witch probably wouldn’t have even cared.
I marveled at the colors that became more visible as I rose up from the depths. Where we lived, very little light penetrated so deep, casting my bone-chilling world in deep blues and near-black greens. As I ascended, I basked in the warmer water and marveled at the brighter hues of green and yellow. I had never come this close to the surface before and I was reveling in it. A school of small fish raced past me, dodging and weaving, perhaps fearing I might choose to make a late snack of them. Where they would have been little more than shadows at depth, brightly colored scales reflected the moon’s pale light, mesmerizing me with flashes of silver, red, and gold.
Gold! I was supposed to be looking for mooneyes. That’s the fish Calypso said this human coveted more than any other fish. I wondered if he realized they were my father’s prize species, which he farmed and cultivated. The old man might not be around much, but my brother was, and he was quick to deal out punishment to anyone who broke our father’s laws. Even Calypso, the mermaid he was not-so-secretly in love with, wasn’t beyond his wrath.
Cockles and Corals, what a spoiled guppy. What sort of man punishes a woman because she won’t return his affections? My egomaniacal brother, that’s who.
As I neared the top of the water, the moon shone brightly overhead, casting a silvery glow across the ocean’s surface. The pale light penetrated the dark waters, creating a wondrous world filled with reds, yellows, and marvelous shades of oranges. Everything in sight was vivid, and the water was, oh, so pleasantly warm.
The water suddenly darkened. Medeina’s face no longer shone down upon me. I gazed up in time to see a series of large waves roll overhead, no more than two body-lengths above. With each passing wave, a powerful current swept me inland. In the deeps, we never experienced anything so intense or so violent.
I broke the surface, looking to get a better view of where I was in relation to where Calypso had said I needed to go. I took a deep breath, the cool night air filling my lungs, setting my heart ablaze. I had never felt so free, so alive. If this was what the humans experienced every day, then, surely, they were living in paradise. The sensation of rising from the water was nothing like the crazy songs Octavius sang that told of how the humans toiled and strained beneath the burning hot sun. No wonder we were warned about leaving our sea homes. If the merfolk knew how wonderful this was, they’d leave in droves to live on dry land.
While I marveled at the sheer magnificence of breathing air, I completely lost track of my surroundings. Turning my back to the turbulent water was a mistake, a potentially life-threatening mistake.
A huge wave crashed over me, sending me tumbling head over fin. I choked on the sea water while I tried to expel the night air from my lungs. It burned so badly I feared I was about to pass into the Beyond. Maybe my chaperone was correct. Perhaps life on land wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be.
Regardless of the fear that gripped me, I had a task to complete and in the short time I had surfaced I hadn’t taken a moment to search for Calypso’s human along the shoreline.
With the powerful surge pushing me towards shore, I picked up speed and leapt from the water, making certain to hold my breath this time, searching for the fisherman. The light of the moon wasn’t quite as bright as it had been moments ago, likely obscured by clouds. Despite the reduced light, my ability to see in the dark was excellent, and I easily made out the young man standing by the water’s edge, struggling against a line he had wrapped around his arm.
With a few quick kicks, I raced towards where the man was standing, searching for the mooneyes he so desperately needed to catch. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched a huge fish, the biggest mooneye I had ever seen, struggling against the man’s fishing line.
It seemed Calypso’s human wasn’t as helpless as she had described him. He had hooked one all on his own, without any help from anyone. Just as I was about to turn around and return home, the fish spit the hook.
I guess he needs my help after all.
The great fish was about to speed back off to the depths before I called upon my magic.
Oh, blessed fish with fins so fine,
Your sacrifice will be divine.
For in the bellies of the men,
You’ll give them strength to live again.
I know it’s hard to give your life,
But through your death, you end the strife.
The humans need your flesh to thrive,
To keep them going, to stay alive.
So take the bait, my little friend,
And make your mark, until the end.
For in this game of life and death,
You’ll be the one who gives them breath.
The mooneye paused long enough to listen to my song. It seemed to be considering my words. I would not use my magic to force him to give up his life, but I did my best to make the plight of the human convincing. After several long moments, he nodded his assent and returned to the fisherman’s hook, clamping onto it with his powerful jaws.
“Thank you, noble fish.”
I stayed nearby, watching as the great fish slowly made his way towards shore. Not that I would have stopped him if he’d chosen to leave, but I wanted to ensure that Calypso’s human got what he needed until the next time Medeina shone upon the world.
An enormous swell took hold of both me and the fish, hurtling us towards the shoreline. With wide eyes, I looked down at the sharp rocks against which I was about to be slammed. In the depths, the seas were never this violent. Even in the strongest of currents, I would have had no trouble resisting. But here, in the storm-swollen waves, I was powerless to resist. My best choice was to stay clear of the largest, most dangerous rocks.
With the fish only an arm’s length from me, I continued to be pushed into dangerously shallow water. My powerful tail was now nearly useless. There simply wasn’t enough room to fully kick. Despite their relatively useless abilities, I thrashed with my arms, desperate to keep myself above the razor-sharp edges of the rocks.
Anchors and albatrosses! Calypso’s human was neck deep in the water, struggling to keep his mouth from submerging. I knew very little about humans, except for one simple fact: they couldn’t survive beneath the water for more than a few precious moments. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he was staying where he was and not swimming to safety.
Gritting my teeth, I made my way nearer, holding onto the rocks as I moved, trying to guide myself towards the man amid the swirling currents. Moments before the next wave broke, I dove beneath the surface. I gasped in horror at the sight of the human’s leg trapped between two large stones. Another huge swell propelled me towards him, pushing my face mere inches from his.
Oh, heavens above, he was terrified!
I dug my nails into the rocky surface, fighting desperately to not let the wave wash me away like a bit of rogue flotsam. Another vicious wave broke across my back, thrashing me and the human about like limp-bodied kelp stalks. Whether it was an incoming tide, or the relentless waves crashing upon the shore, the human was now fully submerged. Panic-stricken, he yanked at his leg, screaming out in panicked agony when it wouldn’t come free.
I blew out a deep breath and tried to calm my racing heart. I tore my gaze away and went to work trying to free his trapped leg. But in the shallow water, these rocks were far too heavy for me, even with my unnatural strength. I tried blowing bubbles into the crevices, hoping they might help dislodge the huge rocks. It was when I watched the air-filled spheres rise up towards the man’s panic-stricken face that I had an idea.
If he couldn’t breathe beneath the waves, and I couldn’t get him out of the water, I would bring the air to him. Expelling every bit of my air reserves, I created a bubble that completely encased the two of us. My lungs burned as the bubble expanded around us. I anchored it to the sea floor, using what little water magic I could wield, creating a protective shell around us both. As soon as the last of my breath left me, dizziness took hold, and the world swam around me in slow, nauseating circles. Just before I succumbed to the increasing darkness enveloping me, I saw a vision, a hallucination most likely. My beautiful tail was gone, replaced by a wonderful pair of spindly, knobby-kneed human legs.