It hit his belly one second before my fist did, piercing through skin and muscles like they were little more than the water that ebbed and flowed around us. It was his turn to scream, then he fell backward, the knife clattering to the ocean floor as he stared at me in disbelief. His hands went to his stomach, where I had buried the shard as deeply as it would reach.
I scrambled for the discarded knife as he yanked at the shell, trying to pull it out. But once my hand closed over the hilt of the knife I wasn’t sticking around to see what happened to him. I swam as fast as I could toward the room’s entrance.
The last thing I heard before the water around me ran with blood was Malu’s agonized groan. He had pulled out the shell. My rusty first-aid knowledge came back to me again and I realized he was no longer a threat. With an injury like that, he would bleed out in minutes.
As I hit the entryway to the cavern, I didn’t look back. I couldn’t. Instead I fled, through the cave and straight out into the unprotected ocean.
As soon as I got outside, it hit home that Malu and his knife were not the worst things I would have to face that day. Oliwa lay on the ocean floor, his sightless eyes staring up at me, a deep slice across his jugular telling me all I needed to know about how he had died.
Oh my God. Kona’s brother was dead and Malu had killed him. What was I supposed to do now? What could I do?
I glanced above me, and though I was too far down to see what was happening, sea creatures of all types were fleeing straight toward the ocean floor, trying to get away from whatever was up there.
For one long moment I wanted to flee with them. Wanted to run away and pretend that none of this had happened.
Pretend that Kona’s brother wasn’t dead.
Pretend that I had not just killed someone. The fact that he would have killed me if I hadn’t defended myself didn’t make the reality any easier to bear.
How did I get here? I wondered as I watched fish and octopuses and even sharks zoom around me. How had I gone from being a typical high school surfer to a tailless mermaid that killed people in the space of a few short days? I didn’t want this.
I had never wanted this.
My stomach clenched miserably and for a second I was afraid I would throw up. I was shaking, badly, and all I really wanted to do was find a quiet place to curl up and sob. I closed my eyes, tried to get a grip, but all I could see was Oliwa with his throat slit. Malu, with the shell protruding from his stomach and his face twisted in pain.
I had killed him. I tested the words out, tried to ignore the terrible taste they left in my mouth.
I had killed someone.
I had killed someone whose name was Malu, who had dark eyes and long black hair and was little more than a boy.
I had killed him.
I did vomit then, bracing myself against the cave wall as I dry heaved again and again.
God, what was I doing? I couldn’t live with this, couldn’t live like this—always looking over my shoulder for the next danger. If this was what it meant to have power, I didn’t want it.
Another influx of marine life had me straightening and looking up to where I could only assume some kind of battle was being waged. Kona would have come for me otherwise. He would have found me before Oliwa—
I shut it off, all the regret and angst that came from what had happened in the cave. I would deal with it later, when whatever danger up there had passed. If, of course, I was still alive.
Grabbing Oliwa, I pulled him into the cave, terrified that if I left him outside it, he might float away before Kona could retrieve his body. Or worse, that some of the predatory sea life swimming by might decide to snack on him.
When Oliwa’s body was as secure as I could make it, I started swimming against the current, weaving my way through fish and dolphins and a group of really large squid. I shuddered when one of them brushed against me—I didn’t know what it was about the creatures that disgusted me so much, but anything with tentacles really freaked me out.
Which, I realized with dawning horror, was a huge problem when I finally got close enough to register what was up there.
The Lusca, the huge vampiric human/octopus monster from the tapestry at Kona’s house, was in the middle of the action. Surrounding him was a ring of much more normal-looking people—some of which appeared to be selkies, mermaids, and humans, though I knew the last was impossible as they were breathing underwater. Were they mermaids like me, without their tails? Or selkies? Or something else entirely? I didn’t know, and I guess it didn’t particularly matter because whatever they were, they were defending the Lusca, their sharp spears plunging into whoever dared to get too close from the small group of selkies and merpeople that had gathered to fight the monster.
Bodies of the fallen floated nearby in the water while the battle continued to rage between Tiamat’s defenders and those that defended everyone else.
It was exactly like the tapestry at Kona’s house only with a lot more blood—so much blood that it rivaled the deadliest action movies I had ever seen.
Horror ripped through me. People were dying, their bodies being thrown to the Lusca so that he could drain them of blood before he tossed them aside like so much trash.
Under my traumatized gaze, the Lusca ripped a selkie in half, then tossed the body to the side before reaching down for another one. Terrified for Kona and the others, I swam toward the mess, trying desperately to find them. Every instinct I had screamed that I should flee in the other direction, but I couldn’t do that. Kona had never left me when I needed him—I couldn’t leave him now, no matter how much I wanted to be anywhere but here.
I finally spotted Kona, fighting off two of the humanlike creatures, both of whom were armed with deadly looking spears. Kona had a sword that he’d picked up somewhere and he was using it to deflect the jabs of the spears, but how long could he hold out against two opponents who were working together like a well-oiled machine, all in the hopes of bringing him down?
I wanted to head straight for him, but the words he’d said when he’d stashed me in the cave echoed in my head. I didn’t want to be a distraction to him, and with my control over my powers wonky at best, I didn’t think I could be much help anyway. It was exactly as Kona had said—I was completely unready to be here.
But where was I supposed to go anyway? Heading back to the cave where Malu had attacked me and now lay dead with Oliwa was obviously out of the question, and it wasn’t like there were so many other places to hide out here.
Besides, the only place I really wanted to be was home, and that was impossible. We were in the middle of the ocean and I was so turned around that I didn’t have a clue which direction was Japan and which was California. The way my luck had been going, I’d end up halfway to Antarctica before I realized I was going the wrong way.
At that moment, one of Kona’s opponents brought his spear forward with so much force that even I could tell it was a killing blow. No! I screamed, reaching for Kona, certain that the water around them would run crimson before I could get there.
But at the last second, Kona dodged to the right, and drove his sword deep into the other man’s chest, then whirled around and drove the dead man’s spear deep into his other opponent’s neck.
Without breaking form, Kona reached back and ripped his sword out of the first guy’s chest, then whirled to confront the next threat. As he did, the bodies of his fallen opponents slowly floated away.