The surging wave crested and threw Kelila from the sea. She lay crumpled on the sand, feeling the scrape of air in her lungs and sand on her skin. Oh, how she hated being on land. No water nymph belonged there. Every time she’d ever come to shore, she regretted it and swore not to go back, yet there she was. She struggled to her knees, armed her blue and green hair out of her face, and stared at the broad expanse of water, shimmering under the moon. As she stared, she felt a drop of water splash down onto her forehead from above. Another struck her shoulder. Rain, sent by her father. As it picked up, the patter on the surface of the ocean sounded wrong to her ears. She should be hearing it from underneath the surface.
“No, I can’t do this. I don’t belong here,” she wailed as she charged back into the surf. A large wave rapidly rose and crashed into her, throwing her back onto the beach. Before she could pick herself up, the water along the sand began to glow, then trembled with her father’s quiet, inescapable voice.
“You must retrieve him, Kelila. I will not allow you to return until you’ve fulfilled the task I have entrusted to you.”
She stared out at the sea trying to find some argument he would listen to. She no longer cared about their need, not even that she’d agreed to do this. She only wanted to go home, to slip under the waves where she belonged. After a long moment, she hung her head, then dragged herself to her feet. Nothing would persuade him, and she knew he’d meant what he said. Only success would allow her to return to the sea.
When she turned around, she noticed that a heavy fog had risen and offered silent thanks to her father. He was at least doing what he could to make this easier for her. The moisture-laden air soothed her skin as much as anything in this world could. Before she could go anywhere though, she realized she needed to find human clothing. Her seaweed gown had already dried significantly and was starting to fall apart. She glanced around the beach and saw something white fluttering from a bush in the fitful breeze. WIt was a long shirt, one with no sleeves. After another check to see if anyone was watching, she tore off the remains of her dress. The shirt was damp from the rain that continued to fall, but still felt rough on her skin when she pulled it over her head. She was just grateful that it fell almost to her knees. She doubted it was what human women wore these days, but decided it would be good enough for this trip. She wanted to get her errand done with.
Kelila stopped at the edge of the road between the forest and the beach, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, searching. Her father had said it would be easy to pick up the trail. The Mer she sought had stopped at this beach only the day before. There it was, the heavy aroma of storms and salt tang. The power of the smell was stronger than she’d expected, then she remembered the fog. The moisture from it must have intensified the scent. Again, her father helping.
All right then, she thought, hoping it would all be so easy. She only had to hunt down one half-merman and drag him all the way to that island the humans called Britain. Easy enough if she could get him to the ocean. She checked for cars before crossing the road to the far sidewalk. One of her brothers, Remay, had told her to be careful once she was off the beach, that their vehicles could kill her if she got in their way. He had once gone further than the beach. It hadn’t been in this city, but to her, all human cities were the same. Remay would never talk about what had happened to him, except to share what he had learned of humans. All she knew for sure was that he hadn’t been the same since, nor had he left the depths since his return.
As she walked past cars stopped for a glaring red light ahead, she heard something that made her stop and listen.
“…strange weather patterns occurring around Sherwood Forest that meteorologists are at a loss to explain. More on this after the break but first, another bloodless body has been found in New Orleans. Is someone trying to invoke the fictional heritage of the city to make murder look like the work of look like the work of vampires?”
She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised that the others were already on the move, but it made her anxious to get this part of her task done. She needed to get to Stonehenge, but first she had to find the merman. She crossed with the light as Remay had explained, following the trail in the air.
As she went further into the city, she realized that everyone around her wore strange garb. While they weren’t in the place where she normally observed them, she didn’t think that was the cause. She considered what she was seeing, then remembered. The next day was what they called Halloween, when they would all dress as the very creatures they refused to believe shared the planet with them. From the look of it, many were celebrating early.
She tried to concentrate on the scent, not wanting to become angry and failing miserably. The arrogance of the humans never ceased to irritate her, the way they assumed all their old stories were nothing more than that. They seemed to believe that if they couldn’t see it, then it didn’t exist. Tomorrow, she thought, trying to keep from lashing out at the closest human. Yes, after the ritual at Stonehenge, there would be a new world order and the humans would learn the error of their ways. Once more, they would fear the denizens of the sea. She’d make sure of that herself if she had to.
The trail led her to what her brother had called a club. The people lined up outside fit the description he’d given her, as did the pair of large, muscular men guarding the door. She watched two women approach, saw the way they were admitted without needing to stand in the line and decided to try it herself.
One of guards looked her over and frowned. “And what are you supposed to be?”
Realizing that a costume was expected, she decided to tell the truth. “A water nymph.”
Both men smiled at her, which she returned, and one held up a hand, his thumb out and pointed upward. She wanted to laugh but held it in. The one who had spoken held the door open for her and she slipped inside.
The noise they called music assaulted her ears before she got more than two steps past the door. It made her head throb and she had to restrain the urge to use her hands to muffle the sound. She made her way down the hall and the air grew drier, moistened only by the sweat of a large group of humans. She could taste all of their odors in that moisture, some foul and some sickly sweet. The need to retch grew as she walked into a large room full of undulating bodies, and she struggled to maintain control of herself. For so many reasons, she didn’t dare draw that sort of attention to herself. There was no way she could explain away the water and seafruit that would come up. More than that though, she was already so dried out that she couldn’t afford the loss of fluids. If that happened, she’d lose control at the first whiff of water and they all stank of it. The most delicious stink ever, she thought as she stopped at the edge of the crowded dance floor.
Kelila stood there with her eyes closed, trying to block out all the scents but the one she needed. It was there, but she thought this must be a place he came to frequently, because there were so many layers to it. Before she could locate the freshest one, she heard a male voice behind her.
“I know. You’re here looking for me, aren’t you, lovely lady with the mermaid hair?”
She turned around, both infuriated and hopeful. Then there was only rage as she realized the man with the impressive physique and tiny wings peeking over his shoulders couldn’t be the merman. The only smell on him was the overly pungent aroma they loved to spray themselves with. She took a step back, her urge to vomit nearly overpowering her this time. She shook her head, unwilling to open her mouth.
“Let me buy you a drink. Maybe I’m better than whoever you came to meet,” he suggested but she shook her head again and walked away through the crowd, hoping to lose him. Behind her, he called, “Come on, everybody loves Cupid!”
Still too angry at being named a mermaid, she continued to stalk away, shoving people from her path as she went. By the time she reached the other side of the crowd though, she’d calmed down somewhat. Humans didn’t even believe in mermaids, so she shouldn’t have taken it so personally. Shaking her head to clear it, she tried again to figure out where the Mer was in this nightmare. She didn’t want to resort to sniffing each one of these people. They wouldn’t take kindly to it and the thought alone brought bile into the back of her throat.
A hand touched her, caressing her ass before squeezing. Shocked, she spun and found a pale man of slight build, made up to look even paler and sporting obviously fake fangs. He was standing almost right on top of her. His black hair hung in disheveled hanks around his face and she suspected his open vest and weathered black pants were meant to make him look like a creature out of time. Any real vampire would have laughed, then drained him of blood for the insult. His grin widened and he leaned closer still. She refused to back down.
“You wouldn’t have shown up dressed like that if you didn’t want it.”
He grabbed her shoulders, but before she could react, another male voice, this one deeper, spoke behind her.
“Actually, I think she was trying to get away from your hands.”
“Piss off. This isn’t your business,” the pale man snarled.
“If you don’t let her go, I’ll have to call one of the bouncers in. They’ll kick you out and I’m sure you don’t want that. The party’s just getting started and there’s lots of other girls here who’d probably love your hands on them,” the newcomer said.
Kelila wasn’t paying attention to the exchange. It was him. She knew without turning around that her would-be rescuer was the merman she was seeking. Feeling the hands gripping her loosen in surprise, she twisted her shoulders out of his grasp and backed away from him.
He grimaced at her. “Fine, she’s all yours. Probably a frigid bitch anyway, not just a tease.”
The fake vampire left and was lost almost at once in the crowd. She turned to the merman and stopped, staring at him. He was nothing like she’d expected. Unlike most Mers, who had dark hair, his was blond and just long enough for slight curls to form. The result was a casual mess that glinted in the lights of the club. His face was clear of any sort of hair, another difference from his kinsmen, who usually wore short beards. His blue eyes echoed the frown he wore as he stared at where the pale man had disappeared. Her eyes continued to roam his body, bared to the waist by the diver’s suit he was wearing. His bronzed chest was muscular, as were his folded arms. There was a white shirt tucked into the waist of his suit, but she found herself hoping he wouldn’t use it. Wanting to distract him, she spoke.
“Thank you. I’m not sure what might have happened if you hadn’t stepped in.”
He turned to her and his frown relaxed, but the way he stared at her made her wonder if he knew what she was. Ridiculous, she told herself, there’s no way he could. Her father had said he didn’t even know the truth about himself. At last he smiled and she answered with one of hers without thinking. “I’ve seen his type before. They don’t really hear it when a woman says no.”
“Then I guess that makes you my rescuer.”
He shrugged. “I suppose so. I’m Isaac.”
(To be continued…)