Iris’ Point of View
Instead, I imagine the beautiful world beneath the waves, full of lush star grass and underwater gardens. Miles of thick algae fields spread out in every direction in my mind’s eye. Fish of all sizes zip around each other in a cohesive ecosystem.
Opening my eyes, I glance at Jace as he lies motionless in the sand. His face rests void of all expression and, for a moment, he’s just the boy I fell in love with lying next to me on the beach. An impenetrable heat spreads through my chest.
Ani shifts her stance and folds her legs underneath as she lowers herself to the sand. Now’s as good a time to interrupt as any.
“Ani,” I breathe.
She ignores me, but the slightest tilt of her head confirms she heard me.
“What’s going to happen if Asthen attacks the clan in the North Sea?” I ask. “She won’t hesitate to kill them all to take over the territory.”
Nothing about Ani’s form changes except for the slight separation of her lips. “If they attack, we’ll return to Achelous with the news so the army can act.”
“That could take an entire day,” I say. “Asthen’s clan could kill a lot of sirens by then.”
“Those were our orders,” Ani readjusts her arms and centers herself again to focus on her search.
Our conversation plummets into silence as Jace fidgets in his bed of sand. He rolls to the side and opens his eyes, propping himself up. A loud yawn from him makes my own eyes grow heavy, but I force them to stay open. Ani’s and my conversation isn’t over.
“Ani,” I say more forceful. Her face cringes as though she’s biting back a snarl at my interruption. “Don’t you think we should warn the clan in the North Sea about the danger they’re in?”
Ani rolls her shoulders back to re-center her focus, acting as though I hadn’t spoken at all.
“If Asthen hasn’t arrived yet, we don’t have long,” I continue, unconcerned about Ani’s concentration. “If the clan leaves, at least we can prevent their deaths.”
“That’s all subjective, Iris.” Ani sucks in a calming breath through her teeth. “If they allow us to speak to them. If they choose to listen to what we have to say. If they follow our recommendation. And all that before killing us for trespassing—whether or not they’re on Asthen’s side. Achleous ordered us to observe only.”
I curl my toes in the sand until the particles become solid between them.
“That’s not good enough,” I mutter. I stand and swipe my hands over my denim shorts to brush away the sand. “Innocent sirens will die out there and we could prevent it.”
Ani’s expression remains neutral.
“I’m going.” I pull my blouse over my head and throw it on the sand next to Jace. “Whether or not you’ll help me.”
For the first time in hours, Ani opens her eyes and turns her back on the ocean. Her brows settle low over her eyes and her glare sets my skin on fire.
“Why can’t you follow orders?” Ani’s words drip with resentment. “If Achelous worries other clans may align their allegiance with Asthen, then it worries me, too.”
I pull my long hair into a knot on top of my head, my brand glaring against the pale skin on my neck. If I run into Asthen, I want her to know I’m not afraid of her. I’m not afraid of myself, either.
“You should be, too,” Ani hisses. “Did you ever consider the idea that maybe Asthen doesn’t plan to kill those in the North Sea? Maybe they plan to let her through. Maybe they’ve already joined her side.”
I hesitate, choosing my words with precision. “I won’t let Asthen shed any more innocent blood because of my fear. If we stand any chance to save them, we have to try.”
Ani growls into the still air. “Fine. We try once. If we don’t find the clan in a few hours, they’re on their own.”
“Thank you, Ani,” I say. On my own—with my two insufficient human legs—finding the clan would prove difficult. Convincing them I’m not human, near impossible.
Ani flips onto her stomach and slithers deeper into the water. I wade into the rushing waves beside her. When the water laps against my stomach, I glance over my shoulder for one last look at the boy on shore. Despite everything, I can’t leave without saying goodbye even if it’s without words.
“Be careful,” Jace calls as he stands at the water’s edge. The waves miss brushing his toes by a few inches.
When the waves kiss my chin, I dip my head beneath the water’s surface and scan for any sign of life. Ani glides through the water, her eyes shut as she examines every corner of the ocean through her scales. We circle the territory three times high and low before Ani swims to my side.
“We tried,” she says.
I glance around the empty ocean but there’s no sign of anyone occupying this region—no bones, no quarters of any kind. Maybe we were both wrong. Maybe the clan already knew of the impending attack and scattered on their own.
I nod at Ani and kick my legs beneath me. The diffracted sunlight takes shape and grows larger with each stroke toward the surface. As though hit by an unseen current, I stop swimming, held captive in the open water by my own sense of discomfort. Someone watches me.
I glance around the ocean again, spinning in a slow circle to see every inch. A subtle glimmer sparkles amongst the murky water growing darker in its depth. I sink until the sparkle glistens at my eye level.
“Who’s there?” I ask, hoping my voice exudes confidence and strength.
A small siren—no older than a Little learning to use her voice—emerges from the water. She holds her hands balled together in front of her chest and her eyes dart from side to side as though checking for any other sirens.
“Are you okay?” I ask as the girl drifts closer.
She nods and stops her advance a couple of yards from me. She peers at me from behind a curtain of thick black hair flowing from one side of her head. A short cropping of hair exposing her scalp covers the other side, separated by an intricate braid.
“Can you help me? I am looking for your leader—or your chief. Can you take me to him or her?”
The young siren nods again and extends an arm toward me with her palm open. I glance around the ocean waiting for a harvest to ensue. A harvest for my human body. I’ve never met a clan who welcomes outsiders with an open invitation. The young siren’s hand drifts with the subtle current. I don’t have much choice. Ani’s ready to give up. If I don’t trust the young siren, she will die along with the rest of her people.
I place my hand in hers. As soon as our skin touches one another’s, a forceful grip wraps around my wrist and tears the young sirens grip from mine. The young siren’s face crumples in fear and she disappears into the shadows.
Ani’s eyes sparkle with an anger so fierce, I fear for the life of the young siren.
“Are you insane?” she hisses although I know the young siren hiding just beyond our sight can still hear her. “You can’t trust her. You can’t trust anyone.”
I shake Ani’s hand from my wrist.
“I can trust whoever I want. And I trust her.”
Without checking whether or not Ani follows, I swim in the direction the young siren had taken off in. It doesn’t take me long to catch the glimmer of her tail again.
“I can trust you, can’t I?” I call into the water.
The siren reemerges from the darkness, nodding. She eyes Ani for a moment, who floats behind me, but soon focuses her attention on me. She extends her hand, a slight tremble supporting the action. I place my hand in hers and she guides me toward their feeding grounds.
We weave among rock structures demolished to nothing more than rubble. As I follow the siren through the mundane hovel of her home, I can’t help but admire the simplicity in which they live. No extravagance. No excess.
Before long we arrive at the deepest level of the territory—although the sunlight still bathes the seabed. The young siren guides me into a rubble pile no different from the dozens we passed on our trip here. Inside the quarters a man floats, scanning a series of parchments lining the walls. His dark hair ripples down the center of his head, flowing with the water’s movement. The sides are shorn like the young siren’s. Markings and depictions of battles—no doubt his victories—cover the sirens sculpted chest and arms. The young siren clears her throat and her leader spins in a flourish.
I swallow the sudden lump forming in my throat. The leader’s eyes sparkle and his teeth sharpen beyond his lips, ready for the harvest. I grit my teeth and resist the urge to glance at my human legs.
The young siren makes a sweeping motion with her arm and then tucks herself into a shadow along the wall. The leader circles me and Ani, scoping out his guests. I hold my posture tall in an attempt to portray a stronger confidence than the amount shrinking inside me.
“Speak?” the leader commands and I don’t hesitate to comply.
“We’ve come with a warning,” I say, at once wishing I’d chosen my words with more tact. “I mean, we’ve come with counsel from the sea king.”
Ani stiffens at my side with the lie—no such order came from Achelous. The leader of the North Sea clan pauses and scans my body at length.
“The sea king trust a human? Hardly,” the leader barks a laugh as he floats away from us.
“I’m no human,” I say, swimming toward him.
With astounding speed, the leader turns on his tail until his pointed nose touches mine.
“You are no siren,” he spits. “You are a mutt.”
“Like you’ve never seen before,” I say, proud to wear my brand of betrayal for him to see.
The leader backs away, putting space between us. He locks his hands together behind his back and swims in a casual figure eight around us.
“What counsel would the sea king send?” he asks, his intrigue showing.
“Would you mind calming your instincts first?” I ask, gesturing to his razor-sharp teeth.
A hearty laugh erupts from the siren’s throat and echoes around the room. I glance at the walls sure I’ll see hundreds of others laughing with him. Besides the young siren, Ani and I swim alone with the leader.
“Calming my instincts,” he mimics as though I just told the world’s funniest joke. “Darling, I am my instincts!”
The leader raises his hands to the ceiling as though praising an unseen being above us.
“We in the Eucracian clan are always ready for the Harvest—from our most aged to our youngest,” he says puffing out his chest and displaying his teeth through a broad smile. “We do not pretend to be something other than what we are.”
I glance at the young siren in the shadows and her lips part enough for me to glimpse her very own set of fangs.
“So tell me sirens of the sea king, what is it he would have me know?” the leader asks.
“A threat is headed your way,” I say already gathering the siren’s disinterest. “Another clan who has the ability to destroy each of your sirens and take possession of your territory. We advise you to leave the territory before harm comes to your people.”
The leader laughs again, the water vibrating with its energy.
“Do you see these?” he asks, pointing to the markings blackening his skin. “These are our conquests. We can defend ourselves against a few power-hungry sirens.”
“They aren’t power-hungry,” I say, realizing the truth of my words. “Not anymore. They’re savages. This clan acts outside the bounds set by King Achelous. They’ve created an elixir that can kill a human within seconds and reduce a siren to seafoam even faster.”
I bite my lip against the latter part of my plea. It isn’t true, but it’s also not a lie. We don’t know what the elixir will do to a siren, but we also don’t have time to deliberate on it.
“Sir,” Ani says, jumping in. “Achelous himself will not face the attacking clan until he understands their weapon and has a way to protect his own people. We just suggest you do the same.”
“So we have the mutt delivering the words of the sea king and who are you?” the leader asks.
“Anichneftis,” Ani says, floating tall. “The first scout within King Achelous’ army.”
At the sound of her name, the Eucracian leader’s resolve falters. He glances between the mutt and the member of the royal guard traveling together with a warning to flee.
“Please do not face them,” I say in a final plea. “You will not survive.”
“Where would we go?” the leader asks, the urgency of our request sinking in at last. “The surrounding areas are likewise occupied.”
Ani cocks her head toward me for a suggestion. I sift through my memory in the hopes of finding an unoccupied territory while traveling with Damion. I know better than anyone that only a few available territories exist to which the Eucracian could flee.
“You can find refuge with Achelous himself for the time being,” I say. “You can remain there until this dispute settles.”
The leader’s expression drops in disbelief and a sharp laugh escapes his lips. “Every leader knows you don’t just drop in on Achelous.”
“Tell them Iris and Anichneftis sent you.”
(Photo Credit for the post image: Pinterest)