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The usual group lay on rocks smothered in moonlight, laughing and giggling as we normally do when there’s a full moon. My delicate tail bobbed in the icy water next to Estelle’s scarred one.
Our stifled chuckles stopped abruptly as we watched the ghostly white sails of a human boat float into view. We all looked at Estelle, the only one of us to have had actual contact with the “demon race” at the time.
“Humans,” she breathed, her eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them.
Music drifted sweetly across the glass sea. A catchy tune I’ve often been caught humming after that night. “It’s so pretty.” I received some dirty looks. “The music. Isn’t it beautiful?”
They hesitantly agreed. All but Ariella, who rolled her eyes at me.
A harsh grinding interrupted us the ship sliced against stone and it slowly sunk downward. Screams, cries, and panicked splashing echoed over to us. Syrena and I exchanged looks of horror. “Look!” her dark arm flew outward, directing my gaze away from her terrified face. Following her arm, our eyes all found a pointed curve arching over the water’s surface.
“Sharks!” I shouted at the sight of the dreaded monster. “They’re never going to survive with the sharks in the water!”
I watched in horror as a young girl, who looked a little older than us, shot down into a rippling red pool. A baby left afloat on a piece of ship slid into the water with a plop. A little boy fought to stay above waves, spitting water and crying out for help.
Though we’d been raised to fear and hate humans, the conscience inside of me wouldn’t allow for passive observation. Dangerous and evil or not, I wasn’t going to watch them suffer and die.
“Estelle, I’m going in.” I straightened my body, preparing to dive.
“Are you crazy?!” Her brown eyes filled her fair face with terror. Her hand landed on my smooth, cold shoulder. “You know the law, Midnight! You could end up in prison just for being around them!! Humans are not worth that risk.” She clenched her teeth on the stressed words.
“You want to save the monsters that almost killed your best friend?” Marina skepticized.
“You know the legend,” Ariella didn’t hesitate to remind us, “They’ll only grab you with their piercing fangs or claws and shred you apart!! Going in is like committing suicide!”
“I know the law. And I know the penalty. But,” my silver and golden eyes filled with tears, “I have to go in. I’m sorry they hurt you, Estelle, but these are different humans. I can’t just watch them die!”
Her eyes and head dropped. When she tilted her face skyward again, tears were dripping off of her face. Her face suddenly transformed from sad and longing to hateful. “They’re all the same!” she answered bitterly. “I wish more than anything that Tony was different. I thought he was different. I believed he was different, but he hurt me more than any of the others. He used me, set me up, and helped them kidnap me. I didn’t want to accept it, but after all of these years, it’s the only thing that I could believe,” her chest heaved with emotion as she raged on,
“So, no, Midnight, they’re no different than the ones who sliced me opened and plunged needles through my skin, no different than the ones in the bedtime stories. They’re cruel, unforgivable creatures!” Pain and anger was so evident from her voice and tone.
I shook my head, knowing I had to do the right thing anyway and flung my body gracefully into the familiar water. Estelle, Ariella, and Marina followed me in to swim in the opposite direction. “Estelle,” I called, internally pleading that she’d come back and help me. Ignored, I looked up pleadingly at Syrena and Aphrodite.
“I’ll get help!” Aphrodite shouted as she disappeared to join the other three.
Syrena silently shook her head. The only two things she was afraid of happened to completely define this situation: humans and sharks.
I torpedoed into the heart of the chaos. A seemingly lifeless man landed on me. After the initial shock of his added weight, I carried him back to the island, praying he wouldn’t suddenly wake up and eat me alive, a worse fate them being shredded by finned beasts.
I swam record-breaking laps getting men, women, and children on solid land. I gently placed them on the sandy shore far from my friend. I rested a moment to let my heartrate decrease, knowing I had to pass sharks yet again, then turned back to the sea.
I darted out and grabbed an unconscious woman’s arm. Her red hair danced in the water as I pulled her to me. She was so pretty, almost merfolk. She was exactly the same right down to her hips. I couldn’t imagine that an animal so beautiful could really be the monster from all of the tales.
Like most of the wreck’s victims, she was dead weight. Luckily, it was simple to drag the along with the water really holding her.
Halfway back to my safe little island, a shark brushed by me and almost took the girl’s human-tail off. I whipped her out of the way in the nick of time. Another shark showed up and another until they were circling us like rabid wolves. I heard Syrena shriek in the distance. I had to get out of this okay, but I also needed to save the girl in my arms. I looked down at her angelic baby face. She seemed to be my age or younger. I didn’t know what to do, but I was thinking as quickly as I could. If I could only get rid of the sharks.
Dropping below them, I was able to shove the girl toward Syrena, who was still sitting on a rock. She dove in and dragged the rescue the rest of the way, most likely petrified the whole time.
Before I could follow, one of the sharks snapped at me, tearing a chunk from my right shoulder. There was no way I was making it out of this by myself. I tried to scream to Syrena but spiraled downward as another took a bite of my silver fin.
A third shark flew at me. I instinctively closed my eyes, and waited to lose my uninjured arm. Whack! Opening my eyes, I watched the beast being flung violently out to sea, a human tool I recognized to be a harpoon in his side.
Estelle wrathfully finished off the others and dragged me back to the island. Being like a sister to me, she was infuriated at my shark-inflicted wounds. I’d never been hurt so badly before. She hadn’t since the supposed betrayal of her human boyfriend. She handed one of the harpoons she’d stolen from her captors to Syrena, who sat over me with Estelle. She bravely accepted the steel arrow.
Estelle insisted I recover but took Syrena with her to finish what I’d started.
Together they dragged more desperate humans from their doomed vessel than I had. My tears were this time of joy as I watched Estelle save a race she’d just condemned as evil, Syrena one she’d been mortally terrified of only minutes earlier.
A moan and a rustle caught my attention from several feet away. I twisted and saw a boy maybe a little older than me waking. He suddenly threw himself up in panic. He looked at me. His eyes tripled in size at the sight of my shimmering fin, which still brushed the surface of the water below.
I hesitated only a moment before jumping into the crystalline sea. “Wait!” I heard his hoarse voice. My head poked out of the water inches from his body.
He reached out and touched my face, almost as if to see if I were real. I flinched at the first touch of his cold hand. Humans are colder than us, but I was in fact shying away from the claws I dreaded to see and feel. He sat up a little straighter and wove his fingers into my water-glossed hair. “Thank you,” he breathed at last.
I felt myself an immediate mute and could only nod at his gratitude. I looked into his dreamy eyes. He clasped my hand as last thanks and let himself fall back to the wet sand in exhaustion. I quietly slinked back into the water and swam by to my previous perch.
As my two merfriends dragged the last of the distressed ashore, I saw the tip of the mast disappearing below frothy white waves; I marveled at the sight. Though depressing, it was an amazing thing to witness. I idly thought to myself that had Aphrodite bothered to return she could’ve had a newer ship to live in.
I turned to Estelle. “I thought you were afraid to get caught. What happened?” I asked her. “You considered humans bloodthirsty and illegal to help. You put yourself in the same risk you didn’t want me to take.”
“No, Midnight, you were right. The law is wrong. I was wrong.”
“We both were,” Syrena agreed.
Estelle continued. Humans scarred me, in more ways than one. They’re the reason I can’t see in my left eye. They were evil,” I tried to interject, but she was so emotional that she plowed right over my interruption, “but these are different humans. You taught me a lesson tonight. I can’t blame all humans for what those did to me. I’ll never make that mistake again. There are good, kind humans. Humans like Tony. Humans that can learn to care for us tail or legs. They’re different than those monsters that tortured me. He was sweet, and gentle,” a tear drizzled down her pale face as she audibly struggled to control her cracking voice. “You taught me that humans are people too, and that they should be judged by their own actions. I’ve already lost one good human. I have to believe that there are more out there somewhere.”
“We did the right thing,” Syrena simply summed up the speech.
My wounds had scabbed over and closed a bit, but they were still noticeable. Considering what had just taken place, we decided among ourselves to swim out to a small boat we could see in the distance. They would most likely have first aid and be able to help me. I was hesitant to return to my father. Though I knew inside of myself that I’d done the right thing, I knew the community would see it as a crime. If Marina told her father and the other nobles, we may even be charged with treason—or something higher, if anything were higher. We leapt like dolphins up to the undersized ocean cruiser. We three flew up the side in unison and held on to the edge.
A boy whipped around, shock riddled onto his face. “Mermaids?” he asked. He looked from Estelle’s fine face and pouty red lips to Syrena’s dark eyes and hair, one blonde streak off to the right. He spun still further to get a good look at me. Completing the revolution, he faced Estelle again. He studied her face up and down, habitually stroking his tiny beard.
Syrena rolled her deep brown eyes. “We don’t have time for this,” she sighed, breaking the silence. “Our friend is hurt. Can you help her?”
He nodded and helped us on. This was the first boat I’d ever actually been on, but there was no denying it was ridiculously tiny. The four of us just fit.
He examined my shark bites. He pulled a box full of bandages and oils out of the corner. “Shark bite,” he mused as he dressed it. “Got yourself into a bit of trouble out there?”
I marveled that he didn’t seem to be phased by us. “A ship went down,” I heard Syrena quip. “Midnight was trying to rescue the passengers.”
“I take it that’s you?” he asked. He barely glanced up from his intent work on my fin.
“Yeah,” I admitted.
“Got you pretty good.” He momentarily looked past my tail and at the long scar on Estelle’s. Their faces lit up in synchronized realization. His crystal eyes flew up to hers. “No,” he let out in disbelief.
Her face seemed to echo his expression. “It—,” her mouth opened slightly, she tilted her head, and she placed a delicate hand on her marked chest. “Tony?!”