Koschei cursed quietly in his head. He would have preferred to be further away than he just was. He only had his nose and his instinct to guide him to the human settlement he knew about, where he had an ally, not a friend, but maybe that wasn’t needed. Still on the run from his tribe he couldn’t help the fond memories of how they met, even if it was not completely pain free…
5 years earlier
His siblings should be taught a lesson not him! Playing a prank on Omega, putting the blame on him. Just his lucky day! For his rude behaviour and denial of executing the plan he wasn’t aloud to eat with the others. To top it off, he had to fend for himself for the next few days until someone saw it fit for him to return to the tribe.
He cursed again when he just noticed a sardine moving strangely from the corner of his eyes. Food! His hunger won over his caution. He grabbed the fish and started devouring it. Seconds later he wails in pain, as something pierces his cheek and pulls him upwards. His body broke through the surface and he gasped, coughing up water and was unable to see clearly.
Koschei imagined seeing two shapes but thanks to the pain and disorientation he wasn’t so sure. He was confused and breathing felt strange and dry. Only when he was lifted fully out of the water did his instincts kick back into action. He tried to fight his way out of the hands grabbing him but some sort of fabric wrestled on his body immobilized him.
He squirmed in fear. Strong arms where holding him still and he got a better look at his surroundings. His fear paralyzed him upon realising that he was in the grasp of stick fins! Land dwellers!
A hand under his chin hold his head still. Opposite of Koschei was a land dweller pulling out a knife. He feared the worst and closed his eyes, accepting his fate, that he would die today, cursing his siblings.
It was seldom that Cardinal Rogerius Delgado found the time to take a boat for fishing. It was even rarer that his trusted friend and companion Tertius accompanied him. They had both busy schedules and they enjoyed the small moments where they could spend time with each other.
His fishing rod gave a hefty tug and he pulled it out. This promised to be a big catc…
He was shocked to see that he had pulled out a child. The fishing hook in the little ones cheek looked rather painful. He put the rod aside, grabbing the child by his arms and pulling him out, Tertius keeping his jacket ready and bundling him up.
The tentacles instead of legs didn’t shock them that much more. The sea boy tried to fight his way back to freedom, the secure grip of Tertius made this impossible. The cardinal pulled out a knife while his friend kept the head of the boy still.
Carefully he cut off the thread from the hook and pulled it out of the dark cheek. Confused dark brown eyes blinked up at him as he put the knife away and showed him the hook.
Both sides, land and sea, where still surprised by the other. The silence of confusion was interrupted by an audible stomach growl. Rogerius turned partly around and pulled one of his catches from a small basket, offering it to the boy who was by now released from Tertius’ jacket. Hesitantly the gift was accepted as the hunger won over the fear.
It gave both sides ample time to study the other, taking stock of what they saw. Difference in hair and hair colour, skin tone, the purple tentacles as well as the deep purple gill covers.
That day he had learned that not all stories told about the stick fins were true. A familiar smell reached his nose and blinking his eyes open he saw the shape of a small boat on the surface. He breathed a sigh of relief and swam upwards. He broke through the surface and howled himself in the boat, tentacles and all. The scale was still safely clutched in his right hand. A quickly placed finger against his lips explained everything while his skin took on the colour and texture of the boat.
Cardinal Delgado didn’t ask any questions, grasping the dire situation his little friend was in. He took up the oars, making his way back to the coast. There was a time to ask questions and that wasn’t now.
She needed to destroy the scales or hide them far away where Tecteun wouldn’t be able to reach them. She still shuddered at the words their leader had uttered towards Duode: we have enough spares.
Spares… it sounded wrong on so many levels as if some lives were more important than others and the non important could be dealt with as was seen fit.
The water became more and more shallow and only now did Theta notice that she had swam towards the coast. Maybe this could be her solution. If she could hide the scales somewhere on land it would be impossible for Tecteun to reach them and Duode wouldn’t get them for her. She just knew by instinct. Because only them, him and her, shared a common secret related to their two hearts. They were able to breath the water of the stick fins, making their second heart beat faster than their first which was accustomed to water.
Curious as she had been that day she had followed Duode only to find him sitting on a stone above the water, watching something very intently. Not thinking about her actions she had swam up beside him and pestered him with questions. It was only after her fifth or sixth questions that she noticed his surprised stare and utter silence.
That night she learned a lot from Duode, watching the beach and the stick fins, humans as they called themselves, celebrate around a fire. Learned, that a fire could give warmth but also bring destruction.
Carefully her head rose from the water above the surface and luck was favouring her today. There was a fire on the beach and no humans near it! She swam further towards the land, fighting every instinct in her that screamed to turn around. She couldn’t. Not with so much at stake.
She dragged herself with her arms over the dry sand, which scratched her scales unpleasantly. She could bear this. For Koschei!
She felt the warmth of the sun on her back and the heat of the fire on her chest and face. The wind was humid but still too dry for her liking. With shaking hands she opened the bag, ignoring the singing of the others who tried to call her back. She took one scale from the bag and looked at it. It was of a solid black colour and the tip was a fainted yellow. It felt wrong just holding it.
She threw it in the fire and waited holding her breath. Seconds ticked by and her eyes glued on the scale lying in the fire unscathed. She was about to give up, when finally, finally the scale started to emit black smoke and turned slowly into ash.
It worked! She could save Koschei!
Before Theta could throw the remaining scales in the fire she found herself caught in a net, screaming and fighting to escape, while painful hits rained down on her. A powerful voice, speaking words in a harsh language she didn’t understand, made her assailants stop. She whimpered in pain. The bag was just outside of the net and she pushed her little hand through a small hole, trying to reach them.
She couldn’t let the scales fall in the hands of humans!
She felt a warm and calming presence crouch down near her. A man, at least she guessed it was one from what she remembered Duode telling her, was holding a dagger in his hand. Would it end now so that they could use the scales?
The poor mermaid. Cardinal Antonius Ainley was not happy with his people. He lost count of how many times he had preached to his people that god loved all his creations equally. Carefully to not hurt the small child further he cut open the net and looked into the face of a girl, blond hair, green brown eyes and a snow white tail instead of legs. She even had white on her gill covers.
To his surprise she had only given him a brief glance before her sole attention was back on the scattered scales. Although hurt she tried to move them towards the fire. Curious he picked one up and froze in terror. A corrupted wishing scale! He looked down again, finding more scattered scales from a bag.
He leveled a careful gaze at the girl who was watching him now with rapt attention. Her eyes were pleading with him to not act stupid. He threw the scale in the fire without any second thoughts, the bag and the scattered ones following in short order. A relieved sigh nearby had him look down again.
The little mermaid was relaxed, seemingly at ease that her task was done. She had ventured far from her home to rid the world of those dangerous scales.
The human man was unable to understand her spoken words, but he understood very well her gestures and looks, understood that the scales were a thread. With the imminent danger gone she allowed her body to relax and only now registered the pain she was in but it was worth it.
She had saved Koschei and Duode had been right. Not all humans were evil.
Theta carefully watched the man pulling dark skin from his right hand, no, a covering to protect… she gasped in shock.
A covering to protect his scarred hand. A hand scarred by jellyfish poison which was never properly removed. She winced in sympathy, remembering Koschei. Her friend, she dared to call Koschei this, would only have faint white scars around his eyes.
The scars of the man were the result of failed to no treatment. He gently placed his hand on her cheek despite the pain he had to be in. She heard him hum a soft melody which made his hand glow. Her eyes widened when the glow moved from his hand over to her, making the pain ebb away and the bruises on her arms disappeared as well.
He was like her. He was a healer!
Taking stock of her body she carefully sat up. Nothing hurt anymore and she was as good as new. Even the scratches on her tail from robbing over the sand where gone. Her gaze went to the sea where the face of Duode was visible. The others couldn’t come up like him, but were probably seething with anger. She couldn’t return home, because there was no more home for her.
The angry shouts of the humans around her made her look up and freeze again. One of them was holding a scale and he had a maniac grin on his lips! Her body tensed up. She readied herself to jump. The man would expect many but probably not a jump of a mermaid over this distance. Using her strong tail she catapulted herself towards him with a feral yell, her hands outstretched.
Theta’s surprise attack had the desired effect that she could wrestle the scale from him, but there was no chance she would make it back and the human had pulled a knife, ready to stab her for the attack. She had only seconds to make a decision. Everything slowed down around her, while she fixed the scale in her hand. There was only one solution…
Koschei suppressed an angry growl. His tribe had caught up to him, but since he had been disguising himself, they only found the human and had pulled him into the water, threatening to drown him, if he wouldn’t reveal himself and hand over the scale.
If the situation hadn’t been so dire he would have laughed that they couldn’t smell him. Everything slowed down around him, while he fixed the scale in his hand. There was only one solution…
‘Forgive me Theta/Koschei! I have no other solution but to sacrifice myself for the greater good.’ His/her hand closed around the scale and he/she opened his/her mouth. “I wish to be freed of the shackles of slavery from my tribe!”