On the Surface
The galley smelled of fish. Dead fish and money.
Piled in day-old heaps next to her, the fish literally stunk. Silver watched them flop against the rotting wood with a mixture of pity and empathy. Their gunmetal scales, already growing dull as the life drained out of them, were not so different from her own. Only her complex mind separated her from the other creatures that swam the south sea. Not that it had ever done her much good.
As for the money, it wasn’t a smell, exactly–but it emanated in waves off the men who shouted and laughed above. It was clear what was on the sailors’ minds: the price a live mermaid would fetch at market.
Abovedecks, the captain’s whistle sounded.
Silver’s senses sharpened in fear. She looked around for an escape. Crates of fish. More crates of fish, their tails gleaming in the darkness like jewels in a pirate’s chest.
The door swung open. Fierce sunlight barreled down into the galley, stinging her delicate eyes. Silver turned her head to hide her tears.
“Greetings to our newest passenger. I’m captain of this ship.” The voice was gruff and low. Silver thought she caught a hint of weariness. “That’s all the name you’ll get from me.”
Face against the wall, Silver cracked one eye open.
“You can relax. I don’t intend to kill you today. You’ll go free, if you give me the information I want.”
Something about his tone reassured her. She couldn’t hear his thoughts at all–but, strange as that was, he seemed to be telling the truth.
“You don’t want to sell me to the black market?” she stammered. She heard her breath go quieter as she exhaled. She had been hyperventilating–through both her gills and her lungs.
The captain sounded amused. “I don’t need money. I need information. About your kind.”
“Then you probably know that to give you any such information would be the death of me.”
“The death of you? Surely that’s not true. A bit of an embarrassment, maybe.”
As she turned her gaze on him, Silver blinked. The captain was tall and broad, with piercing brown eyes and a dark beard that shrouded his expression. Though he wore the uniform of the royal army, his collar hung open, revealing his strong soldier’s body. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows like a sailor’s. If not for the way he carried himself around his men, Kaia might not have realized he was the captain at all.
Their gazes locked. He searched her eyes, curious.
Still nothing. Not even the faintest whiff of what was going through his mind. All she felt was alive–like the world around her had suddenly gone from black-and-white to color.
Silver shook off the sensation. Time to get out of here, Silvie. She reached out to touch his mind with hers, guiding him to untie her ropes.
The captain cleared his throat. “Not to rush you, but you haven’t said anything for a few minutes now.”
“I’m a little uncomfortable,” she snorted, struggling against her ropes.
“Well, yes. As a mermaid on a royal ship, that’s understandable.”
He held Silver steady in his gaze, as if talking to a mermaid was something he did every day. She glared at him in silence. As she felt around the corners of his consciousness with hers, looking for an entrance, she was struck with the possibility that she had finally encountered a mind she couldn’t control.
She felt suddenly naked–and not because of her bare body in the sunlight.
The captain leaned closer. From here, she could count the ridges of the scar on his jaw.
“I’m going to make this simple for you. There’s no need to tell me the whereabouts of your kind, or reveal any secrets. All I need is a clue. If you comply enough to help me, you’ll be set free. If not…”
His men looked at each other, snickering. It didn’t take a mind-reader to know what they were thinking. Meanwhile, the captain remained stony-faced; impenetrable.
“Well, we’ll discuss that later.”
Silver knew his words were meant to scare her into submission. But she felt no such emotion. Against all logic, what she wanted more than anything at that moment was to lean closer to him: to close the gap between his face and hers until there was no space left.
“What do you know about Blue Fire?”
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