Chapter 9: Battle Royale
The sun had set on the third day. He was out of time.
Averil’s entire body felt like it was on fire. His face was contorted with pain, as he felt the beginnings of the transformation back to his original form.
“Averil?!” Erryn asked, panicked. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head, blinking through the pain. He tried to answer her, but he couldn’t manage to make his voice obey. Instead he choked on his words, while his mind raced at a hundred miles per hour.
Run, he desperately wanted to tell her. Get away from here!
But there was no escaping this. They were on a ship, out at sea, and the only escape lay in the deep ocean waters. Averil screwed his eyes shut as tightly as he could, preparing for the inevitability of what must come next.
Across the deck rang out the sound of dark, merciless laughter. All eyes (save Averil’s) turned to the forgotten fiancé, who was getting to his feet. He shoved Max away, still chuckling, and raised his hands to the sky, green eyes alight with mirth.
“You’re too late,” he hissed, his voice the slippery, smooth voice of the sea witch.
Suddenly, lightning lanced from his hands as the sky darkened overhead. His- her –laughter was nothing short of maniacal now. His skin began to turn violet, as Ursula’s true form emerged. Her torso and tentacles tore through the groom’s clothes, as her hair went white. In less than five seconds, the greatest terror of the seas was back to her full potential.
Erryn stepped back in fear, and found that Averil’s clothes had also been shredded. Her eyes widened when she realized why.
He lay on the ground, sweating, and where his legs should have been...
“You’re TOO LATE!” screeched the sea witch. The poor, confused people ran for cover as she clawed her way across the deck, grabbing Averil by the arm. He cried out in a mixture of pain and anger as she dragged him up to the ship’s railing, his long, turquoise tail there for the world to see.
Ursula turned to Erryn, and gave her a sickeningly sweet smile. Clutching the merprince to her chest, she brazenly reached out with her free hand to pinch Erryn’s cheek.
“So long, sweetheart,” she crooned. Even as Averil fought tooth and nail to get away from her, the witch casually threw them both over the side of the ship, plummeting down into the water below.
The atmosphere on the deck was paralyzed with fear and shock. Princess Erryn stood, with her hand at her mouth, shaking like a leaf. Grimsby appeared from behind, placing his hands on her shoulders to steady her, but it did no good.
“Did you see him, Grim?” the shaken girl whispered. “He couldn’t- that’s- without his voice, there was no- no way...he...”
“My lady, I...” Grim tried, but it was clear that he was just as shocked as she.
Erryn shook her head, trying to clear it of her misunderstanding.
“Grimsby,” she said softly. “He’s a merman.”
“Let go!” Averil snarled, attempting to pry his arm from the sea witch’s firm grip as she towed him mercilessly through the water. The ache of the transformation had mostly ebbed, but it simply left room for the pain of the witch’s betrayal. Now it fueled Averil’s hatred and rage.
“Oh hush, little prince, it’s not even you I’m after,” Ursula snapped as she dragged him along. Frustrated by the merman’s violent fight against her, she tightened her hand almost enough to bruise. Her minions, the eels, materialized at her side, hissing excitedly.
“If you’re tired of me already, then lemme go,” Averil challenged. “See how long it takes before I-”
Both Averil and his captor stopped short at the sound of that familiar, booming voice. When he turned, Averil couldn’t believe it. He had to blink a few times before he truly accepted the sight before him.
There was his father, the great King Triton, trident in hand, and looking angrier than Averil had ever seen him in his life- and that included the destruction of his grotto. Now, Triton looked nothing short of livid. Sebastien was perched on the King’s shoulder, which explained how he had come to know of Averil’s plight. But that wasn’t all.
The entire royal family of Atlantica had turned out to rescue their lost one. At Triton’s right hand floated Crown Prince Arren, and behind them, the other five brothers, all of them armed to the teeth. Arren and Allan held their swords, Amery his spear, and Ansel his glaive. Alec was casually flipping daggers in both hands, though his eyes burned with a fire that was not casual at all. Antony had his arms crossed over his brawny chest, just daring the sea witch and her meager power to test his strength. Last but not least, Amery had thoughtfully strapped Averil’s silver shield across his back (not that the younger was in any position to use it).
Without a moment’s hesitation, Ursula began to chuckle under her breath.
“Why, King Triton,” she drawled. “How are you? I see you’ve brought your boys along, perhaps we can have a playdate.”
“Let him go,” Triton intoned menacingly, causing shivers to race up Averil’s spine. He nearly went limp in Ursula’s clutches.
“Not a chance, Triton,” Ursula replied harshly. “He’s mine.”
A malicious grin spread slowly across her face.
“We made a deal,” she finished smoothly. With a snap of her fingers, she magically produced the golden scroll, complete with Averil’s scratchy signature at the bottom.
Without even looking at his father, Averil hung his head.
“Dad, I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I just...I had to.”
That was it. No apologizing for doing it, no frantic begging for forgiveness. After all this time, he had managed to come so far- that would seem meaningless if he threw it aside now.
Snarling, Triton raised his trident and prepared to blast the scroll to smithereens, but Ursula merely grinned. When that flash of golden light collided with the scroll, she and Averil were only knocked back a few feet. When the bubbles cleared, the scroll remained in her hand, untouched.
“The contract’s legal,” Ursula said mildly. “Binding, and complete. Unbreakable, even for you.”
“Averil!” Arren snapped from behind his father, glaring at his youngest brother.
“I know!” the younger replied angrily. He tore his arm out of Ursula’s hand, but found that his way was instantly blocked by Ursula’s eel minions. They hissed menacingly at him.
That drawl seemed to be Ursula’s signature move. Averil’s blood went cold at the sound of it.
“I’ve always been a girl with an eye for a bargain,” the sea-witch added, her voice oozing with implication. She drifted in until she was an inch from Triton’s face. The old man seemed put off by her approach, and moved to keep his trident between them.
Ursula snapped her fingers. In an instant, her magical scroll manifested itself into a whirlwind of golden power, just as it had when she had first given Averil his legs. It raced toward him, enveloping him in magic. For the second time today- and he was getting quite tired of it –Averil felt his body shift uncomfortably. He was shrinking, and growing an oddly disgusting feel to his skin. He was suddenly reminded of the many wailing polyps that decorated Ursula’s ‘garden’. Now he knew how she got them.
“A son of the Sea King is a precious commodity, you know,” Ursula stated matter-of-factly. “But I might be persuaded to make an exchange...for someone even better.”
Every single one of the present mermen tensed uncomfortably. Her methods were cruel, but obvious. Now that they had the clear picture, they were trapped in her web of deals and deceit.
“Father...” Allan began, but his elder brother cut him off.
“You’re not seriously considering anything, are you?” Arren asked sharply.
The Sea King did not answer, his blue eyes troubled. Before this day, he might have chosen differently, but after three days of thinking that his youngest son could have been dead...his perspective had somewhat changed.
“Arren, look at Averil,” hissed Alec. His eyes were locked onto his little brother, who was shaking his polyp-y head violently. They could all see the trap clear as day, but there was nothing to be done but swim into it. Averil was making his own opinion known as well as he could.
The brothers exchanged worried glances, each of them fearing their father’s judgment.
After a moment of silence, the king turned to his eldest son.
“Arren,” he asked quietly, “Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your brother?”
Arren looked at Averil, first, meeting his eyes squarely. Without turning back to his father, he answered in a firm, clear voice, as though there were no thinking required.
“No,” he said simply. “Nothing.”
The golden-haired eldest prince of the sea slowly backed away from his father.
Without another word, King Triton raised his trident. Sensing his intention, Ursula snapped her fingers, returning the scroll to her hand (and Averil to his original form). No sooner had it materialized in her grip than Triton released his power, blasting Averil’s name out of place on the contract and replacing it with his own.
It all happened in an instant, or so it seemed. Averil cried out in protest, but he was too late to keep the sea witch’s power from reducing his father to the shape of an ugly little polyp. The royal crown and trident floated slowly to the sea floor, as the former King Triton bowed his knobbly head in sadness.
Averil sank to the floor, speechless, his tail folding underneath him.
“Dad...” he said hoarsely. Then, blinking, he shook his head. His eyes narrowed, and his brow furrowed in anger.
“Why don’t you ever listen to me?” he spat, rolling his eyes. “How do you think I got into this mess?”
Behind him, the sound of Ursula’s cackling filled the sea. She reached down and plucked up Triton’s crown, placing it smugly atop her own white-crested head. Her eyes were bloodshot and crazed. The trident she took up in her hand, where it immediately began to glow golden.
“At last,” she hissed. “It’s mine.”
The princes kept their eyes on her, all of them tensed and ready to move at the slightest sound. Arren’s grip was white-knuckled on the hilt of his broadsword. Allan reached forward and grabbed Averil by the wrist, pulling him up and away from the threat. Alec had stopped flipping his daggers from hand to hand, and now held them securely in his fists. However, judging by the shadow looming over Ursula’s shoulder, they weren’t going to be the ones to get in the first shot. They held their breath, all seven together.
Unbeknownst to the power-crazed witch, she had a few more problems than just a legion of sea-princes. Someone else had a grudge to settle with her. After all, you don’t mess with a bride on her wedding day.
The witch flinched and cried out as the wooden oar nearly split itself against the back of her skull. When she turned, it was no sea creature that she found, but none other than Princess Erryn. She had torn off the sleeves and hem of her wedding dress; it now hung in tatters over her pale skin. For a human, she was holding her breath spectacularly well as she floated under the water. She gripped the oar in both hands, ready to swing it again. Still, it was too dangerous- at this range, the best-case scenario was her drowning.
In a splitsecond, both Ursula and Averil reacted.
Averil shot forward, pushing Erryn out of range of the witch’s claws.
“Go, swim!” he shouted as he felt Ursula’s nails sink into his tailfin. He was stuck in place now, but Erryn was free.
Erryn shook her head defiantly, but it was clear that she was running out of breath. Her face was taking on a blue tinge that Averil was sure wasn’t from the water.
As the sea-witch dragged him back, Averil growled to himself. He had to pick a girl as stubborn as he was, didn’t he?
“Alec!” he called. Instantly, in a streak of green, Alec shot past him. He took Erryn’s arm and forcibly began pulling her toward the surface. Allan drifted to the sea floor where the polyp that was King Triton hovered. The second son leaned in close, whispering hastily.
Glaring, Ursula dragged Averil to the ground, trapping him with her tentacles, the sharp end of the trident pointed at his chest.
“After them,” she ordered her eels, and they took off after the princess and her escort.
Now, gold and yellow fins flashed past them as Arren and Ansel dove into action. They raced after the eels, and quickly managed to catch up, but the slippery little minions were difficult targets for such large weapons as Arren’s broadsword and Ansel’s glaive. Before they knew it, the two mermen were being led on a wild goose chase. The eels twined and danced around each other, confusing the boys’ sightlines, hissing wildly. Even the speedy Ansel couldn’t keep them in his vision for more than a splitsecond.
“Don’t fool with me, you little brat,” Ursula threatened Averil, her eyes bulging and bloodshot. “The power of the entire ocean is mine!” She turned and raised the trident, aiming for Erryn and Alec, who were very near the surface.
“Say goodbye to your sweetheart,” she cooed evilly.
“Alec!” Averil hollered desperately.
A few feet from the surface, Alec whirled around. He threw Erryn half out of the water so she could breathe, but his panic showed on his face. From here, they were sitting ducks, and he was too far away to use his daggers as throwing weapons.
This time it was a red-orange blur that came between the sea-witch and her prey. Antony collided with Ursula at full speed, knocking the trident out of its intended path before she could release her spell.
“Watch who you’re calling ‘brat’!” he snarled, his own royal fury finally in play. “That’s my little brother you’re talking about, and the only one who gets to call him ‘brat’ is me!” Antony’s cornflower blue eyes were narrowed in rage, his muscles bulging as he flexed.
Antony reached out and grasped one of Ursula’s tentacles in his powerful fist. He mustered his full strength and pulled her forcibly away from Averil. She snarled in rage, and fought to aim the trident at him, but he had the advantage. Antony pulled and yanked, successfully keeping the witch from regaining her balance.
Meanwhile the less-noticeable Amery took Averil’s arm and pulled from the other side, releasing him from her hold.
Amery shoved Averil away, pointing after Alec and Erryn. His generally grim expression had become fully focused. The Amery who was usually uninterested in the world around him had now decided to give his utmost attention. The intensity of his smoldering gaze was unnerving in its full capacity.
“Go!” he shouted. “We’ll take care of this!”
Nodding, Averil sped off after his lady, intent to get her away from the fight as quickly as possible.
Amery leveled his spear and went to his twin’s aid. Within moments, the pair of them were circling the furious Ursula like a whirlpool, Amery slashing with his spear, Antony yanking at her tentacles. They did no great damage, as expected, but it served to distract her long enough for Averil to get clear.
Averil raced through the water, his fins swishing furiously. He could see the outline of the rowboat Erryn must have borrowed, as well as his brother’s tail. At the surface, Averil nearly exploded out of the water next to Alec, breathing heavily. He shook the water out of his scarlet hair.
Erryn nearly pitched herself out of the boat trying to reach him. He had no shirt she could grab, so she settled to cup his face with one hand. The sky above had turned dark as pitch, stormy thunder clouds swirling into a frightening hurricane. The waves were no longer calm; now they danced with the lightning, tossing about frantically.
“Are you okay?” she demanded. “You’re not hurt, are you?”
“N-no, I’m fine,” Averil stammered, blinking. He could have sworn she was upset with him, but there was something under the ferocity of her voice…
She sighed gratefully, and sat back.
“Don’t scare me like that,” she chastised him, as she began wringing out her long, black hair. She sounded like he had simply chosen to do something a bit dangerous, like stay out all night, not grown fins and started an oceanic war. Something was clearly wrong with this girl and her priorities. Still, Averil wasn’t complaining.
“Listen, you have to get out of here,” he insisted, his gaze flicking nervously back and forth. “That witch-”
But Erryn was already shaking her head.
“I’m not leaving you,” she said firmly. “It took me this long to find you in the first place, I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“You’ll drown,” Averil protested. His knuckles were white against the side of the boat. The water beneath him was growing uncomfortably cold. Colder than it should have been. The sky was laced with lightning. It was hauntingly reminiscent of the first night Averil and Erryn had ‘met’, and the shipwreck.
Averil flinched. That was the first time he had ever heard Erryn truly raise her voice. Only then did he remember how she felt about being left behind. He was concerned for her safety, but she seemed inexplicably more interested in his.
The water began to chill and bubble, sending shivers up everyone’s spine. Suddenly, without warning, it was as though a mountain grew between the princess and the two merprinces. It was a golden mass rising up, knocking all three of them aside. Erryn shrieked as her little boat toppled, sending her into the water once more. Alec and Averil grasped arms, holding on for dear life, as they were carried up, into the air, by an enormous, terrifying figure.
Ursula the sea-witch had used the trident’s power (or perhaps her own magic) to enhance her physical figure. She was now a hundred feet tall, a giantess with octopus tentacles, emerging from the torrential waves like a legendary kraken. Alec and Averil clung to her crown, searching the waters for any sign of the princess. As soon as they saw her head and shoulders appear above water, they glanced at one another.
Blue eyes met steely gray, and both understood. As one, the brothers used their powerful tails to leap off and away from the giant-witch, falling a hundred feet to the icy water below. Alec raised his forearms and crashed into the water like a cannon blast, followed by his brother (who managed with a bit more grace). They surfaced, somehow fighting the urge to laugh hysterically at their own antics. From the crinkle around Alec’s eyes, Averil could tell that there was some small part of his brother that thought this was a grand adventure.
Their battle glee vanished quickly, as they became the targets of Ursula’s attention.
“You pitiful, insignificant fools!” she boomed, her voice magnified above even the thunder. Averil fought his way to Erryn’s side through the crashing waves, pulling her close to him. If they were going to die, he wasn’t going to let either of them do it alone. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and Averil wondered if her subsequent shiver was due to the cold, or the feel of his scaly tail against her feet. He shoved the thought aside.
“Now I am the ruler of all the ocean!” Ursula thundered, raising the oversized trident to the thundery sky. Lightning crackled and flashed around her, as the winds picked up speed.
She lowered the tip to the water and drew it in a large circle. Obeying her commands, the water itself began to circle and spin, forming a dangerous whirlpool the size of Erryn’s castle.
“The waves obey my every whim,” the witch cackled. With a sly grin, she flicked the trident. The water responded in a large wave, and Averil felt its heavy drag pulling him out of Erryn’s grasp. He clung tighter, but the power of the ocean was no longer on his side. The cool waters that once gave him strength had become a toxic entity, eager to destroy him.
“Erryn!” he shouted desperately as her pale hand was torn away from his.
“Averil!” Erryn screamed as the waves carried him away, tossing him into Ursula’s whirlpool of death. Through the darkness and the mounting hurricane, she could barely see a thing. It was freezing cold, and the only person she knew was now gone. Even his brother was nowhere to be seen, having vanished somewhere beneath the waves.
When she turned back, the princess saw only a black and violet octopus tentacle descending toward her. Then, her world went black.
The swirl of green and white froth that surrounded Averil nearly blocked his vision completely. Only the firm feeling of muddy ground against his palms told him that he was still alive. The wind whistled in his ears the way it did on land.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself at the bottom of Ursula’s whirlpool. She had used her waves to strand him there, trapped and at her mercy. The water swirled around him at dangerously high speed, spraying him with saltwater. He blinked in frustration- in this combination of wind and water, he could hardly see.
Suddenly, heat bloomed to his left. Terrifying heat that flashed and disappeared, like lightning. Averil dove right, rubbing vigorously at his eyes. With a loud crack, he felt another flash of heat in front of him. The witch was toying with him, or so it seemed.
Her dug his nails into the mud, tensing his fists.
“Come down here and fight me to my face!” he shouted up to the witch, his voice cracking with the strain of trying to be heard over the rushing waves and thunder.
Ursula cackled madly, and pointed the trident. She shot another blast of lightning at him, which missed by mere inches.
“Don’t tempt me, little prince,” she thundered. “Or didn’t anyone ever teach you to be careful what you wish for?”
Averil had to quickly dive aside to avoid another strike.
“You’ve no one to blame but yourself!” Ursula bellowed.
Averil’s heart began to sink. He was as trapped as a goldfish in a glass bowl, with no way to escape. The intensity of the whirlpool’s edges kept him from the water, and simultaneously kept anyone from coming to his rescue. Anyone with fins would be shredded by the water’s sheer speed.
It would take a miracle to save him now.
The howl of the wind was impossible to ignore, even for the unconscious.
The princess opened bleary eyes, her head pounding. Blinking water out of her eyes, she coughed harshly.
“Good, you’re alive.”
That low voice was not one Erryn recognized. She sat up quickly, heart racing. Her eyes fell upon a handsome young man, somewhat older than Averil. He was visible only from the torso up, his lower half hidden by the edge of the ship.
Glancing around, Erryn realized that she was no longer in the water. Beneath her hands and feet was solid wood, if soaking and half-rotten. This ship was certainly not in sailing condition. There were holes everywhere, the sort blown in by cannonballs and torn by sharp rocks. Only the high winds were keeping the wreck afloat at all, caught up in the spinning force of Ursula’s whirlpool. It was dragging all sorts of driftwood and debris to the surface, including a few sunken ships.
“Where’s Averil?” Erryn demanded of her rescuer.
“Trapped,” he responded tersely. “We can’t get to him. Even if we could get close, that trident gives her power over every creature with fins.”
Erryn’s mouth set into a grim line, as the wind whipped through her long hair.
“What do I have to do?” she asked, no hesitation in her voice at all.
Dark eyes flashed.
“Listen very closely.”
“So much for true love!” the giant witch intoned, her voice booming over the crackling sky.
Ursula raised the trident over her head, eyes red with battle fury. She had gone far beyond mad. She bared her teeth and hissed, aiming her strike.
Her target stared defiantly back at her, swiping his crimson hair out of his face, determined to face her to the very last moment.
Please don’t miss, please don’t miss, have to hold on-
Pale hands gripped the shuddering wheel. It took all of Erryn’s strength to control it, as the whirlpool dragged against her with the power of the tumultuous ocean.
It happened in mere seconds, but it felt like an eternity. As the lightning lit up the sky, the silhouette of Erryn’s ghost ship rose up behind the witch, its crags and broken edges jutting out dangerously.
Ursula’s lips pulled back across her teeth in a mad grin.
At the bottom of the whirlpool, Averil’s azure eyes twitched in fear.
At just the right moment, Erryn pulled the wheel to the right with every ounce of strength the had. She only had to go against the current for one second to make it. Just one second.
Please don’t miss.
Suddenly, the sea witch’s bloodshot eyes widened. Her mouth opened into a shocked ‘O’, and only a choking, gurgling sound escaped. Bluish-gray octopus blood bloomed across her round stomach, followed by a sharp wooden stake.
The ship’s mast had been broken at some point in its former life, leaving it with a pointed and jagged edge that stuck out like a javelin. A large weapon for a large monster. Erryn had pinned the witch like an insect on a card- who knew such a little girl could make such a huge difference?
The ship shook violently as the witch’s giant body shuddered. The crazed light in her eyes faded, glazing over in the twitches of death. The whirlpool began to slow, and then to fill itself in. Averil’s small form vanished under the gathering waves, his face wide with shock. The trident fell from Ursula’s hand and crashed into the water, its power forgotten. It sank quickly, shrinking back to its original size.
The dark storm clouds began to slowly dissipate, leaving only the pinkish-violet glow of early morning. The crashing waves slowed, and were soon no more than ripples across the surface.
Erryn hung on to the ship’s wheel for dear life, clinging to the wood like a monkey as the sea witch’s corpse sank slowly into the water. When the princess was about twenty feet from the water, she remembered her rescuer’s advice, and jumped as far away from the wreckage as she could, to avoid being trapped by the suction.
She smiled triumphantly to herself as she disappeared into the sea, just as the first rays of dawn appeared over the horizon.
The worst was over.