Chapter 11: The City-State of Mystery
Rodion tightens his grip on Serena once more for possibly the twentieth time in the last hour. Vilmaris didn’t seem that far away when they arrived, but he’s been cursing Calder the entire time they’ve been swimming along.
For the most part, the entire landscape is basically dead. As if all the life had been sucked out of the entirety of this part of the ocean. Wrathful screams can be heard in the distance. According to Storm and Pelagios, those would be the psychotic sirens. Something they should try to avoid by whatever means necessary.
There’s another sound that can be heard echoing across the ocean like a vengeful melody. The cries of whales are unending as they forever pierce what might have been a chilling silence. Storm and Pelagios refer to the beasts as the Great Protectors. Apparently whales are the most revered of sea creatures, and the merpeople go to great lengths to protect them and their home.
However, Pelagios has also warned that the Great Protectors have been acting strange of late and are not to be approached. Luckily for them, Storm has made it quite clear that they are nowhere near the massive animals, so they should be safe for the time being.
Rodion takes a second to glance down at Serena once again. Her face remains in a peaceful façade of slumber, not at all bothered by the world around her. But he knows better. Surely she must be going mad, being trapped within the confines of her own mind. Such is a place that none of the Adamaris siblings would ever dare remain in. Their minds have never been a peaceful place. Not since their mother anyway…
A particularly loud screech has Rodion wincing as Storm seems to go rigid.
“I take it that’s not a good sound?” Calder asks with an air of complete nonchalance about the whole situation.
Pelagios gazes around at their surroundings as Storm clenches his fists.
“Not really, no.” Yet he doesn’t elaborate any further than that as he urges their small group to move faster.
Meanwhile, Calder has taken to frowning at Storm with obvious annoyance. “Care to enlighten the rest of us?”
Storm gives a low grunt as the city gates finally become visible a few miles further. “That sound is one usually made by a hunting party of sirens. The fact that it was so close is cause for alarm.”
Pelagios gives a sigh when his brother ceases all explanation and chooses to continue it. “Essentially it means that the sirens are either heading in this general direction or they’ll be passing by at too close a distance to be comfortable.”
Calder nods with a satisfied smile on his face while Rodion just scowls. He fixes Calder with an annoyed glare that the sorcerer doesn’t even bat an eye over.
“Well maybe if someone hadn’t landed us so damn far away!” Rodion utters pointedly as Calder waves a dismissive hand.
“Like I said: I have never been to these waters. Be glad that you made it here in one piece at all.”
But Rodion isn’t convinced. “Okay then why couldn’t either one of you just teleport us here? I was given to understand that all you people had some kind of magic!” Pelagios idly shrugs as Storm drags a hand down his face. The sirens screeches grow a little louder causing them to move even quicker.
Storm blandly answers, “There are some mers that don’t have as high an affinity with magic. Rather, we don’t have as much as others do. Therefore we’d only be able to make two trips a day with one other person.”
Rodion just huffs as they crest over yet another mound of sand and dead seaweed. His grip briefly loosens around Serena, but he’s quick to tighten it once more and secure her firmly to his chest as he struggles to keep speed with the others.
Several months with a tail and he still has yet to fully master its functionalities.
Suddenly all movement seems to cease when a deafeningly loud screech reaches their ears from a couple yards away.
Storm gives a curse as all eyes turn to a group of strange creatures rushing towards them at a ridiculous speed. Rodion’s pretty sure that not even mers could move that fast.
Calder goes on the defensive as the group finds themselves surrounded within minutes by several ghastly creatures that might’ve once been merpeople.
Their skin ranges from a sickly pale white to a frightening gray with large dark eyes devoid of feeling. Their gaping mouths hold a row of terrifyingly sharp teeth that look about as sharp as the razors that are their fingernails. Each one has a different hair color that looks wiry and thin with some of the webbing torn between their ears and hands.
Rodion immediately takes notice of their dangerous looking tails that flip about agitatedly. Each tail is of a different dark color, almost black, and all of them are similar to a dolphin’s with a stingray’s barb attached to them.
They screech and hiss loudly as they circle the group. For a second, Rodion almost wasn’t able to discern their genders due to the strange way that their torsos are completely plated. Yet the males seem to have broader chests with more prominent gills lining their ribs.
“Pay attention!” Storm hisses as Rodion narrowly avoids a well-aimed barb that nearly impaled his sleeping sister.
“Well, what do we do?” Rodion asks loudly as the sirens dart back and forth, each one trying to land a hit with their barbs or nails.
Storm curses agitatedly as he tries to come up with a functional solution that wouldn’t get anyone killed. Calder tried some kind of spell, but that just fizzled out and didn’t do anything.
“Damn it all! They’re impervious to magic and I don’t have as much power here without permission from the Queen,” mutters the sorcerer as he catches a siren by her arms when she tried to swipe at him. He narrowly avoids her tail as he throws her backward with an unusual display of strength.
Rodion draws back further into the circle the four are making as the sirens begin to grow bolder with each movement.
Pelagios brandishes a sword, but little good it’ll do them now that they’ve been pressed to each other’s backs.
A deep horn abruptly sounds from out of nowhere. The sirens stop their noises as they collectively look to the source. All four males turn to look as well as Storm utters something with relief on his face.
In the distance, a small legion of mers can be seen rushing towards them atop armor-clad hippocampi. A glint of silver flashes across their bodies, obviously they also don protective armor. Leading them is a helmet-less woman with long, flowing red hair carrying a sharpened spear atop a coral colored hippocampus.
She gives a battle cry as she points her spear forward to signal the rest of her warriors to rush forward.
However, it hardly seems necessary since the sirens, seeing that they’re outnumbered, have already begun a chaotic retreat. They slide over and bump against one another as they try to flee. The warriors come to a halt when they reach Rodion and the others, not the least bit interested in pursuing the fleeing sirens.
The warriors clear a path as the dark-skinned woman comes forward. Her eyes are closed, suggesting that she may be blind, and not once does she open them even when she begins talking.
“I had expected to greet you at the gates. Certainly not in the midst of this hellish scape.” Her voice is smooth with a tone of power laced within it. She readjusts her spear as she turns her head to Storm with an expectant expression.
Storm seems to understand the silent demand and readily responds. “As you know, in place of Lady Marina, Lord Calder has transported us.”
The woman nods in understanding, needing no further explanation. “I see. I understand you hold minimal power in these waters, especially having never been here. It would have been prudent of us to have waited closer to your arrival location.”
Calder merely shrugs his shoulders with a derisive sound, suggesting that he doesn’t particularly care. Rodion more or less twitches an eyebrow as he tries to rein in the fowl words working at his lips. After all, it’s Calder’s fault that they ended up out here in the first place!
Storm clears his throat right then as he turns to face Calder and Rodion. “A little late now but allow me to introduce one of Vilmaris’s most respected generals, Demetra Cosmellos.”
Demetra smiles as she gives a small introductory bow. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” A frown slips onto her face when the screeches of the siren start up once more alongside the wailing of the Great Protectors. “I suggest we continue this conversation in more safer surrounds. Let us make haste back to Vilmaris.”
With that said, Demetra makes a gesture to a cluster of warriors who come forward with four virile hippocampi of varying shades.
“They will serve you well for the ride to Vilmaris.” Nothing else is said as the four climb atop a hippocampus. Rodion has a little more trouble since he’s carrying Serena, but after a little maneuvering he’s able to secure himself atop a grey hippocampus with wild eyes.
The large group immediately take up a hasty pace back to the kingdom, and Rodion’s mount is most eager to move at full speed.
Every now and then the creature will buck just the slightest bit, causing Rodion to curse the thing vehemently. Apparently the thing isn’t one for sitting still, and even less for being calm.
Calder finds it amusing as he teases Rodion every now and then about not dropping Serena. Rodion simply replies with a nasty glare and a few choice words that leaves some of the Vilmarian warriors with strange looks when they hear them.
For the most part, Rodion spends the rest of the trip in a rather foul mood.
Upon passing through the gilded gates, Rodion finds himself a little speechless. A sight of otherworldly beauty greets him as soon as their group enters Vilmaris.
The buildings appear to be made from marble with crystal ornaments, and the beautiful bright colors make the city almost radiant.
People move about through the city with carefree smiles on their faces. Each one of a different skin color with tails consisting of varying shades of the ocean.
It isn’t at all what he had been expecting from what he’s previously heard of the city. He more or less expected it look more desolate like its surrounds, with people consistently on edge. He expected bleak expressions and vicious looks with conflict around every corner.
But the scene before him is the picture of peace and everyone seems to coexist just fine. Rodion doesn’t even think racism could be a thing in this isolated kingdom like it is where he comes from.
Everyone seems to treat each other as equals with respect for one another and the stark contrast leaves Rodion a little culture shocked.
But when people begin to take notice of Demetra, they clear a path for the legion. There are cheers and words of praise as she passes. People bow and greet her as she does in turn. Obviously, Demetra is much loved here.
But there’s something strange about this scene. Or rather what appears to be missing.
In all the time they had been moving along the street, Rodion hasn’t seen too many children. At least, not as many as there should’ve been in a crowd this large.
And any children that he does see are kept close to their parents’ sides. Rodion looks to Calder with a curious gaze only for the sorcerer to return the look with a shake of his head. Of course, it’s none of his business what goes on here.
The only reason they came here was to save his sister. So nothing else should matter, and yet it still bothers him to a small degree that almost seems to annoy him.
However, Rodion simply pushes the feelings away as the grand visage of the Vilmarian palace looms in sight.