They’d been swimming for a day since the mermaid who’d kidnapped him had handed him over to his newest captors. The pace they’d set was brutal and with the blindfold cutting off his vision he had to rely on his other senses alone to tell him anything about where he was. His instincts were buzzing, his gakineh in overdrive.
The doctor knew that they were not on any of the well-used routes that the merfolk used to traverse the ocean. He only wished he’d known so completely that the wounded mermaid was not as harmed or as helpless as she’d looked. She had said that the large gash in her tail was an accident and though he’d known that it was probable that the wound was self-inflicted he hadn’t said anything. He’d simply set about fixing it. It was while he’d been gluing the wound together however that he’d started to feel his scales prickle.
Merfolk weren’t immune to self-destructive tendencies though it was rare in a society that tended to express any sort of destruction on the ones around them rather than on themselves but it did happen. As a doctor, Orenidan encountered these merfolk who embarked on this rare path more than most of his kin which is probably why he had begun to feel uneasy. The edges of the wound were too clean to be done with claws, the depth too even for something done in mental distress. Coupled with the fact his patient was watching him intently as if she was just waiting for a moment to strike made him deeply suspicious. The recent spate of deaths didn’t help matters. He had tensed in response and had been hoping dearly that he wasn’t going to be the next victim while keeping an eye on one of his surgical knives.
He’d just finished patch the wound when his patient had struck. He’d opened his mouth to blast her with a sonic wave but she jabbed him in the throat, cutting of his attempt. Two blows had followed one in the gills and another in the stomach. He had used his tail to block her tail strike and scrambled for the knife. He’d just gotten his fingers around it when she’d plowed into his back. The knife had flown from his fingers while the breath had fled his body. The moment he’d taken to recover was enough for his former patient to pin him and then one of his own sleeping droughts had been poured down his throat. In another minute the room had simply faded into darkness.
He had awakened hours later with his hands tied behind his back, a ball of cloth stuffed into his mouth and gag over that and the blindfold in place. Two long pieces of wood had been strapped to the front and back of him, splinting his tail in place and impeding his ability to either swim or fight.
His captor had been dragging him along at a ridiculously fast pace. He’d thought then that she’d burn herself out before she ever got far away enough to lose the pursues who would definitely come for them soon. Instead after another two hours she’d veered sharply to the right and led them of the route they’d followed till then. She’d forged her way through the ocean waves while Orenidan struggled to identify where he was. By the warmth of the water and the pressure against his scales they hadn’t gone extremely far from Nailecta but the distance was still considerable. The worst was that he hadn’t known and still didn’t know which direction she had taken him in.
They had slowed two hours after that and finally came to a stop. He’d focused his ears, had heard the near silent swish of tails and then new hands had grabbed him and borne him off again.
It was the moment when he had finally begun to feel fear. His first kidnapper had had that shallow slice on her tail and though he’d patched it up, the blood would still be fairly simple to track. But he could get no blood scent from these two new mers and he could definitely tell that they were both bigger and stronger than he. Any attempt to get away now would fail and he’d be either recaptured or killed. He’d cursed himself silently then. He should have attempted to escape when he’d had only one kidnapper.
Now he was far away from Nailecta and by the increase in pressure and the decrease in temperature, they were very deep into the ocean and were heading even deeper.
He’d wondered for some time why he’d been kidnapped before the obvious answer had occurred to him. He was a doctor. He was a doctor and someone clearly had need of his services though why they couldn’t come through the normal channels was more than he could say. Why they hadn’t even attempted the tried and true method of bribing doctors for black market services was also a mystery since Nailecta existed within no bounds of any sovereign’s kingdom and wasn’t beholden to any of their laws. In fact, the only rules Nailecta played by were those of its own making. Occasionally they accepted help from the sovereign of Teroceanican but those were singular cases and only given when the merfolk of Nailecta felt they could not handle the problem themselves. Altogether Orenidan felt, the person behind his kidnapping was an idiot.
It was far into the night when they finally slowed. Orenidan tried to pick up as many clues as he could about the place he was in, but it turned out that his efforts were for nothing. This was not where he was to be taken, it was just a pit stop of sorts. First the outer gag was taken off, next came claws on his throat threatening to rip it out if he attempted to attack them, next the wad of cloth came out and then little boluses of mashed up fish was pushed into his mouth. There was nothing for him to do, save swallow. Feeding like this went quickly and then the wad of cloth was back in his mouth, the gag on over it and finally the claws removed themselves from his throat. Then, all his bonds were tested to make sure that there was none loose. Once they were satisfied that he was, in fact, secure, they set about erasing their tracks using artae.
There was a moment, like the whole ocean was holding its breath and then soft spheres of light bloomed, bright enough that he could notice behind his blindfold. But something was wrong. The light was both strong and dull. It took him a moment to understand. The colour was off. The light itself was intense, but the colour wasn’t the traditional white. He couldn’t tell what colour it was. He’d never ever had cause to try. There was no other colour but white. There shouldn’t have been. The ocean shivered. It vibrated. It hummed. And then, then it screamed.
Orenidan ducked his head to get away from the sound, even though he knew that the screaming wasn’t actually audible, that there was no noise actually emanating from the water around him. Yet it was there. It was there because artae was the essence of life and this, this was the very worst of life. He instinctively wanted to reach out, to soothe the ocean’s cries, to help, to heal. His own limited ability to use artae came into play, slowly dragging itself forward.
It took a few moments for his kidnappers to realize that he was using artae and when they did, he heard them hiss and then he was wacked really, really hard on the head.
The first thing he notices when he comes to is that it’s cold. The water he inhales freezes his insides and makes him shiver a little. His gills want to shrivel away into his insides and if he didn’t need to survive, he’d let them. The second is that the pressure is enough to make even a merman uncomfortable if they haven’t trained for it, which means wherever he is, it’s really, really, deep. The third thing he notices is the pain. The back of his head throbs, the pain hitting him more as he slowly comes to consciousness. He groans, and reaches a shaky hand to touch the back of his head. It comes into contact with the matted mess of his hair and when he probes, he gets the sticky feel of blood before the water starts to seep in. He stops probing because the mat of hair is probably the only thing keeping him from bleeding out. Head wounds are nasty and even if he doesn’t exsanguinate, he’ll probably attract the attention of something that would love to make a tasty meal of him. Since he’s in no condition to fight, he’d probably get eaten.
He slits his eyes open and tries to determine where he is only to be met with darkness. After a moment he remembers the blindfold and swipes at his face only to realize that there’s nothing there. Either he’s blind, a distinct possibility depending on how hard he was hit, or it’s just really, really dark.
It comes to him a moment later that aside from having no blindfold, he has no gag, his tail is freed as is his hands. Has he been let go? Has he been left behind after all?
“The mender of flesh awakes.” The voice comes echoing out of the darkness, reverberating all around him. It is deep, smooth and carries a hint of threat, in every word. Orenidan tenses and then scrambles up from where he’d been lying down. Pain spikes in his head but he ignores it and flexes his claws ready to defend himself at who or what may be lying in the shadows. When he doesn’t reply, there is the sound of something stirring and ripples in the water tells him that something has indeed moved but isn’t coming towards him.
“I would advise you to answer my call mender of flesh or I will be forced to rend your flesh so very thoroughly that not even one as skilled as you, mender of flesh, would be able to put it all back together.”
“I am awake,” Orenidan said, eyes still fighting to pierce the darkness that cloaked him and the speaker.
“So, it has been established. The tides running according to the moon could not have been clearer.”
Orenidan clenches his jaw but waits for the voice to tell him what exactly he is doing here. His skin and scales prickles as the feeling of being watched increases.
“Ease yourself,” the voice says calmly, after a moment. “Trying to escape would only lead to dismal failure. As I still have use for you, failure fails to be synonymous with death. Mender of flesh, I will make you beg for death but I find such endeavors wastes of time. I will not appreciate it if you make me waste my time. Fail to disappoint me while you are within my presence.”
“Understood,” Orenidan said but still didn’t relax.
The voice studied him again and then something shifted again and the voice spoke up. “I find myself in need of your services mender of flesh. You will provide those services.”
“For how long?” Orenidan says.
“For as long as I will it,” the voice says. “You will do nothing but what I will. You lie in the heart of my domain. You are in the seat of my power. While you remain within my boundaries you have no will of your own.”
“You,” said Orenidan deliberately, “are not a sovereign. Only sovereigns of the oceans and seas may make claims of domains and seats of power. All other claims are false and unworthy and are insulting to any creature that you would claim rule over.”
He doesn’t know what happens next but there is rage and then blood is in the water, his head, back and arm crying out with pain. He is still trying to collect his wits when the voice speaks again.
“How curious that you would make so impassioned a defense of sovereigns when you live under the rule of none of them, have chosen to do so for oh so many years. Why defend rulers you clearly don’t believe in?”
Orenidan wonders if his captor is truly that insane as to expect him to have a conversation right after behind slammed into what feels like a jagged trench wall.
When a subvocal growl sounds, he remembers that his captor apparently likes to be answered and thus does, in fact, expect him to answer the question.
“Their rule is true,” he said in reply. “Just because I don’t choose to live under it, doesn’t mean I question the validity of their rule.”
“And how does one tell such validity?” the voice questions relentlessly. “Is it because everyone says so?”
“No,” Orenidan says, after taking in a pained inhale of water. “They hold their territory with power, with artae. No kingdom of the ocean and seas has ever been built on theoretical power. It would not last. It would not be allowed to last.”
“Ahh,” says the voice sounding almost pleased. “There it is. Kingdoms are held by power. Now mender of flesh, tell me if I lack power!”
It happens in a flash. Orenidan barely gets time to suck in another breath when the whole ocean goes silent, still and then to a shrill humming in less than a second. Light blooms around and this time he doesn’t have a blindfold stopping him from seeing what colour it is.
When he sees it though, he almost wishes he still did have the blindfold. Light is blooming around him but it’s wrong. The light is black, flickering to grey on occasion. Everything around him has a stark, pained look around him, as if they wish to get away from their shadows but are being consumed by them instead.
For all that the light is black, there is still illumination. The shadows aren’t vanquished so much as they shift around, drifting closer to the globes of light. Images seem to flicker on the edges of his sight. Images of death and blood and betrayal. The ocean isn’t screaming so much as giving shuddering sobs.
“What in all the tides and waves?” he whispers. “What is this? What have you done?” He spins towards the voice and realizes that in the glow of the black globes, the speaker that the voice belongs to is clearly visible.
Long, dark red hair floats about his face and a strange pattern of red and black scales dance down the length of his tail which is almost twice as long as any merman’s he’s ever seen. The speaker’s eyes are sharply cut almond shapes and the center of each is flooded with a surprising splotch of vibrant, crystalline blue. His nose is aristocratic and in juxtaposition his lips are soft and full. They’re the only part of him that is soft. The planes of his face are sharp and hard and the rest of his body is lean, ripped muscle. In better light Orenidan would almost say that he looked ill rather than well-shaped.
The thought stops him in his tracks. Of course. The speaker isn’t well. That was why he was here. Orenidan studies him more carefully now, with a doctor’s eye. Though the speaker is looking utterly unfazed by the effort it must be taking to use that much artae, he looks like he is just on the edge of a long convalescence. There is a terrible scar down his chest that looks like it actually hasn’t healed in places. Other finer silver scars trace themselves around his limbs and he is resting against the trench wall. His skin looks sallow as well, and his tail isn’t as fat or as firm as it should be.
Whoever this is, he’d been in a terrible fight and he had not come out on top. Orenidan desperately wondered who could do such a thing to his captor and where could he find them so that they could finish the job.
“You look like the hunt got the better of you,” he said.
The speaker’s eyes darkened and the ocean’s sobbing turned back into screaming. Orenidan winced.
“No,” his captor said, softly, silkily, “The hunt did not. It failed to end me. I will not fail to end them. And in the end, all their attempt to kill me did was hand me the means to destroy each and every one of them.”
Orenidan considered his captor and then asked, “Would it displease you if I ask who is the ‘them’ you refer to?”
His captor smiled and the light grows brighter. “All the sovereigns of the oceans and seas.”