Stark was still holding her down, but it was obvious she was enjoying the sensuality of his touch. She pressed her large breasts up against his hard body and batted her eyelashes at him. He appeared unaffected, however. His large hands clasped around her tiny wrists, as the weight of his torso held her in place. She moved her face into him. He whipped his backward as she did so, missing her kiss. She sighed and rolled her eyes as her head flopped over and retreated to the sand.
“So, what is it that you need my help with?” she asked.
“We need to shape-shift into mermaids to get across to Issiryth’s island without being killed,” I spilled.
“Well, well. Is that so? How do you plan to do that? We don’t trust one another at all,” she responded.
“That’s not set in stone,” I said. “You trust Stark don’t you?”
“Mermaids trust no one. We are trained to kill. Stark means nothing to me,” she lied.
“That’s debatable,” he said looking at her. Her head tilted up to him, pursing out her lips for a kiss, but he again resisted.
“Come on baby. Don’t you want to have fun with me again?” she asked.
“Not now Serena. Do you think you can help us?” Stark asked again.
“Perhaps, but what do I get out of this?” she asked.
“You get the satisfaction of knowing you took the most precious thing to Blane away from him,” he responded. My stomach twisted into knots.
“Oh,” she said with her face perking up. “In that case, let’s get started.”
He released her from his grasp, picking her up and placing her back into the cold water. As her giant mermaid tail soaked, she let out a sigh of relief. Stark kept a tight grip on her wrists, only allowing her limited movement.
“Okay Liza, I’m going to do it first. Then, you’ll try. Okay?” Stark said looking at me. I nodded. He seated himself next to Serena in the water staring at her and holding her hands. He was visibly trying to concentrate on morphing into something else. He closed his eyes and took some deep breaths. Not too much happened. Serena smiled at him then, looked down at their hands interlocked with one another. He squinted his eyes, trying to concentrate.
“Damn it. How did we do it before?”
“Maybe you should let me try first,” I said seating myself next to them.
“Be my guest,” he said standing up and extending out his hand.
Serena rolled her eyes but took my hand anyway. I gazed deep into her blue eyes, peering into her soul. We sat in the ocean water, just staring at one another as she slapped her giant tail up and down... I could hear the sound of her thudding heart. Soon the tinge of anxiety welled up in my gut. Her memories spun a web of despair inside of me. I could feel her fragile heart. She was vulnerable. Shunned by those she called family, her one true desire was love. The emptiness created deep caverns of nothingness which she tried to fill with attention and mischief. This was the same heart that was compelled to kill. The chill of a cold-blooded murder seethed my skin like a brass rod on a snowy day. Her emotion became as dull as a butter knife as she terminated the life of human beings. There was nothing to her, but a tiny ant needing to be squashed out of existence. As her energy jolted throughout me, I could feel my legs sticking together like a mouth-full of peanut butter. I too was slapping my large, blue tail around. The corners of her lips turned up as she placed her hands over her heart. I touched her face with tears welling up in my eyes.
“You are a valuable treasure you know? You deserve love just as much as anyone else,” I said. She touched the back of my hand and held it there on her cheek.
“Thank you,” she whispered, letting down the veil of jealousy. She grabbed my hand and pulled me down under the water. The propulsion of her tail moved us forward like a locomotive engine. The pressure of the water pushed against my face, making my hair fly backward. I held strong to Serena, knowing that in relinquishing the close contact, I would be stranded to my originality. We swam through the cove in what felt like only seconds, when we circled around and brought our heads out of the water to see Stark. His head was down in his hands, brushing his blonde hair back out of his face. He was frowning with his eyebrows crinkled.
“This is amazing! Stark, you have to try this!” I exclaimed, looking at his dismayed face.
“No, that’s okay,” he responded.
“Come on Stark baby! You can do it!” Serena exclaimed.
Every muscle of his body was flexing. Serena and I smiled at one another. He did a shallow dive in the water, swimming out until he found himself in between the two of us. Each of us took a turn kissing the prickly stubble on his cheek. He flexed each arm, filling the eager hands that held them. He turned to Serena, looking into her eyes once more. Soon, I could no longer feel legs kicking against me, but a large tail. Stark shot up out of the water like a jack-in-the-box.
“Woah!” I exclaimed.
We swam around in the cove to our own dance, taking turns shooting out of the water and making patterns of bubbles trailing behind us. Out of breath, we stopped and rested ashore. We sat, looking down at our tails side-by-side as the waves splashed over them.
“There are a few things you guys need to keep in mind if we are swimming over there,” Serena said.
“Okay, like what? Can’t we just swim over there? It can’t take that long,” I responded.
“Well, it’s not a question of whether or not it takes a long time. If someone tries to cross the boundary, an alarm will sound that all the sea creatures can hear. We are obligated to kill any living soul that tries to cross. We kill, period. Can you handle that?” she asked looking at me.
“I.....,” I began. Stark put his finger to my lips.
“Yes, we can. We’ll do whatever it takes,” he said.
“Okay, good. I’m serious guys. It can happen at any time. We kill,” she said. Her eyes widened as she looked up at me.
“Yea, yea, we got it. We kill!” Stark said. I swallowed hard as my stomach clenched with anxiety. Could I do this?
The gravity of the situation weighed on me like a ton of bricks. The heaviness of the burden was all too much to hold while the memory of Blane still replayed in my mind like a re-run. I remembered the first time I looked at his beautiful face in the banquet room. The way he pressed his hand into my back as his breath grazed my skin brought me back to an enchanted time. One where his very touch evoked emotion inside of my wounded heart. He touched me in places that were often neglected and misunderstood. Despite my resistance, he endured, awakening my passion and eventually bringing me into love. Beyond all sensibility, I loved this man and I felt an unease in my actions. Still though, I took a deep breath in the faith that I must choose my mind over my heart this time.
I hooked my right arm into Stark’s muscular left and my left arm into Serena’s bony right. Arm-in-arm we began our trek into the tumultuous waters. The pressure of the current beat against my face like a violent wind in a storm. Our large mermaid tails pumped against the current of the water as it pushed our hair backward. We swung our arms forward, making our way to our destination. The seaweed danced along the bottom of the ocean, bidding us a good journey. I was astounded by the synchronicity of the ocean creatures. A clown fish brushed its fins against the anemone as a school of fish slithered by in ribbons of blue, red, and yellow. Nearby a pod of dolphins nodded at us as we swam by them, giving us their approval. The clear blue ocean water afforded us vision to the distant corners of the ocean floor beneath us. The light of the sun shimmered down, making shadows below. I watched our shadowy figures swimming along become more distant and less distinct as they moved further and further away from us. The water was deep, but how deep? As we moved along, it became more difficult to discern.
Just ahead, the water seemed to be a different kind of blue. The way the sun hit it, it was much less green. It was the kind of blue you see on a summer day without a single cloud in the sky. It was a blue that would calm your storm or sing you a lullaby at bedtime. It was the blue of serenity. Serena let out a loud whistle, pointing toward it. I scrunched up my nose and constricted my hooked-in arms to each side of me, pulling the pair of them closer. My stomach churned with a sick acid that festered in my esophagus. I wanted the blue to sing me its sweet lullaby as the seaweed danced to its song. I wanted the lull of the swimming creatures to entertain my eyes. I wanted the encouragement of the dolphins, but none of that happened when I crossed to the blue. Soon my eardrums had been pierced like a wire hanger stabbing down my ear canal. It was a high-pitched scream that would put a baby to shame.
A long snake-like sea creature with large jagged teeth swam past us heading its call. It was the size of a whale, yet it moved like an eel. He stopped over a school of fish that scattered like exposed cockroaches in the midst of extermination. His large body slithered and circled around and around, never leaving the one area toward the surface of the water. My eyes scanned the surrounding area, but I saw nothing. The pit of my stomach wrenched with anxiety. Perhaps a false alarm? Serena whistled again, pointing out to the ocean water where the creature was circling as she pulled us toward him. She shook her head as Stark and I tensed up, disallowing her to move, instead encouraging her to swim back up to the top. As we approached the surface, we could see a fiery explosion cascading downward. Jagged rocks began descending around us, barely missing our arms and tails as we swam upward. Clasping to each other’s arms, we moved closer to the top, when all at once, our camaraderie was demolished.
A strong current flushed through the water like a pressure washer, forcing us apart. Frantic, we swam in all directions and I managed to find a hand to hold. I looked down at my body. There was still a large tail moving beneath me, ensuring that my mermaid body was still intact. I pulled on the hand I was holding, moving us closer to the surface of the water where there was a heat so fierce it threatened to swallow us whole. I felt the burn of a crackling fire against the crown of my head as I emerged, forcing me to plunge back down beneath. I looked down to see that the creature was still circling around with its jagged teeth wide open to its next victim. My arm strained to hold strong against the less than gentle tug at the other end. Serena shook her head as she squeezed my hand, pulling me again toward the sea creature. When I looked to my right, Stark was nowhere. I pulled on her arm, moving my tail with every bit of strength I had. I needed to get back to the surface. I pulled her against her will back up as our heads emerged together. The crown of my head was relieved to feel the breeze of the wind instead this time.
I looked up at the sky overhead where two large, winged creatures were in the midst of a battle. Each had long, scaly tails and sharp talons as they threw fire at one another through their angry nostrils. The crackling fire of the sparring dragons drew a wall between them as they let their weapons show. A man could be observed clinging on to the scaly neck of one of them, laboring to stay mounted.
“Where’s Stark?” I asked.
“I have no idea, but if he can’t keep up with us then he shouldn’t have come,” she said. The nonchalance in her voice was bone chilling.
“He could be hurt Serena,” I said.
“You know Liza, there’s really not a lot I can do about it. We have to kill that man on the dragon. Do you understand? Stark will catch up to us,” she said.
She pulled me back down beneath the water. The tension in my arm could not withstand the encouragement, however. Serena had slipped away from my grip. I squinted as I looked up to get a better look at the man on the dragon. How could I kill him? It seemed wrong. I couldn’t quite make out his face, but there was something familiar about him. There was something in the way he fought to stay on the dragon. Against all resistance, he would persevere. From behind, I could suddenly feel large hands on my shoulders.
“Liza, help me,” he said. I whipped around.
“Stark!” I exclaimed wrapping my arms around his neck. “Thank God you’re okay!”
“I’m not okay Liza, ” he said, struggling to keep his head above water. I looked down at his kicking feet. He was injured and flustered, but my tail was strong and steadfast in the rough waters.
“It’s okay. You’re here with me now. You can turn back can’t you?” I asked. His eyes welled up.
“I can’t. I’m not as strong as you are. I could feel it happening back in the cove and I held out as long as I could,” he said.
“Then, swim back. Just go back before anyone sees you out here,” I pleaded.
“No, I’m not leaving you. I’m going to help you,” he said.
“And you have helped me. You’ve been the most wonderful friend to me since I’ve been here. I’ll make it back and I’ll save everyone,” I said.
“Listen, being Blane’s prisoner isn’t my idea of a good time okay?” he said. His breath was heavy and ragged as his eyes drooped down in a tired gaze.
“Stark! Stay with me. Don’t die on me okay? I’m going to keep you safe. Serena and I won’t let you die. Do you understand me?” I screamed, feeling tears coming out of my eyes.
“It’s okay kiddo. I’m going to be okay,” he said in a small voice. His eyes began to close as his head rolled backward. His body went limp in my arms, no longer working to save itself. Still, I did my best to hold him up, but my arms trembled. Serena was following close to the creature, circling round and round beneath our feet.
“Stark, please...” I pleaded, shaking his limp body.
I gazed up at the man on the dragon. His hair was flailing about as he labored to stay mounted. He brought his foot up to the side of its scaly neck to push himself back up, but his face was still turned away. The two flying beasts had smoke billowing from their nostrils. Their large wings flapped with a massive expansion, enveloping me in a gust of wind. Each had large, jagged teeth with mouths wide open, growling and snarling like dogs. Each of them reared their heads back and puffed out their chests. The man hugged the dragon’s neck as he hung backward. The waters churned beneath him like a blender crushing ice, promising him his fate.
My arms were growing weary, trembling around Stark’s body.
“Stark stay with me!” I yelled.
A puffy cloud of smoke billowed out of the dragon’s mouth and nostrils as he strained to produce more fire. His sharp teeth glinted in the sun as he opened his mouth wide open and punctured his opponent’s scaly neck. The drops of red blood streamed down his neck as he threw his head back and screamed out. As he tossed backward, the man’s hands slid away from his neck. My stomach turned in knots as I watched his black hair blow in the wind while he fell into the churning water. Serena would surely devour him, I thought. Sure enough, her head popped up out of the water. Her blue eyes were shimmering the with the gleam of murder.
“Serena, come here! It’s Stark! You have to help him!” Her head whipped around to look at us.
“Give him to me,” she barked. “You go kill that man.”
“Do you know him? Did you get a good look at him?” I inquired.
“No, what does that matter?” she asked. She wrapped her arms around Stark, holding him close to her chest. This was a welcomed relief for my tired arms.
“I’ll take care of Stark. You go drag that man under the water. The ulmaliac will do the rest,” she said.
“Ulmaliac?” I asked.
“Yes,” she sighed rolling her eyes. “You know the big sea monster?”
“Okay no problem,” I said.
Anxiety filled me to the core of my bones, yet I carried on anyway. I dove just beneath the ocean’s surface, allowing my large mermaid tail to move me forward. I could see the kicking legs of the struggling man. His pale hands cupped the water pushing him upward. Only his head was exposed to the oxygen. The current pushed against his weary body, but his limbs were tenacious. Soon I could feel the swoosh of the water in front of my face as he kicked, fighting for what little life he had left. The horrible touch of regret tickled against my gut, but I yanked down on his ankles anyhow. My brown eyes filled with a similar gleam as a murderous adrenaline shot through my veins like an injection. His imminent death was no deterrent, however. His legs flailed and kicked as he struggled to keep his head up.
With the strength of a lion I pulled him beneath the surface of the ocean, coming face-to-face with the man I wanted to kill. My hair swung up in front of my eyes as his large hands constricted around my throat. I kicked my large tail, tossing my head from side to side to get a look at him. I pried my fingers beneath his hands, shaking my head. My strong mermaid tail slapped him as hard as I could manage. He cascaded backward, falling down into the spiraling water, closer still to the jaw of the ulmaliac. As his pale face looked up at me with those dark, almost black, eyes, it was then that I knew it was my Blane.
He moved his arms in a large motion over his head, as he attempted to pull himself away from the clutch of the sea monster, but the current was strong. I blinked my brown eyes, refocusing on his face. Yes, it was him. I reached down, wrapping my hands around his wrists and pulling him back up. I wrapped my arm around his chest, pushing his head above the surface. He took a large gasp for air, filling his lungs like a balloon. I turned my body toward him, holding him up. His eyes softened as he looked at me. He pushed the hair out of my eyes.
“Liza? What’s happened to you? I was coming to find you,” he said.
“I...I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for everything. You have to go back,” I said, tears welling in my eyes.
“I don’t want to live without you,” he said.
“I’ll always be your Liza, but this is my fight okay?”
The words I spoke twisted in my stomach like a virus. Would I always be his?
His mouth began to open as a wisp of sound barely escaped. Like a flash of lightning in the sky, the sharp teeth and scales of a dragon waived in front of my eyes, plucking him from the water. My hands wrapped around his ankles, pulling him back down. The tension between the dragon and me became tighter and tighter as his body yo-yo’d between us. As we struggled over possession of Blane’s body, I looked down at the churning water beneath me. In the large jagged teeth of the ulmiliac, was Stark’s leg. In the strong hand of Serena, was his wrist. As she labored to pull him from the monster, it pulled back with a multiplied strength. It was apparent he didn’t have much longer.
I felt the pink vial against my chest rolling around on the necklace that Stark had given to me. I gripped it in my hand, knowing what I must do. Ripping it from my chest, I snapped the necklace like a rubber band.
I knew I couldn’t save them both. As the choice shuddered in my bones I pushed my tail against the current, shooting out of the water like a cannon. With all my strength, my arm flung the vial toward the scaly beast. The vial smashed into a thousand pieces against his dark, green skin. He threw his head back, letting out a defeated scream. His body dissolved into a pink dust that expanded across the sky and blew away with the wind. Blane plummeted down in front me. I caught him before his sinking body could plunge beneath, depriving him of air.
“Blane. Go back. I have to save Stark now,” my voice trembled.
“I won’t go unless you promise you’ll stay,” he said.
“I...... Blane, I can’t. You can’t ask me to do that!” I cried.
“You’re running off with Stark aren’t you?” he asked with a crinkle in his brow.
“No, of course not. I...I just can’t promise you” I said. My hand pressed on his cold, pale face. He turned away from me. My hand slipped down his wet cheek.
“I never want to see you again! Do you hear me? ” he exclaimed. He looked up into the sky, pointing his finger upward.
“You win mother! You win!” he said.
“Blane, please. Please don’t go,” I pleaded. His hands slipped away from my waist. I could feel the gap between us growing wider. The distance gave my heart the familiar punch of rejection. The water splashed up on my face as his legs kicked the water behind him. The draft of large dragon wings breezed against my face as his dragon settled down to the water like a duck on a pond. Blane pulled himself up on its scaly neck and swung his leg up over the other side. As he wrapped his arms around his neck, his black eyes pierced my soul with the lancet of his disapproval. The damage was irreparable, I feared. My body shook with goosebumped arms all the way down to the tip of the scales on my tail. The draft against my face surged against my skin as the dragon prepared for liftoff. Would I ever see him again?
With grave difficulty, Serena’s fingers gripped onto Stark’s arm, pulling him from the ulmiliac. My arms pumped the water away as I propelled myself forward. My fingers gripped his frail shoulder as I pulled with all my might. His foot hung within his jagged teeth, which were clasped around his ankle. We pulled. Stark grimaced. The ulmiliac pulled him backward. We pulled again. Harder this time, we managed to knock his leg loose from the teeth. The ulmiliac opened his jaws wide, moving to the side of Stark’s belly and sinking its teeth into his skin. The fresh red blood seeped from his wounds, forming a red cloud in the water.
His hand pressed against the wound as he grimaced in pain. His body curled up in a ball, as his legs swooped out beneath him, knocking the ulmilic on the head. I could feel the sting of fear beneath my skin. How could I have let this happen? My arm wrapped around the barrel of his chest, pulling him away as Serena used the force of her tail to teach the creature a lesson. Adrenaline shot through my veins like a bad drug as I swung my tail back and forth with all of my might. His body went limp in my arms as his eyes rolled backward in his head. My other hand clutched to Serena’s wrist, pulling her away with us. I could feel the dark cloud of the wide-open jaw behind us, ready to kill its prey, but I couldn’t look backward anymore. I had to move forward to the shallows of the water, where the sandy beach would bring us safety. Soon, we could see the shadows of our silhouettes coming closer to our bodies. Relieved that safety was near, I kept my eyes straight ahead until the waves pushed us forward and tossed us ashore on Issiryth’s island. Reaching the island was like a beautiful song with horrible lyrics. It sounded good, but it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. I sandwiched Stark’s face in between my fingers, bringing my nose to smash against his.
“Stark!” I yelled. “Please don’t leave me now! Stay with us!”
Serena ripped the shirt from his body, wadding it into a ball in her hands. She mashed the shirt down into his wound like a large band-aid. The white shirt turned bright red as the blood seeped into the material. The shirt soaked as it dripped with his red life-force. She twisted the shirt in her hands, allowing the blood pour from it like a faucet, then placing it back down in the wound again. My face smashed up against his chest, listening to a hallow, uneventful cavern.
“Breath. Just breath,” I pleaded. Pressing my hands to the center of his chest, I pushed downward. The salty water projected from his lips. A sliver of his green eyes shown beneath his slitted eyelids. He reached his hand up to caress my cheek.
“I love you, Liza. You can do this,” he choked, rolling his eyes toward the back of his head. His body moved like a rag doll as I shook him. The rhythm of his heartbeat slowed to a stop as he took a single breath.
“Stark!” I cried. “Stark! You can’t leave me like this!”
“Stark! Come back to us!” Serena pleaded. He didn’t move. I pressed my hand into his chest once more, pushing down on it twice. I sealed my lips around his, attempting to breathe life into him once more. He still didn’t move.
“He’s dead,” I whispered.