This chapter is a snippet from Book 1 in the Fathom series, told from Seidon's Point of View. If you have not read Fathom, you can still enjoy the story, but things will make a lot more sense for those that are already familiar with the original book.
All my life, I’ve been taught three things: do your duty, tell the truth, and never, ever trust a human. They’re evil. They’ve driven us into darkness. They’ll catch you and replace your insides with dried sea sponges. The horrible myths went on. It didn’t stop me from wondering, though. Why were they evil? Why did they live above the water and we lived below? What does a dried sea sponge feel like and why would they replace my insides with it? Despite the grotesque rumors, the thought of seeing dry land, of even getting a glimpse of a human standing upright and walking on two legs sounded both ridiculous and wildly fascinating. So once, when I was around eight, I asked my father if he could take me to the surface. Why? he asked. I could feel his surprise in the press of his thoughts on my mind. Humans dump their waste into our ocean and create islands from their trash. So is that a no? I asked. Father rolled his eyes, but smiled. You’re safe here, Seidon. Most humans don’t know merpeople exist and we’d like to keep it that way. Most? So some of them do know about us? Father cringed. I grinned. He’d said too much and he knew it. I’ll take you to meet the few I trust. Then you’ll see there’s nothing special about them. A few months later, my father kept his word. He and I, along with two of his corporals, took the long journey up to the surface. Would I actually get to see the sun beyond the water? We moved up, up, up. I remember the boredom. Why wasn’t the water getting any lighter? When we broke the surface at last, the sky above the world glittered with stars in a black sky. Stars. And a bright crescent moon. Amazing! And there, inside a huge, white thing that floated upon the water, three faces peered down at us: two light ones and a dark one. The men smiled at me and waved. “Hello, Prince Seidon,” said one of them. He was thin, with kind eyes and scruffy hair on his face. Another one had a beard, but it was nowhere near as long as Father’s. The third had darker skin and no hair at all. His bright smile and kind eyes gazed down at me as though nothing in the world could make him happier than to meet me. I wanted to see their legs. But before I could ask, Father used his voice—his dry voice. It came out as deep as an earthquake to my ears. “All right, you’ve seen a human, now dive.” He pushed me back under the surface. One of the corporals then pulled me down. Wait, Cordelia, I whined to her. I want to hear my dry voice. You can hear your dry voice any time you want, she said. It wasn’t the same back at home though. I wanted to find out what my dry voice sounded like in the open air, without the echo of a cave and the hum and chatter of other merpeople. She wouldn’t relent. And soon, my father joined us and we made the long journey home. Years passed. Despite my family’s hope that my curiosity about humans would fade away as I got older, I still often wondered certain things. We could breathe through the gas exchange in our gills, but we could also breathe the air. Why couldn’t humans do the same? And when did all the animosity and secrecy begin? Sometimes, I’d forget to close my mind and my wondering thoughts would reach the minds of some dignitary visiting from another reach. It made for some very awkward dinner conversations. So, I forced my interest in humans to lay dormant, sequestered away somewhere in the base of my brain stem. Until the day Father summoned me to the temple of Nereus—something he had never done before. After receiving the summons, I left my studies and hurried to the temple. I hadn’t even reached the entrance, when he finned toward me from the temple, his song hurried and unclear. He held a small sack and thrust it into my hands. I’m doing what? I asked, opening the sack to look inside. The round, smooth shape of my autographed wracken lay inside—my most prized possession. Why did he bring it? Unless… My eyes widened and my heartbeat jumped. You’re going to the surface with Captain Cordelia, came my father's telepathic reply. Lieutenant Delfina is dead and the humans have the vessel. I stopped finning, the water around me growing colder, heavier. Horror eclipsed the excitement from my father’s announcement of going to the surface. Lieutenant Delfina? Dead? I hadn’t known her that well, but she’d always been kind to me. I closed my eyes against the bioluminescence glowing from a winding pillar at my left. When I opened them again, my father stopped as well, his gray-streaked hair and beard swirling as he turned to look back at me. The hair rose like long tentacles in the lull of the dark water. He smoothed his beard down so I could see his face. How did this happen? I asked. We don’t know. But I’m counting on you and the captain to bring back her body and retrieve the vessel. He placed a hand on my shoulder. I want you along on this one, son. The sorrow and worry in his heart clutched me by the gills. Don’t mistake me, Father. I’m eager to go. I just don’t understand why you want me to do it. I’m worried about who I can trust, he replied. I’m not entirely sure what information the vessel had on it. There are so many in the archive. But Marinus stole it for a reason. I need you to find what that reason is. I need someone I know I can count on. You think the humans are after us? I don’t know. Father rubbed a hand over his face. All I know is there is treason within Zydrunas and I need to know our people are safe. Cordelia is well qualified. But now’s the time for you to prove your scales. Does Mother know? I asked as we continued finning toward the temple doors. Yes. She’s reluctant to let you venture up, but I daresay you have no argument? He gave me a sideways glance, half stern, half amused. I shrank under his gaze. He thought me odd. You’re not odd, Seidon, he replied and my face warmed. I’d forgotten to shield my thoughts from him. I hurried to keep up as his velocity quickened. You’re far less foolhardy than many of our more impulsive citizens. In fact, you’re going on this task because of your, er, unorthodox fascination. My hope is that it’ll protect you—help you to learn of their weaknesses. I closed my mind off to my father. Exploit the humans' weaknesses? Not a chance. I finally get to see what it’s like to walk on legs! Shock and dismay from Lieutenant Delfina’s death warred with anticipation in my chest. We crossed the threshold into to the spacious antechamber of the temple of Nereus. The carved coral and etched sandstone of the temple always overwhelmed me, but today it felt like swimming into the maw of a whale shark; a comparison, which I now realized, was rather stupid, since whale sharks didn’t actually eat merpeople. Soon I would have legs. The nerves in my fin-tips began firing, as though they knew they’d shortly be transformed. We passed into the massive archive chamber. Rows of clam-shaped vessels tucked into niches lined the walls on either side, reflecting the glow of the lights with pearly radiance. Armored sentinels now stood guard over them, ever since Marinus had stolen one several rounds ago. Or days ago, as the humans would say. I followed my father through the archive chamber and into the roofless altar room, where Captain Cordelia waited. Once a corporal who had tugged me along as a child, she had worked her way up the military ranks to an elite captain. She had a belt with a carrying bag fastened around her waist. Her brown hair spread in the water behind her. Her long fins made her taller than me, her proud face alert and ready for orders from our king. I almost laughed. Military mermaids could be so intense sometimes. Then I remembered Lieutenant Delfina and sobered up. Now wasn’t the time to make fun of Cordelia. In the altar room, I saw something lying on top of the stone altar itself: a severed finger. I grimaced in repulsion. Within the circle of glittering aquamarine set in the stone, it lay safely preserved, waiting for its owner to return to claim it. Is that…? Marinus’ finger, yes, Father said. Ugh. Couldn’t the merman have used something less gross as a sacrifice to transform? Are we ready, your Majesty? Cordelia asked. He nodded and beckoned to me. Make ready your sacrifices, he said. I pulled the wracken from my bag—I’d gotten it from a championship tournament we attended when I was just a merling. Cordelia pulled out a knife. With glittering jewels set into the hilt, its long, sharp blade curved dangerously. At first, I feared she’d do what Marinus had done and cut off one of her fingers for her sacrifice. But she placed the knife carefully on the altar within the circle of aquamarine. I did the same with my wracken. Kneel before the altar and recite the Prayer, Father said to me. Then exit through the door in the ceiling. The transformation is slow and the journey to the surface is long. An escort will accompany you and make sure you’re safely ashore. Cordelia bowed her head and bent her fin behind her. I did the same. Pain radiated from the vertebrae in my tail where it bent in a kneeling position. Who’s idea was it to kneel during this ceremony? What was it about pain that the god of the ocean liked so much? Holding back a cringe, I bowed my head and chanted along with Cordelia: By the light of Lord Nereus, and his lady, fair Doris Cast blessing to prosper the ocean before us By sea, Lord Nereus, keep life in thy hand, And grant by this sacrifice limb upon land. The aquamarine stones glowed like the rare times I’d seen the sun shining down through the surface of blue-green sea water. Farewell, my son, said Father. I’ll see you after the cycle’s end. That’s it? I asked. I didn’t feel any different. Let’s go. Cordelia plucked at my arm before launching herself through the open ceiling. Several of our strongest guards joined us as we emerged. They hurtled through the water around us, carrying spears fixed with bioluminescence. I finned as hard as I could, following after the currents streaming behind Cordelia’s tail. Then it began. My tail tingled and itched. I swam harder and resisted the urge to look down, trying to keep up with Cordelia’s break-neck speed. Scales popped off my tail and I cried out in surprise, my involuntary call surely attracting the attention of every shark within miles. We hurried upward and outward, our escort using discreet clicks and screeches to scout the water ahead. The danger of being spotted by humans grew with every fathom we ascended, though it was hard to take the threat seriously. Only a handful of humans had ever seen us and even then, we were still dismissed as hoaxes. I grinned. I couldn’t wait to see a human again. I couldn’t wait to be one! Hours passed. We came to a high wall in the ocean and ascended along the jagged ridges while the water lightened around us. The sun! I would get to feel the sun on my dry skin. The last time I got to go the surface, it was night. What would sunlight feel like? These and other questions filled my mind as we navigated our way up the wall. All the while, more and more scales itched and popped off my tail, which I could swear was getting shorter. The water grew lighter as we ascended, then dimmer again just as we reached the top of the shelf. Then we switched direction from vertical to horizontal. How much longer? I asked. A good distance, yet, said Cordelia. When we get to the surface, we’ll be meeting up with a couple of humans who know about us and are willing to help with whatever we need. Their names are Eamon, Walter, Uther, Natasha, and Calder. Am I supposed to memorize all that? No. Just briefing you on the situation. These humans claim to be trustworthy, but be on your guard. Most of them are nothing but liars, thieves, and murderers. They won’t hesitate to double-cross us if it’s in their best interest. Right, right, I thought, but kept it from the others. We passed all kinds of life in the water along the ocean floor. The going felt incredibly slow. Had it taken this long last time? We arrived into wide forests of kelp when then the pain set in. I finned hard against the cracking, the stretching, the roiling under my skin, but it hurt too much. I screamed, startling a school of silvery hake fish. As I tried to propel myself away from the pain, it happened: my tail split and had become two tails. I cried out again. Our escort grabbed me by the arms and hauled me along, pulling me out from the edge of the kelp forest. I wanted to push them away, but the pain was too much. The outer layer of skin on my tail curled off, shedding like diseased flesh on a dolphin. I grit my teeth and finned hard, but found I couldn’t fin. Only kick. I finally looked down, suspended in the middle of the ocean, and saw feet. Feet! I looked up. Cordelia! I have feet! I saw her above me, flanked by her escorts and silhouetted against a white light shining through the surface of the water. Her feet kicked, creating bubbles in their wake. Cordelia had feet too! Our escorts pulled us through the ocean while our feet kicked behind. No wonder humans made their homes on land. These feet were completely useless for swimming. I looked back at mine again and smiled. I liked them. Soon, the ocean began to sway. A current pulled us further in and the sea floor rose up toward us. At long last, we emerged into the air. The sacs that controlled the flow of water from my mouth to my gills regurgitated the last of the water and I gasped over and over again. I’d breathed air before. I’d used my speaking voice in the air caves back home. But not like this. This wasn’t the thin, stale, closed cave air. This was glorious. Cool and rich and full. “Inhale,” Cordelia said again. “Use the air in your sacs to use your speaking voice.” “I know. I’m all right,” I said, surprised at the sound of my voice without an echo. I liked it. I liked it almost as much as I liked my feet. Then my ears popped and every sound assaulted me. I didn’t remember the surface being this loud last time. The crash of the ocean pounded my head. The escort brought us through the low swells toward land. A long, tall, wooden structure led from the shore to the deep water, then stopped. What was it for? Oh, all the questions! On the shore, lights spread as far as I could see. They glowed like our lights back home, but in more yellow and orange hues. Humans. Close. Where were the ones we were here to meet? There. Beneath the wooden structure. Two of them waited. My heart quickened. Even though my escort pulled me swiftly through the water, it wasn’t fast enough. “We’ll take you back under and allow you to get accustomed to walking where the gravity isn’t as intense, your highness,” said one of the guards. “Follow the incline toward the shore. Use your arms to keep your balance. Cordelia has a wrap in her bag for you to cover yourself when you get to shore.” I looked down again, even though I couldn’t see anything, and with a horrible jolt, I realized I was completely naked. What? Did all humans live like this? How could they go about with their… their parts just swinging free, with no covering of scales to protect their dignity? “You have got to be joking,” I said aloud. “Wave when you’re ready for us to take our leave,” said one of the guards. “With your hand.” What else would I wave with? I thought with a smirk. Cordelia frowned in reproach and disgust. Oops. Telepathy still worked, even in human form. “While we’re here, I—and by extension, your parents—expect you to behave with the decorum befitted a merperson of your—” She stopped as something on the shore caught her eye. She scowled again, pulled something from her bag, and shoved it into my hands. It was the covering for my exposed body. “Head for the shore, Seidon,” said Cordelia. She drew two blades from her belt that I didn’t even know were there. By Nereus, how many knives did the mermaid have? “Eamon and Walter are waiting. I’ll catch up.” “Where are you going?” I asked. Her eyes flashed. “To deal with a complication.” She disappeared under the water. My escort and I went back under as well, until reaching the bottom. I got my bearings and practiced using my legs. The sand squelched and flowed between my toes with every step. The strange sensation and the unsteady ground faltered my balance. This is so weird! I wrapped the covering around my waist and held it in one hand. Then I walked, rocking up and down in the current, and grinned. This was fun. Weeeee! I thought with child-like glee when a big wave pulled me up from the ground, then brought me down again. Thank goodness no one could hear me. Soon, the water became shallow enough for my head to come out of the water. The waves pushed me closer to the shore, but the receding tide urged me back. I looked up and saw Eamon and Walter waiting beneath the wooden structure. I trudged toward them. Their faces should have been more familiar to me, but somehow my memories hadn’t served me as well as I’d hoped. Still, I smiled as I came out of the shallows and approached them. I could walk! One of them, the one with the lighter skin, held his hand out to me. I took it, grateful for the help with my unsteady feet. All he did was give my hand a shake and let go. “Welcome, your Highness,” he said. “I’m Eamon O’Dell. Do you remember me?” “A little,” I said. I looked to the other man, who also held out his hand. I took it. He did the same shake and let go. Was this a normal greeting for humans? “Walter Andrus at your service, your Highness.” “Thank you,” I replied with a smile. I remembered Walter’s kind eyes. I turned to wave my arm at my escort, who dove with fins flipping. “This way,” said Eamon. “Are you having any trouble walking?” “Not so much now,” I said. “It’s weird though.” He chuckled. We walked down the moonlit beach. Where was Cordelia? I scanned the sand until I spotted her… sneaking up behind another pair of humans I hadn’t noticed before. Two females. They stared at me, mouths agape and eyes as round as sand dollars. Were they with Eamon? Were they spies? Even from this distance, I could see that the females were both beautiful. But one of them, the one with short, dark hair, made something hitch in my chest. Cordelia crept closer to them, her knives drawn. In a deft move, she held a knife at each girl’s throat. If they’d been frozen with awe before, they were now immobilized by fear. Was she going to kill them? No. I wouldn’t let her. We approached. I couldn’t go any faster, or the wrap around my waist would lose its purpose. Cordelia murmured something to them. They still didn’t move. “Let them go,” I said. The one with the shorter hair looked at me. It’s all right, I thought toward her. She won’t hurt you. Could the pretty human hear me? Would I get to meet her? What was she like? Did she enjoy having feet? “They’re with us,” said Eamon. “They recovered the vessel.” They did? By Nereus. I had to hear more. Come, Seidon, Cordelia’s thoughts pressed on me. She marched away, the wrap around her waist fastened by the belt so her hands were free. Smart. I should have done that. I looked back to the humans. Walter and Eamon helped the girls up. They looked rather dazed. “Who are they?” I asked Cordelia. “Spies. They shouldn’t have been here.” “Will we see them again?” “We’ll meet with them tomorrow, after we take care of Lieutenant Delfina’s body. If we can’t trust them, they’ll have to die.” I looked back again. I’d get to see her again—the dark-haired beauty who had recovered our vessel. Anyone who could take on a crooked criminal like Marinus and come out unscathed deserved my thanks. If I could help it, there was no way above the waves or below that Cordelia would touch a hair on her head.