Six days later, Trellen was almost ready to give up. He was sure he’d stayed on course—but how much attention had been paying to the sea’s currents and smells when he fled his Master’s home? He’d simply been escaping, swimming east because it was the direction he chose at random. If he’d passed any rock formations close enough to the surface to see, he hadn’t noticed them. And it’s just as likely I didn’t pass any. The Blue was deeper and far more vast than he’d ever imagined. For six days, he’d swum without seeing anything but water and sky, and far below the Blue, the intimidating darkness of the Below. He tried not to think of how far down it went or what might be lurking in the dark.
Determination gave way to desperation and finally despair. Not only hadn’t he found his way home, he hadn’t found anywhere to rest or refill his empty net. Weary to the core with hunger gnawing at his gut, Trellen wanted nothing more than to find sanctuary from the waves and a few crustaceans or even a bit of sea grass to fill his belly.
Goddess, how does anyone survive this alone? Lucien…. Trellen swallowed back the lump in his throat. Lucien was clever. He was older by two full turnings. He was as strong as he was beautiful. Surely if anyone could survive the open sea, it was him. Trellen had to believe he was alive.
Only I’m not him and if I don’t find shelter soon, I won’t survive. Trellen dove beneath the surface and flipped, then swam back up fast to breach the waves and balance for as long as he could, standing on his tail out of the water. There was nothing in the distance except the bleak horizon.
Disheartened, he continued on. Because the only other thing to do is stay here and wait to die. He’d spotted white-tipped dorsal fins a few days back. So far the sharks were staying away. But if I allow myself to get too weak, I’ll become easy prey.
Another day passed before he saw a rock formation in the distance. Or a leviathan. It was too far away to tell for sure. If it was an island, he was saved, but if it were Men…. He shuddered. The only way to find out was to get closer.
It took until nightfall for Trellen to reach the island—though he became convinced long before he got to the shore that it must be an island, and a large one at that. The rocky outcropping he’d seen in the distance soared high into the sky, leagues above the dense green jungle. The larger the island, the more likely it is to be inhabited. But a quick scan of the beach gave no indication that there were Men nearby.
Hunger took over and Trellen dug through the sand for clams and urchins, and stuffed himself silly on every tender morsel he could find. When he was sated, he sought refuge under a large rocky overhang. Within minutes of curling up on the sand, he was sound asleep under the cool waters, safe from predators and full for the first time in days. His sleep should have been contented, but it wasn’t. He dreamed of his Master’s voice, his touch, a scorching kiss, and tender words.
Trellen reached out and Master clasped his hand. “I’m so sorry I left you. Please forgive me. Please say you’ll take me back.”
Strong tentacles encircled him and held him close. “Shhhh, my sweet Pretty.” He carded his fingers through Trellen’s hair. “Of course I forgive you. All that matters is that you come back to me.”
Sobbing with relief—joy—Trellen clung to him. It seemed so real, he was certain he felt his Master moving nearby.
The water rippled. Splashed.
Trellen snapped his eyes open and his heart began to pound. Something was moving in the water nearby. The smell was strange…pungent.
He uncurled himself and, staying as low to the sand as he could, peered out into the sunlit tidal pool only to discovered that the water had receded from the shore last night. There were only a few feet of crystal clear sea between him and the Above—between him and the beach. He’d been so tired last night, he hadn’t thought to account for the tide when he chose his shelter.
Another splash. Laughter.
Two dark skinned legs waded through the water, coming closer.
Trellen’s heart hammered harder in his chest.
There were more strange words. Another pair of legs—then another and another.
Blessed Kaia…. How long before they saw him? There was nowhere to hide; his only chance was the open sea beyond the lagoon.
With a flip of his tail, Trellen erupted from his hiding spot, leaving a cloud of sand in his wake. Behind him, there was a shout—then sharp pain lanced through his tail. He screamed. Instinct causing him to thrash, but that only made it worse. Red clouded his vision and Trellen screamed again as fiery pain tore through him.
Fumbling and desperate to make the pain stop, he reached down to try and free himself from whatever wicked thing had pierced his tail. A spear, and it had torn straight through his scale and muscles.
The splashing grew closer, voices louder. Trellen yanked at the spear and shrieked again as the barbed tip cut into his flesh once more. Behind him, the Men were closing in, running, shouting strange words, splashing through the blood-tinged water.
He couldn’t die this way.
Trellen gave up on freeing himself from the spear. His only hope was to ignore the pain and swim as fast as he could for the open sea. And pray no sharks catch the scent of my blood.
With his heart pounding in his ears, he launched himself toward the deeper water. Another spear hit the waves just to his left—another to his right. Despite the tearing, searing pain in his tail, Trellen kept swimming.
At length, the shouts and splashes grew more faint, but Trellen didn’t dare stop, even though each frenzied thrust of his tail caused the spear to bite into his flesh anew. He gulped in great mouthfuls of water, pushing them through his gills until at last, his whole body ached with the effort and he had no choice but to stop. Surfacing, he saw that the island had become but a speck in the distance. There was no sign of pursuit.
And he was so cold.
He felt like he was sinking….
He was sinking, right into a red cloud of his own blood.
Darkness clouded his vision and he sank into the cold waters of the Below.