Chapter Twenty Five

Posted: July 7, 2015 in Arc 3 - Sinking

Once again, Lynn was being discussed like she wasn’t in the room. What else would Nicholas and his mother argue about, glancing at her from time to time. Lynn “sat” at the merfolk table and stared right back at them. She had considered not coming back at all, just like Nicholas had suggested. She could have swum to the shore, hidden somewhere, waited until the Beast would stop looking, until Azary would stop looking, until everyone would forget about her. But there was no better place to hide than beneath the waves. As much as she abhorred it, Under Valenar was the safest location for her.

Fingers flew and tongues clicked. There was something familiar about one of the gestures that both of them kept repeating, noticed Lynn. There it was again. Just like a thieves’ sign Josh had taught her. New Valenar thieves had their own sign language for silent communication – or maybe they’d stolen it. Lynn only knew a few signs, but this one was the first she was taught: “danger”.

She knocked on the table to get their attention, then signed as best she could: “Me danger you no.” Nicholas frowned. The mother laughed. Lynn cringed. Another signed exchange, and Nicholas indicated for her to follow.

They swam towards the sunken temple again, the nearest place where they could talk. Judging by the darkening waters, the sun was setting. While there weren’t that many people out, they weren’t in any hurry to get home. Darkness was an inconvenience, not a threat. They passed close to a group of soldiers milling about, watchmen like Nicholas, guessed Lynn. The soldiers did what bored soldiers do: laughed at everyone who went by. They all made a similar gesture at her, as mysterious as it was obvious. She was an outsider. Lynn frowned, while Nicholas just kept swimming.

Lynn couldn’t help but look for traces of her blood on the mosaic of the temple as they walked up it’s sloped floor. She had spent some time clearing it all up after the fight this morning, in fear of Stan being discovered. Afterwards, she had rushed to her assigned room to stash the bag with the claw in it, before submitting to the mother for treatment. She had shrugged in response to any questions she may have been asked about her wounds, which clearly didn’t satisfy. But at least she was now covered in some kind of green baked mud, and her scratches didn’t sting in the salt water anymore, even if she still had trouble moving her right arm.

“What in broken hells happened?”

“A fish bit me.”

For lack of a better lie, Lynn settled for being annoying. Nicholas threw his arms in the air in exasperation, mission successful.

“You are some kind of magnet for trouble, it seems. How am I to keep you safe if you won’t tell me what attacked you?”

“Won’t happen again.”

“So you say!”

“What do you care, fishface? Just another, what was it you called us, a walker. Just another walker washing up ashore.”

“I care because I was ordered to watch over you.”

“I’ll do my very best not to disappoint your boss by croaking, wouldn’t want to mar your service record.”

“That’s not what I mean!”

“What do you mean, then? Why would anyone care what happened to me, much less you people? I’ve seen the way those soldiers sniggered at me! The way your family chastised you for bringing me here. The way you all look at me, like I’m a piece of trash spoiling your pristine waters.”

Once again, Lynn had worked herself up to screaming. These days, screaming came easy. It felt good to let it out. No, not good. It felt like all the seething anger within couldn’t be contained inside her body. All she had to do was open her mouth.

And oh, it was so easy to be angry at Nicholas, who had matched her tone for tone from the start. Except he wasn’t raising his voice now. Instead, he hopped up to sit on the cracked lectern.

“There it is again,” said Nicholas, with an unexpected sadness in his voice, “I haven’t picked up on this before. That’s how you really view the world.”

“What are you talking about?” Lynn was taken aback by the sudden shift in the conversation.

“That word. ‘Care’. You don’t believe anyone cares if you live or die.”

“And?”

Nicholas rubbed his forehead with a pained expression.

“That’s a horrible way to live. Don’t you have any friends, any family?”

“You’ve seen my friend. Others… Others will miss me, but they’ll survive. Until they don’t. That’s what happens to people like me.”

“But even beside that. I’m not your friend, I only just met you. And you’re combative and annoying and…” Nicholas saw Lynn’s bristles come up and smiled, “And I still don’t want you to be hurt. Not just because I was ordered to protect you, but because you’re a living being. Just like me, just like everyone else. And I refuse to believe I’m the only one.”

Lynn thought of Isabel, and Melai, and Jenny. And Peter. And Josh.

“You are right. There were others who cared. And I hurt them all. I abused their trust, and put them in danger. Some have already died. Some still could. Maybe you’re right. Maybe, it’s not the world that’s horrible. Maybe it’s just me. You say you care? You shouldn’t.”

Nicholas grimaced.

“That’s not… Not for you to decide what I care about. And not for you to shoulder all the blame for all the ills of the world. I’m sure you had your reasons.”

“I did. Don’t make the ones who trusted me any less dead, though.”

“It wasn’t you who killed that boy.”

“Gods old and new! You sound just like Jenny. A girl whose father… Whose father died because of me. You’d get along. It’s true, the Beast killed them, but I put them in Beast’s path. And I’ll live with that. As long as that lasts.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Lynn smiled a fake smile.

“Absolutely nothing. I promise I won’t be attacked by the same fish on your watch. And then I’ll be out of your gills.”

“Fine. You don’t have to tell me what happened. Just promise me no harm will come to my family because of you. You’ve managed to sufficiently scare me.”

“Good. And no, I’m not doing anything to endanger them. I’m not a monster. The thing that’s hunting me is. But it won’t find me here.”

“You promise?”

“Promise.”

“For a long time,” said Nicholas slowly, carefully picking his words, “I blamed myself for my father losing his leg.”

Lynn looked up to find him gazing at a wall, engrossed in an unpleasant memory.

“I was playing far from home, even though my parents told me not to. I was just a kid, but I should have known better. There was an attack, and my father broke from his squad to search for me. He did find me, then the attackers found us both. He was a hell of a soldier, my father. But he was alone, and they were many. He was alone, because I was too afraid. I was just a kid. I’ve spent years wishing I had done something different. Wishing I had stayed at home, had found the courage to stab one in the back, had… Had not been found by my father. Things are what they are, though,” he smiled briefly, “My father is alright now, mostly. And after years of hating myself I finally realised it was now that hate that was hurting my family, long after our physical wounds had healed. They still needed me, not in the past but here and now. So I decided I needed to do better. To be better. And I’m trying. I can’t change what happened, so I had to find a way to live with it. For as long as that lasts.”

Lynn knew the story he told was an attempt to relate to her, and it worked. His mistake may have been less grievous than hers, its outcome less tragic, but the sadness in his voice as he told his story was undeniable.

And he was wrong to draw the parallels between them, of course. Nicholas still had someone who relied on him, thought Lynn, and he wasn’t still intent on pursuing the ones who hurt his family. Except… Except he was in the Tidewatch, just like his father. Why else would he join it if not to face the same attackers one day, whoever they may have been. Maybe he was a bit like her after all, just not in the way he imagined.

The tension was gone. Even Lynn’s anger had dissipated, at least for now. Without it to cloud her vision, she looked at Nicholas for the first time as a person, not as her merman captor. He really was annoyingly handsome. For a fishface. Lynn realised she wouldn’t want him to get along with Jenny, for some reason. It was an unfamiliar emotion, one she’d have to examine later. Much later.

“D’you know,” said Nicholas after a bit of silence, “I sometimes come here to just look around, and imagine how it used to be. Before. The fresh air, the light shining through the stained glass windows, the crowds. It must have been really beautiful here. Bright.”

Lynn shrugged.

“We have temples up top. Not quite like this, but still large. You can come look. And if you want bright, just stare at a daylight crystal.”

“I know, I’ve been there,” Nicholas ignored the jab, “Just doesn’t feel the same. Everyone’s staring at me, almost literally a fish out of water. In here I can imagine I’m a part of the crowd.”

Lynn looked around, and tried to see what Nicholas was seeing. Tall, slender elves in their pretty flowing dresses, so unlike her rags, so unlike her. Statues with faces, all stern and looking right at her. The priest, condemning her. No, even in this fantasy Lynn still didn’t belong.

“And sometimes, I think of just how shocked the elves would have been to see me here,” continued Nicholas, “Can you imagine the faces the priests would make, if they saw me sitting where their holy book lies?” He patted the lectern.

Lynn smiled, a little. Encouraged, Nicholas continued.

“Or what they’d say about this,” he jumped off, picked up a pebble and sent it bouncing over the water. The stone jumped three times before colliding with a column. Nicholas cast another one, and it made it all the way to the roof over the submerged temple gates. He turned to Lynn with a grin.

“Do you think they’d join in?”

Lynn imagined haughty elves bouncing pebbles inside their temple and giggled.

“You try it,” Nicholas offered her a stone.

She accepted it after a moment’s hesitation. It sunk with a splash.

“No, like this, sideways,” tried correcting her Nicholas.

“I’ve thrown plenty of stones, thank you,” replied Lynn. She neglected to mention she was usually hoping to hit someone like Nicholas when she did. That detail just didn’t seem relevant.

The next stone bounced once off the water, then off a column, and then collided with one of the few remaining pieces of stained glass. Lynn cringed at the resounding crash. Nicholas laughed, seeing her expression.

“Don’t worry, there’s absolutely nothing of value left here. What the looters didn’t get, the reclaimers did.”

Lynn breathed out.

“You mean I didn’t ruin a priceless elven artifact?” she said with a meek smile.

“Way too late for that.”

Almost an hour later, having exhausted all the pebbles in the temple, they were about to leave when Lynn remembered something.

“By the way, what does this mean?” she asked Nicholas, contorting her fingers.

“Where’d you see that?” he frowned.

“Those soldiers, outside. I’d like to know what I’m being called.”

“It means ‘merfolk’,” said Nicholas before diving.

“But I’m not…” objected Lynn to the rippling water.

Puzzled, she followed Nicholas to his home. A surprise awaited Lynn there. The little girl followed her into her room, a bundle of cloth in hands. Lynn took it hesitantly, and unfolded it to find dark green pants, thick and coarse. She looked up at the girl in confusion. The girl pointed at Lynn’s legs, then at the pants.

Lynn blushed, realising it was a present. The girl giggled. The pants were much nicer than her torn dress. Not to mention, a dress wasn’t the most modest clothing for swimming, something Lynn had done her best to ignore up till now.

The girl tugged on her arm to get her attention, then floated onto the bed. Unlike Lynn who had tried and failed to stay on top of it, however, the girl climbed under it. It was a kind of a blanket, Lynn finally realised. Heavy enough to weigh a person down, to prevent them from being dragged around by the currents. The girl giggled, and this time Lynn giggled with her.

Life was different here under the water, yet also the same, pondered Lynn as she lay in, or maybe under, her bed later that night. Maybe tomorrow, she’ll help the father trim the coral walls, and then go exploring for a bit. She’d better make it home before dinner, though. Home. What a strange thought.

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Comments
  1. Smurfton says:

    I’m feeling tempted to fanart, except I can’t remember how tall Lynn is, or much about her hair.

    • Magician says:

      Details are somewhat deliberately vague. She’s the PoV character, she doesn’t think much of how she looks. So feel free to draw her however you like! …Plus anything I say right now may have been contradicted earlier in the text.

  2. Smurfton says:

    I’m struggling to imagine any elf talking to a halfling long enough to pick up the Ancient and Noble Halfling Art of Skipping Rocks.

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