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“The Red Sea” by Mercedes Lackey & Cody Martin


This entire weekend was going to completely suck for Wanda. She felt as if it was a certainty, and the gloomy weather—normally a comfort, especially for a pale specimen like herself—wasn’t helping the way she had hoped it would. She was stuck in Silence, more so than usual, while the rest of the gang was in Wolfe’s Neck State Park enjoying a weekend camping and LARPing event. Even Jake and Riley had come out for it, which had surprised the lot of them. Ever since the events at the Blackthorne Manor, over the course of their junior year, Jake and Riley both had sort of retreated a little bit from the group. They still came to play at the Dungeons and Dragons—or whatever weird tabletop role-playing game Seth had scrounged from Ebay or mail order over the course of the week—but didn’t really hang out much outside of that. I mean, I totally get being weirded out by monsters and elves and monster elves, and having to fight all of them with iron blades and weaponized caffeine. Not exactly the sort of extracurricular activities that the Perfect Couple, or any of us, were at all prepared for.

But being all alone—left out—sucked majorly. She didn’t want to resent the others—not even Jake and Riley, despite their withdrawal after the battle at the Manor—for their fun, but it had grown increasingly hard to stand the loneliness after they all left Thursday night. Even Tim had gone! He’d closed the shop, saying he needed a break, to volunteer as the ride and chaperone for the entire group so everyone could go.

Everyone except Wanda, whose parents had pitched a bitch fit, even though she’d only said “camping” and never mentioned LARPING. And now it was Saturday morning, when they’d all otherwise be starting an all-day session of training, finishing with a late-night D and D run, and . . . she was stuck back in Silence, literally kicking rocks while she paced the beach.

She had made sure to steer further north from the popular section of the beach; on the other side of a fair sized cape. There was one of the more iconic cliffs between her and the few Silence denizens that had chosen to patronize the beach that overcast day. She might have been lonely, but she wasn’t that lonely.

“No effing fair,” she muttered. Maybe I should have lied and said there was going to be a church service out there Sunday morning? Naw, they would have wanted to come and attend, if I had gone that route. My folks, in their Sunday best, in the middle of a LARP event . . . okay, maybe I should have told them that.

But no. As amusing as the thought was . . . bad idea, because that would, guaranteed, get her banned from ever seeing any of the gang or going to the bookstore again. She’d probably have found herself grounded forever, or at least until she was old enough to legally leave the family and try and make it on her own. She didn’t hate her parents; she just hated all of the nonsensical rules, and the non-stop preaching.

The mp3 player that she was listening to shuffled to a Nine Inch Nails song as she continued to plod along. I should have more perspective, she scolded herself. After all, her entire life had been turned upside down only a couple of months ago, they’d all nearly died, and there she was, upset about not hanging out with her friends at a LARP event.

But there it was, her life, her view of reality, and everything she had believed in before had been totally turned upside down, and perspective was pretty hard to get right now.

Of course, it was all due to a single person. The new girl in town, Staci Kerry, had inadvertently involved her, Seth, Riley and Jake in a revelation that the world was chock full of magic, monsters, and worse. She had learned that the bookstore owner, Tim, whom she had known for years, was in fact a master mage, living a secretive, withdrawn life from the world of magic, and been inescapably drawn back into it by Staci’s actions. Wanda had seen things that she hadn’t thought possible, and even stuck a few of those things with knives made of Cold Iron. It was all so . . . bizarre, but not nearly as bizarre as how quickly she’d accepted it. Granted, some of that was due to being Goth; the weird and supernatural had always interested her, much to her family’s chagrin. But being interested and experiencing it up close and personal were two different things altogether. It was one thing to listen to creepy and sad music and dress like you were going to a funeral, and another to have to stab a Red Cap to keep it from killing you.

Maybe I have more in common with Jake and Riley than I thought.

Seth had also adapted surprisingly quickly. Then again, he was a sponge for knowledge, and what was mythology and magic if not just another knowledge base to assimilate for their Nerd In Chief? With some prompting from Staci, who had apparently become Tim’s protégé, Tim had opened up parts of his “special” library to the rest of the gang. Seth had immediately dove in, soaking up as much lore as he could.

He’d already adapted parts of the new research into some of their D and D campaigns. “Think of it as more training,” he’d said. Never mind that the real-life versions of monsters and creatures usually ended up being far tougher than their D and D counterparts, and thus the group’s adventures became that much tougher. Okay, okay, but that’s just a game and we get resurrects all the time. No such thing as a reboot-potion or a cure-serious-wounds spell in real life. Is there?

For Wanda’s part, she had grappled with learning how to use weapons as best as she could. Seth, for some bizarre reason, was focusing on how to build and set traps, in addition to learning every scrap of lore that he could about the magical world. Wanda supposed that might be useful for some monsters . . . but when did things ever go to plan for the gang anymore? It was hard to gin up a trap in the middle of a fight. Pulling a dagger and planting it in the eye of some mean-nasty? Definitely not easy, but much more doable, at least in Wanda’s eyes.

And . . . she liked it. So far, she really liked using throwing knives and a bow; Tim had called her a “natural marksman,” which had made her feel proud. If nothing else, it was something concrete that she could rely on, and didn’t make her head hurt the same way that Tim and Staci’s magical talk could.

That’s a thought. She could go and practice instead of moping around at the beach . . . but then she remembered that almost all of the weaponry and gear was locked up back at Tim’s shop. Whatever. It’s not the same without the others there, anyways. Wanda imagined all of the fun that she by all rights should have been having right then as she wound up for a particularly vicious kick to one of the many rocks in her path. The steel toe of her boot connected with the stone just right, and sent it skittering and bouncing along the ground until it disappeared over the edge of a drop-off . . . and instead of a satisfying splash, was followed by a surprised howl of pain.

“What the hell?” There shouldn’t have been anyone this far north along the beach; everyone always hung out at the pretty and friendly spots further to the south, instead of the rocky and craggy mess that Wanda liked.

If I hit someone I’d better find out if they’re okay. “Um, hello?” she called, but got no answer. Cautiously, she made her way to the lip of the drop-off. After all the mess that happened with the Blackthornes, Wanda was a lot more careful about being curious about strange things in the wilderness. I really, really wish I had more on me than just this dinky little fixed blade knife. She hadn’t become used to carrying around any of the more substantial blades that they had ordered from Greenwood Armory yet, so a slim, three inch dagger was all she had decided to grab to keep on her as a carrying-knife. It was easy to conceal, and quite a bit more legal to keep hidden on her person, but not exactly the most intimidating weapon, unless she was going to fight Brownies or something. The critters, not the little girls.

Her right hand rested on the handle of the knife as she reached the edge. “Is someone there?” Cautiously she peeked over the top of the rocks.

And nearly fell on her ass with surprise.

The only reason she didn’t fall on her ass was because her other hand had been clutching the rocks, and to be honest she wasn’t entirely certain that she hadn’t hit herself on the head with that rock, because sitting half-in, half-out of the water, holding both hands onto the top of his head (with a little blood trickling down his temple) was . . . a merman.

What else could it be? Although . . . the tail wasn’t scaled, it looked more like a dolphin tail, and the gray of the dolphin-skin faded up into the human skin well past his chest. But his head and neck looked human enough, as did his head of shaggy surfer-blond-streaked hair. He was in a tide pool, surrounded by little fish. He seemed so preoccupied with his injury that he didn’t even notice she was there.

Aaaand, yep, his head was still bleeding. Better go apologize to the weird fish-man, Wanda. Well, not fish-man, if that’s a dolphin tail. “Uh, hi. I think I accidentally did that,” she said, pointing to where the merman was massaging his scalp.

“ACK,” he yelped, ducking under the water quickly enough to send a splash of droplets across Wanda’s boots . . . but not deep enough to get his hands and the very top of his head under the water. He stayed there, eyes watching her from under the rippling water for a few moments before he slowly rose again.

“ . . . you’re not a vampire, are you?”

Wanda blinked. “No. Why do you ask?”

The merman yelped again when she spoke, darting back under the water before slowly rising again. “You’re dressed all in black, and pale, and I’m bleeding, and—”

“Well, I’m not a vampire. But thanks for the compliment, I think.” The merman didn’t yelp this time, or try to “flee” back under the water of the shallow pool. Slowly, Wanda squatted down to get a closer look at the merman. Merboy, more like it. He doesn’t look much older than me . . . but who knows how mer-people age? He was skinny, and kind of goofy-looking, with large ears sticking out from his head and through his surfer-blond mane of hair. Kind of like Seth . . . if Seth had been transported to California as a baby.

“If you’re not a vampire . . . then you’re human!” The merman surged forward quickly until he was at the edge of the pool, and Wanda fought the urge to yelp or leap back herself. He didn’t seem as if he was threatening her, though; the smile seemed genuine, and his eyes were curious instead of calculating. “I’ve never met a real, live human before! Come to think of it, I’ve never met a real, dead vampire, either. Though there was that one time . . .”

“Riiight,” Wanda said, taking a moment to breathe. “This is really weird for me, too. So . . . my name’s Wanda. Wanda the human. Not Wanda the vampire. Are you okay? I’m sorry I hit you with that rock. I didn’t think anyone else was here. What’s your name?”

He got a puzzled look on his face, as if so many questions at once confused him, and then locked onto one. Or at least, she thought that was what he had done, because he opened his mouth, and out came a series of clicks, whistles and squeaks. Then added. “Ow, you hit me with a rock,” putting his hand up to the rapidly-rising lump on the top of his forehead.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I don’t really have much that can help, unfortunately. I don’t carry around bags of ice or Advil. Anyways, do you have a name?”

“I do!” He beamed. “Like I said, it’s—” and again came the clicks, whistles, and squeaks.

“Oh. Uh, I don’t think I can pronounce that.” A thought occurred to Wanda just then. “Hey, come to think of it, how do you speak English, anyways? I thought you said that you’ve never met a human before?”

“That’s easy! My family taught me, and some of them have met humans. Or if they didn’t, then one of their aunts, or uncles, or sisters, or cousins, or brothers, or—well, you get the idea! All us merfolk are natural polyglots; it’s super useful, since just about everything in the ocean speaks a different language.” He paused, as if thinking for a moment. “Selkies are okay, I guess, but they gossip too much. Lobsters aren’t really that good for conversation, but boy, the younger ones taste great! And don’t even get me started on crabs—”

Wanda could already tell that this young merman would keep going on a tear if she didn’t put a stop to it. “Oh! I won’t, don’t you worry.” She frowned. “Well, I’ve got to call you something. Is there a shorter form of your name, maybe? Something that, you know, I can pronounce.”

The merman screwed up his face in concentration for several long seconds, then smiled . . . and squeaked once.

“Squeak it is, then.”

The merman—Squeak—beamed at this. “A human named me! I mean, it’s kind of short and boring, but still! I can’t wait to tell everyone I know!”

Wanda looked around. “Are there . . . more of you here? Y’know, merfolk?”

“Huh?” The smile fell from Squeak’s face, and he looked down. “No. I got . . . separated from the pod. There was a big storm, and I had been playing on the surface, and got confused with all the wind and the waves. The storm looked really cool, but it kind of threw me around.” He raised his eyes to look at Wanda again. “And then I got here to . . . where am I?”

“Uh, you’re off the coast of a town called Silence.”

“Oh, right. You humans call places weird things, you know. Anyways, so I got here to Quiet-Town, and, well, kind of got in a fight. But I didn’t start it!”

She set aside the fact that he seemed very anxious she not think he started this “fight,” whatever it was over, and just asked “Who’d you get in a fight with?”

“The Farraige Olc,” he whispered. “The merfolk part of them, anyway. We’re not supposed to fight, we’re supposed to be keeping the peace between us, but they’re mean and bullies and always hungry.”

“I have no idea what you just said.” She shook her head. “Well . . . what do they look like? And are you safe here?”

“They can’t air-breathe,” he said confidently. “They won’t come into shallow water. They look sort of like me, except sharky. And they have gills here—” he cut both hands in at the level of his lower rib-cage.

“So . . . sharkmaids. Mersharks. Merman-sharks. Got it.”

“Too many teeth too,” he said, and shuddered. “And like I said, always hungry. Like the lamia, but there weren’t any of those here. Just the pistriskin. You know what’s the worst thing about them?”

“Obviously not, since I didn’t know any of you guys existed before five minutes ago,” Wanda replied, not sure if she was more amused or annoyed by how air-headed he was. Or did he have water on the brain?

He laughed with delight. “You’re funny, Wanda-human! Okay, the worst thing about them is that they don’t always eat you right away. Sometimes they take you somewhere else and play with you, letting you think you can escape, then hauling you back until you’re totally exhausted.”

“That’s . . . pretty brutal, Squeak.” The merboy grinned at her, and she decided right there and then; if nothing else, talking with Squeak was amusing. And a sight better than kicking rocks along the beach. “How about this? You tell me about merfolk and all that sort of thing, and I’ll tell you about a bunch of human stuff. Sound like a good deal?”

His eyes literally sparkled with glee. “Me? You’d talk to me about landside?”

She smiled, sitting down and letting her boots dangle over the edge. “Yup. Just so long as you promise not to try to eat me or anything.”

He made a face. “You’re not a lobster or a crab or a herring—boy, herring are good—or a flounder or an oyster or a—”

“Okay, okay, I get it!” she laughed. “So tell me about your pod. . . .”

#

Wanda stood up, careful not to fall into the tidal pool, and stretched. Damn, time really got away from me. She had spent the last few hours talking with Squeak about . . . well, everything. It turned out that merfolk, to the best of their considerable ability, avoided interacting with people; given what Wanda knew about human nature, that was an exceedingly good policy. As a result, however, Squeak’s knowledge about the world of man was . . . spotty, and wildly inaccurate in some instances. He delighted in even the most mundane details of everyday life; cars, grocery stores, how shoes worked, all of it. He desperately wanted to know more about television; it confused and amazed him in equal parts.

For Wanda’s part Squeak’s narrative felt like the best underwater documentary ever—one where someone who actually knew what other creatures were thinking could tell you what was going on. Although she learned details about dolphin sex that really were TMI. Squeak had no filters. That part was definitely not going back to the gang, if any of it did. To be honest, it was very tempting to keep all this to herself. Staci and Tim had all this arcane stuff they shared, and Seth was deeply into all that even if it was on a theoretical basis. Riley and Jake had each other. This was the first time Wanda had ever had something that was all hers, alone.

She wanted to continue, but it had gotten late, and her stomach rumbled its protests; she hadn’t eaten anything that day, and was in dire need of food.

“You know, Squeak, I was totally not expecting this today . . . but I’m glad I found you, and that we got to talk. This was fun.” He beamed at her.

“I thought I was just going to have to sit here and be bored until the pistriskin left so I could sneak out!” He looked around himself at the tide pool. “There’s enough urchins here I can have a great meal, I’ll think I’ll do that and have a nap. If you think it’s safe and no more people are going to come here.”

“Oh, no one ever comes this far up the beach, dude. Just me. You’re definitely safe here.” She stretched again, working the kinks out of her shoulders. “I’ve got to get some food myself—no, I don’t want an urchin, but, uh, thanks anyways. If you’re still here tomorrow, maybe we can talk again?”

“Sure!” he said, plucking a sea-urchin off the side of the pool and somehow cracking into its shell without getting stuck full of spines. He slurped up the contents that made her stomach lurch to look at. “If I’m still here that’d be way better than hiding here like a flounder!”

“Okay.” Wanda chuckled. “Enjoy your dinner, Squeak. I’ll see you when I see you.” The merboy waved to her, and she waved back before she made her way towards the southern part of the beach where her bike was parked.

That was super pleasant, she thought. Part of her still wanted to tell the others all about her encounter with a merboy named Squeak, but she was fairly confident that she’d keep today all to herself. After all the secrets that Tim and Staci were sharing, it was pretty sweet to have something this epic all to herself. Even the weird looks she always got from the other beach goers couldn’t ruin her mood, and she almost always got a lot of weird looks. It’s hard work hauling the Goth flag alone in Silence, but someone has to do it. She was almost to the parking lot where her bike was chained to a rack when she heard a shrill scream coming from the beach.

Wanda immediately whipped around, her hand going to her knife instinctively. “What the hell?” A group of the few remaining beach goers were gathered around a woman who kept shouting and pointing towards the water, hopelessly distraught. Oh, crap. Her kid got sucked in by a riptide or something? Stomping through the beach sand, Wanda made her way closer, but froze in her tracks when she could understand what the woman was saying.

“—I’m telling you, sharks! Weird sharks, they took my son! Please, someone, help!”

Sharks were rare off the coast of Silence; they usually didn’t range this far north, though there were the odd sighting or two per year. Wanda already knew in her gut that it wasn’t just a regular shark. Squeak’s bullies, the mersharks. Crap. She opened her mouth to speak, but then snapped it shut. There was no way that anyone there would believe her; a weird Goth girl, coming up and saying that shark-men were really responsible? Even if they did . . . what could any of these people do to help? It dawned on her, another sickening realization. They can’t help the kid . . . but maybe I can. Squeak said that the mersharks like to play with their food, so maybe he’s still alive.

She considered trying to take her bike to get back to Squeak’s hidden pool faster, but discounted the idea; the beach sand sucked to try to bike through, and it would have been impossible to bike at all once she got to the rockier parts of the beach. Shank’s mare it is, she thought as she sprinted back the way she had come.

#

“Squeak!” she yelled, as she got close to the tidal pool. “Squeak! Emergency! Mayday Mayday Mayday!” Would he understand that? Well, it was a universal emergency call for ships. . . .

Running in platform Goth boots was not ideal, and combining that with crossing sand and rocks, Wanda was completely played out by the time she reached the merboy. Her running had become loads better after the training sessions had started in earnest with Tim and the rest of the gang, but she still had a long way to go before she’d be competitive in even a half-marathon.

The shaggy blond head popped up from the edge of the pool just as Wanda skidded to a halt, breathing hard. “Wanda-human? Is it tomorrow already? I dozed off.”

“Kid. Taken. Shark-men,” she said between gulps of breath. “Gotta. Find him.”

“The pistriskin?” His eyes grew wide, and he darted back under the water.

“Oh, damnit,” Wanda breathed, standing up and putting her hands on top of her head like they’d practiced at training. “Squeak! C’mon, listen!”

Slowly, Squeak’s head rose above the water again.

“They took a kid, Squeak. A little boy. We’ve got to do something. You said they play with their food for a while, so he might still be alive.”

“They took a calf?” Suddenly, the merboy went from merboy to merman in his posture and bearing. “Have you a weapon? Wait, I have one.” He made a huge leap over the rocks out to the ocean—she had no idea how he’d mustered the strength to get over those rocks, but he had—and vanished under the water. He came back up a second later, brandishing an old-fashioned boathook over his head, the kind with a sharp point and hook, made of tarnished brass.

“Well, that’ll definitely work.” She started unbuckling her boots; this was going to get wet, and she didn’t want to be weighed down by the clunky things getting full of water. “Do you know where we need to go?”

“Yes. I can taste them in the water,” he responded immediately. “Hurry, Wanda-human! Take your skins off and get into the sea! There is no time to waste!”

“Skins? Oh. Uh, turn around.”

Squeak cocked his head to the side, then shrugged, turning in place in the water. “Humans are weird.”

Wanda stripped out of her clothes, but kept her bra and underwear on. She wanted to keep everything on, but knew it wasn’t practical. “This is going to be stupid-cold.” Undressed, she gingerly stepped into the water, and hissed. “No, not just stupid-cold. This is ridiculous.”

“There is no time to waste!” said Squeak, urgently.

“Oh, to hell with it.” She took a breath and then jumped in. The cold water hit her like a wrecking ball, and she sputtered when she came up. “Oh! This is such a dumb idea!” Squeak had shoved the boathook into her hands as soon as she submerged, and she hadn’t dropped it, luckily. It was heavy, too heavy for something with a wooden shaft. Was it all brass? “We’ve got to hurry. This water is really, really cold for humans. That kid can’t be doing too well. What now?”

“Grab my fin!” he said. “Hard. Don’t let go!”

She grabbed the low fin that grew between his shoulder-blades as ordered. And as soon as she had, he was off like a shot, practically yanking her arm out of the shoulder-socket. Holy . . . he might look skinny, but Squeak is strong.

This was not as easy as it looked in movies and anime. Squeak swam just like a dolphin, a rolling up-and-down motion that threatened to drag her head underwater every time he went down. Eventually she got the bright idea to time her breaths to when his head rose, and use his explosive outer breath as her cue for her own intake. She clamped the boathook to her side and pointed straight ahead to keep it from getting ripped out of her grip. And within a couple of minutes both her arms were screaming about the abuse she was putting them through.

Just when she thought that she couldn’t hold on any longer, Squeak slowed, and then stopped, coming to a rest near an outcropping of rock.

“The pistriskin,” he whispered, gently pulling her off of his back—again, surprisingly strong for such a scrawny kid—and over to the rock so that she could hang onto it. “They’re in this cove.” He ducked his head under the water, waited for a few moments, and then came back up. “The calf is still alive.”

Wanda nodded, shivering. “Thank goodness.” Clutching to the rock, she slowly moved to a better position so that she could see into the cove. Sure enough, there was the kid; a young boy, crying quietly while he treaded water. His lips were blue; Wanda had no clue how long he’d been in the water, but it’d clearly been too long. And circling around him were three fins. “What are the shark-dudes doing?”

“One moment,” Squeak said before his head disappeared under the water again. When he finally emerged again, he looked grim. “Well, these are definitely the same ones that I got into a fight with. They’re currently arguing about who gets the first bite.”

Wanda looked up, rather than down, and it was obvious why the kid didn’t just escape by getting onto the shore. He couldn’t. Huge, slippery boulders rimmed the edge of the cove, and even she wouldn’t have been able to climb them.

“That might work to our advantage,” she said through chattering teeth. “You got away from them before. Can you do that again?”

Squeak’s brows furrowed. “I . . . I don’t know, Wanda-human.” Then he looked over to the child. “But we must try anyway. The calf is not going to last long when they finally decide to feed.”

“Okay, Squeak. We wait for a break; they seem distracted. When there’s an opening, we grab the kid and run for it. I’ll fight them off with the boathook.”

“That’s . . . not much of a plan.”

“No choice,” she replied. “Just be sure the kid gets a hold of your fin. We only have one shot at this.” She didn’t fancy their chances taking on three sharkmen without the element of surprise. They either got the kid and got away the first time, or all three of them would probably end up as dinner. I’m not going to let that happen.

#

“Okay, this was a really bad idea!” Wanda shouted as she swung the boathook at the nearest mershark. It had all gone really well in the beginning; they had waited for the sharkmen to get distracted with their arguing, and then swooped in and retrieved the kid. And that was the last thing that had gone right. Turns out, Squeak was faster than the mersharks . . . but not when he was carrying two people on his back. Instead of getting away clean, they were in a near dead heat with all three of the mersharks, and it was only through a combination of fancy maneuvers from Squeak and Wanda’s “skills” with the boathook that they hadn’t been chewed to pieces yet.

The mersharks themselves were even uglier than Wanda imagined. And they were pissed. “Back, you!” She stabbed at one of the nearest mersharks with the point of the boathook, and actually scored a hit, sinking the point into the flesh of the sharkman’s shoulder. It fell back, but one of the others surged forward to take its place. Between the snapping jaws of the mersharks and trying not to drown from Squeak’s erratic swimming, Wanda was having a tough go of it. The kid seemed completely frozen to Squeak’s back, hanging onto his fin for dear life.

“I can’t keep this up!” Squeak threw a backhand at one of the mersharks on the left, hitting it across the bridge of its nose, causing it to veer off.

The only good thing was that these creatures didn’t have huge shark mouths. They were going to have to grab one or both of the humans with their actual hands, and every time they made a grab, they lost speed.

“No kidding!”

They couldn’t create any distance between themselves and the mersharks, and the mersharks were keeping them penned in from going towards shallow waters. Something had to change, and fast. She got another hit in on the mershark on her side, but this time it grabbed the boathook’s haft. He yanked, hard, and almost pulled her off of Squeak, and she prayed that her grip wouldn’t go. A second shark swam between the trio and the mershark with the hold on the boathook, and actually bit through the shaft.

I guess it wasn’t all brass after all.

“Great!” Wanda threw the chunk of the shaft she still had, and managed to actually catch the sharkman in the face with it. She was out of weapons; her dinky little knife was back on the beach with the rest of her clothes. Besides, she didn’t want to have any of the mersharks get close enough to have to use something like that. Though right about now, anything would be better than harsh language, which is all I’ve got right now.

There was something in the distance, though Wanda could hardly make it out through the ocean spray. Tall, white . . . a boat!

“Squeak! Aim for the boat!”

“But—”

“Just do it, I’ve got an idea!”

“I thought this was your idea?”

She punched him in the shoulder, then pointed to the boat. It was further out to sea, away from the shallows that they needed to reach, but it was their only hope at this point. She kicked at one of the mersharks, almost losing her grip. She could tell that Squeak was getting tired; he was slowing, and the breaths he was taking every time he surfaced were becoming more ragged. But he still pushed, putting all of his energy into a final effort. Almost . . . c’mon, Squeak, we’re almost there.

The boat was one of Silence’s fishing vessels, probably returning to the docks after a day of work. “Kid, get ready! Squeak, I want you to aim right for it! At the last second dive under it, scrape our backs if you have to, but make it tight!”

Somehow Squeak put on a last burst of speed, and Wanda screamed “Breathe!” as she sensed him starting his dive.

She reached across his back and grabbed the kid’s wrist; a good thing she did, too, because she felt him lose his grip at the same moment that she felt the keel of the fishing boat scrape her back and got the terrifying glimpse of the rotating, churning propellers that were way too close to her shoulder for comfort.

Then they surfaced on the other side of the boat, as she heard two thuds and. . . .

Well, from the sudden spreading red in the water as they rolled away, the third sharkman hadn’t missed the propeller the way she had.

#

Wanda sat in her favorite chair at Tim’s, sipping on a cup of freshly made coffee. The others had returned earlier that morning, and they had all decided to meet up in the afternoon. They were all sorry that Wanda hadn’t been able to attend, but still shared stories of the event. She smiled, asked questions, and volunteered to refill coffee cups when her friends ran out. Through all of it, she still thought back to her weekend with Squeak. After they’d gotten back to shore, they’d dropped the kid off further up the beach—far enough that no one would see Squeak clearly, near enough the kid could make out his mom from where they were. He’d become animated, then, and ran back to where his mother was tearfully talking to a cop. Meanwhile Wanda and Squeak slipped away. No doubt he would tell everyone about the sharkmen, the merboy, and Wanda . . . but he was a kid, so it was unlikely anyone would believe him. Wanda had gotten dressed once they reached the cove, and a good thing, too; she was shivering so badly, she knew that she had to be on the verge of hypothermia. A quick goodbye to Squeak, and she left. If she had been hungry before the chase with the mersharks, she was ravenous afterwards. Squeak had promised to stop by Silence every once and a while if he could, so maybe she hadn’t seen the last of the merboy. He had definitely earned her respect with the bravery he had shown. Not bad for a fellow nerd.

“What about you, Wanda?”

Wanda looked up from her reverie. Staci waited expectantly, an identical cup of coffee cradled in her hands.

“Hmm?”

“What’d you get up to while we were gone?”

“Oh, nothing, really,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee. “Just kind of wandered around to be out of the house and away from the ‘rents.” She paused for another sip. “By the way, do any of you know if mermaids exist? I mean, we’ve run into some pretty weird stuff.”

Seth shrugged, sitting down in a chair next to her. “There are stories, but not a lot of lore for them. How ‘bout you, Tim? Ever met one?”

Tim shook his head, leaning on the counter at the front of the store. “Nope. Haven’t met anyone that has, either.” He narrowed his eyes at Wanda, arching an eyebrow. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason,” she said, smiling. “Just wondering.”



Copyright © 2020 Mercedes Lackey & Cody Martin


This story is set in the world of Breaking Silence by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin, a new entry in the SERRAted Edge series, out in February. Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times best-selling author of the Bardic Voices series and the SERRAted Edge series, the Heralds of Valdemar series, and many more. She's the coauthor of the contemporary metahero SF series The Secret World Chronicle. Among her popular Baen titles are The Fire Rose, The Lark and the Wren, and also The Shadow of the Lion and Burdens of the Dead with Eric Flint and Dave Freer. She lives in Oklahoma.

Cody Martin is a coauthor with Mercedes Lackey of five other books in the metahero saga The Secret World Chronicle, including entries Invasion, World Divided, Revolution, Collision, and Avalanche. He is also the coauthor of the previous entry in The SERRAted Edge series, Silence. Martin is an avid gamer, but spends his extra time chained to a computer, writing. Originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, he currently resides in Florida.