• Uncategorized

    Chapter 6: Once a Pirate…

    “What will you do after you get to your ship?” Laurel asked over the campfire.

    They had stopped to rest after a full day’s journey. According to Keahi, they still had another day’s travel before they reached the human settlement.

    “Sail,” Keahi responded, smirk painting his lips.

    “What’s the ocean like?” Laurel watched him with big eyes.

    Vorca watched as Keahi got a dreamy look on his face. He smiled as he spoke, describing the way the salt air feels, how the endless blue makes you feel like you’re flying. He told of the boundless night sky and uncountable stars that made him feel like part of the universe. The money he got from pirating wasn’t even a factor in his enjoyment. The ocean was his home.

    Laurel smiled. He laid down on the ground, looking up at the stars.

    “I want to go on the ocean someday,” he said with a sigh.

    Keahi cleared his throat. Vorca thought he saw a slight blush in his cheeks. He poked at the fire with a long stick.

    “I’ll take you there someday,” the human said. “Just got to be patient.”

    Not that Keahi was the best when it came to patience but watching Keahi trying to pass down life lessons to Laurel made Vorca toasty inside. He barely even noticed when the crickets started chirping and Keahi’s diary came out. He saw Keahi sketching him softly and took that vision with him as he contentedly fell asleep for the first time since this entire adventure had begun.

    The village rose quickly out of the forest, like the buildings had stepped out in front of the trees. Vorca had never seen the human town, but his sisters had told him so much — human men had beards down to their bellies, the women painted their faces, and they lived by the light of fires that needed no wood to burn.

    Vorca had tried to imagine it, but the details never seemed right to him: The humans wouldn’t use coral for their houses like the merfolk did, but he couldn’t imagine what they would use instead; How did the women keep their faces painted without it all running off?

    Vorca held fast to Keahi’s arm. He was still a little unstable on his new legs, but he also felt a tightness growing in his chest at the sight of the buildings. His instinct was the hide from the humans, to run back to the water, but he knew he couldn’t.

    “What’s the matter?” Keahi looked down at him, evidently picking up on Vorca’s tension.

    Vorca shook his head a little. He didn’t like the idea of Keahi thinking he was scared or weak. He wanted to prove his worth to this human, who was taking him on an adventure he’d always dreamed of. He wanted to prove he was more than just a Finder.

    “I haven’t seen this many humans before,” Vorca admitted. “At least ones that weren’t trying to kill me.”

    Keahi hummed and stopped walking, “That reminds me…”

    Laurel stopped after a couple steps, clearly excited but still aware of his companions. Vorca considered that a good thing, especially if any of them were in danger — fish were safe in schools because they could all sense each other, all know when a shark was coming.

    “You two need to lay low,” Keahi said to them. “Or at least not talk much. No offense, but the people here will know instantly you’re not like them, so let me do the talking.”

    They both nodded. Laurel looked at the pirate with bright, curious eyes, not aware at all of the peril they were in. Vorca knew Finders were kept in cages, but he couldn’t image what the fate of fairies were here…

    As they stepped from the forest onto the path leading to town, Vorca could feel Keahi getting excited. He saw the human grinning from ear to ear. Vorca tilted his head, watching him. It had dawned on him for the first time that Keahi had been out of his element, away from what he’d known. Vorca had been nervous to return to the Sea Witch, scared to be in the forest, but the entire time, he had known what was waiting for him there, who to expect.

    Keahi had had no point of reference for the journey he’d gone on these past few days. He’d faced discomfort and death without backing down, knowing it was what had to be done.

    Behind Vorca’s admiration of the pirate, he felt something tugging at his tail. Guilt, perhaps, that he hadn’t stopped to consider him. Vorca squared his shoulders. Whatever happened from this point, he told himself, he would face it without faltering.

    Keahi took a deep breath as his boots clicked on the cobblestone. He felt at ease for the first time in days. He was among his own people, didn’t have to worry about getting eaten or cursed. He could eat real food like meat and potatoes, not oysters and seaweed. It was practically heaven.

    He entered the first tavern he saw. It was early still and the majority of the tables were empty. Fine by him. He motioned to his companions to find a table as he walked up to the bar.

    “How much for a room?” he asked the portly barkeep.

    The bartender looked him over with one eye, the other having a patch over it. He then glanced at Vorca and Laurel across the room. He hummed.

    “Twenty for the week,” he grunted.

    Keahi baulked at the price, his eyes bugging a bit. “Twenty silver?”

    “Gold,” the barkeep picked up a glass to clean.

    “That’s robbery!”

    “And your lot looks rich,” the grizzled man nodded towards Keahi’s companions across the way.

    Ki looked at them, too. Vorca sat wide-eyed as he looked around the establishment, fair-skinned and dressed in fae-made cloth, clearly never having worked a day in his life. And Laurel spoke non-stop, clad in rare furs not seen on this side of the island. Keahi sighed. He would have tried to get as much out of them as he could, too.

    “Upfront?” Keahi turned back to the man, hoping that he seemed at least slightly trustworthy.

    “Half now, half at the end of the week,” he responded.

    Keahi dug into his pocket and set out a ten-piece he’d nicked from Vorca’s grotto, hoping the merman didn’t recognize it. He’d have a week to make up the rest of the money. That wasn’t too bad. He’d be able to make up the difference easily once he found his ship.

    The barkeep grabbed a key from a hook behind him. He slid it across the well-worn wood of the bar to Keahi.

    “Upstairs, third on the left,” his voice rumbled, and he moved his attention to another task.

    Keahi gave a quick smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He walked over to his companions. He rubbed his eyes with his hand. This was… not ideal. But it would turn around. If he could just find someone from the crew…

    “Third on the left,” Keahi tossed Vorca the key. “Go up and get settled. Don’t open the door for anyone but me.”

    “Where are you going?” Laurel tilted his head, a pout on his lips.

    “To look around,” he said. “I’ll be back before dinner.”

    Keahi was not back before dinner. But when he did arrive, it was with a furious banging on the door, rattling the old wood on its hinges.

    “It’s me!” he shouted into the room. “Open up!”

    Vorca was stretched out in the tub that came with the room, splashing gently. He tensed when he heard Keahi’s voice — it sounded near panicked. He nodded to Laurel, who was staring at him, frozen.

    The fairy hopped off the bed and cautiously moved to the door. He opened it just a crack to see out, but Keahi pushed his way through.

    “The ship’s not here!” the human was standing over Vorca within three strides of his long legs.

    “W-What?” Vorca sank deeper into the water.

    “The Jolly Roger!” Keahi motioned with his good arm towards the window overlooking the harbor. “She’s not here, Vorca.”

    “She–” Vorca sat up in the tub, his chest going tight. “She has to be.”

    “I’ve asked every sailor in town,” Keahi’s face was red. Vorca had never seen him angry. “She hasn’t been to port in weeks.”

    “Then–” Vorca’s mind spun. When he thought of the ship, his gut told him it was here. “Then it must be on its way.”

    Keahi took a couple deep breaths. It seemed to calm him, though he didn’t seem entirely convinced.

    “I’ve never been wrong, Keahi,” Vorca straightened his back, meeting the human’s gaze as he stared down at him.

    A few more breaths. Keahi’s face returned to its normal color.


    “Never,” Vorca reassured him.

    The bluster left Keahi’s sails. His shoulders slumped and he went to the bed.

    “Sorry,” he said as he sat. “I just…”

    “Miss home?” Vorca finished for him. Keahi nodded. “It’ll be here, Keahi. We just need to be patient…”

    Keahi hummed in response. He shook his right hand as though it hurt. He’d started wrapping it tightly with bandages and rags to cover his curse ever since they’d arrived in town.

    “I’m taking a nap…” he said, though to Vorca’s ears, he sounded less tired and more resolved…

    Vorca looked to Laurel, who still stood thunderstruck by the door. Vorca felt his ears heat up. He sank down below the water, closing his eyes.

    If they really were staying here for a week, Keahi told them, they were going to need a source of income. He had gone off to find someplace that would take him, leaving Vorca and Laurel alone. The room had cost Ki everything he had, and Vorca had a guilt in his chest that compelled him to move.

    After Keahi had left, Vorca came out of the tub. Laurel was by the window, gazing out at the world beyond. Vorca knew he would be more than willing to join him then.

    He looked around the room. Keahi had said their clothing would make them stand out. So he needed to find something to cover themselves with. He grabbed the sheets from off the bed and draped it over his head and shoulders. A belt would make it seem almost normal. When he was satisfied, he turned to Laurel at the window.

    “Want to go on an adventure?”

    If Keahi asked, they had left to get ocean water so they didn’t have to rush at the next sunset. They brought Laurel’s bucket, since he carried it all this way for some reason. Vorca decided the fae was sweet, though clueless. He wondered if people thought the same of him…

    “Are all humans this scruffy?” Laurel whispered beside him.

    Vorca followed the fae’s gaze to a group of sailors standing outside what looked like a sawmill. They were covered in hair and dirt, smoking cigars and drinking what Vorca suspected was not water. He flushed a little as one removed his shirt in the midday sun.

    “All the ones I’ve met,” Vorca answered, looking away. Keahi was the cleanest pirate he’d ever met, but he suspected it was mostly because he’d been drenched the majority of their time together.

    The road led them to an open-air market near the docks. The smell of fish and sea salt was instant the moment the wind picked up. Vorca’s mouth began to water, though Laurel seemed less pleased with the scent. Vorca laced his fingers together, trying to keep himself from grabbing a large tuna they passed by.

    Past the fresh fish and other foodstuffs were trinkets and baubles. Vorca’s eyes went through each item on each stand, mentally making a list of the items he would add to his collection if he had the chance.

    Vorca heard Laurel make a small noise beside him. He looked up as a gust of wind moved the hanging fabrics, giving him a glimpse of what had caused Laurel to gasp.

    In the stall across the way was a mermaid, strung up by her tail like a large fish. Vorca couldn’t tell if she was alive, but her hair was dry. She needed water.

    “What do we do?” Laurel asked in a hushed voice.

    Do? What was there to do? Vorca had always been told that being captured by humans meant death. He had no escape plans, because he knew there would be no escape.

    But it wasn’t him strung up, it was a sister mermaid. He had the opportunity to be her escape plan. He cleared his throat, not realizing how dry it had gotten. He glanced down at the fae, who was still looking at him for guidance. He took a breath.

    “We’ll need a distraction,” he said in a quiet voice. “And a knife.”

    Without taking his gaze off Vorca, Laurel took a small blade out from under his cloak. Vorca blinked. How long had he’d had that on him? Vorca took it hesitantly. He felt it humming in his hand, magic flowing from the small blade.

    “It was a gift,” Laurel said, though Vorca hadn’t asked. “From someone at the village.”

    “You had a lot of admirers back there,” Vorca said, though he wasn’t quite sure what all these bits and pieces about Laurel were adding up to.

    Vorca led the way, making a long loop around the stall to inspect the situation. The mermaid’s mouth was gagged, preventing her from singing, but she was alive. If they could get the gag off, maybe they wouldn’t need the knife.

    The stall owner sat nearby, playing some kind of game with other fishmongers. He was distracted already, so perhaps an extra little stimulus might give them a window of opportunity.

    Vorca took a breath. He thought about sending Laurel over to them and engaging the sailors in a conversation, but it didn’t play out well in his head.

    “I’m going to talk to them,” he told the fae. “When they’re not looking, ungag her.”

    Laurel nodded, a determined look painting his features now. Vorca knew he was scared, but he was pushing this aside to help a complete stranger.

    Vorca was grateful they had brought him.

    Vorca didn’t know what he was going to talk about, but his new human legs were taking him to the fishmongers’ table. They noticed him, and some gave quick glances, others lingered on him.

    “What do you need, little one?” the man closest to him asked once he got close. He barely looked up from his cards.

    Vorca swallowed hard, then took a deep breath. “I was hoping you could tell me where you get your fish?”

    The sailor threw down a card, finishing his turn. He shifted in his chair to look at him fully now.

    “South side of the island,” he said. He looked him up and down. “Where are you from?”

    “I’m–” Vorca’s mind searched for any other human settlements he knew of. “I’m from the eastern end. This is my first time out here.” He didn’t know if there actually was a village there, but surely some humans lived alone, right?

    The sailor glanced at his cards. “Everyone here gets their fish from the same waters, if that’s what yer worried about.”

    “No, no,” Vorca swallowed hard and gave a small laugh. “I was just wondering where you found the mermaid.” Crap, he didn’t mean to draw attention to her, why was he so bad at this…?

    The men around the table chuckled. They turned to look at another player who Vorca hadn’t seen before as she sat behind a large, hulk of a sailor. Vorca had never seen anyone quite like her — not a human anyway. Her dark skin was speckled with light spots in a seemingly random pattern. Her hair was sunkissed, pale pink and wind swept, held back by a faded ribbon. She was bejeweled in gems and seaglass, save for a necklace that held a single, fae-made stone, not unlike his own.

    “The mermaid’s mine,” the woman said, barely looking up from her cards. Her voice was smooth, unmarred from any accent like her compatriots. “And I suspect you won’t be able to afford her.”

    Vorca’s ears went red. This woman… something about her made his scales itch. He shook his head a little.

    “No, no I just…” he took a deep breath. “I just wanted to see them in the wild. The mermaids. I’ve heard of how beautifully they sing.”

    Another laugh goes through the group. Vorca’s cheeks grew warm.

    “If you ever hear them sing,” the woman said. “You’ll be dead, little one.”

    Vorca opened his mouth, but he was cut off by a sound so familiar, it calmed his nerves almost instantly — the song his sisters would sing while defending the Rainbow Falls. Vorca turned and saw the Laurel had been successful. The mermaid’s gag was loose, and she was angry.

    Vorca looked around the market. Everyone within earshot went slack-jawed and glassy eyed. Her song was weak, but it would be enough. Vorca forgot the sailors at the table and ran to Laurel.

    The fairy was working on the ropes that wrapped around her tail. Vorca lifted the mermaid up so she wouldn’t fall to the ground when she was freed. She wrapped her arounds around his neck, continuing to sing, though her voice cracked. She needed water so badly…

    Finally, the rope snapped. Vorca’s knees buckled under her full weight, but he stayed standing. Once he recovered, he didn’t hesitate. He ran out of the market, towards the docks and the nearest path to open water.

    The farther they got from the market, the more shouting Vorca could hear. The pirates were coming out of the spell. Vorca wasn’t entirely sure what happened when humans came around. Most of the time, they ended up dead, so he couldn’t ask about memory loss or disconnect. He’d never bothered contemplating it either, and he couldn’t exactly start now.

    Here! the voice of his fellow merfolk filled Vorca’s mind.

    He skidded to a stop. They were at the far end of the docks, where no humans seemed to linger. Vorca looked around, then set her down on the wet wood of the walkway.

    Her tail touched the water and she let out a sigh of relief. She rested only a minute before slipping in completely. She sumerged herself completely, though Vorca could see her eyes just below the surface.

    You need to run, her voice was in his mind. Come with me.

    I can’t, he told her. I’ve angered the Witch.

    Vorca felt a shudder ripple through his mind. She understood. He felt her pity for him.

    Someday you’ll return, she said, though there was no feeling behind it. Vorca simply nodded in return.

    Laurel reached them finally, panting heavily. It was a wonder that he wasn’t caught, Vorca realized. As his sister mermaid swam away, the impact of what they’d just done came down on Vorca. It was beyond dangerous. If they had been captured…

    Laurel sat next to him, then sprawled out on the ground with a groan. He panted, catching his breath slowly.

    “We should go back,” Vorca said in a quiet voice.

    Laurel gave an affirmative grunt.

    Vorca stood, then helped Laurel to his feet. He pulled his makeshift hood down low, hoping to make himself unrecognizable at least slightly. They took the long way back to the tavern, ducking behind buildings and barrels to avoid the fishmongers.

    Keahi returned from a day chopping firewood for a local school. He felt practically saintly as well as sore. He had walked away with three coins, which was enough for dinner and breakfast. He’d have to work tomorrow, too. He didn’t mind grunt work, but he preferred being on the ocean. Out on the water was freedom, endless possibilities, and all that crap. It wasn’t a lie when he said it the other night around the campfire, but it was also far more poetic than he preferred to be.

    He opened the tavern door, expecting the place to be as quiet as it had been the day before at this time. He was mistaken.

    A boat must of come to port, because the place was packed to the gills with sailors and pirates, all of them loud and fairly drunk from the smell of hops and yeast that lingered like a cloud. Keahi squeezed past a table of fellows who were playing some kind of game with a knife, and worked his way to the bar.

    The barkeep didn’t seem any more happy than he did when the place was empty. He glanced at Ki when he bellied up to the bar. Keahi set down a coin and slid it towards him.

    “Three orders of whatever’s cooking back there,” he said, with a lopsided grin.

    The bartender was nonplussed. He looked at the coin, then shrugged.

    “Maybe you should check in with your friends before you go buyin’ things for them,” he said.

    “What?” Keahi stiffened, standing upright. “Why?”

    The barkeep motioned his head to the back of the room. Keahi followed his gaze and saw a rather large group of poker players. At one end of the table sat Laurel, practically glowing as he set down his cards, causing the other players to groan. Keahi blinked, then walked towards them.

    Vorca saw him and gave a small wave. He looked entirely uncomfortable in this situation, but he had a feeling that he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He took a chair next to Vorca.

    “How much is he in the hole?” He whispered to the merman. Vorca replied with a confused look. Ki sighed. “How much does he owe?”

    “Owe?” Vorca shook his head. “He’s won every hand.”

    “What?” Keahi’s voice was much louder now that he had intended. He cleared his throat. “How the hell is he winning?”

    Vorca shrugged, “Beginner’s luck?”

    Ki leaned back in his chair and watched a round. He could see Laurel’s hand clearly. The fairy had been dealt a full house. Keahi gave a soft whistle.

    “If he keeps that up, they’re going to call him a cheater,” he said.

    “They already have,” Vorca sounded tired. “They searched him. They searched me. They’ve put someone behind him to watch his cards. I think the game now is trying to figure out how he’s doing it. They stopped putting money down after he got almost a hundred gold.”

    Keahi felt like his seat fell out from under him. “A h-hundred gold?”

    Vorca nodded. He looked more stressed than he was pleased. Keahi could imagine Vorca trying to keep this young fae out of trouble, only to have more and more heaped onto him.

    Keahi patted him on the shoulder. He stood again and headed towards the bar.

    “Let me buy you a drink.”

    The bartender put in the food orders, then started digging around for some clean mugs to serve Keahi’s mead. Ki had yet to decide if this spat of luck was good or bad, but he was going to ride it until it broke.

    Keahi took his mug, still waiting for Vorca’s, and turned his back to the bar as he surveyed the room. Everything seemed quiet — well, not quiet exactly, but at ease. He found himself smiling as Laurel got another win, causing a rumbling groan from the crowd that he was gathering.

    These were his people. He could relax in this place, and not worry about fairies and mermaids, and drowning. Coming into port, having a couple days of shore leave before heading back out again was all part of the cycle of sailing, and he loved it.

    The tavern door opened and a ghost walked in. It took Keahi a moment to realize that she was out of place because he was so used to seeing her in exactly these situations. He stopped smiling. Chilali spotted him almost instantly and sauntered over to him.

    Chi was the only woman Keahi had ever seen allowed on a ship. They were bad luck, the saying went. But it had been decided that Chilali was so fierce, that bad luck was too scared to mess with her. For as long as Keahi had known her, he fully believed this was true.

    Chilali’s speckled cheeks rose into a small smile as she approached.

    “I heard the Kelpies got you,” she said once she was close enough.

    Keahi downed the rest of his mead before clearing his throat.

    “It’ll take more than some singing wenches to pull me down,” he laughed, hoping it sounded convincing. “Why aren’t you with the Jolly Roger?”

    A fresh mug appeared next to them, though it wasn’t for Keahi to bring back to Vorca. The pirate woman demanded more expedient service it seemed.

    “I sat this one out,” she said as she picked up her drink. “I wanted to try my hand at fishing.”

    “Fishing?” Ki laughed. “How’d that go?”

    Chilali smiled behind her mug. She took a long drag, then set the drink on the wooden counter.

    “I caught a mermaid,” she stated.

    Keahi’s skin went cold. In the history of Neverland, only a handful had ever taken a mermaid alive. They were always in packs, always covering for their fellows. Out of everyone here, Keahi was the most experienced in the dangers they posed.

    “A mermaid?” He gave a breathless laugh.

    Chilali nodded, though her face grew stormy. Her eyes drifted to the table where Laurel and Vorca sat playing. Keahi followed her gaze. He happened to catch Laurel’s attention and the fairy waved at him from across the room.

    Chi raised an eyebrow and looked back at Keahi. “You know them.”

    Keahi cleared his throat. He shifted from one foot to another.

    “We arrived in town at the same time,” he replied. “We traveled the last mile together.”

    Chi hummed in response. “They stole my catch.”

    “Stole?” Keahi’s chest tightened. He could barely breathe. “The mermaid?”

    Chi gave an angry grunt. “When I heard they were here, I figured I’d come by to collect payment due.” She leaned back on the counter casually. “The long haired one has a pretty mouth I’d like to break.”

    Keahi’s head spun. Maybe he was suffocating. Could you drown on dry land? Chilali asked him something, but he didn’t understand it as a human language at first.

    “Huh?” he said.

    Chi rolled her eyes and repeated herself, “I said, how do you plan on getting back on the ship? You know the captain doesn’t stand for deserters.”

    “Desert– I didn’t desert,” Ki snapped, though he regretted it given who he was talking to. He cleared his throat. “I figured I’d give a peace offering.”

    “It would have to be a mighty prize to get back in Hook’s good graces,” Chi sounded almost curious, though it could have easily been sadism.

    Keahi nodded. He looked away from the table where his companions sat.

    “Trust me,” he said. “It’s the biggest prize I’ve ever found.”

  • Uncategorized

    Chapter 5: The Forest

    Keahi was tired, but he supposed that’s what drowning did to a person. He hoped this wasn’t becoming a thing with him. He’d never had great luck, but this was getting ridiculous.

    When he opened his eyes again, it looked like no time had passed. It was entirely possible none had, but Vorca’s hair was dry and Keahi’s own clothes seemed at the very least less damp.

    “So,” he tested his lips. They were rough like sand and his throat felt like salt water had evaporated on it.

    Vorca turned his attention from the ocean. Keahi thought he saw something in his eyes — sadness? Regret? Homesickness…

    “So?” The merman said in response.

    “Sorry about your boss,” Keahi said sheepishly, if only because he didn’t want to seem insensitive about the situation. He had no regrets about stabbing someone who had tried to eat him.

    Vorca shook his head, but it slowed into a sort of half-hearted shrug.

    “I parted with the witch months ago,” He replied. “Though, she likely won’t let me back so quickly now…”

    The merman looked out at the waves that rolled lazily onto the sand. Keahi watched the foam as well, and he was certain he saw the glint of something more than just water.

    “Or at all…” Vorca whispered. Keahi wasn’t sure if he should pretend to not have heard it.

    “What…will she do,” Keahi asked, hesitantly. “When you go back?”

    Silence. Vorca was either thinking or trying to disconnect from the thoughts.

    “She will keep me in a cage,” he said, finally. “I’m too valuable to kill.”

    “Right…” Keahi hummed. “Because, uh, you’re a Finder. Which reminds me, why couldn’t you find your charm yourself? Why did we have to go to her in the first place?”

    Vorca finally turned his violet eyes back to Keahi. He gave a small smile.

    “Finders can only locate what others are looking for, never their own desires. Our talents exist only to serve others.”

    Keahi didn’t reply. There wasn’t anything he could think to say. Perhaps it was best to just… move on to other thoughts.

    “Well, at least you’ve got your legs,” he tried to sound cheery.

    “Yes, but I walk as well as you swim,” Vorca gave a snear.

    “If by that you mean amazingly well, then yes, you do,” Keahi threw back. He saw the smallest hint of a smile on Vorca’s lips.

    “So… the forest then,” Keahi looked to the tree line. He did not have any great enthusiasm to go back into the brush after his last experience with the inhabitants there. “Are you sure there’s not another way?”

    “Yes,” Vorca said, without hesitation. “Your ship is on the other side.”

    “I was afraid you’d say that…” Keahi took a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m ready to die again.”

    Vorca blinked, a look of surprise on his fair features. “I… guess you do have a penchant for near-fatal trouble…”

    “I always have…” Keahi nodded. “Though more so the last few days than usual.”

    “The fae should not bother us now,” Vorca said, but he didn’t seem very sure. “They don’t trust humans. But with me, they should be fine…”

    Very reassuring. Keahi took another breath, then stood. He offered a hand to Vorca. The merman-turned-humanlike was still looking for his land legs, but he managed to stay upright. Keahi grabbed the leftover bottle from the night before and shook it, testing how much was left. Not much.

    “Liquid courage,” he said before tipping the bottle back, downing the remaining booze in one go.

    Vorca had been into the forest once before, when he was much younger. Each of the merfolk must travel to the fae village to receive their gift, a task made difficult by the lack of legs. Traditionally, whole families would travel to the village, helping those who sought their gems for the first time. Vorca’s sisters helped him, but there was no big production — no songs, no caravan. Simply his strongest sister carrying him in her arms while the others acted as guards.

    Back then, he had watched the trees with excitement, wanting to see something, anything other than the lagoon. But now…

    His strong and knowledgeable sisters were gone. Instead, he had a human who liked concussions and had already angered the guardians. Where there was thrill before, anxiety now lingered.

    Keahi couldn’t know it, though. Vorca stood tall — or as tall as he could considering the low branches. He needed to be strong for the pirate. Vorca didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to match the man’s confidence. He wanted to… to protect Keahi, he supposed. He hadn’t done a great job of it so far, so he wanted to make up for his failures.

    Next to him, Keahi sneezed. The man grumbled and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.

    “Why do humans do that?” Vorca blurted out before he could consider the tact of it.

    “Do what?” Keahi sniffed. “Sneeze? Well I mean, I’m allergic to fairies…”

    “Allergic,” Vorca frowns. “That’s… not good,”

    “Why not?”

    “Well…” Vorca ducked under a branch. “We’re going to visit the fairy village…”

    Keahi couldn’t hide his thoughts on the subject, his face tightening into a frown.

    “I’d rather eat hardtack with no water,” Keahi waved a hand dismissively, though Vorca wasn’t clear on what hardtack was exactly.

    “It’s rude to pass through lands without paying respect to the caretakers,” Vorca was surprised he even had to explain this, but then he remembered that Keahi made his living off of thievery.

    Keahi made a grumbly noise, but said nothing more on the matter.

    To be honest, Vorca did not know how to find the fairy village, but Keahi’s increased sneezing told him they were on the right track. He honestly had no idea how long they’d been traveling through the forest but in his periphery Vorca saw movements from all directions. They were being watched if nothing else.

    Vorca turned his head back in front of him and found himself face to face with two young fairies dressed in shades of yellow and gray. Keahi made a surprised sound as well and jumped behind him.

    “Those are the ones that stung me!” Keahi hissed into his ear.

    Vorca nodded some, eyes never leaving the two guards. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off before he could utter a syllable.

    “The human should be dead,” one of the guardians stated.

    “His trespassing must be punished,” added the other.

    Vorca swallowed hard. He took a breath and tried to find the words.

    “He came looking for passage to the human side of the island,” he stated, carefully. “I was to guide him. I returned for my gem, but he was… impatient. His trespassing is my fault, though his impatience is his own.”

    The fairies looked to each other. They didn’t speak, but their wings moved ever so subtly that it seemed like a trick of the eye. Vorca’s ears buzzed to the point of annoyance, but he didn’t dare move.

    “The human’s punishment is decided,” they said in unison.

    “For his impatience,” the first fairy said. “He will be bound to you for the remainder of his stay.”

    She waved her hand. Vorca felt his wrist burn for a moment, then there was a weight against his skin like a rope hung from his hand. He looked down and saw only a glimmer of magic, though the shine left a trail connecting him to Keahi.

    “And for your forgetfulness,” the second fairy continued, turning to Vorca. “You will have this idiot human attached to your wrist.”

    Vorca blinked, but nodded, Keahi making a face at being called an idiot. Luckily, he was smart enough to stay silent. It could have been worse… He considered them lucky as the twins led them into the forest’s heart.

    The pep in Vorca’s step had disappeared by the time they reached the village proper. Keahi imagined having bare (once-fins) feet walking through the forest was not something the merman was entirely prepared for. He slowed his steps, trying to walk at a pace that seemed better suited for Vorca, but the wasp twins kept looking back at him like he was trying to escape.

    He shook his wrist. He’d seen a glimmer when the wasps gave out their reduced (if slightly late) punishment. It felt like there was a shackle there, and he wondered if Vorca felt the same. He had little time to ponder such things, however, as a sneeze interrupted his thoughts every other minute or so.

    By the time the forest gave way to the village, Keahi had wrapped his nose and mouth the a soggy rag he was fairly certain Vorca had used to bandage him a day or so before. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but neither was sneezing, and at least the rag seemed to help a little.

    The fairy village was about how Keahi had expected. Buildings were made out of branches, leaves, and fallen trees. Everything had a glow to it, not unlike Vorca’s grotto. The fairies themselves flitted around, not bothering to walk as they went about their day. Keahi hated them, he decided after a particularly long fit of sneezes.

    Fairies that noticed them turned to watch. A human and a mermaid, bound together by some sort of magic was sure to be a sight. Whispers passed between them, and they retreated away when they got close.

    “Wait here,” one of the wasp guards commanded.

    “You will be collected,” finished the other.

    “Fantastic…” Ki muttered behind his cloth. One of the guards buzzed at him as she flew back to her post.

    Vorca crouched down, evidently wanting to take some pressure off his legs. Keahi sat on the dirt, simply no longer wanting to be upright.

    “So, we in trouble?” Keahi asked, his stuffy nose causing his words to be truncated.

    “Trouble?” Vorca sounded tired. “No, I don’t think so. They just want to make sure our needs have been tended to.”

    “Tended to…” Keahi closed his eyes. “Sounds suspiciously like being killed off…”

    “Have you always been this paranoid?” Vorca asked.

    “Maybe? I don’t know. I’ve died a lot recently…”

    It was another couple minutes before an envoy came to greet them. She was a beautiful wisp of a woman, dark skin and hair that shimmered blue beneath the light of the village.

    “Ocean brother, your visit is a pleasure,” she addressed Vorca, who had stood up straight once more.

    They exchanged pleasantries, but Keahi couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. He scratched his forearm and fought off another sneeze. He didn’t notice when Vorca and the envoy began walking, leaving him behind in the village square. He did notice, however, when he felt a strong yank on his arm, causing him to stumble forward. He looked in the direction the merman walked and saw a glimmering thread leading to him.

    Another yank and Keahi was forced to move. This, evidently, was what his punishment meant.

    They were given a small tent on the outskirts of town. Originally they’d been offered a very elaborate guest house, but Vorca had declined, citing Keahi’s allergies. It earned Ki another disapproving look from another disapproving fairy. Still, the small distance from the rest of the buildings did improve Keahi’s allergies and temperament quite a bit.

    Vorca was happy for a full set of clothing that had been gifted to him, though if he was being honest, Keahi preferred him wearing just the jacket he’d offered him at the beach…

    “I need to find a gift for them,” Vorca declared rather suddenly.

    Keahi raised an eyebrow and looked at him from his position on his bedroll.

    “I don’t understand all these formalities,” Keahi sighed. “Just let it slide this once.”

    Vorca shook his head. “If I did that, I’d be soiling the relationship between our people that has taken centuries to–”

    “Yeah, okay,” Keahi put up a hand. “I get it. What sort of gift should we get them?”

    “There are flowers and berries that grow by the river,” the merman said. “My sisters use them to dye their hair sometimes. Perhaps the fairies could do the same.”

    Keahi sat up. “Alright. Shall we go then?”

    Vorca hopped to his feet, though he seemed to regret it. He limped out of the tent and Keahi followed.

    Ki looked up at the canopy above their heads. He squinted, trying to see the sky beyond it. The clouds looked orange, which either meant the sun was going backwards or it was getting ready to set.

    “We best get home before it gets dark,” he said. “With or without the berries.”

    Vorca looked up as well. His eyes went wide.

    “I need water,” he declared.

    Keahi blinked. “We can…go back to the tent,” he stopped walking, not understanding what that had to do with anything.

    “No, no,” Vorca shook his head. “The gem. It requires the wearer to return to the ocean once a night.”

    “Oh,” Keahi looked around. They were very far from the ocean if the blisters on his feet were any indication. “Every night?”

    “Yes,” Vorca said, a certain panic edging into his voice.

    “I’ll get the water, you get the berries,” Keahi offered.

    Vorca hesitated, but nodded. “You can’t touch the water though.”

    “What? Why not?”

    “The witch,” Vorca’s voice hushed. “All water which flows to the ocean is her domain. She’ll find us if you touch it.”

    Keahi rolled his eyes and made a noise of frustration.

    “Magic! Everything is magic!” he rubbed his eyes. “Why can nothing be simple.”

    Vorca said nothing. When Ki opened his eyes, he saw the merman was scared, pulling the fairy gifted clothes close to his shoulders. Keahi’s let out a breath, forcing his frustration out through his lungs.

    “Hey…” he walked towards him, arms open in comfort. “I’ll find a way. You’ve protected me — despite my best efforts. I’ll find a way to protect you.”

    Vorca gave a soft smile. He nodded a little. “Thank you, Keahi.”

    Keahi had no idea how he was going to do it. How much water did the gem require? If it was a bucket’s worth, then they were out of luck. But maybe a boot full…

    Ki felt the shackle on his wrist tightening. Damn all this magic… What if he couldn’t reach the stream because of it? What would happen if he went too far — would it tighten until his hand fell off? Would it simply prevent him from going past a certain point?

    He could hear the stream, the water babbling through the quiet forest. He just needed to keep walking…

    A twig snapped, but it wasn’t under Keahi’s boot. He turned, trying to see where the sound had come from. If it was those wasp guards again, he wasn’t walking away again, he knew that.

    A flash of white just beyond his periphery. His mind went to the stories he’d heard of legendary white stags, messengers of the otherworld. Spirits. It certainly wouldn’t be the most unusual thing he’d ever come across.

    “Hello!” A voice came from behind him.

    Keahi spun on his boot heel. Like the wasps had appeared from nothing before, there now stood a young, lithe-looking and extremely pale fae.

    “H-Hello,” Keahi blinked. He took a step back, telling himself it was to loosen the tight shackle around his wrist.

    “Who are you?” the fairy was so… excitable, even in his few words.

    “Keahi,” the pirate replied. “I’m a guest in the village.”

    “Oh,” the fairy smiled. “I heard about you. There’s a mermaid too, right?”

    “Merman, actually,” Keahi took another step back. “I don’t remember seeing you around though. Why are you so far out here?”

    “Oh, I live out here,” the fairy bounced on the balls of his feet. “I’ve got a hut by the stream.”

    “Stream?” Keahi perked up. “The one that leads to the ocean?”

    “I think so,” the fairy tilted his head in thought. “I’ve never followed it though. It’s dangerous out there.”

    “Can I see?” Keahi knew how to take advantage of a situation if nothing else. “I’m looking for some fresh water, actually…”

    “Sure!” And with a bounce, the fairy was off.

    Keahi could barely keep up with him. He moved like a deer in an open field, bounding over roots and ducking under branches. Ki ignored the pain in his wrist as he followed, not wanting to lose his best chance at getting that water quick.

    There was no clearing for the hut like there was the village. The building just appeared, rising out of the forest itself. It was sculpted from mud and straw and decorated with twigs, leaves and twisting vines. This fairy lived alone out here, though Keahi couldn’t help but notice all the stuff around the hut. It wasn’t unlike Vorca’s grotto, with baubles and charms laying about next to stores of food and clothing. Keahi hadn’t seen anything like this back in the fairy village. This kid was either spoiled or rich…

    The stream pooled outside the back of the hut, swirling in a wading pool for a moment before continuing out of sight. It was perfect. He hoped.

    “So, my friend,” Keahi panted a little, catching his breath now that the fairy had stopped running. “The merman. He… needs some water for his gem to keep working or something?”

    The fairy nodded. Apparently this checked out.

    “So, uh, do you think you could help me out?” Keahi cleared his throat. “Um, your name is…?”

    “Laurel!” The fairy said brightly. “You can borrow my bucket.”

    “A bucket!” Keahi grinned. “Much better than a boot.”

    Laurel nodded like he knew what Ki was talking about. The fairy ran off to get it from wherever he thought to keep buckets. Keahi looked down at the swirling pool.

    It was probably a trick of the light playing on the canopy above, but Ki was certain he could see eyes in the water, staring back at him…

    “Here you go!” Laurel appeared behind him once again and Keahi was wondering if, in addition to being allergic to fairies, he had trouble telling when they were around him.

    “Yeah, so…” Keahi cleared his throat. “I was hoping maybe you could fill it up for me?”

    The pale fairy tilted his head like a dog hearing a strange sound.

    “I… have this curse. I can’t touch water directly,” it wasn’t a complete lie. Plus it was magic so it sounded plausible, right? “I came out here looking for the stream because no one else could do it.”

    Laurel’s face changed. His wide, pink eyes narrowed and his lips pursed into a determined pout. He gave a nod.

    “Can’t have a mermaid-man get sick,” he said firmly.

    Laurel took the bucket and dunked it into the swirling pool. He then heaved it back up, though he struggled with it like he was carrying a cannonball. Keahi watched this from a distance in case he got splashed. He wasn’t sure if running water was the only thing the witch could find him in, or if it was all water. Hopefully Vorca would clarify the matter when they saw each other again.

    “Easy there,” Keahi went to help once Laurel was a little farther from the pool. “No need to strain anything…”

    Laurel let out a breath as Keahi easily lifted the bucket from his grip. He panted and gave a wide smile.

    “I don’t do much heavy lifting,” he said. “But that was fun!”

    “Heavy lifting…” Keahi repeated. It wasn’t even that big of a bucket.

    Pain spiked in Ki’s free hand and he hissed. He looked down to see the glint of the spell, binding him to Vorca.

    “I need to get going,” he said. “Thank you, though. I’ll return the bucket later.”

    “Can I go with you?” Laurel hopped so he was standing in Keahi’s way. “I’ve never actually met a merperson before…”

    “Uh,” Keahi’s head needed time to process the request. “No, I don’t know if that’ll be a good idea. I don’t want to attract too much attention… I mean–”

    A rumble of thunder interrupted him. Laurel’s face fell, a pout forming on his lips.

    “Please?” Laurel looked up at Keahi with big eyes.

    Ki didn’t really have time to argue. A fat raindrop fell on Keahi’s head. The sky was growing dark and he wasn’t sure how far he’d come from the village. “Yeah, fine, alright. Come on then.”

    Vorca had gathered the flowers and berries. He’d arranged them into beautiful bouquets to give to each of the fairies that had helped them today. And still Keahi had not returned.

    He looked to the sky anxiously. It rained briefly, and the dark clouds had nearly given him a heart attack before they cleared. Under any other circumstance, he would have enjoyed the sunset and gentle storm since they were so rare at times. But now…

    Vorca’s legs itched. When he touched them, he could feel his scales right beneath the skin. Turning back wouldn’t be the worst thing, no, but he wouldn’t be able to return to human form until he went to the ocean directly. It was nearly impossible for him to do so now. He felt himself drying up already…

    The sound of voices outside the tent brought Vorca back from his brooding. It sounded like Keahi, though who he could be talking to was a mystery. Vorca pulled back the large leaves that made up the tent and looked outside.

    Keahi approached, carrying a bucket Vorca assumed was full of water. But beside him was a fairy so pale he seemed to glow against the dense foliage. Keahi grinned when he saw Vorca and picked up his pace.

    “One bucket of ocean-flowing water, good sir,” Keahi set the bucket down in front of the tent.

    Vorca scooted closer to the bucket. He cupped his hand and began pouring the water onto his legs. It was nothing like taking a dip into the ocean itself, but the water seeped into his skin, sending the scales away for at least another day. Vorca sighed happily.

    “And who’s your helper?” Vorca said with something of a dreamy voice, losing himself in the sensation of the water running down his legs.

    “This is Laurel,” Keahi said, deadpan. “It’s his bucket and he’s never seen a merperson before.”

    Vorca opened his eyes to Laurel very close to him, pink eyes inspecting him from head to toe. Vorca leaned back just a little, but he didn’t want to seem rude.

    “Thank you, Laurel,” Vorca smiled, and the fairy smiled in return.

    “Of course!” Laurel leaned back as well, evidently done studying the merman. “I liked helping, and no one really comes to visit me out in my hut…”

    “Yeah, why exactly do you live so far from the village?” Keahi joined them on the ground, squatting down to talk. “Just in the middle of the woods,” he added to Vorca.

    “That’s always where I’ve lived,” Laurel shrugged. “The other fairies come by on feast days and give me food and drinks, but no one ever stays long.”

    That sounded like a lonely life, but Vorca didn’t say that out loud. The fairy seemed not too worse for the wear, but Vorca remembered how protective his sisters were of him. They made him stay secret and safe away from the rest of the merfolk, but they at least played with him, included him in their conversations.

    Vorca reached into the tent and picked up one of the bouquets he’d made for the other fairies. He held it out for Laurel to take.

    “A gift for helping us,” He smiled softly. “The berries could dye your hair nicely, it’s so pale…”

    Laurel took the gift and held it as if it was something fragile. He looked down at the flowers and berries for a long moment. When he looked back up, his eye welled with tears. He sprang forward and gave Vorca a hug.

    Vorca blinked, but hugged him back.

    Laurel stayed with them as the night grew dark. He listened, enraptured by their tale, explaining why they were going through the forest, why they couldn’t touch the ocean, and when that was done, Keahi spoke about his adventures as a pirate. Vorca watched the man as their campfire lit up his features as he gestured and pantomimed sword fights and watching Peter Pan in mid flight.

    The moon was high above them when the stories started winding down. Keahi didn’t seem ready to sleep, but Vorca’s eyes had trouble staying open. He stretched from his fingers to his toes and laid back on the ground.

    “Can I come with you?” Laurel asked in the quiet of the night.

    Vorca didn’t reply. He wasn’t sure he had an answer. He knew the longing that came with solitude, but his sisters had done so to keep him safe. If Laurel ventured beyond the forest, he might be in danger.

    “I don’t see why not,” Keahi replied, though he looked to Vorca for guidance.

    “It might be dangerous,” Vorca sat up on his elbows. “The other humans might… find people like you and me interesting.”

    Laurel gave a small frown, though Vorca was unsure if it was because he did or did not understand what that meant.

    “I still want to go,” the fairy said. “Your stories were amazing and I just– I’ve never been outside of the forest.”

    Keahi gave Vorca a sympathetic look. Vorca wasn’t sure why he’d become the deciding factor in this…

    “Until we find the ship,” Vorca said after a moment’s thought. “Once we find Keahi’s ship, you have to come back. Pirates are… most pirates are dangerous…”

    Laurel’s face lit up. Just as he was about to speak, the wind picked up, sending embers flying. Keahi stood and stomped them out before they could become more than sparks.

    “Perhaps we should retire…” Keahi was wide-eyed now as he looked down at them.

    Vorca nodded. He had hoped to save the remaining water in case they couldn’t find a source as easily next nightfall (whenever that might be), but he decided dousing the fire was just as useful. Once the bucket was empty, he handed it to Laurel.

    “Are you leaving in the morning?” he asked.

    “Yes,” Keahi said quickly. He cleared his throat. “We don’t want to overstay our welcome…”

    Or, more likely, Keahi didn’t want to have another sneezing fit. It was serendipitous that Laurel didn’t seem to set his allergies off.

    “I’ll be back in the morning!” Laurel hopped to his feet. “Don’t leave without me!”

    They were going to have to leave without Laurel.

    Dawn was breaking, as it had been for several hours now. Keahi had gotten up, eaten, and now sat restlessly looking at the edge of the forest where Laurel had dashed off to in the night.

    “The human village isn’t far,” Vorca said, hoping to entice him into moving out.

    “I know,” Keahi said. “I know. I just… have a good feeling about this kid…”

    They waited, but Laurel did not come.

    Vorca set them on the right path towards the human village, though Keahi seemed to drag his feet. Vorca didn’t mind, a slower pace suited him well, considering his feet still ached. They passed the place Vorca gathered the flowers and berries. Vorca dipped and quickly pulled a small bloom. He handed it to Keahi. Ki stared a moment, as if he’d never been given a flower before. Vorca slipped the flower back from Keahi’s hands and tucked it carefully behind his ear.

    “Uh, thanks…” the pirate said, fussing with the bloom.

    “Wait for me!”

    Laurel’s voice pierced the silence of the forest. He leapt over massive logs like they were nothing. Vorca barely felt confident to walk in this place and he could never imagine himself running.

    “What took you so long?” Keahi’s face lit up in a smile.

    “Sorry,” Laurel panted. “The guards tried to keep me in the village.”

    “They did?” Vorca looked back to where the fae had come from. “Why?”

    Laurel shrugged. “I don’t know. They just said that I couldn’t leave. But I wanted to come help you, so I snuck out.”

    Keahi and Vorca exchanged looks. Vorca could not think of why the fae would want to keep Laurel in the village, but there must be some reason for it. Keahi put his hands on shoulders of his companions and started moving them along.

    “Let’s talk about this later, yes?” the man said. “When we get to the town.”

    Vorca didn’t protest and Laurel happily bounded along. For someone who had never left the forest, Laurel found his way easily, like he had a compass in his mind, or someone leading him in the right direction. Vorca couldn’t help but wonder if he was a Finder as well. The wind picked up and carried with it the sound of voices shouting. Vorca hoped they were from in front of them and not behind.

  • Uncategorized

    Chapter 4: Shells

    Keahi had known that becoming a sailor was going to keep him much closer to the water than he was comfortable with. At least he was one of the pirates who knew how to swim. He hadn’t been able to go into the forest again without Vorca. He’d learned that the hard way. But Vorca said that he could help, that he could go with him to at least the human town, get him past that damn forest, that he wanted the adventure, and who was Keahi to turn the merman down?

    Only catch was Vorca needed a talisman to be able to leave the water. One that he couldn’t find. One that Keahi was almost certain he’d knocked into the ocean while looking for defenses down in the grotto. Which was how they had come to be under the water yet again. Vorca hadn’t told Keahi much of the plan, had just stated that “if it touched the water she’d be able to locate it. She’d never let something so powerful go unused,” whoever SHE was, Keahi didn’t really want to know but wasn’t about to be left on the beach for another month, so down here he was trying to keep up with Vorca. They had been traveling so leisurely but then… the shimmering Merfolk city had come into view, and Vorca’s pace had quickened exponentially.  

    Honestly, Keahi was in awe of the merfolk’s city, but that didn’t mean he wanted to get close to it. His chest felt tight enough as it was with the rainbow bubble over his head the only thing keeping him alive, he didn’t need the threat of being discovered on top of it.

    Still, getting a closer look at the buildings was appreciated, from an academic point of view, as if a pirate had one of those. The city seemed less like it had been built and more like it had been grown out of coral and kelp, though there were a few sunken ships that had been repurposed as housing. There were far more of the merfolk than Keahi had realized and the city was buzzing with activity. Seeing them all, he was convinced now more than ever that the treasures at the lagoon were meant as a honeypot for foolish humans rather than a real depository for mer-riches. It was definitely something worth reporting to his Captain.

    Keahi realized his escort was leaving him. He picked up his pace to keep up with Vorca, limbs aching as he propelled himself through the water.

    “H-Hey,” he panted. “Can we slow down a bit?” His voice reverberated in the bubble around his head.

    Vorca didn’t seem to hear him — or if he did, he chose to ignore Keahi. With a final burst of energy, Keahi grabbed Vorca’s tail.

    With a noise that sounded almost like a supersonic squeak, Vorca finally turned to look at him. The merman’s gills were bright pink as he looked back at Keahi with wide eyes. Ki blinked back at him, wondering if maybe he’d done something the merfolk might consider rude.

    “S-sorry! What’s the rush?” Ki asked, but nothing registered on Vorca’s face. He sighed. The bubble must make him difficult to hear.

    Keahi moved his arms in small circles, pushing downward from where he floated. He mouthed the words, “Slow down,” in the most exaggerated way possible, hoping to get something across to him.

    Vorca’s eyes flickered over to the city, then he shook his head. He made exaggerated swimming motions with his arms and pointed beyond the city limits. Clearly he wanted to keep moving. Keahi took a breath, the bubble around his head pulling inward briefly before it magically refilled with air. He nodded, telling Vorca they could keep going — after all, what else could he do?

    To his surprise, the merman took him by the hand after that, helping to aid his descent at a quicker pace.

    If his limbs hurt before, they now felt like they had been stung by dozens of sea urchins. The pair were finally beyond the pulsing lights of the underwater city when Vorca slowed. It wasn’t exactly the spot Keahi would have liked to have rested in — a dense kelp forest right before a shelf that dropped the water even deeper into the black. Maybe it was the exertion, maybe it was the claustrophobia from the bubble around his head, but Ki felt eyes watching him from that darkness…

    Vorca turned to him, looking much calmer than he had near the city. Keahi made a note to ask about it once they were topside — assuming they survived this…

    Vorca smiled at him. He pointed down, the one place Keahi was hoping they weren’t going. The merman pantomimed swimming, then made some gesture with his hand that looked to Ki like he was squishing something between his fingers in a swift, snapping motion. Keahi had no idea what it meant, but he didn’t like the implications.

    Without waiting for Keahi’s input, Vorca started swimming again, down into the roots of the kelp forest. Ki watched, half considering just staying put until the merman returned, but his mind returned to the rainbow bubble around his head and wondered if it needed a certain proximity to the spell caster to remain. The thought willed his limbs back into motion.

    The sea witch’s cave hadn’t changed in the time since Vorca had last visited. The cave was part of a lava formation, and the sea floor had cracks going deep into the Neverlands. With her stingers on the pulse of the ocean, she controlled much more than most realized. The witch used the creatures and plants that lived near the warm vents as well and Vorca knew the best place to find tubeworms and kiwa crabs and other small things, so she had often asked for his assistance. They were both outcasts so it had seemed natural, at least in the beginning.

    The witch’s pets lingered out in front of the cave, never straying too far from their mistress. Her favorites wore amulets, armors, bracelets, bands, protective things that gave them extra life and speed to keep them safe, and make them more efficient hunters and patrollers.

    Vorca turned back to Keahi, who swam some ways behind him. He had to remember humans were such slow swimmers, he’d only let him go a minute ago… Keahi’s nervous face shone through the surface of the rainbow bubble that covered his head. He had expressed his reservations of deep diving with only the bubble to keep him breathing, but Vorca reassured him that the rainbow bubbles lasted longer than normal ones.

    You have to stay here,” Vorca told him with his mind. Keahi stared back blankly. Again, Vorca was reminded of the limitations of humans.

    Instead, Vorca pantomimed what he wanted: You stay here, I’ll go talk to her. She will eat you if she sees you. Keahi’s wide eyes let Vorca know he understood now.

    Keahi nodded and gave a thumbs up. He relaxed and let himself float on the currents. Vorca watched a moment, then disappeared into the caverns.

    Vorca swam quickly. He wanted to seem confident, like he hadn’t ran away with an armful of slugs that were intended for the witch’s pot only a few months ago. He wasn’t sure why he’d taken the slimy things, but he knew he couldn’t let them be boiled alive for some selfish unnecessary potion. Every creature mattered and had their place, even the bottom dwellers.

    Vorca slowed as he approached the cave entrance. His skin prickled as though he were swimming next to an electric eel. He squeezed himself past a string of sea glass and shells, but a bubble off the tip of his fin bumped against the strand. It was soundless, but not all alarms need bells and clangs.

    Are you here to return my slugs?” A voice drifted to Vorca’s mind. It was neither old nor young, but it carried a weight with it. It felt like thunder, rumbling from deep, black clouds.

    “No, mistress,” Vorca replied, trying to make his voice as strong as hers. Trying and failing.

    His mistress floated from the inky black hallows of her cave, a subtle blue glow preceding her entrance. Where as the other merfolk had the tails of fish, the Sea Witch was propelled forward by the tentacles of a Man o’ War. She reached out all around her, the tendrils pulsating towards Vorca.

    She had no eyes. The space they would have occupied was covered with shelf coral, or something that looked like it. Vorca wasn’t sure if this was natural or if something had happened, and he certainly wasn’t going to ask.

    A tentacle found Vorca’s arm and wrapped around it. He could feel the sting from her venom, but he held fast. Her pets circled them, inspecting him. They were her eyes, telling her the happenings of her domain.

    You don’t have any presents at all,” she stated. “How disappointing.”

    An eel passed between them, electricity tingling against Vorca’s skin. He took in a deep breath, filling his gills with the warm, volcanic water. She was going to play with him, and her pets were getting ready to strike. He’d seen it before with other hapless merfolk desperate enough to visit her.

    Why would you return to this place, little urchin?” her voice bounced around his mind, cold like the lagoon in winter.

    “I had to,” Vorca was no good at lying, and he hoped that giving her this bit of truth would be a way to get into her good graces. He finally pulled his hand away from her tentacle. There was a burn already swelling.

    The witch grinned, revealing sharp, jagged teeth behind the gray lips she had painted with bioluminescent flora from the surrounding volcanic crags.

    And tell me why,” she floated closer to him. He could feel the warm water filtering through her lips. “Why did you need to return to me?

    “I think you already know,” Vorca averted his gaze finally. “I’m sure you’ve found it by now…

    The familiars moved in unison with their mistress, turning to look at Vorca from twelve sets of eyes and six different angles. The witch chuckled and all of the animals shuddered in imitation.

    Your silly little trinket from the fae?” she tapped her chin with long sharp nails, pretending to think. “When I felt all the magic wasting away in the deep, I knew the owner would soon come looking.

    She circled him, running her finger along his shoulders while her tentacles brushed against his fins. She hummed, sending the noise rumbling through his skull.

    I gave it to one of my pets,” she waved a thin hand. “Why should I return it to you?”

    A brief thought of Keahi flashed through Vorca’s mind. The witch smiled wide. That had been a mistake. The witch was a powerful psychic. Unlike the other merfolk, she was able to pick up on any thoughts that crossed your mind, even ones you didn’t want to project.

    There was a reason she lived so far from the city…

    Vorca felt panic burst in his chest.

    I did bring you a trade!” He blurted out, thinking as fast as he could. “A human! He’s got information about the surface…

    The witch flustered, a rainbow of different hues flushing over her, like the skin of a cuttlefish. Where she was able to read one’s intentions, she was also very bad at hiding her own — the rapid pattern of colors betrayed her interest in the idea of a trade. She enjoyed new things, especially from the surface.

    The surface was a place that eluded her. Her body didn’t take well to being out of the water, her limbs becoming infirm when the ocean was gone, and her voice couldn’t project. On the surface she was limp and mute — a far cry from the powerful being she was down in her cave.

    Go fetch your human,” her voice was a purr against his headspace.

    Vorca did not hesitate.

    Keahi saw the merman darting towards him, tiny bubbles billowing from behind. He felt panic spike in his gut, not sure if his limbs were able to move as quickly as he might need. Behind him, Ki saw the shining eyes of an eel — bigger than any he’d ever seen before and covered in shining baubles not unlike the ones Vorca kept in his grotto.

    Keahi turned and began to swim away. But it felt like he hadn’t even completed the thought of running before he felt a hand around his ankle. Vorca pulled him back — damn, he was quick, but he supposed all merfolk were underwater. Ki looked down at Vorca, and tried to get a read on him.

    The merman looked scared. He’s brow was tense, his lips pressed tightly together. He swam inches away from Ki’s face, as if the proximity would somehow enable him to beam thoughts through the water.

    Keahi wished desperately that this was possible. Then he might have  understood what the hell Vorca was trying to tell him. Instead, he had to rely on subtle eye movements and pantomimed words. Something about… tree? Traps? Trapeze? God he wished he could read lips…

    Vorca grabbed him by the wrist and swam downward, dragging Ki behind him with a startling amount of strength.

    The amount of heat pouring out of the surrounding caves was troubling, to say the least. Keahi’s instincts were to stop, afraid he might boil without realizing it. But Vorca held tight, pulling him down into a cave teaming with creatures that were all similarly adorned as the eel that still followed them.

    When Vorca had described the Sea Witch to him, Ki expected her to be a mermaid like his sisters. He did not expect the semi-transparent nightmare that greeted him. Keahi froze, skin crawling as the witch drifted towards him. He could feels eyes on him from every direction, and he realized all the creatures in the cave were staring at him.

    The witch flicked her hand towards Vorca, and the merman zipped off. Had… had this been a trick? After all this, he’d die by the witch’s hands?


    The word drifted into Keahi’s mind, but the voice was not his own.

    You feel betrayed by the guppy?

    The witch circled him, her tendrils tailing behind her, tightening, coiling, and threatening to strike.

    I’m impressed he was able to trick you, honestly. He’s never been much for lying…

    Was… was that the witch’s voice in his mind?

    Yessss… You catch on quicker than the others. Though the others were usually dumbed down by those songs…

    She could read his mind. Fantastic. Is this… how all the merfolk communicated? This was horrible. How could anyone have a thought of their own?

    A noise pounded against his ears. The witch was smiling. It must have been her laughing. Good god…

    The guppy did well.

    Her mouth came uncomfortably close to his neck, right below the rainbow bubble which was reverberating with her breath upon it. Her jagged teeth brushed against his skin.

    He felt tentacles begin to explore the surface of his body. That was when he realized it.

    She really was going to eat him.

    Keahi felt a tendril touch his bad arm, but the witch was the one who pulled away like she had been stung.

    What is that?!

    Keahi winced as she screamed in his mind. The witch pulled away, uncoiling herself from him, though her barbs were still poised to do damage.

    Ki blinked. He raised his arm to look at it, causing her to sway with his movements. The creatures of the cave began to encompass him now, anxiety rippling through their crowd — eels began undulating rapidly and a large octopus rippled with colors. Keahi’s arm, meanwhile, seemed entirely unharmed by the witch’s touch.

    Was she afraid of him?

    In a streak of violet scales and small bubbles, Vorca returned to the cave. Before Keahi could even acknowledge the fact, the witch turned on the merman.

    You! The voice boomed in his mind, but faded, leaving only an echo and a slight ringing in his skull. With her attention fully focused on Vorca, it seemed she could no longer properly project to Keahi.

    Trying to poison me, Little Guppy! The gull!

    Vorca seemed surprised, scared, but all Keahi could go off of were his pantomimes, unable to hear Vorca’s mental projections. The sea witch’s jellyfish-like bell opened like the hood of a cobra, stretching itself wide. She pointed a clawed finger at Vorca, creeping closer to him as her skin turned a dark blue. The merman shrunk under her gaze.

    Keahi looked around. He wasn’t going to get another chance…

    A nearby squid had a sharp piece of shell or coral draped around it. Keahi thought for only a second before he reached for it. The rest was instinct.

    Keahi pushed himself off the rock floor. He dashed towards the witch. The impact was one fluid motion — arm around witch’s neck, shiv connecting with the witch’s ribs. If Ki had stabbed her more than once, he couldn’t remember. All he knew was her shriek which filled the cavern.

    She lashed out pulling herself from his hold. Inky blood filled the space between them, billowing out and dirtying the water.Why couldn’t I see you?! Her voice was as loud as ever, like she was standing next to him. Why can’t we see you!

    She lashed out pulling herself from his hold. Inky blood filled the space between them, billowing out and dirtying the water.

    Why couldn’t I see you?! Her voice was as loud as ever, like she was standing next to him. Why can’t we see you!

    Vorca shot out through the cloud of blood, creating a trail of swirling ink and fine bubbles behind him as he grabbed Keahi once more. As they reached the cave mouth, the witch let out another scream, rattling walls and shattering ear-drums. It was then that Keahi realized that rainbow bubble was gone. He wasn’t sure when it had occurred, but his oxygen source had popped.

    His eyes and nostrils filled with stinging saltwater as Vorca rushed them up to the sunlight.

    But it was too deep. If he didn’t drown now, The Chokes would get him later. He wanted to tell Vorca to leave him, he was a dead man, but the resistance of the water on his back made it difficult to even turn his head.

    His throat burned. His lungs tensed, waiting for his next breath. His head was heavy. The water was getting lighter and lighter. They were almost there. He just needed to hold on. His diaphragm twitched. His body betrayed him. He took in a deep breath and found only sea water.

    Vorca knew the bubble had popped, but there was nothing he could have done about it under the water. He breached the surface, took a moment to orient himself, then swam to land. He didn’t dare look back at Keahi.

    The merman threw the pirate onto the beach, hoping to knock lose the water in his lungs. Keahi sputtered, but didn’t move.

    Vorca pulled himself onto the sand with his elbows, the course grains cutting into his scaled skin. He’d seen other sailors try to save their shipmates, and it was the only thing he could think of to do.

    Vorca took a deep breath and locked his lips over Keahi’s lifeless ones. He blew the air into him, before leaning back and pressing on his chest. Vorca’s body was exhausted, rebelling, and his joints gave out from the awkward angle he’d found himself in.

    Panting, Vorca opened his left hand for the first time since he’d returned to the witch’s cave. He’d found his fae gem around the neck of an overgrown slug, not unlike the ones he’d stolen from the witch on his way out. The irony had not been lost on him.

    He’d gripped the gem so tight that it had left an impression on his palm. Vorca took another breath, and asked for the gift of the fae, slipping the necklace on.

    Vorca rarely turned human. He had no reason, so the sensation was one to which he was not accustomed. Electricity tingled from the tip of his tail to its base as his legs formed. A chill passed over him, a coolness lingering in places it didn’t have access to before. The experience would have been much more surreal if he hadn’t just been impatiently waiting for it to complete.

    Vorca pushed himself onto his newly formed knees. He crawled so he was directly beside Keahi’s lifeless body — he had much better leverage now.

    He tried again.

    Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Push push push push push push.

    Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Push push push push push push.

    Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Push push pu–

    Keahi coughed, sea water spewing forth from his lungs. He rolled himself to his side, curling up around Vorca’s lap. Vorca held him, listening to the human’s rattling breaths, rubbing his back.

    They were quiet. Vorca could only hear the waves and Keahi’s shaky breathing as the suns moved across the sky. How long they stayed like this was impossible to tell, but Vorca sat up once he heard Keahi even out.

    “Feck…” the pirate said, voice hushed. “Feck Davy Jones…”

    Vorca looked down at him. Keahi’s face was red, covered in sand, and when he looked up at Vorca finally, his eyes were bloodshot. He looked… near death…

    Keahi stared at Vorca for a long, silent moment.


    “Do you have a dick now?”

    Vorca’s ears went red. He looked down at his human body, which Keahi rested next to. He cleared his throat.

    “I got my gem,” he said sheepishly, holding up the string from where it was laying on his neck.

    Keahi recoiled, then sneezed into the sand. He groaned again and rolled onto his back.

    “Alls well that ends in pixie dust…” he muttered, closing his eyes.

    Vorca covered himself as best he could with his hands. His eyes wandered back out to the ocean as the waves lapped against his newly formed toes. The tide was coming in…

    Something stared back at him from the waves, he could feel the eyes on his skin. There in the shallows, an octopus held itself against a rock. Charms and baubles glinted in the sunlight. She watched, even now.

    “I have to return to the water…” he said in a small voice. He wasn’t sure if Keahi was even awake. “Once a nightfall, I have to return. That’s the price of the gem.”

    And when he returned, the witch would be waiting.

    If Keahi had heard, he made no sign of it. In fact, Vorca thought he heard a rumbling from his chest, like he’d heard when the man was asleep in the grotto. But he wasn’t asleep.

    “Keahi?” Vorca tried again.

    “Lissen…” Ki slurred, sitting up. “L… let’s get back to my camp. I got a jacket there fer you.” He looked around himself. “Now where was it…?”

    “Fifty paces to your left,” Vorca answered without hesitation. He knew, instinctively, where to find it.

    Keahi blinked, but didn’t question. He stood on wobbling legs and drifted to the left. He didn’t get far before he fell to his knees. Vorca crawled through the sand to help him, but the pirate brushed him off.

    “Don’t help me if you can’t help yourself.”

    Now was Vorca’s time to hesitate. He looked down at his new legs. He imitated the motions Keahi had used seconds before to rise up and stand. He didn’t fare much better than the half-drowned pirate.

    Keahi helped him up, then wrapped a tanned arm around his middle. The two helped each other wobble back to the campsite, rather successfully in fact. Vorca wrapped himself in Keahi’s jacket while the pirate started on a campfire.

    Vorca pulled the fabric close to him and breathed in Ki’s lingering scent — smoke and rum. He closed his eyes. He had been terrified when he saw the witch’s tendrils so close around him. He didn’t know why this human was so compelling, but the thought of losing him was… troubling.

    Vorca felt the heat from the newly ignited fire warm his face and he opened his eyes. Keahi was scrounging for something in the sand. He made a triumphant noise and pulled out an old, amber bottle. He turned happily back to Vorca.

    “Found this the other night,” he smiled. He saddled up next to the merman, leaning against a fallen palm tree. “Mustave fallen overboard.”

    He popped the cork and took a long, deep drink. Vorca watched his adam’s apple bob with each swallow. Finally, Keahi broke off for air and offered the bottle to him.

    Vorca wasn’t much for drink. His sister stole cases and casks from the pirates sometimes, but he rarely partook. But in this case, it would be rude to refuse, wouldn’t it? Vorca drank, though he could not match Keahi’s speed. In fact, he wondered how the pirate was able to drink so much without choking with the way it burned.

    “It’ll keep you warm if nothing else,” Keahi smiled as Vorca coughed and blanched at what he’d managed to swallow.

    Vorca smiled back weakly and passed it back. He once again pulled the jacket up around his neck. He wondered if… this was the scent Keahi carried now…

    He leaned towards the man, sniffing slightly, trying to be subtle but he was never much for these things…

    “I prefer other ways to stay warm…” He looked up at Keahi through his eyelashes.

    Keahi, however, was snoring again. Vorca frowned. He pulled away, retreating back into the jacket.

    “Your fire is dying,” Vorca said, arms crossed. It wasn’t true, but he was upset now for reasons he couldn’t exactly pin down.

    “Dun worry, starfish…” Keahi panted, half asleep. “I came up way too fast. If I’m still alive in the morning, I’ll consider myself the luckiest man in The Neverlands… even if the fire burns out.”

    Quickly, Keahi started rumbling again. Vorca’s chest grew a little tight and he hugged his legs to himself, looking at his newly formed toes. It finally sank in that he couldn’t go back to his grotto, that he might not even be able to go back to the lagoon if his sisters didn’t feel like protecting him from the Sea Witch. All he had now was this human… who might die because he was so fragile even though he looked so strong… who had already almost died three times since they met… and couldn’t even get through a forest by himself.

    Vorca shook the thoughts from his head and sat up straighter deciding to stand guard and think of the adventure that was going to await them instead, deciding that he wouldn’t let anything happen to this pirate because he had been the only one willing to take him along, to show him new things, to risk death to save him from the Sea Witch after it had seemed as though he had betrayed him…

    Vorca wasn’t sure, because he’d never been able to find anything for himself before, but… maybe, finally, he had.

    Feeling a little better, he looked to the waves.

    And the waves looked back.

  • Lost Sky

    Chapter 3: Stingers

    Bioluminescent jellyfish followed Vorca as he returned, his own eyes still glowing under the mirror pool’s surface. He raised his head up out of the water, just enough to see onto the ledge where the human was sleeping. He watched the pirate’s chest rise and fall, a great rumbling noise escaping with each breath.


    His name was Keahi. Vorca had never seen a pirate up close, much less spoken to one. He seemed… not as dangerous as his sisters made them all out to be, though his arm… the thought of it made Vorca’s scales itch.

    Vorca lifted himself up out of the water. He leaned over Keahi. He studied the human’s features while he slept. So much of him was intriguing — his skin was smoothed and freckled in spots, he had no thin webbing between his fingers like Vorca did, and his hair was so brittle, and his scars…

    Vorca didn’t notice the water dripping down his body until it had already fallen onto Keahi’s cheek. Keahi began to stir, then he yelped once his eyes opened, Vorca being so close.

    “Saint Elmo’s Fire!” He shouted, moving away from Vorca in a single swift movement.” Wh… h-hi! You… did you just get back?”

    Vorca felt his cheeks grow warm. He dipped back under the water.

    “You were growling.”

    Keahi made a face, frowning, “I was… what?”

    “It was so loud. While you were asleep…” Vorca slipped further under the water. Speaking out loud was so strange and made his mouth dry…

    Keahi blinked. Realization crossed his face and he smiled some. “Wait, you mean snoring? I was snoring?”

    Vorca had no idea what that word was. If only the human could speak with his mind, they would be on the same page.

    Keahi hummed, then he bit his lip.

    “You… So… you don’t leave the lagoon much do you?”

    Vorca’s cheeks and ears burned now and he slipped quickly under the water, wanting to get away from the man who mocked him. But he knew it wouldn’t be long until he returned.

    Keahi looked in the now clear and deserted pool. He sighed, annoyed — frustrated? — with his situation. It was impossible for him to tell how much time had passed since he’d fallen asleep. The tide didn’t seem to have changed, but that didn’t mean much in The Neverlands.

    He settled in, finding the most comfortable spot on the rocks. There was no telling when the merman would return and he was still beyond exhausted, his eyes threatening to close again. But Keahi felt the cave walls pressing in, even if the water wasn’t rising. This grotto felt like the hold of a ship — dank, dark, and stifling. There’d once been a sickness that swept through the crew and the ill men had to huddle together in the hold. Keahi had been spared the illness, but he remembered the coughs and moans of those who hadn’t been so lucky.

    Suddenly, a fish flopped onto the cave floor, inches from where Keahi sat, the plopping noise smacking him out of his memories. As the fish gulped breathlessly on the wet stone, Vorca surfaced, bright eyes staring at Ki from the hovering darkness. The merman gestured to it.

    “I brought you dinner,” he said. “Since you’ll have to stay here tonight. My sisters are hunting…”

    Tonight. Then it was the same night as when they’d raided the lagoon?

    Keahi looked at the raw fish, slowly tiring itself out. He shied away from it, but tried to offer Vorca a smile.

    “Oh… that’s… lovely,” he stammered. “Thank you.”

    Vorca smiled and stared expectantly at Keahi.

    Keahi stared back for a moment, then got to his feet, clearing his throat.

    “Um, maybe there’s something in here I can start a fire with…” He looked around at the random piles of things, but he knew there was nothing there that would hold a flame. Everything was far too wet to be tinder down here.

    Vorca watched his movements with great fascination. Keahi was certain that never once did the merman’s glowing eyes leave him. Keahi was starting to feel a nervous knot in his stomach from all the attention, when his eyes caught the swirling jars of energies he’d noticed before.

    “Hey…” he looked back to his audience. “What are these anyway?”

    Once again, Keahi saw Vorca’s cheeks flush with color.

    “I don’t know,” he answered. “I just find them.”

    Keahi frowned, not completely understanding. “Find them?”

    Vorca nodded, getting closer to the edge of the water.

    “Sometimes I just know where things are…” he said. “My sisters ask me to find things all the time. Say it’s why they keep me around,” Vorca stated.

    Keahi hummed, taking that in. He stopped when he realized Vorca was still staring.

    Vorca studied Keahi, eyes locking on him so intensely, Keahi swore the merman was trying to read his mind. And then, the next instant, it was over. Vorca’s purple eyes drifted to the piles around the grotto.

    “You touched things,” he stated.

    Keahi gave a nervous laugh, “Yeah, sorry… I was, uh, looking for something to defend myself with, just in case your sisters came by.”

    “Did you find anything?” Vorca tilted his head and turned his attention back on Keahi.

    “Yeah, I got this, uh, pointy stick,” Ki motioned his hand back to the polearm he’d claimed earlier. “And I got this shell that kind of… broke somehow.” Keahi, of course, knew exactly how it’d been crushed by a falling porthole, but he didn’t need to go into details. “I think I can use it as a knife.”

    Vorca watched Keahi as he jabbed the air a couple times with the broken shell, but he remained silent on the matter.

    Keahi cleared his throat, “So, um… about the food situation… you got anything a little less… fishy? Oysters maybe?”

    Vorca thought for a brief second, then nodded. He disappeared under the water without a word. Keahi relaxed once he was gone. The merman seemed friendly enough, but that stare made his skin itch like fairy dust. He needed to find a way out of this fanciful hold… If only his brain would work. He was so tired.

    Clearly he needed a drink.

    With a belly full of clams and wrapped in an old jacket he’d found in the merman’s treasures, Keahi had fallen asleep once again, depleted still from his escapades. His dreams were fitful, stormy things with jars of bubbling stardust and crocodiles swimming through them. He woke often, trying to shake visions from his bones before drifting off again. In one of these half-awake moments, Keahi saw purple beads glowing at him, and only realized in hindsight what they were.

    Vorca waited for him to be truly awake before he attempted to interact at least.

    “It’s time to go,” Vorca said as Keahi sat up from his stone floor bed. “My sisters are full.”

        Keahi longed for the grotto.

    While the view of Davy Jones’ locker was impressive — glowing corals, fluttering jellies, and silvery eels — Keahi would have been much more appreciative of it if the only thing keeping him alive wasn’t a rainbow bubble like the ones the mermaids played with wobbling around his head. The pirate trusted that Vorca’s magic was stronger than his social skills…

    The journey was slow. Keahi had warned his aquatic host that pirates who’d gone this deep came back sick, aching all over. The worst returned to the surface with The Chokes — deep pains in their chests and hacking coughs. Of every man on the crew, only one knew of a sailor who’d recovered from The Chokes. The seasoned sailors precautioned them all to return to the surface slowly, and Keahi wasn’t about to question the logic behind it.

    The coral reefs gave way to a steep, sheer shelf that would have made an impressive cliff if it were on land. Keahi’s stomach dropped as he passed over it, like he’d jumped from the ledge. His body tensed altogether when he saw the shimmering lights of a city below him.

    The merfolk had a settlement? He supposed it made sense, even mermaids had to live somewhere. Why, then, did they keep their riches in the lagoon? Keahi had always mocked the mermaids for their attraction to things that sparkled, but maybe they simply knew how to set traps for people like him…

    The darkness of the water faded slowly enough that Keahi’s eyes didn’t need to adjust as they reached the surface. While Vorca had guided him by the hand for most of the journey, the last few feet had seen Keahi giving his best breaststroke.

    The rainbow bubble popped as Ki broke the tension of the water. He gasped instinctually, taking in sunshine with each breath of fresh, non-grotto air. Shore was within sight, and Keahi didn’t wait for Vorca before he rushed to the sandy beach.

    Ki let the waves help him to shore. He beached himself on the sand, half panting, half laughing as he sprawled on his back.

    Though his eyes were closed against the sun, Keahi could feel Vorca’s presence next to him. That stare burned into his skin…

    Keahi opened one eye and looked at him. He looked perfectly comfortable on the land, despite being an aquatic creature. His long, black hair clung to his skin as he laid on his stomach in the sand. His tail absently smacked the water as he watched Keahi.

    “So…,” Keahi cleared his throat, pulling his gaze away from the curves of the merman’s body. “My ship should be –”

    He looked to the horizon, but it was empty. The Jolly Roger was nowhere to be seen.

    Keahi scrambled to his feet, legs still shaky from his time in the water. He turned, but behind him was only a dense forest. Vorca sat up, his relaxed appearance fading.

    “What’s wrong?” the merman asked.

    “My ship is gone,” Keahi’s voice was breathless. “They left me.”

    Keahi sank back into the sand. How could they leave him? When he wasn’t on the shore team, Ki remembered waiting at least two, maybe three days before assuming all hands were lost ashore.

    “How long was I down there?” He turned to Vorca.

    Vorca stared at him with big, purple eyes and gave a small shrug.

    “The water makes more sense than the land,” Vorca said, meekly. He looked away from Keahi, almost embarrassed.

    Keahi glared at him, but only because he had nowhere else to place his anger.

    “Do you know how to get to Pirate’s Cove?” He asked after a moment of contemplation. “I think it’s to the west…ish.”

    Vorca shook his head. “West is… anywhere. We travel by the sun, but the sun changes every day.”

    Keahi understood what he was saying, even if he said it in a very…mermaid-y way. Time was impossible to tell and directions changed like the Neverlands were spinning on an axis. Nothing was in the same place twice when you approached from the water.

    “There… is a town,” Vorca stated, hesitantly. “A human town. Past the forest.”

    “Yeah?” Keahi perked up a little. He looked over his shoulder at the cluster of trees. “How far?”

    “To the town?” Vorca squinted, then grew quiet like he was thinking. “Not far. But…”

    Keahi waited for him to finish his thought. “…But?”

    “But the fairies control the forest.”

    Ki raised an eyebrow, not sure what the problem was. “I mean, I’m a little allergic to fairies, but I can handle them.”

    Vorca shook his head quickly, his wet hair flinging water onto Keahi’s face.

    “These fairies hate humans.”

    In their short time together, Keahi had never seen the merman so serious. He nodded, not entirely sure how else to react.

    “Define hate…” Ki said, trying to keep the nerves from his voice.

    Vorca bit the inside of his cheek and looked down. “A long time ago, the fairies and the merfolk fought against humans who sought to pillage our resources. The fae have not forgotten.”

    Vorca blinked. He suddenly looked up, the sternness on his face giving way to something that made his eyes sparkle.

    “I can go with you!” he announced.

    Keahi stared at him blankly.

    “Come again?”

    “I can go with you,” Vorca nodded, grinning wide, showing off his sharp canines. “Just wait here. I’ll be back soon.”

    Before Keahi could even react, the merman pushed off the beach and slipped back into the water. Again Keahi was left alone to his own devices. He put a hand to his forehead and sighed.

    At least there was sun and fresh air this time.

    Everything had its place.

    Vorca was a Finder, though the things he found not everyone was looking for. Those things, the found-lost things, had a place in his grotto. His sisters knew of the things he collected, but they didn’t know where his stash was. None of them cared much about locating it — if it wasn’t pretty and shiny to fit in their lagoon hoard, they didn’t spare a second glance.

    Vorca burst through the calm surface of the mirror-like pool of his grotto. He went to the section of things that were gifts and started looking. It was all out of sorts, and he suspected the pirate had gone through it in his search for weaponry.

    He pulled himself up onto a smooth rock to get a better reach. A comb from his birthday, a jarred whisper from the witch, a gem from his mother… but no fairy stone.

    Perhaps Keahi had moved it. The pirate didn’t know what it was and didn’t realize it belonged in the section of gifts. Maybe he’d put it in the section of magic. Vorca slipped off the rock and went to the other side of the cave.

    The section of magic had been disturbed as well, and Vorca was beginning to wonder if pirates knew how to properly organize things.

    This was going to take forever.

    Keahi meanwhile, poked at his water-logged journal. He’d set it out on a sun-warmed rock to help facilitate its drying. He preferred to write in it daily or at least when the suns set, as a way to keep track of his time at sea, but he’d fallen behind since the lagoon.

    A rather large lizard dashed away as Ki inspected the book. It wasn’t the first time the pages had gotten wet, and frankly, Keahi liked the way the water made the paper krackle. It wasn’t exactly pleasant to write on, but it was enjoyable to flip through.

    His pencil was attached by a string that looped through the pages. It wasn’t the most secure thing, and he’d gone through several pencils before this, but it had managed to survive his trip to and from the grotto. Satisfied that the journal was dry enough, Keahi began writing down what had happened since his last entry.

    The sun had set twice since Vorca left, and it was getting ready to take a third sleep now. Ki had eaten from things he’d found near the shore — coconuts, roots, and some slow moving lizards. He wasn’t the best hunter, or fire starter, so his stay on the forest’s edge had been rather unpleasant.

    Keahi had decided to give Vorca until nightfall, then he would venture into the forest on his own. Even if there were fairies among the trees, surely the cover of darkness would help get him through to the other side unharmed.

    Ki wrote of the mermaids and the lagoon, of waking in the grotto. He wasn’t much of an artist, but he tried to capture his memory of the surreal place before it faded completely. He found his hand sketching Vorca laying on the beach…

    A splash broke through the usual sound of waves crashing against rocks and Keahi jumped. He looked around — was Vorca back? His eyes zipped around the horizon, but all he could see was water.

    The sunset seemed to take hours. Maybe the sun was trying to give Vorca an extra chance to get back in time, or trying to give Keahi more time to rethink doing something stupid, like walk into a fairy-infested forest.

    But even in The Neverlands, the sun had to sleep sometime. When Keahi could no longer see the page he was writing on, he stood and walked slowly to the treeline. He looked into the great pines. There were no signs of foot traffic, not even a real path into the wilderness. If anyone came through these parts, it wasn’t by foot…

    Keahi took a breath. He wasn’t going to survive a mermaid attack only to die on a beach. He walked into the forest.

    The woods were deceptive. The trail seemed to form its way around Keahi’s feet as he walked. He didn’t think he’d gone that far in, but he could barely see the beach anymore. It felt like the trees were swallowing him, sealing up the path as he went deeper in.

    Going in at night was idiotic, he now realized. The canopy blocked off what little moonlight there was. He needed his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but they didn’t want to comply…

    “Humans aren’t welcome here,” a whisper, low and emanating from everywhere, stated.

    Keahi straightened his back and squared his shoulders. He cleared his throat.

    “I’m just trying to get to the village,” he tried to keep his voice steady, but it was hard when it felt like the trees themselves were speaking to him. “I’m not going to hurt anyone.”

    “All humans say that,” another whisper, a different voice? It was hard to tell. “All humans lie.”

    A flash of light filled Keahi’s senses. Whereas he could barely see before, he couldn’t see anything now. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to get a sense of where the flash originated from.

    “I’m not– I’m not lying!” He stammered, shaking his head. “I was waiting for someone on the beach and, and I don’t think he’s coming back–”

    Something touched him. No, not touched, stabbed. His shoulder was on fire. Keahi could feel something pierce his skin, but it wasn’t a knife. He’d been shanked before. Knives didn’t burn like this…  

    And it had all happened so quickly.

    He stumbled back, leaves crunching under his boots. He could make out the figures of two…people? If they were humans, they would have been children, but Keahi knew there was no way they were human. His mind buzzed — or was it the world around him?

    “Go back to the beach, pirate,” the voice was no longer a whisper.

    “Go die somewhere else,” the second voice commanded.

    Keahi had no room to argue, or mind. The fire in his shoulder burned out any thoughts he had besides escape. He stumbled out of the forest, slipping on the sand, the world beginning to spin and blur. A look behind him and he could see two sets of golden, glowing eyes back in the trees.

    “S-Shit…” Keahi collapsed to his knees, though the rest of him followed quickly after. He panted, the pain consuming him. Soon, he fainted away.

    Vorca watched Keahi stumble out of the woods and collapse on the beach. He had surfaced moments before, and had just enough time to realize that Keahi had left the beach and must have headed towards the woods, when the human came staggering out into the sand.

    Vorca clawed his way onto the beach before the pirate had even collapsed. Vorca wasn’t used to land, and he especially wasn’t used to dragging himself across it, but he had to get to Keahi. Even at a distance, he could tell Keahi’d been stung.

    The pirate had passed out by the time Vorca got to him. Keahi’s shoulder was red, angry. It wasn’t even bleeding. The tree guardians didn’t need to go deep in their attacks to be deadly. He looked to the treeline. He could see the bee twins looking back at him. They watched with blank expressions. Vorca knew the two guardians would be no help. Their loyalty was to the flowers and trees.

    Vorca took a breath, trying to steady himself. He needed to do something, or Keahi would die. That thought pained him more than it should for barely knowing the man.

    He leaned forward and wrapped his lips around the wound. He’d sucked poison from a wound twice before, and neither had been successful. The tang of toxin filled his mouth. He turned his head and spit the liquid onto the sand before repeating the action.

    Vorca stopped when his tongue went numb. The bee twins’ poison was mostly just an irritant to merfolk, but Vorca knew that if he consumed too much inadvertently, he’d be no better off than Keahi. The wound was still angry, but less so. Vorca looked around. There was nothing on the beach but shells.

    Struggling for breath, Vorca dragged Keahi closer to the edge of the water so he didn’t have to worry about pulling himself back onto the beach when he returned. Vorca slipped into the water, eyes darting around the moonlit ocean-line as he searched.

    Vorca didn’t have to go far. He knew where things were when people needed something, and Keahi needed to survive. Vorca grabbed a fistfull of red seaweed and hurried back to land.


    Keahi awoke with sunshine on his face. He was about sixty percent sure he wasn’t dead, but he was still hesitant about opening his eyes. He heard the sounds of the beach around him — soft waves, crowing gulls, swaying palms. He wasn’t in the forest, and he wasn’t with those… wasps anymore.

    He opened his eyes slowly, not sure what to expect. He laid in the shade of a large palm tree, looked over by a wide-eyed merman whose dry hair told Ki that’d he’d been in that position for a while now.

    “Hey…” Keahi said weakly, much softer than he expected his voice to be. “You’re back.”

    “So are you,” Vorca replied, expression unchanging.

    Keahi attempted to sit up, but his shoulder screamed at his efforts. He yelped and fell onto his back.

    “Stop doing stupid things,” Vorca scolded him, putting a webbed hand on his chest to keep him down. “I told you not to go into the forest.”

    “I know…” Ki panted, eyes blurring for a short moment. “I just…got tired of waiting.”

    “Waiting is better than dying…”

    Keahi opened his eyes again. He dared to look at his wounded shoulder. It was…underwhelming. The entire thing was covered in… seaweed? Long strips of it that made a bandage over his whole shoulder.

    “You… you patched me up again,” Ki gave a small, humorless laugh. “What is this stuff?”

    “Kelp,” Vorca stated simply. “I don’t know what kind. I just knew you needed it.”

    Keahi raised an eyebrow. “And how did you know that?”

    Vorca shrugged. He looked away from Keahi and moved almost imperceptibly away.

    “I just… know what people need,” the merman said. “Even if they don’t know they need it. I can find things.”

    Find things? Keahi frowned, considering this and remembering what Vorca had said back at the grotto. “You… wait, are you a Finder?”

    Again, Vorca moved away from him ever so slightly… but he nodded.

    “My sisters said not to tell anyone,” he said. “Finders are rare…humans can be selfish.”

    “They are,” Keahi nodded. And there were people who’d pay a high price for someone who could locate whatever they had their heart set on.

    Keahi’s mind wandered back to his missing ship. Vorca could help him find the Jolly Roger, and he certainly seemed open to the idea. But even if they did locate the gallion, Keahi would have to pay a price to return to the crew. He’d been sent off to recover their cargo from the mermaids, but if he returned with a Finder, they’d never have to go near the lagoon again…

    “Don’t worry,” Keahi smiled in a way he hoped was charming. “Stick with me. I’ll keep you safe.”

  • Lost Sky

    Chapter 2: Treasure

        The smell of rotting fish hit his nose. The pirate sputtered and coughed himself into consciousness. He thrashed, his hand instinctively moving to his side, to where his sword should be. Gone.

    All he had on him were his trousers and his boots… and the hand-me-down belt he’d had to twist into knots to keep on himself. He checked one other place quickly and breathed a sigh of relief — his notebook was still in his possession.

    The pirate dragged himself onto unsteady feet. He covered his face, the smell of the fish swiftly overwhelming him. As his eyes adjusted to his surroundings, however, his arms fell to his sides and his mouth fell open in wonderment.

    He had been in sea caves before, but this wasn’t an ordinary cave. It had one entrance: a fathoms deep pool, about a foot to his left. It was so unearthly still, it seemed like a mirror. Bio-luminescent algae covered patches of the walls, while large jars and basins held jellies and slugs that writhed behind the glass. The pirate saw a lantern had been placed next to where he’d rested, and upon closer inspection, he realized it was full of wiggling glowworms.

    The rest of the cave, meanwhile, housed a literal treasure trove. It was a grotto where an unspeakable assortment of items (waterlogged nautical flotsam and jetsam mostly) had been lovingly placed onto craggy outcrops and broken stalagmites.

    Everything fit perfectly where it had been situated, as if the spot had been carved out for it specifically. Though, that didn’t mean it was in any logical order. It was as if the collector didn’t understand the real purpose of those items. The pirate spotted a spyglass and a porthole next to each other, for example. They complimented each other greatly, though the only thing they had in common was the glass they were made from.

    The pirate shivered, still wet from his time in the drink. As he studied the assorted items, he stumbled over a loose rock. He caught himself on the cave wall, letting out a curse when a slick, hidden edge sliced into his right palm. Looking at it, he felt more panic than such a small cut allotted for.

    Suddenly, the grotto didn’t seem so wondrous. The pirate cursed again as he realized the only way out was to sink into that mirror-smooth water. Biting his lip, he leaned over the pool, looking down into the brine. He smirked.

    “Hey, I know you’re here somewhere, or you wouldn’t have left the kettle on for me,” he gestured over towards the lamp filled with glowworms that illuminated the cavern.

    There was no response. The pool didn’t as much as ripple. The pirate shuddered again, and hugged his elbows. He took a step away from the edge.

    “Yeah, alright…” He looked around himself again. The dim light of the glowworms and bio-luminescent algae on the stalactites above, told him that there must be a tide here, and the popping in his ears told him he was already fathoms below the surface. If he stayed too long, he would drown. If he tried to swim away he’d never make it to the sky. He cleared his throat.

    “Maybe I’m dead,” he thought aloud. “These are the deadlights, huh? Thought they’d be more majestic. Less… made out of bugs.” He sighed.

    “You going to give me passage to the other side? Because my earrings seem to be missing. Did you take them? Pure gold. Course you did.”

    Still nothing. The pirate felt a tightness growing in his chest.

    He laughed it away, or at least he tried to, hoping to feign a sense of bravery he didn’t feel.

    “Come on! I don’t have anything else on me!” His voice cracked from the growing panic in his gut. “We were just trying to get our things back! You have any idea how many of my crew mates your lot has killed?”

    As silence greeted him for a third time the pirate yelled out, frustration overtaking him. He grabbed the item closest to him— a simple glass bauble — and chucked it into the pool, the smooth mirror acting as the origins of his frustrations.

    As he watched it splashed and ripple, the pirate slumped back down to sit by the edge of the water. He wiped his face and took a deep, calming breath before lying flat on his back, the dramatics relieving some tension. He spoke again, resigned.

    “The Captain is going to kill me if I come back empty handed. I really am dead. Might as well just stay here and save Davy Jones the trouble.” The pirate’s gaze went to the pool, which had quickly regained its calm appearance.

    “I can see your eyes down there, you know. They glow.”

    There was no response, but a second later, the bauble he’d thrown into the pool arched its way back up through the water and into his lap. He sat up and chuckled.

    “Good aim,” He turned the bauble over. “I’m sensing a pattern, I think. You like shiny things. All mermaids do… You’re like a little flock of sparrows. Or this nymph I knew once.” He smiled at the memory.

    Finally, slowly, his savior and, seemingly, captor emerged from the pool, though only up to the eyes, long dark hair spreading out across the water.

    “Ahoy there, Glowworm,” the pirate extended his hand to the mermaid in the pool, “Name’s Keahi. To whom do I owe my life?”

    With a tilted head, the mermaid came out of the water just enough for Keahi to realize his mistake.

    “Oh, merman, sorry. I didn’t know they had those. Guess I should have figured.” He finally lowered his hand since the aquatic resident didn’t seem too interested in reciprocating.

    Met yet again with silence, Keahi let the awkwardness stretch out until it was as thick as the humidity in the cave.

    “So…” He huffed, “Are we squared away? After all, we were just trying to get our gear back.”

    The merman’s eyes narrowed, seeming to contemplate this second question. He moved silently through the water his lavender eyes reflecting against the mirror-pool. A minute later a look of… consternation and frustration crossed his face. Finally, he opened his mouth.

    “You can’t hear me,” the words were whispers — a song, flowing like the water itself.

    Keahi blinked at him, giving out a sharp breath through his nose.

    “I… I can now.”

    That same look of concentration passed over the merman’s features. He rested his arms on the ledge of the cave, an inch away from Keahi.

    “But not the way I’m used to,” he said. “What was your question? From before? It won’t stay in my mind. You’re not asking it right.”

    Keahi cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. His heart was pounding in his chest. He wasn’t sure if he liked the way this merman could make him feel.

    “I’m not? Okay… I’ll work on that. I… I only asked if there were no bad feels between us…”

    “Bad feels,” the merman repeated, and there were another few seconds of deliberation. “Considering my sisters killed all of the others, no. No bad feels left.”

    Keahi’s smile disappeared.

    “Right. Yeah. About that,” he looked away. “Why… I mean you saved me, didn’t you? Why bother?”

    The merman’s head tilted again. His eyes seemed to be scanning over Keahi. He lifted a thinly webbed hand, the salt water dripping onto the cavern floor. He reached for Keahi’s right arm, the one that he had cut on the wall earlier.

    “There’s something different about you.”

    There was a second of electricity between them, but then Keahi snatched his arm away, trying to seem casual about it. He offered a lopsided grin and shrugged.

    “Not really. Nothing I can see…”

    “But there is,” the merman responded. “What you can see of it is of little concern.”

    Keahi didn’t mind the words but the look the merman returned made him shiver, as though he was regarding Keahi as an exciting new prize to place under the lagoon’s rainbow, or perhaps to just keep here in this grotto, high tide be damned.

    He frowned.

    “That’s great, Glowworm, but when do I get to go back to my ship?”

    The merman hummed a sick melody, then quickly slipped back underneath the water. His eyes seemed more intense in their luminosity.

    “In the morning,” he whispered above the still pond. “My sisters are eating now. And you wouldn’t want to interrupt them.”

    Keahi was suddenly very aware of the headache he still had, as well as the sting of the salt water in the gash on his forehead. He’d thought it would be much worse than it currently was; at least based on the few seconds of the “fight” with Glowworm’s sisters he remembered before slipping under the lagoon’s waves.

    “Point taken,” he put a hand to his forehead. “Did… did you patch me up some?”

    The response was a deep blush that turned the skin under the merman’s scales from a rosy pink to a salmon color. Keahi took it to mean yes. He smiled at him, his eyes softening.

    “Well. Thank you for that, Glowworm.”

    There was a deeper blush as the merman looked away. “Not Glowworm. Vorca,” he offered and Keahi nodded in acceptance.

    “Vorca. I like it. Thank you for saving me, Vorca.”

    Vorca gracefully moved back to the edge of the water to be closer to Keahi. “I couldn’t fix your arm though. What did you do to it?”

    Keahi’s eyes went wide at that and he laughed, again trying to trick himself into being brave.

    “What? My arm. It’s… just a scratch. My arm is fine.” The bandages he usually wrapped around it were, of course, gone from his run in with the mermaids. He looked down at his hand again.

    A pattern swirled like liquid moonlight right beneath the skin on his palm, so close to the surface it could be seen, like a vein or a bruise, but seeming to move with its own sentience, its own purpose. Keahi had no idea what that purpose was and he had no interest in finding out.

    “It’s not,” Vorca mused. “What’s wrong with it?”

    Keahi let out a breath and he shrugged. “Just a curse. Pirate’s hazard. I haven’t told anyone. They’d feed me to Tick Tock for sure,” he made a humorless noise, knowing it was true.

    Vorca took Keahi’s hand again, and this time Keahi didn’t pull away, though he felt caution rising up from his throat. He didn’t want this merman to contract whatever it was he’d been cursed with after all the trouble he’d gone through to save him…

    Vorca, to his credit, didn’t seem afraid in the least. Maybe he was too naive, or maybe he’d had practice with these sorts of things. Perhaps both.

    He looked at Keahi’s palm, running a finger slowly across it as though doing a reading. His face contorted like he was trying to interpret a very fine print.

    “I’ve seen this before…”

    Keahi perked up, “You have? Where?”

    “I don’t know,” Vorca slinked back into the water, away from him. “But it makes the air taste like death…”

    Keahi’s shoulders fell quickly, “Yeah, that’s what I figured. Nothing like this ends well.”

    “Maybe. But you–” Vorca started, but then he froze and his eyes darted around like he was trying to pinpoint the location of a sound. Keahi hadn’t heard anything.

    “What is it?” he asked.

    Vorca put a finger to his lips and then slowly sank back down under the water.

    Keahi watched and then pulled himself away from the edge of the pool to the relative safety of the back of the grotto where all of the items were. He wasn’t certain where Vorca had roamed off too, but he didn’t like being alone again, especially if he was unarmed and there was possible danger around.

    He grabbed the lantern stuffed full of glowworms. His first thought was to go through the piles of items around him for a weapon, but there was no rhyme or reason to them. He blundered through a few piles, but most were just items salvaged from ships very much like the one Keahi himself belonged. There were items Vorca could have only found in the ocean as well, perhaps things from beyond even the Neverlands.

    For all of the teasing he gave to the merfolk for their magpie-like tendencies, things that shimmered and glowed had always caught Keahi’s eye as well. There were pearls and gemstones, coral and aquamarine, as well as a few jars full of dark liquids and swirling masses made him take pause, despite the danger he could potentially be in.

    The mesmerizing nature of the jars almost hypnotized Keahi from his real mission to find something to defend himself with. It took him longer than it should have to find the stack where “Things with Sharp Edges” had apparently been the qualifier in assembling it.

    He came out of the pile with a polearm, but not before knocking into the surrounding piles. He cursed and tried to put the items back but suddenly his face felt itchy. He scrunched up his nose before a huge sneeze echoed throughout the grotto. His eyes widened and he clasped his hand over his mouth, cursing himself that he’d just done something so idiotic while trying to be stealthy. He tried to replace everything once again but his body rebelled, trying to sneeze once more. In efforts to stop himself, he contorted, bumping into a stack of treasures. He watched through watering eyes as the baubles rolled into the mirror pool and disappeared into the fathoms below.

    He stared. He was a literal walking human disaster who was so obviously cursed. He hoped those items wouldn’t be missed as he watched them sink below the water.

    He gave up on being a good house guest and grabbed the polearm and the glowworm lantern once again before going to the back of the grotto. He fortified himself in the back corner, hoping that his host decided to return before the tide did. Hoping it was only his host who returned.

    On the bright side, at least he’d be able to say he died with his pants on when Davy Jones asked…

  • Lost Sky

    Chapter 1: Found

    It was difficult to describe a day that ebbed and flowed with and the experiences of every being held within. Thoughts could change the weather. But that was simply the status quo in The Neverlands. It was a place in between time, in between matter, one that a rare few have visited in their dreams.

       The passage of time was forgotten here… unless you yourself happened to remember it. There were no boundaries, topography could change, and indeed, maps were useless things, unless you kept it private — Shared thoughts could alter an individual’s dreams. As such, any compass would simply spin round again and again until everything was free and no sense was made at all. The many suns and moons made sundials difficult to monitor, and only the creatures who relied on the sea were unfrozen from eternity.

       Among these sea creatures were the Merfolk, who inhabited The Neverlands’ lagoons and more hostile water-logged locations.

    —    —

    Still they had fun in sweet and shallow ways. The lagoon was always cool, and the stillness of the water lulled most into a false sense of security. The silent spell was sometimes broken by the waterfalls and the noise of what passed as the laughter of the mermaids who played there. Their laughter wasn’t the correct cadence for a human. No, it felt more like an animal mimicking a genuine laugh. In fact, most of their body language mimicked and mocked the prey they desired most.

       This day was not so different than any other day, though most days blurred together eventually — plans that were made were postponed and perhaps forgotten altogether with the inability to tell when the next morning had arrived.

       There was a sun that was high in the sky, another slowly dipping under the ocean waves, perhaps it was dusk. The cool rocks and the cheerful splashing waters from the falls had brought out a family of mermaids who played and basked in the sun.

       Bubbles made from the rainbow waters were their preferred toy as they played catch well into the evening. Combs made from the shells and spines of their neighboring sea creatures were used to untangled their long locks and mirrors fashioned from glass made smooth from the sands and waves were their most prized possessions.

       A few mermaids lounged in the warmth of the sun in front of a treasure trove of pearls, gemstones, and other things that simply shined and sparkled in the light. These few guarded the possessions, though if one were to look closely at them, they didn’t seem very concerned with their task. They showed more interest in how much sun they were getting, and if the rainbow bubbles were going to pop and get their hair wet again.

       A slow, lovely evening was settling in — the crickets beginning to notice that they should be making noise. The mermaids were soft and relaxed if they weren’t playing catch or laughing in their fake mimicking tones.

    —    —

    One mermaid on the edge of the lagoon, looking out onto the ocean waves, caught a reflection of the sun from the wrong angle and squinted towards what could have been causing it. Within seconds there was a shrill yelp and the lazy effortless evening froze, then shattered into pieces.

       The glint of light came from the forest — a pirate’s dagger. He and his comrades crept slowly, aiming to enclose and engulf the lagoon. But their stealth was now in flames

       A warning horn — crafted from a pirate ship the Merfolk had already taken — resounded throughout the lagoon. Still, the men did not turn back.

       The pirates knew if they returned empty handed, if they didn’t recover what these mermaids had stolen from them already, they wouldn’t be allowed back onto the ship. It was either a shallow watery grave here, or a deep one involving crocodiles and walking off the plank.

    The pirates quickly turned to their backup plan of rushing the lagoon, screaming and yelling to intimidate and overwhelm, but then the mermaids opened their mouths, and all was lost.

       Silvery, resonant barbs of sound came forth and soon filled the lagoon. The pirates stuttered to a stop, falling under the thrall of the mermaids. Even the surrounding wildlife slowly ambled to the lagoon, dropping all defenses, slack-jawed with unfocused eyes, and shuffled into the water to drown in the fathoms below.

       The mermaids watched without emotion. These senseless men meant nothing to them. Never had.

       A few of the mermaids started to play with the bodies, taking any shimmering items from them. Earrings and necklaces, coins and pocket watches that fell from their clothing were added to the treasure trove right to the side of the waterfall. The cycle continued.

       Such as it always was…


    Underneath the waves, on the edge of the ocean floor, a young merman, barely of age, let his gaze rise to watch the antics of his sisters. He took no part in any of it, but it certainly wasn’t his first time experiencing a pirate raid. It was the nature of merfolk, and the pirates should have learned by now. When the moon hung low in the sky, howling a song to the water spirit’s blood, the mermaids would began to change…

    But the change wouldn’t happen until nightfall, whenever that felt like occurring. The young merman simply watched his sisters until then, taking comfort in their ability to take care of him and the rest of his family.

       The merman’s eyes narrowed as he watched the remaining pirates lulled and lured to their deaths. There was one that wasn’t like the others…. A strange light emanated off of him… but his sister’s acted as though they couldn’t see it, couldn’t tell… the merman wasn’t surprised, that was more common than not. He was simply sensitive to such things.

       Vorca was a finder. He just knew where some things were. Maybe it was magic, maybe he had a connection that others didn’t, saw things that others didn’t… Finders didn’t last long in The Neverlands, snatched up and used until there was nothing left of them, which was why his sisters were so protective. Vorca, however, longed to see the world…

       Right now, all he could see was yet another pirate raid. That… and the terrified look in this pirate’s eyes. He didn’t seem vacant or slack jawed against his sister’s siren song… he just seemed petrified.

       Vorca slowly moved from his place on the bottom of the lagoon, biting his lower lip in curiosity. He smiled delicately, wondering if his sisters would notice how different this blond pirate was now that he clearly wasn’t thralled like the others.

       They noticed.

       The blond man tried to get away and was hit across the back of his head with a loose rock from the lagoon for his troubles. He went slack finally, his eyes rolling back in his head, and he sank under the ocean waves.

    It was true his sisters had warned Vorca to ignore the bodies of the hapless humans they lured to their deaths with their irresistible melody. Let nature take its course they said. Humans were such finite things… the only specie here to remember that they should be aging, and banished for their carelessness. But Vorca enjoyed finding new things. And the glow he could see from the man had still not gone away… Perhaps he’d found this pirate for a reason… he’d never know for sure if he just left him to drown.

    humans they lured to their deaths with their irresistible melody. Let nature take its course they said. Humans were such finite things… the only specie here to remember that they should be aging, and banished for their carelessness. But Vorca enjoyed finding new things. And the glow he could see from the man had still not gone away… Perhaps he’d found this pirate for a reason… he’d never know for sure if he just left him to drown.

       Vorca swirled around the sinking pirate, causing the updrafts of the water to spin the man’s hair up above his head like a halo. The merman smiled, thinking the pirate looked nice this way. Vorca wasn’t sure how long he stayed looking at the man — eyes closed, a tinge of red now pooling above him from the wound he’d taken to the back of his head. Vorca blinked and a thought that humans needed oxygen… a lot of it… constantly…The thought to keep him alive spun and forced its way into Vorca’s brain like he hadn’t been the one to think it…

       He quickly grabbed the man by the arm and closed the space between their lips, pressing oxygen into the pirate’s lungs before pulling him deeper under the water, someplace safe where he could discover why, for the first time, he’d ignored his sister’s warnings.