Authors: Zara Steen
The Mecrutian Chronicles
Heart of Shell
The Mercrutian Chronicles: Heart of Shell
Copyright by Smarin Publishing © May 2015. All rights reserved. eBook version through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Edited by Annette Malchow. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations expressed in critical articles and reviews. For information address Smarin Publishing:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the authors imagination and creativity or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, alive or dead, businesses, events or communities is entirely coincidental.
For my parents
thank you for instilling
the confidence to dream.
I’m blessed to have readers like you who have taken a moment to visit my world and meet my characters. For you, I’m thankful. I hope you’ll stay a while and enjoy.
This book never would have been completed without the encouragement and support of my partner, Jeff Neumann. Thank you for still loving me despite my long hermit-like writing sessions and my incessant book brained attitude.
Annette Malchow, thank you so much for being such an amazing person in my life who is supportive of my writing The book has matured to a new level thanks to you. I appreciate you reviewing the things that just didn’t jive. You’re a great editor.
National Novel Writing Month was also instrumental in encouraging me to carve out the time to put these words to page. That amazing program, and fun opportunity is something I encourage all writers to explore, please see more about it at: www.nanowrimo.org
Tonight was colder
than the deep of the ocean. I hadn’t been there for a long time, but I remembered the way it felt. The smoothness of the water there was silky, icy, and truly pure. It was calming to me, purifying for the soul.
It was midnight blue outside the car, the trees blending as we moved, blurring like the depths of my father’s birthplace. He was named, Kanja, meaning ‘water born’ because he was water born, just like me. It seemed peculiar that my mother was born ashore since she was the only full Mer among the three of us.
The sky outside crackled with lightning in the distance, and were it not for the fact that we had left behind another dismal failure I would take it as a warning sign for us to turn back. A roar of thunder broke against the splashing sound of water sloshing beneath the car's tires; yet the storm ahead was softened by the rain, and the downpour was soothing, pattering softly on the window and rippling down in errant spirals.
My mother looked back at me while my father drove. Her long auburn hair was shimmering in the flickers of light passing through the window from the oncoming highway traffic. Looking at her I admired her flawless, pearlescent skin. Her hazel eyes were flecked with bits of blue and teal like a true Mer. My mother was beautiful, and I looked nothing like her.
“Anya,” she said to me reaching back to clasp a hand in mine, her cream hand tracing over my toffee coloured fingers. “Are you well?”
Fine Mother,” I replied softly, still watching the rain and wishing that I could open the window and stick my hand out.
Our destination was not much farther, an hour at most, but the travelling was tiresome. I should be used to it by now; we had moved all over the continent of North America in the past four years, making our way from outpost to outpost for my parent’s scientific research. Or at least until I had turned twelve and they began a relentless search for my mate. Then, that had meant even more travel, more nights and days spent on the road searching in the name of custom.
In the dark of the night, I could see everything in the car. Despite needing to wear braces, my eyes were perfect, just like any other Mer. The opened journal on my lap was blank, waiting to be marked with words. I grabbed a pen from my bag and I almost began to write ‘Dear Diary’, but pulled my hand back before the black ink scratched the surface. That saying felt too cliché, too human. Even ‘Dear Journal’ -a seemingly more mature version- didn’t quite work for me. Instead I opted for my name, Anya. I figured this could be a letter so that later, when I was an old and decrepit siren lying at the bottom of the sea I could look back and remember it all. I stopped writing before I’d begun. Instead I remembered what I had left behind; a few friends who though not close, might have been decent enough to celebrate my birthday with me.
Good luck, Tiger Shark,” Maya had said with a wink, “thirteen was a bad year, but thankfully your last year of grade school is over, and fourteen can be a fresh start.” She was older than me, already fifteen and mated to a Mer one outpost over. Her gifts were in full blossom, her beauty growing daily, while I felt I had accomplished nothing. She had always been kind to me though, and I knew we would stay in touch.
At least in leaving the past, I could leave behind the memory of Shoal, the blue eyed Mer-god who turned me down like all the others. Sometimes I hated being mostly Mer. We weren't meant to be on land, science or no science. Soaking in a bathtub was nothing compared to being out there in the deep. I only tolerated land life more because of being a quarter human, and it's only ever made more problems for me.
My humanity has stopped me from my full potential. Even my father, being half human hadn't experienced such problems with his transcendence.
Almost there Anya,” my father said, breaking my thoughts. He glanced over to my mother. His dark brown eyes glimmered in the night, the irises circled by a ring of blue. His caramel skin was darker than mine, but my locks were the same rich brown. Only
hair was enchanted by the sea and woven with essence.
Okay Dad,” I replied robotically drifting into my thoughts again, remembering my recent failure. The cool car air was growing stale and becoming warmer and well travelled. My breaths puffed out with anticipation of a rest.
My memory took me back. When his parents had asked him the question we're all asked, Shoal had taken one look at me and scowled. We had known each other from classes at school, but even then I had never said much to him. His blonde hair, curly and soft, always fell into his eyes when he spoke and I had always wanted to reach out and brush it away. I could always spot a Mer, even if they sensed no magic in me. For some reason I sensed it better than most, probably because of my empathic abilities, something akin to a dolphin's echolocation. It also helped that he was taller than the rest of the boys in our grade and already building muscle. My suspicion was confirmed when I learned he lived close to an outpost.
Shoal was attractive, but I knew what he thought of me. Mer ritual dictated that both parties, had to agree to the betrothal, that way parents couldn’t be blamed later for an unhappy match.
You don’t even look like a Mer,” he had said accusingly. “How could I accept a betrothal?”
My parents were disheartened by his response, but it was what I had expected. It was what I always heard. It was the truth. At least that time I had not been forced to voice my acceptance of him prior to his clear refusal. I learned from my past mistakes. I looked nothing like a Mer.
We'd left the mildness of the west coast, driving endlessly to the other side of the country, and now I expected the same rejection again. I had been to Nova Scotia when I was much younger and liked it very much. Although the name of my new home made me optimistic, I had serious doubts about it bringing me any luck. Located along the cove and inlets of the Atlantic, Seabright, was a small village, filled with beauty from what I could see in photos.
As we turned up the steep driveway and towards our new home I realized that our house was much nicer than I had imagined. Clearly an older home with Victorian features and large windows reflecting the view, it had been built alongside the rural highway and overlooking a stretch of water. I gazed down the long curving road, stretched out farther than my eyes would see. I knew that this place would be peaceful. Maybe here I could mend my Mer soul, so devastatingly weakened from countless rejections.
I awoke the next
day to a cold November morning. My eyes, small slits, peered over to my window seat and up to the glass square leaking light into the otherwise dark room. Leftover droplets from last night’s rain were clinging to the large window pane. I was dry as a bone, but would much rather have felt dewy and fresh. December was fast approaching and soon the frost would set in, making swirling patterns from the moisture in the air. I was surprised that the cold had not been much worse than a mild winter day, but that could change quickly.
I was warm in my cocoon of sheets, but I knew the moment that I threw them off the morning chill would wake me and rouse my thirst. I sat up so that I could grab the glass on the nightstand and drained its contents before my feet hit the ground.
My mother had always insisted that I look my best before greeting any day. How I was supposed to accomplish that I didn’t know, but nevertheless I stood before my mirror and grabbed my brush. My hair was short and wiry, tangled so hopelessly that I always fought with what looked more like a rat’s nest. Mermaids were supposed to have long silken hair, and mine looked nothing of the sort. Dark brown strands hung in an unruly bob and I puffed out air, frustrated by my lack of progress.
My eyes narrowed observing every feature, stopping on my predominant eyebrows. I didn’t really have eyebrows, I had
eyebrow, of dark coarse hair, which I refused to let my mother anywhere near with a pair of tweezers. Countless times, she had said it would only take a few moments to rectify the uni-brow, but the pain I knew it would inflict made me shy away. Not even her soothing songs could calm me long enough for the task. On her most recent attempt she had followed me around the kitchen, pestering me until at last my father, looking up from his newspaper, interrupted our squabble and said, “My love, leave our poor daughter alone.”
She had looked wounded for a fragment of a second before hugging me close.
Oh Anya, you’re growing so fast.” She said tucking me under her arm. I had wanted to groan loudly. I wasn’t a kid anymore- despite being trapped in this awful body- and she knew. My mind far surpassed my appearance.
I stared at the reflection of my lanky limbs and remembered what it felt like to hug my mother. She was curvaceous and cuddly, while I was barely visible, skeletal almost. Clearly not the way to be to attract a male Mer. I needed to eat more, but it didn’t matter how much I loved food and that I ate almost the same amount as my father; my weight never seemed to change.
Often, I felt I should blame my human genes. Scientifically, it was the only thing that could be keeping me from transcendence. Where most Mers my age had their lustrous locks already grown in, their skin scaled- then cleared, and their shapes filled in to the naturally fleshy Mer frame. I had done none of that, with not even a hint of Mer powers or Mer physical characteristics on the horizon.
I realized how hungry I was after examining my scraggly frame . I threw on a pair of purple fuzzy slippers and made my way down to the kitchen, picking at my braces freshly cleaned with toothpaste. Luckily the braces were only needed to straighten my existing teeth, which exhibited the same strong density as other Mers. Thankfully, I could soon have them removed.
Descending the wooden staircase, my ears perked each time I set foot on a creaky spot and I knew by nightfall I would have memorized the correct moves to make to avoid them in the future. My fingers ran along the wooden banister, enjoying the smooth waxen feeling of its polished surface.
I found my parents in the kitchen; my mother spooning our food onto plates while my father filled our glasses with juice. They were a team, and tackled even the simplest tasks together, including what I had nicknamed their pet science projects. According to them, it was serious work. It employed them and paid for our family expenses so I understood it had to be something worthwhile. To me, it seemed like mystic work that was never discussed above a level of a subtle whisper.
Anya, after breakfast you have to get dressed. We’re going over to the Price’s to meet the suitor.” I had barely sat in the stool by the counter before the words left my mother’s mouth, hope gleaming in my father’s eyes.
The newest suitor had been brought to my parent’s attention by the head of scientific Mer research at the Halifax outpost. Arturo, a college friend who had attended school with my father in the deep blue, had explained that the Price family were having a hard time finding a Mer their son would accept for betrothal. Why Arturo had considered me I didn’t understand, especially since science and warrior families rarely intermixed in Mer communities. Arturo had visited us only a few months prior and knew exactly what I was like...and what I looked like. Why he thought the Price family would want me, I didn’t know. My mouth flew open in shock. We had been there less than twenty four hours and already I was being taken to yet another match-making meeting.
So soon?” I asked closing my mouth to a twist and digging my fork into my salmon and eggs. The fleshy textures on my tongue were perfectly flavoured and I savoured them before I swallowed and took a cool drink of iced water.
Yes,” my father replied, “the Prices requested we meet as soon as possible.
My mother smiled at him and then at me. “Anya, we think it’s a good sign.”
I wanted to grumble, and sulk, and sink off of my seat to the floor, but instead I simply nodded, preparing myself for the usual rejection. It didn’t take long to eat. I had lost my appetite.
I soaked in the tub for as long as I could and then returned to my room to dress. I knew what I would have to wear. I owned one black dress, which in my eyes was one dress too many. It was cotton and simple, and far too big. My flat chest made the scoop neckline look deflated and the skirt fell straight down way below my knees to a length completely unappealing and almost dowdy. At least the three quarter length sleeves did some good at hiding the lankiness of my arms. I placed a red headband in my hair for some colour and pulled out the cherry lip balm I always wore for these types of occasions. My mother always wore lip gloss and bold shades of lipstick. Staring at my seemingly pale reflection I pondered whether I should ask her for some, maybe even some in red.
Pulling up to the
Prices’ home I started to get the usual nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had been through this same process a million times over. The parents always met in a room while I waited, bored, in some other part of the home. Then I would be beckoned in for the suitor to see and three minutes later we would be on our way home.
The white house looked neat and simple. It looked like many of the other houses on this stretch of road. Its long driveway was straight and adjacent to the left side of the house. The green grass made my eyes travel upwards and past the few garden beds dotted with wild flowers to the green shutters framing all of the windows- large windows that looked like seal eyes, ominous and black.
When we arrived, there were three teenage girls sitting on the front porch. Two of the girls seemed close to me in age while the third was clearly older. I suddenly wondered if I would be there to compete and if so, wondered what fighting chance I would have considering they all had shining long hair, beautiful skin, and complimentary pastel coloured dresses. They rose to their feet as my family had approached with broad smiles on their faces.
You must be Anya,” the tallest spoke, looking at me with curiosity. Her blonde hair was pale and straight, set off by the deep blue of her eyes.
She wore the simplest dress of the three, a straight lavender shift dress with a tie at the waist.
Kanja.” My father spoke his name extending his hand for the girl to mimic the gesture. Their fingers never touched, but they sensed one another this way, it was customary for our people.
Raisa.” My mother said, her Russian accent thick, repeating the gesture of my father.
Rayne.” The tall girl said at last, “we are Merrick’s sisters, and would like to keep Anya company while you meet with our parents.”
My parents looked at me, their eyes asking if I would be alright. I nodded quickly, immediately appreciating the gesture the girls offered. Far more often I was left alone in a room for close to an hour while plans and details were discussed. I grew smart enough to bring a book with me out of habit, but still I much preferred reading in the comfort of my own spaces. I smiled to reassure them, and at last they left joining Ondine and Caspian, the parents of my suitor who introduced themselves to me quickly before ushering my parents along in haste.
Our brother is so difficult,” the smallest one started. Her wavy blonde hair was long and bobbed in the breeze while her green eyes brightened. The ruffles in the peach coloured skirt of her dress were flowing like seaweed with a tide. “It is taking him forever to choose a mate.”
Shh Coral, you’ll make her nervous,” the third spoke, clearly the middle sister of the three. Her hair was chestnut brown, blue eyes piercing as they shot towards me. Her dress similar to Corals was a bit less ornate and pearly blue in hue.
Well he is!” Coral exclaimed.
I’m already nervous,” I admitted honestly. “I usually am for the first few minutes, but it passes.”
Sorry,” she winced.
Rayne laughed. “Pearl, you’re so sweet,” she said to her sister, “why couldn’t you give Merrick some of your kindness? You
his twin.” Pearl merely scoffed in reply.
My fingers twined nervously and Pearl reached out to calm them.
“They’re giving you the wrong impression. He’s not cruel.”
No!” Coral added, “He’s just a male.”
Pearl smiled sweetly. “I think he’ll like you,” she spoke in earnest.
“I doubt that,” the words spilling out of me before I thought about them.
“He would be a good mate to you, even though he’s a bugger of a brother,” Coral added.
Rayne looked at me scrutinizing and her eyes fell to the book in my hand.
“You’re just his type too.”
And then, I grew more nervous, but for completely different reasons. They seemed convinced that their brother, Merrick, would in a few moments choose me for his future bride. I had arrived fully anticipating a rejection and so the glimmer of hope sparking through me was completely foreign. It felt like I was about to be betrayed. The outcome still unknown, suddenly I wanted to run down to the beach and hide away somewhere along the shore.
Before I could speak another word, a young male Mer popped out of the door. He was slightly shorter than me, with messy blonde hair and the same blue eyes as the older female Mers. He wore a black suit and a navy tie, as formally dressed as his siblings. I wondered. Was this Merrick? They had said he was Pearl’s not Coral’s twin, and he looked far more like Coral. He also looked younger than me, but similarly scraggly. He was cute in his own way, but perhaps a bit young looking for me to find attractive.
“Come with me,” he said grabbing my hand and urging me from the porch bench. His glance was scrutinizing, but pleasant and he was smiling easily.
“It’s time,” Rayne said with a wink. I looked back at the sisters helplessly while my potential betrothed dragged me along.
As we walked through the corridor I observed the details of the Prices’ home. It was quite beautiful and refreshing, a nautical theme adorning every wall. The walls were a robin’s egg blue and white wainscoting and trim seemed to be everywhere. Merrick led me towards a closed door and I swallowed hard. Suddenly I was craving water. Would our parents be disappointed if either of us hesitated? He pushed open the door to reveal my parents with Ondine and Caspian, all sitting on a cream sofa set. My parents were sitting next to one another on a couch, while Ondine was draped over Caspian on a facing loveseat- his arm wrapped over her shoulder. My eyes quickly scanned, curved mirrors and frosted glass sculptures decorated the room; a bronze cast mermaid hung on the wall. How ironic.
Thank you Zale,” Ondine spoke, “you may leave now.” He squeezed my hand tighter and looked at me as though he did not want to leave before finally letting go.
Zale? Was that not Merrick?
I felt confused, and my palms grew sweaty with anxiety, my left hand still tightly wrapped around my book, felt it slipping and I shifted it to my other hand. The sharp hitch of the door closing behind me made me jump, but I smiled at the Prices to smooth away signs of my apprehension.
You look lovely Anya.” Caspian spoke, a broad smile on his lips revealing perfect white teeth. I fought the urge to glance at my parents with an ‘Is he serious?’ look.
Don’t you think, Merrick?” Ondine asked and glanced over her shoulder to the window behind the sofas.
My eyes followed hers and my breath caught when they found the object of her questioning. Merrick was definitely a Mer. He was leaning against the window, a sheer curtain billowing behind him, poised like some old film star. I wanted to pinch myself awake.