Fifty PercentA Story by Lovely James
Ryden, half Amazon half elf is on a kind of "rumspringa", A quest to decide whether he wants to stay among the Elves or live in the world. This is his encounter with the people of the Aquatic.
I was filthy. Banged up from a run in with some young and idiotic Nephillum on my way through the Eastern Wood. So when I staggered into their little piece of earth...I tired and bleeding from several open wounds, collapsed near the edge of the lake. My injuries were nothing major. Lots of cuts and a couple of larger gashes but I would survive. Right now it hurt my pride more than anything.
I needed to rest. But the dried blood that clung to my foul smelling body was distracting my sensitive nose. The smell coupled with the sun high in the sky I knew would make it nearly impossible to sleep.
I walked across until the grass slowly turned to sand. I shed my shirt and plunged myself into the water. Wow. The water was perfect and so needed on my scathed skin.
I began to rub my skin with my fingers, too lazy to head to shore and fish in my bag for a cloth. After I was satisfied with the half job well done I drug myself out of he lake and collapsed in the sand.
I spent the rest of the day sprawled out on the beach. When night fell I rolled out the mat my mother made from fairy reeds and snuggled down to sleep; no need for a blanket.
The next morning I awoke from one of the best sleeps I had had in awhile. Usually my instincts would keep me from really settling in. Either exhaustion or actual peace allowed me to surrender to the pain I was in. Of course this meant that I awoke feeling like I had been mauled over by a stampede of horses.
My body was stiff. Most of my cuts, scrapes, and gashes looked like they were beginning or had already scabbed over. Save one. A nasty gash on my right bicep today seemed much deeper than I had originally accessed. I tried to lift my arm and was met with a searing pain. Crap.
My head immediately jerked to the lake where the sound came from. All there was a single head with the neck barely peeking out of the water. She had pretty pinkish skin and she glistened from the water covering her body. She had shocking bright blue eyes and I couldn't help but keep thinking her features seemed small and delicate.
I was immediately on my guard. I’d heard many stories of the creatures that roamed the Earth. The water holds many of the most treacherous of them but their allure is so deceptive you would never know it.
She stared at me curiously. Neither of us spoke as we just examined the other. It was her meek voice that broke our impasse. "I can fix that."
Skeptically I responded, "Fix what?"
"On your arm."
This is how they get you. False promises before you find yourself being sucked to the bottom of the ocean, your very life leaking away with every bubble of water that enters your lungs.
"No thanks. I've got it covered."
Sarcastically she said, "Looks that way."
"What do you want?"
"I should ask you that. You're on my beach."
I replied, "You own this beach?"
She fell silent and continued staring. After a few minutes I looked away and started to formulate a plan. I tried to move my arm to stand but found that it was completely stiff. With some difficulty I was able to roll over to my left side and hoist myself up. With that I began carefully packing my things into my sack.
Every so often I would glance over my shoulder towards the lake to see if she was still there. After about twenty minutes she disappeared. My arm was killing me. It was so tender…I wouldn’t be able to make it very far today.
But I needed to move. I didn't want to be here when and if she came back. Besides their alluring powers of persuasion I knew the water creatures had some diabolical tricks they could tap into if they so desired.
Once I was packed up I headed into the wood. I was able to break up some sticks and rip the blanket my sister had made me in order to make a stiff sling. I walked for about an hour before I felt like I would collapse. Ten minutes later I did just that. I lay there for about twenty minutes before my training began yelling at me. Being in an unknown wood was dangerous. More dangerous than being near the open lake where at least I would be able to see enemy coming.
It took me another two hours to reach the beach again with how slow I was moving. I also made sure I returned to a different section of the beach; maybe I would be far enough down that whatever that was would not spot me.
Not likely. But I could hope. I just knew staying on land was what I needed to do. Not may of them could come on land. I spread out my mat and it was not long before sleep consumed me.
I awoke feeling very groggy. It was near dusk. Instinctively I looked toward the lake. And to my dismay she was there again. Enough of this! At this rate it would probably take me a few days to get to some sort of civilization. I would not spend those days being tormented by some stupid Siren or Nymph.
Ignoring the pain I marched down to the water and yelled at it, "What?" She looked taken aback. I yelled again, "What do you want?"
"Yes. A fact that is painfully obvious to me."
"I can help."
"And why would you do that?"
"Because you're good."
Not the answer I expected. She looked so sincere. Like she truly meant it... "What are you?"
She looked confused, "What?"
"I've heard stories about...your kind. They trap men. Promise them whatever they want only to drag them away to their sick underworld to be their slaves."
She burst out laughing. Now it was my turn to be taken aback. She looked so genuine. My instincts were suddenly at ease. She was definitely not evil.
Her laughing had calmed a bit, "I'm not anything of what your thinking."
I stared on. Not sure how to move forward from here.
"I can help you."
"If I told you how it would freak you out."
"Yeah...no thank you." I caught a quick glimpse of her reaction before I turned away. She looked sad and slightly frantic. I got up and began gathering the materials to make a fire. As I came back onto the beach she was still there.
"There is another way. You'll heal slower but it will help."
Trying to be nicer than I was before I said, "No thanks, I'll just find a physician when I reach town."
"The nearest town is almost a days walk from here. And with how slow you are moving it will take you much, much longer. You're getting an infection."
I looked down at my arm. I reached across with my left hand and lifted on the wrap. My skin was pale and bruised and sure enough my large gash was now green. Infection. She was right. I nodded in her direction and she dove under the surface. As she went under, though it was swift I saw the peak of her blue…tail. She was an Aquatic.
I sighed in relief. She was a citizen of arguably the largest nation in the world. Their borders span ocean but in actuality Aquatica only has about ten main colonies spread over the globe. But considering the depths they are able to swim to and inhabit, their actual reach is unknowable.
I walked to right towards where the beach turned to grass. I still didn't trust her. Though they were a relatively peaceful people, I would not put myself at risk and walk in the water towards her.
About an hour later she returned. She emerged where I had left her and scanned the area looking for me. She swam gracefully to where I was. When she reached me she brought up her hand that had a leaf on it and was emitting a clear puss that smelled horrible. I cringed at the smell.
I stared at her firmly. Silently telling her not to mess with me. She gingerly pressed the leaf against my gash and then backed away slowly.
When I woke the next morning she was on her stomach in the shallow of the beach. Just staring. When she saw me looking at her she just cocked her head to the side still not changing her position.
Odd. I rolled over and sat up. My arm was still throbbing pretty bad but I noticed I now had a bit of range with it. It wasn't as stiff as before.
When I glanced back towards the shallow I noticed the...girl had sat up. Her...tail...fin...fin was angled behind her. It looked a little different that I had imagined. It wasn't as scalely as stories I heard depicted. It was really smooth and shimmered radiantly in the sun. It was a greyish blue color, more neutral and muted than I thought yesterday.
She was small girl. No more than five feet in length but she looked older. At least my age if not a few years older. She wore a cut off that clung tight to her body and covered from her belly button up including her shoulders. From where I sat it appeared like the cut off was made from some sort of sea plant.
I tore my attention away from her when my stomach grumbled. I hadn't eaten much yesterday. Though I recognized much of the fruit here I wasn't used to a fruit only diet. Meat didn't carry very long and I was out of rations.
The fire I made last night was still set up. I put it out just as nightfall set in not wanting to draw any unwanted attention to myself. It would not take much to rekindle.
I glanced to the area where the water met the beach and she still stared on at me. I sighed loud enough for her to hear. I was getting really annoyed by the unwanted attention. She nodded at me. She said yesterday that she would be back to redress my wound. Maybe she would go away once she accomplished that.
I carefully moved down the beach toward her and sat in front of her. Instantly she brought her tail up to her hands and produced another leaf like the one yesterday.
With no hesitation she spoke, "I'm Fresia."
I continued the silence as she carefully undid my wrap. She was gentle and attentive. I mentally kicked myself for being such a jerk. "I'm Ryden."
She didn't miss a beat before asking me, "So...what are you?"
I laughed. Her curious and light tone immediately put me at ease. But she was just as oblivious to the world as I was. Her stuck on this lake and before two months ago...me stuck confined to the Northern City.
I winced as the lie came out, "I'm an Amazon."
Not a complete lie. Actually...I am the product of an Elf and one of the few Amazon women that were permitted to stay behind and live among the Elves. But I could never really be completely honest with someone about that question. To reveal my exact heritage would be a violation of our code. Though tales never depict what exactly happened to the Northern People most just assume they disappeared from the Earth. Given the capabilities of my people that’s a very good thing. If someone found out about us...
She interrupted my thoughts, "So what are you doing here? Amania is halfway around the world."
I laughed, she was a quick one, "I'm on an Odyssey."
"It's like...ow!" I hadn't noticed that she had completely removed the made splint and the wrappings and that nasty puss was on my arm again. I jerked my arm back but she held firm as she spread the puss on thick. It burned this time. Most likely yesterday I was in too much shock to notice the burning.
She nodded to me, "Continue."
"It's like...it's like a rite of passage. Every person my age goes out. They have six months to explore the world. Decide for themselves whether they want to live among the people or forge out on their own."
The burning had subsided a bit and she was wrapping it back up. "Really?"
I laughed, "Yeah really."
She fell silent and continued to work on finishing up on my arm. When she was done she turned back to look towards the lake. I couldn't help but stare. I took in all the details of her body. Her kind was truly an interesting and unique creature. I wanted to know more. That's what this Odyssey is about right? Experiencing this world, everything it has to offer and all those who are in it. Up until this point I have been met by disappointment after disappointment.
She broke the silence, "So...you hungry?"
The next few days were fun. We sat and talked for hours and hours. It was nice to be able to let my guard down with someone. I had really only had interaction with the Northern People. Those I had known my entire life. People I already knew everything about.
We were in our spot in the shallow of the lake. She was lying on her stomach and I was sitting up with my knees pulled to my chest. My arm was scabbed over now and only hurt when I made large movements.
We had just eaten lunch and were both stuffed to satisfaction when I said, "So can I ask you a question?"
She laughed, "What else have we been doing all the past few days if not being incredible nosy?"
I held her gaze. "You sure?"
She maneuvered her body and sat up towards me, "Well now you are scaring me."
"How...I mean I've heard stories of Aquatics. That...well that say that you guys can become human."
She sucked in air surprisingly, "Oh."
"I mean...not like human human...I mean...grow...legs."
She looked startled, "Yeah..."
"I upset you...I'm sorry."
"No no no...we just...we don't talk about it much."
"My people. Transforming is...its one of the big ones. One of those things that ruins families and separates communities. Our Aquatic community is largely against transforming."
I pushed, "Why?"
She sighed and continued, "Because it's dangerous...Ok so you know how most of us range somewhere between seventy and eighty percent water in body mass?"
I laughed, "Not a expert but I'm still with you."
"Well Aquatics are something like ninty-eight percent water. In order to transform we have to reduce our water to that of a normal person. With the shedding of water so does our fin go."
I could tell this was hard for her. She put on a smile and acted tough, "Yeah. It's just dangerous to do. I mean we can hydrate ourselves enough to get our fin back but on the other hand if an Aquatic was to fall below fifty-percent water...they would basically become human." She paused before continuing, "And that is a fate worse than death because at that point the Aquatic is allergic to water."
I think my face freaked her out a bit because she quickly said, "Oh I mean...well we all need water to survive. We just can’t have water in its natural occurring form. Which is why those who do transform have to be so careful. As Aquatics we are naturally drawn to water. It's hard for any of us to stay away from it."
I was looking down at the sand shaking my head. Fresia grabbed my head and brought me to her gaze. In a reassuring voice she said, "It's only happened like a handful of times...ever."
"And how many survived from that?"
She recovered quickly, “I mean that I’ve heard of and as you can see I don’t get out too much.”
We both sighed and turned our gaze to the peaceful lake.
I broke our awkward silence, "So what's for dinner? Trout? Mahi Mahi?"
She laughed, "We JUST had lunch?"
I had been a resident of the lake for a week now. I was healing well, the stiffness in my arm gone. I almost had full mobility back, but still a slight wincing pain.
Fresia was faithfully tending to me once again. I was laying on my stomach in the shallowest area of the beach and she was sitting up applying more salve to my arm, her body tall and her tail half in the water and half out.
I asked, "So where exactly do your parents think you go everyday?"
She laughed lightly, "They trust me."
"Yeah...but I mean...you're not missing school...or...well I'm not really sure what you do."
"No I finished school years ago." She paused suddenly, "I guess now I'm...just waiting."
She sighed a big sigh and looked back towards the Lake. After a minute she replied sadly, "My future."
I pushed off the sandy beach and sat up next to her, "And for an Aquatic, what does that include?"
I could tell she was not happy about this so I tried to change the subject, "So your parents never notice you're gone all day. Ask questions?"
She laughed again, "Do YOUR parents keep close tabs on you...I mean, when your not out exploring the world."
"No my parents…” I laughed at the thought, “They don't worry about me much." I teased her with my best tough guy voice, "Plus I'm an Amazon. I'm being groomed to live a life prestige and glory!"
We both laughed, "No I've always mostly stayed close to home until now. School, learning as much as I can and then of course training. That's why this time is so important..."
I trailed off, suddenly remembering my mission. Why I was here. I had neglected my Odyssey. For good reason at first: to heal, but I could leave now. I was more than capable of taking care of my wound on my own from here.
"What's wrong?" Her voice snapped me back to reality.
Honesty I told myself. "I have to move on soon."
She sighed, "Yeah...I figured." She looked back at the lake. We both knew this meant our friendship...and whatever else this was...was basically over.
I stared at her. There was so much I didn't know about. She was evidence of that. She was the beautiful, majestic evidence that my people were oblivious of all the goodness that still existed in this world.
She broke her gaze from the lake and looked back at me. We stared at each other. She smiled. I would hold onto that smile. Carry it with me. And suddenly I felt her lips on mine.
All I could think was: How did that even happen? She just hoisted herself out of the water and pressed her lips against mine. I had never been kissed before. She tasted salty and wet. I immediately felt myself letting go and giving into the kiss. I wrapped my left hand around her arm just as she pulled away from me, startled.
My eyes flew open and I met Fresia looking back at me frighteningly. I gave her a reassuring smile but she started to move back into the Lake.
My smiled disappeared as quickly as it came, "Fresia"
"No...no no no."
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I should not have done that. I was completely inappropriate."
"Fresia it's ok, it's ok."
"No no no I-I ruined everything. Gosh I'm so stupid."
I hung around that day for an hour before I realized she would not be coming back that day. I decided I would return to our meeting place at the water's edge the next day. It was time to move on but a good friend at least deserves a goodbye.
I slept more near the woods that night but sure enough when I awoke she was there. I moved toward her with a small smile on my face. I started slyly, “Good morning.”
She beamed back at me, “Good morning to you.”
“So I uh-“
She interrupted me, “Wait before you say anything I have a proposition for you.”
I kneeled down to her level, “Ok, shoot.”
She stated plainly, “Take me with you.”
I was confused, “Wha-what?”
“I wan’t…to go with you. On your Odyssey Ryden…I’m so…so sick of this place where I feel trapped and ignorant to everything that’s out there. I wanna see the world! I wanna see it with you…” She trailed off. I paused unsure of what to say. We had known each other for about two weeks now. And there was something there but…
"Fresia. I like you. I do. But I can’t let you do this. I-I don’t know what I'm going to do. I've enjoyed our time together but I don’t know if I plan on staying out here. I may return home and that’s not a place you can go. And I wouldn't want you to leave for me and then me pick that."
"I'm not doing this for you. I mean…I think it began that way. But…Ryden, I envy you! You get the choice. You can decide for yourself whether or not you want the world or your family. I don’t have a choice. I'm stuck here. And I don't want to look up one day and hate my family because I'm forced to be loyal to them."
She quickly interjected, "Maybe we don't go together. Maybe you just help me a little...teach me how to survive. Teach me how to walk and then we go our separate ways. And maybe then we explore the world separate but together. If you decide to stay than we give this a shot…together."
She grabbed my arm and looked up at me pleadingly, "Please Ry."
I couldn't resist her cute smile. I shook my head at her. "You sure you're not a Nymph?"
She laughed in relief, "We wouldn't need this conversation if I was."
"So now what?"
"Come back for me in two days. I...I just need time to get ready."
I looked into her eyes firmly, "Two days?"
"Yeah. Two days."
I nodded and got up as she began to swim backwards deeper in the water. When I couldn't see her anymore I turned and walked toward my things on the beach.
I turned back to the sound of her voice. It was so dark all I could make out was her silhouette.
She continued shakily, "Meet me on the South shore ok?"
The next day I set out to find the town she had mentioned. She was right; it took a little under a day’s time. I took the opportunity to stock up on supplies and food. I also bought her a shirt, a wrap skirt, of course some sandals. Sandals were definitely not ideal for the terrain she would need to walk through to make it to the main road to the town, but I figured anything more durable might freak out her senses. Having feet was enough without having to worry about constricting them.
I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in the inn in the town. It felt nice to sleep on something soft and warm. Even before the sun had fully risen I set out to head back to the Lake. I was nervous; more nervous than I should have been. What am I about to walk into? Is this idea completely insane? My heart was beating hard the entire walk back.
As soon as I reached the edge of the forest I saw her outline; sitting in our shallow spot at the water's edge. I couldn't help but begin to beam. I was still over a hundred yards away but I could clearly see two pale-pinkish... legs peaking out from under her.
As I approached I noticed she had goop covering her lower body. Next to her was a small sack made of seaweed and she had draped her waist with a skirt it looks like was made of kelp. Her face was lit up like the sun when she heard me approaching.
There were no words spoken between us. We both just smiled largely. I handed her the clothes I brought. She slipped the shirt over the Seaweed cutoff she always wore and pulled the seaweed off underneath. I helped her wrap the cloth skirt over the kelp one she had fashioned and again she pulled that off under. I saved the sandals for later.
Without missing a beat she reached out to me; gesturing for me to help her up. She weighed nothing and I was easily able to hoist her up. She held onto me with a hard grip. I could tell even though she was excited that she was also completely terrified.
Finally she spoke, "I've...I've been practicing."
I laughed, "How exactly?"
"Wiggling my toes, stretching my...my legs. I figured if I built some muscle this would be a lot easier."
"Ok...well, I'm gonna let go and you try to walk to me, ok?" She nodded and I slowly backed away. She reached after me as soon as I was out of her reach and she plopped onto the sand ungracefully.
She groaned, "Ugh..."
I laughed as I reached down to pick her up again. "Try to stay calm ok?" She nodded again while keeping her gaze down. Reassuring her while lifting her chin I said, "Hey, you can do this."
This time she nodded more confidently as I slowly backed away. This time she was able to hold her ground. I smiled as I remembered when my little brother first began walk. Her slight shakiness was reminiscent of his but I could tell it was more from fear than weakness in her legs. It was obvious that her capabilities in her fin were transferred to her legs. I beckoned her forward, "C'mon."
She practically screamed back at me, "I can't!"
Firmly I said, "C'mon!"
She closed her eyes, clenched her fists and slowly lifted her right foot forward and set it maybe five inches in front of her. I saw her peak her right eye open. She wobbled a bit trying to keep her balance. But I could see a slight smile begin to form on her face.
When she steadied she placed all of her weight on her right leg. She stood there for a minute not moving. Finally she lifted her left leg, but she overestimated and moved it about two feet in front of her. I burst out laughing and she now stood legs spread wide and stuck in place. My laughing didn’t help to reassure her and she toppled over again.
I darted towards her only to be met by her beaming smile and little giggles emitting from that innocent face. She grabbed my arm, "I wanna do it again."
We spent most of the morning staying close to the lake; alternating between me holding her hand while she walked and my carrying her on my back. It was so interesting to see how wonder struck she was at little things. She marveled at the feel of sand and grass between her toes. She had never felt tree bark before. She unlike most girls who would squeal at the sight of bugs spent over a half an hour squatting near a log and picking at he different insects.
Just before noon we decided to move into the woods. The sun being high in the sky and us being out in the open exposed full on would drain her of her water faster than we wanted. I made sure before we left I filled a canvas bag full of water. Her staying hydrated would be important for her health.
Under the shade of the forest she was able to move much more easily. She still stumbled and looked as awkward as a newborn but she insisted on walking. It was beautiful to see someone her age be so enamored by the world. She touched everything. Marveled at everything. We strayed out for hours, me making sure she had water every ten minutes. It wasn't until dusk that the time dawned on me. "Let's head back to the beach," I said.
She grabbed my arm and looked at me solemnly. "No. I've already been gone for 2 days. My parents..." She trailed off and looked back the direction we came. "My parents will be looking for me now. We have to keep moving."
"Fresia...we are low on water. I don't see you making it that far." I think she expected to become a pro at walking within a day. She would need much more time before she would be able to survive on her own.
She looked disappointed and then got a sly look on her face, "So I thought you were a big strong Amazon? We'll move faster at night with the sun not beating down on us. And maybe you can...carry me most of the way?"
I nodded my head and she squealed in response. It would indeed be better if we keep moving so we could reach the town faster. I hoisted her onto my back, her small and thin frame not making much of a difference.
We had been walking for about an hour when I heard the voices. They were faint but my senses were alert and the sound make my hairs stand on end. They were close. I quickly assessed the situation. Fresia was asleep on my back. Though she was walking gracefully now there was no way she would be able to run… and I would not make it very far with her on my back.
So I started to sprint. She was instantly awake and started to speak but I was moving so fast I couldn’t make out what she said. Then I heard the footfalls gaining on us. I think she heard them too because she bore down and gripped me even harder.
Suddenly I felt a searing pain in the side of my leg and down we went. Fresia rolled about 10 feet from me and was stopped when she hit a tree. Hard. I looked over and she was knocked out. It would now be a lot easier to carry her. I tried to jump up but found my head becoming fuzzy and felt a hard throbbing in my right thigh.
I looked down to find a large arrow in my thigh; the head was buried deep inside. I tried pulling at it suppressing the urge to scream. It wouldn't budge. Wait…why was I so dizzy? I heard the lumbering footsteps getting closer and closer.
When I woke I felt like hell. My head was throbbing and a quick survey of my body showed that I was bruised all over with several open wounds. I glanced toward my leg where I remember I had been shot. The arrow was gone and it appeared the I had been bandaged up.
After assessing myself I scanned the area. I was in some sort cave. I could hear water run off dripping rom the ceiling onto the floor. In the center of the room was a crude wooden table, but from my angle on the floor I couldn’t tell what was on it.
I was in and out for the next...for who knows how long. The next large chunk of time I was awake my head felt incredibly fuzzy. I tried to sit up and I realized I couldn't will myself to move. I remembered then the arrow, that then I had been drugged. If kidnapped it only made sense that they would continue to drug me.
This was going to make escaping even more difficult.
I heard voices. They weren't loud, and I could tell they were down the hall or in another room. I took this as a sign that my strength was slowly returning if my hearing was getting sensitive again. I listened in. Any information I could possibly get on where I was would be helpful.
"The girl is proving quite profitable. We've almost siphoned a good three liters out of her."
"Good work. That will definitely bring in quite the pay day."
From the conversation I could tell the first that spoke was insubordinate. He had a gruffer voice, which made it sounds like he was used to harder labor. The second talked smoother; used to getting what he wanted.
"Yeah…but it’s slow. It's taken us 3 days to get just that. It's getting harder to keep her weak but still able to salivate. I doubt we will get much more out of her."
In a firm and upset tone the Second replied, "This isn't what we planned."
"No Sir. It's become obvious that because this is her first turn she's not able to handle as much as we would've hoped."
‘Sir’ sighed and with a sickening humor in his voice he said, "Well, we'll just know what to go after next."
Just then a small child entered the room with a large brutish man following in behind him. This was the first time I noticed the other chains in the cave as the man locked the child in. How long had I been in here with another just feet from me?
I woke again in what I felt was night. My hearing was even better still because I could hear crickets chirping outside. How far the outside was I could not estimate. Just straining to hear that far was making my head throb in pain.
I heard a strong voice say, "You're awake."
I leaned my head against the wall and blinked my eyes hard. That voice was definitely in the same room. And then I remembered the child. I looked across the room and there he was staring back at me.
"Push through it kid," He willed me on.
I tried harder to look at him and then I noticed the faint glow coming from his body. I let out an involuntary sigh. A friend.
It was hard for me to use my voice. Faintly I was able to choke out, "You're…a fairy."
"Good. You are better."
Fairies appeared like children though they could live to be hundreds of years old. Not quite the life span of Elves, but unlike Elves they could reproduce. They had wings that moved so fast they were basically translucent. To the untrained eyes most fairies just passed as regular children. It was only when they talked that the wisdom and age from their voices gave them away.
Fairies were good friends of the Northern People. We had enjoyed a long treaty and cooperative relationship with their people. Just like all of the Northern City glimmered with a glow of God's radiance, Fairies held a slight glow that was recognizable.
What would they want with him? Fairies had dust. Today that dust was used to craft many a thing. From love serums to temporary flying potions, they were very useful. No wonder these...poachers were keeping him here.
His voice came back at me firm, "Comrade. Look at me."
My head was so-
He almost shouted, "LOOK!"
I squeezed my eyes tight, willing myself to wake up. It was hard to fight the drugs, but I forced them open.
"Good. There isn’t much time. They plan on killing you and the girl. You have to get out of here. And soon."
"I've been here for months kid. They keep me drugged as well, but my body is accommodating the chemical. It's adapting. Which is why THIS, right NOW is so important."
He noticed my eyes drifting, "HEY!"
I snapped back in, "Sorry."
"Look, you've been too shot up to realize but they've been examining you. They patrolled that Lake for days so they knew what they were getting in the girl. But you...you having nothing they can hock off at a market and once they realize that...you're dead. No chance to defend yourself. Just some drugs to your system and you never wake up again."
The seriousness of his voice pulled me to the surface of my drug-induced haziness. "Why...what are...they getting from her?"
Confused I asked, "Her...what?"
"Aquatica saliva is a very potent chemical. It heals almost instantly. But it has a very short shelf life. It can last a week at most from the Aquatic to a wound. So they've collected quite a bit from her. They will have to head into town soon in order to sell it before it goes bad."
"How can we-“
"Just listen kid. You have to fight the chemical. If you make it through the night if you push past the drowsiness, your body can sweat out the drugs."
"But they will just come again."
"Yes they will. They will drug you before they leave. But it’s the drugs on top of drugs that keep you knocked out. The first few times they drugged you they administered much more than they are now. If you get it out of your system, you'll be much more alert tomorrow."
"If you know all this...why are...you still here?"
"I can fight the drugs...but there are still the chains we'd have to get through. You’re strong. You get us out and I'll lead you to the girl."
I fell silent. It was the best shot we had.
"Tell me what to do."
It worked. It was literally the worst night of my life, but it worked. Never had I been faced with an enemy that infiltrated my body before. It was hard trying to work against myself.
My new friend Roen helped me. He made sure I stayed awake whispering to me; Whispers that as my senses broke past the haze became louder and louder.
I could tell daylight was here because there was no more chirping. I could hear a pair of gangly feet moving towards us. No doubt for our daily dosage of sleepy drugs. Roen having been here for months informed me that he knew that were three Poachers that he saw on a regular basis. But they were huge; Ogres he suspected. But then again it was hard to tell between an Ogre and a Cyclops these days with the different mutations and concealing abilities out there.
The difference? If they were Cyclops they actually only had one functioning eye though they actually had two on their face. That eye was also incredible sensitive to light, which is why many of them lived in caves and were nocturnal. While they had incredible vision at night and could see the details on a leaf over a mile away, during the day they were almost blinded by the full rays of the sun. Ogres on the other hand were large oafs and incredibly slow. They were really powerful but all that muscle actually made their reflexes slower.
With how weak we were there was no beating them. So our plan had to be plain and simple: escape. If they were Cyclops all we had to do was make it to the entrance of the cave. They wouldn't dare come out in daylight. If it was an Ogre we just need to get a far enough lead on them...and keep running.
It had reached our cave and I feigned sleeping. I heard it move to Roen first and he sighed as he was administered his dose. Next I heard it move towards me. I felt like my meal from days ago was about to rise up at the smell of the creature. He violently stuck a needle into my arm and instantly my head went fuzzy. It left blundering back out the way it came.
I heard Roen as soon as it was gone. He barely spoke but I held onto his encouraging words. For the next hour I fought hard against the drugs while simultaneously pulling at the steel chains are my hands. I was afraid I was making too much noise but I kept on. Without the drugs in my system and from all the training I had endured in my sixteen years I could've broken through the chains within minutes of stressing them. An hour passed before I even felt them budge.
But budge they did. With the light clank of them breaking it cleared my mind. I moved over to Roen and with his help he was free in minutes. Now all I had to do was find Fresia.
Roen and I hovered on opposite sides of the mouth of our room in the cave.
He broke our silence, "Comrade, the girl is down that pass." He pointed to the center pass in the cave. "Make quick work."
Confused I replied, "You're not coming?"
"They have my daughter."
Instantly I understood. It was not Roen that was captured, but he who no doubt came after them when his daughter was taken A mature fairy would've instantly heard the poachers and vanished into dust. A child would not have had the maturity to know to do so.
I nodded to him and we both stooped low to the ground and began down our passes. I stayed close to the wall. If it was a Cyclops, the one working eye placed on one side of the head had little periphery vision and might miss seeing me all together.
The pass went on for about two hundred feet before I heard sounds coming from inside the room. Shallow and weak breathing, only one person: Fresia. I started moving faster towards the mouth of the room. I silently thanked Roen as I slipped inside.
There she was sprawled out in the dirt on the ground. She was shaking lightly. Her legs were an ugly pale white color. Her skin, usually a wonderfully pink and lively color was now scalely and sickly. She was dehydrated.
I quickly moved over to her and scooped her up. She opened her eyes and smiled a bit when she recognized me. She touched my face as I said, "I'm gonna get you out of here," to which she nodded in reply.
I heard footfalls coming behind me. I quickly scanned the room looking for an alternative way out. Of course there wasn’t one, the only was out was the way we came. Apparently Roen had been wrong about one thing. They had not been as foolish as we’d hoped and had left at least one behind to guard us. I set Fresia down and turned to face the impeding evil.
When the creature entered the room he said nothing. Just smiled and stood in the doorway with his arms spread wide. All I could make from the dark wall I had been place on was a faint outline that stood at least ten feet tall. No time to waster, I ran towards him. Just as I was about three feet from him, I ducked and slid under him. The confused the creature and he swiped to catch me but ended up falling to the ground.
Advantage: mine. I jumped on top of the downed oaf but he locked me with his overbearing arms. At this point I didn't care what creature it was. If I could reach its eyes...
I felt myself losing consciousness from the hold it had me in. When I heard her scream I snapped back to reality. I looked over to the corner where I had set Fresia and she was shaking even harder and grasping at the ground. I saw her crawling toward the table to the right of her.
I jabbed the creature in the stomach and started flailing wildly; I needed to do whatever I could to distract him. It worked and I was able to catch my right foot underneath his leg and flip us over so I was on top. That distracting him I was able to free one of my arms and took the opportunity to poise my finger above its right eye and jab it in. I finished the job by also gouging the left in; just in case.
It howled and immediately rolled off of me. I jumped up and move toward Fresia. She was wet. The bowl was now tipped over and she was steady again. I scooped her up and hoisted her towards my chest. I heard her whimper, "Water."
I plunged down the pass. She was lighter than I remembered. I reached the large opening and stopped. To the left was where Roen and I were kept, so one of these other four passes had to lead out.
Behind my calculating I heard another pair of footfalls coming from the pass directly behind me. Crap. I guess only one of the creatures had gone in to town. That left three passes. I stared hard at them. Picking the wrong one would lead to a dead end most likely our deaths.
I just need a glimpse of light. We were so deep in I couldn't make out a single reflection. So I switched to listening. A stream...the wind...something. And then I heard the fainting bird call. The right most pass was it. I sprinted out of the center mere seconds before the creatures met me there. Definitely not Ogres with the speed they were moving. I just needed to make it outside.
After about two hundred feet I mentally thanked God for I could see it; Light. But I also heard them gaining on me. It was so close I could smell its putrid stench. One hundred feet to the mouth of the cave, I kept pushing.
I sat up just as quickly as we fell and clamored toward Fresia. I grabbed her up and moved farther and farther in the light. I looked back to see what had happened to the creature pursuing us. The creature stood where it was still dark and was glaring at us. We had broken through to the light. A Cyclops.
Fresia grumbled beneath me. Water. We needed to get to water.
I had no idea where we were now. Only Fresia's senses would've served us well at this point. Her instincts and drive for water would've drawn us to the nearest source. I would have to attempt to rely on my senses. I was usually pretty in tuned to nature with heightened senses. But being tortured and starved in a dank cave for days was proving to dull me as well.
I swung Fresia onto my back and started running. I ran for over an hour without stopping. Usually the small girl's weight would not have even fazed me. But within hour two I could feel myself beginning to lag and even worse I was felt her begin to shudder even more violently.
I keep running which was more of a jog by now. Fifty percent, fifty percent, was now my mantra to keep me going. Fifty percent. Suddenly the wood began to look familiar. That spurred me on. We hadn't been dragged as far away from Fresia's lake as I had thought. It was another hour maybe to the part of the lake where we had first met.
Fifty percent. Fifty percent. Another hour in and Fresia was flailing uncontrollably. It was becoming harder and harder for me to keep a hold onto her and still run. But I could see the edge of the lake now. I would just need to get close enough to the water. Just close enough so I could throw her in.
And then I saw them. Heads peeking out at the edge of the lake. Several. Five people at least...well not people. When I was within a hundred yards. I prepped Fresia on my shoulders. I would hurl her into the lake.
Suddenly the eldest looking man caught my eyes firmly and screamed, "NO!"
This stopped me dead in my tracks. Something in the man's voice scared me senseless. I froze where I was.
The man emerged from the water on two legs but his skin gave him away. He was an Aquatic. He walked over to me with sadness consuming his face., and gently took Fresia from my arms. It was at that moment that I realized that she had stopped shuddering and was now still.
He placed her carefully on the ground. I could see tears falling from his eyes.
I was hysterical. Why wasn’t he doing anything? I yelled at him, "She needs to get back in the water! Please!"
Calmly he replied, "It's been too long.”
I had a million questions. What does he mean it’s been too long? How did they even know to be here? Why, why wasn’t he doing anything! What broke my thoughts was Fresia sitting up with a huge start. She looked around confused.
She saw the man and said, "Papa?"
Lovingly her replied, "Hey Baby."
Fresia buried her head in her father's chest and began weeping loudly, "Papa, I'm-"
"It's alright honey."
I looked to the water's edge to what I assumed to be Fresia's family. They all looked so heartbroken.
"I know sweetie."
And then she screamed. Her family cringed and covered their ears. Two of the boys dove under the water and disappeared. Her father just bore down and held her even closer. Soon she began fighting against him. Violently. I stepped back away from them unsure of what was going on. It was strange to see this small woman almost overpowering a large man. Her father was crying uncontrollably. I looked towards the water's edge and saw that only a woman remained.
In the moment that I took to give attention to the lake, Fresia was suddenly free and running towards the water's. Her mother was screaming for her to stop. I assume she was unable to walk like her husband who was now reaching after his daughter in vain. It was incredible how fast she moved considering just a week ago she had never walked.
She reached the water's edge and hesitated for a moment before gracefully diving it. She disappeared under the water and came up just as suddenly. She had the most serene look on her face. Like someone who had been an immigrant in a foreign land for over a decade and had finally returned. I sighed in relief. Fifty percent!
I moved closer to the water's edge toward her. Why were her parents so distressed? She was fine! She was wading in the water waving me over with the most glorious look on her face. I moved about ten feet before I noticed the red blotches forming on her face. Her mother was sobbing uncontrollably and I realized her father had turned away from her.
And then she screamed another one of her terrifying blood chilling screams. She started jerking in the water. Her face was turning blue like she was choking. She grasped at her neck scratching at her skin. Her long nails were creating abrasions on her near perfect skin.
And then it just ceased. She stopped moving…and her body floated to the surface. Her mother slowly swam over to her and was clutching her body.
I tasted salt. I looked around and realized at some point I had dropped to my knees. I was crying. I quickly wiped my face on my shirtsleeve. We all just sat in silence for quiet some time. What felt like minutes I realized later was hours.
As dusk came I saw Fresia's brothers return and they tenderly sunk beneath the surface with her corpse. Her Father was sitting at the water's edge with his legs still dangling in the water, his wife between them holding him tightly.
I stared at them in wonderment. I had heard stories but an Aquatic that could willingly control his transformation from legs to fin was rare indeed. The love bursting from this couple was evident.
Guilt took over me as I realized what Fresia probably never had. They only wanted to protect her. Fresia thought her father forbade them from walking to exert control over his children. All Fresia had seen was that there were many Aquatics who lived safely on land. However there are always exceptions to the rule. What are the odds that this would happen to such an innocent heart like Fresia? The pain I felt hurt so bad I felt physically sick.
I woke in black. It was early morning, I could tell from the persist ant chirp of the crickets. I was wrapped in a thick blanket made of seaweed, which was surprisingly warm and smooth. There was a fire blazing before me and Fresia's father was sitting across me.
I sat up. The sudden recollection of what had happened earlier in the day made me feel sick again. I turned to the side and my body started heaving. But having had no food in several days there was nothing to heave.
I looked over and her Father offered me a plate that had roasted bass on it. Not my favorite fish but my stomach leapt my body towards it. I ravaged the food. Her father just sat staring at the fire.
I had to...needed to say something, "I'm sorry."
He just continued to stare at the fire. With each minute that he did not respond I felt more and more guilt consuming my heart. After at least half an hour, he spoke.
"For what exactly?"
I stopped. How in the world do you explain this? I wasn't the love of her life or even a lifelong friend. We had known each other for two weeks. Two fun and interesting weeks albeit but if it were me I knew that would never be enough of a reason to accept the death of someone I loved.
Calmly he replied, "She would've gone eventually. Be it with you or if she would’ve gone on her own. She would've gone."
I had so many burning questions. He could’ve prevented this! He could've taken his family out, shown them the world, and protected them. Why didn't he warn her of what as out there? And most importantly, why, why, why did he let her run into the Lake?
He stood and neared me holding out a sack made of tightly knit kelp. "My wife has prepared some things for you. Food, supplies. You must continue your journey young one."
I looked up at him. Did he know who I was I wondered? "Sir I...I need to..." How? How do you make up for something like this? I couldn’t finish and just hung my head.
As if he knew my hear he responded, "My dear boy. You have done nothing wrong. You are a warrior. I can see that. But the burden of a warrior is not one that always comes with a victory. You tried. We know that. But after 3 days...we knew we had lost our daughter."
Confused I looked up, "What?"
He sighed before explaining, "Transformation takes time to get used to. Our people have to acclimate ourselves slowly. And we are incredibly weak the first few times. You can only keep the legs for so long, without completely wearing yourself out. So when we noticed she was gone I checked the towns and all the ports. No word. No one had seen either of you. And then shortly after your disappearance, the talk that poachers were back in the Forest became even more daunting. I searched tirelessly. But land will always be a larger mystery to me." He sighed. I noticed he had tears streaming his face. He held guilt of this on himself as well. "So after three days we accepted we accepted she would never return to us as an Aquatic. These poachers are relentless. It’s easier to keep an Aquatic weak and willing as a human. After 5 days we accepted she would never be herself again. After a week we accepted we would never see her again."
I hung my head contemplating. This was information Fresia had not been privy to. My guilt increased as I realized she was not as prepared as she thought she was for such a change.
Her father had his hand on my shoulder. I hadn't realized he had come towards me. "We thank you for allowing us to see her again."
The large man squeezed my shoulder and then turned and walked toward the water's edge. H didn't even look back as he sunk under the water.
And suddenly I felt very alone. I had in the span of three weeks made and lost one of the best friends I had ever had.
I kicked sand on the fire and it died down. I packed up the blanket into the sack and decided to move out in the dark. I would carry the guilt of Fresia with me always. She was an innocent. I would be a warrior one day and would need to be ready to deal with this…feeling; the feeling of loss. But I wasn’t prepared for it today.
Not tomorrow, who knows what the next would bring, but …not today.
© 2012 Lovely James
Virginia Beach, VA
AboutI am an artist. I am a recent graduate with my BA in Theatre Arts. I'm married to a Navy man and I adore him. I'm a business owner. I own a small Photography Business along with my best frien.. more..