Sani and I spent the next few days swimming around the Gulf, and he was delighted to show off the multitude of forms he could shift into. There were times when he would change while my back was turned, and he would surprise me with his new shape.
About a week after he arrived on the Tide, we were out for a swim, and he took the form of a thresher shark. His tail was long and sleek, the crack it sent through a school of fish incredible. That man never did anything if he could not be the best at it. I stifled a giggle before joining him in the hunt, or at least, I thought I was going to join him.
I angled my body toward the school of fish Sani was entertaining, but when I moved, it was in the opposite direction, toward the sea floor. I was not worried. This section of the Gulf was still within my dive depth zone, but when I flattened out and began heading toward the oil rig nearby, I tried to stop. How could I be so stupid!?
I had no control, though, and I was honestly amazed I had kept my sanity and mind about me while this was going on. I would never have come back here if it was not for the fact that someone else was driving this excursion.
This was the rig, or at least the legs of it, that destroyed much of the Gulf over ten years ago. This is where my family ended. If I could have stopped, I would have, but in the distance, I saw a pearly bioluminescent glow. I did not realize that anything lived here, not since then.
Of course, the merfolk would have moved in. They loved abandoned places. This place was not only abandoned, the ghosts of my past haunted it. I could still feel the oil coating my scales, the heat from the fire, and the stench of burning flesh once my nose broke the surface.
The burning flesh of my family.
I sank, straight to the bottom, shifting without comprehension as I fell. The pressure of the sea floor nearly broke me until I felt cold hands envelop me. A calming sensation wound its way through my soul, and I lay limp in this odd embrace. I could not move, could barely breathe, and far in the distance, I barely made out the shape of a shark approaching me at top speed.
“That one seems to follow you. Do you know it?” the voice behind me asked. I felt a barrier as I hung limp in those strong arms. Air filled my lungs, and I inhaled deeply. There was a briny taste to it that made perfect sense as I was in an air bubble beneath the surface.
I looked around, dazed and confused, trying to focus my eyes. A strange woman with a beautiful pearl necklace sat on a chair nearby.
“That thresher shark seems to be with you. Perhaps I should let it in?” I nodded slowly, attempting to focus on what was going on.
“Val!” a male voice called out to me, and I barely recognized Sani’s features as he changed back to his human form.
“I cannot be here, Sani. We need to leave,” I whispered, my voice hoarser than I ever remembered hearing. I clung to him, my body shaking, and he held me.
“What’s wrong, Val? I’ve never seen you act like this. Was it, is it, him?”
The question reminded me of my demon problem, and I shook my head. “No, it cannot be. This is,” I looked up at him, remembering the conversation from the other night, “my father’s grave.”
Sani blanched and picked me up.
“Thank you for saving her, but we need to leave,” he said, turning to the woman.
“She cannot leave, not while that ruby is glowing.” Sani and I looked down at the pendant around my neck, and something in me clicked. I rolled out of Sani’s arms and landed on the floor. Floor? I finally took in my surroundings, my head clearing. We were in a small room, illuminated by the glow of bioluminescent algae coating the walls and floor. It provided enough light to see but not enough to attract unwanted attention. It was a bedroom, and there was not much else.
“I will be taking that pearl, Moriah,” I said confidently and strode forward. I heard mumbling behind me and felt hands trying to hold me back, but I did not care. This was what brought me here.
“How do you know my name? What affinity do you have with that demon?” she demanded, backing up against the wall.
“I know not of any demon, but I was tasked with collecting the pearl that a mermaid named Moriah wears around her neck. My ruby would glow in its presence. It could only be you.”
I lashed out and clasped the mermaid by her throat, grinning madly up at her. She was tall, lithe, and built for swimming and escaping fast prey. But I was faster.
“You cannot take it, child. It will be your doom!” she cried as I ripped the pearl from the necklace. The rest of the pearls scattered around the room, and I smiled, happy at the near completion of my task. “If you take it, you will forever be the property of the demon. That was my penance too!”
“I am already doomed. And he is not so bad,” I cocked my head to the side, wild in eye and erratic in behaviour, “after all, he is my Master.”
Without warning, I snapped the neck of the flailing mermaid. As she died, the barrier disintegrated, and I shifted effortlessly back into my other form. I began my upward trek to the surface as awareness followed by despair descended upon me.
I broke the surface at the Spring Tide and wailed, knowing exactly what I had just done and why. I crawled limply onto the aft of the little boat, and Sani swam up beside me, still in the water but in human form.
“Val, what did you just do?” he asked incredulously.
I pulled my knees up to my chest, unable to let go of the damned pearl in my hand. “I murdered an innocent for a demon.”