Maanta’s room in Meridia
He lay bonded to the darkness by molten chains, his arms singed and a foreign mind clawing, dragging at his soul. His stomach went clammy with blood’s pulse. Maanta was alone, not knowing where, but alone.
Then two nova white eyes glared at him, and a chill breath rippled upon his neck.
“Come to me,” the words of a foreign being scathed within his mind. “Come and be adorned.”
Maanta would not reply, could not reply.
A chain ripped through his back and ribs, catching in the boney cage. Blood spurted from the wound, and pain reverberated through the whole of him. His chest split, splattering the nova eyes with deep red blood fizzling as the two substances met.
The world faded to rippled aquatic daylight.
It was a dream. Thank Gelu, it was a dream.
Archa’s smooth gray nose bobbed Maanta’s side in anxiousness as he awakened, sending him spiraling gently to an open float amongst the cove dwelling.
Vaulting against the back shale wall, Maanta disrobed his seaweed night-sheet and swam with cupped webbed fingertips toward a collection of small fish eggs he’d gathered a few days before. They browned quickly over a cracked malta shell’s molten fluids, and would serve as a delicious daylight meal with their mesh of tangy saltiness and the sweetness of flora saps.
Archa devoured hers as Maanta scrubbed his pale body with sea salts, using his ankle fins to spin close to a suction vent in the ceiling of his cove. The vent made a humming sensation spread over his skin, as it took away all uncleanliness.
He dressed in whale leather, instructed Archa to stay put, and dipped through the window of his East Shale Wall home.
The currents caught on his webbed fingertips and sped him inwards toward Meridia’s everyday hustle and bustle. He swept past the vibrant multicolored scale-clothed merchants with their exotic fish-filled cages and sea plants of the deep and shallow depths. One of these particular plants caught his eye in the quickness of his passing. What appeared to be a hybrid plant which he had not seen before, possibly sold to the peddler by a foreign traveler, knotted its notched deep purple tentacles in Meridia’s currents.
How bizarre it was; that he had never seen any particular plant like that before? Despite all his travels...
The peddler and his unique plant passed on with the pressing currents as Maanta ducked beneath an arched coral column which connected the inner tower to The East Shale Wall. He jetted upward with tensed legs and beating ankle fins and swept through a ring of playing merchildren who were not the least bit concerned with him.
It was the bizarre and favorite game of young merchildren to curve their bodies ever so slightly and chase each other in a ring, using their wrist and ankle fins to keep up in the loop until one of the children would drift out because of the suction that it created. The ring became smaller and did so each time another child was suctioned out. Sometimes when the ring was down to two it would seem as if it was a shimmering blue orb hovering in the waters, mystically resisting the aquatic currents.
As a young Meridian, Maanta had always loved to watch. But he could never join in, as he possessed webbed fingers instead of wrist fins. This was not simply a rarity among Meridians, it was a never. Maanta felt unique to be the only such as this. Most others thought him weak and a burden to their play groups. That and many things caused him to explore alone.
Currents pushed behind him as he swept his pale, webbed fingers down towards Meridia’s potion cove in anticipation of meeting with his newfound friend, Sift, and Sift’s riding companion, Lola.
Meridians of all shapes and sizes bustled above and below. A gathering of artisans squeezed different colored inks from fish-scale tubes onto a kelp tapestry, creating a rainbow of colors depicting a molten eruption. Mer families swept past, dining upon anemone-stuffed squid tentacles as they swept into the worship cove to learn about Gelu. One rotund, opal-skinned man nearly rammed Maanta with his whale bone Noosechariot, while being pulled towards market by fanglet fish.
Maanta dove below the hollowed out bone contraption, physically pulling himself out of currents that were sucking him towards the Noosechariot’s jagged hull.
“Pesky pale child!” The hefty Meridian grunted.
The paleness of his skin, that’s all some ever saw. It haunted him, but Maanta knew there was more than milky flesh to his whole, though some never seemed to see this. It singed the soul at times but molded him to be just who he was.
That’s not true, he thought. If I were bluer, adorned with wrist fins, the things I’ve seen would not have come to my eyes and the life I’ve lived would not be mine. It’s the taunting I have to thank for my adventures throughout the depths, because without it I’d have stayed and played with others, being not this me, but more like them.
It hurt though. It always would.
Sucking water through his lungs and curling down toward the bustling labyrinth potions cove, he dove.
To find a dark-skinned man adorned in gold and scorched tattoos amongst a potions cove of opal Meridians should not be hard, he thought. While sweeping toward the jutting cove of stone, Maanta sighted what appeared to be a vast, barren space in the injured camp of Meridians.
“They’re coming to slaughter our women,” a man gargled while pivoting past Maanta away from the cove.
Maanta jutted through the depths towards the barren area, where only Sift lay hovering above a rising stone table.
“What have they done?” Maanta gasped as he reached the black skinned man.
Forbidden fluid drifted up from Sift’s open lips.
“Nothing have they done, my friend,” Sift grinned. “That’s not for lack of trying. Since morn broke neither healer nor injured has come close except to gawk at or threaten me. Noticed have I that none here have skin the coloring of mine, or yours for that matter. Probably I would think that is why. Folk fear what is not the usual.”
Then how are you healed if none would come near? Maanta wondered. Where is the gash along your shoulder? And why so alert and lively if none have come with food? I trust you, Sift, but what is it you’re hiding?
“I’m sorry,” Maanta said. “They’re so scared of anything they haven’t known before. A year back the waters became warmer in Meridea’s Koffen Caves and cavern fishers haven’t adventured close since. Tales of poisonous ink fish breeding in the caves depths, heating their currents, run wild.”
And then it happened, a beginning none foresaw but it was just that.
Waves of Meridians that were huddling away from Sift before, swept in scurrying sheets above their heads towards the iris tower of Meridia’s center, towards the hearth of Zhar Nicholea, Cardonea Tower. Whispers excitedly passed from lips and none took notice of Maanta or his companion. They were not ignoring them; only moving on as if leaving once craved minnows for larger fish, perhaps ones with a tangy zest.
“The look in their eyes, like a gossip freshly born,” Sift remarked. “Shall we see what’s whispered mongst these depths, friend of mine?”
“Sounds good to me,” Maanta replied.
“Lola!” Sift lowly bellowed her to his side. He clasped the stones on Lola’s side, hoisting himself upon her scales. Maanta, Sift and Lola swept toward the commotion gathering about Cardonea Tower.
* * *
“You must come with us to greet our visitors, Anna!” Zhar Nicholea, Meridia’s husky ruler pled with his youngest daughter. His burley crimson beard waved in the currents, pressing to his multicolored, shimmering jellyfish garments. He hovered, mid-float, between Anna’s chamber room doorway and the ornate carved windowsill she swam gently in and out of.
“Why should I?” She asked, tossing her arms. “You don’t know these men except that they say they’re a lost race of our ancestors. Why must you always flaunt me like a chest of gems? I’m not Zharista. I don’t want royalty. I don’t want power. I want to be left to live the life of normal Meridians.”
He moved slowly through the chamber until they were close, then touched his large, callused hands softly to her rich, blue cheeks, looking deep into her emerald eyes.
“You are like rippling light in night’s waters to me, daughter,” he said softly, touched with love. “I ask you to come because your warmth brings a clearness of mind and heart to me when I need it the most. Your mother, brother, sisters and you are what gives me strength to not fall into the jaded traps of others, and to do what’s right for our kingdom. It is not for these men I ask you to come with me. It is for me.”
Tears built in her eyes as he swam from the room, shutting the doorway gently behind him with his massive hands.
Yes, mer people cry too. But their tears cannot be seen and drift into the waters where none will know they ever were. It’s just a feeling swelling in their eyes as the currents ripple in.
She knew he’d understand; that she didn’t want to file out in gaudy revelry to meet the visitors. Part of her did want to go, of course, so that she could be there by his side.
But a strength inside her would not give in. That strength insisted she was right, though she knew it was wrong.
Anna hovered parallel to the window sill, awaiting her family’s royal glide to meet the visitors along Meridia’s outer rim, watching for her father.
* * *
“What’s going on?” Maanta asked, not really expecting an answer, as they pressed through crowds of Meridians engulfing Cardonea Tower in a sphere of befuddlement. Not a sole so much as glanced at Maanta and his companions. They were clamoring towards something close to Meridia’s front opening, a rather large crevice separating the East and West Shale walls.
Maanta was forced to squeeze past a man’s rotund belly above, a woman’s sleek back below, through a mother and her five whining children arguing and hovering together and various other things before seeing what the city had scuttled together to witness.
Cardonea’s gargantuan stone drawbridge boomed down upon the ocean floor; the seeweed draping it waving and swirling through the waters. Normally, most Meridians used windows to enter and leave the tower; giving the thick foliage a chance to grow.
Sands whipped up around the fallen stone and swept inwards toward the tower. Then a man, his wife, their son and two of their daughters, surrounded by eight hulking Meridian guardsmen, drifted slowly through the swirling sands towards the distant wall’s crevice. The guards bore armor shaped from giant emerald-crab shells, wielding emerald spheres and shield stones that depicted Gelu’s creation of the upper world. It was a symbolic waltz of pride.
Nicholea’s enormous guards parted the murmuring crowd with stern fists the size of the Zhar’s own head. The seriousness imbedded upon their leader’s deep blue cheeks and eyes rippled an awakening consciousness within the Meridians, a mutual inward knowledge that their Zhar, with his usual serious and gently kind demeanor, was troubled by something this day he had awoken to.
* * *
Just that morning as the light shown down from the ocean’s crest, Nicholea awoke to a messenger boy from a place beyond Meridia’s sands. The Zhar’s two personal guardsmen swept through his bedchamber entrance, the thin youthful arms of the boy clasped in their fists. But it wasn’t the boy’s arms, lips, head or torso which caught Nichalea’s waterbreath to his throat. It was the fin flapping below the boy’s waist. Meridians weren’t built like this. Any normal Meridian boy coming with message would be directed to the waiting halls for attention after morning’s meal, but because of the boy’s uniqueness he was brought directly to the Zhar’s attention. What was this boy? Where were his legs and leg fins?
“Release me at once,” the boy demanded of the guards, his tense, red eyes fixed on the Zhar. “Be you the leader of these lands?”
The guards hovered, still as floating columns.
“Where are your legs boy?” Nicholea questioned, Zharista Alexandra gently awakening beside him.
“Master Evanshade requests an audience outside the city walls as the midday comes, with news of a race separated from yours years before now. Let me loose or his kindness will turn sour once I tell him of how you’ve held his own Master’s son hostage.” Jagged teeth twisted between the boy’s lips as churning heat lit within his eyes. “I am Venge. I bring greetings from the sands of Sangfoul.”
“Does this Evanshade come in friendship or with destruction?”
“He comes with desire to retwine the friendship of our race’s lost ancestors, a true waste of time.”
At this, the guards simultaneously tightened their grip and the boy cursed staggeringly, blood drifting from his lower lip as he bit it in rage.
“Let him go,” Nicholea quickly said. “I’ll meet this Evanshade. Venge, I apologize for any disservice you feel you’ve been given. I am excited to learn of our brethren race.”
Venge cringed at the apology, was escorted by the guards beyond Cardonea Tower and swam, swiftly beating his tailfin, beyond Meridea’s walls.
* * *
“Is there wisdom in meeting a man who leads such an indignant boy, out beyond Meridia’s walls with only friendship on the mind?” Alexandra drifted towards Nicholea as the procession neared the meeting of the East and West Shale walls, the outskirts of Meridia City. Her curly red hair flowed up and down in the currents, patting the tiny gems glimmering about her pastel pearl dress.
“Truly there is not, my love, but would there not be less wisdom in not meeting with such a man and leaving all that is unknown to remain unknown? I will not let harm befall you, our son or our daughters. Our guards and Gelu protect us, Meridia’s outersands are ours too and not so large a troop could enter them without our knowing. These men we meet surely would not be enough to harm us, be their intentions malice.”
“Greetings,” a voice then bellowed from beyond the shale walls, “from Sangfoul. I am Evanshade of the guard of Sangfoul and servant of the Lord of the depths.
Three foreign men drifted in the currents before all Meridia, silver fish swirling before them, strapped in black and crimson hued whale hides. Pale, blue-skinned Venge beat his fin on the left, another blue-skinned man swam to the right and a black skinned man, draped with pointed teeth, floated between the two. This third was Evanshade. Fins pulsed where legs would normally be.
Nicholea had heard of black men beyond his waters but had never seen one before. Until now he was unsure he even believed in such a thing...
With this newness, Evanshade’s warm, mocha eyes looked into the Zhar’s own, and a smile on the man’s lips brought a trust into Nicholea. For Evanshade was a man to whom women found instant attraction and men found instant trust. Venge might be the wickedest youth in all the world’s waters, but Nicholea saw something in Evanshade he connected with, a sort of seemingly gentle passion resting in his eyes.
“I am Nicholea, Meridia’s Zhar, and this is my Zharista Alexandra, our son Ailoo and daughters Psyol and Lilya. We welcome you to Meridia with many curiosities of your race.”
Nicholea’s fins pulsed in the currents, drifting him close enough to touch Evanshade. The men of Sangfoul hovered still in the waters, and with the extension of the Zhar’s massive yet gentle right hand, Evanshade and Nicholea shook.
“Tonight we shall feast in honor of the re-meeting of two brother races and talk much of our loves, passions and livelihoods Evanshade of Sangfoul. We shall revel and toast to new friendship. Come, to Cardonea Tower.”
“Agreed. There is much about these waters I am curious to learn, my friend.”
The two parties wove together as one as they swam in the depths through a murmuring wall of Meridians toward Cardonea Tower and its shimmering, reflecting, spherical rise. The goliath-like guards pushed back the hovering crowds for the royal family’s protection as they swam.
High above in the tower Anna watched as her father came home, wondering who these half men, half fish beings were and what, if anything, they would come to mean to her life. A certain shame rippled through her because she had been so stubborn with her father about meeting the strangers. If the visitors remained in the tower as night came, she decided she would welcome them and apologize to her father.
* * *
Maanta heard a gruff rumble behind him as the procession neared. It was Sift, and he clasped a fist over Maanta’s shoulder and dragged him backwards through the crowd. The boy’s ears were battered by the collage of Meridians around him, being clipped and squeezed between them.
The crowd, after being hit first by Sift and then rammed by Maanta against his will, was torn about whether to look at the two’s bizarre retreat or the procession of newcomers before them.
“…rumors…the time…too soon…enslaved…no…too soon…,” Maanta caught Sift babbling, but then his neck was twisted awkwardly around as the left side of his skull pounded against a hovering whale-bone chariot. His body was ripped from Sift’s graspand he swung beneath the chariot, scattering the shimmering fish which had been carrying the vessel through the waters.
Maanta’s merbody sunk, with the chariot above it crashing down toward him.
“A boy’s trapped below that cart,” someone in the gathering bellowed out. Others followed suit. A few in the mass dove down to try and save him.
Sift’s wrist and arm fins beat rapidly in the waters as he struggled to catch up. Water pressed his chest, as if attempting to weight him upwards as he swam. And in the corner of his eye he saw something glistening like a scale covered harpoon, jutting toward the cragged sands where Maanta would hit. The thing’s back half beat through the waters, leaving a rippling effect behind as it went.
A humming sound resonated as the thing swept beneath the chariot, its back half bumping swiftly against the vessel’s bottom.
Sift realized what it was, who the man was as it pulsed toward him swifter than any man of his race swam. His eyes locked with Evanshade’s stern, deep, peaceful eyes and recognized the fanged teeth worn across the man’s necklace as he clasped the pale boy tightly in his arms. Something in Evanshade’s face changed as the two men passed in the waters. It was a dark look of recognition before peacefulness retook his eyes.
The two knew each other from some place, some time, but here amongst the crowd both men knew nothing could be said or done. Like opposing magnetic fields their souls burned, separating them in opposite directions.
Sift swam quickly toward and amongst The East Shale Wall’s darkened coves to bide his time.
Pockets of the crowd warmly cheered Evanshade as he returned to the Zhar’s party with the pale Maanta resting limp in his arms.