169 The Stranger in the Depths*
Lua peaked over the coral towards the patrol guards at the edge of the city. Lia, her twin, tugged at her fin to pull her back down.
"This is a bad idea," Lia insisted through their mental link, her large eyes wide with nervousness, "If we're caught-"
Lua grinned, "You're always such a spoil sport, Lia. If you stop being so skittish, we won't get caught".
Lua grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her forward to the edge of the reef. She peaked out past the edge towards the guards, then turned to spot the pod of whales making their way past the reef.
"Get ready," Lua smiled.
Lua jetted out from the reef, pulling her anxious sister along with her until they were among the pod of whales, bypassing the guards on the way down towards the depths.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Lia asked, "You always say that the shipwrecks are interesting, but we never find anything there that we haven't seen before. The human world is so boring".
"The reports say that at least one of them was a pirate ship! There's sure to be some treasure there," Lua grinned.
She'd heard the patrol report a fight on the surface between a merchant ship and several pirate ships. With this wreck still being fresh, she was bound to find something good.
"Pirates?" asked Lia, "Lua, you know that we're supposed to stay away from Pirates".
"Lia, I doubt there will be any live pirates at the bottom of the ocean," Lua rolled her eyes.
The two swam on, their blue Life Lines shimmering with their scales. Lua's scales were a deep blue, contrasting greatly with the smooth, pale skin on her stomach, palms and face. Lia's were a pale purple, reminiscent of her soft and kind disposition.
The two swam with the pod of whales towards the west, then, after a few minutes, paused to watch as some of the lighter debris finished falling to the ocean floor.
"See, I told you it was fresh!" said Lua excitedly. She made to dive down, only to have Lia grab her hand, "What?"
Lia pointed towards the dark chasm nearby. The wreck had fallen on the edge of the deep crevice, a place where only the braver merpeople ventured, but there, floating listlessly, was the figure of a pale man in black. Considering there were many other bodies of human men floating about, Lua was inclined to ignore it.
However, as his shirt lifted up in the weightlessness of the ocean, it exposed something that was absolutely not human.
"Are those…black Life Lines?" asked Lia.
The two had never seen black Life Lines before. A human Magician's Life Lines were silver or white. Elves had green, Merpeople had blue, Dwarves, brown. But black?
Lua swam over, catching his body lightly and directing it over to the edge of the chasm, she unceremoniously flipped him over and pulled up his shirt to expose the Life Lines. She didn't touch them, such a thing was taboo to any race, but as she hovered her finger over them and tried to read them, she found herself falling short. Lia, who had approached cautiously with her hands clasped before her, looked at her sister in confusion.
"I can't read them," Lia admitted.
"Neither can I," Lua replied, "They look so…wrong".
Lia nodded in agreement, "Lua, maybe we should just leave him and pretend we didn't see-"
Lia paused, looking towards the distant west in surprise.
"What's that?" asked Lia.
"Quick, hide!" said Lua.
Their Life Lines glowed as they pulled on the water around them. The water swirled to cover them and the unknown man before it appeared to all the world like they had never been there, like they didn't exist.
A dark, ink-like existence shot to the top of the crevice, and there, among the darkness, was the shape of a woman. A Magician by the looks of her.
She spun around in panic, looking for something, then her ink spread out dying the world in darkness. Lia and Lua froze in fear. They'd never seen or heard of a Magician with this capability before.
After a moment, the ink retreated, and the woman appeared enraged before she shot back towards the west. It took another few minutes before Lua and Lia felt safe enough to release their influence on the water, their eyes glued to the far west.
"Okay, I think we should really go back now, Lua".
Lia sighed as she looked up at her sister, releasing the man's shirt and flipping him back over, "But this is a really important discovery! If we could take him to the elders, then we could-"
Lua froze as her hand fell on the chest of the man, and unbelievably, she felt a heartbeat. A single heartbeat, but it was clear. Lua's gaze snapped down to the man, "He's still alive".
"What?" asked Lia, moving forward.
"I felt a heartbeat," Lua insisted.
Lia moved forward and placed a hand beside her sister's. They waited for a moment, but felt nothing. Lia sighed, "Maybe you-"
Lia's eyes widened as she snatched her hand back, "How in the depths is he still alive?"
Lua looked up at her sister, "Do you think we should take him back now?"
Lia thought for a moment. About the Magician in the ink and the man before her with black Life Lines. This had happened near her people's home. Even if it brought trouble, it was trouble they should be prepared for.
"Fine," Lia said, "But you're taking the blame".
Lua rolled her eyes, "Please, you practically begged me to take you out".
The two young mermaids each grabbed a hand and dragged the man through the water back towards the east, arguing the whole way.
Meanwhile, in the depths of that body's soul, Rassa floated in the nothingness. He could not help but sigh now that he was all alone without connection to the outside world. Victor had told him that the sub-death was a way for Vampires to sleep, and had implied that it occurred when they starved. Clearly, that was not the only way to fall into the sub-death.
He'd been drowning when his survival instincts had reared up, determined to make a meal out of the Inktress so he could gather enough power to rise back to the surface. Then, he'd found himself here. At first he thought he was dead, but after feeling the familiar environment, he realised the truth of it. He was stuck in the sub-death until someone gave him blood, either purposefully or accidentally. Whether he'd been starving or not on the way in, that was the only way Rassa knew he could come out of the sub-death. Even if he could come out merely by having the water expelled from his lungs, that wasn't bound to happen any time soon. He'd been in the middle of Whaler's Strait, and deep down from his understanding. Even if the currents eventually took him to land, by then he'd be starving, especially considering his energy was no doubt being used to maintain his body at this stage.
Rassa sighed in disappointment. He'd failed his friends. Failed them monstrously. If only he'd been more confident in his abilities. In his powers. He'd had the power to decimate those ships, yet he'd been too overconfident, too arrogant.
No. He'd been neither of those. All he'd been was scared. Scared of what he'd become and what people would see him as.
He did not belong in this world. Him or his abilities. He was a monster, and despite their faith in him, Rassa knew that Aegin and Ebony had never seen Rassa step over the line. Had never seen him and what he could truly be. They'd seen glimpses perhaps. In the mines at Jerrica and at Fountain Ridge on the night he was Unsealed. But he'd been placid since then. Tame. No doubt he'd given them a false sense of security.
It would have been better if he'd never met them. If he'd never put their lives in any kind of danger. If he'd never taken responsibility for them when he couldn't even protect himself.
It would have been better if he'd just stayed that innocent little boy who chased rabbits with the other kids in Cordon. What had this darkness brought him that was any good anyway?