Chapter 64: Lost In Shadow
“No… No…!” Merrick gasps slight in fear as his squinted eyes can see a part of the sun disappearing into the blue sky, “I can’t be… The Land Father’s slumber. That’s today??” Merrick clenches his eyes shut as he pushes his legs to stand, “Agghhhh,” He grunts deeply as he barely made it to his feet.
“What…” Every muscle in his body is so very weak, he feels like a bag full of lazy sea slugs. “What’s going on…?” He groans, “What’s happening to me?” His brain is so very hazy, he can barely even think, like when Yuri comes home sometimes from the hospital, and she passes out on the couch when she’s not ambitious enough for her room.
“Is the Black Sun already changing me??” Merrick asked with a spark of panic in his voice, but takes a second to look forward, “No… No, I don’t believe that. It has to be in the shadow of the Land Father. This is something else. Maybe…” He huffs, and succumbs to a yawn, “Ugh, maybe it has something to do with this weird smell in the air…”
Merrick groans as he pushes through, and goes to Arnaav. He drops to his knees and puts his hands on the boy’s soft arms, “Arnaav!” He can’t even gather the strength to raise is voice, “Arnaav, wake up, now.” He pushes and shoves him back and forth, “We need to get into the sea. Now.”
“Nnngghhh,” Arnaav rolls onto his back, still dozing soundly in the hot light.
“Dammit, where’s all the energy kids are supposed to have?” Merrick winced. He reluctantly slapped Arnaav’s face, “Arnaav! Wake up!”
“Rrrhhhh!” Arnaav growled in anger before turning to his side, and quickly calming right back down in his sleep.
“For fuck’s sake, no…” Merrick cursed. He grunts as he pushes himself up, and quickly walks off.
He hisses as his feet feel the burning bite of the hot shells. From what he can imagine, he suspects that he and Arnaav are on top of pile of dead Shens – giant clams – or even the discarded homes of rare Goliath Hermits. Either way, he needs to find a way out of this mountain, and fast!
With Ebba at the very front of the pod, instead of her usual position in the center, the pod follows her lead in a faster pace than usual. Noita Vanora can feel the Land Father fading quickly into sleep, and as proof, the pod is already under the vast shadow, still safe within the sea.
“Mother, is there no way to conjure clouds from the sky?” Adra Nerissa asked, “If we can bring rain, the sun’s shadow will be covered.”
“If I knew how to summon a storm, I would have done so long ago,” Vanora says, “I have a distinct inkling on how to call for a storm, but to figure it out, I would need time to feel and see the sky, especially during a storm itself, but during a Black Sun is far too much of a risk. Especially now, when I am not at my most powerful.”
“Hmmnnn…” Samudra leers forward. He really doesn’t like this feeling he has, “Do you still feel them, Razirah Ebba?”
“Yes… And I am beginning to dread the possible destination.”
“Hennhh, dammit…” Merrick groans as he trots sloppily along the shell. He coughs slightly from the very strange stench in the air. It’s so thick, like an invisible fog, it’s like he’s walking through foam that he can’t see.
He stumbles onward, and plants his hands onto a large, curved shell. He squints his eyes as he looks up, and realizes that it’s no where near big enough for him to soundly climb on.
“Fuck…” He mumbles as he strides sideways, and jumps up to attempt toe climb over the slant of the shell, “AHH! OwwfffUCK!” He yells as the shell burns his pecs and abs. Merrick hisses harshly as he holds himself for several seconds, before pushing himself back up.
The three leaders of the pod make haste in the sea, swimming as fast as they can to rescue the two missing boys.
“HALT!” Samudra calls out. The pod immediate complies, and stops their movement.
“No… It is just as we feared…” Ebba said.
They look upon the vast mountain of giant shells. The Sazae Graveyard.
Sazae, enormous sea snails that are large enough to be their own island if they were able to float to the surface. Though extremely sloth and docile, they are also extremely poisonous, though not in the conventional sense. While their poison will never kill anything, getting too close to one will induce a comatose state, or at the very least a deep sleep, if one were so lucky. Sazaes are attracted to the smell of their own kind, and often are seen with couplings of two or three. When they reach a great age – typically around 50-60 years, or in rare cases over 100 years – they become even more allured and keen to the scent of dead Sazaes, and eventually die just when they come to a collection of Sazae shells. While not as lethal as when they were alive, their carcasses still dissolve after death, and stain their shells and the surroundings with a sleep-inducing substance. Only merfolk with a strong constitution and metabolism, or else Tritons, Noitas, Adras, and Razirahs, can last longer than most other merfolk.
“They are here.” Razirah Ebba stated.
“Alright. Hurry and locate them. It is not safe for the pod even at this distance.”
“Yes.” Ebba closes her eyes, and focuses her mental ties to the others that are not within the current company of the pod.
Merrick pants as he tries to maintain is dying focus. The whole world looks so blurry in his exasperated eyes. His eyes are so sore, he just wants to close them so they would stop itching, but Arnaav is depending on him!
His head turns, and he lets out a shriek as he fall backwards, scooting hastily away. He was JUST an inch away from touching the enormous shadow!
“No, come one…” His voice shakes as he whimpers, “No, please no.” He pleaded with his wavering voice. The humanized Piscien pushes his legs so hard to get himself up. With strained effort, he runs as best as he can on the hot shell trap that he is surrounded. From what very little he can see, it’s like they’re fenced in by huge white objects.
“Ah! Enngghh!” He trips over a hard protrusion on his foot. He whines in pain as he grabs and presses his foot, clenching his eyes shut to-
“NO!” Merrick rushes back up and tries with all his might to keep going. “Eyes open! Fucking… Eyes open!”
He continues to push himself forward, desperate to find a way off of this damned fortress.
Nerissa holds onto a human-made spear. Half of it is a thin but strong and smooth wooden shaft, and the other half made of polished metal.
“This is Merrick’s weapon. It was found over by there,” She turns and points to the shapeless mass over a large tail.
“Father,” Adra Hecalt tugged on Samudra’s arm, “What is that?”
“What is left of a Sazae and a Scylla.” He answered, “It seems like the Scylla had somehow clashed with the Graveyard, and a dying Sazae just swallowed it down… Mostly.”
“That explains where it went. It must have chased Merrick and Arnaav to the Graveyard.”
“Then why would he not diverge elsewhere?” Samudra pondered, “Does he not know the dangers of the Sazae?”
“Perhaps he truly was never informed of it.” Vanora said, “After all, I was not aware of the Black Sun until one or two years before I met you.”
“Agghh,” Samudra frets as he turns to the Amnien Razirah, “Please, Ebba, could they not be anywhere else??”
“…” Ebba’s brow remains furrowed, “No. I feel their links elevated above. They are either caged within the middle of the shells, or they somehow navigated above the surface.”
“By the depths…” Samudra groans.
“I might be able to rise the tide in order to engulf the whole Graveyard,” Vanora says, “But I will need you help, Daughter.”
“My help? But why?” Nerissa inquired, “Surely you are powerful enough for this, Mother.”
“Ordinarily, yes. But the darkness from the Black Sun interferes with the abilities of Noita and Triton of any pod.”
“What?” Samudra turned his head, “How does that work?”
“I do not know. But I did mention that I am not at my most powerful at this moment.”
“I thought that was because you overused your healing abilities.”
“No. Noitas should be able to give more power.” Vanora stated, “But the Black Sun suppresses merfolk as a whole.”
“Right then. Let us begin.” Nerissa comes up, ready to act.
“Agreed. We are rising the tide.”
The two mermaids swim up higher than the pod, and stop when they were above the median spot between the top and bottom. Closing their eyes, they summon hither the imbued blessing of the Sea Mother to bid the waters around them.
Their power feels grainy, distorted by a sense of black and yellow; such is the effects of the Black Sun imposing itself on their power. It’s aggravatingly elusive to grasp at the proper amount of energy to spread control over their own surrounds.
With both of the mermaids’ hands glowing a finicky aura, they raise their arms up, and the surrounding ocean pulls from its vast form, and gives a minor fraction of itself to rise the tide.
Merrick whines and huffs deeply as he can barely keep on his feet anymore. He has looked over onto every part of this God-forsaken island of blazing bleach white, but everywhere he goes shows that there is no promising lead to freedom. He doesn’t have enough strength to possibly climb over any of the burning shells, let alone having to carry Arnaav away from this place.
His hands slap onto a shadow of another shell. He can barely keep himself up… Red blotches and scraps litter his feet, legs, and hands. This is just like when he was locked up in the Agency. He grits his teeth as he is reminded how he had to endure that, and God knows just how long this is going to last.
As Merrick tries with little success to gather any more promise of strength, he is far too away to hear the distant hissing of oven-roasting shells being covered by cold seawater.
Vanora and Nerissa grunt as they gracefully move their arms in Tai-Chi like movements, bidding and willing the sea to rise further up and up, but with little success. They’re only able to lift the surface by about 7 ft deep put together.
They stop their enchantment as they realize their limit, unable to give any viable reach to the mountain above. “It is no use. The Black Sun is severely limiting our power.” The two of them turn back and swim down to the pod. Triton Samudra coughs as he pounds his heavy fist to his chest, clenching his eyes as he tries to manhandle his neck in a way to perhaps straighten his throat, “Samudra. Can you recall Guardian Kraken from the depths? Perhaps it can shift some of the shells.”
“I have been trying, but I cannot seem to muster the inner resonance inside me to prepare the call. Neither can Son.” He mentioned while Adra Hecalt pouts.
“Perhaps he is too young and you have already used up your strength for it?”
“No Triton is too young to call the Guardians, and I should not be having this much trouble to call the Guardian. It appears the Black Sun really is straining us.”
“What are we going to do?!” Nerissa panics, “We have lost too many on this sun!”
“Then I shall go.” Samudra said, “If Merrick has not managed to venture the both of them off of the Graveyard, then I shall retrieve them.”
“Samudra, no!” Vanora puts a harsh hand onto her lover’s arm, “The sun is almost completely bathed in darkness! If you go now, you will forever change! As tragic as it has been, we cannot lose you too!”
“I am a Triton!” He scowled, “I am aged and stronger, and I can move swiftly to find them!”
“Not when you are still recovering!” Vanora argued, “We will find another way!”
“There are no more paths!” Samudra bellowed back, “You know better than I that there is no time left! It is either I, or two innocents who have yet to live their lives!”
“There is always another way!” Vanora shouted. The pod watches as their two great leaders fight, like a clan of children watching their parents have a row, “And I told you NEVER to sound your voice to me like that!”
“You are not making this easier, Vanora!” The Triton snarled, “This is wasting time, I am going!”
“I will sooner see you-”
Everyone flinches as a shrill cry roars around them. They cringe and writhe for a very brief moment, before the chilling shrieking stopped, all of them soon realizing that the sudden, ear-ripping alarm is coming from little Hecalt.
The tiny Adra Triton looks at them with his harmless eyes, before swimming upward onto his sibling’s head, putting his chin on top, “Sister wants to speak.” His meek, playful voice answers the stunned silence, as if he did not just make everyone’s heads ring like a dozen inner bells, with the Adra Noita looking content with the medium to bring about silence.
“If I may interject,” Nerissa said, “Another pod is right behind us.”
They all turned right around, and gap as they did indeed see a new, bigger gathering of merfolk before them. Leading the pod is a sunset orange, slim-built octopus mermaid adorned with glimmering oyster shells tied around her arms, and a tiara of bulky sea glass around her head, along with a large, black and white sea turtle merman, with four old gashes on his shell, a shock of spiral shells along both wrists and ankles. Beside either of them is a bright yellow sea turtle merman, and a mid-night colored octopus mermaid, both looking like young adults beside their parents. It’s a pod mostly composed of sea turtle merfolk, with a few variations of other Holsiens.
Strangely enough, this pod is approaching the Kenovani, even though one could spot a black symbol on any area of the rogues. Samudra swims up just as the other merfolk come.
“You…” The black and white Triton spoke, with stunned amazement, “You are alive. Brother…”
Merrick and feels tears dripping from his eyes, dotting the shell he is crawling upon, and soon evaporating away. He sees the small tan boy that he arrived with, still sleeping in the blazing heat.
There is no way out. He and Arnaav are stuck here… He couldn’t protect Arnaav… Now he will never return to Adam…
The Black Sun is going to be upon them at literally any minute. He doesn’t even have to turn his head to realize that the shadow is just a couple of feet away from him.
Merrick grunts as he looks up after hearing a weird buzzing sound. “AAHHH! Hoh, haahhhh!” He yelps and stumbles as he sees a huge insect flying near him. Its wings are a pair of blurs as it looks at him with huge rubies for eyes. The grotesque bug doesn’t come near Merrick, or go away. Merrick doesn’t even notice the string of small coral twigs being worn around the insect’s shiny purple body.
With what little strength he can muster, Merrick pushes himself over to Arnaav, and tucks his arm under the sleeping kid, and positioned his body protectively over the otter-boy. He can’t imagine he’s putting a very intimidating display, but nevertheless, Merrick leers at the bug, prepared to give himself rather than let this overgrown gnat attack them.
The large, jewel-like wasp bug whips around, and flies away in a straight line away from them. Merrick sighs in relief, before taking a few deep breaths, and tucks his arm more collectively under Arnaav.
His best guess, maybe if he and Arnaav can find a big enough shadow, maybe that can shield them from the Black Sun. It’s a long shot, but he has to try.
Except the map in his head keeps erasing, preventing him from remembering just how much of this tiny desert he has explored.
“Brother?” Nerissa pondered as she watched her father and the new merman stare at each other.
“What, Sister?” Hecalt asked as he looked down from being perched on Nerissa’s head.
“I- No, not you. That merman just called Father his ‘Brother’.”
“By the Waves of Fate… I suppose it is true then.” Vanora said. Nerissa turns her head to her parent.
“I do not understand at all. What is happening?”
“You know that merfolk find it difficult to breed, right, Daughter?”
“Though two births are always a life-bound promise for Noitas and Tritons. However, your Father’s case is very rare.”
“When Samudra was born, he was accompanied by another. That Triton talking to him is called Olaroc, and he is Samudra’s twin brother.”
“What?! But that is impossible!” Nerissa proclaimed, “How can a Noita and a Triton have THREE children?”
“To be completely honest,” Vanora crosses her arms, “I have never believed Samudra had a brother myself. I thought he was either half crazy with loneliness or just trying to follow through with a pointless joke… Until now, that is. It seems that this Olaroc is indeed real.”
“Then how did succession happen?” Nerissa asked, “If there are two Adra Tritons in a pod, how did they decide?”
“Samudra was the first born, so his parents gave him the rights of leadership – Olaroc was trained beside his brother out of formality, but they never intended that he would assume leadership over their pod. Samudra said his brother found his mate a long time before he was banished.”
“Then does that mean Olaroc’s mate became a Noita, even if Father was supposed to succeed the pod?”
“Yes. That made their relationship difficult to cope with – mostly because Samudra felt jealous and guilt for not finding his mate before he was exiled.”
“The pod looks well…” Samudra said, “So Father and Mother are…”
“Yes…” Olaroc nods, “They are no longer of this life, and are now in the Shores of Light.”
“How are you alive, after all of this time?” Olaroc says with a gleeful smile, “I thought you have-”
“We must talk later,” Samudra cut him off, “I need your help, Brother.” Olaroc blinks with curiosity.
“Allow me to explain, and please comply with me – we do not have any time.” He brought his arm out to gesture to the Kenovani, “As you can see, I have my own pod.” He turns back to look at him, “They are all Coshitons – we are a pod who does not exist. But we still live, and we thrive together.
“A Black Sun is upon us.” Samudra continued, “Two of our own are trapped above the surface, on the top of this Sazae Graveyard. We are trying to raise the tide so that we may swim to them, and get them back.”
“…” Noita Shazde peers her eyes on the surface. She can feel an aura that is very familiar. Her glance goes to her son, Adra Komeko, and then she gasps, her mind almost instantly making a connection.
“The Black Sun is interfering with my mate’s power, even with my Daughter amplifying with her, we cannot bring the tide high enough-”
“One of these merfolk,” Noita Shazde interrupted, before turning her gaze to Samudra, “It does not happen to be a Navyn Tail merman named Merrick, would it?”
Samudra’s eyes widened with astonishment, “Y-Yes. How did you know?”
“Wait, Merrick?” Adra Komeko spoke up, “He is here??”
“Adra Merrick and my Son were friends.” Olaroc stated.
“ARE,” Samudra corrected, “Friends. He is still alive…” Samudra gives his brother a pleading look, “I beg you, Brother…” His heart tightens with suspence and grief, “Merrick has suffered far more than you can imagine – while on land, he has endured much anguish. And a meryin is with him - they are stranded together, an infant that still has yet to live his own life.”
“Brother…” Olaroc said, “You know you are Coshiton… Your existence is forfeit. You do not even have the right to speak with me…” He said.
“Brother!” Samudra feels a wave of anger hit him, “I cannot-”
“But we have EVERY right,” Olaroc interrupted, “To acknowledge and speak with you.” He chuckles as he sees he has successfully confused his sibling, “Besides, while you were making a case that you did not need,” He turns to the right, and so does Samudra, to see Noita Shazde, and Adra Bauru focusing their powers into their arms and hands, far away from Noita Vanora and Adra Nerissa as they performed the very same technique, to feel and push the waters of the sea upward.
Merrick shakes with fatigue as he carries Arnaav in his arms. He is so, very, extremely, drop-dead tired. It’s only by sheer willpower that he’s been able to last this long, though he knows the clock is ticking.
He can only see with his eyes barely keeping open just enough to see where his feet is going, unable to focus ahead to look for shades.
In the air, comes buzzing the same giant insect as before. Following him is a strange formation of pelicans, at least ten large birds, each with their bills bulging and swaying, almost too heavy to keep themselves flying.
A very low frequency of noises were being emitted from the insect, before it and the birds flew down. The pelicans perch onto the hot shells as the buzzing creature dived and zoomed around.
Merrick groans as he falls to his knees, hearing the strange bug buzz sharply around him again. He holds onto Arnaav tightly, until he hears the flapping of pelican wings. Merrick opens his eyes to see a flurry of white feathers, and also hearing the sound of pouring water.
He grunts and grimaces as he moves himself up, and sees a small, cavernous entrance inside one of many spiral shells. The large birds around him seem to somehow pour water into the small space.
Panting with exhaustion, Merrick quickly explores the half full space. It’s very, very cramped…
The two Noitas and Adras continue to charm and bid the waters to rise. All of the mermaids from both pods are singing as well to give support with their own minor influences of the tide.
The mermen look with anxious anticipation as they watch the surface, going up to swallow the shells inch by inch, at an agonizingly slow rate.
The Noitas strain as they conjure as best as they can, grunting as they intill their very will into the water to bring the tide up. This would be a LOT easier under the moon, let alone without a Black Sun.
Samudra’s insides tinge with fear and suspence as he sees the progress of the water come to a stop. After a moment of waiting, he can see that the elevation has stopped again, short of encasing the entire mound of shells.
“No…” He shakes his head, “That cannot be it…” His fists clenched, “We must… We have to-”
Before he can finish his sentence, the sea level jumbled back up. His eyes beam as he sees the surface rise higher at a more reassuring rate.
“It is working,” Olaroc said, “The tide is rising!”
“How? And why??”
On the complete other side of the Sazae Graveyard, out of plain sight, an otter Noita slowly waves her hands up, around, and gracefully down. By her side is a thick, bear-like mermaid mimics her exact movements. Below them is a pod of half-mixed merfolk, mostly comprised of otter merfolk, with a few different Amniens. The Triton of the pod, a mighty polar bear-type of merman holds his trident as he watches the two mermaids raise the tide.
It’s not big enough.
This small carven is not nearly roomy enough for almost anyone.
Merrick’s stomach sinks as tears roll down his cheeks. He can’t sense any more light around him, and he is out of time, after what feels like weeks of wandering in circles in a searing maze. It’s just not fair… The Waves of Fate have been cruel on this day. First three Scyllas appear, and devour some of his new friends. Then he gets stranded on an enormous frying pan out in the middle of the sea, all the while tripping and burning himself trying to find a way to escape. And now, as things stand, he will never see his only real reason for living again… The love of his life is forever out of his reach…
But none of that matters now. Just one thing matters at this moment.
Sniffling and sobbing, he closes his devastated eyes, and moves the boy in his arms forward. He carefully places Arnaav into the partially full space of water, and safely tucks the otter merman into the tiny pool.
Arnaav is completely submerged, if just barely. Arnaav is safe…
Merrick bows his head down. He sobs silently as he can feel a false night all around him, save for the last ounce of light left before the sun is completely eclipsed. He shakes his head as he reflects over and over again how his life has might as well have come to an end. Once he’s some grotesque freak, he can never feel Adam’s touch again. That scruffy, charming human that only needs to smile to send Merrick into bliss.
“Mnn… Merrick?” Merrick huffed and collected himself as he trembles in order to hold himself up, “Where are we…?” Arnaav asked very drearily.
“We’re… We’re safe, Arnaav.” Merrick holds back his immense sadness for the sake of the young one, “I found us some safety…”
“Can we go back to the pod though?” The otter asked, his eyes still closed as he rocks a little.
“I-It’s ok, Arnaav… Y-You need your rest… The pod will come to us…” He chokes a little in his throat, more tears rolling down his face.
“But… But what if the monster comes back?” Arnaav groaned.
“Th-That’s what I’m here for, Arnaav.” Merrick whined as he clenches his eyes, “I keep watch… You just curl up, o-ok buddy?”
“Wh-What about you, Merrick?” Merrick sobbed as he pressed a hand over his hot, wet eyes, “Are you not tired? You can sleep too…”
“N-No, Arnaav, I’ll be fine.” Merrick thickens as he wept, “Y-You need to sleep… I need to show you a complicated hunting move later, but you need to rest, ok?”
“But I’m…” Arnaav gives a long yawn, as Merrick reaches in and cradled his head, “I’m terrible at it… I just wanna…”
“It’s ok, I’ll take care of you.” Merrick cried, “I’ll take good care of you, just sleep for me, please. Can you do that for me?”
“Mmmnnnn… Okeh…” Arnaav succumbs again, and his head lowers back into the water. He curls up tightly as he snuggles within the snug confines of the full chamber.
Merrick whines and grunts as he pushes himself to roll over on his back, so he can feel his body covering the cracked opening. He can’t move another inch anymore. Lying on the warm shell, he lets the tears drip and run on either side of his head, sobbing freely but quietly as he can see only darkness. His eyes open as he can see the black circle in the sky, glowing with a white aura from behind.
The never-ending shadow gradually creeps over Merrick, slowly engulfing the humanized Piscien under the line of shade. Merrick can already feel a shift of his being starting to tinge at his very body.
“… Dammit… Dammit… Adam… I love you… Please don’t forget me…” Merrick wept as his lips trembled, “I love you… I’m sorry… I tried… I tried to come back… I loved you so much…”
With a shaking hand, Merrick reaches into his stiff fishnet handbag, and pulled out a small pouch. His fingers insert into the tight hole of the tiny bag, and pushed it open. He grunts as he moves his two-ton arm over his body, and turned the pouch upside down.
Many blue and silver discs cascade onto his abs and shark-tooth crossbelt. Fumbling his fingers, he finds the one with a chain through it, and brings it up to his neck, “Please…” He puts the chained scale up to his neck, and leaves it there so his arm can rest down.
“Please… Land Father… Spare me…”
As he breathes, a white fog puffs from his lips. He can feel himself tremble from head to foot. He shudders terribly as he feels a harsh spell of cold surround him.
“Cold… I shouldn’t be cold…” He mumbles weakly, “Cold… So cold…”
He can hear a keen cracking sound as he starts to freeze. Rabid rolls of white smoke curl from his mouth as he shivers. His toes and fingers become numb as they tingle, before losing all feeling, as well as hardening and becoming so stiff. He finds himself paralyzed as with chill as he huffs and whimpers. His body twitches in a small, seizure-lie fashion for a few moments before he stopped.
His eyes look up into the sky with his mouth ajar, as if staring at a hypnotic swirl, as he sees nothing but abstract time and memories.