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Adventure Fantasy

Gulls circled above Tidefail harbor. Captain Alarick Cortez walked through the weak market of the dying seaport with his head held down beneath his cap. The most prominent sale was seafood. Often raw with pearly lifeless eyes, the smell of their peeling scales could waft for miles in the summer. Alarick was familiar with the fins and claws, sometimes even tentacles. So many foreign and wild things having their corpses traded off for silver and bronze.

Alarick left the crowded streets behind, walking along the stained and uneven cobble pathways. Tidefail had a pitiful dock, but it was enough for the ships, so it was functional. Alarick looked out at the ocean from the desolate street.

Out there, you could always see the sky. It hung above as a perfect smokey dome, ending in a remarkably defined horizon line. When the sea was calm, everywhere was sky, reflected in the perfect looking glass of the ocean. Then it was just the ship, suspended precariously above the elusive world of sapphire waves. It was breathtaking. Alarick despised it.

A firm hand clamped over his arm, spinning him forcefully until he looked up into a face he had wishfully hoped he wouldn’t have to see again. The tall woman grinned like a shark. 

“Found you.”

Alarick’s eyes flashed with hatred, and in a moment he had a long knife pressed to the woman’s throat.

“Calmase, Alarick. I haven’t forgotten.” She told him, lazily drawing out an identical knife to push away his own. For a brief moment the weak sunlight danced over the two blue stones of each hilt, symmetric in their glow. Alarick scowled, sheathing his knife in acceptance. The woman sheathed her blade with a flourish, a smug grin on her face.

“You’re pretty damn hard to find, you know that?” Elissari informed him.

“As if that would be a problem for you.” He snapped irritably.

Her teeth flashed humorously. “No, it wasn’t.” 

“What do you want?” He demanded curtly.

“Your assistance, and from the way things look, you need mine.”

He scoffed. “And why would that be?”

Elissari scowled suddenly. “My fleet is going rogue.” 

“So you started losing control of your men, but instead of fighting for power you fought so hard to build, you ran away to find me. Why?”

Elisari shrugged slightly. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”

Alarick glared at her. “The devil you know isn’t very fond of you, pecife. Why would you come here?”

“I have something you need, and you have something I want, but I had to be sure I would get your undivided attention.”

“Explain. What is it I need from you?”

“I have solid information on the whereabouts of the Eden Tree. I can navigate, and you,” She said, gesturing to the harbor. “Can take us there.”

“Why would you prefer to travel with me than your own crew?”

“They are rebelling against me.” She repeated. “They want their gold and their bloodshed and apparently I’m not giving it to them fast enough. I’m not sure how to anticipate their next move, and besides, they don’t care about the Eden Tree. Half of them have never even heard about it. They don’t need or want me around, but you, you need me. You need the Eden Tree. You do still want to break your curse, right? This may be your best bet at doing so.”

Alarick paused, then tilted his head up slightly. “Why do you need the Eden Tree? What’s important enough to abandon The Phantom?”

She smiled painfully. “That,” She said slowly. “Is a problem that can’t hurt you.”

“And what assurance do I have that you are sincere?”

Elissari’s dark eyes flashed like the glint of black scales. “My kind does not understand the lies that the men of the land worship. Our language is not the same as yours- most of it is spoken without words- but we don’t act with false intention. To assume a lie is to assume bankruptcy.”

“You use a currency?”

“Not as you do,” She huffed impatiently. “But yes, that is what we would call it.” She said, straightening to her full impressive height. “I, Black Elissari, will lead you to the Eden Tree without harm to your crew, and I will not stop you from claiming your end of the prize.” She said with authority. 

Alarick narrowed his eyes. “Black Elissari is the title of your fame.”

“I don’t have a surname, this is the closest you will come to precise identification. And Alarick, I expect your sincerity too,” She warned. “What assurance do I hold?”

He eyed her levelly. “I, Alarick Cortez, do not plan to betray you. No harm will come upon you from the hand of me or my crew. I swear it on the blood that we shed for the Spiritus stone.” He said gravely. Elissari nodded. That oath was one she could trust. Her hand drifted to grasp onto the hilt of her dagger, running her thumb over the mesmerizing blue surface of the stone embedded in the wood.

“Hoarding our secrets will lead us to ruin.” She admitted hesitantly. “If you tell me the nature of your curse- no I didn’t figure it out- then I will tell you why I need the Eden Tree. It’s a matter that will affect our strategy.”

Alarick raised an eyebrow, then lowered it as he considered the nature of her proposal. “Very well.” He muttered, turning away and striding towards the ships.

Elissari took the invitation, and followed after him boldly. The Prince was an easy ship to find, if you knew the one to look for. On the other hand, its identification had proved to be remarkably elusive for any army or bounty hunters that had tried to capture it.

Alarick’s boots thudded up the gangway, with Elissari trailing not far behind. A man standing at the top of the long plank raised his eyebrows at his captain.

“Damien, nos uktari post te.” Alarick informed him. 

Damien huffed out a sigh. “Cast off!” He ordered loudly, spurring the crew to raise anchor.

The secrecy of Alrick’s message did not mean much to Elissari- Alarick had learned the hard and embarrassing way that she was fluent in Eykian- but not many on The Prince knew it as well as his first mate. That did not stop the other crew mates from taking notice of the new visitor.

Many of them eyed Elissari as she walked with Alarick onto the deck, but since she stood with their captain, they did nothing to still the uneasiness of the bad luck she brought with her. A number of the men glared at her with familiar hatred. Some did not yet recognize the peculiar stranger. 

Young Harris stared at Elissari with widening eyes, glancing between her and the captain. He recognized the woman, but not from the same place as the elder sailors. Alarick paid no heed to his crew, acting for all the world as if he knew what he was bringing them all into.

Behind him, Elissari tipped her hat towards Harris subtly. “The boy, where did you come by him?” She asked Alarick casually.

“We raided a merchant ship and he talked us into recruiting him.”

“And you were needy enough that it worked?” She asked amusedly. 

“For now, yes.” He grumbled. 

“And Harris was needy enough to try and join you.” She stated.

Alarick paused, wondering how she knew the boy's name. “It sounds like he smuggled his way on board the merchant vessel and was discovered. He was desperate to get away before the next port.”

“And with good reason.” She amended, knowing his punishment could be severe. “And on the matter of reason, why did you need the extra pair of hands?”

“Tell me why you take an interest in him.” Alarick demanded.

Elissari shrugged. “Very well. My knife was stolen from me. He stole it back.”

Alarick stilled. “And you followed him back to the ship, knowing where he had recognized it’s match.” He growled, glaring daggers towards the boy. 

“At first he thought that I stole it from you until he realized they were a matching set. I think he had intended to return it to you in an attempt to get on your good side, however elusive that side may be. You know how valuable our knives are. He did me a great service, I would not hesitate to repay it.” She warned him, pulling his heated glare away from Harris. “Now answer me. Why are you missing crew members?”

“We’re down three members. The boy doesn’t count, he knows nothing of sailing, he only runs what we tell him to. The other three were lost in a skirmish a few weeks ago, the details are irrelevant.”

Elissari shrugged. “Fine.” She said, following Alarick beneath the deck and towards his private quarters. They passed a few more sailors, but they were all quick to make themselves busy with a task to get out of their way.

Alarick latched the door behind them and moved to sit at the desk he had bolted to the floor. “Alright.” He said gruffly. “I guess it's time to talk.”

Elissari sat down across from him comfortably. Her situation on board an enemy ship didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest.

He looked at her. “Firstly, how did you… become what you are? How is it that you even gained the ability to walk on land? From all else I can see, merfolk can’t travel on land any more than a dolphin. Why are you different?”

“I don’t need to tell you.” She dismissed. “All you need to know is that it’s become too dangerous for me to change forms, therefore I cannot help with anything underwater.”

He opened his mouth to question her statement, then thought better for the time being. “We still have the Spiritus stone.” He reminded her.

“I thought by breaking it we destroyed it’s ability.” She stated.

“Not quite,” He informed her, placing his knife on the table and gesturing to the blue stone embedded in the hilt. “I discovered that with half of the stone on my person I can hold my breath underwater for a good five minutes, much more than humans normally would, especially when swimming or using energy.”

“So you can’t breathe underwater, but it's still useful.” She mused, staring at the blade. She narrowed her eyes. “Why did you seek the ability to breathe underwater in the first place?”

“I have my reasons.” He said firmly. 

“Seeking a cure for your curse, I would assume.” She responded. “I have a different kind of issue on my hands.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”

“All things considered, I have no idea what it is. But for quite a while now, I’ve been having some difficulties with my… transformation. And it only seems to be getting worse.”

Alarick leaned back and sighed. “So something isn’t perfect for you and therefore you have to kickstart a grand ol’ treasure hunt to fix your picture perfect appearance.”

“Oh this is much more important than just a treasure hunt.” She said earnestly. “I think you know that just as well as me. And it’s not my appearance that's bothering me, but my ability. I’ve been having these issues since we were hunting for the Spiritus. They’re the reason I wanted that artifact in the first place. Didn’t you ever question what kind of motives I had? I mean,” She chuckled softly. “What kind of a mermaid needs a stone that can grant them the ability to breathe underwater? We have gills! Surely that thought occurred to you at the time.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Yes. Yes it did. I had a few theories, not the least of which being based on our rivalry… I mean, it could have just been out of spite.”

Elisari shook her head. “I fought too viciously if I had just wanted to mess with you.”

“Then why did you want the Spiritus?”

She paused briefly. “My gills are failing me. merfolk can breathe air as well, but we combine breathing in both elements. We basically hold our breath when we dive while also filtering a little through our gills. My gills will still fill with water when I transform, the problem is they stopped filtering the water properly. I’m so used to using them that the action has become a reflex and I actually choke on water.”

Alarick stared. “So you needed the Spiritus stone because you risked drowning when you were underwater.”

“Don’t sound so smug,” She sneered. The woman abruptly stopped, then chuckled. “Sounds ridiculous, don't you think? A mermaid scared of drowning…” She trailed off. 

“Do you think the new artifact will fix your gills?” Alarick asked.

“I hope so,” she said quietly. “I’m starting to run out of time.”

He looked up, confused. “How so?”

“Each time I transform it gets worse. It’s not just my gills you know, I was just explaining why I was fighting you for the Spiritus. Each time I turn from mer to human, or the other way around, my transformation is in some way... less complete. You know I fought hard for the ability to walk on land with your people. I’m an entity who can live as a part of both worlds… and the ironic thing is that each time I move between them I look like I belong less and less to either of them.”

Alarick still didn't seem to understand completely. 

“Look at my skin,” She said, pointing to her face. “Don’t you think it’s almost grey?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “What does that mean?”

“It looks like my fish skin. I’m more susceptible to burning it up here, and it's more sensitive to getting a rash from these clothes because it’s all rubbery. But it’s not fully meant for the water either. I found that it doesn't protect me from cold temperatures like it's supposed to. And it's not as tough either. It’s just a weird mix that makes life in general so much harder. Look at this,” she added, rolling up her sleeve and pointing to the far side of her forearm. There was a tiny dark fin jutting out like the blade of a knife along her arm.

“That didn’t morph back into my arm last time I exited the water. And what might be worse, my gills are visible. Not opened, fortunately, but you can see faint lines where they’re supposed to be. If I turn into a mermaid and then back again they might stay open. Gills can be surprisingly sensitive. They need to be surrounded by water, not a scratchy tunic!”

“And this wasn’t happening until you transitioned a number of times.” Alarick checked. 

She nodded. “And even then it was only years ago that my gills were starting to act up. They were the first sign of trouble. Now my entire body is shutting off piece by piece.” She laughed to herself. “I wanted to belong in two different worlds and soon enough I’ll just be some twisted freak that can’t survive in either.”

They stopped talking. The ship seemed to be holding its breath in the absence of their voices. Elisari cleared her throat roughly.

“Anyway,” She started. “Do you think the artifact will break curses too?”

“That’s what I’m going off of.” Alarick shrugged. “It’s been hard trying to find answers beyond port, but I think this could be it.”

“Alright. Now, what is the nature of your curse?” She said, gesturing for him to finally speak up.

“It’s relatively simple. I’m cursed to never live on land.”

She narrowed her eyes in confusion. “I've seen you go into port before.”

“Not for very long,” he insisted. “And not very far away. I always return to a boat within an hour or so. But say I didn't. What if I just kept walking? The further away I get from the sea or the longer I stay on solid land the same thing will happen. I get more tired. Gravity seems to pull harder on me and my vision will blur. Within a minute or so breathing will become a challenge until I collapse entirely and suffocate.” He eyed her seriously. “I’ll drown in the air.” He said darkly.

Elissari hummed thoughtfully. “Here’s the thing,” She sighed. “I don’t know where the Eden Tree is- but,” she added quickly. “I know where a map is that can lead us there.”

Alarick clenched his fists tensely. “Fine. We’ll find you a place to stay on the ship and I'll inform the crew that you mean no harm.”

Elissari nodded, turning to walk back towards the door. She stopped. “Alarick,” Elissari said slowly. “Why are you missing crew members?”

Alrick shifted. “There was a fight with sailors from The Foul Serpent.”

She turned around so fast he wondered if her neck would snap.

“Dominique had been hunting you?”

“It’s just an odd clash or two,” He argued, dismissing her comment with a wave of his hand. “It wasn’t a problem I needed to bring up with you.”

Elissari glared. “Dominique getting aggressive is very much an “us” problem. You're not the only one he still has a grudge against.”

“We can outrun him, the only thing faster than The Prince is The Phantom.”

“I don’t command The Phantom anymore.” She hissed at him. 

Alarick stilled, a chill running up his spine. “No one knows the sea better than you.” He insisted. “We can chart a new course.” He said, following Elissari as she flung open the door and raced back up to the deck of the ship.

Dominique Cortez was chasing his tail and Black Elissari was standing on his ship. Alarick was surrounded by devils from his own past hells. The next thing he needed to know was which one would get lucky enough to kill him.

November 14, 2020 04:51

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14 comments

Howard Halsall
02:55 Nov 20, 2020

I love the idea and the exchange between your characters. It’s definitely part of something much longer... it would be intriguing to read more.... Well done, I look forward to reading your next piece. :)

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15:30 Nov 20, 2020

Thank you very much!

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Maya
18:04 Nov 14, 2020

Impressive story! It's cool how you included artifacts in their world like the Spiritus stone that have special powers. The Elykian words make the dialogue very realistic. Great job!

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18:54 Nov 14, 2020

Thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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05:12 Nov 14, 2020

Also here's a fun fact about why she's called "Black Elissari" Northern merfolk are big, like the humanoid orcas of the sea (thats why she's so tall as a "human") and they have silver scales. Elissari was born with a genetic mutation that makes her scales a charcoal grey. It's not that bad, its like the merfolk equivalent of having red hair.

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V George
09:20 Nov 19, 2020

I like the premise, curious to know how things progress

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14:56 Nov 19, 2020

Thank you!

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:27 Nov 17, 2020

I’m impressed that you came up with your own language for this! Mermaids, magical artefacts, curses—you got all the tropes of a pirate fantasy story down. So is the guy chasing them Alarick’s brother or something? The plot thickens!! If you still have time to edit, there is a specific word for a pirate crew rebellion—“mutiny.” Might make this story feel even more pirate-y 😉

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15:40 Nov 17, 2020

True, I hadn't thought of that word! I associate it with rebelling against a law abiding ship but its just rebellion in general. I guess Elissari's mutiny isn't a by the books process since its happening gradually and its finally gotten to the point that she knows they wont follow her to the Eden Tree because there's no immediate benefit for them. Thanks for reading it, I appreciate the helpful feedback!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:51 Nov 17, 2020

Fair enough! And no problem 😙

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15:43 Nov 17, 2020

And I'm glad you noticed that Alarick and Dominique share the same last name! I was enjoying an evil cackle off to the side as I wrote that in. This story actually comes from something I was writing last year, which is one of the reasons why there's so much plot crammed in, or at least hinted at. There is definitely more going on than what meets the eye, but I don't think I'm going to tie up those loose ends on this site. Ah well....

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:51 Nov 17, 2020

Definitely had that feel to it, like a snippet of a bigger world! Oh that’s a shame...

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05:05 Nov 14, 2020

I'm pretty sure I included way too many elements for a short story but jdjjgjfdndjjks pirates

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05:04 Nov 14, 2020

Eykian translations: Calmase- calm down/ relax Pecife- "She of the Ocean"; doesn't apply to female sailors, it's basically a word for mermaid. It isn't always used kindly. nos uktari post te- we will talk later (direct translation is "we converse after this" but it sounds clunky)

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