Authors: Meaghan Rauscher
Copyright © 2015 Meaghan Rauscher
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Book cover and images included within are property of Meaghan Rauscher.
First CreateSpace paperback printing, May 2015
To anyone who has wished, at one point
or another, they were a mermaid.
First off, I have to thank my family for the love and support throughout this process. To my parents, I give a big thank you for always believing in me and giving the chance to pursue this dream. As always, to Lauren, the biggest of thanks for all the times you’ve had to listen to me talk about this story and not going crazy from hearing the same things over and over again. Lissie wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t for you.
Many thanks go to CreateSpace for giving me the tools and opportunity to share this story with the world. To Kasey Kavanaugh, thank you for your energy and help in creating a fan base for DROPLETS that has surpassed my expectations! And Kjersten Johnson, thank you for taking the time to edit and look over this story for me.
To all the DROPLETS fans, thank you for making this experience so much fun. I have enjoyed the interviews, the Instagram tags, and the direct messages from all of you. You make this so much more fun than I ever could have dreamed and I am very excited to share in Lissie’s journey with you.
Finally, to my mother, thank you for spending so much time reading this book and for getting so excited about it. Your help in the creation of this work was more important than you can ever imagine. I love you, Mom.
It felt wonderful for the first time in days he was able to relax. The contact was exactly what he needed. For too long he had been worried. His every thought was now focused on her. For her, only for her, was he able to endure.
He listened to her voice; it rose and fell in a perfect rhythm as she told her stories. Images formed in his mind as he tried to comprehend the pictures she painted. This was what he’d wanted all along.
Her thumb rubbed the back of his hand. He knew that she could feel the stickiness, the blood that had crusted and dried over his flesh. And yet, she didn’t comment. She was selfless, comforting him in his time of need and not asking him what he’d been through.
Leaning heavily, he rested his head against the stone wall. His arm, the one she touched, was bent at an odd angle. Painful, but nothing like the cracks of the whips that still rang in his ears. Just knowing she was safe, knowing she was alive, was enough to give him the strength to endure; this was relief in his greatest moment of need.
Her voice came to a stop. He knew that she was waiting for his hand to twitch, his signal for her to continue, but he didn’t move. Instead, he thanked her. There was something he must tell her, he needed to tell her. She
He said her name and she jumped. Her involuntary movement jostled his hand. He adjusted slightly, the metal bars of his cell cutting into the wounds on his back. The thin, shredded fabric of his shirt did little to protect his skin from irritation.
She replied, beckoning him to speak.
His dry lips cracked when he asked, “Can you promise me something?” His voice sounded wrong to his ears. It sounded deeper, crustier, older—nothing at all like how he used to sound.
“Promise what?” she asked. Her voice was cautious, it seemed and he knew she would resist what he was asking her to do. He himself would never be able to do it. But she was stronger.
Gathering himself, he spoke clearly. “Promise me that you will save yourself if you have the chance. Promise me that if there comes a point when you think you can escape,” his voice broke, “—then do it. I don’t want you to even pause and think about me. I want you to get out of here.”
She was silent. Her thumb no longer moved over his skin and the loss of it left a hollow feeling in his stomach. But he wanted her to understand. He always knew that something like this was going to happen to him. Ever since that day, hundreds of years ago, on the beaches of England. This was his purpose, but it didn’t have to be hers.
“Promise me. Please,” he felt as though he was begging.
“I don’t think I can,” she said slowly and his heart sunk. She had to know that this was the only way he could keep going. He exhaled, visibly frustrated and desperate.
“Look, I love you more than anything I’ve loved in all the years that I’ve been alive.” He knew he sounded weak, croaking through his dry throat, but he didn’t care. All he worried about was her. “You’re the most important thing that has ever happened to me. Please promise me.”
“I know. But I can’t leave you, I just can’t,” she said with a sob. He hated to be the cause of her sorrow. It hurt him, almost as much as the whips that battered his flesh daily.
“Lissie,” he said softly, quietly pleading for her to understand. “I’m not going to get the chance to escape. Even if I had the chance, I wouldn’t have the strength to take it.” He inhaled deeply. “Please let me have this one comfort. Let me know that you’ll try to save yourself if you get the chance.”
“I will, Patrick,” she said through tears. He could hear the deep emotion in her voice. “But I’m going to promise you something: if I get out of here and make it back to Lathmor, I’m coming back for you. I promise you that. We will come and rescue you.”
There was a passion in her voice that lifted his heart. She still cared for him so much, even though at times he wondered why. Here she was saying that she would come back and even though he so desperately wanted to accept it, he fought against the hope trying to grow in his chest. He wasn’t getting out of here, but he would endure. Knowing that she would keep herself safe, knowing that she was going to try and escape, made him feel more at ease than he had felt in weeks.
“Thank you,” he said.
“I love you,” she said softly, and in that moment he recalled that image of the first time he saw her. The roundness of her face, her bright eyes, and her blonde hair rippling in the wind tore through his mind. There she was again. That memory of the first time he had seen her, sitting on the hill with the sunset, was what he could hold onto. She was exactly what would get him through this.
He sighed again, contently this time. “I love you,” he said as he leaned his head against the wall more heavily. “More than you know,” he added.
His swollen eyes closed, feeling as though they were sealed together, but he didn’t mind. For the first time since he had been separated from her he felt as though he could go on. It was the knowledge of her even being alive that brought him this comfort.
As long as she was breathing, he could keep going.
As long as she was safe, he would find the strength to carry on.
As long as she was alive and his, he could endure…
The water was eerie and dark beneath the surface and the light of the moon from above couldn’t pierce through the deep shadows of the waves to where we waited. Together we formed a shrouded crowd of merfolk, our fins flicking back and forth in silent anticipation. All we needed were the scouts’ call for attack.
Beside me was Elik, his chest covered in the dark shirt that served as armor for battle. Swallowing hard, I tried not to look at the evident slits in the sleeves that ran along his forearms. His blades would be ready to protect me if needed.
The silence stretched beneath the ocean, the sound of the waves flipping over themselves on the shore with a lusty rush that then retreated reached my ears. Any minute now, we would attack. Any minute now, I would see
The anticipation that I had been trying to quell for the past weeks swelled within my chest and I took a deep breath, the water refreshing my lungs. Exhaling, I felt the lump of the dark clothing strapped against my stomach in a flat pack. It was the only thing I carried, aside from the dagger strapped to the inside of my left forearm. It was the dagger I had found in Hyvar, the one that used to be Patrick’s so many years ago. I brushed it with my fingertips, hoping it would give me some strength; the wooden hilt was just visible beneath the sleeve of the tight black shirt I wore. The dark shirt held strong against the salt water and blended into the shrouded depths of the underwater world. All around me were darkly clad merfolk; the Lathmorians who were all sent on this mission.
Just above the surface, the castle of Hyvar awaited like a solid warrior; its thick walls withholding our goal. Patrick was somewhere inside and we were going to free him. The anxiety that I had felt ever since the night I’d made the decision to leave Hyvar was reaching a climax. The moment for release was almost at hand.
Our approach had yet to be noticed. We had moved silently through the water as a large group. Our upper bodies were clad in black and reflected the water in the same manner as our fins. Without the light of the day, it was impossible to see us from a hundred yards away. It was why we were able to sneak up on three of the Hyven guards and silence them. At least that was how the plan was supposed to go. I hadn’t seen anything. My position was at the back of the group with Elik who was my protector for the mission, together we were going to infiltrate the castle while the others created a diversion.
A month had gone by since I was last near Hyvar, and last near Patrick. I had left the enemy’s territory at Patrick’s wish, that I would save myself if I had the chance and the past month had tormented me in my decision. I knew the dangers that Patrick was facing. He was in the hands of Morven, the merman who had transformed me into a mermaid when I was thrown overboard in a storm. But I wasn’t a real mermaid yet, I was unable to control the sprouting of my fins when submerged and I hadn’t gained the ability to use the blades from my fingers like other mermaids. However, that would all change when I turned eighteen, and that was why I left my house in Coveside, Maine last September. I had wanted to get away from Morven and found refuge on Patrick’s island, but in the end I wound up more entangled in the merfolk world and was captured by the Hyven only to then escape.
Again, the threats of Morven’s intentions toward me flooded through my mind.
. The word sent a shiver down my back. He intended to turn me into a weapon and I was risking that tonight by returning to Hyvar, but I had to. I had promised Patrick that I would. I was his best chance for escape. Out of all the Lathmorians, I was the only one to have seen the inside of the castle.
Movement flickered in the distance and my muscles tensed. The anticipation curled in my stomach when the familiar call of the three mermaid scouts reached us. Relaxing only slightly, I glanced at Elik,
It’s almost time
, he said, his arms flexing. The sound he made was a form of merlanguage, but I understood him clearly and nodded.
The three mermaids approached the Lathmorian captain, Tunder, to report. From my vantage point I could only see the back of Tunder’s broad shoulders cloaked in his dark shirt. His head tilted as he listened to what they had to say.
The shores are clear.
A blonde mermaid reported. I had seen her numerous times, but didn’t know her name. She was the best scout Lathmor had and the other two mermaids looked to her for direction. I had only met them the day before our departure from Lathmor.
The Hyven are unsuspecting. If we move fast, we can take the shore.
The blonde mermaid’s eyes flickered to where Elik and I floated. I swallowed hard, it was time.
Tunder turned his head and jerked his chin forward. The merman, Voon, was beside him and separated from our group with seven other Lathmorian soldiers. For a fleeting moment, Tunder glanced back at Elik and me and then I heard the command I had been waiting to hear for the past two weeks.
, the captain said. Elik and I shot off into the darkness, away from the Lathmorians that were moving like a shimmery wave in a surge toward the shore.
We picked up speed as the ocean floor gradually tilted upward and I readied my hand on the flat pack that contained the pants I would wear. My fins patted the soft sand and emitted small clouds of floating dust behind us. Heart thundering loudly within my chest, we tried our best to remain hidden in the churning ocean and then with a rushing jolt, shot through a cresting wave where my legs immediately reappeared. I contorted myself in the air to put on the black pants and landed on the grainy shore a fraction of a second later. Without hesitation I ran beside Elik, who was identically clad, to the cover of the trees.
I couldn’t help but remember the last time I had stood beneath the shade of these trees. I recalled my desperation and determination when I had watched the long-haired Hyven soldier stand on the shore and listened to his call to the hidden guards. Fear had coursed within me, but it had disappeared when Tunder and the rest of the Lathmorians had shown up. With them I had known I was safe.
Looking to our right, I saw the slinking shadows of the Lathmorians as they skittered over the shores toward the castle. It was odd that they hadn’t met any resistance. A quick glance at Elik told me that he noticed it too and the deep furrow in his brow did little to quell the tremor in my fingers.
“Come on,” he said. His lips were pulled together in a tight frown.
We reached the edge of the trees much quicker than I had thought possible. I hesitated for a moment wanting to stay hidden beneath their shadows, but knew I had to step into the dim moonlight.
Our feet pooled in the gleaming night as we tiptoed our way toward the looming fortress that was just before us. My hands trembled; it hadn’t been long since I had left this accursed place and I wasn’t eager to reenter. Once again I fingered the handle of the dagger strapped to my forearm. Silently, I wondered if I would be able to throw it at someone when the time came. It seemed too cruel, but in order to protect myself I would have to.
Beside me, Elik strode powerfully and I kept up by jogging. His eyes were constantly scanning the grounds. Glancing around, I saw the tree that had hidden me from view when I had escaped out the window last time, but I forced back my trembling fear and concentrated on what I was doing.
As planned, Elik and I were headed toward a hidden back door in the castle. One of the Lathmorians had discovered it during the last failed rescue attempt, but had been taken over by some Hyven soldiers before he could make it inside. The door was our best chance of getting to Patrick.
I followed Elik patiently and relaxed when we reached the grim stone walls. We were hidden from view by the shadow of the castle that shrouded us in a cold darkness. My hope mounted, right now Tunder and the others were supposed to be climbing the walls to take down the Hyven guards that patrolled the upper levels.
The door frame to our entryway came into view, Elik moved quicker and I followed. He reached the door before me and broke the lock with a loud clang. I flinched, hoping no one had heard the sound.
Opening the door with just enough space for a person to fit through, Elik squeezed inside. I met him in a dusty, dank chamber where boxes scattered the floor and our bare feet left imprints on the dirt-covered stones. On the rafters above our heads came the patter of scuttling mice. I shivered and Elik looked at me. With a jerk of his head, we crossed the room to an adjacent door.
I knew that it was time for me to lead. The door would place us within a pathway of the castle and after that it was up to my memory to find the dungeon. I swallowed heavily and placed my already cold hand on the metal door knob. A heavy hand touched my shoulder.
I looked up at Elik questioningly and he nodded toward my arm. I knew what he meant and reached for the dagger, its familiar weight pressed against my palm.
“Thanks,” I mouthed to him and he smiled in the darkness. I knew that the dagger was for my protection and protection only. It could kill a merperson but I was not to use it unless threatened, more for my lack of skill than what it could do. Elik was my offensive weapon. I shook that thought from my mind and turned the knob slowly.
When the door was open Elik and I entered the following corridor where I was able to guess from the smell that we were near the dungeon. The wet musk of rotting mold faintly trailed in the hallway and on a hunch I turned left toward the smell.
We skittered across stones and down hallways, moving from shadow into light over and over again as we passed beneath the fiery torches. Our shadows danced on the walls and loomed high above us as they stretched toward the ceiling, but all the while the dank rotting smell of the dungeon grew stronger. Before each turn we would back against the wall and check to see if anyone lingered in the hallways beyond, but we met no one. Again I had a strange feeling about the lack of Hyven presence.
Up ahead a familiar sight caught my attention. Moving faster now, I reached the stairs quickly and we descended them as quietly as possible. Halfway down, I switched places with Elik. We knew that guards would be standing at the entrance and I was not to get involved.
Still hidden behind a curve, Elik paused. Quietly he flexed his muscular arms and the blades appeared through the slits in his shirt. I shivered looking at them. They reminded me of when Morven had transformed me into a mermaid, I remembered how easily they had sliced open my flesh.
With a lithe jump, Elik curved in the air and landed at the bottom of the staircase. I waited, but didn’t hear anything. Uncertain, I hopped down the remaining steps and saw the problem. There were no guards standing before us. The gate was exactly as I remembered, but it was open as if beckoning us to walk through it. Uncertain about whether or not we should proceed, I looked up at Elik.
“Stay close to me,” he whispered softly in my ear, sounding as nervous as I was.
I walked with my arm touching the side of his body; my eyes twitching right and left and back again. We entered the hallway that stood between the cells and slunk forward one step at a time, in perfect unison. I tried to steady my breath, but it only escalated as we got farther into the dungeon. I remembered from my short stay here that the place was shaped like a horseshoe; the inner wall making a tight loop while the outer wall circled wider and was dotted with cells. We moved around the loop quickly and I was certain I would remember which cell was Patrick’s, but after we were halfway around I stopped, confused. I was sure that we should have passed his cell by now.
Elik waited anxiously by my side, constantly looking over his shoulder. I stepped away from him and pressed forward, glancing into every cell to make sure we hadn’t missed Patrick.
We passed a small staircase that led to a room and it took a few minutes for me to realize that it was the room where Morven had knocked me out. The small chamber where Morven had made me scream so Patrick would think I was dead. We had definitely passed his cell by now and the panic I had been holding at bay began to make its way into my veins.
Turning around, I picked up my speed and darted glances into each cell only to come up empty. Patrick wasn’t in the dungeon and my mind clicked furiously trying to think of where he could be. There was only one other place that I could think of, and luckily I knew how to get there.
“Where are you going?” Elik whispered to me harshly.
“I think Patrick might be locked in the room they put me in,” a shudder ran down my back as I thought of all the hallways we had to cross in order to reach the chamber. “It’s a long walk, but if we’re lucky we won’t get caught.”
“We can’t.” Elik said and shook his head.
“What?” I exclaimed.
“This isn’t part of the plan. Our job was to get to the dungeons and rescue him, but he isn’t here.”
“No,” I said, defiant. “Our job was to get him out of here safely. And I don’t care where he is, but I’m going to get him.” I turned and darted up the grimy staircase and the panic that burned inside me subsided when I realized what I was doing. Without Elik I would be in trouble.
Looking back, I saw him standing where I had left him. His face was hidden in the shadows, but I waited, hoping he would follow me.