Darkness cloaked the valley, as one little girl jumped from the steep cliff to escape the Wolves.
Their teeth gnashed and nearly caught the frayed hem of her gown.
Her scream pierced the silence of the night, and the growls of her pursuers chased her down through the curling mists and into the river.
A million pricks of pain assaulted her as her body submerged into the water that was nearly frozen from a winter that came to Elvenere too early. She swallowed water and snapped her mouth closed. Florescent lights awaited below at the bottom of the river, but she knew better. Though the colors were pretty and the underwater caves beckoning, Nala knew that mermaids were not her friend, and if she wanted to survive, she needed to go up, back to the world of humans and creatures too horrific to speak of.
A deafening whistle came from the sleepy mermaid village, and Nala realized that she was about to be chased by yet another dangerous foe. She kicked her legs and swam upward as the whistles made the water ripple all around her, sucking her in.
Though today was not Nala’s lucky day, she refused to let it be her last.
With the last of her strength and will, she swam, and as a hand clutched her naked ankle, she froze and turned to look back.
“Come, child. You’re too cold. Let me warm you,” a female voice said. Her green hair lit up the water and her black eyes struck terror into Nala’s soul.
No. Nala shook her head. Mama told her about the deception of mermaids. Growing up on an island, everyone knew the dangers of water.
Home. That’s where she needed to go. But, home no longer existed.
Her lungs burned and though she kicked and thrashed, she couldn’t free herself from the mermaid’s grasp. More were coming. She could see their forms darting from side to side like bolts of colored lightning in the water. Time was running out, and she had no choice but to reveal her lineage. It was the only way to survive.
So, with her hands outstretched, her eyes and hands glowed a bright blue, and white lines were illuminated all over her body.
The mermaid let go, and let out a siren call that sent every mermaid fleeing.
That was all it took. They knew what she was.
Who she was.
And, she hadn’t even needed to exert her power.
The water went dark as Nala stopped building her inner power and swam toward the surface. Weakened, and exhausted, she barely made it. The water was too strong and her body was suddenly very heavy, but as she reached the surface, a hand reached out for her.
Like a beacon of hope, she held her hand high above her head as panic began to set it that she wouldn’t make it in time to catch a life-saving breath.
Sight became blurry. Arms lax. Her kicks no longer propelled her upward.
As the burning in her chest became unbearable, and she was certain that she’d lost her fight with death, someone jumped in after her. Arms wrapped around her and she was pulled out of the river.
Swift winds blew at her wet face, nearly instantly freezing her long dark hair.
“Ga, you’re alright, miss?” the young man who saved her asked.
She coughed up water and turned onto her side as she began to choke. Her words wouldn’t come out. So, she simply nodded and wiped her mouth.
“Saw what you did down there,” he said.
She froze at those words.
“But, I won’t say nothin. Promise,” he said, his bright brown eyes sincere.
He had to be not more than a year or two older. Maybe fourteen. Could she trust him?
He did just save her life.
“You’re the girl they’re hunting, aren’t ya?”
Nala hesitated, but when he picked up a cloak from the rock behind her and wrapped it around her shoulders, she gave a single nod.
“Ga,” he said again, settling down before her. He raked his hands through wet dark blond hair and stared at her. “Never met royalty before. I’m Alek.”
“Nala,” she said. She licked her lips and they stung the moment the cold air hit them. “Promise me you won’t say anything,” she whispered.
“Secrets safe with me, miss,” he said, covering his heart. “You look like a wet cat, anyway. How bout we tell my ma and pa you’ve run away from the slavers? They hate them men. They’d take ya in, no questions asked.”
Nala’s teeth chattered, but she nodded. Perhaps this young boy was sent by the gods to save her. Even at her age, she believed in fate. She’d seen a god before. She knew they were real.
Now, as Alek helped her to her feet she said a silent prayer to that god, and thank him for keeping his promise.
“Thank you,” she said to the boy, as much as to the dead god who had given her his power.