Commanding the Tides by Michelle M Pillow
Lords of the Abyss 2
Paranormal Underwater Romance
Terminally ill, Cassandra Nevin has come to the ocean to live out her days on a boat with a bunch of scientists who don’t even know she’s sick—or that she’s not even a scientist. When something from the depths of the abyss attacks their boat, leaving her to drown, she knows it’s her time. But then the unimaginable happens—she lives.
Iason the Hunter doesn’t understand why the woman he’s trying to save from death seems insistent he save anyone but her. Duty bound to try and rescue whoever he can; he takes the woman into Deep Ocean, to his home beneath the waves. But it would seem a watery grave wasn’t the only thing threatening his new charge’s life. To try and save her from her illness would mean possible disgrace and being banned from ever swimming in the ocean again. But what else can he do? From the first moment he saw her, she had command over his heart.
Rating: Contains graphic sexual content, adult language, and violence.
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Iason the Hunter swam through the murky waters of the dark ocean. The sound of drowning victims echoed in his head. No matter how often he heard such despair, it never became easier. He wished he could save them, but all he could do was push the humans toward the surface and wish them luck. Besides, by the time he and his fellow hunters got to the ship, the hull was sinking down into the ocean’s depths. It had been too late for many of the mortals and there was no land for miles.
Though, honestly, perhaps saving them was crueler than letting them drown. They were in the middle of the ocean, no sign of rescue vibrating in the water. Chances were their bodies would weaken and they would die. If they managed to float on a raft, the hot sun would kill them just as surely. But, what else could he do?
Seeing a flash of silvery black fins in the water, Iason frowned. That was not the creature they hunted. He watched carefully, seeing the subtle flash again.
‘I think I see Brutus or Demon,’ Iason said to his fellow hunters, using their mind link. All the Merr could communicate by telepathy in the water.
Caderyn, to his right, looked at him in surprise. ‘Where?’
Iason pointed down toward the ocean’s floor.
Iason was part of a team of three Merr hunters—himself, Caderyn and Solon—known simply as the Hunters. There were twelve Merr hunters total, split up into four teams of three. Three brothers, Rigel, Demon and Brutus were another team, the Warriors. Rigel, the youngest and smallest of the three, led the team. There were also the Knights led by Cain and the Soldiers led by Hrafn. Both the Knights and Soldiers were taking a much needed break from hunting while the other two teams took up their duties.
Solon was the leader of the Hunters because he chose to carry the vial around his neck. It was filled with a liquid that would paralyze the scylla so they may catch it. The liquid was the only way to stop a scylla. Unfortunately, if spilled, it could paralyze the Merr as well. Carrying it was a job that took much concentration. Solon had to have final say when it came to capturing the creature because it was he who needed to get into position.
The three Hunters had worked together for years and none of them had black tails. Caderyn’s was purple. Iason’s was green. Solon’s was green-gold.
Iason motioned his hand. In the distance they saw Brutus emerge to push a drowning human toward the surface. The mortal man was still alive and grabbed a floating piece of the ship’s debris. Brutus swam quickly under his legs, making a current that would drift the survivor away from the shipwreck.
‘Rigel must be close,’ Caderyn said. His dark brown hair drifted around his head, floating briefly before his stark purple eyes. The silver purple of his tail whipped once, pushing him up higher. Like all Merr, Caderyn’s tail and fins matched the color of his eyes. ‘What are they doing here? Were they sent to aid us?’
‘They track a scylla, same as us.’ Solon joined them, gliding his arms back and forth to hover in the water. His hazel eyes glowed slightly as he looked around, trying to track their prey. The vial around his neck drifted easily with his movements. ‘Rigel says it’s been evading them. I told him we have the same problem.’
‘That means there are two old ones in the water this night.’ Iason frowned.
The scyllas were dangerous creatures. They were spirits of the water, mindless, reckless, forever searching. Two scylla together would be strong enough to push any one of them out of the water. One of the only things that could kill the Merr was surface air. It would burn the skin, but if breathed it would destroy.
‘Aye,’ Solon answered.
Caderyn swam toward Brutus, his long tail waving in the water to propel him forward. Iason could hear him calling out. Brutus turned in surprise. Soon, all six Merr were gathered together.
Brutus and his twin brother, Demon, were two of the largest of the Merr race. They were identical in every aspect, from their long black hair to their matching dark eyes. Even their fins were the same silvery black color. It made them nearly invisible in the deeps waters, even to their own kind sometimes. Their younger brother, Rigel, was a lighter version of the twins. His hair was dark, but not black, and his eyes were grey. When the sunlight shone through the waves just right, his silver fins looked like ship metal floating in the water.
‘You’ve been away from Ataran longer,’ Iason said to the other team. ‘We will help you catch yours and then go for ours. You need to get home before you lose your way.’
The Warriors nodded. All knew they could only stay away from Ataran soil for two weeks before going mad. Once madness set in, they would never find their way back alone. Even going past a week was pushing it.
‘He’s a big one,’ Brutus said.
‘Slipped by us twice already,’ Demon added. ‘Tore up this ship, though I see now that he had help. We were wondering why it went down so fast for as big as it was.’
A cold rush of current, colder than usual, crept over them. They turned to the man Brutus had helped to save. The human’s legs kicked violently, and they saw the shadowed form of a scylla beneath him.
‘By All the Gods!’ Solon swore. ‘It is huge.’
All six men swarmed into action. Rigel tore the vial from his neck, ready to blow. The creature began to drift, nothing more than a dark spot in the water. It was a near shapeless, faceless shadowing. It made a dash past Brutus and Demon. The two brothers cut it off. Iason and Solon crowded its sides as Caderyn swam below. Rigel blew the vial. The creature bucked up, knocking the human up, tossing him high above the surface. Iason heard the man scream but ignored it.
Both Brutus and Demon latched onto the scylla, fighting it as they dragged it deep into the ocean. The creature soon became subdued and the hunters were able to drag it more easily.
Rigel waved at Iason. ‘Go. Find the second. I’ll push this mortal up and will follow my team.’
Iason looked at Caderyn. His friend closed his eyes, sensing the water. Suddenly, he pointed into the distance. ‘That way.’
‘What is that noise?’ Solon asked.
‘Another boat?’ Iason frowned. He reached out his hands, feeling the small vibrations of the water.
‘Not another one,’ Caderyn growled in frustration. ‘What are they all doing out this far to sea? Why tonight? This should have been an open water hunt.’
‘Come on, let’s bag it and drag it before it takes this ship down as well. I’m ready to go home.’ Iason waved his hand and pointed to where he detected the ship. His companions nodded in agreement. Swimming as fast as he could, he pushed into the distance.
* * * * *
Cassandra Nevin saw her life flash before her eyes as the freezing water surrounded her. She had a bad feeling about this trip, but then she had a bad feeling about everything since the doctor told her she was dying of cancer. Bone cancer. Not much to be done for it, not as late as they had caught it. She’d refused treatment, refused to prolong her life only to live in a bed withering away. Already, she’d outlived her initial prognosis, perhaps by sheer will, perhaps by dumb luck. Waiting for death to come for her had become her own sad little game, and she honestly knew that, when it did, she wouldn’t be surprised. Her parents didn’t understand, or maybe they did, but they didn’t agree with her choice.
No one on the ship knew except Ned Devenpeck. He was the head of the scientific expedition she was on. Cassandra was sure he just felt bad for her and that was why he let her tag along with only a few years of college science under her belt. She wasn’t one for charity, but in this instance she had taken it and gladly.
She knew that the other scientists were irritated with her because she didn’t know what she was doing. Cassandra didn’t care. Why should she? Life was too short to care about anything. It’s why she left school before graduating with a degree. Everyone she knew cried when they saw her, even her parents. She preferred the angry scientists to the constant pity, preferred to be yelled at and hated than to be treated like a dog on its last leg.
As the boat sank, hit from below by some creature the scientists couldn’t name, she’d been scared—scared of dying alone at sea, scared of that final icy breath of water, scared of the unknown beneath her in the darkness.
“Aliens?” someone had suggested as the boat was nearly tipped over on its side.
“New species of Deep Ocean fish rising to the surface to feed?” another scientist had proposed.
They were all great minds, rational minds, but the truth was they didn’t know any more than she what attacked the ship. The scientists had tried to catch the creature in a net. They had some success, but the creature had gotten free before they could pull it up.
Cassandra had gotten a small peak of their attacker in the water. If she had to guess, she would say the creature looked like a merman. But who would believe such a wild story from the woman who didn’t know the exact procedure to draw basic surface samples? So, she’d kept the observation to herself. It was quite possible that the pain meds were starting to affect her mind anyway. Since it was nighttime, she’d already taken her dose so she could sleep though the night.
So, yes, she’d been scared of dying the instant the water took her body. But now, as she stopped struggling and let the black ocean have her, a strange acceptance came over her. She was dying. What more picturesque means than at sea? Her body drifting forever in the ocean? It was poetic, in a beautifully sad way.
The black water surrounded her, blackened by the night sky. She watched the spotlight from the boat glancing over her head as she was pulled down and saw the faint outlines of scientists fighting for life. Cassandra felt bad for them and had to look away. The cold stung, but it was better to feel than not to. Soon numbness would set in and it wouldn’t hurt anymore. The cold was nothing compared to the deep ache in her bones, the constant agony, the lethargy of pain pills.
A glimmer came from in front of her, a green shimmering light unlike anything she would have expected in the dark Abyss. Hands reached for her, human hands. At first, she waited for them to touch her, but then they did and she struggled as they grasped onto her arms. They were real, too real to be a hallucination.
‘No! I’m ready. Let me go!’ her mind screamed. She struggled against the hands, fighting them. ‘Let me go! Save someone else. I don’t want to wither away. I want to drift.’
‘Let me help you,’ a voice ordered in her head. It was a male voice, a voice she didn’t know. ‘Stop struggling, woman. I won’t hurt you.’
Cassandra opened her mouth wide, ready to take the water into her lungs, ready for it to be over. Let him save someone else, someone with a chance. Instead of the ocean, warm lips pressed to hers. In her shock, she stopped struggling. No one had kissed her since she was diagnosed. Her boyfriend had left her. Oh, he tried to stick around, but he’d been too creeped out by it all and soon found the tiny excuse he needed to bail.
She wrapped her arms around the man’s neck, slipping her tongue past his lips. He tasted sweet, like fruit wine. Her body was starved of contact, for a feeling beyond that of sterile examination gloves and clinical exams. So long had it been since someone just held her.
Her would-be rescuer jerked as she kissed him. Why wouldn’t he be surprised? She was dying in his arms, selfishly taking one last moment for herself.
The man tried to swim with her body. Cassandra didn’t care. She let him pull her. Her lungs were burning and soon it would be too late for her. It felt good to be held, even as the darkness threatened. She clung to the warmth. Death was close and she welcomed it, thankful that she wasn’t going to be alone when it finally came for her.
Her lungs burned, on fire with the need for air. A hand thrust into her hair. The mouth against hers widened, his lips slipping over hers. Then, blackness consumed her and she smiled. She would never have to feel another thing again.
© copyright 2007, Michelle M. Pillow
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.