Order of the Skull

- Class Introduction -
The mermaid swam gracefully through the kelp forest of the Angola Basin located in the South Atlantic Ocean, weaving languidly amongst the tall plants as they danced on the ocean currents. Her hand brushed the lush and untouched kelp and her long, lustrous golden hair splayed out from her head creating the illusion that a giant spider’s web stretched between the two rows of kelp with her body caught firmly in its entangling snare. Arching her back, the mermaid reveled in the connection to this untouched natural wonder and closed her eyes in a peaceful surrender to the moment. 

The attack was silent, swift and without disruption to the currents around her as a heavy object slammed into the back of her head, causing pain and a burst of sharp points of light to explode in her mind’s eye. Reeling from the assault, she quickly tried to turn, or flee with a burst of speed, or call upon her innate magic to obscure her but all the thoughts came at once and jumbled upon each other, destroying her concentration and clarity. Her eyes searched the waving forest of kelp, desperately searching for her attacker, but what had been a sea of green tranquility moments before, now was full of shadows, darkness, and danger. From behind the kelp to either side of her, rough hands lunged for her, pinning her arms to her near naked body. Normal men would never have succeeded in such rough handling of a mermaid, such was their strength that belied their lithe forms. Atlantians however, had adapted to the environment as well and these two were elite warriors, trained to battle such foes and the element of surprise combined with a blow to the head gave them all the advantage they needed. In moments, the mermaid had been bound, gagged and blindfolded, with her tail cruelly twisted up behind her and secured by a thick cord that wrapped around her throat. Any attempt to flee would choke the life from her.

The Atlantians spared a moment to celebrate their success before dragging her prone body through the kelp forest to a clear patch of seabed, leaving her to lie on her side amongst the fine sand and silt. 

“When was the last time anyone captured one of the gilled women?” the first Atlantian asked his more seasoned companion. 

The veteran Atlantian regarded the younger trooper with a fierce smile, although his words held a note of caution and were kept low and brief. “It’s rare, but not unheard of. Maybe a half century is my guess. Normally too dangerous to leave alive, but the Commander wants answers.”

Looking around warily, the veteran unslung a gas-powered harpoon launcher from across his back and checked the mechanism. His thumb hesitated for the briefest moment before he slid the safety to ‘off’ and kept it at the ready. Gesturing with a nod to the younger, yet still elite guardsman, he barked a hasty order, “Quickly, go get the Crawler and we’ll take her back to camp. Something, “and he looked out into the murky depths of the deep basin warily. “Something doesn’t feel right.”

The Trooper nodded and swam back towards the kelp forest, moving swiftly and quietly. The two Atlantians were members of the elite forward deployment brigade; experienced, battle-hardened warriors that were trained to operate well behind enemy lines. It was only their skill and experience that had enabled them to close with the Mermaid without her sensing them. A feat few could brag about. Three hundred yards beyond the far side of the kelp forest sat the armoured mechanical crawler, painted a non-reflective dark grey to match the seabed. The trooper paused at the edge of the kelp forest and scanned the surroundings for several heartbeats before breaking cover, confident that no enemies waited beyond.

The veteran Atlantian hunkered down, the gas-powered harpoon cocked and held before him as he scanned the area. As his gaze returned to his left, he noticed the mermaid, still prone upon the seabed floor, had turned on her side. Although still blindfolded, and despite he not having moved at all since the young trooper had left, she was somehow staring directly at him. He was sure that her eyes, were they free of the thick material, would be locked with his own. Momentarily stunned with a spasm of fear that ran the length of his spine, the veteran carefully slid a foot behind him and without making a sound or the slightest ripple of the water around him, he shifted back a few paces. Disconcertingly, the mermaids head tilted up as, impossibly, her blind-folded eyes tracked his movements. It was then, that he noticed something else peculiar. At her waist a small belt pouch wrapped her slender frame. The twine-wrapped catch had come open and a single item had spilled out upon the sandy floor of the seabed. 

A golden fleur-de-lis brooch.

The young trooper had reached the armoured Crawler and was in the process of unlocking the canopy when a sixth sense warned him of impending danger. With one hand still on the canopy, his free hand drew a wickedly sharp kris knife from his belt and he spun to his left, inwardly proud of his lightening reflexes honed from years of combat experience. He should, however, have turned right.

An explosion of pain tore up his spine a moment before the dark oceanic plain became darker still around the edges of his vision and a cloud of blood quickly obscured all sight of the trooper or the canopy of the armoured Crawler. The silence and stillness of the next few moments was interrupted only by a slight metallic clink, as a kris knife struck the outside step of the Crawler before landing point first into the sandy seabed floor. 

The veteran Atlantian knew something had gone wrong. The trooper should have returned by now in the Crawler and they should be halfway back to their camp. Cursing under his breath, he moved to the other side of the prone mermaid, determined to use her as a living shield. While his eyes and other senses scanned the surroundings, his mind probed the symbol on the brooch. He recognized it but was struggling to grasp the meaning which continued to stubbornly resist his attempts at recall. He could see it in his mind’s eye as it lay upright upon the sand, but how did it fall from a closed pouch when she was bound and prone herself? 

It was that slightest distraction that proved his undoing, with his mind too focused on the brooch for mere fractions of a second. He was a solidly built Atlantian, proven by the strength it took to overpower the mermaid, regardless of the surprise of their assault. But the 2200 pounds of great white shark travelling at 50 km per hour tore into him with such ferocity that his expression had not even changed, even as his body was ripped in two. His head and shoulders hit sand, stained with his lifeblood but his mind was not yet done as it finally grasped the meaning of the brooch’s symbol. As his eyes dimmed and he acknowledged the memory, he was again struck by how the mermaid had somehow turned and through the thick material of her blindfold was once again staring straight into his now lifeless eyes. 

The fleur-de-lis, a calling card used by the Order of the Skull.