The Salty Seven

- Part 1 -
Nado emerged from the Atlantian palace, relieved to be out of waters that felt oily from politics and intrigue, swimming into the cool open expanse of the deep-sea plateau upon which rested the remnants of the city of Atlantis. A shadow detached itself from a nearby broken and crumbling column, moving in his direction and he quickly discerned the lithe and assuredly confident form of a mermaid as Sylvella came more fully into view. 

“Took your time, what was the hold up?” she asked brusquely as she closed the distance to him. 

Squinting at her with his one remaining eye, he resisted the urge to scratch underneath the still-new eye patch and just sighed quietly.

“So much for it being a choice hey?” he grumbled back at her in frustration.

“It was a choice,” Sylvella reassured him, “The Queen just ensured I was prepared should you have accepted. Besides, since when have you balked at impossible odds and the chance to pit yourself against the very best the Atlantians can offer?” she teased, knowing full well his reputation, capability and temperament.

“One on one,” he gave her a lopsided smile, “even two on one, I wouldn’t even change expression. But this is going to take a team of us, each the very best at what they do for us to even get close to this prison, let alone inside it and out again with Kako.”

Slyvella just nodded, losing her teasing smile as she accepted the truth of his words.

“So, who are you thinking?” she asked quietly, mindful that there was still a decent amount of traffic this close to the palace and temple areas. Sharks of every species and a fair number of mermaids were almost always coming or going with tasks or patrols.

“Well, I know what we don’t want, and that’s soldiers,” he frowned in thought as he began working through a mental list of potential candidates. 

“We’ll need speed,” Sylvella offered with a nod.

“Smash and grab and get away as fast as possible before they can overwhelm us with numbers and reinforcements block our escape,” Nado agreed, spelling out the scenario. “So, we need innovation, quick thinkers and veterans that won’t freeze or puke when they understand what we face.”

“Hermod,” Sylvella suggested with a raised brow. “I’ve seen him on that newly liberated and armored Sea Horse of his and he’s faster than anything I’ve seen.”

“Yes, good choice. And it’s maneuverable and quiet,” Nado considered with a firm nod. “Let’s go have a chat, I know where they stable those new beasts and its close by.”

Less than an hour later, Nado and Sylvella were standing on the outside of a three-dimensional obstacle course on the outskirts of the ruined city. Stretching over a mile in length and rising one hundred feet from the ocean floor, large objects floated in the water, each containing pockets of air to make them float towards the surface but stopped at various points by varying lengths of rope to create a maddening array of obstacles for sharks and mermaids to navigate at speed. At either end, mermaids with sashes from shoulder to hip controlled the flow of entrants into the course and ensured they were timed and graded with penalties applying for any contact with the floating obstacles. A challenge made more difficult in the shifting currents of the ocean depths. 

Lining up to start a run through was a bare chested great white shark, his skin across arms and back showing red hot lines of magma amidst the cooling basalt of his muscled body. His eyes shone with a dark red hue, a battered Viking helmet was strapped to his head and his left arm ended in a vicious adamantium hook, crafted by the Order of the Star to replace a limb lost in battle. Rather than hamper him, he made excellent use of it, wrapping the reins of his Sea Horse steed around the hook to leave his right hand free for wielding a weapon. The Sea Horse steed was a magnificent specimen, obviously an alpha female prior to the genetic manipulation at the hands of the Atlantians. Now, she stood nearly half the length of a Whale Shark and bulked almost the same as well, decked out with armored head plates and flank guards.  

The mermaid controlling the start of the obstacle course, gave a signal and Hermod bellowed a war cry, and urged his mount to action.

“Sleipnir, now!” he called out as the Sea Horse burst forward with a dazzling display of speed and agility. Hermod leaned and guided with his hooked hand with utmost precision as Sleipnir zigged, zagged, rose and dived instantly upon his directions, almost as if their minds had merged as one as they charged through the course, easily avoiding all the obstacles at a breakneck speed.

Watching from the sidelines, both Nado and Sylvella stared in slack-jawed amazement at the sheer speed and maneuverability being displayed as Hermod completed the mile-long course in just over a minute, averaging around 40 knots.

“He’ll do nicely,” Nado confirmed what they were both thinking as Sylvella just nodded and started off towards the obstacle course. 

“I’ll recruit him, on behalf of the Queen,” you go find some others.

“Are you sure he’ll agree to come?” Nado queried.

“I’ll make sure of it,” Sylvella replied assuredly. “Sharks love me.”

Nado smiled briefly at the statement but couldn’t argue its logic. Sharks did indeed love Sylvella, even more than most mermaids, but he never understood why. Moving back towards the heart of Atlantis itself, Nado felt at a loss for other potential candidates, when he spotted a crowd of both Sharks and Mermaids congregating around a mostly intact building near the centre of the city. Moving in for a closer look, he recognized the faded sign of an Atlantian tavern and realized that these were off duty comrades letting off some steam after long days of cleaning, reclamation, or patrols. Carefully weaving through the throng of patrons, he made his way towards the bar area, scanning the crowd for likely recruits while ignoring the odd wide-eyed look of wonder from some of the younger sharks as one of their idols swam past them.

Nado spotted a group of sharks gambling with some weighted dice, weighted against the ocean and currents of course, and not for any nefarious reasons and as he was about to move past them, he stopped and regarded one of them more closely. Black leather jacket, faded in parts with the sleeves torn off, eye patch like his own, but also faded with age and skull and crossbones pirates’ hat, favoured by land seal sailors in the 1700’s that was in remarkably good condition, tugged at Nado’s memory. It wasn’t until the Goblin Shark turned slightly in his direction and Nado could see the broken and missing teeth and the crude but effective pig iron hook on one arm that it clicked into place for Nado.

“Darius ‘Toothless’ Low?” Nado shook his head in amazement.

Turning to face the speaker of his name, Darius regarded Nado with a wry smile of acknowledgement before correcting him with a growl.

“Captain, Darius Low, if you don’t mind Nado,” and he paused for a long moment as he held Nado’s one-eyed gaze with his own before slowly winking at him. “But you can call me Toothless, you old wind bag!”

Nado gave him a broad smile in response before slowly shaking his head and querying.

“How is it possible that you’re still alive?”

“I’ve always been a stubborn one, so likely just too stubborn to die as well,” he answered with a shrug.

“Which unit are you with?” Nado asked, moving alongside the grizzled veteran.

Scooping up his winnings with his hook with surprising deftness, Darius stepped back from the table and answered Nado in a somewhat evasive manner, “Depends on who’s asking, really?”

“I’m just curious,” Nado shook his head, “I could use a seasoned veteran like you for a particular job, but I need speed over cunning and your best days are behind you my old friend.”

“Ok, firstly, don’t insult me you wet-behind-the-ears wobbygong,” Darius fired back, using the slang term for a carpet shark. “I was striking hard and loosing teeth while you were still dodging tougher siblings in ya momma’s womb!”

Nado just laughed at the imaginative insult before clarifying the point.

“All that may be true, if slightly embellished, but that still doesn’t mean you’re as fast as you once might have been, and I need speed my friend, and lots of it.”

“What you need is brains Nado,” Darius countered. “I don’t need to be fast when I got Skitter,” I just need to be smarter, and clearly I’m smarter than you.”

“Ok, ok, and just who or what is Skitter?” Nado asked with a rueful shake of the head.

“Skitter is a Skitter Crab and no, not a wee bitty one like you’re thinking,” Darius added quickly, seeing the dubious expression on Nado’s face. “I found the blighter living in a sunken nuclear submarine.”

Nado’s one eye was wide in surprise at hearing this and then suddenly narrowed in suspicion.

“You’re having a lend of me, Toothless, I know it! A little skitter crab is not much of a threat.”

“Goblin’s honour!” he swore. “And he’s fast too, you’ll see.”

“Ok, ok,” Nado stated, shaking his head in disbelief. “Got any tough lads you still work with? You know when you’re not actually attending your unit like you should.”

“Maybe,” Darius answered evasively. “What’s the job?”

“Search and Rescue,” Nado responded evasively. 

“You need tough and expendable I’m guessing?”

“Tough, quick, quiet, experienced and not just order takers,” Nado ticked off a list of qualities slowly.

“Is that all? Not good cooks as well?” Darius replied sarcastically, scoffing at the formidable criteria.

“I didn’t say it was an easy search and rescue,” Nado answered with a shrug.

“No, you didn’t say much at all,” Darius countered. “Look, I know two guys, One-Eye and Shāyu, both fit that criteria and some, but they’re good sorts and I’m not keen to just throw them away on something stupid.”

Nado paused at this and thought carefully about how to respond to the canny Goblin Shark Captain. For his part, Darius just waited patiently, sizing up Nado’s demeanor as well as his hesitation. Eventually Nado answered him in a quiet voice. “I can’t say it’s not stupid, but I can say it’s for the Queen and I wouldn’t take just any job.”

“Hmm… I see,” Darius replied noncommittally. “I can ask them at least. See what they say.”

“Do that, would you?” Nado asked quietly. “If you can get them, meet me outside the poker den on the outskirts of the city in two hours. I need to commandeer some gear for us, so I’ll meet you there, with or without them,” he finished turning to walk back to the bar’s entrance. Pausing near the door, he turned back to Darius who seemed lost in thought. “And bring Skitter too.”

Captain Darius ‘Toothless’ Low didn’t even bother responding, or looking back to Nado, as he moved to the rear of the bar and slipped out a back entrance, quickly disappearing from sight. Nado also headed out, moving away towards the armory, his mind turning to more mundane problems, like how much food did a skitter crab consume.

Two hours later, Nado, Sylvella and Hermod approached the well-known Poker den on the outskirts of Atlantis. Hermod’s sea horse mount, Sleipnir’s eyes were flat with discontent as he laboured under the weight of many packs full to the brim with supplies, gear, and food. Hermod swam alongside, doing his best to placate the mighty and somewhat prideful mount that this was a short-term arrangement. Looking around as they arrived at the agreed rendezvous point, Nado frowned in concern when he didn’t see Toothless waiting for him. He was about to suggest a postponement in the mission to recruit some new blood when Sylvella’s sharp intake of water made him spin around, flexing for a fight. The sight that greeted them was both awe-inspiring and terrifying all at the same time. A huge crab, with pincers each the width of two adult sharks crawled out from the shadows behind the den. Atop its massive hard shell back, rode Darius “Toothless” Low, grinning from gill to gill and beside him, easily accommodated by the crab sat two impressively muscled Bull Sharks, both from the Trident Order and both outfitted for war.

Darius pulled back on the smooth leather reins with his hook as he regarded the stunned expressions on the faces of Nado, Hermod and Sylvella. Even Sleipnir had momentarily forgotten his disgust at becoming a pack beast, although he soon tossed back his head in disdain and turned away, careful to keep one eye on the massive crab, all the same. 

“What? You all look like you haven’t seen a radiation mutated crab before?” Darius asked with a laugh.

“No, can’t say I have, but I do like what I see,” Slyvella offered with a charming smile to Darius. 

Shaking his head, Nado decided to take a bit of wind from the pirate’s sails as he replied, “Sorry, didn’t see the crab, was too focused on my impressive Brothers here,” indicating the two Bull Sharks.

“Right… of course you were,” Darius laughed. “Alright, I guess some introductions are in order,” he began while the two Bull Sharks climbed down from the back of the crab.

“This, fine specimen,” he began, pointing to the toothless, lava skinned shark with an old black eye patch over one eye, “Is One-Eye Anderson. Older than silt, he’s seen more battles than I’ve had hot breakfasts and I love me some boiled clams in the morning.”

“Good to meet you Anderson,” Nado greeted him warmly.

“Call me One-Eye,” Anderson answered, greeting him with a chest bump in respect. “I’ve heard of you Nado and it’s an honour to join you on this suicide mission.” 

“Suicide mission?” Nado asked flatly, looking directly at Darius.

“Hey, I just read between the lines, no point sugar coating it,” Darius answered defensively.

“Um, say, Eye-One,” Sylvella began with a slightly pained expression. “You have a… umm, there’s a… I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but…. Oh look, there’s a damn harpoon through your head!”

“Oh, this old thing?” One-Eye asked, touching the pointy end sticking out of his head. “Yeah, barely notice it anymore, happened nearly a decade ago. Doesn’t bother me unless I’m near the surface as it occasionally picks up surface vessel marine radio which can give me a bit of a headache,” he shrugged. 

“Yeah, I can see why that might be annoying,” Sylvella agreed. “Ever thought of getting one of our Cross brethren to remove it?” “Yeah, just haven’t gotten around to it, I guess.”

“Of course not. Silly me,” and she smiled sweetly at him.

“And this quiet lad is Shāyu, which I think just means Shark in some Land Seal language,” Darius introduced the golden skinned, double horned Bull Shark dressed in a roman legionnaire’s uniform. “He’s been trained as a gladiator since he was a pup and there is no better fighter in single combat. Between these two, I pity any Atlantian mob smaller in size than a battalion.”

Turning to face Darius, Shāyu, bowed low at the glowing introduction, “Xièxiè nǐ.”

“Just speak Shark, would ya?” Darius grumbled. “I doubt they speak Chinese as well,” he continued explaining away the language choice. “As I said, trained to fight as a gladiator since a young age, they dressed him in that costume for impact on the crowds, but he likes it now and won’t take it off. It’s where he picked up the language as well.”

“The Atlantians fear the Gladiator Shāyu, for he eats their shields and armor for breakfast, before dining on their soft underbellies,” Shāyu explained, speaking about himself in the third person.

“Which would explain the condition of your teeth,” Sylvella guessed aloud as she explained herself further to Nado and Hermod, “The Atlantians use Tellurium in their ceramic shields as a tinting agent. It is an extremely rare metal so quite wasteful, but if chewed on, can really degrade the calcium in teeth.”

“Well, he’s certainly chewed on a few,” One-Eye Anderson chimed in. “I’m no slouch, but my Atlantian kill count isn’t half what Shāyu has racked up.”

“Impressive,” Nado nodded with a broad grin. 

“I think these two round out the team nicely,” Hermod said, as he began offloading the packs from the back of his Sea Horse steed. 

“I agree, I think this is exactly what we need,” Sylvella chimed in. “Has everyone gotten permission from their Commanders to be away from active duty?”

The silence and side-eyed glances around the small group was all the answer she needed as she sighed and shook her head.

“I don’t think this is the first time these fellas have taken an extended leave of absence and apologized for it afterwards,” Nado surmised shrewdly. 

“So, let’s not break with tradition now, shall we?” Darius replied with a wink to Sylvella from his one good eye as he started securing the team’s packs to the back of Skitter without the crab even blinking one of his eye stalks.

One-Eye and Shāyu both started hefting and assessing the weapons Nado has requisitioned for the mission with nods of approval as they also began stowing them on the sides of the crab.

“Shāyu approves of your selections,” he gave Nado a nod while he worked. 

“That’s um… comforting, sure,” Nado answered back with a grin, not entirely comfortable with his speech mannerisms. 

In short order, Skitter was loaded and secured and Darius had climbed on his back to guide him away from Atlantis proper. Hermod now rode Sleipnir which clearly pleased the Sea Horse from its wide-eyed expression and casual preening, while Nado and Sylvella led them out in the vanguard. On either outer flank of the two large mounts swam the two Order of the Trident veterans, completing the ‘V-shaped’ formation. The group entered a long undersea trench system, quickly swallowed up by the gloom of the deep-water canyons as they left Atlantis far behind.

As they exited the other end of the long trench into the slightly less gloomy but broader canyon system, they pulled up at the sight of a bored, flame-haired mermaid resting against the canyon walls, a single pack at her feet. Her cat eyes glinted coldly in the faint light from her own luminescent skin which only made her hair seem like dancing flames about her head as she regarded them with impatience.

“Could ye have taken a wee bit longer getting started perhaps?” she queried with a distinct brogue accent.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Nado asked curiously, looking from the flame-haired mermaid and back to Sylvella.

“Selkie?” Sylvella clarified, confident that she recognised her accent if nothing else.

“Aye, of course, who else were ye expecting I wonder?” 

“Can’t say we were expecting anyone at all,” Sylvella answered her while Nado just nodded once.

“Really, ye that daft then?” she scoffed, although her smile stole some of the sting from the insult. “Who else among ye knows the North Sea as well as Selkie then?”

“North Sea?” One-Eye asked with raised eyebrows.

Watching Nado wince slightly at the question, Selkie let out a roaring laugh and happily continued to burst his bubble.

“Aye laddie, North Sea. Captain fantastic here forget to mention that wee tidbit?”

“I was going to provide full details a little further along on the journey,” Nado defended himself against the accusatory stares of the group, all except Sylvella, who stayed conspicuously quiet.

“Anyway, you’re gonna need me, if ye ever hope to find those tunnels ye lookin for, or the way through ‘em,” 

“Darius did not mention to Shāyu anything about tunnels or the North Sea,” Shāyu stated with a slight frown while absently picking a half-broken tooth from his mouth.

“That would be because Darius didn’t know either,” Darius grumbled. “But we’re here now and all packed, and neither the North Sea nor some stinking tunnels are going to frighten off Skitter and me, so let’s just get a wriggle on.”

“Exactly, so don’t go worrying about things that can be worried about tomorrow, or the day after,” Nado answered.

“Looks like we have a new addition to the team then,” Sylvella agreed. 

Picking up her pack and slinging it over one shoulder, Selkie looked carefully from shark to shark with an assessing gaze. “Impressive team ye put together Nado. We just might stand a chance on this job, after all.”

Nado just nodded in agreement as he too looked at each member in turn, including both Mermaids. Even one Mermaid was a fierce combatant that wielded strength, skill, and magic into a deadly combination. Two mermaids, along with these veterans of numerous battles over the years and Nado was beginning to think they really did stand half a chance.  His musing was cut short by Selkie as she asked a final question while she took her place beside her sister Sylvella.

“So, have ye named this ragtag group yet?”

“No, I had not,” he answered with a thoughtful expression, “but, now I think about it, and considering our common natures as well, I think we’ll go with ‘The Salty Seven’” 

There were nods and smiles all around the group at the pronouncement and both Hermod and Darius sat up straighter in their respective saddles with pride. 

“The Salty Seven,” Shāyu repeated slowly and with a deep conviction. “Shāyu approves of this name and of the good omens it brings.”