The Salty Seven

- Part 2 -
Nado looked around the group of sharks and mermaids that had embarked on this dangerous and urgent mission to rescue an Atlantian woman named Kako. The woman was part of the very race that the sharks and mermaids joined forces to defeat, after they had so willfully polluted and desecrated the ocean environment and driven thousands of aquatic flora and fauna to the point of extinction. Yet not everyone can be judged by the masses of their own kind. Kako had helped the Mermaid Queen with vital intelligence and support that had been critical to the capture of their capital city Atlantis. For this, she had been imprisoned in their highest security facility deep within a landbound lake called Loch Ness. Only, it wasn’t completely landbound and secret tunnels connected it to the North Sea, tunnels that would provide this group of elite sharks and mermaids access to attempt the most daring of rescues.

Nado reclined back against a rocky outcrop halfway down an undersea mountain approximately midway between Atlantis and the North Sea. He cast his eye one over this newly formed group that he had proudly named “The Salty Seven” with a mixture of both pride and concern. The five sharks and two mermaids were a formidable group, such that even a pod of marauding orcas had given them a wide birth on their journey so far. But the group was no well-drilled military unit either. By design, they were chosen for their independence, ferocity, and experience but this inevitably led to friction as well amongst such a group of alpha sharks. Nado glanced over to the sleeping forms of the two mermaids, huddled together protectively, despite the incredible strength, speed and magic possessed by each of them. There had been no rivalry, and both had settled comfortably in the group, each seeming to understand instinctively where their specific strengths were best applied.

Moving quietly to avoid waking Sylvella and Selkie, Nado pushed off from the side of the mountain and swam out in a lazy arc to check on the perimeter of their camp for this evening. Hermod was grooming and feeding his Sea Horse steed Sleipnir, loosening the armor plates so he could rest and feed in more comfort, while beside him floated “One Eye” Anderson, the two in quiet conversation about the merits of cavalry over infantry.

“The speed of a cavalry charge is critical to the success of hit and run tactics when you are outnumbered by your enemy,” Hermod explained quietly.

“Yes, but with the additional supplies required to feed and care for these creatures, you are more exposed to having your supply lines cut, which would lessen any advantage if you can’t keep the Sea Horses in top shape,” Eye-One countered thoughtfully.

“The infantry needs supplies too, Anderson,” Hermod responded.
“Yes, but the infantry can make do in the field, by eating the enemy, something the Sea Horses would not enjoy, no?” One Eye surmised.
“No, they prefer small crustaceans, fish and plankton,” Hermod answered with a smile,
“Not Atlantians.”Nado smiled to himself as he moved out of hearing of the remainder of their conversation, continuing his perimeter patrol, effectively a U-shaped loop out from the undersea mountain cliffside with around fifty yards between either end. At the opposite end to where the two mermaids slept, Nado could see the forms of Captain Darius “Toothless” Low and Shāyu resting undisturbed on a ledge of the mountain, each with a weapon lying within a fin’s length of them. Nado allowed himself a small smile, knowing how quickly they would be awake, and fighting should the situation call for it. He was about to turn and retrace his patrol path back to the mermaids when he stopped and looked around with alarm, having not seen the huge, heavily armoured crab that Darius used as a mount and affectionately called Skitter.

Scanning the rocky ledge with care, as well as up and down the mountainside, to the lengths of his visibility in either direction, with both the surface and the ocean floor both out of sight, Nado failed to spot the massive crab. Muttering to himself at such an impossibility, he began to get frustrated at his own inability to find him.

“How do you lose a crab one and a half times the size of those mechanical crawlers the Atlantians use with armor plating thicker than five shark fins,” he complained to himself, starting to consider waking Darius to locate the creature that had clearly wandered off alone.
“It might be huge, but it’s clearly brain dead,” Nado continued quietly to himself, “Obviously a by-product of growing up next to a nuclear reactor.
It hung there for a long moment as Nado debated waking Darius, before he eventually thought better of it, and turned to retrace his patrol steps.

Meanwhile, inside an impossibly narrow crevice, thirty feet up the cliff face, two large eyestalks regarded Nado with serious intent. Skitter had done, what crabs do instinctively, regardless of size and that’s find a comfortable cave, or crevice to hide in when resting. Skitter wasn’t yet asleep though and eyes that were flat and emotionless on sagging eyestalks during the day, were now sharply focused, alert and following Nado closely. Slowly and deliberately, Skitter’s main claw clenched shut tightly while he watched Nado move back the other direction and out of sight before he relaxed and closed his eyes once again.The following day began as the previous weeks had done, as the Seven continued their journey to the North Sea. It was nearing late afternoon and the team was being entertained by a gladiatorial story from Shāyu from his time fighting in the arena. As was his way, Shāyu spoke in the third person as he regaled them.

“It was a giant squid Shāyu faced, it’s whip-fast tentacles, barbed and strong lashed out at Shāyu, tearing into his flesh from all angles.” His oratory was engaging, and all were caught up in the telling, perhaps more so, because it was being told in such a way.  

“Caught tight in its embrace, the bony beak was snapping dangerously close to Shāyu’s underbelly as he struggled to bring his own harpoon to bear. Each time he tried to re-position himself, the barbs on those fierce tentacles sunk deeper into his sides and he bellowed in pain,” at which point Shāyu himself bellowed in pain to re-enact the terror and agony of the moment in his story. Even though they knew he must have won, to be with them now, both Sylvella and Selkie had hands over their mouths in shock, eyes wide in wonder at the unfolding drama. Shāyu continued.

“Going in for the kill, the giant squid lunged a final time with its beak, to disembowel Shāyu and feast upon his innards, but in its hunger and lust for the kill, it had taken its eyes off Shāyu momentarily, neglecting to baffle the skilled Bull Shark’s own attacks. Shāyu struck hard, his aim true, in the final moment of the giant squid’s victory. The harpoon entered the open beak of the monster, driving deep into its head and finding purchase in the brain. Shāyu felt his own strength waning from the vicious wounds across his body, but he managed to twist the harpoon once and pull it free, sending a gout of blood and brains spurting from the open beak as the giant squid convulsed once and died.”

Even as he finished, Shāyu slumped over in his seat upon the back of the gigantic Skitter, seemingly once again feeling those dreadful wounds. So powerful was his storytelling, that Selkie instinctively reached out to him before checking herself, while Sylvella just raised one eyebrow at her and smiled slightly.

There were nods and cheers from the others at such a wonderful re-telling and Shāyu quickly recovered to accept the bows and accolades graciously.

“To be a gladiator, is to be an actor as much as a warrior, and Shāyu was the best of the gladiators,” Shāyu informed them without any attempt at feigning modesty.

For his part, Skitter was moving along at a steady pace, his eyes, flat, emotionless and perhaps even half-asleep as he easily bore the weight of Darius, One-Eye Anderson and Shāyu along with their supplies and spare weapons. Up ahead, Nado was on point, around sixty yards ahead of the main group and he had stopped at a small ridgeline rising from the seabed. His posture had changed, as he sunk low against the ridgeline and one fin was held back towards the group.

“Hold,” One-Eye Anderson stated softly as Darius pulled Skitter to a halt and the group hushed as their instincts took over and they began scanning their surroundings for threats.

Even Skitter appeared more alert, but his focus was squarely on Nado himself, as one eye stalk seemed to follow Nado with intent as his made his way carefully back to the group. Shāyu watched Skitter with a curious expression, noting the crab’s behaviour while the others were too focused on their surroundings or the returning Nado.“What is it?” Sylvella asked as Nado got close to them.

“A score of Atlantians ahead,” and he paused for a moment, his face twisting into an angry scowl. “They have attacked and killed a family of Grey Nurse sharks, including the children and an accompanying Mermaid.”

The group was stunned by the news, and Sylvella and Selkie’s eyes narrowed dangerously as they listened to the report.
“The Grey Nurse mother was a Matron of the Order of the Cross,” Nado continued quietly, his voice low but with a dangerous edge to it.
“I know her because she patched me up a number of times. She was heavily pregnant as well. None of them survived.”
“Such will be the fate of their cowardly attackers as well,” answered Hermod in a flat tone that left no room for argument. The rest of the group just nodded once and readied weapons.

After a very brief discussion on tactics, given the seven of them were about to attack a force of twenty Altantians, the group moved quietly and carefully to the edge of the ridgeline to look down into the small valley, sparsely littered with low growing aquatic vegetation.

Just as the group was about to crest the ridgeline and charge into the midst of the Atlantian’s Hermod unhooked his trident, wheeled Sleipnir and charged off along the side of the ridge, keeping low and to the upper side as the two quickly disappeared in the gloom.

“Now,” said Nado with cold focus, once Hermod was out of sight, and the group crested the ridge and charged at full speed towards the Atlantians who were intent upon butchering the dead sharks. Nado led the charge, his own speed easily enough to keep him ahead of the group, while Darius steered Skitter directly in his wake, both One-Eye Anderson and Shāyu readying weapons to either side of him on the giant crab’s back. To either side of the crab swam Sylvella and Selkie, their own eyes blazing with both rage and building magical energy.

Thirty yards out, the Atlantians had finally noticed the charging force of sharks and Mermaids and quickly tried to scramble together a defensive line to meet the charge.

As she charged, Selkie was first to act however, as she lifted her face and sung a haunting song of loss and grief that echoed throughout the waters of the small valley bringing the vegetation to life in answer to her Siren’s call. Responding to the pain and sorrow in her voice, the vegetation twisted and wrapped itself around legs and arms of the Atlantians, baffling their attempts to form a cohesive defensive line and fouling their attempts to ready weapons.

On the other side of Skitter, Sylvella herself threw one hand forward, fingers splayed and the waters between her and two of the Atlantians at the edge of the group crystalised with ice in a cone shaped blast of cryokinesis magic. Thick, sharp shards of ice drove into the two Atlantians, piercing chest, stomach, throats, and eyes, killing them instantly as lifeless hands dropped the knives, they had been using to cut the fins from the dead sharks.

Nado slammed into the front rank of Atlantians, knocking aside their weapons contemptuously as his sword thrust into the chest of one and the exposed neck of another as his charge took him right into the midst of the enemy. At any other time, that result would have meant his death, surrounded as he was by so many armed Atlantians, even hampered as they were by Selkie’s entangling song. But such a scenario didn’t account for Skitter as Darius steered him directly into the mass of Atlantians while bellowing a war cry he had learnt from marauding pirates and adapted for his own use.
“Look at me! This is my crab tank now!”

On his back, Shāyu shortened the haft of his harpoon and angled it slightly as Skitter slammed into the mass of Atlantians. The momentum of the huge crab was used masterfully by the skilled gladiator as the set harpoon neatly disemboweled three Atlantians who all dropped weapons and futilely tried to stuff loops of entrails back into their stomach cavities. Looking back at them momentarily, he saw Selkie closing on them with clear intent, so he turned back to the still living foes while the moans of agony stopped one by one with grim finality.

On the other side of Skitter, One-Eye had strapped together three gas-powered harpoons liberated from Atlantians in previous battles and attached them to a swivel platform for a greater arc of fire. With cold precision, he steadied and fired each of them, sending harpoons thundering towards Atlantians that were only just outside the reach of his trident had he chosen to use it. Harpoons that could piece armor breastplates of sharks at distance tore the Atlantians in half creating an obscuring brown haze as the blood pumped from their bodies.

Skitter himself was not left out, his sharp pointed feet trampling the bodies of two Atlantians that fell underneath his heavy body during the charge, while a third was decapitated by a precise claw strike just as the Atlantian was bringing his own weapon to bear at Darius.

The remaining seven Atlantians fought off the entangling vegetation and gathered themselves despite the carnage to their comrades, readying to sell their lives dearly. Their focus fixed on the four sharks, two mermaids and one gigantic crab, it was too late when a flash of movement to their flank alerted them to another threat. Hermod appeared out of the murkiness of the bloodied waters, bent low over the neck of Sleipnir, his trident held before him like a lance as he slammed into the side of two Atlantians, taking one of their heads clean off, before burying the trident into the chest of the second. Letting the trident go, he quickly drew a sword and now blocking any retreat the Atlantians might have sought, he wheeled Sleipnir with a grim expression and completed the encircling maneuver.

In the gloom of the bloodied waters, Selkie’s voice again rose in song, this time causing the remaining Atlantians to shake their heads in confusion as the song broke their concentration and befuddled their minds. The confusion was all the opportunity her friends needed. Sylvella’s hand turned a bright blue as it became encased in ice up to the forearm while her fingers closed over a shard of razor-sharp ice. With Sylvella lunging in from one flank and Nado the other, the remaining Atlantians were slaughtered against the immovable shell of Skitter with Darius, Shāyu and One-Eye Anderson all stabbing down at them from the back of the armored behemoth crab. Hermod ensured that none escaped, turning them back with his flashing sword as they sought any escape. The rest of that evening was spent tending to the corpses of their brethren in grim silence. There was now sadness to temper the earlier rage and a further hardening of already strong resolve that this war must be fought for the sake of all aquatic creatures. Even Skitter helped out, under the direction of Darius, although one eye stalk was always turned toward Nado with a fixation that Nado had begun to notice as had Shāyu, although Darius himself seemed completely unaware.Another week’s travel passed uneventfully for the group as they moved into the fierce waters of the North Sea proper. Closing on the Scottish coast and the city of Inverness, they began to discuss the details of what lay before them. Assuming they could navigate to the Loch with Selkie’s guidance they had begun to review options for how to breach the prison proper and locate Kako, and after discarding several ideas, had settled on what they felt was their best chance.

“Of course,” Selkie added at the end of the discussion, just as they were preparing to make for the tunnels under Inverness. “All this will be for naught should old Nessie be awake, Atlantians or not.”
“Excuse me,” asked Darius pointedly.
“Old what?”
“Don’t be silly, Nessie is a myth,” Sylvella fired back.
“Oh, a myth, is she?” Selkie asked sarcastically.
“Her lair is littered with the bones of megalodons Sylvella and I’ve seen her with me own eyes as well. Although at a good distance. She be real enough alright. But she sleeps a lot, so we stand a chance at least.”
“Great, just great,” Nado muttered as he led them underneath the city of Inverness.