The Salty Seven

- Part 3 -
Three Scottish lads crept through the darkened streets of Inverness with the preternatural stealth afforded to young teens intent on mischief. They entered the kitchen of a large sized pub while the staff were out in the main tavern cleaning up and made their way down worn stone steps to an old basement. The lead boy turned on a flashlight as they crept to the back wall of the basement, where a large rug covered the floor. Rolling it up from one side, the unsteady beam of light from the nervous, yet excited boy shined upon old floorboards, long since missing the nails that held them down. The two other boys, one to each end of the heavy boards carefully lifted them up and stacked them to one side under the silent instructions of the eldest who supervised and directed with crisp movements of the flashlight beam. After removing several of the floorboards, the eldest boy stepped to the edge and shone the light down into the darkness below the tavern’s basement. They all hesitated a moment at the yawning chasm of darkness beneath them, wild imagination conjuring monsters and worse lurking just beyond the edges of their light. The other two boys pulled out their own flashlights and the three beams of halogen light bathed the area below, dispelling both their fears and the lurking monsters. The light played across smooth limestone walls of an old bath house from the Middle Ages, yet the steel ladder descending to the floor of the bath house indicated much more recent use by the owners of the tavern above.

The boys quickly gathered their things and climbed down the ladder, scanning the area once again with their torches to ensure nothing waited to pounce upon them. Satisfied that they were alone, they changed and made their way into the cool waters of the bath, their feet struggling for purchase on the sloping and tiled floor. Soon, the three of them were happily splashing and relaxing in the cold waters, enjoying the salty residue it left on the skin with waters fed from the North Sea itself. At the far back of the bath, about forty feet from where the boys played, the limestone walls and roof descended into the flooded tunnels that crisscrossed underneath the city of Inverness. 

Captain Darius “Toothless” Low was hopelessly lost. Ahead of him, in the distance of the dark tunnels they swam through, he could make out the luminescent glow coming from Selkie as she led the way. She seemed to posses the ability to adjust the brightness of her skin’s glow to suit her needs and here, in the pitch black of these tunnels, she let it shine bright, as a beacon for the Salty Seven to ensure no one got lost. Riding on top of Skitter, Darius brought up the rear of the group, the crab so large that navigation at times became a bit tricky and forcing One-Eye Anderson and Shāyu to swim along ahead of him, just behind Sylvella, Nado and Hermod who was swimming alongside his steed, rather than riding it. Over the past hour, they had been swimming upward, getting closer and closer to the surface and now they paused while Selkie assessed the tunnels ahead. 

“Surface dwellers ahead,” was the explanation passed back to Darius as he waited quietly on top of Skitter. “This is as close to the surface as we get on our way to the Loch,” Selkie explained quietly. “We could wait until they move on or risk it with a dash through the slightly exposed tunnel and then back into a deeper section where we will be undisturbed?”

There was a hushed debate on the merits of remaining unseen against the urgency of their mission before it was decided to make a dash for it, trusting that they would be long gone before any alarm brought more land seals to investigate.

Reducing her luminescent glow, Selkie set off with the other following quickly. Darius gave Skitter a quick slap on one claw and the crab scurried off after them, his flat, emotionless eyes reacting not at all to the pause, or the resumed travel. 

Ahead, in the bath house, the three lads paused at the sound of splashing coming from the rear depths of the dark waters. Swimming as they were in the mid-section of the baths, the boys could only just touch the slick tiles with their feet and certainly with insufficient purchase to allow them to step hastily back to shallower waters. The splashing beyond them, in the deeper waters became louder still and each of the three boys shined their water-resistant torches at the back wall as it descended into the water, fear etched on their faces as several massive shark dorsal fins lifted from the waters surface and crossed the breadth of their bath house with alarming speed. The boys froze in terror, realizing they were in far too deep to swim to safety now as they watched four large-bodied sharks swim by, less than thirty yards away. The water was deep enough to obscure the lithe forms of the two mermaids and Sleipnir as well, but the boy’s fear turned to stark terror as Captain Darius “Toothless” Low’s upper body emerged from the dark waters, riding as he was upon the back of the enormous Skitter crab.

Darius turned to find the source of the light shining upon the surface of the water and now himself as well, as Skitter traversed the tunnel at the edge of the bathhouse. Seeing the three teenage boys frozen in terror a scant thirty yards away, Darius smiled broadly and doffed his pirate hat to them with a wink of one eye as he slowly descended back into the darkened water on the far side of the bathhouse and out of sight.

The boys stood on the slippery tiles in absolute silence for many long moments after Darius had disappeared and the sounds of splashing had faded away. With painful slowness and not a word uttered, they each began edging back towards the shallows, and the benches upon which they had left their clothes. Within five minutes, they had dressed, climbed the ladder, replaced the floorboards and were sneaking back up through the cellar basement and out the kitchen’s back door. Once out on the street, they each looked to one another, faces still showing the shock of such a close encounter with the massive sharks, before the eldest spoke in quiet tones.

“Not a word of this, you hear?” He told them sternly while the other two just nodded in response.

“I’ll not be branded a crazy, like that old fisher lady who lives along the coast,” he continued earnestly. 

“Makes you wonder if she really is crazy now though huh?” the youngest lad questioned aloud.

“I won’t be judging her anymore, that’s for damn sure,” the eldest agreed with him.Wondering why the last boy was so quiet, both then turned to the third boy curiously before he answered their questioning stares.

“How cool was the pirate’s hat on that shark though?” He asked with a huge grin, as all three doubled over in laughter brought on by a release of pent-up tension and fear.

 It was another four hours before the Salty Seven emerged from the dark tunnels under Inverness and the surrounding countryside and into the Loch Ness proper. Sinking to the floor of the Loch, the sharks, mermaids, and mounts all took a moment to rest, only the indomitable Skitter seemingly unaffected by the journey through the tunnels. Shāyu opened some packs on the back of Skitter and pulled out some fish to pass around the group, so they could recover their strength for the most dangerous part of the mission still ahead of them.

“How far to the prison itself?” Hermod asked Selkie, while he looked around the bottom of the Loch.

“About an hour’s swim is all,” she answered, seemingly uncomfortable resting out in the open. “There is a wide crevice, the edge of which is not too far from here and it runs along the length of the Loch, splitting the floor into two parts effectively. The prison is in the centre of that crevice, well-hidden from the surface dwellers and fishermen.”

“You ok Selkie?” One-Eye Anderson asked, astutely noticing her nervous demeanour.

“Aye, I am ok, but we are too close to Nessie’s lair for my liking,” she answered with a forced smile.
“We should keep moving.”

“We’ll need a plan first,” Darius chimed in. “I’m all for storming a super secure Atlantian prison and all, but I’d like to think we have a plan for getting in and more importantly out, before we charge off.”

“Selkie and I have been discussing this on the journey here,” Sylvella said quietly, as she laid out the plan for breaching the prison while the Sharks all listened silently. When she finished laying out the audacious plan, she looked around the faces of the sharks with a questioning expression. “No comments?”

“I can only think of a dozen potential flaws,” Darius began, “So, it’s probably the best plan we could hope for.”

“If the facility is heavily fortified, some of us are unlikely to return,” Shāyu added solemnly, chewing on some fish snacks. “Shāyu is not afraid, for it is unlikely to be him,” he finished with a wry grin and a wink.

“Shāyu is right, of course, it will likely be Nado, as the weakest of the group,” One Eye Anderson chimed in, not even bothering to hide a broad smile.

Nado just shook his head and grinned back at them, recognizing the banter for what it was, given the plan laid out by Sylvella and the odds stacked against them. This group was the some of the best in The Mermaid Queen’s forces and if there was a chance of success, he knew it rested on their combined fins and scales.

“No point delaying it any further then,” he said, readying himself and his kit as he addressed Selkie. “Lead us out.”

Two hundred yards out from the tunnels exit as the Loch dipped into far deeper territory, the group could see off in the distance, even through the murky waters, a cave mouth that descended deep into the floor of the Loch. As the group veered off towards the start of the crevice and away from that foreboding cave mouth, Darius would swear he saw the remnants of a massive skeletal frame poking up from the silt and sand of the Loch’s floor, just outside the entrance to the cave. As he rode out of sight of the cave, a cold shiver ran the length of his body and a terrible sense of foreboding washed over him.