The Salty Seven

- Part 4 -
Under the cover of a silt storm whipped up by the magic of Sylvella, its unnatural origins masked by the raging storm sweeping across the surface of the Loch far above, the Salty Seven approached unseen and stood along a dark stone wall that made up one side of the Atlantian prison structure. Twenty feet to either side of the two Mermaids waited the crouched forms of Shāyu to the South and “One eye” Anderson to the North, outer sentries to the breach team. Sylvella and Selkie stood with their heads close together examining the massive stone blocks of the wall, expertly masoned and held in place by superior water-resistant mortar.

Placing a hand on the thin join between two stones, Sylvella closed her eyes in deep concentration and worked her cryokinesis magic upon the molecules within the mortar, freezing them and causing them to expand and place outward pressure on the stone blocks themselves. Watching her closely, Selkie was ready for the slight nod from Sylvella that would trigger her contribution. Quickly placing a hand beside that of her sister, Selkie called upon her own distinct magic and sent waves of sonic vibrations into the expanded frozen mortar, shattering it into tiny pieces and freeing the bonds that held the stones together.

Breathing heavily, both Mermaids paused for a moment to gather themselves, allowing time for Nado and Hermod to leverage out the stones carefully, needing both massive sharks to lift each of them from the wall and lower them to the sea floor. As Sylvella and Selkie moved to the next pair of blocks over, Nado and Hermod watched in amazement as, under Captain Darius’ instructions, Skitter easily lifted each stone block in one massive claw and pivoted to deposit them well away from where the two sharks and two mermaids were at work enlarging the breach.

“I don’t see any reason to mention this to the others,” Nado offered with a slight nod to the massive crab.

“Mention what?” Hermod replied with a bland expression devoid of even a hint of a smile.

“Another block, shall we?” Nado replied with a nod and a smile of satisfaction as he turned to the next two freed by the mermaid’s magic.

Despite moving the blocks as Darius had instructed him, Skitter was aware of the brief conversation, one eye-stalk firmly fixed on Nado in an ominous, unblinking fashion. Neither of the sharks noticed this fixation as they continued with their work.

It took twenty long minutes to open a large enough breach in the thick walls of the Prison to allow the team access to the darkened prison interior. Signaling to Shāyu and “One-Eye” Anderson that they were ready to enter, Nado stepped forward into the breach, harpoon at the ready should Atlantian guards be waiting on the other side. Encountering no resistance, he gestured for the others to join him. Only Hermod stayed at the entrance, indicating with a gesture that he would help the sentries, patting the side of Sleipnir to signal his intention to use the speed and maneuverability of the steed in open waters to their maximum advantage. 

Nado nodded once in agreement and moved further into the prison complex, leading Sylvana, Selkie and Captain Darius Low, still riding on the back of Skitter. Having entered the prison into the cavernous and water filled substructure, the smaller group of four now moved cautiously, guided by the faint light of Selkie’s luminescent skin. Large, curved walls of metal loomed out of the darkness to either side of a central passageway and ahead they could see a thick, well-maintained ladder that rose from the substructure into the prison proper. Both mermaids uttered brief words of magic and gently touched Nado, who shuddered and winced under the transmutation magic of his companions. 

“Surely it can’t have been that painful, Nado,” Selkie teased softly as she grasped one side of the ladder and swung a shapely human-looking leg onto one of the rungs. Forcing a smile, Nado replied casually, “It’s more the weirdness of the sensation over the pain. I just prefer my tail to these land-seal legs.”

Sylvella looked questioningly at Captain Darius and started to move towards him before he suddenly grasped her intent and swiftly pulled back on Skitter’s reins causing the crab to swiftly move him out of her reach.

“I’m good,” Darius answered her unspoken offer. “I’ll stay on Skitter.” 

“Sharks!” Sylvella shook her head in a mocking and fake exasperation. 

Climbing up out of the deep waters of the prison substructure, Nado and the Mermaids were amazed by the open air complex devoid of interior walls. Massive metal vats filled almost to the brim with water stood side by side along each side of the complex and were sealed with a metal latticework grid that allowed visibility into the vat and a small amount of room for the vats occupants to breathe the open air if they required it. Each metal vat had a large number painted on it in white paint to identify the vat and no doubt the occupant within. Above the vats, were a multi-layered web of gantry ways that allowed Atlantian guards to walk the complex and be able to stand directly over each vat as desired while keeping well out of reach of them and their occupants.

“There must be close to fifty vats here,” Nado whispered in consternation. “How are we going to find Kako’s one?”

“I can’t say I was even expecting to make it this far,” Sylvella answered honestly with a shrug.

The sound of approaching boots on the metal gantry ways brought the conversation to an abrupt end as they looked up from the lower sections of the ladder to an approaching guard walking in their direction about thirty feet above them.

Nimbly climbing one side of the ladder past both Nado and Sylvella, Selkie whispered as she passed by “I guess we had better ask directions then, no?”

Before they could react or utter a word to stop her, Selkie had passed them, climbing swiftly and silently to within fifteen feet of the approaching guard. Lifting her head back, her long hair weaving back and forth almost of its own accord, Selkie began a soft crooning song of loss and longing. The guard’s first reaction was one of alarm, but this quickly softened by the magic interwoven with the soft melodic voice from the Siren of the North Sea. The guard’s face relaxed visibly, and he lowered the arm he had begun raising to alert the other guards. Instead, he lowered himself to one knee and cocked his head to the side to better hear this captivating song of the Siren. 

Nado and Sylvella watched on in amazement as Selkie carefully approached the guard and began a whispered conversation, her head positioned close to his as a lover might when stealing a moment of privacy. The silence in the cavernous prison stretched for almost two minutes before a shout of alarm came from further along the gantry at the far end of the prison, lost in the gloom. The sudden noise woke the captivated guard from his stupor as Selkie let rip an old sailor’s curse at her ill luck. Showing incredible strength and dexterity, Selkie twisted on the ladder and swung herself up onto the gantry behind the guard who was just getting back to his feet. With strength that belied her lithe form, Selkie wrapped a slender arm around the guard’s neck, pulling his head backward and arching his back painfully as she secured a hold on him, while calling out to her friends below.

“Thirty-eight,” she yelled down to them, “Move!”

Selkie’s move on the guard as much as the urgency of her command snapped the group out of their fascination with her intelligence gathering and they burst into action. Selkie watched them leap forward, springing up the metal ladder and onto the gantry in swift, graceful moves as she delivered further instructions to her companions.

“Look for closed hatches on the top of the vats! That’s how you know they’re occupied,” Selkie watched them, only half aware that the guard she held arched backward painfully was reaching slowly for a weapon at his belt. Without even a change in her expression she casually snapped the large guard’s neck with one smooth move and tossed his dead body over the side to fall with a splash into the submerged substructure. 

“You find Kako, I’ll take care of these guards,” Nado told Sylvella with a growl as he began to focus his own unique magic and gather an unnatural speed with a forward charge to three advancing guards, leaving Sylvella alone on the gantry to assess the vats positioned below them. Nado slammed into the three guards, pushing hastily readied weapons easily to the side as he shortened the haft grip on his harpoon, turning the weapon into more of a short spear that he used with devastating effect on the three guards. In mere moment, three dead bodies slowly rolled or was casually kicked off the gantry now slick with their blood.  Having caught up to Nado on the gantry, Sylvella swore in frustration as she looked down at an occupied vat beneath her.

“It’s not thirty-eight, damn it!” she cursed, frowning as the dark shape of an occupant within the vat distracted her and tugged at her memory. She also succeeded in distracting Nado for a precious few seconds which proved very costly to them both as an enormous heavy shape landed between them, having jumped down from an overhead, perpendicular gantry.

This Atlantian guard was outfitted in a solid metal mechanized exoskeleton, that provided both protection from mundane weapons as well as conferring immense strength upon the occupant via the powered armour suit. Even distracted, Nado struck first and fast, his harpoon hitting the armoured guard dead center of his chest. 

“Ah, shit,” Nado muttered as the harpoon point barely scratched the metal exoskeleton. Anything else Nado might have said was lost as a huge metal arm slammed into his body, easily picking him up and throwing him twenty yards back along the gantry, away from Sylvella. 

Sylvella’s eyes narrowed as she began to gather her own formidable magic, but she was not fast enough and the other metal arm slammed into her as well, throwing her off the side of the gantry to land with a sickening thud on the metal grid lid of the closed vat she had been staring at moments earlier.

To Sylvella, the large, cavernous prison building seemed to darken considerably as her vision narrowed and her head rang with the clear clarion call of a dozen trumpeters as she valiantly tried to fight off unconsciousness. A sudden crash of metal on metal snapped her out of the deadly drowsiness threatening to drag her consciousness away as the huge metal exoskeleton landed heavily on the top of the metal latticework covering the vat. The guard landed with such force and weight that one entire side of the metal latticework cover buckled and groaned under the impact and weight of the behemoth.

Sylvella let out a soft, low groan of pain as flashes of bright lights exploded in her vision when she tried to turn her head towards the armoured guard. But, at that moment, she also felt a large presence beneath her in the vat and a voice spoke within the vaults of her mind.

“Sylvella, my dear,” the voice began, “it’s been so long.” 

The voice brought a flood of memories back to Sylvella. A shallow reef, swarms of fish and sea life, a kaleidoscope of colours like a rainbow dancing across… rainbow… 

“Lyell?” Sylvella whispered in a confused voice, memory and current reality blurring together in a jumbled mess. 

“Yes, it’s Lyell,” the voice spoke again, this time, more insistently. “Use your magic Sylvella, freeze the joints of the powered armour suit so it can’t move.”

Sylvella squinted in concentration, trying to call forth her magic against a wave of agony in her head that smashed against her concentration, shattering her hold on the magical energies. 

“I…. I can’t,” Sylvella groaned.The voice withdrew from her mind, as she felt the presence sink deeper into the large vat.

The metal latticework groaned and buckled further as the guard in the powered armour suit stepped closer to Sylvella, readying to crush her. 

“Here now. I don’t think we’ll be having any of that,” Captain Darius Low interrupted the guard as he guided Skitter up the side of the vat to perch on the side in a seemingly precarious position, as Darius kept the crab’s weight off the metal latticework lid. Unperturbed by the arrival of an enormous crab mount and its shark companion seated comfortably on top, the guard closed a large metal fist and swung hard towards the crab’s head, seeking to crush the creature’s brain through its shell in one mighty blow.

Skitter’s small arm moved in response to the attack, pincer open to catch the oncoming assault. The guard smiled, fully expecting the power armour to drive through such feeble defenses with ease. But Skitter was no normal crab and the small claw easy caught and stopped dead the powered metal arm, keeping it several inches from the crab’s head. The pincer closed over the armour and the creak of metal buckling within that grip was more audible than the groaning surface upon which the guard stood. Twisting his upper body, the guard readied another massive arm to attack. This time, Skitter didn’t bother trying to block, instead pushing his large claw straight out, the huge pincer on this claw closing over the metal helmet with a finality punctuated by an explosion of brains and blood that burst out through small openings in the helmet, crushed like a grape in Skitter’s claw.

Releasing the powered armour suit to fall to the surface of the lid with a deafening clang, Darius swung off the top of Skitter and rushed over to Sylvella, carefully helping her to her feet.

“Quick, help me open this lid,” Sylvella pointed to the metal latticework.

“Skitter, come on, snip snip,” Darius instructed, pointing to their feet, watching as Skitter easily tore open the latticework with his large claw.

With a loud splash, the power armoured exoskeleton suit with dead body inside rolled into the vat just as another large shape surfaced once again, it’s rainbow coloured skin sparkling in the uneven light of the prison complex.

“Darius, meet Lyell,” Sylvella offered, introducing the grizzled veteran pirate to the majestic whale shark with skin so vibrant it was almost dazzling to the eye.

“Oy, how did you end up here?” Darius asked curiously to the Whale Shark. 

“That’s a long story,” Lyell returned with a sigh, “One I will happily tell, once we are well clear of this place. But, before we go, we must rescue one more creature, just two vats down.”

“Skitter and I got this,” Darius assured him “You get yourself down into the subsystem, we have a breach in the wall that leads outside. We’ll catch up with your friend, but you got to take Sylvella with you. She is in no shape for a fight.”

“Rubbish,” Sylvella answered with a snort, although she also swayed dangerous on her feet.

Lyell steadied her gently and guided her towards the edge of the vat, as he spoke again to Darius. “His name is Kadory, and you’ll need that if he is to trust you.” 

“Hold on tight to me,” Lyell instructed Sylvella, as the two dived off the top of the vat and into the dark waters below.

“Whatever,” muttered Darius as he and Skitter jumped from this vat to the next one across, closing the gap to their quarry by half. “As if a shark is gonna not trust me over these Atlantians!”  

Outside the prison structure, Hermod and “One Eye” Anderson heard the alarms sound from within and tensed, ready for anything. Long moments passed before eventually Sylvella, Selkie and a wondrous whale shark with the most mesmerizing skin emerged from the breach in the wall, with Selkie protectively assisting Sylvella and helping steady her.

“Not exactly to plan then,” Hermod offered in the most unnecessary of statements ever.

“One Eye” Anderson turned his one good eye on his new friend and just tilted his head slightly in brief amazement. “You think?”

Any response Hermod might have uttered was interrupted by a look of horror on Selkie’s face as she saw something appear at the edges of visibility in the murky waters. Turning quickly, both Hermod and “One Eye” Anderson regarded the steady approach of a score of heavily armed Atlantian soldiers.

“Well,” Hermod offered, climbing swiftly into the saddle of his giant, armoured sea horse steed Sleipnir.
“This is now on us.”
“Yes, it is,” answered “One Eye”. “We’ll buy you enough time to start making your way back to the tunnels, so long as the others are not far behind you.”

Sylvella just turned in concern back to the breach, with no idea what happened to Nado or Captain Darius Low.

“I guess we’ll find out which is the better after all,” Hermod offered to his friend, “Cavalry or Infantry.”

“Let’s instead show them how powerful they are together,” Anderson responded, laying one hand on the armoured neck of Sleipnir. 

Bellowing a battle cry taken partly from each of their orders, the Horse and the Trident, the two heroic sharks charged at the approaching enemy squad.

As the sharks slammed into the front ranks of the Atlantians, the edges of the Atlantian forces continued forward to enclose the two fearless warriors.

“They’ll never be able to defeat that many,” Selkie whispered with a catch in her voice as she watched the two outer edges of the Atlantian line come together behind the Sharks.

“But their heroism will buy us precious moments,” Sylvella answered, her voice also low, but thick with pride and emotion.

Behind her, a cut and bloodied Shāyu approached slowly, holding one side tenderly.

“The way back to the tunnels is no longer blocked by troublesome Atlantians,” Shāyu whispered quietly, clearly fatigued by his recent battle.

“There were more of them?” Selkie asked needlessly.

“Shāyu only faced six of their best troops, so there was never any doubt,” Shāyu answered immodestly, although his statement was less impressive when she regarded his badly wounded side.

“We should go,” Selkie said sadly, glancing back to the battle at the very edges of their vision.

“Just a few more moments,” Sylvella pleaded. “Give them a few more moments.”