The Salty Seven
Back inside the Atlantian prison, built to fill the central region of a deep crevice at the bottom of Loch Ness, Captain Darius Low guided Skitter down the side of the now empty vat that had held Lyell and with a push off the side, Skitter used his massive claws to grip the support structure of the maze of gantry ways to pull himself along in the water of the sub-system region towards the vat Lyell had indicated earlier. Ahead in the gloom of the complex and high above along the gantry ways Darius could hear fighting and he knew Nado was still searching for Kako.
“Just got to release this friend of Lyell’s and we’re getting up there to ‘elp Nado,” he spoke to Skitter who seemingly reacted not at all to the conversation, much as Darius had expected. Unseen by Darius though, one of Skitter’s eye stalks turned up towards the sound of combat for a long moment as he continued pulling himself through the sub-system.
Reaching the second vat along, Skitter carefully began climbing the outside, while Darius balanced carefully upon his back and tried not to make it harder on the gigantic crab. Pulling himself up onto the steel latticework of beams that created a secure lid over the vat but still allowed visibility inside, Skitter carefully navigated the lid, carefully placing each leg at the intersection of the steel beams for added balance and support. Looking over the side of the massive crab, Darius peered down into the tank, looking for some sign of its occupant.
A mere heartbeat later, a burst of air erupted from the surface of the tank on the side furthest from where the enormous crab and shark stood. Peering into the darker section of the vat, Darius could just make out the form of a sleek juvenile dolphin resting at the surface of the water in the vat, a mere six inches from the steel latticework lid. The Dolphin watched them both with one wide eye as it stayed almost motionless.
“Ok, I was not expecting that, I’ll admit it,” Darius exclaimed to Skitter or anyone else that might be listening. “Your name Kadory by any chance young fella?”
One of Skitter’s eye stalks turned to consider Darius flatly, before turning back to the young dolphin.
“Hello Darius and Skitter,” a clear, if young-toned voice spoke inside the minds of both shark and crab while the young dolphin remained motionless.
The shock at hearing the dolphin speak to them within their own minds and call them by name stunned them both. Skitter reacted the most, violently rearing up, eye stalks wide with shock and throwing Darius from his back. Darius landed hard, bounced once and went over the side of the vat, but was saved by his fast reflexes and the hook on the end of his harpoon that he managed to catch the edge of the vat with, to stop him falling into the waters of the subsystem below.
“Ooof,” Darius exclaimed as his body slammed into the side of the vat, his grip on the harpoon slipping slightly.
Skitter recovered himself quickly and moved to the edge of the vat, one eyestalk peering down at Darius who hung from the edge precariously while his other eyestalk kept a careful watch over the young dolphin at the far side of the vat. Reaching his small claw down, he carefully wrapped it around Darius, easily lifting him back to the top of the vat.
Darius regarded his friend and mount quizzically. “Did you hear him in your head too?”
Skitter just regarded him flatly, but in a sign that he understood and agreed, both eyestalks now focused on the dolphin warily.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the young dolphin’s voice again sounded within their minds. “I could see in your memories that Lyell had sent you, so I thought it would be ok to greet you by name.”
“Ok, that is just not right at all, no sir,” Darius replied out aloud, before his eyes widened once and he began making strange noises, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, hmm, bah, bah bah.”
“That doesn’t actually do anything I don’t think,” Kadory replied, interrupting Darius’ attempt to block Kadory from his mind.
“Stay out of my memories, ok?” Darius instructed warily. “Or we’re leaving you ere, got it?”
“Of course,” Kadory answered quickly, “I mean no offence and will stay well clear of your memories.”
“Good,” Darius again answered out aloud, “Get to work Skitter, snip, snip.”
At the far end of the prison complex, Nado knelt on a narrow gantry, high above the prison vats. Around him lay a dozen Atlantian bodies, torn, and punctured. Blood caked his harpoon and upper torso and long cuts marked his body, evidence that he didn’t escape unscathed from the battle. Scanning the surrounding gantries, Nado was relieved to find them empty and that for a few moments at least, he had some respite from the fighting to catch his breath. After a few moments, he looked over the side of the gantry to the large number “thirty-eight” painted in bright yellow paint on the vat directly beneath him, but any sense of elation at finding the right vat evaporated at the horror that greeted him.
The lid of this vat was not closed and locked, but each half of the latticework lid was open and standing upright on either edge of the vat. Within the vat, through a haze of steam, Nado could make out a metal rack-like device suspended within the water. Strapped to it was an Atlantian woman, arms and legs locked in place, her body submerged with just her head resting above the water line. A blindfold covered her eyes and the water around her boiled from her captive and bound fury. Looking down at her, Nado inwardly questioned the wisdom of her rescue and release and not for the first time since accepting this daring mission either.
The silent battle within resolved itself within a few heartbeats, and he swung over the side of the gantry and slid down one support structure to the vat of boiling water below.
“Kako,” he called out to her, squinting through the hot steam rising from the vat, “Nammu, the Mermaid Queen has sent us to rescue you.”
A long moment passed with no visible sign of change within the vat before a soft feminine voice carried across the churning waters between them.
“What is your name?”
“Nado,” he answered with a shrug.
“Is Sylvella with you,” she asked after another long and nervous pause for Nado.
“Sylvella?” he asked with a frown. “Um, yes, she got injured but our companions got her outside. Can you um, maybe stop boiling the water so I can cut those bindings?”
Without another word between them, the water ceased churning and bubbling, and the steam slowly cleared about the young woman. Nado could make out her curly brown hair, wet and plastered around her face as he used the reach of his harpoon to carefully cut the leather bindings, mindful of the no doubt still super-heated water. With her arms and legs freed, he held the side of the harpoon against her.
“Carefully grab the end of the harpoon and I’ll pull you towards the edge of the vat,” he told her in a quiet voice. “We have to get out of here quickly, before more guards come.”
Removing her blindfold first, Kako then grabbed the end of the harpoon and half swam, was half dragged to the edge of the vat. Reaching down to her, Nado gently picked her up out of vat and gazed into soft brown eyes that carried an unreadable expression.
“I’ve been strapped to that contraption a long time now, and I will need time to regain the strength in my limbs. Can you assist me?”
Nado just nodded slowly once, his own mind in turmoil at being this close to an Atlantian he wasn’t killing.
Dropping to the waters of the substructure below the vats, Nado shook off the Mermaid’s magic to regain his tail and fins and let Kako ride on his back as he swam down to the breach in the prison’s walls.
Outside the prison, just as the Atlantian line closed behind the charging forms of Hermod riding Sleipnir and a bellowing “One-Eye” Anderson, Lyell gently handed a still-groggy Sylvella over to a wounded Shāyu.
“Keep her safe,” He whispered while picking up a spare trident. “We need to buy the others time, yes, but I’m not sacrificing those two in the process,” he spoke to Selkie while gesturing to the raging battle.
Selkie’s mouth turned up at one corner in a smile of vicious joy as she drew a wicked looking dagger from her belt and moved up beside the larger whale shark with the bright rainbow skin tones.
“Oh, I be liking you already, Lyell. Let’s do this,” and the two burst forward towards companions so outnumbered they could not be seen within the ranks of the enemy Atlantians.
Just as they approached the Atlantians, Lyell spun and turned so that his bulky flank slammed into the backs of three Atlantians with such force that they were rocked forward and down beneath him. Using Lyell as a blast shadow, Selkie dipped down as he struck them and as the Atlantians were pushed beneath his bulk, their defenses baffled, she struck out with her wickedly sharp dagger, punching it into exposed throats and eye sockets, leaving them continue their downward momentum to the floor of the Loch, already dead.
The timing of the strike could not have been more perfect, as Hermod was being dragged from the saddle and “One-Eye” had been stabbed repeatedly by Atlantian spears, unable to fend them off from all quarters. Lyell moved alongside “One-Eye” Anderson, flicking out his massive tail to baffle the strikes of the Atlantians looking to block him, while offering a protect fin to cover Anderson and allow him time to regroup. Selkie meanwhile reacted with a ferocity rarely seen in the more subdued Mermaids as she leapt upon the back of one of the Atlantians who had dragged Hermod from the saddle and was readying to finish him. Her dagger plunged into the Atlantian’s neck repeatedly and Hermod managed to tear himself free, spinning to face the other Atlantian as the two clashed weapons together and circled each other warily.
Riderless now, Sleipnir reared up and slammed his armoured head down, connecting solidly with the head of an Atlantian with a sickening crunch while still another Atlantian plunged a long spear deep into Sleipnir’s flank, finding a gap in the armour plating to bury the point deep.
The giant seahorse let out a silent scream of pain and folded over the spear buried deep in his side as he began to sink towards the floor of the Loch. Even with Lyell and Selkie to reinforce them, the sheer numbers of Atlantians they faced were too great and the wounds inflicted were taking a toll, sapping them of strength, speed and vitality that would normally carry them through such a battle.
Lyell lashed out with the trident to keep four Atlantians back from the heavily wounded “One-Eye” Anderson while Selkie and Hermod faced off against six more as well, knowing they couldn’t take that many in their current state.
Hermod was about to lunge forward with his trident at one of the Atlantians when a touch from Selkie on his arm stalled him. Glancing at her quickly, he noticed her squinting into the distance beyond the six Atlantians facing them, a look of stark fear upon her face. Looking out into the darkness of the deep Loch himself, Hermod at first saw nothing, before the darkness seemed to move all by itself. What happened next would live in Hermod’s mind forever as the most horrifying scene he has ever witnessed.
A creature of impossible size and bulk with a maw of razor-filled teeth larger than a surface fishing trawler appeared out of the darkened waters behind the Atlantians, striking with such speed and strength that three of the Atlantians folded over themselves at sickening angles as the open maw struck and engulfed them whole, forcing them into the creature’s long neck. The remaining three facing Hermod and Selkie didn’t fare all that much better as the creature’s tail hit them so hard it broke bones and spun them in place, floating in a daze of pain and concussion.
“Nessie,” Selkie whispered in horror.
“We have to flee,” Hermod muttered needlessly, turning to the badly wounded Sleipnir.
The four Atlantians facing Lyell and a seriously wounded “One-Eye” Anderson spun and fled back toward the Prison complex and safety, leaving the three Sharks, Selkie and Sleipnir badly exposed in the open waters.
Hermod carefully removed the spear from Sleipnir’s side as fresh blood escaped the wound and the group started moving slowly back towards the waiting forms of Shāyu and Sylvella.
“We’re not gonna make it,” Selkie predicted as they swam, already feeling the onrushing waters at their backs as Nessie approached at incredible speed. Lyell pushed the others ahead of him, turning to face the onrushing doom of the charging leviathan.
Nessie’s jaws opened wide as the dinosaur twisted slightly to cut the huge shark in two, before it shook its head violently once and veered off up and over the deep crevice at the bottom of the Loch to disappear into the darker waters again. Eyes wide with terror, Lyell turned back to the others only to notice the slim form of the young dolphin Kadory emerging from the breach in the prison walls.
“She’s hungry, but I asked her to hunt the fleeing Atlantians instead, telling her we would leave these waters immediately,” Kadory projected the thoughts into the minds of all the gathered sharks and mermaids.
Lyell smiled broadly at his young friend and looked over at Sylvella, “Now you know why I was trying to protect young Kadory here.”
“By Nammu’s tail, that’s extraordinary,” Sylvella whispered looking between Kadory and Lyell in amazement.
“Why are you all standing around bleeding?” Nado asked with a smile as he helped Kako out through the breach in the walls, just behind Darius and Skitter.
For almost a full minute, only stunned silence answered him.
It was a somber group that Nado led as they moved slowly back towards the tunnels that connected the Loch to the North Sea. Darius swam beside Skitter, having given up his seat on the back of the gigantic crab to allow “One-Eye” Anderson to lie along one flank of the crab and Sylvella to rest upon the other flank, despite her protests that she was fine. Shāyu held the reins, stoic despite his own grievous injuries and Hermod swam alongside a slowly moving Sleipnir, also heavily wounded. Lyell helped Kako who was slowly regaining her strength, and Kadory no longer needed to visit the surface for air periodically, now that Selkie had used her magic to provide a bubble of constantly replenishing air around his head. She didn’t make a point of it when faced with curious expressions at the magic from her companions, but it went unsaid just how many surface sailors might have benefited from such magic over the years when she was lonely.
“Shāyu needs to know “One-Eye” is going to be, ok?” Shāyu asked Anderson laying beside him on the back of Skitter.
Breathing deeply and wincing from the many wounds, Anderson turned his head to face his friend.
“The name is Bertram,” he told Shāyu quietly, “after my father.”
“Shāyu is honoured, One… Bertram,” he corrected himself, laying a fin on his friend and companion. He was about to say more, but Bertram had drifted off to a restful sleep.
Pausing for a short rest at the entrance to the tunnels proper, Nado circled through the group, checking on the wounded and making sure what healing they had available was being used. When he got around to Sylvella, he carefully checked the back of her head and was surprised to see her wounds greatly improved.
“You’re healing up fast,” he told her with a smile. “You’ll be back on your tail in no time.”
“Thank you, Nado, for everything,” she answered him with a serious expression. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Well, it was the right thing to do, wasn’t it?” Nado replied in an offhand manner, hiding his own earlier misgivings.
“The Mermaid Queen will be pleased,” Sylvella agreed with a slight smile.
“Just the Mermaid Queen?” Kako asked her with a raised eyebrow, coming to stand beside Nado.
Sylvella’s smile vanished at the question as she regarded Kako with a shrewd expression, “I’m not sure I get your meaning dear?”
“Sounds like you two have crossed paths before,” Nado chimed in with a chuckle and a flash of intuition as he looked between the pair of them.
“Of course, as you would expect of family, right Nado?” Kako asked him as Sylvella sighed softly in resignation. When Nado gave her a slightly quizzical look, she finished joining the dots for him.
“We’re sisters, after all.”