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Sea Demon ~ Scene 2

 

The seawater caressed Tao’s body as he swam about the cavern.  Hours had passed and he was now seasoned at navigating with his new tail.  He twirled upside down with ease and then straightened himself upright before thrusting his powerful fin back and forth.  Tao burst through the surface with a splash.  He was showing off his new skills, but Medusa wasn’t there.  “Medusa?”  Tao thought he saw movement from the chamber beyond.  “I’m hungry,” he announced, his voice echoing through the empty grotto.  When he did not get a reply, the merman sunk back into the water.  It was nighttime, he assumed, for the tunnel leading to the ocean was darker than before.  Nonetheless, Tao’s eyesight was improving as his body adjusted to becoming a sea creature.

The luminescence of the night sea life slowly came into focus.  Jellyfish floated past him like bloated sentries of the night.  Schools of lionfish, puffer fish and silverside minnows darted around him. He laughed in delight, the sound strangely muffled by the sea. It was spectacular, so much so, Tao found himself at the end of the tunnel before he realized it.  There was no sign of the eels.  The curious merman kicked his tail and he was suddenly free from Medusa’s lair.  There was a new world to see. First, he had to find Dar.

The moon cast a glow over the water as Tao swam in the open ocean for the first time. He reveled in the feel of the liquid sluicing over his bare skin, the coolness of it, the sheer wetness. It was heaven. Momentarily distracted from his mission, Tao splashed about playfully in his new water wonderland, exploring the reefs beneath him and coming face to face with exotic creatures that before he could only dream about. Manta rays, tiger sharks and starfish all captivated him with their beauty. Already he could feel his body changing, adapting more to his watery surroundings every hour that he occupied this new form. Somehow he knew that time was limited. If he didn’t get help soon, it would be too late to turn back. However, those thoughts warred with other, stronger urges: the desire to fish, to frolic and to swim with abandon.

With a great amount of effort and focus, Tao finally made his way back to the village where everything had started. Flashes of memory flitted through his mind: Medusa, rising from the water, the horrifying snakes making up her hair, the screams of the villagers and then Dar yelling as Medusa ripped his body in half.  Things blurred and Tao couldn’t remember anything else.

Swimming ashore, he suddenly found himself staring at the image of Arina, frozen in shock and marble-like. For a moment he felt confused. Had someone carved a statue of his friend? Who would do so and how did they create the likeness so quickly? Then another memory came back to him…Lancer’s voice, yelling the name of his beloved. Tao shuddered as he recalled the despair evident in the man’s cry and the truth hit him hard. Was this all that was left of Arina?  Did they believe she was dead?  Where had everyone else gone? Had they given him up for dead too?

As the merman lay hidden in the shallows trying to think of what to do next, the sound of voices reached his ears.

“I tell you, it is madness.  The Beastmaster will surely perish if he attempts to rescue his friend.  Certain death awaits him on Medusa’s island!”

“Perhaps the Beastmaster can help us… can save us from the sea demon.”

 

“He and his friends will die trying.  You can’t kill Medusa.”

 

“But he has the blessing from our goddess.”

 

“Blessing or not, it is still certain death for the Beastmaster.”

Tao was stunned. Dar was going to try and kill Medusa. Was Lancer with him? Alarmed for his friends’ safety, Tao needed to find his friends and warn them; otherwise, they would never survive. He had to do something, even if he wasn’t sure what.  With a flip of his tail, the merman was swimming back to the island in search of a boat as dawn was beginning to break.

Life as a sea creature marveled the scholar inside him.  Navigation came as easily to Tao as if he always had the instinct and, for a second time, he admired the wonders of the ocean around him. The sun was casting an orange hue upon the waves as they broke, and sea foam glistened in the morning light. Again his mind wandered, distracted by his surroundings. As he swam gently in circles staring upwards, he failed to see the giant shadow bearing down on him at a spectacular speed.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Thanks to the young fisherman’s nighttime navigational skills, Jessic piloted his crew to Medusa’s island.  Although a deadly isle, it was a welcomed sight for the exhausted men who had rowed all night.  Their arms and backs ached from the strenuous exercise, except King Zad who managed to evade his duty over the past several hours.  Seasickness had plagued him.

 

“We’re almost to shore, sire,” Lancer reminded his king.  Born a sea-loving Nord, the general couldn’t imagine the consequences Zad now suffered.  “You’ll find your sea legs yet.”

 

“I don’t want bloody sea legs!  I want to feel solid, unyielding earth beneath my feet!” Zad griped as he glared at the other knight and the fisherman, daring them to say anything.

 

Dar remained silent as he scoped the layout of the island.  No doubt, Medusa’s lair hid within the western side where the waves crashed fiercely against the cliffs.  Nearby, a small inlet revealed a rocky beach where they could land.  Once ashore, they could either climb to the top of the cliffs or find a way to dive underwater.  If there was no access from above, he knew his chances were slim of diving in the rough sea to find an underwater entrance.  Then there was the matter of how long he could hold his breath.  His hopes of finding Tao in time were diminishing as he dug his oar deep into the water.

 

Eventually, as they neared the coast, Jessic instructed the rowers to head for the same beach that Dar had surmised as the only possible landing site.  In the shallows, the seagoing villager, along with Lancer, jumped out and towed the boat a distance onto the beach.  With the help of the other knight, the general next assisted his king onto dry land.

 

Zad fell to his knees, his head playing havoc with his stomach.  “Why won’t the rocking cease?”

 

The Beastmaster emptied his pouch so his furry friends could forage for food.  Kodo and Podo scattered sand as they ran up the dune.  Dar removed the leather glove from the bottom of the pouch and slid his left arm inside, wrapping the strap around his wrist to tie it securely.  The Beastmaster looked up to the sky and, before long, the eagle landed on his outstretched arm.

 

The young fisherman gawked at the sight, astonished to witness the Beastmaster communicating with an eagle.  Jessic moved closer to the nauseous man, still eyeballing the majestic eagle as it took flight.  “King Zad, chew this.  It will make the sea sickness go away.”  He held out a piece of seaweed still dripping with salt water, but his eyes were on the noble bird.

 

Zad scrutinized the piece of kelp with suspicion and almost lost the contents of his stomach at the smell of the slimy morsel.  Taking a deep breath, he shoved the seaweed into his mouth and began grinding it enough to swallow without regurgitating.  He still looked a bit green.

 

Meanwhile, Lancer and his fellow soldier had found a path leading to the top of the cliffs.  He whistled, catching Dar’s attention, and indicated their find with a flick of his head.

 

With the help of his eagle friend, the Beastmaster visualized the island and surrounding waters as the bird circled above.  All was calm.  He could see no signs of the sea demon.  Jessic, stay here with Zad and guard the boat.  Sharak will warn us if Medusa appears.”  Dar set off to join Lancer and the knight when an odd flash blinded him for a split second.

 

“Will your feathered friend warn you if I appear?” a familiar voice asked.

 

Dar whipped around to confront the wizard.  “Mathias?  What are you doing here?”  He then noticed the others were suspended in time by the sorcerer’s enchantment.

 

“I’ve come to offer my services.”

 

“Magic?”

 

“What else?”

 

“I won’t have anything to do with your magic.”  Dar bit his lip to silence his true wishes.  He so desperately wanted to help his friend in any way possible, but the vow he had made to his mother haunted his thoughts.

 

The sorcerer looked to the sky with his deep-blue orbs, waiting for the fool to change his mind.  Sharak was the only thing moving, for immortals were oblivious to a wizard’s fleeting suspension of time.

 

“I’ll find Tao on my own.  By natural ways, not magic.”  Dar cursed his pride.  How could he, a mere mortal, feasibly help his friend?

 

Mathias cocked his head in wonderment.  “Medusa will kill you and the others,” he said, ruthlessly.  “Tao will transgress into a full-blooded merman.  Do you understand the consequences?”  The sorcerer’s voice increased in volume as he spoke.

 

Dar swallowed back the words, words permitting the wizard to save his friend.  Instead, he looked at Mathias, determined to have his way.  “It was magic that changed Tao.  No more magic.”

 

“Is a promise to the woman who bore you more important than saving your friend?”

 

“How do you know about my mother?”

 

“How do I know?” the sorcerer scoffed.  “Why, I have forgotten more things than you have even begun to remember, Dar.  But that doesn’t matter!  Let me make my point clearer.  Is your word to a dead woman more valuable than saving your friend?”

 

Dar knew the answer but couldn’t say it, not to this sorcerer.  He didn’t trust him.

 

“Well?  Is it?”  Mathias lost patience with the silent mortal.  It was time to move on.  “Do things your way, but you’ll end up begging for my help.  And if you don’t, I’ll be damned if I let Tao succumb to living his life as a sea creature.  He has more important things to accomplish in his life.  I’ll take him away and you’ll never see him again.”  Mathias’ eyes narrowed with anger.  He disappeared without a trace; the world around Dar moved once more.

 

“Wait!” Dar yelled.

 

Amazed at how quickly the commotion in his head had come to a standstill thanks to the fisherman’s remedy, Zad rose to his feet and challenged the Beastmaster.  “How dare you give orders, I’m the king!”

 

Dar was confused, unsure of what he had said before Mathias’ appearance.  He had no time to waste arguing with Zad.  The Beastmaster gathered up the ferrets and started marching up the incline to the trail.

 

The Xincan king flashed him a look of discontent.  Best not to anger the feral side of the Beastmaster, he decided.  He would never get his prize if he did.  Zad nodded to his general and knight, trying to make light of the situation.  “The son of Eldar still thinks he’s king.  Let’s go, I’m feeling better thanks to this amazing young man.”  Zad turned to the fisherman and smiled appreciatively.  “Stay with the boat, Jessic.  You’ll be rewarded for your ingenuity.”

 

The timid villager gladly accepted the command and nodded.  He sat by the boat and began repairing a net while the warriors ascended the steep hill to the top of the cliffs.  Jessic shook his head at what he thought was pure lunacy.  He would wait until sunset for their return; otherwise, he planned to row back by himself.  He would never stay the night alone on the island.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Beneath the blue waters of the remote island, a sea serpent slithered unnoticed past the two eels guarding the entrance to Medusa’s lair.   The huge snake glided through the tunnel and ascended the pool of the cavern.  When it surfaced the serpent transformed into a woman. 

 

Resting on the bed of sponges, Tao was alerted to the sound of a splash.  “Iara?” he asked, at first surprised to see her.  Then his eyes narrowed suspiciously.  “I should have known you were behind this.  A demon with snakeheads for hair… of course you’d be involved!”

 

Iara flashed him a look of contempt and warned, “Keep your voice down.”  Still treading water, the snake demon craned her sleek neck to peer at the crevice leading to Medusa’s chambers.  All seemed quiet.  “Before you insult me and my sister, hear me out.”  Iara hoisted herself out of the water and sat next to the nuisance.  If she had her way, Tao would remain a merman, letting his human memories vanish, as well as the wisecracks; however, she vowed to help Dar.  All for one kiss.

 

Taken aback by the news, Tao’s face scrunched in disbelief.  “Medusa is your sister?”  He spoke softly as he shifted his tail to allow Iara more room.  This latest revelation fueled his curiosity.  “Why isn’t she like you?  She’s four times your size.  Why doesn’t she speak?  Did something happen to her?”

 

Iara listened to the bombardment of questions from the curious Eiron; but instead of answering them, she reveled in the beautiful fishtail now adorning Tao’s lower half.  She touched it and smiled seductively at him.  “It’s a great improvement, don’t you agree?”

 

Sandwiched between rock and the snake demon, and unnerved by her closeness, Tao had no place to go.  “Yes… I mean no,” he stammered.  “I don’t know what’s happened to me.  Are you here to gloat or help me?”

 

A noise from the inner chamber made them both freeze.  Iara brought her finger to her lips to silence him.  When all seemed quiet again, she answered his questions.  “My sister became intrigued with a creature the Ancient One made long ago—half-fish, half-human.  Medusa became so obsessed; however, she hid the mermaid from the rest of the world, instructing deadly snakes to guard it.  When the Ancient One found out, he punished her.  Medusa had always been beautiful, but vain.  The old wizard made sure she would suffer.  He made her a giant so she couldn’t sneak around and weaved the guardian snakes into her hair.  Even so, Medusa was still beautiful; thus, the Ancient One cursed those who gazed on her beauty by having the observer turn to stone if they made eye contact.  Lastly, he stripped Medusa of her beautiful voice and gave it to the mermaid; thus the birth of the sea siren.”

 

“I’ve heard of sirens seducing fishermen so they would crash their vessels close to shore.”  Tao pondered on this information for a moment and another question came to mind.  “How come I wasn’t turned to stone like Arina?”

 

A smile lit up Iara’s face as she recalled the statuesque condition of the Namib warrior.  It was the perfect fate for the woman.  Arina had interfered once too often when Iara found herself getting close to Dar.  Tao’s voice broke her musing when he spoke her name again.  The demon replied, “Because you belong to Medusa now.”

 

“What?  Belong?  I don’t understand.”

 

“Tao, you died, torn in two by the snakes in my sister’s hair.  Medusa put you back together, similar to the way Curupira put Dar back together when he was torn apart by the animals.”

 

Tao’s mouth dropped open.  “But I’m part fish!  Dar’s still human.”

 

“It’s the only way for a demon to possess a human soul.  The human must die and be revived by the demon.  Curupira needed a Beastmaster.”

 

Tao considered this for a moment.  Puzzled, he finally asked, “Then I’m a Fishmaster?”

 

Iara frowned at the lame comparison.  “You’ll find you can talk to the creatures of the sea, but be warned: The longer you stay in this form, the sooner you’ll forget your human life.”

 

“Then I can be changed back?”

 

“Not really.  Besides, Medusa would never allow that to happen.  Unfortunately, Dar’s attempting to rescue you, but I’m afraid he’ll be killed.”

 

“Dar’s here?  He’ll find a way to change me back.”

 

“Magic is the only way, Tao,” she paused, grabbing his arm, “but the only way Dar can rescue you from Medusa is if he kills her.  Trust me, you can’t kill a demon who possesses a human soul.  That human must die first.”

 

“That means…”  Tao gulped.  That idea was out of the question. 

 

“You must convince Dar to leave.  A rescue is too dangerous.”

 

“But I can’t, there are two large eels guarding the only way out.”

 

“The eels only protect the cave from intruders.  You can slip out anytime you want.”

 

Iara moved so Tao could dive into the water.  Eager to warn his friend, but curious in nature, he hesitated and popped back up.  “Iara, I was wondering something.”

 

The demon came across as annoyed but interested to hear what the Eiron had to ask.

 

Water dripped from his hair and Tao blinked away the droplets.  Sincerity shone in his eyes, so he dared to ask, “Do you possess a human soul?”

 

“It would be suicidal not to.  My human soul is imprisoned for her own safety… and mine as well.”

 

Tao figured that much.  “I should have known.”

 

Medusa clambered out of the hidden chamber to check on the voices.  Iara instantly turned into a snake and slithered into a crevice to hide.  Startled, Tao looked up at the enormous demon.  He felt an uncontrollable devotion towards her.  “Medusa!”

 

The huge giant scanned the area and seemed satisfied that her pet was alone.  Suddenly, she heard a noise above… a stone turning over.  She jumped into the pool and descended into its depths.  The ripples of her splash were more like crested waves, waves that forced the floating merman against the cavern walls.  Stunned from the impact, Tao rolled back with the receding water.  The sharp rocks tore into his tail.  Tao tried to catch his breath, but the pain from his wounded fin made him gasp. 

 

Iara was by his side.  The gash in his fishtail was deep.  If he were to save Dar, she would have to save Tao.  “Hold still,” she advised as she plucked a sea urchin clinging to the rocks nearby.  “This creature will cover the wound so you won’t bleed to death.  It also secretes saliva that helps the wound close properly.  All set.”  Iara was pleased with her work as the urchin clung to the scales, making itself a temporary home.

 

“Thanks,” Tao muttered.  He still wondered why Medusa had made such a quick exit.  “What’s wrong with Medusa?”

 

“She’s discovered that Dar and the others are on the island.”

 

“No!” Tao yelled, pushing away from her and plunging into the basin.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“Kodo?  Podo?  Any luck?” the Beastmaster asked his furry friends as they helped search for an entrance to the lair below.  He frowned in frustration at their unsuccessful efforts.  Finding Tao became more crucial with each passing moment.  Wiping away the sweat from his brow, Dar went back to overturning boulders with his staff in search of a hidden passage, joining King Zad and the pair of knights.  It seemed hopeless.

 

Without warning, Medusa rose out of the ocean below and began scaling the vertical wall of the cliffs.  Her hair of snakes escalating above her reached the cliff’s edge.  An eagle’s cry came too late as one of the snakes snapped forward and grabbed one of Zad’s knights, its fangs digging into his chest.  The soldier’s cry drowned out that of the eagle’s shriek.

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