Ready for a sneak peek? I'm excited to share the first chapter of Ink: A Mermaid Romance with you. The novella is available on Amazon for pre-order. It releases June 2nd! I will raise the price to $2.99 in a bit, so be sure to grab it for 99 cents!
The first bomb exploded with a flash of white oxygen bubbles. A sharp, piercing sound followed. I felt like my skull would burst. Even though the pain threatened to deafen me, I suppressed my scream. Biting my lip, I tasted blood, and my shimmering blue tail curled. I squinted hard, covering my ears with my hands. My whole body shook, and I knew it wasn’t over yet. Five more bombs dropped into the water. The dolphins near the fishing vessel whistled in agony, and then became silent.
I rocked in the water, the ripple of shockwaves rolling past me. Every muscle in my body tensed. When the pain softened, I opened my eyes to see the bottom of the commercial fishing vessel gliding through the water, the prop on slow. Bobbing on the waves, the dolphins floated immobilized. Below the dolphins, tuna huddled, ripe for the picking.
Of course, they weren’t all dolphins. Several of the dolphins were, in fact, merdolphins. I scanned the water for my cousin Indigo. King Creon had ordered me to bring her back at once. Something was happening at the grotto. There had been a flurry of preparation, but I didn’t know why. It wasn’t as if the king shared his plans with me. Why would he? I was an annoyance to him, a constant reminder of his deceased brother who’d ruled before—and better than—him, a brother whose death had bought Creon the throne.
“Ink?” Seaton called. “Are you all right?”
I glanced over at him. The gruff old merman stiffened his back, his dark purple tail uncurling. Small clouds of blood trailed from his ears.
I nodded. “You?”
“They are using seal bombs,” he said angrily. “Illegally.”
“When did humans ever pay attention to their own laws?” I turned to the others, the small band of scouts who’d come with me. It was times like this that I missed Roald who’d left the ocean for his exile year. He would have had something smart to say to cut the mood. But Roald was not there, and the rest of us were far too serious to make jokes. “Everyone else okay?”
“We’ll be fine,” Achates, a hulking merman with dark hair and a ruby-red tail, assured me. He squeezed his blades and glared angrily at the boat overhead. There was no one we hated more than the fishermen…well, except the oilmen. It was no wonder the mermaids of old hypnotized and drowned humans for fun. Of course, that was before my great-great-grandfather King Tricus outlawed siren song. His daughter, Princess Tigonea, had tried to use siren song against her father in an attempt to usurp power. We mermaids still suffered for her failed regicide.
I scanned the water. The bubbles caused by the blasts faded into halos at the surface. Some of the dolphins and the merdolphins, started to recover. We needed to get to them.
The tuna clustered under the dolphins. Atlantic tuna were easy to find if you knew where to look. If you hunted dolphins, you found tuna. The fishermen began dropping their purse-shaped net. It drifted downward like a dark haze.
“Let’s go,” I called, gripping my blades.
We swam quickly toward the pod, careful to stay far enough below the surface to remain unseen. By sonar, we’d just look like another pod of dolphins. Humans knew nothing about the deep. As long as we were cautious, they’d never see us.
As we drew closer, I noticed that some of the older dolphins had been killed. They floated like plastic bottles on the surface, their white bellies facing the sun. Others kicked and tried to recover from the deafening blast, swimming away in confusion. The dolphins’ blood clouded the water, filling my nostrils. This was nothing short of murder.
“Indigo,” I called, careful not to sound too loudly. Hearing me, several of the merdolphins turned and swam our direction. I could see from their awkward movements that many of them were injured. Indigo, whom I finally spotted among the dolphin pod, had shapeshifted into dolphin form. Preoccupied with one of the mother dolphins, she had not heard me.
“Can you get them home?” I asked Achates, referring to the injured mers, several of whom had started to shift back to their natural mermaid or merman form.
“Yes, My Lady,” he said as he and two of the other scouts led the wounded mers away.
Overhead, the boat motored in a wide circle: halfway done. Soon they would close the net, and we’d be trapped inside. We needed to work fast.
I motioned to Seaton, and then we shot through the water. “Indigo,” I called.
She turned and whistled to me in panic. Once we got close, I could see the problem. The mother dolphin had started to calf and wouldn’t be moved.
“Ill-omened,” Seaton grumbled. “Nothing can be done here, Lady Indigo. You have to go. They are dropping the net.”
Indigo shook her head, and then stared at me, making direct eye contact. Against my better judgment, I knew what had to be done.
“We have to cut the net,” I told Seaton.
“Dangerous work,” the merman said and grinned. “Best get to it.”
“In the meantime, try to convince her,” I told Indigo, and then Seaton and I set off. I grabbed the net, feeling the rough, human-made object in my hands. It didn’t matter how many times drywalkers—mers who could shift into human form, mers like me—told me that humans were kind. All I saw was the death and filth and destruction they wrought. They were little more than barbarian apes. Land brought death. Just ask my mother. Who knew where her corpse lay rotting in the dirt? But that death had not been caused by humans. The Gulf tribe had killed my mother. She’d been a casualty of our war. I barely remembered her anymore, just the shadowy memories of her red hair, her dainty drywalker tribal mark, and the way she sang with a low cadence. How unlike her I was with my massive swirling drywalker tribal covering my back. While our marks were different, we were the same lot in life. Now it was my turn to walk on terra firma. My exile year had arrived. That night I would begin my drywalk. I shuddered at the thought, and then turned back to my task. It didn’t do me any good to think about it now. Moonrise would be here soon enough.
I stabbed my blade into the net and jerked it. The net resisted. I yanked hard and soon the metal began to cut. Below me, the massive tuna huddled together. I could taste their fear in the water. Poor beasts. We fed on them too but not in such a barbarous way. With a little luck, I’d have them out of there as well.
As I jerked my knife, I stared at the boat motoring overhead. Seaton was right. Everything about this fishing practice was illegal. The purse-seine fishing method they were using had been outlawed years ago. Disgusting. At least merpeople honored their laws, even when we didn’t like it.
The torn net wagged with the motion of the waves. As I worked, anger welling up in me. If it hadn’t meant having their refuse in my waters, I could just sink their boat and drown them all. It was, after all, instinctual for me to want their death. While our law forbad using siren song, which was nothing more than tuning of sound resonance, I still felt the ancestral tug in me. I would have loved to purr a sweet song and pull them down into a murky death. I could almost hear the tune in the back of my head, humming from an ancient source. The song of the siren was nearly lost now, its banishment causing it to fade from common use or knowledge. I closed my eyes. With just a few notes, it would all be done.
“Ink?” Seaton called.
I opened my eyes. Careful, Ink. “Good. Almost there.” I glanced back at Indigo. She’d moved the mother dolphin deeper into the water, away from the surface, and had shifted back into mermaid form. Her blueish hair, befitting her name, made a halo around her. She was using merdolphin magic to dazzle the creature, talking in low melodious tones that echoed softly through the water.
Seaton stopped just above me.
“Got it,” I said, then slid my blade upward. The net broke in half, wagging like seaweed in the waves.
Seaton and I swam to Indigo who was guiding the mother dolphin, holding her gently by the flipper. From above, there was a terrible groan, then a screech as the gears on the winch sprang to life. The net wall moved like it was alive, the tentacles of a great sea monster closing in on us.
“We must hurry,” Seaton said.
Moving quickly, we swam through the tear and out of the net, back into the safety of the open ocean.
The gears on the winch lurched. Water pressure pulled the tear, causing the net to rip wide open. The tuna rushed free. I tread for a moment, stopping to watch the sight as Indigo guided the mother dolphin into the dark water below us.
“The pup is coming,” Indigo called from the blackness below.
Above, the bottom of the boat rocked, unsteadied by the broken net. The winch slowly reeled the mesh out of the water. It looked like a dead thing, a man-made monster fished out of the living ocean. As the fishermen moved along the rail of the ship, their images were weirdly distorted against the surface of the water. With all my willpower, I sucked in the death-dealing note that wanted to escape from my lips. The massive swirling tribal mark on my back started to feel prickly and warm. Harnessing myself in, I reminded myself that it was forbidden. I turned and swam into the shadowy deep.
Ready for more?