by M.M. Gargiulo
(Annihilation Archetypes, #1)
Publication date: January 13th 2023
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Born to siren humans to their watery graves, Nefertiti feels trapped in her life of violence. She leaves her home to venture on shore and falls in love with humans. Her duty brings her back to the sea, and fate tightens its hold on her from an unexpected source.
The next day Evgenís was eager to talk about my training. I was evasive, trying not to make eye contact with her. I thought the details of my night were too embarrassing to share with my proud sister, and I had no wish to relive them. I did not know if other huntresses took so long to learn how to walk, but Diana made it seem like they did not.
“Okay, you do not want to talk about it,” she sighed after a few minutes of this ensued. “Tell me this, did you learn something?”
I looked up into her beautiful blue eyes and found myself both comforted and sad. I wished I was better at walking, but Evgenís would still love me even if I was a terrible huntress.
“Yes, I absolutely learned lots of things yesterday.” I smiled at her, forcing myself to look excited and happy.
“Interesting,” she murmured under her breath. “I am glad,” she said at full volume.
“Okay, well do you have anything you would like to do today?” she asked me, her voice bright and cheerful.
“I think I am to meet with someone today.” Guilt washed over me again. Evgenís had given up living with me to come and live here, in isolation.
“Oh, no matter, I am sure I can find something to do while you are busy. Perhaps we can pick a night soon and go to our favorite wreck?” Her hopeful tone had me agreeing before I thought it over.
“I’d love to!” The wreck was a smallish fishing boat that had sunk off the coast of a tropical island. Many species of fish lived inside it, and coral grew off the outside of it. I was particularly in love with the spot because of the bright white sand. It seemed to be made of thousands and thousands of tiny corals, smashed and rounded by the tide and the wind. It was one of our favorite places to go. Evgenís always found it difficult to find fish while we were there. I had many happy memories of the two of us laughing and relaxing in the sand.
Evgenís smiled at my enthusiasm and kissed me on the cheek, excited at our prospective time together.
We ate some kelp together that apparently someone had dropped off in excessive amount while we slept. Things almost felt back to normal, despite our vastly different surroundings. I felt as though removing my tail somehow made me less of a mermaid than Evgenís.
When we were done eating, I bid Evgenís farewell and started to swim through the caverns and tunnels toward the surface to an area similar to the one where I met Diana. If my new teacher was anything like Diana, she would show up near the surface. I watched the moon move in the sky for hours, feeling my anxiety rise. Maybe I was supposed to go somewhere specific, but Diana forgot to mention it.
I was just starting to swim back and forth when I heard a voice.
“Nefertiti! How are you?” Santiago was swimming by, with two others.
“I am well, thank you.” My eyes drifted to the two others with him. One was a beautiful fair blonde female, the other a dark-complexioned male.
“Oh, this is Kane,” he said, gesturing toward the male merman. “And this is Danica.”
“Pleasure to meet the both of you.” I nodded my head in their direction. Kane bent at the waist in my direction.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Huntress.” His deep dark eyes met mine.
“Lovely to meet you as well,” Danica said.
“We were going to visit a reef down in the tropics,” Santiago said. “Would you care to join us?”
“Thank you, but I am supposed to be meeting someone,” I said. I took note of Kane’s and Santiago’s eyes that seemed to linger, and Danica’s, which seemed full of contempt.
“Next time, perhaps.” Kane’s eyes were still locked on me.
“I would love to.” I smiled at Kane, and could feel Santiago stir slightly next to him.
“Farewell then, Nefertiti.” Santiago nodded his head, and the three of them turned and began to swim away. I watched them go with a pang of loneliness and wondered if there would ever be a time where I did not feel so isolated from my own kind. My thoughts turned to Evgenís, who probably had an even harder time with it than I did. Guilt flashed through me at the idea of Evgenís leaving everyone she knew to raise me on her own.
I watched the stars turn in the sky and thought about their stark and naked beauty. Not unlike our people, but less dangerous. I imagined the answers to all of my questions were up there, winking at me in some code I could not understand. I wished I could speak their language of light. I wondered if the Gods were there, Evgenís had told me they lived up in the clouds.
When the sky began to lighten, I gave up my quest. Perhaps my next mentor had forgotten about the time. Maybe Diana gave her the wrong name. I started to swim toward the castle, taking one last look back at the sky. Suddenly a massive hammerhead shark emerged from the haze in the distance. I paused on my journey back home to watch the magnificent creature swim. His gait was the most elegant thing I had ever seen. The way he swam back and forth was reminiscent of how the sea seemed to part for the king himself. I loved the movement of his tail fin.
The shark seemed to notice me as soon as I noticed him. He adjusted his path slightly so he was headed straight toward me. I reached my hand forward, not in the slightest bit frightened of him. He was the hunter equivalent to myself. Even his skin was made of the tiniest teeth. I would probably grow to be more dangerous than he was. At the last second he turned his giant head, swimming by me to allow my outreached arm to pet the length of him as he swam by.
I felt my heart stir at the scars that decorated his side. He was a beautiful creature, full of an ancient sadness. I wondered how anyone could ever hurt such a creature. My hand ran the length of him, ten times my own size, and I felt the rough, textured body under my delicate soft hand.
He circled me once, clearly as eager as I was to remain closely connected, even if it was for a short while. When he came by me a second time, I grabbed onto his dorsal fin and let the length of me rest on top of his body. He seemed pleased by the attention and slowed his pace, allowing me to feel the gentle sway of the giant beast as he moved his tail back and forth. My own body swayed with his movements, and I felt as though we were one. I traced the deep gashes of scars on his back with my fingers, wondering what had caused them. I rode atop him for longer than I should have, the sun starting to really shine on the top of the sea.
He circled back after quite some time of me lying on top of him and swam with dignity back to where he had first found me. I turned my head to kiss the top of his back, my hair swirling around my face.
“Goodbye friend, I hope to see you again soon.” I watched him turn and be swallowed up by the dark sea. Maybe I would never get to play with the other merpeople, but at least I would have shark friends. I turned tail, and made my way back to the cave, exhausted from lack of sleep the previous night. Just before I approached the entrance to the first tunnel, I was startled by a stunning woman waiting by the entrance to the hall.
She had waist length red and silver hair (I gathered she was a huntress), a green tail fin, and a fair complexion. Her giant blue eyes were staring, unblinkingly, at me. I assumed she was older due to the streaks of silver in her bright red hair, but it was difficult to tell, there were no lines on her face.
“Nefertiti.” It was not a question, and I tried to figure out if I had met this woman before.
“Yes, that is I.” I smiled at her, hoping she was less crass than Diana. “I apologize, have we met?”
“We have not, although I have heard tell of you.”
“Well it is truly a pleasure to be acquainted with you.” I nodded my head in her direction.
“Yes, it is, but there is no need to be so formal with me.” She tossed back her hair, and it shimmered out behind her with such finesse I felt a ping of envy. I wondered if I would grow up to be so beautiful. “I am Arianna.”
“Arianna.” Her name sounded like a story I had long forgotten.
“Come, let us go for a swim.” She smiled at me, and I noticed her teeth were not sharpened, but similar to Evgenís’s. Maybe she wasn’t a huntress after all. She reached out her tiny soft hand, and I put mine into hers.
“I am here to teach you the ways of those on land,” Arianna stated. “Much has changed since I walked up there, but I have the best understanding of humankind. I am one of those who brought the best of the land back to the sea.”
“May I ask how that is?” I wondered.
“You may ask, but I will not share that part of my story with you just yet. I am not the normal kind of huntress, nor am I the normal kind of mermaid.” She smiled at me again, and I noticed tiny smile wrinkles near her eyes, which along with the silver in her hair made me think again that she was older than she appeared.
“I apologize,” I smiled back at her and was hopeful I had not offended her.
“No need to apologize for curiosity,” She winked her light blue eye at me. “I am going to teach you everything from what they call a street, to anatomy, back to music, and onward to proper dining etiquette. Is there a topic you would care to start with?”
“I actually have a few questions, if you do not mind.” I was curious about so many things.
“Of course, that is natural.” We had stopped our swim and were perched at the edge of a reef I had seen growing nearby. Some fish were swimming delicately by, but there was not another merperson in sight. The sea seemed to be lightening in color, the sun beginning to warm the ocean.
“First, will these lessons always occur during the day? I was not aware that many of our kind enjoyed the sunlight.” I tried not to make my voice sound ungrateful, but I was extremely tired and having a hard time concentrating. The brightness really bothered my large eyes.
“Yes, our lessons will happen while the sun is up. We are going to adjust your sleeping cycle so you are able to sleep less. Sleeping is one of the luxuries young huntresses are typically low on. There is much to learn and not enough time to do so. The next full moon is about twenty-nine suns away, and you need to be better versed in mankind before you dance back on shore.”
I felt my heart sink a tiny bit at the thought of sleeping less. “Interesting,” I said because I was unsure how else to answer. “I did not realize huntresses were not well rested. How exactly are we chosen to be huntresses? I know King Titus looks for a sign, but other than that, I do not know.”
Arianna looked at me with wide eyes. “First of all, my dear, you are young and it is best to learn as much as you can for the next few years. About the huntresses, I thought you would have known this by now. Did Evgenís not tell you?”
I shook my head, hair billowing around me. Her stern look made me feel defensive for a moment and I sputtered out, “I never asked her; honestly I just tried to avoid the topic with her as much as I could.”
Her frown seemed to lessen as she looked carefully at my face before responding, “I was not criticizing. I understand why you might not have wanted to bring up the subject to her and vice versa.” She took a deep breath and her gentle blue eyes seemed to fall out of focus.
“Long ago, huntresses began when mankind were much weaker than they are now. Back then they worshiped gods and deities and built them massive structures to pay homage. There was one amongst us, Chleo was her name, who fell in love with one of the Kings of Land. She would shed her scales and walk on shore every full moon, a trick she discovered after watching crabs shed their shells that time of the moon. She had grown to love him from afar, watching him through the rivers. When she finally climbed on shore, she seduced him. He was a powerful man, almost treated as a god himself, hence part of his appeal.
“He did not know what she was, but thought her to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her infrequent visits were full of passion and sex. When she left him in the morning he would grow angry. He wanted her to stay with him permanently, but alas, she could not. One morning Chleo was followed by her lover, and he saw her slip into the sea. She grew back her fins and scales, brighter and more beautiful than any of his gems, her dark purple coloring glittered in the sunlight.
“He became obsessed in her absence. He wondered what kind of creature she was. He thought she might be some sort of goddess. He wanted to keep her as his lover, but he also wanted to sell her to other royalty, knowing her scales would be worth much. He thought about what a trophy such a lover would be. When the next full moon arose, Chleo climbed onto the shore and walked into the palace where her king lived. He was mad with lust, and they had wild sex all night. When the sun began to rise, Chleo tried to slip away while he slept, but his doors had been barred. Trapped, she began to suffocate.
“Chleo’s scales started to grow back, and her legs fused together, but the nearest water source was a small pond the king bathed in. She climbed into it, desperate to wet her body. When the king awoke he was pleased that she was still there, and even more pleased that he had captured her. He climbed into the water and had sex with her. She obliged, more because she was afraid what he might do to her should she refuse, and less because she wanted to.
“He used her this way for many days. Chleo, trapped, had no choice. After a few days the king decided to sell her body to another royal who was passing through his kingdom. This was common at the time. She was used for their bodily urges every day during her imprisonment. She felt the moon grow fuller in the sky, and her heart grew full of hatred. She decided when she could walk again she would escape and bring doom to those who had wronged her. She spent every waking second plotting her revenge. When the full moon turned in the sky, her legs came back, and Chleo was alone in the king’s room. He was out on a diplomatic mission, but she knew he would be back soon enough. She seduced the man left to guard her and slit his throat while he was inside her.
“She ran back to the safety of her river and swam back out to sea. Her mental injuries took hold of her heart over the next month, and when she was able to walk on land again she went ashore and killed men. She never reached her king, who was too heavily guarded, but she spent the rest of her time killing those who guarded and protected him. Eventually she was able to kill his future wife when she bathed in the river. Chleo was able to pull the woman to her doom. Chleo’s sister, Cora, joined her in her efforts, furious at her sister’s plight. The two of them were our first formal huntresses, and from them, others joined, some with anger in their hearts, others who felt they had been wronged by those on land.
“Now, that does not entirely answer your question, but I thought it important for you to know,” Arianna said with a deep breath, her voice taking on a somber tone.
“It does answer a part of my question though,” I insisted. “So how did we continue to be what we are today?”
“Less time ago, King Titus was born. A merman with unusual powers granted by the sea. Some say he is Poseidon’s first born son. His influence united our people, and we all agreed to let him rule us. Shortly after being crowned he declared war on mankind. He was angered by their destruction of our world. I think the mistreatment of our race weighed heavily on his mind. He cast a spell, using his strange powers, that bound huntresses to him. When a new one was born, he would feel it, and another impression of a shark would be left on his very flesh.” Her monologue trailed off and I was left with more questions than I started with.
“How does he know?” I whispered, as if he could hear me.
“He can read the hearts of others.”
“How can he read the heart of a person just born? I thought their heart would be pure and empty, having not experienced the world yet.”
“That is a question better posed to him than me. I do not understand the powers he possesses, but I have seen them enough to know they are not to be disregarded.” Arianna looked deep into my eyes, seeing the turmoil that raged inside.
“Is he really Poseidon’s son?” I asked, my mouth slightly open.
“Only Poseidon knows that,” Arianna said, eyes twinkling at my interest.
“Have you ever seen him before?” I wondered out loud.
“I have,” Arianna said calmly.
“You have?” I asked, incredulously. “When? Where? How?”
“One thing at a time,” she laughed. “Has your sister not taught you much about the gods?”
“I know that Poseidon is our most active God,” I said. “I know that others exist and they live in the clouds.”
“Yes and no, child,” Arianna began. “Poseidon might seem more relevant than the rest, but that is because we live in his domain. Zeus rules the sky, the king of them all. Aphrodite brought forth love and beauty, she is the goddess of both. Apollo brings us prophecy, music, and knowledge. Ares is the God of War.”
I listened to Arianna, imagining the clouds filled with giant beautiful merpeople who were also gods. I wondered if they had tails or feet.
“Artemis visits the seas sometimes, as he rules all animals. Athena is the Goddess of Wisdom. Hermes is the messenger of the gods. Dionysus brings pleasures to life. Hephaestus brings fire to the land. Hades rules the dead.”
“Do they have tails or feet?” I mused.
“They have what pleases them most,” Arianna said. “They are very able to shed their scales or feet as they desire.”
“And they live in the clouds?” I asked, eagerly.
“That is what a lot of our kind believes,” Arianna said slowly. “I think they wander around the planet, going where they want. Maybe they do retire to the sky, but I have never seen where their home would be.”
“And you have really seen Poseidon?” I was amazed.
“Yes, he used to frequent here more often than he does now. It has been at least half a century since he has been to this grotto.”
“What does he look like?” I asked.
“Exactly how you would expect him to look,” Arianna smiled.
“Big, strong, and handsome,” I said.
“Yes, those words could all be applied to him.”
I was silent for a few minutes, my head filled with ideas of what the gods looked like.
“I would very much like to meet Poseidon,” I said.
“Not any of the others?” Arianna asked, the corner of her mouth turning up into a smile.
“I would be happy to meet any of them,” I said honestly. “I would especially like to meet the god of my home though.”
“Do you have more questions?” Arianna asked.
“Many, many more. I am unsure where to start with them all,” I said, overwhelmed with everything I had just heard.
“I understand. I have trained many huntresses, and they all start off in a similar way. Lost and slightly confused. You will find your place in the world, in both worlds. And you will see that you will become what you were always meant for. Everyone will be proud of the huntress you grow into.” Arianna smiled kindly at me.
“Thank you.” I was at a loss for words. My throat felt tight and I wished I could clear it without drawing attention to it.
“Thank you for all that you will do for us. It is a hard task you have been given, and one not many can handle. Your bravery will always set you apart from the others.”
I did not feel brave, but I acknowledged her compliment with a nod of my head. It felt like everyone expected me to be this fierce warrior, but I had grown up with Evgenís, playing with fish and giggling at the world. For a brief moment I wished she had not taken me away from everyone, perhaps I would not be as soft. Maybe I would grow to be fierce, but I felt small and feeble listening to stories of the gods.
“What could Chleo have seen in that human king?” I mused, not really expecting an answer.
“I would imagine there were quite a few things that drew her to him.” Arianna surprised me with her thoughtful answer. “He was literally treated like a god of sorts. They believed their kings to be deities, and they often proclaimed themselves reincarnations of the gods they worshiped. At that time, the masses of people did everything their king asked for. He would have seemed very powerful. Incredibly resourceful. I am sure he was sexually desirable as well. Sometimes, there is a chemistry that goes beyond reason. Chleo was drawn to him; it is a shame he did not see the value of continuing the way she wanted.”
“Now, we are going to start with the very basics of human anatomy . . .”
I spent the next five hours learning about human bodies. I was most interested in their lower halves, seeing how they differed from my own. Their tops seemed to be relatively similar to ours, but they lacked gills and a way of absorbing oxygen from the water. Their hearts were smaller than ours and beat faster. They did not seem to be as lean as we were. Arianna told me the majority of humankind were larger than they should be. Our muscles were typically easily visible, we did not have hair on our bodies either, which was different.
“I noticed the split in my legs was different,” I ventured when we started to talk about the lower half of humans.
“Yes, so humans have an external clitoris which gives pleasure, as well as the internal pleasure giver. When you transform you take on these aspects as well. Also, it will be perfectly normal if you see hair begin to appear just above your vagina. Humans sometimes remove this, but it is not necessary. Diana will show you how to better navigate your sex organs.” She glanced at me. “I am too old to give you a proper, enthusiastic, and energetic introduction. Eventually, you are expected to be able to seduce human men.” Arianna did not seem abashed to discuss such intimacies.
“When?” My voice cracked.
“Oh, Nefertiti,” Arianna smiled at me kindly, “you have many years of learning to do before that happens. Do not worry about this; it is not something to lose sleep over.”
I wondered if she was joking, seeing as she told me I was to begin sleeping less.
“That seems to be enough for today.” Arianna leaned down and kissed me gently on my lips. “You are tired and have enough to think about.”
“Thank you for your instruction.” I bowed my head and turned around, mentally and physically exhausted. My tail was still aching from having the scales ripped off and regrown. I never stayed up this far into the day and was feeling somewhat delusional.
I half swam and half let the current pull me toward the entrance to the large hall where I first saw Arianna. I found my way to my small sanctuary, and to my relief, saw Evgenís asleep. I lay next to her, and let the events of the day wash over me.
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