How long had she been lost in the same rhythm? Weeks, she thought, although her sense of time was blurred. She kept swimming south. Always hugging the coastline, always rippling through waters that shifted from tints of olive to milky jade to tarnished silver, and continually gusting out a long cry like moaning wind: an alarm- song. Luce checked any caves she noticed, but there were inevitably ones she missed, with entrances below the depth where she was swimming or sometimes deliberately concealed behind thick fans of seaweed. As the human population rose along the coast, the local mermaids made greater efforts to keep themselves sheltered from discovery. That was why Luce kept the airy half-song constantly whistling from her throat: she might not see them, but they would almost certainly hear her. And if they did—if they respected the timahk at all, at least—they would rush out to see who she was, and if she needed help.

Then she could tell them. Clusters of unfamiliar faces would gather around her in the water. Sometimes Luce would have to blink, to rub her eyes, to stop herself from seeing different faces shining like movie projections on their wavering bodies. If she didn’t concentrate, she’d start to see Nausicaa, Miriam, Rachel, Catarina, even— horribly—Dorian . . . But maybe it didn’t matter who she saw as long as she remembered to say the right words. “The humans know about us. Soldiers massacred my old tribe, up in Alaska. Singing to them won’t work; they have helmets that block out our songs. And somehow they can find our caves.

“You have to move to new territory. Make sure it’s secret and remote, and stay as hidden as you can. And whatever you do, don’t sink any ships. If you do they’ll know you’re nearby and start hunting you . . .”

Luce was too numb to do much besides repeat the same message. Her voice was urgent, sad, and still distorted and airy with the windy song that never completely died away in her chest. She barely registered their reactions: disbelief or terror or even misplaced fury, as if the coming horror was somehow Luce’s fault. She didn’t care. She had to breathe out her warning to as many mermaids as she could. Once the words had left her, she was done. Empty. Like a tunnel charged with wind, the only thing inside her was movement.

At least, she was empty until she found the next tribe.

Where was she now? Canada somewhere? Or had she already reached the coast of Washington? Luce didn’t ask. The tribe she’d just called to come out to her—it must have been the seventh or eighth after Sedna’s— heard her out quietly, even gently. They seemed to understand that she was caught in some toxic dream, that the words had to finish hissing out of her before anything else could happen.

Luce was already flexing her aching tail, ready to pulse onward. A hand caught her arm, and dark blond hair waved in the corner of her eye. Dorian? Is that . . .

“We know.” The mermaid holding on to her had an unusually sensitive, open face; Luce felt a flutter of unaccustomed hope at the thought that this was their queen. She’d take good care of the girls with her. “We’ve already heard what’s happening.”

Mermaids had said all kinds of wild and desperate things to Luce along her journey, but nothing until now had quite caught her attention. This time she looked up and truly saw the queen in front of her in a way that she hadn’t observed anyone for some time. Her expression was sorrowful, and now Luce realized that the mermaids surrounding her all looked heart-shocked, anxious and pale.

“You . . .”

“We know. Listen . . . the tribe south of us got slaughtered two nights ago. Three of them escaped and made it up here, but they were out when it happened, so they didn’t see anything besides the bodies. We weren’t sure if maybe it was just that one tribe, and this is the first we’ve heard about how the humans are doing it, about the helmets—”

“It’s not just that tribe!” Luce was gasping, and she felt an urge to get away. Waking from the trance of her journey meant feeling more horror and heartbreak than she could stand. “Please . . . you have to hide.”

“And we might know who you are, too, I think. Queen Luce? We’ve heard . . .”

The other problem with stopping like this was that it gave her time to notice how utterly crushed, how nauseous and heavy she felt. Her body felt like lead, bizarrely cold and molten at the same time. Each word she spoke seemed to cost her more effort than the one before. But the fact that this strange girl recognized her—even more, the fact that she addressed Luce as queen—might mean that Luce was getting closer to finding the friend she needed most in the world.

“Nausicaa?” Luce barely breathed. “When?”

“When was she here, you mean? A few months ago.” The blond queen said it in a sympathetic voice that showed she knew this would be unwelcome news. “But she talked about you a lot, Luce. She told us to expect you.”

That didn’t make any sense. “She . . .”

“She said she thought you’d be coming this way sometime. And that we should help you.” A pause. “You look like you could use a good rest. We’ll get you some food first, though.”

“No!” She had to keep going. The hideous truth was just sinking in: the tribe south of this one was already dead. She hadn’t been fast enough.

“I promise we’ll follow your advice, Queen Luce. Okay? But you could sleep while we scout for a new place to live.” She examined Luce, gently critical. “You look like you might be getting sick.”

Luce’s whole body writhed as if she were snarled in a net. It was far more effort than she needed to pull her arm away. “No! I have to . . . There are other tribes. I can’t just stop.”

“You have to rest sometime, though.”

Luce couldn’t understand the icy thrumming of her heart, her clenching stomach, the utter physical terror that possessed her, as if she’d found herself in a closing trap. These mermaids were warm and sincere; they genuinely wanted to help her, look after her. She gazed around the circle, watching their growing perplexity in the face of her panic. “I . . . don’t mean to be rude. I’m sorry. But I have to . . .” Their eyes looked like the unseeing orbs in the faces of the dead girls heaped in her old cave; Luce remembered a head split open so that its staring blue eyes were much too far apart. Talking was simply too hard for her. She had only enough words left inside her to keep repeating her warning.

She gave up trying to explain and dived away. She couldn’t suppress her fright, and she lashed her tail as if she were being chased, though she knew that her fear had nothing to do with reality. But she was so tired. For days now she’d only slept in occasional snatches, her sleep so shaken and wrung out by nightmares that it hardly felt like rest at all. The lozenges of glow in front of her might be only refracted moonlight or they might be shining fish. The rocks were pitching in a way that made them hard to distinguish from the waves, and she could feel her body weaving.

“Dorian,” Luce said to herself. His name was just a sickness, a taunting noise that kept appearing on her lips. She spat to clear it away. He’d forgotten her; he was probably kissing Zoe right now, staring at her with adoration the same way he’d once stared at Luce.

And somewhere men in a locker room might be taking off their complicated black helmets, peeling off slick rubber suits, laughing about that night’s kills. Of course, mermaids had laughed about killing humans too, but knowing that didn’t make Luce any less determined to protect her own kind. They were the lost girls, the ones the humans didn’t want. They were all so broken that Luce couldn’t bear the idea of their breaking again. She imagined fragments of porcelain, stars made of blood on a cold marble floor. Once they died they shifted back into human form; there would be childish feet and legs where their gleaming tails had been . . .

She had a vague idea of stopping to scavenge for shellfish then realized that if she ate she wouldn’t be able to keep the food down.

The thought of all the tribes she had to warn kept her moving. And moving was the only thing that kept her alive.

It was late afternoon, a cool, pearly day with the scent of wildflowers sweetening the breeze. The blackness she saw everywhere, Luce realized, had to be coming from inside her. She lashed her tail recklessly, straining to keep her eyes open, to keep seeing the curved winglike shapes of daylight that flared above her head, to sustain the wind-toned song pouring through her mouth. The light on the waves above her seemed to be blinking out, though. Streaks and coils of pitch darkness appeared scrawled on the surface of the water, as if it were a page where someone was drawing in thick black ink. Strange, Luce thought. She must be starting to see things that weren’t there.

How long had it been since she’d darted away from that last tribe? A few hours? Longer?

Maybe she really did need to find somewhere to sleep, but this wasn’t a good place for it. She’d swung

Вы читаете The Twice Lost
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату