farther out to sea to avoid what looked like a fairly large town with too many boats crisscrossing its waters, and now there was a long row of waterfront houses tucked among the spruce trees. Their windows flashed silvery daylight at her like some kind of signal, and voices carried faintly through the water. Now and then unsuspecting sailboats flew by overhead, and Luce heard people laughing.

To Luce’s relief, the shore grew somewhat wilder, the houses a bit scarcer, and soon there were patches of low cliff and zigzagging rocks that might offer her somewhere to rest. There were still too many boats around, though, for her to risk sleeping on a beach, even a sheltered one. It would have to be a cave. She swam deeper, searching under the waterline for a dark entrance, but the first cave she found was entirely submerged. To sleep, she needed a place where she could keep her tail in the water but her head above the surface. Nothing looked right.

She drove herself, trying to go faster, but she barely seemed to be making any progress at all. Sometimes she caught herself going limp, simply wavering according to the lift and fall of the water. Twilight was coming, and Luce skimmed the low cliffs with an increasing sense of urgency, though there were more houses again. Then up ahead she saw something promising: a dip, a shadow in the rock, just below the dark stained line that marked the lowest tide. As she came closer she knew it was definitely a cave, and from what she could see of its entrance the roof appeared to curve upward inside, probably rising enough that there would be a crucial pocket of air: an ideal mermaids’ home. Gratefully Luce swirled closer, energy surging into her muscles at the prospect of finally collapsing into sleep.

Then the smell hit her. It blasted into her nose, her mouth, and she was gagging, her whole body curving backwards as she fought to pull out of the momentum that was carrying her toward the cave. Blood and decay; the sickly, musty stink of death. Even as she floated in the middle of the water Luce started sobbing at the realization: this was where the murdered tribe had lived. The cave was full of their torn bodies, just the way her own old cave had been. She pulled away through fouled waves, choking and crying. Her stomach heaved repeatedly, but it was so empty that instead of vomiting she only tasted a single sour mouthful of bile. If only she’d realized sooner that the humans were coming after them, if only she’d pushed herself harder, swum faster down the coast, maybe she could have reached this tribe in time.

Luce’s whole body screamed in protest as she drove herself farther out to sea again. She had to get away from here, as far away as she possibly could, no matter how dizzy she felt. She swam on and on, but it was hard to tell if she was still traveling forward or simply drifting in the current. Her tail thrashed awkwardly, its muscles seizing with cramps. How much longer could she keep going like this? The darkness in her head was getting thicker. Now the windows above were shining golden rectangles scattered across a forest like thick blue smoke.

Or maybe the smoke was coming from inside her, too. She was still seeing a line of trees and houses in the dimness, but from the weight pressing in on her she was vaguely aware that she wasn’t at the ocean’s surface anymore but many fathoms below. The houses were far away, but she could still see a crowd of people dancing on a front lawn—was that a lawn?—that sloped down into nothingness. She could see the people, in fact, as if they were very close. Dorian was there, waltzing with a girl whose hair spread out into a kind of floating globe of pink lace, singing a song about the ghosts of lost sailors. The dancers seemed to have their own internal light, but everything else was dark. They weren’t actually on a lawn, though; like her they were suspended in some uncertain middle depth, a half-place inhabited by dreams.

Suddenly the pink-haired girl was no more than a yard away, staring at Luce over her shoulder. She wore a complicated dress of pale lace that frothed up her neck. Dorian had lied, Luce thought, when he’d said Zoe wasn’t especially beautiful. She was snow-colored, glinting, splendid, but also hard to see clearly . . .

Dreamily Luce reminded herself to hate Zoe. But it seemed like too much trouble.

“Luce?” Zoe said. “Isn’t there something you’re supposed to be doing? Something important?”

Probably, Luce thought. She couldn’t speak.

“Then why are you drowning?”

That’s a good question, Luce thought. She didn’t have an answer. Certainly she was very deep under water now. Too deep, even for a mermaid. But her body didn’t seem to be interested in swimming anymore.

Zoe turned to go back to her dancing, and Dorian reached for her with an exaggeratedly formal grace. Then, with no warning, Zoe swung back around and punched Luce hard in the gut, driving her fist up and in so that Luce gagged and doubled. The fist kept plowing into her stomach, forcing her rapidly up through the water . . .

Luce opened her eyes wide—when had they closed?—and found that her body was draped over something crimson, slick, and fleshy. Whatever it was, it was shooting upward through gray-black water. It was carrying her toward the surface, but apparently not because it wanted to. It began to shake and thrash, and Luce tumbled into watery space. Her body was so cramped and weak that she could barely control her movements anymore, but she could still look around at the flashing swarm of animals on all sides.

There were dozens of them. Hundreds. Rocketing shapes, dark in the distance but blood-red where they came close to her, all propelling themselves toward the air Luce needed so desperately. Winglike triangles flapped at one end of each tubular crimson body while at the other end tentacles looped and pulsed. Squids, Luce realized, though some of them were almost as big as she was. A huge one was hurtling toward her, and Luce instinctively threw her arms around it and held on. It was speeding upward so quickly that by the time it managed to shake her free the terrible weight of the water was lessening noticeably. Luce began to feel a slight tremor of hope.

Did she want to live, then? The questioned ached inside her, and Luce ignored it, flinging her body a few yards to one side to grab for the next squid. She could barely swim, and she knew she didn’t have enough air left in her lungs to form even one whispering note, much less to sing the powerful song that controlled the water. But if she could ride enough of the squids toward the surface, she might still be saved from drowning.

The squid turned on her. In an instant Luce was caught in a kind of living net made of two long tentacles that bound her back and shoulders, squeezing her like sticky, raspy fronds. Its shorter arms pawed her, exploring her skin as if it couldn’t quite make out what she was. But even as it grappled with her, the squid was heading toward the surface. Luce tensed against her own urge to fight as the tentacles dragged her closer to the thing’s thick body, as a kind of pale fleshy tube approached her face. In the center of that tube, Luce realized, there was a hooked black beak like a parrot’s, and it was opening.

Luce gritted her teeth, twisting her face as far away from it as she could. A bite wouldn’t kill her. Drowning would. As long as the pressure of the water kept getting lighter, it would be stupid to fight back. The black beak came at her cheek, and Luce fought down a scream as her skin broke and pain shot through her face. The surface wasn’t all that far away now, and adrenaline raced through her until she trembled. Her empty lungs were burning, and Luce couldn’t stop herself from inhaling any longer. Salt water raked down her throat and penetrated her lungs like a mass of frozen nails. Luce’s hands twisted through the web of sucker-covered arms, digging for the squid’s globular eyes. She could feel two slippery balls under her fingers, and she braced herself to claw at them.

The squid bit in again, tearing Luce’s right ear this time, then abruptly flung her away. She gagged and gasped in rolling space, then felt something brush across one flailing hand.


Her head was finally free of the water, and she was coughing desperately, water spitting out of her. It felt like her chest was full of cold fists punching their way up through her throat so that she choked and choked again. Even now that the wind caressed her face, she was retching too hard to breathe.

Then at last enough of the water was out, and Luce managed a lungful of air. On all sides of her huge crimson squids whipped past, their feeder tentacles swinging out to grab fish that were then pulled in toward their snapping beaks, just the way she had been. A stray tentacle groped at her back for a moment, then curled away. The squids were frenzied by the hunt, and as Luce inhaled again and again she realized that, even if mermaids weren’t their preferred prey, it would probably still be a good idea to get away from them.

Besides, she was bleeding. It was never safe to stay in the open ocean when there was blood in the water. She looked and saw the dark line of the coast framed by a scatter of stars. Now that oxygen was flowing through her body again she felt a little stronger. Slowly, tentatively, Luce began to sing to the water, though her throat rasped with pain. A soft current came in response to her song. It wasn’t very strong, but it was enough that she

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