was now heading toward the shore.

It was horrible to see how flat that shoreline was, how houses still dotted the woods. She’d have the same problem she’d had before, Luce realized: there was no chance of finding a decent cave or even a craggy stretch where she wouldn’t have to worry about humans finding her. She knew she couldn’t keep traveling any farther. It wouldn’t be long before she would lose consciousness again and sink helplessly.

It had been an extremely close call, after all. Just how close was starting to become clear. Only the wildest luck had made that first squid slam into her and knock her back into awareness. She wouldn’t be that lucky a second time.

Then Luce saw something ahead and interrupted her own song as she moaned aloud from pure relief. There were no caves, but there was a long, low dock stretched out above the beach in a shallow cove. She could swim under it and sleep hidden from the humans, even as they ran along the planks above. Luce crooned to the water again, urging it on, and soon there was sand stirred up by her dragging tail. She slipped under the dock and pressed her unhurt cheek gratefully against the shore. Blood trickled into her mouth.

Darkness filled the world beyond, but it was no match for the darkness inside her.

* * *

Her sleep was utter oblivion. Dark and heavy and for once dreamless. She woke to feel a beam of sun lancing between the planks and straight onto her eyelids; she woke to feel something—a hand?—carefully touching her shoulder.

A hand. Luce told herself not to panic. Low waves sloshed at her back as she very slowly opened her eyes and lifted herself. The hand jerked back, and Luce heard a quick intake of breath. Luce turned enough to see a little girl, maybe seven years old, kneeling on the sand and staring at her. The girl wore an oversized red windbreaker, and the cuffs of a gray sweater bulged out around her wrists.

Without even thinking about it, Luce smiled at her. “Don’t tell anyone I’m here,” Luce whispered. “Okay?”

She might have to get away fast, of course. Luce flexed her body, trying to assess her strength; she felt sick and faint and achy, but she hoped she could still outrace most human boats if it came to that.

The girl stared at her silently for a few moments, pushing back loops of light brown hair. “I won’t,” she whispered back, then hesitated. “Um, are you real?”

For some reason that made Luce laugh, though she stifled it almost instantly. The laugh sounded harsh, maybe even bitter. The girl looked dismayed, and Luce felt a bit sorry. “Well, I’m real to myself anyway,” she told her gently. “Does that count?”

Luce stretched again, velvet sand against her sore belly, and noticed that it was the first time she’d felt real in weeks. The feeling was painful, and she wished she could go back to sleep.

The girl considered the question but didn’t answer it. “You got hurt?”

Luce reached up reflexively, touching the throbbing spot at the side of her head. A triangle of flesh almost an inch deep had been ripped from the side of her right ear, but the cuts in her cheek didn’t feel too bad. Even without looking, she could tell that her stomach was badly bruised where the first squid had crashed into her; that would slow her down. Luce’s physical injuries were the least of her damage, really, but they were all the girl could see. “A squid bit me. I’ll be okay.”

“Are you hungry?” The girl was digging in the pocket of her windbreaker, pulling out half a candy bar.

Luce stared at her, suddenly horribly sad. The mermaids had killed so many humans without caring at all. This little girl had no idea what kind of creature she was offering to feed. “I am hungry,” Luce said softly. “Thank you. But . . . I don’t think I can eat that. It’s not mermaid food.”

The wind curling over her cheeks was warm and soft. It was a beautiful spring day.

It was also the first time she’d been aware of beauty since Dorian had abandoned her, since she’d found the bodies . . .

“What do you eat?”

“Shellfish, mostly. Some kinds of seaweed are good.”

“Wait here.” The girl ran off, and Luce watched her wading out along a sandbar down the beach. She was bending low, gathering mussels. The prospect of food hit Luce with stabbing intensity. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure how long it had been since she’d had anything to eat. Two days?

Footsteps thumped along the planks above Luce’s head. She tensed, but it wasn’t likely that anyone would notice her: by contrast with the brilliant day outside, the shadow covering Luce was very dark. She could see two colored shapes through the gaps between the slats, then she watched them emerge onto the dock. A man and a woman. Sun flashed in their windblown hair as they adjusted life jackets. They were talking about how they couldn’t find one of the paddles for their canoe.

It had been crazy to fall asleep here, but she hadn’t had much choice. The waters spreading out around the dock were shallow, Luce realized, and the sunlight was bright and piercing. If she swam away, anyone who happened to be looking in the right direction would see her clearly. But maybe it didn’t matter anymore. The FBI knew about the mermaids; soldiers were hunting them down. It was simply too late for secrecy to do them any good. Why shouldn’t all the humans know the truth, then?

The girl was scampering back, a heap of mussels balanced on her outspread hands. A few of them fell as she ran.

“What are you doing, Chrissy?” The woman on the dock was calling to the little girl.

“Playing,” the girl said defensively. It sounded like a lie.

“You know you shouldn’t pick the mussels if you’re not going to eat them.”

“I’ll put them back in the water. I’m just moving them over here . . .”

The couple on the dock had finally found the paddle, and they were lowering their canoe into the water. Luce found herself gazing after them with emotions she couldn’t sort out: a strange kind of sorrowful envy. As long as Dorian had kept pressuring her to turn human again, she’d been convinced she didn’t want to, but now that it was too late, now that Dorian didn’t care anymore, was she sure she’d made the right decision? Not that turning human had actually been an option . . .

Chrissy dropped the mussels in a clattering heap at Luce’s elbow, and Luce smiled at her with genuine gratitude. “Thank you so much. I’m not . . . feeling very well.” She glanced nervously toward the canoe. It was just pulling away, and the couple was chatting about what the best picnic spot would be. Being this close to strange humans felt almost as dreamlike and peculiar to Luce as the hallucinations that had overcome her as she’d lost consciousness the night before.

“Why aren’t you eating?”

“I will. As soon as they’re gone.” Cracking the mussels would be noisy; Luce was nervous about trying it at all. Then hunger jabbed through her again, and she decided she didn’t care who heard her. She smacked one on the dock’s stone foundation then gobbled it too quickly. Another, then another.

Chrissy watched her while she ate, clearly fascinated. “You’re so pretty. Even with bites in your face.”

Luce didn’t feel like smiling anymore. “That’s just because of magic, Chrissy. How pretty I am.” The adoring shine of those warm brown eyes made Luce sad. “You shouldn’t take magic things too seriously, okay?”


“Because magic can trick you. You shouldn’t let it.” After all, Dorian hadn’t. He’d called her enchanted beauty “freakish.” That was all she was to him.

“You’re not trying to trick me,” Chrissy murmured uncertainly.

“No,” Luce agreed. Lying under this dock, looking at this child striped by sunlight, it was horrible to remember how she’d helped her tribe sink ships before. Luce knew she was partly responsible for the deaths of girls just like the one sitting beside her now. Dorian’s little sister had been about this age. Luce smiled warmly at Chrissy, and her smile felt like a scar. “But that’s because . . .” Luce wasn’t sure what to say. Chrissy obviously admired her, but Luce wished she wouldn’t; she gazed at Luce, her expression somewhere between hopeful and apprehensive. Luce sighed. “Because we’re friends.” Chrissy beamed.

Luce knew she’d rested for too long. It was time to be moving on again. She had to warn the next tribe, and the next, before they were killed. The responsibility was all hers.

Did she even care that there was another group of people, maybe half a dozen this time, already getting out

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