Another silence. Luce’s dread thickened, knotted like slimy ropes. Was there any chance they’d let the girl go? It didn’t seem likely. Luce started to slide into the bloody water oozing from the cave. She turned a corner and saw a crowd of black legs on a stone floor. Men stood chest-deep in crimson water.

She had one advantage, Luce realized. Only one. The same protective helmets that blocked out the mermaids’ songs . . .

“Is that a fact? You won’t help us catch Queen Luce? Well, then . . .”

Luce’s song was already rising, calling the water. The soldiers couldn’t hear it, of course. They didn’t notice anything as the first note soared up around them. But a few seconds later they could feel their legs suddenly yanked out from under them by currents like twisting snakes. Luce’s song split into several violent notes all curling in different directions, and soldiers in slick rubber suits shot through the black air, waving in space, and bashed into the walls. Coils of blood-bright water chased them, gripped them, threw them again. Their bodies collided with the corpses of the mermaids they’d killed, already back in human form. Most of the soldiers had dropped their guns, but a few still held on. Luce couldn’t stop singing then, not while they might still shoot, and in desperation she hurled her voice up the scale.

Even as they swung, shouting through the cave’s darkness, one of them had seen her. His gun was up, and he was trying to aim. Luce focused on the water gripping him until he was buffeted face-first again the ceiling. The heavy gun finally flung free, whipping into a girl’s severed arm before it tumbled down into the water.

The living mermaid had to be here somewhere, spinning through this chaos of crimson water and electric screams and black thrashing limbs . . .

Luce didn’t mean to kill the soldiers, just stun or hurt them enough that she and the other mermaid— there she was, clinging to a rock in the corner, blood-slicked, flurried by waves—could get away. But she couldn’t keep her song going at such a frenzied pitch forever, and at least one man still clutched his gun like a baby against his chest, both arms wrapping it close.

Luce’s voice flung higher, sharpening into a scream, and dashed him headlong into the jagged wall.

There was a loud crack. He fell limp into the water, and Luce could see that the angle of his head was very wrong.

She hadn’t wanted to kill him. Her voice died away in anguish, and bodies plummeted into crimson foam. Luce fought through the pounding rain of half-conscious men. There wasn’t much time before they recovered, at least enough to dive for their guns again.

The mermaid in the corner was wheezing out a kind of low, rhythmic shriek. When Luce grabbed her wrist under the water she only clung harder to her rock, then swung at Luce with her tail. Luce dodged, splashing up through the surface, and crashed right into a black-suited diver, who made a bleary grab for her throat. He just missed her, then lost his balance and flailed in the crimson froth.

“Are you insane? We’ve got to get out of here!” Luce shouted at the blood- drenched mermaid. Every moment of delay could be one too many.

The girl stared around as if she couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, still wheezing shrilly. She was so spattered with gore that the faint glow of her skin came through like moonlight through ruby glass. Luce grasped her by the arm and pulled, and this time the shocked mermaid folded passively toward the water, letting Luce drag her away.

They were flowing toward the entrance, weaving through crashing legs, through divers who swept below them as they reached for their scattered guns. The strange mermaid suddenly lunged to one side, tugging Luce with her, and a shining silver blade flashed past just where Luce’s head had been. It clanged into the stones, the water trembling with the sound. Luce tried to spiral her tail to drive herself at full speed, but the water was so crowded with bodies both living and dead that her movements were blocked by jumbled flesh.

Then it was the other mermaid who was picking up speed, towing Luce out through the fouled water and into crashing gray. Whorls of golden dawn spread out above them, leaping with the heave of the sea. Luce’s injured stomach clenched with pain as the other mermaid jerked on her arm, urging her to move, and from the corner of her eye Luce saw a few of the sleek black figures already after them. She was holding the other mermaid back, Luce realized, going much too slowly. Her whole body spasmed from pain as she forced herself into a burst of speed.

Beside her the other mermaid bucked and screamed. Luce glanced over at her in terror, but she was still alive, gritting her teeth as the blood sheeted off her light brown skin.

Away. They were getting away, the human divers drifting somewhere behind them. They were heading deeper, dipping around a bend. Far above Luce saw the black oblong shape of a boat silhouetted against rippling greenish light. The other mermaid was whirling forward in her panic, and Luce couldn’t stand the pain of going at this speed anymore. She tried to pull her arm free. The stranger was safe now, or as safe as she could be. It would definitely be better for her to go on without Luce.

Since Luce was the one they were after, in particular . . .

Since they’d just seen her, and they’d know she couldn’t be all that far away, and she’d probably killed at least one of them moments before . . .

“Come on!” the girl beside her barked, her voice distorted from the water. “I know a . . . It’s close . . .”

A hiding place? Luce made herself keep going, and in a few moments they were at a narrow crevice in the rock. Luce reared back. They were far below the surface, and she’d exhausted too much of her air by dashing so quickly. The crevice looked dark and ominous, and Luce felt sure they’d only get stuck in there and drown.

“Come on, already!” The other mermaid darted into the ragged shadow, and after a moment Luce followed her.

It went upward, and at first it was so narrow that her tail thrashed against the rock. Luce had no trouble seeing in the darkness, but she knew it was utterly lightless. Now and then the fins of the mermaid ahead swished against her face.

Then the crack began to widen and a subtle wash of light refracted through the water. They kept squirming upward, and Luce heard the stranger inhale a few seconds before her own head broke free of the surface. They were in a narrow span of water, smooth as black glass. The crevice kept twisting upward before it ended in a shard of daylight at least a hundred feet above them.

There was no real beach in here, but there were outcroppings and natural shelves where they could at least rest for a while. Luce saw that the other girl’s left fin was sliced by a three-inch gash at its bottom edge, both sections writhing as if they were trying to hold each other. That was why she’d screamed, then. Her face was still taut with pain, her forehead furrowed. She was close to Luce’s age, and she looked at her roughly.

“Are you who I think you are?” the girl asked.

Maybe her tribe had met Nausicaa too. Nausicaa must have talked about Luce all the way down the coast, bizarre as that seemed.

“I’m Luce.”

“Yeah. That wild business you pulled with the water. I should have guessed right away, but I was too . . .” She paused, breathing hard, obviously struggling for self-control. “Luce. My God. Did you hear what they said?

Luce nodded. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I thought they were just murdering any mermaids they could find, but if they were looking for me, and that’s why . . . your tribe . . .”

“What did you do to get those creeps in that huge of an uproar? They said something . . .”

“They didn’t say the whole thing,” Luce snarled. “They massacred my old tribe. Everyone. Then they were shooting at me. They made it sound like I just attacked them out of nowhere!”

“You did that water thing to them?”

“I smashed their boat into a cliff. Back in Alaska. I was just trying to stop them, really, but I guess a few of them died? But I don’t know . . . I can’t understand how they knew who I was, or my name, or . . .”

Actually, there was one obvious explanation for how they might have gotten their information. Luce just didn’t want to believe it. There was someone who could easily give the authorities the name of the mermaid who knew how to control the water with her singing. She sent a giant wave at your boat? Oh yeah, that was definitely Luce. She’s the only one who could have done that! More than that, he could show them very good drawings of her.

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