When I woke up, I was floating. Sabyn had unchained me but was keeping a close eye on me from his spot across the room. It took a second for me to register that I was still alive. I allowed myself a moment of pure relief before whirling toward Sabyn yet again. I sent out the most powerful blast of electricity I could muster. It should have been enough to knock him on his ass, if not fry him completely, but nothing happened. In fact, he just stood there, smirking at me as I blasted him again and again and again.
It only took a couple times for me to figure out that it wasn’t that Sabyn was repelling the electricity, it was that I wasn’t actually firing any. Just like I wasn’t shooting any energy pulses either. My powers had completely dried up.
Are you done? he asked. Because there are things I’d like to talk about, and frankly, you don’t look like you can do that and listen at the same time.
I sent another blast his way. Then another. And another. Still nothing. What did you do to me?If you’d calm down a little bit, maybe we could talk about it.
I did scream then, reaching deep inside myself for the reserves of power I rarely had to draw on. I fired absolutely everything I had at him and prayed.
All he did was yawn. Then he walked toward the door, his total disregard for my powers obvious in the way he turned his back on me—something he never would have done before.
Okay. All right. The words came out hoarse and breathless, a testament to just how hard I’d been fighting him. What do you want to talk about?
I knew you’d come around.
I coughed, then felt my gills ooze a little. When I put my hands up to them it was to find out that I was bleeding. Sabyn had really done a number on me.
I’m sorry about that, he said. I guess I was too rough.
I didn’t bother to answer. He’d smothered me into unconsciousness, so yeah, I had a tendency to see that as “too rough.”
What do you want, Sabyn? I’m too tired to play games.
Even after your nap? I’m so sorry to hear that. He gestured to the floor. Why don’t you have a seat, get comfortable? He pulled a picnic basket into the room, set it down next to me. Maybe something to eat will help with your exhaustion.
I stared at the basket in disbelief. I’m not hungry.
He shrugged his shoulders. I guess that depends on how badly you want answers. Besides, who knows when I’ll decide to feed you next.
You are completely revolting.
And you are a total pain in the ass, but here we are anyway. He held out a kelp bar. Try it. It’s pretty good.
I don’t think so.
He shrugged, then took a big bite. Suit yourself.Sabyn settled with the picnic on the ground, or at least as close to the ground as he could get with the sea water pushing at him. Merpeople, like other half-human sea creatures, have a built in resistance to the ocean’s buoyancy, which allows them to counteract it any time they want. It doesn’t mean they’ll be able to walk on the ocean floor without effort, but it does mean that they won’t float more than an inch or so above it unless they want to. My resistance isn’t as good as a full merperson’s but I can usually stay two or three inches above whatever it is I’m resting on. Unless I’m concentrating. Then I can lay on a bed or walk on the ground like any other merperson.
Are you going to tell me what’s going on here, Sabyn? You can’t actually think you’re going to get away with holding me prisoner.
He laughed. Who’s going to stop me? Kona? From what I hear, he can barely stand to be in the same ocean with you. Besides, he’s got other problems right now.
My blood ran cold. What do you mean?
You screwed things for a lot of people when you took off for home last week. Now Coral Straits is mine, and Kona’s kingdom … well, let’s just say it’s not really his anymore. But don’t feel too bad; his people are probably relieved. He’s been having a rough time over there since you dumped him.
Sabyn’s words hit me hard, made me focus on the guilt that was always just below the surface. I wanted to lash out at him, to tell him off, but I couldn’t. I needed him. Not just for me—I was more than happy to piss him off when I was the only one at risk. But Sabyn had news of Kona, and that I wanted desperately. He might not be my boyfriend anymore, but that didn’t mean I didn’t still care about him. If something else happened to him because he was helping me … I’d never forgive myself. And I would make Sabyn, and Tiamat, pay.
I’d never been particularly bloodthirsty as a human. Even as a mermaid, I would rather flight than fight if I could get away with it. But I’d had about enough of Sabyn and Tiamat and all the other sea monsters they had working with them. If I got out of this damn dungeon alive, I swore I would take them all down, no matter what it took. Their reign of terror had to end.
But I was smart enough to know that there was no way I’d get a chance to escape if I didn’t play nice with Sabyn. Oh, I didn’t necessarily expect him to buy it—he wasn’t a total idiot, after all. But he was vain, really vain, and if I worked it long enough, maybe his guard would slip. If not today, then some time soon.
Hating myself and what I had to do, I settled down next to him and his ridiculous picnic. I even grabbed one of the disgusting kelp bars and took a bite, praying it wasn’t poisoned.
He didn’t say anything while we ate, and neither did I. I was smart enough to know that I had to wait for him to take the lead or I would never get anywhere. But it was so hard, when I was dying to know where Kona was. Not to mention what he had done to my powers. If there was ever a time I needed them, this was it. I couldn’t do anything without them.
Sabyn forced me to sit there, watching him go through a truly disgusting amount of food. I knew it was for effect, that he was showing me he was the one in control. But even understanding his motivation, it was difficult not to grab one of the kelp and veggie sandwiches and cram it down his throat until he choked on the stupid thing. Except he was a merman so he couldn’t actually choke. More’s the pity.
Finally, when I felt like I was going to lose my mind if he made me wait one more second, he pushed his plate away with a huge sigh. Beer? he asked, holding out a brew made of red algae. It was Kona’s favorite brand and my heart thumped a little in my chest when I saw it.
I shook my head. I hated the stuff. Besides, the last thing I needed right now was to cloud my brain with alcohol.
So, Sabyn said after taking a long drink. I have a proposition for you.
Finally. What do you want?
Excuse me? Surely I’d heard wrong. Then again, he looked surprisingly earnest when he leaned forward and reached for my hand. I yanked it away before he could get a good grip on it, then folded my arms over my chest in case he hadn’t gotten the hint. I had to admit I felt like I was in the middle of a particularly weird and horrifying episode of The Twilight Zone. Or maybe X-Files. That show has always freaked me out.
I waited for him to say more, but he didn’t. Nor did he do anything besides stare at me with a wounded expression on his face. Like my not wanting him to touch me had somehow offended him. Which was so ridiculous it made me long for my powers even more. There was nothing I wanted at that moment as much as the ability to blast him into next week.
Finally the whole nervous talker thing got the better of me and I demanded, Sabyn, what the hell are you up to?
I thought that was obvious. I’m taking over your kingdom.
Yeah, I got that. But what are you doing bringing me picnic lunches? We’re pretty much the definition of mortal enemies at this point.
I think that’s a little harsh, don’t you?
You shot me with a dart gun, stripped me of my powers and chained me in a dungeon. And that was just today.
Yes, but that was for your own good.
My own good? I almost choked on my utter incredulity.
In case you didn’t notice, people weren’t exactly overjoyed to see you today. He gestured carelessly to the world outside my dungeon walls.
I didn’t talk to anybody. That’s the whole point. You have my people so terrified of you that they wouldn’t even come greet me.
That wasn’t terror, Tempest. That was disgust. I didn’t seize control of Coral Straits. It was given to me in a gift box, all wrapped up with a shiny bow.
I don’t believe you.
He shrugged. Fine, don’t believe me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Your people sold you out.
I wanted to ignore him, to discount everything he was saying. But he was so calm, so rational, so sure of himself that it was hard to do. Besides, I could still see Bali’s face, could see all those people who saw me come into town today and went out of their way not to talk to me. After seeing Sabyn, I had decided it was fear that motivated them. But what if it was something else? What if they had chosen Sabyn as a leader? They could have been avoiding me because no one wanted to be the one to tell me. Or worse, because they’d known what was waiting for me and they were okay with me being hurt, imprisoned, trapped.
But still. Why would they do that? I demanded. Even as I asked, I was aware of the irony of seeking answers¸ reassurance, from the man who had put me in this situation.
My guess? They don’t like your ties to the human world. Every time things get rough, you run home to your daddy and that human boyfriend of yours. You have to admit, it’s a little pathetic.
I wasn’t about to discuss Mark or my family with Sabyn. They were none of his business and, truthfully, I hated that he knew anything about them at all. I decided to change the subject. So, at risk of sounding like a broken record, what are you doing here? If you have the monarchy of Coral Straits all tied up, what are you doing in this dungeon with me?
He smiled, then, and it was such a cold, slimy thing that I had to force myself not to shudder. The way he was looking at me made me feel like Little Red Riding Hood at the foot of her grandmother’s bed after the big bad wolf had climbed into it—like I was lunch and I just didn’t know it yet.
Funny you should ask, he told me, tipping his beer toward me in a little salute before he drained the bottle and tossed it back into that ridiculous picnic basket. I’m here to ask for your hand in marriage.