Sea Green Siren
By Ellie Margot
The only thing worse than being pissed off was being pissed off with an audience.
Riette could feel her face burning. She needed to figure out how to handle Samantha, and she needed to find her cool before the others realized she had lost it.
Riette continued to walk with the others. They had gotten far enough away from the dark mage, Samantha, to feel some sense of control, but the light was fading quicker than ever, and they needed to make camp before they were left defenseless in the dark. They were still on the outskirts of the city, and the streets were still fairly populated. The night was going to catch up with them quickly, and Riette’s skin prickled with the cooling air around her.
The wind howled through Riette’s long curly hair, and the night was cold.
She blew on her fingertips to get some feeling back in them.
Far from home, Riette had found the world of Esper changing alongside her own mood. She didn’t have control over the weather, but the weather seemed to change as often as her thoughts. One day, it was hot enough to burn her legs, her hands, and anything that came into contact with the sunlight, and then the next, it was cold enough to make icicles of the tears she wouldn’t let fall.
Mekhi and Corin walked closely together.
Riette caught them talking softly more often than not. They spoke, but she couldn’t hear what they were sharing with each other. Their lips were moving, and that was confirmation enough.
Cassian and Guy, as unlikely a pair as they were, led the way in front of Riette.
She watched Cassian’s movements. She studied the way his hair fell almost to his shoulders now, as dark as the night around them, and she contemplated the thoughts going through his head—or the lack of them.
She knew he had to be thinking something, but she also knew that he would be reluctant to tell her. They had a distance between them when it came to Cassian’s emotions. There was a line, no matter how close they were, that they didn’t cross.
He turned as if he could hear what she was thinking.
Cassian’s face pinched in a frown, and he opened his mouth as if to say something, but nothing came out.
Riette lifted an eyebrow in response, and Guy looked back and forth between them like he was watching a game transpire.
The exchange only lasted a second, but Riette wondered how Cassian could look her in the eye after his betrayal. He was a traitor. She could see him as little else, and she wondered if that was where his mind was.
It seemed like too much to have to worry about at once.
“What?” she asked.
Cassian shook his head and turned back around.
Something burned in her stomach, and a bitter taste filled her mouth, like lemons dipped in vinegar.
Mekhi kicked her foot, and she stumbled forward, almost hitting Cassian in the process. She turned around to confront him, and he tilted his head to have her hang back with them.
Corin moved ahead, leaving the two of them behind.
The wind was still ruffling Mekhi’s red hair. It had gotten a little softer in color as the wear of the travels weighed them down, physically and otherwise.
But the smile didn’t leave his face. His eyes barely left Corin to find Riette’s, but when they did, they did so with much difficulty.
“Pissed isn’t an accurate word,” Riette said, and she kicked the dirt in front of her with each movement of her feet.
She could talk freely thanks to the distance between herself and the others, but she wanted to say what she was thinking right to Cassian’s face, so she really wasn’t worried about giving anything away.
“Lividly angry? Enraged? Blood-burning necrosis based on straight-up fury?”
“You’re edging closer,” Riette said. She saw Cassian’s shoulders tense, and she wondered if he was listening in or just assuming correctly what she thought of him.
Being mad at Cassian didn’t come naturally to her.
Her whole life, she had grown up next to him. He was the solid to her flexible, the grounded soul to her wayward one.
It was something she wasn’t going to get used to anytime soon. She knew that much.
Mekhi laughed but then cut it off quickly when Riette gave him a look.
“Sorry. It’s just weird to see you all not being friends.”
Riette took a breath. She looked over at Cassian again and shook her head. “Yeah.” She let out the breath. “It’s strange.”
“I could hit him for you,” Mekhi said. “Sure, it’ll compromise the new mission we’re on, but if it’ll put a smile on my cuzzo’s face.” He took his hand and ruffled through Riette’s hair.
She shoved his hand away and almost got it stuck in a wayward curl in the process.
“It probably wouldn’t make a difference,” Riette said.
They both looked at him and then at each other.
“No, he’d still be weirdly pretty and generally hard to swallow,” said Mekhi.
“You know you two love each other,” Riette said.
“Of course. He’s adopted family. But that doesn’t change the fact that I would rearrange the pretty eyes and cheekbones if it would make you happy. You know that.”
“Corin would kill you if you hurt her brother like that.”
“Yeah, but she loves me enough to get over it.”
Riette smiled. She loved Cassian too, in her own way, but that still didn’t kill the acid brewing in her belly.
Did that mean there was something wrong with her? Something wrong with them?
She let out a breath.
“I’m glad we got her back,” she said, her voice soft but carrying on the night wind.
Mekhi smiled at her and winked when Corin turned around to check on him.
“Yeah. She’s pretty much the best.”
“So, you all are together now?”
“You know I’ve heard that kidnapping and lost missions make relationships.”
“Nothing better,” said Mekhi. “It’s like speeding to the dating finish line without any filler.”
“You all had filler. You had more googly eyes than most during practices back home.”
Mekhi laughed, and it split his face. The smile slowly left it though, one memory pulling after the other. The horrors of what they had gone through showed on his features.
They almost didn’t get her back. They could have lost Corin forever.
“She’s good now,” Riette said. She touched Mekhi’s arm.
He nodded. “I know, but it could have ended so differently.”
Riette pulled on his arm, forcing his attention on her and pausing their walk for a second.
“But it didn’t. She’s here, and you all are able to make all the gross faces at each other you want. Okay? She’s okay.”
He nodded, seemingly lost in his thoughts again. Riette released him, and they continued walking.
After a few steps, he broke the silence. “Are you, though?”
“I’m not the worst I’ve ever been.”
“I think the worst you’ve been is when you were knee deep in pirate blood and pledging yourself to the underworld.”
Riette rolled her eyes. It had been hard getting through the seasickness and the feeling that may be slowly turning her into a Siren from the inside. She didn’t want to relive killing someone. Or to think back on her first official death.
“I’m good. I’m fine. And I don’t want you to hit him, okay?”
“Is this a new, mature Riette?”
“No, if anyone is going to hit him, it’s going to be me.”
Mekhi laughed again, grabbing his stomach. The others turned around, stopping their forward progress.
“Nothing to see here,” said Mekhi. “Just planning our mutual demise in this little version of Demura we’re in.”
Guy turned back, but Cassian didn’t. Even though they had all started walking again, he waited until Mekhi and Riette were right by him before he joined the pack.
“It’s probably a little soon, bro—” started Mekhi.
“I’m good, remember?” said Riette. “It’s okay.”
Mekhi gave her another glance before moving forward to walk with Corin.
Cassian found his step beside her.
They walked a few yards in silence.
There were insects creaking in the distance. They sounded like crickets but with a different rhythm. It reminded Riette of the insect creature that helped them find Corin.
A chill ran over her skin at the thought of Dane, the darkness, the vision of the thing outside of her window.
“You cold?” Cassian asked, and even then, his voice sounded like a struggle.
There was a tremor in it, an uncertainty that Riette never would have associated with him before. She knew it was because of her.
No, she didn’t want to take responsibility, but she knew he was as unnerved by their not speaking as she was. That was a lot to take in.
“You could have—”
“I’m fine, okay?” Riette cut him off and wrapped her arms around herself.
She looked at Cassian only for a second but caught the hardening of his jaw as he stared ahead.
He was taller than Riette, and it had been that way since they were children, so he took less strides than she did, but he stood next to her.
Even if it killed her to have him be that close.
“Are you going to forgive me?” he asked. His voice was quiet. They didn’t have much distance from the others, but at least Riette and Cassian were talking.
Riette guessed that they were probably waiting for the two of them to fight or hug and makeup and that their conversation was just for show, but she couldn’t be sure of it. Not without listening in.
“How long did you keep it a secret from me? You knew more about my parents and never let on.”
“We’ve talked about this.”
“It doesn’t make it any less fucked up, okay? Maybe I’m trying to make sense of it.”
“Reasonable? Would you ever think I would keep something from you?”
“Like what?” Riette asked. Her voice almost broke on the end, not from nerves but from anger.
“You knew Corin was planning on running away.”
“I never knew.”
“You assumed enough to be watching out for her. You had suspicions.”
“And you didn’t? Don’t say they’re the same thing. They are fucking ages apart, and you know it.”
“Do I?” Cassian asked. He stopped. He faced her. His hands were in fists at his sides.
“I never, ever keep anything from you. Nothing important. You? You know something about my father, and you don’t tell me for what? Years?”
“What good would it have done?”
“When I found out about the book, your father was already sick. You were torn up about it. He asked me not to say something because he knew it would upset you. Did you want me to ignore him?”
“And after he passed?”
“When should I have brought it up? At his funeral?” He stopped, swallowed. “I didn’t want you to be put into more danger over something that may or may not even be worth it.”
“If my grandmother left me something, it’s worth it. I don’t care what it is.”
“Or who gets killed in the process?”
Riette bit her lip to keep herself from yelling more.
“Guys?” Corin called.
They both turned and saw the rest of the party had stopped and was watching them.
Riette forced her fists to relax at her sides as she considered Cassian in front of her. She wanted her words to be clear. They mattered. “I would never get anyone killed. You should—”
“You can’t know that. You can’t assure that. We’re out here, far away from the things we know. We have seen things—”
“We saved your sister. We are doing the right thing.”
“Are we?” asked Cassian. “Or are we putting ourselves into danger again?”
“Of course, there’s danger. Life is dangerous, but it doesn’t mean you stop living because there’s risk.”
“It doesn’t mean you go looking for risk to feel alive either.”
“I’m not doing this to feel alive. I’m doing this because I know my grandmother’s book will help save our lives and countless others. My mother can’t figure out what will save our world from burning down. Who knows if she’s trying, but my grandmother’s book will give us the tools we need to save it ourselves. It will save Vitan.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“At least we can say we did something,” said Riette. “Doesn’t that matter?”
Cassian’s eyes flitted over her face. He bit his lip, and the wind blew his hair into his face.
The old Riette would have moved it out of the way.
The new Riette, the one that stood before him, didn’t know what to do.
“What are we doing?” Guy asked from the front. His voice was hesitant, soft. “Are we turning back?”
Riette didn’t break eye contact with Cassian, and she narrowed her eyes. “I’m going.”
Cassian nodded. “We’re still going.”
“Well, then let’s keep moving, okay?” said Guy. “Preferably before you all kill each other?”
“Yeah, let’s go,” said Riette, and she turned away from Cassian and moved to stand by Guy in the front of the group.
It didn’t make it easier to hear how Cassian felt, but it wasn’t going to stop her from doing what she needed to do to save Vitan.
The bag on Riette’s back had been getting heavier and heavier. She was tempted to look inside to see if Bark had smuggled stones on their journey. That was the only way to make sense of how the load felt on her shoulders, but she knew they couldn’t have gotten out. Not when she was as careful with them as she had been.
That night when she left the others to check on them, she wondered about when to let the others know she had them. It seemed silly now. Carrying a lieng, a Vitan tree sapling, with them was impractical, and the sea monkey, statue or not, was sleeping. He was a cooing liability, but she didn’t want to part with them.
They grounded her.
Keeping them from killing each other made her feel like she had a purpose and wasn’t fucking something up, like she was prone to do with the other people in her group.
She hadn’t talked to Cassian much after their earlier conversation. They made noises at each other—well, in response to the conversation going on around them—but that was about it. Being able to be social enough to have a conversation seemed to be outside of their abilities. It had always been that way for Riette, but at that point, she didn’t feel like trying.
Not talking wasn’t surprising for Cassian either, but it didn’t make it easier for Riette to swallow.
She was not talking because she didn’t want to fight with Cassian more. Because she would get hurt, for one. Because she’d try hurting him, probably physically, for two.
Riette was reasonably sure she could take him, with or without magic, but she didn’t want to, even if she was burning up inside.
She scratched the tattoo on her back. It was glowing, letting off a soft light in the darkness, and she felt like a beacon for something that was probably out there going bump in the night around her.
“That makes it worse, you know?” asked Guy.
“Rubbing it. It’s like a hard-on. Touching it makes it stronger.”
“Bad brain, not unlike a toilet,” said Riette.
“Duly noted.” He stretched and looked at the small clearing they were coming up on. “This good for you?”
“Are you going to say something else gross if I agree?”
“No. I’m not hitting on you anymore. You don’t appreciate it enough.”
Guy looked behind him to Mekhi and Corin.
“I’m an acquired taste,” he said after a beat.
“Like when a person likes to eat soap or something that isn’t edible?”
“Just like that.”
Riette laughed, and Cassian noticed, turning around to look at her briefly at the sound.
She didn’t say anything at him looking.
“Don’t talk about me,” said Cassian. His voice was still and calm, as much as it annoyed Riette for it to be.
“Who says I’m talking about you?”
“Anyone with ears. We’re across a fire from each other. Not an ocean apart.”
“An ocean would be preferred.”
“That’s enough, children,” said Guy, his hands moving to his pants. “Don’t make me get the belt.”
Riette rolled her eyes, and she thought she saw Cassian doing the same.
“See?” asked guy. “Or quiet. Quiet is nice. Now I, for one, need sleep to be beautiful.”
“So, you haven’t slept in how long?” asked Riette.
“Bristly doesn’t suit you, hon.”
After feeding Bark and the sea monkey she had now dubbed Barry, after the berry blue of his fur, she got them settled back into her bag and headed toward the others.
Cassian drank from the cup he had acquired from their last town stop. She could smell the coffee from here.
It was new to them, Guy excluded, and she hadn’t found a taste for the stuff. Tea, yes. Coffee? She couldn’t have it.
Riette preferred her drinks cold and not bitter as death.
Cassian didn’t speak when he saw her, but he didn’t glare at her either, and she tried her best to do the same.
“We’ve been talking about our next destination,” said Corin. She scooted over to give Riette room on the logs that they had set up by the fire.
The morning air was still biting. The wind was cold, much colder than the night before. Riette felt the effects in the chill bumps that rippled across her arms.
Corin offered Riette tea and the food they had made for breakfast. That time, it was some rustic bread and berries smashed into its crevices.
Riette fought back the urge to groan in happiness over it, even if the meal was simple. They had mostly been surviving on fruit, bark, and water that Mekhi had the pleasure of carrying for everyone.
He was the biggest and widest of all of them. Cassian and Guy were both tall, as they all were, but with more lean builds. It allowed them to be more agile, like Riette was herself, but less useful when it came to carrying things for long distances.
The bag Riette was saddled with was more than enough.
“Where did you say the book was?” asked Guy. He drank his own coffee and sat close to Cassian, as if he acted as a buffer between Cassian and Riette.
Cassian caught Riette’s eye over the others but didn’t keep the gaze. He faced Guy and scratched the small area of flesh behind his ear before speaking.
“My grandmother gave it to a friend. Someone she trusted.”
“Do you have a name?” asked Guy.
“Elle. Ella? Something like that,” said Cassian.
“It’s important,” said Riette. She leaned forward.
“You think I don’t know that?” asked Cassian.
“Not everything needs to be a fight,” said Guy.
“I know,” Cassian said. He ran his hand through his hair. Lines in his hair showed that his hands had run a similar passage for at least most of the morning, if not longer.
“It was Ella,” Cassian said after sitting back. “I’m positive.”
“If she knew your grandmother, she was someone important,” said Guy. “I can almost be sure of that much.”
“You’ve heard of Ella?” asked Riette.
“How the hell could you possibly—” started Mekhi.
“If you’re worth knowing, I probably know you.”
“Cocky shit,” Mekhi muttered before drinking out of his cup.
“Well, I hope he does know her,” said Corin. “It would make me feel better.”
“Hey, we’re not going in circles,” said Guy.
“Oh yeah? Where are we right now?”
“Obviously, we’re in a somewhat wooded area at a camp—”
“That we made,” said Corin.
“Exactly. Clear as—”
“Mud,” said Riette. “But if you know this Ella, then that will give us a goal.”
“I’m not saying I know her for sure, but I know a guy who might know where she is.”
“He’s got a guy,” said Mekhi, and he and Cassian shared a brief laugh.
“Hey, life is about who you know, okay? And I happen to know a lot of people.”
“And not much else,” said Mekhi. Corin elbowed him in his side. “Look, I’m eager for him to prove me wrong.”
“And I shall,” said Guy. “If only for the pleasure of shutting your ginger mouth up.”
“Mouth’s not ginger, genius,” said Mekhi.
“I’m sure Corin wishes none of you were, but them’s the breaks,” said Guy before ducking as the closest stick to Mekhi came hurtling toward his head.
Guy righted himself and wiped the dirt off of his pants.
“We’ll pack shit up and head to my guy.”
“Where exactly is your guy, Guy?” Corin asked.
“Not surprised,” said Riette, sharing a look with Mekhi.
“He’s about half booze at this point,” said Mekhi.
“And half ingenuity,” said Guy, smirking as he took another sip. “Talk shit if you want to, but when I’m the one who saves us all—”
“No one will be more surprised than me,” said Cassian, and Riette almost smirked before she cut it off by taking a sip of tea.