The Mermaid

© 2000 by Torquemada

This page was last modified: 2000/10/24


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"How easy that was... indeed, best things happen upon you when you are least expecting it. Two rabbits with one shot, humans say, don't they? The boy showed up with his ideas in perfect time. All I should do was play the right card. And I did. Oh yes, I did."

The tall man was advancing up the stairs, deep in his thoughts. Sometimes, the occasional passer-by stopped to great him -- the man had a solid reputation, he was respected. But if they accidentally looked into his eyes, they suddenly felt very uneasy and hurried away. It was his look that made them feel so bad -- it was such a look which a microbe might encounter if it could see up from them bottom end of microscope.

The man did not do this on purpose. In fact, he was enjoying his thoughts too much to notice the effect he had on the people.

"How simple -- destroy one of them, and another will lose his grip on life himself. They say truthful things about the nature of twins, now don't they, my precious landlord? And the funniest cut -- you still think it was completely your own deed, right? An amazing feature of humans, the resistance to believe in the Supernatural. You thought you were plainly going mad... you, my divine enemy's trustworthy protector? But you never expected me to be here already; thus you've chosen the wrong weapon to fight me. And you have lost, how else could it be?

Not that I am complaining, my dear landlord. Especially now, when I am in charge. And you... well, I wished I could fight nature's way and kick you out of this mind, a former property of yours. You won't use it anymore, anyway. But now I'm even glad you've stayed. No, I shall watch you, and your sense of guilt is the most perfect prison, even I can't think of anything better. From there, you'll be a helpless witness to all the great things I will do. That will be quite an entertainment, won't that be, my lost and lonely foe?"

With displeasure, the man noticed a few grey strands in his hair. The transformation had already begun, but when they would know what he had done, no further explanations would be necessary.

Far down, the sea began to rise. The tide claimed its right.

* * *

Tethys felt a cramp in her leg, and that was a clear sign she had to get some rest. The girl dived up cautiously, carrying her oyster bag, and swam towards the coast. Good that it was near; the sea went deep steeply just a few metres from the seashore. She reached it, dropping oysters onto the already big pile. That was actually enough of them for this day, and Tethys had no real need to dive for more and more, but she just forgot about the time. You always do this in the Sea; it seemed that the Sea was able to distort time somehow, adjusting it to its own goals. So it was too easy to be carried away when in the Sea, even for her who spent all her life within its territory. That did not matter much, for the Sea was never the same. The Sea did not like the idea you get used to it. That's all about it.

Tethys massaged a numb leg. The unpleasant feeling started to dissolve, soon she would be able to walk as if nothing had happened. Yet Tethys was not going back to the village. Since her brothers were considered adult enough to care for themselves and did not require her constant presence, at last she could enjoy being alone. Besides, people were grim and nervous - there were no sardines, and the tunas didn't show up at their time -- this was a true disaster for people whose only source to make a living was the Sea. The oysters were part of it too, and Tethys was famed for her diving. Initially, younger kids used to follow her, trying to reveal her diving places, but she never found any good place when in a company. Finally she was called a selfish witch and left alone; and Tethys didn't mind that at all, though she wasn't hiding her diving places on purpose. It seemed she just had some inner feeling where to search, or rather the Sea was disposed to her, letting her find fascinating things.

Like the Grotto.

Tethys stumbled upon the Grotto, as she had started calling this weird cave in coastal rocks, a few weeks ago. And immediately she called that place 'hers', though it seemed to be discovered by someone else earlier -- as it had metal bars sliding into the ceiling; she also found a machine to pull and drop the bars down, it was smartly hidden -- but not smartly enough not to attract her trained eye. The Grotto was located quite far from her usual places and thus far from the village, too. It probably had something to do with that weird community living up in the mountains.

Tethys had never seen anyone from there, and the villagers always frowned and made signs against the evil eye when the place was mentioned. Neither the mountain people were searching for the friendship of the fishermen, nor was the opposite case present, so there were a stable situation of cautious ignorance.

Anyway, her Grotto was always empty and the bars were firmly pulled into ceiling -- except when she was playing with the machine. The bars were a mystery: she had wondered about their purpose: had the mountain people used them for trapping some sea animals that occasionally wandered in? But who cared, actually...

Tethys suddenly felt a strange, irrational urge to go to her Grotto. Very stupid idea, she admitted to herself, as the tide would be rising soon, and when she got there her Grotto would be completely underwater. Moreover, she wouldn't be able to get to the village in time.

Tethys laughed and shook her head. Silly idea. Then she rose up, dressed and started to walk.

Towards the Grotto. The oysters could wait.

When Tethys reached her point of destination, the tide was high already. And of course, the Grotto was all underwater. She silently cursed herself for her impulsive stupidity, and was already turning to leave, when something strange -- that which was just a vague suspicion a few moments earlier -- reached her consciousness.

In the straight rays of the sunset the bars shimmered underwater in gloomy emerald light. All dropped down.

Instinctively, she looked around -- but no, not a single soul around, it was empty as always. She checked the pulling machine - the mechanism was set in 'bars down' position. Not a mirage was it, then.

Curiosity killed the cat, Tethys remembered the saying. But she, Tethys, was far tougher.

She slid off her clothes (not much of them were required under the killing sun of Greece) and swam towards the Grotto -- in concentrated, experienced movements, the cramp completely forgotten.

The water had just reached the upper side of the Grotto -- where bars and ceiling met. Tethys grabbed onto a bar, rested a bit to catch her breath, and dived, still holding onto the bar.

The sunset did not give enough light to illuminate the Grotto's inside, it just coloured the underwater in murky, dirty-green shine.

Tethys screwed up her eyes, trying to see what was inside, irritably shaking off some seaweed that slipped through the bars and twined round her hand...

...blue-green seaweed, thin and delicate, it didn't look like seaweed at all.

In fact, it looked more like hair.

In a split second Tethys was on the shore, another quick movement with the machine, and back to the Grotto. Living with the Sea gives you a firm knowledge when to act and when to think.

To get the body out was an easy task; but as the man -- the drowned person was a man -- was unconscious or even... no, she shooed the horrible thought away, he couldn't be dead. She would feel that, her intuition always worked in cases like this... Anyway, the body was limp, and that was much easier to deal with it -- struggling persons are the worst nuisance in lifesaving, and without this, Tethys managed quite well.

The resuscitation of the drowned was another thing Tethys was used to do almost automatically. And when the man finally flinched and started to cough, breathing hoarsely and spitting water out, she did not even feel proud. Just very tired.

The man from the Grotto leant on his elbow, panting; spat some more water, threw his hair off his face and then looked at her.

The next few minutes they were just simply staring at each other.

Tethys noticed that the stranger, despite his battered appearance -- it's quite difficult to keep dignity when you're all wet, coughing and drooling -- was very handsome.

Actually he was the most attractive man she had ever seen in her life. Except, of course, her father.

The man lowered his eyes, which suddenly obtained a strange approving look.

"Wow," he said.

Tethys followed his gaze and only then noticed she had forgotten to put her clothes on.

"Turn around!" she commanded in a harsh voice, blushing.

A man did as he was asked, with some effort. While she was hurriedly dressing up, he seemed to br getting on his grip. Quite fast, considering his situation.

"I understand it was you who dragged me out, wasn't it?" It was more a statement than a question, so she didn't bother with an answer.

The next question came as a shock.

"Why?"

She couldn't think how to answer a question so odd, but it didn't seem he was waiting for it anyway.

"How did you manage to do it? How did you find me there? And how the hell did you release me?" The questions went on in a demanding, impatient manner. He really was recovering fast.

'So much for a simple thank you,' Tethys thought sulkily. But all she said was, "Does it matter so much to you? Would you prefer to be left there, or what? It's not too late then, the tide's still high, so swim back and lock yourself in!"

What an out-of-place nonsense she just uttered - Tethys almost moaned in her thoughts. But strangely it had a positive effect.

"No, thank you." The man laughed, his voice still hoarse, before he added, "May I turn back now?"

The tension started to fade away.

After settling in his previous position more or less comfortably, the man looked at her again and said:

"I just wanted to say... you put yourself under a certain risk, releasing me just like that."

"A risk? Why?"

"Because they will come back looking for me tomorrow." -- a bitter smile -- "It's unhygienic to leave corpses rotting so close to Sanctuary, you see."

"What are you talking about, people from there?" Tethys looked up to the mountaintop buildings.

A nod.

"But..." And then a horrible suspicion landed heavily on her. "You were... they have locked you there?!"

A flash of pain in his eyes, another nod.

"But it is so cruel! What have you done to deserve this? Are you a criminal?!" For the first time Tethys was scared and horrified -- both by the unreal cruelty and the reason it was caused by.

"No." He sighed. "Not for you, anyway. You have no reason at all to be afraid of me," he added, noting her feelings.

The silent pause that entered after his words probably oppressed him, too, for he continued:

"I forgot to thank you, I am sorry. I'm not too strong in the polite words department. I never knew how to express..."

"Wait," Tethys cut his words off. "You are not saying that someone locked you down there on purpose? In the tidal time, leaving to drown just like that?" Her mind still was refusing to accept the words he had said.

"Do you think I've chosen such an interesting way of suicide?" His irony sounded more like self-defence.

"But that is horrible, unbelievable! I can't imagine the person who could do a thing like this!"

The man suddenly shuddered as if he was hit, and sagged. Now, he looked aggrieved, lost, and younger -- really not much older than she was.

"It's easy." In a very silent voice, almost a whisper, he went on, "Just have a good look at me. It was my twin brother."

All Tethys could do was plainly stare at him, utterly speechless.

And he seemed to lose himself in his thoughts, apparently not the brightest ones.

"Brother... why?" she finally quavered.

"Say, him and me had a general ...disagreement on certain subjects of theology." He flashed her a brief, tortured smile.

"Ah, different gods?" That was a subject Tethys was familiar with. When she still lived in Denmark -- before the Sea claimed her father -- the fishwives prayed to Aegir when their men went to the Sea. And her mother prayed to Poseidon. Her father never cared much, and it became clear later that he was right -- on that day, neither Aegir nor Poseidon saved him. And shortly after that her mother moved to Greece, back to her relatives. None bothered with Tethys' opinion.

"No, the same one. Just different attitudes. These buildings up there, do you know what they are?"

Tethys shook her head.

"The Sanctuary of Athena, the Goddess of War. Saga..." Again a grimace of pain run over his face. "That is my brother's name, he is important there. He keeps one of the Twelve Houses of Protectors." He caught her blank look and explained: "They are a kind of Knights, each has his own responsibilities. But it is not that interesting for you, I suppose."

"And you?"

"Me? I just live... lived there. Moved in together with my brother long time ago. Just that I'm not any kind of Protector or suchlike. Nobody, really"

"But I still cannot understand, what has happened?"

He sighed.

"I wanted to leave. I shouldn't move in, first of all, but Saga was my twin, you see, I couldn't even imagine to be separated from him... but I felt not a slightest devotion to that Goddess, and he happened to be the Chosen One. And he started to change... I finally decided to leave and told him about that. What you saw was the result of our conversation."

Another pained look came and went. "I never imagined he'd changed so much..." -- and then, with a forced bravado -- " So here I am in front of you: a traitor, a heretic, heathen one that had to die... but didn't. Because of some brave, honest and air-headed girl."

He stood up and looked around.

"I hope nobody saw you here. Anyway, you shouldn't tell anyone about this accident. You are from one of them fishermen villages, right? Well if the Guard appears in your village, play dumb and deny everything, OK?"

"And what about you?"

" I see no reason why I should stay here any longer. I will get as far away as possible, for if they find me... but don't worry, if they do, I would never turn you in. You are completely safe from my side."

"I will go with you." Her words outran her mind. When the mind had finally caught up, it came exactly to the same decision.

He looked at her, naturally surprised. But he probably could recognise a firm determination not-supposed-to-be-discussed when he saw one.

"Are you sure?" he just asked.

"I am. Now I feel responsible for your life, and furthermore, the Guard could wipe out our village just because of me -- we can't be all sure nobody saw us here, so it is better for me to take the blame and run away, and..." All her erratic explanations carried just one simple goal, to cover the real reason: 'I just can't stand the thought I will never see you again, and I'd rather die than leave you' -- but she would never admit this, not even to herself.

"...and I think it's fate," she finished.

"There is no fate." It was said in a grim yet steadfast voice.

Whatever you say, she thought, as if it is of any importance.

"Then we should warn your village." He extended his hand, helping her to stand up.

And later, walking towards the place where Tethys left her oysters he said, "By the way, what is your name? Mine's Kanon."

* * *

They moved to her fatherland, Denmark. Her mother, when she heard the story, just stood there numbly for a short moment; then she went and came with all their small savings and handed them to her daughter.

Kanon tried to refuse, but it was not an offer. It was a statement. Kanon was flowing streams of clumsy gratitude, while both women stood, looking at each other, without any word. Tethys' mother didn't attempt to stop her daughter, just like she never tried to stop her husband Martin sailing into the Sea in storms, though the fear she felt was slowly killing her. She belonged to a people of the Sea. And contrary to her daughter's new friend, she did believe in fate.

The money was sufficient to reach Denmark. Kanon seemed to be surprisingly good at any job; when Tethys admired this once, he answered dryly "You should have tried to survive where I lived", and that put an end to the conversation.

In Denmark, they settled at the Sea -- a Sea that was different from the one in Greece yet seemed to be part of the same entity. The Sea was the only environment they were familiar with and used to -- Tethys being from a family of fishermen, and Kanon as a stranger in a strange land.

Norse people never had the habit not to mind their own business, so Tethys and Kanon led a simple and quiet life. Time passed by, completely unnoticed. They managed to buy a small boat, and Kanon sailed the Sea as any man in that place. Tethys waited for him with an uneasiness in her soul, remembering her father and swearing to move away from the Sea as soon as it would be possible. Yet this time refused to come; the Sea never lets its Chosen free.

And she never asked Kanon about his brother.

* * *

Then came that night.

Tethys woke up in the middle of the night with irrational disquiet and some vague feeling about something bad that she might have seen in her dream; she turned her head and wasn't too surprised not to find Kanon by her side.

He was sitting at the table, clutching his head; moonlight shone brightly, and Tethys noticed the strange, concerned look in his eyes.

"I had a weird dream." He felt Tethys was awake. Not too surprising, considering all that time they spent together. "I was walking on some unfamiliar seashore, steep and cliffy, and the Sea was below me, the stormy, angry Sea -- and it pulled me towards itself; I did not want to go, but couldn't resist, I was dragged to the edge, step by step, fearing to look down... but the Sea caught me, and in the next moment I was in some abandoned place, all ruins around and the Sea above my head... I haven't even had the time to be scared. And then the voice! I heard the words 'Now you know the way. Come, you have taken too long already' -- and I woke up."

"It was just a bad dream. Nothing but a dream." Saying this, Tethys already felt she was wrong.

"Was it? Then how do you explain I'm all wet? So is my bed, by the way, if you haven't noticed the fact. I never was a sleepwalker, and it was more than twenty years ago since I peed into my bed last time, so that's not the case either."

"I... I don't know, really... But there must be some rational explanation," Tethys ventured.

"I'm not sure. It was very different from the dreams I usually have, and far too real to have been just a nightmare. I think I have to discover it; because if I don't, this will haunt me relentlessly, and I don't like obsessive thoughts and unsolved puzzles circling around me."

She laughed softly.

"So you are going to search for a place you saw in your dream and yet you deny the existence of fate?"

"I don't believe in fate, but I do believe in the supernatural. I was a witness to divine accidents in Sanctuary, myself. Besides," he approached the bed, sat on its edge and took Tethys' hands, "I do have a feeling this place really exists; and more than that -- it must be somewhere near. I never had dreams like this in Sanctuary. Probably the place couldn't call on me there. Something inside me says we should move North, fishtail."

"North? When we are settled and doing quite good here, you want to leave it all behind and start nomading again?"

"But it is not a big difference, is it? You are at home in all territories of Asgard, and it is me who curses the cold and climate all the time, remember? And if I want to move North, it must be some special reason, for I would never choose even-more-cold just for fun, fishtail. Please trust me, will you?"

What do you know about my preferences, Tethys wanted to say. I don't like the nomadic lifestyle, I want to settle down. I want no supernatural phenomenon ruling my way to be and make us search for a place whose existence is very doubtful; and even if it does exist, it certainly will bring us no good.

But as usually, she said nothing; she just put her arms around him, and the morning found them like that. The same morning they sailed North.

They reached the Norwegian part of Asgard without any accidents; the Sea was unusually merciful. Kanon decided 'it' was somewhere on the Western coast. Typically for Norway, the western coast had a complicated pattern with all its fjords and cliffs, and the searching did not seem to be an easy task. But the nature of the Norwegian Asgard was so unbelievably beautiful that Tethys never regretted leaving Denmark.

Another reason why she never regretted leaving was Syd.

Tethys and Kanon decided to find a place to temporary settle down somewhere; it was easier for Kanon to perform his search when he had some cosy point of return, they decided. Tethys had no intention to go searching in vain anyway, so this option suited her fine. They stopped in Bergen County -- the biggest and richest one in Asgardian Norway, which also had a wide coastal line in the West.

Syd appeared one day at the porch of the cabin she and Kanon had rented, with the small necessary gift of honour and reserved yet clearly present interest. He came with a polite 'if you need any help just ask' reason, and Kanon didn't hesitate to ask him about his current object of search. Syd promised to look it up in Bergen's Castle library; Kanon said 'thank you, you are very generous and helpful', to which Syd replied an 'It's an honour and pleasure for me, etc.' Exactly with these words, the conversation began.

Tethys was sincerely surprised and even worried to draw someone's attention in this land of aloof people lonely by their own will; but the boy didn't look dangerous, and it turned out later that Tethys desperately needed company and friendship, leading such a life.

Kanon looked so relieved when Syd entered their life that Tethys felt hurt -- but Kanon had shown not a single sign of jealousy, even though Syd was a very attractive young man, a bit younger than they were. But she had dealt with those silly thoughts; Kanon always trusted her too much to be jealous, and probably felt guilty leaving her with the nuisances of life, while he was searching for his dream place.

Yet Syd's company was too good to carry on grim thoughts. The more Tethys knew him, the more and more she liked him. And it became clear very soon why Syd was so interested in them.

The boy had a fearless adventurer inside, who dreamed of faraway lands and eventful journeys. He was eager to see as much of the world as life could provide; probably he read too many adventurous books in his childhood.

Unfortunately, his responsibilities didn't allow his dreams to become true -- Syd turned out to be the son of a Bergen count, moreover, he was the first heir to the county's ruler. So the only way he could satisfy his thirst for knowledge were books and tales. And when he heard about a couple from abroad (rumours travelled fast even in Asgard), he wasted no time.

"You were wrongly informed, Syd, thinking we'd seen half the world. We did travel a bit, but this gossip was much exaggerated, mind you," Tethys said once, during the conversations that became usual.

"More than I did, anyway" Syd looked at her, frowning in the mild sun of an Indian summer. "I wish dad let me do what I want to do. The riots are over for 10 years now, and it doesn't seem that any conflict will occur here. It's not a necessity that I'm here as he claims. Sooner or later maybe, but I will definitely persuade him to let me go. You'll see."

Tethys had to admit that Syd fascinated her probably even more than she fascinated him.

It was so pleasantly strange to find someone like him in this gloomy, frozen land. Even Syd's eyes were unusual -- of a mild walnut colour, shiny with some peaceful, gentle inner light -- and this in a country where even the dogs stared at you with icy blue eyes.

Tethys began to trust him so much that she even told him her and Kanon's story once.

This was on a beautiful day of the Indian summer; the warm yellow and red colours of the surrounding nature contrasted with the unexpected warm weather, yet they perfectly matched the pastel tint of Syd's eyes. He was listening to her, unusually silent and serious. And after she finished, he said:

"I think I know how he's feeling."

And he told her his own story.

When Syd was born, Bergen County's position was very fragile -- riots, rebellious lords -- but instead of one so much waited heir the Count of Bergen had gotten two of them. Twins, totally identical boys; and the Count decided this was a major threat to the County already torn by wars. The problem was solved efficiently and simply -- one of boys had to die, and Syd was chosen to live. No one wanted to dirty their hands with the blood of the son -- even condemned to die -- of the Count, and the Count last of all. So the baby -- they gave him the name Bud -- was carried to the forest with the hope that the winter would do the rest.

But Bud happened to be a lucky survivor. He was found by a poor elderly childless family, which thanked Odin for such generous gift and brought him up as their son.

The truth about this all saw daylight just recently -- when Bergen county in the person of the Count, the Countess and the Count-to-be went to the Capital city of Asgard to declare their loyalty to newly crowned Queen Hilda.

"And there he was already, in the personal Guard of Hilda, among the elite warriors," Syd went on. "Of course I was shocked, but much more I was dead happy. All my life I had this feeling I was somehow incomplete. This dread devastated me constantly, and when I realised the truth about us, I finally understood why. I was in fact incomplete -- indeed, without him, I was not truly myself"

"And how did he feel about this?"

"Hurt. Betrayed. Infuriated, then. I can feel that all like it's a motion of my own soul. Now he claims he hates me like no one else under this sun, but I know very well it's a lie. Who does he think he is fooling anyway? Him, who always had the same haircut, liked horses, never ate anything with carrots in it, and winked his left eye when smiling, just like me? It is only a matter of time and he will get used to it. And me, now that I know he really exists, I can wait all the time he needs. It won't take too long at all." Syd was all somewhere in his dreams, yet very confident.

He gave her another serious look.

"I think your Kanon feels pretty much the same as Bud. I even dare to hazard a guess that the thing he's searching, and the accident with his brother are connected somehow."

"Syd? But how can you explain his brother's behaviour, claiming you twins are something special?"

"I can't. It's utterly unbelievable for me; there must be some mistake. Either you got him wrong, or... I don't know, Tethys, but that accident can't be real."

Tethys felt she couldn't be heartless enough to break a boy's belief in the world's generosity and well-wishing, so she just asked:

"If your brother did the same thing I told you to you, would you be able to forgive him, moreover to love him, Syd?"

"The only thing I won't forgive him would be his death," the simple answer followed. "And this only in the case if he would go into a different place of afterlife. But if he died first, I'd follow him, sure thing, and so he would follow me, accordingly."

"Syd, you are not talking about taking your own life, are you?!"

"It depends, Tethys" -- still the same calm frightening look in Syd's eyes -- "for if a dishonourable death happened to him and he would go to Helheim, suicide would be the fastest way for me to reach him. But I don't think such a thing would ever happen -- my brother will certainly go to Valhalla, and it means, so will I."

Tethys was completely frozen by his words. Helheim was the worst of bad options, unbearable shame for a Norseman; nobody wanted to go there by their own will, and this supposition would have caused a big insult -- Helheim was an afterlife for the worthless, the opposite of Valhalla, the Northern heaven, the place for brave and honourable.

Old Asgardian warriors who felt their death coming closer and closer, used to leave their home and head somewhere they could expect a violent death. The option to be killed on the road while robbing a passenger was considered far more honourable than peaceful death in the bed; and now this boy, almost a child, was talking about choosing Helheim so nonchalantly as about a raid into the neighbour's apple garden. What kind of creatures were these twins?

Syd suddenly flashed his warm smile. As if reading her thoughts, he proceeded in a soothing voice:

" But why are we talking about death now? I just discovered my another half, and so I'm going to take from this life all I will be able to reach, I have my plans set for the next 50 years, and death is indisputably not among them. So let's leave the Grim Reaper alone, we have much more interesting things to talk about."

But Tethys could not make herself stop. Not now.

"You are saying, that Kanon's brother is still important to him?"

Syd sighed. " I am sure he is the most important person in Kanon's life and it will always be like that." Then he noticed Tethys' bitter smile and added, guiltily, " I see he loves you very much, really! Just... we twins are like one soul in two bodies. And above all, we are nothing without each other. Soul cripples."

Finally Syd managed to steer this oppressing conversation into more pleasant waters, and they never returned to this subject. Of course, Thetys didn't tell Kanon about it, but she feared that Syd's changed attitude would not pass unnoticed before Kanon's eyes. But it never had time to happen, for Kanon finally found his dream.

And now they were standing hand in hand on cliffs, looking down at ...nothing. The thing in the water was out of place; the mind refused to give it a definition; eyes refused to give it a shape; tongue refused to give it a name. A nothing.

"So, it is like this," Kanon said after a while. "It doesn't look very pleasant, I must admit. I feel it is what I was looking for, but I have only one way to make sure -- it means, I'm going in." He let go of her hand and cautiously stepped on the edge of the cliff.

"I'll go with you." Weren't these the same words spoken by someone long, long time ago?

"It looks dangerous! It would be more reasonable if I'd go alone, and if it is the place, I will return for you."

"And if it is not?" He sighed.

"Right then, fishtail. I know you too well to start talking you out of this, for you won't listen. And you know what? I'm even glad you decide to join me -- shame on me, but I'm scared; and with you, I will feel better. So I'm asking you a last time -- are you ready?" His voice sounded a bit excited, but no too much. Only she who knew him so well could see how nervous he was.

Tethys nodded, and they stepped down.

* * *

Brief vertigo, momentary sickness -- and suddenly they were standing in some unknown place. Tethys inspected her outfit. It was dry.

The place itself made a dry impression on her -- ruins around, debris and dust under her feet. A dead, dry, silent place.

Tethys looked up and the view made her grip convulsively on Kanon's hand to prevent herself from falling.

For there was the Sea high above her head where the sky ought to be.

" Don't look up, fishtail, and everything will be fine," Kanon's calming voice reached her. "Let's go. We have found the place, now it's time to find the owner of that voice. He must be somewhere here."

Somehow Tethys fought the queasy feeling and followed Kanon, still gripping his hand. She felt an almost irresistible urge to look up again, so she tried to keep her eyes occupied with the landscape.

The place itself seemed to have been truly majestic once. The remains of its former glory could still to be noticed -- in the gracious line of some statue; in the pillars of some half destroyed building; in the unknown plants claiming the ruins.

What was this place, Tethys thought. And why did it need us, or, rather, him, for I just followed him here.

One of the buildings was much larger and almost untouched by the decay.

Tethys and Kanon climbed the stairs which led to a dark opened entrance, passed it -- and found themselves in a spacious and very empty hall.

Except that in the middle of the hall there was a jar. It was just sitting on the floor, looking unsuspiciously common.

Kanon took the thing in his hands. Shook it.

"Looks like a genie bottle for me. Heh, I have heard a variety of fairy tales about puny fishermen who kept finding genie bottles in their nets, but who would have expected we got into a fairy tale ourselves?"

"Kanon?"

"Yes?"

"In these tales, genie bottles granted nothing but ordeals to people who opened them."

"It's too late to worry, fishtail." He smiled, a bit nervously. "Have you noticed there's just plain sea above us, not anything looking like an entrance? So either we open this to look what kind of genie we will find inside, or we'll spend the rest of our lives jumping up and down in vain to reach the sea-skies above us."

He grasped the lid, hesitating a moment, while he shot a glance at her. "I'll give you 2 wishes out of 3, fishtail," and then he opened it.

* * *

There was no whirling blue smoke, no thunderclap, no lightning or shining -- nothing one could see or hear. Just tht the room instantly was filled by some overwhelming power.

And then there came the words. Nothing that could be heard, it was just that afterwards, they had a sudden memory of what just was not being said and no knowledge of how it had got there.

Mortal, words entered. You will be rewarded. I shall see to this.

No matter how long I am withdrawn, I forget nothing, and I forgive nothing. My enemies will know my wrath. My followers will know my gratitude.

'What is that?!' Tethys thought and immediately the answer appeared in her brain. I am Poseidon, God of the Sea and the Ocean.

A foreign god here? In Aegir's territory?

The thoughts gained ironic pattern. Yes. It was an agreement between Aegir and me. We decided that my enemies wouldn't find me here, and for granting me this temporary resort, Aegir got a comfortable place in some Southern sea. Even he sometimes wants to escape his chilling Kingdom.

Enemies... He must have them, Tethys thought. He had been locked in this jar for centuries ... for aeons, maybe. Kanon had to understand him... maybe this was a reason he was called.

It seemed the God was done with his explanations.

I shall go and bring myself into the right form. You will stay here and prepare my House and my land for my arrival. When everything is completed, I will come to rule again. You may ask for me in cases of emergency -- if the danger appears -- and you will be informed whom I choose to become. But do not dare to disturb my mortal form too often. the final decision is always mine, don't forget that.

That was not a warning, even not an order -- it was a statement, the divine way to communicate. And suddenly the room felt empty again. Like nothing escaped and nothing entered, and there was just a simple opened jar, completely ordinary and harmless.

* * *

"It seems we are the Chosen Ones of a God now," Kanon finally managed to say, when the first shock began to dissolve.

"Prisoners, rather." That was Tethys' point of view.

"Yes, fishtail, you are right, you are always right!" Kanon laughed and squeezed her in his arms from behind -- his typical gesture.

"What can I say? It is not exactly what I expected, but think positive, as you always did before! Drop that prisoner's attitude -- we are King and Queen of this Kingdom!"

"Where do you see a Kingdom here, Kanon? There're only dust, debris and a wasteland around us" Tethys felt uneasy at her own sarcasm, but Kanon was in a good mood and failed to notice it. So he just laughed and pulled her closer.

"And the rise of this world is exactly the task for the King and Queen!"

* * *

"With this helmet I look like an upturned chamber pot," Kanon looked critically at his reflection in the mirror.

Tethys laughed. The feeling was familiar; when she first saw herself in this new clothing that she found here, she had doubled over laughing, so unfitting it seemed on her. The armour was called "Mermaid", and indeed it had the shape of a mermaid, when properly set up. For herself, she named the armour "Cowgirl Biker" and she couldn't help but stick out her tongue and make faces at her reflection in the mirror, when nobody saw her.

"Wait." She took his helmet off, collected his thick long hair into one braid, wrapped it up and then put the helmet on again.

"How's it now?"

Without his hair, spreading down from the helmet, Kanon looked a lot different. Somewhat taller, dignified, even menacing. Yet, Tethys couldn't escape the feeling that he wanted to stick out his tongue at the mirror, too. This all was so unbelievable...

"Much better, I must admit. Much, much better, thank you!" Kanon tenderly trailed waves on her cheek with his finger, his way of 'thank-you-peck-in-cheek'. "Will you come to have some training with us? We certainly need female company."

"Kanon, you know very well that I won't," Tethys sighed. From the first day they discovered the armoury, all his achievements had been that he persuaded Tethys to wear her armour from time to time, and also that she was able to lift some lighter objects by the power of her mind. "I'm no warrior, and I have no intention to become one, too."

"I know, but who said I can't keep on trying? Who knows, if I am persistent enough, one day you will become a Mighty Mermaid."

"Sure, and then I'll go singing to ships util they decide to sink rather than to listen," she kept on their playful mood of conversation.

"Your singing is not that bad. I heard you sing in the bathroom and I am still quite sane, I'm sure. Mind you, this rubberduck you use to let swim in your bath, it got slightly crazy eyes, but it still floats on the water. I checked."

"Scoundrel!" Laughing, she aimed the aforementioned thing at Kanon. He avoided the blast, grinning widely.

"See? You're not that bad, there are even signs of progress!" He reached the doorway, turned in it -- "Take care, fishtail!" -- and he was gone.

Tethys left shortly after him. The Mermaid armour had some positive features. For instance she was able to breathe underwater and swim like a real mermaid. She appreciated this gift and quite often went out to underwater journeys. These journeys sometimes took a lot of time; but Kanon was very busy training his little squad recently, and it helped her to fight her loneliness.

Tethys noticed a small golden figure, heading towards the training place. She raised her hand in greeting; the golden figure noticed her too, and in the next minute Tethys was looking at an exact copy of herself, waving maniacally.

Tethys snickered. Kaysa, who else? Kaysa was among the first group of people who started to fill Kanon's and Tethys' Kingdom (later they realised it had a name -- Atlantis), and he happened to be one of the Chosen, like Kanon himself.

There had been 9 armours in the armoury they discovered, exploring Atlantis on their first days of living there. One was of the God himself; it waited for his appearance. The Mermaid's armour was the only one apparently designed for a female, so it was attached to Tethys. Kanon took the Sea Dragon armour, and Kaysa got the Lymnades scale.

Kaysa said he had heard a call making him go here, when asked -- this answer was given by the most of the warriors who arrived. But some of them preferred to say nothing at all, and nobody minded; and yet another arrived in a very strange way -- Isaac, who was literally left at their porch, badly injured and barely alive. It took them a lot of medicine skills and freshly gained 'Voodoo science' -- as Kanon called their abilities to heal which came together with wearing their armours -- and suchlike stuff to get him onto his feet again.

When Tethys was first introduced to Kaysa, she got really scared by this creature. He called himself a demon (later, when they became friends, Kaysa confided it was more like "Swamp thing" in his language, but 'demon' sounded prouder), and he was a mimic. It meant he could read people's minds and use the gathered information to take any shape he desired. Tethys almost got a paranoia from that, and every time Kanon was back home, he had to pass a number of complicated exams to prove he really was who he claimed. At first Kanon just laughed; then he probably got annoyed and had a little smalltalk with Kaysa.

For one day Kaysa cautiously knocked at her door and assured Tethys that maybe hitting on the woman of their leader was an attractive idea, but he would never use any dirty tricks. Tethys felt like a silly scared girl and involved the mimic in a conversation during which she learned that Kaysa was in fact very social creature with a witty sense of humour. Step by step, they become friends, and it was even easier because of the other Generals' tendency to shun Kaysa -- Tethys still remembered her witchy status in the village.

"So Kaysa, you're an African demon, right? Then how is it that you are so white? As far as I know, African people are black," she asked him once.

"A-ha. You white people have got white angels and black demons. Well, in our case it's all opposite. Black angels, white demons. Logical, it is."

"But you are of an unnatural white."

"And you call your demons natural black, eh?"

* * *

Tethys smiled at her sudden memories. Living in Atlantis finally appeared being not too bad, with all such simple pleasures and small pleasant conversations. If only Kanon could spend a bit more time home, as before ...

But Kanon had a lot of responsibilities now. Either the God was regaining his power too fast in this shifted world, or the Sea was doing something to the passage of time. Tethys strongly suspected the latter.

The God, or rather his chosen mortal body to dwell, already was a teenage boy. He was an offspring of a famous family of Sea adventurers; some rumours said that piracy was a widely practised family tradition, and it would explain the enormous wealth of the family. The boy was strikingly attractive, charming and charismatic like your basic pirate, and rational, razor-minded and calmly cruel like the head of a financial corporation, as he became after the unexpected death of both his parents. Tethys was not at all surprised when she heard they were lost in the stormy sea.

Once Julian -- that was the name of the God-to-be -- even decided to marry, thus scaring the little community in Atlantis. What to do with the poor woman when it became clear to her who her dear husband really was, and how to predict her reaction? Fortunately, the marriage did not happened.

Julian's chosen girl was the leader of some megalocorporation, too, and if she had enough brain to rule it, she might also have enough not to marry a guy just because he was attractive.

And though this marriage proposal was a 100% business affair, Atlantis almost could feel the hurt ambitions of its God. Julian Solo demonstrated more and more of his divine origin.

Anyway, despite of their God's failure, the community of Atlantis sighed with relief.

* * *

This time, when Tethys returned, she immediately felt something was wrong. Very wrong. She had been absent for an undefined time -- with the Sea's abilities of time distortion, you can never tell how long exactly.

Atlantis was menacingly silent. Not a sign of the soldiers who were usually scurrying around like ants. Tethys felt her heart go cold; suddenly she noticed the lonely figure of some Marine General. Tethys shouted to attract his attention; the General turned to her, and she felt the usual attack of aversion when she recognised him.

Siren Sorrento, or Hameln's ratman -- that was his nickname among other Generals. It ad been given to him due to his power, but Tethys couldn't escape the feeling there was something more... had the other General felt a similar displeasure when seeing him like she did? Maybe this rodental insidiousness was not only her own illusion, after all. Tethys sometimes tried to convince herself it was just something with her nerves, for the Siren General was perfect in everything -- his polite manners, his battle skills -- everything. But yet...

All Marine Generals were children of the Sea. Kanon, from Greece with its many islands and two seas; Isaac, from Arctic Siberia; Baian, whose country was surrounded by the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Kaysa, from Southern Africa, where Indian, Antarctic and Atlantic oceans met; Io and Krishna, two islanders; and herself, Tethys from the Northern Sea.

Omly Sorrento was from Austria, a country, which had not even the tiniest affiliation to the Sea. How then could Sorrento fit in their world, not even knowing what kind of mysterious, impossible-to-tame entity the Sea was?

The Marine General stood there and looked at her, with polite expectancy. Tethys finally managed to fight her feelings.

"A lot of things happened indeed, Mermaid," was his answer. "While you were...away, the Goddess Athena has proclaimed her return and assumed the rule over Sanctuary in Greece. And Asgard has declared war on her and on Sanctuary itself."

"Asgard did what? But why, Asgard and Sanctuary do not even share a border!" The idea of such a thing happening was so unexpected that Tethys felt losing her grip on reality

"I reckon you should ask General Kanon, Milady. He must be here at any minute." Sorrento turned to go away.

"Wait!" A sudden suspicion arose in her. "We have something to do with it, haven't we?" Tethys never knew how his idea occurred to her. Probably she just assessed the situation and was more one of Atlantis' warriors than she knew herself.

The General stopped and gave her a polite, emotionless look.

'His eyes... like two blobs of raspberry jam' -- Tethys shooed the irritating thought away.

"I will not say so, Mermaid. And General Kanon just arrived. Now, don't let me keep you, Mermaid." But Tethys was not listening anymore; she saw Kanon entering their house and hurried towards their home.

"Kanon..." She opened the door.

"It's time for Poseidon to wake up," he cut her words off, sharply and in haughtily strict voice.

'He didn't even say hello to me,' the awkward thought appeared in Tethys' mind.

"Please, take his Trident and carry it to him, will you?"

Only now Tethys noticed the weapon Kanon was holding. Poseidon's trident, sign of his power and personification of his own entity.

"What's happening here?!"

"Athena already woke up. Now it is Poseidon's time. We must be ready to strike at her as soon as possible."

And in the same moment the dam, which was holding all her hidden feelings and emotions all these years, gave in.

"It's so easy for you Kanon, isn't it? Just say 'go wake him', and think it's a good enough explanation for me? Just like that? Why, tell me -- or is this all we were living for -- to match your power with the power of that Goddess, the Goddess your brother serves? What do you really want, Kanon? To serve Poseidon, to prove you're as tough as Athena is or outrun your brother? Or maybe you just now realised you want to take revenge on him, after all these years?" Tethys was almost screaming.

"He is dead." Plain, simple words said in an ordinary voice; they wiped away all her anger immediately, leaving her standing speechless.

Kanon seemed to look in fierce concentrion at some small fixed point just in front of him. He was half turned, and Tethys could not see his eyes -- but she wasn't sure she wanted to, either.

There were no silent questions floating in the air, she was too shocked; nevertheless, Kanon went on -- as if against his own will, but at the same time as if he just couldn't hold the words anymore.

"It was a riot against Athena in her own Sanctuary, the same that was near your village. They said it was my brother who incited it, but that was not true. For later it became clear that he was possessed by Ares, another God of War and half-brother of Athena. Just family business... of course, Athena won. And she killed my brother."

Kanon finally turned to her. His eyes... Tethys had never seen so much pain before... she almost felt it herself -- and all she wanted was to take the pain away from him -- but it was impossible. The pain, it was all his. Infinite, fathomless, eternal -- and from now on, he would always carry it in him.

And not a single tear in these eyes.

"She could save him, see? She knew it was not him who betrayed her, yet she killed him. Instead of freeing his soul." -- So much concentrated hate in one single pronoun! -- "And it was not him who left me to die in Sunion Cape -- not Saga, but Ares already! I just realised that -- and next I learned is that he is dead."

Tethys finally found the courage to approach him; softly touched Kanon's hand -- and immediately he leaned to her, hiding his face in her hair, gripping her in his arms so hard she almost stopped breathing.

"It is not fair," -- a helpless whisper -- "It's not fair."

Like a hurt child.

Tethys didn't count the time they were standing like that. When Kanon finally let her go, his eyes were still dry, they just glared with some sharp, unnatural light.

"The trident...deliver it, please?"

"Kanon..." she tried for the last time. "You are the perfect war leader, and you know that. But Athena, she is not just the Goddess of War, she is a War herself! Athena is designed for war, it's her divine purpose to be good at it. What do you think you could put up against her? And that incident with Asgard... it was your provocation, wasn't it?"

"No." -- Since when had he started to lie? -- "But it is for the good. Asgard is famed by its warriors and battle skills. They probably won't withstand Athena anyway, but they will definitely weaken her forces."

"And if Poseidon will not agree to take over Atlantis yet? Remember, he forbade to annoy him... and if this is considered an annoyance by him?" It was Tethys' last card.

Kanon smiled -- coldly and cruelly. "He will. Trust me on that. It was Athena who imprisoned Poseidon in the jar; moreover, by lucky accident, Athena's current incarnation is the same girl who refused his wedding proposal. Gods never forget even the smallest insults. He will take the chance of a double revenge without thinking a second time."

Tethys gave up.

* * *

It was exactly like Kanon said. Poseidon was a bit annoyed at first; later, when Tethys introduced the situation to him, the expression of a hunting cat appeared on his face, and it stayed there.

That night, Tethys saw Syd in her dream. The Asgardian was walking through a dark gloomy passage, wearing something that looked like battle armour. Nothing very scary for a nightmare, except for his eyes. The inner light which used to make Syd irresistibly attractive, was gone. There was not even battle fury, or feelings like that, fitting his battlestand look. His eyes were hollow and empty -- like the windows of a house abandoned ages ago.

Syd, the will-never-be Bergen count, was going to welcome his death. And he knew it.

* * *

From that dream Tethys woke up all trembling and in cold sweat. Kanon was absent; his side of he bed was cold and untouched. All that day he and his God had been busy with plans and strategies, running through them again and again. So she was just laying in the darkness, thinking about what had happened so suddenly and changed Kanon so much... was it the same man who worried about her village many years ago, who today condemned a whole country to useless war, just to slow down his enemy? That was not the way of the man Tethys knew and loved. But she could swear she knew whose way it was; even though she never met him personally.

Saga. The Leader of Athena's Protectors. An all-devotion-no-emotion type of man. The type of someone who would easily sacrifice anything for his beliefs. A cruel, pitiless bastard. And her Kanon's twin.

'We twins are like one soul in two bodies' -- Syd's voice came out of a so distant past. Tethys didn't know what she saw in her dream -- the past, the present or the future; maybe Syd was already dead. Tethys sharply felt the loss and understood how she missed that boy; his firm belief in the world's generosity (you were wrong, Syd, you were so wrong), his ability to find answers to all the questions...

The answers she could feel herself now...

...when a twin dies, what happens to another? How does the soul feel when it is suddenly torn and loses half of itself? Saga has always been the part of Kanon, as undoubtedly Kanon was a part of Saga. Syd knew it, being one of twins himself.

And the only way for Kanon to survive Saga's death was to accept and absorb that orphaned part of the entity which once was his brother. So Kanon let it in; he had sacrificed his own personality to make place for his brother, and did this with gratitude and joy. He built a shrine inside himself; acquired his brother's manners, habits, ways to speak and act -- all that he could remember and save. The only way not to lose these sad remains was to become him; for if Saga had faded away finally, Kanon would be lost too. And he was struggling in searching all possible ways to survive.

Or there was another way she feared to think about -- if Kanon decided to join his brother in death... If all this war was just to call Death upon himself, to hurry up events...

All the hopelessness of the situation flooded over her, leaving her buried under heavy thoughts, exhausted and scared as never before in her entire life.

It was impossible to understand something like that supernatural fate of the twins...

...and she did not even know how to comfort him. Was it possible at all?

Tethys moved in her bed; stumbled upon Kanon's pillow, squeezed it in a deadly grip.

No. She wouldn't give up so easily. She would not give him away -- neither to his God, nor to his brother. Kanon wanted to memorize his brother in such a painful way? Fine -- wasn't her situation the same?

All these years she had been a silent part of Kanon's -- imperceptible and always supporting him in everything he was doing. She sacrificed her dreams, needs, her peaceful life -- all this just to be with him, and never had a single shadow of a doubt about it. Her personality never died of it, did it?

The sacrifice died not necessarily mean dying and Kanon's personality wouldn't go away, how could she even think about it? And how could she think Kanon was making a complicated suicide? Him, who survived the biggest betrayal -- just to realise later that there hadn't been any betrayal at all. Kanon would yet have to learn how to live like that. And finally he would definitely become whole again -- maybe different, maybe adjusted, but still the same, her Kanon.

She always loved him with all his good and dark sides, she never stopped loving him, and she never would. Those additional features wouldn't make him a total stranger to her.

Whatever foolish thoughts or plans he would go through, she would go side by side, silently supporting and protecting him. Even if they lost and the entire world rose against them -- she would stand hand in hand with her man. Together, they would be afraid of nothing -- not even Fate itself (Fate does exist, you were wrong there, Kanon; but it is not insurmountable -- and there I was wrong).

With this new realisation, Tethys managed to fall asleep; she slept peacefully, with no more nightmares; and when she woke up, that feeling still was in here.

One way or another, they would get by.

The End


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