The Lunar Artifact
By Elisabeth Niederhut

*

Cassie raced down Bay Street and towards the violently churning ocean. She was running out of time, trapped in its very recesses. The cyclone was destroying everything in its path with a devastating speed and ferocity. Despite what she was up against, Sirena, the storm, and failure towards the moon herself, she pressed on. He wasn't going to die. He couldn't, and she was the only one who could save him. If she didn't, everyone and everything she cared about would be lost forever.

*

Chapter One

Harper and Cody had never been so busted in their lives. It was one thing to be found trespassing on private property. It was quite another to be found with a dead body. Harper's throat constricted with sadness and shame as she remembered the night before. All she had wanted was to save Clyde McGinnis, the old war veteran who was now a lifeless corpse.

He had lost everything. He had spent most of his life in jail for a crime he didn't even commit. The murder of his family. What no one realized was that they had been killed by a monster. Even so, Clyde had dedicated his life to avenging and saving their town of Blackwater Bay. He had dedicated it to stopping the sirens.

Harper's stomach churned as she remembered what had happened. Not only had Cody, Carlie, Pearl and her failed to save Clyde, they had failed to keep the sirens from doing what they had done. Harper wasn't really sure what they had done, but she was sure it wasn't good. Hiram Walter had left her with the strong impression that their failure would lead to disaster of apocalyptic proportions. She might just be imagining that, though. At least, that's what she hoped.

She wondered what Cassie and the raven haired siren had been doing. They'd been chanting over a whirlpool, then that creature had been sucked into it. The only good thing that had come out of any of this was that the monster was gone. It had been terrorizing the town in one of the most appalling ways imaginable. It had been eating children.

Harper had been unconscious during most of that time. It was due to the fact that she had been in a coma, recovering from becoming psychic. Despite missing those weeks of terror, Harper had seen it all happen. She had seen the pain of those poor children. She had watched it all before it even happened. She had seen visions of the future.

She was still getting used to the whole psychic thing. She did feel much better than she had before her coma, though. Her body must have simply been adjusting during that time. Now, she could look at a person and know what they were going to eat for lunch in addition to many other things. The only ones she couldn't read had been Carlie, Pearl, and their guardian, Hiram Walter. She figured it must be because they were merpeople.

Dang had this world gotten crazy. To think she had once believed her junior year would be a breeze. Not only had she become friends with a siren, she had been hypnotized that October and turned psychic from metal contact with mermaids. What had happened to her only worries being game design and grades?

“I'll ask you again, Ms. Whitley,” the impatient officer said, “What happened last night. I want the truth.”

Harper sighed and looked at the man glumly. Maybe she should just tell him the truth. It might get her out of there faster than lying. He would probably even believe her considering the existence of sirens, monsters, and magic had been broadcast on television recently. She would never tell him that Cassie had been involved with what happened last night, though. Despite Cassie having sided with the other sirens, whether it was of her own free will or not, she was still her friend.

“Fine,” she said. “You want the truth? Then prepare yourself for a pretty weird story.”

So Harper told him everything. Her friendship with Cassie. Finding out her secret. What had happened at Pierce inc. during Halloween. She told him about Cassie siding with David and how they were both sirens. She told him about meeting Clyde McGinnis and their goal to stop the sirens from raising creatures again. She told him about how they had failed and that she had become psychic. She told him about going after Clyde to save him because of her vision. Then she told him about her failure to do that in addition to the monster's disappearance.

The officer looked at her for a long time after she finished. His beady eyes were absolutely emotionless. At last he said, “Supposing you haven't completely lost your mind, why would these sirens send a monster away after raising it?”

Harper shrugged. “I have absolutely no idea. I'm also not crazy by the way. I'll even prove to you that I'm psychic.”

The officer raised an eyebrow. Harper ignored that and concentrated on him, then she smiled. “You're going to have a tuna sandwich for lunch with a diet coke. You left your keys in the car, so you'll have to call someone about that, and lastly, you're going to sneeze soon.”

The officer narrowed his eyes. “My lunch is a lucky guess. My keys are in my pocket. See.”

He reached into a pocket and froze. “They're not there,” he said with surprise. A moment later he sneezed.

Shock spread across his face. “This isn't possible.”

Harper shrugged. “I would have said the same thing a few months ago.”

“I guess I can at least believe in sirens after what was on the news,” he said at last. “So what are they, exactly? What do they want?”

“I don't know what they want,” said Harper. “They're seriously beyond my understanding, but what they are is a simple answer. They're half Greek god, and half sea nymph with no human blood in them, so they're also called pure bloods. Merpeople are like sirens except they have human ancestry.”

The officer let out a long sigh. “This sounds absolutely insane. What's worse is that I'm starting to believe it.”

“Welcome to the club,” said Harper halfheartedly.

“Well,” he said with a weak smile, “that's enough for now. Feel free to go.”

Harper sighed with relief and nodded. She then went to go find Cody. He looked very pale. “How are you holding up?” she asked.

“My mom is going to kill me,” he said shakily. “I swear, she's never been this scary in my entire life, and that's saying something.”

Cody wasn't exaggerating. It really was saying something. Not only was his mom paranoid and way too overprotective. She had completely unreasonable expectations of him. Perfect grades. Perfect behavior. Perfect everything. She'd drilled Cody with these things for his entire life, and now he had made the ultimate mistake. He'd gone too far.

“Sorry, Cody,” said Harper with a sad smile. “At least we're in this together.”

“Yeah. I just hope its enough. At least Carlie and Pearl didn't get caught by the cops. They got away really fast. They could probably outrun an Olympic champion at the rate they were going.”

“Got that right,” said Harper, remembering their speed herself. “So what did you tell the police?” she asked nervously. She really hoped he'd understand the fact that she'd told them virtually everything. Her luck hadn't been so good lately, though.

Cody fidgeted. His face filled with dread. After a moment of silence, he said, “Everything except Cassie being here last night.”

He looked at Harper with an expression that begged her to understand. Harper just sighed with relief. “Me too.”

Cody visibly relaxed. “Well, at least that's over with.”

He was smiling, but despite how nice it was to see an expression that was so rarely on his face lately, Harper saw something else, and it terrified her. She was seeing his future and hers. She saw death.

“Cody...” she said with terror in her voice.

“Harper?” Cody looked confused. That confusion then became agony. His eyes rolled back into his head, and tremors ran through his body, then he was still.

“Cody!” Harper screamed, then pain shot through her body. It was excruciating. It was blinding and utterly overwhelming. Blackness engulfed her, then she knew no more.

*

It had been hours since David left, and Cassie was still crying. She'd been dumped before by others, but those times had been a walk in the park compared to how she was feeling now. David was the guy she loved more than life itself. He was the very air she breathed. He had been her one true refuge when she'd had none. He was the siren she was promised to. Sadly, he was also her father's apprentice, and now he had left her.

Life sucked badly enough for her lately. Why did she have to lose David too? Not only did the whole world know she was a siren, everyone she had once called a friend or family member hated her guts. Harper and Cody had ditched her ages ago, but now her adoptive parents were even afraid of her.

At least her adoptive mom had hugged her, but her adoptive dad had been reserved after finding out what she was. Honestly, she couldn't blame any of them. Not really. Who could handle having a siren in their lives?

Sirens had been causing nothing but pain for everyone since she moved to this town. First Sirena, her seriously messed up grandmother who looked only a few years older than her, had lured her parents to California in the guise of offering a job. Next she had toyed with Cassie by sending a siren named Mr. Reynolds to her school. The guy had put the female population of Jackson High under mass hypnosis, and Cassie had foolishly tried to stop him. This resulted in her ending up face to face with Sirena who had forced her to drink power from the blood moon.

All of that might have been forgivable if not for what had happened next. During the full moon after Halloween, she and Sirena had raised a monster from Greek mythology named Lamia from the ocean. Cassie hadn't even had a choice about the act because the blood moon was controlling her. As if that wasn't traumatizing enough, Lamia had then eaten over a dozen children.

Cassie, David, and Angela Bennett had tried to stop Lamia, but they failed. Unfortunately, their battle with her had gotten filmed by someone and was broadcast on the news. Yeah. The other sirens had gotten her into some seriously messed up stuff, and all it did was hurt everyone around her.

She had thought David was different from them. She had thought he was kind and loving. She had thought he actually cared about her. Now it was obvious that he was really only loyal to Sirena, her father, and the rest of her twisted race.

She couldn't imagine how life could get any worse, then the phone rang. Sincerely hoping the call wasn't bad news, Cassie walked into the kitchen and answered it. “Hello?” she asked hesitantly.

“Hello. I'm Dr. Mauer. Are you Cassandra Murdock?” It was a name she didn't recognize, but at least there wasn't any malice in his tone.

“Yes. I'm her.”

“Well then, Ms. Murdock,” he said calmly, “I'm afraid I have some very bad news.”

Cassie swallowed. What was wrong? What had happened? “Is something the matter?” she asked.

“Yes. You see, your parents are in the hospital. Some people found them both unconscious in a motel.”

Cassie's heart raced, fear clawed at her insides, and panic threatened to engulf her. She had asked her parents to go to a motel the day before because she knew she wouldn't be herself during the full moon. She had wanted to protect them, but now they were unconscious. What had happened? How bad was the situation?

“What happened?” she asked, trying not to sound hysterical and failing miserably.

“We're not sure, but their health is deteriorating rapidly. They may only have a matter of days left to live at this rate. Also, this isn't the first case like this we've had today.”

Her stomach churned with a vengeance as she heard those words. “Who else is it?” she asked.

“Cody Zimmerman and Harper Whitley.”

Cassie turned as white as a sheet, cold sweat dewed on her forehead, and horror raced through her. How could this happen to them too? Was it a coincidence that four people close to her had suddenly fallen unconscious, or was something else at play?

“Because of recent events and your relationship with these people,” the doctor continued after a moment, “the police aren't ruling out foul play. They would like to talk to you.”

The phone shook in Cassie's trembling hand. This couldn't be happening. How could they be blaming her? How could they think she was responsible for something like this?

Sadly, the answer was obvious and devastating. The humans didn't trust her, and they never would again. She was a monster to them. They knew she had powers from watching the news. Was it so far fetched of an idea that she had done something like this to four people who were only connected by her?

“I didn't do it. I would never hurt them,” she said shakily, “but I will talk to the police. I want to fix this too.”

“They'll expect you at the station in an hour, then. Good bye.” With those words, Dr. Mauer hung up.

Cassie did likewise and clenched her fists. What was going on, and what could she do about it? She took several shaky breaths and struggled to calm her nerves. After a moment, she decided that she would talk to the police before trying anything else, then she'd hope they could help, because, frankly, she was utterly and completely in the dark.



Chapter Two

After freshening up a bit, Cassie rushed off to the police station. She was beyond nervous about it too. Just a few days ago, the police had tried to take her into custody. They had gone as far as to shoot knockout darts at her. Despite that, she was too desperate to save the people she cared about to stay away. What scared her more than anything wasn't being harmed, but seeing harm come to the people she loved.

She got a sense of deja vu when she walked into the building. Weeks ago, she had rescued a little girl from Lamia and brought her there. She still wondered why those cops had been so aggressive towards her. In the end she'd had to hypnotize them to escape. That was a fact she was not proud of. She hadn't told anyone about it either. Not even David.

Cassie squeezed her eyes shut, holding back tears that wanted to spill again as she thought about him. David's betrayal was one of the harshest things she'd ever felt. Still, she had to pull herself together. She had to be strong enough to save her parents and friends. After taking a few deep breaths, Cassie pushed her grief aside and walked up to the front desk.

“Hello,” she said. “I'm Cassie Murdock. I heard the police want to talk to me.”

She could swear the man behind the desk grew a shade or two whiter when he saw her. She sighed feeling sad about the reaction. Was this how it was going to be the rest of her life? Would humans always be afraid of her from now on? It wasn't a pleasant idea.

She forced her self to smile at him and said, “I came here as an American citizen to do my duty. I promise I have no intention of hurting anyone.”

The man just nodded stiffly, not looking any less pale. He then pressed a button and said, “Cassandra Murdock is here.”

Almost instantly, someone on the other end said, “All right. Bring her in.” Why did that sound like some kind of prison sentence?

An officer walked over to her a moment later and said, “Follow me.”

Swallowing hard, she did. She walked with him down a few hallways and to a door. He then opened the door and motioned her in. She walked through it and into what looked like an interrogation room. Her heart skipped a beat when the door closed behind her.

Great.

Taking a deep breath Cassie walked over to the empty chair and seated herself, then she looked at her interrogator. It was a middle aged woman. She looked like she might be in her late forties. She had dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and an unusually wide mouth. It was set into a hard line. Her beady brown eyes seemed to be glaring. What bothered Cassie the most about her, though, was the fact that she had an FBI uniform on. This was not good. She was dealing with the major leagues here. Not just the local police.

“Are you Ms. Cassandra Murdock?” she asked in a normal tone that didn't match her expression.

“Yes. I am,” Cassie answered calmly.

“Ms. Murdock, where were you at ten o clock this morning?”

Cassie resisted the urge to sigh in irritation. So this really was going to be an interrogation. “I was at home,” she replied in the most polite tone she could manage.

“Is there anyone who can verify that?”

“The reporters outside my front door can.”

“What are their names?”

Gah! How was she supposed to know their names? She only knew two of them, and those were first names, not last names. “Two of them are Hally and Jessie from Arvidson Press. I don't know their last names because they never told me. There were also others, but I don't know their names.”

Her interrogator's eyes narrowed even more. “Did you put George Murdock, Sarah Murdock, Harper Whitley, and Cody Zimmerman into comas?”

Here was the big question. It was time to prove her innocence. Cassie just hoped she could. “I swear, I would never do that to them or anyone else. I've never had any desire to harm them, and I never will.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Says a siren who brought that monster here.”

Cassie tensed up. How did she know that? How did she know about Cassie's involvement in bringing Lamia here? “It wasn't my fault!” she said desperately. “Sirena—I mean Ms. Pierce made me do it!”

“Made you do it, huh? In my experience, Ms. Murdock, there is always a choice involved.”

Tears came to Cassie's eyes. “Maybe that's true for humans, but because of what was done to me, there are times when I don't have a will of my own.”

“What was done to you?” she prompted.

Cassie was so pissed off at the other sirens, that she didn't even hesitate to continue betraying them. She actually kind of reveled in it. “Ms. Pierce is a siren whose real name is Sirena. She's also my three thousand year old grandmother. She wants me to be her female heir so she forced me to drink fuel from a lunar eclipse that happened on Halloween. That fuel is called the power of the blood moon. Sirens can absorb it, apparently, because on every full moon since, that power has taken control of me. The same thing happened to Sirena.”

There. That was about as good as betrayal got. Cassie hid her glee behind a mask of calm. The woman across from her didn't look so smug or angry anymore. “It matches up,” she muttered.

“Huh?” Cassie was confused.

“It matches Harper and Cody's statements.”

Cassie's eyes widened. “They know? They know what happened?”

“According to their statements, they've been trying to save you and this town since a few days after Halloween. They met a man who knew about sirens and the full moon raising they did in the 1940s, and they set out to try and stop that from happening again.”

Cassie was overwhelmed with shock and emotion. Harper and Cody had known all along? They hadn't really given up on her? They hadn't been avoiding her because they hated her? They still cared about her despite what she was?

The relief she felt about that was very short lived for two reasons. Firstly was the question of whether they were in comas because they'd gotten in too deep. Secondly was the newly learned knowledge that another full moon raising had happened. “I had no idea,” she choked out. “I wish I'd just tried to talk to them more. I wish we'd worked things out. Maybe then we could have somehow stopped the rasing, and everyone would be okay.” Tears were streaming down her face as she spoke.

“I knew that full moon raisings had been done before, but here in the 1940s? I just don't get what any of them are up to!” Cassie couldn't control herself anymore. She burst into sobs. Any glee she'd felt about ratting out her messed up family was gone. Her adoptive parents, and Harper and Cody were in comas with rapidly deteriorating health, and she felt like it was all her fault.

“Goodness, girl! Pull yourself together!” The woman sounded stunned.

Cassie tried to. Really she did, but it did no good. She was just a broken soul with a broken heart. Everything she cared about had either disappeared or was about to vanish forever, and there was nothing she felt she could do. The woman obviously didn't know shit about what was wrong with the health of the people she loved. She was just looking for someone to blame, and Cassie was the prime suspect.

*

After a few more miserable hours of very pointless questioning, Cassie was finally allowed to leave the police station. She walked home feeling like a wreck. She probably looked like one too. Fortunately, she didn't pass many people on the way back to her house. When she arrived at her front door, she was relieved that no reporters were there. They'd obviously gone elsewhere, either to look for her or to find other news.

Sluggishly, she entered her house and collapsed onto the living room couch. As she did, she felt empty and hopeless. The doctor had said her parents and friends had only days left to live. What could she do about that? What in the world could anyone do? What had started it in the first place?

After awhile, she became vaguely aware that someone was ringing the doorbell. With a sigh, she got up and answered the front door. What she saw was a middle aged man with bloodshot eyes. He smelled unpleasantly of rum. She honestly had no idea who he was. At least he obviously wasn't a reporter or a police man.

“Hello?” she said with a slightly raw voice.

“Hello, Cassie,” he said. “We need to talk.”

Ugh! She'd been talking for hours. More pestering from strangers was just too much to ask right now. “Look,” she said, “I'm having a really bad day. My parents and friends are in the hospital, so—”

“Are you saying your adoptive parents, and Harper, and Cody are sick too?” he interrupted, sounding shocked.

That really caught Cassie's attention. Did this guy know Harper and Cody? Was he the man they'd met who knew about full moon raisings? Also, what did he mean by the words sick too?

“Is someone else in a coma?” she asked worriedly.

“Yeah,” the man said with emotion leaking into his voice. “My niece and daughter. Carlie and Pearl.”

Cassie's eyes went wide. Carile and Pearl were in danger too? Was this the merman who had raised them? She'd heard very little about him.

“I don't know what's going on,” she said sincerely, “but I want to do something about it. Please, come in.”

The man did, and the two of them walked into the dining room. They sat across from each other and were silent for a moment, then the man spoke. “My name is Hiram Walter. I'm guessing you know I'm a merman, so let's get to the big picture.

“I'm grasping at straws here, chasing myths and legends and coming to a siren for help. I'm a man desperate to save the only two people I have left. I thought Carlie and Pearl fell ill because they tried to stop you and Sirena last night. I thought they'd been targeted and punished by the sirens.”

Cassie's blood froze. “They were there last night, and the other sirens did this to them?”

“Not only that,” Hiram continued, “but Harper and Cody were there too. It would make sense that all four of them were targeted because they were liabilities, if not for the fact your adoptive parents are ill too. It's as if you're the target Cassie. Now, why do you think the sirens want everyone close to you dead?”

Cassie's fists clenched. She was more terrified than she could ever remember being. Harper and Cody had been at Mermaid Beach last night? They had tried to stop her and Sirena too? Even worse was the feeling of realizing the horrible truth. She knew the answer to Hiram's question with dreadful certainty.

“Because,” she said, “I refused to flee with the other sirens into the ocean. They must be trying to get rid of everything that's keeping me on land so I'll feel like I have nowhere else to go.”

Hiram squeezed his eyes shut, looking pained. “Treachery is always treated so harshly by sirens, even to their own.”

Cassie knew exactly what he meant. Not only had her betrayal been punished severely, so had her mother's. Helen, the woman who gave birth to her, had fled the other sirens while she was pregnant with Cassie. She had stayed with Hiram and his family for awhile, then the other sirens found her. They had murdered Hiram's wife, and Pearl's dad went missing. Helen had then fled to Colorado and died giving birth to Cassie because the distance from the ocean had made her too weak.

“I wish I wasn't a siren,” she said miserably. “I really wish I wasn't.”

Hiram smiled weakly at her. “You have a good heart like your mother, but fate is a hard thing to run from.”

“What was she like?” she asked. “My mom, I mean.”

Hiram's eyes grew distant. “She was very kind and loving. She always tried to smile even when she was sad, and she was very strong. She loved you more than her own life. That's why she sacrificed everything for you.”

Bittersweet tears fell down Cassie's face. She'd never heard her mother described like that, and it touched her. It also made her very sad. For awhile after his words, the two of them were silent. At last, though, Cassie breached the problem at hand.

“You said you need my help. You said something about grasping at straws and chasing myths and legends. Just say the word, and I'll do it, because if I don't, everyone I care about is doomed.”

Hiram turned dead serious again. “Well, you see, when Carlie and Pearl first fell unconscious, I tried every magical and non magical cure I know, but nothing worked. This means only one thing. The sirens have given them a magical disease that has no cure. It's an execution technique they use that has always been successful.”

Cassie's whole body filled with dread at the words. “Then what can we do?” she asked desperately. “How can we save them if there isn't a cure?”

“That's where the myths and legends part comes in,” he said. “There is only one thing that can cure them now, but it's a mythical artifact, and it's been missing for thousands of years. This artifact is called Selene's Stone. It's a moonstone imbued with magical powers, including the ability to cure any ailment. It was lost during the great flood. It is in a temple that was built during the silver age. I have no doubt it has been buried somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.”

If Cassie hadn't studied ancient Greece in school, she would have had absolutely no idea what Hiram was talking about. A large part of Greece was surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. She knew from David that Selene was an ancient Greek deity who was considered to be the true personification of the moon. She also had heard about the great flood that supposedly destroyed every human the world—except Noah and his family if you went with the Bible, but that was from a seriously different culture.

Despite how insane what Hiram was saying sounded, especially from a modern perspective, Cassie had been through enough weird stuff to believe him. Besides, she would do anything to save the people she cared about. Absolutely anything.

“Let me guess,” she said, “I need to go to Greece, find this temple, get the artifact and bring it back here.”

Hiram nodded, and Cassie smiled. “So, how long do I have?”

Hiram looked worried at those words. “Sadly, Cassie,” he said, “you only have four days.”

--

Copyright © 2014 by Elisabeth Niederhut
All rights reserved.