It was happening again. She could feel it in her blood. The moon was calling to her. It sang to her mesmerizingly, drawing her away from the restaurant. Lust, passion, and a wild intoxication filled her. She knew then, with undeniable certainty, that she had to go to the center of power. She had to go to Sirena, and no one on Earth could stop her.
Sirena, she thought, I'm coming.
Tendrils of silver fog hovered over the ocean. Storm clouds filled the sky, casting a colorless appearance on the world. The late fall weather was frigid, and most people would have avoided it. Then again, Cassie wasn't most people.
In fact, she wasn't even human. During the two months since she had discovered this, such reminders had been merely depressing. That was before she found out she was a siren. It had been hard enough to get used to the idea of being a mermaid. Now she had to live with the fact that, not only was there not one drop of human blood in her body, she was Sirena's granddaughter.
Sirena... why did you do this to me? Why couldn't you just have left us alone?
Tears streamed down Cassie's face as memories from the night before flooded through her mind. Arriving at the top floor of Pierce Inc. Finding out who her birth parents were. How Sirena had forced her to drink power from the blood moon. A power that had forever changed her.
Cassie looked inside herself, searching for some remnant of the person she had been, but that Cassie was dead, and she could never live again. How then could she go back to a world she no longer belonged to? How could she just smile and say everything was all right? How could she look Harper and Cody in the eyes, knowing what she was?
Harper and Cody... her best friends in the whole world. The only two people she had ever told her secret to. They thought she was a mermaid, though, and if they ever knew the truth... Cassie couldn't finish the thought, but another one blossomed.
Clear in her mind was an unmistakable, undeniable fact. She needed her friends. She needed them like a flower needed sunlight. They were the only people who could make anything right again. The thought of their companionship fueled her. It drove her away from the misty ocean and back to the world of humans. A world where sirens and mermaids were nothing more than myths and legends.
Cassie's morning classes went by like a hazy dream. Nothing seemed real. It was as if someone else was seeing the world, leaving her a silent specter. Only one thing kept her from giving up. The thought of seeing Harper and Cody at lunch. Talking with them. Maybe even laughing with them.
It seemed to take an eternity before the final bell rang, signaling the end of gym class and the beginning of the lunch period. She almost ran to the cafeteria. She bought her lunch without seeing what it was and sat down at their usual table. Joy filled her as she saw not only Cody sitting there but Harper too. It had been three painful weeks since their trio had been whole.
Mr. Reynolds, who was a siren posing as their science teacher, had put the female population of Jackson High under mass hypnosis. Harper had been a totally different person, but now she was back along with all the other girls in school. Last night had made that happen. Cassie's happiness disintegrated at the thought of how everything Mr. Reynolds had done was only to lure her to Sirena. She had gone to the top floor of Pierce Inc. in order to stop him from doing something worse, only to find out it was all a setup.
"I've been filling Harper in on the last three weeks." Cody's words jolted Cassie back to reality.
"Yeah. It's pretty crazy," said Harper with a slightly nervous laugh. "I am starting to get my memories back though."
"That's good," said Cassie, then she wondered if it really was. Who would want to remember being a science geek with a school girl crush? Definitely not Harper.
"Well, it's a little hazy still, but what I am remembering is kind of freaking me out."
Cassie smiled apologetically, feeling a bit guilty for her stupid comment. Harper smiled an it's okay smile. It relieved Cassie to see it, but her relief was cut short by Cody's next words.
"So, what happened on the top floor?"
It was the second time he had asked the question, and Cassie still didn't have a good lie. "I don't want to talk about it yet," she said lamely and looked away.
As she did, her eyes rested on someone. He must have been a new student because she had never seen him before. What caught her attention about him was how drop dead gorgeous he was. He was tall and lean with hard wiry muscles. His skin was tanned. His layered jet black hair fell to his shoulders in a style that was disappearing but one Cassie liked. His perfectly sculpted face was dominated by intense eyes that were a shade of the most beautiful green she'd ever seen.
Cassie stopped cold in her thoughts. Green eyes. Black hair. He was a siren. His resemblance to Mr. Reynolds was unmistakable, and it sent icy tingles of fear down her spine.
No! Not again!
They had just spent almost a month dealing with Mr. Reynolds, and now it was going to start all over again. How could life be this unfair? Why couldn't they just leave her friends alone? What more could they want from her?
Cody caught onto her mood almost instantly. He looked around the cafeteria until he too spotted the siren. At first he looked surprised, then he paled with anger. He knocked over his chair and began storming towards the siren.
Without thinking, Cassie rushed after Cody and pinned his arms behind his back. "Cody, it's too dangerous," she warned.
Cody just redoubled his efforts to get free. Surprisingly, Cassie continued to hold him back with ease. At last he tried lunging forward with the full weight of his body. Aside from feeling a slight tug, Cassie held him still. He collapsed then and looked at her with disbelief.
Sniggers and not so subtle comments could be heard throughout the room. Cody looked mortified, and Cassie suddenly knew why. He was a seventeen year old boy, and she had held him back like he was a little kid. Everyone had seen a girl being stronger than him.
"How could you, Cassie?" he said, anger touching his face.
The anger spread and dominated his humiliation. He grabbed Harper by the arm and said, "Let's go."
Harper gave Cassie a hopeless look before leaving the room with him. It was absolutely crushing. The two people she needed more than anything in the world had ditched her just because she was trying to protect them. That hurt more than anything Sirena had ever done.
Holding back tears, Cassie sat down and ate her lunch. She didn't even taste it. All she could do was think about her friends and uselessly try to tune out what the other students were saying about them.
Cassie failed to catch Harper and Cody's attention during math. After awhile, she cast a nervous glance around and was surprised to see the siren boy wasn't in the room. He looked like he was about the age to be in the eleventh grade class, the same as everyone else here, yet he wasn't anywhere in sight. It wasn't like anyone really got much of a class or period choice in a school as small as Jackson High anyway. The eleventh graders all had the same classes at the same periods, so maybe he was a tenth grader or a twelfth grader. It wasn't too far fetched of an idea, and the thought relieved her. She really didn't want to be stuck with him for six hours every week day.
On the way to the dreaded science class, Cassie hopelessly tried to think of a way to communicate with Cody. Mr. Reynolds would probably make every effort to ruin her day, though. She sighed about that and walked into the classroom. Her heart nearly leaped out of her chest with relief as she saw Mr. Reynolds wasn't there. An older woman with jeans, a blouse and mousey brown hair was. There was a new sub, and it was obvious by one glance at her she wasn't a siren. Humanity was written all over her.
Cassie smiled, feeling more lighthearted than she had in awhile. She sat down at her usual desk and suddenly knew how she would talk to Cody. Note passing. No sub would stop her at that. They usually just gave students the work and sat back.
"I'm Ms. Vogenthaler," the woman began. "I'll be your substitute teacher today."
The class each took out their books. Inside of hers, Cassie took a sheet of notebook paper and began writing her message. She could hear several students chattering in the background and was surprised by the loud shushing sounds the sub made.
"No talking! Schools should be quiet."
Obviously this woman didn't teach very often. Cassie wondered how she'd have felt about subbing in a middle school class. Those kids were really talkative and sometimes more than a little rude.
At last, Cassie finished her note and folded it up. She wrote Cody on the front and passed it to the kid next to her. He gave her a slightly annoyed look before passing it to someone else. That someone else passed it to another person, and that person reached out to pass it to Cody. Before it could even reach his desk, the sub took it and frowned.
"Note passing? This is absolutely unacceptable!" Cassie wanted to punch the woman, but the anger she felt turned to panic when the sub opened it up and began reading.
"Cody," she began in a very unteen-like voice, "I'm really sorry about lunch. I just wanted to keep you safe, because compared to them, you're not very strong."
Cassie prayed for her to shut up, but she unmercifully kept reading. "After everything that's happened, I don't want to lose you. Please understand how I feel."
Cassie sunk deep into her chair as people shot her amused looks and giggled. To her even greater embarrassment and fury, Angela said, "Don't laugh, Madelyn. I think they're a couple."
Now the entire school was going to think she and Cody were dating. They also probably had an even stronger impression about what a wimp Cody was. Instead of making things better between them, Cassie had probably made them ten times worse.
She also hoped the note didn't give Cody the wrong impression about her feelings for him. She liked him as nothing more than a friend, but she knew he wanted something more. He had kissed her last night just before they broke into Pierce Inc. She had ended it quickly, saying there wasn't time, but she hadn't openly stated she didn't feel the same way.
Even worse was the thought of how Harper would take this. Cassie knew she liked Cody as more than a friend. If she ever found out her two best friends had kissed, she would be crushed, and she might even hate them. Cassie's life was not looking good at all.
She intentionally avoided making any sort of eye contact with Cody by looking around the room. Her focus instantly locked on the siren boy. So he was in some of their classes. It filled her with dread. Obviously feeling her gaze on him, he looked at her as well. He smiled a slightly amused smile then looked back at his books.
Cassie simmered at him, but she couldn't help noticing how attractive he was. She wondered how it would feel to run her fingers through that silky black hair. She thought about how his vibrant emerald eyes lit up when he smiled. It confused her that she was even thinking these things about someone who was obviously her enemy. She guessed she was just a sucker for cute guys. At least, she hoped that was all it was.
Class couldn't end soon enough for Cassie. She was up and out of the room before the bell had even finished ringing. Instead of heading to her next class, however, she hung back in a corner, trying to look invisible. Aside from a few nasty looks and a comment or two, her classmates left her alone. She thought the worst of it was over when the hall emptied. She had only taken a few steps, however, when the siren boy blocked her path.
"Um... Hello," he said. "I'm... uh... I'm David. David Turner." He stuck out his hand awkwardly.
Cassie stared at the outstretched hand like it was a poisonous snake. When she didn't shake it after several moments, he stuffed it into his jean pocket. His face reddened slightly with embarrassment.
"Okay..." he said. "Um... so... I guess you're wondering why I'm here." He shifted uncomfortably as Cassie continued to stare at him blankly.
He took a deep breath and said, as if with great difficulty, "You and I are promised."
He looked at her like he expected her to start yelling at him. Instead she said, "And that is?"
His face turned even redder. "Oh, right... you don't know what being promised means... what with the whole being raised by humans thing and--"
"What does it mean?" Cassie's interruption actually made him flinch.
"Um... I guess the best human analogy would be... well, I don't know if it's changed since I learned it, but... well..."
"Will you just get to the point?"
He cringed. "Uh, yeah... So, the best human analogy would be that we're, um... well... that you and I are sort of... um... betrothed."
If he hadn't been so hopelessly awkward and uncomfortable, Cassie would have punched him square in the face. She was betrothed? Engaged to be married? To a siren? She wasn't even eighteen!
Fury filled her with the injustice of the situation. She glared at David and said harshly, "I'm not promised to anyone!" She then stormed away from him, leaving him alone in the hall.
"You stupid, stupid idiot!" David yelled at himself. "You can't even get a coherent sentence out in front of anyone."
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. What does anyone even see in me? he thought bitterly. Of all the sirens Kallistos could have chosen, why him? He was grateful to his master. Really, he was, but surely the eldest son of Sirena had better sense than to promise his daughter to him.
In his centuries as Kallistos's apprentice, David had become infamous for his lack of social skills. Any social gathering he'd ever attended had left him either alone or mocked. Why then, did his master pick him? Was he really that fond of David?
Sometimes David wasn't sure if Kallistos was fond of anything. Of course, there was Helen... David shied away from the memories instantly. Helen was a forbidden subject. Years of talking underwater had him in the habit of controlling his thoughts around his master. When the only way to communicate was by mental contact, offending people became very easy.
David's mind drifted back to several months ago when his master had given him his final task as an apprentice. It was still vibrant in his mind as he had thought of little else since.
"I have recently heard some very good news, David."
The happiness in Kallistos's expression caught David off guard. Smiles were an extreme rarity for his master. "What is it, Master?" he asked.
"They've found her."
"Found who?" asked David, feeling puzzled.
The shock was instant. They had found Cassandra? After nearly two decades of searching? Despite years of practice David couldn't help wondering a forbidden thought. If Cassandra had been found, then had Helen been too?
As Kallistos read the unintentional thought in David's mind, his face darkened. "Helen," he began with difficulty, as if thinking the name was extremely painful for him, "is dead."
Any shock David had felt about finding Cassandra doubled. Siren deaths were so rare. How could this be unless... A hollow feeling entered him as it hit him. The other sirens had killed her.
"No, David," said Kallistos. "Of all things, she died in childbirth."
"But how?" David was beyond shocked. Had such a thing ever happened among their kind? They who were the most powerful beings in the world?
"Because, David," Kallistos continued, "it happened in Colorado."
It suddenly made horrible sense. He now understood why Helen and Cassandra hadn't been found for so long. Their magic was useless that far from the ocean. They were all as powerless as humans that far inland.
"Then how did they find Cassandra?"
Kallistos's mood became less dark as the subject left Helen and went back to his daughter. "Sirena has become more and more interested in human science over the centuries. She took advantage of something called the internet. Sirena found records and such about a girl named Cassandra Murdock who she was able to confirm to be the genuine article. Cassandra has been adopted by humans. She even thinks she is one."
The information was strange and fascinating but also shocking. "So how will we go about getting Cassandra back?"
Kallistos looked almost amused. "My mother really does have some strange ideas, but the one she came up with will work perfectly. I'm sure of it. You just wait and see, David.
"When the time comes, you must be the one to bring Cassandra back, but she must come willingly. I have decided this will be your final task as my apprentice. You have served me well with great loyalty. I have every confidence you will succeed."
David's heart sank. How could he possibly convince a girl who thought she was human to accept the ways of the sirens? How could two people from completely different worlds fall in love, even with a promise placed upon them? It sounded impossible.
He had never mastered the seductive mannerisms sirens were so famous for. He couldn't talk to a girl for a few seconds without turning into a blabbering idiot. How could he ever become a master now? If he failed, he never would.
"I sense your distress, David," said Kallistos, "but like I said, I have every confidence in you. What you lack in such a mundane thing as socializing, you make up for in everything else."
David smiled slightly, feeling grateful for such rare praise. Perhaps, if he tried hard enough, he would graduate his apprenticeship. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad.
David drew out of the memory. Not so bad? he thought bitterly. She hates everything about us.
He knew Cassandra could never trust them after what Sirena did to her. Both Kallistos and Sirena had gone about this the wrong way in his opinion, but as they were both over three thousand years old, it only made sense their ways were strange. He just hoped he could fix the damage they'd done. If he didn't, he would be neither an apprentice or a master. He would be an outcast for the rest of his life.
Copyright © 2013 by Elisabeth Niederhut
All rights reserved.