Excerpt: Blood in the Water

Seree sat up with a groan and nearly fell right back down. Every last part of him hurt. He always thought he remembered the pain involved with turning human, with being human—until he had to do it again, and he screamed in agony until his throat was left raw and his eyes burned.

The surf washed over him, taking away most of the blood left over from the transformation. He shivered, already cold in his human skin, disliking its vulnerability to the waters that were his home. Taking a deep breath, bracing himself, he slowly stood up on trembling legs. When he was certain his legs would hold, he waded into the water to wash off the worst of the sand and the remaining blood and residue of the transformation.

He dove under the water and came back up, raking his fingers through his hair to get the sopping mess out of his face. Standing there, letting the tide wash over him, toes sunk into the sand, he stared out at the ocean he had to leave behind for a time. He’d only been human a matter of minutes, but his body ached to resume its natural form. Every movement hurt, and would continue to do so, until he resumed his true form.

His fingers lightly stroked over the scars on his cheek, harsh slashes put there by a razor dagger to mark him as a warrior. He was his father’s eldest child of fourteen, and he was the only one with the fortitude to turn human whenever it was necessary. He was also good at being human, whereas the others bungled more often than not. Seree did not see what was so difficult, but then, he could not understand why his sisters could not stay out of trouble to begin with, either.

Savior from the Deep protect him from the idiocy of his siblings, especially his youngest sister, Lana. Why anyone left that child alone he would never understand. If he had his way, he would order her locked up in the darkest cell in the palace until she was capable of acting like an adult.

Not that his other sisters were much better, stealing one of his special knives and giving it to her to kill the prince. Clearly they all thought it was still some sort of story or game and did not appreciate the price they would be paying in taking a life—though he doubted any of them could go through with it anyway.

You don’t understand. She loves him, and he broke her heart by not loving her back. Now she’s trapped. What else were we to do?

Seree sneered just thinking about the entire debacle of a conversation. No one fell in love on a moment, and no one of the Deep fell in love with a human. Well, not outside of overblown stories, anyway.

Forcing himself to turn away from the sea, he waded back out of it, tracing the scars on his cheeks one last time: two sharp slashes on each side starting slightly below the eye and cutting all the way across his cheeks in a diagonal slash. Marks of honor that he had worked hard to earn. All so he could be reduced to bothersome tasks like getting his errant baby sister out of trouble. Again. Honestly, how difficult could it be for her to stay out of trouble for one day?

Calling upon the magic bestowed with his marks, he dressed himself in human garments: dark brown breeches and high boots, a white shirt, and a dark, sea-green jacket. The clothes of a modest gentleman—respectable, but ultimately forgettable. He lightly touched the cluster of pearls nestled in the folds of silk at his throat, a habit of old from days when human clothes had been a strange, awkward thing.

Next, he retrieved his knives from where he had thrown them in the sand while he went through the agony of transformation. Eight sheaths, the last empty, arranged on a holster that strapped into place so the knives lay neatly across his shoulder blades within easy reach.

Drawing a deep breath, he let it out slowly and finally left behind the relative safety of the beach.

Noise. It was one of the most difficult things to become accustomed to. Sound worked differently in the Deep, and the chaos of it on land left his head throbbing from over-stimulation. Combined with the way his body ached constantly, unhappy to be stuck in a foreign shape, it was a mystery to him why so many of his kin wanted to be human.

If his information was correct, his sister was in the palace. He still was not certain if she had fallen in love with a prince on purpose, or if she had learned that happy fact later. Seree ignored his surroundings as best he was able, lingering only long enough to figure out where to find the palace.

Nearly two hours later he did, finally, manage to reach the palace. It was remarkably plain for a palace. He had expected something towering and lavish, made of white, shining stone and decorated with colored glass, banners, flags … Wasn’t that the point of castles, to be over the top and ridiculous?

But the building before him was made of wood and stone identical to that which built the town he’d left behind. Nothing more than climbing roses covered much of the walls in a rainbow of red, pink, orange, white, and yellow blossoms. It was three stories high and as long and wide as perhaps four of the townhouses he’d passed.

Seree was pretty certain fifty of it could have fit in the other palaces he had visited.

Climbing the steps up to it, he sketched a half-bow to the two guards at the entrance. “I beg your pardon,” he said, speaking slowly and precisely, his tongue just not used to human languages after he had been in the Deep for so many decades. “I am here to visit Lady Lana. Please inform her that her brother has arrived to take her home.”

Their eyes widened as they looked at him, taking in his scars. “I will let her know you are here, my lord.” One of the guards slipped inside the palace, and Seree drew back enough the other guard relaxed slightly. He had no desire to threaten anyone—yet.

After a couple of minutes, the first guard reappeared and gestured for him to come. “She will see you at once, my lord.”

Yes, she would, or she would be in for a great deal worse than a lecture. Seree followed the guard down a hallway decorated with nothing more than flowers, shells, and a smattering of paintings. All in all, the palace had the feel of an oversized beach cottage.

The guard led him into a small room filled with sunshine and furniture enough for a small group of people. Lana rose from the sofa as the guard left, the door clicking shut behind him. “Seree!” she said and then burst into tears and covered her face.

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