Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle are owned by RenPics and others along those lines, just in case someone was wondering if they belonged to me. The Mermaid Trilogy, of which this is inspired mostly by the part called "A Mermaid Never Smiles", is the creation of Takahashi Rumiko, and belongs to her and a bunch of other people. Basically this is a remake of certain parts of Takahashi's Mermaid stories combined with XWP über elements, and hopefully no-one will be insulted or upset by it.
Warning: I write lesbian stories, as always, although I guess this is pretty mild as these things go. Squint and make believe if you want. ^-^;
A more serious warning is that this is a dark story, with a good part of violence, gore, bloodshed and perhaps even morbid ideas. Anyone familiar with the Mermaid Trilogy will know why this is so, and not be surprised by it, but as far as anyone else is concerned… if you're sensitive, don't read this. I don't want anyone to get upset by it.
I would also like to recommend to anyone who might read this to check out Takahashi Rumiko's fabulous manga trilogy about the Mermaids. If only both the main characters were female (and lesbian, of course ;), it'd be absolutely perfect. *grins*
Feedback would of course be very, very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Mark of the Mermaid
by Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
What do you know about mermaids?
Do you think of them as cute little redheaded princesses that are willing to give up their voices for true love, perhaps? Or even the more sad original fairytale about the little mermaiden who gave her life in a vain search for love?
Or are you one of the few that might have heard the dark legends of old… that knows that eating the flesh of a mermaid grants a human eternal life and youth?
The romantic tales are harmless, if cloying to one that knows the truth. The other… is a damnation for the greedy hearts of men.
I heard those tales myself, in my far distant youth. The flesh of the mermaid was longevity and happiness, and most of all it was salvation from famine and disease that plagued us all. I was a fisher and a hunter, when there was any game to find, in a small village that is long lost in time by now. My family was ridden with the same misfortunes as all others then, and I watched my brothers and my father all fall to them. In the end there was but me, my ailing old mother, my brother's wife and his small son.
Today people might think it strange if they knew how little it mattered to my people that I was a woman when I fought alongside them to keep what remained of my family alive. It was, after all, so very long ago. It certainly didn't matter when finally, in desperation, I agreed to join a few of the last moderately able-bodied men from the village in what I assumed was a wild goose chase.
We were going to catch a mermaid.
I never did find out how the knowledge of her presence came in our possession, or why she was suddenly just… there. I never bothered to ask, then, I just picked up my spear and rowed along with the other four into the dying night. It took us five days to find her. Five days that might each have cost us all that we were fighting for, but we knew this was our last desperate effort to keep at least some of our loved ones alive.
When she broke the water on the fifth night, scales glimmering like silver in the pale moonlight and her comely face too ethereal for an earthly creature, I was certain I was dreaming. It seemed like a dream, how the others threw their spears to harpoon her, and how I raised mine and let it fly alongside them.
They all hit home, and we had her body pulled from the sea in no time.
Someone else cut up the meat and divided it between us, ending me up with a smaller piece of the tail than perhaps had entirely been the agreement. I did not argue as I was grateful I would not have to cut up what to my eyes was still a woman's body myself, but took my smaller share in silence as we travelled back to the village.
It took us another two days before we reached our home, and it was a sombre homecoming. I do not recall it rightly, but I believe that we had all lost someone during our absence. As for me, I had lost my little nephew.
The irony of it all is that it was mostly for him that I had gone. We all knew he had not long to live, just like my mother, and it was all that I could hope to do for him. I never wanted eternal life, or any of the things the myths spoke of, I was trying to save the last of my kin.
My sister-in-law blamed me for being away when her son had died, I who had been forced to take the place of the man of the family. We ate our last meal together that evening in silence, each of us lacking the desire to live anymore, but damned to eat regardless because not doing so would have been to diminish all those lost before us.
It began immediately.
My mother began coughing up blood almost as soon as we had all swallowed our small fare, and we rushed to her side in horror. With a mighty heave of her small and emaciated frame, life left her body and she went still, staring blindly into the distance. My sister-in-law began to keen, a ghastly, grating noise that would never fade in my memory afterwards, and doubled over in pain. Before my horrified eyes her body twisted and turned, buckled and bended, limbs elongating and growing, until what remained was not the small, skinny woman of mere moments before. She was now a hideous monstrosity, huge with scales, fangs and claws, twisted into a nightmare that should never have been allowed to step out of the night.
The monster then attacked me, cutting me to the bone and tearing me into a bloodied mass before I had reacted. I can recall the pain of that first death, but to this day I do not know why I was not eaten by the beast. Regardless, I woke the next day, my body hale and sound though filthy with blood, and my clothes mere rags.
I stepped out from our ramshackle hut into hell on earth. Mere words cannot describe the sight that met me on that trodden piece of mud that had been my home for all the twenty-six summers I had been under the sun, so I shall not attempt it. Let it be enough to say that of the roughly two score people that had been alive at nightfall, only a handful remained. And they were all beasts like my sister-in-law, indeed I could tell no difference between their twisted forms as they fed on the corpses of what could have been their own family members, or fought viciously with one another.
In time I would come to learn that beasts like these are called 'lost souls', and that they are created when an unfortunate soul tries to feed upon the flesh or blood of a mermaid but does not die from it. Only a rare few, perhaps no more than one or two in a century, are like me and can survive the dreadful poison of the mermaid flesh.
I discovered many things that day. I discovered that a lost soul is very difficult to kill, the only sure way would be to behead it, although fire can work too, and I would much later learn of a poison created by the rotting form of a mermaid that is most lethal to lost souls as well. I also learned that not only do I not die, or at least I do not stay dead for long, but all manner of wounds heal all but instantly, and I was stronger and faster than before. In fact, my senses seemed sharper as well, though I have never been able to tell if it was one of the many effects that comes with the change mermaid flesh brings.
When I left the village I had called home, I left it burning. I am the sole survivor of that tiny and long forgotten place, and not a mark on the soil remains to tell people it once existed there, indeed I nearly missed it when I came back that way a long, long time later. With me I took my spear, my dagger, a few small tools in a pouch on the rope that served as my belt, and a set of rags that while worn and tattered at least did not reek with blood.
At first I travelled aimlessly, not staying long in any place, just passing through life as a ghost. A hundred years passed unnoticed this way before I settled down in a village. When I settled down with someone.
She was a young widow that was well to do and needed not marry again to ensure her future. It was not a passionate love between us, but rather a friendship and understanding that kept us together, a need for a companion. I worked for her to the best of my abilities, and had she nothing to her name she would still have lived well, I made sure of that. I also provided her with a kind of protection against unwanted suitors, as surely no-one could say to her that she needed a man in her life when I so obviously filled that role to the fullest.
At first the people in the village held their tongues regarding our relationship out of fear and respect for me as I have always been a woman standing head-to-toe with any man, stronger than reason, and more capable at the things they did than they could claim to be. In time it was out of fear of me, period.
I didn't realize it until my… for all of our supposed arrangements, I thought of her as my wife. And my wife looked upon me one evening with an expression in her eyes that cut me far more deeply than any weapon or claw ever had; she was afraid of me. She was growing old, and I remained as ever I had been, appearing as though I was still merely twenty-six summers old. Even though I remained with her until the night she died, I was from that moment on just a stranger, a hired help that wasn't really trusted, in her home.
I had told her my secret, and she loathed me for it. But before she died she did look at me once with something akin to pity in her eyes, and told me that I needed to find a mermaid if ever I was to find peace. Nothing else would answer my questions, she said, and until then I would only be drifting through life as a spectator.
She spoke truer than either of us knew.
I am now roughly five hundred years old, give or take a few as individual years means so very little to me, and in this time I have seen so many things. I have seen the history of man stagger onwards before my eyes, and I have seen untold horrors that would leave people huddling together in fear of the night. I have had my heart broken so many times in so many ways… a young woman that touched my heart but that I had to leave behind, girls that laid their own hearts before my feet despite my attempts at keeping them at arms length, friends, children, places I would have loved to call my home; all gone.
Upon occasion my search for mermaids has led me to others such as myself, and those occasions have given me my greatest heartbreaks.
Like little Natsume.
She was a small girl travelling with her elderly father as he peddled his fake mermaid medicine in village after village, and I thought I had met someone like myself. She was impervious to harm, like myself, and seemed unable to age, and still naïve in regards to the nature of man, I thought she had been fed mermaid's flesh. A crazy monk told me the truth.
Natsume had died long ago, and the monk had aided her grief-stricken father in reviving her corpse with sacred chants and the liver of a mermaid. The child rose again, but without memory or, it seemed, humanity - she preyed upon any creature she could to tear out their livers and eat them; indeed she tried to eat mine.
And yet, the small child befriended me. She wanted so desperately to understand her own existence, and saw in me a kindred spirit. Also, her father was old and ill, and she worried that she would soon be left alone in the world to fend for herself. Perhaps I was truly too naïve, but I loved that child. I offered her to come with me on my journey, and she seemed overjoyed when she accepted.
It was not to be, however. While the old man, driven mad by his fear of losing Natsume, tried to kill me, the monk found her and removed the mermaid's liver. She ran away from him, and with her last strength, came to me.
I held her in my arms as death returned for her, turning back into bones and ash this child I had already begun to love as my own. It felt like my heart was turning into ash along with her.
Far from all that have achieved eternal life through the means of the mermaid's flesh would be as sweet as that poor, tortured child, although it would take a long time until I fully realized how dark my world truly was.
An encounter with an old oracle once told me that what I was truly searching for was the one that had been allotted to me. Over time I would come to realize that in a way that woman was right, and I was searching for someone to share this unending life with me. But if I were to have guessed who and how I were to have found her, I would never have come anywhere near the truth.
Going on my five hundred years I was heading up into the wild mountain areas that was reputed to be devoid of human population. That served me fine, I wanted solitude at the time and had no mermaid trail to follow. Or so I thought.
In those mountains I came upon one of the strangest thing I have encountered, a village of only women, and not only that, but all the women wore the same face separated only by age. They were hostile, so hostile in fact that on the first encounter a group of the younger ones speared me to death and threw my carcass down into a cavern.
By morning I was revived and quite angry, but before I had the time to think of what to do, I saw something there. At the water's edge where the ocean entered the cavern, lay a body. It had a woman's torso, but the long glittering tail of a fish… at long last I had found a mermaid.
She was beheaded with a piece of her tail missing, and I did not doubt for a moment that it had something to do with those overly aggressive women, and so I went in search of them.
I found my way to their village in the nick of time, or, seen in another way, just slightly too late.
I barged in into the manor house, the largest and finest building there, despite the women trying to once again kill me with their spears and axes. Inside I stumbled right upon a couple of old hags loading a young woman onto a palanquin. I threw the remains of the mermaid at their feet and demanded they answer my questions, but I had underestimated their willingness to fight.
I ended up grabbing the girl as a hostage to make them answer me, but instead the women appeared to be trying to kill her as well. In desperation I drew her to her feet, preparing to run off and pull her along with me just through the door so I could escape. It was then I noticed that her feet were shackled.
The whole event was not one of my finer moments, but in that split second when spears where dancing around my head, I did the only thing I could have and lived with myself; I hoisted her up on my shoulder and ran off into the woods taking her with me.
We ended up in another cave, hiding out while I used a spear I'd filched to smash open her wooden shackles. She told me her name was Mana, and that she had worn those shackles all her life. Apparently the women in the village treated Mana as if though she was a princess, although at the same time she was very much their captive.
It wasn't until I wiped the blood away from her wounds to find them completely healed that I realized that she had been fed mermaid's flesh.
I tore the edges of her fine robes into rags I used to bandage the awful wounds on her legs, and I was shocked to find that even in that situation I noticed what a rare beauty she was, this Mana. Small and shapely, with full lips and huge spring-green eyes, long red-blonde hair and unblemished skin that looked like porcelain; she looked like what I might have considered perfection to be had I given it thought. I remember I shook my head to clear it, bemused with why my reaction to this beauty was so strong. I had after all met many an attractive woman in my day, and none of them had pulled me in this quickly or this completely.
I asked her about the mermaid, but she knew nothing about it. We figured out that the old hags had fed Mana the mermaid flesh the evening before, on what was supposed to be Mana's seventeenth birthday, but for what purpose we had no idea. As we spoke over the dressing of wounds, I could suddenly hear a very familiar moaning coming out of the cave behind us.
The monstrosity that towered up behind us as we turned around could as easily have come from my home village all those years ago, for it's appearance was almost identical. Mana gasped out the name that I would from then on use for these creatures, calling it a lost soul, while I charged it with the spear I had taken.
As I charged it, it also charged me, and the spear in my hands embedded itself in discoloured, twisted scaly flesh somewhere around the shoulder. Another creature would have died, but not a lost soul, and instead it impaled me on its large claws and flung me across the cave. Instinct would have had me close my eyes at the impact with the rockface, but Mana's scream and the roar of the lost soul spurred me back on my feet instantly. I no longer had a weapon, but I still charged it to keep it away from her.
Mana's scream had alerted one of the village women out searching for us, and while I did my best to grapple with the huge beast she jumped down into the cavern to us. Armed with spears dipped in poison she lunged at the lost soul, scoring a solid hit in it's side, but not one that would otherwise have been lethal. It roared and flung me away again, then turned and slashed its giant claws over the woman's throat.
Mana screamed the woman's name, and I got my feet back under me to charge again, but the wounded village woman called me back. The creature shuffled back into the darkness and fled from us, it's pitiful moaning echoing in the distance as apparently even the relatively minor wound caused by the poisoned spear would be enough to kill it quickly. The woman fainted from her severe wounds, and I felt obliged to return the favour of rescue even though she had been sent out to kill me. I told Mana to stay while I carried the unconscious woman out of the cave, then I would come and lift her out as well.
Mana disagreed, stating that she wanted to walk. I was certain she would not be able to stand, much less walk, after all she had never been allowed to stand in her life, but I had not taken in account the strength of Mana's will. I would learn over time that Mana's will is quite formidable.
Was it a trick of light that made the air seem to glow around her as she stubbornly pulled herself to her feet? Either way she stole my breath away with the simple act of standing unsteadily on her own two feet while the light seemed to turn her hair ablaze. I stopped and stared like a fool.
Then she fell.
For all her formidable will, her legs would not hold her for long, at least not at first. It would take time and practice before she learned to walk and run, but when she did she was even faster than I. At the moment though, I hoisted the unconscious woman over my shoulders and lifted Mana into my arms, and carried them both out of the cave. I placed Mana in as safe a location as I could find and swore to come back for her later, then set off towards the village trying not to smile at Mana's cute pout as she stubbornly muttered to herself about not wanting to be left behind.
I stopped the villagers from attacking me when I reached the village by telling them that if I was killed, they would never find out where their precious princess Mana was hidden. A group of women that all wore exactly the same face as the bloodied one of my burden came forward and took her from my arms. The only face I could see that was not duplicated was that of the eldest hag, she who appeared to be their leader. She invited me to sit and speak with her, and that was after all what I had wanted all along. I wasn't foolish enough to let down my guard though.
We spoke of mermaids, and of mermaids flesh. We spoke of the curse of immortality, and eventually I proved that I had eaten it by cutting my arm open, then letting her watch as it quickly healed before our very eyes. I didn't realize the danger I had just put myself in.
I also did not know that while I had been away, Mana had stubbornly continued her attempts to stand. After a few most likely rather undignified tumbles she finally managed to stand upright and, with the help of trees and rocks along the way, walk towards the village.
The villagers intercepted her.
The old hag and I were interrupted by a ruckus from outside, and when I heard Mana's angry voice shouting I rushed to the doors. She was caught and bound, and frankly put, spitting mad about it. I shouted as well, demanding she be released, and was about to step out to her aid when my words turned to blood in my mouth.
One of the old women had crept up behind me while I was distracted, and rammed a steel harpoon through my chest.
While I stood there, swaying on my feet and grabbing the part of the harpoon that stuck out through my chest as my blood poured out of me, the old hag spoke quite calmly to me. Perhaps even slightly regretfully, although I really couldn't have cared less.
She told me that I had been mistaken. A mermaid would not be able to help me come to terms with my nature, would not give me my mortal life back. Indeed the only thing a mermaid had to offer me was death, true death to end an immortal life, by way of the mermaid poison that also served to kill the lost souls. She also informed me that the weapon sticking out of my chest had been dipped in that poison, and that I would most likely die soon.
Did she expect me to nod and sit back down like a good little girl? With Mana yelling at the top of her lungs? Not hardly. I grabbed the door and tore it of it's hinges, roaring furiously as I did so, and slammed it into the women holding Mana.
I caught Mana on the door before she fell to the ground - a rather nimble feat all things considered - grabbed her, and dashed back into the building. I snapped her bonds on the edge of the weapon sticking out of my chest, and managed to grab a large container of something that smelled oily just as the women clambered to get through the doorway. I doused them all and Mana threw the torch on them, and they, as well as most of the building, immediately caught on fire.
In the panic and confusion that followed I grabbed Mana and carried her under my arm as I made a run for it towards the woods. No-one pursued us… they didn't need to.
I made it some distance into the woods before I couldn't carry Mana any more, in fact I could barely keep myself conscious. Mana dragged me the last bit to a hole in the ground that proved to be yet another of those endless caverns that traced through the hills there. We got inside a ways before I felt it would be safe enough for me to pull the harpoon out.
It was… unpleasant. I placed the back end of the weapon against the rock wall, and had to ask Mana to help push me back all along it's length until it could be pulled out of me. I bit down on a piece of her robes, not that she had much of them left by now, and she looked very determined.
Then I asked her to suck the poison out.
I am fortunate that under that surface of refined sweetness she has a core of solid steel, because how else could she have bent down to that gaping mess of my chest and sucked the poison out. I am sure I would have succumbed to it had she not helped me like she did.
I passed out from the pain, but not until I saw her serious face light up slightly in a tiny relieved smile when she saw that I was still alive. I do not know how long I was out, but Mana has told me that while I was unconscious she sat watching over me in the dark of the cave. Eventually she heard the moaning of a lost soul heading our way, and as the completely fearless being that she is, she picked up the bloody harpoon and prepared to protect me.
She cut it deeply over it's belly, and it slashed open her cheek. It also threw her right into my arms, which is what woke me up. We both heard the rumbling just before the water hit.
The reason the village women had not pursued us into the caves was that they had another plan; they were going to flush us out. Apparently the caves that riddled those hills were all connected and ended up in the sea, which was why the lost souls wandered so freely through them all, and the villagers had long ago built a dam to keep the village from being flooded. Now they released the dam, sacrificing their village in their pursuit of us, and placed themselves at the exits where the water would come rushing out.
I clung to Mana, and she to me, and I was certain I was going to drown yet again. I had experienced that kind of death once before, and knew it was not pleasant. But then again, dying without the benefit of death never is.
Mana was no longer conscious when the water carried us out to the ocean's edge where the village women awaited us. So she did not share the view I had as I suddenly saw them all transformed by the water into their true forms… as mermaids.
A mermaid that is not hungry or on the hunt is a beautiful creature, so beautiful in fact that it lures it's prey right into it's arms - it's prey being humans - before it's true face is revealed. A mermaid on the hunt however is hideous, every bit as hideous as a lost soul because the beauty that was there mere moments before is instantly elongated and twisted into that horrendous fanged creature. It is even more frightening because it is only the head that changes, the rest of the mermaid remains it's beautiful, graceful self, sending a jarring feeling of… wrongness into your soul.
They opened their huge, hungry maws to attack, and swam right up to us. One white-haired beast bit deeply into Mana's arm, taking a chunk out before I could tear it away. As I fumbled with the harpoon that Mana had not lost during our turbulent ride, I saw the creature's face turn into a duplicate of Mana's as it swallowed the piece of her, it's hair turning black and it's body becoming younger.
The veiled words of the old hag suddenly became all to clear… the village women had raised Mana for the purpose of eating her once she was old enough, and if she survived eating the mermaid's flesh. Apparently it was the reason they had all worn the same face, as they took on the appearance of their victim.
I speared the creature wearing Mana's face repeatedly, until I managed to tear of it's head. Then I managed to get us both to the surface, my lungs burning from lacking air for far too long. I was in luck, and we had not come far from the rocky edge of the cliffs, so I pulled us both up and prepared for the attack.
And they came.
One by one in an endless row, throwing themselves out of the water at me. The harpoon in my hands was used to the outmost of my ability, and they were thrown back into the churning water. Until the last one.
I lost the grip on the harpoon, or rather I had to let it go as I needed to use both hands and all my strength to keep the mermaid from eating me. Thus occupied I didn't see the old hag walking up to Mana were she lay, still unconscious. I didn't see her as she lifted Mana and held a spear to her chest, intending to run her through. I didn't see Mana wake and struggle with her, or hear the old hag tell Mana that she must be eaten.
I did, however, see them when the old hag had the spear cutting into Mana's throat, and my struggles with the mermaid increased. I'm sure I shouted some profanities or threats at the hag as well. I had after all just found Mana, and was far from willing to have her taken from me so soon.
Just as I chopped the head off the mermaid I was fighting, Mana roared angrily at the hag and tossed her nearly all the way to the water's edge. She yelled that she wasn't going to let someone kill her, she was going to live, damnit!
Did I mention that Mana has a quite a temper sometimes?
I was back on my feet and with the harpoon in my hand, so I stepped in front of Mana just in case the old hag decided to try her luck. She wouldn't take one step before I had her skewered, and I'm sure she knew it. She sat, unmoving and silent for a long while. All that could be heard was the splashing and panting moans of the mermaid beasts right behind her at the water's edge, driven mad by hunger but unable to come to us now that the water was no longer churning so wildly.
The old hag sighed, then told me that it was too late anyway. The mermaids had reverted too far, even if they ate us they would no longer be able to return to human form. I asked her why she had not tried to eat Mana herself when she had the chance, after all, the ones that attacked me in the water had tried to get a chunk out of either of us any way they could.
To my surprise the old wretch told us that she was not a mermaid, but a human turned immortal by eating mermaid's flesh, just like Mana and myself.
If it had shocked me, the rest she told us shocked me more; she had lived in that village for a very long time, since it was the only place she thought someone like her could live. Every once in a while they had stolen a female infant from the villages surrounding their wild expanse, and raised them until they were old enough to be eaten. Only a rare few survived eating the mermaid's flesh, and the ones that turned into lost souls were brought to the caves and left there, as a new child was taken. Because mermaids need to feed upon the flesh of an immortal human to remain able to take human form and retain their youth. She had aided in all this horror, even though it had tortured her soul beyond repair.
And now that the mermaids were once again bound to the sea, she would remain there, alone, to watch over them. Until the end of time.
I took Mana with me and left that wretched place, indeed I don't know if I would have been able to let her go if she had wanted me to. But it didn't matter, she would have insisted I take her with me had I decided not to. And given her nature and my curious inability to truly tell her no, she would have gotten her way.
Through her eyes I am learning to see the world anew. I never noticed all the marvel of it before, but when she turns that wide-eyed green gaze my way and asks questions in wonder over something, I can't help but share it with her. I feel curiously young and hopeful again.
The one allotted to me.
She is young, so very young… I won't pressure her with any of my burgeoning feelings towards her, or the longing sprung from an immortal life in solitude. I'll just be her guide, her guardian and her protector as she discovers herself and the world, and we'll see what happens. Perhaps one day, when she is ready…
Suddenly the thought of seeing how long you can live before getting completely sick of it doesn't seem like such a bad thing anymore.
Not a bad thing at all.
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