By Beka Gremikova
Diving for corpses was not Belyan’s ideal profession, but someone had to do it. She shivered as cold, merciless currents swept past, dragging snarls of seaweed and chipped clamshells along with them.
Before her, two gleaming shapes curled through the water, light glowing from their sleek bodies. The presence of Ursu and Laur, her Glowing Dragons, helped keep her sane during these missions at least. Drawing even with them, she ran her fingers across their smooth scales. The dragons let out high, echoing clicks, and one turned to nuzzle her. Their large, agile forms cut through the buffeting currents, carrying her toward their quarry.
Jutting like a rock from the sandy seafloor sat a ship, its mast snapped, its sails torn and dangling. Ursu’s frilled crest flared, and she surged forward. Belyan clung to Laur as another current blasted her, letting him pull her closer to the ruined boat and the dark potential within.
Please, find my brother. Ki Garyi, prince of Tangaur, had hired her to search for his younger brother in the wreckage. In return, he’d look for her sister Linyi, who’d left the ocean and disappeared on land three months ago.
Belyan had heard rumors of Ki Garyi’s wild, siren-charming brother—master of a coastal palace that housed many parties. Still she hoped, for Ki Garyi’s sake, that she would find no trace of the prince. That he would end up alive somewhere, sleeping off a wild night.
As they drew near, Laur let out a distressed hiss. Belyan rubbed his head, trying to soothe his nerves. Unlike Ursu, who seemed to enjoy sniffing out corpses, Laur reflected Belyan’s own mood. She pressed her cheek against his neck. “It’s all right, boy,” she murmured.
The ship, a Tangauryan pleasure boat, had been embraced by clinging algae. Colorful fish flitted about the shadows, while vibrant sea flowers fluttered in the currents. It looked like the kind of place Linyi would have turned into a garden.
Linyi, with her blue-streaked black hair, wide, smiling lips, and glittering dark eyes. A mirror of Belyan herself. Belyan’s fingers clenched. Why did Linyi have to leave? She’d asked herself that question so many times. Linyi had confessed to Belyan that she’d fallen in love with a man while rescuing him during the first storm of the season.
But leaving her entire family to turn human? As if being a mermaid, and Belyan’s twin sister, hadn’t been good enough.
Anger set Belyan’s scales to sparking, and Laur shied.
Belyan patted his head again and shook herself. She needed to control her emotions and get this job done. Drifting away from Laur, she followed Ursu, who already skimmed the deck toward the cabin hall. At the doorway, Belyan hesitated, gut clenching as she peered into the narrow, twisting hallway. Laur gently nudged her back.
You can do this. She plunged after Ursu, Laur at her tail.
The hallways curved, cavernous and dark. Though Belyan’s eyes adjusted, her mind couldn’t adapt to the tight space. Why would Linyi leave open ocean to cram herself into human boats and houses? Belyan’s limbs shivered with sudden panic.
Ahead stood a door. She grabbed the handle, thankful it hadn’t rusted closed, and burst into a large, grotto-like room. The tension in her limbs eased, her mind clearing. Her gaze caught on a crab scuttling across the floor, its pincers waving. She traced its path to—
She froze, fins shriveling, scales sparking in horror.
Ten bodies lay scattered across the chamber, bloated and waterlogged. Fish nibbled at their fine pants and decorative wraps. Her fingers curled against Laur’s side as Ursu slithered into the chamber behind them.
Slowly, the initial shock faded. Belyan crept deeper into the chamber. With her dragons’ help, she could bring resolution to many Tanguaryan families affected by this shipwreck. And perhaps find resolution for her own family—if Ki Garyi had managed to find Linyi and convince her to return home.
Belyan approached the first body. “Laur, Ursu—kitur.”
The dragons surrounded the corpse, pressing their scales against the nobleman. Their kitur, the specialized magic found in each sea creature, pulsed through their bodies, seeping into the dead man. As Belyan watched, his bloated features transformed, restored to how he’d looked in life: smooth, dark skin, bright eyes, thick black curls.
Her heart sank. She recognized those features.
Ki Garyi had been right. This was his brother’s ship. Her tail curled. Hopefully, Ki Garyi wouldn’t retaliate against a bearer of bad news.
She moved to the next corpse—a woman swathed in a once-fine crimson wrap. While Ursu kept Ki Garyi’s brother wrapped in her kitur, Laur dragged his scales along the woman’s limbs.
Once again, the magic thrummed, restoring, revealing…
Long black hair glinting with blue streaks. Large, glittering dark eyes. A wide, full mouth.
Belyan’s fins shriveled. Her head spun, and the chamber seemed to close in like a mass of sharks.
Only Laur’s snout, suddenly pressed against her forehead, kept her steady. She buried her fingers in his frilled mane, unable to speak.
Linyi. Oh, Linyi! She stared at the feet poking out from her sister’s dress. Was turning human worth dying as one? Her stomach twisted, and she gritted her teeth. Was it worth abandoning your family, leaving us for some—
Ursu prodded Belyan gently. Belyan blinked, drawn back into the moment. Both her dragons watched her, awaiting her next command.
She sucked in a breath. She couldn’t do any more for Linyi, couldn’t change the currents of her choices. But above, a young man still yearned for resolution, for an ending to his quest. No matter what that ending might be.
She smoothed down her scales. She would return to gather the other bodies and bury her sister in the quiet gloom while her Glowing Dragons sang mourning songs over the grave.
For now, Belyan would offer Ki Garyi what comfort she could. Together with Ursu and Laur, she left the shimmering shipwreck to the mercy of the currents.