A Night of Stars and Oceans – Courtney Mcphail

Thick vine trees suffocate me in my attempt to reach the red lake. Blood starts to pour from my arms as twigs and branches nip at my bare skin. My clothes begin to tear, but despite it, I keep walking. I need to keep my mind focused on the mission. I scarcely catch a breath as I continue to slash my way through. Each hit of a tree branch or vine drowns my mind with words from my father. ‘You can’t do in, Erin,’ his voice snarls in my ear, ‘you’re not strong enough.’ Anger builds as I hear his devilish laughter echo in my ear, only making me whack with more ferocity. For years he has denied me access to his squad, and for what? For being a woman? If only he were here on this adventure with me. Every night since I left, I dream of his face turning sour in defeat. For it was I who had crossed the dangerous mountains and fought through the most hellish of dragons. It was I who had conquered what most of his men could not – reaching the Fountain of Luck.

Getting so lost in thought, I take another step forward and swing my axe. Only this time, the weapon is light in my hand. I watch as it glides through the wind with ease and makes a whooshing sound as it strikes. Catching me off guard, I stumble forward, yet I manage to hold my footing before I tumble over completely. ‘Damn.’ I mutter to myself as I wipe away the dust from my hands. After regaining my balance, I lift my head and immediately gasp at the view in front of me. A great ocean ripples beneath the cliffside. From a distance, the sun is lowering for nightfall. It is unlike anything I had ever seen before, almost serene, magical. I am no longer surrounded by trees, but instead mountains of rocks and water. At last, I can breathe. Edging forward I look down at the shore below where the waves of the sea crashed against the rocks. I am much higher than anticipated, and I gulp thinking about it – I was never good with heights. To the side of me is a stairway that reaches to the shore. However, they blend in well with the surface of the beach. One wrong move could lead to my own plundering death. The sun starts to descend, and an orange glow fawns out. It will be night in a few minutes and from the looks of it, this is, unfortunately, my only way down. Should I wait till the morning? What is one more day after months of travelling? Agreeing with myself, I decide to set camp.

Unlike the rest of the Kingdom, the Red Lake is the deadliest at night. There are reasons why hardly anyone dares to venture out here. Or why whoever does rarely comes back alive. The calm atmosphere and the abandoned lands attract the worst kinds of demons. Father always tells me it is no place for a human, let alone a girl. Cold starts to form, and the air near the Red Lake is sharper than other parts of the Kingdom. It stings like ice all over my body, and I start to shiver. Bringing the leaves into a pile, I begin to create a fire using the fallen branches from the trees. By the time it had ignited, the sun disappears, plundering the world into darkness. I settle beside my campfire and look out from the cliffside. With a deep breath, I let the air fill my lungs and smell the strong scent of the sea. A shooting star passes overhead lighting the skies. For a moment, everything is peaceful, and I smile for the first time in a long time. Maybe, I can spend eternity up here. Maybe, I don’t have to ever go back.

Unfortunately, my thoughts are cut off when I notice the sound of a wolfs howl in the distance. There is a reason why this place is so dangerous. Wolves loved to linger here. Without hesitation, I jump up and clutch the axe to my chest. I am no amateur when it came to fighting a wolf, but neither was I arrogant. I knew they are hard to take down, especially a whole pack of them. As there howls ring out one by one, the more I start to panic that I may now not get out of here alive. This is it. This is the end. A shuffle sounds behind me, and my head turns with a snap. My heart beats ferociously in my chest and ears. How did they get here so quick? I would be lying if I said I weren’t terrified. But I remember what my father said. Fear will only make me sloppy. Clutching the axe even tighter, I prepare myself for the attack. But what steps out of the trees almost makes me drop my weapon.

A woman, no older than me, makes her way out from the shadows. Her blonde hair falls down her shoulders and trails pass her hips. It tangles together in a knot and leaves have embedded their way in. She wears a white dress that only covers her slim body, and I notice a tear across her right shoulder. Her face was soft and young yet covered in dirt, similar to mine. Had she also been travelling alone? I almost feel a little sorry for her until I see the assortment of weapons she carries across her body. My throat goes dry as I stare at the two long swords sat at her hips; two daggers are fitted around her ankles. They are not shiny, so I know they aren’t new, nor does she sell them. So, why does she have so many? A small but pointy blade that twisted like a braid surprises me the most. She holds in her hand like it is her favourite.

She points the knife directly at me that makes the hairs on my arms stand up. The silence is deafening. ‘Give me your camp.’ She demands with authority. Startled, I step back a little and watch as she twists the blade between her hands.

‘This is my camp. You can, of course, have it tomorrow when I leave.’ I reply without trying to stutter. I cannot let her see that I am afraid. Instead of responding, she growls at me. Her bright blue eyes darken, and she swings her hips as she walks towards me. It is hard not to notice the curves that pruned her body to a sharp hourglass figure. It is like the gods themselves crafted her. As she steps forward, she jabs the dagger in the air. I catch the sight of blood that dries the ends, along with the rust on the edges.

Her face contorts into a delightful grin. ‘Well, then, I guess you die.’

I take another step away from her, but lose my footing and almost fall into the ocean behind me. The woman smirks as she watches me, and it’s clear she notices the terror rising through my body. Applauding the fact. She doesn’t say anything as she keeps walking forward. Trying to savour every moment. Desperately, I try to think of a way out of this mess. But unless I jump over the edge, which had a high chance of me dying anyway, there is no way out. I can feel the heart beating in my chest, and my blood running cold through my veins. It is the irony that I am standing in the most dangerous part of the Kingdom and going to die at the hand of theft. As she is about to swing her weapon at me, I notice a long golden arrow tattooed on her left hip. My eyes widen in surprise.

Only legends told stories about them. They were nothing but bedtime stories. Said to live near the red lake protecting the fountain from people who abuse it. But they were never found, never heard of. It can’t be. ‘You’re a mermaid?’ I gasp at my question, and she stops dead in her tracks. I should have known from her sunlight hair and eyes of the ocean. No-one else could ever look that glamourous after travelling.

A smirk rises on her face. ‘So, you know of us? Then you know what we can do when we don’t get what we want.’ Her voice sent chills down my spine, but she was right. Mermaids could do anything they wanted with the sound of a song. Their voices are said to be hypnotising to anyone who listens to them. A single note alone has the power to trap and possess your mind. Again, she was about to lunge at me, but I throw my hands in the air. Her hands feel soft but hold firm against my shoulder. Her knife is mere inches from discovering the insides of my stomach. I can feel it trail against the surface of my skin. ‘I need your help.’ I scream, making her stop above my belly button. Fear takes over me, and my lips quiver.

‘Why should I help you?’ She spits.

Earlier, I discovered the bruises that covered her arms and legs. No matter how hard she tried to cover it up, I also caught sight of the cut across her cheeks. ‘Because I can help you too.’ I say swallowing back tears. She was captured and ran away; she is on the run from somebody. It is why she wanted this camp.

‘I don’t need your help.’ She turns away from me, almost as if she is embarrassed by my accusation. Mermaids were elegant people who danced with the waves of the oceans. They are made from beauty and grace, yet she had turned sour from what the world has thrown her. After the knife pulled away from me, I coughed out a lump in my throat.

‘Well them bruises don’t seem like it.’ My voice cracked, and I pressed a hand against her back. ‘Help me, and I will help with whoever hurt you.’ She doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Instead, she keeps her eyes on the dagger, most likely contemplating whether she still wanted to use it on me or not. But to my surprise, she shoved me off, and she turns around, her eyes staring back into mine. ‘What do you want?’ Her voice is softer than before.

I sigh in relief. ‘To get to the fountain of luck.’

At my answer, she laughs and rolls her eyes. ‘Of course, I should’ve known. What is it for? Fame? Wealth?’ She looks at me with like any ordinary person wanting power. But I don’t want what most people want. All I desire is freedom. Freedom to be me without the fear of being judged by those I love most.

‘Freedom.’ I say, which stops her laughter. She stays silent, not daring to pry into anything else. I’m thankful for her decision.

‘I’ll help you.’ She says after a few moments of silence. ‘But if you lie about your promise to help me, then I’ll chop you into little pieces and feed them to the fish.’ I gulp at her words but even so, nod in agreement. She sits, crossed-legged on the ground, and a flush of exhaustion flashes across her face. I start to wonder how long she’s been running for but deem it unwise to ask her. As much as she didn’t pry into my life, I won’t pry into hers. Besides, after tomorrow morning, I’d forget she ever existed.

As she sat, looking at the sky, I decide to follow her lead. I sit beside her with my legs dangling over the edge of the cliff. We watch as the stars pass us by and the boats drift in the middle of the sea. I begin to imagine where the ships were going. To a new life? Visiting friends? Fleeing from their home like the mermaid and I was. It is a fact that this world is far more wicked than good. Everyone is trying to escape from it. My eyes glance to the woman beside me, and I look at her with longing. With all the Stars and Oceans that the world had to offer, she is the most beautiful. ‘What’s your name?’ I ask.

‘Myra.’

‘Erin.’

We sit in tranquillity for a while. There is something strangely comforting about having a mermaid, who tried to kill me no less than ten minutes ago, sit beside me and just watch the world. Finally, I have someone as damaged as I. But my moment is up when another wolf howls out. This time far closer than I would’ve liked. Like a shot, I stand. Myra follows my lead. Goosebumps form down my arms, sending a cold chill down the rest of my body ‘What’s that?’ Myra asks. She clutches her dagger close to her chest for protection. Before I can answer her, a low menacing growl stiffens the wind, silencing me. Every part of my body stands on edge. It doesn’t take me long to notice the great, big, pair of green eyes staring at me between the darkest legs of the trees.

All at once, the pack come storming out from the woods. ‘Wolf!’ I scream in panic and get ready for their attack. They run at us with fatal intentions, each one baring and snapping their jaws. Saliva pours from their chins. My stomach twist when I realise that their great fangs could slice my skin in seconds. I look toward Myra, who no longer has her dagger but is now whipping out one of her swords. It makes a ringing sound as she unsheathes it and without delay, swings it fiercely at the wolf. It yelps out and falls to the side. At this moment, I am pathetic alongside her. Without warning, a wolf jumps out at me. Its great grey claws try to lodge themselves into my shoulder. With a spark of luck, I dodge out of the way, and it runs straight over the cliff.

‘Could I get one of those?’ I breathe.

Myra smirks in amusement but throws me her second sword. I catch in with success and whisk it through the wind. ‘What do they want?’ She yells at me.

‘To eat us.’ I know I am sarcastic as I could hear the eyes on Myra as they rolled. But what else does a wolf want when they attack you? Ignoring me, she slashes her way through to survival. I follow her lead, feeling mighty with the sword in hand. No wonder Myra carries so many. Yet, my arrogance gets the best of me, and I miss as a wolf pounces, yet again. This time it manages to grip on. A searing pain spreads through my body like lightning bolts as its teeth sinks into my shoulder. I scream out, begging for Myra’s help. The pain radiates through my body that I thought I was going to pass out. Blood poured from the open wounds. In a desperate attempt, I try to force the wolf off of me, but nothing works as the claws buried deep into my skin. In tries to go in for another bite, but a sword manages to knock him clean off me. Blood pours onto my face and chest. I stare in surprise, only then so I see Myra standing exhausted and covered in scratch marks. Her dress turned from a bright white to a dark crimson red.

My breath was quick and in small bursts. The woman that was going to end my life had now saved it. I look at her, her eyes twinkle in the moonlight. She smiles like she is proud of herself and offered out a hand for me to take. I take it with thanks.

‘Maybe you do need my help.’ She laughs as I wipe the mess from my face.

Did you enjoy this short story? Do you want to feature one on my blog? Email me at hiitscourtneyx@gmail.com or twitter dm at @hiitscourtneyx

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