Content Warning: Cannibalism and Gore
When next I woke, I opened my eyes to a world of black water, cold as the North Sea. I could feel the currents stirring against my face, saw my hair floating in front of my eyes. I coughed and watched tiny bubbles rise in front of me, shiny as a school of fish. Whatever they had glued to my face had fallen off, but there hadn’t been much air left in my lungs to begin with.
Underwater, then. But where? The whole world seemed to thrum slightly, just on the edge of hearing. I tried to follow the bubbles, but met resistance almost immediately—heavy shackles around my hands and ankles. Through the faint light from above, I could just make out a huge piece of ship’s anchor chain surrounding me on the floor of whatever this place was, with links as thick as my wrist chaining me to it.
Suddenly, I was bathing in light as well as water. I squinted against the harsh blue-white burning and began to curse. Someone was chained down here with me. Someone with dark russet hair swaying in the water currents, and curled horns shining like polished bronze. There was a steady stream of bubbles rising past his head, and something was covering his mouth. I think it was called a scuba mask.
I jerked against the chains and swore. He looked unconscious, but the bubbles showed he was breathing. Stay with me, love, I prayed. I’ll get us out of here soon.
A shadow pierced the light, plunging my side of the pool into welcome darkness. I looked up, eyes blazing. As I watched, the shadow shifted, losing the smooth round shape of the head and letting long, arcing horns become visible. One of the Dactyloi, then. They all had horns like Saharan oryxes, rather than the curled ram’s horns or goat’s horns of the Pack.
“Let him go!” I screamed. Whorls of water swirled in response, silent. I yanked against the chains again, felt them move the tiniest fraction of an inch.
The silhouette disappeared, leaving me squinting in the painful light. Two large splashes turned the shimmering surface of the water into infinite circles and drops of light, shattering against stygian darkness. I pulled against the chains again as one of the divers turned to face me, pulling Connor’s head back by the hair and holding a wicked looking kukri against his throat. The message was clear—stay still, or he would slit Connor’s throat.
I subsided, seething. It was damned clever of them. I had to give them that. Underwater, I couldn’t get a breath to use against them, and even I wasn’t sure if Connor could survive drowning this soon after taking his draught of ambrosia, let alone having his throat slit. I had told him that he could survive anything save being bled out, and holding someone underwater and cutting their throat was a fast way to bleed them dry. I leaned back against the chains and tried to look dignified, which is hard to do when your hair is floating around like seaweed in a tide pool. Loosed from his bonds, he hung limply in the water. I was still mostly blind from the light, but I didn’t see any telltale ruby streaks. The diver turned to me and held up a finger, then pointed at the floor of the tank. I nodded, not moving from my ever-so-comfortable lump of rusty chain.
They each grabbed Connor by the arm and pushed off the floor of the tank, dragging him upwards. I watched them haul him up and over the side of the tank, and then he was gone.
The surface stilled, but I felt water start to swirl around my feet, cold enough to burn. The wall I was leaning against became painfully icy as well, and I began to panic a little. The surface seemed to be getting closer the colder the water got. I felt my body get weaker, but I focused all my energy on keeping myself awake and ready to look for a way out of this mess.
After what seemed like an eternity, the water level lowered to the point where I could get my face into the frigid air of the tank and start to cough the briny mess out of my lungs. A Siberian blast stung my face, too cold to breathe easily. I hacked and spat, trying to both clear my lungs and get my hair out of my face. The air was so frigid that my breath froze on my lips, and even the water coming out of my lungs turned chilly on my skin within a second. It was getting hard to keep my eyes open. My pretty silk wraps clung to my skin, frosted over, crackling with every breath and feeble movement.
An enormous thud made me jerk my head up, wincing as the movement broke apart skin that had frozen to itself. One of the Dactyloi had joined me in this frozen hell, swathed in an enormous fluffy coat that smelled strongly of hot metal and bear fur. His horns gleamed in the frosty air, but his skin was tan and warm, not the frostbitten pale pink of mine. He steamed at me for a minute before speaking while the water drained down further.
“Ah, I see you are finally capable of speech again. Before you do something oh-so-noble and stupid, like try to attack me, I’m going to let you know that you are in the belly of a salvage boat, and with a snap of my fingers, the floor will open, and you will plunge into the depths of the ocean before you can even draw a breath. Do I have your attention?”
“Yes,” I rasped. “What in the nether hells do you want from me? Is Connor okay?”
“That is entirely up to him. He is alive. How long that state of affairs continues will be determined by what happens when he wakes up. As to what I want from you, I’m surprised you have to ask.”
“I can’t bring her back,” I said, throat burning from the cold and the salt water. “No one can bring back the dead. Not even my ambrosia.”
“Oh, you misunderstand. I know she can’t come back, nor can my brothers. If it were up to me, I’d keep you frozen in ice until we could sail to the Mariana Trench, then I would drop you in with great pleasure and delight, but I’ve been outvoted. We, that is, my remaining brothers and sisters, want our mother’s ashes.”
I blinked at him. “You brought me all the way around the world, tortured my lover, and froze me half to death over a bag of ashes that I would have been happy to hand over as soon as you returned Connor? Have you lost your mind?”
“Do you want to see me lose my mind?” He leaned in close, close enough that his breath was warm on my face. His eyes were the color of molten gold, and I could see veins pulsing under his skin. His face shimmered, taking on the feral, angular features of the oryx his horns resembled, except with a mouthful of jagged fangs and a way-too-wide smile. He shrugged off the coat, and I watched his muscles bubble under the skin as he shifted to his full proto-satyr form. “Sometimes, the ladies like a little bloodsport before the evening’s entertainment.”
His trousers ripped under the pressure of the shapeshifting, and I looked away. There’s a reason full-blood satyrs rarely bed humans while in their wild form, and all fourteen inches of it was far too close for my comfort. “I’ve been a gentleman so far, but if you want to take things to the next level, I’ll certainly oblige you. It’s been a very rough few days. I could do with blowing off some…steam.”
“I think not,” I said, trying to pull back as far as the chains would allow, which wasn’t nearly enough. “I’ll give you the ashes after you take me and Connor back to a place of safety. I would have given them to you in Gujurat if I had known that was what you wanted. We didn’t need to go through all this. All I want is Connor safe and sound. You can have them.”
He grabbed me by the chin and forced me to meet his gaze. “And I want to send you back to Olympus in as much pain as you have caused me and my siblings.” His hand burned against my chilled skin, hot as the metal that flowed along his veins. “I can see what your little buckling sees in you. You’re rather attractive, in a shy kind of way.”
“Acmon! Get control of yourself! And put that coat back on, you beast.” A welcome voice of reason echoed through the tank, and I dared to breathe.
“Acmon, hmm? The Anvil, isn’t it? Didn’t you follow Dionysus off into the East somewhere? That explains a lot. Bet you were popular with the Maenads, big boy like you.”
Acmon growled at me, and I stopped. As he opened his mouth to say something, the boat rocked wildly, and he had to scramble for balance. Hooves don’t grip well on steel plates, especially when the owner is knee-deep in water. The rocking motion seemed to have triggered something, as the water level dropped rapidly.
“Acmon! Release her chains at once! She’s already agreed to give us the ashes, and we need your help!” The voice from beyond the confines of the tank sounded upset, and I felt a surge of hope.
I heard the impact this time. Something was doing a very good impression of a battering ram. The entire ship rocked again, and I lifted my hands.
“Let me go, and I can calm him down, but I’m no good here in freezing water, and you don’t want to know what he will do if I scream for him. Let me go, and we all walk out of this alive.” I met those mad eyes again, and this time I didn’t look away.
A third impact, and he slid again, but managed to keep his balance. He grabbed his coat, snarling as he reached into the pockets and clicked something. He shrugged the coat on as the chains slipped away from me.
“Now get me out of here before he puts a hole in the hull trying to get to me, there’s a good lad.”
Acmon snarled, mouth still full of pointed teeth, but grabbed me by the waist and bent his bandied knees, leaping out of the tank and landing on the deck plates of the ship just as the ship rocked again.
I stumbled as he dropped me, but managed to catch myself against the tank wall. I had always wondered what physiological changes would happen when you gave a mortal satyr enough ambrosia to turn him immortal. Connor had always been big for a satyr, but I had never seen him in his wild form. It seemed like a good time to remedy that.
“Sealgairean fiadhaich, dhòmhsa!” echoed through the hull, and I smirked. Wild Hunters, to me!
“Boy, you are in for a world of hurt. Take me to him, and I might just be able to calm him down enough to keep him from ripping your heart out and eating it like a ripe peach.”
“We are not mindless beasts,” Acmon began, but then whipped his head around when the screaming started. Someone was calling out for him, but the scream ended in a nasty bubbling noise. My smile got wider as he began to visibly panic.
“No, you’re not, but you’re Greek satyrs. You’ve gone soft from thousands of years of blending in with humans. Connor is a Celtic satyr, and they are from a place where everything is trying to kill them, up to, including, and especially each other. They are a lot closer to their bestial side, especially when threatened or stressed.”
Acmon looked torn for a moment, but another reverberating thud rang through the hull, and he started to run through the empty cargo bay of the ship, dragging me along.
“A mhic an damnaidh, Iutharnaich riabhaich mhic na galla, bidh do chridhe air a mhilleadh le lasraichean!” I yelled, one of my favorite Gaelic curses, most appropriate for the mood. O son of damnation, brindled hell-dwelling son of a bitch, may your heart be devoured by flames.
I tried to jerk my arm free, but I was still somewhat recovering from being nearly frozen.
“HESTIA!” I heard Connor bellow, and I started to laugh.
“You don’t know it yet, Acmon, but you’re already dead. You just haven’t stopped moving yet.”
Acmon hurtled over the high threshold of one of the ship’s doors, slamming me painfully into the bulkhead, and skidded to a stop. You’ve heard the phrase “blood on the ceilings” before? That’s a Friday night after the pubs close for my Pack.
Connor was standing in the midst of bloody heaps that could barely be recognized as two halves of what had previously been humanoid. He had gone full Wild Hunt on Acmon’s brothers, and my toned and athletic rugby player was a mountain of muscle and rage, standing eight feet tall with a goat’s face and shoulders like a bull. His knees had snapped backwards, and the dark fur covering his legs down to the cloven hooves was matted with viscera and blood. The other two Dactyloi’s broken horns were jammed through what was left of their bodies, pinning the gutted corpse of the one not ripped in half to the internal bulkhead. Gore dripped from Connor’s jaws as he savaged the heart of one of them, ripping it to shreds with sharp fangs and wicked talons. He gulped down a chunk of the muscle, then raised it over his head and squeezed it like I would a lemon over a salmon filet. Blood spurted and dripped into his open mouth, and he growled in pleasure.
How does one say, “May your heart be eaten by satyrs” in Gaelic, I wonder?