“I can’t recall you ever seeking wisdom above the seas before now, Poseidon.” Atlas refills his goblet for the umpteenth time, lifting it in a mock toast.
We are already partway through our second barrel. “I’ve not felt like this before.”
“Ah!” Atlas scowls. “Feelings? Pah! You gods live too long, you know? We all do. If you’d just left us Titans to it, this world and everything in it would be finished by now.”
“And we would live…?” I raise a brow at him, trying not to slur.
“In Elysium, lad. Green fields, endless lakes and nymphs a-frolicking. Ah! I miss the nymphs!” he sighs and the spheres on his shoulders shift slightly.
I flick my fingers, ensuring the clouds cause no more weather than they ought. I have to admit, Elysium sounds more tempting than the bed of Aphrodite right now.
“Is there anything I can do to help you, Atlas?” I ask.
I doubt any other god has ever asked him this, but I understand something about standing alone and holding a realm in your hands. It is my lot to do so, as it is with Atlas, regardless of how we may feel about anything else going on in our lives.
“Nay, lad.” Atlas shakes his head as I automatically lift my palm to steady the spheres. Far beneath the earth, I feel a shift. A slight tremor; not enough to quake (We do hold it all together you know. It isn’t easy and sometimes you mortals are not grateful enough.).
Atlas is recapping the events that led me here. “So your kid nabbed your consort and locked her in ice for – how long?”
“A thousand years,” I sigh, refilling my goblet. Every time I think about it, I drink another.
“And you’re not sure why she’s pissed off?” Atlas shakes his head. “I wish I knew how you bastards won the war. No way an Olympian outsmarted a Titan. Well, maybe Hermes. That bastard!” He shivers with laughter and the ground beneath my feet rumbles.
“Well, when you say it like that,” I stamp, once and settle the plates back in place. Not today, Uncle Atlas. Not today. Of course, I know why she’s so pissed. I let her down. Then I was so worried about the Pearl that I – my goblet smashes to the ground and I fall to my knees again.
This! Again, this! Arrrggghhh!
“Ahhh!” I yell, hands over my ears in a useless attempt to block out a sound only I can hear anyway. Only I am ever meant to hear.
For the first time, my titanic Uncle sounds genuinely concerned. “What?” he shouts. “Poseidon, what is it? Tell me quick, lad, it’s not like I can put these things down.” He groans, shifts his weight and tries to move to help, and I feel the mountain heave.
The ground shudders beneath us. “Atlas, no!” I gasp out, hands over my ears. The rumbling grows louder, then stills as something tints the horizon. Smoke, a flare, but I caught it in time. Or Hephaestus did. I owe him a drink.
“It’s…” I gasp, “…the Pearl.” Without waiting for a response, I step onto Atlas’s titanic shoulders and dive back beneath the waves, my mertail forming as I hit the water, some thousands of feet below us. The Pearl is calling; screaming actually, and we are, it seems, out of time. Again.
When I reach the OA building, I stomp directly to the elevators, brine pooling in my wake. I pay zero attention to anyone else, much less the mortal floor swabbers as I enter my suite.
I know what the scream means. The Pearl is hatching. The pearl; the Meregg. The shell that protects my son – and right now, my prince is being born.
Adrenalin courses through me as I know true fear. Is this what it feels like to be mortal? I wonder briefly. I pity you all the more in this moment than I ever have as I skid to a halt, my mind running through desperate scenarios.
“Asclepius!” I shout. “Asclepius, I need you!” It’s all I can think of to do. I’ve no idea if the god of healing can actually help. He likely knows little about Mer health. The Mer are my creatures and their secrets are too well kept from mortals and gods alike. The other problem is, of course, that none of the gods have seen Apollo’s son for centuries. Not since the last smallpox outbreak, although I heard he’d taken work at a cancer research facility.
When a Mer is born, the first thing the babe needs is pearlessence from a mermaid’s breasts. How I will deliver this without Amph I do not know, but I must try. I must! I will not let my son die. Mer are not immortal and they are most certainly in danger when first born. They also need infusions of my blood to survive the first few days. This might keep the baby alive even without Amph’s mermilk. I must be there. I must do all I can. My heir must live, even without my Queen. I will not lose them both. Not again. Not now. Not ever.
I snatch up my scaling knife and tear open the flesh of my arm, swearing at the pain. I catch my blood in a dish and clumsily hold a towel over the throbbing skin. Carrying the bowl to the octopus tank, I barely remember to call my sea creatures, who all seem to be yelling as I reach the far tank. They’re making a hell of a racket, come to that, all calling so loudly and so insistently that I cannot understand what they’re trying to tell me.
“Lord, Lord, LORD!”
I raise my arms, misunderstanding. “What is it, children? I had to cut myself, you see. I had to…the Pearl, the Pearl needs my blood to survi…” I stop, freezing in place and a dolphin squeal almost brings me to my knees again.
Delphine is crying. The octopus I’d tasked with protecting my Pearl is crying, and at last, I can see why.
I stare at the clamshell in which I’d concealed the Meregg.
“Open,” I command but my voice is a whisper.
The clamshell creaks slowly agape.
I do not even have the wherewithal to swear. Where there should be a great glistening whiteness, with cracks forming steadily across the surface and my emerging heir, there is nothing.
I am too late. The clam is empty.
My Pearl is gone.