Free Fiction: The City At The Bottom Of The Lake

Kenia splashed eager­ly into the lake’s small waves, laugh­ing. She adored the water, and often told her men­tor she should have been born a mer rather than an elf. The tat­toos run­ning around her ankles and calves flashed with each lick of the water. They sent tin­gles of antic­i­pa­tion up her legs. 

”Come on, slow­pokes,” she teased. 

Mhyrre had lagged behind at the tree­line. The blue stones around her neck indi­cat­ed her fem­i­nine gen­der today and she fid­dled with them as Tyrael took their sweet time about stash­ing every­one’s cloth­ing in a bowl of smooth rocks. 

Kenia had sim­ply thrown her light sun dress on the beach some­where. She’d find it again after the swim. Neither Tyrael or Mhyrre took the chance a stray gust of wind could steal their covering.

Mhyrre called, ”Don’t go too far out, Kenia.”

”We’re going to go a lot far­ther than that,” said Tyrael. ”You don’t have to come.”

Mhyrre dropped her hand from the string of blue stones and said firm­ly, ”I’m coming.”

Kenia kicked glit­ter­ing water up the beach. ”You don’t believe me, it’s fine. I don’t mind.” And she did­n’t. Most of the clan did­n’t believe her. It just meant she could keep them all to herself.

”I believe you,” Mhyrre said uncon­vinc­ing­ly. ”I just… want to see for myself.”

”Come on, then.” Tyrael hooked Mhyrre’s bare arm with theirs and marched them both toward the water’s edge. Mhyrre went along with only a lit­tle hesitation.

Neither Tyrael’s nor Mhyrre’s tat­toos flashed in the water. Of the three of them, only Kenia had spe­cial­ized in ele­men­tal forces, and she was con­stant­ly abuzz with the pow­er around her. The lake held more than pow­er, though. She waved her friends clos­er. With the lake water around their knees, Kenia put her hands on Tyrael and Mhyrre’s shoul­ders and closed her eyes. Water imme­di­ate­ly began to churn around them. Kenia felt the mag­ic in the ebb and flow of the lake abut­ting the walls of her men­tal self. The loom­ing gate set with­in her walls cracked open less than an inch, and the mag­ic rushed in.

Kenia tight­ened her grip on her friends when they gasped. All three of them began to tin­gle and glow. Bones shift­ed and fused. Skin stretched. Their tat­toos mor­phed. Everything changed from head to toe, and then sud­den­ly all three of them fell apart into the shal­low water. 

Kenia rolled on the smooth stones and kicked deep­er. She’d done this so many times before that her new form was as famil­iar as her old one, and she stretched new mus­cles in the wel­com­ing water with­out fear. 

Mhyrre, on the oth­er hand, splashed in the shal­lows. Her hands moved quick­ly from her eyes, to her mouth, to her neck where new gill slits flexed and opened as she breathed. Her tor­so had elon­gat­ed, her legs fused and become flat. Her tat­toos were now dark stripes of ink across her body and she wig­gled a broad, trans­par­ent tail inef­fec­tu­al­ly at the sur­face of the water.

Tyrael wig­gled with more pur­pose. Their mouth gaped as they test­ed breath­ing under the water and found it worked. They ran their hands down their bel­ly, where a new set of mus­cles lead to a pow­er­ful fluked tail. Their tat­toos had blend­ed into a large patch of black stretch­ing from tail to arms across their back.

There was a huge vari­a­tion between the three of them. Mhyrre’s form resem­bled that of an eel, while Tyreal was more dol­phin. Kenia kicked a long-finned tail that remind­ed her of a shark. She’d seen sim­i­lar vari­a­tion down in the lake-bottom.

Tyrael was first to make it out of the shal­lows, and swam pur­pose­ful­ly in Kenia’s direc­tion. Stopping turned out to be hard­er. Their hands flailed as they failed to steer, col­lid­ing with Kenia in a rolling pile of con­fused mus­cles. Kenia grabbed Tyrael by the hips and spun them both around, laugh­ing. Once ori­ent­ed, she signed, It’s awk­ward at first, don’t wor­ry about it.

A frus­trat­ed hiss burst from Mhyrre, still stuck in the shal­low water, fol­lowed by a string of unin­tel­li­gi­ble speech. Probably curs­es. The air lan­guages did­n’t trans­late well to water.

Kenia kicked her­self clos­er and grabbed Mhyrre’s hands. She point­ed her deep­er, then tapped Mhyrre’s hips. Mhyrre tried to kick like a dol­phin, but her tail was­n’t fluked, it was ver­ti­cal. She did­n’t get anywhere. 

Look, look, Kenia signed to her, then point­ed at her own hips. She swayed side to side, as if she were danc­ing and her shark tail pushed along, more by instinct than design. 

Mhyrre swayed. Her broad, trans­par­ent fins rip­pled in the water and she was pro­pelled for­ward sud­den­ly. She signed her excite­ment back at Kenia. Then Tyrael grabbed Mhyrre’s hands and they both signed at each oth­er too quick­ly for Kenia to follow. 

The lake sur­face lapped above their heads, glit­ter­ing and bright in the sun, spot­ting their trans­formed skins with glow­ing lines—a reverse of their tat­toos. Kenia knew those reflec­tive lines would fade the deep­er into the lake they swam. 

She urged both of her friends along. Her mag­ic was strong, but there was a lim­it to these new forms and Kenia did­n’t want to waste any more time. Mhyrre quick­ly got the hang of her sin­u­ous tail and the three of them swam togeth­er in the warm waters. The lake was broad. Kenia had nev­er been all the way around, nor had she ever found the bot­tom. It did­n’t sur­prise her at all that an entire city lay in these depths.

Kenia led her friends deep­er. The bot­tom of the lake dropped away below them, plung­ing like a cliff­side into dark­ness. The water cooled. When the lake­weed came into view, Kenia made a sharp left turn and plunged even deep­er. Mhyrre touched her shoul­der and signed, Can you make a light?

She could, but it would short­en their time in these shift­ed forms. You won’t need one. I promise. She signed back. Then she took Mhyrre’s hand in hers and swam into the depths.

The sun­light col­lapsed, first fad­ing from their skin, then danc­ing over­head as if to call them back to the sur­face. Kenia ignored the temp­ta­tion and forged onward. The dark­ness enveloped them, but for Kenia it was a sign of progress. They were almost there.

In the dis­tance, soft green and blue light out­lined the ragged arc of stone. Kenia reori­ent­ed toward it, and kicked her tail hard­er. She angled under the arc. This was the first time Myhrre and Tyrael would see the city and she want­ed to give them the best pos­si­ble first impres­sion. The lights bright­ened and sep­a­rat­ed, danc­ing in the water. Melodic voic­es echoed over the ridge. The lights had been sta­tion­ary when Kenia vis­it­ed before, illu­mi­nat­ing columns and struc­tures care­ful­ly cul­ti­vat­ed out of the lake’s slow-grow­ing coral. But some of the lights had been cap­tured in air­sacs and tied like glow­ing bal­loons where con­ve­nient. Were they being moved now? Had they arrived dur­ing a celebration?

Spurred by the activ­i­ty, Kenia released her friends’ hands and swam to the top of the rise in a burst of excite­ment. She froze at the peak, her joy sud­den­ly rot­ten. The danc­ing lights weren’t a cel­e­bra­tion, and the voic­es weren’t singing. 

They were screaming. 

Arches and pil­lars of coral, grown metic­u­lous­ly over decades, were crum­bling and falling to the lake bed. Mer swam fran­ti­cal­ly about the city, weapons in hand that Kenia had nev­er seen before. A bolt of green ener­gy flashed over­head and Kenia ducked clos­er to the rock face. Alarmed, she sought to make sense of the chaos that had enveloped the city. A coral struc­ture crum­bled and Kenia spot­ted sev­er­al ten­ta­cles writhing in the dust. Mer rushed to the area, cast­ing mag­ic and tri­dents into the mass, scream­ing in their melod­ic lan­guage dis­cor­dant fury. 

Mhyrre and Tyrael crept up the rock and set­tled beside her, their eyes wide and afraid. Kenia winced. They’re being attacked, she signed. Then point­ed to anoth­er crum­bling struc­ture. A dark crea­ture wrapped sev­er­al arms around the pil­lars and arch­es of coral. It was twice as large as the mer swim­ming around it, and had more dark ten­ta­cle arms than an octo­pus. Several faint­ly glow­ing swirls across its body throbbed and the coral it con­sumed crum­bled to dust.

And there were dozens of the beasts, mov­ing inex­orably from struc­ture to struc­ture while the mer fran­ti­cal­ly defend­ed their home. 

When the coral struc­ture was noth­ing but sand, the inky ten­ta­cles lashed through the sur­round­ing water. They stirred up mud and debris. One meaty arm crashed into a mer and reflex­ive­ly coiled around him, squeez­ing. Kenia could­n’t sep­a­rate his scream from the oth­er sounds of chaos, but the mer writhed and the water around him quick­ly frothed with his blood. Just as sud­den­ly, he stopped strug­gling and the ten­ta­cle released his body to float where the cur­rents willed. 

Tyrael grabbed Kenia’s shoul­der and signed rough­ly, We need to go.

Kenia shook her head, but Mhyrre’s pale and queasy-green face made her pause. She had­n’t brought her friends down here to fight a bat­tle, and what good would the three of them do any­way? Kenia could­n’t cast any fur­ther mag­ic, Mhyrre’s expe­ri­ence lay with bows and arrows, and Tyrael had more skill with wheat than war­fare. What did she think she was going to accomplish?

Kenia’s heart ached as she turned her back on the mer city, but it was the right choice. They had­n’t been spot­ted by those dark, ten­ta­cled crea­tures, and if the mers were unable to fight them off, the three of them had no chance. Kenia kicked her tail faster. Now that her friends had seen the mer city, though, she could ask the coun­cil for help. More elves could come next time. Elves with water and weapons mag­ics. Elves that could dri­ve off the invad­ing crea­tures and maybe save some of the mers. But only if they hurried. 

Kenia dart­ed back through the coral arch ahead of her friends only to stall abrupt­ly at the edge of a rock for­ma­tion. Just ahead, one of the dark ten­ta­cle beasts was crawl­ing slow­ly along the lakebed. It reached sev­er­al ten­ta­cles for­ward, feel­ing into crevaces and gaps, prob­ing cor­ners and slid­ing into the sand. It’s bul­bous body crept after, the glow­ing swirls puls­ing faint­ly. Kenia could see no eyes or breath­ing vents. Just a black blob with near­ly thir­ty arms, some of them longer than she was.

Tyrael and Mhyrre caught up with her. Kenia stuck her arm out to stop them and point­ed. They need­ed to go around if they were going to avoid the beast. No one argued the point. Kenia led the way back through the rocks, hes­i­tant to angle too far up and expose her­self. There were ways oth­er than eyes for sea crea­tures to detect liv­ing things and Kenia did­n’t know any­thing about these mon­sters. She used a growth of young weed to cov­er their escape. They were near­ly free.

Something snagged Kenia’s shark-tail. She whipped around, scared and ready to fight, but it was Mhyrre. She signed fran­ti­cal­ly, point­ing down into the lake weeds. Look, it’s one of them! I think she’s alive?

How Mhyrre had caught sight of the stunned mer on the lakebed, Kenia did­n’t know. Her bright lion­fish col­ors were obscured by the weed and she lay too still. Kenia approached slow­ly. If the beasts attack­ing the city were near here, she did­n’t want to be caught. Mhyrre and Tyrael might be able to escape, but Kenia did­n’t know how long their mer forms would last with­out her.

They saw no sign of dan­ger, though, and when Kenia reached the lake bed she gasped. She knew this mer. Her brow was stud­ded with lion­fish spines and her large eyes blinked from the sides. Kenia touched the wom­an’s shoul­der and saw those glassy eyes try to focus, then the spines on her brow came togeth­er as she fur­rowed it. Her mouth gaped, but she sang no song. One long-fin­gered hand, tipped in dark black nails, and webbed between the joints with gos­samer silk, rose up to her throat, where an ugly line of red had been pressed into her skin. A ten­ta­cle had been wrapped there. She had been left for dead.

Lord Dione, what is hap­pen­ing? What are those things?

The mer-wom­an’s hands drift­ed slow­ly togeth­er and she pieced her reply with sim­ple, ele­men­try signs. 

Old ene­my. Ancient. 

How do we stop them?


Kenia snort­ed an annoyed sound. She glanced up through the weeds, feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble. Lord Dione’s hands on hers brought Kenia’s atten­tion back down. 

Take the stone. Lord Dione’s fin­gers tapped a shell ring pierced into one of her ear-fins. Keep it safe.

Kenia tried to find a way to unclasp the ear­ring, but it seemed to be a per­ma­nent dec­o­ra­tion. Then Lord Dione grasped the ring in one hand and yanked it through her ear-fin. Blood seeped from the ragged tear. Kenia flinched, but when Lord Dione pressed the jew­el­ry into her hands, she took it. 

Tyreal dove low­er into the weeds and grabbed Kenia’s shoul­der, sign­ing. It’s com­ing back this way.

Go. Lord Dione urged them. Take the stone. Go!

Tyreal did­n’t let Kenia even say good-bye. They hauled her deep­er into the weeds, and Mhyrre swam quick­ly on their tails. When they ran out of weeds, Kenia angled them upward. She grasped Lord Dione’s ear­ring tight­ly in her fist, whip­ping her tail as hard as she could toward the sur­face. She did­n’t dare look back. She did­n’t want to know if one of those inky mon­sters was chas­ing them toward the light.

All three of them breached the lake’s sur­face in an immense rush of water. Kenia arched expert­ly toward shore, urg­ing her friends to fol­low swift­ly. In the shal­low waters Kenia let her hold on their mer forms relax. Her mag­ic untwist­ed, their tails split and shrank, and in moments they were elves once more. 

Mhyrre stag­gered toward shore on feet that did­n’t remem­ber how to walk. Kenia helped Tyreal to their feet and followed. 

The three of them exchanged silent looks, wide-eyed and con­fused. What kinds of crea­tures had those been below the sur­face? Why were they attack­ing the mer? Where had they come from?

Kenia opened her clenched fist. In the after­noon light, the shell ear­ring glit­tered with lake water. Kenia turned it over in her palm, but there were only a clus­ter of clam-like shells. No stone, that Lord Dione had men­tioned. Kenia closed her hand over the ear­ring again. Whatever it was sup­posed to be, Lord Dione thought it was impor­tant to keep safe from those things, and that was some­thing Kenia knew she could do. Maybe her peo­ple did­n’t believe in mers. Maybe they would­n’t mar­tial a force to dive down there and help. But Kenia could keep this ear­ring safe, and she’d start by box­ing it up in the bot­tom of her trunk in her bedroom. 

Then she’d talk to the council. 

Kenia met her friends’ eyes again, her mouth a frown of deter­mi­na­tion. ”Let’s go home,” she said.


This short sto­ry is made avail­able for free for one week only. Buy your own copy on my web­store, or your favorite ebook store. Special thanks to my Patrons who made this short sto­ry possible.

This sto­ry was avail­able from March 5th — 13th. If you’d like to be noti­fied of free fic­tion when it goes live, please join the newslet­ter! You can buy your own copy on my web­store, or your favorite ebook store. Special thanks to my Patrons who made this short sto­ry possible.