The polished wooden frame of the two-masted schooner cut through the burbling blue waters of the Foggy Ocean, like a knife through some magical substance that would be easily spreadable on toast. The sky was clear, a chill breeze offsetting the rays of the sun above. It was the kind of easy sailing day that Rum had dreamed of, hoped for desperately since setting out on his voyage a week prior.
When the mermaid, breaching the surface of the water in front of the vessel, began to sail through the air on a collision course with him, Rum had very little time to react. First she was a mere speck off the bow of the ship- then she was hurtling down out of the sky towards the deck in a perfect arc, plummeting and wailing, her golden locks of hair whipping behind her, her thin brown arms extended outwards, attempting to protect her face from impact.
“Watch out!” she screamed at the top of her gills.
Thinking fast, Rum had just enough time to fall desperately in love with her. Then, her elbow connected with his jaw, sending him flying back and out of his chair, an explosion of parchment paper fluttering behind him, unfinished manuscripts lost to the sea breeze.
Molotov blinked. Tiny wizard brain cells clicking into place, and he realized that the boy who was currently employing him was laying comatose on the deck, the flapping form of a beautiful mermaid driving his skull into the wooden planks below.
“Rum ol' chum! Are you okay?” Molotov asked.
Flailing his limbs aimlessly, Rum managed to pull himself out from beneath the mermaid girl, her tail flopping about and slamming into the deck with a thick slap. Spitting clams and seaweed, he blinked and staggered over toward his red-haired wizard. Molotov grinned.
“Okay, good you're fine! Whew! Thought I lost my job for a second!”
Rum looked down at the girl, blinking some more. “I thought she said something, when she was flying in the air at me,” he said. “Can... can mermaids talk?”
“Well that one could! But she appears to be having trouble now,” Molotov said, his brow furrowing as he stared toward the flopping girl. “I think maybe she's drowning.”
Rum's eyes bugged out of their sockets, icy panic taking him. “Drowning!?”
“No, no not that- what's the opposite of drowning? The thing where you have air, but you're not supposed to have air?”
Rum rushed to the girl's side. It seemed so obvious now- she was flopping about, her thin neck strained and taunt, face going a shade of blue. Rum's eyes darted around the deck. They fell upon the ropes, the mast- the other important looking ship-y bits and bobs that he hadn't bothered to learn about.
Oh Gods, oh Gods- she's going to die. She's going to die on my ship. I set out, eager to explore the wide wonders of the world, and I end up with a dead mermaid on my ship within a week!
“Molotov, do something! A spell, a- a something!”
Molotov scratched at his arm-pit, the way all great and powerful wizard's do when they're contemplating life-or-death scenarios. Then, sparks flew. Two of his neurons finally connected together long enough to come up with a plan.
“We've got a bowl downstairs! I'll make her a helmet!”
Molotov scampered off below-deck, leaving Rum wringing his hands, eyes wide and nervous. The seconds ticked by, every gasping breath from the girl like a hammer to his temple.
This is really not how the stories are supposed to go...
The ability to channel and cast magic lurked within almost every living thing across the wide Foggy Ocean. It was indeed very uncommon to come across a being without some minor knack or magical talents. For the longest time Rum had believed he was one of the unlucky ones, without any natural ability.
This was untrue. Rum had one minor magical ability he was unaware of. He was able to, at the first sign of stress, break out into an instantaneous cold sweat. He was a very damp young boy, and we are very sorry you had to read this sentence and learn this information.
Rum had had enough. Bracing himself he approached the mermaid, lifting with his back and giving his knees the cold shoulder. On wobbly limbs he raised up the girl, waddling around toward the side of the ship.
“Just- hugghhh- hang on-” he puffed. “I'll just- tip you back over the side, okay? It'll- it'll be just like you're diving in!”
Panting and wheezing, the young poet leaned the unconscious mermaid against the rail of the ship. One quick look at her face, the slack expression, glazed eyes and unsteady breath, was enough to summon the remaining strength left in Rum's weedy frame.
Teeth grinding, eyes shut tight, he tipped the mermaid over the side of the rail, holding onto her by her blue-green scaled tail. Gravity began to take over, giving him a much-needed hand.
Then, several things happened at once.
First, the mermaid, remaining blood rushing to her head, opened her eyes to find herself upside-down, balanced precariously upon the rail of the ship.
Second, Rum opened his eyes, which he'd been clenching shut, to look down at the waters below.
And third, and perhaps the most important- the head of a huge hammerhead shark breached the rolling bubbling surface of the Foggy Ocean below, rows of jagged yellowed teeth snapping, saliva jumping from its maw upwards toward the mermaid.
The mermaid screamed. Rum screamed. Downstairs, Molotov found a silky pink speedo that he'd thrown behind his dresser last week and forgotten about.
It was pure blind luck that a well-placed slam of the impatient shark's head against the side of the boat sent Rum toppling backwards onto the deck, dragging his mermaid luggage with him. The pair sprawled on the tilting wood, just as Molotov reappeared from below, a large glass fishbowl in his hands.
Rum would have said something snarky to protest, but the sight of the shark had put him in fearful sweats, his teeth chattering aimlessly. He watched as Molotov approached, and with one swift motion, accompanied by a scattering of words ancient and melodious, affixed the bowl over the mermaid's head.
From Molotov's palm, sea-water flowed upwards, filling the bowl and defying gravity by hanging in place, surface tension keeping the young mermaid submerged from the neck up. Rum sniffed the air, the metallic greasy scent of magic lingered upon the deck. He wasn't sure what Molotov had said- try as he might, he'd never been able to catch a single syllable whenever the wizard cast a spell.
Half the time his spells don't even seem to work...
Rum was glad this was an exception to the rule. Though still staggered and disorientated, the mermaid blinked, the death-rattle blue tones fading from her lips as the salt-water filled her nose and mouth.
Finally, Rum managed to put coherent thoughts together. “S-shark! There's a shark, off the bow!”
Molotov blinked in surprise and looked to the front of the ship.
“No, wait- not the bow,” Rum hastily corrected himself. “The uh... starboard? No wait- the port-side. Yes. Port-side.”
Molotov peered over the side of the ship for a moment. “Well, whatever it was, appears to be gone now!”
“That's what sharks DO, Molotov. They swim around. They don't just stay in one place!” Rum sputtered. “And it was a shark! None of this, 'whatever it was' stuff, a shark is a shark is a shark! I don't need to be some sort of expert on sharks to know when a shark is about to eat me!”
“What if it was a mermaid who LOOKED like a shark?”
Rum blanked. He suddenly hated the wide ocean world he inhabited, a world where it was possible to encounter a dwarf, a giant-dwarf, a dwarf-giant, or just an unusually short man with a beard and a penchant for drinking.
Why did I ever want to go see the world? Why couldn't I have been content just writing poems about, oh, I don't know, sedan chairs, and green grapes? Is boredom really worse than this? I'm not qualified to be rescuing anyone from hungry sharks! I probably didn't fill out the right permits for that- I just bought the boat and took off before they even finished counting my coin!
Rum gulped and looked over toward the mermaid, her blonde-hair floating wildly within the fishbowl. A pair of green eyes blinked, staring back at him. Innocent at first- then filled with white-hot outrage.
“Did you just try to feed me to a shark?” she said, smacking him on top of the head. “You lunatic! You absolute villain!”
“I wasn't trying to- I was- it- it was a very misguided attempt at rescue!” Rum looked to Molotov, desperate for aid, and finding little in his vacant expression. Clearing his throat, he tried to start over. “My name is Rumma von Adilstan- I'm a poet, a- a bard, very talented and fresh upon the seas seeking adventure and importance. And this is my companion, Molotov. He's ah... a wizard. A very powerful one.”
Molotov beamed. “Rum hired me with money!”
The mermaid frowned at him. “You're a mercenary?”
“A magnanimous and monogamous one!”
The mermaid stared a moment longer, unsure of what to make of this, before refocusing her dagger-like stare at Rum.
“I suppose you did pull me back on-board... so I do owe you my life. My name is Annay.”
Rum smiled a smile that, until that moment, he'd always thought was very charming. When he saw what little reaction Annay had, he reconsidered it, and went with a blush instead.
“W-well, you're welcome to stay on my ship until it's safe to return to... your corals, or uhm, wherever about you live.”
Annay shook her head, a flicker of sadness dashing across her smooth features. “I'm... not sure how likely that will be. The shark came a few weeks ago... there aren't many of my clan left below the waters.”
Rum exchanged a glance with Molotov. “I'm... sorry to hear that, truly.” he managed.
Ok, that sounded real pathetic, like something out of a sappy card. “A shark ate your family, I'm sorry for your loss.” If I'm going to go telling people I'm a bard, maybe I should have some better stock phrases...
He perked up, a sudden idea coming to him. “Would you like safe passage? From here to- uh... the nearest other spot of ocean with mermaids?” Rum scanned the horizon. There'd be a spattering of small islands they'd past the day before, but the horizon line was stupendously empty. But surely the ship must be heading in the direction of... somewhere. And presumably that somewhere had to have islands or atolls...
Annay's eyes gave a flicker of hope. It was all Rum needed, and he jumped on it, bobbing his head and smiling.
“Yes, it'd be no trouble! We couldn't well leave you out here with that thing wandering in the depths!” he exclaimed.
“But Rum," Molotov cut in. "It's not wandering the depths.”
Rum felt a flicker of annoyance. “Where else would a shark BE, Molotov?” he snapped.
The wizard pointed over the rail, his front canine jutting outward. “Starboard side, approaching fast.”
Molotov peered off into the distance, hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. He studied the starboard horizon, humming and hawing to himself for a minute.
“Oh... yep, we're in trouble,” Molotov confirmed.
Rum gulped. “D-define trouble?”
“He's got a knife this time.”