Authors: Dee Carney
They'd spent the passing time while waiting for the boatman with a history of his people, and an explanation of their beliefs. She couldn't say she agreed with a lot of it, but then again, before yesterday, she wouldn't have believed in mermaids and mermen either.
Funny how twenty-four hours could change her world.
Di touched his cheek with a wistful gesture. "No matter what happens, Danyl. I'm here."
"His power is extremely limited within the walls of his home." His statement might have been a reminder for himself. "It's possibly the only advantage I have. That and he's not expecting me."
"Squabbling between the gods, right?" She knew enough about infighting between the omniscient beings. If the gods could manipulate the elements and their followers with just a simple thought, imagine if they took advantage of their abilities on each other.
There would never be peace without the restriction.
"You can do this."
He nodded with a taut jerk of his head and led them inside the expansive gate. She couldn't say what she expected to find beyond the tall walls, but the inside underwhelmed her. Expensive marble lined the floors and walls, but other than that luxury, nothing about the complex screamed opulence. This was the place where gods made their homes?
There was scant furniture to speak of. No decorations or busts of the inhabitants in sight. In fact, they encountered no one as they trekked through the place. The echoes of their movement were the only sounds. She would have expected choirs of rich voices to float down from above. Exotic scents and sights should have teased her senses. Instead, the place seemed more sterile than a hospital ward and just as enticing.
With long, purposeful strides, Danyl led the way. For someone who'd never been inside this place before, he moved as if the layout had been memorized a long time ago.
Before long, they entered a long corridor lined with golden doors. None looked different than the others, but it didn't slow Danyl. He stopped before one in particular, but turned to give her one last imploring look. Di met his gaze with a hardened one of her own.
He turned the knob and pushed the door open. They walked inside with Danyl in the lead. He paused after only a few steps and Di moved to his side to see what had caught his attention.
The man standing near a window turned to face them and Di gasped. Danyl was the spitting image of his father. The
image. If she ever wondered what he might look like in another thirty years or so, she no longer had to guess. They might never have met before now, but only a blind man would ask for DNA confirmation of their relationship.
"Father," Danyl growled beside her.
Pure malevolence poured from Ancelin's eyes. His upper lip curled into a snarl as he studied his son. "Danyl, son of Simeona. You
the last person I would have expected to see before me."
"This is no social call Ancelin." It seemed to her that Danyl had forgotten she stood with him. His focus remained trained on the man he held responsible for his mother's death. The last vestige of hope that this might end amicably evaporated into the emotion-charged air.
Ancelin's gaze drifted to her. "And who do we have here?" He drew back in horror.
Danyl stepped in front of her, blocking his view. "You are not worthy to look on my mate."
Never before had she thought laughter could bellow forth with such venom. Ancelin truly despised his son and cared not who knew.
"Your mate?" he gasped out in between jeering laughter. "Who would dare to mate with you, an abomination? I admire this woman much already."
Abomination? Oh, hell no.
With a yank, she pulled her hand from Danyl's and ducked from behind him to face his father head on. "Fuck you, asshole. You don't deserve to have a son like Danyl."
"Son?" he screamed, spittle flying. "His mother went against my wishes when she bore him. I would
claim him as mine. He is the product of a quick, unsatisfying fuck. Nothing more."
Beside her, Danyl vibrated with anger, but she knew his father's words stung him to the core. He reinforced Danyl's fear about his worth with those hateful words. "She loved you," he choked out. "Right up to her death, she loved you."
Ancelin leveled a bored gaze on Danyl. He took a deep breath, settling himself against the outpouring of rage he showed a few seconds ago. "We fucked a few times.
There was no love there."
"Don't say that Ancelin. For gods' sake, tell me that you loved her even a little."
Di's heart broke to listen to this exchange. For as much animosity he showed toward Ancelin, his strangled voice and labored breathing belied how deeply these words cut him. One look at the shadows on Danyl's face, at his red-rimmed eyes, stabbed her like a knife.
"Tell me," he continued, "tell me that when you killed her, you regretted it even the tiniest amount."
Ancelin steepled his fingers together before resting them on his lips. A long stretch of silence passed where he studied the merman. He exhaled loudly. "So, this is why you are here? You think I killed your mother?"
"I know you did."
Ancelin stepped forward two paces. His eyes narrowed. "And if I did? So. What."
Time stood still then. The thunderous beat of her heart was the only sound she knew.
Her mind slowed, her actions not fast enough. She knew what would happen next and had a feeling so did Ancelin.
Ancelin's head snapped back when Danyl's fist crashed into it. He held nothing back as he pummeled his father's head and torso, venting all of his penned-up anger. "You bastard," he growled between breaths and punches. "She loved you … she loved you!"
Not to be outdone, Ancelin brought two fists together and swung them at his son.
Danyl managed to duck, but caught a blow to his ribs on Ancelin's back swing. "You, my boy…" A loud crack echoed when Ancelin swung and brought another fist down on bone. "Are the bastard."
Danyl cried out and doubled over. He held an arm over his head, trying to block the next blow, but clearly he was on the defensive. Ancelin kicked and a sickening crunch and spray of blood indicated the breaking of Danyl's nose.
There was no way she would just stand there and do nothing. Di scrambled forward and let her foot fly. She caught Ancelin unsuspecting in the center of his balls, and listened with cheerful glee to his enraged squeal.
Whirling on her feet, she dropped beside Danyl while his father recovered. Asshole.
She should have stood over him and stomped on the family jewels until he passed out.
Instead, she had to focus on Danyl. This was no evenly matched fight and he would lose if he insisted on getting back up.
"Come on baby, we've got to go. You can't win this." She ducked beneath his arm, trying to bear some of his weight. He pushed her away for her effort.
"I can and I will," he said hoarsely. Turning his head to the side, he spat out a wad of mucus and blood. Unsteadily, he rose to his feet. "Father!"
Ancelin eyed him from the ground, his chest heaving as he caught his breath. Wild-eyed, he volleyed his glare between them both as he stood. He rubbed his testicles in a lewd manner. "Your mate is well chosen, Danyl."
"Simeona was a good woman, too, and deserved better."
"She was a whore."
His father knew how to push every single button on his son. Danyl weaved forward, his face twisted into a hateful mask. It didn't matter though. Ancelin had fewer injuries to tend and threw a fist into Danyl's sternum. Thank God he dodged it and brought his arm around in a swing that had the power of the universe behind it. The blow landed on Ancelin's jaw and his head whipped around from the force.
Her heart in her throat, Di watched the fight and knew it would not end well. Ancelin was the more seasoned fighter and brought wisdom and dirty moves. Danyl only had righteous indignation and youth behind him.
Somehow Ancelin managed get behind to wrap an arm around his son's neck. He tightened until Danyl's face reddened, his hands scrambling for purchase, trying to loosen the grip blocking his airway. Unamused laughter wheezed out of Ancelin. "I haven't had to get my hands dirty like this in more than a century."
Throwing his elbow back, Danyl crushed Ancelin's testicles again, and Di almost winced in sympathy. He'd be resting those things on ice for the next week. His pained surprise gave Danyl a reprieve and he slid from beneath Ancelin's slackened hold. In a quick coordinated effort, he chopped Ancelin in the throat, and then backhanded him.
They separated and Danyl gasped unevenly, still trying to get his wind back. Already Di could see him get ready to charge again. So did Ancelin.
"Enough!" Ancelin roared.
old man?" Danyl taunted back. He rushed forward. "I'm only just beginning."
Ancelin bounced out of the way, barely missing another powerful blow. "Leave this place now if you want to save your woman and child, Danyl."
That caught Di's attention. Danyl's too. He chanced a look at her. She caught his gaze and held it, clueless as to what Ancelin referred to.
The older man gave them both a wicked smile. "Oh, you didn't know?" He straightened. "I truly love being a demi-god sometimes. Gives me insight that no one else has."
Danyl's hands curled into fists at his sides. "What are you telling us?"
Ancelin used the back of his hand to swipe the perspiration dripping into his eyes.
Go figure. Gods sweated.
A chair materialized out of nowhere, and Di took a step back. So that was the secret of this place. Residents could call things into existence at their whims. He dropped into the chair as if a lifetime of burden weighed him down.
"Your seed has taken root. A new generation of bastard is growing in your mate's belly. I can feel its tiny life from here."
Di's hand flew to her stomach at the same time Danyl drew a ragged breath. Could she really be pregnant with his child? The horrified expression on his face did not fill her with happiness. He shook his head from side to side. "No … gods, I would have never brought you here if I knew. Oh gods…"
"Your life in exchange for theirs, boy," Ancelin sneered.
Their simultaneous cries clashed against each other. "Danyl, this is crazy. He holds nothing over you.
. Why would he make threats against us now?"
"It's not a chance I'm willing to take." His silver eyes softened, his shoulders slumping in resignation. "This is a precious gift and I thank you, goddess. Please … take care of our child."
From where he sat, Ancelin studied them with an amused expression on his face.
"Kneel before me."
Bile burned her throat as she watched her love walk toward his father and drop onto one knee and then the other. His head hung low, but he kept it angled so that he could keep an eye on her. Ancelin stood and towered over him. A curved blade materialized into his hand. Immediately, the hair on the back of her neck stood.
Danyl's surrender made absolutely no sense, but the expression on his face said he was determined. Then again, so was she.
Di rushed forward and grabbed the chair still behind Ancelin. Swinging with all her might, she aimed it for the broad portion of Ancelin's back. He anticipated the move and brought his forearm up, twisting his body to deflect her. The chair bounced off of him harmlessly, and threw her off balance. Her foot slid on the marbled tile as she scrambled backwards and she came crashing down, bringing the chair on top of her.
Ancelin rounded on his son and pointed at Danyl. "Move and she dies!"
He slammed his fists against the ground in frustration and watched his father stalk his fallen mate. "To me Father!" he cried. He elevated himself on his knees, and threw his head back, baring the unobstructed flesh of his neck. "See? Here I am. Come for me!"
If Ancelin heard, or if he cared, he couldn't tell. But then his father turned his dark gaze on Danyl. Pure evil stared back at him. "I'm coming for you soon enough," he retorted as he grabbed Di by her hair, "as soon as I cut that thing from her womb. You, boy, get to watch."
Searing pain branded itself on Danyl's bicep at the same moment he vaulted to his feet. He ignored it, and sprang toward Ancelin and Di. For the first time, he felt as if his legs would no longer support his weight. They were as flimsy as sea kelp as he tried to reach her before his father harmed even a single hair on her head.
Di's green eyes were wide with fright. She kicked out with her feet, trying to get away from Ancelin, but his fingers curled into her hair tighter. He yanked hard, and she yelped. She kicked out again, but he brought his foot down on an ankle in response. She screamed, the sound tearing a hole in Danyl as his legs refused to obey his commands.
Gods, please. Whatever it takes, please don't let him hurt her.
She batted at the curved knife, her arms coming away with thin lines of blood trickling down them for her efforts. Danyl knew he stood only two feet away from them both, from the battle for her life, but in his mind, it might as well have been two hundred feet. He would not reach them in time.
Ancelin threw his weapon arm back and brought it down in a wide arc. Horrified, Danyl's eyes filled with tears as the blade plunged into her belly. His legs—his damned human legs—collapsed beneath him, unable to sustain his weight. He fell forward, the strength of his arms alone keeping him elevated as he watched the blood pool in the center of the silver skin.
Ancelin pulled back, bringing the blade out of her flesh. He poised himself to stab her again. Di's hands flew forward to protect her stomach, but she was already too late.
Adrenaline pumping, Danyl found his strength, launched himself at his father and slammed into him. There was no fucking way he'd let the bastard do that to her again.
The knife clattered to the floor, and skidded out of their reach. A trail of Di's blood smeared across the floor from its movement. From out of the corner of his vision, he could see she lay curled in a ball, her arms wrapped around her waist. Her legs pumped against the dry air, as if trying to ward off the pain in her torso.