by Ciye Cho
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“Wynn” (a Niemelan short story)
by Ciye Cho
“A world of harmony is a world of order.”
–Niemelan proverb (author: unknown).
In the world of Niemela, there existed a library known as the Repository. This place was a water-filled cavern full of stone pillars, and each pillar held scrolls made of kelp. Along the ceiling, sea anemones gave off a gold light. In this glow, clownfish in all sorts of colors spiraled to form a living rainbow.
But that was not all…
The Repository was full of mermaids and mermen, and each one had a different color scheme, from violet tails and green hair to red scales and blonde locks. These mer were knowledge collectors: adults who were known as thinkers; and youths who were known as thinker novices. The latter were students on the verge of adulthood. But regardless of age, all the mer in this cavern were busy inserting rolled-up scrolls into the empty holes of each pillar.
Well, all except for one novice.
Wynn was kneeling on the floor. His tail was curled beneath him as he stared up at the clownfish. “Would you look at that,” he whispered. He ran a hand through his mint-green hair as the fish began to form patterns. Some of them clustered together to become multicolored chains. “Hey everyone, look at…”
Wynn gazed around him. But no one else looked up, all focused on his or her work. The only sound to be heard was a soft rustling as mer tails brushed against the sand floor.
He looked to the right at a jellyfish as tall as a merman. This animal had multicolored tendrils, and scrolls were attached to each strand. Every scroll was the same color as the tendril it hung from. Wynn watched as a pink mermaid took a scroll from the jellyfish and re-shelved it into a pillar.
Wynn plucked a scroll from a tendril and unfurled it. He found himself looking at a history of Niemela’s kelp farms. Wynn headed to a pillar reserved for agriculture records, then placed the scroll into one of the holes. He turned and stared at the center of the Repository. Amid a clearing was a huge mound of scrolls.
Once a year, the thinkers took out all the scrolls from the pillars and chucked them in a pile so that pipe-fish could clean the holes in each pillar. After this, thinkers and thinker novices would stick each scroll back in its original place. Yet, Wynn always found this routine to be rather silly. Dirt never got into the holes, so why all the fuss?
He’d once asked Master Tavani about this, but the old merman merely said, “Why? Well… because that’s how we always do it, child.”
That’s Niemela, I guess, thought Wynn. Order. Harmony. Rules.
He looked around and wondered if he had made the right choice back when he joined the thinker novices. Reading scrolls was the only thing he was good at. Yet, maybe he had been too hasty. Maybe he’d be better off studying to be a healer or a builder. Or maybe even a guardian.
Wynn wondered if any of the other thinker novices felt this way. These multicolored mer seemed to fit in so perfectly into their chosen calling, just like the colored scrolls that they slotted into pillars.
An old merman swam over to Wynn.
“Is everything alright?” said the elder.
Wynn hesitated. Would Tavani understand his doubts? Probably not. The young merman shrugged. “I’m fine, Master Tavani.”
“Hmph, very well,” said Tavani, already lost in his thoughts.
The old merman wandered off and Wynn found himself floating before a history pillar. Ever since he came to the Repository, he’d always loved reading scrolls about the ancient battles. The action, danger, and excitement—all of it was a million leagues from the insular world of the thinkers.
He pulled out a red scroll: the Life and Times of King Borealis.
He was about to read it for the umpteenth time, until a pair of mermen rushed past him. He looked up to see two bulky mermen who chased a squid among the pillars. These mermen each wore a red armband, marking them as members of the warrior path.
Tavani raised his voice, “Hey! Get out of here, you brutes.”
“Apologies, Master Tavani,” said one of the warriors.
On the way out, this warrior met Wynn’s gaze and frowned. “What are you looking at, thinker?”
“Nothing,” Wynn mumbled. He gazed at the history pillar and shook his head. Warriors… Bah! They act as if they can do anything, he thought to himself. Yet, as he watched them laugh and jostle each other, he felt a strange emotion. A feeling that squirmed about inside him like a flimmerworm.
Did he want to be a warrior? Was it even possible?
Wynn looked at the red scroll and shook his head. “What are you doing here, Wynn? Time to get back to work.”
However, before he could return to his shelving duty, the warriors did another pass around the Repository. And as they went, a current pulled the red scroll from Wynn’s hands. This piece of kelp was carried to the far wall, and there, it settled behind a rock.
Wynn headed over to the rock. But when he swam behind it, he noticed a small hole in the ground. An opening large enough to fit a merperson. “Huh?” said Wynn. He stuck his head into the hole to see murky water.
Without thinking it over, he swam through the opening and into a dark passage. Sand swirled around him, but eventually Wynn emerged in a cavern. The stone walls were covered with moss that glowed faintly. Wynn swam over to a wall and used his mind to send a thought-command to the moss: illuminate.
The moss glowed a bright red. Wynn realized that the moss was arranged in complex shapes, creating a mural of merfolk. He saw warriors fighting shapes made out of dark, unlit moss. The plants flickered, giving a sense of motion.
Where am I? Wynn wondered, before his gaze lowered to the floor. Here, moss was gathered in the shape of a giant spear. The symbol of the warriors.
The merman gasped. “Oh wow…”
This place… it’s the Warriors’ Sanctum!
He moved further in and saw tunnels carved along different parts of the cavern. He entered one and ended up in a chamber full of training equipment, such as padded clubs; he entered another to find himself in a room stocked with kelp armor. All these rooms were abandoned, but that made sense to Wynn. The Sanctum was supposed to be a sacred place.
Wynn wandered through a third tunnel. He entered a chamber full of stone swords, cudgels, and clubs. All these weapons rested on slate pedestals. The walls here were also made of black stone. They had holes cut into them. Wynn swam over to a wall and saw that each hole had a red armband inside it, and inside each band was a red coral that flickered. He wondered if this light was similar to the legendary ‘Land Fyre’ (the flames used by the mysterious beings known as humans).
That is, until it hit him:
Each armband represented a fallen mer. There were hundreds of them. This place was a shrine devoted to some of Niemela’s greatest warriors.
Wynn gulped. He felt a sense of wrongness being here. This was a place for the brave and courageous—not a curious thinker. He backed away. However, when he returned to the moss cavern, he heard a rustling. He followed the sound to another chamber and peered in.
Inside a chamber lit by purple moss, a mermaid was swimming in spirals. Or rather, that’s what it looked like at first. Wynn got closer, and he watched her shoot around the chamber to avoid darts that were being fired out of holes in the wall. She held a sword in each hand and spun them about to smash the darts. All the while, the purple light shimmered around her. Her eyes were closed.
Wynn instantly knew she was a warrior novice. She wasn’t muscly like the male novices in her group, but there was a strength and a solidness to her. Something that marked her as a fighter. Yet… she was also pretty. Attractive in a different way from most mermaids. Her hair was short and spiky. Dark too.
He leaned against the chamber opening.
A dart rushed past him and he sucked in a breath.
The mermaid slowed. The darts stopped firing. She opened her eyes and stared at Wynn.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
Wynn froze. “I, uh…”
“What are you doing here?” she said. The chamber light brightened, revealing a sharp frown on her face. Her tail and hair were a dark purple; her pale skin had a hint of red and blue shadows.
Speak! thought Wynn.
“Well, I was just checking this place out. I was, uh, thinking about becoming a warrior novice.”
“You?” she scoffed.
Her gaze lowered to his sand-brown torso, and Wynn felt self-conscious. He’d always been skinny like a reedfish—and no amount of time had changed that.
“What are you laughing at?” he asked.
“You’re no warrior,” she said as she chucked her swords on the floor and swam out. “You’re a thinker.”
Wynn reddened. But before the mermaid could leave the Sanctum, he called out to her: “How would you know that?”
She turned around and her eyes narrowed. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” A smirk passed over her face. “You really think you could be a warrior?”
Wynn nodded. “Need I remind you that King Borealis was a thinker and a warrior?”
She folded her arms and said, “Fine. Then why don’t you prove it?”
“That you can be both a thinker and a warrior.”
The mermaid waved him forward and swam into the room full of weapons. She gestured around her. “Behold, the Stone Armory. The place where…”
Wynn’s eyes widened. “Ah! So this is the Stone Armory. The place where the warriors kept the weapons from the ancient battle against the Stone Giants.” He started to recall something he’d once read: the Stone Giants were monsters from the time of Borealis. They were some of the first creatures to emerge from the Darkness, and they could only be destroyed if you struck them with the heaviest of stone weapons.
“This is it! The Stone Armory.”
The mermaid raised an eyebrow.
Wynn reddened. “Well, uh… so I’ve heard.”
The mermaid wandered over to a pedestal and said, “There is a test that each young mer must take before Dorsimer will train him or her.” She picked up a sword. “The test is simple: each mer is required to lift at least one of the weapons here.”
She held up the sword before placing it on the pedestal.
Wynn frowned. “That’s all?”
He reached out to grab the sword. “It doesn’t look very…” He sucked in a breath as he struggled to lift it off the pedestal. The mermaid chuckled, but Wynn didn’t relent. He lifted the weapon higher. It took all his force, but he managed to hold it out. “It’s not too heavy,” he added through gritted teeth.
The mermaid blinked.
Wynn quickly placed it back on the pedestal. His arms felt numb, but he felt a thrill in his chest: maybe he wasn’t so weak after all. Maybe he wasn’t that bad for a ‘reedfish.’
The mermaid shrugged. “Is that all you’ve got?” Before he could respond, she went over to a larger blade and lifted it up with one hand. Her arm was steady as she held it out, but Wynn did not hesitate. He picked up a similar weapon.
“Did you say something?” he said.
His hand shook, and in his mind, he cried out, By the All-Tide! What are you doing, Wynn?
The mermaid frowned, but put down her sword. Wynn lowered his so fast that it crashed onto a pedestal and chipped the slate.
The warrior novice went over to a large club and lifted it up with two hands. Her arm muscles tensed up a bit. “How’s this, thinker?” She said before she tossed the club to Wynn.
The merman caught it in his hands and felt his palms sting as the stone hit them. But he held the club. “How’s what?” he asked, before the tip of the club hit the ground with a thud. He let it go.
She started laughing, but Wynn folded his arms. “Hey, I held that one for a moment.”
“It fell from your grip.”
“Yes, but I was holding it while it fell. No small feat.”
“Whatever,” she said, looking at a stone altar at the front of the room. She quieted for a while. “Fine, here’s a final test. The person who fails to lift this next weapon loses.”
“I wasn’t aware we were playing a game,” said Wynn calmly.
“Life is a game,” she said. “We’re all winners or losers, and the sooner you realize that, the easier it will be for you to find your place, thinker.”
The way she said the word ‘thinker’ made it seem as if she were bundling thinkers into the second category. The losers. But somehow, Wynn didn’t redden. He swam over to the altar and said, “Let’s play.”
The mermaid swam over and pointed to the altar. “There lies the mighty blade of Borealis.”
Wynn looked at a stone sword. This must’ve been the weapon that Borealis used to crush the Bulwark Giant. Wynn reached over and grabbed the weapon with both hands. The sword was blunt but heavy. He gasped as he tried to lift it. Yet, a minute later, he held it in his hands like a heavy sack of kelp crop. As he did so, a smile crept over his face. He was holding a piece of history… Something that had once belonged to Borealis!
Wynn staggered forward and said, “There we go.”
The mermaid raised a brow, then said in a deadpan voice: “That’s the sheath… not the sword.”
Wynn turned to see another shape on the altar: a large sword made of black rock. He gulped, then dropped the sheath. It hit the floor and nearly smashed his tail.
“Of course,” said Wynn.
The mermaid went over and lifted the sword with both hands. Her hands shook a little, but she managed to keep it up. She placed it back down and the room filled with a rumble. Wynn went over to try his hand at the sword. The weapon barely budged.
Wynn took in a deep breath and tried again. The mermaid began to smirk, but Wynn leaned in and began to push the sword over to altar’s edge, thinking that if he could get the weapon to slide off, he might be able to quickly grab it.
The moment it slid off, the sword hit the ground.
A crack split the floor in two, and the wall corals went dim.
“Hey!” said the mermaid. “Watch it!”
The chamber rumbled, and a piece of the back wall crashed to the floor. A giant hole was made, and from within this, four crabs crawled out. Each was the size of a boulder, and all of them were made of black chitin. The mer halted as the crabs entered the room.
“Uh oh,” said Wynn.
The crabs were excavators. Creatures that helped the warriors dig out stone for their weapons. The crabs wandered closer and Wynn held out his hands. Apologies, he sent out as a thought message. We did not mean to disturb you, friend crabs.
The crabs did not move closer, but raised their arms and clacked their pincers.
A moment later, loose rocks fell from the ceiling and hit the crabs. The animals reared back before staggering forward. The mermaid said, “Oh great! Look what you did.”
“Me?” said Wynn.
The mermaid lifted her hands as she too began sending thoughts to the animals. However, none of the crabs slowed and she shook her head. “They’re not responding to my thoughts!”
She turned and headed to the chamber exit, only to find it blocked with rubble. She cursed and Wynn swam over. He tried to lift away a rock, but the mermaid said, “Oh please. Don’t touch those rocks. The last thing I need is for you to take down the cavern.”
“Hah. You’re hilarious, you know that?” Wynn scoffed.
“I’m smarter than you,” said the mermaid. “At least I know when I’ve bitten off more than I can…”
The mermaid hushed. She gawked at something behind Wynn. He turned and saw the crabs rush toward them. Their feet made holes in the floor. That’s when the mermaid hurried back to the exit to try to clear the rocks. “Hold them off,” she said. “I’ll try to clear the path.”
She grabbed a club and smashed one of the bigger rocks into smaller chunks. Wynn gulped but held his hands out and sent out thought commands: Halt! he told the crabs. We mean you no harm.
The crabs slowed for a moment.
Then, a shard of rock flew outward and hit one of the crabs in its underside. It charged.
“Gah!” Wynn called out.
The mermaid turned and raised her club, ready to strike a crab.
Yet, before anything else could happen, the animals froze.
“Huh?” said Wynn and the mermaid.
They looked up to see a merman waiting within the hole in the wall. A merman with a jet-black body and ice-blue hair. His eyes were closed as he held a hand in the direction of the crabs. These animals turned to face him and bowed before they crawled into the shadows.
“Captain Dorsimer,” said the mermaid. “I was just…”
The captain opened his eyes and glowered at her.
“Marilenna,” said Dorsimer. She fell silent, and he said, “Life as a warrior is not about ‘winners and losers.’ ”
She paused. “How long were you watching me, captain?”
“Long enough to know that you do not understand anything about the warrior path.” He floated closer. “And with that in mind, you are hereby suspended from your studies.”
He grabbed the club from her and said, “You may not return here until you can prove that you have changed your ways.”
Her jaw slackened.
Dorsimer stared upon the armbands that were scattered throughout the chamber. The shrine was now a mess. “You may go,” he said.
Marilenna turned and glared at Wynn. “I will not forget this,” she hissed under her breath. And in her eyes, Wynn saw a fyre greater than that of the deep-sea Volcamia outside Niemela.
The mermaid swam off through the hole in the wall.
However, before Wynn could follow her, Dorsimer looked at him and said, “What is your name, child?”
“Wynnom,” he said. “But people just call me Wynn—”
“You are not a warrior, Wynn,” said Dorsimer.
“Well, I was just here to—”
“It doesn’t matter what you were here for,” said the old merman. “You are not, and will never be, a warrior.” His voice wasn’t loud, but it filled up every corner of the room. It was a rumble that left nothing unspoken and nothing open for questioning. “There are occasionally some unseen anomalies in Niemela. However, a thinker-warrior you are not.”
Wynn didn’t know what to say, but Dorsimer shook his head. The captain’s voice softened: “Child, you are more likely to see a human enter Niemela… than you are to see yourself become a warrior.”
Wynn reddened, but Dorsimer picked up Borealis’s stone sword. He lifted it with ease, then placed it back on the altar. “Go back to your studies. A world of harmony is a world of…”
“A world of order,” said Wynn. “Yes, I know. It’s a Niemelan proverb from the first era. Author unknown.” He shook his head but wandered toward the hole, his shoulders slumped. “Yes, yes, I know it,” he added softly.
“No you don’t,” said Dorsimer. “The author is not unknown.”
Wynn turned around and the captain said, “It was Borealis who said it.”
The young novice looked away for a moment. But when he finally looked up, Dorsimer was nowhere to be seen.
Wynn entered the shadowy hole and swam into a tunnel. A few minutes later, he popped out into the Oceanarium. Here, the coral balconies that lined the cavern glittered in all sorts of colors. And that’s when he stared ahead to see mermaids and mermen floating in the water. They were talking loudly. Something had stirred the peaceful waters of Niemelan life.
“What’s going on?” said Dorsimer who floated to the far left. “What is this commotion?”
No one responded, and the captain headed closer. Wynn squinted as he gazed ahead, and a moment later, he gasped.
Ahead of him, Malachiro was dragging something into the chamber.
A human female…
Her skin was pale, almost like the inside of an ancient clam. Her hair was coppery and it drifted all around her. However, Wynn watched the human breathing and noticed a breathing polyp at the back of her neck. The human was beautiful. Strange and alien.
She opened her eyes for a moment and stared around her. Her eyes met Wynn’s and he gasped. It’s a human! he thought to himself. A real human… drifting in Niemela!
A second later, the human passed out. Malachiro took her into a tunnel, and everyone in the Oceanarium burst into a chorus of gasps and chatter. Everyone save for Wynn. He sank to the ground and knelt amid the sea grass. His mind was reeling.
But as he saw the captain stare up in shock, he recalled the words he’d been told: “Child, you are more likely to see a human enter Niemela… than you are to see yourself become a warrior.”
Suddenly, Wynn began to smile.
Suddenly, nothing seemed that impossible. Not even in a world of order.
~ The End ~
Copyright 2013 by Ciye Cho. All rights reserved.
About this story: “Wynn” is a standalone adventure in the Florence Waverley series. To find out more about the books in this series, please visit http://www.florence-books.com
Thank you for reading!
Book Excerpt pdf
by Ciye Cho
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READ more about this world...
by Ciye Cho
Seventeen-year-old Florence Waverley is out of her depth. Literally. Kidnapped and taken below the waves to the mer world of Niemela, she is the ultimate gift for merman Prince Kiren: a human familiar tied to his side. But nothing is what it seems amid the beauty and danger of a dark ocean.
Every Niemelan has a role to play, from the mermaids who weave towers out of kelp to the warriors who fight sea monsters. But in trying to survive, Florence will end up in the middle of a war between the mer and the Darkness. A conflict that will push her between two brothers: Kiren, the charmer inexplicably drawn to both her and the monsters; and Rolan, the loner who has been pushing her away since the day they met. But in order to take a stand--and find out where she belongs--Florence will have to risk it all: her life, her heart... and her very soul.
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* image source: created by Ciye Cho