A Drop in the Ocean by Vivienne Savage


In Memoriam

Three nights before humans planned to celebrate Christmas with their families, Manu said goodbye to his father and came to terms with the fact that he didn’t have another blood relative within eight thousand miles.

And they certainly did not want him.

The crowds of mourners had come and gone after high mers from the Council of Lords paid lip service to General Lago’s memory. Less than an hour ago, at the conclusion of the service held in Pontus’s temple, Princess Kailani herself addressed a congregation of thousands alongside Atlantis’s regent, honoring a great man’s sacrifice for their kingdom.

“Why did you do it?” Manu asked quietly, though he knew he’d receive no answer. The only soul who could would be hundreds of miles away by now, a shade of his former self, now corrupted into a nightmarish and murderous creature.

Manu blinked a few times, as furious with himself for crying as he was with the man who rescued him. Furious because he’d spent his decades thinking—no, knowing—his father hated him. He’d been an imperfect son, a failure who could never fill those enormous military boots, a disappointment bound to shame their family name.

How was he ever going to live up to the grand legacy of General Lago and make the man proud now? Over sixty years, he’d had no goal other than to make his father love him, to make the man see he was worthy, to be the best officer the artillery corps had ever seen.

“Why?” he asked again, wishing the mer was there to answer him. He had no body to mourn or inter into the Chamber of Heroes, as his father’s corpse had been whisked by Calypso into the Atlantic. Soon, General Lago would rise as part of the Gloom and become the very thing he’d dedicated his life to fighting.

If it took Manu’s final breath, he’d free his father from that misery and endless torment. And then they could hold a true funeral for the general, not this sham of a memorial where they uttered prayers and spoke kindly of his memory without a body to anoint and grant offerings.

Heels tapped on marble and echoed through the open chamber. He recognized the rhythm of Kailani’s stride before he turned to address the approaching princess. Gods, she’d never looked more a queen than she did now, regal and gorgeous in her royal regalia, her long dress of emerald sea lace swirling around her and dragging across the polished temple floors. Pearls and gemstones studded her waist-length violet hair, and gilded bands winked up and down her bare arms.

Manu wished terribly that she’d returned to the palace with her aunt and uncle—not because he hadn’t wanted to see her, but because here in the temple, he couldn’t embrace her the way he wanted. He couldn’t squeeze her tight or rest his face against her glossy hair. He couldn’t press his cheek against her chest, and he couldn’t take comfort in the powerful thump of her beating heart and pray away the pain threatening to consume him less than twenty-four hours after witnessing the death of his father during a battle they should have won.

He wanted her gone, because the rules of their society meant he couldn’t kiss her the way he needed; he was only a warrior, far outclassed by the most important woman in the Atlantic kingdom. Despite her promises of fighting for a future where they could be together, far too many days remained before the coronation.

And even if they could be together, he could never be king. She could change the caste system, but he’d never be mer enough to be worthy of that title. After all, the actions of a king wouldn’t have led to his own father’s demise. Kai deserved better. She needed someone strong like Cosmas at her side.

Fuck, she needed someone who wasn’t drowning beneath thousand-pound waves of crushing self-pity.

Kai stopped beside him and bowed to the enormous statue of Atlantis’s father deity. She placed a small seashell offering on the altar and whispered a prayer, the very model of refinement and poise, the embodiment of elegance.

In September, when he’d taken her from the surface, she’d been an awkward human wearing a mer’s physical appearance, lacking any recollection of her twenty-five years in Atlantis. Weeks later, dedicated study and the return of her memories had restored her to the true princess she was meant to be, a future queen too good for the likes of him. Despite that, he wanted her.

Manu clenched his jaw and stared at the altar instead of gazing at the lovely woman who had held him in those hours following his father’s death. With an audience of too many priests in the temple, he didn’t dare to look at her again.