There’s a strange heaviness on his shoulders.
He’s used to the coldness of the water, the brush of the changing current against his skin as he drifts through the canals carefully to avoid chaffing his tail. The silver scales shined in the dim light that makes it bounce off to the rocky walls that he disturbs some of the slumbering fishes sleeping inside the hideaways they burrowed themselves in.
Jaemin wishes he could have the rest they were having.
A piece of seaweed hits him on the forehead, tangling in his brown hair that he almost hits a puffer fish that peers out to check if the light was from a meal. He manages to reel back his hand before he hits it as it immediately started bristling, spikes inflating before Jaemin sends a sheepish smile and propelled forward with a hasty flick of his tail.
He sighs the moment he goes back to the spacious landscape of the coral reefs, anemones swaying with the current and some of the polyps hiding when he moved past them. There are clownfish rubbing against their anemone homes and crabs that scuttle on the floor trying to eat what was left.
This was his home.
He huffs, bubbles escaping his mouth as he swims into the clearing where it led to a seaweed forest that reached so high that he recalled the stories that they touched the surface. Pushing past the greenery, taking care to remove the wayward seaweed in his hair he forgot about, he recalls the words that were given to him by the run down runes he found in an old cave that was from a civilization from the surface that had sunk down when an earthquake happened so many years ago. The same earthquake that resulted to most of his fellow merpeople dying from the impact it made, the trench it left in the old city a remnant of a past that will never be revived.
Jaemin knew he was the last of his kind.
He didn’t know how it managed to wipe everyone even when they weren’t even close to the place of the incident. He was younger then without a care of the world when he managed trap himself in time for the calamity to hit, the memory of losing his breath as his tail is stuck on the tight space between a boulder and a broken coral that earned him a scar near the tip right where his tail fanned out still scared him.
He swims around the large moss-covered rock where the forest parts, the seaweed smaller on the other side that led to a structure of rocks.
But because of that incident, he wouldn’t still be alive.
Jaemin regards the way that the rocks look like a cave except the hollow spot inside isn’t as dark as the caves he’s visited. He swims upwards to find that there is still light reaching inside the dwelling due to the large opening, drifting down to get inside as he looks over the empty cavities inside the wall where he has placed little baubles.
“Just me and these,” he whispers as he settles himself on the rock in the middle “Me and my collection of what is left to remind me of what I lost.”
He knows loneliness like an old friend now whenever he picks up little things that he finds in the rubble of what was left near the ruins, trinkets that he builds stories about, stories of the people who made them and the people who owned them. It was like make believing that he’s not on his own inside the vast emptiness of a bustling ocean. He’s created so many tales that he talks about whenever he finds something new no matter how insignificant it was.
Jaemin is almost annoyed of his own voice now but what can he do?
He sighs once more, lying down to stare up at the opening where the light is a mere orb that bobbed with the current. Sometimes it was dimmer here whenever the orb seemed to vanish during certain days and then during those nights, he’d watch the reflection of sea glass he collected, mixture of refracted light from the dim lighting and the glimmer on Jaemin’s scales that makes a kaleidoscope around him.
He wishes he could share them with someone, these little things that keep him grounded.
He remembers his mother and sisters, beautiful with their flowing hair and dulcet voices that lulled him to sleep as he was cradled inside their arms. He doesn’t know when he started to forget about their faces, learned how to sleep without their singing in his ears and when he was in the brink of pain, blood heavy in the water he was afraid it attracted sharks, he had a flash of their smiles.
The calamity saved his life because the boulder rolled away but when he thought he’d be free of the smell of iron, he was greeted with the cloying scent of death as the sea was blanketed in red that even now he can almost smell it on his skin.
He hums under his breath, swimming up to get ready to sleep but there’s a shadow passing over head submerging his surroundings in darkness and he looks up in surprise.
“What?” he mutters and swims up to lean on the edges of the opening to find the shadow is moving with flashes of light that is illuminating the orb in colors the same way his sea glass did.
He’s never seen anything like it, the rush of his heartbeat making him breathless and he looks down to think if it was alright to go to the surface. It’s still in his mind the warnings but the runes came back to his mind.
Jaemin recalls the runes and their message, sloppy as he managed to read them.
“Beyond what you can touch lies where you’ll find what you lost.”
He doesn’t know what it meant by what he lost because there are no merpeople on land, the only place he can’t touch. He doesn’t know the dangers he’s facing but the runes never lied to his people and if he needs to risk his life to find what he has been missing, then he needs to do it.
Jaemin hopes he’s doing the right thing following those flares in the sky.
Jeno stops flicking his lighter on to light another flare, listening in to the sounds of the ocean.
He feels a disturbance in the atmosphere, different from before where he was simply setting off two at a time to feel better and takes a deep breath.
He looks around and over the rails of his boat, right at the murky darkness where he sees nothing but the stillness of the water.
“Odd.” He says to himself, flicking his lighter as a bead of flame erupts and he lines it with the fuse to watch it light it up. He points it to the sky, heels digging as a burst of explosion follows and lights up the darkness of the sky. The earmuffs made the sound softer, his mind only filled with what he presumes is the crackling of the explosives and the smell of gunpowder.
It’s dangerous to be in the ocean at night, let alone show anything that can make anyone who stumbles on you pinpoint your exact location. Jeno knows the cons of being here yet the silence of the vast space coupled with the lulling scent of the saltwater never failed to make him forget about the disagreement he had with his father earlier. He wants to be here after his boat was practically about to be sent to a junkyard if he didn’t get his mind straight for the university his parents picked.
He was numb from shock then, eyes never lifting from the floor as he felt his father brush past him, saying “Think about it, Jeno.”
Jeno wants to scream, scream at the top of his lungs that they will never be satisfied no matter what he did so what was the point? It’s an endless loop of being the perfect son and being showed off like a trophy that that sends him longing for the lull of the ocean to help his mood lift up.
He can’t even hang out with his friend Donghyuck without his parent’s sneering at the other boy because he’s not good for Jeno’s reputation, whatever it was.
“Time to head home.” He says, huffing when the cold starts to creep on his skin. He’s wearing a heavy coat yet he still feels the winds trying to freeze him with every gust and makes way to the control cabin.
A thud on the hull of his boat stops him.
Jeno freezes, unsure if he heard right but then another louder thud erupts when the boat rocks. He furrowed his brows to go back to the side where he thought he heard the sound come from. It’s darker now without the flares and only the measly dim lighting of the cabin’s lamp the only illumination while the darkness stretched all around him. Mist has been in the horizon for some time now and he’s not sure why this distinctly reminds him of a horror movie.
He peers down the railings like he did before but instead of the calm surface of the water, Jeno is met with a body in the water. He immediately leans back in surprise, looking around to see if maybe there was something out there but then realizes that there is someone in the water and they might be alive.
He doesn’t believe in horror stories but he’s still thinking it was stupid of him to tie a rope around his waist, moving over to the side of his boat where there was a small ramp to help him climb back with the body in tow. Jeno shrugs his jacket off, already shivering from how cold he was going to be after this and threw it over to the side where it can’t get wet.
He plunges right next to the bobbing person, their back to him and it looked like a boy with brown hair that was plastered over his forehead. Jeno wraps an arm around his waist and furrows his brows at the weird scaly texture he finds but shakes his head when his teeth started clattering. It was like dunking himself in ice water that he had difficulty throwing the boy as gentle as he could into the deck before climbing up and making a grab for his jacket. He wraps it around his shoulder as he rubs his hands together but then stops when he finds that there is something different with the boy on his deck.
The boy flops to his back, still unconscious and his grey tail flicks to the side.
Jeno thinks he has hypothermia because of what he’s seeing.