In the morning, Ketch woke and while he searched the banks for his breakfast, he thought about what he should do. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t go to the mires and be with the Imps there. Karunch would have sent word to all the clans. Betrayal was the most abhorrent crime and he would not be welcomed anywhere.
So where to go?
Ketch looked to the trees and realized he had never actually ventured through them. He had flown close and even over them when the winds were right, but the interior was a mystery. He had options to press forward and try and find a home. A simile imp could not survive for long on their own. Imps banded together for protection.
After mudding and making sure his skin would not dry out for a time, he folded his wings to his body and moved through the trees.
The ground was dry and hard and was uncomfortable to his feet. The muds of his home would cushion his taloned feet and grant him purchase, but here he had to flatten out his feet and soon his legs began to cramp and he had to rest.
The sun was high in the sky when he reached a river. It was strange there was so little sun as the trees blocked much of the light. But his skin was drying out and he needed to mud. The river wasn’t very large, he had seen larger ones at the mouths of his marsh and surrounding swamps.
Unfortunately, the banks were all rocks and the riverbed looked the same. He would have to be content with just water then. He made his way down the rocks, on foot. There was a bit of current and it would have been foolish to try and land in those waters like the still ones of the marsh. Karunch had taught him that. The water was cool and refreshing and he basked in the water.
He hadn’t been in the waters for more than a minute when he suddenly got the sensation of being pulled under the surface. A voice whispered in his ear.
“Don’t struggle, it will be over soon. And we can be together.” The voice was soft and sweet; Ketch didn’t like it.
He thrashed as hard as he could, throwing open his wings and clawing at the source the the voice. The voice let out a cry and Ketch found himself freed and climbing up the bank. He got out of the water, landed on a large rock outcropping from the riverbed and pulled out his knife.
A being was in the water. It was proportioned much like the human, except smaller in size. The hair on top of its head obscenely long and dark-blue and draped down its body, wet and clinging and seemed to be covering two mounds on its chest. Its skin though was very pale, like a fish’s, and seemed to have a glint of metallic greens and blue, like the edges of scales. Its arms were crossed and had an expression of annoyance. Ketch had heard of these creatures in his grandmother’s stories. Mermaids.
“Well,” the mermaid said. “That wasn’t very nice.”
Another mermaid splashed to the other’s side. This one was almost the same except her hair was lighter and green. “Oh, and trying to drown him was?”
The first stuck her tongue out at the second. The tongue was blue and forked. “I was being polite. Wasn’t I?”
Ketch was done with these two, as fascinating as they were, he didn’t much appreciate being attacked. He crouched and was readying himself to take flight to a less crowded part of the river.
“Oh please don’t,” the second, green-haired mermaid said pleadingly. She swam forward and pulled herself onto the bank. Instead of legs, her bottom half looked like a solid limb of muscle with fins that stuck out of the water as she tried to balance herself. “We didn’t mean to be cruel. We are usually much nicer to guests.”
The blue-haired mermaid sniffed haughtily. “Winter fast approaches and food is scarce. I make no apologies.” Shooting Ketch one last look of contempt, the mermaid flipped itself backwards into the water.
The green-haired mermaid shook her head. “Pardon my sister. She’s… well my sister. My name is Iyliena. Who are you?”
“Ketch,” he said.
“Why are you out here? This river doesn’t travel to the marshlands.”
“I was exiled. I am looking for a home.”
“Oh no. I am so sorry. I wish I could help. But my kind live most of our lives underwater.”
“And your sister would probably eat me.”
The mermaid grinned sheepishly, exposing sharp, silver-tinted teeth. “It’s not personal.”
Ketch nodded. “Well, thank you for rescuing me. I’ll not mud in the river again.” Ketch didn’t want to think how his skin would shrivel.
“Oh. Take this!” The mermaid reached up and pulled a dozen or so hairs out of her head. She deftly wound them into a small braid. “Mermaid hairs cannot be forcibly taken, only given. Wear them around your wrist and all of my kind will know you are friend and not to be touched.”
Ketch reached out and took the braid from the mermaid. It shone in the sun, throwing off shifting colors. “Thank you.”
“If you head downstream along the river you will come to the shore. I never travel that far, but you might find somewhere to settle.”
Ketch nodded. “I will.”
The mermaid gave a flick of her tail and hopped back into the water. “Best wishes on your journey. May the Sisters light your way.” And so Iyliena leapt back into the water. Ketch got back to shore, deciding he didn’t need to tempt fate in the river again so soon and headed down river, the braid tied to his wrist shone cheerfully in the sunlight.