The Watchers (Reign: Part 8)
Part 8: The Watchers
Something rippled in the water just beyond, starting at a crumpling pillar and reverberating gently ‘til it reached the boat. Whatever it was, it was too small to rock the boat or make a splash or even garner my attention, if it weren’t for the Siren’s warning.
They were upon us, the malevolent watchers of the City. I could sense it in my bones.
I kept my focus trained on the Siren, my only ally against the cunning elemental creatures. She knew their ways and purposes—if they posed a threat, which ‘twas likely they did, it would be up to her to dissuade them.
With wispy fingers, she motioned for us to get down. I gently tucked Ambrosia beneath the wooden seat at the fore, then crouched to my hands and knees, keeping only my eyes above the rim of the hull.
How many would appear? Would I even be able to see them? I’d only heard stories of the Naiads, and far less of them than I had of the Sirens. Nymphs kept mostly to themselves and their political plots. For years, they only came out of hiding to make deals with the powers and rulers across Magni and the surrounding isles—before the flood, at least. After that? All but the Naiads had gone extinct, not even leaving behind any half-breed offspring, like the gryphons and wyverns had.
They were eternal creatures, it seemed, untouchable by humans and with no known beginning. And yet, just as mysteriously as they appeared, they disappeared without a trace—presumably dying.
Except the Naiads. They thrived in the flood, being in their element and all. Had any of them ever vanished? How many had existed to begin with?
Ah, questions, questions, questions. Mere curiosities humans were taught to ignore at a young age. Particularly those training to be Guardians. I could still remember the way Commandant Rubin had harped so on keeping to oneself, one’s people, and one’s mission. Magni was our people and Magni was our mission, and if our focus strayed from Magni to anything, we had failed as Guardians.
Renout had been one such Guardian. From the start, he’d been captivated by foreigners and intermarriage and all the myths that came with it. Oh, all the times he’d quizzed Galen on being part gryphon!
He’d never been expelled—not with his astute intellect and, eventually, his friendship with Galen. The two had been inseparable, and it had come as no surprise when the new king chose Renout to be his advisor. That was what had ended his training.
As for me? I had failed because I’d kept my focus on something alive, human, and ever with me: my own lusts.
Yet neither had I been expelled or executed, as I should have been for breaking oath. My indiscretions were never revealed, not even to my brother. And in the end? I’d caused more damage than execution could ever repair, especially once Ambrosia was born.
I’d learned my lesson the day she came into the world: my focus stayed on Magni and her queen. Not me, not my foolish desires or flighty emotions, and certainly not the world of Naiads and Sirens.
Even if I understood young Renout’s fascination with them.
Even if sating my curiosities could further our existence.
Another ripple shocked the calm waters, this one closer and larger and followed by two large splashes of water. No, not splashes…beings.
* * *
The first figure was that of a Naiad—diminutive in form at only five feet long, which was about six inches to a foot shorter than the average human in Magni and at least two to three feet shorter than a Siren. Her size was her most defining feature, especially since Charis was one of the more curvaceous Naiads. They were all perfectly proportioned, of course, but Charis? She was endowed with the voluptuous beauty every Siren longed to possess.
A beauty everyone wanted and no one—not even a man—could ever even touch.
Honestly, I wanted to hate Charis. Not just for being a Naiad—and the daughter of Delta, the head watcher, at that—and not just for her glorious appearance. But also because she had stolen Rhea from me.
Very well, no one had stolen my sister. Yet despite mine and Sibylla’s (and probably Delta’s) every warning, Charis and Rhea had become…friends.
There was nothing I could say against their friendship now, though, considering I was the one currently defying everyone’s orders—and the laws of nature—by leading a man and human girl through the City. To Parvi. Three things I wasn’t supposed to do—not immediately launch my seduction campaign at the first sign of a male; interact with humans; and leave the City.
So I would let Rhea off the hook, at least this time.
Oh, speaking of, the second figure? Yeah, that was Rhea.
She was in no way as small or curvy as a Naiad, especially Charis, but with her gently flowing translucent blue tail, shimmering silver hair, and pearlescent skin, she looked as if she were one with the ocean. Part of the water. An elemental.
She wasn’t, of course. She could be touched by humans. She had fangs—although they weren’t as large as mine. She had scales—but they shone like diamonds, of course. She had those slit pupils and leviathan eyes that rolled in all directions.
But she was so ethereal, so beautiful.
Sibylla and I had lamented that for years, our lack of beauty like our sisters. Rhea with her unattainable shimmer, and Chryseis with her gilded glory. Sibylla and me? Monsters. As reptilian as they came, looking more like our cousins, the leviathans, than we’d like.
We had prettier voices, though, and to be honest? That was what mattered. Our appearance would always be second fiddle to the way we sang. If only Brehn could hear my song, he’d change his mind about being “immune” to my charms. He’d see me as something beyond the fangs and scales—perhaps as something a little bit beautiful.
There I went sounding human again, concerned with how I was perceived and what a single man thought of me and what my heart wanted instead of what my body needed.
As per usual, Charis was the first to speak up. She rose with a gentle swell of the river, her voice low and tempered. Not high-pitched or lilting, not husky and seductive. Instead, deep and vast. Like the ocean. “I know what you’re up to, Seira.”
Of course you do, Charis. You and your mum have eyes everywhere.
I disregarded the bubbles in her eyes—like embers in a human’s, they sparked and sputtered with heat—and hiked my chin in the air. “There’s nothing you can do to stop me, Charis. You nor Delta.”
She sighed, swirling in the water and bobbing up and down before she finally spoke again. “I know that too, which is why I’m going to do you a favor.”
A favor? You’re going to take yourself and the rest of your nymph kind and leave? “Unexpected,” I murmured, even though I knew she could hear.
And if she had solid eyes, she’d roll them.
“Don’t give me any grief, Se, and I won’t report you to my mother.”
Se? Oh, no, she doesn’t! I seethed, my fangs scraping my bottom lip as I turned a dirty look on that impertinent little Naiad. “Have I given you permission to call me Se?”
A few specks of debris must have gotten caught in her watery form, because something dark was floating about in her eyes…something that seemed a little too human to be debris. “Do I need permission?” she garbled, water bubbling out of her mouth.
“Depends. Can I trust you?” It was a dumb question, because really? I had no reason to trust anyone, least of all myself.
She was silent for a long moment, and judging by the way Rhea’s mouth kept popping open, I surmised she was about to start talking for her—or peppering me with questions I couldn’t answer.
Then she finally looked up, her eyes suddenly clear again, and let one syllable cascade from her mouth: “Yes.”
Missed Part 6? Read it here! Part 9 will arrive on June 10th!