The Hiding Cave (for lack of a better term) is about a quarter-mile from all the other combs in the capital. It’s out of the way, so we feel mostly safe. Mostly. It may be the single spider-y-est place on earth. The spidercrabs seem to congregate here. There are thin streams around the edge of the Hiding Cave that glow extra-bright with the bioluminescent algae. The spidercrabs seem drawn to these streams, so I do my absolute best to avoid them. So far I haven’t had any run-ins with the devils; but I’d be lying if I said I was sleeping at all peacefully.
Every day Iara goes scouting in the capital combs. I’m not sure what, exactly, she does, but I have a feeling it’s building toward something. I hope it’s got something to do with Jonah. When I asked after him, though, she just looked at me blankly. She knows what Jonah means to me, but for some reason she’s keeping that information to herself for the time being. That’s not okay, but I’m unsure what to do about it. I had made up my mind to broach the topic with her when we next spoke, but Iara had other ideas.
Iara came back a little earlier than normal today. She sat down across from me and smiled, saying, “How are you, David?”
Something on my face must have registered annoyance. She skipped the rest of the English 101 lesson and reached behind her to grab something hidden against the wall. It was a necklace made of flat red shells, arranged in a crescent pattern. I accepted it, eager to put it on and demonstrate my gratitude, but strangely, she took my hands and held them at my waist.
“No.” she was positively beaming, but still shaking her head. “Not yet.” I thought she must have screwed up her words so I made to put it on again. She slapped my hands away and stuck her finger on my nose, pushing gently. “Not yet.”
“Not yet,” I repeated. She nodded, then got up and walked back to the cave entrance just as Pincoy came in. Iara stood apart from us and watched the two of us converse. I think she was eager to see my reaction when Pincoy explained the shells.
He did a double-take. “They are marriage shells, David.” Looking closely at the necklace, Pincoy whistled. “These are exceedingly rare. We see this kind of shell but a few times in our lives. She must have begun collecting these as a child. This is a fair gift.”
“I’m already married.”
“To whom?” he asked, all innocence.
“To Elisabeth,” I said, annoyed.
Pincoy laughed and clapped his hand on my shoulder. “Ah yes, the other surfacer. I have heard you tell this story before.”
“I actually am married to her. I thought you knew that.”
Pincoy examined me. “If I were you, David Mann, I would consider myself a man blessed by God. Place those shells within the lining of your suit. When you realize that your life is one of notable fortune, you can acknowledge your engagement to the world.”
I held the necklace in my hands, feeling shy. It was cool to be wanted by a mermaid. But it was weird, too. I’m not sure I wanted to be wanted. With all that had happened between Elisabeth and I there was a certain temptation. I wanted Iara. But not more than Liz. In another life, in an earlier circumstance…maybe. I considered throwing the shells away, or giving them back. But I didn’t. Instead, I placed them into a small pouch on the inside of my Atlantean wet suit, on the side, flat against my stomach. Iara, seeing this, bowed and walked away. I couldn’t help but smile.
Pincoy looked as if he had something else to say. I motioned for him to continue, as I was glad of the distraction.
“There is other news.” he began, hesitantly. “It is not good.”
“Okay…” I prompted.
“Heqet has dispatched the Knumai to find Glaucus.”
“The crustacean guard? Why would she do that?”
“Why do you think, David Mann? Heqet recognizes she is vulnerable. The cure is found but is not what she wanted. She does not control it. She cannot administer it herself.”
“She’s not the conduit of promise. I get it.”
“I know not. I do know that Glaucus is another chance for Zebulon. I’m taking that chance. I’m helping you. But you, too, are a part of this. You are the truth. And should you get out and show Zebulon that Heqet has taken Zebulon and twisted it, her power will falter.” Pincoy hesitated before continuing. “There is something else. I will be brief, as I see you are deep in thought. It’s worth mentioning that the tragedy at Kolumnai is over.”
That was the name of the first colony, the one with the infected farmers that had been cut off from the capital. “Great,” I said. “So you’ve got some people in there who are helping?” It was the smallest of the five colonies, but every soul mattered. Small as they are, the Zebulani have a tiny population spread across an entire underwater continent like a wet Canada.
“No,” Pincoy said sadly. “They are all dead.”