Chapter Seventy-Five | Part Five

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Still gulping for air, she attempted to flail out of the mermaid's grip, but might as well have tried to escape a vice. The creature's hands were large enough to encircle her waist without even trying.

Hush, girl, the mermaid admonished. The words were not spoken aloud, but ressonated inside Guin's mind. Or I'll hold you underwater until you behave.

Guin felt the same shudder of revulsion at having that cold, clammy voice slide uninvited into her brain as she had the first time she and this creature met. She considered trying to bite, but the threat of drowning again was enough to give her pause.

She ceased struggling, focusing instead on filling her lungs and clearing her head. She needed to think. Fog or no, she would need to work some kind of magic. It was her only hope of escape.

The mermaid rose further out of the water, dragging Guin with her until her feet dangled over the pond's rippling surface. She yelped and kicked, but that only made the 'Mother's' grip tighten around her middle until she could hardly breathe.

Again, the mermaid addressed Shel. "Show me."

The witch nodded and pulled Kevin's battered notebook from the satchel at her hip. "It is smaller than I expected," she said, holding it out.

"Hmmm." The Mermaid leaned forward to inspect the book, dipping Guin's ankles back into the pond as she did so. "Yes. It is small. But it glows with his power. It is indeed the book."

Without warning, she flung Guin forward onto the pool's bank. Guin cried out as she hit the ground. Pain jolted through her bones, rattling her nerves. If they continued to throw her about like this, it would be a miracle if she didn't end up dislocating something.

"Get up," Shel snapped, nudging Guin hard in the ribs with one foot.

Struggling to catch her breath, Guin eased into a sitting position. She clutched a hand to her throbbing ribs and glared up at the mermaid. "So, this is your daughter? Lovely family you've got here."

"They are my daughters, yes," the mermaid replied, her golden eyes glinting with pride. "My beautiful, loyal daughters." She reached down, took the notebook from Shel and turned it over in her webbed fingers. "They have proved themselves worthy. Now, it is your turn." She held the book out to Guin. "Remember our bargain, child."

Guin grabbed the notebook and held it against her chest. "I can't. There are pages missing. The Sorcerer never finished your story. He's not even really dead!"

The mermaid tilted her head to one side, sending a cascade of silver hair gliding off one shoulder. "It matters not if the story has lost pages, girl. I ask only that you unbind me, that you weave the world back as it was. Once that is done, I shall recreate this land with my own songs. We will have no further need of the old man's words."

Guin shook her head. "No. That's wrong. Ther shouldn't belong to anyone."

"That is not your decision to make," Shel hissed. "Silence your tongue before I rip it out."

"Good luck getting me to read anything, then!" Guin snapped.

Shel glared down at her like she wanted to twist her head off right there and then.

"Hush, Daughter Mine," the mermaid said, holding up a hand. "Threats of physical harm are not enough to break a spirit that burns as brightly as hers. Allow meee..."

A bolt of pain plunged through Guin's skull like an ice pick, embedding itself in the base of her brain. She screamed and doubled over, pressing Kevin's book against her chest.

You will do as you are told, Sorcerling.

The voice was in Guin's mind again, but it wasn't just words; it was a presence, fingers with sharp nails dragging against the chalkboard of her thoughts, teeth nibbling at her memories. The mermaid's consciousness slid into her like a glove and began to squeeze.

In the arena of her thoughts, Guin saw herself naked and shivering, weaponless and alone. The mermaid's silver voice was everywhere, cold and deep as the water she had nearly drowned in.

You will do as you are told or I will rip you apart and take what is mine all the same. It is your mind I need, child, and I can take that from you. I can make you into nothing but a puppet of flesh and bone. It will be a long, painful process, a war I would rather not wage--but one I will win.

Guin gasped, tears filling her eyes as she pressed her forehead against the cold earth. The pressure inside her skull was intolerable. She felt madness prowling the darkness beyond her sight, a twisted, hungry thing that would laugh as she screamed.

Her jaw was locked, teeth clenched until they throbbed at the roots. She forced her mouth to open, shaped a single word and cried it aloud, "Alright!"

The pressure lifted as swiftly as it had descended, leaving a gaping chasm of relief in its wake. Guin felt hollowed out, cored--raw and bleeding from an invisible wound. She remained curled into herself, gasping and sobbing, until Shel's cruel hands grabbed a fistful of her hair, forced her upright and made her face the mermaid again.

"So. You agree to fulfil our bargain, Sorcerling?"

Guin looked up into her honey-gold eyes and said, "Yes. I'll do it." She swallowed. "I'll read the book."

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