(A/N): First of all, I'm Lani Lenore, and what I do is take fairy tales and twist them into longer, much darker novels.

This tale I am about to attempt is already emotional and tragic in its original form, perhaps more so than many others. Keeping with that, I changed the tale considerably but tried to keep the same desperate feeling it gives. Let me introduce you to a very different version of The Little Mermaid. This is certainly a dark, erotic, and violent tale, hence the Mature rating, so read onward with that warning. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!


The moon threw its light down onto the surface of the sea, and just like every other night, the sea cast the light back, refusing to be penetrated by its lover. Their romance was enjoyed from a distance, the intensity varying with the size of the lustful moon's eye. The sea wore her glittering dress and the moon pulled at it, urging up the tides but never managing to uncover her. The night made the perfect blanket for their liaison; it went on continually. With their love, their children thrived.

Beneath their father's watchful gaze and within their mother's cold embrace, the children rose up into the night from their mother's belly. The cold air touched their ash-colored flesh, chilling them. The wind pushed at their thick, tangled hair. Their eyes glowed like tiny fireflies drifting over the water, and only for a trained eye was it possible to see them for what they truly were. The rocks hid them from view, and they scattered out over the area that would be their hunting ground.

Thunder rumbled in the distance – an approaching storm. The sea's violent anger toward the lashes she received from the whip of lightning would aid the children on this night. Past their small white teeth, they began to salivate.

As silent as a ghost, a ship approached. The children laid in wait.

Dark Depths

Chapter One:

Blood and Water

1

What is freedom?

This was the thought in his head as he sat in the dark of the night. The ship creaked and moaned with the persuasion of the waves and thunder rolled softly in the distance, but all else was silent now. Beneath the gently flapping flag that bore no nation's colors, Nathaniel Thomas stared at the blood on his hands.

He'd wiped the haunting substance off on the cleaner portions of his victims' clothes, but in the light of the full moon he saw that he'd not gotten it all. His captain's ship, the Bloody Siren, had been drifting for hours on the open sea after leaving a waterfront settlement once known as Port Lennings. The flames had finally faded from view behind the ship – the smell with them. Now, once again, Nathan asked himself: What is freedom?

Was freedom in this blood on his hands? He'd done what he was supposed to in the port town, according to what his own mind had told him. He'd looted and murdered, as was instructed by his captain, but he'd done it his own way. There were no rules, after all. But was it freedom? Did his actions release him from the usual expectations of mankind – of what it was to be reserved and controlled by a standard? Or had they made matters worse?

In the port town, he'd broken through the front door of a modest house, being confronted immediately by a large, bearded man with a sword. Children were crying somewhere within. A woman was whimpering. He had invaded their home.

Nathan could not match the man's size, but he was faster. After a battle that dealt him a few bruises, his own blade slid through the flesh and out his opponent's back. The young pirate could remember the slight resistance as the point passed through thick muscle. He'd felt the flow of hot blood as it ran down his arms. But this was not the first man he'd killed, and he was certain that it would not be the last.

The sound of the screams heightened around him as the patron of this household fell with a heavy thud. Nathan had been infuriated by the shrieks of the family – could feel his inner demons pushing outward. He'd found the woman and two children crouched against the wall. Others of the crew had moved in behind him to ransack the house, but he'd hardly noticed. In that moment, he was becoming free.

It was easy for his fingers to find a grip in the curls of the woman's hair. She was not the finest lady he'd ever had the pleasure of murdering, but that hadn't mattered then. He'd pressed her face to the floor, lifting her skirt while she cried and begged and struggled against him. The children called out to her. He gave her pain.

She screamed, and he could still hear the precise sound of it ringing in his ears. One hand pinched her windpipe shut while the other forced her to accept his lusts. The woman was dead before he'd gotten his fulfillment, but the body was still warm enough to last until he was done. He'd felt contented, but not free. Those children were still screaming.

Before he knew what monster had claimed his body, he'd turned with a knife and slashed out the children's eyes. Flaps of gelatinous flesh oozed blood and their cries had only grown louder, but after that he did not seem to hear them. Nathan had left them there then, carrying on with the rest of his business. He'd slain a few others who had opposed him, but none that he remembered like the first. Once the pillagers had gathered everything of value, they'd set fire to the buildings and fled back to the sea.

The ship had been drenched in adrenaline, the fog plagued with the drunken shouting and singing of the crewmen. After a while, silence had reclaimed the air below the sails. Nathan's own bliss had faded, slipping away despite the amount of rum he poured on it to weigh it down. The young man's feeling of complete freedom had moved on.

But it had all been false, hadn't it? No, he was not free, because he could not stop staring at this remaining, smudged blood on his hands. He could not stop thinking of those crying children being burned alive. His insistence to himself that he was only being what a man was meant to be did not work – no matter how many times he tried it. Nathaniel Thomas was cursed, and no matter how many different ways he tried to remedy himself, he could not cast off his flaw. Unlike most others that surrounded him in the life he had chosen, he was chained down by a guilty conscience that was much too heavy.

The young man sighed through his nose. Pouring a bit of drink into his hands, he forced away the rest of the blood.

"Yer a bit close tae th' edge there, Thomas."

Nathan looked up toward the butchered English of his shipmate who stood facing away from him, closer to the middle of the dark deck. The younger man looked down around himself, seeing that he was indeed sitting against the rail of the ship. His leg rested against a rectangular opening that promised to spill out any great amount of water that was thrown up onto the deck. Several feet below, he could see the black water.

"Ye mustn't not believe in monsters."

The musing crewman was called Theodore by his mother; to everyone else, he was known as Slit. Cuts to the man's face had forced his left eye to close almost completely. He had been on this ship for years.

Lanterns along the ship's edge parted the night inward and outward only a few feet on both sides. The shadow of Nathan's shipmate was long and wavering, like a phantom. Slowly, the much younger man stood from his place.

"Oh I believe in monsters," Nathan assured the man. Then he added: "The ones I've seen."

His speech was much different from the man he stepped up beside. Nathan had gotten several years of education before he'd fled to the sea.

"Ye don't trust legend?"

"I just think that anyone could make up a story about a fantastic, ravaging beast that peels man's flesh from the bone. One would be a fool to not be wary; I just don't want to be made a fool for believing some lie."

Slit chuckled a bit at the notion, emitting foul breath. He turned his face back to the water. Nathan smirked at his own musings, thinking that the seaman could laugh all he wanted at his skepticism, for Nathan was the one who still had a mouthful of fine, square teeth. Examining himself, it was certainly obvious that he hadn't been on the sea for as long as the rest. Slowly, the sun, the salt, and the blade would make him fit in.

"I don' imagine ye've seen much then," Slit barked out. "Krakens an' th' Leviathan?"

"I've seen the destruction of what was said to have been a kraken. Seemed realistic enough. As for the Leviathan…I figure it's long dead."

Slit scoffed, narrowing his good eye as well.

"Ye at least believe in ghosts an' phantoms, boy?"

That was a ridiculous thing to ask. Such apparitions were seen floating over the water quite often. The wind disturbed their hair and ears briefly before Nathan spoke again.

"Is that why you were concerned with me sitting too close to the edge? The Leviathan?"

The older pirate did not seem to appreciate the notion. He leaned in a bit toward Nathan.

"Sea nymphs," he said in a hushed voice. If there was any question before, this man was well past drunk. Nathan wished the rum had affected him so well.

"Sirens and mermaids?" he asked more skeptically than before. He turned toward the other man and crossed his arms in disbelief.

"Nae, everyone knows sirens don' exist," Slit said with a swift shaking of his head. "Mermaids though…"

He looked over to Nathan for a response. The dark-haired young man smirked in amusement.

"I've heard stories," he said. "But never seen one myself."

"They only call them mermaids in storybooks. Out here, we call 'em deep sea nymphs – 'tis what they truly be. And they be nothin' like children's tales speak of. They seduce sailors wit' voices, tha's true, but they're only lovely from a distance. But once under their trance, it's too late ta turn away when ye see their real faces. They mock the female form, God help us! Their skin be like ash, and their hair like seaweed. The teeth are sharp and pointed like an animal's. And once ensnared in their slimy, slick embrace, they steal away the seed from yer loins while they feast on yer flesh!"

The man seemed to be frightening himself with the thought of it. Nathan could not hold in his laughter.

"And I hear they devour men's souls because they do not have their own!" he added to the discussion that he did not take seriously.

"Creatures o' the darkness, they are! But real. Tonight be a prime night for an appearance. A full moon; a fog, an approaching storm. I seen a man pulled from a ship by one of those creatures, jerked through one of those very holes ye were just sittin' next ta. Broke both his arms, it did, but he went through."

"I'll be sure to add that to my collection of tales."

Slit snorted out a bit of laughter, waving a dismissive hand. He moved off across the deck. Nathan did not think he was being unreasonable; only realistic. He'd heard so many pirates' tales in the past two years that he'd lost count. He'd heard of many shipwrecks concerning the famed wenches of the deep, hypnotizing the sailors onboard and causing them to crash into rocks. He'd decided it was only an acceptable way to explain accidental wreckage and to avoid fault, but oddly enough, many people bought into the stories. The fact was not lost to the young man that there were indeed monsters in this world; they threatened life daily – especially an unsettled life like his. Still, someone had to keep their wits about them, and it might as well be him.

Besides, he had more important things to worry about.

Nathan moved to the railing, putting his finally unstained hands on it and noticing that it needed a bit of work, but he ignored that for now. He took a deep breath, letting the wind blow through his long, messy hair. The currents were picking up – in the air and in the water. The sails made a slapping sound as they pulled taut. Thunder growled sensuously at him from the heavens. It may not have been one to cause the ship much trouble, but the Bloody Siren was approaching a storm. It was best to get prepared.

He turned away from the edge, casting a stray glimpse across one of the openings in the deck. What was that? Something there? Had it been something with shining eyes and rough skin like scales, reaching for his foot with webbed fingers? No, it had been nothing. The pirate shook his head; he'd been made a fool by himself. There was nothing below except dark water.

2

The storm was more violent than expected, and they all wondered why they hadn't predicted one this night. Perhaps it was the bloodlust and pleasure for their bounty earlier that had caused them all to be careless, but now, their only concern was surviving this weather as the waves tossed the ship. On the Bloody Siren, there was no man asleep.

The sour rainwater was drenching, soaking them all and obstructing their vision. They forced themselves to continue work, securing what they could, fighting with the sails and trying to help the helmsman keep control. The thought was on everyone's mind as to why he was off his course tonight, but they all kept silent about it. He would certainly catch it from the captain later.

Nathan heeded the orders barked at him over the sound of the thunder, but the hard rocking of the ship made moving about nigh impossible on the slick deck. While he worked – wrestling down the square sails and raising trysails in their places – the thought did not cross his mind about what he had been told earlier about the mermaids – or deep sea nymphs. Tonight be a prime night for an appearance. A full moon; a fog, an approaching storm. His mind made no connection with it.

But that was before a high-pitched sound came to his ears over all other sounds around him. With soaked tendrils clinging to his face, he stopped his work and looked toward the sound.

It was a pleasant chorus, begging him for his full attention and allowing for nothing else. The song consumed him wholly, making the storm disappear and all cares vanish. Within him, his deep lusts began to unravel. Dizzying warmth ensnared him. A careless relaxation overtook his body. The young pirate was helpless to control it or even realize the source. But he was not the only one. Every other man on the rocking ship heard the same perfect melody, stopping their fight against the storm. There was not one among them that understood the terror that they should have felt.

At the ship's wheel, the helmsman also heard the song. He saw the glowing eyes in the distance, but beneath the light of the full moon, he also saw the creatures who had ensnared him. They were perfect things, sitting on the rocks, drenched with the rain. There were dozens of beautiful women in the water, daughters of the sea that had been his first love. They had been birthed for him, solely for his pleasure. Beneath the hips of their lean torsos, their legs were entwined to form a fish's tail, but having no legs did not mean that there was no access to the warmer places within. Somewhere in his mind, he knew that. Those women sang for him, their song falling away into a chorus of lustful sighs and moans. They yearned for him deeply – only him. He could fulfill them all. Their breasts glistened beautifully. Their arms reached out to him. All he had to do was go to them. Without his knowledge, his hands released their solid grip on the helm, allowing the sea to have full control.

The rudder turned abruptly. Every man was thrown across the deck.

With no resistance from his feet, Nathan slid across the deck and smashed his head into the railing. He slumped against it, his vision blurred. The song continued on in his ears as he slipped into the darkness. He did not hear the crunch as the ship rammed into the large rocks or as the wood burst open below him. He did not resist as the vessel began to capsize.

Nathan lapsed in and out of the darkness, but the thing that would be forever implanted into his mind was opening his eyes to find water lapping up over his closed mouth. The night was filled with screams of pain and terror. Waves crashed into each other, thunder roared, and with unfocused eyes, the man saw his shipmates being eaten alive by vicious monsters of the sea.

The skin of the creatures was gray and cracked; their glowing eyes wide with hunger. He could scarcely tell, but he was certain that their lower bodies were the tails of fish. It was then that he realized the water he floated in was thick and red.

The hideous female creatures made sliding motions against their victims amongst the wreckage. Nathan wasn't sure what he was seeing as his gaze faded in and out. Were the creatures raping these men while they bit ragged holes in their flesh? They steal the seed from your loins. Had they gotten to him? Was he dying from huge wounds? Was there any part of his body below his neck remaining in this dark water? He was too numb to tell.

From behind, arms wrapped around him beneath the waves. He watched as one of the fish-creatures ripped out a fellow pirate's throat. Then there was a sweet voice in his ear, singing a soft lullaby that had no words. Listening to it, he didn't care about the raging sea or the horrors in the water. He didn't mind the knot on his head. He didn't care if he was bleeding or dying. He leaned his head back against a cold, wet shoulder and closed his eyes. He knew no fear.

He understood then. This was freedom, and it may well have been death.