The chill shot down Ira's spine so fast it hurt. It snapped Ira back to cold reality even as the water sucked him under instantly, his knees grating against the sand as he struggled to get his footing. He slipped and splashed back under, only his hands flailing above the surface. His toes dug into the silt and he was thrown head over foot by the rush of a wave over his head, water flooding into his mouth.

Ira felt something slide against his kicking legs and out of instinct he clawed for it, the smooth tail of a long, silver fish sliding between his fingers before it wriggled free and hurried away in a panic.

"Wait!" he called, "wait—damn it—!" He coughed and choked.

The fish splashed over the water, zooming away even as he felt himself start to sink, before something much bigger rushed past him in a flurry of bubbles after the fish. He caught a glimpse of a blue-purple shimmer on brown scales and a milk-white hand with impossibly long, bony fingers closed around the fleeing fish.

"Piper!" Ira said, breaking the surface hacking and spitting, crawling for the beach, unable to find his footing and splashing clumsily back to the sand. He grasped a handful of the shifting bottom and it slid through his fingers as he dragged himself out of the water, shivering and naked, scrambling for his clothes and without the faintest idea of what had come over him.

Piper broke the surface a moment later, the moonlight stark white on his slick hair, the fish flopping between his teeth. He turned to Ira and grinned around it, red blood sliding down his chin.

Ira grimaced and looked away from him, hastily turning to yank on his trousers. Piper giggled, paddling over to the beach, removing the fish from his mouth with one hand and lying on his back in the surf.

"What were you doing?" he laughed, the frothy water swirling at his ears as a wave flushed in and back. "Trying to swim again?"

"I don't… I don't know what I was doing," Ira stuttered with a frown, as if the words were just sinking in to him as well. He tugged his coat on around his bare shoulders, cursing at how cold the water felt now and stomping his feet in the sand. "I don't… I don't know."

Piper grinned, lifting the now dead fish back to his mouth with both hands like buttery corn on the cob, "You looked funny. You always look funny."

"Piper," Ira said, and got down on his hands and knees, leaning over the Siren lying on his back. "It got someone else."

"What did?" the merman replied gleefully, taking a deep bite of translucent white fish flesh and blood, suckling at the fish slightly, fishing a bone out of his mouth with two fingers and grinning as he showed it to Ira. The tall youth sighed and pushed Piper's bloodied hand away.

"You know what. It bit my ankle and tried to take your tail off."

Piper blinked at him, his slanted eyes creasing slightly as he studied Ira's face and splashing his tail in the water. Ira hesitated, watching Piper carefully, tensed for whatever might happen. The merman lifted his hand from the water, and touched Ira's lips faintly, brushing his cold wet fingers over Ira's nose, and chin, and under his eyes.

"How do you stay so warm?" he said softly, in a child's voice.

"Piper, what was it," Ira repeated, his voice stern but soft. "Tell me if you know."

"How?" Piper repeated stubbornly.

"Piper, answer me."

"Answer me," the Siren challenged cheekily, grinning around a bite of raw fish, sitting up on his elbows and bringing his face close to Ira's, the tips of their noses hanging inches apart.

"What are you doing?" Ira murmured tensely.

"Feeling your breath on my face," Piper answered, tilting his chin up slightly. "It's warm. Everything about you is."

"Piper," Ira said, and put a hand over Piper's mouth, pressing him back down into the sand. "I need you to tell me what it is out there, if you know. I need you to help me."

Piper's eyes were deep but unreadable, but he was quiet, and didn't bite Ira's hand before the teenager lifted it slowly away.

"I don't know," Piper said finally, as if it took great thought. "I don't know what it is. Not for certain."

"But you've seen it?"

Piper nodded, glancing up at Ira, whose hair was dripping wet onto the Siren's face. The half-eaten fish lay forgotten on the sand. Piper pricked suddenly, looking behind Ira and sitting up on his elbows as he pointed. "What's that?"

"What?" Ira said, looking over his shoulder.

He felt the sharp slap of Piper's broad, forked fin on his cheek and the Siren's callous laugh as Piper splashed away into the shallows, leaving Ira's face and neck red and stinging. Ira swore.

"Piper!" he cried, tearing off his coat and staggering after him. "Piper!"

The Siren laughed, diving underwater, Ira snatching at his tail before leaping in after him, kicking his feet and trying to swim after. Ira's clumsy strokes were no match for Piper's webbed fingers and powerful, streamlined tail, and the Siren shot around him in a streak of scale-shine and bubbles, grinning in the water. He reached up and grabbed Ira's shirtfront, and the teenager had no time to dislodge his hand. His noise of alarm came from his mouth in a thick round bubble as he was jerked downward. Ira flailed in panic when seaweed brushed his face and bare feet, Piper's grip on him tight, dragging him through the water, dodging kelp and ridges of sand. Ira opened his eyes under the water, staring up at the dancing light that was the surface, regaining his wits and kicking free of Piper's grip, swimming for the surface.

He broke it coughing, shaking his head as salt water burned his eyes. Piper surfaced, swimming around him in circles.

"Come on," he giggled, "Swim with me."

"Are you insane?!" Ira cried, paddling away with him, having a little difficulty as the waves lifted and dropped him. He coughed, swiping a hand over his face to flick off the salt water.

"I know where it lives," Piper said.

"I don't want to go where it lives!" Ira cried, "It'll tear me to pieces! You know what it did to Van Dine! What it did to someone else today!"

"You want to do something to help, don't you?" Piper said, swimming around him. "I can show you where it lairs."

Ira whimpered. "I don't want to know where it lairs."

"You're a coward," Piper said, low in the water, burbling bubbles between his lips as he carved wider and wider circles. "A... chicken."

"And proud," Ira muttered, looking put off as Piper put his fists under his arms and made chicken noises. "Stop that. You probably don't even know what a chicken is."

"The sailors do it to men they taunt." Piper said with a grin. "I've seen them, on the boats."

Ira sighed, treading water as best he could, floundering under occasionally. He bit his lip, and then said reluctantly. "What if you told me where it lived?"

"Why would I tell you?" Piper said, "You couldn't find it."

"Someone else could," Ira mumbled, "Someone with a ha—" He stopped himself. "You know."

"A harpoon?" Piper said, in an offended voice, turning on his back and floating, scowling at Ira as he folded his arms over his chest.

"Would you rather it attack you again?"

"…No," Piper said, after a moment's thought.

"Then harpoons are necessary," Ira said, "I suppose. Piper. If Martin brought his boat out, would you show him where it lived?" Piper wasn't paying attention, staring off past Ira's shoulder. The boy glanced over it, and coughed slightly. "Piper."

Piper's brows creased, and he put his hands together and dove under without a word, a hiss of bubbles tickling Ira's bare feet. His blue-brown fin disappeared quickly.

"Piper!" Ira cried, looking down into the water, seeing only his pale hands paddling feebly in the water, "Piper—" He swore again, splashing slightly, damning the useless Siren. "Piper! Come back!" He shivered, pulling his wet coat over his skinny, bare chest. Count on Piper to leave him floating in the middle of nowhere.

He treaded water a long time, and finally started to turn back to shore, kicking his half-frozen legs weakly, giving small grunts as he dogpaddled with the current. He heard a faint splash behind him, and turned.


A few hundred yards out, a buoy danced, the lantern on it creaking and making the hairs on Ira's neck stand up.

"P-Piper, this isn't funny," he croaked, swallowing dryly. His head whipped around at the slightest, noise, and then back, and he slowly started kicking faster, feeling suddenly like a worm on a hook.

"Piper!" he cried. "Piper, if it's you—" A wave sloshed over him, breaking far out, sending him tumbling under with his eyes clenched tightly shut. He felt something long and sandpapery flush against his ankle, and he closed his eyes tighter, panicking and flailing away from it. He heard the sound of a fin cutting through water, and with a growing sense of dread, he opened his eyes, blinking and squinting.

His eyes widened slowly, and he let out a scream in a stream of bubbles, hastily kicking as hard as he could and barely getting out of the way before flashing white teeth in the murky water nearly tore him in half. He surfaced, and shrieked as loud as he could.

"Help!" he screamed, "He—!"

He was cut off sharply when it grabbed his ankle in a vice-grip and jerked him sharply downward. Ira's bare feet kicked instinctively and he struggled like a fly in a web, shrieking bubbles, the water suddenly molasses. Every kick and flailing stroke felt like it took ages, and his foot finally connected with something with a wet thud. Ira's head jerked down in shock, because he had known what he'd felt—a nose. A squashy, sandpaper nose, with a sharp point.

A cloud of dark blood floated up in the water as the thing shook its head. For a moment, Ira thought it was Piper—there was shining black hair floating all around the head, but slowly, he realized in the murky water that it was only half-man like Piper was and its skin was a dark dolphin grey, the underside a bright white. In place of Piper's fish's tail, there was instead the massive and threatening body of a shark. Its hands were webbed and its arms heavily muscled but still streamlined; it had, in all senses, the very build of a predator.

The shark-man—for that was really all that he could be—slowly lifted his head, staring Ira down with black eyes that had no whites. Slowly it bared its teeth, and the next thing he knew, it was rocketing up towards him so fast Ira didn't have time to get out of the way. He screamed as sharp teeth, sharper even than Piper's, sank into his shoulder, blood spilling delicately through the water, and he lunged and kicked blindly, thinking only that he very badly didn't want to be a shark-man's supper.

"Piper!" he screamed, the word lost in the water, "Someone! Help!"

His fist blindly smacked hard against something, and he yelped in pain, water rushing into his mouth like a dog leaping for a dropped bone. The hit was hard enough that the shark man let go for a moment, and Ira kicked for the surface, coughing and choking between heaved breaths of air and facefuls of icy water, paddling in a frenzy for the dark shoreline.

"Ira!" someone screamed, and he floundered, falling under for a moment before he whipped his head back, gasping. He saw only the end of Piper's tail give a powerful slap against the surface of the water as he dove, and in a moment, Ira felt Piper seize him around the waist and zoom off under the water, narrowly avoiding a deep bite to his tail, as the shark whipped around with a snarl, taking off after him with frightening speed. Piper shot to his left, Ira in tow, his fluid tail able to make the jolting turn faster than their pursuer's cartilaginous body.

Ira chanced, terrified, to open his eyes, able to make out the dark shape of the thing that swam like an enraged bull after them. It was terrifyingly large, larger than any normal man, with powerful arms and a sleek, dangerous tail that let him cut through the water like a knife through butter.

His feet dragged in sand, and he scrambled at it feebly, putting all the strength left in his body in his legs. His bare toes scrabbled against Piper's scales and then silt and sand and his head broke the surface as he clumsily tore at the water to get his balance, running awkwardly through the water, crashing to his knees every so often when his foot would slide into a pocket. The surf crashed over him, and he fought its tow back out to sea, paddling, kicking, and digging his feet in desperately before he realized the water was knee-deep now.

He didn't look behind him, scampering out of the water, covered in silt and seaweed, coughing and sputtering as he tripped on wet banks of sand. He scrambled onto the beach, the dry sand sticking to him. Ira fled from the water on all fours, stopping only when he was halfway to the dunes to look back at the shore in terror.

He gave a wet cough, salt water and saliva dribbling out of his mouth and his skinny chest heaving with exertion and fear. He dashed a bony wrist across his lips, peeling his hair back from his eyes.

"P-Piper?!" His eyes shot back and forth wildly over the waves cresting and sloshing into the sand. "Piper!" He leapt to his feet, nearly falling when his knees shook with the weight, bracing himself with one hand before half-running and half-falling towards the water.

"Piper!" Something in his chest squeezed tightly like a cold, bony hand inside his ribs, and he swallowed, coughing up water in his anxiety. He squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again, breathing hard. Piper had gotten away. He had made it somewhere safe. The shark-man had swam off, or was lying low, or maybe Piper had—no, that was impossible, but—

Ira gulped dryly, and when his wits sank back in he seized the rest of his clothes and without putting his galoshes on scrambled up the dunes, burrs sticking to his feet and fuzzy ankles. His heart pounded in his chest like waves on shore, and he shouldered and bumped into the fishermen out on the streets, hastily apologizing and almost tripping up the hill.

"Martin!" he called. "Martin!"

He ran to the Cordin house, banging on the door hastily, hardly giving it rest when it swung open. "Martin—"

"No, Martin's at the tavern," the woman said with a frown, a rosy-cheeked toddler bouncing on her hip, giggling at Ira around her tiny teeth. Ira thanked Martin's wife—he hoped she was Martin's wife at least—and took off for the Dancing Selkie, still dripping wet and pulling on his suspenders and coat. He rounded the corner at a skid, cursing when he stumbled into a stumpy bush of sea spurs, but brushing them off. The burrs stuck from his coat into his fingers, clinging to his skin when he tried to shake them off as he ran. Ira damned the burrs, and tried as his long legs pumped faster to shake off a little sand as well, staggering through the streets. He could see the Dancing Selkie's windows still lit and its sign swinging, but as he opened his mouth to shout for Martin once more, a dark hand clamped over it and jerked him roughly aside under the stilts of the house, without even giving him the time to make a noise of alarm.

A/N: Oh my god, I'm so sorry this chapter took so long. As I had explained, over the summer I was too busy working to write much, and I had planned to start updating again when school was in session. Well senior year has been much, much more hectic than I ever could have imagined! I am terribly sorry that this chapter took so long and I would really like to thank everyone for their concerned reviews and e-mails--NO, I am not abandoning this story, I promise you all! Please be patient, hopefully updates will be more regular for fall and winter. :D

In the meantime, if you are interested, you can see a few select illustrations of both Ira and Piper as well as a few other characters on my deviantART page, gypsy-night.. If any of you are members of the dA community, please note me and mention you're from fictionpress! I'd love to add you!

Loff and kishes, -InSilverShadows