Exactly four and a half minutes, two potential solutions, and countless grumbles and complaints—from both Reapers and merpeople—later, everyone has finally dispersed, leaving the previously active scene desolate. Aside from the sound of ocean waves and rippling water, it’s completely silent—a stark contrast from the tense atmosphere just moments ago.
At least it was worth it.
In spite of all the chaos and unrest, the merpeople had agreed to my suggestion; the clans who are more adaptable to life on land migrate toward coastal Asia and try to blend in as much as possible for as long as they can.
Those who aren’t able to easily assimilate into the human lifestyle are to wait another twenty-four hours for my back-up plan: being phased over to an off-the-grid, underground isle in Monterubianesi, Italy—a safe zone I procured on Earth almost five centuries ago.
It’s large and resourceful enough to accommodate up to seven hundred thousand or so average-sized individuals, and best of all, it’s surrounded by an abundance of salt water: a perfect haven for a merperson.
They all eagerly agreed, renewed hope beaming in their otherwise somber eyes. More than a few broke down crying in gratitude. I just hope this plan works. I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into, but I can’t sit back and do nothing. And my resolve to help the merpeople was only strengthened when one particular member of their species caught my eye for the very first time.
Luli: Soorah’s younger sister.
She’d been looking right at me through the partially submerged crowd.
She has this uncanny resemblance to her sister, and when I first spotted her, I actually thought she was Soorah, back from the dead somehow, but I quickly realized it wasn’t her.
Luli’s energy is completely different even though she’s practically a physical doppelganger for her older kin.
Perhaps entirely too different.
And…she had this look in her eyes—a distinct and raw kind of anger. All the other merpeople were obviously angry and hurt as well, but I sensed something on a completely different level with her. She must have been very close to her sister.
I’m honestly still shocked at how much she looks like Soorah considering they were quite a few years apart, and while their energies are noticeably different, there seems to be something fundamentally similar about them other than their visual appearance or biology.
I can’t be sure what it is.
I wanted to speak with her privately. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say to her, but she’d taken off before the meeting had adjourned. I have no idea whether she’s going to try to assimilate on land in coastal Asia or wait to be phased to Monterubianesi tomorrow. I just hope she’s going to be okay, either way.
For some reason, the thought of Luli being alone makes me think of Kitty-Cat and what the situation is like in her life.
Is she alone? Does she have siblings? A family?
The only thing I know for sure is that she has handprints at the very bottom of the Atlantic and, now that I’ve resolved this merpeople issue, I need to get my ass over there and attend to that anomaly.
When I’m positive that all the Reapers have phased back to the spirit realm and no one else is in sight, I quickly make my way over to the Atlantic Ocean, phasing to the exact coordinates of Kitty-Cat’s handprints.
The “ocean” is still saturated with wine, and its smell has gotten considerably septic since the last time I was holding my breath under it.
I levitate right above the same coordinates that the handprints were located almost two weeks ago when the oceanic crust was still dry and barren, looking down as burgundy liquid now ebbs and flows in gentle waves.
I narrow my eyes, zoning in on the view below me as my gaze pierces through the veil of wine and further down to the handprints at the very bottom of the ocean floor.
Good. They’re still there.
And hopefully, still intact, too.
The sun is quickly coming up on this side of the world, and while I can shield myself from human view at any time, I know their activities and general interference will drive me up the wall, so whatever I’m about to do, I need to do it quickly.
I lower myself bit by bit, until the very tips of my soles are touching the wine. The smell is overwhelming, even by Reaper standards, and I’m pretty sure I’m getting slightly light-headed.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have drank so much while I was at Bestu’s, after all.
I try to focus, observing the outline of the handprints; the way each one lies next to the other, side by side and slightly curved, almost as though they’re touching something.
They’re very similar, but not identical. They look like deep furrows in the ocean’s crust, creating crater-like depressions along their length and width. Except for the fact that they’re gigantic and deeply embedded into an ocean floor, they appear to be a perfectly normal pair of human handprints.
I still have no clue what to make of it.
How in the Basilisk’s name did they end up here?
The only feasible thing to do at the moment is collect a sample of the lithology from the prints. I’m going to be holding my breath for a minute, but it needs to be done.
Just as I begin to submerge myself into the flowing liquid, the wine’s volume seems to lower itself, moving further down the ocean’s landscape. At first, I think I’m seeing things, but then it happens again, faster and faster each time, the wine levels getting lower and lower, as if something is draining it.
And I quickly realize that that’s exactly what’s happening.
Only, something are actually two things:
Somehow, in some way, and for whatever fucking reason, all the wine drains into Kitty-Cat’s handprints, collecting itself into both depressions.
I’m utterly speechless for only God knows how long, and only three words go through my mind:
‘Oh. Fuck. Me.’
In shock, I continue to observe what’s going on, albeit warily and with much more caution.
Did I just unknowingly offset something? What the fuck is going on?
The wine eventually stops moving.
I look around tentatively…and the surrounding landscape is as dry as a desert once more.
All the wine is gone, and there are decayed and rotting corpses of all shapes and sizes splayed and spread everywhere—everywhere except for in the handprints. They now look like two giant, reddish-black human hands. It’s almost as if they were dipped in the darkest red paint in existence and pressed into the Atlantic’s floor.
The sight is both eerie and breathtaking.
Quite possibly the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.
I lower myself again, almost to the very bottom. It’s much, much darker down here, and the stench of old wine mingled with millions of bacteria-ridden corpses is becoming unbearable.
I move to gather a sample of the ocean lithology at the very edge of the index finger of the left handprint. I scoop up a generous amount with ease, but as soon as I place the gravel in a metal container, I lose my balance; the container and the sample it holds flying out of my hands and into the dense pool of wine just below me.
It happens so quickly.
It’s entirely possible that I might be out of my fucking mind, but I clearly see a stream of wine reach up from under me, tightly coiling itself around my ankle and pulling me down. Several more streams quickly follow suit, shooting up from the handprint and dragging me down to the rest of the wine pool with startling force.
Just as quickly, the wine starts to smell and feel like something else; something I recognize all too well:
I’m in absolute shock and disarray, silently panicking as I fight to free myself to no avail. But, for whatever reason, my faculties are completely null. Every single Metalchemic ability I have won’t work for shit no matter how hard I try, and I feel the energy literally being sucked out of me like a vacuum.
I’m sinking rapidly, I realize in horror, as if I’m being brutally shoved into quicksand—only much, much worse.
And then another disturbing realization hits me:
No one knows I’m here.
And so no one will know where to look for me…if there’s even anything left to find after this.
Before I can even fully comprehend what’s happening, I’m completely engulfed, holding my breath indefinitely as I find myself swallowed by this living pool of human blood, utterly trapped inside the handprint that contains it…with no way out.